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Lara Croft – role model!

Angelina Jolie, curvaceous star of the latest movie based on mega-hit computer game, Tomb Raider, reckons that the busty, heavily-armed heroine is a role model for women. Hmmm. An interesting thought. Croft knows how to handle guns, is mighty tough in a fight, and is rather easy on the eye (as Ms Jolie assuredly is). The ultimate libertarian heroine, perhaps?

A libertarian poster girl?

A feature of popular culture in these past few years has been the ascent of the kick-ass female movie/tv star. Think of Buffy, for example; the character Trinity in the Matrix films, or the ladies on Charlies’ Angels. I think the whole thing got started with the likes of Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg in the old Avengers television series, and in some of the better James Bond movies.

One thing all these women have in common is that they are a million miles away from the ‘victim culture’. Nothing passive or helpless about them. It seems that popular culture is diverging increasingly from the political and legal realm. On the one hand, you have superheroes and heroines on the Big Screen. On the other, you have twerps suing fast-food joints for ‘making’ them fat.

I wonder what explains this divide?

38 comments to Lara Croft – role model!

  • Joe

    The explanation lies in the “twerps” never experiencing the difference between playing Lara Croft on a Tomb raider game and getting out there and being Lara Croft.

    (oh I was so tempted to write “having” rather than “being” 😉

  • Bombadil

    While I appluad the rise of the kick-ass female like any true geek, I believe a large element of it is anti-gun propaganda being pushed by Hollywood.

    Consider: why does a woman need a handgun for self-defense when she can just stand toe to toe with her attacker and beat him down? Never mind that in real life a 110lb woman has virtually no chance of fighting off a 200lb man in hand to hand combat … hell, Xena takes on 15 men at a time and thrashes them soundly! So turn in those guns, ladies.

  • Bombardil: I think you might be on to something… but that is clearly not the case with Croft, who is armed to the teeth (and as Lara Croft lives in Britain, she is armed to the teeth with weapons that are highly illegal, making her even more of a libertarian poster-girl!)

  • S. Weasel

    Bombadil: the first Charlie’s Angels flick was very definitely anti-gun. The bad guys carried them, the good guys didn’t. But that’s okay, because you can get out of the way of a bullet (or a rocket!) by jumping up in the air and twirling real fast (oh, there’s a good idea to stick in somebody’s head). I didn’t mean to watch it; it was on a trans-Atlantic flight.

    Lara, on the other hand, really would not be Lara without her two gigantic, sturdy…ummm…they look like Berretta 92FSs.

    And my opinion is that a hyper-aggressive, hyper-violent male character wouldn’t pass the censors these days (if not literal censors, at least the self-appointed cultural ones). Well, we certainly aren’t going to do without our violence in the movies, thank you very much, so we’ll make the girls do it for a while.

    Oh, never mind. I just love Berrettas.

  • The first (and second) Charlies Angels movies were anti-gun, because producer Drew Barrymore is very, very anti-gun. She, of course, was the one who pressured godfather Steven Spielberg into removing guns from the special edition of ET.

  • D Anghelone

    In which tomb did she find Slingblade Thornton?

  • T. Hartin

    Not sure exactly what Ms. Croft is packing as her go-to artillery (hmm, there’s a good topic for a Google search), but I do know that the formerly super-secret Heckler & Koch P-11 underwater pistol is featured in the movie.

  • Johnathan,

    The culture of the litigious victim and the fascination with impossible heroines do not represent any kind of divide. Quite the contrary, both flow from the desire to escape – responsibility for what one is in the first instance and the reality of what one is in the second.

    The burger chains and Hollywood are different in only one respect. Hollywood’s consumers have had their brains so scrambled not even the lawyers among them have worked out how to sue.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    The ironic thing about comparing Croft to the Bond girls is that I think the two best Bond movies are the two without real “Bond Girls”:

    “From Russia With Love” is a terrific taut spy thriller that doesn’t have to be about James Bond and still holds up well 40 years after its release.

    “For Your Eyes Only” is the only really good Moore flick in the series. It got away from the campiness and truly outrageous plots of the other Moore films (see Moonraker; I’m sure Dale Amon was thrilled with Moonraker’s portrayal of space travel! :-). Interestingly, from what I’ve read Moore didn’t want to do things the way the director did in that movie. The director won out, thankfully.

