Tag Archives: Misogyny

Sam Spade: Masculinity Under Threat

*I wrote this essay over the last few weeks for a 300-level English course– It’s an example of the scholarly work in the noir genre I hope to do when I begin post-graduate studies. Enjoy.

Noir Crime Fiction The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett

Cover designed by Megan Wilson

“You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.’”

Sam Spade: Masculinity under Threat
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is a definitive piece of the hardboiled noir fiction genre. As such its protagonist, Sam Spade, is the subject of frequent discussion and review, particularly those studies pertaining to modern masculinity. Current scholarship topics tend toward definition, although “noir is notoriously difficult to define,” and speak of the genre and The Maltese Falcon as a “symbolic stage upon which crisis is negotiated via changes in gender paradigms” (Entin 86; Dietze 645). As a result, the book’s sexual dynamics and threatening femme fatale are the central topics of most Spade-centric discourse. Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the veiled villainess, wages a manipulative battle with Sam, each hungry to serve their own ends at the expense of the other. Ultimately, Sam Spade is the victor, but the cost outweighs the benefit of such an outcome. The ‘hero’ is reduced to despicable ends in his quest to define and defend his masculinity throughout the novel, demeaning each female character with oppressive, sexist behaviors. He relies on ‘illusions of order’ and ‘intellectual control’ to defend his masculinity from the onset of ambitious women, and becomes an archetypal example of the fearful white male chauvinist in modern society.

Hammett’s 1930 magnum opus is burgeoning with gender friction and social commentary. By connecting Sam Spade’s fear of emasculation with his detective fueled ‘will-to-know’, we find a man plagued with insecurity. As Sam’s masculinity comes under threat, he lashes out with his greatest tool, his insight and detection, to menace what he perceives to be encroaching and dangerous females. Thus he exerts his intellectual control over these women to restore his illusions of order, or preserve his masculinity. Regardless of its fame, The Maltese Falcon appears to be free of detailed scholarly analyses that speak to these themes. The authority of Hammett’s words and my inquiry will hopefully solidify these proposed ideas as the essay develops. Additionally, sources are provided severally which prod the margins of this previously untreated issue: The first, that of Sam Spade’s fear of emasculation and his resulting misogynistic backlash, and the second, that of his need to preserve his illusions of order in an increasingly disordered social realm. At the convergence of these two complications, wonderful analytically uncharted territory is apparent.

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett, Author of The Maltese Falcon

Mr. Spade is a hard-edged force of masculinity, an unbending bastion of iron-wrought will, and an estranged loner from society. Sara Paretsky explained his over-the-top persona, saying “because crime fiction focuses so strongly on issues of justice and society, characters have to be exaggerated to make social points” (12). Simply stated, Sam Spade is a social statement. He is “the world weary non-hero, betrayed from within the institution that once nurtured and protected him, who discovers that no prospect pleases, and that all men (and women) are vile” (Winks 8). In addition to his already volatile psyche, Sam’s chauvinism and sexual anxieties create a plethora of gender conflicts within the text. Priscilla Walton tells us that “the originary hardboiled narrative arose in an era fraught with sexual tensions, since the advent of the Great Depression generated a backlash against shifting gender roles” and “in the matter of misogyny, hardboiled detective fiction undergirds the whole system of Western patriarchy” (127). She speaks to the complex social issues of the era in which the book was written, issues that may not appear as widespread contemporarily as they may yet be. Sam Spade is an ideal contender for gender conflict as a misogynistic hallmark of female repression and abuse. Yet he’s believed to be “the genre’s ideological model of male self-containment,” which begs fearful questions about independent men and their role models (Cooper 24). If men since the 1930s have viewed Mr. Spade as a role model, what implications does this portend for society? Especially a society founded on a patriarchal order? If hardboiled detective fiction undergirds the whole system of Western patriarchy, then how vital a foundational strut is Sam Spade?

Accepted gender role paradigms were shifting as this novel was being distributed, and men were fighting insecurity and estrangement in a society that no longer defined their masculinity for them. Modern Masculinity, at its core, had always been defined by strength, self-control, success (especially in the workplace), and individualism. As women’s roles in society began to evolve and change, many men felt displaced. Paretsky pointed to the 19th Amendment as a possible cause for the gender inequality present in The Maltese Falcon when she said, “After widespread agitation for the vote, the image of active women changed. Now they were seen as a species of monster who wanted to strip men of all their rights” (12). She concluded that “[men] believe that when a woman moves into a masculine domain their very masculinity is under attack” (13). Fear of this threat is a defining theme in The Maltese Falcon. Sam Spade is consumed by his fear of emasculation, and it causes him to react in oppressive ways towards perceived female threats.

