Let’s call it the Woody Allen-syndrome. In each and every one of his films, Woody gives unappealing men attractive women – who have no plausible reason to be in those relationships.
Soothing daydreams, these films are certainly easy to watch for their target audience. But who exactly is that? What kind of audience enjoys watching as repulsive male characters (either Woody or his stand-ins) get to bed the most attractive females. And occasionally get away with murder. If Woody wanted to say something through his life’s work, it is written in the sky.
“even this defective male gets laid and by a famous actress, go relate!“
But who in their right mind would want to relate to Woody’s females? Why are they there? How did they get there? What do they want? Are they deaf when Woody talks, or do they just ignore it? They don’t have any plausible reason to be in those relationships. Not to mention (but I know no one cares) they have no character traits beyond irrationality and unpredictability. I get it, Woody doesn’t get women, so he sees them as unpredictable. But then maybe he isn’t talking to women at all. It talks about them, perhaps, but surely not to women.
So why should I watch? Doesn’t that make me an idiot? Why have I spent my life generously trying to relate to Woody and to his neuroses, when he wasn’t talking to me at all? Why relate to a movie unilaterally, when the creator clearly doesn’t care what I think or whether I take pleasure in relating to any of his characters?
The thing that strikes you first is that his women are oblivious to the Woody Allen character’s annoying quirks and borderline dangerous anxieties. They don’t react to unsavory things Woody says. If they ever get angry, it is because of their unpredictability and irrationality – never because Woody just sounded like a stalker, or he insulted them somehow. They stay with Woody despite his character and actions.
What am I supposed to see this as? Good-natured? Ignorant? Feminine? Is it suggesting that I should do the same?
The phenomenon is not limited to Allen. He was just the first creator whose works I can no longer enjoy without feeling alienated and stupid. He gives me a solid reason to believe that he doesn’t regard female people as real people, so why would I admire him?
But Woody Allen is old furniture. I have present day entertainment that doesn’t make me feel like a mere object of love-hate by the real people.
Or do I?
I have watched all 12 seasons of The Big Bang Theory, generously attempting to relate to the nerds in the show – through their nerdness because I also have that – and ignore that they were all guys. No big deal. Except that my generosity was unrequited at best. The writers never meant to talk to females, and I would just be that in their eyes.
The females acted just as unreasonably and accepted implausible matches as any Woody Allen character. Two of them even got hit with a baby despite explicitly not wanting to become mothers (they they inexplicably changed personality and were dutifully happy about it – that is where the sitcom turned into tragic realism), and the third one changed personality from one season to the next because the creators needed someone to pursue a relationship with Sheldon. And that’s just the arc of the show. They ignored every creepy and insulting thing the males have ever spoken to them, and occasionally enthused about their guys, totally out of character. It was so inorganic, implausible and non-credible, it eventually forced me to stop suspending disbelief and ask myself why I’m trying to relate unilaterally while the writers clearly hate my kind and only see someone of my sex as a tool of storytelling, not a character.
But that’s just a stupid sitcom. I got the worst blow from a place I never expected. Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens.
I have enjoyed the book and I was looking forward to the adaptation – and yes, it blew my mind. I love the subtext, the wit, the Easter eggs, the writing (that I can only envy but never even attempt), and I love The Queen and Crowley’s character – everyone does. I also love Gaiman’s other works. His image is so cool, he is PR’d as an open and kind guy, who goes out of his way to promote fairness.
And on the surface so did the show ‘Good Omens’. They have chosen female actors to play some of the traditionally all-male cast of Christian mythology – like Beelzebub, Archangel Michael, two of the riders, and even God. I guess I should rejoice, at least some actresses got cast, and some anti-human fundamentalists got pissed off. Good job!
But there was something else that I haven’t quite noticed until I watched the show a few times: All my least favourite scenes, the ones you fast forward when you have the remote at hand, were the interactions between the females of the show and the men whose love interests they have served as. And that is because all of these women got a very poor deal from the writers. They were all awarded as girlfriends to disappointing and even abusive male characters, and they didn’t have any logical reason to be happy about these matches. Just like in Woody Allen films.
Madame Tracy vs Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell
I hated Madame Tracy’s scenes, even though her acting was through the roof. Especially when she acted as Aziraphale as well as herself. Too bad the grumpy, self-righteous, dumb, and mildly threatening Mr Shadwell character was always there to sour the scene.
Madame Tracy endures decades of verbal abuse and highly articulated disdain from her neighbour, bigoted Mr Shadwell. He never misses an opportunity to throw oh-so-funny insults at her, barely short of brandishing a burning pitchfork. Isn’t he a catch? And she keeps not hearing it!
Shadwell, meanwhile, is just a conman, whose livelihood comes from conning two guys in the 80s to finance his imaginary witchfinder army. If there is anything genuine about his claim, it’s that he’s genuinely a woman-hater. And not even the I-love-to-use-women kind. If it were socially and legally acceptable, he would still genuinely burn she-people on stakes. He would be a regular Heinrich Kramer! Or – had he lived a bit later – a modern-day incel, nipple-addict, but furious at the women who have them. Don’t you just love watching a person like that in action?
Shadwell is a grumbling, bigoted and verbally violent slut-shamer, who gets richly rewarded for his conduct. By his own top victim. Why is she doing it? Is she oblivious? Deaf? Dumb? Feminine? (And even when he claims to defend “the Whore of Babylon” in the non-battle scene, it is purely about him, not the woman).
