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TW: Discussion of sexual assault and physical violence
I recently walked in on my boyfriend watching the newest season of Peaky Blinders, a show that I have tried repeatedly to get into and failed every time, and after about 2 minutes of attempted rape, spousal abuse, child endangerment, and all manner of creative gratuitous violence, I had to ask him what in the hell he found compelling about this show that just out and out glorifies the absolute worst aspects of male behavior.
Peaky Blinders is not the only show like this, obviously. Historical flicks largely fall into two separate and distinct categories: the ones about “lady” things (romance, quietly persevering in the face of insurmountable social odds, pretty dresses) and the ones about “manly” things (violence, trudging through vast amounts of mud, general dickswingery). Yes, these are broad categories and often films have a bit of both to appeal to the broadest audience (rape, after all, is a substantial plot device in a lot of female-centered historical flicks — we’re looking at you, Outlander).
But then there are shows that are apparently trying to portray men as irredeemable (yet somehow relatable?), shit-stains (and don’t get us going again on the manchildren of costume dramas!). Within this is a much deeper conversation to be had about the gender binary and how mainstream culture does its utmost to keep it alive and well, but that’s not the object of today’s post, because it’s Snark Week, and I had to start taking blood-pressure medication so we’re keeping it light and snarky. Take it up in the comments, if you must.
We were generally conflicted about Taboo, because it, like the rest of the shows listed here, had a lot of good things about it: costumes by Joanna Eatwell (Wolf Hall, The Miniaturist), Tom Hardy, spooky plot … But watching the series, I had to tap out numerous times because all of the characters were just shitty in some way or another, and the main character was this uber-violent crazy person. I guess we are supposed to find that exciting, but all it was in the end was exhausting.
When this first came out, I binged about 3/4 of it in one go, got super-depressed, and had to walk away. I ended up never coming back to it, and that was 15 years ago. The only thing I really can say now is that yes, it is insanely good, but also, it’s insanely violent and depressing. I’m not lying when I say I will watch anything with Ian McShane in it, but I’m also not saying I can stick it out to the end.
Peaky Blinders (2013-)
What obviously inspired this post. I want to like this show, truly I do, but the main character and all of his cohorts are just such shitty people that I have to be cajoled into sitting through an episode at a time. It’s unfortunate because it is by all accounts a good show. Just, ugh.
Boardwalk Empire (2010-14)
Boardwalk Empire is maybe a touch less violent than the other three I’ve mentioned here, but it still glorifies asshole men being assholes for fun and profit. The costumes are amazing, though, and Steve Buscemi is fantastic. But … ugh. Testosterone poisoning + automatic weapons = Sarah’s eyes glaze over.
I’m not saying that films have to tone it down, because if anything, I am all about cranking up the dial on action and drama. I’m just saying I noticed a theme of late, and when I notice a theme, I write a post. Especially if the theme I’m noticing is the tendency for plots to focus on shitty male characters because of the mistaken belief that violence and assholery makes for interesting characters. It really doesn’t. If anything, it just makes them caricatures.
Feel free to pick a fight with me in the comments!