Category Archives: Culture

How 50 Shades of Grey Turned Evangelicals into Casaubons

One of my favorite books of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It’s a rich, complex saga of trying to make the world a better place amidst fools, charlatans, cynics, and misguided morals. It’s in the last instance that we find dear, devoted, ascetic Dorothea Brooke marrying the dried up old clergyman Mr. Casaubon because she believes she can accomplish her life’s work through his book, which is a key to all mythologies.

Now, let’s be honest: Mr. Casaubon is not–exactly–an intellectual panty-dropper.

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He’s a very well-read man, but he’s self-satisfied and pedantic. He dialogues with no one and he relies on his own readings. It’s precisely his intellect that leads him to presume that he can create a Key to ALL Mythologies, and he insists on Dorothea keeping up his work after his death.

It is, of course, a fruitless exercise. How can Mr. Casaubon, a reasonably intellectual (though not curious or intuitive) man, believe that his grasp of mythology will make him the definitive expert on ALL MYTHOLOGIES? Especially since he has not traveled to other continents and heard first-person accounts of obscure mythologies? He’s simply relying on what little he’s read and assuming it comprises the whole.

What does Mr. Casaubon have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? you might be wondering, dear reader. Well, as it turns out, he’s a handy metaphor for a debate that is currently waging in the Evangelical pop culture blogosphere.

If you’ll recall, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey two years ago when I read the first book. I was motivated to read it only after seeing its inclusion on the New York Times bestseller list and realizing, “This book is a THING and I probably need to know something about it.” I was semi-curious out of ignorance, but there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz about the book beyond the cringe-worthy phrase “Mommy porn.” I won’t rehash my blog post, but I hated the book for its bad writing, its terrible depiction of a co-dependent relationship, and its misuse of BDSM as a sexual lifestyle. In short: it’s not a good book, it’s not a sexy book, and I was not about to waste my time and energy on it.

Fast-forward to this year. There’s a movie coming out. On Valentine’s Day of 2015. Le sigh. Now, everyone is talking about it, and Evangelical Christians have taken up the cry of “Do not read this book!!!!” I remember this happening in the Summer of 2006, when the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was released. This book had been out for what, 3-4 years, and it wasn’t until the movie that suddenly this huge outcry surfaced about the sacrilege, and unbiblicality, and satanic overtones. Of course, no one had actually bothered to read the book to discover it was mostly just a standard mediocre adventure/thriller with an aging academic who wore loafers with no socks (maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was turtlenecks and blazers. But it was some white-man clothing item, and I don’t care to re-read the book to recall my distaste for Robert Langdon’s sartorial choices). But that didn’t stop them from condemning The DaVinci Code from the pulpits, proudly proclaiming they’d never read it and would never see the movie.

I really dislike it when people analyze and evaluate a book they’ve never read. As a teacher of composition and literature, I penalize my students for doing this. Why? BECAUSE IT’S LAZY. And frankly, it’s an insult to my professional practice. I am going to school to be a scholar of literature, and you’re telling me that you don’t need to read the books that I’m reading to give a “better” and more informed opinion? Really?

Look, a bad book is a bad book. But unless you’ve read it, you don’t really know HOW bad it is, and you are not able to form a credible and intelligent analysis on mere supposition and Google searches.

And that is why I am deeply disappointed in the many Christian-themed blog posts admonishing us that Fifty Shades of Grey is a Very Bad and Evil Book and You Should Not Be Reading It, because I Didn’t, But I Can Expostulate on All Those Evils for You So You Don’t Have to Think for Yourself.

For people who struggle within their sexualities (whether erotica drives them away from their partner or if they are single and feeling so horny they are dissatisfied, or what have you) and think this book may be a trigger, I get it. I respect your decision not to read it, and I applaud your mature decision to do what’s right for you.

But here’s where I divide company with these earnest, well-meaning bloggers. You can decide not to read a book, and that’s fine. But then don’t act like an expert on it and tell me why it’s so bad for me, when you aren’t reading this book on the supposition that it’s bad for YOU. It’s mystifying to me that so many people are out to defame those individuals who are supposedly lapping this series up and bringing down the Christian Church with them, when they have no clue or context what they’re talking about. That’s like my student writing a paper on Moby-Dick, when he’s only read the SparkNotes and telling me that he doesn’t need to read Moby-Dick to understand it. That doesn’t work in a classroom, and it doesn’t work in real life, either.

In all the blog responses I’ve seen or watched being posted on Facebook by OTHER people who haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (and seriously? Ugh. It’s turning into this weird sex groupthink), there’s a common thread: everyone invokes the Bible as a reason NOT to read the book. I believe in the claims of Philippians 4:8 wholeheartedly. I believe in the Bible as the word of God. But then, I have to be incredibly careful how I phrase that, how I live, and how I use the Bible to support my claims. Because if I simply state, “The Bible tells me not to read this book,” that’s one thing. I have made a decision based on my understanding of the Bible and that is MY choice. But then if I tell you, “The Bible tells me not to read this book; therefore, you shouldn’t either,” then I’m imposing my my choice on YOU. I’m acting as someone else’s intermediary. That’s my first Casaubon metaphor: when we try to control others’ behavior, based on our own standards of living and morals, we end up taking away their freedom to choose. Mr. Casaubon continually declare that Dorothea is incompetent to help him make decisions, because he is more scholarly, yet his own limited knowledge makes him a poor choice to collect and anthologize mythology. He creates a will after he is dead that she cannot marry his cousin, Will Ladislaw, or she will lose her settlement–his actions remove her freedom to choose her behavior, and thus make her a slave to his idealism. How do we allow others the freedom of choice that God has allowed us? Are we not supposed to come together and then study individually, to seek truth but to challenge ourselves in the Word? Why is it that someone else decided that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad book (and again: I believe it’s a bad book), so bad they couldn’t read it, and based on their opinion, decided it was unChristian for ALL of us to read?

