Friday, February 19, 2010

Invisible Demographic

I love movies and a fair amount of TV, but sometimes I get the feeling they don't love me back. I'm the type no network programs for, a member of a silent minority perpetually flying under popular culture's radar screen.

I'm a female geek.

I'm far more drawn to high-quality sci-fi shows like "Babylon 5" than to soap operas like "Desperate Housewives." I'd rather watch reruns of "The Simpsons" than reruns of "Designing Women." G4's "Ninja Warrior" competitions are far more fun for me than "American Idol" or "America's Next Top Model." In channel-surfing, I may occasionally pause to hear a witticism on Comedy Central, but I'll race by Lifetime, Oxygen, and WE. Should those networks vanish from cable tomorrow, I would scarcely notice.

Almost no one programs with me in mind. I'm not in any of the desired demographics. So many films and shows that women are supposed to love -- contemporary romantic comedies, for example -- leave me wrinkling my nose, yet I can't embrace the "girls-are-only-good-for-one-thing" ethos that pervades so many comedies and action dramas aimed at men. Lifetime, a.k.a. The Battered Woman Channel, holds no charms for me, yet G4's "love stinks" counter-Valentine's Day programming seemed designed deliberately to alienate any female viewer who might have stumbled upon it. (G4 is ostensibly a network for gamers; I guess it doesn't occur to them that girls might play video games too, and not always of the pink hearts-and-flowers variety.) Comedy Central features stand-up comediennes from time to time, and does air "The Sarah Silverman Program," but its programming is still heavily male-oriented -- again, as if they were purposely holding female viewers at arm's length. (Why would any network say "no" to more viewers?) Cartoon Network's Adult Swim airs two hilarious shows, "Robot Chicken" and "The Venture Brothers," but even as I watch these shows I sometimes catch myself thinking, "They honestly don't believe any woman is watching; more than that, they don't care."

I should be used to it by now.

A recent "Simpsons" episode showed Krusty the Klown's producers trying a desperate maneuver to attract girls to the show: they recruit the sweetly singing Princess Penelope, whose repertoire includes trilling, Snow White-style, and scattering pink confetti across the audience. Little girls are enthralled, and soon Krusty is reduced to the role of sidekick on his own show. Bart wonders aloud, "Isn't there anything good that isn't ruined by women?" A fair question. If soft, gushy insipidity is what TV and film producers think females really want to see, then G4, Comedy Central, and Adult Swim can hardly be blamed for shunning the idea of courting female viewers.

But soft, gushy insipidity is NOT what all girls want to see. It's not what girl geeks want to see. A little acknowledgement of our existence would not hurt in the slightest.

All isn't doom and gloom. Sci-fi casts an occasional nod in our direction. Granted, "Babylon 5," which featured the strongest, most engaging heroines ever to appear on a sci-fi show, is long gone, but sci-fi shows still feature interesting female characters while taking nothing away from the guys. I was never a fan of "Battlestar Galactica" (too dark and humorless), but I have to give it credit for at least trying to do something different with its ladies. Network sci-fi shows like "Fringe" and "Flash Forward" show women in positions of strength. Yet in making the women strong, these shows don't neglect the male characters. Men AND women can watch and enjoy these shows. They're after a wide demographic: geeks of both genders and all ages. These shows offer a welcome respite from the popular culture movers-and-shakers' narrow ideas of "what women want."

When all else fails, a girl geek can always turn to Chinese wu-xia films. When they're good, they're perfect for us. The geek in me can relish the splendidly choreographed fight sequences in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero," and "House of Flying Daggers," while the girl in me can weep over the tragic love stories. What could be better?

Yet for the larger picture, I can only cling to my tenuous faith in my long-held principle: the geeks shall inherit the earth -- and that includes the girl geeks. As girl geeks move into positions of power in Hollywood, the outlook should grow brighter. After all, they probably grew up frustrated with movies' and TV's narrow offerings, designed to hit one and only one niche audience. And they'll know we don't all want "Twilight," "Valentine's Day," and Princess Penelope.

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