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Lara Croft As The Final Girl 181

Clive Thompson, over at Wired, takes a look at the appeal of playing as Lara Croft ... and doesn't focus on her physical assets. From the article: "The Final Girl theory emerged in 1985, when Carol Clover -- a medievalist and feminist film critic -- was dared by a friend to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Back then, most feminist theorists loathed slasher films, and regarded them as classic examples of male misogyny. It wasn't hard to figure out why: Thousands of young men were trooping into theaters to cheer wildly as masked psychos hacked apart screaming young women. That really didn't look good. But as Clover sat in the theaters, she noticed something curious. Sure, the young men would laugh and cheer as the villain hunted down his female prey. But eventually the movie would whittle down the victims to one last terrified woman -- the Final Girl, as Clover called her. Suddenly, the young men in the audience would switch their allegiance -- and begin cheering just as madly for the Final Girl as she attacked and killed the psycho."
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Lara Croft As The Final Girl

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  • Brinke Stevens -- my nomination for favorite Final Girl.
  • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:50PM (#15200575) Journal

    The summary at least misses the point. The audience didn't "switch their allegiances"; in each conflict, they were cheering for the better (generally smarter) of the combatants. That's why those films seldom just have people being killed. Instead:

    1. We meet a character
    2. We get to see how stupid they are (or greedy, or two faced, or whatever)
    3. We get to see what happens to them for it

    Then, at the end, we get to see someone who didn't exhibit these character flaws win.

    It has little or nothing to do with sexism, and everything to do with cheering for people with survival traits.

    --MarkusQ

    • by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @05:17PM (#15200799) Homepage
      "It has little or nothing to do with sexism, and everything to do with cheering for people with survival traits."

      Survival traits? Sorry, not even that. And I could, for example, make a pretty good case for greed BEING a survial trait for you and yours.

      No, such films are nothing more than grown up versions of the boogyman stories parents would tell their children, all about what happens to little kids who do bad things.

      • I could, for example, make a pretty good case for greed BEING a survival trait for you and yours.

        Greed (trying to acquire more resources than you could reasonably need) may have been a survival trait before we became so social. Now, it's anti-survival, but the urge is still there (which is probably the strongest argument for it once being pro-survival). In the kludgefest that is evolution, it hasn't been eliminated, but patched over with various greed-limiting mechanisms.

        The question is, are we applyi

        • "Greed (trying to acquire more resources than you could reasonably need) may have been a survival trait before we became so social. Now, it's anti-survival"

          Um...are you sure you're clear on the definition of survival trait? Greed, in its most base sense today implies hoarding money and doing whatever you can to get more of it. This can potentially have a very large impact on how attractive that person is to members of the opposite sex (particularly a rich guy with women) and thus has a direct affect on h


          • Greed, in its most base sense today implies hoarding money and doing whatever you can to get more of it. This can potentially have a very large impact on how attractive that person is to members of the opposite sex (particularly a rich guy with women) and thus has a direct affect on his chances of successfully reproducing.

            The problem with this assumption is that the facts don't support it. The rich, on average, have fewer children, not more, as you assume. The reasons are complicated, but it basically

            • You are indeed correct regarding poor people having more children, I forgot to take that into account. However in terms of personal survival (rather than survival of the species) I still pose that greed directly affects that especially in terms of quality of life (which affects how long you can live).

              I would even make the leap to say that since greed and selfishness go hand in hand, that it directly affects the amount of risk a person is willing to shift to himself from someone else. A very greedy and s


              • However in terms of personal survival (rather than survival of the species)

                Genes don't optimize the survival of the species. They don't even care about the survival of the individual. The one and only thing that they seek to optimize is the number of copies of themselves that make it into subsequent generations. Genes. Not individuals, not the species. So (from the gene's point of view) none of the other what-ifs matter if you aren't making babies or helping your close kin make babies. A gene for

      • I disagree. In _How the Mind Works_, Stephen Pinker goes into how cheating plays out in small huter-gatherer human groups. Cheating benefits the cheater, but hurts the cheated. While people do try to cheat, they also try to detect and expose cheaters. This creates an arms-race of cheating and cheat-detecting. What results is an equilibrium of fairly ethical behavior.

