October 24, 2008

This Week On Grey's Anatomy The Preposterous Happens

Previously heterosexual Callie becomes involved in a relationship with a female doctor, Erica.  But when they "do it," as Callie later describes to Mark Sloan, she didn't like it.

"It was not good at all.  I choked,  I just couldn't go down there, I tried, but it felt so weird..." 

[Mark gets up and leaves.  Where is he going?]

"Two girls getting nasty and loving it; that's hot.  One girl talking about how much it sucked, it's depressing.  And wrong.  Just wrong."


That's supposed to represent the "typical guy" response-- straightforward, basic. 


Meanwhile Callie doubts her bisexuality, and thinks this was a mistake, and avoids Erica-- she's thinking she's doesn't like being with women after all.

Well thank God for self-awareness: by the end of the next commercial cycle she has the insight that what's bothering her is that she isn't good at giving oral sex.  "I like to be good at things.  I do not fail, I do not quit, I like to be good at things, and I want to be good at this, too."  Get it?  She wants to please her mate, but can't-- and this has thrown her whole identity into question.

You'll also observe, however, that how Callie felt about receiving oral sex from Erica is not even mentioned, at all.  It doesn't matter. She's giving up on being with women not because she doesn't like it-- who even knows?-- but because she isn't technically adept at performing oral sex.   Callie feelings don't matter to Callie, Erica's perception of Callie matters to Callie.  This is narcissism masquerading as sexual altruism.

As if to reinforce my point, Callie, now understanding the problem, identifies a solution: she asks Mark to teach her.  No, I'm not kidding.  And she actually uses these words: "just because you didn't publish a big clinical trial, doesn't mean you're not a genius."

I think this even offends me.  Can you imagine if Callie was involved with a new guy, and she goes to Mark and says, "look, I tried to give that guy a blowjob, but I failed, and I don't fail. Will you let me practice on you?"

My first thought was that this discounts the gay relationship, but it really discounts sex itself, it uncouples sex from any intimacy or even pleasure at all.  Look, I'm not romantic, if there's casual sex to be had, you can be sure I'm hiding behind the couch watching it, but this isn't about Callie's freedom to use her sex as she wants;  this preposterousness is actually supposed to not affect Erica; strike that, the deluded nutjobs watching this show are supposed to accept that within the context of the show, she's doing it for Erica's benefit!

When he agrees, she is ecstatic-- "oh my God, really?!  Thank you, thank you!"  NB: this isn't what she says after the sex, this is what she says in anticipation of learning how to do it.  Note again, whether or not she is actually bisexual-- i.e. likes sex with women-- isn't relevant; she wants it only if she's good at it, and doesn't want it if she isn't good at it.    It's this same process that goes into the recent phenomenon of men who want to have sex less than their wives.

II.

It's old news that TV dramas are shows about narcissism-- that's what the viewers want-- but the only way to make that ego greed permissible is to make the characters do something noble once in a while, appear altruistic.  Hence the popularity of doctor and lawyer dramas.  And these characters always seem to get emotionally involved with their patients-- which wouldn't be possible if they were narcissists-- except it is, because they're not involved with the patient, they're involved with the patient as proxy for something going on in their own lives.

One of the worst things about Grey's Anatomy is how manipulative it is-- it tells you what to feel, and it never occurs to you that you're being lied to.

Here's an example:  in that same episode, Yang-- who I believe plays the part of a schizophrenic woman pretending to be a surgeon-- performs a kidney transplant on a man who is getting the kidney from his mistress; she's giving it because she thinks he will then leave his wife and be with her.   After the surgery, the woman is lying in bed complaining-- "Why isn't he coming to see me?  He needs to come down here and face me, and make a choice between me and his wife!"  And Yang, firmly but compassionately, says, "he hasn't asked for you, or called.  I think he's made his choice."  And the woman breaks down crying, realizing that she can't get a man by giving him a kidney.

It's supposed to be an example of the noble, straight-talking Yang, at her best, words used with surgical precision.  But why didn't this idiot have this conversation with the woman before the surgery?  More importantly, why doesn't it occur to the viewers that a real doctor-- which is why I suspect that Yang is not a real doctor on the show-- would have tried to prevent this gigantically unethical situation in the first place?  Because then there's no chance to show Yang's identity.  Because it's not about making right decisions, it's about appearing a certain way.

