Imagine a socially maladjusted person who has lived in isolation and was therefore devoid of typical gendered behaviors. The message and implied meaning in the popular cult film: Edward Scissorhands (a 1990 dark fantasy film, starring Johnny Depp) is about the dangers in failing to conform to societal norms, and the isolating artificiality of modern interrelations. The film centers around a half-completed man-creation named Edward, and his interactions with neighboring suburban housewives. The implied meaning that the audiences might absorb from the suburban inhabitants about gender is consistent with traditional ideology, hegemony, and dominant gender values. The film is set in an outlandish residential neighborhood of uncanny homogeneousness, and most of the supporting characters are hegemonic-feminine housewives. The film’s setting of a suburban society, has strong cultural codes and power-interest biased ideologies circulated within it. And the overall message in the story is that any deviation from the ‘cultural norm’ will be punished by the collective society unless it can be exploited.
It can be observed that the housewives were initially supportive of Edwards’s creative abilities because of their communal desire to be popular within their own group. They fanatically used his art as a form of cultural tourism, to benefit the whole neighborhood with a type of creative capitalism, which embodied their shared ideological/lifestyle views. Each one of the housewives literally lined up to get a custom piece of artwork from Edward, which was not so much about the artwork itself, but about partaking in the groups shared beliefs of the current desirable and trendy fashion. As evident by their feminine group behaviors, and how they frequently put their relationship with the collective group above personal interests, as well as concerned with their appearances, and social pleasantries, they can be described as hegemonic in their gendered representation as social creatures. These women are depicted as extreme conformists, and just as quickly as they became obsessed with Edward, they became dissatisfied with him. Although, a resistive reading of the film’s gender representation suggests that the extreme gender depictions are intentional, and were arranged to more creatively illustrate the melodramatic staging.
The main character, Edward, has lived his life in isolation and is taken-in by a loving housewife after she finds him living in the dilapidated attic of a nearby ‘abandoned manor’. Because of Edwards’s life of isolation, he fails to meet several customary social practices, and lacks gendered behaviors. The housewives were initially curious and supportive of him and his abnormalities, but the relationship quickly deteriorates after an aggressive male character abused and mistreated him for selfish purposes, subsequently turning the neighborhood against him in a downward spiral of events. Women in media are typically depicted either exclusively as housewives or as sex objects; always either obsessed with propriety and cleanliness, or young and perfect. Most of the women in the film are middle-aged housewives, and fall in to the ‘housewife’ category, with the exception of the beautiful teenage daughter who acts as the film’s love-interest. She’s used as a typical plot catalyst to move the story along, and in the beginning she’s indifferent to Edward, but grows to empathize with him after her antagonist boyfriend abuses him, and then abandons him when trouble is imminent. Edward, the love-interest, and antagonist character, all appear to be teenagers, while all the other townspeople appear to be middle-aged; this is another plot device to emphasize the romantic tension between the three characters. Both the female and male townspeople characters express stereotypical gendered behaviors.
The male supporting characters in the film are typical masculine representations; disinterested in the gossip of the women, and self-serving. In addition to the main character, the other two male characters were: the lethargic husband, and the violent antagonist boyfriend of the love-interest. The director restricted the number of other males in the film to emphasize the relationship that Edward has with the few males that he interacts with. The relationship between Edward and the antagonist is hierarchical. The antagonist is the only character that expresses violent-aggressive behaviors and intentions throughout the film. Even though Edward is part of the dominant majority (white, straight, male) he is still below the antagonist in the social ranks, and is marginalized by other members of the dominant group because of his abnormalities. Most of the violence in a real life society, and in this film, is perpetrated by hegemonic males because of the expectation that masculinity is linked to power, aggression, and control. On the other hand, the husband-father figure in the film’s host-family is unconcerned with the happenings of the neighborhood. He is blasé about every situation that arises, remaining disinterestedly neutral, and never expresses any outward emotion at all. His behavior indicates stereotypical concepts of the unemotional male. ‘Hegemonic’ is a specific meaning that has become the dominant, normative, standard way of defining a concept [or a group of people] in a way that disadvantages people and segments society. It appears natural and ‘right’, and in most media it appears to be: white heterosexual ideology, young, virile, educated, employed, active, family man (Masculinity as Homophobia).
