A Little Nip Here, A Little Fu…Tuck There

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I don’t normally watch Nip/Tuck, primarily because I forget it’s on. Last Tuesday, I had it on and there were a couple of scenes that have stuck with me for nearly a week like a tickle at the back of the throat that won’t go away.

Christian is a purposely unsympathetic character. Every once in a while, a chink appears in   his armor and he can tug at the heartstrings…but that doesn’t last. On last Tuesday’s episode, Cindy Plumb, Christian goes to therapy, where the psychiatrist (a beautiful female psychiatrist) calls him on his brutal tendency to treat women like meat. In true Christian fashion, he offers his services to her.

She tells him, very pointedly, that she doesn’t want to sleep with him, she wants to understand him.  Tada! A woman who is strong and intelligent and can resist his charms (such as they are).  She asks him if he doesn’t ever want to seek a relationship, if he doesn’t want a woman to be more than just a fuck, to look a lover in the face and gain something from her pleasure. He states flatly that he gets an emotional connection from his best friend Sean (actually, he mentions Sean quite a few times in regards to emotional connection and support) and he doesn’t actually have a visual on the faces of the women he sleeps with, if you  know what he means. The psychiatrist suggests to him that he might be in love with his partner.

That scene was mostly  fine with me, believe it or not. It’s about Christian and how fucked up he is. He’s bothered by the psychiatrist’s insinuation – so much that he starts behaving differently around Sean and redecorates his apartment and whatnot. Yadda, yadda, the show progresses.  

Eventually, we come to a scene where Christian is back in the psychiatrist’s office. Not  for continued therapy, mind you. You guessed it – all we get to see is that he’s banging her from behind, over her desk. From his perspective, the scene doesn’t bother me. We know his bag.  

But from hers? I’m left quite appalled by the message. The only conclusion I can seem to draw from this is that a woman might say she doesn’t want to be a man’s plaything…but she doesn’t really mean it. No matter how strong, how assertive, how confident a woman, she’ll happily bend over.

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    They did a similar storyline early in season one – I think it was meant to facilitate just how screwed up Christian was. He gets coaxed into sex anon, then proceeds to wreck his sponsor’s ‘eight months without a one-night stand’ by screwing her, and literally throwing her out of bed. His attitude towards women continues along this vein until the end of season two (all we;ve gotten up to), and one of the things I really love about the show is how much of an unlikeable jerk Christian can be. It illustrated that, for most people, like attracts like – no together woman would have a bar of Christian. (Although there was one storyline which bothered me a little, if I remember I’ll do a quick companion piece to this on one of the off days.)

    I haven’t seen the episode you’re talking about, but it sounds like they’re veering away from the theme that pursuing sex, power, materialism etc is ugly, and towards titilation. Or maybe its a male fantasy? _Yeah, I’m so sexy even women who are highly educated and legally forbidden to get involved with me bend over the desk_

  2. Mecha says

    This reminds me of Karen Healey’s comment on a similar situation, of sorts, in a comic book. The social dynamic for the guy is very different, but the sort of ‘NO’ *cutway* *cutback to sex* thing feels very similar to me. (And since the column itself is linked to over in the sidebar, I feel few qualms about actually referring to comics as a touchstone for similarity. ;)

    http://www.girl-wonder.org/girlsreadcomics/index.php?entry=entry060707-080952

    I think a lot of Nip/Tuck is titilation. A LOT. The ads scream it, the entire thing screams it, to me. But I haven’t watched any of it, so I don’t know what happens behind the flash of the ads.

    -Mecha

  3. says

    Wow. You’re not the only one who is appalled.

    Beyond strong, confident, and assertive – this woman knows about his issues and, on top of that, would have very good legal and ethical reasons, in addition to simple good-judgement reasons, to decline his advances.

    WTF?

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    This scene is really not about the guy or his flaws. It’s about the filmmakers and theirs.
    We’ve all seen this scene, and variations on it, hundreds of times, and I’m very clear on what I’m being told. It’s the same thing a lot of rapists say to their victims: “You’re not entitled to turn me down, woman. I’ll show you.”

    To me, this is yet another scene about knocking some “bitch” off her high horse, and that “bitch” represents all the real life women of quality who have deigned to turn down the filmmaker’s sexual advances. To get back at those real life women, they create female characters of quality that we might actually see ourselves in somewhat, then show those characters happily submitting to their rightful place under some man who couldn’t care less about them. That’ll show us.

