Watching TV and Thinking at the Same Time

So was everyone who watched this past Wednesday’s Angel as irritated by the ending as I was?

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun episode. And I like the basic idea of showing that Andrew has actually grown up a bit.

But what’s with the ending, in which the visual representation of Andrew’s growing up is that he’s going out for a night on the town with two gorgious babes (female variety)? The implication is that “growing up” consists of a movement from not-very-closeted homosexuality to the adolescant vision of heterosexuality represented by James Bond – and, in the sixth season of Buffy, represented by Warren.

As my housemate Charles ponted out, Andrew wasn’t overtly sexual with the two women; so the creators left themselves an “out” (as it were). Andrew hasn’t turned straight, and the point of the ending wasn’t to imply a three-way; he was just getting dressed up to go bar-hopping with two model-looking female friends of his. But that isn’t how most of the viewers will read the scene, and the creators of the show know that perfectly well.

Would it have killed them to show Andrew going out with a young man who seemed to treat Andrew decently? No, no – two hot blondes is much more mature.

* * *

In a completely unrelated rant, I just watched an episode of My So-Called Life. It was a pretty interesting episode; all the plotlines – even the English class reading The Metamorphosis - converged on being about girl’s and women’s insecurities about their appearances.

My favorite part was a scene in history class, which had no dialog aside from a video of a Malcolm X speech, which the class was watching. As the camera panned across the room (which seemed to have more black students than other classes in this episode) and settled on the main character, obsessing over a zit on her chin, Malcolm X’s speech said:

Who taught you, please, who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin, to such extent that you bleach, to get like the white man? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose, and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself, from the top of your head, to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate, the race that you belong to? So much so, that you don’t want to be around each other. Oh no, before you come asking Mr. Mohammed, does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.

It was a very effective moment; what had been presented pretty much as personal hang-ups among the girls suddenly became politicized. Who taught these girls to hate the shape of their noses, the shape of their lips?

But then I got to thinking: Why is it that we can’t seem to get away from viewing the black civil rights struggle as the Platonic civil rights struggle, the struggle that all other struggles must resemble or else be illegitimate?

Think of the debate, in recent months, over if same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. It’s almost always presented in the same way: as a question of if the gay rights movement is similar to or different from the black civil rights movement (those who are pro-SSM say “similar,” those who aren’t say “different”). It’s rarely presented as a question of if justice and equality are being denied to same-sex couples, taken on their own terms.

It’s like a perverse variation of the “model minority myth,” which is so often used to attack blacks (e.g., “if Jews and Asians made it despite discrimination, why can’t blacks?”). This time, it’s the “model civil rights movement” myth. We need to get over it.

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21 Responses to Watching TV and Thinking at the Same Time

  1. 1
    tikae says:

    Oh, the ending to Angel absolutely bothered me. I adore Andrew, and I, too, had hoped to see him going out with a nice handsome young man (or, well, Dawn, but that’s an entirely different issue). The whole attempt of humor at “Andrew’s got two hot chicks and you two can’t even keep your girlfriends, haha!” was… almost surreal. And fairly disappointing, as were few other things in the episodes (the over-the-top Italian characters, switching Spike’s on-and-off-again creepy obsessiveness about his “women” right back on).

  2. 2
    fling93 says:

    I thought the Angel episode was rather weak, with a few funny moments here and there. We had the same reaction to the ending that you did.

    Yeah, MSCL was a great show.

  3. 3
    Annika says:

    My biggest problem with this week’s Angel was actually how disjointed it felt. It’s my understanding the the usual method for dividing an episode between two writers is to split up storylines, scenes, or acts, whichever is the most appropriate. In this case I felt like one writer was responsible for the first half and the other for the second, because at exactly the halfway mark I started paying attention because it was suddenly REALLY funny. (The slow-mo fight in the bar, the Italian CEO with the spitting…sometimes I like stereotypes.)

    I have to admit that I was surprised by the reaction to Andrew. It was only in reading the responses over at Buffyguide and later speaking with my best friend (who is gay, which is probably irrelevant) that I realized it could be read that way. The way I saw it was that the tuxedo was the important thing – look how cool Andrew is now! He’s James Bond! Of course in retrospect I see how careless a choice the two women were, but I don’t necessarily see it as a statement that he’s straight now, especially since it was never established that he was 100% gay.

  4. 4
    P6 says:

    But then I got to thinking: Why is it that we can’t seem to get away from viewing the black civil rights struggle as the Platonic civil rights struggle, the struggle that all other struggles must resemble or else be illegitimate?

    Because people tend to take the same positions on all rights questions, so it shortcuts the discussion. Most people who suppport Black folks’ civil rights efforts also support women’s rights and gay marrriage. Interestingly enough, the correlation isn’t as strong with Black folks ourselves.

    (Sorry, I don’t watch Angel.)

