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Hysterical fatigue...a by product of the superwoman stereotype?

by Deborah Turnbull on 02 FEB 2010

Wow, I'm tired. Are superwomen allowed to be so?

The show by the DJ and the Architect I hosted over December and January have scored me all sorts of contracts and I'm so busy, I can barely help organize their new exhibition in Melbourne; Experimenta's UTOPIA NOW! Media Arts Biennial...how cool is THAT?!?! As happy and as grateful that I am in my recent successes (I was also able to garner an audience with PHM Director Dr. Dawn Casey to discuss <assistant> curatorial opportunities at the museum...whoo hoo!), I just can't seem to side-step my numbing, hysterical fatigue that makes me scream at security guards that won't let me park at my own work and boyfriends who grab my stomach chub (sorry guys, sorry Aram).

<how was THAT for an opening paragraph? How can you NOT read on...>

Amidst all this activity, and the wonderful day I allow myself each week to clean my house, do my laundry, watch television, and go to my favourite happy dance class at the gym; I've noticed that there are a lot of interesting things happening on TV.  <Now when I say TV, I don't mean the one at my house with rabbit ears...I mean the TV shows that Aram downloads and we watch on the big screen at the studios...its wicked fun!> The dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and class full of grown men & women attempting to do hip hop are all pretty much the same.

It's not the only thing I've been doing lately, watching TV, but the few things I've watched have been quite intriguing; ranging from head-scratching, to spot-hitting, to hilarious, to being so socially reflective that I can't believe Joss Whedon's shows keep getting cancelled 1 season in <I miss you Firefly!>. Perhaps he should cut out the cheesy romance segues and focus on his critiques of how technology has become tantamount to breathing in contemporary society...eh? EH?

Take, for example, some of the fluffier competition. How about a show close to my own heart: Cougar Town. Have our imaginations seriously ceased to evolve in the romance department so much so that the hottest fantasy we can come up with for women is being in our 40s, divorced, collagened up, not as smart as generations previous, and panting over younger men? I saw an article in the Sun Herald this past weekend that had sourced the careers, neighbourhoods, and haunts of said demographic in Sydney. Apparently they hang out in my neighbourhood (well, just up the road actually)...and a quoted speed dating service was cited as having said that their Toy Boy night is the hottest selling product with a 95% sell out rate. Eep...isn't my boyfriend 7 years younger than me? Don't worry, I'm apparently not a Cougar ‘til I'm 40 (8 blessED years away :D). The funniest thing about this show are the supporting characters, these emasculated men who hang about waiting to score with the one eligible woman in the neighbourhood who isn't the stereotypical dumb blonde. They score with her a lot...

Now about Mad Men, how beautiful is Christina Hendricks? And I'm not just saying that because she is a voluptuous red head who's character has done more than a little for my self esteem this past year...she's actually pretty seriously and fabulously bad-ass. As for the show, this is a show about when men were expected to be aggressively male and women who are expected to be coquettishly female. If it's historically accurate, in America these identities were intrinsically tied to an economy which grew out of advertising. These men! They earned the household wage, ruled their homes with a firm hand, shagged about on the side, drank and smoked to deal with the pressures of being the sole wage earner (often at work), in fact they are the very embodiment of why the Women's Movement in the West reared it's feminist head when it all got out of hand. Funnily enough, the one character with feminist leanings <played by Elisabeth Moss> is not cast as pretty; she's wicked smart though, that cunning kind of smart that seeks out the weakest man in the herd, messes with his head, sleeps with him before any of the other secretaries arrive for the day, and scores copywriting assignments on the DL saving more than one account for the firm.  She is one of the best things about the show, and at best she's considered interesting by her male colleagues for donning more stereotypically masculine characteristics.

Some of the other female characters smoke and drink wine while pregnant, or use the washing machine for activities other than washing clothes, some of them even have affairs...but on women in the 50s, these actions are not portrayed as attractive or powerful, and at this point the show becomes rather didactic <yawn>. On the upside, there's also so much antiquated technology scattered about the set, it's enough to make me form a fist and grasp it to my chest while grinning. Give me a Bakelite radio, a fan over an air conditioner, and a typewriter over a laptop any day (well...at least on set...I'm not sure I could technically live without my iPhone at this stage!)!

