Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why I Watch So Much Television

I watch way more television than movies these days. Halfway through grad school I "discovered" television, and thought, "OMFG, look what I've been missing!!"

(Maybe I should clarify that I don't actually watch television on a TV. It's all Hulu/Netflix/Japanese YouTube. It's a slightly different experience involving few commercials and no channel-flipping.)

I watch an order of magnitude more television than movies (measured in hours). This is for a multitude of reasons; for example, I find it easier to commit to a half hour of television than two hours of a movie. I also grow attached to the characters.

But (and you may be wondering why I'm writing about this on a feminist blog), a lot of it is about the women characters. Most movies have few women, and those women are isolated like the raisins in raisin-bread: they rarely interact. You may have heard of the Bechdel test: to pass the test, a movie must
  1. have at least two women in it
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.

Shockingly few movies satisfy these criteria. And even if a movie does pass the test, it in no way guarantees that the movie isn't still a sexist piece of garbage.

Television series go on for years, though, and it's kind of hard to keep their female characters isolated that long. I only realized this within the past year, but I think that it's a major factor in my general preference for television over movies. Relatable female characters are a big deal.

And now I'm sure you're wondering what my favorite shows are! Currently I watch Archer, True Blood, Parks and Recreation, Vampire Diaries (I just like vampires, yo), and RuPaul's Drag Race. They're not all terribly feminist, but they all have women (or drag queens) who interact with each other.


  1. I totally agree with you. A project I want to work on is to follow the trends of TV shows in the past 50 years with female leads. They don't even need to interact, but I am curious just how many shows even have enough female characters to interact given a long enough time scale. Also of interest would to be track female writers for TV shows -- and by extension look at the number of female lead characters on shows written by women.

    I think TV is an easier medium to find female characters because it's easier to watch different shows given Hulu, Youtube, etc. Unless there's a good independent cinema nearby, it's hard to get variety in movies -- thus the movies that tend to be available suffer from the dearth of female characters that is so trendy in Hollywood (even movies aimed at female audiences tend to be romantic comedies that have a single female lead).

    As an expansion of the TV analysis, it would be good to compare any trends to movies and see if they track.

    I should also dig up my analysis of action movies/TV shows in the past 30 years with female leads. It's pretty depressing.

  2. Do you read "Women in Hollywood"? That might have some relevant data for you.

  3. I read "Hathor Legacy" for my feminist perspective on Hollywood. I'll check out "Women in Hollywood" though it looks like they have a lot of summaries when I want more raw data. I usually just whip up a web-scraper to pull off of IMDB and then do my analysis.

  4. In addition to the Bechdel-Wallace test, there's also the (tentatively-named) Johnson test ( which looks at characters of color.

    It'd be interesting to network character interactions for shows and movies. Each character could be coded in an n-dimensional space based on demographics with the origin being the societal default. It would be interesting (and probably sad) to see how many characters interacted with someone in their same region of demographic space. It could also be a useful way of exposing tokenizing in popular media.