Typing Faster

October 24, 2009

Is Stargate Universe Sexist?

Filed under: Stargate Universe, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 11:20 am

That’s the question a lot of folks over at Television Without Pity were asking. The story then gained some traction, getting picked up by Maureen Ryan, and eventually landing on io9.

The argument boiled down to this.

The men of Stargate Universe have been busy punching, exploring and saving lives using complicated math. Meanwhile the womenfolk have cried, drunk, got naked, and been used up sexually.

And, despite some vociferous defenses of the show from places like TV Overmind, I think that there’s a bit of truth to the criticisms, though I think the reasons behind have more to do with elements inherent to the show than to any malicious, sexist intent on the part of the creators.

In other words, any perceived sexism on SGU derives from a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission.

SGU is unique from the rest of the Stargate franchise in a couple of significant ways. Unlike the rest of its brethren, SGU isn’t a procedural. They aren’t going through the stargate every episode to explore a world. Yes the show has procedural elements, every episode revolves around a problem on the Destiny (which presents its own series of problems, but I’m not going to talk about those here), but the show is focusing much more on the emotional toll being stranded is taking on its characters.

The other big difference between SGU and its predecessors lies in the fact that where the previous stargates revolved around a core cast of four people, SGU is an ensemble. It’s a hell of a lot harder to create deep characters when you’ve got twice as many to work with in the same amount of time.

Ensemble casts are difficult. Because of the lack of screen time for individual characters in the ensemble writers often wind up using a lot of short hand. They resort to character clichés. We’ve got

the quiet stern one, the crazy one, the nerd, the hot adventurous white guy, and the angry black guy.

When we only have time to catch glimpses of these characters, sometimes that’s all you can get.

But, and here’s where SGU has made some boneheaded decisions, if all we’re catching is glimpses of these characters then it matters what those glimpses are.

If you want to create strong female characters, you’ve got to give them something interesting to do. Instead, we’re seeing episodes where the only screen time some of the female characters get is when they’re:

  • In the shower
  • In a “Oh-my-god-we’re-all-about-to-die” sex scene
  • In a gratuitous, half dressed, “She’s-got-huge-boobs” low angle cameo (and literally that’s all that scene was, it served no story purpose whatsoever)

If this is what passes for character development then the show’s got some serious, serious problems. Personally I don’t think that’s it, and I think eventually we’ll see some improvements. But man, there have been more than a few moments in the past five episodes where I just sat there, scratching my head and wondering “what the hell were they thinking?”

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