Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies and Anti-Feminist Backlash

Image Via

Since I started this blog I figured I really ought to start watching more prime time TV shows. As it is way too late for me to get into Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives, I figured I'd pick a new show. All of the billboards on CTA intrigued me to watch Pushing Daisies. A detective with the ability to reawaken the dead seemed like a unique concept to me. And it is. It is like a much jollier version of Law and Order. Well, maybe not. But I like detective dramas so it was worth a shot. Aside from the somewhat cheesy relationship between Ned the pie maker and Charlotte "Chuck," the show is thoroughly enjoyable. However, after watching all five available episodes I noticed something a little upsetting.

Now I know that feminists are often accused of taking things too seriously or seeing sexism where there supposedly is none. And I can already sense that coming here, but I see it and I cannot be the only one so bear with me.

"Chuck" was viciously murdered in the first episode. Ned, being in the business of crime solving, went to revive her just long enough to find out who done it. Upon realizing that she was his long lost childhood sweetheart, he could not bring himself to touch her again and thereby end her life forever. (This is one of many catches to his magical ability. One can only be revived by his touch once, a second touch and dead forever.)

He lets her live and she becomes his new crime solving partner (along with a large, cynical, wise cracking black man...eesh). They go on to seemingly fall in love despite the fact that if Ned ever touches "Chuck" she will be dead forever. Because everyone thinks that "Chuck" is dead she cannot have contact with anyone from her old life lest she reveal Ned's power and ruin his crime solving business.

To avoid that (and to make a good show) "Chuck" moves into Ned's apartment and begins working at his pie shop. She basically plops comfortably (how?) into his life and gives up everything she cared about before. Though it pains her terribly, she cuts off contact with her two beloved eccentric aunts. I am not sure why this is necessary because Ned obviously entrusts several people with his secret and I am not sure why the aunts (who would seemingly be happy to have their niece back at whatever cost) cannot be privy to this.

My conclusion is that this keeps "Chuck" trapped in Ned's life. I am reminded of I Dream of Jeanie. She lives in a bottle to be of use when her "master" needs her. Again I cannot help but sense backlash. Major backlash. Jeanie was a backlashy show. It came out right during the heyday of the 1970's feminist movement in an effort to placate men who were dissatisfied with the rights that women had attained. Put a sexy, subservient woman (and don't even get me started on the orientalization!) in a bottle who can only come out when he needs her to do his bidding. Pushing Daisies, though much more subtle, is not much different. "Chuck" is always at Ned's mercy. She had to give up her entire world for him (and yes I get that she would be dead were it not for him) and now she has to live in a world where a single touch from him would kill her! That is a male fantasy if I ever saw one. He has total control and power AND he has a gorgeous women madly in love with him, tucked safely away in his life.

Image Via

Anyway, I like this show. It is well written and clever. I know that as feminists sometimes we have to take what is available to us or live pretty unhappy lives. I like TV and I like this show. But I recognize some pretty serious problems with the premise that cannot go ignored. This is a classic backlash show. I think a major question for this blog is how does one navigate the world of popular culture while still maintaining a feminist lens?


Tali said...

As a fellow Pushing Daisies fan, I think that you're completely right in this observation - but I think that the writers are aware of it, too. Already, we've seen Chuck rebel against the idea that she's stuck in Ned's life, and I think we'll continue to see her strive for a more independent lifestyle as the show goes on.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting observation. It's nice to know someone is watching...and thinking. Great blog.

Cortney said...

Thanks! I will definitely keep watching. Like Tali I look forward to seeing where Chuck's character goes.

Aaron said...

I haven't seen the show but I like the correlation that you draw to I Dream of Genie.

But one thing I would point out is that it is not entirely a male fantasy as the fact that he cannot touch her either. That would be troublesome for the male character as well if he had any sort of feelings towards her. Just a thought.

Cortney said...

I hadn't really thought about that. I guess when I say male fantasy I am speaking to a much larger 'male' (i.e. the patriarchy) not necessarily the character of Ned. But still an interesting point. I am always intrigued by the way that these representations can be simultaneously oppressive and resistant.

Danny said...

I just started watching the show and I have to comment that there's an awful lot of cleavage and short dresses in the show as well.

I'm Danny, a friend of Sophie's, btw. I like your blog.

Cortney said...

Hi! Thanks Danny. Glad you enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

Confused by a meme thats 'simultaneously oppressive and resistant'? You've clearly never dated a misogynist. that's the only way they get into relationships!

Twinerism said...

I thought I was the only one that was seeing the subtle passes. While I can still enjoy the series for it's well-written stories, I couldn't help but notice a lot of uncomfortably awkward stereotyped positions the female characters gravitated toward. Once again, not a 'giant' issue. That's their character design; they unquestionably fit in these stories. I'm also noticing Cod's passive sexism never being questioned or countered, and a fairly abundant tendency that most murdered female characters had perished under the whimsical idea that 'they shouldn't have left the kitchen' feeling. (In other words, most of the female murder victims were specifically women who were not doing what was stereotypically expected of women.)

Not to mention the female antagonistic characters seen often used false accusations, and under-handed seduction and 'benevolent sexism' (MRAs call this 'female privilege') to get away with crime.

I was just re-watching Pushing Daisies, and while it is STILL enjoyable for what it is- a great fantasized story of a quirky romance/supernatural crime- but it's got some pretty... Archaic, if not annoyingly fantasized ideas of female characters and what happens to them if they don't follow the pattern.