So I was chatting with a mate on Twitter about Van Helsing, it's a Post Apocalyptic TV series about vampires. He's been trying to get me to watch it for a while now and I finally caved and started watching it with my girlfriend. We're only up to the second episode and I took issue with a scene in particular. Don't worry, I'll still watch it all the way through... my girlfriend loves it, and I need to study it.
Basically, Vanessa, the protagonist, arrives home and we hear a domestic going on in one of the other apartments. A couple is arguing, we hear strikes, then a man storms out into the hallway. After a short altercation with Vanessa, the man proceeds to get his arse handed to him.
Now, as previously stated over and over, I've got no problem with strong female leads. You couldn't have a show like this without the main character being a badass, so that's not the issue. My issue is that we learn she's a badass by way of seeing her kick the shit out of a guy who is clearly an abusive partner. It's not enough for her to be able to beat the crap out of a guy who is much larger than her, she's got to beat the crap out of a guy who is proven to be abusive towards women.
That's my issue.
I get what the show is trying to do but the whole thing, to me, lacks subtly. The writers want to show off Vanessa as being a competent fighter and someone who is willing to step into harms way in order to protect the ones she cares about, that's fine. But they took it a step too far in their attempt to virtue signal, because now Vanessa isn't just protecting her friend... she's beating a guy who beats women, she's "striking back against the patriarchy" so to speak.
But in the scene before this one, she's rebuffing a guy who asks her out while she's giving blood, so straight off the bat we've got this anti-male sentiment that has a high probability of turning away male viewers. Now, we could go down the road of "the show isn't written for you, a straight, white male, so stop complaining!" but I'd say that it should be written specifically for me. It's me, and people like me, that you want to convince to watch this show!
There's no use in preaching to people who already believe the same things you do, that's just wasted breath. What you want is to convey your message to people who don't believe the same things you do, to try and sway them to your way of thinking. But to do that, you've got to deliver your message in a way that's palatable enough for them to sit through and willingly swallow. Annoying your intended audience by forcing them to roll their eyes in amusement or disgust is not a good way to get your message across.
Vanessa is a badass, there's a female doctor whose sister works for the military in some capacity, while the leader of the military unit that comes to secure the hospital is also female. All of these female characters are great representations of strong and capable women, one of them even has a whole unit of trained men who follow her orders. That's how you get your message across, with subtly and nuance, by simply having women who are clearly competent, respected and holding positions of power. This is not a hard pill to swallow because it's not in your face with some "girls rule boys suck rah rah rah" message, it just is.
Have your female protagonist beat the crap out of a guy, that's awesome. Have a whole bunch of men defer to her trained judgment, that's cool too. But the second you make her beat a guy who's an abusive partner, that's saying something. It crosses the line into the territory of moralized preaching... and nothing turns viewers away quicker.
I've got no problem with the message these shows are trying to convey, there's been a serious shortage of great female leads in shows and movies - especially in action roles. But there's gotta be a smarter way of going about it than what I've been seeing. You don't need to pull men down to raise women up, that's only going to foster resentment and resistance to the idea of seeing women as equal. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is kind of the opposite of what the creators of these shows would like to happen.
As I stated at the start of this post, I was talking to a mate about this over Twitter and one of the writers of the show popped in, then the showrunner did as well. We all kind of got into it and I got accused of mansplaining (which is just the weakest form of rebuttal) and pretty much told that my subjective views weren't viable. The sad part is, we're all wanting the same thing, better representation and an improved society. But judging from the fact that I got told by the show runner that "this is TV, not Tolstoy" they evidently don't care enough about their own show to put in the effort required to tell a half decent story.
I want better stories. I want shows that manage to stay on the air for more than two seasons to take more care in the manner in which they deliver their messages. Considering how easily great shows get cancelled these days, it's almost a responsibility to tell a good story and to convey the right message. Considering how many people watch television these days, it's not something to be taken lightly.
But of course, it's far easier to take the populist route and reinforce the opinions of the baying masses who already agree with you, rather than challenge and attempt to change the opinions of those who stand against you. So maybe they're less interested in social change than they purport themselves to be and are in fact simply interested in appealing to as many people as possibly to maximize revenue...
...yeah, that's probably it.
Note - there’s an update to this post - here.