How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways…

When I was learning how to make friends with girls, one of the things we did, fairly frequently, was watch films.

That this backfired slightly will come as no surprise to anybody that knows me personally; I simply don’t stay awake to do whatever bonding happens after we’ve finished the popcorn, and have managed to sleep through the last two thirds of The Italian Job three times so far, and all three Lord of the Rings films, waking only to watch the fight scenes, which were entertaining enough once I managed to ignore the fact that no sane general would conduct a battle like that….

Anyway.

One of the staple films of any long night in was 10 Things I Hate About You. Apparently, this is a story based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

The synopses of both the film and the play you can read for yourselves; I’m going to assume you have done.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to think. I can see some similarities between play and film, especially in the naming of some of the characters (Bianca Stratford and Patrick Verona being two fairly obvious ones, Shakespeare being known for his use of names either originally Italian or originally Italian words – think Malvolio and Benvolio, derived from words meaning ‘bad’ — ‘mal’ — and ‘good’ — ‘bene’ — and Chastity another).
And, of course, some of the basic plot structure does correspond; that Bianca (meaning ‘white’, often linked with purity and chastity – interesting!) desperately wants to date, but is prevented until her elder sister Kat, who is known for her bad temper, does too, and that a plot is hatched by various men to get Kat to date so that they can pursue Bianca.

I came to the film this time around, after an interval of at least three years, with a very different perspective. For one thing, I am loudly and openly feminist in a way that I wasn’t before. And suddenly, one of the reasons why I had so identified with the grumpy, antisocial Kat Stratford fell into place. Kat is loudly and openly feminist. She mentions ‘patriarchal values’ scathingly and, it would seem, repeatedly, in her English lesson – her class recite the last of her diatribe along with her, which still amuses me. When I last watched the film, I knew nothing about Femism, other than my gut feelings that Creepy Guys were bastards, and that I needed a good pair of garlic crushers. I didn’t get the references to Sylvia Plath, The Feminine Mystique, or indeed ‘patriarchal values’, though I did think she had a point when she stormed about her English class being all about male writers, when there were many good female authors out there.

On the other hand, I still enjoy her teacher, an outspoken black man, comiserating sarcastically with the ‘oppression of [her] middle-class, suburban life’, and asking her, when she next talked to the school governers, ‘to ask them why the hell they can’t put a black man on the reading list’.
‘And don’t even get me started on you’, he snaps at the white Rastafarian boys next to her.

Looking again at the play synopsis, I am very, very glad that the film ended the way that it did. Although Kat did eventually end up with a man (and, one could argue, was in that sense ‘tamed’), there was never any suggestion that he could control her in anywhere near the same way that his counterpart in the play was able to. In fact, she still seemed very much her own person. Of course, there is still a big issue surrounding the heteronormativity and suggestion implicit within the film that Kat could not be truly happy without a man, but I think I’ll leave that for another time; it’s an American teen film – I suppose sometimes you have to take what you can get, and a few references to feminism that weren’t entirely derogatory was pretty good going, really!

But. Why did she suddenly change her viewpoint? While at the Prom, which she had taken a lot of persuasion to attend in any case, she discovered that Patrick was going out with her because he was being paid by one of her sister’s would-be boyfriends (even worse, an ex of hers, and the first, and possibly only guy she had had sex with). Only a little while before, he had asked her to go to the Prom with him, and she had asked him suspiciously what was in it for him, something that he was very insulted about. And it is only after she apologises to him that she finds out that she was right. Such a humilliation, rather understandably, causes her to withdraw completely. And yet, only a few days later, it seems, she has repented of this decision, reading aloud a sonnet aimed at him upon which the film title sits, “10 things I hate about you”. The last line of her poem? “I hate the way I don’t really hate you, not even a little bit, not even at all.”

I just don’t understand. But I still like the film. It has some wonderful sarcastic humour, which is something I love, and it’s definitely a film to watch, if only so that you can share your opinion with me!

So. Why does she change her mind? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, and I prefer salted popcorn, thanks!

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