Yet at his core Sam Spade is a detective, personally and professionally, and defines his masculinity by his success in this arena. As an independent working man, he is completely reliant upon his ability to accurately re-construct means of injustice and crime perpetration through deductive reasoning, logic, and investigation. When his masculinity comes under threat, he uses these same finely tuned methods to preserve and restore his manly dominance. Mr. Spade is constantly striving to obtain and maintain order, or at least the illusion of such; for his masculinity to remain intact, he must successfully ‘solve’ each potential affront to it. In his article, “Lead Birds and Falling Beams,” Dean DeFino explains:

The detective enters the scene of the crime after the fact and, through a feat of analyses, constructs a chain of effects and causes back to the source of the crime – mode and motive – which, while not annulling the deed (the body is still dead), gives the reader a sense of intellectual control over it. The story redeems that sense of order and control by (fictionally) exposing its logic, its cause–and-effect chain, how one thing leads to another (74).

Sam re-orders a crime scene to achieve the same equilibrium that the readers of detective fiction enjoy, the illusion of order or intellectual control. His sense of order is not only dependent upon his success as a detective, but his dominance as a man. When his masculinity or his accepted gender role paradigms are threatened, he reacts by an attempted return to his perceived order. Both forms of order hinge on Sam’s ability to control the object of threat; for crime, as he exposes its means of execution he gains intellectual control over it. With women, as he imposes his will upon them and hedges their advances into his social sphere he restores his emasculated authority. Sam’s already intense reactions are further enhanced when his illusion of order is challenged by secrets or dishonesty. His ‘will-to-know’ entirely consumes him, for his fear of emasculation is inexorably tied to the possibility of a woman besting him intellectually.

Three female characters star opposite Sam in the novel, and each seemed no better than a prop for his advances. All of his interactions with these woman teeter anxiously on the edge of flirtation and raw sexual lust, a balance as dangerous as it is unlikely. He touches their bodies, plays with their hair, coddles them, scolds them, kisses them (yes each of them), and in the case of Miss O’Shaughnessy sleeps with them. Sam keeps these women emotionally distant from his true desires and feelings, even when they express interest. For him, they are simply ‘girls’; too silly or inexperienced to offer him anything worthwhile. When his impenetrable nature is challenged by Brigid, he reacts harshly—perhaps in denial of real feelings too awkward or uncomfortable to confront. Ironically, he dismisses these women as naïve, immature, or flighty when such adjectives more accurately describe himself. Mr. Spade’s relationships with the opposite sex are tainted by his need to defend his perceived masculinity—were he to surrender any level of control, his illusion of order would be compromised.

Film Noir The Maltese Falcon 1941

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Gladys George as Iva Archer, and Lee Patrick as Effie Perine

Although examples abound, three particular scenes from The Maltese Falcon will be presented and unpacked as indicative of the illusion of order in defense of masculinity argument. Throughout the novel Sam Spade seems to grapple with his misogynistic impulses, which are a common symptom of backlash due to shifting gender paradigms. I would not go so far as to say that he hates women (as misogyny is typically defined), but that he fears and distrusts them so much that it corrupts his interactions with them. His manly impulses drive his lusty sexual attraction for them, while his misogyny simultaneously attempts to protect him from them. Here is the first scene that illustrates my argument, when Brigid O’Shaughnessy pleads with Mr. Spade for help:

“I’ve given you all the money I have.” Tears glistened in her white-ringed eyes. Her voice was hoarse, vibrant. “I’ve thrown myself on your mercy, told you that without your help I’m utterly lost. What else is there?” She suddenly moved close to him on the settee and cried angrily: “Can I buy you with my body?”
Their faces were a few inches apart. Spade took her face between his hands and he kissed her mouth roughly and contemptuously. Then he sat back and said: “I’ll think it over.” His face was hard and furious (Hammett 57).

Aside from being one of the most memorable exchanges in all noir fiction, this scene is grossly sexist. Sam’s face is “hard and furious” because he wants her to buy him with her body, and he hates her for it. His response is perfectly calculated to preserve his illusion of order (which is based on control) and retain his power over her. By telling Brigid that he would “think it over” he keeps her offer available and places himself in the position of deciding when or if it will be accepted. Sam believes that if he were to succumb to her offer initially, he would be fully in her thrall; a failure that would surrender his masculine power to her feminine usurpation. But Sam succeeds in retaining intellectual control over Brigid, and thus preserves his illusion of order (and his masculinity). We can only guess what Sam Spade is thinking as he denies Brigid’s advances, but it clearly seems linked to the fear of losing something other than virtue; my money’s on masculinity and his illusion of order.

The second interaction that illustrates this thematic formula occurs between Sam and his personal secretary Effie Perine (the second of three females in the novel). For contextual purposes, they are discussing Iva Archer (the third), the widow of Sam’s dead partner Miles (whom Sam had been sleeping with up until Miles’ murder). Sam is sitting at his desk resting his head against Effie’s hip, who stands at his side:

“Are you going to marry Iva?” she asked, looking down at his pale brown hair.
“Don’t be silly,” he muttered. The unlit cigarette bobbed up and down with the movement of his lips.
“She doesn’t think it’s silly. Why should she–the way you’ve played around with her?”
He sighed and said: “I wish to Christ I’d never seen her.”
“Maybe you do now.” A trace of spitefulness came into the girl’s voice. “But there was a time.”
“I never know what to do or say to women except that way,” he grumbled, “and then I didn’t like Miles.”
“That’s a lie, Sam,” the girl said. “You know I think she’s a louse, but I’d be a louse too if it would give me a body like hers.”
Spade rubbed his face impatiently against her hip, but said nothing (Hammett 27).

