Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Television Vent

I love television. I used to be embarrassed by this fact, but in recent years I've come to own it. It hasn't rotted my brain, nor has it messed with my perceptions of fantasy and reality. If I die at a relatively early age because TV somehow does that to people, I will consider it a worthy death.

That being said, sometimes it bugs the crap out of me. I don't watch shows that aren't good, that would just be a waste. Instead I watch shows that make you think, take you out of reality for a time, give insight into the human condition, or just make you laugh whatever your equivalent to my old man laugh is. However, even these shows can cause much eye rolling and several exacerbated sighs. The cause: how women are written.

Don't stop reading there. If you think this is a vent you don't want to listen to (or rather, read) because you don't think how women are treated in television or movies is a problem, think about some of your favorite shows and tell me if you can name any two recurring female characters that talk to each other about something other than a male character (look up the Bechdel Test for more on that). If you can't think of one, I'll give some good examples after my bad ones. And if you still want to know why this is problematic, go watch Miss Representation on Netflix. That discussion is way to long to include in this post, but it fits nicely into an 89 minute documentary.

Four things before you delve into the rest of this post: 1) As always, this will be long winded. 2) All of these shows are ones that I love. I don't make these accusations all willy nilly. 3) There will be spoilers. 4) I'm not even going to touch the shows I love that suffer from the Smurfette Principle. If you need to be enlightened on what that is, watch the video below:

So without further ado, here are three shows that treat women horribly, one show with mixed results, and three that treat women well.

Bad Example 1: Supernatural

Regular readers of this blog and knowers of me are aware of how much I love(d) Supernatural. Not so much season six or eight (what I saw of it, at least) and definitely not season seven, but I did enjoy seasons 1-5. Minus the women part. 

Almost every single woman we've seen in more than one episode has been either violently killed or was evil (or at least a bad guy). 
  • Their mother Mary was stabbed and burned alive on the ceiling by a demon 
  • Sam's girlfriend Jessica was stabbed and burned alive on the ceiling by the same demon
  • Bela was a bad guy and I think she died
  • Jo died a terrible and violent death
  • Ellen died the same terrible and violent death
  • Ruby was evil and died
  • Anna turned evil and died
  • Meg was evil and I'm pretty sure she's died since I stopped watching
  • Pamela had her eyes burned out and later died a violent death
  • The newest angel I met before leaving Supernatural behind me (Naomi?) seemed pretty sketchy
The only two women I can think of that haven't gone evil or died are Lisa, whose memory of Dean was erased so we can be sure we won't see her again, and Amelia, who Sam decided to ditch because of his co-dependence on his brother so again, we can be sure to never see her again.

Felicia Day has appeared in several episodes (I've only seen two of them) so that's something. Although the writers really need to get over the fact that that they made her gay. While this last episode she was in that I saw was entertaining enough, they gave me a headache by banging a "she's gay" frying pan against my head over and over and over...

Now, fellow viewers of Supernatural may say, "Wait a minute! All of the recurring male characters have been killed off violently too!" That's generally true (Bobby, Balthazar, Lucifer, John, Samuel, Zachariah...), but let's look at the current recurring characters: Castiel, Kevin, Crowley, and maybe Benny (really, if he's gone for good that's a terrible waste of an interesting character). The one thing they have in common: all men.

In conclusion, yes, everyone in this show has at one time or another died a violent death (except Chuck), but it happens much more often to women than to men. You meet a man on this show, it could go either way. You meet a woman, more than likely she'll turn out to be evil or die a horrible death.

Bad Example 2: Merlin

I thought they did a good job towards the beginning of the show. Morgana and Gwen were both strong and independent, willing to fight for those they loved. Obviously Morgana was going to end up evil, so I wasn't put off by that, but things just kept getting worse. Every woman who shows up is evil. Every. Single. One. Even Gwen goes evil for a few episodes under the spell of Morgana. Granted, it was a spell, but it was still kind of the icing on the cake. Plus, Gwen does less and less as it goes on. She's done a lot less of the saving and a lot more of the being saved since she and Arthur got married. I thought she did regain some of that old strength at the very end of the series, but it seemed like too little too late.

