Saturday, August 28, 2010

NBC's Fall Schedule: the Fantasy Failure

NBC's Fall Schedule is doomed to failure. Doomed because it pushes fantasies that even the mostly female audience of NBC knows are wrong, and isn't interested in anyway. The fantasies are that women can kick ass BETTER than men, that Outsourcing is fun (and foreigners are better than Americans), and that Blacks are monogamous, Obama-like super-couples. None of these are likely to be successful, though the latter is likely to be the least worst failure. A complete break-down of why the shows were constructed as they were (and what it tells us about what elites
believe) and why they will inevitably fail.

First, the Jerry Bruckheimer produced "Chase," about a US Marshal hunting fugitives (a slight variation of USA's "Plain Sight" about a female US Marshal in Albuquerque, New Mexico, supervising the witness relocation program there). USA's works better because it hits the things that women are concerned about: families (the US Marshal has to juggle her own family), romance in a workplace devoid of it, acting as surrogate mother to the families she must supervise, and so on.

With "Chase" we get the following:

Message: men are not needed in their traditional role of physical confrontation because women can do it better. This feeds the desire of the elites to fervently believe, as a religious article of faith, that there are no differences between the sexes, except anything men can do, women do better. Not the male US Marshall is sort of wimpy, not particularly masculine, and the female Marshall acts tough and can physically beat a man considerably larger, and very fit, in a street fight. Thus the proper role for the sexes are: wimpy, feminized men who support "Yo Go Girl!" the new female ass-kickers, a very few Alpha dominant males, a bunch of hyper-masculine bad guys who are "sexy" and for women, masculine, tough ass-kicking as actual, physical empowerment.

A few late 1990's shows pushed this theme: "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Alias," perhaps "Firefly." None did particularly well, drawing at best cult audiences. In a deep recession, depression, female audiences don't seem to respond to ass-kicking heroines that much. "Salt" has only done (at the time of this writing) about $110 million domestically, after nearly a month's release, according to Box Office Mojo. "Twilight Saga: Eclipse" has done nearly $300 million domestically, with a release date of June 30, 2010, only a month more than "Salt." The former movie costing a lot less to make, as well.

Women just are not that interested in kicking ass. Or acting like men, despite the elite messaging that they are well suited for it. Still if the show had pushed the romance angle, like "Buffy" did with "Angel" … the romantic bad boy killing people the heroine loves, and won't sacrifice, hoping to "change him" then of course the show might have a chance. Since that's not in the offing, its likely a goner, as is the "La Femme Nikita" remake (again!) that promises if anything to get less of an audience than the TV version on USA did (which wasn't much). At about three times the inflation adjusted cost.

[Note, by the way, the implicit message. All crime is done by middle class White guys in their thirties or so, the victims all White families in their homes. Instead of the depressing reality, not the only one, of Black-on-Latino violence, or the racially motivated workplace killings in the Omar Thornton case and Beat Whitey Night at the Iowa State Fair, racially motivated mob violence at well, the Iowa State Fair. How much of an audience for Elite dogma remains is an open question, even among the target audience of White females ages 18-34 that broadcasters love.]

Then there is the question of the social message in kicking-ass itself. At the Denver Post, Lisa Kennedy asks if the ass-kicking women send a dangerous message:

It's hard to recall which image of female mayhem startled us most.

Was it a 12-year-old in "Kick-Ass" named Hit Girl using Britain's favorite c-word — and we don't mean cancer — before wreaking havoc with a knife and a spear on a roomful of drug dealers?

Or perhaps it was "The Losers" stars Zoƫ Saldana and Jeffrey Dean Morgan's incendiary reprise of the jaw- dropping, physical throwdown of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

Or maybe it was super-spy Evelyn Salt. Well, actually we've come to expect Angelina Jolie's characters to take it — and mete it out — like a man.

The winner most likely was the scene of thin- as-a-rail, sulky-as-a-teen heroine Lisbeth Salander exacting apt and shocking payback on her rapist in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Yes, as Julia Roberts' Liz Gilbert eats, prays, loves her way around the globe, a burgeoning number of female characters on big and small screens aren't merely kicking butt. (And we're not talking catfights.) They're also taking the sort of beatdowns once reserved for male action heroes — or abuse victims on Lifetime television.