I find it disheartening to see such a dismissive, anti-intellectual conversation predominating the discussion surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, it’s a bad book. I’m not arguing that point. But why? I’m disappointed to hear non-readers dismiss it as pornography, lustful, or ungodly without invoking the implications of such labels. What does lust mean? What forms does it take for women and men? How do we see it or find it in our own lives and activities? For example: I find Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love gratuitously titillating and sexual. For its thinly veiled relationship to the Book of Hosea, it feels more like a romance novel for women who only read “Christian” books. And yet I’m not seeing people pouring out protests from their personal blogs. Why? What’s the difference between Michael Hosea’s emotional possessiveness and Christian DamagedGoods’ sexual possessiveness? Someone tell me. I’m at a loss over here.

On that note, the sex-oriented critiques, based on the Bible’s views of sex, marriage, and lust, have also thrown me for a loop. People have described the novel’s crudely-drawn and laughable sex scenes as pornographic and something to stay away from. That leads me to my Casaubon metaphor #2: Evangelicals are starting to reveal their deep sexual repressions, and it’s going to have to prompt a discussion on sexuality. Like, now.

*Disclaimer: I’m taking off the gloves here. I’m going to be clinical and frank. You’ve been warned.*

On the one hand, the novel itself reveals a weird, deeply-seated repression that plays itself out as fantasy-fulfillment. Christian DamagedGoods is so abused and emotionally damaged that he forces his partner to eat (food, that is–seriously, it’s super weird) and become a submissive for him? Really? And Ana Snore is sooooo virginal that she has sex for the first time and suddenly has a hilariously unrealistic amount of orgasms from missionary sex? I think we can all agree that E.L. James has no idea what BDSM is, and hasn’t had sex since the 1980s.

On the other hand, the Christian response has bewilderingly focused on lust, pornography, and pre-marital sex. Non-readers have called it pornographic and titillating to the point of being disturbing. One blogger mentioned that her mother had read it and could not get the images out of her head. Really? Vanilla sex with an unrealistic amount of orgasms is traumatic? I’m not going to lie, I was traumatized too: I was traumatized by Ana Snore brushing her teeth with Christian DamagedGoods’ toothbrush. NO. JUST. NO. I was also extremely traumatized by the detailed description of her tampon being pulled out. That’s all I can say. It was really, really discomfiting.

But still: are we  really so sexually repressed that we cannot even *read* bad cheesy romance novels that use terrible and childish sexual euphemisms without fear of being so aroused that we masturbate wildly to images of boringly described millionaires? No, seriously, I’m asking are we that sexually out-of-control that when someone watches a porn, all they see are breasts and vaginas on women everywhere? That when we read bad literature about vanilla sex pretending to be naughty, we turn that into an idol???

It feels like this line of criticism is taking the idea that sexuality is dangerous, that the only way we can remain sexually pure is to tamp it down as far as possible so that we can’t even feel a natural, healthy lust for the sexual partner that we are married to. That a woman is so sexually suggestive that the merest hint of bikini or spaghetti straps reduces her to breasts and a vagina. That a man is so sexually fired up, he is continually always one-click away from fantasizing about other women on the computer. That sex is dirty and bad, even when we are married and trying to sexually pleasure each other in the way that works best for our bodies and minds.

It’s like Mr. Casaubon. He’s a married man. He has this gorgeous, devoted wife. And what does he do on his honeymoon? He spends his time in the library searching for the Key to All Mythologies. He stays up all night and avoids going to bed with Dorothea. Dude. Make use of that marriage bed. It’s okay. You’re married now. It’s in the Bible to be naked and unashamed!

This brings me to my Casaubon metaphor #3: we as Christians see the Bible as the Key to All Mythologies. And for believers, it is. But the problem is, we abuse our knowledge to belittle or shame others into believing what we do. We argue that because we are Christians and we have accepted salvation, we have The Truth and that’s the end of the discussion. But what is truth? How does that look from faith to faith? How does what the Bible said 2000 years ago remain relevant in my life today? These are questions I wrestle with every day. I read my Bible every day, and each time, I gain new insight, new knowledge, new TRUTH.

I’m always saddened by people who “proof text” their way through an intellectual discussion, arguing that because Paul decried the sexual practice of a pagan temple, gay people should not get married. That because Paul declared a woman should not preach in an area where women were priestesses at a pagan temple, women can’t preach. That because Deuteronomy 22:5 declared that a woman should not wear a man’s clothes and vice versa, it is sinful for a woman to wear pants. This kind of spiritual practice does not invite people to know Jesus–it establishes us as The Key Mythologians and others as Wrong. Mr. Casaubon denigrated Dorothea’s assistance, love, and help, because she had an inferior education and a woman’s mind. Rather than invoking discussion, he decried her differences and shamed her into silence.

Let us not go down that dreary route. Instead of simply denouncing something as bad and wrong, let us ask each other why and how we know this. Where do we obtain our knowledge? How do we know our knowledge is credible? Let us, above all, not be made to look silly over something as silly as Fifty Shades of Boring Grey.

 

*If you want an excellent and well-informed blog on why Christians should not read the novel, Jeannie Campbell invokes her skills as a LMFT to provide a therapist’s perspective on Christians, sex, and abusive relationships that is both insightful and godly. *

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Filed under Books, Culture, Faith, Marriage, State of mind

The Fault in Our Nerves

I just got back from the movie theater, and it was a profoundly shocking experience. How can a film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars be so memorable as to obliterate the movie from my memory immediately? Well, for starters, we never got to the end.

My friends F and A and I decided that since we had all read the book, it would be fun to go together. F’s husband J and The Chancellor decided to see A Million Ways to Die in the West, a parody of a Western–so what transpired did not even faze that theater.We were only about five-ten minutes away from the end of the film, when we heard loud popping noises coming from what we thought was the theater next door. It’s pretty typical to hear a boom or two from the theater, especially an action or drama, but it kept happening. The theater began buzzing, as people began looking at each other, the movie completely forgotten. F, A, and I were not sure what was happening.

