D.E.B.S. is about an all-girl school for super spies, in which — SPOILER! — the star pupil, Amy, falls for a completely inappropriate, but charming, super villain named Lucy Diamond. Lucy drives a gigantic old car with tail fins (baby blue instead of black) and eventually decides to reform for love. Sound familiar? Amy's friends and colleagues do care about her, and she them, but they do not like it at all when she doesn't meet their idea of what she should be, and end up making her rather miserable. However, it's a comedy, a satire, and great good fun.
Before I get into the serious part of the discussion, let me just say that this movie is an unsung, candy-colored gem and I highly recommend it. It's rated PG-13, but isn't even as risqué as BtVS and contains only cartoonish, property-damage-type violence. Unless there is some objection to letting your kids know that girls can like like each other, it's not controversial. I think my daughter saw it when she was 8 or 9, and while the romance didn't especially appeal to her, the "girls as super spies" angle did. It mos def meets the Bechdel Test. It's not perfect, but it's perfectly entertaining. Rebcake says check it out.
On to the mini-meta:
All the talk about female objectification in comics has got me looking at things with a slightly heightened awareness (though it's always pretty high) and a few things stood out. First, the students in D.E.B.S. all wear some variation on a schoolgirl uniform: plaid skirt, white shirt, and school tie, even though they are supposed to be college-age. Funny, but problematic. On the surface, it smacks of trying to infantillize our heroines. However, each student has customized her outfit. Some wear knee socks and flats with a standard hemline, some wear 3-inch heels and hike the hemline. Some wear cunning sweater sets, some wear stompy boots. In the end, it's clear that the women are expressing themselves through their clothing choices, so far as they may, and this is actually an important feminist idea. The right of women to choose their own adornments is one of the first battlefields in womens' rights. Why do you think that bra burning was ever an issue? Of course, the right to go braless is the same as the right to wear a hijab or the right to wear 3-inch stiletto heels. Self determination is the issue. It's what people have been calling agency. Even though D.E.B.S. is a broad comedy with an overlying aesthetic of tiny girls in short skirts holding enormous guns and occassionally running in inappropriate footwear, it doesn't feel exploitative. It feels like we're all in on the joke of how ridiculous that stuff is. The filmmakers are giving the audience credit for being savvy enough get it, and they are right. We do get it.
I think the BtVS comic was trying for the same thing, at first. The hyper-individualized Slayers that made up the Slayer Army were the very definition of sartorial girl power. I loved it, but when they stopped being the focus, it seemed like the standard comic vernacular crept in until the opposite message of "scantily dressed girls are hot" was the overriding one. At least visually. It bores me, when it's not making me mad.
And I am mad. I'm mad that I can no longer show Buffy to my daughter, so that we can laugh together at how silly it is that people underestimate girls.
I think it's pertinent that the writer/director, Angela Robinson, is a queer woman of color. I heard her speak at a film festival, and I'd like to hear more from her. I wish Joss would give her a job, though she seems to be doing well enough writing/directing/producing The L Word and Hung. I like genre stuff, like funny spy shows (Chuck) and supernaturally infused dramedies (Pushing Daisies, Reaper), so that's what she should be doing, IMO. We need voices like hers in our corner. Especially now, when I feel like we are being shouted down like a Twilight trailer at Comic-Con.