Tonight is the long-awaited premiere of the new improved Two and a Half Men, now starring Ashton Kutcher. Here is the promo the show is running:
Interesting, don’t you think? Ashton all front and center with his bad self, looking buff and shirtless and waiting to be revealed, Jon Cryer looking downward in disdain, disgust, and envy. And then there’s the boy…ah, the boy. Just waiting to be revealed along with the men on the show, a look of smug anticipation lighting up his not-quite-boy, not-quite-man face.
I don’t watch Two and a Half Men, nor do I intend to—no matter what (or who, or what part of whom) is being revealed. However, I have been thinking about this show a lot over the last several months, as I watched Charlie Sheen’s spectacular decline with fascination.
This voyeurism was an exception for me—I don’t usually pay much attention to celebrity antics. After a while (like four or five months), I realized I was following Charlie’s activities because I was waiting for the fallout. It wasn’t a conscious thought, but I expected Charlie to lose his job after his wife accused him of holding a knife to her throat. I expected people to stop wanting to watch him. After all, we lost interest in Mel Gibson when he turned out to be a verbally abusive, anti-Semitic misogynist.
Ah, but it was mostly women who wanted to watch Mel. And those baby blues just weren’t so much fun to look into once we knew what kind of poison was behind them. But Charlie’s a different story—his show isn’t written to appeal to women, and our opinion of him doesn’t determine his success.
When Charlie did lose his job, it wasn’t because his bosses decided they shouldn’t employ a man who treats women like disposable plastic. It wasn’t because he was obviously suffering, and clearly needed help but refused to get it. No, Charlie lost his job because he bit the hand that fed him. If he’d been willing or able to come back to work and be the jolly playboy who obstinately and successfully objectifies women on TV as he does in life, he could have done exactly that.
As Rosanne Barr put it in an article for New York Magazine, “Based on Two and a Half Men’s success, it seems viewers now prefer their comedy dumb and sexist. Charlie Sheen was the world’s most famous john, and a sitcom was written around him. That just says it all…People do what they can get away with (or figure they can), and Sheen is, in fact, a product of what we call politely the ‘culture.’”
First of all, thanks to Rosanne for saying what I wanted to say so succinctly, and throwing her fame and personality behind it.
Now, the question is, is there any stopping the culture?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words measure up against two young, famous breasts pressed against a windowpane and dripping soapy water? (As Megan Fox’s were in the first season of the show—which, by the way, included a ten-year-old boy ogling her, along with his father and uncle.) My guess is, for some people, there just ain’t enough words in the world to stack up against those babies.
That doesn’t mean we can’t make inroads, however. Change can happen, even if it is only in small ways. Anyone who is going to be a catalyst for or an agent of change needs three things: concern, leverage, and integrity. Rosanne tells a story that illustrates this point. From the beginning of Rosanne, she relates, she was in a battle for ownership of the show she had created and believed she would own. At one point in this battle, the director asked Rosanne to deliver a line that “…was a ridiculously sexist interpretation of what a feminist thinks—something to the effect of ‘You’re my equal in bed, but that’s it.’” (See Rosanne’s description of the event.) Rosanne refused to say that line, and the director refused to change it. For four hours, they were at a standstill, until lawyers were called in and finally Rosanne won. The line was changed.
Four hours of production time, so she didn’t have to say a line that denigrates women. Thank you, thank you, thank you Rosanne.
But what about this show? Rosanne was a different deal—Rosanne herself conceived of the show and fought to keep it hers. Two and a Half Men was never meant to be anything but entertainment—it isn’t supposed to be insightful or empowering. It’s supposed to be funny and titillating.
I admit, when I heard that Ashton Kutcher was joining the show, I had a glimmer of hope that he might bring some class to the proceedings. Oh, I don’t think he’s a saint by any means—he and his wife both know how to use their looks to make a buck. But he has always struck me as a decent guy, a guy with a sense of humor—a decent, funny guy who now has three stepdaughters. I wondered if Ashton would, in some subtle way, work to change the show, to make it less sexist. I even wrote a bunch of high-falutin sentences about agents of change working from the inside and guys who get the difference between appreciating a beautiful body and making sure that beautiful body serves as their entertainment.
But all those high-falutin sentences were forgetting something: the trend in moving toward sexual equality is not to change the way we treat women—it is to make sure the guys get to be sexual objects too.
Thus, the promo: two and a half naked men, the best-looking and newest one front and center. My hopes for change, which were minimal at best, now have a cynical twist: this show might add the objectification of men to its repertoire, but that isn’t going to be enough to turn two and a half boobs into two and a half men.