Is ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ the ‘Stepford Wives’ of the 2000s?

Image illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Warner Bros., Shutterstock

Written by Katie Silberman and directed by Olivia WildeAnd the do not worry my love He is transparent about his references to Stepford wivesa cult classic that influenced other contemporary directors of social thrillers such as Jordan Bell. The similarities between the films abound: There are housewives, husbands on bases, men-only secret societies, mid-century decorators, and a woman who questions and challenges the reality presented to her. Both works are responses to the politics of their times and the uncertain future of feminism in America. But why does Hollywood keep repeating the aesthetics and metaphors in which it was presented? Stepford wives? Could this really be an effective measure of how sophisticated gender politics seem to be?

in do not worry my love, the comfortable familiarity of a shadowy suburban enclave occupying a hazy space, out of time: it is in the past, far from any kind of politics, and the women who live there are somewhat mechanics. Alice of Florence Bio, one of the women in a project called the Victory Project, dressed in dreamy clothes and embellished aprons and wrapped in floral shirts, stays in the town where her husband Jack resides (Harry Stiles), goes to work as if ripped from a mad men Masquerade. The routines are the same (preparing dinner, buying things, resting and drinking), and the power dynamics remain constant. When cracks in Alice’s flawless world begin to disrupt her sense of self, the film’s startling similarity nonetheless else The story of suburban perfection that hides the abuse of power under its modern facades becomes clearer, and Wilde’s modern interpretation of StepfordIts aesthetics are questionable.

Photo: Merrick Morton / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Ira Levine novel Stepford wives Published in 1972, several years after Betty Friedan feminine mystery In 1963 he founded a grassroots activist group National Women’s Organization. The sexual revolution of the late 1960s and the strengthening of the feminist movement at the time forced wide segments of society to examine the role that gender played in their lives, often unevenly, and Levine’s work has recast those cultural concerns with a surprising amount of empathy and reflection. . Stepford wives – which follows protagonist Joanna Eberhart’s move to Stepford, Connecticut, and her quest to uncover why all women appear to be robots (because they are) – is really about women caught between a social imperative to stand up for their rights and a capitalist culture that just wants them to buy things.

The book was adapted by screenwriter William Goldman and director Brian Forbes, while other horror films of the time – broodAnd the curryAnd the black christmas – Treating women’s bodies as sites of fear or condescension, addressing patriarchal anxieties about the displacement of male authority, and a few films explicitly addressing feminist politics such as Stepford wives. The film cares deeply about its characters’ bodies, but it also invented Stepford’s wife, an archetype defined by resistance to the idea that women are independent. Although the film and the term are an attractive critique of patriarchal standards, “Stepford’s Wife” jointly entered language To describe an android-like, kind, submissive woman.

In both the book and the movie, Joanna and her friend Bobby (the only other normal person in town) try to revive the Stepford chapter of the National Organization for Women, which once hosted Friedan as keynote speaker. They try to spark some feminist awareness, but the conversation descends into another ad. Joanna begins “talk about anything”, trying to demonstrate that the group is a space for safe and open discussion. “Sex, money, our marriages, anything at all.” Instead, women are talking about how best to launch a shirt.

Between the publication of Levine’s novel and the release of her film adaptation in 1975, Ro Fifth. valley Make abortion legal across the country. The panic over this decision, and about women’s physical independence in general, runs deep inside Stepford wivesIn commercials, the surnamed couple are murdered and turned suspects talking about cleaning products and screaming with delight at the undoubtedly humble love making of their husbands.

Sarah Marshall, writer and host you are wrong The podcaster, argues that the term “Stepford’s wife” has been “robbed of its brutality by becoming a cliché.” She also argues that though StepfordAs a book, “Our Common Language Comes From Movies.” What makes a woman a wife to Stafford, Marshall told me, “is that you always clean things quietly, and nothing ever bothers you. You’re also built along file lines play boy Playmate, constantly passionately fucking your husband who probably isn’t good at it.”

When Nanette Newman played Carol Van Sant, Stepford’s wife in the original film, she brought the trope back to life with less overt sexuality than the way it was originally written. Stepford’s wife as we now know her is, as Marshall describes her, “a beautiful woman in her forties, playmate model and in prairie dress. Very lacy, slightly pseudo-Victorian style.” As times and different values ​​around femininity have changed, so has Stepford’s wife: she is still very feminine and sexually attractive, but not slutty.