It's also rather brow furrowing to consider a workplace where women would go to meet a husband rather than earn a career. Seriously, the characters in the show are hanging to take a man's name, rather than earn a name for themselves...are there other options to life that working for a living? If so, je ne comprend pas. My dad never taught me that part while we got up at 5am to do my paper route from age 9, and my mum left it up to me always saying I should do whatever makes me happy. After all she did; and she was trained in secretary school from age 16 and met my dad on a beach while vacationing with her friend...5 years after her first husband died of a heart attack when she was 21. Then she travelled from England to Canada and America, bearing my father 7 children and keeping us all relatively sane before embarking on a retail career at the age of 58. She's pretty damn amazing if you ask me, with one of her most famous quotes being, "life's never boring, dear." She still has a Manchester accent :D

Amidst the snooty wit of Frasier; the sex, violence, drug/people trafficking and drunken disorderliness of The Wire, and the married, comfortable humour of How I Met Your Mother, Joss Whedon's DOLLHOUSE has some relevant things to say about contemporary society. Clearly it's fractured and emotional because its lead by strong women who are able to dominate, subvert, and control their male counterparts into protecting them in their fight for survival while simultaneously working for a feared male figurehead. The most intriguing part of the show is how people become the vessels for emergent technology. Errant members of society are wiped of their personalities (which are backed up on hard-drives) and programmed with docile space-holding personalities that paint, do yoga, sleep, shower, and occasionally keep falling in love with each other no matter how many personalities you submit them to. They're kind of like well-behaved zombies that thrive on "treatments" (the personality transplants) rather than braaaaaaaaaaaaaains!

The personalities are decided on by corrupt clients (a dominatrix here, a wife there, a toy boy over there, an assassin further over there, no no, to the right...) and the trysts are facilitated by the vile Rossum corporation whose R&D department are interested in the active architecture of one's brain and what it can survive in any given situation. On each job a "doll" goes out on, they are guarded by a male handler, whom for the female dolls, become father, brother, and lover figures. Though there are female handlers, the storyline between them and their charges aren't explored.

It is no coincidence that the female protagonist is the only character able to multi-task to the extreme, breaking down the boundaries of her cranial compartments and allowing up to 40 personalities at one time, including folks with homicidal, sociopathic, and martial arts tendencies. After all, of the two genders portrayed within the show, women are the ones who display more aptitude for multi-tasking. Echo, said protagonist, is cognizant of each personality at all times and can switch them about at will. She is a fully functioning schizophrenic with no need for medication. In fact, her malfunction makes her stronger, better, well-rounded, and more heroic for being conveniently flawed. Is she a better role model than the femme fatale portrayed by Christina Hendricks? Hmmmm....it seems a weakness is still required for her to be desirable, though she never does tell her handler how she feels about him. <poor hot hot Paul>. Well, her second handler, after the father-figure one betrays her and she moves on to the lover lover...typical!

What I love about Joss Whedon, is that he'll take a story line that's working well to the ultimate extreme. He's no stranger to strong women in lead roles; Buffy, Faith, Willow, Cordelia, Fred (and her fab demi-god, alter-ego Illyria) Zoe, Inara and River spring to mind across Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. God, he's so much fun when he goes off the deep end, how could he not do the same thing when it came to the tech theme in DOLLHOUSE? The pinnacle moment is when the genius in the show finally creates a tech so all-consumingly fantastic that it makes EVERYONE a violent butcher doll! Well, everyone except the few fat-cats who want to control the wasteland the Earth becomes. <The zombies get braiaaaaaaaaaaaains afterall!>

In this global community of enforced classicism, it's no surprise that there springs to life an underground faction who fashion a symmetrical input devise onto their faces, hack tech and upload it into their brain at will; removing any skills they don't need in that given moment, wearing their pride around their necks on USB keys that look alarmingly like trophy teeth. This tech allows them all the skills of a ninja with none of the practise or discipline; all the dialects of every language without immersing oneself in the culture or learning the verb tenses; it's a life achieved by shortcuts, and the humans trying to keep up with their addiction to technology are exhausted.

Now, the analogy is clear. I get it. I feel the exhaustion myself. But there has GOT to be a balance to how we gals are portrayed on screen, so that we can navigate our lives with said balance with our plucky side-kick, technological gadgetry! <must we be heroes ALL the time, gentlemen?>

... and Cougar Town cannot be it.

WATCH THIS SPACE for further updates on the life/technology balance...

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