The Washington Times has a post up about TV’s New Fall Season and how it consists of mean women and weak men. To summarize the story (go ahead, read the whole thing), men are mostly weak and loserish, unless they are hot studs, and women are “sassy” and “empowered” who sleep around a LOT, with the few men who are sexy (dominant, assertive Alpha A-hole men). There is a reason for that. It sells. TV is basically a land of commercials, wrapped around a few minutes of entertainment. Oh, yes, basic cable channels, and HBO/Showtime/Cinemax (commercial free) derive most of their money from cable subscription fees, not ads. And the commercial free channels like HBO get all of their money from subscription fees. But that is changing. Time-Warner cable is now offering a package excluding ESPN that costs around $30-$40 a month, compared to around $73 a month. Continued growth will rely on not a bottomless pit of cable and satellite rights fees passed onto strapped consumers, but ads. Even P&G is prepared for the “hourglass” shaped consumer demographic, lots of really poor people and a few high-earning consumers.
What is wrong with America (and the West) is nothing less or more than its consumer culture, which based almost entirely on the female consumer has pushed bad behavior to the limit, while trying its best to eradicate the best of female actions.
Most women, most of the time, in the West, have been fairly conservative. Yes movements like the Temperance Movement, Prohibition, and the like have catered to the desire to tell other people how to live their lives, something of overwhelming emotional value to upper class White women in America. But most women most of the time were focused on saving money, preparing for household expenses, improving the lives of their children, and wanting a better life for their sons and daughters than they themselves had. This made women in the West a mostly conservative force, wary of great social change, and deeply invested for the most part in their children. Yes there were bad mothers, and bad fathers, but for the most part the nuclear family and very limited consumer spending held back the forces of rapid social decay. This at a time when most women did at least some work outside the house, and for farm wives in particular, labor alongside men in many times and places. In the Depression, women worked even more outside the house, part-time, to keep households together.
Here is what the Washington Times had to say about the new Fall Season:
Unlike their broke, wimpy male counterparts, the women on these shows are mostly strong and self-sufficient, and critics describe them with glowing words such as “assertive,” “edgy” and, heaven help us, “sassy.” However, what these women actually are, generally speaking, are utterly awful human beings. They may be inspired by “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw, but they act like Samantha, openly bragging about how badly they treat men. They make the sorts of crude jokes that are rightly decried when men make them on prime-time network TV, yet are celebrated for women as signs of emancipation. “Whitney,” “Are You There Vodka?” and “2 Broke Girls,” for instance, all have one-line zingers where the punch line is “vagina.”
The male characters are largely relegated to being ornaments, comic foils or villains. Those that aren’t wimps or fools are dashing rakes – embodiments, in a way, of the old virgin/whore dichotomy turned upside down. In Fox’s “New Girl,” which premiered Tuesday at 9 p.m., post-“Glee,” star Zooey Deschanel’s character has to find a new apartment because she catches her boyfriend cheating. Similarly, the titular “2 Broke Girls” become roommates only because one catches her “sleeps until 4:00” boyfriend cheating on her, and the other has a father who goes to jail for his Bernie Madoff-like crime.
TV’s women of fall, on the network sitcoms especially, are vain, selfish, shallow and controlling — a generation of “Mean Girls” grown, not surprisingly, into mean women.
You see this stuff because advertisers like it. And they like it because they have done quite a bit of market research showing that their female target audience, younger women, like it too. A lot. The ads on these network shows are in support of the idea that women are empowered, Sex in the City types, who can sleep around, with dashing rake-hell men, bond with lots of “you go girl” female friends, and dismiss the 90% of the male sex that lacks the sexiness required.
CBS’s “the Good Wife” has a flavor of it, a glamorous depiction of the sexy betraying bad husband (but one that every woman wants) and an older woman still turning heads. A prime-time soap opera.
There is nothing wrong with consumerism, as long as it is not taken to excess. But the storylines blend seamlessly into the ads, of a society defined by consumption and where the type of consumption determines the type of person the lead (female) characters are: beautiful, glamorous, important, because they are consuming a particular type of man, or for the younger set, hot, sexy, desirable because they have the hottest bad boys and sleep around a lot.
