I realise this article is very blunt in my opinions and I hope it creates some debate over my quite broad painting strokes.
A friend of mine is a screenwriter. We studied similar degrees at uni but he is very passionate about being a screenwriter, whereas my journalistic ambitions have always been tempered by serious feminist tendencies.
We’ve had some lengthy arguments about each other’s preferences when it comes to film and television. Basically, as someone who values quality of writing over all else, he’ll take a quality script with a few trite (usually female) characterisations, whereas I, as a feminist before a journalist, will take a ballsy, realistic female in a trite storyline. So he’s watching the highly-acclaimed stuff and I’m watching soap operas.
This is a slight exaggeration. I don’t just watch soap operas. But I’ve found often the ballsiest, most realistic female characters occur in soap operas or OTT dramas. Julie Cooper in The OC. Michelle Dressler in 24. Until last episode, Deanna Richardson in All Saints.
What is it about OTT situations that allow women to be ballsy, aggressive, unapologetically flawed – in other words, realistic – that more critically acclaimed drama doesn’t give them? Soapdom created The Bitch; the woman who went after what she wanted, a woman who was perfectly capable of doing a man’s job, yet the woman who often showed a fierce loyalty that the nicer girls lacked. 24 was remarkable innovative in creating Dressler, a capable, loyal woman who wasn’t The Bitch. House is showing potential in Cameron, a woman who both shows blunt honesty when it’s needed as well as a naive side which learns from bitter experience; just like anyone else.
But Soapdom has been giving women the opportunity to be sexy, aggressive, ambitious, loyal and deeply flawed for at least sixty-five years, since Scarlett O’Hara was immortalised in Gone With the Wind. Are the writers and producers of today not ashamed of the fact they’ve been pre-empted in the search for good female characters by a book and movie that were first released when everyone knew who Louis B Mayer was? My editor is constantly on my back for not thinking of new and innovative ideas; meanwhile, these people are stuck in 1950.
So that’s my response to my screenwriting friend. You value quality writing over anything else, and I respect that. But I value strong females over anything else – even if it means having to turn to Soapdom. And Soapdom gave us Scarlett O’Hara. Soapdom gave us Michelle Dressler. Soapdom gave us Julie Cooper.
High Art is yet to give us anything.