Thursday, March 24, 2011
Pop Culture Rewind: Scrubs & Gender Politics
Yesterday, I spent a good half of my day watching back episodes of Scrubs on Netflix, wondering, “why was I never into this show as much as my friends?” I remember it fondly, enjoyed catching episodes here and there, directed several student projects about it – but yet, could not put my finger on why exactly I wasn’t crazy in love with this show. And yesterday I figured it out.
It’s Elliot. (Or perhaps more broadly, it’s Sarah Chalke since I hated her turn on HIMYM as well and was super happy when they wrote her off…)
This show did an amazing job playing with our contemporary understanding of masculinity, but nothing for our understanding of femininity. Elliot is an awful character who represents the worst of our culture’s obsessions with femininity. Every other joke on the show is about her ego, her body, or her obsessions with men. Even when she’s acting like a doctor, she’s always comparing herself to the men around her (a competition she apparently always loses in her head). 182 episodes, 9 seasons, and basically zero growth in her character. I find her so incredibly annoying it’s hard for me to bracket it and enjoy the hysterical male performances in the series.
I don’t think it’s an accident that in contrast, Carla’s character is endearing and interesting. This is a function of the positionality of the white, more educated doctor yet completely neurotic woman who can’t function in a relationship against the Latina, lower-status nurse who manages to keep her man in line and sustain a family outside of work. And in a culture where Bridget Jones caricatures reign supreme in how we frame contemporary white femininity, Elliot serves as a cultural marker for all that I hate about our culture’s obsession with women’s bodies, the devaluation of their intellectual capital/potential, and the correlation of women’s insecurities to insanity.
So while I think Scrubs offered us some important cultural moves (particularly the presentation of “emo” men, and how emo becomes racially coded as a white male phenomenon), it saddens me that Elliot is the type of character that sells to audiences because I don’t find her funny at all.