Survivors: men obsessing on themselves

I’ve been watching the 1970s version of Survivors, a British TV show about the tiny percentage of humans who have survived an apocalyptic plague. There is some awesomeness about this show: the two lead characters in the first season are women, and one of them is leadership material (she’s from the upper class, which gives her privilege to cancel out her lack of gender privilege, but we still see a woman handling things as well as a man). Unfortunately, after the actress playing the main lead chooses to leave the show, things go a bit downhill as two annoying and stupid men start vying for leadership.

And yet, the scripts seem to remember the men are annoying and stupid as often as they forget. It’s weird, but worth discussing.

In the second season, it looks like basic survival has been addressed. The survivors are growing their own food, forming little communities and even starting to barter with other communities. So the men start worrying about the survival of the species, i.e., women having babies. This leads to an interesting episode in which one man, Charles, is haranguing young women who are deliberately avoiding pregnancy by timing their sexual encounters carefully. In a terrific exchange between Charles and the most influential of the young women, Melanie, Charles tells Melanie she’s being selfish by encouraging the “other girls” to avoid pregnancy. Melanie starts flirting with Charles, who’s a married man, deliberately making him uncomfortable, and says if the women must have babies in order to keep humanity going, then shouldn’t they at least get to choose whatever male partner they want?

Melanie’s beautiful, and Charles has definitely noticed it, so you might think he’d like that solution. But in real life, people don’t like having their choices taken away. Charles reacts like a real person, not a TV character safely caught up in a writer’s “circumstances forced them to do it” scenario. He gets uncomfortable and avoids Melanie until she leaves their community.

But over time, as relationships form, a few women do become pregnant. So how do Charles and the other men respond? They abandon the women with the kids, and go off trekking all over the country to find other men. Oh, my, they’ve heard there’s an engineer of this type in some place! It’s only two days by horse! They must go find him before he moves on! Oh, my, there’s a guy who knows about livestock someplace else! Off they go!

The implication is clear: men are defined by their various roles, which vary greatly. And to be fair, one woman who was nearly done with her studies to become a doctor when the plague hit is much sought after and fought over by various communities. But all the other women are simply wombs waiting to be filled. And once they’re filled, this parenthood thing has what to do with men, again? Men have places to go! People to see! Surely a bunch of undefended pregnant women, some with small children to tend, can take care of a small farm while defending themselves against any marauding lowlifes who come around to loot the place or worse. Men are busy with important stuff! Stop nagging them!

In the end, I suppose we’re supposed to think there’s been some kind of triumph, as they re-establish currency. To me, it just looks like men are well on their way to fucking the world up again, just like they did before. Only this time, the consequences would be more obvious and less debatable: this time, when they fail to support women, there will be dead babies and dead would-be mothers because of it. When they fail to respect women’s abilities unless they’re stamped with degrees, there will be less food on the table.

Survivors comes so close to – yet falls so short of – demonstrating how simply impractical it is to just consign half your species to one role only, then not even properly support them in that role.


  1. Charles RB says

    I’ve only seen the first series, but what I found very interesting was the second half, explicitly from Law And Order, set up a conflicting dynamic between Abby and Greg, with Abby as leader but Greg known to be “the manager” who was needed more than her and she didn’t want to cross him…

    And then the final episode blows a great big hole in it. Abby finally gets fed up and calls him bluff in a very tense clash (“OR YOU’LL WHAT?“) and he doesn’t do anything. Then she decides to leave for a few days, with Jen reassuring her that Greg’s the manager anyway so it won’t be a big deal, but while she’s gone everything starts to get messy and Greg is struggling to cope. They don’t have anyone explicitly say that Abby is more important than the men had thought, but that’s what they seemed to be going for.

    (And then the actress got shoved off the series because… well, because she really was a strong woman with opinions.)

  2. Casey says

    The way you initially described what happened, I thought the show was trying to portray the whole “men are fickle douches who flee from responsibility/commitment/child-rearing” shtick as a BAD thing, but apparently that’s not how it’s handled? They treat mean abandoning pregnant women/women with small children like it’s no big thing? ‘Da fuck?!!?

      • Scarlett says

        Hee, that wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t know anything about *that* show, but I used to watch the credits on All Saints and it appeared to have been written by someone new every day. And I was like, that explains while it feels all over the place sometimes.

      • Charles RB says

        I remembered the S1 DVD boxset has a “making of” booklet. Turns out Terry Nation, producer Dudley, and writer Jack Ronder had different ideas on what the show should do (battles between groups of survivors, rebuilding civilisation, and the reactions of people & their unifying); in the first half, Dudley became an unofficial script editor and did big rewrites that narked off Ronder and Clive Exton (who asked for a pseudonym, M.K. Jeaves, on his eps); Nation claims he grew “tired” of the in-fighting & gave up more control and left after S1…

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