Monday, December 8, 2008

Television's Kick Ass Women and Smart Men

There's a new trend on Television: Kick Ass Women partnered with "smart" men, solving crimes and fighting evil. Seen so far mostly on hour-long dramas (a few sitcoms such as "Big Bang Theory" have semi-touched on this pairing), the device is both a response to a genuine fondness for the pairing among male audiences, and the type of social engineering that Hollywood is famous for. This dramatic device does however offer some insight into how both men and women relate to each other, in changing ways, and how Hollywood sees this change.

It is important to remember that Western civilization has always had a strong preference among it's men for "strong" or independent women with their own minds, able to make their own choices. As far back as the Greeks, plays like "Lysistrata" had a preference for women who were able to make up their own minds, and make their choices stick. In Medieval romances and tales from El Cid to "Song of Roland" to various tales of King Arthur or Robin Hood, there is always a strong and independent woman at the center of the tale, to be won (or not) by the hero's courage, devotion, and manly attributes of self-sacrifice and duty.

Much of Western literature is centered around what amounts to a "how-to" manual for young men seeking to woo and win a strong, independent woman. Western society faced the task, throughout it's history, of managing a lot of young men who could present a threat to the established order, but were also needed for defense and obviously, local wealth creation. Compared to other societies, Western Christendom offered a different solution to this problem — monogamous marriage, based at least in part on romantic love. Muslim societies to this day, retain both arranged marriages and polygamy, making them intrinsically unstable and prone to export their surplus young men via conquest or Jihad. By contrast even in Medieval times, various troubador ballads would lament, in bald terms, the loss of their beloved's favor. Which implies that their beloved could indeed choose not to love them. Something simply unthinkable in Muslim societies, and by contrast the constant obsession of Western ones.

Western societies have a clear line from Medieval troubadors to Mississippi Bluesmen, with song after song after song, nearly all of them, dealing with romantic love in form or another. The thrill of a new romance, a woman's favor, the celebration of the love, and the crushing feelings of loss in one aspect or another, form the basis for most popular music in Western culture from the 1200's onward. All this creative energy suggests that Westerners, unlike other societies, place far more importance on romantic love. Romantic love where the woman is both worthy of struggle, and has the ability to choose.

Pretty much most of Western literature, therefore, has been entertaining but "how-to" manuals on how to win the type of strong Western women that dominate Western literature: Maid Marian, Lois Lane, Mary Jane Watson. It's no surprise either that the "strongest" female characters often appear in male-oriented fiction. If there is a woman to be won, she must obviously be worthy of winning. Hence the strength of the female characters, who are often important partners in the adventures of the male heroes.

Western literature both reflects, therefore, the obsession of Western men in winning a woman worthy of being won, and the strong social suggestion that winning such a woman is a more worthy endeavor than overthrowing the King and replacing him, and constructing a harem. While Western nations obviously have throughout history had a great deal of social disturbances, in general, compared to their Islamic and Asian contemporaries, they had more social peace and stability. The stability of the West in turn depends on the ability of the average man to form a family, one based mostly on love and the free romantic choice of the woman. That social structure allowed massive mobilization of resources at places as various and terrible as Lepanto, Tours, Ypres, and the skies over Germany.

Of course, Western men find strong women very attractive. Buried in the "Taming of the Shrew" is the assumption that Petruchio finds Katherine attractive and worth "taming" instead of simply pursuing another more pliable woman. Western men find strong women, of independent judgment and character, deeply attractive for obvious emotional reasons. Strong women are less likely to be swayed by other men, who might temporarily have an advantage in power and strength and standing over her husband. Strong women offer their own counsel which is vital for a man navigating the complex and changing society of the West. Finally, the desire to pass on to one's children the positive, independent aspects of character of one's wife as well as one's own is strong among men in the West.

Almost every comic book in the "Golden Age" of the late 1930's to mid 1940's had strong women, as the central women to be won throughly manly adventure. This continued in the "Silver Age" of the 1960's, from the "Incredible Hulk's" Betty Ross to the "Invisible Woman" of "the Fantastic Four." Not to mention Spider-Man's Mary Jane Watson.

It's important to note that the emotional and mental characteristics of the characters were as important if not more important than their physical beauty. While none of the characters was ugly or plain, they all possessed independence and their own judgment, rather than merely being "pretty." The "Invisible Woman," Susan Storm, even had powers of her own. Importantly of course, when "won" by the hero she stayed "won."

So strong female characters are nothing new. Men have always liked them, and women readers of authors as diverse as Jane Austen to Candace Bushnell have also liked women of strong character and independent judgment. Hollywood has mostly shown strong women. Soap operas and night-time soaps like "Days of Our Lives" to "Dynasty" to "Desperate Housewives" have all featured women who were not exactly shy or wallflowers. Hollywood's classic age, with actors such as Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Humphrey Bogart paired with strong women such as Katherine Hepburn, or Lauren Bacall, speak to how enduring that attraction has been, and remains to this day. These films are remembered still, in part because of the strength of the women.

But what has changed is how men and women relate to each other, both in real life and Hollywood's fantasies on Television.

In real life as I've noted in my posts Hollywood's Romantic Comedies for Men, and Modern Romance, and Dating Capital and Chuck: Men, Romance, and Female Empowerment, there are serious demographic changes taking place.

First, men and women are getting married later and later in life, compared to the last seventy years, with these trends picking up in the late 1960's. Next, demographics crunch men because the female cohort that is younger is numerically smaller, a given of the declining birth rates. Because of the preference among both men and women for a man about six to ten years older than the woman, the men face more contemporaries competing for the smaller pool of women, instead of the other way around in increasing birth rates, with profound effects on the relationships between men and women. Men face a decreasing social power (more of them pursuing fewer women) and women increasing social power in romantic matters.

