It's wild that we could have the Moon landing in July, with all of those heroic, square-jawed men, and then the Tate-LaBianca killings less than a month later, with prom queens transformed into murdering monsters. 1969 must've given people a proper headache.
Historically, it's been tough to believe that women could be that violent. Even that they could kill without a reason, the way many male murderers do. People tend to believe women when they claim innocence. Look at Susan Smith and Karla Homolka. People were shocked -- SHOCKED!! -- that they were actually guilty of their crimes. With Karla, her defenders claimed that good old crazy motherfucker Paul had turned her into a killer. Because a woman would NEVER do THAT unless she had some man behind her.
Earlier this week, writer/director John Hughes, the architect of our teenage years, died suddenly. Although Hughes had essentially left the business and hadn't produced anything since the early 90s, his films -- Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, in particular -- defined teenage angst in the 80s. Hughes' kids were relatable (back before that word was overused to the point of losing all meaning), but they were also fantasies. Hughes' movies dealt with the American class structure and also the microcosm of that -- the class structure within the walls of a high school. And the characters acknowledged this. Hughes gave a voice to kids who couldn't find their own. And the movies paved the way for My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks. Angela Chase and Lindsay Weir would have fit in well at Shermer High. And they couldn't exist without it.
But Freaks and Geeks aired in 2000. Nine years ago. And since then, something's happened to female-driven drama: Those characters have been transformed into ass-kickers. Don't get me wrong; Buffy, in particular, is a landmark series and Buffy is obviously more than just her slayer skills. But even Buffy went off the air in 2003. Six years ago. Then there was Sydney Bristow. Much more than her ass-kicking ability, but not nearly as much as Buffy. Unfortunately for Sydney, her grounded moments all had to do with her romantic life. A pity, that. And even Alias has been off the air since 2006.
Beyond TeeVee, where have all the female-driven romantic comedies gone? Hughes was equally adept creating male characters, but it was his female characters that, like "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret," spoke to a generation of girls. I'm not a movie computer, so maybe I'm missing out on some crucially important recent female-driven films. But the only one I can really think of that made an impact was Juno. Since then, romantic comedies or relationship movies are either fun but fluffy fantasies (Confessions of a Shopaholic and Enchanted) or (especially this year) male-driven, with a male point of view.
The Apatow and Apatow-inspired movies are aggressively male-driven. Knocked Up is not a realistic film for women. The far-superior Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Role Models and Superbad have male points of view. Even The Proposal, designed to be as light and fluffy as possible, is from the Ryan Reynolds' character's point of view. If you're looking for a female point of view, you're talking about trifle like Julie and Julia. And it's best not to talk about The Hangover. The idea of women in that movie makes me want to de-ball everyone who had anything to do with it. Which, ironically, would make me a character in a Judd Apatow movie.
And then there's the lovely, lyrical 500 Days Of Summer. This is completely, thoroughly and utterly from Tom's point of view. The male writing team that wrote the film, and the male director who directed it, give the film a great deal of honesty. But free-spirited Summer is, frankly, kind of a bitch. That's fine; the movie works in spite of it. But in the climate of either ball-busting GI Janes or shrill Apatow bitches, well... I miss the point of view that John Hughes' movies gave us.
There are, thankfully, a few exceptions. The women of Mad Men, for sure. Sookie Stackhouse has her moments (although not nearly as many as she should). Glenn Close and Rose Byrne of Damages.
Geez, I thought there were more. Hmm.
Network TeeVee doesn't seem to be giving it to us. All I see on network are female characters created the way men think they are, rather than the way they really are. And it's not like I'm saying only women can create female characters. That's obviously bullshit. But why are so many of the female characters created by men just exactly the same? Where are the male writers who can create those wonderful female characters? And where are the FEMALE writers? Nobody seems able to grasp or understand the myriad internal lives of women. Instead, they graft quirks onto them, quirks that usually involve their wombs in some way, and always end with the unimpeachable fact that these women are FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. I just don't buy these women. At all. But the problem is that if you're pitching a realistic female character, you're talking to executives or producers who have come to believe in the quirky ball-buster who's just looking for the right guy. Women don't have to be whores or former strippers. Their hurdles don't all have to be sexual.
And because these people are the gatekeepers, a real, honest portrayal of a female character is going to have a tough time getting on TeeVee.
Other rant-worthy things happened this week, most notably the repulsive decision that the Emmys will not broadcast the drama writer award live. The comedy writer awards WILL be live, because Tina Fey will probably win, and she's actually ON the TeeVee. But the Academy is treating people who only make their living writing like such shit that even the DGA went, "Um... that is totally unfair." Writers only RUN television shows. You fuckers want to diss writers? Good luck keeping the shows on pattern and on time. Go ahead. Try it. You fucking idiots.
Some comments, because I promised.
Tha Darkside Vibe goes:
Loved this blog, very well said. I was wondering do you remember the brilliant show Brimstone that was on FOX, then was picked up by SyFy for a bit? I thought Reiff & Vorus did some excellent work with that show.