Effie begins by trying to ascertain Sam’s intentions with Iva. She has obviously seen some signs of a serious relationship between them, yet Sam dismisses all of it as “silly.” The reader gets the subtext that Effie herself is interested in Sam (why else would she be asking?), and then it becomes more apparent when she calls Iva a “louse” and says she’s jealous of her figure. Perhaps she believes that if she looked like Iva she could demand Sam’s affection, instead of being firmly caught in the role of confidant. You will note that Sam admits that he doesn’t know how to deal with women except in “that way,” which is the way that plays with their feelings and teeters between flirting and disgust. The more you examine this passage the sadder it becomes, because you can feel the pain that Sam is inflicting on Ms. Perine when he nuzzles his face against her hip. Basically, he is confirming his desire to “play” with her when he wants while remaining un-entangled romantically. She means nothing to him. Once again, Sam has felt his masculinity come under threat; the threat of the widow Iva’s expectations (now that she is untangled from her marriage), and the threat of Effie’s jealousy, and on both counts he has rebuffed them by straddling his barren stretch of intellectually controlling ground. By remaining aloof to the desires of these women, he not only spurns their advances but also denies responsibility for his actions. In this way, his masculine independence is unmolested and his accepted gender paradigms are unaltered. He successfully avoids the emasculation sure to accompany marriage to his partner’s widow or a relationship with his young secretary.

The final (and most important) scene that illustrates the relationship between Sam’s fear of emasculation and his reliance upon intellectual control and illusions of order occurs near the end of the novel. At this point, Sam is led to believe that Brigid has stolen a one hundred dollar bill. He takes her into a bathroom at gunpoint and they share this interaction:

In the bathroom Brigid O’Shaughnessy found words. She put her hands up flat on Spade’s chest and her face up close to his and whispered: “I did not take that bill, Sam.”
“I don’t think you did,” he said, “but I’ve got to know. Take your clothes off.”
“You won’t take my word for it?”
“No. Take your clothes off.”
“I won’t.”
“All right. We’ll go back to the other room and I’ll have them taken off.”
She stepped back with a hand to her mouth. Her eyes were round and horrified. “You would?” she asked through her fingers.
“I will,” he said. “I’ve got to know what happened to that bill and I’m not going to be held up by anybody’s maidenly modesty.”
“Oh, it isn’t that.” She came close to him and put her hands on his chest again. “I’m not ashamed to be naked before you, but–can’t you see?–not like this. Can’t you see that if you make me you’ll–you’ll be killing something?”
He did not raise his voice. “I don’t know anything about that. I’ve got to know what happened to the bill. Take them off” (Hammett 196). (Italics added)

The Maltese Falcon Pulp Cover

A pulp cover that illustrates the shower search scene

The bathroom search scene is the most degrading and misogynistic in the novel. Hammett does not go into perverse detail, as if Brigid were performing some kind of strip tease, but the cold manner in which Spade deals with her is shocking. Remember that this exchange takes place after they have slept together. Once again we can see that the woman in the scene has misinterpreted Sam’s behavior. She thought that her relationship meant something to him, and he assures her that it does not. Just like the scene with Effie, the more we dwell on what is happening here, the more painful it becomes; for Sam really is “killing something,” he is killing the part of Brigid that loves him, and killing the part of himself that she loved. This ‘murder scene’ hinges upon Sam being unable to sacrifice his illusion of order. He is tortured by the prospect of not knowing and having to place his trust in a female. In order for him to retain his illusion of order and defend his perceived masculinity, he must force her to strip so that he can know with a certainty that she does not have the bill.

In the end, Sam Spade is a formulaic male chauvinist; a victim of self-inflicted, brutal individuality that hinges upon successfully defending his illusions of order. His inability to cope with supposed threats upon his masculinity estrange him further from society, instead of fortifying his desired place within it. The result is a man bereft of human kindness, and so distracted by the fear of emasculation that he cannot escape his own poisonous illusions. The real damage is done to society and modern masculinity when Sam Spade is viewed as a pinnacle of male achievement. As an icon, Mr. Spade is a powerfully negative image for men to idolize and imitate. His insecurity fueled behavior, if imitated, will create a venomous social climate based on rigid gender roles and perceived masculinity. Although some aspects of his individualism and self-reliance may be applauded, his objectification and emotional abuse of women is horrendous, and such behavior has no claim upon a man’s masculinity.

A central problem with this novel (and possibly the entire noir fiction genre) is that all of the female characters are viewed through a patriarchal, misogynistic lens. Thus they act out the roles that a male author and audience require of them, not necessarily the roles they would actually play. Johanna M. Smith defined it this way: “texts by [Dashiell Hammett] subscribe to a gender-based, individualist ideology in which women are male-defined” (Smith 80). This ideology is dangerous because it reinforces incorrect stereotypes about gender roles and relationships with women. Men can develop unhealthy attitudes and beliefs about women based upon the fictional characters and scenarios portrayed in these revered novels. Much of the social strife and gender paradigm backlash since the 1930s seem to orbit the central issues presented in The Maltese Falcon—it’s because of these themes that the femme fatale archetype is possibly the most recognizable element in the film noir and noir fiction genres (and is continually found in many others). Each story presents another woman to vilify and then defeat, propelling countless misogynistic heroes onto victory. Sadly, The Maltese Falcon is a beloved classic novel that has perpetuated gender conflict for most of the last century.