Other possible reasons for these 2 drastically different and stereotypical male depictions, are so the viewers of the film would not be distracted by the supporting characters, and feel more connected with the main character. This film accurately represents common social sentiments for traditional male behavior, albeit the 2 male characters express different facets of masculinity. Young boys in real life are socialized to see sexual power, violence, and independence as normal, and grow to believe that men are not allowed to show emotion or talk about their feelings. Hegemonic masculinity, in society and in media, categorizes and limits the characteristics, roles, behaviors, and potential of all males into a rigid set of meaning that benefits specific dominant-power-interests over their personal interests. Hegemonic masculinity rejects anything feminine, and measures masculinity by: power, success, status, encourages unemotional behavior: calm, tough, reliable, but also: daring, aggressive, risk taker behavior. Failing to do these things equates with failure to ‘be a man’ in our society (Masculinity as Homophobia). The gender representation of the antagonist is exactly this, and the only character in the film that seems to step outside of the traditional gender ideals is the main character, Edward.
Edward does not embody any of the traditional masculine mannerisms, as evident by the character’s mild and shy conduct. Aside from being white and straight, he is the opposite of a masculine stereotype, and his contrasting behavior contributes to the reasons why he becomes exiled from the suburban society. The construction of Edward’s identity was devoid of gender expectations, because he lived in isolation and was therefore socially maladjusted. The film implies that hegemonic masculinity [aka aggressive males] is the direct instigator of problems in society; not just for the other males, but also for the harmony and peace of the whole civilization. The film’s antagonist is stereotypically masculine and is depicted as strong and aggressive; he is also dominantly depicted as white, heterosexual, violent, and powerful. The antagonist is hostile towards the gentle main character, asserting his authority on several occasions, and even attempts to kill Edward after the film’s love-interest casts him out. The audience finds this type of neutral character relatable because of the likelihood that that certain sects of society will only superficially accept them.
The dominant message about gender in this film favors collective gendered behaviors. These ideals hurt people who do not inherently fit into the expectation of desirability, as evident by the social rejection that Edward was threatened with at the climax of the film. The film favors stereotypes by depicting whiteness [westernization] as normal, and shows nonverbal cues representing both men and women as conformists to those dominant ideals. The suburban inhabitants all appear to be Caucasian, heterosexual, and middle-class. This depiction conveys a sense of social uniformity. In a conservative setting like this, where the housewives’ main focus is pleasantries and appearances, and the men disinterestedly do leisure activities, someone like Edward who falls outside of those expected social norms, will only tolerated for as long as they do not aggravate the existing dominant culture. Upon Edwards’s arrival, the housewives swiftly tried to usher him into a more ‘acceptable’ lifestyle, by encouraging him to be more socially outgoing, contribute to the community, and open a local business. Dominant culture might treat anyone who was even remotely unusual with a level of fickleness and disloyalty, because the intent of their sociability is to encourage more predictable collective behavior.
The townspeople were blissfully unaware of ‘diversity’ when Edward was introduced, and so they failed to realize how different he was and how his differentness might be problematic, or even that he would be unable to conform to their ideals. The dominant gender stereotypes lead the townspeople to overlook his important qualities as a unique individual, and to perceive him only in terms of his expected ‘social grouping’. The townspeople’s personalities were devoted to being agreeable with each other, even at the climax of the film they stood together in their beliefs/group decisions as they rallied against Edward. The women, especially, demonstrated their traditionalist behavior, both in their appearance, and in their devotion to the groups’ collectivist opinion about the most acceptable action in every social situation. As a group, all the housewives initially showed curiosity and support; like in the beginning when all of them show up at the family’s barbeque to welcome Edward to the neighborhood, and near the end, when all the housewives showed disapproval for Edward when none of them show up to the family’s Christmas party. At one point in the film, the townspeople formed an angry mob and confronted Edward, violently rejecting him for their society; literally chasing him away. But again, they did it as one collective unit. It’s reminiscent of Frankenstein, in the way that collective intolerance could provoke a crowd to take forceful action against something harmless that they feel threatened their lifestyles.
