Summary: We continue our examination of the hit TV show “Castle”, today mining for insights about romance in 21st C America. It’s an ugly picture, suggesting (as did previous chapters) that perhaps we no longer defend America because we no longer like it. America has always been an ideological project. It might have evolved into a form that we no longer recognize as us or ours. Post your thoughts in the comments! Spoilers!
Here we see one slice of romance among boys and girls in America, as shown on “Castle”. See 0:10 to 0:24.
- “Castle” shows us 21st C American romance
- Video evidence of an ugly trend
- Gender bending marking the rise of women to equality, or beyond
- Long-term effects on men?
- Other posts about “Castle”
- For More Information
(1) “Castle” shows us 21st C American romance
Gender bending is one of the largest, most important, and least visible trends of our age, and perhaps one of the major sources of cultural stress. We are redefining our core cultural features, an social experiment on a scale with few — perhaps no — precedents in history.
This redefinition of gender roles provides many of the distinctive features of “Castle”. It shows the normalization of what in the past were extraordinary character traits.
- From the script alone how often could you tell the gender of Castle or Beckett? From reading just the police procedural scenes (solving the mystery)? From reading the romance scenes? Very few.
- Women as leaders: Beckett as senior detective, Captain Gates as head of the unit. Beckett as the aggressive leader; Castle as the metrosexual follower.
- Beckett is an example of “action girl” (see TV Tropes) or women warrior. Master of weapons, able to defeat men in hand-t0-hand fights.
“Castle” often takes these now-common tropes to a new level. Castle often screams like a little girl, and occasionally displays outright cowardice (e.g., leaving Beckett to run out of the damaged building in the season 6 episode “Under Fire”). He often portrays the opposite of Beckett’s consistent calm but aggressive reaction to danger.
Even more extreme, in the first few seasons Castle meekly submits to physical abuse by Beckett (e.g., episodes 1 & 3 in season 1; episode 1 of season 3). See the flashbacks in the video at the top of this post. He cannot hit back; that would be wrong. Complaining would look weak. Castle shows the essence of beta: he can neither cope with her nor walk away. The writers and audience show no empathy for him; we mock the clown.
Castle’s passive acceptance of this humiliation foreshadows the events in the following seasons.
- His decay from flashes of alpha to full-beta in the later seasons (he loses all self-respect after accepting this abuse).
- This in turn explains Beckett’s actions. How many alpha women (Beckett was a wild girl even in high school) would respect such a man? She friend-zones him while hooking up with alphas like Josh Davidson (cardiac surgeon) and detective Tom Demming. Castle follows Beckett like a puppy while Davidson ignores Beckett’s complaints about his life as a world-traveling surgeon, as did her previous love (FBI agent Will Sorenson).
- Beckett hears her biological clock ticking at the end of season 4, signalling Time to find a nice stable rich guy.
As mentioned in the second chapter, only with the help of amnesia can fans see this as a romantic saga. It’s an ugly perspective on the complex drama of relationships in 21st C America.
(2) Video evidence of an ugly trend
Let’s consider this last point in more detail, as it highlights our radical new gender roles.
(a) Grrrl Power in the cinema
We watch and cheer Hermione Granger hitting Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The clip does not show what follows: Draco and his team running away, looking back at Hermione in fear. What else can Draco do? Video:
(b) Watch street experiments of people’s reaction to women attacking men
“Turning the Tables“, ABC News “Primetime”, 26 December 2006:
(3) Gender bending marking the rise of women to equality, or beyond
Google shows hundreds of articles discussing this trend, in an unscientifically casual way. Here are two typical examples.
(a) “Women: hitting your man is not cute; it’s abuse“, The Telegraph, 15 March 2013 — Excerpt:
The scene will be familiar to anyone who has sat through a Hollywood romcom-by-numbers. A glossy American couple fight over an alleged infidelity, and at one point the hunk involved says something unacceptable in a pique of anger. Our heroine responds with a slap, right across the face, and the argument ends there.
We’ve seen Meg Ryan do it, Jennifer Aniston do it, and the most recent example of a whack across the chops I saw was in hipster-com Girls, where friends Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Marnie (Allison Williams) trade insults over his sexuality before he calls her a bitch and she slaps him, hard.
The couple follow up this charming seduction scene with, as is the series’ custom, coitus that is swiftly interruptus by a character’s punctured ego.
In short, pop culture gives the impression it is cute, or empowering, or even sexy when women hit men. The scene reversed would carry a single connotation of misogyny and out-of-control male aggression, but here we are expected to laugh, or even to be turned on by these characters’ resort to the grim shortcut of violence to deal with problems.
… Young women are internalising messages that dominance is the only way to conduct a relationship successfully, in keeping with the individualistic streak that feminism has acquired in recent years, where to be empowered means getting what you want, not working together for what you can both accept from each other.
The casual female on male violence that we accept on our screens is also sexist, as it presumes that women cannot do men any real harm. The size of bruises and the amount of blood spilled is not the only way one measures the effect of violence, as any man or woman who has been belittled or controlled or intimidated by their partner will tell you.
(b) “Women Who Hit Men“, Chris Norris, Marie Clarie, 7 January 2008 — Excerpt:
Furthermore, pop culture has made the idea of a pretty girl whaling on a guy a wacky comedy staple — Angelina Jolie smashing wine bottles over Brad Pitt’s head in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Cameron Diaz coldcocking Edward Burns in The Holiday were both played for laughs.
… Maybe it’s a postfeminist thing. Dressing to kill, bringing home the bacon, kicking ass in the workplace — the nascent alpha female may have a dark side, a culturally abetted idea that it’s more or less okay to hit the less physically vulnerable member of the relationship.
(4) Long-term effects on men?
Are these changes good or bad? Consult a priest or philosopher; here we merely consider their effects. At the very least, these rapid and fundamental changes might disorient our society for some period of time.
What effect might a diet of such scenes have on young men, growing up on scenes of women hitting men without condemnation or reprisal? The traditional quid pro quo of society to the prohibition against men hitting women was that women would not hit men (other than a slap for being impertinent). While that prohibition was too-frequently broken, the sight of women hitting men seems unlikely to strengthen it. (Nor does the Left’s standard tool, the current campaign against domestic violence)
I have not found research on the incidence of woman on male domestic violence. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that it’s increasing.
(5) Other posts in this series about “Castle”
- (1) Spoilers for “Castle”: explaining the finale & season 7. It’s a metaphor for America.
- (2) What we do here. Why it’s unpopular. And our new theme.
- (3) What the TV show “Castle” teaches us about America, and ourselves, — About our myths
- Intermission: NCIS: Los Angeles – TV adventures of our stylish security police
- (4 ) The TV show “Castle” challenges us to see our changing values. Most fans decline, horrified.
- (5) “Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future
- (6) “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America
- (7) Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America
- (8) “Castle” shows that many of us don’t defend New America because we don’t like it
- (9) The bitter fruits of our alienation from America — more lessons from “Castle”
(6) For More Information
(a) See all posts about:
(b) Posts about marriage:
- What’s the future of the family in America? How will that change our government?, 11 November 2012
- Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?, 3 April 2013
(c) Women on top of men in society:
- Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
- A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”, 8 July 2009
- Update: women on top of men, 27 October 2009