Proppin’ up the Menfolk

You’ve seen her before.

She’s hot. She’s successful. She’s smart. Her personality is pretty much dishwater. And she’s usually in the background while the guys discuss what’s really going on. But sometimes, she gets a closeup – usually kind of muzzed. It’s of her getting a special gleam in her eye when she looks at him. Or shedding quiet tears while she sits at home, knowing he’s off shagging some other woman.

She’s a prop in the form of a person, and she’s already playing on a number of shows near you.

She doesn’t have opinions. She can recite the Gettysburg addess backwards in triple speed because she’s brilliant and gifted (and that’s naturally the sort of thing really smart people sit around doing), but she couldn’t keep a washcloth awake in conversation for more than a few minutes. She never really smiles or laughs or cracks jokes. Might wrinkle her face. Or something worse.

You see, next to her, he looks good. He’s your local male lead, propped up by the uselessness of the women around him. Years ago, you could just present her as a bimbo who loved him madly, but that fell out of favor. Bimbos are no longer PC. The new formula – and you’ll want to take notes here – is this:

  • She’s got a much higher IQ than he has, but he has street smarts or cleverness or homespun wisdom or really simplistic ideas that turn out to be brilliant. In short, she’s a genius, but he’s somehow still smarter than she is.
  • Her lack of opinions, passions and humor make his opinions, passions and humor look like real character development. Who said bad writers aren’t clever?
  • Her unquenchable thirst for his body, mind and spirit proves that he is Hot, Manly, Heterosexual (no matter how many male buddies he seems to connect with on a weirdly deep level) and Heroic. Even – and this is the kicker – if he’s played by a guy who has the charisma and physical appeal of a waffle iron. In fact, this is a great way to let your male audience feel like even he could score a hot chick like her, if only he could figure out where they’re grown.

How many female leads, promoted on the commercials as Real, Self-Sufficient Women(TM) with depth and personality, turn out to be nothing more than props when you scratch beneath the surface? The producers keep insisting in interviews and DVD commentaries that these women are fantastic characters. The promo commercials for the shows often back them up, showing only those snippets where it looks like maybe Real Woman is doing something worthwhile. Then you watch the show and it turns out what she was doing was pointless, or she did something cool but also strangled her own sister to get a man.

Is this really what the audience wants to see? Or is it what filmmakers want to think the audience wants to see? Are men seriously so threatened by women of depth that they don’t want to watch them on TV?

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