This post is perhaps about stating the obvious. Except that the obvious is sometimes so omnipresent, that you can easily miss it.
So, I watch some television. Not much…some shows, most of which I have to be convinced over and over to watch, before I finally do. House MD, I watched with relish. The lead character seemed so unusual, defiant of norms, sociopathic with scant social skills and in fact an abhorrence for ‘people’, however at the same time irresistible when combined with a superior intellect and unquestionable competence. This complex, flawed yet brilliant character essentially made for a magnet.
His uniqueness made him stand out I guess. But wait.. have you seen Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory? Immensely popular show and protagonist. Such a unique character, isn’t he? So unusual, defiant of norms, sociopathic with scant social skills and in fact an abhorrence for ‘people’, however at the same time irresistible when combined with a superior intellect and unquestionable competence.
And then I watched Sherlock, which everyone would keep raving about. It’s something else, I was told. I watched it- three episodes. I couldn’t watch more. The charm and magnetism of the show springs from Benedict Cumberbatch’s compelling depiction of Sherlock Holmes, repersonified. He is unusual, defiant of norms, sociopathic….
This time I really irked up. It seemed to me that someone was trying really hard to sell me the notion that a**holes are irresistible as long as they are super-smart. But then, I figured, nobody is ‘trying to sell’, actually it’s selling so well that the formula is used over and over. We buy it, and we buy it eagerly.
Perhaps it is because we are becoming more and more achievement oriented and less and less relationship oriented, and such characters validate our choice. Or perhaps because we feel so suppressed by society, establishment and authority figures in our daily lives that the bravado of such characters grants us vicarious pleasure and the dangling hope that if only I achieve more, freedom is mine. I stayed with this thought for some time.
And then something different happened. We started to watch The Good Wife. After my husband convinced me over many weeks that we should give it a try. Because it is a legal drama with 5-star rating on Netflix. Yes, all the 5-star rated shows have been worth our while. No, that’s just the name of the show, not a subtle endeavor to mould me in any way into a quintessential ‘good wife’.
We are enjoying the show. We have watched close to 15 episodes, and I found myself suddenly wondering, “Wait, isn’t Alicia Florrick the protagonist?” Yes, she is. Then why do I constantly feel that she is the ‘second chair’ (which she often plays in the show as well)? That she is supporting an invisible protagonist all the time?
“Why doesn’t she behave like the protagonist?” I asked my husband.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, she’s doing well on all her cases. Shouldn’t she be more, you know…” and it came to me.
This was the first female protagonist I was watching in a long time. And the difference in treatment of the female protagonist from that typically of the male protagonists could not be more sharp. Alicia Florrick (character’s name) is cheated upon by her husband and lands in an unpleasant public scandal given her husband’s political career. She starts working after a long career break, to support her family while her husband is in prison. She visits him in prison and shows immeasurable restraint. She rules out divorce. She never utters a single word out of order about her husband, or anyone at all in fact.
I am not saying she should. But just let me gape a moment at the contrast with male protagonists. I’m thinking about how this show would have reached my television. Such high budget shows are business decisions. There must have been diligent research into what viewers will want, and accept. Female-led TV shows on politics/ law/medicine etc must be seen as risky still, since there aren’t many of them. So you give viewers something new- but palatable. You give them a female protagonist, but one who stands firmly by her cheating husband, upholding family values.
There is another female character on the show- Kalinda Sharma, who plays it like the male protagonists- unusual, defiant, and the whole list. So the character exists, but just not as the lead.
Incidentally I just finished watching season 3 of House of Cards, wherein Claire sets out on her own eventually. I don’t know what happens in further seasons and I’m not looking for spoilers. But even if she does ‘equal’ Frank in forthcoming seasons, it is after she has built her ground and earned her credibility as a substantial character over 3 seasons.
Same with the ladies on Game of Thrones. Many people are excited to see that the women are coming into their own across the mythical globe in GoT- I don’t wish to spoil the party, but let’s not forget it is after all Baratheon men have died in case of Cersei. All male heirs of Stark household are dead/believed dead in case of Sansa- and in fact she still doesn’t get the leadership- the illegitimate son does, despite Sansa having saved him in battle. And Yara Greyjoy came close to taking her deceased father’s throne after her castrated brother gave up his claim. They all are sort-of coming close to real power after several seasons of fighting for their worth.
I am not complaining. Television is of course a mirror of reality. And reality struck me anew, thanks to the good wife. Really, not complaining. But I would just love to see a show that breaks the pattern.