Peep Show

The New Oblivious "Nice" Guy Archetype in Sitcoms

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed there’s a new archetype emerging in TV shows and cinema. This character type is a man who thinks he is a “good” guy, and smarter than the people around him, even though the audience may see things differently.

Two examples I’ve noticed are in the shows Peep Show and Trailer Park Boys, both well-written sitcoms about a pair of guys and their ups and downs. In Peep Show, the two characters Jez (played by Robert Webb) and Mark (played by David Mitchell) are roommates and unexpected friends. Jez is rarely employed and will often rely on Mark for financial support. He has more romantic and social success than Mark, who is obsessed with history, specifically Joseph Stalin, and frequently incorporates him into unsuccessful social encounters.

Mark likes to think of himself as the “good” one; partially, because he is more successful than Jes and also because his frequent failures with women make him think of Jes as a sort of slut. He clearly thinks of himself as some kind of hapless “good” guy even though he is in some ways, a morally questionable character. For example, after impregnating a girlfriend, he declined to marry her until he found out that he would be getting a very nice house from his would-be father-in-law. Such a situation, while making the show funny, is also indicative of selfishness, even if he doesn’t see it, himself.

Jez, on the other hand, while unscrupulous, tends to make poor decisions based on his foolishness rather than a well-thought out plan. He also is more sensitive and more apt to get his feelings hurt while trying not to hurt others unless provoked, a quality Mark does not possess.

In Trailer Park Boys, two parolees released for drug-related charges are trying to get their lives back on track. Ricky (portrayed by Rob Wells) is a blundering, well-intentioned guy. He is an idiot savant when it comes to dealing with police officers (and getting out of trouble) and growing marijuana. When he is released from prison, he attempts to better himself by going back to school to earn his high school diploma (he dropped out at grade nine) and tries to be on the straight and narrow.

His best friend, Julian (portrayed by Robb Wells) is the smarter one of the duo, with usually a less volatile disposition while attempting to keep out of trouble. Ricky is better at growing marijuana, and he is always trying elicit Julian’s help and even demands that he misses school to help grow marijuana. While he thinks of himself as the smarter, good-hearted one of the two, he frequently undermines Ricky’s attempts at bettering himself. He also only lets Ricky sleep in his car after Julian is kicked out of his trailer by his girlfriend, and it is hinted that he is fathering Ricky’s child after having a brief encounter with Julian’s girlfriend.

Creating a subtly non-self conscious character is probably one of the most difficult feats a writer can accomplish, because it requires a delicate balance between trusting the audience to understand the flaws of a character, but also understand the lack of self-awareness that the character possesses. Both of these shows are hilarious because of the complicated nature of the characters, and the traditional “straight man” role is eliminated because of eccentricities and hubris of the main characters. This leads to much funnier (and realistic) situations because it is less predictable than most sitcoms. And unpredictability is a staple for any sort of comedy.

Micaela Gardner

Happily Ever After

Happily Ever After?

From a very early age, it is instilled in us ladies that the most important day in our lives is the day we get married. We are taught that everything that leads up to this is relatively meaningless until this single, perfect day, when everything is about the bride. The burden to both be and appear perfect, and for the wedding to, as well, because it reflects so much upon her, is enormous.

So, of course someone is going to be stressed out if there is a day coming up when she is not only going to be the center of attention for the whole day but that she has these insanely high, Disney-like expectations for this one particular day in her life.

Part of this idea is rooted in the deeply patriarchal and old-fashioned belief that women will always be most useful and acceptable as wives and mothers. Even though we don’t live in a time when most women can stay at home with the children that they are expected to have; still, there’s this perception that their jobs are less important than their husbands and that it’s a shame the women have to go out into the workplace and dirty their hands.

Romantic comedies end either when a couple gets together or when they get married, not after the first argument they have over who is going to do the dishes. After the final joke and kiss, the credits roll, romantic perfection encapsulated in 90 minutes. Of course, we all know that these movies don’t remotely reflect reality. They’re distractions from our real-life problems. Nevertheless, we absorb so much of what we see. No matter how intelligent or wise we think we are, it is impossible not to internalize at least some of the ideas and expectations that repeatedly bombard us on a daily basis.

