Another issue that arose in the comments on Do Audience Want Female Leads? was: why are there so few roles in which women are “buddies”?
I’m a big fan of buddy movies… I thoroughly enjoyed A Knight’s Tale mainly because of the friendships and I was pleased as punch to see a woman as one of the buddies. The main female, however, annoyed the crap out of me. ‘Prove your love for me by letting yourself be bashed and battered and possibly killed’. Self-centred b*tch. I loathed her. Have her as a main character to cheer for? Forget it.
Revena then asked:
So are roles for women written the way they are because of demographic concerns, or overwhelming cultural influence, or what? How do we go about getting more Kates?
Ankh then answered with several good points, but the one I’m going to focus on is:
Perhaps in order to get more Kates in buddy relationships you have to change this idea many viewers have that Boy + Girl = Romance. In some ways it’s a self-perpetuating problem. The audience expects B + G = Romance. The writers write B + G = Romance. The more times B + G = Romance the more the audience expects B + … etc. So did the writers start this now hackneyed formula or did the audience already have it in their mind that, if you have a man and a woman working together or interacting to some degree, the urge to snog while some invisible orchestra saws away at violins will inevitably arise? Perhaps the only way we can have our Kates is to shove another woman in as some sort of sacrificial goat to suffer the mind-numbing bleedin’ boredom of being Love Interest Version 3 while Kate gets to do the cool stuff.
So, to sum up: it’s rare to see a woman in a buddy role at all, and – as Ankh’s exemple pointed out – even when we do, she’s pushed to the background while a more stereotypical female character gets featured. There are a few possible reasons why this happens, but however it got started, we seem to be locked into a cycle in which audiences expect to see romance because they’ve been shown it, and writers keep writing it because it’s expected. Which was the chicken, and which was the egg?
I think that’s an important question to settle, because if audiences are open to something different, there will be filmmakers who are happy to cater to them. The studios keep swearing they’re in this for profit, and profit comes from showing the audience what they want. The problem is, ever since demographics replaced art in the early 80’s, it’s become Bad Business to offer something new and unproven. This is why we have more remakes, adaptations and sequels than original scripts. (In fact, when you’re pitching an original screenplay, it’s advisable to describe how it’s similar to at least one or two successful films, so the studio will feel they have a quantifiable reason to believe this idea you have will sell tickets.)
The problem is, you have to show something to the audience before they can respond negatively or positively. In film, this is a tricky proposition: people don’t lay out many, many millions of dollars to make a movie without good reason to think it’s going to perform. And I can’t blame them, frankly.
But what about TV?
In TV, it’s very possible to try new things: you take a little risk, and if the audience likes it, you push a little further next time. And suddenly, you discover that audiences love this tasty new dish you’d never thought to serve them before. And if they don’t respond well, you just back off quickly and go back to same-old-same-old.
So why isn’t TV taking more risks? At least here in the US. Why did Mulder and Scully have to be linked romantically sooner or later? Why did Stargate, which started out with a lot of very interesting gender role-reversal, deconstruct their main female lead into a near-bimbo and kill off the other recurring female who’d managed to remain cool? Twenty-five years ago, WKRP showed us a little family of characters in which the women were co-conspirators in the shenanigans, just like the guys. It seems to me we’re moving backwards.
That leads to Revena’s question: is there some overwhelming demographic or cultural reason why film and TV should reflect the idea that women+men automatically = sex?
It’s very different in real life. I see men and women being “buddies” all the time, and the issue of romance/sex is completely absent. I see men and women working together without any urge to merge. And I’ve experienced one thing that I have yet to see fully developed on screen in my whole lifetime: relationships where a man and woman flirt heavily, in a ridiculous over-the-top sort of way, just clowning around, and everyone around them knows it’s just meaningless fun. It still carries an enjoyable charge, like sexual tension, but it lacks the troubling issues because it’s obvious the relationship is going to remain platonic. I’ve always thought that sort of relationship would translate beautifully to screen – giving the audience a fun titillation factor without the filmmakers writing themselves into a corner. Actors put this stuff in as subtext all the time, and yet the filmmakers seem disinterested in actually incorporating it into the scripts.
I know from conversations with people in film that filmmakers firmly and unyieldingly believe we want to see sex, sex, sex and, oh yeah – sex. It’s become a religious dogma – if you suggest this “fact” could possibly be in doubt, they cut you off with a jaded and worldly impatience that says they once believed as you do, young one, but you will soon learn the power of the dark side. Seriously, I’ve gotten this exact reaction quite a few times, from quite a few people. I even had one person tell me I was mistaken when I said that I wanted films involving females and males without sexual tension. It’s beyond religious dogma, actually – it’s a sort of scary fundamentalism.
I know they’re wrong in regards to me when they say audience members want everything to be about sex. But what about the rest of the audience? I always thought I was the oddball, and everyone else really does want endless streams of sex on screen. Which is it? Are we all being told “it’s just you” to keep us accepting status quo? Or are we really a minority?