  • T. Hartin

    Well, that was easy. There are, of course, two Lara Crofts. The video game version favors Desert Eagles (.44 Magnum), while the movie version sports a striking pair of, yes, Heckler & Koch P8s (as well as the P-11 noted above).

    You can buy your own replicas here.

    As the proud owner of H&K firearms myself, I applaud Ms. Jolie’s taste in portable artillery.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Guessdworker wonders whether there is a divide between the superhero pop culture and the victim culture. I still think there is a disconnect going on. Yes, I admit there is an escapist issue here – fair point – but I still find it interesting that movies and television shows like Buffy or the Matrix show folk being strong and resourceful, and yet we get stuff like this crazy fast-food lawsuit nonsense.

    Or maybe there is another issue here, which is worth exploring – our lives have become so safe, relatively speaking, that we need this kind of superheroine stuff as a kind of compensation. Wadya think?

  • Larry

    Not that the “kick-ass” women heros comes to us via Japan, not exactly a model libertarian society.

    Lots of room for deep theory here!

    Perhaps people living in a tightly regimented society seek escape in fantasy. Men get to watch the T&A and violence, women enjoy … women hitting men?

    What’s the real world impact. I doubt that these stories recruit for the National Rife Assn or Samizdata.

    Perhaps the main result: destroying the cultural resistance (never perfect, but real — pls no posts about current domestic violence #s) against men hitting women.

    Boys growing up watching women bashing men seem unlikely to consider them off-limits, frail flowers that its unfair to hit.

    Perhaps another example of unintended & opposite results from well-ment “propaganda.” Another triumph for social engineering.

  • A_t

    i love your simplistic ‘liberal elite’ take on the whole thing… like some machiavellian well-meaning ‘liberals’ are sat there in hollywood, going “hmm… now, how can we spread anti-gun culture whilst promoting feminist liberation”.

    It’s far more complex than that; do you think hollywood doesn’t use focus groups at least as much as politicians do? Do you think they’re more interested in promoting their ‘liberal agenda’ than making money?

    Fact is, at the moment, ass-kicking heroines go down well in Western culture, due to whatever complex social factors are in play. This isn’t just in the movies; check out the way (for instance) Destiny’s child present themselves, or 2/3 of the female R&B artists in the charts at the moment.

  • The problem with the New Heroine is that she represents an underlying fantasy, not an underlying reality. There are too many contradictions in our attitudes to make it really stick. It’s ego-stroking for young girls, but it doesn’t actually teach them anything about themselves. Unless we’re willing to live in a society which shrugs off male-to-female violence in the way it does male-to-male violence–which most civilized people categorically are not–then we must admit that we’re just kidding ourselves with all the Powerpuff Girls-Laura Croft-Buffy-Trinity schitck.

    If this is the new feminist ideal, then they can no longer blame the rest of us for setting unrealistic expectations for women. If a every girl thinks she’s supposed to be prettier, stronger, more athletic, more agressive, and more everything else than the men around them, whose fault is it when they realize that this image is a complete and utter fabrication? How do they explain away their segregation at the Olympics, or the special regard they recieve in matters of military service? Who’s going to shoulder the blame this time around for setting “unfair expectations?”

    What I find really hysterical is this: The producers of Buffy want to convey a particular image about the potentialities of young girls–the message, rather lacking in any subtlety in its delivery, is obvious. But if the real, live Buffy can’t physically take a single one of her male co-stars in a fight to the death–and this is almost certainly the case–then one has to admit that the entire premise is a sham, isn’t it? If it only works in front of a camera, with lots of coreography, then who are we bullshitting here? And if you’re going to tell me it’s all a metaphor, then I direct you to the “women are ready for combat” mentality that found itself on display in respectable editorial pages all over the Western world following the largely hyped and distorted capture fo Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

    In short, these movies might be fun, and there’s surely nothing in them that’s going to bring down civilization as we know it. But I have to laugh when I see the extent to which people get carried away with it, and fall into actually thinking that this is the way things could work in real life, if only we tried hard enough. Sorry, but until you tell me you don’t see a qualitative difference between punching your wife and punching your brother, I’m not buying it.