As evidence for this, the surgery squad does confront an ethical transplant dilemma head on: a father wants to pay his son $10000 for his kidney.  It's funny, and by funny I mean I'm moving to Russia, that manipulation with money is bad, but manipulation with emotions isn't even considered to be manipulation.  It's business as usual.

III.

You take issue, perhaps, with my characterization of TV dramas as narcissism.  You say, well, they're surgeons, of course they're going to be narcissists.  You're confused, you think the narcissism is a consequence of it being a show about surgeons; but that's backwards, the characters as surgeons is the consequence of it being a show about narcissists.  Narcissism is the point.  That's what the viewers want, not surgeons specifically.  To make stories about narcissists believable, you then use surgeons, not, say, endocrinologists.  You need to be able to make a scene where two doctors are dating-- they are actually living together-- but he leaves her name off a major publication because,

"you're don't deserve it, you're a baby, you have the potential to be a great surgeon, but you have a lot to learn." 

And the way to do that is to make them surgeons.  So that it confuses the viewer just enough to say, "yeah, I guess that's a plausible way for a couple who recently moved in together to talk.

So that in the next scene, viewers do not think it preposterous that the female character accept the correctness of that criticism, and wallow in self-doubt.

Median age of Grey's viewers is 46.  You'd think they'd know better.  Or not. 

------

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Comments

"... the deluded nutjobs wa... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 12:50 PM | Posted by mjw: | Reply

"... the deluded nutjobs watching this show are supposed to accept that within the context of the show, she's doing it for Erica's benefit!"

It's possible I'm missing the point, and I certainly don't watch GREY'S ANATOMY, so I lack a larger context... but do you really think this behavior is being sold as reasonable or altruistic? It sounds plainly neurotic and, yeah, narcissistic -- Callie's goal is maintenance of her own self-image, not concern for Erica, as evidenced by the fact that she cheats on Erica to get good at oral sex. I kind of think you and the writers are on the same side here. (Re: the material later in your post, maybe not.)

Unrelated, what's up with women on medical dramas having casual lesbian sex these days? Are HOUSE and GREY'S ANATOMY in some secret competition?

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Gee, and I thought it was j... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 12:54 PM | Posted by marcia: | Reply

Gee, and I thought it was just entertainment. Who looks at Grey's Anatomy as being metaphor for, much less representative of, life and the way it is or should be?

My theory on doctors and lawyers being popular on television has nothing to do with them getting to perform noble acts, and everything to do with them being icons of status and power. They are masturbatory fodder for the viewer, who fantasizes sex with the character (just as the Baywatch Babes were fodder for horny middle-aged men). IOW, I think it's about catering to the narcissism of the viewer, which keeps the viewer enthralled long enough to watch the commercial pitches that profit the network.

Reality doesn't even enter the picture.

And thanks, by the way, for the picture you're painting of yourself. Over the past month, we've "seen" you with your pants down, drunk, masturbating and engaging in voyeurism. And your screen name is "Alone." Let's analyze that, shall we? :)

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doc, what do you think abou... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 1:35 PM | Posted by smartduck: | Reply

doc, what do you think about Alex Lowen's book "Narcissism"?
Do you have any suggestions of books on this subject ?
Thank you

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I think it's completely val... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 1:55 PM | Posted, in reply to marcia's comment, by Fargo: | Reply

I think it's completely valid to say that a culture's entertainment reflects a lot about that culture. It isn't like Grey's Anatomy is some unwatched program.

One thing that's important to bear in mind, at least in my opinion, is that it isn't likely, in a lot of cases, that someone sits down and says "Ok, I'm gonna make a story entirely about people in love with themselves", but rather that they write a story, then those elements are what get a positive reaction from viewers, so those elements are magnified over time. Take that a step further, where you're copying previously successful works, and you start of at that point.

What I'm trying to say is that isn't likely intentional, but rather emergent, which is probably a lot worse.

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I never really considered t... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 2:23 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I never really considered that Narcissism may be the reason behind the enormous success of Grey's Anatomy.