And it appears these visions of beauty and brutal force are here to stay. When the big- screen action abates for award-season seriousness, the small screen takes on the mantle. On the CW, there's the latest reboot of the assassin saga "Nikita," starring Maggie Q. In NBC's "Chase" and USA's "Covert Affairs," lead characters Annie Frost and Annie Walker clearly get their guns, their martial arts training and their savvy spunk. On Fox's "Fringe" there's FBI agent Olivia Dunham. Every network's gotta have one.

Images of a kind of physical equality abound. But in a world in which American women are still prohibited from combat units and physiology insists guys remain physically stronger — damn that upper-body-strength divide — are they even accurate?

"The essential question is, 'Whose fantasy is it, and how does it bubble up onto the screen?' " says critic Jennifer Merin, president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

After all, many of these images are intended to hook a young-guy audience. If young gals come along for the ride, all the better. And most come from male moviemakers, TV producers and writers. Quentin Tarantino has been a one-man factory of kick-butt queens.

If anyone was aware of the rough-and-tumble tussle between culture, mythos and gender, it was Swedish author Stieg Larsson. Though he died in 2004 of a heart attack, his posthumously published blockbuster novels "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" — called the Millennium Trilogy — have been made into Swedish-language thrillers.

Here are some opening words from the final volume:

"Historians have often struggled with women who do not respect gender distinctions, and nowhere is that distinction more sharply drawn than in the question of armed combat."

The clever thing about the titles of Larsson's trilogy is that Lisbeth Salander is no girl (though she's hardly a woman in the way pop culture so often envisions female heroes). She is a gifted computer hacker with a photographic memory, a fondness for goth-punk garb, and a traumatic past. In the Swedish film adaptations, she's portrayed with smarts and glower by Noomi Rapace.

The titles also speak to the fable-quality of the enterprise, to the Little Red Riding Hoods of the land, who can no longer rely on the Woodsman to keep the wolves at bay. In "The Girl Who Played With Fire," Lisbeth even wields an ax.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is the trilogy's co-hero. He is not the cavalry so much as an example of the ways in which men, too, are changed or challenged, complicit with or damaged by misogyny, be it systemic or familial.

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played With Fire" have been engines of ticket sales at local art houses throughout the summer. In October, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is due in theaters. And American audiences can resume their travels with Lisbeth when the Hollywood version directed by David Fincher is made.

The "Girl" tomes unapologetically take on power and gender and the ways warped paternalism can make institutions brutal and men murderous.

Should we worry for young women thinking they can cold-cock a creep? Or should we cheer images that encourage them to imagine fighting back? (And shouldn't we wonder what lessons young men are taking away from those same images? For a multiplex tutorial on not hitting women, consult Sylvester Stallone's old-school action flick "The Expendables.")

Is watching U.S. Marshal Annie Frost — of the startling blue eyes and set jaw — take down a fugitive after a helluva battle empowering or delusional, dangerous or inspiring?

Should these images carry a warning — like Cesar Millan's "Dog Whisperer" or Johnny Knoxville's "Jackass" stunt outings? "Ladies, do not try these kick-butt maneuvers in a dark alley faced with a real assailant."

"I'm concerned about teenage girls who go and see 'Salt' or go and see Lisbeth in action and then think they too have that kind of prowess," says Merin, an admitted "dyed-in-the- wool pacifist."

"If young girls are being exposed to kick-ass queens and they think they can do that, there's a danger that they'll just get smushed."
[emphasis added]

Denver Roller Doll Bea Ware sees the dance between life outside our darkened caves of storytelling and the parade of pop-culture power players slightly differently.

"I think all the images of women on-screen being tough is empowering," she says.

As a blocker on the roller derby team, the 28-year-old civil engineer, whose outside-the- rink name is Jessica Rivas, knows a thing or two about getting smushed — but also about smushing.

"If I've learned anything in the rink, it's that I am constantly shocked and surprised at how much our bodies can take," she replies when asked if she balks at on-screen images in which women fight back — and win.

"I think there's something to our bodies as women that makes it possible to sustain what many people think we can't," she says. Of course, training helps.

