Friday, October 24, 2008

NBC's Chuck: Men, Romance, and Female Empowerment

Fans of NBC's "Chuck" (Mondays, 8 PM Eastern/Pacific) know that it is one of the more insightful looks at modern romance, love, and relations between men and women to come out of Hollywood in a long time. Certainly, "Chuck" is the only Hollywood production that reflects our Science Fiction World, with massive changes in how men and women relate, driven by the Pill, the Condom, and anonymous urban living, far from family and friends and stable neighborhoods. The series is, of course, as light as a souffle, and amusing but not profound. That in itself is what makes "Chuck" so revolutionary — it is the only Hollywood production to spill the beans on "female empowerment" and how it affects most men.

Which is to say, create a very few winners, and mostly losers.


"Chuck," some episodes still watchable on Hulu.com or NBC's own website, shows what happens when society tilts radically to unrestricted freedom of choice, absent any social controls, for both men and women. Both lose, though in different ways, and loneliness, distance, and unhappy isolation results. While superficially a fun, spy spoof, "Chuck" is all about a modern man looking for romance and career, in short a family. Detailing his frustrations as he is continually derailed in that quest, despite his best efforts.

Unlike the half-hearted, clownish attempts by Judd Apatow, or the comedy "Wedding Crashers," the title character of "Chuck" (played by newcomer Zachary Levi) does not fear commitment or chose slackerdom out of any real motivation. Rather, he's unable, in a status-heavy world, to attract any significant and lasting interest by women, after his career opportunities were derailed, and he found himself in retail hell, hilariously depicted as a Best-Buy spoof "Buy More" retail outlet (itself constantly in competition with nearby "Large Mart.") Chuck's problem is that in a world of empowered females, he's the head geek of the "Nerd Herd" at the "Buy More." Hardly attractive despite his good qualities.

The series opens, in a "Mission Impossible" style spoof, in harsh contrast, black and white cinematography. Chuck and his friend, uber-slacker and bad influence Morgan Grimes, are attempting to escape his bedroom, when Chuck's sister, Ellie, interrupts, and everything switches to color and normal contrast. It's Chuck's birthday, and his sister, with whom he lives, has invited all her attractive, female doctor friends. Chuck wants to leave, as he explains, because he knows he'll be a wallflower even at his own party, and he knows very well his sister's friends will have no interest in him. Ellie's boyfriend, "Captain Awesome," so named because every thing he does is "awesome," tries to coach Chuck in the finer parts of conversing with attractive women. To no avail. Chuck explains to a friend of his sister's noting he went to Stanford, and asking after sexy Big Man on Campus, Bryce Larkin, that Bryce had been his friend, framed him for cheating and got him kicked out of Stanford, stealing his one and only girlfriend, Jill. Inter-cut with the explanation are shots of said Bryce, breaking into a secret facility, downloading all sorts of secrets and blowing up a computer. Bryce escapes, sends an email loaded with the secrets, and is shot just after the email. Chuck, everyone long since having abandoned him, at his own party, goes back to his bedroom to play computer games. Noticing the email from Bryce, he opens it, and sees a series of hypnotic images that implant all the nation's secrets into his brain. This is the set-up for the series.

Eventually, Chuck finds himself with a "pretend" girlfriend named "Sarah," a beautiful secret agent played by Australian import Yvonne Strahowski. Sarah is the ex-partner and lover of Bryce, who was himself a secret agent for the CIA. [Yes, it's fantasy.] Also on board to protect Chuck and the secrets he alone now holds, is NSA agent John Casey, played by the excellent Adam Baldwin ("My Bodyguard," and Firefly/Serenity) and played with brilliant, comic timing, a tough secret agent frustrated by going undercover as Chuck's co-worker at the Buy More.

What's interesting is how the attitudes of everyone around Chuck changes when they think he has a girlfriend, and a beautiful and intelligent one at that. All of a sudden, his sister has new respect for him. His co-workers, at the "Buy More," marvel at him. His uber-slacker buddy, Morgan even thinks he himself can become more than what he is (a man with "mad work-avoidance skills.")

