Lecture Notes for Ginger Snaps
Werewolf Bite Inverts Gender Norms The World of Adult Sexuality Life in the Suburbs Sam as Abraham Van Helsing The Power of Virginity Sexual Activity and Monstrosity Children and Adolescents as Evil Female Anger Jealousy Isolation vs. Connection with Others The Werewolf and the Natural World Other Web Sites of Interest
Werewolf Bite Inverts Gender Norms: People bitten by the werewolf no longer behave according to human gender norms. Ginger becomes more masculine with each passing day. At first, she becomes a femme fatale, an extremely sexualized and predatory woman. She becomes interested in boys and dresses in a manner that no longer conceals her woman's body. But this could be a function of her getting "the curse." Her first sexual encounter ends in date rape, with her raping, as well as just plain physically assaulting Jason, the first boy to show an interest in her on the day she gets her period. At first, Ginger believes that she suffers from insatiable sexual hunger, but it's a hunger of a different sort. It's a hunger to simply destroy things for the pure pleasure that the act brings. This drive is often seen as purely masculine. It's commonly believed that testosterone makes men more prone to violence than women. However, throughout history, female deities, goddesses who controlled their male counterparts, have exhibited an equal propinquity for violence. An example can be seen in Shiva the Destroyer.
Jason, on the other hand, becomes feminine. After having sex with Ginger, he begins to brag to his friends. Apparently he was able to overcome the fact that he was raped and put a positive spin on the experience. He wasn't cruelly used. Instead, Ginger rocked his world. However, the air is soon let out of his balloon when his friends notice that he has a red spot on his pants in the crotch area. One of them comments that he's on his period. This is "confirmed" when he goes to the bathroom and discovers that his urine is bloody. And whereas Ginger as a werewolf is truly terrifying, Jason is laughable. Much of Ginger's violent tendencies are represented on screen, while Jason tears apart his dog off screen. When Bea cures him of his malady with the syringe of monk's hood, he was about to attack a child dressed as a dog rather than an actual dog (it is, after all, Halloween).
Meanwhile, Ginger is becoming increasingly more aggressive. She finally beats up her nemesis Tricia. And she's growing hair on her chest and a small tail reminiscent of a penis. At one point, Bea must help her sister tape down her tail before gym class. This act is reminiscent of what female impersonators go through in order to make their illusion of femininity complete. For them, much attention must be paid to concealing their male genitals.
But maybe Ginger's behavior is normal anyhow. How much of our behavior is determined by our culture's expectations for us as opposed to biological drive? After Trina Sinclair has her fatal and bloody fall in the Fitzgerald kitchen and Bea and Ginger must bury her body, Ginger muses that "no one ever thinks that chicks do this shit. We're either bitches, sluts, vixens, or virgins." Here Ginger is essentially pondering the nature of gender. Do people not believe women capable of this sort of violence because they are inherently non-violent, or is this belief rooted in cultural expectations of women which require them to suppress their natural impulses?
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The World of Adult Sexuality: Both Ginger and Bea are quite reluctant to enter full adult womanhood, understandably so since it seems to be such an unappealing prospect. The other sexually mature women at their school all seem to be mindless drones. Bea describes Tricia as "your basic pleasure model," indicating that her highest purpose in life is to sexually service men. And the adult women are nothing short of ridiculous. Bea and Ginger's mother dresses like a giant child, with her dorky sweaters and big bows in her hair. The school nurse is practically a clone of their mother, and offers no helpful advice when Ginger and Bea come to her with questions about their menses. At least Pamela Fitzgerald gets points for trying in the end. Her advice may be hopelessly lame, but she is willing to conceal her daughters' crime in order to protect them. She tells Bea that she'll just fill the house with gas and light a match, and then they'll all run off together. When Bea asks what will become of her father, Pamela remarks that he doesn't really need them anyway. And Pamela finally isn't a completely contemptible character. One reason she's so willing to conceal her daughters' crime is that if it is revealed, she, not her husband, will ultimately be blamed, and she's right. Women are held more responsible for the behavior of their children then are men. Whether or not Pamela could have prevented this tragedy (could she have had a talk with her daughters about the dangers of lycanthropes?) is beside the point.
Adult manhood is no better. Their teacher is completely unable to deal with them after viewing Bea and Ginger's photo essay on Life in Bailey Downs. And their father is no better. He's henpecked by his wife, and for good reason. He doesn't seem to be much help anyway. He doesn't seem able to do much parenting.
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Life in the Suburbs: Bea and Ginger's culture has little to offer them either. Bailey Downs is represented as a bleak suburb where people basically keep to themselves. When the woman at the beginning of the film runs from her yard screaming that her dog has been killed, the boys outside stop for a minute before resuming their hockey game. Later, when Ginger is being ravaged by the werewolf, it seems that someone might come to her rescue since the security lights are coming on. However, these lights come on when something crosses their motion detectors. If anyone is in these houses and hears Ginger's cries for help, they're not coming out. The security lights switching off confirms this.
