Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Green Brothers and White Boy Privilege: What's with the Ladies?

So I’ve mentioned once or twice in my posts that John Green’s female characters tend to look a lot like each other. And while I haven’t read all of his books and short stories, I am familiar with quite a few of them, and I’ve noticed they tend to fit into two categories: Manic Pixie Dream Girls or Supportive Girlfriends. Sometimes, the two types can be friends, but for the most part, each has her own thing going on.

That’s not necessarily my biggest pet peeve – after all, Green’s novels are pretty much male-centric. But what happens when his brother tried producing a vlog series where the cast is almost exclusively female?

You get the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Let’s not talk about whether this succeeds as an adaptation or not… for now. Let’s just look at the characters. In forty-odd episodes, the only male characters are Bing and Mr. Collins (note: representations of Darcy and Mr. Bennet don’t count because they’re largely colored by how the girls perceive them). In contrast, we’ve seen Lizzie, Jane, Charlotte, Lydia and Caroline – five characters, who needed 16 episodes to pass the Bechadel test. And this is supposedly a story about women making their way in life through hard work.

I’ve already talked on tumblr about Lizzie and the economics of her world. So this time, let’s look at those characters one by one.

Jane – Her defining characteristic is Nice. She only rarely snaps at someone, and it’s always to stand up for the underdog. She’s the only Bennet seen doing any actual work, and, of course, she’s too nice to assert herself and demand a living wage. And she and Bing are cute. That’s all.

Lydia – She’s the slut. For a long time, that was her only characteristic, and it wasn’t until the writers gave her a video blog of her own that she showed other sides to her character. However, I find it interesting that Lizzie, who has lived with Lydia all her life, only barely acknowledges her younger sister as a human being with her own agency. Also, I’m curious as to how her storyline will be “modernized”, since Hank and the rest of the writing team haven’t given her any hobbies, aspirations, or character traits other than “horny”.

And no, before anyone says that they addressed the slut-shaming already, no. They have not, or at least they don’t really comprehend where they went wrong. As someone already pointed out, theirs is not an apology. Also, there is a whole team of writers and nobody picked up on the negative undertones of their narrative until the outcry from viewers reached them?

To quote Ana Mardoll: “Privilege means never having to say you’re sorry.” And that is just what they did.

Caroline: From what I’ve seen, Bing’s sister is either bipolar or just very poorly written. In the book, Lizzie can easily see through her pretense, but in the video diaries, she has her fooled – which is fine. That’s actually an interesting twist. But Caroline’s character is inconsistent – one moment, she’s intelligent and composed, the next, she stares off, acting like a bimbo. Why is that?

And then we have Charlotte, probably the best written one of the bunch, and probably the one who will be put upon the most. Charlotte is the realist, whose gruesome insight to the realities of the real world has disillusioned her quite a bit. She’s aware that, no matter how well she performs, there will be factors outside of her control, working against her. She’s very realistic.

The problem is, she’s not the character we’re meant to agree with.

You see, while Lizzie and Charlotte are meant to represent two different world views, in this new version, Lizzie is written like a guy. She has the passionate soul, but she believes wholeheartedly that as long as you’re a good person, you’ll get what you’re due.

Which is, coincidentally, is also inferred from the vlogbrothers’ catchline, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

Charlotte, in the original book, makes a choice and ends up in a loveless marriage. She is content, but never truly happy, and there is an underlying assumption that Lizzie’s convictions only grow stronger afterwards. The modern version has Charlotte choosing a lucrative employment over fulfilling her dreams, and Lizzie’s reaction is… brutal.

The problem is that Charlotte’s “selling out” is the reality for many women in the world. We get denied jobs and scholarships because of factors we have no control over, we are paid less than our male counterparts, and, if we decide to marry and/or get pregnant, we could give our bosses justification to lay us off without a second thought. If Hank and his team knew how to write women, they would understand this, and work it into the narrative, instead of automatically dismissing it.

I know the show is still ongoing. But let’s be honest : From what I’ve seen, I doubt they’ll be able to pull it off.

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