  • Oh, and Larry really nails my point: Do we want to live in a world where chivalrous attitudes toward women by men are considered brutish? Most people who say such things haven’t thought fully through the implications of what they’re saying.

    I’ve been in a few fist-fights with other men, but never with a woman (well, I’ve never swung back, anyway). And the constant portrayal of down-and-dirty fist-fights between men and women can’t possibly be healthy. I can tell you at least one real-life story that I know of wherein a girl took this stuff to heart, decided she could take her boyfriend, and had what she herself described as the most terrifying experience of her life, as she found herself flung all over the apartment.

    In real life, the girl seldom wins these toe-to-toe bareknuckle slugfests, and it’s stupid to encourage girls to think otherwise. It’s even more stupid to encourage boys to think of them as legitimate targets for a brawl, isn’t it? After all, just how many of them will turn out to be masters of tae kwon do?

  • S. Weasel

    Do you think they’re more interested in promoting their ‘liberal agenda’ than making money?

    Yup, sure do.

    De Vany’s research substantiates film writer Michael Medved’s claim that the typical PG film generates three times the revenue of the typical R-rated movie, yet Hollywood continues to produce more R-rated films than any other classification.


    Researching a sample of more than 2,000 movies that were released in North America from 1985 to 1996, De Vany determined that though R-rated movies were by far the majority in terms of production, the G, PG and PG 13 films had a higher proportion of hits – those with cumulative box office revenues in excess of $50 million – at the box office.


    De Vany agrees with Medved’s reasoning for the continued production of R-rated movies, saying that commerce has taken a backseat to art as Hollywood producers, executives and stars strive for artistic praise by making and appearing in edgy, counterculture films and staying away from any film that they consider panders to the public.


    Mind you, I like R rated movies, but that wasn’t the question.

  • Johnathan,

    Thanks for the response. I’m going leave my escapism argument there and go with yours this time because something in it is extremely interesting.

    Forget Lara Croft and Buffy for now and just concentrate on the burger litigators. Putting aside pecuniary gain, what is their motivation? Well yes, a transfer of blame as I said originally, but also a deeply satisfying lashing out, a getting even for a lifetime of pent-up anger, frustration and helplessness. At last, there is someone or something one can hit and, in the act of hitting, really believe that is is inately right and just. It is violence in a good cause. It is zapping the real bad guys, the forces of darkness etc, etc.

    So, again we are unified with Lara and the Slayer. The whole appeal of fictional heroes and heroines exist is as ciphers through which we can experience a little of the power and righteousness we crave but lack in real life.

    Now, we’re obviously seeing a lot more of this victime culture. It must mean that we are conscious of some profound changes in modern life. If we as a people feel increasingly powerless and increasingly forced into a corner not of our own choosing, many other opportunities will arise for corrective action. I won’t suggest them now in case I get accused again of trolling, but some are extremely frightening.

    Don’t assume that a victim culture need always be the expression of pathetic people or even people responsible for their plight. Righteousness has no such limit.

  • Merlin

    While I applaud the idea of strong, confidant role models for young women, the idea of these Lora Croft – Buffy types is just incredibly unrealistic. As several writers above have pointed out, the idea of these women actually being able to kick the ass of some 250 lb, 6′ 7″ guy is just absurd. He’d break her in half.

    The real problem with this is that a lot of young people really believe this crap. They don’t take in the facts of choreography, special effects, stunt people, retakes, etc.

    Some of the young women using these characters as role models are going to decide they are Buffy, and like the example someone used above, get their little asses royally kicked!

    This stuff is so counterprodutive in so many ways as to boggle the mind.

  • S. Weasel

    I dunno, Merlin. How many kids really did jump off rooftops thinking they were Superman? Just one or two of Darwin’s little godsons, I should think.

    Every time I’m tempted to criticize Hong Kong action flicks or women warrior movies for being unrealistic, I remember that we’ve been having this conversation since the Man of Steel appeared in 1938.

    Frankly, I think fantasies are more dangerous the closer they get to reality (without actually reaching it). How many women have gotten messed up because they confused what happens in romance movies with what they could expect from real relationships? How many guys have been led astray about the glories and risks of combat from war flicks?

