20 August 2014

Female Characters Under Scrutiny: The Ultimate Mary Sue on TV

I bet I wasn't the only one tuning in on late afternoons to watch the continuous reruns of the all-time favorite soppy teen drama of the late '90s-early '00s: Dawson's Creek. I don't know why I watched it, really, because I didn't like it very much. Not the whiny characters nor the boring storyline(s). I was just entering the first years of my teenage years and was really looking for something inspirational and yet identifiable on TV. A character with weight and wit, charm and self-irony, struggles and winnings that I could look up to and mirror myself in. All that that you would want from an idol - whether it's on print or screen or in real-life. I guess I looked the wrong place. I could have just turned it off from the first episode, but I wanted to give it a chance so I kept on watching here and there for as long as it ran on TV. I was actually intrigued to see just how irritated one could get with a show and its characters. And boy, did it not disappoint! Especially one character above them all took home The Most Annoying Female Character on TV-Award: Joey Potter. Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. The Ultimate Mary Sue of Generation X, etc..

She was somewhat meant to be a heroine of the show; the small-town girl-next-door type who struggled with a tough background and aimed to be something in life to prove everyone wrong... yada-yada-yada or something like that, I don't know. And that's exactly the problem! I bet no girl or woman watching really did understand her or could relate to her or even felt sorry for her, because she was so incredibly self-righteous and self-pitying all the time, it was hard just liking her. She never seemed to have to fight for anything; everything just came to her, but for some reason all she did was complaining about it. She annoyed the hell out of me, because of her whining tendencies combined with her judgmental, know-it-all attitude (e.g. her signature 'scornful glance') and oh-so-perfectness that just clashed. I know I might sound like I'm jealous of her, but I really think it comes down to not being able to identify with or relate to her. She's simply uninspiring and, frankly, boring. Every guy she came across seemed to fall for her (for some reason) to the point where it annoyed both her and, even more so, us. All she did was complaining about her 'luck' in life despite her misfortunes and all the boys going after her despite not being able to find love, when she basically lead on two men in love with her for more than a couple of years without being able to choose - or rather, making it a game about her. She is incredibly good at downplaying her own prettiness and talents while almost inevitably or deliberately (either way it's annoying) showing them off. One thing she's definitely talented at, as mentioned in the comments in the above-linked blogpost, is self-victimization; a trade so utterly despised by more, shall we say, feminist viewers and critics (or should we just say the entire female sex?) when it comes to fair and realistic representation and portrayal of female characters on TV etc.. It might just be a (male?) writer's wet dream to have such a victimized Mary Sue to act more as a plot device than to have actual substance and weight, I don't know. I may be harsh in my judgment, but Dawson's Creek isn't exactly known for being a show that brings deep and profound philosophy (a sugar-coated one at the most) into the lives of young viewers, but with that said, it isn't necessarily one to be dismissed in its effect on teenagers either. If young women actually came to see Joey Potter as a personal heroine, it wouldn't be the worst, but it sure as hell wouldn't the best either! Sure, young miss Potter doesn't shoot people down, drink, do drugs or God forbid, has sex, but she isn't exactly a woman any sane woman would want to be. At least, I wouldn't. Her inability to do anything - wrong or right - without whining or consulting others about it and then whining some more about her 'poor' choices in life (which really aren't poor, just not convenient in her oh-so-perfect life) just makes you wanna shake her! But of course, if all the people around her adore her (*cough* cf. Mary Sue) and keep affirming her oh-so-admirable-goodness and non-existent qualities, you don't need much more material to run on character-wise. You just keep that insufferable love triangle prolonged to the point of absurdity until the very last episode and rely the entire outcome on a character that doesn't even have character! Ugh. And I couldn't agree more with Gabriella (author of the above-linked post): Katie Holmes is an incredibly bland and boring actress and far from the object of desire that I'd understand would have men swooning in front of her feet. Why all the fuss, really?

Of course, not all female characters can be as bad-ass, interesting and complex as Joey's female contemporaries on TV such as Buffy (although you can critique her as well) or Veronica Mars, but it is interestingly ironic to see the latter thoroughly dispel the stereotype (and for some reason general conviction) about 'the dumb blonde', while our dear Joey - with her otherwise so mousy-brown hair and nose-down-a-book-vibe - gets most of the hate from female/feminist viewers. 

Or what do you think? Do you agree or have there been other - or worse - 'supposedly' heroines on TV that are genuine Mary Sues?

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