Fantasies of Female Freedom: The Adolescent Female Body and Post-Feminist Discourse in Spring Breakers (2012).
“The young girl is an optical illusion. From afar, she is an angel, and up close, she is a beast.” (Tiqqun, 2012)
The space between girlishness and womanhood has long been theorised as an ambiguous state of being; defenseless against social constructions and expectations of the young girl, who she is and who she should become. But what if we take an alternative approach to studying the young girl by recognising her as exploiter as well as exploitee, with her transitory status and sexualised body as the means to her power?
Traditionally, post-feminist discourses have centered around these contradictory arguments, which use the objectification of the female body as an ironic vehicle for feminist ‘agency’. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, is a film which demonstrates a clear interest in both sides of this post-feminist coin. It presents, studies and theorises the adolescent girl as the maker of meaning, director of her own narrative and possessor of power, while simultaneously suggesting that she is manipulated, exploited, and disempowered at the hands of a voyeuristic and patriarchal system. The film embarks on its complex quest long before the cameras start rolling, as Korine sets the tone by casting a number of ex-Disney channel, child stars. Such a controversial casting decision is just the beginning of this film’s will to attract the very audience its seeks to critique, and de-stabilise the postfeminist sensibility which haunts popular culture.
Most significantly, the young female body in Spring Breakers is used to comment on the inherent sexualisation or self-sexualisation of the post-feminist woman. Shortly after a mock blowjob scene involving Britt, Candy and their phallic weapons, Korine corrects any confused interpretation of this as female agency by aesthetically de-individualising ‘the young girl’. Britt, Candy and Cottie file outside to the suspenseful sound of Alien’s piano, wearing DTF tracksuit bottoms and pink my-little-pony balaclavas. Such garish juxtapositions punctuate the film in an effort to problematise the uniform sexualisation and “girlification” of female subjects; calling attention to the outrageous (and common) marriage of child-like imagery and sexual experience in popular culture.
Throughout the film, Korine offers his viewer the opportunity to idly enjoy this typically mainstream image of ‘the young girl’ and her body or challenge it. If we opt for the latter, we might notice that the girls rest their heads with the same softness that has permeated artistic representations of the female form for hundreds of years; a perfect example of this being Antonio Canova’s, The Three Graces.
Antonio Canova’s ‘The Three Graces’ (1814-17)
Harmonie Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers’ (2012)
By presenting the exploited ‘young girl’ in a classic and graceful manner, Korine is commenting on a cultural shift from appreciating the human form, to a normalised, faceless sexualisation of young girls in modern media culture. Cultural theorist, Andreas Huyssen observes that “mass culture is somehow associated with women while real, authentic culture remains the prerogative of men” (1986). Korine’s film voices a real frustration with this reality, reflected in the sexualised costume, hidden female faces and potent composition; functioning as a critical reimagining of neoclassical representations of beauty and youth. The girlish balaclavas stand as the most significant metaphor in the discourse of postfeminist bodies on screen. It is a conscious comment on the de-individualisation of ‘the young girl’ and her body in popular culture, as it draws attention to the most sexualised, feminine features of the face in a very uniform way; extenuating the eye lashes and lips while simultaneously and purposefully concealing any individuality. The girls are otherwise indistinguishable from one another, which seems to signify the harmful importance placed on a slim and youthful body through mediated images and the counterintuitive nature of post-feminist thought.
The juxtaposition of hyper femininity and instruments of violence in this scene is a perfect metaphor for the counterintuition I am referring to. The girls dance in a ballerina-esque fashion, connected to one another by their machine guns, locating violence as a literal and metaphorical extension of the modern female body. The likeness between filmic images such as these, and Andy Warhol’s Gun (black, white, red on pink: 1981-82) might be revisited, as initially, Warhol’s offset relationship between the aesthetic and subject matter can be likened to “the young girl’s” deviant masquerade. However, from an alternative perspective Spring Breakers can be identified as a text which holds a mirror up to post-feminist culture and challenges the empowerment of bodily performativity with the constant reminder that violence and the sexualised female form have almost become synonymous. So, the similarity between this filmic text and Warhol’s piece resides in their common use of aesthetic pleasure to comment on societal issues, as both texts purposefully present their critical message in an attractive, popular form to appeal to the masses.
Korine’s film can be understood as an attack on the very thing it masquerades as. It objectifies its female bodies and souls, with the same poisonous false empowerment as modern post-feminist media culture; satirising the necessary and normalised self-sexualisation of ‘post-patriarchy’. Therefore, when studying “the young girl” and her body in conjunction with Spring Breakers, the beastly quality Tiqqun refers to can be appreciated as the disturbing process of producing, selling and popularising images of the young, sexualised female body.
By Sophie Jones