I’ve taken a video from this channel as a jumping-off point before, I’m back to do it again. Pop Culture Detective just keep bringing up such great points of oddly misogynistic characters and story-lines in popular culture, that I can’t help but pick up exactly what they’re putting down, and examining new TV and movies I watch with a more thoughtful view.
The video embedded here mainly discusses the Big Bang Theory as its example of male characters who are part of the problem in a male-dominated culture that tries to gain power by belittling the women around them (women aren’t the only groups subjected to this kind of treatment in popular culture, or on this show in particular, but let’s save that for a future discussion).
Having gone to grad school with as many or more extremely talented female scientists as I did male ones, I can definitively say that gender should absolutely not be a factor in deciding who can be successful in any particular career path. I was fortunate to not have seen any of this directly in my lab, but working in grant administration now, I see that gender bias is a huge focus of federal science funding, especially as one rises in the ranks of academia.
It’s jokes or insults at the expense of someone that focus on traits that are innate to a person that really get to me the most. Denigrating or belittling someone based on gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, or other traits that either come pre-determined at birth, or are fully determined internally later on in life is an attempt to exert power over someone, and generally nothing more.
There is a big difference between making a joke about somebody based on a stereotype – taunting someone saying “you’re gay” or “be a man” – and making a joke subverting those stereotypes or tropes, even if the joke itself hinges on an inferred call to those stereotypes.
This past weekend, I was watching an episode of Friends subverts expectations about homophobia. The show on the whole, especially in the early years, is actually pretty bad about this, and many jokes in this vein don’t hold up all that well (sorry, Chandler). But, in this episode, Ross and Joey fall asleep on the couch together while watching Die Hard.
When the two wake up, they realize they took a nap together, and both are horrified at the prospect of it ever coming up to the group. However, as the episode goes on, both Ross and Joey realize more and more that the nap they took together was one of the best naps they’d ever had. Even though their friends finding out about this might lead them to be ridiculed, the two good friends are considering planning another (completely non-sexual) nap together.
At the very end of the episode, Joey tells Ross he’ll be taking a nap in his apartment upstairs, implying that he would be taking a nap and that Ross would be welcome to join. Joey leaves, and a few seconds later, Ross surreptitiously follows him. I really love this depiction of intimate male friendship in popular culture, especially in the late nineties/early 2000s, because you just didn’t see it that much.
Both Joey and Ross were willing to potentially be ridiculed for napping together, but they valued the experience so much that they did it anyways (and based on the final scene, both friends seemed to be satisfied by the nap). The fact that the very end of the episode involves Ross and Joey being confronted by the rest of the friends upon waking up tells me the writers weren’t all the way there yet, but Ross’ reaction at the end tells viewers and the rest of the gang that both he and Joey knew what they were doing.
I love that moments in pop culture like this still happen, and it’s refreshing to see more and more shows and movies tackling personal moments and stories from a wide variety of viewpoints. I think there’s hope that one day characters like those on the Big Bang Theory will not be misogynist stereotypes, and that the writers won’t feel like they need to make characters assert dominance over one another to get laughs anymore.