There’s been a lot of things said about A&E/FYI’s reality series Married at First Sight. Ok, mainly two things – that its an insult to anyone who believes in the value of marriage, and hurtful to those who don’t have the luxury to marry the person they love, let alone a stranger. The latter point is thankfully no longer relevant here in the United States (yay equality), and honestly if you watch just twenty minutes of MAFS you’ll see why the former isn’t either.
Married at First Sight is not a show that features people who take marriage lightly. I can’t speak for the show’s creators or producers, but it’s experts that match the couples and participants who sign up to marry total strangers, are all people who believe deeply in love and marriage, and want to create the optimal situation for two people to fall happily in love. Within the constraints of a reality tv show gimmick, of course.
However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t fundamentally flawed.
I don’t know why I keep watching Black Mirror. It’s a well-produced show with unique story ideas that attracts ace talent for some fantastic performances. But nearly every episode has been a wholly unpleasant viewing experience.
Black Mirror is an episodic anthology series that, in the vein of shows like the Twilight Zone, tells a different story each episode, each taking place in a slightly different version of the near future. It explores repercussions of technologies that we’re not far from developing today and what effect they may have on our relationships, our culture and the way we experience ourselves and the world. In particular, it’s preoccupied with the evolution of social media, and the dark turns it can take us on.
Let me say first, I am all about the integration of humanity and technology in stories. I’ve been into cyberpunk since before I knew what it was called. I love robots, artificial intelligence, people who aren’t really people, cybernetics, cyborgs, if your show’s got it, I’ll watch it. But with all of Black Mirror’s speculative abilities, it says very little about man and technology. It’s mostly about man and how awful we can be, and when we’re given the opportunity through technology, we’ll become, well, even more awful.
Jealousy. Longing. Isolation. These are the recurring themes that run through Black Mirror, and I find myself reminded of the patronizing think pieces about “selfies” and “the Me Generation” that have been printed in the past couple of years. Implants that allow you to record your entire life, software where you can block someone in the real world, a pickup artist coach who literally watches his student’s attempt to get a date through his own eyes – all of these are exaggerations of social media and our culture today. And like the claims that Facebook is isolating us from each other, and Instagram is allowing us to portray a false version of ourselves, Black Mirror seems to insist that the furthering of these technologies will only drive us further apart, and into a hole of ethical decay.
In case you didn’t know, Fox’s newest crime serial (yes, there is yet another show out there looking to steal your soul) has been tearing up Monday nights since January, and it’s well worth the investment. It is about the pursuit of convicted serial killer Joe Carroll and the collection of psychopaths and wannabes that have evolved around him. He calls them his friends. The FBI calls them a cult. They are united by their devotion to Carroll, who they believe has given purpose and guidance to their lives. Their goal so far is unclear, other than seriously distorting classical literature and driving Kevin Bacon’s character, Ryan Hardy, out of his mind.
The Following is about a lot of things. It’s about violence and victimization, about conspiracy and paranoia. I think principally, though, it’s about love. Between the killers and the heroes, there lies an intricate web of intimate bonds and tentative alliances. Faithful friends, loyal followers, and the unbridled passion of sworn enemies. The show seems to be asking how much can you trust the person next to you, and how much stronger are the bonds between people who know each other’s darkest secrets? In the process, The Following is bucking the common heteronormative ties that most shows focus on, and instead developing a web of relationships that are both sincere and pretty scary.
As I no longer have American Horror Story to satisfy my need for gritty camp on a late Wednesday night, I decided to watch the premiere of FX’s new original, The Americans, a drama-thriller set in the 1980s about two Soviet spies disguised as regular American suburbanites. Or, actually, I recorded it and watching Friday night because FX has way too many commercials to sit through an hour and half episode of something I’ve never watched before.
The pilot was decent, providing an intriguing portrait of the two main characters, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), who have been living as husband and wife for nearly twenty years. There was also some great action scenes and a fabulous soundtrack.
I just wish it hadn’t been centered around rape.
