Monday, November 30, 2009

I Watch TV

So in stunning news, I watch TV! This TV-watching doesn't just include educational things like MSNBC, the History Channel (a favorite of Ferret, actually), or the Bran Network. I watch cartoons, oh yes I do. Among others, I watch Chowder, and Spongebob, and Phineas and Ferb. Now what do these shows have in common? Well, the first two were both worked on by the same guy, C. H. Greenblatt. (Yes, that's his real name. He also worked on The Grim Adventured of Billy and Mandy, which I also LOVE.)
Anyway, that AND! They are some of my favorties to watch. They are all lots of fun and not too think-require-y and generally not problematic in terms of the messages or ideas behind the storylines. They usually have good messages or (in the case of Chowder) are so cool to look at that I don't care that the message is something like "Don't fill up your boss's kitchen with a family of fart-clouds". Don't ask.

The not-silver lining here, the problem that I have with these 3 particular cartoons- but not JUST these 3- is the female characters. All 3 shows are centered loosely around a pair of male characters. When they have ladiez onscreen, it's to be a romantic interest or a punchline. The female characters are usually more 2-dimensional and less sympathetic than the guys. And that makes me sad, because I wish there was something I could watch on TV for pleasure that didn't make me wince at every girly giggle or shrieking harpy caricature.
But alas, guess not.

Let's get started, shall we? I'll be listing the main characters in each show, a couple supporting characters, and some traits, as well as whether or not we are meant to like each character. Me snarking about gendered behavior will be in italics.

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? This show is about a sponge who's a fry cook being happy and well-dressed at the bottom of the ocean. Has been applauded for lack of sex and violence. Most of the characters don't exhibit stereotypical gendered behavior, which is refreshing. However, there're a few, and my main problem is that the female characters get way less screen time and are more often the butt of the joke than the male characters. Another case of male-as-default.

-Spongebob: Likable. Happy. Naive. The star of the show. Loves being a fry-cook, weirdly.
-Patrick: Likable, sort of. Very, very stupid. The literal star(fish).
-Mr Krabs: Crusty and really stingy, but sometimes sympathetic.
-Squidward: A squid, Spongebob's neighbor. Not likable. At all.
-Sandy Cheeks: Her name is a pun. Ha, ha. She's a literal outsider (a squirrel, underwater). She is shown as being smart, usually. Also a tough, athletic karate expert, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, she is in less episodes than, say, Squidward.
-Mrs. Puff: Spongebob's long-suffering driving instructor. A widow. Not a main character, but the only other regular lady in the series, besides
-Pearl: Mr Krabs's incongruous whale daughter. Spoiled girly teenager <-- Gasp! I've never seen a teenage girl depicted as bratty and spoiled before!
-Plankton: The bad guy on the show. Shouts a lot, and is really small. Has some issues, and I think this because of
-Karin: Plankton's wife, whom he made. Because she's a COMPUTER. Yeah. And every once in awhile he threatens to "unplug her" or "take her apart and build a new model" cause that's not creepy at all. <-- Wife as nagging and unsupportive.

CHOWDER: Fairly new to the scene. Features cool animation and visuals, as well as several different media like puppets or claymation. It's about an apprentice chef in a fantastic city where everyone has the name of a food. A lot of the humor is crude or absurdist. We are meant to understand that there are flaws in all these characters. Strangely enough, we don't often see anyone else cooking besides Mung and Chowder. Not sure why.