  5. 5
    Esther says:

    I’ve been trying so hard not to hate Angel, since the show’s in its waning moments of existence. Though I love Amy Acker and think she’s giving an incredible performance as Illyria, I’m not a fan of that whole storyline.

    Adore Andrew, and never cared whether or not he was gay. I did think that his hero worship of Buffy (especially in that great Andrewcentric episode during the last season) was in the form of a giant crush. Now that he’s been studying the habits of the “VampYREs” with Giles, he’s found his confidence and salvation (as his female companions symbolize, but don’t get me started on female beauty as a “reward” for men). Remember, he used to affiliate with evil, and now he’s making his reparations through his work with the Slayerettes.

    Do I need a life? Don’t want one. Want Angel and Buffy to live forever. Grr. Arrgh.

  6. 6
    acm says:

    Two thoughts on Angel:
    1) what was that for one of the last 3 episodes of the show? a moderately amusing (although over-pushed) mid-season episode, ok. guess they’d already filmed it when they got the news, because it was just a throw-away.
    2) I did think the Andrew thing was odd, but it was sort of in the context of “Spike and Angel can’t move on” but Andrew is growing. I agree with Annika that the point was more about his being self-possessed (although he did practically drool over Spike when they first showed up) and cool. Isn’t he asked a question like “what’s new with you?” to which he says “not much”? (except that I’m all cool and there’s this ambiguous thing about the women at the door…. flash back to Willow’s comment that “nothing’s new” when she showed up on the show a season or two back? (a bit much to go into right now, Wes))…

    just another penny

  7. 7
    Mary-Jane says:

    Ah, yes. The feminist, progressive, Buffyverse: where wannabe rapists (and willing accessories to rape and murder like Andrew) get off entirely scot-free, yet innocent lesbians have to die.
    It’s taken you THIS long to realise that Mutant Enemy are (to put it mildly) virtually useless when it comes to their depiction of gay characters? Where on earth were you when they killed Tara and made Willow evil? (Do the words ‘lesbian cliche’ ring a bell at all?)
    When they killed Tara, the writers threw away a meaningful and loving lesbian relationship so that they could explore a meaningless and entirely sex-oriented lesbian ‘relationship’. Does that seem enlightened and progressive to you? (Oh, I forgot. Willow got to have a happy ending, because Joss Whedon never got the chance to have her new girlfriend shot through the heart.) As far as I’m concerned, what they did to the Willow and Tara relationship was the equivalent of having Gunn eat watermelon and call Angel ‘massah’ – a nasty, outdated stereotype.
    Of course, the Willow and Kennedy ‘relationship’, being shallow and entirely sex-oriented, was not nearly as threatening or challenging to people’s stereotypes of same-sex relationships as the Willow/Tara relationship. Two girls kissing, just so long as it has nothing to do with love (a word which was never used in regard to the Willow and Kennedy ‘relationship’) isn’t threatening to a mainstream audience. Two girls having a long-term, committed and loving relationship .. well, that has to end in some kind of heartbreak, or otherwise people might get the idea that being a lesbian is okay. (This is why the Willow and Tara relationship was so controversial among the mainstream fandom, whereas the Willow and Kennedy ‘relationship’ attracted very little controversy or attention in comparison, other than from rightfully pissed off Willow/Tara shippers.)
    When he made the decision to kill Tara and turn Willow evil, and the subsequent decision to pair Willow with Kennedy, Mr Whedon was sending the message that, if you’re a lesbian, love is dangerous and deserves to be punished (either by death or by turning evil), but having a relationship which is all about sex and doesn’t involve love or committment is just fine. Furthermore, if you have a love and commitment-free lesbian relationship, you’ll get to stay alive, well and non-evil as your reward for not scaring society.
    And you’re somehow surprised that the genuises at Mutant Enemy who chose to provide yet another variation on the dead/evil lesbian cliche come up with an offensive scene relating to Andrew’s sexual preferences? Give me a break.

  8. 8
    maurinsky says:

    I thought last week’s Angel was the worst episode ever. I understand Mary-Jane’s anger, but I think Tara’s death was not to punish anyone for their lesbianism, rather, it was to illustrate the stupidity of vengeance. Tara was the most innocent of all the characters on Buffy.

    Anyway – I was terribly disappointed by this week’s Angel not because Andrew had women show up instead of men, but because it was just terrible.

  9. 9
    Andrew (a real one) says:

    It was extremely strongly hinted at that Andrew was gay, not bi, in Buffy. I’m thinking of a (slightly tacky, i think) bit in “The Storyteller”, Buffy series seven, when Andrew overlooks Willow and Kennedy kissing on the sofa to admire Xander’s newly installed window-frame.

  10. 10
    Andrew (the same real one) says:

    Sorry to be ignorant, but can Mary-Jane (or anyone else) give another example of this lesbian cliche. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this argument with respect to Buffy, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve noticed the dead/evil lesbian cliche.