Chuck himself of course, was derailed in life. Intelligent, but not exactly risk-seeking, he was on track to become a software executive in Silicon Valley. Now, as a guy kicked out of Stanford, for cheating (he was framed by his friend Bryce to stop his recruitment into the CIA, out of Bryce's fear that Chuck lacked the aggressiveness to survive), he's drifted into subsistence living and depression at the retail hell of the Buy More, populated by slackers, idiots, and petty tyrants. Until of course the secrets in his brain, which he alone possesses, and can access only randomly, prompted by outside stimuli, brings the beautiful, aggressive, and tough secret agent who has to play his girlfriend, while carrying a major torch for her in-and-out of her life ex-partner and boyfriend, Bryce Larkin.

Chuck's protector, Sarah, is a very empowered woman. Tough, aggressive, often engaging in physical combat, with a take-no-guff attitude and often hilariously humorless approach (Strahowski is a very funny straightwoman), Sarah is the closest thing to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Wonder Woman currently on TV. And while it's clear that she likes and in her own way respects Chuck's intelligence, and bravery, as an ordinary, though smart guy, involved in the bizarre spy world she lives in, it's not enough for her to really fall for him. Even though she does indeed have feelings for Chuck, whenever her former partner and on-off boyfriend Bryce reappears, it is not enough to compete with the aggressive, high testosterone presence of uber-macho Bryce. Sarah is the ultimate tough female workaholic, who is often lonely, and unable to relate to anyone but her on and off boyfriend Bryce, and that on only a superficial leve.

Chuck is a very odd show, it's as if Buffy the Vampire Slayer were remade, and "Xander" was made the star, with Angel a bit player who comes in and out to remind the hero of just where he sits in the world of female empowerment. Which is not very high, indeed.

In fact, comparing the show with the two shows most like "Chuck," which would be "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and 1980's sci-fi comedy "Greatest American Hero" is instructive. In the latter, the hero "Ralph Hinckley," is a put-upon, mild mannered teacher of at-risk kids (played by unintentionally hilariously over-aged twenty-somethings channeling the Dead End kids). Given a super-hero suit by aliens that turns him into a, well, superhero, he has a girlfriend (the always excellent Connie Selleca). Who is a smart, competent lawyer. With the help of super-conservative, often funny, veteran FBI agent "Bill Maxwell" (played expertly by Robert Culp), all three tackle various villains and bad guys to save the day. Written by TV legend Stephen J. Cannell, and presaging many of the squabbling hero devices he used to great effect in the "A Team" the show "Greatest American Hero" was in one very important respect, far different than that of "Chuck."

"Ralph Hinckley" already had a girlfriend. His life was complicated by the arrival of the suit, and the responsibility of the powers it gave him, not to mention that he lost the instruction manual and could use them only inexpertly. But he already had a middle class life, even his own home, and merely wanted to hold on to that life balanced against his reponsibility. He didn't need super powers to get his girlfriend, even though she was a lawyer, and a skilled one who made good money, more than himself, at that. He already had the life he wanted BEFORE his superpowers.

Meanwhile, Buffy's own life was centered around various vampires, ordinary guys like Xander, no matter how brave, just could not compete. Not even the "Captain Awesome" like super-soldier "Riley Finn" could keep Buffy's affections against a vampire, once he lost his super-soldier abilities. Even Xander himself lost the affections and love of his girlfriend to one of Buffy's vampires, and very pointedly, all the ordinary men were nothing but props in Buffy's female empowerment. Which echoing many of the female-oriented vampire novels and TV series, was all about a "special" girl using her "unique" powers of sex appeal and "goodness" to "tame" some dangerous, powerful, bad-boy vampire, and live outside of society. As detailed in the post Vampires and Women, this is the basic plot-line for the "Twilight" series to the HBO Series "True Blood" based on the "Sookie Stackhouse" novels.

In the world of Cannell's 1980's show, "Greatest American Hero," female empowerment meant, well earning a living doing whatever one wanted, and being treated with respect. Selleca's character, "Pam" was often the brains of the trio, and within the storylines, given just as much insight and importance as the others. Her relationship with the hero "Ralph" (played by William Katt) was complicated by the arrival of the suit and it's responsibilities, but it was an adult one, and traditional. Ralph's relative lack of money, status, and power as a High School teacher didn't matter to her before the suit's arrival, and her attitude towards him didn't change after the suit entered their lives. She viewed him as the same man before and after he had superpowers. You could not have a more traditional, middle class attitude, towards the relationships between men and women. Based on respect and love, not power.