        The human mind has complex built-in cheating detection algorithms. Anger is a feeling that is directed towards percieved unfairness. It has a
        • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) *
          I think everyone is reading way too much into these crappy films. Lets try a simpler explanation. Ever heard of the Roman colleseium? How about people like to watch violence. They will cheer for the violence itself.

          I don't think the audience members really care who it is thats being hacked to bits... is it the bad boy or the naughty girl. Whatever, its somebody being hacked up. Its sensational, it stirs up all sorts of things, I think people often identify with the killer at first because well, the alternat
          • "I think everyone is reading way too much into these crappy films. Lets try a simpler explanation. Ever heard of the Roman colleseium? How about people like to watch violence. They will cheer for the violence itself."

            This simpler explanation fails because there aren't films of plain old violence without any plot whatsoever. If people really didn't care about plot, and wanted violence only, studios wouldn't waste money hiring actors and writing scripts, etc. They would just have violent scene after violent
            • Right, it describes more than explains....

              However I think this says alot more about the interests and predilictions of the writters and producers than that of the audience. Sure, on some level the audience wants a plot, and the plot is generally designed to cause those reactions in the audiance.

              However, I would submit that many of those elements could be dropped from the plot, and people would still go see the shitty movies.

              -Steve
      • I could, for example, make a pretty good case for greed BEING a survial trait for you and yours.

        MOVIE survival. Greed gets you hacked to pieces by monsters, thus is NOT a survival trait.
    • 1. We meet a character
      2. We get to see how stupid they are
      3. We get to see what happens to them for it


      OH, so THAT's why the girls in "The Descent" were so stupid!
      "Oh, no, I didn't bring the maps, because, guess what, this is a WHOLE NEW CAVE! So the rangers will be looking for us elsewhere while we're dying here trapped! Aren't I great? :D"

    • by nomel ( 244635 )
      But cheering for the last remaining female is also a survival trait. :) I know when I'm with girls in "hostile" environments, I feel a very strong urge (instinct I'm presuming since it happens without choice or forethought) to protect them. Makes sense if we do that, on a more subconscious level of course, in video games where you're helping, guiding, and making decisions about a womans well being that's standing there in third person in front of you. If she wasn't in third person, then there would be nothi
      • I know when I'm with girls in "hostile" environments, I feel a very strong urge (instinct I'm presuming since it happens without choice or forethought) to protect them.

        Tonight on slashdot: nature vs. nurture.

        Sure, it would be useful to the species if the [typically bigger and stronger] males defended females instinctually. However, it's not necessary for that to be the mechanism. It could as easily be a universal societal influence. We are inundated with messages instructing us to behave in a certa

      • Makes sense.

        First, males are generally physically stronger, so they have a better chanse of suceeding in fending off a violent attack.

        Secondly, there's a bigger difference between "success" and "failure" for a male than for a female, evolutionary speaking.

        A female doesn't need to be hugely "successful" to manage to find someone who will consent to making her pregnant. It's true that a better father for her children will improve the chanse of the children growing up, and the chanse that the children th

  • by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:50PM (#15200577) Journal
    So does this mean the young men in question would be True Neutral?
    • So does this mean the young men in question would be True Neutral?

      Hmmm.... No. True Neutral is a stone-hearted jerk who doesn't care either way. If you cheer someone, then you obviously do care. If you cheer the killer at one moment and the victim the next, then you are obviously prone to chance your mind and therefore Chaotic. And since you don't seem to care whether good (the victim) or evil (the psycho) wins, you're obviously Neutral.

      So the correct alignment is Chaotic Neutral.

