True Detective; False Females

Emily Nussbaum, writing for The New Yorker:

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

Thanks to a tip by a friend, my wife and I have been making time to watch True Detective and we’ve really been enjoying it. Emily Nussbaum, on the other hand, has not. I’ve got a firm rule that whenever the vast majority of people dislike something, I examine it and myself to find reasons to like it. So the reverse should be true—with all the critical acclaim for the show, it’s worth giving Nussbaum’s piece some thought. And while I consider myself cognisant of the issues surrounding the portrayal of females in pop culture, I think Nussbaum has it all wrong here.

Her premise seems to be that Nic Pizzolatto and Cary Fukunaga, writer and director, respectively, of True Detective unknowingly created “wives and sluts and daughters—none with any interior life.” And she gives example of shows that do more with their female characters. But why compare one show to another? Or, why not compare every aspect then? And the even bigger problem is this—what if the wives and sluts and daughters choice was an intentional one? Isn’t her understanding of them as such indicative of success then? Is Nussbaum saying then that only shows that include non-stereotyped females characters can be viewed as successful? (And bad news for her; as I tell my writing students, “All characters are types.”) I doubt she would believe in such a litmus test.

The line between appreciation and resentment is thin, especially when it comes to art. Nussbaum is a fan of The Americans; I couldn’t make it through one episode. Her piece goes on to poke at Matthew McConaughey’s character:

Rust, who is a macho fantasy straight out of Carlos Castaneda. A sinewy weirdo with a tragic past, Rust delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti.

I understand her frustration with his character; I’ve rolled my eyes at him, and at the show’s dialogue, which is overly written, no doubt about it, from time to time. But overall, I’m in on him and the show. I plan on writing about True Detective once the season has finished, so I’ll pause here, but I thought this Nussbaum piece, like most of her writing, is worthy of some time and thought.

And for those who aren’t completely caught-up, the piece contains some spoilers.