The Problem of Finding Problems

Recently I was reading a book about misandry. Misandry is the equivalent of misogyny except that misandry is about the hatred of men (the gender, not "men" as in "people--that's misanthropy) rather than the hatred of women. And I think the people who wrote the book have a point but like most points, they kill the horse they rode in on. It was while I was reading this book (Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture by Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young) that I decided that academics are totally clueless when it comes to popular culture.

As I mentioned, the book has a point. What bothers the writers are all those sitcoms where the husband (the doofus) does dumb things and then the wise, noble, untouchable wife instructs him in the right way of doing things. I think that sort of thing is annoying too, personally, and always have. I also agree with the writers who point out that that when Dan Quayle made his remark concerning Murphy Brown, he was (rather voraciously) attacked (on and off the show) but no one ever addressed his actual complaint: what does it say about society's attitude towards men when a woman can have a baby with a man but then deliberately (politically) exclude him from the baby-raising process? (The furor over Dan Quayle is one reason why I think liberals are going to have a hard time making hay out of the various Republican debacles lately; they claim to be better--kinder, wiser, nobler--than other muckracking politicians and then they spend all their energy sneering at the opposition rather than making cogent arguments; a few days ago on PBS, Mark Shields was practically foaming at the mouth he wanted to bash Bush so bad. There's lots of bashable stuff out there right now, but in comparison to David Brooks, who was willing to criticize Bush but wanted to keep to the issues, Shields just came across as, well, a Bush-basher.)

Anyway, I thought the writers of the above book made a good point about Murphy Brown. But then the writers turned to Home Improvement, and I just sighed because it was the typical academic take-the-argument-to-the-farthest-point-and-watch-it-crash-and-burn approach. Or, rather, watch it go ploop.

Their point was that Home Improvement uses the doofus husband and lecturing wife format, which, yes, it kind of does. But they miss a major factor: the show is about Tim.

That is, the lecturing wife stuff is peripheral. Tim Allen remains the central and constant image of the show. The camera follows him. He acts. He performs. He changes. Whatever is said pales in comparison to what you see on the screen, what you experience when you watch the show. And this is why I think academics are sincerely moronic when it comes to popular culture. They think that language (the script) or icons (specific images--Tim has his shirt off: that means . . . ) beats out performance. But it doesn't. Whatever Jill might say to Tim at the end of every episode, Tim keeps the camera, he controls the action. The dialog might say that Tim isn't responding to his family the way he should (lecture, lecture, lecture). The camera says differently.

But you can't ever argue with academic types, who are so sure that there's all this iconic ideological (ahhhh, I hate that word; I'm so sick of that word!) stuff going on that only academics can recognize (and they have to tell the rest of us poor ignorant slobs, who don't know we are being brainwashed by society's dominant narratives--ahhhh, ahhhh, ahhhh. These people never seem to wonder maybe if they are the ones preaching the so-called dominant concepts, and the rest of us are ignoring them. It's like environmentalists, who continue to behave like beleagured victims despite the fact that today, as a sub, I showed a ecology movie to a bunch of 7th graders that went on and on and on about the greenhouse effect and acid rain and so on and so forth. But the moment environmentalists admit to being the status quo, they will have to question themselves--ha ha).

Anyway, the authors argued that mostly women watch Home Improvement, therefore they must be watching to reinforce their hatred of men (and the belief in the perfection of women).

Now, think about this for a second: the logic goes something like--

Mostly women watch Home Improvement.
Women only identify with women.
The main woman on the show is Jill.
Women are identifying with Jill.
Jill lectures Tim.
Women identify with Jill lecturing Tim--therefore,
Most women want to lecture their husbands.
Because most women want to lecture their husbands, they think their husbands are buffoons.
Because they think their husbands are buffoons, they think all men are buffoons.
Because they think all men are buffoons, they are misandric.

Wow--there's like a billion assumptions there. Well, are least three: one, that women automatically identify with other women; two, that women think their husbands are buffoons because they want to lecture them; three, that a woman's opinion about her husband is the same as a woman's opinion about men in general.

It isn't just the misandry folks who argue like this. Let's try that argument from the feminist angle.

Many men watch some-movie-where-things-blow-up-and-the-guy-rescues-the-gal-and-she-falls-into-his-arms.
All men identify with men.
The main character in the movie is male.
The male character rescues the women (who is capable of rescuing herself, darn it all!).
Men are identifying with the male character--therefore,
Most men want to rescue women and have them fall into their arms.
Because most men want to rescue women and have them fall into their arms, they think women are helpless.
Because they think women are helpless, they are chauvinists.

Let's try a little non-academic thinking:

Mostly women watch Home Improvement
Tim Allen is funny
Most women have a sense of humor

Boy, that's a lot easier!

I have more to say on this subject but will save it for a later time.


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