While Stepford Met with polarized reactions from those closely involved with the feminist movement of the 1970s (Friedan hated the film), Columbia Pictures made “some dollars” according to Goldman, and led to several made-for-TV sequels, beginning in 1980 with Revenge of Stepford’s wives. The period of films revolving around the working woman confirms her place in the world as working girlAnd the baby boomAnd the Pretty woman It was followed by a golden age of romantic comedies in the ’90s, in which sex and the fight between him and him could be joked as a form of escape (ignorantAnd the You’ve got mailAnd the Notting Hill).

By 2004, director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick renovated Stepford wives, and cast Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, and Faith Hill in the lead roles. The film updates Joanna (Kidman)’s job from amateur photographer to TV director, thus questioning whether reality shows in an era that made use of gender dynamics, such as BSC And the survivor, could be evidence that feminist ideals have been chewed and spat out by America’s ragged teeth. The original bowed to parental backlash as a grotesque horror, but the remake is full of life and colour. It is a satirical film, a different iteration of the same fear, oscillating between disturbing and exaggerated.

In the reboot, Joanna is fired from her network job where she develops reality TV shows, which leads to a nervous breakdown and moves to Stepford where she finds ostensible serenity, but instead finds robots. Criticisms of the new version that you challenged breadth And the supposed distortion, often fails to acknowledge that he gives credit for the perspective of women with hazy eyes as market feminism has supplanted grassroots efforts. Looking back, the passage of Reagan, Clinton, two Bushes and the wars on drugs and terrorism highlighted that everyone on the sidelines can be a target and, ultimately, a demographic being marketed toward. The feminist ideals devoured by capitalism are patriarchal as they are.

Which brings us back to do not worry my love. The movie is not truly A piece from a time period, but Wilde entices viewers to fill up on coffee cups, scrape buttered toast, and quaint carts that take the ladies around town to shop and attend ballet lessons. It’s like the 1950s, but it’s an illusion from the time in the show ads to improve home cooking or dishes. When we finally catch a glimpse of the outside world, away from perfectly round cocktail trays and stifling routines, it’s gloomy and dark, as Jack leans over a computer listening to the tunes of another man, a red podcast pill ready to transform the lives of unhappy men with the flick of a spectacle-like device (as if Captured from an episode black mirror).

Whoever feels deprived of a good relationship because he thinks Alice works too much as a brain surgeon, Jack shares the expensive device and basically holds her hostage in a simulated world. Victory leader, Frank (Chris Pine), whose seduction by “ruthless if charismatic Jordan Peterson and Elon Musk” isn’t as bleak as it can be, will travel to the 1950s for the kind of world where women are subservient to their husbands. , but the film reveals that this world is just as constructive, fake and overestimated as Stepford’s aesthetic. The Victory Project is just an idea of ​​what that time was like in America for the distinguished and powerful.

Photo: Merrick Morton / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

In general, Wilde’s film focuses more on the tradition of mid-century aesthetics than on feminist politics in the era feminist girlboss It was sold to the masses. Even in the wake of potentially radical change (both good and bad) for women and other marginalized groups in various aspects of industry and life – such as the Me Too movement, the 2016 presidential election, the coup Ro Fifth. valleyMotivating political figures like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, people posting black squares on Instagram in 2020 – do not worry my love He feels too isolated to reach his political ambitions. Within this world, the cracks of Alice’s reality reveal few other, but wide-ranging, insights into unequal gender roles, in exchange for a more considerate analysis of how power works in the Victory Project.

But do not worry my love She attempts to recast the current phase of feminism by putting her ideals in dialogue with contemporary forms of digital technology: the glasses Jack imposes on Alice is a way of seeing, albeit in a man’s world. (Think of Google Glass, but for eg. Meta, but for men’s rights activists.) Dreams of watered-down work haven’t changed much since 2004 Stepford wives A remake, but the persistence of the metaphors presented in the original film may be evidence of the mismatch between progressive politics and the capitalist ecosystems that are swallowing them whole. in do not worry my love , My future Technology is supposed to promise a new future for characters, but it does so by restricting everyone to the past. And although the men in Project Victory talk a lot about going to work, it is the women who provide all the work.

Probably the biggest takeaway from do not worry my love is that Stepford’s aesthetic is a soothing, familiar, comfortable acronym for conservatism and non-progress, and a location where residents can choose not to have larger political conversations. Making use of the visual and spatial language of Stepford wives To help us understand our relationship to gender, work, and technology, it is clear that the rights of women and other groups remain unresolved, no matter how brand or digital they are. And as Marshall says vehemently, the housewife is the best technique. Now, who is buying?

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