Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mr. Audrey, Sir (Little Shop of Horrors)

For a while I’ve been a fan of Little Shop of Horrors, the odd horror comedy about a talking plant that eats human flesh, specifically the film version made in 1986. I recently bought the soundtrack for the Broadway play it was based on, and have had a good time listening to all the songs. In doing so, I’ve noticed that the show is another example of gendering a genderless entity (the plant), but this time with the interesting element of the plant being gendered as female by the characters before it later asserts a masculine identity.
The plot has Seymour Krelborn acquiring a mysterious plant that he can’t identify in his botany books. Deciding it to be a new species, he names it after the girl he has a crush on and calls it Audrey II. Having been given a feminine name, the plant is subsequently referred to as though it were female. “The Audrey II is not a healthy girl,” Seymour laments before he figures out what the plant eats. Likewise in a Broadway song Seymour calls Audrey II “Sweet Petunia”, a pet name usually reserved for female entities.
The plant’s supposed femininity ends when it starts speaking, a role played by a man in all three versions (1960 movie, Broadway play, and 1986 movie). Technically speaking, the plant could be played by a woman. Generally plants are hermaphroditic, so if we’re going by plant sexes a person male or female could voice the character. Audrey II is an anthropomorphized plant with the ability to speak, so it’s not so unreasonable that it be given a specific gender, but it is unusual that its real gender be one opposite what it was referred to as earlier in the story.
Now, there’s this song called “Bad” in which Audrey II sings about how he’s the worst monster around. I’m not really sure where it comes from. I downloaded it with the Broadway soundtrack as a bonus track entitled “Bad (Film Version)”, but the film has the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” at the same point in the story where “Bad” is supposed to be sung, and the original 1960 movie wasn’t a musical. They involve the same general concepts of Audrey II comparing himself to various movie monsters and mocking Seymour’s attempts to kill him, but are definitely different songs. The soundtrack also has the track “Bigger Than Hula-Hoops”, not really a song but instead audio of the scene in which either “Bad” or “Mean Green Mother” would have taken place, but neither are included for some reason, probably pacing. So, where “Bad” came from I have no idea, but it’s part of the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack.
Anyway, both “Bad” and “Mean Green Mother” contain lyrics in which Audrey II refers to himself as male. “Bad” has Audrey II claiming that the Bride of Frankenstein calls him “Mr. Audrey, sir,” while “Mean Green Mother” has him saying “The lion don’t sleep tonight / And if you pull his tail he roars”. So, yes, Audrey II is male. What is interesting is that he accepts the name Audrey II as his name, even though Audrey is traditionally a feminine name, and he finds it natural to be referred to simply as “Audrey” on occasion. Another lyric from “Bad” has him claiming that Godzilla said to him, “Hey, Audrey, you ain’t all that tough”, in which the traditionally feminine name is not perceived as part of the insult. It gets to the point where the name Audrey has been masculinized through its association with a masculine character.
The character of the tough guy with the feminine name reminds me of Jayne, the male mercenary of Firefly. In Firefly, however, the fact that his name is traditionally feminine is explicitly brought up in the show. Jayne makes some sexist comment, and River reminds him that “Jayne is a girl’s name”, causing him to flip out. From the context we can imagine he’s been taunted about that many times before, and that it perhaps plays a part in why he’s built up such a brutish and traditionally masculine demeanor. Because Firefly is a Joss Whedon show, it’s reasonable to assume that the character’s traits are there in some attempt to promote gender equality.
In Little Shop of Horrors the reason for Audrey II’s gender issues is unclear. The original 1960 movie’s plant (there called Audrey Junior) may not have been supposed to have a specific gender as the character is much more simplistic. Had the filmmakers a larger budget, they might not have given the plant a masculine voice (the actor played two other roles). But while the original Audrey Junior voice was high-pitched, the Broadway play’s Audrey II was given a very deep voice, a characteristic that continued to the 1986 movie. This may have to do with the fact that a deep-voiced masculine character is generally seen as stronger, males as more capable of doing harm due to such strength (and culture, but never mind that now), and thus more befitting a monstrous antagonist.

The Broadway show embraced Audrey II’s masculinity, and wrote his songs in a very traditionally masculine style. His dialog is very much that of a vulgar male and he makes a few sexual references despite the fact that as a plant he would have no interest in female humans – other than as a snack, that is. The Devil’s pact aspect of the plot, absent in the original movie, also makes Audrey II’s male gender fall in line with the traditional rendering of the Devil as a masculine figure. Not that there aren’t feminine entities that may play the part of the Devil in various stories, such as the 2000 Bedazzled remake, though.
So, in conclusion, the rendering of Audrey II’s gender is unusual. The other genderless objects given gender that I’ve covered (WALL-E, 343 Guilty Spark, the Seeker, etc.) all essentially stay within the gender given to it, whether or not they explicitly have genders. Audrey II, however, is almost a transgender plant; though, I wouldn’t say that’s the best description because he is a plant. It’s even more unusual in that the gender issues are never explicitly referenced in the show.
P.S. Seriously, though, what is up with that “Bad” song?


John said...

"Bad" was an early version of MGMFOS. It was reworked almost totally to create MGMFOS.

Dragonclaws said...

Okay, thanks. :)