"Once you have that experience of being hit or hitting someone and walking away from it, it's invigorating. It's a great feeling. Like you're truly alive."

But could she take on a guy bent on hurting her?

"Sure, I absolutely think that," she says.

"That's why if I had daughters, I'd encourage them to be athletes. So much of it's mental. Maybe even if that isn't the physical reality — who knows what the scenario might be? — just self-confidence you have is priceless. Especially in a situation where the decisions you make are vital. Maybe even the way you carry yourself makes you not a target."

She pauses, then adds with a laugh: "I would hope."

Stieg Larsson of course, was a lifelong Swedish Communist. Feminists in Sweden have succeeded in mandating that boys in Kindergarten wear dresses and outlawing peeing standing up. Meanwhile, as Sandra Tsing Loh noted, Swedish women are marrying Muslim men in record numbers. Men don't want to be gay, and outside nerdy fantasies of kick-ass women who like blowing things up, and computers, just like they do, most men find the traditional role of male hero (face the villain, get the girl) to be rewarding. Far more rewarding than being a broken, drunken journalist unable to do much of anything (the role for the male lead in the Stieg Larsson novels). Victimology, not so much. Larsson drank deep of feminism, and as such has no real appeal to men, or women, neither of whom find eternal victimization and gender mutilation to be a winning hand.

But women are not interested in being semi-Aspergery computer geeks, or gun-handlers, or ass-kickers. They'd rather have hunky, dangerous guys fighting over THEM as in "Twilight" or even "Buffy" than do the fighting themselves. Women are not particularly enamored of being an imperfect parody of men, any more than men are interested in being a poor copy of women.

And yes, women DO overestimate, constantly, their ability to handle dangerous men in a physical confrontation. A woman in roller derby is far different than a much larger, stronger man beating her. Any reasonably fit man can completely overpower even the most strong woman, even one taller than he is, with very few exceptions. Women like to think they don't need ordinary men around, to protect them, and can dally with dangerous, thuggish men (see: Rihanna and Chris Brown) but it simply is not the case. The dangerous thing about these female ass-kicking fantasies is that they play to inherent female bias: that they can "handle" thugs they find sexy and dominant, and that they don't "need" male help in providing physical safety.

Nevertheless, the roll call of female ass-kickers reads like box office failure: "Salt," "Kick-Ass," "the Losers," etc. Quentin Tarantino, is with few exceptions, not a name synonymous with box office success. Men prefer a girly, feminine woman all to themselves, not one that requires constant competition in their own field (ass-kicking) and thus available to only the most supreme ass-kicker (who generally is just this side of a villain if not a villain himself, see "Buffy" and "Twilight.") Women would rather go shopping that join "Fight Club."

So while NBC will doubtless contribute to the Kultursmog of our current elites, and try to push again the androgynous agenda of men becoming women and women becoming men, the network is likely to have few takers. Chase may linger on for a season, like NBC's "Mercy" just because there are few alternatives, but it is unlikely to be renewed. No matter how much the elites wish to transmute the sexes. A few more women will suffer serious harm from overestimating their chances with bad guys, but hey, what's a few eggs when you're making omlets?

Then there is "Outsourced":

Haha! Americans lost their jobs! America sucks so much, it has to "outsource" the "Middle American Novelties" call center to India. Audiences are invited to hate themselves, their nation, their culture, and adopt India's. Also, White People Suck(tm) and Non-White People Rule (also tm), both elite dogma. The script seems to be a mish-mash of Tom Friedman's "the World is Flat" coupled with Howard Zinn and the street sense of Malibu.

The disdain and hatred of the American middle and working class (the lone White lead has to move to India to merely survive and finds India "cooler" than the US, but without the smells, poverty, violence, and so on that characterize real India) just oozes out of the clip. So too, the message that "America is finished" and so too, most White people. Replaced by Indians, living in India (in the series premise anyway). This is NBC's most heavily hyped comedy. Promos run for it every broadcast of Sunday Night Football pre-season games.

Anyone who has ever dealt with an outsourced call center, struggling to be understood and to understand the foreigners in India, will be familiar with the premise. And they won't like it. People rarely buy national failure as something to be embraced and celebrated. Much less in a deep recession.

