Thursday, 24 January 2013

Patriarchal Hollywood

Twitter had me start my morning watching this TED talk video. It deals with the chauvinism of Hollywood, how it sends the wrong messages to our children with regards to the roles of males and females, and what us parents can do about it. It's also quite funny. I recommend you watch it:

The timing of this talk dropping into my attention is interesting, because I have been meaning to post a similar analysis myself. Obviously, this TED guy did a better job than I could ever do, but I would still want to point out the subtle ways in which Hollywood sends us those patriarchal messages it specializes in. It's the subtlety that ensures it digs in.
Given that we, my wife and I, are spending these days marathoning through episodes of Chuck, and given that Chuck seems to be the best thing that happened for me on TV in the past decade or so, I will pick on that particular TV show. Because I expect the most from the ones I love the most.

It occurred to me in an episode where the otherwise blond Yvonne Strahovski (playing the character of CIA agent Sarah Walker) put on a dark hair wig as a "cover". My wife quickly pointed out that the character that's on our screen was the non computer generated image of Mass Effect's Miranda, and I have to admit - it was a weird feeling, seeing that character I know so well from a game I like so much look me in the eye in human form. [Miranda, in case you don't know, is a computer game character that has been created using Strahovski's voice and likeness. You can see a photo comparison of the two here.]
It occurred to me just how powerful an impression those images that I see on the screen have on me. It does not seem to matter whether these impressions come from a computer game or a TV show or a movie; regalrdless of source, they go through the firewalls and deep inside my consciousness. As such, they have the potential to bear damage.
Oh, there is plenty of damage to be done by Chuck. True, the series has multiple female characters at center stage, but it's also true that these characters mainly revolve around the series' main man (Chuck). More specifically, the main female character, the aforementioned Sarah Walker, is clearly there to satisfy the wet dreams of this world's geek community. Everything about this James Bond in a super model's body is designed for this role, including the obligatory underwear only scene almost every episode sports.
The nastiest example I have detected thus far comes from left field, though. Towards the end of season 3, when Chuck and Sarah finally get together after years/seasons of keeping their feelings to themselves, there starts a process of them trying to learn more about the person they love. Chuck asks Sarah what her favorite music is, and Sarah answers with something along the lines of "as a spy, I never had time for music". Thus Chuck takes it upon himself to give Sarah a music lesson using Nina Simone's Feeling Good, with the result here for you to see:

Oh my goddess, how artificial can things be in Chuck-land?
First, spy or no spy, can we truly expect a 21st century girl not to have any musical preferences (despite owning and using an iPhone)?
Second, why does Sarah say she likes the song after listening to less than ten seconds and before the band joins in? Can one really like a song they hear for the first time by virtue of its first few seconds? I find it similar to a Stone Age person claiming to like Ferraris after being given a glimpse of their catalog. Artificiality alert!
Third, and most importantly, there is the institution of sharing one's music with one's loved ones. I am talking here as a guy who, being of limited means with which to attract members of the opposite sex but being blessed with ample familiarity in cool music, did often engage potential attractions through musical means. It's not just me, books have been written on this subject matter - check out High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (also a Hollywood movie), a book that for a brief while I deemed as my favorite by virtue of how much it reminded me of myself. My point is, it is every [geek] boy's wet dream to have a lover who shares their taste in music.
Now for the clencher: The manifestation of the dream in which the boy teaches the girl what good music is all about goes awfully near the the point the above TED presentation was trying to make. The point about Hollywood teaching us that boys are there to save the girls.
The musically ignorant Sarah, the Chuck who is there to save her and introduce her to good music - all these are no coincidences. These are all carefully planted tools to satisfy some deep desires within the [male] viewer, desires that have been lurking there through the fault of past exposure to movies and TV shows. It is very much a chicken and egg problem.
I fell for it. I am falling for it right now. However, it is also very clear to me that Hollywood is damaging us viewers. And if Hollywood is some sort of a mirror that reflects what is going on in American society, I would say there is a lot to be scared of.

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