Just listened to the podcast of CBC radio show Q’s interview with the writer of this linked article, The dead woman TV trope vs. complex female anti-heroes - the audio piece is only 12 minutes long, I recommend giving it a listen.
Here are some interesting points brought up (I’m dealing more here with concepts about living female characters, but read/listen to the linked stuff to learn more about the dead girl trope), first a quote from the article:
The conversation surrounding difficult women on television (and in fiction) often hinges on the question of likability, and given the overwhelming presence of dead women on television today, it seems all too likely that dead women are the most likable female characters of all. We have seen, recently, how hard a time audiences have with living female characters who are flawed, difficult, troubled, and in other words real…
And quotes by writer Sarah Marshall from the radio interview:
I think that we can assume both that viewers respond very strongly to the figure of the dead woman on TV, and that the people in charge of creating media, media executives and show runners and writers, assume, and apparently rightfully so, that this is what viewers want. One of the really interesting things that I’ve observed over the last couple years is the responses that we’ve had to alive, and less likable women.
People feel comfortable watching a male character and observing who he is as a person, and not seeing him as someone they must identify with. I think that viewers, perhaps somewhat innately, but have also been trained to view female characters as audience surrogates. If a woman is on screen, if a woman is the star, we want to be able to slip into her skin and sort of experience the world as she does, and if she does things that we don’t understand or that we find unattractive, and we don’t want to have that surrogacy experience, then I think we respond potentially pretty viscously.
I honestly think that we have had so few complicated, potentially audience alienating female characters on TV that we just don’t know what to do with them. It’s our vocabulary to look for the audience surrogate, to look for the relatable every-girl. We make the assumption that characters will be a relatable every-girl, or an every-woman, when they’re really not. We really need to learn to accept a viewing experience in which we’re asked to contemplate a female character as we would a male character, in which we’re able to see them as a complex human being, and tune in because we want to see the next part of this character study.
These are some ideas I hadn’t really heard or thought about before, and they make a lot of sense. An obvious example (which was mentioned specifically in the article and the interview) being how audiences fucking loved evil murderer Walter White, but HATED his wife because she was annoying or some bullshit (sorry I actually love Breaking Bad but I get passionate about some audience reactions to it which I find extremely disturbing). The concept of the male anti-hero being a whole other issue so I’ll quickly move on from that.
The whole idea of female character as audience surrogate, the relatable every-woman… there are some shows and characters I love that totally fit this mold, and I’m sure these kinds of shows/characters being the norm when it comes to female characters are why we’re trained as an audience to accept/expect those kinds of characters. But there are also shows I love that break this mold - one that immediately comes to mind is Nurse Jackie, probably one of my top 5 all time favorite TV shows. But I don’t think it’s well-loved by many, or watched by many; I’m one of the only people I know who watches it. This main character is deeply flawed, complex, not an every-woman, NOT relatable to me personally, or I’d expect to most viewers. I love watching her journey, her character study, even though I can’t “slip into her skin”.
But I do find it difficult at times, with Jackie and with other complex women characters, because of what I’m used to; so yeah, I’m just nodding my head at Marshall’s ideas and looking optimistically forward to a time when we can watch women characters on TV (and movies etc) more how we watch men, as complex human beings.
(Reblogging from my side blog… My Bechdel Fest begins tomorrow - click over to there for details!)