      Alternatively you c

  • This is why (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cultrhetor ( 961872 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:52PM (#15200591) Journal

    You know, I have an MA in Literary and Rhetorical theory, and this kind of crap is why I left Literary study for Rhetoric and Digital Media when I went for the old Ph.D. The worst part is, I can probably cite most of the papers and books that this woman read, without even finding her references. It gets predictable. Want an alternate reading/viewing? Lara Croft is a modern female version of the "American Adam" archetype, as laid out by R.W.B. Lewis in 1955 in a book by the same name. She's "an individual standing alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever [awaits her] with the aid of [her] own unique and inherent resources" (p.5).

    The point - and I do have one - is simple: the beauty of cultural criticism is that everyone can debate it endlessly, and everyone who's got the right sources can be right! Yay!

    • By "this woman," whom do you mean? Carol Clover?
    • She's "an individual standing alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever [awaits her] with the aid of [her] own unique and inherent resources"

      Wow. I *am* the male Lara Croft! :-)

      But without the guns.

      And without the boobs. Or the good looks. Or the legs. Or the mansion, money and international intrigue. Or the cool butler.

      But other than that, I *am* the male Lara Croft!

    • This the fundamental the problem with the Existentialism: Truth is relative. Thus, there ends up being none. But standards, values, morality... truth, are the only fence between here and total anarchy.

    • You know, I have an MA in Literary and Rhetorical theory
      Yes, but do you work at Burger King or McDonalds? /stereotypical_joke

      No seriously, I always wondered what people with such degrees (literacy and similar) do. Do you work just in research and education, or are there jobs in the industry (like newspaper or publishers)?
    • the beauty of cultural criticism is that everyone can debate it endlessly, and everyone who's got the right sources can be right! Yay!

      No no no, the BEAUTY of it is that everyone can debate it endlessly and PRETEND that it's not about huge tits, when it's clearly the case that it is. That, my friend, is the beauty of cultural criticism.
    • I'm curious since you seem quite knowledgeable on this subject....The Japanese seem to have a somewhat polar opposite archetype and I'm wondering what it might be called. It is basically the unlikely hero who doesn't seem to have a chance in the world of pulling it off, bumbles everything, and then somehow becomes the uber-powerful hero at the end. What exactly would you classify that as? Also, do you have any thoughts as to the underlying cultural reasons why there is such a huge difference between that
  • Kill Bill (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:52PM (#15200597) Homepage Journal
    I don't really know about Lara Croft, but I'd say I felt this for Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. I was like, whoa.. I really want this chick to kick ass!
    • "I really want this chick to kick ass!"

      Bingo. She had a great motivation to be the hero of this story. I think it also helped that the movie didn't take itself too seriously. My girlfriend isn't too keen on super-violent movies, but she got a kick out of that one. I was surprised when we watched the first one and she wanted me to go get the second. I think it's exactly for the reason you mentioned.
  • Cheering? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hackwrench ( 573697 ) <hackwrench@hotmail.com> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:53PM (#15200605) Homepage Journal
    What I don't get is the mention of cheering when the bad guy killed the dumb girl. Didn't they cheer just as loudly when the bad guy killed the idiot boy? For me it was about getting rid of the stupid idiots no matter what their gender and then putting the agent of destruction away once the job was done.
  • by Vokkyt ( 739289 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @04:53PM (#15200610)
    This article just did not have any convincing arguments regarding Lara Croft as a positive thing for female role model. If the intent behind Lara was anything besides selling a game with a sexy icon, then there would be no need for the misproportionate breasts, the sexual innuendos, and the skimpy outfits. If the theory of the "Final Girl" is true, would it not work with any mildly appealing women? Well, the answer to that is even revealed in his article, and that is no; the anonymous gamer, anonymous being indicative of the reliablity of his source, even says that he feels like he's protecting Lara; He's protecting Lara. As much as I dislike the Tomb Raider games, I know enough about them to know that anyone who thinks they are "protecting" Lara is disillusioned and just as misonganistic as any man from the 40's. Lara is not a person who needs protecting; the games make that clear.

