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Jun 16 2011

The Coupling Rant

I love my fandom, and my fandom drives me insane.

By “my fandom,” I mean the people who interact with science fiction and fantasy in a critical capacity with an eye to getting things right. They want the science to not be silly (or at least not any sillier than it has to be for the purposes of the story). They want magic systems to make sense, granted the fact of magic in the first place. They want events to unfold in ways that flow from the world and the characters.

More importantly, what sets apart “my fandom” is that they want the people to be right. They want populations to reflect the diversity of a realistic world. They want characters to reflect the personalities and experiences of the people who read science fiction and fantasy–and those who would read if they could find themselves in the stories.

All that is an excellent thing. It does, however, come with its own set of problems and biases. The biggest problem I tend to find in a group that values getting things right is a tendency to confuse things they don’t like with things that are wrong, and by wrong I don’t just mean factually inaccurate.

(Note: One of these days I’ll stick my hand in the blender that is the tendency of my fandom to apply the simplistic label of “fail” to large-scale, multiple-issue, multiple-party disagreements. Today isn’t that day, mostly because the topic deserves careful, nuanced analysis and I’m grumpy.)

The most recent thing driving me insane has to do with Doctor Who. More specifically, it has to do with people’s reactions to Steven Moffat taking over showrunning from Russell T. Davies. Even more specifically, it has to do with the fact that the relationship between Amy and Rory doesn’t appeal to a lot of people.

Frankly, it doesn’t entirely appeal to me either. As pretty as Rory is, I really like being in a grown-up relationship. I don’t want to be that young and unsure of what I want and what I’m being offered. I don’t want to treat anyone the way Amy does or the way Rory does or even the way the Doctor does. Not. for. me.

On the other hand, you’re never going to hear me say, “Have you ever seen Coupling? The problem is that Steven Moffat can’t write a strong woman who isn’t a bitch.” I don’t remember who said it in that version, but the sentiment is fairly common.

Here’s the thing about Coupling. It was developed when Friends became a big international hit. The biggest difference, aside from the size of the apartments involved and the presence of a pub instead of a coffee shop, is that the characters in Friends were dealing with their various lives at the same time they were hooking up and breaking up with each other: jobs, families, old school friends, etc. and on. Any gender and sexual politics happened in the course of one grand soap opera. Mostly, they didn’t happen.

Coupling, as the name signifies, was about sex. It was also about gender roles in relationships. As in Friends, there were three men and three women, but here they came in paired types. Sally and Patrick were the shallow, looks-obsessed traditionalists who ran their relationships by the rules. When they dated each other, some of those rules meshed and some clashed. Jane and Jeff were bound by no rules. They were impulsive, and you never knew what would come out of their mouths.

Then there were Susan and Steve, the proxies for the audience. Each was horrified by how Sally and Patrick treated their partners. Each was a little envious of Jane and Jeff in their freedoms, but neither wanted to deal with the consequences Jane and Jeff faced. They were pretty well perfect for each other, but they still had to figure out how to make things work. They started with nudity, ended with birth, and ran a lot of odd places in the middle.

Coupling was hilarious because of this awkwardness, this tension between the old rules that mostly tell people they can’t do what they want with respect to sex and the new rules that require us to negotiate everything without any training in how it’s done. Every new freedom came with the embarrassing need to, ahem, you know, talk about it. Every new opportunity came with a need to have an opinion, even if everyone, all your life, has been telling you what the one right opinion is…and it isn’t yours.

Susan got cranky about this sometimes. Exasperated. Yep. So did Steve. One of the funniest speeches in the show involves him getting fed up enough to not care about the consequences of explaining the appeal of lesbian porn. It is every bit as bitchy as anything any of the women in the show say to each other in the entire run.

But Susan is the bitch and Moffat can’t write any better. Because someone doesn’t like what being strong without being perfect in the middle of these pressures looks like. Because her journey and Steve’s are uncomfortable to see, particularly if we’ve managed our own with just a little bit more grace. Or maybe because we haven’t. I don’t know.

I do know that wanting things to be right is a very good thing, but I’m never going to understand the kind of thinking that takes my opinions and preferences and decides that anything that doesn’t match them is wrong.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Heather M. Rosa

    Well, heck, I'm perfectly willing to let you be wrong. I'm sure it's happened once or twice.

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