TV

Which Portrayal Is Fairer to the Sexes?

Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) in BBC1's Luther

Women may often be victims in shows like Luther, but this status frequently exonerates them; men, on the other hand, are labeled sick, creepy and twisted -- there is hardly ever an understanding for their deviant behavior.

I was inspired to write this article by fellow PopMatters blogger, Andy Johnson, who mentioned in his article the large number of negative complaints that BBC crime drama Luther has pulled from national publications such as the Radio Times. It has been accused of misogyny of the first level -- the consistent brutalization of women onscreen. Admittedly, Luther has done something to deserve this title; the third episode of its six-episode run featured a woman held captive in a freezer by a sadistic Satanist, and her sustained physical and psychological torture was graphically shown.

I'm responding to the consistent "How could you do this to women?" air of such complaints. Yes, Luther showed horrific violence perpetuated by men upon women, as have shows like Wire in Blood before it. Yet there has been very little mention of the almost feminist bias shown by both Luther and other television shows.

Yes, women may be shown as prostitutes and victims in such shows, but men don't exactly get the fair end of the stick, either -- they are consistently portrayed as pedophiles, serial killers and rapists. For example, episode 4 of Luther featured an impotent, unpleasant man who manipulated his wife (through mental torture and an orchestrated suicide attempt) into staying with him, drove her into an affair, stole handbags, lost jobs and, finally, was driven to strangling women in order to achieve sexual release. Meanwhile, the alpha killer was a young woman, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) -- Luther's (Idris Elba) ultimate foe, someone given more and more layers throughout the story, shown to be both a femme fatale and a child genius, able to get away with murder.

So how Luther can be labeled with misogynistic bias is beyond me. In the final episode, Alice -- a strong and intelligent woman-- was portrayed as being the only woman who could help the now-helpless Luther get out of the hole he had dug himself into.

This is equally true of stateside shows; to call to mind an episode of long-running American TV series Law & Order: SVU. In the season 7 episode, "Taboo", a young college student (female) was portrayed as having thrown two of her newborn babies into the garbage and left them to die. However, when it was found out that these children were products of (apparently consensual) incest, her father -- and father of the babies -- was (rightly) deemed as the villain, and the college student melted into a shivering, crying mess who claimed to have been driven into the relationship by a dysfunctional relationship with her mother.

While the father may not have had anything to do with the murders, or even know that she was pregnant, he was pigeonholed by the SVU writers as having committed the larger sin. While this appeared to be true in context of the story, it still continued a pattern seen in a large number of shows (even one so apparently immune to the gender bias as SVU). Women may often be victims, but this frequently exonerates them; men, on the other hand, are labeled sick, creepy and twisted -- there is hardly ever an understanding for their deviant behavior.

Of course, we should always aim to buck gender stereotypes in our brave new TV world. To label Luther as a misogynistic house of horrors, however, is pure laziness. For every one of Lucien Burgess' (Paul Rhys) suffering victims, there is a strong and diabolical femme fatale/genius like Alice Morgan. For every Alice Morgan, there is a weak and pathetic excuse for a man like the serial killer in episode 4 or the incestuous father like in "Taboo".

Men are subjected to the same unfair and perhaps unfounded stereotypes as women; simply because they don't have extreme amounts of violence thrust upon them to highlight this does not excuse it.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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