Move to the late 1990's and early 2000's, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The dirty secret there was that female empowerment meant actual powers, and living outside society's strictures, just like all the other vampire fantasies aimed at women. One of the dominant themes of the show was a rejection of middle class values, rather than it's protection (as in the Cold-War era "Greatest American Hero.") Buffy, particularly after the show left her outside any real social controls (her mother died, she dropped out of College, she lived in her own closed world without any interaction with ordinary people), cared only about her relationships with vampires, power for it's own sake, and pointedly chose men based on their power and social dominance, rather than character, compassion, decency, loyalty, etc. Unsurprising, since her vampire boyfriends lacked any of those qualities. No matter, Buffy didn't care about that, merely power. A view shared by all the other female characters regarding men.

Now, move to 2007 (when"Chuck" premiered). Chuck, no matter how brave, smart, loyal, compassionate, and insightful, still can't achieve a steady relationship. Crushed when he's kicked out of Stanford, and his girlfriend Jill dumps him for Bryce, he drifts into Buy More and spends years there. It takes literally gaining "superpowers" for him to have any chance at even the illusion of romance (as opposed to the reality), and while the beautiful, and literally empowered secret agent who pretends to be his girlfriend likes him and even admires him, it's clear she'd rather "let's be friends" with him than want him as a boyfriend. That status is reserved for Chuck's arch-rival and former friend Bryce. Who is everything Chuck is not: heedless of personal risk, good at fighting, indeed enjoying it, and a natural with women, confident of his attractiveness to them.

Which gets to the heart of the matter, how female empowerment has changed. Rather than merely a matter of income and personal equality, wishing to be treated as equals, female empowerment in popular culture, seems to be a function of living outside the old social rules and indeed society as a whole, and choosing the most socially, physically, dominant men. Which leaves most men outside, stuck in the "let's be friends" zone. Even with the nation's secrets in your head.

"Sarah" herself lives alone, in a ritzy hotel room, in a downtown high rise. A far cry from the homey, ordinary, middle class tract house of "Greatest American Hero's" Ralph Hinckley. She drives a fancy car, while hero "Chuck" drives the company "Nerd Herd" car, complete with corporate paint job. Her life is lived anonymously, "Sarah" is not even her real name, and the hero "Chuck" knows next to nothing about her. Her past is a subject she's made clear is very, very closed to him. And far from the casual equality of the main characters in "Greatest American Hero," Chuck Bartowski, who has all the secrets, struggles to prove himself again and again to the spies who protect him, Sarah, his pretend-girlfriend, and John Casey (a hilarious echo of Culp's character in "Greatest American Hero," right down to the Reagan worship).

Chuck's sister asked Sarah, unknowingly, how a girl could choose Bryce over Chuck (referencing Jill, Chuck's only genuine girlfriend). And as the show makes clear, it's easy. Sarah, like Buffy before her, lives a largely anonymous life outside of normal society. While it's clear she envies the emotional closeness Chuck has to his sister and his friends, along with their mutual support, she relishes the absolute freedom her anonymity gives her. Freedom to be anyone, and do anything, since any people she knows can be dropped like excess baggage for the next mission. Only fellow uber-spy Bryce is her equal in fighting, in penchant for taking risks, for subterfuge, and courting danger, willingly. Chuck cannot compete, and in the anonymous life Sarah leads, has little to offer. When everything is done, she will go on with mysterious, dangerous missions, and Chuck will be left behind at the Buy More.

