Monday, November 29, 2010

“Tuning in on Two and a Half Men” By Gregory Allen


George Carlin. Bill Hicks. David Cross. Bill Maher. All vulgar and obscence comediens. And arguably the best because of their satirical wisdom and stoic personas. Much of their style of humor is lost in modern television, due mostly to ratings and a general lack of interest in moral topics that are, unfortunately, considered rebellious. You’d expect the following intro in an episode of South Park or as part of a discussion on Real Time with Bill Maher, but the source, CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”, is deceiving when considered the target audience is considered mainstream.

 Mia (Emmanuelle Vaugier) reluctantly accepts the bracelet Charlie (Charlie Sheen) presents to her. She hesitates before reading the inscription on her new jewelry, “One month, two week, four days?” This is the length of time Charlie Harper has gone without sex. This is a point he elaborates on without encouragement; stating his $80,000 Mercedes and taunting Malibu beach estate, which in dating terms he refers to as, “A G-spot with two mortgages,” have failed to assist in his debauchery.
But before his character should be scorned for this superficial and insensitive technique, Charlie urges her to also read the inscription on the reverse side: “I’m very, very, sorry.” Despite his anticipation and foresight, the apology is quickly made irrelevant as his other girlfriend, Kandi, arrives unannounced. The introductory scene to this episode of “Two and a Half Men” concludes with Charlie attempting to explain his way out of the affair by suggesting a threesome. This fails as quickly as his previous attempt and the credits begin with their typical upbeat jingle.
Charlie, portrayed by actor Charlie Sheen, seems bound to repeat this scene and similar escapades as the series progresses, now into its 8th season.  His character defines genuine expressions of affection and compassion as, “Drunk and in a hurry,” and displays his bravado against the constant backdrop of evil and idiotic women.
To glorify his misogyny and obtain ratings, the creators of the show, Lee Aronsohn and Chuck Lorre, supply validations in the form of contrasting female characters. Charlie’s mother (Holland Taylor) and Mia are confident, charismatic, and intelligent. They’re almost role models, until you witness their never ending attempts to emasculate and manipulate Charlie. These humiliations prove an apt disguise for his sexist retaliation, as audiences have been fooled into providing the show with a slew of awards and nominations.
Diversity appears on the show only in the sad shadows of Alan (Jon Cryer), Charlie’s self-described “pussy-whipped” younger brother, and Kandi (April Bowlby), whose idea of intellectual reading and thought strives no farther than text-messages and billboards. Combined with the other characters, evidence piles each episode, striving to suggest that the independent and joyful masculinity Charlie personifies is under siege from a dangerous feminine threat. The only problem, as Mia displays toward the conclusion of the episode, is that this threat is merely a request for an emotionally rewarding conversation and the rational request that he leave his clothes on for at least a minor portion of the show.
Concern should be found in two places when considering “Two and a Half Men.” First, the show frequently shows signs of strong comedic tendencies that don’t require female objectification to enhance the punch line. Jake (Angus T. Jones) proves worthy of a few of the shows awards, as his vulgar and juvenile humor finds itself perfectly out of place in the company of elite Malibu socialites, whom he has a talent for embarrassing. Tragically, these aspects are wasted and drown in the shows poorly cloaked biases and stereotyping.
Second, Charlie’s behavior is more likely to be imitated than mocked. Sheen was recently arrested himself on charges of domestic violence and menacing. He simply pleaded guilty, and several of the charges, including a felony, were dropped. Although, this scene will probably be parodied in a future episode, complete with a judge acquitting him accompanied by the same fake audience laughter that plagues the show. A viewer might feel astute to argue that Charlie is a foil, and self-destructive, ultimately sabotaging himself by the third act. But this is rarely, if ever, the case. Charlie finds the sex he is looking for, despite his atrocious behavior, twice in this episode, the producers clearly evading any attempt to criticize his misogyny.
It is important to remember that while TV ratings may thwart Charlie’s onscreen actions into a humorous resolution; this display of insecure and combative pseudo-masculinity finds much harsher real life conclusions. Concern and a more realistic focus should arise when awards are provided yearly to a program admired for its demeaning portrayal of women and the culprit who violates them. Or maybe the audience should inspect themselves for similarities, when Charlie concludes the episode in his own philosophical fashion, stating, “Love isn’t blind, it’s retarded.”

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