NBC gets the all-time Idiot Award for this show. Possibly the most sure-fire failure on the schedule, it meets the agenda of NBC having fewer White characters on the screen (which will make Maxine Waters happy, Waters recently criticizing NBC for not enough non-Whites on-screen and off). But it is unlikely to make anyone outside of Malibu, the Upper East Side, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Martha's Vineyard very happy.

Though sitcoms skew heavily female (as much as 80% in some cases), there is only one White female character. Not much for the women watching "Outsourced" who might aspire to actually work in a call center and snatch an up-and-coming management guy. While the series is trying to copy "Police Academy," it does so without being funny (the little girl voice is a direct rip-off) or even watchable. The entire series is a "joke" that US jobs went overseas and are not coming back, any more than American greatness will. This series is the most likely to be axed before mid-season.

Finally, there is NBC's "Undercovers," which asks the question, "how cool would it be if the Obamas were like a sexy, but bored middle class couple who became spies again?

The answer, not very. Again you have the geeky White guy, admiring the coolness of the Black lead. The message (not very realistic in a deep recession) that upper middle class married life without financial hardship or anxiety is "boring" and that only excitement through cheating death is worthwhile. Also, the Obama proxies are the epitome of suave confidence and sexiness. Sure, middle class White women might find Boris Kodjoe sexy, but no more so than Taye Diggs. If Taye Diggs could not make a success out of "Kevin Hill" on UPN, why would Kodjoe be any different? Particularly as Obama and Michelle Obama become more and more unpopular? And hard times and economic anxiety make middle class life a paradise lost, not something to be escaped.

Recently, Boris Kodjoe commented that "Undercovers" was the first Black Leads cast to appear on network television. Fred G. Sanford would like to have a word with you, Mr. Kodjoe. Seeing as How "Sanford And Son" was the #2 rated show, from 1972 to 1975. If not for Redd Foxx's departure due to salary dispute, and tragically early death, the show could have remained a top-ten show for a decade.

the Jeffersons was also a long-time top ten hit show on Network Television, and of course, Good Times, which gave us "Dyn-o-mite!" and J.J. (played by Jimmy Walker). Comedies, all, to be true, but network TV history did not start in 2003. More recently, Gabriel's Fire and Homicide: Life on the Street had Black Dramatic leads, unforgettable ones, from James Earl Jones, to Yaphet Kotto and the great Andre Braugher. There was even a Star Trek TV series called "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" that featured lead Avery Brooks, who had previously starred in the "Spencer: for Hire" spin-off "Man Called Hawk."

White audiences have laughed with and embraced talented Black comics and comic actors on TV. Their shows sometimes hitting as high as #2. [Note, the 1970 US Census reports that Whites were 83% of the population at that time. Groups not demographically threatened with replacement as the majority find more "give" in adopting popular culture figures from other races/ethnicities.] It is worth noting that "Sanford and Son" debuted in 1972, a mere eight years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and was almost immediately popular. In dramas, White audiences embraced Captain Sisko, were indifferent to Gabriel Byrd, and liked but not strongly, Lt. Giardello and Det. Frank Pembleton and Det. Meldrick Lewis (the amazing Clark Johnson).

"Undercovers" is not even trailblazing considering the 1990's alone.

It is also likely to fail. It doesn't even seem remotely attractive to the middle class, mostly older, female audience that NBC is targeting (and that watches NBC). "Undercovers" is neither pure escapist and consumption porn oriented, with a hunky Master of the Universe guy to be won over (as in Sex and the City) nor does it have a "Twilight" ripoff as in "the Vampire Diaries" (which itself does miserable ratings but what audience it does draw, is mostly White tweens and teens). Most of the target audience would rather their fantasy be Kodjoe and an unlimited bank account, shopping in Beverly Hills, rather than Kodjoe and a gun, with fighting.

The one NBC show that does seem to have promise, but is likely to fail nevertheless, is "the Cape":

The reason this show is likely to fail, is that it is male oriented. And men just don't watch TV anymore.

While NBC pushes the fantasy that women kick-ass better than men, that outsourcing is good, and Americans should embrace national failure, and that the Obama Black Power couple is the wave of the "avoid Middle Classness" future (by kicking-ass again), "the Cape" is the only show, that seems to have a traditional, male hero looking to "make a difference." A show that would fit comfortably in the year 1965, or even 1989. But in today's elite, is a miracle it even got made.


