laurashapiro: (community)
laurashapiro ([personal profile] laurashapiro) wrote2012-03-11 09:29 am
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Community critical post

In which the course of true love never did run smooth

I mentioned yesterday that I love Community. And I do. But not unreservedly. If you want to live in the happy place, my squee post is the place for you. This place is not that place.

First of all, there's the Pierce Problem. As P. said as we watched S2 for the first time, "Why do we like Pierce, again?" So much of the time, what he says is just plain awful, and for a while there a lot of what he did was just plain awful, and it's not really balanced by much kindness, let alone learning or growth. The Pierce who is generous to his friends kinda turns into a monster, and we're left with a guy that I don't want to hang out with, pretty much ever. I love a lot of "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", but that episode is kind of excruciating to watch.

But as much as I have trouble liking Pierce the character, the Pierce Problem is actually deeper than that. It's part of my overall biggest complaint about the show, which is its post-modern "hip" treatment of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues of social justice: we embody one individual with all of these bigotries, and then we get to say the offensive stuff (that everyone thinks, supposedly). But we have the other characters call him on it, so everyone knows we know it's not okay. The show is trying to have it both ways. Worst of all, it's propagating the mythology that these problems are about bigoted individuals rather than systemic oppressions.

This DRIVES ME CRAZY. It would be enough to make me not watch the show, if the structure of the show didn't make sure that all the characters get sufficient screentime and character development, regardless of their race or sex.

But even with its diverse cast, the show does centralize the obligatory straight white 35-year-old male, and I roll my eyes at this a fair bit -- especially when all the other characters treat Jeff as the hero and hang on his every word. I get that the show also makes fun of this, but that's another instance of having it both ways, and it does grate.

Another thing that grates is the Britta Problem. I am really bothered by the show's treatment of Britta. I am reminded of my bitterest days in X-Files fandom. Britta is like Scully: her purpose in the narrative is to be wrong all the time. And, let's not forget, a buzzkill. Britta cares about injustice, and is aware of systemic injustice happening in the world, but it's portrayed as useless white guilt that's all about how she feels -- she cares but she doesn't do anything. But we know she was in the Peace Corps and we know she was at the Seattle WTO protests, and those things do actually achieve something. But it's all played as Britta's pathetic need to take care of the world, not as if there are actual problems that need solving.

Britta has only been right twice in two and a half seasons: helping Abed take film classes, and being freaked out by Luka's genocidal glee ("Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy"). That whole episode was about how Britta ruins everything, and even being right about Luka and re-establishing her friendship with Troy and Abed hasn't killed that particular meme.

Women being buzzkills while men are adorable man-children is a big trend in popular media at the moment, and I would really like to stab that trend to death with a rusty knife. I love Troy and Abed and they are adorable man-children, but I think the show is handling that in a way that is mostly appealing and not problematic. I appreciated, for example, Annie's speech on this topic ("Studies in Modern Movement") -- that was one of my favorite moments in the entire show so far, in fact. But the way Britta is positioned in the narrative and, especially, with respect to the other characters really bugs me. They all groan and roll their eyes at her so much, I wonder why she continues to hang out with them. I love Britta. I want her to be more than this, and I want the others to appreciate her.

I also have really conflicted feelings about Dean Pelton. On the one hand I love that we get to see a canonically queer (I think bisexual), kinky character, but OTOH he's always the buffoon. And an outsider. He's not part of the group (there are no queers in the group! so much for diversity!), and the show plays the classic man-in-a-dress gag for laughs all the time. Really? are we still there? Men in drag are just HILARIOUS, dontchaknow! ::sigh::

I mean, yay, canonically genderqueer character on primetime TV! But it's embarrassing. The Dean is so ineffectual. He's there for the straight people to laugh at. It makes me sad.

And then there's Ben Chang, with the funny paranoid schizophrenia. ::cringe:: I go back and forth about Chang: is he a racial stereotype? He's a goofy little Asian dude with no sex life. OTOH, he's so freakin' out there, he's like nothing I've ever seen on TV before. And he rejects and mocks Asian stereotypes himself. I find his character puzzling, fascinating, disturbing, sometimes offensive, often embarrassing, and mostly hilarious. Ambivalence, I has it!

Despite my criticism, I am actually not ambivalent about Community. I love the show. I think it has some problems, but that's what fanworks are for, right? This summer, I'll be working on a Britta vid that will address the Britta Problem, and I expect to have a blast doing it. Meanwhile, I have one more Community post coming up, which will return to the squee place.
thingswithwings: britta perry with her hand up, text: I have feelings about this! (comm - britta I HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT THIS)

[personal profile] thingswithwings 2012-03-11 06:31 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I think you're absolutely right to say that their problem is, in a lot of cases, that they want to have it both ways - want to make fun of Jeff as the white 35yo lead male character, say, but also HAVE him as the white 35yo lead male character. I'd be just as happy if Pierce weren't on the show at all (and I'm always surprised to go back to season one, when he has a little more wisdom, is less of a deliberate asshole, and actually forges meaningful relationships with the group sometimes. They lost that at some point.) And I think Dean Pelton is the perfect example of that, where on one hand he's queer in like five ways and unapologetic about it and doesn't get punished for it, and I love that, but on the other hand he's still the butt of the joke, and the things I find wonderful about him, I know some other viewer is laughing at. And they can't have that both ways, they have to commit, and he can still be funny and quirky without being laughed at for liking drag.

