Like most failed bloggers I prefer to think of myself more generally as a failed writer. I’ve failed to finish that novel I was working on, failed to put on that play I was thinking about. I’ve been ignored by the finest literary agents this country has to offer, been knocked back by the most prominent production companies working today and had a sitcom rejected by none other than the British Broadcasting Corporation. I’ve failed completely at the very highest of levels.
My current, top secret project – top secret not for reasons of secrecy but because no bugger will ever read it – is moving slowly towards completion. Of a shaky first draft. Here we have perhaps the first screenplay to successfully combine a searing examination of the human condition – the banality of existence, the futility of optimism – with gags about poo and Elia Kazan. It’s sure to delight audiences young and old and/or the shoebox it’ll end up sitting in. Sadly, the time spent crafting this soon to be rejected masterpiece is eating into the time spent on matters of Zero, meaning this blog has lately seen less activity than Val Kilmer’s voicemail.
He doesn’t work much, see. Right now I’m tip-toeing through the first act of the first draft, stopping every now and then to rework the structure, rejig the characters, rework my rejiggings and cry myself to sleep. It’s slow, emotionally punishing work. I’m in every respect yer classic tortured artist, if you ignore the almost total absence of actual talent. During the current stage of anguished character regiggery I’m doing what all right-on, air-punching, petition-Tweeting non-activists should do: I’m checking my privilege.
Where we are right now, this thing’s character base is about as diverse as UKIP’s mailing list. The lead character’s a man. So are two of his three friends. So’s his manager, the only character in a position of power. There are two women: both potential love interests, both underwritten and bland, one worrying close to movie-kook. Every character is white, kind of: I’ve not mentioned ethnicity but if I picture them they’re as white as I am. Every character is straight, at least when sexuality gets a mention. All but one are able-bodied. It’s a hundred percent evident this thing’s been written by a white, able-bodied, heterosexual man.
Some of this is justifiable, even necessary. Being vaguely autobiographical, and being as how its writer has a very limited imagination, we’ve got a me-alike in the lead role. That could change but it would take a spot of talent, imagination and skill which are qualities I don’t have so much as lack completely. It’s set in the dead-end, white-ass small town I grew up in. Too much in the way of skin colour would blow it, open the place up more than it is. The sexuality thing I can’t excuse. The gender thing’s lousy.
This isn’t the only piece of work in the world. It doesn’t have to be wholly representative or packed full of underrepresented types to balance out all the white-ass, hetero-centric, male-dominated anti-feminist balls there is in the world. But I can do better than a bunch of white, able-bodied straight guys and the women they fancy. Naturally, all this hand-wringing brings to mind the Bechdel Test. Back in 1985 cartoonist Alison Bechdel was working on Dykes to Watch Out For, a comic strip we’ve all heard of and read regularly and if you haven’t you’re homophobic and shame on you. In one strip, some character or other says she’ll only see films if (i) they have at least two women in them who (ii) talk to each other about (iii) something besides a man. Barely anything passes this test.
Naysayers and contrarians have taken issue with this, noting sexist clag like Showgirls passes the test while something like Gravity, which has a decent lead female role, fails on technicalities. But to miss the point so completely would be to completely miss the point. Most films limit their female characters to decorative fuck toys or incidental nobodies. I’m not going to write like that. Even if my thing gets read by hardly anyone, seen by nobody and liked by nobody else, it matters to not write like that.