Interestingly, the Alpha and Omega of men around Chuck are his slacker buddy, Morgan, and his prospective brother in law, "Captain Awesome." A fellow doctor, alongside Chuck's sister Ellie, "Awesome" has a splendid physique, is often exercising, and is enamored of high-risk adventure sports like whitewater kayaking. He is however, very careful never to embarrass Chuck or Morgan, both obviously less successful than himself with women, and offers helpful, positive advice to both whenever he can. Awesome is just as impressive as Bryce, but mindful of how advantaged he is compared to the men around him, and shows a compassion that Bryce, engaged in danger even more than Awesome, lacks. Meanwhile, Morgan spends most of his time avoiding work, and his girlfriend Anna, a rebellious slacker type herself, often has to encourage Morgan to stand up for himself. It's clear in the antics at the "Buy More" that Chuck, regardless of formal authority, is the only thing keeping the store running, amidst the slackers and idiots found in the retail hell. Boss "Big Mike" retreats to his office to eat dough-nuts and sleep. No one else shows any leadership, and it's up to Chuck, reluctantly, to keep things running and often, bail out his slacker buddy Morgan, who's work avoidance has him often in trouble. At home of course, it's the fake relationship with his protector, who must dial down her aggressiveness in her role as the "girlfriend" that makes Chuck more respected by his sister, and Awesome. Both assuming that Chuck, in a relationship, plans to move out of retail and into something more reflective of his intelligence and possibilities. Viewers are shown, over and over, that Chuck even at the Buy More, just can't help doing a good job.

Chuck is clearly shown to have leadership potential, just not leadership in the style of Bryce Larkin (a clever play on the poet Philip Larkin, notorious for his dalliances). Unlike Bryce, and like his prospective brother-in-law, "Captain Awesome," Chuck is careful not to embarrass or humiliate his often idiotically clueless co-workers. Unlike either Bryce or Awesome, Chuck spends his days in tedium relieved with boredom, in the retail hell that is the Buy-More strip mall store where he works. Even with his potential obvious, and his technical and leadership skills applied in odd ways to his covert missions with his handlers, Chuck still doesn't fit in with his more experienced fellow spies.

In part that's a stylistic choice, a departure from the Cannell 1980's team of oddballs, but it is also a commentary on the more challenging environment of the post-modern, Science Fiction world of today, as opposed to the certainties of the 1980's. Female empowerment leads not to demands for equal respect, treatment, and pay, but for well, more power, and more powerful men.

It is made clear, to the viewers and Chuck, that while he would like to have a relationship with his protector, she demands the kind of man, that he literally cannot become, and that he has no future with her, since he does not want to be a spy, even if his lack of guile and being just exactly what he is, an everyman, gives him protective coloration amidst the hardened killer enemy spies he deals with on missions. Chuck cannot become his arch-nemesis Bryce, his attempts at a cool spy persona are played for laughs, and he knows that the very empowered female who is his protector demands an even more empowered man. A man both higher in status and importance (i.e., a cool "real" spy not a real life member of the "Nerd Herd") and just as if not more so, able to deal out violence and take risks.

In this, "Chuck" is a good exploration of our Science Fiction world. Author Richard Whitmire, and his site "Why Boys Fail" explores the gender gap in College. Fully ten percent more women graduate from college, and that's a reversal of the 1980's generation. Indeed, the empowered women of today's college age face, outside elite schools like Harvard or Yale, about 10% or more women than men in their schools. This means far fewer educated men in their peer/age group. Meanwhile, the competition for for women ages 20-30 is fierce. Boys outnumber girls in births, by about 105 to 100. While not having the horrific gender-specific abortions that characterize China or India, with the resultant "Bare Branches" and "excess" men who will never find wives, numbering about 40 million alone in China, nevertheless the better medical care resulting in far fewer infant boy's deaths, has led to a gender imbalance of around 117 to 100.

Let's put that in simple terms. That means for every 117 boys, randomly selected, there will be only 100 girls in their age group. Let us ponder that for a moment.

Now consider "Chuck" and his predicament. In College, he was able to find a girlfriend, despite being smart. Which is a turn-off to women, associated as it is with lower testosterone, unless men demonstrate, like Chuck's rival Bryce, high testosterone by doing athletic things and undertaking lots of risky behavior that signals higher testosterone, despite the smarts. The science blog Gene Expression has a link to several studies showing how higher IQ in men is associated with much higher rates of virginity. Everyone knows women do not like smart men. The technical term for these guys are nerds. They do not like them due to lack of testosterone, and this can be a problem. Chuck while in Stanford, was able to find a smart girl, who shared his interest in old text-based computer games, and have a relationship with her. As soon as he was kicked out of Stanford, she dumped him for Bryce. Ever afterward, Chuck like most guys outside of college, had no real ability to find and meet a girl he could form a relationship with.