    At least with Lara Croft and Superman, you find out you aren’t up to their standard pretty damn quick. If you survive it.

  • Bobby

    “Not that the “kick-ass” women heros comes to us via Japan, not exactly a model libertarian society.”

    I am rather certain that Lara Croft is a 100% British Invention.

  • Only problem with all those movies: they have resulted in some cack video games. Tomb Raider should have retired about 3 games ago. Matrix Reloaded: the game is a pile of dung. Buffy is a far better character that Lara, and could beat her to a pulp too.

  • emma

    It’s interesting that these superheroines can be beautiful, intelligent and hold good moral theories without a tinge of irony, whereas nowadays male superheroes are always played with a sardonic smirk (e.g. Wesley in The Princess Bride).

    Is there something in modern attitudes towards heroism, frontier-ship and good vs. evil that makes it impossible for John-Wayne-style characters (just saw True Grit – genius!) to be played by men but fine for them to be played by women? What on earth is the cause of this?

  • A_t

    S. Weasel… that is indeed interesting! i’d suggest still that there’s no evidence of a liberal agenda, tho’ maybe an artistic one is present.

    Sage, “Sorry, but until you tell me you don’t see a qualitative difference between punching your wife and punching your brother, I’m not buying it.” Surely “sister” would be more appropriate in this context… & hey, call me a big f***ing wuss, but i’m inclined to believe that violence is not an acceptable means to achieve your ends whether you’re dealing with a man or a woman (well, unless the other person starts it, in which case, see how it goes).

    furthere, saying buffy etc. are irresponsible for suggesting to young women that they might kick some physical ass… get a grip! Women are very conscious for the most part of where they really stand, when it comes to physical violence, hence why it’s so pleasurable to at least see *someone* turning the tables. Further, it’s metaphorical in many domains; there are plenty areas where women can “kick ass” as well as men, but men tend to assume they can’t (check out any tech job for a start).

    Furthermore, why does it have to be social-engineering agenda-driven? Why can’t it just be a pleasurable concept? I personally gain nothing in terms of empowerment from the idea that a small good-looking blonde chick can kick some ass, but just try & take my buffy box sets away!

    & if you still insist that the makers of buffy are irresponsible, while we’re at it, let’s demand total realism in films; it’s clearly highly irresponsible to suggest the hero can go up alone against the mafia/viet-cong/whatever flavour-of-the-month villians, so let’s insist he gets killed within 2 minutes of starting the fight next time. Let’s also make sure the ‘renegade’ cop gets sacked & ends up on welfare the first time he causes a major car accident. Actually, i’d love to see a movie like that, but i think the general public might be put off!

  • Weasel:

    You probably skipped past my earlier post on the subject, since I rambled for too long. But in response to your question, yes, I have known of a couple girls who have taken this image to heart, and gotten beaten to a pulp by men–who I’m guessing didn’t spin in the air and land on a rickety table the way they were supposed to. One girl in particular bragged constantly about how she could take any man, and so on, and religiously watched Buffy, Xena, et al.

    Again, she described her attempt to test this theory on her boyfriend, a very slightly built and gentle guy without a mean bone in his body, as the most scary experience of her life. She has since openly recanted her former opinion and now mocks the people who propagate (and lap up) this delusion that men and women are alike in all things except looks and sexual equipment.

  • A_t, the problem with your line of thought is that the makers of these kinds of features are explicit that their intent is to change the way people think about the sexes. They say so all the time. So don’t offer up a defense of their work that they themselves have already disavowed.

    Of course, these are the same people who will say that violence in films doesn’t affect behavior–while maintaining that the gender of the perpetrators of that violence is of critical importance, because somehow that WILL change peoples’ behavior. It’s all nonsense, so I just let it go at that.

    I only get involved in these conversations, I think, because I loathe Buffy, find it repellent in every way, and would rather sit through a Spice Girls marathon than endure a single hour of it. If there is a hell, not only will I go there but I’ll be subjected to an eternity of Buffy reruns.

    But in case you think me incapable of magnanimity, I endured the shame of walking up to the counter and buying not one, but TWO seasons of the show for my wife, who adores it. That’s love, let me tell you.