A parting thought: Stephen Cooper, in his article “Sex/Knowledge/Power in the Detective Genre,” said that “Spade is the genre’s ideological model of male self-containment. [Female figures] function primarily as sexual foils to the detective, [and] also as initial obstacles to and ultimate resources for the detective’s inquisitive/acquisitive will-to-know. Notwithstanding the high profile given to “romantic interests” by the genre, such service suggests the exploitable continuum between, on the one hand, sex and knowledge, and, on the other, knowledge and power” (Cooper 23-24). The point is that all the power in both sex and knowledge rests in Sam Spade. The female characters are expendable victims of his occupation, both detective and male. For in the noir world Mr. Hammett created, Sam must either victimize them or he himself will become the disillusioned victim of robbed masculinity.

By: Chad de Lisle

Works Cited

Abbott, Megan. “”I Can Feel Her” The White Male as Hysteric.” The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity and Urban Space in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. N. pag. Print.
Chandler, Raymond. “The Simple Art of Murder An Essay.” The Simple Art of Murder. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950. N. pag. Print.
Cooper, Stephen. “Sex/Knowledge/Power in the Detective Genre.” Film Quarterly 42.3 (1989): 23-31. Print.
DeFino, Dean. “Killing Owen Taylor: Cinema, Detective Stories, and the Past.” Journal of Narrative Theory 30.3 (2000): 313-31. Print.
DeFino, Dean. “Lead Birds and Falling Beams.” Journal of Modern Literature 27.4 (2004): 73-81. Print.
Entin, Joseph. ““A Terribly Incomplete Thing”: No-No Boy and the Ugly Feelings of Noir.” MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S. 35.3 (2010): 85-104. Print.
Evans, Verda. “The Mystery as Mind-Stretcher.” The English Journal 61.4 (1972): 495-503. Print.
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. New York: Vintage, 1992. Print.
Horsley, Lee. Twentieth-century Crime Fiction. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Malmgren, Carl D. “The Crime of the Sign: Dashiell Hammett’s Detective Fiction.” Twentieth Century Literature 45.3 (1999): 371-84. Print.
Paretsky, Sara. “Private Eyes, Public Spheres.” The Women’s Review of Books 6.2 (1988): 12-13. Print.
Porter, Joseph C. “The End of the Trail: The American West of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.” Western Historical Quarterly 6.4 (1975): 411-24. Print.
Smith, Johanna M. “Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction: Gendering the Ganon.” Pacific Coast Philology 26.1/2 (1991): 78-84. Print.
Walton, Priscilla L. “The Agency of Detectives and the Venue of the Short Story.” Narrative 6.2 (1998): 123-39. Print.
Winks, Robin W. “American Detective Fiction.” American Studies International 19.1 (1980): 3-16. Print.


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Noir Art | Niagara Detroit

Noir Art Lips Niagara Detroit

Lips by Niagara Detroit

Each week I spend a few hours cruising tumblr blogs and the various gritty reaches of the internet in search of images for the noirWHALE.tumblr.com site. This exercise has taught me quite a bit about film noir and the other noir genres, but ultimately it has taught me that I need to expand noirWHALE by adding a new category: “Noir Art“. For example: A week ago, I published a post about Noir T-Shirt Designs, and I put it in the Noir Comics category because I didn’t really have any idea where it should go; That post was the spiritual predecessor to this category, and now I expand upon it by adding the second “Noir Art” post titled: Niagara Detroit

Niagara was born August 23rd, 1956. I have no idea if that’s her real name (and neither does wikipedia). She was a lead singer of the punk rock bands Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival. Her bio says that she attended the University of Michigan in the 70’s, and that she has some art school experience which led her to design album covers for the various rock groups she was singing with. Eventually she started to do small galleries and displays in coffee shops in Detroit, and overnight she became a pop art sensation. Her local fame garnered her the title, “Queen of Detroit” and thus it has become her surname. Her noir art style seems to revolve entirely around the femme fatale archetype, with an especially brutal take on gender issues. Sharply contrasting colors and sarcastic/elegiac captions array these dames with venom aimed at misogyny. They simultaneously seduce and kill, with each image hanging on a potent moment in time. I’m no art critic, but it seems that the unseen narratives behind these paintings grant them life. Ultimately, I feel that Niagara Detroit’s work is some of the very best noir art I’ve ever seen. You be the judge:

Noir Art Baby Doll (Double Trouble) Niagara Detroit

Baby Doll (Double Trouble)

Noir Art Double In A Black Dress Niagara Detroit

Double In A Black Dress

Noir Art Got Guts Niagara Detroit

Got Guts?

