Yesterday, Gawker published this article titled I Haven’t Seen Star Wars Yet But I Bet it Doesn’t Pass the Bechdel Test. Presumably, it was not sincere. It seems to be a response to reports that Star Wars: The Force Awakens passes the Bechdel Test, a standard of gender representation in film that demands two named female characters talk to each other about something other than a man.1 Gawker contributor Allie Jones argues that although she has not seen The Force Awakens—or any Star Wars movie, for that matter—it is extremely unlikely that the new sequel is Bechdel-compliant. Quote:
Think about it for one second: A Star Wars movie that passes the Bechdel test? Uhh, sure. Not.
I haven’t seen this new movie yet, nor have I seen any of the other Star Wars movies. I’m still pretty confident that there is no Star Wars scene in which two women talk about something other than a man or a male robot or whatever.
I’m going to say she is putting us on. Contradicting the account of people who saw the new Star Wars movie on her authority as a person who has seen no Star Wars movies seems too egregious to be sincere. What we have here is some form of irony, but is it satire? Or what?
Plenty of people did not take this article ironically at all, probably because they wanted to disagree with it. I first encountered it on Twitter, where it was presented to me as an instance of internet feminism gone haywire. Not long after, I saw it retweeted as an instance of trolling, the practice of advancing an obviously flawed claim in order to enjoy the attention that comes with being contradicted.
That is probably what Gawker is doing here. The Force Awakens opens Friday, and at this point the internet’s fascination with it is near total. The audacity of Jones’s argument, its subject, and the frisson of exaggerated cultural leftism on the internet make it a guaranteed hate-share. This article is designed to outrage you.
But Jones, who writes sensibly for Gawker on other topics, does not want the critical reader to think she is dumb. She wants the casual reader to think that, so he will angrily share this post with his fellow dorks on social media. But no writer wants her pose of idiocy mistaken for actual idiocy. Like satire, this article must signal the sophisticated reader that the writer is in on the joke.
Jones does it right off the bat with the inanity of her argument (“Uhh, sure. Not,”) and later when she admits to never seeing any Star Wars movies. That’s where an editor would assign the piece to someone else, and the critical reader recognizes that. Like satire, the argument this piece expresses starts out mildly risible, then confirms our suspicions by getting really risible.
Unlike satire, however, this article is not funny—at least not funny the way satire is funny. Its argument is comically dumb, but it does not refer to a similar argument people actually believe. Satire exposes the absurdity of a popular ideas by presenting obviously absurd ideas that resemble them. A Modest Proposal reduces to absurdity 18th-century England’s actually brutal treatment of the Irish poor. If Swift argued passionately that grass is blue and the sky is green, he would not be writing satire.
So what is this article advancing a deliberate flawed argument that no one is making? It’s not serious, but it isn’t exactly funny. It’s not sarcasm, because it doesn’t mock an identifiable object. It’s not parody, because no one advanced a recognizably similar argument, and it’s not satire, because it doesn’t indict a foible or truism. It seems to be a new genre of prose essay unique to the Internet: the outrage magnet.
As of this writing, I Haven’t Seen Star Wars Yet But I Bet it Doesn’t Pass the Bechdel Test verges on 120,000 pageviews. It is currently the second Google result for “Star Wars bechdel Test,” ahead of several articles on the trending topic that triggered it, that The Force Awakens reportedly does pass Bechdel. If this piece was designed for clicks, the artistic effect it seeks to achieve is probably outrage.
That’s working. It also puts Gawker in the same field as The Daily Currant and other outlets selling “satire” designed to be mistaken for truth. Like “overdoses kill 37 on first day of marijuana legalization,” the phony story here is “Gawker writer believes she can criticize Star Wars for failing the Bechdel test without seeing it.” I’m glad that’s not true, but I wish there were no money in telling people it is.