Ever since I first watched it as a teenager, I've been a huge fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I've seen it countless times, both in the privacy of my own home and in movie theaters complete with audience participation. I was even a cast member in a local theater production during high school--just in the chorus, but it was still a blast.
So when I heard that Fox was going to do a television remake of Rocky Horror for the 40th anniversary, I thought that it was a terrible idea. The cheap set, the tacky costumes, Tim Curry's ridiculous face--you can't beat that. A remake could only be worse.
Until I heard who had won the coveted role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter: Laverne Cox! Suddenly I was enthusiastic about the idea. If they simply hired someone to do a poor impression of Tim Curry, the whole thing would be a mess. But casting a woman is a fantastic move; there's no doubt in my mind that Ms. Cox will take it in a direction all her own.
Ah, but then Facebook pointed me to this Tumblr post. In it, the author makes a point that I hadn't considered, but it's completely valid, and we should all be worried about it: that if Laverne Cox, a transgender actress, takes the role of Frank, it will only confirm in people's minds the awful stereotype that trans women are nothing more than crossdressing men. Society already perpetuates so many harmful misconceptions about transgender people that, depending on the popularity of the remake, this could be a blow to transgender activism.
But that's not the part of her post I want to talk about--that point speaks for itself. It's this paragraph I want to address: "Dr. Frank-N-Furter is not an example of positive queer representation. He
is a ton of shitty, old-fashioned queer exploitation stereotypes mashed
into a single character. He’s a vampy, cruel, selfish, abusive, violent
murderer and rapist. Y’all, he rapes people and keeps sex slaves. Not a role model."
Just to be clear: I 100% agree with this point. Couldn't have said it better. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is an extremely poor example of a queer character, and he's undeniably a villain. The thing I take issue with is that the movie never tries to suggest that he's not a villain.
True, Frank is presented more as an anti-hero rather than an obvious villain. Much like his pseudo-namesake, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, some part of us is supposed to be lured in by his quest for absolute pleasure, just as we are lured in by Frankenstein's quest to defy death. However, we also recognize that both quests are impossible, and we understand that the doctors' refusal to acknowledge the impossibility of their quests is what erodes their sanity and leads them to do disgusting, horrific things. As campy as it is, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cautionary tale: absolute pleasure leads to absolute destruction. In the name of pleasure, Dr. Frank-N-Furter abuses, rapes, and kills, and in the end, he pays the ultimate price: Riff Raff, a longtime victim of his crazed master's ill-treatment, shoots him with a laser beam.
We could debate the ethics of anti-heroes, about whether it's ever appropriate to enjoy stories about villains. But personally, I think it is appropriate. If we can't enjoy Dr. Frank-N-Furter, then we also can't enjoy Victor Frankenstein, or Erik from The Phantom of the Opera, or Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or basically anyone from Game of Thrones. I think that audiences are intelligent enough to recognize the errors of these characters' ways. We can appreciate their stories and personalities while at the same time understanding that their villainous acts are in no way justified.
If you're interested, Internet, I would love to open a dialogue about this. I am aware that I could be wrong. I have been wrong about things in the past, and I'm certain that I will continue to be wrong about some things in the future. It's entirely possible that I am too blinded by my love of The Rocky Horror Picture Show to adequately consider its faults, so I would be grateful to hear your thoughts on the subject. And really, what better subject could there be for a Halloween debate?