Having finished season 2 of the Tudors, I’ve been looking to start another series on DVD to fill my pathetic lonely evenings spent knitting in front of the TV. A friend from work lent me “Californication”, a series about a writer, Hank, who muddles through his miserable life of trying to win back his ex-girlfriend who is now engaged to a successful albeit dull shmuck. The series essentially follows Hank’s day-to-day life of alcoholism and recklesshedonism, as he drinks incessantly, and screws everyone and anyone he lays eyes on (usually at the bar, where he spends every other scene).
What makes this show bearable is Hank’s sardonic wit, which permeates every scene and gives an otherwise morbid setting an air of… what’s the word? Humility? Hank is a total asshole, but his sharp tongue and his unfailing ability to defeat/humiliate his opponent (no matter how drunk/stoned/naked Hank may be at the time) is always entertaining and often hilarious. He admits to drowning in alcoholism and a “sea of meaningless pussy”. I would object to this dehumanization of women’s genitals, but the I cannot argue with the way women fall to Hank’s feet. But I digress. Hank’s behavior puts him in a rather interesting archetypal character that has been popping up everywhere in popular fiction these days; the antihero whose behavior is reprehensible, but who remains nonetheless endearing and likeable.
You might recognize this character. He is Jack Bauer from 24, Henry viii from the Tudors, Tony Soprano and House. Men who unabashedly and unapologetically spit in the face of conventional behavior and respect for authority, but who nonetheless emerge in the right (or, in the case of the Tudors and Sopranos, on top). The sociologist in me wonders at this antihero and at his implications for 2008 North American ideology. Are rules and procedures no longer necessary? Do ends justify means? Futhermore, are we to “lighten up” over political scandals and mishaps?
It is not surprising that this antihero can only be male. Women who ignore or resist social conventions are not so celebrated. Carrie Bradshow comes dangerously close to subverting the archetypal woman with her ambitious career and open sexuality, but she stays within social bounds with her materialism and pervasive longing for the love of her life. Not to bash the show; I am a huge fan of Sex in the City, and think Carrie Bradshaw is an important step in the right direction, but she will never be able to get away with what her male counterparts do.
I dub this phenomenon “Courtney Love syndrome” in honor of another woman who is continually lynched in the media for her inability or unwillingness to conform to normative standards of womanhood, wifehood and motherhood. Although her behavior does not differ significantly from her celebrity male colleagues, such transgressions are evidently not acceptable for a woman. To be continued…