    Lara is indeed a girl that every boy wants to be with, but not in a plutonic way; they want to control her, and have her be the object of their sexual fantasies.

    • Lara is indeed a girl that every boy wants to be with, but not in a plutonic way; they want to control her

      Lord knows I tried, but the camera angles are just so shitty. Seriously, I'm like "I know there's bats out there, but the camera is trapped behind some plants and all I can see is green shit, wtf mate?" ps: you mean 'platonic,' d00d. At least, I'm pretty sure you do: http://www.answers.com/plutonic&r=67 [answers.com]

        • Something from or of the Roman God of the Underworld
        • Something made on the planet Pluto
        • Something made of Plutonium
        • Any Walt Disney movie involving dogs


        I guess that, by the second of these alternative definitions, there may well be NASA astronauts who would want Lara Croft plutonically.

    • I played Tomb Raider in the 1996 and found it to be a groundbreaking game. The lead character's gender and appearance were minor details to me. I've played through several sequels (none of which lived up to the possibilities the franchise promised), and I honestly didn't notice sexual innuendo, paternalism, etc.

      I experienced negative reactions to the Lara Croft character only from non-gamers looking at the cover artwork (esp. from my ex-wife). My instinct tells me that many of the criticisms are bas
    • The article is an example of what happens when people who have know business thinking decide to become writers
    • I have problems with the article as well. But consider that some video games do have less sexy female leads - Beyond Good and Evil, for one. That was a great game and it was just as fun plying her as it was Lara Croft.

      I don't think in either case I am playing because I want to "be" with either one. Instead I enjoy "being" them - powerful, smart beings kicking ass when needed. I mean do all the people playing Doom also want to "be" with the marine?
    • I don't pretend to understand all this literary big-word stuff... what I do know is that a female character doesn't have to be hot to kick some ass. Case in point: Metroid. Samus Aran was the classic video-game heroin (who always reminded me a lot of Ripley in Alien). We all cheered for Samus, even though, at first, we didn't know she was a chick because of the suit. But after we found out, we cheered even more. Because deep down, what guy doesn't like to get the crap kicked out of him by a girl?
    • Wow, you are reading way too far into the fact that Lara is a woman. Have you ever considered that possibly male gamers just like having a well animated avitar to kill monsters as? Or at the very most like having something nice to look at while they are distroying stuff?
    • This article just did not have any convincing arguments regarding Lara Croft as a positive thing for female role model. If the intent behind Lara was anything besides selling a game with a sexy icon, then there would be no need for the misproportionate breasts, the sexual innuendos, and the skimpy outfits. If the theory of the "Final Girl" is true, would it not work with any mildly appealing women?

      That's exactly right.

      Maybe it's been way too long since I've seen a slasher movie, but I remember the heroines
    • "Lara is indeed a girl that every boy wants to be with, but not in a plutonic way; they want to control her, and have her be the object of their sexual fantasies."

      Its funny, when I read the actual article, thats kind of what I was expecting it to say...not this whole "Final Girl" BS. And to illustrate my point I'm going to make a whole bunch of sweeping generalizations.

      The first generalization is that a large majority of gamers are geeks who are less than successful at girls. Part of that problem stems f

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @05:07PM (#15200718) Homepage Journal
    "Thousands of young men were trooping into theaters to cheer wildly as masked psychos hacked apart screaming young women... Suddenly, the young men in the audience would switch their allegiance -- and begin cheering just as madly for the Final Girl as she attacked and killed the psycho."