Bad Example 3: Doctor Who

Maybe this should be a mixed example, but it's consistent enough for me to put it in the bad pile. Let's look at each main female character on the show since it came back in 2005.
  • Rose Tyler: Grows throughout the show, fights well, compassionate, in love with the Doctor.
  • Martha Jones: Witty, fights well, intelligent, in love with the Doctor, grows more off screen than on, only realized her relationship with the Doctor was toxic after an entire year
  • Donna Noble: Grows probably more than any companion, witty, smart, independent, doesn't fall in love with the Doctor. I have no complaints against Donna. She's my favorite. 
  • Amy Pond: Grows a lot, witty, loves a lot, decides she wants to sleep with the Doctor the night before her wedding, decides to leave Rory BECAUSE SHE CAN'T HAVE CHILDREN (!!!)
  • River Song: Strong, independent, in love with the Doctor, was born to kill the Doctor.
  • Clara Oswin Oswald: Mysterious, quick witted, curious, intelligent, may or may not turn out to be in love with the Doctor, was born to save the Doctor. 
Plus all the one episode women who fall in love with the Doctor too. I'm okay with a little doctor love now and then, but come on. Every woman except Donna has had feelings for the Doctor, and that got old a long time ago. 

And really, Moffat? Really?! A woman leaving the man she loves because her uterus is broken?! Right, because that's the only use women have. Luckily that moment was short and has never been revisited, but seriously. SERIOUSLY! 

Mixed Example: Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars... She's intelligent, witty, tech savvy, independent, brave, and acts like an actual person. The show has it all - angsty teenage romance, the brutality of domestic violence, the hopes of multidimensional characters, real emotions, and scenes that make you laugh, cry, and cringe.

The big problem is the third season. The first two seasons are in part about Veronica trying to find out who drugged and raped her at a party. She deals with it in a very real way and they do a good job of portraying a subject as difficult as this one.

In the third season, Veronica goes off to college where a group of "angry feminists" (terrible portrayal of real feminism, by the way) pretend to be raped in order to... I'm not sure what, actually. It's terrible, especially since (contrary to what some people who haven't researched the subject even a little bit believe) that doesn't happen.

Despite its flaws, I do recommend the first two seasons.

Good Example 1: Parks and Recreation

I was actually really surprised when I found out that the creators and the writers credited with the most episodes are all men because this show is a breath of fresh air. Not that men can't write fully developed women. Just look at Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin. But sometimes I forget that there are men in Hollywood who view women as people. It makes me sad that I forget this so often, but it's not unwarranted. Anyway, I love ensemble casts and this is one of my favorites. Each and every one of these characters is developed with their own personalities, ambitions, and quirks. Both the men and the women in this show are treated as individuals, not stereotypes. And just when you think you have them figured out, they do something to surprise you and continue to develop, just like real people do.

P.S. Anyone else excited to see how they try to make new, Tom Hardy-esque Chris Pratt look like the old Andy Chris Pratt? I'm also very excited for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Good Example 2: Firefly

Another ensemble case, and another near perfect show. It would have been perfect had it lasted longer than 14 episodes, but oh well. Zoe is a fierce fighter and soldier while obviously maintaining a great sense of humor that we didn't get a chance to see because she married Wash. Kaylee is kind of a girly girl without being overtly feminine and is also a brilliant mechanic and the nicest person you'll ever see on television. Inara is hiding a lot about herself and her feelings for Mal for reasons both known and unknown. She's a great business woman, a loyal friend, and much tougher than she looks. River needs codling and a constant babysitter, but it's because her amygdala was stripped by evil doctors and she has major mental and emotional trauma, not because she can't take care of herself. Cause turns out she totally can. Point being, each of these characters is an actual character. Not a stereotype.

