Writer. Sub-Editor. Punk. Red and black. Columnist at The 405.
Written for Open Democracy, Fight Back: A Reader on the Winter of Protest, Sabotage Times, Student Times, Noize Makes Enemies.
Co-Hosted an Avant/Noise radio show.
Studied Multimedia Journalism @ Bournemouth University.
Article due to be published in Ghost Fuck #2
For the eighth, and reportedly last, time, Hugh Laurie has returned to screens as the womanising, drug addicted, socially repugnant – but most importantly – heroic, Dr. Gregory House.
The success of House has canonised the eponymous character; placing him amongst a group of elite (and mostly male) characters known for their complexity as much as their moral ambiguity and ability to just get the job done, no matter what the cost. The rough diamonds. The antiheroes.
You know who I’m talking about: Cracker, Jack Regan, Carlin - and more recently Jack Bauer, Tony Soprano, Dexter, and of course, House. These characters often aren’t particularly nice – nor do they do nice things; but for some reason we are drawn to them. We lionize their masculinity, their power is sexualised and their vices are sympathised with as a mere byproduct of being a top geezer.
TV Tropes is an exhaustive Wiki-style ‘…catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction’. Their section on the antihero proved particularly illuminating, shedding light on not just our bog standard antihero (‘…a protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero.) But also the ‘Nineties Anti-Hero’ (‘Not only are they flawed, they may lack any heroic attributes’), the ‘Heroic Sociopath’ (‘He differs from most Anti-Hero archetypes in that he’s never ineffectual or angsty - he loves what he does for a living.’) And the Femme Fatale.
Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the excellent Feminist Frequency ran a special series of Vlogs in partnership with Bitch Media focusing on certain female Tropes, especially those that she thought to be especially demeaning or oppressive. After a quick browse of TV Tropes, it’s hard to see how she narrowed it down to six.
Anita defines the Anti-Hero Trope thusly. “The Anti-Hero usually has a questionable moral compass and the Anti-Hero tends to… shift a little bit one way or another toward the end of their character development.” Anita identifies two strong female examples of the Anti-Hero to be Starbuck, Battlestar Gallactica’s maverick Viper pilot, and Faith – the wise cracking Black Dahlia to Buffy’s (she who slays Vampires) Valley-girl Rose. I myself offered Misfits’ kiss-your-mother-with-that-mouth Kelly.
TV Tropes lists many characters in Film and TV who are perceived as being part of the Anti-Hero trope. Using some rough maths (some of the characters listed are bunched into groups) I concluded that in films, roughly one female character for every six males is listed. In television, it is one for every seven. Naturally, some are disputable – such is the nature of a Wiki-style source. But even with a shift of two or three either way, the results would still be overwhelming.
Tentatively playing devil’s advocate, I proposed the idea that there could be something inherently masculine about the Anti-Hero. Anita deconstructed my theory with a weary and disinterested sigh, proposing that the construction of ‘good versus evil’, or ‘hero versus villain’ were molded around male characteristics – and that the issue lay with writers, directors and producers (or just the behind-the-scenes bankrollers…) merely trying to stick women into this framework.
“Like, what does a female hero look like, one that’s not just emulations or duplications of the male heroic type?”
Maybe we can look to Dame Helen Mirren as an example for a strong, whole female character? In her paper, ‘‘A Good Body’ – The Case Of/For Feminist Media Studies’, Sue Thornham looks at Mirren’s role as DCI Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, and claims that instead of being allowed the traits of the male antihero, she is instead placed alongside the predominantly female victims, herself made part of the display. It’s hard not to imagine that a male character would have been shown with cool detachment – their Holmesian mind a-whirring.
With a recent US reboot, Prime Suspect has been given the plastic-people-guns’n’violence treatment. Also, ‘Tennison’ is replace with ‘Timoney’. Americanised ocular torture aside, the program shows subtle advances in a more complete representation of a female character – a step closer a character that is what Anita would call ‘a full and complete human being’.
“[The writers] actually allowed us as the viewer to see why she’s so tough and emotionally closed off, but we also see her facing the difficulty of being in this heavily patriarchal space, having them call her out on only making it to the position she’s in because she slept with someone.
“She [Timoney] has to be tougher than all of the guys and smarter than all of the guys and you see her struggle with it, and you also see the emotional ramifications of that on a personal level”. This is no real revelation for British fans of the program, but it does represent the snail’s pace at which complex female characters are being introduced to our screens.
So how will this happen? What will it take for women to be represented as ‘full and complete human beings’ on our screens?
“In terms of creating some sort of gender parity in Hollywood - in TV and movies - it’s just gonna come down to having a more feminist lens inside of these writing rooms and being able to write more characters with deep complexity.
“If we have gender parity it makes sense to have more antihero female charaters, more villainous female characters, more questionable female characters. But until then – when women are on screen and they are shown as manipulative and shown as using their sexuality to seduce men, those become stereotypes that are placed onto real women in the real world.”