And then, it happened. A young woman, completely frightened, started screaming, and bolted. What ensued was a theater full of teens and adults pouring out of their seats in droves, exiting the theater and jamming the exits. I didn’t know what was happening. Was there a shooter on campus? Were those gunshots? Was The Chancellor  okay? F, A, and I looked at each other as people began cramming the aisles, and our training kicked in. We crawled down and curled up behind the seats, waiting. Waiting. I felt calm and completely disconnected from my body, my adrenaline surging. I thought of very little except a prayer, that I would be calm for whatever happened next, and that The Chancellor would be okay.

It felt like forever, but was probably about the three longest minutes of my life, when several theater officials came in and told us that it was okay. That a hotel down the street had decided to let off fireworks in celebration (of what? we were not sure. A wedding, perhaps?), which caused the loud popping noises. The movie had been paused at this point, and the house lights slowly came on.

As we sat up slowly, processing what had just not happened, I began to cry. The fears and anxieties that surround us when we hear of these shootings, of the violence that sneaks up in our world, had pressed on my heart for a moment, and my mind was filled with images.

Of broken bodies, of blood, of guns, of hate, of terror, of fear.

It was too much.

While we were down, A had quietly called 911, and then explained about the fireworks the minute the theater officials came in. We glanced around the theater, and in the crammed full arena of about 300, only about 20 of us had stayed. The rest had panicked and fled. Had this terror been real, most of them would be injured or dead. That is frightening to me, truly more so than the actual realness of the event.

I am glad that F (a teacher), A (a chaplain), and I (another teacher) let our training and logic kick in, but I am sad that so many followed the herd.

It’s a sign of our times, that when we hear fireworks, we think of something much worse. We panic and flee, and risk trampling each other on our way out the door.

I’m still in a bit of shock, to be honest. But I have resolved a few things: first, to talk to my supervisor about getting some training for incoming teachers this fall and to reinforce safety protocols should this ever happen. And second, to tell my students this story, to teach them not to panic and run and risk their own lives in the process. To be safe and smart in scary situations.

Needless to say, I remember almost nothing about the film itself.

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Filed under Family, Life and Living, Movies, Teaching

The Un-Happy, Happy, Happy Truth about Freedom of Speech

There’s this little show called Duck Dynasty. I’m sure by now you’ve all heard of it. The patriarch and inventor of a certain duck whistle, Phil Robertson, made remarks during a GQ interview that have caused a huge stir. In fact, I’m just going to link to that interview so you can read it for yourself.

Back? Okay. Now we can talk.

Here’s the thing. Phil Robertson is welcome to his own opinion. He is welcome to believe whatever he wants and say whatever he wants. First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.

But that’s where it gets complicated. The First Amendment allows you the freedom of speech, but it does not protect you from the consequences. You can SAY whatever you like, but that doesn’t mean there is no price to pay for what you say, when you say it.

Phil Robertson made these remarks on an interview for Duck Dynasty, which means that he is not spouting anti-gay or selective history comments on his own time and dime. No, he’s doing this under the auspices of the show. It’s a work-related interview. And his employers are not happy.

When Phil Robertson and his family signed a contract with A&E, they willingly allowed cameras into their lives and to script certain things to create a show. This, in effect, makes them employees of A&E. They have WILLINGLY ceded control of their lives to A&E, for a not-at-all-small sum of money, and they agree to let A&E script/edit the show as A&E sees appropriate. This means that what they say and do under the show’s umbrella makes it a product of A&E. But again, they get money for it, so their acceptance of the money means they agree to the terms and conditions of their contract.

This is very much akin to just about any work situation, except that most of us make a lot less money and don’t have a camera inside our home. When I worked at Culver’s at the ripe old age of 14, I made an agreement in my contract that I would not slander the company and I would not disclose procedures of food preparation or ingredients for two years. When my friend K worked at Bath and Body Works, she signed a non-disclosure agreement as well, which meant she could not mention the name of the store on any of her personal social media forums. All employers have something. I am very careful not to complain about my job here on this blog or on Facebook. Once, I made a remark about getting an article rejected, that was critical of the unnamed reviewer, and then I deleted it. You have to be careful in public. You don’t want careless comments to turn around and hurt your career.

I’m fairly certain that this is not the first time Phil Robertson has said crazy things, as a newly-resurfaced 2010 sermon can attest. In fact, I am certain that A&E made specific cuts to protect the family and to protect the show and the show’s image. Now, however, Phil has gone off script. He has made inappropriate public remarks while at work, and now work wants to collect. In fact, if work doesn’t collect, they may face legal action from anti-discrimination groups.

It’s like the case of Angus T. Jones (the kid from Two and a Half Men). While still a contracted, salaried employee of the show, he decided to air his newly-found beliefs and made disparaging remarks about the show. Child, you can’t do that. Not as an employee. The honorable thing to do would have been to gracefully resign and THEN say those things.

If Phil Robertson and co. are unhappy with the constrictions of their contract, they should bow out gracefully and find another broadcaster that will let them do their thing.

Freedom of speech is not endangered, THANK YOU, SARAH PALIN. Phil Robertson is not a martyr for freedom. He’s an old, ignorant man who made crazy remarks, and now his employers are having to take action to prevent further damage to their moneymaker, and to their own image.

The point I’m trying to make is simple: you can believe and say whatever you want in this country. But if you signed a contract and you embarrass your employer, don’t expect to keep your job.

*I will not get into those remarks. I won’t. I can’t. That black people comment almost killed me, as it was. Seriously, we JUST GOT DONE talking about Paula Deen. This is not removing any of my prejudices about the South.*

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Filed under Celebrity, Culture, State of mind, Television

Why Race Matters in Catching Fire

I got back from the theater late yesterday afternoon from a viewing of Catching Fire, the second adaptation in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. There are many, many things one could say about this particular film, but I’d particularly like to focus on the race-related aspects that, definitely emergent in The Hunger Games, particularly come to the fore in the Catching Fire adaptation. Note: SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t read or seen it, you are welcome to keeping reading my post, but then you will be SPOILED. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of SPOILERS.

Okay, is that a decent warning? Moving on.