It's interesting that both Ellie and "Awesome" are doctors, it's easy to see how their romance began, meeting in the same hospital where they work. Chuck works in a Buy More, lacks any status or power, and doesn't have any opportunity to meet women. Even if he did, he still works at the Buy More. Chuck doesn't take the kind of risks, as a matter of course, that impress women. He's not a band member, or an amateur X-games athlete, or anything like that. He likes computers and technology, and that's it.

The problem for men Chuck's age is that after College, the ability to meet women of similar background and interests is severely limited. Many like Chuck have the same sort of dry spells, after College. Instead of an institution that serves to bring men and women of the same age and interests together, they face brutal competition. Perhaps not a Bryce Larkin, lurking around, but men ages 22-40 all competing for the same group of young women, ages 22-30. The women who are out of college, in the workforce, and have men in their twenties and their thirties both competing for their favors. Made worse of course by the changing demographics that produce about 17% more boys than girls for each peer group.

All these factors, combined with the urban, highly mobile, and anonymous living make the demand for men far more like Bryce, than like Chuck. It's the world of female empowerment. Which makes losers out of guys like Chuck.

And intriguingly, the same dynamic makes losers out of women like "Sarah Walker." Sarah is portrayed as lonely, her boyfriend is often away, and she lacks any real emotional support. The excitement of the Alpha Male that her boyfriend Bryce provides, comes at a cost. No emotional support, no social network, no everyday life. Not much of a future, either, since his highly charged testosterone risk taking will last longer than Sarah's beauty, and ability to influence her male targets, which is a big part of her abilities as an agent. She is of course, unable to break away from a lifetime of habits, and cannot resist her old boyfriend, Bryce.

But Chuck's dilemma, how to compete with the Bryce Larkins (he really can't) in a world of empowered women demanding just such men, is instructive. As more and more men and women live apart, for far longer, and romance becomes not commonplace, but rare, how will society change? Perhaps part of the reason for the high rate of divorce is that men and women get married far later, when women have run through their string of Bryce Larkins, and obviously "settle" for the "nice guy" who well knows he is the last, not first choice. Both with too many partners, and not enough connections through shared intimacy of physical and emotional, during their key twenties. In a rush to have one child before infertility becomes irrevocable. Unable to spend time bonding together when both are at their peak attractiveness.

Perhaps also, the rise of single motherhood by choice, with women seeking their own Bryce Larkins on their terms, as absent fathers, and choosing lives of isolation, lead to more guys like Chuck on the outs. Absent even a pretend relationship with a beautiful secret agent, instead living the life of say "Jeffrey," the aging singleton of the Buy More stash. Intriguingly, Chuck's series suggests that Chuck's years-long tailspin is due to despair. Despair of finding any girl, and therefore just drifting through life at the Buy More.

It's telling that the main drama of today, as opposed to the 1980's, is simply finding a mate. A sad comment on how isolating modern life has become, and how lonely the current model of female empowerment really is, for both men and women.

13 comments:

K. said...

Philip Larkin was famously bad with women. One of his most famous poems, "Annus Mirabilis" mentions the late age in which he lost his virginity. Still, a number of poems indicates that he knew what it takes to get women but was temperamentally unable to go through with it. It also turned out after his death that he was more successful with women than his more self-pitying poems made him out to be, but he was no great pick-up artist. His friend and novelist, Kingsley Amis, however, was. See his _Take a Girl Like You_ for a great, flawed, somewhat evil, pick-up oriented novel. I think the main character's flatmate who hilarious fails with the female protagonist is a stand-in for Larkin.

K. said...

Here's a great Larkin poem in the form of a letter to a friend who is more successful with women, someone like Amis.

Letter to a Friend about Girls
by Philip Larkin

After comparing lives with you for years
I see how I’ve been losing: all the while
I’ve met a different gauge of girl from yours.
Grant that, and all the rest makes sense as well:
My mortification at your pushovers,
Your mystification at my fecklessness—
Everything proves we play in separate leagues.
Before, I couldn’t credit your intrigues
Because I thought all girls the same, but yes,
You bag real birds, though they’re from alien covers.

