What do you like?
Quite a few of my relatives were disappointed that I didn’t like The Big Bang Theory (not the theory, the TV show 🙂 ). I’m not sure exactly why they thought I’d like it, but I get the impression that it is because I was friends with, and am married to mathy/sciency types, and it has funny jokes about men being inept- feminists like that right?*
Well no. Not really. No.
While some of the mathy/sciency stuff was funny, the first few episodes I watched just reinforced every single stereotype that drives me batty about the intersection of femininity and geek culture. In other words it was the “Boys brains can’t work when there’s a pretty girl around!” gag over and over again, combined with the pretty girl being shallow and ditzy and entirely one dimensional. Perhaps my relatives forgot that I’m friends with and married to mathy/sciency types because I’m one too. I’m willing to overlook some of those types of gags if the ditzy female character actually has some promise of dimension (see: The IT Crowd). Maybe the show has changed since the first shows to be significantly different, but I wasn’t willing to give it a chance.
So what do I like?
I like Doctor Who. For those who haven’t seen the show, it follows the last of the Timelords, an alien race that has the techonology to travel time. The show has the ability to change drastically over time because, instead of dying, the Timelord Doctor (that’s his name, The Doctor) regenerates; which is to say he morphs into a completely different person, retaining his memories but having a different body, and temperament. While the show ostensibly centers on a male character (The Doctor), he is someone who has a wide range of relationships with the women and men around him. Quite often movies and TV shows just can’t manage to have a male and female character having anything but a romantic relationship. In the five most recent seasons, the Doctor has had 4 female companions (not counting those that appear in only one episode), and of those 4 only 2 were interested in him romantically, with only one of those 2 being reciprocated. It is my understanding that in the older seasons the relationships the Doctor had with his companions was even more varied. And all of those companions have rich lives, friends, and family that actually get screen time. In some ways the shows are more about the companions than the Doctor himself.
I like Avatar the last Airbender. The movie may have been a flop but the cartoon was highly enjoyable. Maybe my tastes haven’t matured much since 5th grade, but I don’t mind cartoons and shows that don’t take themselves too seriously. What I liked about Avatar was that as the cast grew the number and types of female characters grew with it. There were women and girls with fleshed-out personalities. They were like-able, yet still flawed and dynamic, almost like real people. They were also widely varied being both villains, and saints, and somewhere in between. One other thing to like about the TV show format of it (as opposed to a feature film format) was that they had three seasons to tell the male protagonist’s story (instead of 90 minutes), and were able to take time to have episodes focused entirely on other characters, including the female members of the cast.
I like Keeping up Appearances. The central character, Hyacinth, is vain, grasping, bossy, nosy and generally insufferable. However she has friends and family who like her, even as they struggle to get along with her. Viewers take it in turn relating to her family and friends, or relating to her and her overwhelming desire to be liked, needed, and important. That and I enjoy the humor.
None of these shows are perfect by any means. There are plenty of feminist, classist, progressive critiques to be made for all of them. I think one would be hard pressed to make a TV show that would be above any sort of reproach, because no one is perfect even when they try their best.
Anyways. What do you think? Are there shows you might otherwise like but for the sexism or other problems? What do you like?
*And as long as we’re talking about things driving us batty, I hate how everyone seems to blame feminism for the Homer Simpsonesque male characters on TV. Yes, it’s the all-female (and feminist!) writers, producers and developers that put together such shows. It has *nothing* to do with ‘likable, funny, and inept’ being one of the most fun sorts of roles to play, all being played by well established (male) comedians. It has nothing to do with the idea that slovenly bumbling idiots all deserve (by virtue of existing) to have sexy intelligent wives. And it has nothing to do with cultural narratives that men should be excused from housework, childcare, and taking responsibility for their actions because they’re just so simple minded, they’re like children really! Yes. Feminists love all of those things. [/sarcasm]