  • My one lingering question is – why is the catsuit the required uniform of the kick-ass female movie/tv star?

    Angelina’s Lara (& the image in this post) presents an iteresting perspective on the catsuit. Trinity in the Matrix, & a couple of kick-ass characters from various incarnations of Star Trek, all wear catsuits to kick ass.

    So is this really a great leap forward for depictions of women, or just an excuse to put more curves in movies aimed at teenage boys?

  • I just wanted to observe what an interesting series of comments this article has spawned… good stuff.

  • veryretired

    What seems to be going on in movies is an attempt to show strong female characters. The problem is, the only way the formulaic writers and producers in LaLa land can imagine anyone being strong is to be a combination of Bruce Lee and Arnold, with a little Rambo thrown in. In other words, they do what Michaelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel and simply make their female characters into males in disguise.

    This is a profound disservice to young women, (and as the father of a very athletic and intelligient 12 year old, I worry about such things), because it minimizes the true strengths of women in society, and replaces them with the Hollywood “rogue cop” stereotype. You know, in movies, the hero is always a rogue who has to do things his, or her, way, and to hell with all the rules or teamwork or whatever might get in the way.

    I have seen stength in the women in my own family, and many others in public and private life, and courage beyond anything needed to sky dive or do jump kicks in some brawl, (although my mother once broke her hand punching some guy who had cold cocked my Grampa in a bar, so its not all quiet, internalized courage).

    My grandmother was a tough cookie, 5-2 and 300 lbs, who swore like a sailor, and ran our family with an iron fist. She knew where every penny went, gave birth to my mother in a farmhouse in Montana, watched one of her daughters die from kidney disease, stuck by my grampa through a roller coaster life marked by the depression and WW2, and his habit of disappearing for a few days every once in awhile, had a laugh that could light up a funeral parlor, and made the best apple pie that anyone ever felt melt in their mouth.

    My mother quit college to work in the war industry when her fiancee was killed in North Africa in 1942, worked all her life to support herself long before it became fashionable, took care of her mother during a long and painful illness, fought like a tiger against the poor care she felt my grampa was receiving when a stroke forced him, blind and crippled, to take up residence in a nursing home, and then nursed my late stepfather through a years long strugle with terminal cancer. Today, at almost 80, she’s independent, opinionated, and ready to argue politics or baseball with equal fervor.

    The point of this narrative is not that it is unusual, but that anyone reading it could write a similar story about the various female members of their family, or find any number of other examples, like the late, fabulous Kate Hepburn, of strong, powerful women who could demonstrate more authority and strength with a look than all these leaping and karate chopping Hollywood caricatures could in a million movies.

    It has been a disaster for many modern women to buy into the fallacy that being like men was a sure-fire recipe for success, power, and fulfillment.

    My mother tells of a day when her supervisor in the accounting office where she was in charge of payrolls came out of his office, yelled her name, and added, “get the hell in here and explain this set of figures”. She sat at her desk for a moment, and he came over towards her waving some papers. She stood up, looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t allow anyone, even my own husband, to speak to me in that tone of voice. When you have calmed down, let me know. I’m going to get some coffee.” He later apologized, in front of the entire office. No karate chops were required.

  • Nancy

    Real power indeed, veryretired. Wonderful post.

  • Perry, not only are you right about the quality of this thread, but I must say without any irony whatsoever that Samizdata has the best comments thread in the blogosphere. As heated as it gets at times, even the resident dissenters from the Samizdata line on things, like A_t, are extremely thoughtful and well-mannered (by internet standards, of course).

    My new election drive: Samizdata Crew for Supreme Council!! 🙂

  • Gregory Litchfield

    Unfortunately, every time I see the comely Ms. Jolie, all I can think of is her kissing her own brother, with her tongue, at the Academy Awards.

    That, and Billy Bob Slingblade.


  • Oddly enough.

    I am a 6’7″+, 235lb, reasonably in-shape male. Nothing special though, I don’t work out much, but I’m not overweight.

    My girlfriend is 5’9″, 160lbs, in good shape AND practices martial arts. (Lucky me.)

    I have every confidence she would kick my sorry butt if we were to go toe to toe in anything like a fair-style fight, BUT unless she had the drop on me it wouldn’t be a “cake walk” for her. She be constantly in danger that I could with luck bring greater reach and mass to bear and negate her skill.