Mediating institutions such as churches and neighbors and close families no longer exist in today's highly mobile and urban societies. Moreover, women face so much choice that they tend to retreat to the most simple of criteria: power and social dominance. This decisively tilts power and even the ability to find romance for most men and towards the few "players" who can appear to be the most socially and physically dominant men in the bar. Since bars and other venues like them are the way in which women find and choose their romantic partners, highly mobile, urban professional environments.

Finally, contraception, cheap and easy and effective, in the form of the condom and the pill, along with anonymous urban living and female wealth and power equal to that if not more than men (in urban information-age occupations), means women can afford to choose on everything BUT character, a complete reversal from times past. There is no downside risk perceived at any rate for choosing Mr. Wrong.

Which leads to the irony of our times. Never have so many men so wanted strong women, of independent character and assertiveness, and never have strong women wanted most men less. The dirty little secret of female empowerment is that it merely shifts female choice ever-upward, to men who are of higher social and physical power than themselves. Any casual perusal of female-oriented entertainment will confirm this. "Sex and the City's" "Mr. Big" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" characters "Angel" and "Spike" are measured by the power and strength and social dominance over other men they possess, not inner qualities of mercy, kindness, self-sacrifice, or adherence to Western/Christian morality. Because a strong woman does not need those qualities in a man, if he fails to please he can be simply replaced. With no risk or penalty.

This dynamic is why most strong, independent women in urban centers end up sharing a few socially dominant men, in a de-facto polygamy. Even women who complain about dates don't complain that they cannot get them, merely the quality of men they must consider in their thirties, as they age out of peak desirability. That in itself is a measure of the dating disparity. Since if men were simply sitting out the dating game, in pursuit of unobtainable women of great beauty, there would be many women of average looks sitting alone at home, which is not the picture we see in complaints about dating.

All of this has created a market, and a considerable one, looking at the receipts for "the Wedding Crashers" ($209 million domestic gross), or "Superbad" ($121 million domestic gross), or "Knocked Up" ($148 million domestic gross), among mostly men (though with some women) for romance involving strong female characters and somewhat funny, ordinary guys. [Source: Boxofficemojo.com ]

This has created a backlash. Hollywood Elsewhere by Jeffrey Wells has talked about the "eclipse of the hunk" and the "Apatow Schlub," in which he bemoans ordinary looking guys paired with attractive women. He's not alone. The female star of "Knocked Up," Katherine Heigl, has objected (after collecting her paycheck and being made famous by the role) to the movie itself, particularly the premise that her attractive and powerful character would have sex with the loser played by Seth Rogen. Who just was not attractive enough. It's clear that the gay and female aesthetic in Hollywood is deeply challenged by the popularity and money-making effect of the average Joe paired with an independent and beautiful woman.

The threatis obvious: far fewer roles for the female and gay-appealing pretty boys, promotion of a more straight guy appealing romantic agenda (i.e. choose Joe Average when he demonstrates proper heroism and stick with him), and general themes and plots that are alien to gay and female dominated Hollywood — gone is flitting to the most powerful and appealing man of the moment, and present would themes of sacrifice, duty, courage, endurance, and a traditional culture resurgent.

Hollywood hates this development. But all that money is nearly irresistible. So Hollywood, particularly in Television, where the ability to move quickly and cheaply (well, by Hollywood standards, anyway) allows exploration and experimentation more so than film, has chosen to hesitantly exploit that massive audience of lots and lots of men without any significant romance, hungry for stories about men like them winning the girl, with the cherry on top of some extra women watching as well, drawn by the strong female characters. Of course, there is lots of PC messaging, and a real reluctance to fully exploit this theme, even given the dramatics inherent, but that it is taking place at all is significant.

[Serenity, the "Firefly" movie, cost $39 million to make, with a 2 hour running time, according to Box Office Mojo, while the series itself likely cost about $3 million per episode, or 45 minutes of actual screen time. That makes TV cost about $60,000 per minute raw production costs, versus $325,000 per minute, even with the same basic material.]

Now, Television has started to explore that Apatow pairing, but with Kick-ass women and Smart men fighting "evil" as the more threatening aspect of living ordinary lives. Shows as disparate as "Chuck," and "Fringe" and "Eleventh Hour," and "the Mentalist," have a "smart" guy paired with an aggressive, no-nonsense woman who visibly kicks ass.

What's notable is how tentative the pairing is. In each show, the setting is "professional." In "Chuck" and "Eleventh Hour," the aggressive, no nonsense female agent is assigned to protect the smart guy, who is consistently portrayed as not very good in purely physical confrontations (and therefore a romantic turn-off to women). In "the Mentalist," the canny social observer played by Simon Baker avoids physical confrontations and is often bailed out by the tough, female agent (and boss of the unit) played by Robin Tunney. "Fringe" treads the same ground. "Chuck" is constantly rescued by his female protector, as is the hero of "Eleventh Hour."

In each show, while romance is hinted at, it is just a hint. No real romance exists, merely the possibility, however fuzzy and uncertain. The social reality is that being "smart" is a loser for men romantically, since it generally correlates with lower levels of testosterone. Various studies shown here and here how rising IQ strongly correlates with far fewer sex partners. "Smartness" has a trade-off, and that trade-off seems to be lower levels of testosterone and the characteristics associated with high levels of testosterone, such as physical and social dominance. In other words, the very things women find attractive about men.

