Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beware of Women Readers

the following cast

The Following is a new TV show about a former professor named Joe Carroll who goes crazy and starts killing women in honor of his hero and scholarly raison d'etre, Edgar Allan Poe. The show actually doesn't weave Poe into the story THAT much, which is kind of disappointing (seriously, one quote every other episode does not a literary take-off make); but I do find how it treats the female characters interesting.

One of the major characters on the show is Emma, a follower of Carroll's (why didn't he study Alice in Wonderland, one wonders) who appears sweet and innocent, but is one crazy bitch. Here's how she gets involved with Carroll: as a teenager she was a huge fan of his writing (so romantic and tragique! le sigh) and went to one of his signings. At the signing--which appears to be a bust since only she showed up--Emma is immediately attracted to Professor Suave, and he makes it clear he returns her attraction. Fast forward: because of her meeting with Carroll, Emma discovers her sexual power and independence, and as a result Carroll gains her devotion and loyalty.

The dynamic Carroll has his with fans/followers is interesting, and I think Emma is a great example of that. They're all devoted to him, but Emma seems to be the leader of the group because she's the smartest, and she has an emotional connection with Carroll--a connection that might be one-sided, but that Carroll nevertheless encourages. There's a sexual aspect to Carroll's relationship with all of his female followers that isn't necessarily present in his male followers. They seem to follow him because they're gutless wonders looking for a leader; the women in this group are definitely not sheep. They're fans.

I've blogged about how publishers use sex to sell books to women before while men are usually marketed to using their intellect. The same sensibility can be found in The Following's females--they're emotionally volatile and unpredictable, while the men (even the homicidal ones) appear to be more logical and sensible. Of course, Carroll, the author manipulating everyone, is ├╝ber-intellectual, calm, and attractive.

A part of me wonders if Carroll's female fans in The Following--who are all total psychos--reflect a greater tension in our society over reading and writing being cast as a feminine activity, and the supposed rise of books by books by, for, and about women (if you don't think this is an issue, Google boys and books). I think in part it might be, because the show is really all about masculinity and Carroll trying to reassert his power: all his actions center on punishing his ex-wife, who slept with the man who put him in prison; and on removing his son, a physical embodiment of his virility, from his mother's influence and remodeling him in Carroll's own image. 19th- and 20th-century painters faced a similar dilemma, in that their profession was considered very "feminine," and so they often overcompensated by being chauvinistic assholes. In any case, Emma is the most powerful female character on the show because she's smart (see: reading), sexually manipulative, and emotionally unpredictable--a femme fatale trifecta.

Overall I find The Following to be pretty misogynistic. Yet I still watch it. What can I say, it's entertaining.



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