You got room in there for another opinion on everyone’s favourite topic of last month? Open a thought-valve and make some space for an explanation of why, like the slasher flick genre, it was as challenging as a pull-cap tin o’ beans.

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A few weeks [pop culture months – Ed] ago, Kill Screen’s Michael Thomsen leapt to the defence of Hitman’s much-discussed pre-E3 trailer, noting that “it is possible to depict an act in art without endorsing it”:-

“While the women in the trailer are certainly meant to evoke sexuality, they are not necessarily meant to be arousing to the viewer… the point of the nun’s sexual depiction seems to me to be primarily a matter of contrast with the stark asexuality of 47.”

But already, we’ve given IO Interactive too much credit. Stuff the rest of it back in your pocket, and join me in counting this argument to bed.

Continue?

Five.

In art, depiction is not necessarily the bell that rings endorsement – true enough. Lets explore that possibility for a moment – that this universe is the one in which IO considered a pre-E3 trailer a fitting format for a subtext in which sexy nuns were but the vapour trail of a more ambitious message.

Perhaps, like a feminist lost among Duke Nukem 3D’s bosomed babes, Agent 47 is tearing down the archetypal imagery of objectification in the only way he is able – with a gun and a grimace. Or maybe, as Thomsen argues, the juxtaposition of pornographic cliché with our hitman’s cold killing serves to heighten his asexuality; as though a lesser professional might come over all howling wolf at the sight of the heels and latex and leave himself at a tactical disadvantage.

Four.

But if that’s so, why then in the trailer’s first minute does the camera return again and again to the busts and groins of its naughty nuns? If those shots are to lure us into objectification with the aim of showing us the error of our ways, where are those key reflections in the glass a la Silence of the Lambs, where director Demme shows us to be sharing a seat with the cannibal?

Instead, an explosive rocket-propelled climax gently buys us a familiar cocktail of sex and death. The heavens open, and frames of rain-slicked guns alternate with soaked latex until they become one and the same; 47 does his business, and leaves.

Three.

That’s because Hitman is employing the same thematic sleight of hand performed so regularly by the slasher flick: dressing hyper-conservative values in the gore-stained costume of ‘provocative’ art.

Like the gruesome punishment of the sexually active teen couple that has become a horror staple, the trailer makes a skin-deep stab at edginess, while reaffirming a patriarchal fantasy – that the chaste are really just dying for a good fuck.

Two.

We’re supposed to enjoy the titillation – What’s the line in Cabin in the Woods? “Let’s see some boobies. Got to keep the customers satisfied.” – before a violent reaffirmation of male superiority allows us to return to our lives satisfied that nothing has changed.

The action – crushed noses and all – might be shocking, even alienating, yet there is nothing challenging about it. Its surface level nastiness doesn’t signify a willingness to tackle the status quo, rather just that – nastiness, Hitman’s stock in trade.

One.

Can art be provocative? It certainly can. But if it’s provoking the vulnerable, it better have a bloody good reason for doing so. Hitman’s trailer challenges nothing, and as a result its upset serves no purpose at all.

None.

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Doves

October 19, 2011

This originally written for a feature – about weird moments in otherwise normal games – that we put together over at BeefJack recently, but it didn’t quite fit. I’ve let it make its nest here though, where it can be a nasty little square peg and shout about it.

GTA London was Rockstar North’s one and only crack – a vicious, sickening, audible snap – at an openly real-world setting. It was the 60s London of the movies, replete with cabbies, Caine-alikes and a suitably vibrant soundtrack unmatched in its evocation of time and place, at least until the release of Vice City.

Beyond that, it was horrible. Beneath the inviting, nostalgic half-reality surface of its sandpit, Rockstar buried nails and matches. Long before anyone thought to combine hookers with baseball bats, GTA London’s emergent playground could render the meeting of Buckingham Palace and rocket launchers in colourful 2D. It didn’t so much court controversy as jump in its underwear and then hawk its conquest all round town. Worse though, it had doves.

No more than twelve pixels long and completely static, London’s doves bask on the pavements and cluster around benches, puckering in the fumes and the vehicular heat. Until they’re run over, with cruel inevitability, at which point their bloody corpses literally roll across the screen in acts of post-mortem passive aggression.

It is, one can only assume, a guilt-powered defence mechanism for the greater good of the race, a peaceful protest designed to incrementally depress you into playing nice as dead birds begin to litter the streets. After all, as any career criminal will tell you, the hardest kill is that which silently gets stuck under your wheels as you careen about town in a bright red double-decker bus.

If nothing else, their strange sacrifice serves to warn GTA London’s human residents of the coming storm. The tin cans tied to the cars of newlyweds signal their joy to those in their wake. The distant sound of reggaeton, accompanied by the syncopated thud of bloodied doves against the bumper of a black cab, spells direst foreboding to the pedestrians of Hyde Park.

As I wipe bits of bird from my windscreen, I sigh and wonder what Charlie Croker would have done in my loafers. “Another feather in my bonnet,” he’d say, cool as a Cooper. But then he never had to put up with this…