the Antiheroine

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…

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4 Responses to the Antiheroine

  1. Hecky says:

    Is that why Courtney Love is lynched in the media? I thought it was because she’s batshit crazy and drugged out. Another difference is that she’s real, whereas your male examples are all fictitious. Who are the real-life men that you would (presumably) want to claim can get away with this behaviour? (Not to mention that Love does have children to whom she has legal responsibilities like any other parent. I think that’s part of why her behaviour gets so much press.)

    If you want to see a show that really, truly challenges the traditional female archetypes (especially the ones from sci-fi), you should watch Battlestar Galactica. I have all the DVDs and I might even lend some to you. Ten minutes with Starbuck or Laura Roslin will make Carrie Bradshaw look like a 50s schoolmarm.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Depending on whether you are looking for drama or comedy I have a few recommendations.

    -The Wire 5 seasons
    -Dexter 3 seasons
    -Mad Men 2 seasons (your inner sociologist will be both astounded and infuriated by the accuracy)
    -It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia 4 seasons

  3. JENNIFER says:

    Hecky, is that just you posting again? Cause I’m pretty sure you’d recommend all those shows as well. I also predicted that you’d recommend BSG. You, Starbucks fetishish, you.

    But….I do have to agree with you. Sf novels, especially those in the Buffy-vein (the ‘paranormal romance’ type that are taking over the Harlequin sections in Chapters) depict anti-heroines who take a lot of pleasure from killing and sleeping around.

  4. living dead girl says:

    OK guys, the antiheroine exists in fiction that takes place in outer space, the distant past, the distant future or a parallel universe featuring vampires. Somehow, I don’t feel that this disproves my point.

    Some examples of male celebrities who have been lambasted for batshit craziness/drug use/general bad behavior who have not had their parenting called into question: Mel Gibson (drinking, anti-semitism), Russell Crowe (fightin’ round the world) and my roommate’s terrifying example, K-Fed.

    I should note that I have since given Californication another chance, and enjoyed the rest of season 1 despite my inability to sympathize with Hank’s “sex addiction”. Interestingly, David Duchovny is rumored to suffer from the same affliction, and is getting treatment.

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