Noir Art I'm Pretty When I'm Angry Niagara Detroit

I'm Pretty When I'm Angry

Noir Art I'm Waiting For My Man Niagara Detroit

I'm Waiting For My Man (Rita Hayworth Reference)

Noir Art I Lied Niagara Detroit

I Lied

Noir Art Kill Him Niagara Detroit

Kill Him

Noir Art Lipstick Traces Niagara Detroit

Lipstick Traces

Noir Art Or Are You Just Happy To See Me Niagara Detroit

Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

Noir Art Run (Blonde) Niagara Detroit

Run (Blonde)

Noir Art Silencer (A Long Shot) Niagara Detroit

Silencer (A Long Shot)

There are literally DOZENS of prints that I didn’t list here, visit niagaradetroit.com for the full gallery.

Niagara has a clothing line for sale at pinkpump.com and prints for sale at niagaradetroit.com

Here is a picture of Niagara: (looks a bit like Lady Gaga no?)

Niagara Detroit Pop Art

Niagara Detroit

by Chad de Lisle

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Film Noir | Anime: Rin – Daughters of Mnemosyne

Film Noir Anime Rin Daughters of Mnemosyne

(via animepassion.tv)

The film noir anime Rin- Daughters of Mnenosyne is a six episode animated Japanese series that was produced to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the AT-X network (which it originally aired on). I viewed this series some time ago, near the beginning of the summer I think, but am just now getting around to reviewing it. The six episodes  had the unusual effect of producing a duality of feelings/opinions within me; applause and abhorrence. As ever, the Japanese creative team (with lead writer Hiroshi Onogi) effectively push the boundaries of the genre and toy with social ideas and gender roles in such a way as to create controversy. Here is how Rin- Daughters of Mnenosyne measured up to my noir definition:

1) Seedy Underworld

More digital than seedy, the six episodes of film noir anime play out in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district in the modern/near-future. The setting is forgettable.

2) The Anti-Hero

Rin Asogi is an immortal female private investigator. She runs a private investigation agency, and her cases range from everyday mundane to insanely bizarre. By placing the traditional male lead in the hands of a very feminine character, the classic complications created by gender roles in the noir genre are torqued in intriguing ways. And then further heaped on top of the pile is the fact that Rin can never die. The ripples caused by this casting choice alone shake the foundation of accepted noir thought.

3) The Femme Fatale

Many different females fit the femme fatale archetype in Rin- Daughters of Mnenosyne. You would think that because the lead is being played by a female private eye, that a male would logically played the role of homme fatale. Wrong. Rin Asogi is a lesbian, and from what I saw in the series an extremely active one. (The homme fatale role IS represented, but in a more blatant and monstrous way than a traditional femme fatale is. See “angels” below).

Femme Fatale Rin Asogi

possibly the perfect mix between anti-hero and femme fatale? (via theanimenetwork.com)

4) Misogyny

Further complications are raised because of Rin’s sexual orientation (or I should say the portrayal of her sexual orientation), because it seems that the story is pandering to a male audience. Instead of empowering women, it debases them for the gratification of drooling male viewers. Another facet of the storyline that reeks of misogyny is the unequal duality of males and females in the story. It’s explained that Rin has been granted her immortality because she is in possession of a “time spore.” This spore is what grants her the ability to regenerate any wounds (even when they have resulted in her death) and it yields her youth and beauty for eternity. Contrarily, when a male obtains a “time spore,” he becomes what is known as an “angel”; a savage who surrenders almost instantly to his uncontrollable primal desires. Central to these desires is an irresistible need to feed on and copulate with females who possess time spores. The horrible caveat is that these females find the “angels” completely and utterly sexually desirable; such that they are often eaten in the process of surrendering themselves sexually to their attackers.Yikes. Thus the script is filled with a surprising amount of violence perpetrated against the female characters; more to come in the eroticism section of the noir definition.

Film Noir Anime Rin Daughters of Mnemosyne Time Spores

one of many violent endings (via blogs.emory.edu)

5) Redemption

The fact that Rin Asogi is immortal, and that her dark past seems to be constantly haunting her, very pleasingly utilizes the noir theme of redemption. After only a few episodes it becomes clear that redemption will never be attained by Rin, and we as an audience will never understand the nature of her desired redemption. My only peeve is this: Why is it that every anime is so fraught with flashbacks and confusing plot twists? It’s like a story teller having Attention Deficit Disorder.

6) Eroticism

I was appalled by the overly stylized and overt attempts to sexualize the series. Bondage, sexual torture, sexual extortion, molestation, and lesbian encounters anchor this film noir anime script in a realm of unreality and disgust. Many scenes were simply designed to raise the hackles or titillate the viewer (or some awkward combination of both). I felt these efforts cheapened the story and thwarted many of the beautiful differences that would have made Rin- Daughters of Mnenosyne a stand-out in the film noir anime genre.

7) Loss of Innocence

The Loss of Innocence portion of this film noir anime includes several perverse scenes of sexual extortion, torture, and molestation I don’t wish to dwell upon. So I won’t.

