Watching anything after Mad Max – Fury Road makes that thing seem, well, muted. Everything feels quieter, less colorful. Or, it did. At about the same time Mad Max was unleashed, this came out:
As of this writing, Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood has been released for eight days and has 70, 853, 170 views. Taylor Swift has broken every record the internet has when it comes to music videos, and really videos in general. This is a milestone, a complete slap in the face to old school producers of media. And it has similarities to Mad Max, in that it features female action stars taking center stage and becoming dominant characters in and of themselves.
This music video is an action movie writ large, the sort of revenge story that was popularized in the eighties and nineties. One secret agent betrayed by another, awoken into a world changed by that betrayal, collecting allies and skills to go and confront the person that betrayed her. It’s a story we’ve seen again and again in male-led movies and television shows and books and comics, but to see it done here, and done so well? Why isn’t there more of this?
Well, the reason is simple. For decades the train of thought on this sort of storytelling has been that it doesn’t work.
The recent leaks from Disney and Marvel about why we’re not getting a Black Widow movie, and a drought of Black Widow merchandise, is the latest in a long line of proofs of a tainted belief among the primary decision makers of media: that women aren’t interested in watching or being a part of anything that isn’t a romance, romantic-comedy, or period piece.
Common excuses cited to support this error are the failures of movies like Catwoman, Elektra, or the Next Karate Kid. These films are used as proof that female-led action movies are doomed to failure, as opposed to looking at the idea that bad movies with terrible storytelling are doomed to failure.
Elektra failed as badly as Daredevil. Catwoman failed as badly as Batman and Robin. The Next Karate Kid failed as badly as any of the dozens of half-assed qualitatively bankrupt martial arts coming-of-age stories that came out around that time and continue to come out now. They don’t fail because they have female leads; they fail because they are, objectively speaking, bad.
And yet the illusion of female-led narratives being doomed to fail persists, outside of the prescribed roles of damsel-in-distress, arm candy, or romantic lead.
This, despite the widespread success of Kill Bill, the world-wide profits of Lucy, the popular demand for a Black Widow movie, the excitement that followed the Supergirl trailer and subsequent leak. This, despite the sales-figures of female-led comics like Spider-Gwen and Thor and Batgirl. This, despite the fanaticism surrounding books like the Hunger Games. This, despite the violent beauty of anything the Soska Sisters work on.
With this video, Taylor Swift has slammed the coffin shut on an out-dated, ancient, and erroneous way of thinking.
Taylor Swift herself is a controversial figure who picks up a lot of flack because double standards and patriarchy. Her latest album, 1989, makes it clear that she’s had enough. From Blank Space‘s deconstruction of public perception to Out of the Woods‘ quiet reflective philosophy, the entire album feels like a diatribe from a person who has claimed her identity and her power and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. She knows who she is.
And Bad Blood?
It’s intoxicating. In four minutes we’re given a host of characters and the world they inhabit, we’re given enough nuance that we want to see more of that world, and a large enough conflict that we want to see how it ends. There’s a reason that people are watching this video again and again and again, and with any luck some of decision makers will develop the skill of basic pattern recognition and start giving us the stories that we want, the stories that the current shift in zeitgeist is demanding.
Failing that, we’re going to have to make those stories ourselves… and if this is what we have to look forward to, well, we’re off to a good start.