Good Example 3: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

More often than not, the main cast of this show included more women than men. In the seasons that wasn't the case, the show had parity between men and women. It was kind of awesome. Cause really, how often do we see that in a show that isn't about catty relationships? I'm trying to think now... Spaced had a parity among the main cast, Wonderfalls had four women and three men, Pushing Daisies had a parity... or two men and four women if you count Chuck's aunts, and that's all I can think of right now. Okay, Friends too. And Once Upon a Time. I'm sure there are more, but I can't think of any. And I love TV so you know it doesn't happen often. Anyway, I'd venture to say that the more women you see in a cast, the more likely they are to be fully developed characters. As a general rule, at least. That's actually a pretty awesome idea for an academic paper. I'm sure it's been done several times... I'm going to look for those papers. And if I can't find one I'll just go get another useless grad degree and write a thesis on that.

Back to the subject at hand. I can't think of a single Buffy character who wasn't an actual character. One of the reasons I hate Dawn so much in season 5 is because she's a realistic 14 year old and you have to at least respect that.

So gentle readers, pay attention. It's possible to enjoy a film or show while still being critical of one or several aspects of it. I wouldn't love TV and movies if it wasn't. But Hollywood bigwigs think people don't like stories about women. Men don't like them because men only like women as sex kittens and women don't like them because women are in constant competition with every other woman to attract the attention of men. If you don't believe this is 100% false you really don't deserve to interact with the rest of society. So do me a favor and just pay attention. If that leads to a discussion with someone or watching one of Tina Fey's new shows instead of the next episode of Supernatural, that's great. If not, that's great too. At least you're paying a little more attention to what you consume. And that'll eventually lead to something.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Move Along, Moffat or: Don't You Think He Looks Tired?

Let me make a disclaimer before you decide this is a mean-spirited post from a huffy fangirl. Steven Moffat is a really good writer. Before jumping on as showrunner, he wrote some of my favorite episodes on Doctor Who. He also wrote the screenplay for Tin Tin, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and he co-writes Sherlock and we all know how amazing that show is (though problematic at times, but that's another discussion). I haven't seen everything he's written, but for the most part I've enjoyed what I've seen.

That being said, it's time for the man to leave Doctor Who as showrunner.

Let's first look at the biggest beef I have with Moffat - women. Starting with Amy Pond.

I still really like Amy. She's one of my favorite characters in the show and probably the least problematic leading lady in the Moffat era. She's brave, smart, caring, and has my second favorite Doctor/companion relationship in the New Who. Plus, she has actual character progression, which too many women in this series go without.

Here is how Moffat (or whoever came up with these ideas - I shouldn't blame him for things he didn't do, but ultimately he has the final say and should be held accountable still) ruined her:

  • After a couple adventures with the Doctor, she decides she wants to forget her life-long best friend and fiance and sleep with the Doctor. She doesn't fall in love with him, but apparently a committed relationship is no match for time travel and a woman's libido. 
  • She's "The Girl Who Waited" for the Doctor. Rose was the Bad Wolf, and Amy just gets to sit there all her life waiting for someone to make it better instead of doing something about it. 
  • She divorced her husband because she couldn't have babies. You read that correctly. She couldn't have kids, he wanted kids, so naturally she decided to divorce him. Without telling him why. Cause that's a woman's only function - to have babies. If there was only a way to get a hold of a child or baby without actually giving birth...
I'll never get over that last point. Come on, Moffat. 

Let's move on to River Song. This will contain big fat spoilers. 

River is one of those characters who on the surface seems like a great character, but when you start scratching away at that surface becomes a little more problematic. She's a doctor, an archeologist, and a fighter. Basically a female space Indiana Jones. What's not to love about that?

