There’s an interesting essay Chuck Klosterman wrote (it’s really very good, read the whole thing here) where he postulates:
There doesn’t seem to be much debate over what have been the four best television shows of the past 10 years. It seems like an easy question to answer, particularly since it’s become increasingly difficult to write about the state of TV (or even the state of popular culture) without tangentially mentioning one of the following four programs — The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and/or Breaking Bad.
And that’s not just a Chuck Klosterman opinion. A commenter on a Vulture Recap of Breaking Bad remarks:
“This past season Breaking Bad passed The Sopranos as the best show ever on television (followed by Deadwood and Mad Men).”
Well, if you say so.
If I was asked to describe what any of those shows were about in one word I’d say “masculinity.” That’s not to say that those shows don’t all have well drawn, fantastic female characters. It seems obvious that, for example, Mad Men would be much less appealing without the presence of Peggy Olsen or Joan Holloway. Still, at the end of the day, the show revolves around Don Draper trying to figure out what it means to be a man in a changing world. All of those shows revolve around men being men. Why would Walt rather deal meth than accept charity? Because he’s a man. I’m hard pressed to find a comperable “serious” show in the past ten years which has revolved around what it means to be female.
Of course, you could say Sex and the City was a very, very popular show about women, and, honestly, Sex and the City has probably made more of a difference in people’s day to day actions than any of the others. People do not watch Breaking Bad and think “I’ve got to take some chemistry courses so I can become a meth dealer.” Nor do they watch “The Wire” and become drug lords (though it does mean they’ll speak authoritatively about the inner city at Westchester PTA meetings).
However, an entire flock of young women watched Sex and the City and decided to strap on some slingbacks and move to New York to drink unnaturally colorful cocktails. If you listen closely, outside some of the Meatpacking district haunts, you can still hear people debating whether they are a Carrie, or a Charlotte, or a Samantha, or the other one, who no one wants to be (if you are ever asked I find replying “I’m a Natasha” works really well).
But Sex and the City will never be on that list of good shows, depsite the fact that it had a cultural impact Deadwood will never came close to having. Perhaps because it wasn’t really wonderfully well written or nuanced – it was, fundamentally, a show about women talking about their male friends, seen in a way that was supposed to feel as though you were watching a particularly voyeuristic newspaper column unfold. That was the point of the show. It would have more accurately been entitled “Ladies making jokes about their love lives while wearing fancy outfits and sometimes having sex so they can discuss it later.” But “the City” worked, too.
However, imagining a version of Sex and the City where the protagonist is treated in the manner of a character on Mad Men is almost inconceivable. If we were subjected to long silent shots of this privileged, well dressed, attractive woman drinking martinis and being sad and authoritatively saying things like “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one” or “I hate to break it to you but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent” we would a) likely not take her seriously and b) say “who the hell does she think she is? Doesn’t she realize there are people with real problems out there?” Viewers who feel that Don Draper is speaking right to them would be infinitely less receptive if those lines came out of Carrie Bradshaw’s mouth, despite the fact that they’re characters with comparable privileges (dressing well, sleeping with whoever they want, having a “job” that enables them to drink martinis at lunch).
But then, nearly identical topics being treated differently if they’re told from the perspective of a man or a woman. I recently came upon this memoir called The Rules of the Tunnel which, a blurb on the back assures me, more or less encapsulates what it is to be a man in society today. It has very positive blurbs from very notable authors. Well and good. The book is about a Vanity Fair writer who finds it very hard to meet deadlines and deal with the pressure of girlfriends who seem to expect to have their calls returned, so he checks himself into a mental asylum for electroshock therapy.
This is obviously very sad, and perhaps it is a great struggle to be a man in America with bitches always calling and wanting to go “out” and Graydon Carter sort of expecting you to turn an article around in 6 weeks, after flying your around the world on the magazine’s dime, but I couldn’t help but feel that if a woman had written this novel people would have dismissed her as being an utterly entitled, ungrateful, unlikable bitch. A woman whose problem was not being able to meet the very reasonable demands of her very glamorous job and deal with all the attractive men who wanted to date her? Really? People read I Don’t Know How She Does It or The Devil Wears Prada and dismiss the characters as totally entitled bitches when they seem to make an effort to deal with 1) work and 2) relationships without deciding to erase their entire memories because the pressure is too much. Of course, were the memoir to be written by a woman I imagine they could have spruced her up to make her more likable. Play up the fact that she was “clumsy” maybe? Always knocking over things on her way to ECT? I know – we could have had a cover where a high heel (Louboutin?) was cracked.
It’s a shame to say that there isn’t a truly “great” show about what it means to be female and deal with issues surrounding being feminine. That’s not to say that well written shows about female leads don’t exist – Weeds, The Big C, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Uniter States of Tara – but it does seem telling that every show about masculinity is a drama that you are supposed to take very seriously while every show about femininity is about giggling, isn’t it? Giggling over lady issues? Which is odd, because according to so many sources women aren’t funny and barely even have senses of humor. You’d think we’d respond better to women sitting in shadowy rooms saying “we’re out of strawberry jam” which, naturally, means “I’m having an affair.”
But, as far as I can tell, no such shows exist. Or do they? Please tell me if you’ve found any.