As a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with cheesy horror and sci-fi movies—I ate them up.
To this day, I still call “Evil Dead 2” one of my absolute favourite movies. It offered the perfect combination of camp, humor, passion, and terror all at once. And, as is the case with many fans of the “Evil Dead” series, I positively loved leading actor Bruce Campbell. I thought he was the epitome of cool. He was to me what Batman or James Bond is to many movie fans. I would seek him out in any role—from “My Name is Bruce” to “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
So when I heard that Bruce Campbell was not only taking on a leading role in a major television series, but that it was going to continue the story of the “Evil Dead” series, I was thrilled.
That is, until I watched the first episode of the TV series, “Ash vs. Evil Dead.”
Now, I’m not writing a review for the series. I’ve watched the first season, and I have my own opinions, but they’re beside the point. What I want to talk about instead is a single scene in the first episode.
This scene begins with Bruce Campbell’s character, who is at work in a department store. Moments before, it has been established that he has enough seniority there that he cannot be fired. Campbell’s character approaches his female coworker and makes several overt sexual comments, to which she responds with blatant rejection. It isn’t until Campbell’s character becomes pushy and begins touching her, and the woman physically assaults him, that he finally accepts the rejection and walks away.
Watching this scene, I was slightly horrified.
Horrified enough, at least, that it made me question my respect for Bruce Campbell and the character that he has built up in his movies. Because on top of the fact that what happened in this scene was sexual harassment, it also serves to excuse and normalize sexual harassment in our culture.
Let’s start with the beginning: who Bruce Campbell’s character is. He’s an older man with seniority in this company. He has clearly worked here a long time. He’s the main character, so he’s endeared to the audience. He’s funny and a little pathetic, but heroic at the end of the day.
And let’s take a moment to look at the female character. This is her introduction to the audience. All that we know about her at this point is that she is new to this workplace, and she turns down the advances of Campbell’s character.
The way this scene plays out, it’s all relatively harmless. He makes comments toward her, she assaults him, he stalks off, and they go about their day. But the problem is that this isn’t even remotely how this scene would play out in real life.
In real life, there are a couple of potential outcomes:
A) She doesn’t assault him. She responds the way most women would, and just laughs it off or ignores him. She hears her coworkers talking about how he’s kind of pathetic, but at the end of the day, he’s harmless, so she should just cut him some slack. And she does. She continues to ignore him. And he keeps making comments. He gets steadily more aggressive, and whether he means to make the threat or not, they’re both aware of the fact that he has seniority over her. He’s been here longer—he has connections within the company. If he isn’t her boss, he’s at least friends with her boss. And if she wants to move ahead in the company, or even just keep her job, then maybe she shouldn’t be so “frigid” and “uptight,” right?
Or, B) She does assault him—because he crossed her boundaries and touched her when she said no. And he now has two things: a wounded ego and a valid complaint against her that he can take right to her boss.
Either way, she loses in real life.
But in fiction, it’s alright. It’s not a big deal. In fiction, she can assault him and end the harassment right then and there. In fiction, we don’t have to think about it very much.
But this affects the way that we see these scenarios in real life. This deludes us into thinking, maybe it isn’t a big deal. I mean, if she really wasn’t interested, she could have just assaulted him, right?
Watching this scene was extremely disappointing to me. Not only was I watching one of my childhood heroes engage in predatory behaviour that has intense, real-world consequences, it also sort of made me think about the popular culture that I grew up with. It made me realize just how prevalent it is to normalize sexual harassment in our movies and our TV.
It’s in every movie or TV show where a man is rejected by a woman, and he responds by pressing the matter. For example, Han and Leia in “Star Wars,” wherein the audience is meant to assume that when she says “no,” what she secretly means is “yes.” Or when a man manipulates a woman—like Noah and Allie in “The Notebook,” wherein he threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t agree to go on a date with him. Or a man continues to harass a woman until he finally gets a “yes,” like Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory.”
It is so prevalent in our society that it’s not only normal, it’s actually kind of a joke.
And when we laugh at it while watching movies and TV, we don’t think of the real-world consequences that these scenarios could actually have. We don’t think that they’re a big deal, because our society tells us that it isn’t a big deal. It’s just funny.
And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the movies or TV that we grew up with. I understand why that would be a hard argument to sell, and I know that I, for one, won’t stop enjoying the “Evil Dead” series anytime soon.
But that being said, I do think that we need to talk about these issues. Because talking about them makes us realize just how prevalent—and ingrained into our society—they actually are.
Bonus: Spotlight Interview