Particularly as a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with cheesy, bad horror and sci-fi movies. I ate them up, but perhaps my favourite entries into this genre was the Evil Dead series.
To this day, I will still cite “Evil Dead 2” as one of my absolute favourite movies. It just offered the exact right combination of camp and passion, of scares and humour, all at once. And, as is the case with many fans of the Evil Dead series, I positively loved leading actor Bruce Campbell. I thought he was the epitome of cool. He was to me what Batman or James Bond is to many. I would seek him out in any role – from “My Name is Bruce” to “Xena: Warrior Princess” (okay, my love for Lucy Lawless was also a big motivator for that last one).
So when I heard that Bruce Campbell was not only taking on a leading role in a major television series, but that that series was going to continue on the story of the Evil Dead series, I was thrilled.
That is, until I watched the first episode of the TV series “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”.
Now, I’m not writing a review for the series. I’ve watched the first season, and I have my own opinions, but they’re beside the point right now. What I want to talk about instead is a single scene in the first episode.
This scene begins with Bruce Campbell’s character, at work in a department store. Moments before, it has been established that Campbell’s character has enough seniority at his workplace that he cannot be let go. A male character points out to Campbell’s character that a new girl has joined them in their workplace, and the pair of them look her over for a while, commenting on her beauty. Campbell’s character then approaches her and makes several overt sexual comments, to which she responds with eye rolls and clear rejection. When Campbell’s character pushes the matter to the point that he actually begins touching her, the woman physically assaults him, at which point he finally accepts the rejection and walks away.
Watching this scene, I was slightly horrified. Horrified enough, at least, that it made me question my respect for Bruce Campbell and the character that he has built up in his movies. Because what was happening in this scene was sexual harassment. And not only that, this whole scene almost serves to excuse and normalize sexual harassment in our culture.
Because let’s start with the beginning: who Bruce Campbell’s character is. He’s an older man with seniority in this company. He has clearly worked here a long time. He’s the main character, so he’s endeared to the audience. He’s the only character on this show that has appeared in previous movies, and in those movies, he was always the hero, so we know that we’re supposed to look up to him. He’s funny and endearing and a little pathetic, but heroic at the end of the day.
And let’s take a moment to look at the female character, played by Dana DeLorenzo. This is her introduction to the audience. All that we know about her at this point is that she is new to this workplace, and she turns down the advances of Campbell’s character.
The way this scene plays out in the show, it’s all relatively harmless. He makes comments to her, she assaults him in return, he stalks off and they go about their day. But the problem is, this isn’t even remotely how this scene would play in real life. In reality, there are multiple potential scenarios that could have ended up happening.
For example, A) she doesn’t assault him. She responds the way that most women would, and she just laughs it off or ignores him. She hears her co-workers talking about how he’s kind of pathetic, but at the end of the day, he’s harmless and a nice guy, so just cut him some slack, would you? So she does. She continues ignoring him. And he keeps making comments at her. He gets steadily more and more aggressive with his comments, and whether he means to make the threat or not, they’re both aware of the fact that he has seniority over her. He’s been here longer – he has connections within the company. If he isn’t her boss, he’s at least friends with her boss. And if she wants to move ahead in the company, or even just keep her job, then maybe she shouldn’t be so “frigid” and “uptight”, right?
Or, there’s example B) she does assault him, because he crossed her boundaries and touched her when she said no. And he now has two things: a wounded ego, and a valid complaint against her, that he can take right to her boss.
Either way, she loses in real life.
But in fiction, it’s alright. It’s not a big deal. In fiction, she can assault him and end the harassment right then and there while simultaneously proving to the audience that she’s a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. In fiction, we don’t have to think about this all that much.
And this affects the way that we see these scenarios in real life. This deludes us into thinking – maybe it isn’t a big deal. I mean, if she really wasn’t interested, she could have just assaulted him, right?
Watching this one scene was extremely disappointing to me. Not only was I watching one of my childhood heroes engage in predatory behaviour that has intense, real-world consequences, it also sort of made me think about the media that I grew up watching, and the media that we’re all aware of. It made me realize just how prevalent it is to normalize sexual harassment in our movies and our TV.
Because when I was a teenager, I watched “Army of Darkness” hundreds of times without ever really clueing in to the fact that when Bruce Campbell’s character says “give me some sugar, baby”, what he is actually doing is forcing a kiss on a woman who, until now, has shown nothing but disdain for him.
And as much as I wish I could say that media starring Bruce Campbell is the only media that normalizes this – it isn’t. I only focused on it because it’s what I’m most familiar with. The truth is, it’s in all of our media.
It’s in every movie or TV show where man is rejected by a woman, and he responds by pressing the matter (ie. Han and Leia in “Star Wars”) or manipulating her (ie. Noah and Allie in “The Notebook”) or continuing to harass her until he finally gets a ‘yes’ (ie. Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory”). It is so prevalent in our society that it’s not only normal – it’s actually kind of a joke.
And when we laugh at it in the media, we don’t think of the real-world consequences that these scenarios could actually have. We don’t think that they’re a big deal, because our media tells us that it isn’t a big deal. It’s just funny.
And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the movies or TV that we grew up with. I understand why that would be a hard argument to sell, and I know that I, for one, won’t stop enjoying the Evil Dead series anytime soon. But that being said, I do think that we need to talk about these issues. Because talking about them makes us realize how prevalent they actually are – and just how engrained into our society.
When we talk about sexual assault and harassment in the #metoo movement, we aren’t just talking about a few isolated incidents. We’re talking about an entire culture that needs to be confronted and changed. This might be part of the reason why the #metoo movement has been met with some resistance – it’s a lot of change to be made. It’s overwhelming, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Because once we become aware of it and once we start talking about it, then we can start making things better for the people who have actually faced this in real life. We no longer just shrug these scenarios off as jokes – we understand them on a deeper, more compassionate level. We began to see these scenes for what they are, and they aren’t really funny at all.