In a nod to Stokcholm syndrome, Madame Tracy still cooks for him, answers the door and the phone, and makes tea for him and his guests like a good
secretary female, and in the end, she even offers the dead-broke Shadwell to live with her and live off of her savings. I’m sure he will use that potent index finger in lieu of sex and she will kindly let him believe that agitated clawing gives her multiple orgasms. Like all good females do who wouldn’t hurt an idiot’s ego because of… you know, femininity.
We shame writers for plot holes. This one is so large, the entire storyline fits right through it.
Anathema vs Newton Pulsifer
Talking about glaring holes in women’s motivation.
Anathema is rich and skilled. She has no reason to sleep with a stranger she’s just met – except for a prophecy. A prophecy that happens to lead to nowhere in the plot. I repeat: this prophecy serves no further plot purposes, it simply orders her to sleep with a random guy and that is that. Amusing? Sweet? A story you enjoy re-reading? Sure – if you’re a guy.
I hate when they use female characters just to birth another character. It would be a distasteful plot tool, but at least it would be something to blame this prophecy on. But I can’t even do that. She just sleeps with a random loser without any spark or mutual interest, in the 15th minute of their acquaintance, and it doesn’t even serve the plot. And guess what, she even tended to Newton’s little ego when she hinted that he was good at sex. On his first time. On their first time together.
That may be the woman every guy wants – but that’s a guy no woman wants. And the genre may be fantasy, but it’s certainly not a woman’s.
And to make it round, she calls him her boyfriend and there are even hints at their future marriage for good measure. Why? If she doesn’t want to live her life as a ‘professional descendant’ anymore and be a slave to her ancestor’s visions, how about not giving away her life to Prophecy Guy? The great-great-great-grandson of the man who killed her ancestor, to make him more appealing.
Newton, meanwhile, is (you guessed) an unemployed loser whose only useful skill is to kill technology upon contact. He was manipulable enough to join a wildly hateful witchfinder army, just because he saw a lonely, fanatical, penniless nutcase preaching about nipples in the street. Another catch. And another plot hole.
Anathema may not end up living out her life in abuse like Madame Tracy, and Jack Whitehall is at least not unattractive, but her character also got a very poor deal that she had no reason to accept.
What else am I expected to overlook? How long should I extend my generosity to writers who don’t do the same for people like me? Have they ever been forced to watch (and try to enjoy) a show in which their kind was wildly motivation-less and accepted unappealing partners with inexplicable enthusiasm?
A professor of mine once expressed disdain at fiction that revolves around a fiction-writer’s life, because that’s all that the writer could write about. Now I can see his point.
Mrs and Mr Young
Why are females of TV couples always more attractive than their male partners?
I know, I know, this is supposedly “Nature”, and males can let go of themselves but still be a chick-magnet. But I still don’t understand why we need to reinforce Nature with so much dedicated mouthpower and cliché-repetition? One would think Nature can take care of the self-evident herself and make all females choose ugly, unpleasant guys naturally. I don’t wish to weigh in on the religious debate on Nature vs Nurture, but how come that something as self-evident as Nature still apparently needs an enormous amount of social reinforcement to keep happening?
You can never be certain enough of Nature to do your bidding, can you?
But casting choice aside, this man and husband is also a disgrace. A grumpy misogynist with a disdain for over-25 women (who are – you will never guess – irrational and incomprehensible), hating fatherhood and distancing himself from anything that has to do with his own child. This may be the least relevant and most realistic of the three couples on Good Omens, but it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Am I supposed to feel warmly nostalgic about dysfunctional family dynamics, and the stern men who refuse to reduce themselves to fatherhood? Should I go ‘Awwww’? Is he supposed to be lovable? I know that I’m nitpicking at this point, but the most self-evident things in the stories are the most influential and impactful. The ones you don’t even think about. And the ones that need to be true in order for the rest of the story to make sense. You don’t have to say them out loud – they are louder than any dialogue or message you say out loud.
How about adding a single relationship that is not demeaning or disadvantageous for the female?
BONUS: Crowley and Aziraphale
Okay, this is not the book’s fault. But the moment the show aired, the internet burst with fandom celebrating the Crowley-Aziraphale romance, or the “ineffable husbands”, as they put it. Down to and including fan art of Aziraphale making dinner in an apron and bothering the ever-patient Crowley with silly talk, who is just trying to read the evening paper in peace. (Seriously, how could people whose existence is powerfully denied by the reigning stereotypes try to be so forcefully stereotypical themselves?) I refuse to show any of this artwork, but I saw plenty and it hurts.
The message the fandom received was clear: the angel and a demon were a couple and Crowley is obviously the male, and everyone adores him. And why wouldn’t they? Aziraphale is sweet, but... He is jumpy, panicky, naive, often wrong, can’t rescue himself even though he has the exact same skills of miracles as the guy does, and he is morally compromised. That latter is because he represent church dogma, but still. What is it if not a woman? He is forgivable at best. The females of the couples are always a disappointment. That’s how we spot them.
Disclaimer: This is not a review of the show in the sense that I want to criticize it. It is a glorious show that I adored as much as the next guy. Its writers and its creators are gods and I wish that one day I would get half as talented as they are. Also, I don’t think that a female writer could write better female characters and not fall into these traps – just because of her female-ness. She had learned writing the same place men did, she grew up on the same stories, and she would have to use the same tools of stereotyping to quickly sketch up characters as men do.