    Maybe the men weren't cheering for the psycho or the woman, but for the violence itself .
  • Buffy Anybody? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by monopole ( 44023 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @05:11PM (#15200753)
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer was originally devised by Joss Whedon (who has a degree in feminist film studies) as the reversal of the girl and the monster enter the alley and only the monster exits. In contrast, with buffy she and the monster enter the alley and only Buffy exits. The first girl is the final girl, without the misogyny.
    This is a much closer analogue to Laura Croft, or other fictional kickass ladies like the Major in Ghost in the Shell.
  • I say bullsh*t (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <spydermann@slashdot.gmail@com> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @05:12PM (#15200763) Homepage Journal
    Hmmm the last girl who finally defeats the monster. Isn't this called "survival of the fittest"?

    However, I really don't think of Lara as the "Final Girl". She's just a tough girl, period, if not a sex symbol. C'mon, we all know she was famous for her gravity-defying measures, but later was slimmed down to appeal more to the feminine public. I much less identify with her.

    Now allow me to compare to another famous treasure hunter.

    Indiana Jones

    Family: A devout religious man (Junior?)
    Studies: Ph. D. in Archeology
    Job: Archeology teacher in Barnett College, NY ("X never ever marks the spot")
    Reasons for treasure collecting: "It belongs in a museum!"
    Favorite Gadgets: His leather whip and a Fedora with a very high sentimental value (belonged to the man who stole the Cross of Coronado).
    Sex appeal: "And my mother's ears, but the rest belongs to you."
    Most used quotes: "I hate Snakes!", and "Don't call me Junior!"

    Lara Croft

    Family: Extremely Rich family (can you compete with the Countess of Abbingdon?)
    Studies: At home
    Job: What job?
    Reasons for treasure collecting: Add to her dad's collection, and, once in a while, save the world
    Favorite Gadgets: Dual 9 mm Pistols
    Sex appeal: Boing, boing, boing!
    Most used quotes: ?

    I'll take Indiana Jones, thank you.
    • Indiana's reason in "Temple of Doom" is that this starving village requested that he retrieve the sacred stones, so that they would have rain again, or something. In "Raiders of the Lost Ark," his pursuit of the Ark is for two reasons: 1, his buddy uncovered the trail, but was killed. 2, he had to keep it out of Nazi control.

      It wasn't always "It belongs in a museum!" The interesting thing to note, however, is that Indiana never did it for his own personal gain.

  • I thought it was the Dangerous Chick With Weapons theory (i.e., Resident Evil, Blade Trinity, Aeon Flux, and Ultra Violet). Surprisingly, that was the one thing that didn't happen in the Silent Hill movie. The main chick lost her weapon (a butcher knife) before she could use it on anything, and the cop chick ran out of bullets before she was rendered unconscious. The ending was a bit peculiar since you do have a Final Girl but evil still won out in the end.
  • Wait, wait, wait. There's a whole theory based on an audience cheering for the person they expect to see win?

    I'm shocked. No, no, not shocked that the audience sided with the obvious soon-to-be victor. That's predictable. I'm shocked that anyone places stock in a theory that suggests that the winner's traits matter in whether the audience sided with that character.
  • Hey guys....

    UKism here but football is exactly the same. For anyone from the U.S. you might as well stop reading right now as i doubt this will make any sense.

    "Does anyone know any manchester United supporters from Manchester?"

    The fact is people will support whom ever ends up being glorious. In most of these films the girls are against impossible odds, so the men support the "evil henchman/manic killer/giant monster of death" and why?

    Well lets get really "medievil"..... Cave men... they are fighting right?
    • I dunno. In a great many movies, I find myself cheering on the baddies as they get mowed down by the annoying heros. People don't like to support winners that are obviously going to win - they want the losers to stand a chance.

      Examples: Die Hard, Broken Arrow, any Steven Seagal film...
    • "Does anyone know any manchester United supporters from Manchester?"

      Well actually, yes. Quite a lot, in fact. They seem mostly to live on the north side of the city, but they're there. It's just that they're enormously enormously enormously outnumbered by all the Man Utd fans elsewhere ...