Film Noir Anime Rin Asogi

(via avaxhom.ws)

8 ) Blaxploitation/Racism

Not any that I can remember (not that it wasn’t there).

9)  Smoke

I’m certain there was smoking in the show, but I don’t actually remember if it was Rin or not. Either way, it was there.

Ultimately, I can see some of the things that Hiroshi Onogi was driving at, but I felt that his story suffered from poor execution. The author seems to desire an awakening in his audience to the mismatch/inequality of gender roles in modern society. I also believe that he was trying to highlight the horrendous power and consequence of human (especially male) desires. Unfortunately, in this film noir anime, his message is lost in juvenile “fanservice” and pointless sexuality. Close but no cigar.

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Noir Quote of the Week #7

Film Noir The Big Combo Poster

(via impawards.com)

 “I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up.”

Noir Quote from The Big Combo (1955), spoken by Cornel Wilde. This quote is a classic example of the misogyny that pervades the noir genre. A woman is an object that only has utility when needed. Also, there are heavy sexual connotations here that lend to the idea that a woman is only worth her ability to physically gratifying the male that desires her.  Two short sentences, volumes of meaning. (Special thanks to fuzionbits.com)

Film Noir The Big ComboTrailer

(via wikipedia.com)

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Noir Comics | Sally the Sleuth

The following noir comics strip is a classic example of the misogyny that permeates the genre. This page is from Spicy Detective November 1936 by Adolphe Barreaux.

Noir Comics Sally the Sleuth Adolphe Barreaux

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Video Game Noir | L.A. Noire Misogyny

wow. L.A. Noire is a video game noir masterpiece… it’s also very misogynistic. Lets start at the beginning, I will be writing four different reviews for this game, one for each “desk” that you serve in the Las Angeles Police Department. First stop, Traffic. You play this video game noir as Cole Phelps, a World War II hero and aspiring straight-laced police detective. Cole shocks his peers and his employers with his uncanny ability to suss out the truth of any seedy situation or suspicious character. At this point of the game he falls short of our stated noir definition, for he is not truly an “anti-hero” ….yet. I haven’t beat the game yet (or solved the final cases) but if my gut tells me anything about noir, it tells me that Cole has some sort of flaw that has been hidden in his past (or some flaw yet to be expressed).  No one can remain a boy scout for that long.

Video Game Noir L.A. Noire Xbox 360

everyone squints in this game, I should add that to my noir definition

Lets talk about misogyny in L.A. Noire. Almost every victim of any crime thus far has been a woman. The female characters in the game are treated as little more than children or objects for the violent lust of criminal predators. Rape, molestation, and pedophilia all rear their ugly heads in one form or another, and the game refuses to pull any punches. Personally, I think this is perfectly in line with what I have studied so far in the noir genre. Women are often hated, either through their exploitation or through exerting one form of dominance or another over them. Misogyny is the sad reality of noir. L.A. Noire is simply portraying its genre effectively… or are they?

Video Game Noir L.A. Noire Traffic Desk

hit and run? or something else...

One thing I will commend Team Bondi and Rockstar Games on is that through all the objectification of women that occurs in L.A. Noire, Cole Phelps (the main character) never participates. This lack of misogyny from the main character seems to be a trend in modern noir. It’s almost as if the authors are rejecting this aspect of the noir genre by writing heroes for us that break the cycle of abuse. Instead of mistreating women, they become their defenders and protectors, and they strive to right (write) the wrongs perpetrated against them by the old guard. I speak more of this in my review of Criminal #1  by Ed Brubaker.

Video Game Noir L.A. Noire Misogyny

amazing art direction for this video game noir

I was greatly pleased and surprised more than once by this first of four chapters in the game. The cases range from blood smattered abandoned vehicles to heart-pounding foot chases and bare-fist brawls. L.A. Noire nails the historical era with a class an ease unmatched by any video game noir I have played to date. Play this game, and step into a simpler time in America’s history when men were men and you wouldn’t think of leaving the house without a suit and a hat. Oddly enough, no femme fatale has manifested herself yet… 3 more installments to come.

I purchased my copy from Newegg.com

The hit and run image was from photobucket.com

the L.A. Noire Logo image was from platformnation.com

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Noir, Misogyny, and The Maltese Falcon

“You won’t need much of anybody’s help. You’re good. You’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like ‘Be generous, Mr. Spade.'”

Noir Crime Fiction The Maltese Falcon

Me with possibly the greatest noir crime fiction book in existence...

Look at any list of “top noir novels” or “best crime fiction books” and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is invariably near the top. The novel was first published in 1930 and stands as a bastion of the ‘hard-boiled’ vintage crime stories. Although the plot is quite remarkable, I am not interested in providing you with a rote summary of the events that take place in the novel. If you really want one, you can get one here.

Instead I feel my thoughts drawn to the substance between the plot devices and double-crossings, where one decides if The Maltese Falcon truly stands the test of time. If we hold the novel up to the criteria previously discussed concerning noir, it passes with flying colors. The rough side of pre-WWII San Fransisco is our setting, and our anti-hero is the private-eye Sam Spade. Enter “Miss Wonderly” aka. Brigid O’Shaunessy the femme fatale, and the stage is set perfectly for our noir-ish romp with mystery. I admit I was unprepared when our fourth character made an appearance, misogyny.