  11. 11
    bean says:

    Ever read (or seen) The Celluloid Closet? There’s a ton of examples in there.

  12. 12
    wolfangel says:

    The Buffyverse was weirdly anti-sex all the time, though. Buffy has sex with Angel — he turns evil and kills people. Xander has sex with Faith, and I believe the next episode was the one where she killed someone. Willow has sex with Oz, and shortly after he sleeps with a werewolf and leaves her. Buffy has sex with Parker (or whatever his name was) and he disappears. I tend to feel that having sex with Riley would have been punishment in its own right, but there was also that episode all about their having sex, which I have mostly blocked from my head. Jenny and Giles, too.

    The entire storyline was always fairly anti-sex, and especially anti-relationship. It’s not like Willow and Tara were the only couple denied happily-ever-afterhood. (I liked Tara a lot; at one point, she and Giles were the only likeable characters.) My biggest complaint with the Willow-Tara relationship, given that it (like all relationships on that show) had to end, was that they wasted what could have been a fascinating story arc on power and revenge on “magic abuse”.

  13. 13
    fling93 says:

    I heard someone say this at panel at Con Jose a couple of years ago and think it’s pretty likely.

    Tara’s fate was probably due to Marti Noxon having free reign that season (the “sucky season”), and Noxon is a writer who has just learned to play with angst, and she likes to throw it around and watch the pretty patterns it makes. That was, I believe, when Joss was a bit busy with Firefly. I thought the whole “magic = drugs” storyline played like a bad after-school special.

    Then Joss came back and undid most of what she screwed up (Giles telling Willow that magic is an integral part of her, Kennedy & Willow, Buffy kicking butt again). Joss is a more mature writer than Marti and doesn’t play with angst. Instead, it’s just another tool in his story-telling arsenal.

    That’s just a guess, though.

  14. 14
    tikae says:

    I’m fairly sure that Joss was busy with Firefly up until almost the middle part of the seventh season of Buffy, actually. I agree that Marti does enjoy overdoing the angst – but Joss has a lot of issues too, such as the little “NOBODY CAN BE HAPPY, EVER” thing.

    Continuing wolfangel’s theme, yes, Sex is Bad. Faith did kill someone soon after she and Xander had sex, but the two things weren’t matched up at all. What did happen was: Xander believed that he and Faith were “connected” because they slept together, and she laughed in his face and first tried to sexually assault him, then tried to kill him.

    It took a little while for things to go bad after Willow and Oz slept together – but they did break up because Oz slept with someone else and he was a prowling metaphor for unrestrained sexuality three days out of the month.

    Willow and Tara actually got to have (symbolic) sex the longest without things going bad – however, they didn’t even get to kiss on-screen until they’d already been sleeping together for about a year. And, of course, when they got back together and spent the whole day having sex, Tara was killed.

    The first time Buffy and Riley slept together was supposed to be a positive example of sex, because, for once, Buffy slept with a guy and he was still there and nice the next morning. But he did, in my opinion, turn into a jerk soon after (yeah yeah yeah, initiative drugs, yeah yeah). And yeah, the episode where they spent the whole time having sex and there were more lame metaphors… urgh.

    Anya and Xander end up dating and developing genuine feelings for each other after they have sex, so I suppose that’s the closest thing to a positive portayal of a sex life.

    And let’s not forget Buffy/Spike. Actually… let’s. Please. Let’s discuss the brief mentions, instead, that Spike and Xander/Spike and Angel did, in fact, have brief intimate moments.

  15. 15
    lucia says:

    You know.. I was bummed out by the last episode! My husband said he guessed it was like Butch Cassidy and the Sundace Kid– leaving us in doubt. Oh well…

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    Your husband thought the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid left us in doubt? Geez.

    Regarding the last episode of Angel, I thought it was an acceptable ending. It just had the problem that I didn’t really care about anything. I think it’s funny that Harmony and Lorne are (as I interpret it) the only ones to survive.

    Oh, and how Spike spent his last day was wonderful.

  17. 17
    lucia says:

    Well.. I pointed out that we knew Butch and Sundance died. He just meant structurally in the context of the both movies, we are left in doubt. (And clearly, he also assumes Angel and company are slaughtered.)

  18. 18
    Ampersand says:

    I assume Angel and company were slaughtered, too (except that Harmony got away – yay!). (I don’t think Lorne got away – I think he went to some Kareoke bar somewhere and waited a few hours for the Wolfram & Hart assassins to track him down and kill him).

    However, the ending is a bit more ambiguous than Butch‘s ending was. After all, Angel and company have fought their way out of ridiculously long odds before (way too often, in my opinion). Also, I’ve heard they want to leave the option of future made-for-TV movies open, in which case it will turn out that at least some of the characters got away. :-(

    Personally, I think the best everybody-dies ending ever is the last episode of Blake’s 7. Now, that was grim.

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