I didn’t think of race as being a huge issue in The Hunger Games trilogy, but when I saw the first film and then read responses, I wondered if maybe the films were on to something. Back when the first film was released, there was a strange outcry that Rue was black. I didn’t understand the response; I still don’t, actually. I thought the book made very clear that she was; in fact, I argue that it matters that Rue and Thresh are black. In the book, Katniss discusses how much Rue reminds her of her sister Prim, the girl whose place she has taken in the Hunger Games. Such a statement reminds us that we are all connected intimately as human beings, that we don’t need to be the same gender, sexuality, or race as someone to see ourselves in each other (which is a major premise of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which honestly could have been a much better book, but that’s not for this post, and no, I haven’t seen the film). In the first film, Katniss covers Rue’s body with flowers and makes her body seem like a viewing at a burial. This visual move reminds me astonishingly of James VanDerZee’s Harlem Book of the Dead, in which individuals are laid out for burial and then depicted in elaborate coffin scenes.

Rue   Book of the Dead

I knew we weren’t done with Rue, because the Victory Tour the Capitol forces Katniss and Peeta to revisit all the Districts and relive the Games. The first on their tour is District 11, home to both Rue and Thresh. The film smartly sets up a view of the district as Peeta and Katniss arrive in a militaristic vehicle to take the stage. In the tank, we glimpse workers picking cotton, surrounded by Capitol Peacekeepers.

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The workers are all black, dressed plainly in dark clothing. The Peacekeepers are, you guessed it, white. It’s a chilling visual throwback to the slavery/sharecropping history in the South (which, according to a theoretical map of Panem, is where District 11 is located). Once we get to the “celebration,” which is anything but, Peeta and Katniss take the stage to see pictures of Rue and Thresh on either side. Their families have been forced to stand below these portraits, forming a triangulation with Katniss and Peeta on the stage. This setup makes the horrific scene even more heartbreaking, because you can see Thresh’s parents–alone–under the picture of their dead son. Rue’s mother (no father depicted) stands next to her remaining children, between 3-4, all younger than Rue.

Peeta puts away the carefully constructed speech and stammers out his gratitude and debt to Thresh. Katniss speaks of her relationship with Rue and how Rue saved her life and became her friend in the Arena. Peeta vows to donate a month of each of their winnings to the families for the rest of their lives–a gesture they have no way of meeting, but one they feel they can offer. It’s an interesting and honest depiction of survivors’ guilt (and, I’d argue, white guilt too). And then, instead of applause, an old man offers District 12’s three-finger salute. This gesture is interesting, because it echoes District 11’s response to Katniss’s own salute in The Hunger Games (I’d argue the most moving scene in the first film). In it, the entire district had saluted Katniss, and then a man started a riot (now that I think of it, maybe Rue’s father?). Here, though, violence is not caused by riot. The old man sings Rue’s mockingjay notes, and then, the Peacekeepers sift through the crowd, dragging him up to the stage as Peeta and Katniss are pushed into the building. Just as the doors close, we hear a gun go off in the vicinity of the man, who has been forced to kneel on the stage.

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This staging is done very intentionally, I’d argue. Watching someone being (essentially) lynched in the public square is one example of the race crimes taking place in the United States throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. By porting into that discourse, the film has found a way to make our shameful history even more relevant, though the books themselves are works of dystopic fiction.

This sort of violence is also enacted on Cinna, Katniss’s secretly rebellious stylist.

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Cinna turns Katniss’s fake wedding dress into the costume of a mockingjay, which is to become the symbol of the nascent revolution. In so doing, Cinna flouts President Snow’s orders, and quite publicly at that. As Katniss is ushered up to the Arena, enclosed in glass, Cinna is surrounded and brutally beaten by the Peacekeepers. She is forced to watch her friend and ally bludgeoned before her eyes. It’s horrific. And yes, Cinna is also black. I was reminded of the unprovoked attacks on black men by white law enforcement throughout our nation’s history. And we wonder why young black men fall into petty crime and a system of incarceration so young and so often…when we consider the history of violence in this country, the inequity with which crime is treated based on which color you are, it should give us pause.

What about Enobaria, the District 2 Career tribute, who had her teeth sharpened? Initially, I was very concerned that the film would depict her as the stereotypical black savage.

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Thankfully, the film downplayed any violence associated with her (and in the books, I don’t recall much anyway), AND they depicted the perfect, blonde creepy siblings, Cashmere and Gloss (this franchise’s response to the Lannister twins) as much more cruel and violent. Plus, as My Sister pointed out, Beetee, whose ethnic origins was never made clear in the series, was depicted by the awesome Jeffrey Wright, a black man. As she rightfully noted, we cannot fall into the trap of making every African American character a saint, simply for their ethnic origins. Balance is good. So there’s that.

Is Catching Fire a film solely about racial oppression? No, there are other means of oppression, of torture that occur (and we need look no further than the ways in which Finnick has been exploited for Capitol gain, or how bitter winning has made Johanna, for instance). But I believe that the films saw an opportunity to make a statement about our sordid past and conflicted present and did so incisively. And the response to the first film has indeed shown that we are not, in fact, a post-race America.

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Filed under History, Movies, Outlook

10 Things I Hate about Love Actually

Of all the subtle and strange subgenres of film, surely one of the strangest must be the “Christmas film.” The marketing is shameless and generally geared towards families or couples (one of the few exceptions being Bad Santa, which has bro-homie fratboy written all.over.it, though I hear it’s raunchily hilarious). I haven’t seen them all, but there is a generally cheesy “holiday” spirit that tends to run through. And if it’s not that overt, then somehow, the movie converges on Christmas and remarkably becomes a “Christmas movie.”

The latter is the case with Love Actually, a film about 99% of my friends love and consider their favorite Christmas movie. I didn’t make it out to the theaters to see it, but the reviews were raves. “It’s so cute!” “I felt like Christmas!” “It’s all about love!” “I watch it every year!” So, several years later, I finally borrowed it from a friend.

I don’t get it.

No, seriously, I genuinely don’t understand why everyone likes it. I’ve had the audacity to criticize it, and everyone looks at me like I’m (a) the Grinch (probably) or (b) insane (not yet, but this PhD isn’t over, either). How can I possibly hate such a romantic, wonderful, Christmas-filled movie??????