-Chowder: Happy. Gluttonous. Inept and scatterbrained. Seriously, would rather eat than cook, and in later episodes, endangers everybody with stupidity.
-Mung Daal: Head chef. Not a bad cook, I think? Patient with Chowder. Married, but still loves "the ladies", who don't generally love him back, as he is not quite as irresistible as he thinks. <--Oh look! Gendered behavior!
-Truffles: Mung's wife. Small and irascible. Everyone in the kitchen is afraid of her. Often yells, especially at her husband. She's the receptionist; we don't see her cook. <-- This would be nice, except it's a catering company. So, yup, lady-as-secretary. Also, lady-as-bitch.
-Schnitzel: Rock monster, sous chef. Really strong, serious, and often aggravated by Chowder. Responsible and long-suffering. Only says "radda".
-Panini: Ms. Endive's apprentice. Competent cook (we assume), feminine and very aggressive. Better cook than Chowder (not that that's hard), but we rarely see her cook. Freakily obsessed with being Chowder's girlfriend. Chowder isn't interested, so of course she stalks him compulsively and calls him "Num-nums". She gets pretty scary. <-- Do I even need to go into detail?
-Ms. Endive: Not likable. Image-conscious. Probably a better chef than Mung, her rival, but we don't get to see her cook often. She's huge, and her size is often a joke. Kind of deranged. Lonely, but treats everyone so badly we see why she's so unpopular. Simultaneously hates men and longs for a relationship. <--Really?? Come on. It's been done, people!
-Gazpacho: Runs the fruit stand. Mung and Chowder are customers, friends, and apparently neighbors. Neurotic and socially awkward. Lives with his mother, who is implied in one episode to be a split personality of him, a la 'Psycho'. Not sure if this is canon, but we never see her. He talks a lot about 'Mother' and describes some pretty creepy things. <--Another dude henpecked by a lady, even if she is... him. Maybe.

Mostly the gender jokes in this show are "Aren't women crazy/demanding/irrational/heartless/really crazy?" There's at least one or two per episode.

PHINEAS AND FERB- This is an awesome show about 2 stepbrothers who spend every day of their summer vacation inventing crazy things and having wild adventures. Lots of running gags and at least one catchy song per episode. Very little meanness and lots of creativity and friendship. They also have several female characters, it's just... you'll see.

-Phineas: Genius kid who has awesome ideas.
-Ferb: Genius kid who's quiet and knows how to build incredible things. The series revolves primarily around the crazy things these two build in their backyard every day of summer, despite the efforts of
-Candace: Their sister who's obsessed with 1)Getting them in trouble for their wacky inventions- meaning first getting their mother to believe her and 2)Her love-interest, Jeremy. <--Lady as spoilsport? Also, does crazy things for a man. Sigh.
-Stacy: Best friend to Candace. Kind of ditzy. Gives advice on shopping and boys. That's about all we see. <--Cause girls don't think about anything else! Unless of course they're
-Isabella: Smart, intrepid, goes on lots of adventures with Phineas and Ferb. Also adorably cute and infatuated with Phineas <--Aww, we were doing so well til that sentence! She's also the leader of
-The Fireside Girls: Mostly-unnamed (they're usually just shown as a group) and ethnically diverse troop of Girl-Scout types who are adventurous, smart and resourceful. Yay!
-Linda: Phineas and Candace's mom, who hides a past as a pop-star and goes around all day doing "mom" stuff. Doesn't seem to have a job. Never believes Candace and in fact, usually suggests she's crazy and mocks her behind her back. <--She's a mom, and that's about all we get.
-Laurence: Ferb's dad. British. Easygoing and a little loopy.
-Dr. Doofenshmirtz: Inept bad guy inventor out to take over the world, starting with "The Tri-State Area!" Played for laughs, definitely. Constantly thwarted by his battles with
-Perry the Platypus: Phineas and Ferb's pet platypus, who's actually a secret agent. Yeah, don't ask. It's funny though.

So essentially, this show is one of the better ones, it's just they have a lot of problematic issues with their treatment of girls. Candace is never believed and told she's crazy, Stacy's a ditz, and their Mom is apparently a SAHM who's utterly clueless. Other than that, though...

So you see? I feel like, even in cartoons we're not safe from gendered stereotypes. These shows are fun shows! Cool to look at, they make me laugh, and they usually aren't so stupid I want to cry (see the later episodes of Fairly OddParents for that). Are there any cartoons out there that're free from the bullshit?