Dress and flesh

My family are big fans of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I recently bought a replacement set of the trilogy of five books as our originals were falling apart from overuse. We have the wonderful radio series on CD as well as the TV series and film on DVD. My elder son has just reread the books for the umpteenth time so, last weekend, requested the film for our Saturday night family viewing. It is a few years since we last watched this so it seemed like a good plan.

I remembered that my husband and I had felt a bit let down by the film when we first watched it. Too often I find this to be the case when a book is adapted for the big screen. When a film maker finds a fabulous story why does he then feel the need to change it? Fans of the book are likely to be amongst the film’s audience and are unlikely to appreciate such needless tinkering. It is understandable that not everything in a book can be included in a two or three hour screening so certain aspects of the plot may need to be adjusted to allow a more natural flow. Radical and apparently pointless changes are just irritating though.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film was spoiled for my son by both minor and major changes which he felt took away from the humour which makes the books so good. It is some time since I last read these so I was watching the film more as a standalone piece of entertainment and found it amusing enough. Having Martin Freeman in it helped, but not enough for my son.

Friends suggested that we may get on better with the TV series so we have been watching that this weekend. They were right in that my son is more impressed, despite the obvious ageing of the show (it was first broadcast in the early 1980’s). I however am struggling to enjoy it, mainly because of the representation of the character Trillian. I mean, if you are a brilliant mathematician and astrophysicist would you choose to explore space and unknown planets dressed like this?

trilliansandra1  trilliansandra2 TV show Trillian

The film version does at least choose clothes that are a bit more comfortable and practical

othertrillian Film version of Trillian

Now, as a woman, I am always aware that I may just not be ‘getting’ the apparent need of the opposite sex to gaze at exposed, female flesh. The rich and famous regularly appear sporting arm candy along with their sharp suits and orange skin, businesses everywhere use booth babes to grab attention for their product. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact that women on TV are usually selected to be pleasing to the eye. These practices irritate me, but not as much as a TV show that is supposed to be watchable for it’s wit yet takes a supposedly intelligent, female character and dresses her just so impractically.

Over the past few months there have been several, well publicised outrages over Miley Cyrus, her twerking and a wrecking ball video. I do not follow celebrity gossip but these incidents were hard to ignore as they spawned so much news coverage with a plethora of ‘open letters’ being written and many column inches being devoted to discussion of young females in the limelight, wicked middle aged marketing men and the impact of our current culture on the apparently malleable minds of young people. I watch a TV show like Hitchhiker’s and think, none of this is new.

Trillian is supposed to be attractive but also incredibly clever. That state of undress is not how an intelligent woman would choose to dress on a daily basis, and certainly not how she would choose to explore an unknown and possibly dangerous planet, even in a comedy show. Arthur Dent’s pyjamas and dressing gown make more sense, the ridiculousness of his attire suiting his goofy character and therefore adding humour.

arthurtv  arthurfilm

Arthur on TV and Arthur from the film

Now, before everyone starts telling me this is meant to be a light hearted and funny show, and if I am going to start arguing about practicality then perhaps I should be talking about sperm whales falling out of the sky, may I just say that I could accept Trillian’s state of undress if it had an amusing explanation as so many of the other improbabilities in the show have. It does not. I suspect it has been put there purely in an attempt to please the male members of the audience. I think it is that which annoys me.

I do not expect those responsible for providing us with entertainment to stop using good looking men and women in their productions. My daughter will watch anything with Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch in it. She claims that this is because they are such fabulous actors but I suspect there may be something a little more superficial in her choices as well. However, the characters these men play do at least dress for the occasion.

Perhaps I merely feel let down by the suggestion that men will be pleased by such a display. I like to think that the men who would appreciate the wit of this show may be more intelligent and be capable of enjoying good acting and clever lines without the need for a semi naked, female body to be thrust upon them on screen. Whatever it is, I find that my enjoyment of this TV show is being spoiled because I am distracted; I wish that someone would just give the girl a t shirt and a pair of trainers.

Next time there is a fuss about the ridiculous outfits that the ladies on cat walk or red carpet events almost wear, or the way a pop star gyrates to camera in her skimpy bikini and net outfit, remember that this has been going on for more than a generation. Perhaps we should just be paying it less attention if we really want the practice to go away. In this instance at least, the more recent take on the character is (in my view) better represented than that from thirty years ago. I see this as an improvement.

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6 comments on “Dress and flesh

  1. I, too, have always been a Douglas Adams fan and I found the representation of Trillian to be annoying and distracting. I don’t like the fact that not only does the media promote the idea that men are so incredibly vapid as to need visual sexuality constantly, but that they also seem to revel in it on so many fronts. Yes, yes, we get it, men enjoy scantily dressed women. I enjoy Cherry Garcia, but I don’t require it with every meal.

  2. Ian Shuttleworth says:

    It’s a fine point, but what it misses is that Trillian in the movie *is* still a female stereotype, just an updated one. Google “manic pixie dream girl”, and if you can find a single explanation of it that doesn’t mention Zooey Deschanel as the apotheosis of the type I’ll eat my Ampelmann baseball cap 🙂

  3. Sic Coyote says:

    You could make the argument that the way she is attired is a bit of a take off of earlier sci-fi films of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and represents one of these older ideas oh how you think people dress in space.

    It doesn’t really fit with the character, much as her American accent doesn’t, for that I think the blame does like with Douglas.

    I did think despite outward appearances though, Zooey was MORE of a damsel in distress / love interest than the 80s version. She may have been dressed in an uncomfortable way but she was just treated as another member of the crew.

    • zeudytigre says:

      The early ideas of how we dressed in space had women dressed in mini skirts or bathing suits and tights – again the overtly sexist eye candy. As a child I could never understand why the women on Star Trek dressed as they did. I just wish we could move on, I want to think better of men.

      There are a lot of other aspects of these films that grate, but the costumes were unnecessary and spoiled my enjoyment.

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