    If you think the rape comparison is over the top, consider this: if your ex-spouse wrote a top-selling movie in which a character (obviously based on you) happily submitted to her/his every abuse and begged for more (instead of chucking her/him, like you did in real life), and all your friends recognized you in that character and thought your ex was entitled to do that and you should be less uptight, how would you respond? Wouldn’t it feel like a sort of rape? A subversion of your will in dealing with this person?

    While I agree that it sends the message that all women really want to be playthings, I think it also sends the message that there’s a lot of psychiatric-grade misogyny and resentment of women in the film industry.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a great article you linked to. Karen states it very well.

    For the reasons Revena states below, there’s no way I can believe this woman choosing to sleep with this guy. Hence my conclusion below.

    Had she been portrayed as an ethics-free moron from the beginning, I wouldn’t care.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, and SBG, thanks for using the “Deconstructing Women” category for this post (among the others), because this is a great example of that phenomenon: hold up a woman as a good example of someone with integrity, and then turn her into a male fantasy.

  7. sbg says

    Thank you, I should have mentioned that (I slapped the article together this morning because I forgot to do it this weekend when I had a bit more free time).

    That probably was why I was more appalled than usual about the treatment of women in that particular show. They established the character as a professional and then stripped that all away for fifteen seconds of power-play sex, with no explanation.

  8. sbg says

    That is a good article. She’s right – had there been some kind of segue, I might not have been as offended. The whole unprofessional aspect of it might have still bothered me, but at least there would have been some kind of reasoning, other than to reiterate Christian’s serious issues.

    I’m not sure I’d use titillation as the word to describe this particular event, but I can’t supply a better word. Or maybe it’s that I shudder to think at who might be getting off at the way relationships between men and women are portrayed on this series.

  9. sbg says

    The scene itself was interesting as far as how it was shot. It began with some guy sitting in the waiting area, hearing what was going on inside…and then once inside the office, the camera panned across the office and found it in shambles. There’d been a struggle, whether of passion or of a genuine fight, who knows? I suspect they want us to believe it is passionate disarray.

    And the clincher was the woman over desk, fully clothed, with Christian on her ass, also clothed. She did not look like she was enjoying the experience that much.

    I’d say that supports your comparison pretty well.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yes, the thought of someone finding this storyline a turn-on gives me doubts about the general value of the human race.

    But I think it’s more a case of people being so used to these storylines, they don’t even draw any implication from it anymore. The producers may think this is highly exciting stuff to viewers, but the viewers may just find it slightly more entertaining than the other crap that’s on.

    At least, that’s what I hope.

  11. Glaivester says

    She did not look like she was enjoying the experience that much.

    Did he look like he was enjoying it? I saw that scene, but I don’t remember. If he is enjoying it, then it does suggest that he is simply using her. But if neither of them seem to be enjoying what is going on, it might suggest something else.*

    Has anyone considered that maybe she has the same problem that Christian has? Perhaps she is doing this for the same reason he is. Maybe that is why she came up with the idea (whether right or wrong) that he is in love with Sean. Because she is in love with someone with whom she can’t have a sexual relationship, and so she only does guys whom she doesn’t have to look in the eyes.

    Perhaps they are using each other, and both in the same situation.

    * Does Christian ever seem to enjoy sex? I seem to recall that he goes at it as if it were a job or a duty rather than something he enjoys (at least, I seem to recall his face looking determined rather than happy).

  12. sbg says

    It would have to take a lot of…wanking…to even attempt to understand her POV. She wasn’t a fleshed-out character. She was there to shut him down and then end up giving it up to him. In other words, I’m not willing to apply motivations to her when none were even hinted at during the course of the show.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, Glav, and I’m surprised you offer this attempt at mollification. It’s the whole point of this site that we’re tired of being told to make excuses for female characters rather than demand that white male writers explain women as carefully as they explain their, ahem, “own kind”.

    The problem is, we – like the producers of TV shows – know that most viewers stick with the simplest explanation – the Occam’s Razor – for what they’re seeing in a TV show. In the absence of character exploration – such as the exploration of Christian’s evils – viewers will default to the stereotypes they’ve come to expect from TV. In this case…

    There’s a very common theme in porn in which some highly intelligent, authoritative, competent woman suddenly turns into a cheap slut who can’t wait to bang you to kingdom come with no regard whatsoever for her own pleasure, you stud you. It’s a sick male fantasy for little boys who aren’t secure in dealing with grown women, and scenes like this one are simply this theme’s intrusion into the softer porn side of cable TV. It’s not hard to work out what the producers are offering, and which viewers are supposed to like it. There’s no wanking required.