Britta is an interesting problem, because I think her WTO-protester and Peace Corps backstory has completely been erased from the writers' minds, which is a real pity; she had some cred at the beginning that she doesn't have now (I was very frowny faced at the Britta-vs-Chang episode). And I'm always really ambivalent about her too, because often her fail is my favourite thing - like, I really love that she gets to be so flawed and human and gets to be the worst (but only her friends get to call her the worst, and they're protective of her). I think in the end my ideal Britta would be the one who holds on to that Peace Corps backstory without having to be the Jeff police (I hated how, when she had cred, most of her role was being the Jeff police), and who would still be turnin' it into a snake and who would still care about people until she makes herself throw up and would still ruin things in an adorable way. I love all her fail! I just need for it to be loved a little harder by the show, and for her to have some win as well and be right when she's right, which I hope is where they're going with her.

She was also 100% right about Jeff's oedipal issues, even though she got the word wrong. And she's often right in the early episodes when she calls Jeff on his shit, but that's her Jeff police stage that I don't like as much. She's right when she teaches Troy about how masculinity has more options than he thinks it does (Remedial Chaos Theory). I'd also say that Britta singing her heart song is what saved the study group from a psychopathic Glee-club-killer, and that last is actually my favourite Britta moment ever, where she embodies Greendale (an all-inclusive school where Brittas can sing their awkward songs) and saves them from this idea that we all have to be perfect all the time. Her fail and awkwardness in that episode is what makes her the hero, and I really love that. That's what I want from my Britta, and I do find it rather feminist, when she's awkward and bad at things and everyone loves her anyway - she doesn't have to be sexy and smart and perfect all the time to be awesome.

This is to say, I don't think Britta being wrong is always a bad thing - I like a lot of her wrong! I just wish she'd not be wrong about say feminism or global politics, because seriously.
sabra_n: (Default)

[personal profile] sabra_n 2012-03-13 03:05 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I spent most of last season decrying the treatment of Britta, but I think this season is turning it around. For example, in "Remedial Chaos Theory" it was her singing that got the party started and Jeff's "you're the worst" policing that actually made things awkward-to-disastrous in the other timelines. I don't think they've turned all the way around, and I'm still wary, but it is getting better.
sabra_n: (Default)

[personal profile] sabra_n 2012-03-13 11:14 pm (UTC)(link)
This season is all about the downfall of Jeff! Have you noticed that he hasn't had any Finishing Speeches this season, and that it didn't work when he's tried? In "Remedial Chaos Theory", Abed made the speech, for example. Jeff is all messed up and depressed and honestly, I'm enjoying the hell out of it.
sapote: The TARDIS sits near a tree in sunlight (Default)

[personal profile] sapote 2012-03-12 02:19 am (UTC)(link)
Man I like Britta a lot ("love" might be strong in my case, much as I want to say it) but most of my hesitation about her has to do with the fact that, like, she's not that believable as a Peace Corps person or a WTO person or a contemporary American anarchist. I like the person that she is! And I'm definitely not claiming to have any broad understanding of every single person who's belonged to those three subcultures. But oh my god the way she presents herself doesn't mesh with any of that, except maaaybe returned Peace Corps volunteer who has suspiciously little sun damage, and the Peace Corps doesn't take anyone without a four-year degree unless they've got a specialized skill in something like oxen handling. Plus you have to swear a loyalty oath to the US government, which makes the venn diagram of "committed anarchist" and "Peace Corps volunteer" awfully thin in the middle.

I am glad they let some of that stuff go because I was thrashing on my couch from the cognitive dissonance every time it came up. (And if she was a returned Peace Corps volunteer for real, we'd know where she served and what she did and what they ate there and how much more real everything was, you know, how much more in touch she felt, and what she wore, and how she can't budget because things are so much more expensive in the US, not because she has poor life skills, etc etc etc. Britta Perry, returned Peace Corps volunteer, would never ever shut up about it ever. It would be delightfully in-character and really funny.)
sapote: The TARDIS sits near a tree in sunlight (Default)

[personal profile] sapote 2012-03-12 10:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, she went out drinking with a friend "from her anarchist days" when she drunk-dials Jeff in season 1.

Yeah, thinking about it, the reason that that episode with Chang was so awful is that they didn't do anything to earn it - they really only trot out that side of her to make fun of it. The shallowness of their engagement with the kind of culture the writing claims Britta came from honestly comes off as making Britta look much more sheltered and much younger than the character is supposed to be. She has the opinions of a high schooler who has never actually done any of the things she namechecks.

(I loved protesting for the sake of protesting when I was a teenager, which is one big reason why I don't protest right now, and I knew a lot of people during that brief and definitely not-comprehensive time for whom summit protests were the emotional and social high point of their year, but yeah, if Britta was from that culture she would either still act like someone from that culture or had some kind of break with it in which she decided to lose all the lifestyle markers.)
sapote: The TARDIS sits near a tree in sunlight (Default)

[personal profile] sapote 2012-03-13 11:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah! And the dense chewy depth of the subcultures that grow up around those attempts to change the world is such ripe fallow ground for the kind of kind, everyone-is-good-deep-down-but-also-ridiculous humor that Community does well.
sasha_feather: Leela from the 5th element (multipass)

[personal profile] sasha_feather 2012-03-11 06:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Good post.
torachan: anime-style me ver. 2.0 (Default)

[personal profile] torachan 2012-03-13 06:17 am (UTC)(link)
(Here by [personal profile] thingswithwings, I think. Someone on my flist, anyway, and she seems a likely suspect...)

The other thing that bugs me about the dean is not only that he's the butt of the joke all the time, but that he's so sleazy. Did we really need to have the only queer person also be stalkery and harrassy?

I have such a love-hate relationship with him. (And the show...)
solaristist: (Default)

[personal profile] solaristist 2012-03-19 06:03 pm (UTC)(link)
Lots of good observations here I feel.

Just to pick up on one: reducing women who care about social justice to hapless, marginalised, buzzkills who are really just projecting their own fantasies and insecurities onto the world really troubles me about this show. I'm looking forward to seeing your vid-fix for this!