Now I believe your staggering skirmishes
In train, tutorial and telephone booth,
The wife whose husband watched away matches
While she behaved so badly in a bath,
And all the rest who beckon from that world
Described on Sundays only, where to want
Is straightway to be wanted, seek to find,
And no one gets upset or seems to mind
At what you say to them, or what you don’t:
A world where all the nonsense is annulled,

And beauty is accepted slang for yes.
But equally, haven’t you noticed mine?
They have their world, not much compared with yours,
But where they work, and age, and put off men
By being unattractive, or too shy,
Or having morals—anyhow, none give in:
Some of them go quite rigid with disgust
At anything but marriage: that’s all lust
And so not worth considering; they begin
Fetching your hat, so that you have to lie

Till everything’s confused: you mine away
For months, both of you, till the collapse comes
Into remorse, tears, and wondering why
You ever start such boring barren games
—But there, don’t mind my saeva indignatio:
I’m happier now I’ve got things clear, although
It’s strange we never meet each other’s sort:
There should be equal chances, I’d’ve thought.
Must finish now. One day perhaps I’ll know
What makes you be so lucky in your ratio

—One of those ‘more things’, could it be? Horatio.


Don't get me started on literature. Tolstoy says things about women that could have come from Roissy.

Anonymous said...

How did you come to this 117 to 100 ratio? If ratio at birth is 105 to 100, how this will end up to 117 to 100?

Whiskey said...

Anon -- sorry was unclear. Historically the ratio has been 105 to 100, in early adolescence. That's been changed since infant/early childhood mortality, which seems to affect boys more than girls, has been reduced.

Anonymous said...

Do you have some statistics that show this 117 to 100 ratio? Of course in China and India this is true, but I have understood that in west 105 to 100 ratio is normal during birth. And in past this was reduced to 100 to 100 due higher male child mortality, but nowdays thanks to better medicines 105 to 100 remains till adulthood.

Anonymous said...

105 to 100 still prevails at birth in the USA.

Ratios around 120 to 100 prevail at mating ages in the USA due to immigration, which is mostly male. Many immigrant communities don't mix much with native populations, though the largest do. The effect may be attenuated in higher education cohorts, also.

But numbers between 120 and 105 are reality. More important is the effect of the larger number of men in the market. Married and divorced men as well as older men are much more likely to seek or get long term girlfriends than are their mates and peers. This guarantees that each nubile woman will be sought by about two men on average throughout the US.

sestamibi said...

I really don't know where you get this 117 sex ratio number, especially as your correspondents contrast this with your citation of 105 at birth.

First of all, young males have a higher death rate due to natural weakness, risk-taking behavior, etc.

Furthermore, you are making the assumption that people mate from exactly the same age cohort, when this is clearly untrue. A better measurement is that of how many men per women 2-3 years younger, as this is the traditional American marriage pattern.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, my view of Xander was that his romantic problems were his own fault - he repeatedly sought out the romantic attentions of the most dominant, popular females (his crushes were on Buffy, Cordelia, & psycho-slayer Faith). Those last two in particular were, too put it mildly, selfish & bitchy at best, yet he always preferred them to his sweet, nerdy friend Willow who spent a lot of her high school years pining for him and wondering how he could prefer these mean girls to her. But he didn't want her - he wanted the flashy alpha females, even if they were unpleasant people.

When he finally found a beautiful alpha woman who wanted to marry him (again, no sweet, kind nerd girl for him) he dumped her at the alter because of some fear of marriage & commitment. Basically, Xander's romantic problems were due to his own poor choices.

It's true that it's difficult for an ordinary guy to attract beautiful, exciting, in-demand women like Buffy or Sarah. Such woman, not surprisingly, also want handsome, exciting, in-demand men.

Similarly, plain looking women will rarely be able to snag Sarah's male counterparts, no matter how sweet and loyal she is. But that's life.