Men have certain unfair expectations held of them, too–most of which are hinged on the idea of ambition and financial success. This isn’t right, either. Men are more than their bank account balances, more than their job title, more than their capacity to earn. However, the stress on men to succeed as breadwinner and perform their best at work is incrementally gratifying. Moving up in a company is often described as “climbing the ladder.” It’s not as if there is a target hit, and after that, the most important thing that has ever happened to you already happened, likely, at a fairly young age.

After a woman gets married, the next milestones she has to look forward to are being a mother, which she may not even want, and then being a grandmother, something she has minimal control over.

 

Micaela Gardner

Crime of Passion

Why the "Crime of Passion" Defense is Demeaning to Everyone

Every violent crime is unique because each crime is committed by individuals, in varying circumstances, against specific victims. When such a crime occurs, the tiers of people involved in analyzing the crime―police, journalists, and attorneys—to name a few, attempt to get in the perpetrator’s state of mind to understand why. We, the public, try to comprehend the mindset as well, because it’s sensational and causes us to question our morality and brings up feelings of fear and vulnerability that we usually try to avoid.

Our criminal justice system is very much based around a deontological philosophy, meaning that our mores in relation to the details of the crime are often what dictate how we feel about crimes. This affects the outcome of trials. If this were not the case, if all we ever looked at were the actions of the perpetrator, then our whole criminal justice system would be entirely different. Criminal justice would be simplified to a point that a computer could take over the court system, removing the need for human judgement. However, it might also mean that self-defense would be moot because the bottom line would be: someone was killed and it doesn’t matter why.

One defense strategy is often the idea of a “crime of passion.” The example I’ve always heard is that a man comes home and finds his wife in bed with another man, and he kills because he is so shocked and upset. First, the situation postulated is deeply rooted in the patriarchal belief that a wife belongs to a husband. Obviously, this scenario does play out occasionally with reversed gender roles or same-sex couples, but time and time again the example is given of a man discovering his cheating wife, and he’s so outraged that he kills one (or both) of them. This act, if taken to the extreme, is merely reinforcing the idea that men are defined by aggression and aren’t expected to monitor themselves and that women who aren’t faithful, or don’t fit society’s sexual behavior expectations deserve punishment.

These scenarios are insulting to both genders, and even more insulting to our society as a whole.

Coming home upon a scene like those described (and yes, there are other cases in which the crime-of-passion defense is used, but the examples mentioned are most well-known) is traumatizing and causes people to become incredibly angry, confused, and heartbroken. However, that doesn’t mean someone should not be accountable for his or her actions. Throughout the day, a person can get irritated or stressed by any number of things, from interpersonal conflicts to money problems to bad drivers. Yet we’re expected not to hurt people based upon these stressors and/or the people associated with the stressors. Why is the case of discovered infidelity any different?

Life is a series of ups and downs and our emotional responses to these events are difficult to control. Nevertheless, we always can control our actions, which, in turn, affect our emotions. If a person can’t handle the possibility of his or her significant other cheating on them, then maybe they shouldn’t be in a relationship, in the first place.

We are accountable for our actions. In fact, it’s the only thing we’re accountable for because our actions are under our control. When someone is not held responsible (or held significantly less so) for taking a life because of this sort of situation, it is accepting that we are beings ruled solely by our emotions, devoid of critical thinking, disconnected from the consequences of our doing.

Micaela Gardner

A Look at TalHotBlond

A Look at TalHotBlond

The documentary TalHotBlond, directed by Barbara Schroeder, is a fascinating film about a cyber love triangle that implodes—without the subjects even meeting in real life. The story ends up telling us as much about our own perceptions and views of infatuations as it does of the people featured in the film.

