Posts Tagged ‘television’

The League of Extraordinary Assholes

November 28, 2009

Can we all please agree that the use of rape as a metaphor is tiresome, offensive, and rape-culture-propagating? [Trigger warning.]

Last night, J and I tuned in to The League, a new FX series about a group of five stereotypical, heterosexual, white men participating in a fantasy football league. (I know. With a premise like that, what could possibly go wrong?) This particular episode begins with Pete asking his friends to go on an already-paid-for, romantic spa weekend with him in place of his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Unfortunately, the most sentimental and earnest of the group, Andre, is the only one who can go. In a television show that relies heavily on gender stereotypes, the choice of Andre to replace the missing female in this pairing is unsurprising. Andre, excited to finally establish himself as a true best friend of Pete’s, is blissfully unaware of the humiliation of being the last choice or of the fact that the other men all have their own lives, while his is devoted to validation through his relationship with the alpha male of the group. After all, women are just so annoyingly desperate for the affection of the alpha male in a group that they will fall all over themselves in the fruitless pursuit of his love, just
as Andre has. Upon arrival at the spa, the two are mistaken for a gay couple, and while I’ll give the show credit for not expressing blatant homophobia, this is little more than a vehicle for Andre’s desperation, as he gushes over the fact that they must be true best friends because only true best friends could be mistaken for a couple, and an opportunity for Pete to tell his story to Andre’s parallel and rival for Pete’s love: Claire, the traditionally attractive hotel clerk who becomes immediately smitten with Pete upon learning of his pending divorce. Throughout the rest of the episode, Claire and Andre vy for Pete’s affection, with Andre’s attempts much more pathetic, further emphasizing the shameful nature of a heterosexual man playing the submissive role of a female. Their competition ends when Pete and Claire come back to the room to have sex and find Andre watching Pete’s sex tape with his ex-wife, establishing Andre as the hollow victor because Claire’s delicate feminine sensibilities require her to storm out in disgust.

The rape “humor” occurs near the middle of the episode. Pete and Andre are taking advantage of the couple’s massage previously scheduled for the married couple. In this vulnerable position, Pete begins to work on a fantasy football trade with Andre, who cries out in opposition, citing Pete’s “trade-rape” of the previous season. Much like an actual rapist, Pete protests this assessment, repeatedly attempting to undermine and invalidate Andre’s experience. Eventually, he half-apologizes, proceeding to compliment Andre and cite their friendship in an attempt to get his way, again. The transparent attempts work, of course, because Andre’s feminine desire for love far outweighs any semblance of reason, and with attraction his sole focus in life, he hasn’t had the time or inclination to research football despite participating actively in this fantasy league. He doesn’t even realize that he has, once again, been “trade-raped” until the other guys show up at the spa and mock him for not knowing that Plaxico Burress is in prison and won’t be playing this season. Andre protests, explaining that Pete told him that the well-publicized story of Burress bringing firearms into a club was about a different player, but the “real” men shame him until he discovers that he was victimized again. The scene is rife with rape-apologies, never blaming Pete for his metaphorical raping of a friend because Andre, like actual rape victims, should have more effectively protected himself. Pete was just being a “real” man, one who aggressively takes what he wants, regardless of whom he hurts in the process. The audience, like Pete’s friends, is expected to admire him for his tenacity and to regard Andre with derision for not being smarter and more aggressive, thus allowing himself to be made the [haha] “rape” victim.

Rape metaphors tend to rely on these motifs of victim-blaming and gender-role reinforcement. The message, however, remains clear: real men (and their occasional emulators), through their superior strength and wit, admirably identify weak people and rape them without remorse. Hilarious, right?


A&E’s Faux Altruism

September 29, 2009

A&E has a new television series in the reality-sideshow genre about compulsive hoarding, Hoarders. So far, The Husband and I, both children of hoarders, have watched two episodes, and I am mostly disturbed by the fact that this is yet another example of superiority porn masking as an exercise in altruistic concern.

The format for each episode is fairly typical. Two hoarders in different parts of the United States, each having recently been given some sort of ultimatum regarding his or her hoarding, are provided with guides (psychotherapists or organizers specializing in compulsive hoarding) and a professional cleaning team. Throughout the show, they give brief information about the fact that compulsive hoarding is caused by one or more underlying mental/emotional disorders. The aftermath of the experiment/treatment is relegated to a brief paragraph posted on the screen at the very end, often startling the viewers.

By profiling two separate hoarders and their families per episode, precious little time is available for honest analysis and reflection. n one episode, a couple has had their children removed by social services (and placed with their grandparents) until their house is cleaned up. Throughout the episode are shots of rats living in the garage and basement of this upper-middle-class home as the mother/wife is shown obsessively picking through garbage from the bathroom or otherwise slowing down the clean-up process in a compulsive attempt ensure that nothing she deems important has been thrown out. However, despite all of this, the home is clean by the end, but the basement is positively stuffed with more than 1400 boxes of possessions she has found herself unable to let go. While the fact that she is not “cured” is obvious to the audience, the mini-paragraph at the end detailing what she faced after the cameras stopped is shocking: social services refused to return her children, largely because of the fact that she retained so many possessions in storage; her husband filed for a divorce and moved out, helping him to get one child placed with him. That’s it.

A&E can tell themselves that this and its other “educational” reality shows (e.g., Intervention) provide a healthy alternative to standard reality-show fare, but by failing to provide any depth of analysis in the twenty minutes allocated to this woman’s situation, they have achieved no such goal. Rather, they have created on this screen a one-dimensional caricature of a selfish, hysterical woman unwilling to give up her possessions for her children, more likely to cause the audience to spew vitriolic criticism than enlightened compassion. As a daughter, niece, and great-grandaughter of hoarders, I felt some compassion but was mostly wracked with a fear of becoming “like those people.” The positive side is that my desire to pursue a life of voluntary simplicity was reawakened, but only through an air of condescension that reminds me that I may be able to recognize the flaws in A&E’s brand of faux altruism, but I am not above it.