The problem with the Chuck's & Xander's is that they have Bryce tastes. Rather than complain that they can't get the Sarah's of the world, why not seek out their equals? Ordinary nice girls who are not the best-looking or most popular. But no, everyone wants the cheerleader. Is it really a problem that average men can't get top women?

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ Whiskey, that was the longest post imaginable to describe a crappy TV show.

I have one comment to add however about the show's heroine. She is getting older, as all women do, and will in time accept a merely "fairly" attractive man or she will end up a lonely old maid with no friends, like many women who were born from 1960-1980 will wind up being in this country. Feminism will end here amongst white females when younger white females, in the next two decades, note that lonely, old, boring, cancer-in-the-room childless unmarried middle-aged-post-menapausal aunt enters the room at every family gathering and blames all her problems (as if anyone there gives a shit) on men. A second factor in the death of feminism will be when whites get outnumbered in schools and colleges which is happening quickly. Primally, being outnumbered by people who dont like you and blame you for all the world's ills is a motivation to make copies of yourself for protection.


You'd think women in general, when they were teenaged girls, could finger their way through the school annuals and notice that less than 5% of men are just --tremendously-- attractive, and after that, they are mostly average guys. Holding out for a man that looks like a gladiator on American Gladiators is ............like waiting to hit the lottery. There really aren't many of them. I think the younger generation will recognize this. Hispanic women dont wait for Mario Lopez and black women similarily realize that poster boys are just that, ideal realizations instead of attainable men.

I wonder how many-alpha-secret agent gals there are out there in real life in America tonight? Maybe 1,000 at most? Its laughable that this drivel is put out there as entertainment.

Whiskey said...

Sestambi -- actually it looks like that the marriage age gap is about 6-7 years. But for simplicity's sake I am using same age cohorts.

Anon 12pm: Xander's problem was that as a heroic, but non-physically and socially dominant man, he was crowded out by the "soft polygamy" that Buffy's women engaged in. He braves dangers to save Buffy's life, and ... has to settle with the bitchy, status-obsessed Cordy who is ashamed of his own status. Gay-now Willow had a mild crush on him, but preferred in the end women, with a slight detour for a high status guitarist. He finally settles for an older, far more sexually experienced woman/demon who has big issues with men, and who predictably betrays him while exhibiting not an ounce of compassion or caring or support. [It's odd too how this type seems to show up -- "The Unit's" blonde, unfaithful wife 'Tiffy' could be a carbon-copy of "Buffy's" Anya.]

In the empowered female setting, most men have to "settle" for women of dubious commitment, large sexual baggage and history, and general "bitchiness" -- it's notable how lacking in feminine compassion both 'Tiffy' and 'Anya' are to their largely blue collar guys, and how much they yearn for the more powerful, high status guy.

Moreover, "Chuck" is presented as heroic, smart, indeed smarter than anyone on the show, and also attractive (as was Xander). Yet ... he can't land a real girlfriend. Even his "smart" and "nice" College girlfriend dumped him for Bryce.

It's the soft polygamy effect. Lacking social controls and the disapproval of family and long-time neighbors, highly mobile young women will engage in that defacto "soft" polygamy -- effectively sharing the few Bryces, which has terribly destabilizing and destructive effects on society.

Look at Chuck. Instead of actually doing something productive, lacking any incentive (girlfriend, potential family) he "drifts" in the Buy More.

Chuck and Xander's problems are not that they don't get Buffy or Sarah -- it's that they don't get anyone. There is a huge anti-nuclear family bias among both creators and (largely female) audiences in TV. The point of Chuck is that a male creator is actually addressing this issue -- straight on.

Anon 1:36 -- I think looking at TV, a very populist medium, is important because it is one of the few places where elites (Hollywood writer-producers) interact with the masses (the audiences). Also, TV is a mostly female medium so looking at how audiences react to it helps examine what I view as a deep and perhaps permanent gender divide.

My aim here is to look at the "obvious" such as commercials and TV and examine how politics, culture, and demographics intermix and influence each other.

Yes, "Chuck" may be a "crappy TV show" but millions watch it, millions are invested in it, and the themes and the response tell us a lot about how some elites and a lot of the masses interact on gender issues.