What's interesting is that the audience for these shows is mostly male, although there is a strong female component to the viewership, attracted no doubt by the presence of strong female characters. Female audiences, and actresses, have complained for years about the lack of strong and interesting female characters in movies and television. For the most part, since the end of the golden era of the 1940's "women's pictures" there have been few interesting and strong roles for women in movies. Television, however, has had a plethora of strong and independent women. "The Pretender's" "Miss Parker," and "X-Files" Agent Scully, and their successors: "Life's" "Detective Reese" and "Chuck's" "Sarah" and the female leads in "Eleventh Hour," "the Mentalist," and "Fringe" all are not just, but more tough than the male leads, carry guns (the men don't), and face "interesting" personal-professional dilemmas (often work-life balance).

Men of course like the "tough but vulnerable" female characters, and all of the female characters above have personal issues that suggest inner vulnerability and the need for male comfort: "Life's" "Detective Reese" is an alcoholic, "Chuck's" "Sarah" is closed off emotionally and a work-a-holic, and so on. The male audience enjoys seeing lead male characters offer comfort and support, and this particular dramatic aspect is noticeably lacking in the movies, as opposed to episodic Television.

What is telling about Hollywood, however, is how tentative they are even in episodic Television, where fast and cheap (again, by Hollywood standards) is the norm and where themes and structures can be easily explored, as a sort of creative laboratory, in using the romance between the "Kick Ass Woman" and the "Smart Guy" to build audience. Only on "Life" is there an explicit romantic pairing, and while the Sarah Shahi character ("Detective Reese") is most certainly "Kick Ass" and tough, her romantic partner, played by the always excellent Donal Logue, is more amiable doofus than explicitly "Smart."

You would expect that the huge box office, for not much production money, of the Apatow-themed comedies, with together, savvy, and beautiful professional women paired with good natured average guys, would be quickly exploited on Television. Instead, a "credible" reason for the "Kick Ass Woman" and the "Smart Guy" to work together is constructed: the "Smart Guy" needs protection from rival secret agents ("Chuck") or threats ("Fringe" and "Eleventh Hour") or he is a consultant ("the Mentalist"). Mutual attraction is never the reason for why the two characters interact. Even more puzzling, the pairing is depicted as "friends" (which is of course incompatible with romance) and remain a respectful romantic and sexual distance from each other. Expressions of desire for the other by one of the characters come, and are quickly snuffed out.

Part of this, of course, is the PC ideology of how men and women work together. In the professional workplace, it is necessary for any overt expression of desire (particularly among men for women) to be suppressed. This is required for actual work to be done and for everyone to get along rather than escalating mating competitions.

Beyond this actual, real-world requirement to make the workplace about work, not finding a romantic partner, is how PC believes men and women should relate. PC holds that the "best" way for a man to win a woman is to be respectful, kind, and supportive. This is basically the path to becoming the "gay best friend" beloved of women's comedies. Something that creates a lot of anger, parenthetically, when men find out how false that belief really is in actual reality. PC of course holds this because the fairy-tale of how men and women interact benefits PC's promulgators. Women and the few socially dominant men obviously benefit from the average guy believing that being supportive and respectful is a way to win a woman's heart. Instead of being socially and physically dominant over other men, which is the actual path to success with women for men. Women benefit because average men don't waste their time approaching them, only socially dominant men, and the latter face far less competition.

PC, by painting a false, unworkable picture of the world, and how it works, benefits those who ignore it's dictates and act on how the world really works.

It's natural therefore that Hollywood, which is more PC bound than any other (being run by basically, a few dominant men, gays, and women) would encourage a PC-driven view of relationships between the "Smart Men" and "Kick Ass Women." That the way to win the "Kick Ass Woman's" heart is to be her "friend." Or basically, the "gay pal."

But Hollywood has another problem — it's gay-female-Big Man power axis finds pairing attractive, accomplished women with a guy who is NOT the classic "Big Man" deeply offensive. This is what got both Katherine Heigl and Jeffrey Wells upset. Female audiences don't like it either — "Smart Men" are not very attractive to women for obvious reasons. Hollywood just can't believe itself in an explicit romantic pairing of "Smart Men" and "Kick Ass Women." Despite explicit, and quite graphic romantic-sexual pairings of lesbians, or powerful older men and their younger female subordinates, or gay men, or even polygamists and their many wives.

It's pretty telling that Hollywood can portray ANY romantic-sexual pairing BUT that of a "Smart" guy and a "Strong" woman. Too many Hollywood constituencies would be upset by that pairing, never mind that it could make money, lots of it. Gays would be upset by promotion of a monogamous romantic choice. Women by "settling" for a less than socially dominant man. "Big Men" by an erosion of their social power and control.

Hollywood likes the money that promoting that type of romantic pairing could bring, but can't bring itself to quite pull it off. There are too many taboos and people made angry internally for Hollywood to collect the "money on the table." In terms of increased male viewership, men being far under-served in Hollywood, with the exception of the Summer Action Blockbuster ("Dark Knight," "Indiana Jones," etc.) which are also known as the few films that actually make money in Hollywood. Apatow's movies don't cost too much. They make nearly as much money as the expensive Hollywood Action movies. They don't require big stars who cost lots of money either. You'd think that TV would be filled with that type of pairing, or something like it, but it's not. The closest Hollywood can get in it's "laboratory" for dramatic exploration is a professional partnership with mere suggestions of romance quickly shot down, from time to time.