Two people meet in an online game chatroom. One says he is a young sniper for the Marines, hence his handle “MarineSniper.” The other, “TalHotBlond,” is an 18-year-old woman graduating from high school. A third player, “BeefCake,” works with “MarineSniper” in real life in a factory, who is introduced to “TalHotBlond” by “MarineSniper.”

The story that unfolds is dramatic and strange, with twists and turns that only real life can create—no spoilers here, though ….you need to watch.

What struck me the most was how these people communicated, and how even though they are individuals, the characters they create are extremely derivative of what our society dictates is attractive in a mate.

For one thing, the chosen handles are obviously used to attract a mate—stereotypical to an absurd point. “BeefCake” and “MarineSniper?” Both convey a masculine, testosterone-fueled strength considered attractive both on a societal and biological level. “TalHotBlond,” the female? Instantly conjures up an image of a model featured in both men’s and women’s magazines.

These handles, obviously, use very specific archetypes as a mask. The power of fantasy, of blind faith based upon what you wish were true versus what probably is true, is a key element to this film.

This faith has little to do with intelligence, and more to do with the optimistic denial that comes with infatuation. To a degree, we know all love is based on elements of denial and projection; some variants of love rely solely on those two elements, which is what appears to have happened in this film. Once a person has made an active choice to pursue another, there’s more incentive to believe in the other’s persona, regardless of how clearly stereotypical or unbelievable the other has presented his/herself.

We believe in the idea that people “fall in love,” that they are passive players in a life-altering event. This isn’t true. We decide when and how we communicate with someone, even if there is an initial infatuation. We decide how to spend our time, and if we invest in another person, that is our choice.

Even though TalHotBlond plays with our ideas about stereotypes and our own versions of persona, it also, as a story in itself, is unpredictable, challenging, and worth every minute spent watching. You’ll find yourself pondering the nature of “love” for a long while after.

Erich Fromm, German sociologist and psychologist once said, “Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever.”

Erich Fromm Quote: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/8788.Erich_Fromm

Separating the Art from the Artist

Separating the Art from the Artist

Many years ago, while speaking with a good friend, I brought up a quote from Annie Hall that I found relevant to the conversation. Her reaction astonished me.

“Oh,” she sniffed, clearly having turned her ears off after I mentioned the film, “I don’t do Woody Allen.”

She further explained that it was not because of his polarizing cinematic persona, but his personal life. She refused to see his films because he married his former stepdaughter. Although she didn’t mention it at the time, he had also been accused of molesting his adopted seven-year old daughter, although the results of the investigation were inconclusive. Such alleged actions are at the very least, controversial. We’ll likely never know what really happened, but depending on what actually occurred, the alleged actions may be deplorable. However, despite these discomforting actions, he’s still considered a brilliant writer and director. Nevertheless, this doesn’t excuse his behavior by any means, but sometimes screwed-up, morally questionable people still do amazing things.

The idea especially comes up when discussing historical figures, when we look back at people through the lens of what is now considered “right” and “normal.” It’s not surprising to learn a writer from the 19th century is sexist or racist. To hold that against him would be pointless. We like to think we are individuals, untouched by the world around us, but the truth is, we are always, at least to some degree, products of our times. Are we going to stop using electricity because Benjamin Franklin had slaves? Of course not. Using electricity doesn’t equate to condoning slavery.

Perhaps there are lines in this area that shouldn’t be crossed, like notorious criminals who are able to sell their art from prison, not because they’re particularly talented, but because they’re infamous. Though the state has attempted to keep inmates from profiting from their art, which is only popular due to the heinous atrocities committed by the convicts, there are still loopholes that allow the prisoners to profit from the “murderabilia” as it is called.

So how do we navigate between these morally precarious situations? Artists used to have patrons, wealthy nobles who financially supported them so that they could achieve their artistic potential. Now the public is the patron. Individually we support whom we approve of by buying his or her products.

Art we buy gives us a choice between balancing morally murky situations with the desire to see what the artist has to offer. Perhaps not a perfect solution, but there isn’t one at all–art itself is a completely arbitrary matter, anyway.

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