Thursday, December 2, 2010

Azzled and Padazzled

I know I recently wrote about character Dean Winchester from Supernatural but seriously the man (and his brother Sam) deserve a post all to themselves. Really they deserve a whole blog EACH – ten blogs each – nay, the whole internet­but I have neither time nor skills to implement this.

Jared and Jensen
The two fictional fighters of fantastical crime (otherwise known as Jensen “Robobabe” Ackles and Jared “Too Chiseled To Be True” Padalecki) are actually the sole selling point of the show. It’s almost embarrassing at times, with the occasional (and superfluous) topless shot, manly rescuing and action, and the mandatory 5-minute bromance scene at the end of each episode where the boys share some emotional issue with each other, pat each other on the back, crack open a beer and then drive away in their (gorgeous) Impala. Sometimes I get the impression that the producers tripped over some screenplay that was on the floor (because it had fallen out of the trash) but saw the cost-benefit ratio in hiring ridiculously good-looking actors to attract a large female audience, and saving money by not having to hire a writer.

And really, apart from the boys’ appearance, I’m not sure how the CW Network gets away with such a show - even though I also was totally sucked in (and DVDs are really cheaps in the UK, got a whole season for less that 10 quid! whoo!). The premise of the show is two brothers fight all sorts of evil, ostensibly to protect the world. But really, the evil-fighting bit is just a backdrop to a hopelessly male-centric narrative, about men in all sorts of personal crises resolving their issues with and through other men. This in itself is not a bad thing, by the way. But rather than focusing on solving mysteries or using their wit to get out of tricky situations (like MacGyver) Supernatural is about two pretty Hollywood boys pretending to be hardcore (they drive an old impala, listen to Metallica and Black Sabbath, and drink beer all the time) having some sort of brotherly argument about family, self-esteem or their future together as a family, and then resolving it at the end in aforementioned bromance moment (and these moments are totally endearing and mostly very well acted). They have male role-models only: at first, their father, who they spend the first season searching for, and later Bobby, another hunter of evil who helps them along the way. (And even later, Castiel, an angel). For 5 seasons that’s pretty much what you get.

Sam and Dean have a man-to-man in the graveyard
While this male-centricity is sometimes interesting and develops (sort of) over the seasons, the women are not portrayed so favorably. Female characters are pretty much absent – unless they are evil (like the demon Ruby) being rescued (like a girl in nearly every episode) or being kissed/slept with (like a girl in nearly every other episode). It’s quite difficult to articulate female roles in this show without positioning them as passive – ie girls were rescued; girls were killed; girls were kissed. It’s troubling that women have so little agency in this world. Even Ruby, the demon, is not really a girl – the demon just possesses girls’ bodies, so the female body becomes a shell to be inhabited and used by some evil external force. Seriously: didn’t we get over these kinds of narratives in like the 19th century??!?

Despite all this – here’s the stumper: the viewers are mostly teen and adult females (though, to be fair, the stats show lots of guys watch it too). Of course, this is because the good-lookingness of Dean and Sam is so great it outweighs any desire to analyse the gendered power structure presented by the destabilised sons, absent fathers, substitute male role-models and passive women in the show. Furthermore, their brotherly love is so exclusive that it almost repudiates female voyeurs even as it draws them in, making girl viewers believe that if they were the one to meet Dean and Sam, they really could win the heart of a Winchester.

So in a way…Supernatural provides something quite special for women which isn’t seen very often. They to feel an attachment to the brothers (you really do feel you know them like sooooo intimately after all the bromance moments) they get to experience foreclosed desire – and the unattainability of the boys, due to their brotherly exclusiveness, makes the desire all the sweeter (or something like that). Plus the eye candy, I guess. Anyway, it’s a show for women, much like the trashy 18th and 19th century gothic novels which were primarily read by women and contained an abundance of male characters, sexy demons, evil woman, etc. And while I may disagree with the objectifying aspects (of men AND women) of the show, I can't devalue the fact that at least it works for women in a way some other shows don't.

This all kind of freaks me out a bit - not because of its gender representation in the show but because I like it in spite of its gender representation.  Furthermore, I liked a show that in some ways objectifies men; and as someone always ranting about how bad it is to objectify women, this troubles me of course! So much so that I'm having a little break in the middle of season 4 till I get over it all and the desire to find out what happens outweighs my moral obligation to the advocacy of gender equality. You know what I'm sayin'?? (So NO SPOILERS PLEASE I will watch it again someday! I hear the show becomes more self-reflexive and aware of it's hilarity in the later seasons...)

1 comment:

  1. just to make it public....

    julia has now returned to watching supernatural.