Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Group think

Wherein it's always something

Recent comments from a thread about Chuck (the bill is me):
LDP said...
The actor who plays Chuck doesn't look at all like a nerd, or geek, or whatever. He's actually a goodlooking, athletic guy, and putting him in a shortsleeve shirt and bad tie doesn't disguise that -- just shows the limits of the Hollywood imagination, like having Kate Winslet play the "plain" woman in Little Children.

bill said...
Or it shows your preoccupation with stereotypes. Even nerds, geeks, and whatevers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and social interaction abilities.

LDP said...
Right, I'm unfairly stereotyping people who choose to be known as "nerds."

And anyway, my comment was less about them than about Hollywood. There may be a few Chuck-looking men in the Nerd Herds of the real world, but not many. That the producers of this show choose him instead of an average guy is a serious lack of imagination.

Right, Hollywood shows a lack of imagination because they're not reenforcing your stereotypes. Not to defend Hollywood casting -- the majority of actors do seem to be picked from the same tree of blandly attractive -- but recently I've noticed a number of comment threads supporting other kinds of stereotypes that are often just mean-spirited and bigoted.

Let's start with the new show Chuck and the title character played by Zachary Levi Pugh. He's supposedly a poor example for a nerd because he's a "goodlooking, athletic guy" who dresses well. Yes, the portly, greasy haired pocket protector wearing nerd has a basis in reality and serves as a convenient shorthand to denote "geek." I've had good friends who, based on their daily grooming habits, you would think they were dressing up as a nerd for halloween. Still, I've spent the majority of my life in schools and occupations surrounded by uber nerds and geeks who are more attractive, more athletic, and better dressed than the character of Chuck. Walk into any Best Buy, Circuit City, or Fry's -- would Pugh as Chuck look out of place? No. So why the problem with an actor, while not bad looking, isn't even of the male model genre (that would be Dr. Awesome).

I've also read dismay about Missy Peregrym's character in Reaper. She plays a cashier in a Home Depot/Lowes type of store. Apparently she's too attractive because no one of her genetic makeup would ever work in a building supply store. It's true that Home Depot does not equal Supermodel world; just as it's true that Missy Peregrym would be far from the most attractive woman I've ever seen selling toilets. I guess to some people casting good looking people in everyday jobs is typical Hollywood narrowmindedness, while I look at their belief that only ugly people can do those jobs as ignorant bigotry.

Then there's the complaint that TV always pairs up attractive women with fat, schlubby guys. Attractive, skinny women are more likely to get a leading role in a series and it would be nice to see shows cast a wider casting net. I will concede that. However, listen to many of the arguments being made. Most of the time it's about how horrible and unlikely that such a good looking woman would marry/date such a nasty ogre. Could that be anymore insulting? First complain that there aren't enough "normal" people on television, then complain when those normal people are treated as normal. Exactly what is the color of their sky in their hermetically-sealed world? Because in my world I see fat men with skinny women, fat women with skinny men, ugly with beautiful, vice versa, et cetera, ad infinitum. This is also insulting to the actor. If you're calling the character ugly, you're calling the actor ugly. If in real life an attractive woman would never hang out with an ugly guy, then there's no way the actor could ever hang out with someone attractive. If he is, it's just because he's famous.

Earlier this summer when Undeclared was released, a couple different forms of bigotry were expressed. There was the obvious one of the beautiful woman falling for the hideous guy fantasy. Next was the dismay that not only did Heigl's character (Alison) not have an abortion, but that the movie didn't even turn into an abortion debate.

Here's two I kept, though I saw the same issue mentioned in other spots:

  • Ted: The only thing I didn't get about the movie was Heigl's refusal to consider an abortion. I felt like I missed something when she decided to keep the baby. Amber Taylor joked that her version of the movie would have been fifteen minutes long.
  • Sue: I also had trouble with the very little time given to considering the abortion angle. A woman this devoted to her career, who just got a promotion, who lives in her sister's pool house - decided to keep this baby way too easily. I would have liked a few more minutes on her decision.

From Slate, What Knocked Up Gets Wrong About Women:
Allow me to briefly divagate here on the nonexistence of abortion as an option in Knocked Up. This omission smells of the focus group, and it's a disappointment in a movie that otherwise prides itself on its unsentimental honesty about the realities of unplanned parenthood. It's just not believable that, in Alison and Ben's upper-middle-class, secular L.A. milieu, abortion would not be matter-of-factly discussed as a possibility in the case of a pregnancy this accidental. If she doesn't want one, great—obviously, there'd be no movie if she did—but let's hear about why not. Otherwise, her character becomes a cipher, a foil for Ben's epiphanies about growing up, without being allowed any epiphanies of her own. The biggest unanswered question about Heigl's character is one the movie never tiptoes near—why does she decide to keep the baby?

So the assumption -- no, the expectation -- is that young, successful women would automatically jump at an abortion; or, at least, struggle grievously with the possibility? Let's look again:
  • I felt like I missed something when she decided to keep the baby
  • A woman this devoted to her career...decided to keep this baby way too easily
  • It's just not believable that, in Alison and Ben's upper-middle-class, secular L.A. milieu, abortion would not be matter-of-factly discussed as a possibility
  • The biggest unanswered question about Heigl's character is...why does she decide to keep the baby?

Really? Aside from the fact that Alison considering an abortion wasn't the point of the movie, is it so hard to believe that women don't always automatically think about having abortions? Or are these comments reflective of a very insular world view?

Faaact, attractive women don't have abortions every day. Faaact, successful women don't have abortions every day. Sometimes this is a hard decision, sometimes it's an easy decision. The movie presents the abortion argument from the "inconvenienced male" perspective and from the "don't ruin your life" controlling mother perspective. Alison rejects both and goes through with the pregnancy. Happens all the time. So why are all these people angry and perturbed that she didn't consider an abortion? Why does their worldview seem so narrow--It's just not believable--to not include equally likely realities?

Let's review:
  • Attractive men can't sell computers :: nerds can only be unattractive
  • Attractive women don't work at home supply stores :: such stores only employ hags
  • Attractive, successful women have abortions as often as they paint their toenails :: only ugly, loser women have children

Again, World : Sky : Color. I am fascinated by people not only being upset that fiction doesn't reflect their bigoted view of the world, they then turn around and try to support their argument by insulting other groups of people. In arguing for an entertainment world that looks more inclusive, they reveal an even uglier exclusiveness.


Blogger XWL said...

The Home Depot on Jefferson near Lincoln in Los Angeles actually has more than a few cuties working for them.

Usually hispanic, but that should be besides the point, most every large retailer in Southern California employs mostly young hispanic women as checkers (that's the available talent pool for low wage, low benefits part time work, places that have unions skew older, and more miserable).

Also, a related observation, while at the Costco in Marina Del Rey, I wouldn't be surprised if that Costco doesn't have the highest percentage of patrons with tattoos in the entire United States (with the exception of any Costco near Sturgeous or Daytona Beach when the bikers are in town).

As far as Katherine Hiegl's Alison not getting an abortion, in the commentary track, Judd Apatow explained it simply, 'the movie would be ten minutes long, otherwise'. It may not be the usual choice for an L.A. based career woman in the entertainment industry with no discernible religious objections, but there's no plot without a pregnancy.

As far as Chuck goes, I like Reaper better, but both shows are diverting, only I wish that Chuck didn't look like he was wearing eye-liner all the time (and he's not 'too hot' to be a nerd)

10/10/2007 09:21:00 PM  

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