Why yes, I am reviewing Mystery Science Theater 3000, the hilarious cult phenomenon TV show in which a guy marooned in space and two robots watched a terrible movie and made fun of it. MST3K was my first experience of someone outside my home making sarcastic and delicious fun of a movie for, among other things, portraying women poorly:
“Yes, non-skinny women are inherently unhappy.”
“We’ll just stand here, because they’re men and we’re not. We don’t want to get involved.”
What I love about this show was that there’s no way anyone could think they were just looking for something to complain about (as some visitors to this site have accused us of doing). MST couldn’t possibly be linked with the missions of feminists, anti-racists or other equality activists: it had no purpose but to make fun of movies that had utterly failed. And yet, part of what they perceived as bad entertainment was the very stuff we criticize here: lazy stereotypes, tropes, and the obsession with sidelining females in a desperate attempt to make poorly written male protagonists look like they could handle a malfunctioning Xerox machine without crying for their mommies.
Because the stuff we criticize is bad entertainment. As concerned as we are about the fact that portraying women as less than human reinforces existing misogynistic beliefs, let us never lose site of the fact that it just plain makes your movie/TV show suck. It’s been done to death, and because we all know women aren’t really like that, it’s a cheat as big as having a car suddenly take off flying just to convenience your plot. It shows how uncreative the filmmakers are, or how incapable they are of showing any perspective but their own – or it provides a really embarrassing glipmse into the filmmaker’s extreme lack of experience with women, or his/her own seeming misogyny.
Why did the writers of MST get it? It’s not as if they made perfect choices in their own setup – the lead character (Joel and later Mike) was always a white man; the robots who made fun of movies with him were characterized as male; Gypsy, the only female robot we heard from very occasionally, was characterized at about the level of a particularly giddy ten year old who liked unicorns and pretty flowers and had a weird crush on Richard Basehart (and even she was voiced by a man!). And the bad guys who kept Joel/Mike and the bots marooned in space with bad movies were also male (for the first eight years).
Of course, when this setup was established way back at the beginning, there were no female writers on the show. Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Jones (Nelson) came a couple of years later, as did a few new male writers. Which is not to say the male writers didn’t contribute to the jokes about bad female portrayals – I imagine they did, and in the worst case, I still have to credit the original group of men for hiring not one but two women as writers. And for later putting both women on screen, where they were hilarious.
MST provides incontrovertible proof that fans with no agenda other than to enjoy a movie are just as annoyed by lazy reliance on stereotypes as equality activists.