Typing Faster

February 2, 2010

Damsels vs Bozos: What TV Tells Us About the Sexes

Filed under: Future of TV, Kvetch, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 7:00 am

Fun article from the New York Times looking at the differences between men and women.

THE television landscape is a universe of opposites. The Travel network (get up and go someplace!) is the opposite of HSN (sit on your couch and buy stuff!). Syfy (fantastical things that haven’t happened yet) is the opposite of History (moderately interesting things that have already happened). The Golf Channel (sedentary activity watched by sedentary old duffers) is the opposite of Nick Jr. (frenetic activity watched by frenetic young children).

But one pair is more striking, more revelatory, than all the rest: Spike versus Lifetime. Guys versus Gals. XY versus XX. And with each channel offering new fare this month — Spike introduced the gross-out comedy “Blue Mountain State”; Lifetime fired up a new season of “Project Runway” — it seems a good time to compare and contrast these two cable franchises. What do their programs tell us about the sexes? What deep-seated yearnings drive the male of the species? What hopes and fears motivate the female? Is one smarter than the other, and if so, by how much?

An interesting comparison indeed, especially since when you look at the ratings they’re practically in a dead heat. So what exactly are the differences between the types of programs the two nets air?

Lifetime is big on original movies (it recently started a separate, movies-only channel), but a large proportion of those films work one basic plotline: a woman (sometimes with spouse and/or children) is in danger; is she intrepid enough to save herself? Description of “The Accidental Witness”: “A murderer goes after a female attorney when he thinks that she has witnessed one of his killings.” And “Break-In”: “What begins as a leisurely romantic honeymoon in a tropical paradise quickly turns into a tension-filled crisis as intruders break in during the middle of the night and take the honeymooners hostage.” You get the idea: In Gal Land you are never, ever safe.

You are never, ever safe in Guy Land either, but only because you’re not very bright. We learn this from one of Spike’s original shows, “1,000 Ways to Die,” which was introduced in spring 2008 and is still around. The title says it all: Each episode features dramatizations of real-life fatalities that were odd almost beyond imagining. A man driving drunk leans out the window to vomit just as the car is passing a mailbox; head and mailbox collide; head ends up on the ground. A drunk man in Honolulu tries to join in one of those twirling torch dances staged for tourists; he catches fire and burns to death as people applaud, thinking it’s part of the show.

Are we all nodding in agreement so far? I know I am. But wait! It gets better (or worse depending on your point of view). Not only are the kinds of stories the networks focus on different, but the way they cast their shows is different as well!

Spike’s shows are full of women who could easily be in Playboy and probably have been: gorgeous in that hourglass way, hair full and perfect. On Lifetime there is “Sherri,” a sitcom introduced last fall starring Sherri Shepherd, who is what is generally called full-figured. There is also “Drop Dead Diva,” in which a thin model who dies young gets sent back to earth but is placed in the body of a large-ish woman played by Brooke Elliott.

Plump women are almost never seen on Spike, and hotties are almost never seen on Lifetime. It’s a tough call as to which is the more cynical ploy: brazenly playing to a female audience that probably could stand to lose a few pounds or shamelessly playing to a male audience that likes to fantasize about women more gorgeous than actually exist in real life.

But if women weigh more on Lifetime, so do their brains. The title character in “Sherri,” for instance, is smart, and the show is witty enough that it could play in network prime time. The women on Spike are roughly as bright as the ones in “Jersey Shore,” and the shows are often written for men whose sense of humor never made it out of junior high.

The article goes on to describe a few other key differences:

  • Clothes and fashion are important to Lifetime viewers, as evidenced by shows like Project Runway.
  • “…heterosexual men, as has been well documented, aren’t generally smart enough to dress themselves…” so it should come as no surprise that clothes and fashion are only important to Spike viewers if the clothes in question are in the process of being removed (Stripperella anyone?).
  • Lifetime viewers actually like to think, just look at shows like The Pregnancy Pact which “…takes a forthright look at serious issues like peer pressure, the lack of opportunities for young people and the role schools should play in providing sex education and birth control.”
  • Spike viewers are only interested in thinking about “How many nonalcoholic beers (which have a smidgen of alcohol in them) would you have to drink to get legally drunk? (About 40.)”

Ah yes, the wondrous differences between men and women. So what, if any, conclusions should we draw from these comparisons?

We can, from these observations, construct the perfect day as imagined by a gal and by a guy.

In the gal’s perfect day she is kidnapped on the way back from putting the kids on the school bus but vanquishes the kidnappers in time to go for a fattening lunch with her single-mom pals, at which they lament their lack of dates before donning designer gowns to go to a school board meeting where they successfully address all major educational problems.

In the guy’s perfect day he awakes and, still sleepy, sticks his hand down a running garbage disposal trying to retrieve the bottle opener he has dropped in it; an ambulance crew made up entirely of strippers rushes him to the Hospital for Advanced Trauma Care and Stripping, where naked but highly trained female surgeons sew his hand back on, then take him home and wash his entire house as well as his car with their breasts while answering questions like: Does being spanked make a woman want to have sex?

So, clearly, members of one sex are living in a sad, unrealistic fantasy world, trying in vain to compensate for the drabness of their day-to-day lives. Members of the other are living a rich life of the imagination, at peace with their self-image and excited by what the future might hold. Which is which goes without saying.

What else is there to say?

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