  14. scarlett says

    No, Christian doesn’t seem to enjoy sex. Or, to paraphrase a very wise friend, there’s a huge chasm between lovemaking and fukcing, and Christian is at the base end of the latter. Sex to him is a moment of ohysical pleasure, then an emptiness which he seeks to void with more sex.

    sbg – you said you were more appalled then usual about the treatment of women in this show. What I liked about it and I’ve seen every ep of what’s been screened in Aus so far) is that Christian is this sad, emotionally void creature who uses sex to fill the void, and like-minded women are attracted to him. They are always sad, unhealthy people. There’s nothing HEALTHY about the choices – sexual and otherwise – they make. Whatever titilation that might be garnered is obliterated by a sense of ‘OMG, how can anyone stoop that low?’

    Which is why such a storyline bothers me. Healthy women/people recognise men like Christian and have nothing to do with them. They don’t let themselves be seduced. They recognise the unhealthy seducer’s tactics for what they are.

    If it had been a character like Kimber, I would totally have bought her constantly falling for Christian. They were as damaged as each other. But for a healthy, professional, educated women? Nope, that’s just male fantasy.

  15. Glaivester says

    Was Brooke Shields’ appearance a one-shot? If so, then I will agree with you. I didn’t see this week’s episode, so I didn’t know whether she appeared again or not. I was assuming she would. If more appearances are scheduled, I will reserve judgment until I find out a little more about her.

    If she doesn’t appear again, then I agree that that particular storyline is not a good one. In fact, it would turn Shields’ character into more or less a plot device ir character development device for Christian rather than being a character in her own right.

  16. Jennifer Kesler says

    IMDB doesn’t have her down for any further appearances this season.

    No future revisiting of this character will change the indelible meta-message they’ve already sent, as summed up by an IMDB user:

    Brooke Shields looked the part of a middle aged therapist that did her best to appear professional with Christian, when in her mind, and eyes, she clearly wanted him to bend her over her desk…lucky lady got her wish.

    That person certainly got the message SBG said the show sent.

    Had they introduced this character as a nut, it would be a different ballgame. But between SBG and this poster from IMDB, it’s pretty clear the whole thing came out of the blue:

    Seeing Brooke as the therapist who takes it doggy from Troy was just embarrassing. Maybe this will be explored further later in the season, but not only did it not make sense, it just looked bad, too.

    I’m not sure, Glav, you realize how different it is growing up, seeing your gender and color represented as solid, well-drawn characters thousands of times. Seeing your gender and color disproportionately represented in all three branches of the government. Seeing your gender and color in positions of power in every industry worth opening a bank account for. You can’t understand, through no fault of your own, what it’s like to have to scrabble desperately for just one person on TV who looks like you and doesn’t behave in ways that make your blood boil. You may think we’re quick to judge; but you’re forgetting how long we’ve been waiting for anything but this sort of shit.

    See, when you see a white man on a show behaving appallingly, yet being treated as if the writers think that’s normal behavior, you have hundreds of other white male characters to watch instead. We don’t have that luxury.

  17. sbg says

    You’re right. Even if she reappeared, it wouldn’t remove the fact that this woman was portrayed as someone in a position of power (hey, in a therapy session the person with more authority should certainly not be the client) with ethical obligations. If she’s messed up enough to want to be submissive to a client and to “give in” to these impulses, then she’s still sending an incredibly poor message as a character.

  18. Glaivester says

    In the most recent episode, Brooke Shields’ character is back. She reveals she is a sexual compulsive. So apparently there was an intention to show her motivations and reasons for doing this, just not all at once. She also appears to be manipulating Christian and his new girlfriend (the one who runs the practice now, which was bought by her husband). So it looks as if the writers do intend to explain “her bag,” just not right away.

    On the other hand, there is something that is disturbing here – Christian apparently is now in love with his new girlfriend, even though he basically blackmailed her into their first sexual encounter. (He did this at the end of one episode, and by the start of the next, they are in love). That does strike me as sending a rather bad message.

  19. sbg says

    Both things sound disheartening to me. The backstory for Brooke Shields’ character is helpful in some regards, but then again not so much…they’ve still taken a character who is supposed to be in a position of some authority and stripped that away to make her a fucked-up mess. Par for the course with this show.

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