In the end, it comes down to the fact that this movie was marketed to me as a delightful Christmas film, and it’s actually got some very sad and dark parts. And the lone movie like that I will tolerate is It’s a Wonderful Life. Otherwise, if you’re selling me Christmas, it had better be sweet and funny and delightful. So, let me present ten issues I have with Love Actually‘s status as a delightful Christmas film (also, a film, if we’re being completely honest):

1. Let’s start with the millions of fat jokes aimed at the Prime Minister’s staff/love interest, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). SERIOUSLY, THIS WOMAN IS NOT FAT. It’s not funny, and from the first joke, it was never funny. I could not see past the fact that everyone in the movie makes fun of a perfectly healthy, beautiful woman who has the audacity to look like she eats an occasional sandwich and not Kate Moss’s steady diet of cocaine. I cannot sign off on this. Nope. Not at all.

2. Colin Firth’s love story was deeply rom-commish in that there is just no way two people with nothing in common, not even the same language, can fall that deeply in love in such a short amount of time. If you don’t even have language to hold you in common, how do you communicate? How do you sustain it? Riiiight, it’s a romantic comedy. Reality has nothing to do with it. Also: I found it odd that the maid character looks a bit like Firth’s own real-life wife, Livia, who is Italian.

3. I hated that, yet again, we reinforce the token sad-cat-lady figure who just can’t seem to get ahead in her love life. I’m sorry, but what is romantic about Laura Linney *finally* able to get it on with a hot designer, just to abandon him in flagrante to rush off to the side of her cognitively challenged brother? Yes, it’s sweet that she loves him. But this is not Parenthood. It’s not romantic. And it’s not Christmas.

4. Can we talk a minute about how we’re still trying to make Hugh Grant as a protagonist happen? I’m sorry, he’s best when he’s stuttering (see Four Weddings and a Funeral or Sense and Sensibility, because…the floppy hair) or when he’s Daniel Cleaver. Seriously, nothing can beat his one-liners in Bridget Jones, and we all know it. Let’s not try and make him the grand romantic hero. He’s better suited elsewhere.

5. I haven’t even gotten started on the Keira Knightley story debacle. It’s actually got nothing to do with her (for once!). When I watched the film and saw the two best friends interacting, I actually believed the Mark character was in love with Peter. Seriously. And it made me feel sad and melancholy, and a bit achy for him. And then, lo and behold, he’s in love with Juliet. Say, what? He goes so far as to give off the Big Romantic Gesture while Peter’s at home, and basically forces Juliet into silently reading his note cards declaring his grand and stalkerish love for her. Ugh. I just can’t even. It’s creepy on so many levels, and it reinforces the “nice guy” trope, when this guy really isn’t nice, and he’s not even a great friend. He goes through the charade of being an awesome wingman and best friend, while secretly pining for the best friend’s wife.

HOW IS THAT CHRISTMASSY?????

6. I did not like the young man going buck wild in America story at all. It was not funny. That’s all I care to say about the matter.

7. I actually genuinely liked the Bill Nighy singer story. It was a funny takedown of the Christmas album genre, and a very clever glimpse at how the industry views Christmas music—a cash cow with little originality or substance. But is it just me that really wishes the story could have gone a little farther—that Bill Nighy’s confession of his one relationship with his manager could have been an actual love story? Maybe? I was disappointed they didn’t develop it further.

8. Let’s talk about the little boy, shall we? Actually, let’s not. I found it kind of creepy. This little boy is convinced he’s in love with this girl and goes through all these hoops, while his grieving-widower-father plays along. Blah. That kind of precious is too-cute for me, and not in a good way.

9. Thanks to Love Actually, we now have those rotating-cast-movies in which ten stories converge on each other, and we randomly get people together for very little good reason. There’s so little room to develop all the stories that it starts to feel cheap and tiresome after a while.

10. I’ve saved my biggest complaint for last. If you know me at all in real life, you know what’s coming:

HOW IS IT REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE TO LET ALAN RICKMAN CHEAT ON EMMA THOMPSON????????????????????

No, seriously. This is not a movie about the travails of marriage, or the grimy reality of relationships. It’s a f***ing Christmas movie. It’s about big, romantic gestures and fuzzy feelings. And there is nothing at all fuzzy about an extramarital affair at Christmastime. Nothing. It’s heartbreaking for a woman to realize that the necklace she stumbled upon was not for her, and that there is Another Woman. It’s not even remotely Christmassy.

Also, out of this cast, why are we choosing Alan Rickman as the villain? WHY????? If you want Alan Rickman to be your villain, I will direct you to a different Christmas movie, in which he plays a delightfully sadistic villain, and totally outshone Bruce Willis. Yes, dear Reader, Die Hard. If you want bad-guy Alan Rickman, go with Hans Gruber. Not a cheating husband.

 

Come holiday time, I will be watching Charlie Brown and the original (and only) Grinch, and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Movies that are fun, delightful, and make me feel happy inside. Because, let’s face it, if I wanted to be angry and depressed and emotionally beat up, I’d just as soon get punched in the ovaries—that way, I can avoid watching Alan Rickman be a scumball on my TV.

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Filed under Marriage, Movies

5 Women By Whom Aaron Sorkin Can Be Inspired

My doctoral exam is eight days away (less, by now), so I’m obviously expending my emotional energy on Aaron Sorkin. Of course I am. I’m on Season 1, episode 9 of The Newsroom, and I am so emotionally split on it. The news aspect is done really well–I find it fascinating to see how news is vetted and made, and how the personalities fit together. I’m also drawn to the finely depicted masculinities present in the show, especially with great performances by Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher, Jr.

I think you can guess where my issues with the show lie.

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Isn’t it just hilarious that Maggie Jordan, a college-educated, white, blond woman, the only representative for young twenty-something women on this show, is also constantly falling, dropping, and tripping, suffering from panic attacks, and doesn’t even know what LOL stands for? I’m dying laughing in my corner (sarcasm font). Also: doesn’t it seem absurd that a 26-year-old woman who owns a cell phone and went to college and works in news has somehow missed what LOL means? Unlikely. She either watches no TV or internet miscellany or she is beyond hopelessly naïve. I don’t buy it. Also also: why are we turning the young blond woman into the punching bag for weak and poorly drawn women everywhere? It feels slightly nasty to me.

