Thanks for the comment, Kathleen.
I definitely agree, that there is an increasing amount of these kinds of different female characters, Keri Russell on The Americans and Gillian Anderson on The Fall, also comes to mind. I also think you’re correct to point out that these kinds of behaviors typical of these characters, specifically females, can certainly be seen as strengths. I would argue that Top of the Lake aligns Robin’s identification with Tui as ‘victim’ is in part why she is able to solve the case, since she is seemingly the only person (perhaps besides Tui’s brother) that actually “feels” not only for Tui, but what Tui has experienced. The final episode I think proves this when Robin “saves the day” so-to-speak.
Also, I just realized the link I had up was broken (so sorry about that!), so here is a new one just in case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVnvgD3T5AI.
Thank you so much for your comment, Kathleen! I’m not sure I quite know the answer yet … But, I’m trying to think about the examples in yesterdays’ post and comments, like with Don Draper, for instance. I feel like on Mad Men, much of the drive of the show (in the earlier seasons at least) is finding out Don Draper’s origin story as a means to explain his behavior or even with Walter White, so much of Breaking Bad seemed invested (at least initially) in the origin and evolution of his evil. For Don Draper, the backstory, I think makes him or is supposed to make him more sympathetic and similarly perhaps for this is true for Walter White… I think True Detective also does similar work with the white male detectives backstory. Listing all of these, makes me think about how the representational production of evil/the anti-hero appears inevitably raced, classed, and gendered as well (like all these examples of antiheroes are straight white men).
In that case, I wonder if female antiheroines get back stories like this at once for the empathetic nature of creating characters like Ali and Mona, suggesting that evil is always produced by clear causes rather than existing in the world. But, also because it is part of the more broad construction of antiheroes?
That said, I certainly agree that there are different implications for how these stories about women antiheroines are told though too … And, in the case of PLL, it definitely adds to the soapy quality while also playing into the show’s concern about mean girls, bullying, and the consequences those both produce. Wherein Top of the Lake seems more in some ways in line with quality TV, even if it has clear allegiances to the soap (like Bree noted yesterday), PLL makes no such claims, fully investing in its soap-style storytelling. However, I still need to think about this more …
Your conclusion here, in conjunction with my and Barbara’s reaction to Bree’s post yesterday, is causing me to wonder about another possible gender imbalance with our anti-heroes. That is, is a more frequent occurrence that shows with female anti-heroines show – as part of the storyline – the root of the protagonist’s “evil” or trouble? Do we feel a woman’s aggression or demonic tendencies need to be explained they maybe a man’s do not because it is in his nature to be aggressive? And, or, do those explanation storylines get included in female narratives because it adds more emotional content to be attractive as a “soapy” genre artifact? Now, wondering aloud some more, are the soapier dramas more likely to include the sympathetic backstory than the edgier quality tv? Somebody do a content analysis, please!
It’s interesting to think of the narrative that surrounds these characters being based in the intersection between the personal and the professional (or public). I’m thinking about where the “trouble” starts. Is it when the personal seeps into the professional (Homeland/The Sopranos)? Is it in the denying of the personal to serve the professional (The Killing/Justified)? Is it the focus on the personal to justify the professional (Breaking Bad/Damages)? All of the examples that I gave probably could fit into multiple categories. But, do these different factors tend to be negotiated and represented differently depending on whether the protagonist is a man or a woman?
Thanks, Bree, for this thought-provoking piece. A number of female protagonists come to mind that involve women who are “victims” of whatever constitutes their Achilles heel (Robin’s rape, Homeland’s Carrie Mathison’s bipoloar disorder) as differentiated from male protagonists’ dangerous, aggressive or self-destructive behavior (Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper). That’s not to imply that self-destructive behavior is not borne of mental health issues nor that women’s “weaknesses” don’t also work in their favor as strengths. To address your point of genre use, it does seem that a number of the shows that fit into the “quality” category are masculinized to some degree – Nurse Jackie, Weeds’ Nancy Botwin – involving crimes and substance abuse to distance them a bit from the emotional core (and assure male viewers). But in the hands of a good (and feminist) director – certainly true in the case of Top of the Lake – those more passive or victimized circumstances do not cave to the soapy, “chick” programming characteristics that they might in less capable hands.
This clip is fascinating, and your contextualization brings up so many important points about West, Batman, identity, and of course Family Guy. The moment at the end of the clip shows the deep level of reflexivity and collective construction of this character as the Chief and Commissioner turn towards the camera to make their comments about Batman/Bruce Wayne directly to viewers. Everyone is in on the funhouse mirror you describe. Thanks for the insight!
A coda to my piece on Bat-Mite from Tuesday could have very easily discussed patriarchal fanboy attitudes as exemplified by Bat-Mite’s dismayed reaction to the in-episode trailer for a new CGI-rendered Batgirl animated series: “Batgirl? It’s HER show?”
While the trailer itself presents a relative parity of the crimefighting prowess between Batgirl and Batman, I think it also points in the general direction of Matt’s sentiment of how Batgirl and similar characters are used to indicate difference. Within the episode, the implication seems to be that a Batgirl show rests on the margins of possibility and, despite the upstanding portrayal in the trailer, Batgirl is primarily used as a narrative wedge to befuddle Bat-Mite. Even the mere possibility of a Batgirl series can only be conceived in the context of an episode based on the most inconceivable circumstances that could befall the Bat-universe.
Thank you for offering some important historical context for the birth and evolution of what has become one of the most popular characters in the DC universe. What I find particularly interesting about female superheroes is that they often bear the responsibility and/or pleasure of maintaining a narrative space in which issues of difference (defined, inevitably, against white heteronormativity) are frequently expressed. Of course, Barbara Gordon’s turn as Oracle and a disability icon complicates issues regarding empowered female characters. But I’m even more intrigued by the instances in which transgender characters have been included in the Batgirl universe. Of course, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara’s transgender roommate, is the most significant example of this, but that progressive gesture (from writer Gail Simone) is tempered by the more recent kerfuffle involving villainous Batgirl impersonator Dagger Type, a transgender character cut from a very old cloth of social deviancy. Like the mainstream women’s rights movement of the Sixties and Seventies, Yvonne Craig’s Batgirl can be a source of inspiration but I sometimes wonder to what degree that iteration of the character has been bracketed off as a time piece when we should be addressing how loudly the ticking of that bomb of social consciousness is sounding in our own heads.
As a fan of Bat-Mite, I found your post to be both illuminating and entertaining. While for many fans he does represent the nadir of Bat-silliness (along with Ace, the Bat-hound), to me Bat-Mite’s always been emblematic of the inherent fun of Silver Age superhero comic books. Consequently, I’m intrigued by the tension between the market value fans place on old Batman comic books (those slabbed and tagged fetish objects) and the disdain many of them harbor for their content. This sequence from Batman: The Brave and the Bold neatly captures some of that ambivalence. As a fifth-dimensional imp who is very much an active agent in Batman’s narrative universe, I’m also intrigued by his implied association with the show’s creators on this convention panel. Perhaps “the fifth dimension” is code for “metatextual loop” - a constant state of self-reflexivity that requires the simultaneous absence/presence of the fetish object (a classic case of fort/da). In other words, all those Batman-costumed fanboys are simultaneously talking to each other, themselves, us, and no one at all.