I DO remember Brimstone, and VR.5 (which predated Brimstone by three years), another fun, bizarre genre show. That was back when Fox would order genre. But what's been happening is the networks are only ordering EVENT genre. So a show that's entertaining and involved and dark? That doesn't work for them unless it's HUGE. I think Dollhouse wants to be that kind of a show, and Sarah Connor did, too. But TeeVee doesn't have an appetite for that type of show anymore. What's sad now is that if they DO attempt genre, it always has to have a huge procedural element. I think the Fox execs like genre but America... not so much. The audience will watch anything with a morgue scene or dancing. Probably not both, but you never know.
So Past Life and Human Target (which isn't technically genre, but it's as close as they're going to get) are primarily procedurals. They tried to turn Dollhouse into a standalone procedural show last year, which totally fucked the show up. So Dollhouse will be an interesting experiment this year. Can it succeed, even last, by being true to itself?
Guess we can both venerate and blame George Lucas for releasing the marketing monster with Star Wars.
I don't blame Lucas because he didn't make Star Wars just for the marketing. That was a by-product of what happened with the film. I blame marketing executives taking over movie studios.
Stephen Gallagher opines:
In Europe we recognise a split between the fandom that traces its lineage back to those days when readers started getting together through the letters columns of the pulp mags, and the 'media fandom' that got started around Star Trek and really took off with Star Wars.
When you sign up for a con you can pretty much spot from a distance which group it's going to fall into. Usually because our reader-driven cons are so f**** small and some of those who show up are so old! But it's the scene that spawned Neil Gaiman, and Clive Barker, and Terry Pratchett, and a fair few others who aren't out of place on either side of the media/lit divide, so let's not start writing it off.
I don't want to write it off, I want it to get healthy again! What I noticed at Comic Con was the new generation of fans, which has been raised purely on marketing. I think there's too much stimulus. There's no chance to really chew something over, which is what fandom is (IMO) all about. So given that, what endures?
Tyler, oh Tyler!
I enjoyed your rant, but it gets derailed a bit when you attack his work without having read it. His books may be overwritten and dull--but, then again, they may not be.
In a way, he strangely comes out on top in your rant because he's (ostensibly) read the authors he's critiquing, while you haven't read his books but have no qualms suggesting, in a public forum, that he "doesn't know how to tell a story" and his work is probably "far less clever than he thinks he thinks it is".
Coupla things. One, this isn't a contest. We're not in a cage match, so there's no winner. Two, my rant has nothing to do with whether or not I've read his books, because I never criticized him for NOT reading the books he was railing against. So your complaints are moot.
And surely you can't be suggesting that since his books haven't registered a high Amazon ranking or amassed a certain number of Amazon reviews, his opinions are somehow unworthy of consideration.
Nope. But you have to be careful when you're as frank as he was. Because it's easy for people to assume that he's a bitter, jealous motherfucker. And there's an easy way to assume that. That was the point.
He sounds like a douche, yes, and I'd rather his opinions be scoffed at because he's a douche, not because his last book only ranks 409,628 on the Amazon sales chart. If that's how you rank the worthiness of literary perspectives, then Glenn Beck has the second-worthiest say in bookdom. I'd rather wade into the bayou and let the alligators tear my spasming, bloody limbs off than agree to that.
If that's what you think I was saying, then you didn't read closely enough.
Aren't you backing up his argument, in a way, by claiming that popularity determines merit? I agree that you shouldn't dismiss books because they're popular, but you also shouldn't laud them just because they are. Have you tried to read a Twilight novel?
I'm not claiming that popularity determines merit. And I'm not lauding anything because it's popular. However, I DO think that there are people who have earned an informed opinion, and then there are people who haven't. Adam Roberts hasn't earned that. Harlan Ellison, for example, has. Or are YOU suggesting that Roberts' opinion is MORE valid because he ISN'T popular?
In his wayward, semi-insulting way, Roberts has a decent point: shortlists and awards are a great way for little-known, talented authors to find their way into the limelight to become better known, talented authors. If big-name, but potentially stagnant authors hog up the space on these lists, then readers miss out on unearthing a new author and expanding the pool of quality, popular science fiction.
Yeah, those bastards. How DARE they deliberately take a position on those lists? Except they don't, do they? Sure, there's a lot of terrific little-known stuff. Tim Powers should live in a fucking mansion. But Tim Powers also doesn't blather obnoxiously about shortlists he's not on.
But, of course, that argument comes crashing down because he's lambasting the Hugos, an award that is decided by fan votes. Popular books are popular because they have fans. Fans that vote. So, ultimately, his argument doesn't work. But there is a glimmer of logic to it buried deep.
As for not-American literary people looking down their noses at our writers, Roberts should apply to be on the Nobel Literature prize committee. At least they acknowledge their bias.
And on that, we completely agree.
np -- Del Mar on TVG, anticipating Zenyatta's twelfth start.