The swimming pool represents a lot of things, but it has also served as a straightforward tool for satisfying the male gaze on film. It is a pretense for babes to appear. But recently female creators have reframed the pool as something new: a place where a woman can be the complicated subject, with her own issues and her own fantasies.
It is conspicuous that, at a time when the conversation about male domination in the workplace and in politics has broken wide open, these projects are framing sexism as a problem between women. But they also represent a kind of breakthrough. In projects like “Late Night,” “Little” and “Veep,” the archetype is being used to tell more explicitly feminist tales — and to question power itself.
This idea of assessing an artist’s work in light of his biography is, to some critics, blasphemous. Roman Polanski’s 2009 arrest inspired a New York Times round table on whether we ought to “separate the work of artists from the artists themselves, despite evidence of reprehensible or even criminal behavior.” It stands as a useful artifact of the prevailing attitude on the question in the early 21st century. The screenwriter and critic Jay Parini wrote, “Being an artist has absolutely nothing — nothing — to do with one’s personal behavior.” Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, put it this way: “Let the art stand for itself, and these men stand in judgment, and never the twain shall meet.”