Flavia said...

All these shows look lame.

The only movie I can think of that had a plausible female kick ass was Kill Bill. It is one of my favorite movies.

It seems more plausible since the character is seeking revenge for the death of her unborn child and she's not just some chick kicking ass. There is a very feminine reason behind her hatred. Plus, she fights mostly other women and when she reaches Bill she is no match for him.

I have always thought that Tarantino really really loves women. I always enjoy his movies (sans Inglorious Basterds, WTF) . He doesnt' suck up to women, but you can tell he likes them.

Jason said...

You really shouldn't have mentioned the Cape, as it undermines your whole argument. Or at least makes it irrelevant.

"Networks don't make shows that appeal to men anymore... except when they do. But then it doesn't matter because men don't watch TV anymore."

So what's your point? Why spend so much time lamenting a foregone conclusion? Yes, your glowing girlfriend has deserted you. And other men don't care enough to help you get her back. Not our job. You can blow your nose, wash your face, adjust your sack, and join us for bowling, or you can stay in and watch your boxed set of Buffy DVDs for the 20th time. Your choice.

Jeff Burton said...

I'm still waiting for some writer to turn the tables on this firmly ingrained stereotype, and have the guy beat the crap out of the over confident female tough girl. If handled correctly, it could be hilarious.

Maybe it's already happened. I don't get out much.

Anonymous said...

Er, Jason, the point was that none of these shows are going to appeal to the people who wath TV beccause the producers making these shows don't uderstand their audience. The only show that even looks like it understands its target audience is the Cape, but that audience no longer exists.

pops2008 said...

The problem is that the big networks especially nbc are now trying to compete with cable networks more for emmys than ratings. They rather be considered hip to the 18-34 crowd(who are more unemployed or underemployed than ever) than the grown 30-55 male crowd who make have more disposable income. Really only CBS tries somewhat to appeal to the male crowd.

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

Good job skewering the hackneyed "bad girl" archetype. I myself find it puzzling that the networks & film makers are so willing to overuse this personality type when it doesn't even appeal very much to women. The young women my age are, as a rule, interested in either "traditional" TV/box office fare ("Eat Pray Love", "Sex and the City") or obscure niche films - particularly foreign productions. Either way, none of them - not even those who identify as liberal - show much interest in waif-like, big-breasted fistfighters and their trite brand of action-hero feminism.

Perhaps Hollywood is trying to tap into male audiences' sexual anxieties? A tamer version of the masochistic femdom stuff on the web - invincible heroines tearing through male bad guys may be sexually satisfying, in a weird way, for certain men. In times like these (mancession, feminist ascendancy, etc) some males probably come to terms with their emasculation by eroticising it.

papabear said...

Re: Cape

Looks like Summer Glau has some work, for now.

I don't know if this show would really appeal to the same males who watched Life. It seems like it would appeal to a younger crowd--like those who watched Heroes or those who watched the original Knight Rider.

I am not surprised that the white cop learns how to be a caped hero from a black.

Fanwank said...

It should also be said that the rise of the Ass-Kicking Babe (tm) was a reaction to the crusade against violence in film and TV that grew in the 70s and 80s. Producers of film and TV schlock could disarm feminist and conservative critics alike by pointing to ‘strong female characters’, an implicit accusation of misogyny always at the ready.

The anti-violence crusade seemed to reach its high water mark with the rating system and the V-chip. Yet the Ass-Kicking Babe remains one of the more monotonous features of contemporary pop culture.

In a semi-unrelated note, one of the reasons for the popularity of reality TV is the brain-dead tropes that Culture Creatives continue to vomit onto their audiences. Much of scripted television these days is unwatchable.

Whiskey said...

Good point on Keith David, though given his frequent voice over work on Justice League, that may have been a fanboy tip of the hat more than "Black guy teaches White guy how to be a hero." David has an amazing voice.

Very likely the appeal of the Cape is to fans of comic book movies rather than "Life." Which was one of the few TV shows to treat violence as well, violent. Not something stylized or romanticized. The grosses for Iron Man probably green-lighted this show, which is sure to die because NBC chased off men ages ago.