Which leaves potentially a huge opening for Hollywood's competitors. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") showed how New Zealand could be used to make big-budget and very successful films. Other strategic competitors of Hollywood would be Australia, and Ireland, and Canada. Filled with low cost labor, favorable tax treatment, and skilled actors and others who can work quickly and cheaply. Eventually the rise of such centers, and the ability to distribute TV series and films on the internet through sites such as Hulu.com (deriving money from advertising) will present the threat to Hollywood that Japan presented to Detroit.

Already, Hollywood's moguls are asking for bailouts. Maybe they know something. Someone, someday, is going to exploit the demographic changes (a lot of lonely and single men) and make a lot of money by being there first.

26 comments:

The Undiscovered Jew said...

I do not like "Kick Ass" women, I prefer mine pleasant and feminine.

Nonetheless, you bring up an something that interests me:

"Which leaves potentially a huge opening for Hollywood's competitors. Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") showed how New Zealand could be used to make big-budget and very successful films. Other strategic competitors of Hollywood would be Australia, and Ireland, and Canada. Filled with low cost labor, favorable tax treatment, and skilled actors and others who can work quickly and cheaply. Eventually the rise of such centers, and the ability to distribute TV series and films on the internet through sites such as Hulu.com (deriving money from advertising) will present the threat to Hollywood that Japan presented to Detroit."

This would actually be a good post for you to explore:

You could write a post about whether the Western movie industry would be better off if Hollywood imploded and movie making went to Anglosphere countries like Britain and New Zealand - excluding Bollywood which is not part of the Anglosphere (It's hard to see how the British, Aussies, and New Zealanders could be worse than America right now).

You could compare American film performance and quality to how good British and New Zealand directors are like Christopher Nolan, Anglosphere actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Rachel Weisz, actors like Daniel Craig, overall box office performance, Anglosphere quality of films in recent years, etc, etc.

I haven't seen any movie in the theater aside from rentals in several years because the quality of films and dialogue is so poor compared to even the mid 90's, to say nothing of Hollywood's high peak.

I would like to go back to watching movies when they come out and am curious to see if moving the heart of movie making from America to Britain, Australia and New Zealand would improve the quality of films, in your expert opinion?

Anonymous said...

The Undiscovered Jew wrote:

"I haven't seen any movie in the theater aside from rentals in several years because the quality of films and dialogue is so poor compared to even the mid 90's, to say nothing of Hollywood's high peak."


My own experience is somewhat similar.



To go further though Whiskey......movies are almost "cartoons and wish-fufillment" for adults now. Im not really entertained by them at all. Ive seen all the various plot contrivances (Ive seen almost every movie on AFI's Top 100 in my life) umpteen times.


Im MUCH more interested in documentaries than the world of make-believe in movies. I think Im not alone in this.



Hollywood is ran by whites, gays, jews, and feminists. Blacks, Asians, and hispanics barely register on the radar there. The demographic shift that is happening and that will continue happening will present a challenge to them as they will have to make movies that Hollywood itself really DOESNT CARE ABOUT PERSONALLY THAT ARE POPULATED BY OTHER RACES. They will have to have some product to sell as whites and jews age out of the movie-ticket-buying marketplace numerically. Their audience is getting SMALLER, and it will become more evident in the next decade to an extent to where they will not be able to ignore it anymore.



Whiskey, Opera had its heyday, but its a shell of itself in popularity now. Classical smyphony music had its heydey, but is supported by tax dollars in many places now for its mere existence. Whiterpeople movies had their heyday, but their audience is dissapearing and even if it was not, that same audience can find titillation in other things now.



A man like yourself Whiskey, probably does not get much of a charge out of a football game. The average man gets an intense charge out of football games, and feverently watches his favorite team about 20 times a year, and his favorite college team how-ever-many-times they are broadcast. When he wants to see pretty girls, he can go to the internet. When he wants to see pretty girls doing things sexually that he will not experience in real life.........he can go to the internet and see Jessica-Alba-Scarlett-Johansson-quality women doing things that your grandmother would have never even dreamed possible with three or four men at once.


Hollywood isn't necessary for any of this titillation and can't equal it unless it makes genuinely great films.



My prediction for the future (of whites anyway) is this: they will be more educated and more skilled out of necessity. The factories aren't coming back, and the construction, longshoreman, truck-driving type employ that fufilled their fathers is not going to pay adequately for them. With more education, their tastes will be higher, but Hollywood is LOWERING tastes. They will look elsewhere for information and entertainment.

It may be documentaries, the internet, sports, fights, porn (for titillation), open marriages (for titillation), church activities (for fufillment), political activity, cultivated hobbies, arts, history, obsessions about their kids (stage parenting), or whatever.

But I dont think it will revert to being Hollywood.


I remember those heady "Kramer vs. Kramer" days when movies were considered "important" and they "tackled social issues" and all of that..............but thats gone now.



I think Hollywood's former power to titilate in particular is gone. Even if you are enamoured of a particular Hollywood starlet, you'd get more of an eye and earful of her on Leno during the publicity interviews or by looking for publicity pics online or YouTube clips of her than watching her on film. That goes for the men also. Porn provides smothering titillation, and titty bars are franchises now (Deja Vu, Christies Cabaret, etc.) ............people dont need titillation from Hollywood anymore.




Whiskey, what I see for Hollywood is a long, slow decline that is akin to the decline in NEWSPAPERS now. Somewhat anagolous to Detroit's decline. There are better options for entertainment and enlightentment and learning than 'make-believe' movies now. They are simply not worth the 8 dollar ticket, the 3 dollar coke and the 3 dollar popcorn for ONE person to attend.


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Whiskey said...

I am a HUGE football fan, both NFL and College.

jack said...