    (My sister is 6″ and in good shape, but not a martial arts keener, if we wrestle she _always_ loses. )

    If *I* knew what I was doing and could have the care to work out, the GF would be out of luck. She’s tried against men her own size who do, she consistently loses if she has to play to their strengths.

    Of course that’s why of Mr. Colt’s patent revolvers it is said “God created man, Colt made ’em equal’. Don’t fight fair, shoot first.

    All those heroines are analagous to my GF, but more so, they work out and they practice martial arts *all the time*, which is NOT brought out in the fantasy. They also consistently win due to surprise, and good target picking.

    With surprise, (Oh look, a pretty girl = no threat – bad guess.) skill, and one on one with a big woman, or with mechanical aids (guns , swords) a woman could consistently win.

    My point is that the characters are not completely impossible, but that to achieve what 50% of the healthy male population could do is probably only achievable by 10% , or less, of the female equivalent group. And what is achievable physically by the top 5% of males probably not even 0.1% of women.
    (Numbers made up. Something like that. )

    The catsuit thing, well, much women’s “normal” clothes *are* useless – or a nuisance – in a fight.


  • Larry

    My earlier post was not clear. I believe the bad effect of Buffy, et al is on boys — not girls.

    I suspect few girls will risk life & limb by fighting guys.

    But these shows weaken the cultural prohibitions against guys hitting girls.

    Since domestic violence is already too high, should we weaken these social defenses in pursuit of good theater?

    Oh wait — we can just pass more laws against domestic violence, with longer sentances! Why depend on cultural conventions when the gov’t can take care of us?

    BTW — Lana is British, Buffy american — but the fighting girl warrior (latest version) I believe comes to us from Japan. See must of their 1980s animation.

  • T. Hartin

    Howsabout some real life Lara Croft action? Check out how one General Husam (Hossam) Mohammed Amin (that’s the 6 of clubs to you and me) got busted:

    As Baldus approached, she came under fire from unseen gunmen in surrounding buildings. A man bolted from the bush ahead and she pursued, knocking him to the ground with a blow to the head from the butt of her weapon.

    “He looked up at her and all he could say was ‘You’re a woman.’ Heather told him ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I won’t put a bullet through your head.’

    I think I’m in love.

  • In US culture, the kick-ass female goes waaay back. Back beyond the feisty western-movie rancherettes and the pacifist turned six-gunner, Grace Kelly, in High Noon; to the flintlock/Winchester-toting pioneer women; to the revolutionary cannoneer heroine, Molly Pitcher.

  • Larry

    DougM, I disagree.

    Yes, strong & aggressive women appear throughout western history & myth — back to the Amazons, or Jael killing Sisera with a tent spike.

    The current version, is different in at least two ways.

    1. No link to family/marriage, or romance as prop — just as with male-led adventurers like Bond. Unlike, for example, westerns like High Noon, Tall in the Saddle, or Calamity Jane.

    2. Direct contact fights with men.

    Of course, this did not appear with no prior art. Remember Emma Peel in the Avengers? Between her and Buffy lies a straight line, 40 years of social evolution.

    It’s interesting but futile to debate, the forces at work are beyond control — but are we better for this development?

  • Johnathan

    Great comments above. Thanks. I think one thing which I have learned reading them, when thinking back to the original news article I linked to, is the escapism issue. Maybe in our nanny state culture, etc, we need some kind of outlet, some way of imagining a different world where petty restrictions don’t apply.

    I watched the Bond movie From Russia With Love the other day, and recall the scene where 007 takes a suitcase packed with nasty goodies on a trip to Turkey. Imagine that happening today with checks at airports, etc. Fleming created a world in which bureacracy hardly existed.

    Anyway, any excuse to give Perry a chance to put pictures of hot women on the blog has to be a good thing! Heh

  • mary

    Lara Croft is an action hero, whether it’s a male or female only changes the target for the hero/heroine’s sex appeal for audiences, that’s all. A movie character takes a lot more than a videogame, guns and kicks to become a role model, whether for men or women.

    I can think of a thousand more inspiring women roles in movies. Lara Croft is just a male fantasy.