Very enjoyable post, thanks!

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Yeah, strike my first parag... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 2:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Fargo's comment, by marcia: | Reply

Yeah, strike my first paragraph, Fargo. You're right, and Alone's right, that our entertainment reflects a lot about our culture. I started off in one direction then went off in another without developing my initial thoughts.

What I ended up responding to was this:

"It's old news that TV dramas are shows about narcissism-- that's what the viewers want-- but the only way to make that ego greed permissible is to make the characters do something noble once in a while, appear altruistic. Hence the popularity of doctor and lawyer dramas. "

My contention was that doctors and lawyers have high status in our society, and that their representation on television may have more to do with their value as fantasy figures than their ability to make ego-greed permissable by performing altruistic acts.

The "House" character and his popularity with female viewers, despite an obvious lack of altruism and high degree of blatant narcissism, may support this idea. I would be willing to bet most women are more attracted to his character than to some of the more benign, but less powerful and charismatic, supporting doctors.

Writers understand they have to give the main protagonists at least some appealing traits, or the audience won't connect with the character or the show. These traits alone may make the narcissism unconsciously acceptable.

IOW (because I'm having a terrible time organizing my thoughts right now) I think the doctor and lawyer characters perform a different function than the one Alone hypothesizes.

Does that make any sense?

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The writers themselves d... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 5:28 PM | Posted, in reply to mjw's comment, by Alone: | Reply

The writers themselves disagree that they were trying to portray Callie as narcissistic. They have a blog, in which they write,

"I have to say, Shonda and I got more a little crap...for the idea that Callie Torres had to go to a man to learn how to please a woman. But that wasn’t the intention at all... To Callie, Mark Sloan is not just a magic manwhore, he’s a person. He’s her person. And who do you go to if you’re going “down there” for the first time and you’re freaking out and you need some good old-fashioned sex advice? You go to your best friend. Which for Callie, HAPPENS to be Mark Sloan. Who HAPPENS to be a man. A man who HAPPENS to have an excellent reputation between the sheets. That’s all it is, I swear. We’re all pro women getting down with women over here at Grey’s. We’re pretty much pro anyone getting down with anyone. Yay, getting down!"

See? That's where their heads are at-- lesbian sex is just as ok as straight sex. That's the premise they think needs defending. It never occurs to the writers that having sex with your friend in order to learn better technique for you actual partner is so insane as to not REQUIRE any further discussion, yet apparently it does.

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when doesn't something prep... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 5:31 PM | Posted by Gianna: | Reply

when doesn't something preposterous happen on Grey's Anatomy...it became blatantly obvious early on that this show is awful.

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I subscribe to your blog an... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 5:40 PM | Posted by ANON-21yo-college-student: | Reply

I subscribe to your blog and I honestly love it. Keep kicking ass.

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...the deluded nut... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 10:50 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

...the deluded nutjobs watching this show are supposed to accept...

If you're watching it, it's for you.

...TV dramas are shows about narcissism-- that's what the viewers want--

It doesn't matter how emphatically you condemn it after the fact, you watched it. On your own free time.

You didn't get up after the first ten minutes and go find something else to do, you sat there and watched the whole horrible thing, because your ego, your sense of superiority, your narcissim, to wit, was fed and fattened by the emotion-generating brain-chemicals rush you gave yourself by watching it.

Well, either that, or your wife likes the show, and you're not honest with your wife. Which is often healthy. But you definitely did watch the whole thing.

We don't know precisely why you sat through all of Wanted, either, when you were perfectly free to get up and walk out of the theater, but we do know that you watched it. And that it was, ipso facto, for you (we would venture to guess that it was also for your son, but the last thing we should do with a narcissist is offer him excuses, no?)

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I think y'all watch way too... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 3:44 AM | Posted by David: | Reply

I think y'all watch way too much tv, but hey ... full disclosure here ... I don't watch it at all. I do the internet, newspapers, some magazines and stupid movie rentals. I guess my judgment, being based on what I do and don't do, is rather illustrative of some narcissistic elements. So disregard this post. Thank you.

