Legalites Aside…

I’ve really taken to Boston Legal, more than I did The Practice. And watching the two male leads, Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner) made me think that this is possibly the most honest relationship between two men on television. Not because they’re emotionally close and affectionate, but precisely the opposite.

Shore and Crane are both highly-strung macho men who can’t admit to being fond of one another so they hide behind cigars and talk of sex. It’s a sad but honest portrayal of society’s expectation that men be macho and, taking it further, of men’s inability to be emotionally intimate, especially with one another.

Crane was once a legal legend, but degeneration has made inroads into his brilliant mind so he spends much of his time mourning for his days of legend; Shore, as his protégé, knows that he too, is great, and he too will peak and then slide backwards. These two men who are legendary lawyers with the world at their feet are pathologically terrified of growing old and no longer being the best. Since time immemorial women have been portrayed of being insecure, so to see men portrayed the same way is refreshing.

Shore and Crane are both hugely successful, misogynistic, desperately unhappy, unfulfilled men. In a way, they are as much victims of the patriarchy as the patriarchy’s more obvious victims; they’ve been told all their lives to succeed, succeed, succeed, to get to the top of the hill, and what do they see when they get to the top; the slide into oblivion. They are men so obsessed with fulfilling their roles as macho providers that they’ve lost the ability to be emotionally intimate, and it is impossible to envy what success they have found. They are unable to relate to women as more then sex objects, and they’re portrayed as victims for this loss of emotional intimacy at least as much as the women they relate to as sex objects.

So good is Spader at this role – and a similar lost, pathetic character in Secretary – that I refused to believe it was him playing Daniel Jackson in the Stargate movie until I saw it. I’ve still half-convinced it’s really Michael Shanks under a different name.

I am, of course, sorry that such characters, and such men, exist, as I am that their female characters exist. But I find it incredibly refreshing that men have finally been portrayed as sad, pathetic creatures despite their material wealth, as victim’s of the patriarchy’s orders for men to be men. Perhaps the writers of the world have become more aware of the lack of such characters. Enough to create at least two Emmy-winning roles.

Baby steps, mate. Baby steps.

Next, my rave on BL‘s creation of the ballsiest forty-plus woman in television: Shirley Schmit (and unlike Mary Magdelene, I promise to come through on this one!)


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    In a way, they are as much victims of the patriarchy as the patriarchy’s more obvious victims;

    …and that’s exactly why this site exists. Men are just as much victims of the patriarchy as we are. They may not suffer many of the tangible indignities and brutalities women do, but there is plenty of damage available for them at the hands of the patriarchy. It’s just that most of it’s a bit less visible – which probably makes it just that much more insidious.

    That’s what it really comes down to. It’s not men versus women – it’s people for the patriarchy against those who want real equality. And we get sidetracked by debating just what IS real equality, and how to go about it… and the longer we fight each other, the longer the patriarchy sits back smiling to itself, training boys not to have feelings and girls not to have ambition, and pitting us all against each other.

    I’m getting DirectTV today. I think I’ll be sure and check out Boston Legal. :)

  2. Gategrrl says

    I just read this essay about Alan and Denny (love being on a first name basis with these two characters, kind of like Jack and Daniel – anyway!) but on some level I disagree with the conclusions – that these two are victims of any sort of the “patriarchy”. To me, they are completely victims of their own appetites and “macho”. I see them very clearly expressing their feelings to each other in a very guy-way, which I do not see as synonymous with “disadvantaged poor rich guys under the thumb of their own patriachy”.

    I apologize if I don’t make much sense. But I haven’t had much time to put a cogent argument together. This is just my own opinion and take on it.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    No, you made sense. I think you’re focusing on individual responsibility where I’m focusing on a bad system needing change. Both need to be considered, IMO. Any woman or man who chooses to espouse the values of the patriarchy is responsible for that choice and the results of it. Period.  But we can also look at the system as a whole, and see where it’s contributing to the problems and talk about changing it, without holding those individuals blameless.

    That’s how I feel, anyway.

  4. scarlett says

    I see it as a greater issue. I think Alan and Denny are the products of the worst elements of the patriarchy meeting the worst elements of capitalism – misogynistic overachievers who spend all their lives making money and screwing women and climbing to the top only to get there and realise all that’s left is the slide into oblivion. They’re obviously very fond of each other but a fair bit homophobic so their comaraderie is based on sex, money and winning in court and things like lonliness and insecurity is best left unsaid.


  1. […] Sheila is introduced as a friend of Alan Shore’s. She’s a brilliant lawyer who’s a bit eccentric; never mind, she’s one of Alan’s friends – one would assume that makes eccentricity a pre-requisite rather then an anomaly. In fact, someone once said that there is a fine line between brilliance and madness, so by that argument, geniuses are allowed to have some out-there ideas. […]

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