But maybe it’s a weak link? What about Mackenzie McHale, the executive producer and former love interest of the protagonist Will McAvoy, who spent 26 months embedded in the Middle East with marines, who has been shot and lived to tell about it? Well, let’s see. The first episode is promisingly awesome. She threatens Will that she “owns” him for an hour every evening as his executive producer and pulls together an awesome, revamped show in short notice. But the second episode finds her dropping a board and accidentally emailing a confidential message to the entire newsroom. Oh, and she loses her sh*t at Will in every other episode.

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It’s so feminist, right? A successful, strong, and gutsy 30-something woman with career moxie spends most of her on-camera time giving longing glances and expending jealous energy on her ex-boyfriend. Hm. I think I rejected this plotline in a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Oh, wait, there’s MORE! Isn’t it just hysterical that Sloan Sabbith, our representative smart lady with a doctoral degree in economics is completely socially inept and is often treated like “one of the guys” by our noble male protagonist? Hilarious! Even more so because she doesn’t have ANY feelings! Just like a guy! Because it’s feminism!

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Ha ha ha. This sounds kind of familiar…where have I seen it before?

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Oh, right. The Big Bang Theory got there first. Way to be, Sorkin.

Listen, I KNOW that women like these three mentioned are out there. There is some basis of truth in these depictions. What I find so disheartening is that these are the three MAJOR women characters, and they are balanced by far more heroic, noble, less flawed, interesting male characters. If you’re going to make the women into screechy, ditzy klutzes, then you need to balance with men who are themselves klutzy, awkward, inept, I don’t know. Which leads to CBS comedy. Blurgh to that plan, too.

I want to like The Newsroom. Really, I do. I think Aaron Sorkin can make his show great by writing his women better. It can be done. And it’s been done before. Let me introduce you to five delightful, complex TV women who can elevate the quality of Sorkin’s show with their complexity, delicious smartness, and overall awesomeness. Even better, these women I picked are ALL currently on network TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW). So this means cutting out Peggy Olsen, the women of Orange is the New Black, the women of Game of Thrones, Liz Lemon, and the women of Happy Endings. But I wanted to make a very specific point. You see, the networks get slammed so very often for not having the “quality” and edginess that a cable company can infuse into its show. But I am trying to show that certain network shows CAN and DO get it right, over the privilege and affluence afforded to shows like Sorkin’s.

So, without further ado, 5 of the smartest, most complex, interesting, human women on Network TV:

5. Dr. Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project: Most people I know have written off The Mindy Project as girly TV. It’s a shame, too. The first few episodes are kind of rough. In its pilot season, TMP had to work out the kinks in friendships, relationships, and overall chemistry. But let me commend the show in its portrayal of a woman who is a smart and successful OB-GYN. She is also obsessed with romantic comedies, and the show spends its time satirizing the stereotypes to which she aspires. Ultimately, Mindy learns more about herself throughout the journey. I have hopes for this show. Granted, it’s only been a season, but I’ve laughed hard and rooted for Mindy harder.

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Seriously, Mindy. I’d let you be my gynecologist.

4. Cecelia “Cece” Parekh, New Girl: You might be wondering why I picked Cece over Jess, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl du jour. Trust me, Cece doesn’t take any guff. She’s a model who possesses a lot of self-awareness about what it means to be seen as an object by men. She makes jokes about her model roommates and is an awesome wing-woman to the off-the-wall and so-quirky-it-sometimes-hurts Jess.

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In the above photo, she talks Jess out of a cowboy ensemble for a blind date, instead swapping outfits so that Jess looks flattering and confident in a black dress. Of course, “best friend” is not the only role Cece gets to play. She often gets to play “straight man” in an ensemble comedy that plays well off diverse styles of humor.

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Cece’s dry wit helps her stand out in the network lineup and makes her far more than “just a pretty face.”

3. Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife: Alicia Florrick went to law school, met her husband Peter, a rising politician, and then promptly quit the law upon getting married or having babies in order to support Peter and her children from the home. 15 years later, Peter’s infidelity scandal tears the home apart, and Alicia goes back to work in order to make something of her life. That’s all in the first ten minutes of the first episode. Wow.

But Alicia proves that there is more to her than disgraced wife or longsuffering mother. She is a fine attorney in her own right. She learns to battle in court and stand up for clients whom she believes can use her legal expertise. And she tries valiantly to abstain from wielding Peter’s still-present influence at the State’s Attorney’s Office (and occasionally slips the ethical line, which is always interesting and disappointing, but HUMAN).

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Alicia accurately shows how difficult it can be to balance work, family, romance, and free time, but that a well-balanced life is incredibly rewarding. Not to mention the joys in a fulfilling career that one is good at. At some point, the show did launch into a love triangle that I did not find terribly interesting, BUT it was a minor focus and did not define Alicia in the show. She is herself, and that is such an awesome thing.

2. Diane Lockhart, also The Good Wife: I realize it’s a bit of a cheat to place TWO women from the same show on this list. But I don’t care, because Diane? Rules my world. She is a take-no-prisoners attorney and second-wave feminist. She has a biting tongue and accepts no nonsense in the courtroom.

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Having come of professional age in an era populated by men, Diane made difficult choices and has never looked back. She ultimately proves a valuable mentor to Alicia and sets an example of professional integrity. Neither does Diane let romance define her, but shows that she has learned to develop many facets of her personality.

If you know me, you can guess who my number one favorite Galentine on Network TV is, right? Right:

1. Leslie Knope, the ORIGINAL Khaleesi, Parks and Recreation: I’m going to try and not go overboard on why I love Leslie so much it hurts. What started as a spin-off of The Office turned into a glorious comedy about the joy of living, working, love, and friendship, even through the best and worst of times. Leslie is a government employee deflected at every turn by incompetent or uncaring peers and community who want to wade through the 9-5 with the minimum amount of work. Leslie, however, wants to make a difference in her town, the fictional Pawnee, Indiana. She never lets the discouragement get to her, and she determines to make her goals, come hell or high water.