Whiskey - a couple things. Where do you get women wanting guys 6 to 10 years older on average? Average age of marriage is a 2 year difference, and there are many women that now date guys a little younger than them too. I'd love to have 21-year-olds all over me, but in reality, the preference seems to be for men about their age or just a couple years older (with exceptions). This is correlated with the hookup culture where the older guy's wealth is not as much of an issue if you're not looking for marriage.

I know many, many "smart" guys (well, at least high-enough IQ to go to high-level colleges or law schools) who get laid a lot. I have a friend who lies and says he goes to Harvard and it impresses women.

My impression has been that strong women types might go for the more laidback, sensitive guy because he brings something to complement them. No idea if this is accurate though.

Whiskey said...

Jack -- that comes from the Census Bureau. I'll see if I can get you the link later. I believe you have to derive it from their data.

There is "smart" and then there is "smart."

Being a lawyer at an elite school means making lots of money in the future, or at least expectation of same. Being a Phd candidate in say, Computer Science, or Robotics, at Georgia Tech, or other top tech schools, or any other field deemed both "boring" and not associated with prestige and money (such as Medicine) is a girl repellent.

A Chemical Engineer, or Robotics expert might make good career money, but won't be particularly attractive on the mating market. Part of that is women have their own money, power, and status so demand "higher" levels relative to their own for potential mates, who come from the pool of their sex partners. It's a screening mechanism.

No need to compromise on testosterone aggressiveness, power, status, etc. for "stability" when you have your own income.

jack said...

I'd imagine to be a PhD candidate in Robotics or Engineering or such, you by definition are willing to sacrifice a top social life to put in the time commitment. If you want to be professional and have more of a SWPL social life, then law and medicine are the avenues. Btw, I do know plenty of engineers who do fine with women, though of course they won't meet any at work.

My hunch is that female lawyers/law students kind of like engineer/science type guys. Male lawyers and female lawyers love to bash each other (probably for good reason) although inevitably some end up together. But I have a hunch that a Phd kind of guy with at least decent social skills could have a good shot with female law or doctor types.

sestamibi said...

Yes, Jack asked the same question I did about marriage partner age difference. Your last answer was based on observations made from reading 19th Century British fiction. I hope your Census investigation results are a little clearer, but I would be willing to bet they won't back you up.

Really now, how many people do you know who fall into this category? (Full disclosure, I'm eight years older than my wife--but again that is the exception rather than the rule. Most people don't get married for the first time as late in life as we did, and an eight-year age difference in 20's-early 30's draws a lot of raised eyebrows).

Otherwise, I love your blog, Whiskey. You and I think alike on just about everything else.

dt said...

You may not be familiar with the fandoms associated with these shows, but it is crawling with "shippers" who advocate for these pairings on message boards/websites devoted to the show and even go to the lengths of writing fan fiction and making youtube videos set to romantic songs about the pairings you list here - needless to say, these types of fans are primarily female. Especially popular are Chuck & Sarah - interestingly, since Chuck is the nerdiest & most average of all (Simon Baker & Joshua Jackson on Fringe are not remotely "Joe Average"; they're good-looking heartthrobs). So women do respond to these pairings and are more invested in the romantic threads of the show than men are - don't be such a pessimist! Even more extreme male nerds on shows like Numbers or Bones have female fans squealing over them and their romances all over the web.

I'd also add that often the lack of romance is about delaying the inevitable and maintaining the unresolved sexual tension for as long as possible.

Re: the Knocked Up issue - it wasn't just that the Rogan character was "average". He was much less than that - he was not, say, a responsible, hardworking teacher or mechanic. He was an unemployed, slobby, immature stoner. At no time in history would a man who behaved this way been approved of or seen as "marriage material". I would not be happy if my daughter was impregnated by a guy like that and doubt you would be either (as opposed to that teacher or mechanic mentioned above).

Nor do I want my daughter getting the impression that in real life, just like in the movies, her love will turn that directionless, joke-cracking stoner into a responsible, hard-working man. In real life, it does not work that way.

And there's some female bitterness at work here - let's be honest. There is no way in hell we will ever see a movie with a female Seth Rogan getting romanced by a Brad Pitt-type. The "plain" girl in movies who ends up with the successful, attractive male is usually a beautiful girl wearing glasses. That this breeds resentment in women (like Heigl, who knows she's done as romantic lead once her looks start to go no matter how good her comic timing gets) is hardly surprising.

Whiskey said...

Sestambi, a few links:

Times UK .
US Census 2000-2003 .

Note the latter aggregates data for all races. I know I've seen other data suggesting age gaps.

If I had more ambition I'd data mine The NY Times Weddings link to see just how many age gaps there are, mean, median, mode, frequency, etc. But I'm lazy.

It certainly does suggest that there is a pattern of marriages of age gaps.

The problem with labeling certain professions as "unsexy" is that is designed to drive people away from them. Particularly men who depend on status/social positioning for sex appeal less than raw physicality. Label Robotics or Electrical Engineering unsexy and men will choose Lawyering instead, particularly if there are more women around.

The big problem for men in "unsexy" professions is that they cannot meet women who would be impressed by them -- given women's better positions, they tend to demand higher status/power. A female lawyer will demand a Partner or lawyer on Partner track, not a Phd in Engineering. Particularly bad since our mediating institutions such as Churches and other social organizations have largely seen few younger people involved.

I think it's a huge mistake to draw conclusions from one's social set -- Kay Hymnowitz in her "Love in the Time of Darwinism" made the laughably stupid assertion that "people are too busy pursuing Master's degrees to date." The percentages with Masters are 3-6% for various age bins and gender. Found on the US Census Bureau site in five minutes. To Hymnowitz this was "true" because it described her social set, ala Pauline Kael saying she can't imagine how Reagan beat Carter, no one she knew on the Upper East Side voted for Reagan.