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What a totally unrealistic ... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 10:34 AM | Posted by Cynic: | Reply

What a totally unrealistic scenario. Probably written by a (gay?) (narcissistic?) guy. One of the many reasons why I rarely watch TV/films. The scripts are often boring/predictable, lack any sort of realism, plus, they are dumb.

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I would have preferred the ... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 11:38 AM | Posted by Alter Ego: | Reply

I would have preferred the Nancy Friday approach:

"I just couldn't go down there, I tried, but it felt so...disgusting. I guess it's because I'm catholic. Everything related to genitals is disgusting and a sin to us. Can you recommend me a good therapist who can help me change that?"

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Does it occur to you that m... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 1:52 PM | Posted by ME: | Reply

Does it occur to you that maybe, bad or simplistic writing just naturally leads to narcissistic characters? Whenever you take a real person, and distill them to their most essential properties, you necessarily end up with a caricature. And there are plenty of people on TV whose behavior might be characterized as borderline or antisocial as well. The point is, people with personality disorders are real-life caricatures of normal people, and TV characters are made-up caricatures, so naturally they resemble each other.

And can you please explain, in language a five year old can understand, what's wrong with wanting to practice on someone other than your partner? Probably not a common thing in real life, but how is it pathological? It has been considered OK by some cultures for married men to visit prostitutes -- how is this different?

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Interesting. I have never ... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 3:05 PM | Posted by Esther: | Reply

Interesting. I have never found much entertainment in what I term "medical dramas" -- or lawyer dramas either. This post has caused me to evaluate some of the shows I do watch in context of the narcissism that might be portrayed. That's probably a pointless mental exercise for me seeing as I usually despise the more narcissistic characters in books/tv shows/movies . . . But thanks for the post. Your writing has a way of making me think.

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I don't go as far as a coup... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2008 5:00 PM | Posted by Novalis: | Reply

I don't go as far as a couple of friends of mine, who don't own a television, but I do think that looking for value in TV is like looking for cuisine from a vending machine. Sometimes a vending machine, like a goofy program, really hits the spot, but we shouldn't mistake it for what it's not.

And while I believe in narcissism, it is becoming so ubiquitous and so overused as to be like Hegel's "night in which all cows are black."

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I'm curious why you describ... (Below threshold)

October 28, 2008 10:58 AM | Posted by Lee: | Reply

I'm curious why you describe Yang as "schizophrenic" I've long viewed her as having "schizoid personality disorder" instead. I can't think of anytime she's presented psychotic symptoms.

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... and now Grey's has axe... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2008 10:50 AM | Posted by Cyndy: | Reply

... and now Grey's has axed the character and story line.
http://tinyurl.com/5l3v25

A lil societal burn-build-burn?

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in a review in USAtoday... (Below threshold)

November 6, 2008 11:11 AM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

in a review in USAtoday (Nov 10) it says, "... There's no doubt the show mishandled the relationship, treating a sensitive topic with ham-handed insensitivity that poisoned the waters. A scene where callie sought sexual tips from mark may be the most cringe-inducing this otherwise excellent series has ever produced."

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<a href="http://cdn.holytac... (Below threshold) That part about Christina Y... (Below threshold)

May 20, 2013 10:28 AM | Posted by Laughing monk: | Reply

That part about Christina Yang KILLED me. I haven't laughed like that in a while.

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It's insane-- by whose defi... (Below threshold)

January 5, 2015 4:08 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

It's insane-- by whose definition? Who says it's insane? In a world wherein "moral" just means "crazy Christian nutjob arbitrarily deciding that all cool things are evil," sex IS just another thing; and why should it not be?
The problem I have with non-Christians (people without a "thus sayeth the Lord) talking about morality in dogmatic terms is that, without God, it's just your opinion, and society's opinion, with no logic or reason behind it whatsoever.

"Sex is an intimate experience. You cannot simply make it casual and essentially meaningless based upon the situation!"

Why not?

"Because-- it's an intimate thing!"

Says WHO! Why do you think that, and even more important, does the reason you think it also provide any kind of evidence that it is correct?
The writers of the show actually have it right: God is dead, morality is just a word, and sex is for fun. There is no other logical conclusion.

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...unless her partner is OK... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2015 3:24 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by johnnycoconut: | Reply

...unless her partner is OK with it.

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