    • Funny enough I find myself the exception to what you've wrote, I tend to support the characters I like most and find intresting.

      Best example I can give is Yzak Jule from Gundam SEED. For the entire first series (except 2 out of 50 episodes), he did nothing but get the legs cut off his robot and scream loudly at people. In the end everyone loved him because he was just so intresting to watch rather than the hero who had now got aimbot and god mode in his mecha.

      While at the same time I support a character who
  • by Progman3K ( 515744 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @07:13PM (#15201493)
    The valkyrie at my side is shouting and laughing with the pure hate for blood-thirsty joy of the slaughter

    And so am I

    The fire, baby. It'll burn us both

    There's no place in this world for our kind of fire

    My warrior woman. My valkyrie

    You'll always be mine. Always. And never
  • by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @07:28PM (#15201569) Homepage Journal
    [All information here shared by my wife with her English masters degree. Any and all misinformation introduced by my transcription of her description of the theory.]

    Actually Lara Croft doesn't really fit with the final girl theory. In Carol's definition you can't start with the *final* girl. She goes through a metamorphosis and becomes more masculine as she survives more of the horror.

    Interesting points about the final girl theory:

    The theory is flawed (all failings acknowledged by Carol Clover, she doesn't assert that this theory is anything grand or definite) in that it assumes that only adolescent males enjoy horror movies. The theory is completely broken if you agree that any women enjoy horror movies.

    The theory itself says that the adolescent boys can identify with the final girl without themselves feeling threatened by the killer (who is hunting women), but who demonstrates the traits of a stereotypical adolescent male masculine fantasy (surviving against all odds, strong, capable, etc.). The theory is that this is a way for young men to indirectly experience homo-erotic fantasies. The women are characteristically running from phallic, penetrating objects such as knives and other stabbing weapons. Yet the final girl is also an erotic object herself. She usually has an asexual name (like Sam) and carries a phallic object like a torch, stick, etc.

    Yes, the world of literary theory is stranger than you know. o_O
  • by afish40 ( 774995 ) <mario@NosPaM.dot ... hstereosound.com> on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @08:17PM (#15201745) Homepage

    Suddenly, the young men in the audience would switch their allegiance -- and begin cheering just as madly for the Final Girl as she attacked and killed the psycho.

    Dude, spoiler alert!

  • I think this is a case of over analysing things a bit to much, the real reason for Laras success is much simpler, the Tomb Raider games simply were good (well, at least the early ones) and one of the first real 3D games of the time. Tomb Raider basically put Prince of Persia into 3D and into a different setting, thats all, the breast thing was for most part an accident that then got used for marketing. If the games would have been not that good, there would have been much less hype and Lara would most likly
    • you defend yourself against a few aggressive animals and thats it, no human killing in TombRaider1 at all

      Not exactly true, but there are very few humans to kill in Tombraider I, indeed. Although Lara was not too squeamish to pop a cap in the heads of several of Natla's goons, while she could have easily incapacitated them by other means. I thought that actually she was too needlessly violent at certain moments. But, yeah, neat game, sucky sequels (partially because of all the human opponents in the sequel

  • Lara Croft isn't the Final Girl because she's not simply beset upon by danger like the victims in slasher movies. She is from a family of archeologists and she willingly places herself in dangerous situations in the name of exploration (and perhaps wealth and fame?)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lara_Croft [wikipedia.org]
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday April 25, 2006 @11:00PM (#15202391) Homepage
    We have Angelina Jolie to thank for turning the video game movie genre around. Almost all the video game movies before "Tomb Raider" were horrible duds. ("Super Mario Brothers" was actually funny, but that's as good as it got. Few people could sit through all of "Wing Commander".) After "Tomb Raider", most video game movies were successful. It's as big a milestone in film as the first Batman movie, which demonstrated that you can make a good drama out of a comic book.

    It speaks well of Jolie as an actress that she was able to bring off the role without it being a joke.

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