Harvard is not equal to say, Carnegie Mellon. The latter may be in the forefront of Robotics research for replacement of amputated limbs or helping paralyzed people walk, but the former screams power, prestige, and social standing. Particularly to young women who find technology "boring."

Part of our over-lawyered epidemic is what rewards exist in the dating market.

[I think the age-gap comes into play most markedly when it comes to marriage, since for a woman of independent means to marry, it requires something "special" in the way of status/power/dominance/attractiveness ... as opposed to continue to play the field.]

DT, perhaps though in today's hook-up era, delaying the inevitable leads audiences to conclude the two were not really interested in each other. Hollywood has not solved the problem of romance in the hook-up era, or more accurately found the drama in staying together not dissolving in a sea of infinite choice with little consequence.

Anonymous said...

More pedantry, and a suggestion...

I hope you collect your essays into a book someday, with additions and corrections.

"Pauline Kael saying she can't imagine how Reagan beat Carter, no one she knew on the Upper East Side voted for Reagan"

That's Nixon and McGovern, I believe. And she denies she said it, unfortunately--since it's an exemplary quote; blaming the misquote on a reporter. There's irony.

Anyway... I was wondering if in your next frivolous man-capable woman essay you'd address "The Bachelor & the Bobby Soxer," which seems to prefigure the 1990s and 2000s themes you write about. In it the audience roots for the judge (Myrna Loy) to choose the "undependable" artist (Cary Grant) over the competent attorney (Rudy Vallee).

dt said...

DT, perhaps though in today's hook-up era, delaying the inevitable leads audiences to conclude the two were not really interested in each other. Hollywood has not solved the problem of romance in the hook-up era, or more accurately found the drama in staying together not dissolving in a sea of infinite choice with little consequence.

I wouldn't count on it. The oft-cited drop-off in audience interest in the show Moonlighting after the leads finally hooked up seems to have convinced Hollywood that resolving the sexual tension between the 2 leads and having them get together causes the audience to lose interest. And if the two leads are hooked up, we will be treated to endless drama, break-ups, dysfunctionality, etc. - healthy, stable, steady relationships are not considered good TV/movie fodder.

Carl said...

I haven't even heard of most of these shows, but I think you've missed a hugely important point.

Males don't watch these shows because they like the pairing, they watch them because they actually have nerd jokes that they like. Even so, I wouldn't say that they make up anywhere near the majority of viewers or even like the shows; there's just nothing else.

As for Apatow's recent movies and what seems like huge success, well the only people I know who actually enjoy them are stoned teenage males and sober teenage females. Seriously, go to a torrent site and most of the comments will be, "how many buds does this movie need?" So don't look at these movies in a logical manner, look at them in terms of how many fart jokes they have. I also think that Apatow is still riding off the success of Freaks and Geeks, which was 50% great commentary on going through school and 50% nerd jokes (going back to my previous paragraph).

I agree with your wider observations, but I think you need to realise that even a sci fi show like Stargate has about 60% female viewership on the SciFi channel in the US (I can't remember if the figure I saw was SG1 or Atlantis). Males simply don't watch TV these days, so a show like Big Bang Theory is probably meant to attract women who like lording themselves over socially "inferior" males, it's then sprinkled with geek and gaming jokes to stop the husband or boyfriend sitting next to her from changing the channel to play on his console.

I'm 22 and my friends probably range some around 18-28. "Nerd" or "jock", probably a third of us don't own a TV at all (mostly a result of harassment from TV Licensing (a front company for the BBC) while in uni dorms rather than a moral crusade) and the rest rarely watch it anyway. We do still watch TV shows, as in DVDs or torrents, but we don't channel surf, see advertisements or watch anything that we're not absolutely interested in (as in none of these shows you actually mention, maybe Buffy on DVD but that's because of the comic book and wider nerd jokes). TV isn't aimed at us, it is aimed at older women. So you can't really use TV shows (or stoner movies) to draw any conclusions about us, only older women (and stoners).

Funnily enough, this doesn't change your wider observations because it reinforces the conclusions you draw about women, and they control the dating game. However it does make the setup much more fragile. There is no young male support for the current setup and ultimately, it all relies on male money whether it's given to wives, girlfriends or taxed to give to single mothers.



A couple side notes, mostly about comments:

Movies from around the world are just as shit as Hollywood. The only reason it seems otherwise is because the US only imports the good ones. I'd dare say that Japanese and Korean cinema is somehow worse than Hollywood (mostly because their culture's consider clichés good and fitting in with the norm, whereas in the West we consider them uninventive), but there's always someone who's seen Old Boy and The Ring and dares to disagree. Ok, now watch 100 more Asian films and say that the average is any better than Hollywood.

Also you'd be amazed at how many "Hollywood" movies are actually "UK" movies, and vice versa, i.e. Harry Potter was Hollywood, and Sunshine was UK. Kubrick and Ridley Scott mostly made/make their films in the UK but are "Hollywood". And so on.


When women do like "smart" guys it's definitely about the money. When a guy says he's going to Harvard, women latch on to the idea of the money he's going to make and that's enough for quick one night stands. Once they realise that he's doing a medical course and is completely broke for the next 15 years they're a lot less interested.


Fandoms, have you even seen these things? They're fucking insane and basically 99% female (google "slash", urgh). If these shows are spawning fandoms then the shows are probably also purposefully aimed at women, so once again you can't draw conclusions about men from them.

