Is lecherous trash more or less excusable when it comes wrapped in witty dialogue? I saw Charlie Wilson’s War last week, and I laughed and enjoyed myself plenty. But in this “literate, wryly sophisticated parable of American politics” about one Texan congressman’s campaign to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, nearly every shot begins with an extreme close-up on cleavage or tightly-clad ass.
And let’s talk about characters. The men of this movie are politicians, spies, weapons experts, freedom fighters, and chess masters. They are powerful and witty – dashing and arrogant one moment, charming and self-deprecating the next. The women are anonymous breasts in a hot tub, strippers, Playboy models, and a team of aides referred to as “jailbait.” Julia Roberts’ rich heiress pursues her political goals by manipulating and sleeping with powerful men, and is out-of-touch and reckless when she speaks on her own. All women have to offer the world is sex.
I know that this is a satire, a cartoon version of Washington. Wilson sees arming the mujahideen as a noble, uncomplicated goal, but the audience understands that the story is more ambiguous. Wilson sees the women around him as shiny objects, and perhaps the audience is expected to understand that he is a slimy creep. But the ridiculous camera work continues whether Wilson is in the scene or not.
I also understand that some of this is realistic – powerful figures in Washington tend to be male, and there’s no point airbrushing their culture in an already unflattering film. But Aaron Sorkin has done so much better in the past. On The West Wing, most of the women are secretaries, but Sorkin didn’t resort to objectification, or even neglect – in fact, I think he really sunk his teeth into the challenges faced by women in or near political power. Characters on The West Wing argue openly about sexism, and it’s some of the wittiest television ever made.
There’s no excuse for this nonsense.