Mr. Hammett characterizes Sam Spade as a typical ‘man’s man.’ He is cool, confident, and level headed. Sometimes the reader is privy to his thoughts, but more often than not his mind is an impenetrable fortress. As a result, he is not only mysterious to the supporting actors in the plot, but to the reader as well. He is a shark among men, and a lion among women, and he always takes what’s his. I was prepared for a character who exerts masculine dominance, but not nearly to the extent that Mr. Spade does.

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“To be, or Noir to be…” A Noir Definition

I believe that there is great value to a list of qualifications I expect in any noir piece. Anything that I review on this site will have to match at least one of the requirements below. Please remember noir can be found in any media, be it art, literature, film, video-games, or comics, it’s there.

1. The Seedy Underworld

Noir Definition Seedy Underworld

"sheesh this fog is so crimey..."

The setting of any great noir piece is the filthy underbelly of the polished public. This place is filthy, grimy, bleak, and often deranged. Expect steaming sewer grates, torrential downpours, second-hand-smoke, and nefarious characters. Crime thrives here, and its perveyors are brutally corrupt and extremely adept. Sadly, these roads are lined with condemned buildings labeled ‘hope,’ ‘faith,’ and ‘charity.’

2. The Anti-Hero

Noir Definition Anti-Hero

yeah....smoke that

The main character of the noir genre is at best despicable. We are fascinated with his/her moral ambiguity and glaring flaws while hiding our disgust with the same. Dangling from this character’s lips is the tell-tale cigarette and the greasy tendril of smoke tickles the street lamp above. Usually this character’s life is at stake, and this is almost always due to their own poor choices. We quietly root for him/her and cringe when the baseball bat or crowbar beats their brow bloody.

3. The Femme Fatale

Noir Definition Femme Fatale

"man, this blows."

A secret ingredient that adds spice and variety to any noir is the femme fatale. She is sultry, sexy, and manipulative. Her power over the main character is unmistakable and she gently leads him along to meet her own ends. Elegance of speech and brutal double crossings as common as lipstick stains on wine glasses and discarded lingerie. She is deadly, untrustworthy, and 9 times out of 10 the villain.

Each of these three items are hallmarks of the noir genre. I will use these criteria as pegs to hang my reviews on, and as indicators of proximity to the noirWHALE (the ‘big-one’ so to speak). As the media I encounter exhibits these traits, I will detail their strengths and weaknesses on this site. I am sure that there are other hallmarks of noir out there, and as I discover them I will add to the list.

UPDATE: April 7, 2011

4. Misogyny

Noir Definition Misogyny

"turn your breasts to the light dear."

Throughout the genre of noir, there seems to be a fairly steady stream of misogyny. I’m not suggesting that this “dame-hating” is always aware of itself or that it’s a conscious decision by the noir creators, but it rears itself very consistently in each piece. Women are the villains, the burdens, and the childish fools that merely tolerated by the hero. Also the women are always “male-defined.” Their behaviors, attitudes, and appearance are constantly pandering to a male audience. I assume that this must be incredibly frustrating for female audiences (it frustrates me and I’m a male). As a result of these male definitions, noir seems to always focus on beautiful women with low sexual standards and no depth of character (other than where it serves plot). Recently I’ve read that there are some female authors who have reversed the roles in modern noir novels. I hope to read some of them soon  so I can report back my findings.

5. Redemption

Noir Definition Redemption

This may be an actual crime scene...

Another theme that has presented itself in my studies is that of redemption. In noir, the detective always arrives after the tragedy has taken place. He is plunged into a world of chaos, where something whole was just shattered (murder, rape, violence, etc.). His job is completely consumed with trying to redeem the unredeemable. Think Batman. Bruce Wayne is haunted by the murder of his parents. He decides to seek vengeance for the rest of his life by “righting” all the wrongs in Gotham. The only catch is that his task is impossible. He cannot change the fact that his parents are dead, nor can he completely succeed in purifying Gotham. He can’ t win. The only measure of success he achieves is through putting as many pieces back together as he can. In this way we (the audience) are lead to believe that something has actually been redeemed. We feel better about the injustice when we know how or why it happened, even though it still occurred. Dean DeFino calls this “illusions of order” and “intellectual control.” He says that “the story redeems that sense of order and control by (fictionally) exposing its logic, its cause-and-effect chain, how one thing leads to another.”

UPDATE: June 21st, 2011 

I have always wanted to create a very robust noir definition for noir in all of its forms. Thus far I have previously set forth 5 unique elements that are found in any noir media. They are: The seedy underworld, the ant-hero, the femme fatale, misogyny, and redemption. Recently I have thought of two more that must be added: Loss of Innocence, and Eroticism.

6. Loss of Innocence

Noir Definition Loss of Innocence

giving us the reasons why

This aspect of noir is the one that hits us in the gut. It wrenches our emotions and makes us uncomfortable. Torture, rape, sin, and abuse all fall under this thematic umbrella. Usually, the loss of innocence within any noir piece holds the responsibility of answering the question “why?”, as in: “why is this character this way?” or “why do they do what they do?” This is closely related with the Redemption aspect of noir because usually the loss of innocence is what causes the need for redeeming.