If only it stopped there. She becomes less awesome as you get to know her. She's all too often defined by her love for and relationship with the Doctor. When she regenerates into River, the first thing she does is checks her weight. She's the woman who was "Born to Kill the Doctor". She then promptly falls in love with him (just 'cause) and gives all her future regenerations in order to save the man she met about 20 minutes go and poisoned 15 minutes ago.

Then, when her parents are forever lost to her (for some dumb reason that doesn't make sense. Just go to the year after the one they were sent to and pick them up then. Or maybe park the TARDIS outside the city and go find them in a cab. Seriously, why are they stuck there forever? Because they saw their own graves? That's the explanation? /rant). Anyway, when her parents are lost forever, she comforts the Doctor instead of the other way around. All these things add up and become a little hard to swallow over time.

And last, but not least, Clara Oswin Oswald.

She had so much potential. Maybe I thought she had more potential than she did because her name is Jenna Louise Coleman and I'm Jenna Louise Christensen. There's really nothing that I like about Clara, unfortunately. I probably would have liked her a little had it not been for Amy and River before her, but I'll get to that in a minute. She (of course) kisses the Doctor in her second episode... I honestly can't remember anything else. That's how disinterested I was in the second half of the 7th series. She's just there. A mystery to us as well as the Doctor, a source of frustration for the Doctor because of that, and the one episode where we find out a little bit and she finds out a little bit, there is literally a reset button. And I'm not using "literally" to mean "figuratively". I will never do that. It was a reset button. Oh, and she was "Born to Save the Doctor". Apparently her only purpose in life.

Same spoiler about River in this paragraph. So, if all each of these women were in a vacuum it probably wouldn't have been so bad. But the same things happens over and over with each of them. They're all spunky, fast talkers, brave, smart, confident, quirky... All fine traits, but they get old after a while. Amy and Melody I can kind of see since they're mother and daughter (even though mother didn't raise daughter), but with Clara I was 100% bored. I was so ready for something new, and I didn't get it.

Not only that, but all three of them weren't really characters in their own rights. They were all mysteries to be solved by the Doctor. Amy had the crack that originated with her, River kept meeting the Doctor in the wrong order, and Clara died twice. I miss the good ol' days when companions were just people the Doctor liked and decided to bring along, not people he had to solve some mystery about.

Then there's the nicknames. The Girl Who Waited [for the Doctor]. Born to Kill the Doctor. Born to Save the Doctor. I understand that the show is about him, I really do. But Rose was the Bad Wolf. Martha was... I don't think Martha had a nickname. Donna was the DoctorDonna and the most important woman in the universe. They each had their own lives that didn't revolve around the Doctor. Moffat era women don't have that luxury.

So enough about women. Although these next sections won't be nearly as long cause I haven't given them as much thought.

First, the story:

  • This season especially was excruciatingly dull. 
  • Nothing memorable about Clara. 
  • Yes, I ugly face cried when Amy and Rory left, but the more you think about it the more you realize that it was just lazy writing. 
  • The big arc of "Doctor Who?" and Trenzelore was anti-climactic to say the least. 
  • They're reusing old ideas; "Hey, who turned out the lights?" and "I don't know where I am" were too similar to be a coincidence and the conscious snow (which wasn't a great idea to begin with) was for some reason used twice with no real connection. 

Then there's the little thing of no female writers on his staff (and you wonder where the terribly written women come from [although, that's not fair. Look at Joss]).

Oh, and after a lot of pressing from fans, the next Doctor is still a white man. It wasn't a surprise and I do think Peter Capaldi will do a great job, but it was still disappointing. At least we'll see fewer companion love interests with him being older (or I'll hope, at least).

I could go on, but this post is already longer than I thought it would be. I'll end with this: Davies wasn't perfect (Donna is still the only woman who hasn't had romantic feelings for the Doctor in some way), but the story arcs and character development is markedly worse under Moffat, in my opinion. And that's why I like TV - to get to know the characters.

Move along, Moffat.