Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

There are some tv characters you love to hate. Remember Wilhelmina on Ugly Betty? Or Sylar from Heroes? Mr. Burns on The Simpsons, Victoria Grayson from Revenge....the list goes on and on. These characters are over-the-top, deliciously evil and oh how we delight in them.

And then there are some characters you just hate. They're not evil, they're not the villains, they are just...annoying, constantly make bad choices, and make you want to scream at the television. I suppose the best recent example is Ellis on Smash. Thank goodness he finally got his walking papers.

It's a real problem for a show when the main character is the one you loathe. For example, HBO's Girls. I hesitate to call the show "controversial" because it's that kind of bullshit made-up controversy that only exists on the internet. Because The People Who Blog About Television* always have their panties in a twist, and Girls seems to be a popular punching bag.

I discussed the first two episodes recently, and while I think the show has improved and become really interesting the past few weeks (note I did not say "entertaining,") the main character Hannah is a big problem for me. She pretty much encapsulates everything the critics have identified as flaws in the show: she's entitled, arrogant, privileged, and possesses a lack of self-awareness that is glaringly obvious to everyone but herself. I guess the point of the show will be her character's "journey" or whatever...but it's hard to root for someone when all I want to do is throw a shoe at her face.

"Sure, I wrote something really horrible about you, but if you had read the essay and it wasn't about you, do you think would've liked it? As a piece of writing, I mean."

But here's where I get the cognitive dissonance. As much as Hannah irritates me, there are certain aspects of her character that knock my socks off with awesomeness. And I don't know what to do or think as a result For example, she is obviously carrying around a few extra pounds, but she has no shame or embarrassment in whipping her clothes off for intimate encounters. In a recent episode when she was hooking up with a random dude in her Michigan home-town, his needing to be under the sheets before removing his clothes was clearly puzzling to her. I suppose a side-effect of her ego is a lack of shame, but for someone with body issues her ability to be comfortable in her own skin is astounding. She also summed up what I think most women are looking for in a relationship when she said, "I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, thinks I'm the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me." You guys have no idea how much I related to that.

I read a really great interview the other day on Jezebel in their "Boys on Girls" column (where guys who watch the show Girls weigh in with thoughts) and the interviewee noted that Hannah is the kind of character that is "always saying the wrong things. Kind of selfish. Usually doing and saying the wrong thing that gets them in trouble, but they're so likeable, we let them get away with it." I'm not sure I would go so far as to call Hannah "likeable," but there's a certain something about her that just gets to me.

And here it is: for me, Hannah provides a double dose of uncomfortable, from both the negative and positive sides of her personality.  Her bad qualities are enough of a reflection of mine that I feel like a terrible person, whereas I also wish I could have more of her good qualities and therefore feel lacking.

At the end of the day, I guess Hannah makes me uncomfortable, because she seems so real. Her bad decisions feel like real bad decisions. The consequences feel like real consequences. And I want to throw a shoe at her because sometimes I want to throw a shoe at real people.

Hannah isn't one-note. And as a result, her character has resulted in a level of self-analysis that I was not expecting. If I may riff on the old Soviet Russia style of HBO, television series watch you.

*And yes, I realize the hypocrisy of mocking The People Who Blog About Television when really that's what all I do. But if we outlawed hypocrisy there would be no organized religion, political parties, or really any establishment and then we could all live happily ever after inside John Lennon's Imagine. Wait, what's the downside there?


Lauren DeLaCruz said...

Hannah sounds like an excellent character, even if that means she makes you hate her. For me, the most interesting characters are always the most complicated in terms of their ability to undermine your expectations (being unconcerned about body image) while still seeming real, and then causing you to analyze your own thinking. Ellis, while able to create conflict on the show, is a totally flat character, regardless of whether or not he is unlikable. Nothing he does is unexpected or makes me think about how I would act in a similar situation. I JUST want to throw my shoe at him.

Maggie Cats said...

Agreed! That's why I keep watching the show and find it interesting...I dislike Hannah, but it's not like she's my friend. She's someone whose fictional bad decisions I enjoy watching because it's a fascinating car wreck.