Sapphic Cinema: “Itty Bitty Titty Committee”

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Of all the films we’ve examined thus far on Sapphic Cinema, none is as frustrating as Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Jamie Babbit’s 2007 love letter to the riot grrrls. If the metric we’re using is “so bad it’s good,” IBTC isn’t bad at all. It’s got decent production values, professional actors, and that scene where Carly Pope takes off her glasses. What’s frustrating about the movie is that it should have been ACTUALLY GOOD, as an examination of the way friendship, romance, and radical politics bring women together and tear them apart.

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Itty Bitty Titty Committee’s chief failing is the way it anchors its narrative to two horrible people and their horrible relationship. First up, meet Anna (Elodie Diaz), whose constant pouting feels less like a character choice and more like an old gypsy woman’s curse.

ibtc2 JUST NAIL ME TO A CROSS AND WORSHIP ME.

There is just nothing about Anna. She is gay and has a supportive family (even though they want her to go to her sister’s wedding, LIKE FASCISTS) but she failed to get into college and her girlfriend left her for a can of beige paint because it was more interesting. She works at a plastic surgery office with the guy who played Lucy Diamond’s sidekick, and a woman who has made the UNFORGIVABLE DECISION to get breast implants. Anna, clearly, is ripe for radicalization.                                      

Enter Sadie (Nicole Vicius, aka almost Joey Lauren Adams), who strolls up to the plastic surgery like a real life version of Kate Beaton’s Straw Feminists cartoon.

ibtc3via harkavagrant.com

Sadie belongs to the C(I)A (clits in action), and she is changing the world, one can of spray paint at a time. She takes a picture of Anna holding the paint in case she needs to blackmail her in the future and then invites her to come hang out at the Secret Feminist Treehouse. Thus, Anna is indoctrinated into the underground and meets Meat, who is the super-talented artist always hanging on the outskirts of these communities, Aggie, a trans guy who is the only person in the film with whom it is possible to empathize at all, and Shule. Shule is a terrifying vengeance goddesss who has read every book, and whose razor-sharp wit is never diminished by her constant joint-smoking, and who is going to make you PROVE YOURSELF to her before she will even learn your name. She is exactly the kind of woman it never occurs to me to have a crush on until I see her dating someone else and she is the primary redeeming factor of this movie.

ibtc4 THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED, BUT IT WILL BE FAN FICed.

Together, the group defaces mannequins for having unrealistic body standards, puts a life-size statue of Angela Davis (presumably made from one of the original mannequins) up at City Hall, and go to a lot of DIY punk shows with electrical tape over their nipples. And Anna is just so fucking happy to have gained a group and a purpose, even though you never get the sense that she’s doing anything more than repeating back dogmas she doesn’t particularly understand or believe in. She could just as easily have become a Seventh Day Adventist if she thought there might be girls who would sleep with her at the convention.

So, to understand this movie, we need to have a word about radical politics, and the queer women who practice them. I went to college in the not too distant past and plenty of my closest friends were rabble rousers in a similar vein to the C(I)A. I have been to their punk shows and drunk their PBRs and pretended not to be distracted by their exposed breasts. One of the most erotic experiences of my life was when a beautiful, unshaven woman yelled at me about why the word “ballsy” was NOT ripe for feminist appropriation. I think it is healthy to challenge the patriarchy through subversive action and I think it is healthy to run around with your friends at night doing slightly illegal shit.

But the danger in that idealistic kind of radicalism (and especially this portrayal of it) is its nuance-erasing absolutism and tendency toward conformity. Anna dyes her hair pink and starts wearing fishnets because it’s a uniform. And the group drives all the way to Sacramento to yell at a gay marriage rally. They’re yelling at the supporters and the opponents, because they are opposed to ALL MARRIAGE.

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Which isn’t to say that there aren’t valid conversations to be had regarding the institution of marriage, but the way these characters practice their politics is all spectacle and none of the hard, unglamorous work of helping people.

And the way that Anna’s radicalism manifests itself is just through being a dick and spray painting the walls of her room (actually her parent’s room, because she still lives at home) and harassing customers who come into the clinic because she assumes that reading the first three chapters of Outlaw Culture makes her an expert in EVERYONE ELSE’S SHIT.

I’m sorry, it just pisses me off.

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