NBC might think kick-ass waifs will excite the fem-dom crowd, only problem is that you could fit those in two apartments in West Hollywood. Not a smooth move for a broadcast network.

Kick ass waifs might indeed by a reaction to anti-violence crusaders, who by now probably don't care anymore.

Yes the rise of Reality TV is directly caused by such crummy scripted TV. "Homeboys in Outer Space?" "Privileged?" "Mercy?" That was the best scripted TV possible?

TV is a wonderful medium, used right. In that I agree with Newton Minnow. When used to explore characters and situations over hours (the typical 1 hour drama over 22 episodes has about 17 hours of real-time scripted action) the effects can be amazing, in the stories told versus the limited palette of 2 hours max for films.

It is a shame to have seen this lost.

IHTG said...

Whiskey, you're on a roll this month. Keep up the good work.

Kinuachdrach said...

World's changing. Lots of unemployed men with time to watch TV, even if they don't have disposable income. The Cape might do better than you think, Whiskey.

If it does, then we will see a dozen clones -- just like happened with CSI. That old herd instinct again. There's another thing to hate about modern TV programming.

Anonymous said...

The ass-kicking female is an absurdity. It started with Emma Peel in the Avengers series of the sixties. It failed in the NYC Puerto Rican Day Parade rape riot in Central Park. The blonde "kick boxer" quickly discovered that packs of NYC denizens don't care how much of kick-ass girl you are. A gun will work, but most women don't seem to want them.

Zeta said...

Remember when the 1980s female cop show "Cagney and Lacey" was remarkable for having "strong" female leads? In one generation we've gone from that to a situation where there are essentially -zero- shows with actual men and masculine themes. Even barely ten years ago, "Joe Sixpack" shows like Married with Children were allowed and very successful. Now, though, masculinity is essentially banned; it has been a remarkable, swift, and total defeat. In particular, there has been a total reversal in who occupies the role of the ass-kicker and the lead character. As Whiskey also noted, this is essentially the "Xena: Warrior Princess" model imposed on all TV, although in a sense it's even worse because it's now about feeding female fantasies (where shows like Xena were probably more along the geek-porn stuff pilfered by the likes of Joss Whedon).

At least white guys still have one place reserved for them in modern TV: the bad guy slot. While white men have simultaneously been banned from playing any truly masculine roles, we do have them being the ultimate villains, confirming the fantasies of the political correctness junta. When is the last time you saw a black or Hispanic criminal on modern television? Even in a commercial? When you do see them, or watch an older show that might have them (like, say, Miami Vice), doesn't it strike you as strange? This is the message the elites are now sending to people, and children, hundreds of thousands of times in a lifetimes.

One thing I will disagree with Whiskey on: the top elites know exactly what they're doing here. You don't get to the tipsy top without discarding the rose-colored glasses about human nature and the role of the sexes. They employ this sort of equalist baloney as a means of divide and conquer, and not unrelatedly, as a means of vote buying. It's the cultural Marxism model of identity politics. You engender certain beliefs and loyalties in the subject population, and what better way to do that than through the media? Just like the corporate mainstream media serves its purposes for defining debate and beliefs, so does modern television.

Zeta said...

Not that it's particularly important, but the sentence at the end of my second paragraph should say "hundreds *to* thousands of times". Darn typos.

CJ said...

Salt wasn't a "failure". It's in the top 10 of summer 2010 movies in the U.S. and it's doing well overseas. It's a moderate hit. Jolie of course is the lone woman able to pull this kind of cash as an action star, so I don't think Salt will necessarily make studios more willing to make action movies starring women.

Anonymous said...

" When is the last time you saw a black or Hispanic criminal on modern television? Even in a commercial?"

So true. I noticed that in a Dept. of Transportation commercial on drunk drving. All the drivers were white and the cop was a black guy.

Anonymous said...

"When is the last time you saw a black or Hispanic criminal on modern television? Even in a commercial? "

There was a public service commercial about teenage gun violence in Chicago and at the end they had a white teenager being put in a police car. I wonder how many of the shootings in Chicago are being committed by white teenagers. said...

Quite effective information, thank you for your post.