(Spoilers, and descriptions of sexual assault under the cut)
For the past couple of months I have been entrenched in Supernatural, a show I was a full seven seasons behind in (only two now) and became very quickly obsessed with. The fact that I haven’t written about it on here yet is pretty remarkable, as its occupied so much of my brain, but the truth is there hasn’t been much point. Talking about gender issues in Supernatural is a bit like commenting that grass is green. It’s a sexist show. Period.
The problem isn’t only with Supernatural, of course, the issue of institutionalized, pervasive misogyny is latent in our cultural language. However, Supernatural, with its Americana Midwestern aesthetic and extravagantly butch dudebro emotionality is a glaring example. Female characters are relegated to either blonde waifish fridge stuffing or evil harpies in tight pants with their cleavage pushed up in their chins. To fully document the problem would fill up a dissertation, nevermind a blog post.
So, I decided to take a different approach to talking about this. If you have an imagination anything like mine, then you thrive on mashups and crossovers. For me, the best way to move along an idea is to take a character or element from someone else’s work, and see what happens. So with Supernatural’s serious lacking of impressive female characters, I keep finding myself inserting some of my favorites from other stories. So, I’d like to share my list of 6 (yes 6, because whatever) Bad Ass Females the Winchesters (and Cas) Should Meet.
“I would never suggest a young woman to kiss a man who held her captive. What kind of message is that?” When Once Upon a Time’s Evil Queen Regina uttered this line last Sunday, I all but leaped out of my chair and did cartwheels. It was the blunt and hilarious culmination of something that has been building for months on that show, even if it was rather clumsily handled in the past.
I’m talking about how a modern show handles gender relations in a story that uses classic fairy tales as its groundwork. Fairy tales are not generally kind to women. They are often the epitome of gender stereotypes, and today are one of society’s basic ways of instilling traditional values in youngsters. Fairy tale women are often merely vessels of beauty and purity to be rescued or fawned over by dragon slaying princes and/or knights, and their worth is based on if they are married or not.
I suppose I got what I asked for. With Paget Brewster taking her leave perhaps permanently from Criminal Minds, comes a storyline to give her character, Emily Prentiss, a proper send off. An enemy from her past, Ian Doyle, mysteriously breaks out of a North Korean prison, intent on playing out his vendetta against her. Prentiss and her then team put him away while under deep cover during her time with Interpol, her role was to become as close to him as possible *wiggles eyebrows*. He was supposed to have never known who she really was – her persona, Lauren Reynolds, died in a car crash – but somehow he does and comes to D.C. to enact his vengeance. Its exactly what I said I was looking for, a true test of character. Or is it? Well, its a test of someone’s character, but no one I know.
This story is about Lauren Reynolds, not just the identity Prentiss assumed to meet an end, but the life she left behind when she left Interpol. This woman, as it turns out, is quite different from the Emily Prentiss we thought we, at least vaguely, knew. Prentiss up to this point is a woman who once struggled with acceptance and personal identity in her youth, watched as a dear friend spiraled into self-destruction as a result of the cognitive dissonance her own circumstances might have caused in him, and had a mother in politics who’s work took her all over the world. As an adult she held a defined sense of right and wrong, and viewed politics as something toxic that divides people. These things only occasionally manifested themselves in her work and life. Prentiss has had frequent struggles with what is the right thing to do and what she has to do, nothing too exciting though. We’ve never seen her really stick by her principles to the point of personal risk or undermining the rest of the team, like say the way Spencer Reid has, she just sort of shuffles her feet a bit and pouts and then decides her job is more important.
Ah, but if only we had known what she was really willing to do to get the job done. Seduce a terrorist? Tie a kid up and point a gun at him? Not a problem, for Lauren Reynolds anyway. However, a point that does stick out is when one of her former comrades, Clyde Easter, claims that she’s in the habit of running away from problems. There’s nothing in her known history in the show to suggest this, and honestly its rather mind boggling. A highly ethical FBI agent who hunts serial killers but runs away from conflict? Huh? Doyle also makes a comment consistent with this by saying that the only thing that she values is her life, though admittedly he was probably just trying to be mean. But what does she do at the end of the episode, “Valhalla”? Run away. Its supposed to be an effort to protect her team – its not fear for herself that makes her walk out the door, but a fear for them. In the moment it makes sense, but really what is happening is an effort to tell a story of female self-sacrifice that just comes off as cliche.