Friday, May 1, 2009


I'm a huge fan of detective novels, especially those with strong, multi-faceted women characters. In particular, I love Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner, and Dr. Temperance Brennan, who's the protagonist in Kathy Reich's novels based on her own life and work as a forensic anthropologist.

So I was thrilled when I found out that Fox was developing a TV show based on Reich's own life and work and incorporating elements of her series' main character, Dr. Brennan.

Though on the show, the character shares the same name as the protagonist of Reichs' books, this television version of Brennan is based not on the fictional character, but on the author herself.

On the show, Brennan (nicknamed "Bones," natch) works for The Jeffersonian, a fictional research organization based in Washington, D.C. Her team is often called in to consult on murder cases, to identify bodies and assorted other forensic anthropologic tasks for the FBI, and Brennan's law enforcement counterpart is a "man's man," the gunslinging, chauvinist-with-a-heart-of-gold Agent Seeley Booth.

Now, the show airs on Fox. On American television. So you can make your own assumptions about how women are portrayed, if you don't watch the show yourself. But you know, hope springs eternal and all that shit. I don't know what I was thinking (obviously, I wasn't), but I wrongly assumed that the writers, the producers and the network itself might just TRY to address some contemporary gender issues, societal constructs and the role of women in science in a new, fresh way.

WRONG. Dead wrong. (Ha, see what I did there?)

This is arguably one of the most sexist shows on television. I won't bore you with minute details of plots and characters and such, but just off the top of my head I can tell you that the show has used the following stereotypes in an attempt to advance plot lines, create "drama," and draw belly laughs:

-Women are terrible drivers and also cannot handle a manual transmission. Hilarity ensues.

-'Incredibly intelligent woman' is mutually exclusive of 'funny, hip, warm, caring, friendly, sensitive and compassionate woman.' All sorts of awkward moments involving Dr. Brennan carelessly dismissing others' religious beliefs, morals, values and self-esteem ensue. There's one episode during which she must temporarily care for an infant and is depicted as completely clueless and insensitive to the kid's needs.

-Women that do not believe in monogamy and/or who are bisexual are sluts. Seriously, there was a whole episode where one character decided that instead of randomly fucking everyone she saw -- which viewers were to understand was her typical M.O--she would practice celibacy. All kinds of terrible, derogatory sex jokes followed as we watched this poor character fight with an all-consuming lust that threatened her job and her friendships.

-Androgyny is totally weird an unattractive. In last week's episode, an androgynous Japanese forensic anthropologist comes to the Jeffersonian to help out with a case. The character is much like Brennan, cold, stoic, and completely devoid of any social skills. Because, you know, scientists are like that. A huge subplot of the episode involved the team attempting to guess whether the Japanese doctor was male or female, and placing bets on the outcome. At the end of the episode, the aforementioned Slut character finds out once and for all by hugging the doctor, and then reporting back to the team that "It moved. He's totally a guy."

Believe me, I could go on and on and on (and on.) It's like a bloody, gory, gruesome train or automobile or airplane wreck, though. You know it's going to be fucking awful, possibly even permanently scarring, but you can't look away. So I faithfully DVR the stupid thing every week, and then I sit down with my husband to watch it and brace myself for the hell.

During one such viewing, in the midst of my hurling expletives at the television screen, Mr. Sharon says, "Honey, why do you let this get you so upset? It's just entertainment. There's no, like, subliminal messages here trying to brainwash the population!"

I wholeheartedly disagree. I do not believe there's such a thing as entertainment purely for entertainment's sake (unless my dog is involved), especially not on the Fox television network. Every piece of writing, every play, every song, every television and/or radio show has to draw from the tenets of the society in which it exists, and it uses the underlying assumptions of the general population, the current zeitgeist, recent events, politics and sweeping generalizations about human relationships to illustrate morals, to prove a point, to influence its audience.

I like to compare it to the 'urban legend' phenomenon. These stories are scary, or funny, or illustrate a supposed "real life" scenario in an attempt to elucidate to listeners how they should or should not act; what they should or should not do.

It's the same with television, radio; even literature and the performing arts do this. So for me, watching Bones (and everything else I ingest in my television diet) is somewhat of a lesson in how the general population continues to think about society generally and women specifically.

And boy, is it scary sometimes.

1 comment:

  1. "Every piece of writing, every play, every song, every television and/or radio show has to draw from the tenets of the society in which it exists...":
    Furthermore, most television and film producers (mostly male) view their audiences as having double-digit IQs. (Particularly their female audiences.) Not only are television and film media telling in portrayals of women, but the producers of Hollywood shlock are TERRIFIED to present anything new, because their lowest-common-denominator view of Americans prohibits any kind of risk--which keeps lowest-common-denominator audiences watching the reinforcement of archaic gender stereotypes. As long as the people creating mainstream cultural products are afraid of risk, we will always be inundated with the safe and outdated.