So, why love Leslie Knope?

Because she wants to move like a cheetah.

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Because she is a cheerleader for her best friend, Ann.

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Because she is sophisticated with a hint of slutty.

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Because she likes powerful depictions of awesome ladies.

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Because hoes come before bros, ovaries before brovaries.

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Because she can send up a sexist stereotype like no other.

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Because her stripper name is Equality.

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Because she knows when love is right and when to fight for it.

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Because she refuses to be subdued in the face of defeat.

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Because she wants to smell Joe Biden.

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Because work has to come third.

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Because winning is her destiny AND her dream.

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And finally, because if anyone can do it…

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it’s the Khaleesi herself.

Your move, Sorkin.

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Filed under Culture, Feminism, Television

Why (Some) Nice Guys Finish Last

If you’ve ever seen a “chick flick,” “rom com,” or whatever term you deem for a romantic comedy aggressively targeted at women, you’ll often find, in addition to the ludicrous career choices for women (shoe designer, fashion designer, baker, editor at a magazine, handbag designer, you get my drift…), a designated “nice guy” who gets friend-zoned by everyone, including our heroine du jour. Until, of course, a series of misunderstandings and maneuverings land him in bed with the heroine until she ends up with the standoffish but muscular Mr. Right, or (gasp) our Nice Guy ends up being the hero. Wow! Did anyone see that coming???

Okay, so unless that previous paragraph was not enough evidence for you, I admit that I mostly hate chick movies. I have my select few that I adore (apart from my Jane Austen period films, which I don’t count, because they far outstrip most chick flicks). I could pull apart the many tropes that I detest, but I’d like to include one that transcends the chick flick and actually has been seen in other entertainment genres, as well as real life. Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to talk today about the Nice Guy.

We’ve all encountered him at one point. He’s a seemingly decent fellow, stable, dependable, etc, who just can’t seem to “get” the girl of his dreams. Now, by “get,” I don’t mean understand (because if we really understood the objects of our fantasies, they would stop being the objects of our fantasies, amirite?), but rather obtain, win over, other adjectives that imply a he-man conquering of the she-lady. He bemoans to his friends, male and female, “Why doesn’t anybody like me? I’m a nice guy!” And sometimes, he is able to have a relationship, sometimes with the object of his desire. And some women oooh and awww over what.a.nice.guy he is, and wonder why nobody dates him. But yet, their lack of interest in dating him should set off signals about the Nice Guy.

I know a lot more single women than I do single men. It’s a strange phenomenon, really. But for whatever reason, I know lots of great, attractive, professionally successful women who are single and unattached. Not so many guys, however; it seems that when a nice, eligible man is “on the market” so to speak, he finds a partner relatively quickly. My personal theory somewhat dovetails with the pilot episode of Sex and the City, in which the women wonder why there are tons of great single women and not tons of great single men. Miranda Hobbes’ theory is that the [insert undesirable adjective] guys are just as ungrateful and demanding as the hot jerks.

MirandaWhile that is a bit cynical for my taste, she makes an interesting point. The world is not simply made up of hot eligible bachelors and ugly jerks. Rather, those qualities are interchangeable, and we are not promised a fairytale ending. What I also find interesting about this observation is that there’s a subset of guy who’s not necessarily falling over himself to date a beautiful woman—he puts that impression out there, but may be just as selfish and ungrateful as the man who can by society’s standards more legitimately think highly of himself. And that brings me to the Nice Guy phenemonen.

You see, while a Nice Guy puts himself out there as the alternative to the Hot Jerk, he’s not really a nice guy for the sake of it. No, it’s a carefully constructed act, one that makes him seem desirable and attractive, particularly to catch the eye of a woman he’s lusting after. In other cases, he suffers from incredible moral superiority until the stank of his holier-than-thou act drives him away from sane and reasonable people with normal flaws and quirks. In this way, the Nice Guy differs from his counterpart, the Gentleman, a man who is friends with women, and who may just want to date someone, but is actually a great friend.

For example, let’s look at everyone’s favorite Friend, Chandler Bing. Yes, Rachel was the prettiest, yes, Joey and Phoebe were funny, yes, Monica was neurotic, yes, we all HATED ROSS, but Chandler is a cool guy who ultimately stole all our hearts. Why is that?

First of all, when Friends began, we all saw Chandler as a loveable, nerdy loser who could never say the right thing to a woman he wanted to sleep with (unless, of course, that person happened to be Janice).

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Thankfully, Chandler demonstrated a quick wit and an acute self-awareness that transformed from awkward to endearing as the years passed. If he was desperate, he didn’t hide behind a façade of what a great guy he was—rather, his painful honesty made him a relatable figure to those of us who watched.

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And then, when Chandler hooked up with Monica, one of his best friends, he worried that dating would ruin their friendship. Thankfully, their ability to laugh at themselves—and each other—plus a sense of who they were kept them from the “We were on a break!” roller coaster of Ross and Rachel.

Not all Nice Guys are Chandlers, unfortunately. There are varying degrees of Nice Guy, but the three I’m going to talk about today irk me for very specific reasons. Obviously, this is very biased, so feel free to add your own changes or suggestions in the comments.

Bachelor #1 for me would have to be…Aidan Shaw of Sex and the City. Yes, I chose Aidan. I can’t stand that guy. Years before I started watching the show, I heard tons of female acquaintances oohing and ahhing over Aidan, and what a great boyfriend he was. I will admit, Aidan has redeeming qualities, several more than many of the other guys Carrie Bradshaw dated. Aidan often seems like a fairytale, when compared to the alternative.

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Although, in the words of Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy:

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I spent a lot of time during Sex and the City wanting to punch either Mr. Big or Carrie Bradshaw in the face, depending on whose level of selfishness was greater. And that alternated constantly.