The problem with all of this is that the consumption at some point has to end. No one save the very rich can live a life of consumption without saving. The entire “model for life” promoted by the entertainment wrapping the commercials does not work, for much of anyone outside of say, Mick Jagger, for very long. Sleeping around a lot guarantees sex with Alphas, but not commitment, and a life of single motherhood at best, not the fabulous families envisioned in Sex and the City. Most straight men are not falling over themselves to be the fabulous gay boyfriend of some new girl on the sexual marketplace. Most women who sleep around can get easy sex but little commitment from any worthwhile man. Most women past the age of forty don’t turn heads, they make men want them to move, so they can see the hot young thing behind them.
Nothing in America’s culture will change until and unless its consumer culture changes. This means ad-supported TV, which influences pretty much every part of society due to its massive reach and its stature of the bread and butter of Hollywood (movies are glamorous, TV production pays the bills). All that is a chicken and egg riddle.
Women in the past were naturally conservative because life revolved around marriage, kids, family, and above all, saving for that life. Savings, and the most prudent, cost efficient consumption meant women were an innate force for conservatism. Seizing the “Commanding Heights” of culture and politics and society: Professional White Collar White women, is not easy given the profound shift to consumption and not saving.
Steve Sailer noted this commercial:
“Suzanne Researched This,” about how buying a McMansion is possible by bullying your fat stupid and weak husband. Notice there is nothing about value and saving. Indeed the consumption is all about overcoming the dumb husband, who is not able to see how cool the granite counter-tops are.
In some ways, this culture is the bill due from a near 70 years of uninterrupted peace and security, built through the Cold War duopoly of nuclear weapons and force, the stability from two coalitions desiring to minimize conflict. Allowing consumption to run rampant. The sort of broad social change brought about by television, rising wealth levels, easy contraception, urban anonymity, and highly personally mobile society. All of which seems to be coming to an end.
What is interesting about the CBS show “Person of Interest” is not just how masculine it is, but how it points out that the very technology that allowed anonymous, urban living is now taking it away. Surveillance cameras, massive government and commercial databases, plus of course Facebook, Google, and the rest leave bare most lives to anyone with any determination to pry them open. For any purpose, any time.
Yes there is the obligatory “Good female Black cop” to meet diversity quotas, but she’s mostly irrelevant (and shown to be fairly useless, as she does nothing to stop crimes from happening). The producers, JJ Abrams and the brother of Chris Nolan, Jonah Nolan, talked about the approach in London and New York.
Which brings us to the latter show, “Person of Interest.” Much is made, fairly directly, of the impact of 9/11 and how the attack made people aware that their lives were not as safe or secure as possible. While there is no footage shown, 9/11 changes the lives of the two male lead characters forever. And the technology used to combat terrorism is inevitably used (in the show, for good) to combat lesser crimes, in fact stopping them before they start. With two completely disconnected from society men, aiming to “be there in time.” While flawed in execution, the concept and what the show is about, is so striking.
Inevitably the society of the Good Wife, 2 Broke Girls, and Are You There Vodka, Its Me Chelsea cannot co-exist with that of Person of Interest. Something has to give. And what will give is which ever notion is proven strongest. By ongoing events. TV currently holds that the future is mostly known. More of the same, a big fabulous party thrown for everywoman who can pursue granite countertops, or a fabulous life in the big city, or be sexy well past forty, if she’s just fabulous enough. Because security and safety and things like water, power, electricity are all assumed. And that therefore there is a large appetite for shows depicting fabulous consumption in fabulous manners by fabulous women.
The minor side bet, made by some interesting people in Hollywood, is that this is not the case. That society will enter into a prolonged period of shortages, of water, of power, of food, of basic safety, and there is an appetite for shows about broken men finding redemption and meaning (and lawful revenge) by stopping worse things before they start. Basically a whole-hearted endorsement of pre-emption in crime and anything else because … technology gives us the tools to understand and predict behavior much more thoroughly.
Color this the Moneyball of Crime Dramas. The show is not about consumption, or money, sex and power. It is about above all an idea, that imperfect though it may be the way to stop horrible things (and take a moral revenge for 9/11) is to intervene with all the tools used to fight Al Qaeda. Not to put them aside in favor of Hope, Change, and fabulous girlfriends and clothes and men. But to use them, wisely, because there are many, many bad people out there.
That this show was made at all, much less that CBS put it on, is staggering. Yes Hollywood is mostly betting on Sex and the City. But it has made some interesting side bets.