Tuesday, March 08, 2005

On (Miss)placed Words

Yesterday, Oscar Madison linked to an interesting site that suggests that certain roles are more likely to result in a woman winning the Best Actress Academy Award.
Biographies of remarkable, real-life individuals (showbiz figures and entertainers) and portrayals of the mentally ill are heavily represented among Oscar winners (and nominees), particularly in the acting awards. It helps an actress's chances of winning (or being nominated for) an Oscar if the character dies during the movie, or is alcoholic (or drug-addicted), or is a murderess. Also, first-time Oscar nominations are more often given to actresses below or around the age of thirty.

A large number of actresses have also won (or been nominated for) the top acting (and supporting) awards for portraying hookers (girls of the night, party girls, whores, call girls, madams, etc.) or loose women (mistresses, promiscuous ladies, etc.).
Now "murderess" is a word you don't hear too often, and it probably doesn’t have too much to do with my suspicion that women don't murder enough to be talked about in such a specific sense. No, I suspect it's because it's ridiculous to offer a gendered suffix to such a grim crime that transcends (descends?) any of our customary identities like race, class, or gender (oh sure, I am sure these identities affect the crime, but once a person does the deed, well, all recognizable features are off, except for those in the Greek tragedies.)

But why use it here, on this site? I suppose because it's dramatic. But also because Hollywood is as adept as any other industry at creating assumptions and stereotypes of human life that can be nicely typed, summarized, and, in this case, set to screen. "Murderess," then, fits into a deep little image we have of that sexy, provocative, taboo-breaking dame, who is willing to take her passion to a whole new level and sometimes over the edge.


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