The film emphasizes the social stress of needing, wanting, and having to fit-in, when fitting-in is hopelessly difficult for a lot of people. The overall theme of the film is self-discovery and isolation, which engages many viewers because of how common it is to be in uncomfortable in social situations. Professionally or socially, everyone occasionally feels isolated or socially rejected in varying degrees. In this way, the film interpellates viewers, which is about more than creating a relationship between the viewer and the image, it’s about producing new meaning. Because the audience is expected to bond with a flawed character, the film speaks to a lot of people who understand struggle that Edward endures with the feelings of discomfort and separation in an inflexible society. From a gender perspective, this could speak to people who feel unaccepted from society for failing to display an adequate gendered performance. The nature of this film encourages construction of individual identity [separate from societal norms] by representing the main character as being incompatible with the traditional society. In terms of class, age, ethnicity, conduct, and sexuality, the whole suburban neighborhood was extremely homogeneous, and the main character was observably mismatched. Several creative choices were made in the film’s design to allot the suburban residents with dominant ideals of normality, and Edward with oppositional ideals. This contrast stylistically separates him from everyone else’s conventionality. Even the film’s location is an exaggerated representation of a suburban neighborhood; it contains extreme conventionalism and an observable absence of the housewives’ husbands, who are ‘at work’ nearly the entire time the housewives are interacting with Edward. This appears to be deliberate, and is done to accentuate Edwards’s abnormality by juxtaposing him onto the backdrop of traditional ideals. He is the only character in the film with a physical abnormality, his outfits are limited to black and white colors, and even though his host-family makes several attempts to apply makeup on him, he always appears strangely pale. In contrast, the society’s townspeople appear friendly and colorful, and they exhibit traditional values and gender behaviors, all of which emphasizes the uniformity of the film’s locale.
In a way, this film jokes about social norms by pointing out the absurdity of a homogenous community within a national culture that claims to put a high value on individuality. The suburban houses in the film were are all color coordinated, along with the peoples general appearances and behaviors, which are all arranged to be strangely uniform; and in real life, all these things still happen to be true, but in a less obvious way. It’s an example of ironic pseudoindivduality, because our American consumer culture creates a false sense of individuality which revolves around the consumption of products (Practices of Looking). It’s with these products and interactions that we construct our identities and exhibit them outwardly to show society our ‘individuality’, and convey our personality. But this means that our participation in society revolves around buying the products necessary to demonstrate the type of person we are. The film has a postmodern style that speaks to real-life people who know about the codes and conventions of representation and simulation, and are not fooled by propaganda and illusionism (Practices of Looking). Just like the characters in the film, real-life people are only allowed minuscule amounts of personal freedom if they want to properly fit-in within the rigid framework of social constructs. Edward wasn’t dangerous or destructive, but because of his observable oddities he was rejected from society, all the while, no one suspected the antagonist of being criminal, because he was cloaked with the facade of social conformity. This message suggests to viewers that failure to embrace dominant cultural beliefs means banishment from the community, and considers that it’s not who we are that matters, but how society accepts us.
Most people desire a sense of individuality, but crave social acceptance more. So this film plays with the fine line of where a traditional society will no longer accept a person’s eccentricity. My interpretation of the film was that the feelings of detachment real people experience in society are due to the delicate social equilibrium within our own communities. Edward is a gentle, kind, and artistic man, but his freakish appearance inhibits him from being fully accepted into the community, and pushes him back into being a social outcast. This rejection is a sensationalized depiction of real life societal expectations to conform to ‘normal’ behavior and appearances. The film’s plot development is expressing sentiments about how social relationships are shallow, and how individuals incompatible with the ‘cultural norm’ will be shunned unless they can provide a valuable service. In summary, modern interrelations are artificial because in order to earn social acceptance people must conform.