Side note for the above side note: Fandoms are mostly erotic literature about the characters of a show written by women for women (well, for herself). Now I also consider erotic literature to basically be the female version of porn. So the TV shows could be considered a very, very light version of erotic literature, or mental porn for women. What kind of conclusions would you draw with these assumptions, i.e. the characters and plots in these TV shows are erotic or emotional porn for women and have absolutely nothing to do with male interests? You're watching the Playboy channel for women.


In regards to: "There is no way in hell we will ever see a movie with a female Seth Rogan getting romanced by a Brad Pitt-type."

Ridiculous. What about basically every single fairy tale and Disney's back catalog? Ok, so usually she's a princess, but a huge proportion of stories are about a run of the mill woman being rescued or whatever by a socially higher man. The fact that Heigl would then complain about a female character having to marry down just goes to show how important status is to women.

Carl said...

In the previous comment I said "the success of Freaks and Geeks". Ok, so it got cancelled after 1 season back in 1999 or so. But it went cult 4 or 5 years ago.

Man, Apatow really has done a lot of movies recently. I think they're milking his success and he's falling back on to the basic formula he knows works. In this case, the strong woman, smart/weak/nice guy plot is more to do with what Apatow can write in two months rather than audience demand, and stoners don't care anyway.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is apparently one of his from this year. In that film the "strong woman" destroys herself and loses both the nice guy and the bad boy. The nice guy on the other hand gets the other hot, but slightly nicer, woman. Maybe someone told Apatow to actually do something different and stop being such a pussy.

Carl said...

The movies you mention in "Hollywood's Romantic Comedies for Men: Demographic Reality?" brings up something else I think you've missed: the cult of Will Ferrel, which is mostly due to the SNL Jeoprady and "cow bell" clips going round the filesharing networks for the last ten years.

(Apatow has also written two films that Ferrel and his co-stars have starred in.)

What you are calling romantic comedies aimed at men are stoner movies backed up by the cults of Apatow and Ferrel (both of whom have huge, perhaps majority, female support) aimed at stoners and teenagers.


I see you go on about demographics a lot, but do you also consider that men die younger and are much more likely to be gay, have some kind of genetic problem, be in prison, and so on.

A while ago the UK government said that it had "lost" a million men in the last 10 years, i.e. they emigrated without bothering to tell the authorities. Australia and NZ have a similar problem with men leaving. Sure, lots of immigrants are coming in but will women really marry some blue collar Mexican (US) or Pakistani (UK)?

I think by the early 30s, or even late 20s, demographics are on the (white, native) male's side. Simply because a woman's lust for status results in classism and racism that causes her to not even consider many men.

sestamibi said...

The link from the Census Bureau YOU provided states the following:

"The estimated median age at first marriage (MAFM) in the United States for 2000-2003 was 27 and 25 years old for men and women respectively."

OK, now maybe that's not applicable to subsequent marriages, but there are a lot fewer of those (even with our horrendous divorce rates), and I don't think the differences in THOSE would be a whole lot different. So, again, how does that square with your claim of 6-10year differences??

dt said...

Ridiculous. What about basically every single fairy tale and Disney's back catalog? Ok, so usually she's a princess, but a huge proportion of stories are about a run of the mill woman being rescued or whatever by a socially higher man.

I'm talking about looks Carl, not social class - the lower class woman you refer to is always beautiful (especially in fairy tales as it's often the first adjective applied to her).

A chubby, slovenly, utterly plain looking woman (i.e. the female Seth Rogan) will never be matched up with the handsome co-star & will never be a romantic lead actress in films because besides unattractive women, no one wants to see that. I know I don't.

Like most people, I want to see attractive, thin, well-groomed women onscreen. Also, I don't want Plain Janes getting the unrealistic idea from Hollywood that they are somehow entitled to some top-notch guy as it makes it harder for Plain Joes to get traction with them in real life. That women feel the same should surprise no one.

I suspect women would prefer to be picked by men on the basis of their social status (which they can improve through education/career and which increases with age), rather than their beauty, as most women will never be better than average in appearance and if they are, won't be for very long.

Whiskey said...

Carl -- Apatow's movies cost very little, yet make lots of money. KNOCKED UP's budget was $30 million, grossed $148 million domestic. That's a return that made people sit up and notice. I don't think that's just stoner money (it far exceeds the kind of stoner movie revenue that Cheech and Chong got, or PINEAPPLE EXPRESS got).

You are right about TV being a female/gay ghetto, about 80% of sitcom viewers are female, hence fat stupid husband and hot wife pairings. However ...

TV is a great recessionary play. There exists the possibility for whatever network seizes it first, to get a broad audience including guys, as people cut back on cable and/or satellite, make sacrifices, and watch over-the-air TV. Likely CBS with it's Prime-Time-Crime-Time dramas is best positioned. The notable thing about our culture is how in flux it is.

Recall just ten-twelve years ago downloading songs off the internet was something only a few college kids did. Technological and social changes are happening at a faster pace, what Mickey Kaus calls the "Feiler Faster Principle."

You have hit on something I have long thought of: someone somewhere is going to change how entertainment is consumed by producing a Web-only hit show that people clamor for. Particularly with lots of laptops costing not much and Flash as a convenient delivery medium, there is the possibility to side-step the networks in the US and elsewhere all together. I've noted DVDs on sale in the Supermarket in the US for $10, with a double feature, such as Mel Gibson in "Ransom" and "Conspiracy Theory." Entertainment as a commodity instead of a specialty luxury good.

