Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Second Look at Victorious

Wow, so. Okay. I'm already on record as not liking Victorious, but in the last year, I've actually kind of come around on the cast members. Victoria Justice, while she has zero stage presence, actually has a powerful instrument in her voice. Ariana Grande is actually amazing and probably Jess's new favorite. I think it's pretty great that Avan Jogia made a PSA for Straight But Not Narrow. I've heard rumors the rest of the cast is also pretty talented. So when the new episode of Big Time Rush ended and Victorious came on, I figured hey, why not give the show another shot?

Big mistake.

Man, this show is not only not good, it's still actively, really offensive.

The episode was about the kids making a movie and some jackass young director taking credit for it; meanwhile, Puppet Kid (who's name apparently is Robby or Robbie; I can't be assed to look up which spelling, because of all the loathing I have) and Douchey Hot Guy (Beck) fix Robby's car. And that was the way more troubling plotline.

First, let's start with some casual transphobia: Robby refers to his car as "it," and Beck corrects him: vehicles get "she" and other female pronouns. "Not just cars. Cars, boats… my 'uncle Barbara,'" with sarcasm and finger quotes. Ha hah ha, silly transgender people, trying to forge identities that feel correct to them! Ha ha ha, let's use them as punchlines, because it's not like it's a group that faces incredible amounts of stigma and discrimination, including but not limited to frequent assault and murder! Hi-fucking-larious.

So the plotline then goes on: girls gather to watch Beck get greasy, working on the car; Robby wants to impress them and embarrasses himself. This, of course, leads to one of the girls turning a hose on him -- with spray so powerful he is knocked off his feet. Now on the one hand, at least the show doesn't sympathize with him for objectifying girls; on the other hand, he is physically assaulted and it is played for laughs. When Beck finally looks up and sees this, he encourages the girl with the hose to do it some more. So I guess he's a good enough friend to fix Robby's car for him, but not a good enough friend to, uh, not want Robby to be badly injured.

That's a major problem that underlies this show and every single character in it: they have zero empathy for one another, or indeed, other human beings in general. But more on that in a second. First, to wrap up this storyline, Beck finishes fixing the car and Robby laments that the girls were only there to watch him, and now he's bummed. Beck points out that… girls love guys with cars. Robby adds, "Right, because I can drive them places. Like… shopping!" LOLOLOL girls all love shopping, you guys! I've never heard that as a punchline before, ever. Hilarious cutting edge comedy! Or wait, no, the opposite of that.

Anyhoo, Beck goes off to "find [Robby] some cheerleaders who need rides," which is pretty gross and objectifying, but while he's gone, some thugs or someone come and steal Robby's car. While Robby sits and pouts, the cheerleaders roll their eyes and walk away. The end.

So in summary: 1) transgender people make for good comedy, 'cause the entire concept of someone choosing a gender identity not based on the one assigned at birth is funny; 2) girls love shopping and are shallow; 3) physical assault is funny.

The main plotline was mostly better, and even managed to contain some funny lines. Tori's exchange with her sister was mean but funny (if only because Trina -- is that her name? Wait, I still don't care -- doesn't seem too upset by it), and the exchange between Andre and Tori, "What's the plan?" "You're smart, [Jade's] mean, you figure one out," actually made me laugh.

So… the director was a jerk and took all the credit, and they came up with a wacky revenge scheme, involving calling him out on a live talkshow. And I guess for some reason, they can't do it themselves…? So okay, Andre hires his cousin to do it. And that's where it becomes problematic, because Andre's cousin is 100% Sassy Black Woman Stereotype. She sasses at the kids, then the talkshow gets started. And, shockingly, the jackass director actually gives them credit! The kids are stunned… then turn to the cousin, trying to signal to her not to go through with the plan, but she shoots them a thumbs up and starts yelling at the director, and then -- you guessed it! -- physically assaults him.

The kids muse that they feel kind of bad, because the director actually did the right thing in the end, and maybe they should help him. Instead, they go get waffles, while the Sassy Black Woman, you know, continues to beat him. Because hey! Physical assault! It's funny!

Basically, my issues are 1) racism, because hey, did you know black people are really really agressive??? Oh wait, that's a racist stereotype; and 2) assault isn't funny. I can feel exactly what comedic beat the show was going for there: it is funny to have a normal person observe something absurd, consider it for a moment, and then move right along as if weren't absurd at all. But the reason that doesn't work here is because it's not funny to walk away from an assault that you caused as if nothing problematic is going on. The kids weren't being hilarious here, they were being assholes. Just like Beck to Robby earlier.

Why are these characters so unable to see that causing serious injury is, you know, bad? That laughing at someone's misfortune is cruel? They aren't a group of friends (or frenemies, in Jade's case); they're a group of sociopaths. Why is it meant to be funny when you get someone horrifically hurt, as was the director; or when you set your friend up for injury and humiliation, as Beck and Robby? Look: a fun show about a wacky group of friends should, ideally, make viewers wish they were part of that group of friends. This show? Makes me wonder how long it'll be until most of the characters are in jail. I wouldn't want to be friends with a single one of them.

So our finally tally…

Sexism? [✔]
Transphobia? [✔]
Randomly vicious, borderline-sociopathic protagonists? [✔]
Racist stereotype? [✔]

So I guess it wasn't just a few unfortunate choices in the pilot. This show is full of fail, and, having given it a second look, I do not think I will ever, ever give it a third. I really want to like some of the members of the cast, and I'm genuinely sad that they're all on this show.


Jessica said...

This sounds completely awful. And you won't have to wait long to see them in jail, because that's apparently the next episode!

Anonymous said...

I generally avoid the show too (Generally meaning if I'm lucky enough to have better alternatives), and I haven't seen this episode, but the main plot sounds a lot like Big Fat Liar. Since Dan Schneider was the producer for that, too, it's not so surprising.

Artemis. said...

I don't particularly care for this show either, but I do think you're taking bits and pieces too far. I s'pose that just comes with hating it, though.

I'd hate to see what you have to say about George Carlin's comedy.

Becky said...

I think there is a world of difference between George Carlin and Victorious. For one thing, though I haven't heard all of it by any means, and certainly don't care for all of it, Carlin's comedy is generally considered groundbreaking. Victorious's sexism/transphobic "punchlines" are not -- whether or not you think they're funny, they are definitely not cutting edge. Second, Carlin's own comedy (so I'm talking standup and not, say, Bill & Ted) is not aimed at kids, and thus not teaching a whole new generation that it's okay to be sexist or transphobic by using that style of comedy. Which isn't to say that I'm thrilled when those themes show up in comedy for adults, because reinforcing those ideas is also problematic, but I find it downright insidious in programs for kids.

Obviously, your mileage and and does vary.

Becky said...

(Errr, just to be clear, I don't think the writers of Victorious are part of some grand scheme to keep sexism alive or whatever. These attitudes and that kind of humor are prevalent in this culture, so it often shows up in scripts by entirely well-meaning people.)

Tess said...

I haven't seen this episode, but I have to say that I think it's possible you've managed to catch two exceptionally bad ones.

I'm not defending the show for what it did. I could write diatribes on the overt sexism, racism, and lack of empathy often found in tween shows. But I have watched Victorious from time to time and while most of it is stupid, I have only occasionally found it offensive - and it is sometimes actually hilarious.

(This is mostly thanks to Ariana Grande and I do wish she could just have her own show, but alas.)