TV has built a world where white males are the protagonists of the story, from CBS crime procedurals to antihero dramas
The fall of Les Moonves and the recent premiere of Lifetime's You -- which attempts to subvert the white male viewpoint -- have helped to hammer home the point that a lot of television has been told from the white male point of view. "Straight white men in America are taught that they are the protagonist of the story from birth. Their number includes me — I’ve always intuitively understood myself as the protagonist too," says Todd VanDerWerff. "And this mindset has only become more ingrained in the past 20 years. Under Moonves, CBS became America’s most powerful network, but also went from broadcasting shows like Murphy Brown and Designing Women to mostly being a place where women were corpses, whose murders were solved largely by steely, determined men, with occasional help from quippy female sidekicks." VanDerWerff adds that "over the past 20 years, no network has had a worse record of telling stories centered on characters who aren’t straight white men than CBS, a trend the network has only finally broken this fall. What does it say about a culture when by far its most popular television network is dominated by shows where women serve primarily as support systems, quirky comic relief, and victims?" Antihero shows like Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Shield have also helped fuel the narrative that white males can take whatever they want. "The best antihero dramas of the early 2000s, like the best great films of the ’70s, were cautionary tales, deeply moral stories about how, in some ways, the men at the center of them stood in for an America — or at least a white male America — that couldn’t stop gobbling up everything it saw," says VanDerWerff. "The shows suggested, always, that even if their protagonists didn’t get their comeuppance onscreen, it was coming, unless they could change their ways. Only a handful of those protagonists, most notably Mad Men’s Don Draper, eventually came close to doing so. But even now, these shows leave open the question of just how we’re supposed to grapple with the idea that many viewers will always see them as instruction manuals, or as validation of dangerous ideals. What are the takeaways for an audience that doesn’t want to dig into the moral and ethical nuance of The Sopranos and just wants to see Tony whack more enemies, or that believes Skyler White is the true villain of Breaking Bad?"
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