Re: Lollipop Chainsaw – An Open Letter to James Gunn

You know, James Gunn, for a man who writes for the horror genre, you sure don't seem to know much about your target demographic. Did you know that more women buy tickets to horror movies than men? So, when you say, "who doesn't want to have a beautiful, young, 18-year-old cheerleader with lots of up-skirt shots in the middle of zombie carnage?", I feel compelled to answer you. But, actually, I think you might be able to answer the question yourself! Think about it. Who doesn't want that?

I'll give you a hint: remember when I told you about people who like horror? Oh, right! Women! Including straight women. Oh, and remember gay men? Also, any number of other people who, for whatever reason, don't think that barely-legal crotches are super fun to look at? Those people like zombies, too. So weird, right? I'm sure it's hard to remember, as a straight man, that not everybody else is a straight man. Sometimes I forget that I'm not a straight man, too. All of the video games that I play seem to be telling me that I am one, so it can be really difficult to remember sometimes.

I do understand your concerns about making your game seem original. After all, zombie stories have saturated the market in the past few years, particularly in video games. It's hard to make oneself stand out from a pack that includes franchises like Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, and Dead Space. But luckily, James Gunn, you have really come up with something completely new and different here. I'm talking about your lead character Juliet, a young lady whom you call "unique."

"Unique" means one of a kind. We've never seen a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, barely-18-year-old, busty cheerleader before. We've certainly never seen a highly sexualized bastion of performative femininity appear in a video game before, with fighting moves accompanied by sparkly girl stuff. And we've never seen a blonde cheerleader who kicks supernatural butt before. Indeed, the entire concept of a school girl who wears a uniform of some kind that includes a short, pleated skirt, who fights supernatural baddies, who flashes some up-skirt during high kicks, all while being barely-of-legal age (or younger!) and having "an innocence about her" (read: don't worry, fellas, she's a virgin) ... has never been done.

I'm sorry for all that sarcasm, Mr. Gunn. You must be feeling so embarrassed! Not only did you completely forget to market to all of the zombie-obsessed people who aren't straight men, you also forgot about the trope of the panty-flashing, high-kicking, monster-fighting school girl.

It's okay, though. Don't worry! It's not too late for you to make your game subversive and original.

I know you already came up with all those animations of Juliet flashing her panties. And now you've launched a contest with IGN to find a woman to portray Juliet in promotional videos. So you already have a pretty firm idea of what Juliet will look like in this game. Here's the thing, though: I'm worried that despite all of your talk of Juliet being "interesting" and "unique," she might come across as ... not those things. Especially given that your stated first requirement for playing her would be a "stunningly beautiful" appearance, as opposed to, y'know, acting chops. Makes me wonder whether this character has much emotional heft to her at all.

Now, it's been a little while since Buffy came out, and I don't necessarily expect you to understand what I mean when I say that Juliet would be a lot more "interesting" and "unique" if she subverted our expectations of what a cheerleader can and can't do. So I'll lay out the specifics for you.

The game opens during cheerleading practice. Use this section of the game as the beginning of training us gamers how to play. You can show us how Juliet moves around and picks things up by having her perform cheer-leading steps, picking up batons and pom-poms and so on. Her fellow cheerleaders seem befuddled and intimidated by her, but we don't know why ... yet.

Then, Juliet goes home to her work-out room finish her exercise for the day, thus completing the training mode of the game. In her basement, she has an arsenal of weapons, not to mention punching bags, a weight bench with all the accoutrements, and motivational posters of all the greats: Jill Valentine, Purna, Buffy, and so on. She's got shelves full of zombie flicks and video games.

The girl is Prepared with a capitol P for the zombie apocalypse. We soon learn that her family has trained her to live this life. She doesn't have a boyfriend. She doesn't have friends, either. Even though she's gorgeous, her Amazonian strength and height intimidate everyone, and her gleeful obsession with the zombie apocalypse freaks people out; this explains why she doesn't realize how attractive she is. Zombies are the only thing she cares about -- although, in spite of this apocalypse obsession, she also maintains an almost childish, over-the-top interest in performative femininity and an affinity for pigtails, sparkles and the color pink. No one understands her, and her unusual interests make her a target for mockery at school. But she'll be the only one who survives when the undead burst from the ground. And by the time they do, both Juliet and the gamer controlling her will be fully prepared to kick all manner of ass.

The juxtaposition of performative femininity with hardcore violence has been done before in Buffy and Bayonetta, and in the right hands, Lollipop Chainsaw could be a feminist critique of gender roles and how we define "toughness" and "hardcoreness" in video games, the horror genre, and American society at large. The very title Lollipop Chainsaw suggests a study in seeming contradictions.

Unfortunately, most of the game's promotional videos emphasize the sexualization of Juliet rather than what makes her a subversive character. The "interesting" part of her character -- her joyous, bouncy embrace of both rainbows and wanton destruction -- gets overshadowed by up-skirt shots. The video game looks less like gender critique and more like a zombie-themed porn. Not that there's anything wrong with porn or sexualized images of barely-legal cheerleaders -- but all of that stuff is certainly not "unique" or "interesting," now is it?

Why be lazy? Why be cliche? If you wanted to, Mr. Gunn, you could create a subversive, mind-bending game that really makes gamers think about their own expectations for what a blonde female cheerleader can do. Perhaps the panty shots are just to lure in and fool gamers into watching a clever, feminist take-down of traditional gender roles. One can only hope.

In the meantime, good luck finding a "stunningly beautiful" actress to portray Juliet in your internet promotional videos. If you want a feminist to help you write the sketches, you know where to find me. One last thing, though: I don't like the sound of IGN's Greg Miller saying that he will be "bugging the hell out of each of these women." You should probably tell him to tone it down a little bit.

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