Sestambi -- the UK link has IIRC a six-seven year age gap. The problem with the Census Bureau data is that it does not break down by age, class, race, etc. It's quite likely marriage behaviors vary widely according to race/ethnicity, social class, education, etc. The NYT weddings pages certainly provide anecdotal evidence to support a six year gap. Though I agree it is not statistically valid. I know I *HAVE* seen this somewhere in a data set that is statistically valid.

DT -- Ugly Betty?

sestamibi said...

The NY Times wedding pages???!!!? Could you ask for a more skewed sample than that--consisting of upper-class aristocrats (of all races--have to bow to the diversity gods, naturally)?? That raises two questions:

1) Are age differences between partners in Muslim and Hindu marriages somewhat greater than those among white Americans? (you have addressed this to a limited extent)

2) Are you including same-sex "marriages" in your estimate? Those I've seen in the NY Times often do involve one partner somewhat older than the other, but you can't use those to make your case, which is limited to heterosexual marriages.

T. AKA Ricky Raw said...

"Mediating institutions such as churches and neighbors and close families no longer exist in today's highly mobile and urban societies. Moreover, women face so much choice that they tend to retreat to the most simple of criteria: power and social dominance."

Great insight. I feel like Facebook is almost becoming the modern day mediating institution. And it's a piss-poor substitute.

random passerby said...

Carl:
Movies from around the world are just as shit as Hollywood. The only reason it seems otherwise is because the US only imports the good ones. I'd dare say that Japanese and Korean cinema is somehow worse than Hollywood (mostly because their culture's consider clichés good and fitting in with the norm, whereas in the West we consider them uninventive), but there's always someone who's seen Old Boy and The Ring and dares to disagree. Ok, now watch 100 more Asian films and say that the average is any better than Hollywood.

I watch lots and lots of Japanese and Korean movies (also Chinese/HK, but not as much) that are not widely distributed or viewed in the West. On average they are much better than Western cinema. Oldboy is actually starting to feel a little irritating because it has been getting so much attention from people who are otherwise not that familiar with Asian cinema, and a remake is in the works too.

I recently saw Get Smart, and based on the fact that Steve Carrel is apparently playing a bumbling and incompetent analyst-turned-spy, I assumed he would be constantly bailed out by Anne Hathaway's "kick ass woman" character, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Despite all appearances, Carrel's character is actually very capable both intellectually and physically.

Zenster said...

Without disputing any of your findings, I still have to say that you've got an outstanding writing style, Whiskey. It's delightful to encounter such high quality expository analysis. Keep up the good work!

Some observations:

If there is a woman to be won, she must obviously be worthy of winning. Hence the strength of the female characters, who are often important partners in the adventures of the male heroes.

You neglect to examine how making the romantic target a "worthy" woman automatically implies that the man is worthy as well. I would see this as either pandering to the male ego or, at least, trying to avoid alienating male viewership. I'd be interested in your own assessment of this.

There is no downside risk perceived at any rate for choosing Mr. Wrong.

Which could just easily stand in for Western civilization's epitaph.

Rollory said...

Does Whiskey still post, or is this blog dead? Would be a shame if it is.

cbashcraft said...

This blog is not Dead and whiskey does still write posts but usually as comments on other blogs. The writing and points are just as good as they are here.

Try http://roissy.wordpress.com/

or bighollywood.breibart.com

Corey Ashcraft

Homophobic Horse said...

Here's something you might like Whiskey. It's an article exploring the relationship between homosexuality and terrorism.

Whiskey said...

thanks all. Press of business kept blogging to a minimum.

Thank you Zenster, and yes a worthy woman implies a worthy man.

Homophobic Horse, I do think there is a substitution for women with homosexuality in Muslim countries (a result of "strong/strict" polygamy). I would not describe France's fall into decrepitude, as the result of Henry-Levy's work. Far more had a hand in it, and France's dysfunction really relates to the failure to modernize properly after Napoleon, along with early entry to modern anonymous urbanization and urban living. Weber and others ("Peasants into Frenchmen") note that increased urbanization, education, and modern living, without a middle class "liberal" set of reformers as in Britain and the United States, created both an ugly set of traditional prejudices and hatreds, as well as more modern failings.

French birthrates, marriage rates, and such declined, and started declining during the Second Empire, well before that of Britain and nearly fifty years before the awful experience of WWI.

I would say, off the top of my head, that France's intellectual and cultural decline stems at least from the experiences and demographics of WWI and WWII as any effort by Sartre and Henry-Levy. Who were after all the focus of mostly foreign intellectuals.

Anonymous said...

Just a small but important quibble.

Studies have shown that while highly masculine faces are attractive to women, there is a cut off point - certain faces that are too masculine begin to lose their appeal.

Masculinity and testosterone are crucial in attracting women, but there appears to be a "sweet spot" that falls well below the upper threshold of masculinity and testosterone.

The idea that the guy who is MOST masculine, dominant, or high testosterone will always be more attractive to women is far too simplistic and simply not borne out by observations in the field.

We can all point to the guy who is somewhat refined and perhaps even a touch feminine yet does stellar with women and to the guy who is hyper masculine who fails miserably with women. The somewhat fem guy is usually self-confident and assertive, but clearly not a hyper masculine type.

All we can say with certainty is that an above average level of masculinity displayed through behavior is attractive - but in the field, the guys with the most testosterone are not necessarily the ones who are perceived as most attractive.

Another quibble - I would argue that PHYSICAL dominance and ability to be physically confrontational is NOT so important to women. You don't see the physically "tough" or brawny guys do that great with women. In fact women are often turned off by too much brawn.

About intelligence - men of high intelligence are often extremely masculine and dominant. I would guess the trade off with masculinity only occurs in the rarefied upper reals of intelligence.