Perhaps life in Bailey Downs is especially conducive to lycanthropy, if one sees this condition as the representation of our animal nature. Bailey Downs itself and communities like it seem designed to completely suppress anything natural and spontaneous. Everything is safe and controlled. No wonder the children are all little monsters.
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Sam as Abraham Van Helsing: Sam the drug dealer's role as authority figure in this film also isn't so off base. He's not that different from Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula really. Both Van Helsing and Sam possess knowledge of outside of the truly scientific. But while Van Helsing dealt with metaphysics, Sam deals with homeopathy. He's not that different from the hippy marijuana dealer who also advocates eating vegetarian and taking lots of vitamins rather than drugs for illness.
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The Power of Virginity: Here, as in Nightmare on Elm Street, the virgin plays an important role. Bea's virginity allows her to survive for two reasons. First, just like Nancy, her virginity puts her in a liminal state, somewhere between childhood and adult hood. She's clearly the smartest sister. She's in the same classes with Ginger because she was advanced a grade. But she also has one foot in childhood. Adults would dismiss lycanthropy as impossible. Bea does not, and neither does Sam (is he too a virgin? He spurns Ginger, and when his supposed former girlfriend Trina Sinclair comes to the Fitzgerald house looking for her dog, she tells the sister that her dog wouldn't like them since he's a cherry hound and therefore only into virgins. Is she a virgin, and therefore unravished by Sam?). It is arguably this liminal state that makes belief in the supernatural possible. Thus, Bea is able to combine Knowledge from the adult world with knowledge about the supernatural from the world of childhood in order to survive. Second, Bea's virginity, combined with her failure to menstruate, mean that she hasn't yet been absorbed into the hormone saturated culture of high school which for a time, can make young men and women into individuals who live below the belt more than they do above it. Thus, she can stand apart from Ginger and offer her an honest critique of her behavior rather than attempt to excuse it.
However, physical virginity is no guarantee of protection in this film. Trina is a virgin, yet she she is also the first to die. Perhaps this is because she is at a different point in her sexual development than is Bea. While Bea sees the world of high school and dating as a "total hormonal toilet," Trina is overly concerned about what boys think about her. Part of the reason she hates Ginger and Bea so much is that they are now commanding attention from Sam and Jason, whereas Sam completely ignores her.
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Sexual Activity and Monstrosity: Ginger becomes monstrous as soon as she is ready to become sexually active. The werewolf attacks her when she first menstruates. In fact, he (or she?) knows about her condition at nearly the same time, or perhaps sooner, than she does. Ginger is attacked a split second after she discovers blood leaking down legs and bemoans to Bea that she "got the curse." She is bitten nearly immediately and begins to change. Her transformation is both characteristic of lycanthropy and of human sexual development. She gets hair in places where she didn't have it before, grows new body parts, has wild mood swings and urges she didn't previously harbor. In this film, to be a sexual being, at least, a teenaged sexual being, is to be a monster. Jason too becomes a monster. We aren't sure of the state of his sexual experience before Ginger "rocked his world," but afterwards, he is both non-virgin and rape victim, and his body also changes. However, his monstrosity is merely laughable, whereas Ginger's is frightening. We see Ginger killing people, culminating with the deaths of the harmless janitor she irrationally believes harbors indecent thoughts about her sister and finally Sam. While Jason tells us he killed his own dog, we only see him very comically menacing a little boy in a dog costume before Bea is able to cure him with an injection of monk's hood.
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Children and Adolescents as Evil: In horror, children and adolescents are often represented as evil in that their youth threatens the older, dominant culture. Children are reminders to the old that one day, they will die and be replaced by their heirs. Children are also represented as evil in industrialized society since they aren't the assets they are in an agrarian culture. Instead, they require a great deal of money and time to prepare for their entry into adult life, and often, they can be seen as a type of vampire, demanding what seems to be a disproportionate share of the family resources.
Ginger is represented as particularly evil because she's an adolescent whose body is visibly changing. In this film, the physical changes she goes through are seen as particularly monstrous. Her menarche brings other disturbing growths such as hair where it wasn't before and a tail bud. She is also out of control emotionally, even before becoming a lycanthrope. It's obvious that her mother is accustomed to dealing with her outbursts of temper. Ginger also goes from being completely uninterested in boys (she describes high school, with it's paired off groups of boys and girls, as a "total hormonal toilet.") to hypersexual. However, like many of her generation, hormones overrule her head and she has unprotected sex, demonstrating no consideration for her partner. Adolescents are often demonized in our culture, outside of horror. All too often, they are seen as the perpetrators of senseless violent crimes. At the very least, they are often seen as illogical and irrational due to wild fluxes in their hormones.
