Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Network for Men? You Mean, The Network for Belle!

I can give up TV cold turkey, but when I have the time (like during school vacations, or in this case, a months-long vacation from school) I can watch an awful lot of it. Most of what I watch, I've found, is "masculine" drama. I hate genderizing TV, movies, music, etc., but that seems to be what marketers and promoters do. They "market" abominable "chick flicks" to me, but that never seems to work, and so I watch what they market towards the 18-24 young male demographic. I don't watch every stupid (and often likewise abominable) action movie they produce, and I don't always like them either (who the fuck greenlighted "Armageddon" with its horribly cheesy dialogue and entirely improbable, pro-oil drilling premise?!). But just as I read Phillip Roth, who is reviewed for his "masculine" prose while detesting most of the redemption stories on Oprah's Book Club, so too do I watch up to 3 hours of Star Trek a day (5 if I am particularly slothful) instead of some cutesy romantic comedy. I don't watch "How I Met Your Mother," for example, but I do watch "Criminal Minds," and before they cancelled it, the much beloved "Threshold."

I've blogged before about my love for Star Trek, but I've never written about how conflicted I feel watching it. Not the actual program, but the network I watch it on--Spike TV, the Network for Men. Are you kidding me? With three hours of Star Trek: TNG in the morning (not to mention DS9, which I'm kind of getting into), two in the evening (on "sister" channel G4), and one more at night, as well as MXC: Extreme Challenge and a bunch of blow things up movies, it is the network for Belle! I can't believe I can watch 6 hours of Star Trek a day! (9 if I had gotten into DS9 back in the day) I don't, but I could. Should I be watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman instead? So, am I less of a woman?

Generally, I find that TV drama is only good if it has a complex story line, tough morality issues, and crime/law/aliens somewhere in the plot. I'm not saying I don't appreciate interesting, groundbreaking shows like "Six Feet Under" or "Rome"--I loved those shows! But I'm talking about network television here (or shows once on network television, now syndicated). Given the formulaic nature of TV shows, either it's a crime drama or a medical show or (once in a while) an alien show, it's a crappy sitcom about white people in their 20s trying to find love while living in a too nice apartment. Okay, so The West Wing is an exception--but one that proves the rule, and it hasn't been as good recently. And with the addition of Commander In Chief, maybe there's a new sub-genre called "the fictional president that we wish we had show." But I have to say--I'd rather watch Law and Order than the fucking abysmal One Tree Hill.

I just finished watching "The Unit," about the Special Forces Unit of the Rangers. It was pretty freakin' awesome. Lots of gunfire, people died, things blew up. Good stuff.

The only thing that troubled me was how the show was introduced. The show is centered around "The Unit" and the ass-kicking things they do, but cuts back to the women they left at home, and the coping-mechanisms that they employ. This is very old-school 1940s Mills Brothers "Till Then," but who am I to knock it? I dont know anyone in combat, and nor do I know anyone who is supporting their spouse in combat. This is probably reflective of many military wives, and I will not denigrate their bravery and honor for supporting the brave soldiers who fight for us (I wish they didn't have to for this particular war, but that's another debate). But the show's lead in was "This is about the men who save us (America), and the women who save them (the Rangers)." The women live on base, protecting the cover of their husbands, putting on brave faces, and trying to manage with raising the kids alone and having a part-time hobby job like real estate or teaching. The gender stereotypes are staggering--this is not like the First Lady being a doctor. The women stay at home and have typically female jobs. They protect their family. They take care of their men. WTF?! In 2006, the long-suffering wife is still left at home with empty halves of beds? This is a partnership for military wives?

I know real military wives do this, and I respect that--which is why I am so conflicted over my "Aaaarrgh, are you kidding me with the June Cleaver thing?" criticism of this show. I mean, the show had promise--guns, explosions, more guns--and it was created and produced by the brilliant David Mamet. I love David Mamet! Which makes me question certain weird lines like "You get to jump out of planes, shoot guns, then come home to your wife and kids--sounds like the perfect job." I don't even want to think about the staggering geopolitics of it all and this "Post 9/11" TV genre where every day, a jihad mus be fought. I'm waiting for the torture episode to come along to convince Americans that torture works in the "ticking time bomb" situation and that coerced confessions are reliable. But what hurts my head the most is the response to a young wife nearly blowing her husband's cover to her sister in a moment of emotional breakdown "You would endanger your husband's life? He has worked so hard to get here. You would get him removed from The Unit? And have him look at you, for the rest of his life, as the one who ruined his dream? You're worried about your man in combat, and you want him home. Well look around you--your problem is not unique. This is the history of the world (war?) for centuries. That's life. He is out there, defending this country--and you had better be brave enough, and strong enough to be there for your man."

This is not verbatim, I just jotted down the main words and a few connecting words--but you get the drift. I don't mean to belittle the military wives who perform this necessary function--but this is the message we are sending to women? That they have to suck it up for their husbands, for their husbands' careers, for the greater good? Imagine that line in the context of say, a big-shot investment banker who has to work 14 hour days. and travel a lot. Would it be "suck it up honey, and support your man" in that case? I am aware that national security is a lot bigger than being an IB'r, but hey, fiscal security is something, and so the IB'r has a wussy case for saying his work is important. I'm just saying, what is it about the idea of the military, national security, this post-9/11 "greater good" that compels this sort of 1950s "putting women in their place" message? There are plenty of jobs that are dangerous and necessary to safety and security. Fireworkers, the police, EMTs, etc. Yet we don't go out of our way to say to women "don't interfere in this necessary function--your demand for your loved one's safety is trumped by the greater good and his macho dream." This message seems to be made and have resonance only because this woman's sacrifice is supposed to be our national sacrifice in a time of war. For the men and boys out there, let's suck it up and shut up. You don't support your man by complaining, asking him to come home, demanding that he change his target from that guy in the turban to a happy life at home. You don't ask for the war to end, because it will never end. There apparently is no option in the war on terror. You suck it up, shut up, and put on a smile for your man.

And it is at moments like these, when I wonder if there really are shows/networks made for men, leaving women like me out. Or maybe it's just my anti-war, pro Geneva convention stance (I have not watched 24 for example, because I dont' like the whole war on terror justifies torture thing). But if I were a wife left at home, I would want my meaningful role honored--without being shoved down the throats of others as part of the collective necessity of war.

Maybe this is why I like Star Trek so much--there was the Prime Directive, and there were certain things you did not do. You did not program an individual Borg aware of his individuality as a bio-terror weapon to destroy the Borg Collective--even for the greater good. You did not shoot without provocation. You did not invade other worlds. It is no less "masculine"--but it is principled. And that is all the difference.


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