Ahem. Back to Aidan. When compared to the iceberg that is Mr. Big, Aidan seems like The Perfect Boyfriend. He is a furniture designer with a dog and quirky long hair and jewelry. He genuinely wants to be with Carrie. But here’s the problem: it’s a certain kind of Carrie that she puts forth and he lets himself believe is the real Carrie. To develop this analysis a bit further, I need to split Aidan into his Season 3 and Season 4 incarnations, because there are some interesting shifts that may prove my point about his being a Nice Guy in the end.

Season 3’s Aidan is portrayed as an Aw-Shucks kind of guy with the hair and wardrobe to match.

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Charmed by Carrie’s deceit at being a designer so she can buy his expensive chair, he asks her out—but only if she’s a non-smoker (to his credit, he is upfront about his dealbreakers). Carrie panics and lies that she doesn’t really smoke. And Aidan chooses to believe this. Dude. A woman who is pulling out a cigarette during a casual conversation is not a casual smoker. Politely make your excuses and leave. But no. Aidan does later catch Carrie sneaking a smoke on their date and gravely notes that they have a problem. At the end of the episode, we see Carrie sticking on a nicotine patch, musing that she hopes he’s worth it.

To add to that, he likes the country and he has a dog, while Carrie is a fashionista who likes herself. A lot. She also ends up having an affair with Mr. Big, so there’s that. Her nervous, jumpy behavior should give Aidan the hint that All Is Not Well. Of course, when he finds out that not only has Carrie been smoking but cheating on him, he ends the relationship for very valid reasons.

Enter Season 4 Aidan. He knows how he feels—angry and hurt. Yet, he hooks up with Carrie and agrees to try their relationship again. Let’s also note that Season 4’s Aidan has been upgraded to better clothes, better hair, and a lither physique:

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But there’s a particular episode when he and Carrie have moved in together in which he treats her terribly. He slaps on a nicotine patch and makes all sorts of crazy gestures when he hears a voicemail Mr. Big has left. Now, mind you, Aidan has every right to be upset that Carrie was unfaithful. But if he’s still upset, he needs to not be dating her. He can’t be living the past if he’s willing to try out the future again. Carrie is not at all blameless in this story arc, but I don’t want to go there at this point. The point is: Aidan should never have signed off on a relationship he still had doubts about. End of story. And that’s why I was never Team Aidan. Knowing better and still choosing poorly does not make you Mr. Right.

Let’s move on to Exhibit 2, shall we? Meet Ross Geller. Yes, I realize he’s kind of an easy target. Nevertheless, the showrunners poised him to be the hero in Friends without fully realizing that in the end, it would be the prettiness of Jennifer Aniston (because she wasn’t really able to exercise her comic talents until Horrible Bosses, lesbihonest) and the wit and charm of Matthew Perry that would make the show an enduring hit.

But seriously, folks, Ross Geller is kind of a boob.

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The first season finds him wondering why his wife left him (answer: she’s a lesbian and he did not read the numerous signs). And then, his high school infatuation, Rachel Greene, walks back into his life, having run out on her own wedding. And for the entire first season and a half of Friends, we get to witness the delightful tango of Nice Guy pursue Object of Desire. Ross does things for Rachel, but Rachel doesn’t realize it’s a ploy for her to respond to Ross’s overtures with gratitude sex. Unlike Chandler, who listened and sympathized with Monica’s problems with no other expectation of return than the bounds of friendship would ask, Ross schemed to excite Rachel’s gratitude as a means of awakening her desire for him. Eventually, it actually worked.

And then Ross has to Schrute the whole thing up. To be fair, though Rachel is not blameless, either. During a really huge fight, in which their relationship kind of seemed to be ended, Ross had revenge sex with the girl who worked at Kinko’s (or some other post office/copy shop of sorts). When Rachel wanted to patch things up, he guiltily and uneasily agreed. Of course, Rachel found out about the copy girl, and accused Ross of cheating on her. And this  is where his iconic reply comes in:

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Yes, instead of admitting that he might have been a pre-emptive schmuck and misunderstood their fight, Ross defends himself and throws his own mistake back in Rachel’s face. Way to go, guy.

Of course, Ross spends the rest of the series trying to get back together with Rachel, and there’s all sorts of back-and-forth shenangians that wore us all out by the time the show ended. I never forgave Ross for being a manipulative jerk in the guise of a nice guy. Also, never forget the spray-tan incident.

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It’s time to move on to Guy #3, the one who inspired this post in the first place. Leonard Hofstadter, I’m looking at you. I can’t stand you, dude.

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Don’t look at me like that. You know what you’ve done. Leonard, in my eyes, is the perfect trope of Nice Guy. He does all sorts of boyfriend-y and friend-y things for new neighbor Penny, including getting her TV back from her old apartment and facing down her ex-boyfriend, being nice and listening to her many, many guy problems, inviting her over to eat dinner with the guys and switching out one of their routine dinners-out to the Cheesecake Factory, her place of employment.

But are Leonard’s motives innocent? I argue no. Because there are subtle moments when Leonard acts out his resentment that Penny is not eager to go out with him, especially when he can’t seem to work up the nerve to ask her out. He behaves passive-aggressively, especially when Penny obliviously accepts his gestures as markers of friendship—which on the surface they seem to be!

Leonard: if she’s not responding to your boyfriend gestures by becoming your girlfriend, then she’s just not that into you. By now, Leonard and Penny have gotten together and broken up and gotten back together again. But I just can’t seem to get past Leonard’s whiney, mopey, douchey behaviors.

On a separate note: Ladies. Do not feed the bad behaviors! If a guy is constantly offering to do amazing things for you, pause. Ask yourself, “Is he just a great friend, or is he trying to get out of the Friend Zone?” Beware. It can be a fine line. If you think there might be strings attached, do not take up those offers. Don’t take advantage of a Nice Guy just because he offers himself up. You will find yourself in an endless loop of obligations and resentment and regret and drama. And no one wants that.

Guys: don’t think that acting as a friend to enchant a woman is going to instantly win you relationships. Be a friend first. If you are at all a decent fellow for no other reason than being a friend, chances are some lady’s going to notice and reciprocate. Remember: we all liked Chandler better than Ross, because Chandler liked his friends and Ross liked himself.

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Filed under Celebrity, Culture, Friendship, Outlook, Television