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Female Anger: In a patriarchal culture, where women have a great deal to be angry about, female anger is often represented as unnatural, unfeminine, and illegitimate rather than as a logical response to external stimuli. Women aren't considered suitably feminine if they get angry, and are instead characterized as castrating shrews who don't know their places. Furthermore, the source of their anger is seen as deriving not from some infuriating external stimuli, but rather, from some innate hormonal disturbance (for example, she's not mad because her husband is cheating on her, she makes 79 cents for every dollar he does, and she's stuck doing the house work and child care on top of working full time. Instead, she's angry because she has PMS), which represents this anger as a personal failing or something to be controlled through medication rather than through dealing directly with the source of that discontent.
Because anger is represented as unfeminine, women aren't given strategies for dealing with it the way men are. Men are taught that in some circumstances it's okay to fight when angry. They are valorized for fighting to protect their families, their countries, and even the honor of "their women." Women aren't allowed in combat roles in the United States military, and when their anger does cause them to become physical, it represents how out of control they are, and they are censured rather than valorized. Women get in cat fights rather than in fist-a-cuffs. The physical manifestation of this anger is also often erotized. Two scantily clad women grapple in a mud (or Jell-O or chocolate) filled arena, the reason their fighting rendered meaningless as all that matters is that they are physically confronting one another. There is no cultural corollary, where Chippendales in loin cloths might similarly wrestle in gooey substances for the amusement of female onlookers.
Thus, is it not surprising that female anger is represented as monstrous in horror. Ginger, as well as Carrie White in Carrie and Jennifer Hill in I Spit on Your Grave are all angry women. Jennifer's and Carrie's anger is a legitimate response to external stimuli (Carrie was tormented all her life, while Jennifer was savagely gang raped), although people other than the reader/viewer might not see it this way. Ginger's anger, however, is not as logical. Instead, it seems to be the anger born of being a teenager, especially a teenaged female, which is represented as hormonally driven rather than as a logical response to the situation she finds herself in (Ginger's body is changing, yet the adults around her are all well meaning but ultimately unhelpful). Much of Ginger's monstrosity derives not only from her changing body, but from her need to confront and destroy. She doesn't act in self defense, but out of the sheer joy that comes from tearing apart something, or someone. Also remember that Ginger had a similar temperament before she became a werewolf. She is particularly acerbic, and wanted to kill Trina St. Claire for pushing Bea, partly so she could demonstrate her devotion to her sister. But as a werewolf, she is better able to act on this anger. Ginger, after she's been bitten, beats the hell out of Trina after a confrontation similar to the one before she was bitten.
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Jealousy: Jealously is also represented as monstrous, and Ginger has always been extremely possessive of her sister, even before she became a werewolf. Ginger's jealousy of Bea ultimately affects her sibling's ability to differentiate herself as a person. Often when Ginger has a dinner time confrontation with her mother and is banished to her room, Bea instinctively jumps up and leaves the table with her, not so much out of any protestations of her mother's judgment as out of a desire to be with her sister. Later, Ginger's jealousy of Bea leads her to kill the school janitor and Sam, two men who had shown her attention.
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Isolation vs. Connection with Others: In young adult fiction, many protagonists wrestle with the isolation they feel from their peers, parents, and their culture as a whole. Adolescence is often represented as a constant struggle between the need to be one's self, which can necessitate isolation, and the need to belong, which can come at the cost of one's individuality. In Ginger Snaps, we see how the need to belong is suffocating. Others keep reminding Bea that she is not joined at the wrist to her sister, and towards the end of the film, Bea rages at Ginger that she wrecks everything about Bea that is not also about her. Yet the film closes with her letting Ginger die the wounds she has inflicted rather than definitively curing her with the syringe of monk's hood extract.
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The Werewolf and the Natural World: In Blood and Chocolate, Vivian and her fellow lycanthropes are as much a part of the natural world as any other animals. Their hybrid form underscores how humans are also connected to the natural world, though the deny this connection. In Ginger Snaps, however, the werewolf is ultimately not part of the natural world, but something far more monstrous that seems beyond what we could imagine as part of this world. When during the process of her transformation, Ginger does not represent anything we might connect to the natural world. And when she is completely werewolf, she is even further from this world. Nevertheless, it is easier to see Ginger as part of the natural world than as part of civilization since she is so completely Other. Connecting her to the natural world underscores how we see nature as Other, as wholly different from ourselves.
Other Web Sites of Interest:
Lycanthropy: Meaning, Myths, Movies, Books
The Annotated Werewolf
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