No there are not any "Alpha" secret agent women, but the idea of "secret agent" = driven career woman with status obsessions is pretty obvious. It's another exploration of the "Knocked Up" pairing -- driven career woman with slacker guy, only with a different twist, and with the guy the focus. He's not a slacker out of anything other than being crowded out of the relationship market.

I am not optimistic either about this penchant for "soft polygamy" with careerist White women sharing a few "Alpha" guys. The media environment obliterates the demographic and social reality -- the rise of single child families and atomization means that most young women will never see for themselves the social cost of not finding a decent enough guy in their mid-late twenties. The reaction to Palin's marriage and family was telling. Young single women found that "icky."

More and more, the choice seems to be for pursuing the few "Bryce Larkin" types, sharing them defacto with other women, and single motherhood, by design, in their thirties when they can no longer pull them in. Many of the women who choose this path complain bitterly that "no one told them" that men would cease their interest in them as they age out of their twenties.

The beauty industry gross revenues dwarf that of the Iraq War expenditures, which gives you a sense of the size/scale of the effort to prolong women's attractiveness (to compete for the few "Alpha" men in their thirties) and give the illusion of a much longer period of attractiveness.

Black and Hispanic women of course, lead the nation in single motherhood rates. So if anything, they exhibit this pattern of pursuit of the Alpha, then single motherhood, even more than their White counterparts.

"Chuck," in showing this dynamic even though in fantasy form, i.e. a driven career focused woman keeps making disastrous choices for the Byronic Bad Boy instead of the much "better" choice of the "smart" but (currently) low status guy, is important. It's significant that it's the only show that actually promotes (through the ancillary characters of Chuck's sister and future brother-in-law) the goal of a nuclear family, and shows the longing of both Chuck and "Sarah" for that goal, as part of being adult.

It's the only thing in the elite-mass setting that is TV that cuts through the PC pandering that pretends that women can triumph over biology and limitations in finding a husband and father to create a nuclear family.

It's completely opposite the 1990's fantasy of being 29 forever, epitomized by "Friends."

trumwill said...

I love analyses of popular entertainment like this one and, despite disagreeing with the conclusion, this is a fascinating one.

I do, however, take issue with a few things:

What precisely is your source on on the 117:100 ratio? I think that you've been misinformed. The CIA World Factbook and NationalAtlas.gov dispute that number and not by a little.

Also, female doctors marry more widely across the echelon than you might think. My wife is an MD and the dominant spouse/boyfriend is not a doctor or lawyer or anything like that, but an engineer or IT grunt. Their careers are not conducive to their partnering up with ambitious men. In fact, Chuck might be ideal for one because his career (such as it is) is portable. I do know of some doctors that married other doctors, but oddly enough they all seem to be older.

The last point of disagreement is that Chuck's problems are largely related to the specifics of the show. Had the government not expressed interest in him, Bryce wouldn't have gotten him kicked out, he'd have his degree, and likely would have been better off. He also wouldn't be tied to a side-career where he can't date anyone cause he's officially dating someone else. He almost got together with someone late-ish in the first season, but it was made clear that anybody not-Sarah was a problem because he was publicly tied to Sarah.

Even if that weren't an issue, his fascination with Sarah surely is. Given her career, they're not a good match. His pining over her is actually makes less sense (absent the above) than her fascination with Bryce. At least Bryce and Sarah lead compatible lives. Chuck's is tied to the Intersect. Absent the Intersect and even despite his personal shortcomings, I suspect he could find someone. The Chucks I know in real life mostly did.

All that aside, I really loved the post. Particularly the part about living outside the system and the alienating effect of that and how it might mirror ambitious women in general. I don't think that it's a crushing sociological problem as you do, but it's nonetheless thought-provoking stuff.

Get_Out_There_And_Lie said...

I quote this filth:
*********
Hispanic women dont wait for Mario Lopez and black women similarily realize that poster boys are just that, ideal realizations instead of attainable men.
**********
Black women have an insanely high single mother rate. So I guess they are "waiting" to get married, or not getting married at all.

People like the above poster, who just spew obscene lies, make real discussion difficult. Because you always have to deal with the screaming stupid lie crowd, and they never get tired of repeating the same nonsense over and over again.

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