Noir Definition Eroticism

eroticism in the 80's

One thematic element of noir that has caused the most controversy in the genre is that of eroticism or sexuality. These tend to not be the main stream accepted types of sexual behavior, instead they are the outré and bizarre fetishes that make us cringe. Prostitution, adultery, sadomasochism, and other unmentionables are the mainstay of noir. Most often, lust plays a huge roll in any noir crime fiction as well as lack of self control. Those characters that can control their sexual desires are those that are the most successful, while those who succumb are the victims of their own self destruction. This is closely related with the theme of Misogyny in our noir definition, especially as it pertains to the portayal of the femme fatale.

Well, I hope that we can continue to add to our noir definition in the future! Please email me if you think of any aspect that needs to be addressed! Chad.deLisle[at]gmail.com

Noir Definition UPDATE: August 26th, 2011

8. Racism

Noir Definition Blaxploitation

Black Caesar

One aspect of the noir genre that has recently leapt out at me is the heavy-handed theme of racism. Condescending language, disparaging remarks, and sexual abuse are all hallmarks of Racism. This racism may be a byproduct of the era in which the noir genre was birthed, but it certainly thrives in the contemporary time period as well. Understand that the racism in film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics is not only directed at Blacks; others feel the sting as well. I believe this theme rests entirely upon power, control, and illusions of power. The white male desires to remain in control, so he inflicts emasculating and denigrating roles upon white females, blacks, and any other race or people he considers inferior. In this way power threatening groups are robbed of their ability to affront the acceptable order established by he and his cohorts. What do the white females, blacks, and other races do in response? They mimic the abuse inflicted upon them by white males and perpetrate heinous crimes against one another. And thus the only way they can obtain power is by accepting roles and behaviors that are white male defined.

UPDATE: February 16 2012

This last week it was brought to my attention that there was a problem with my noir definition. A frequent visitor to NoirWhale.com pointed out that I had misappropriated the term “blaxploitation.” After some research and review I concurred with his analysis. Blaxploitation actually refers to a process of stereotypical media that was meant to appeal to black, not offend them.  I had been using it as a term synonomous with racism, and while it has a racist element, they aren’t the same thing.

Thus I append the noir definition; instead of removing the element altogether, I’m renaming it “racism” because that is what I truly meant in the first place. It should be noted that blaxploitation can be found touching several areas of the noir genre, it’s just not as frequent a theme as racism. So moving forward, I’ll still be pointing out the generally racist nature of much of the genre, I’ll just be using the proper term for it.  Thanks Justin!

9. Smoke

Noir Definition Smoke

Dorian Leigh

Anyone who has seen an episode of Mad Men will understand why “smoke” must be added to my noir definition. Curling tendrils of cigarette smoke portend sexual encounters in seedy hotels, cruel seduction, and infidelities. Profanity and profundity crosshatch the hanging smoky-mirk in scene after scene of film noir, noir crime fiction, and noir comics. Smoke caresses the lips of the femme fatale, stings the eyes of the innocent, and tickles the throat of the stooge. It stains the teeth, fingernails, and wallpaper of the anti-hero, yet entombs him like a viking king on a floating pyre. Disgusting in real life? Yes. Amazingly enticing in noir? Yes. I know this seems obvious, but in hindsight “smoke” should have been the first quality that defines the noir genre.

As with my other noir definition updates, I’m sure there are more to come…

Noir Definition UPDATE: January 28th 2012

10. Emasculation

Noir Definition Mad Men

Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Don Draper, Joan Holloway, Pete Campbell (via celebrations.com)

Only recently apparent to me is the frequent theme of emasculation in the noir genre. Emasculation in noir refers to robbing a male of his “manliness” in some degree; either through humiliation or through some means of impotence. Examples: A man can’t provide for his family, he’s beaten or humiliated by some thugs, he loses his livelihood, he can’t land the femme fatale, his health fails, or he literally has his “manhood” taken away (read Sin City: That Yellow Bastard). Often the driving theme of a noir piece is the fear of emasculation, even if it hasn’t occurred yet. In Night and The City, Harry Fabian becomes more and more desperate as he becomes more and more emasculated by his failures to succeed.

If you’re still failing to grasp what I’m referring to, look at Mad Men for example; Don Draper, Pete Campbell, Roger Sterling, and others each have a certain masculine ideal which they subscribe to. For Pete it’s success in the workplace without the aid of others, for Don it’s strength and privacy, for Roger it’s health and sexual conquest, for others it’s something else. Although each man may have a slightly different definition of masculinity, ALL of them fear its loss and panic when it’s endangered. Pete’s marriage suffers when he fails at work, when Don’s secret past rears itself he attempts to flee, and as Roger’s health plummets he weeps like a child; each of them are emasculated by their greatest fears. Thus our noir definition is expanded.

Got any ideas for the noir definition? email me: chad.delisle [at] gmail.com


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