Beyond Cinema: Ugly Americans

31 March 2010 at 12:40 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I do not currently have a cable subscription, so much of my “television viewing” has been limited to shows available via the internet (welcome to the 21st Century). For that reason, I am a frequent visitor to the Comedy Central website where I can get a dose of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert when a little political comic relief is needed. Of late, these shows have featured promos for the latest animated series on the network called Ugly Americans.

Now, I am attaching a huge caveat to this post up-front: I HAVE NOT SEEN A FULL EPISODE OF THE SHOW. Unlike The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, Comedy Central does not provide full episodes online. It does, however, provide clips from the series that offer a glimpse into it, and from what I can tell, it’s your classic fanboy fantasy cartoon with adolescent antics mixing equal parts body humor and body horror.

The series envisions a world in which grotesque monsters from lore both old and new live amongst typical human beings. To deal with the inevitable conflicts that might arise, social workers like the series’ protagonist Mark Lilly assist the monsters with assimilation into society (he works for a fictional “Department of Integration”). This basic premise calls to mind True Blood since both shows play with the idea of monsterous archetypes living openly in society. But while True Blood takes that concept and explores all of its political implications, Ugly Americans seems less interested in a progressive critique of contemporary political realities and the fantastical world it envisions.

The promos do suggest that the show lampoons multiculturalism and its underlying goal of inclusion. The monsters sit around a circle in group therapy with Mark lamenting the ways in which they feel slighted in a human world. A siamese-twin like monster decries the lack of “double-assed toilets” in Manahattan, for example. While Mark sympathizes with the monster’s plight, the complaint is meant to illicit laughter from the audience due to its absurdity. Descriptions of the show also highlight its emphasis on assimilation, with the Comedy Central page explaining the following:

There are easier tasks than weaning vampires off of blood, socializing land-whales, and housebreaking werewolves, but Mark is up to the challenge. Between his stressful job, a zombie roommate, and a demon on and off girlfriend, Mark’s lucky if he can sneak in a few minutes of sleep. But who can sleep when there’s a drop-dead gorgeous Mermaid sitting at the bar?

The final line brings me to my last observation about the show: it’s obssession with fantasy female bodies and what Barbara Creed calls the monstrous-feminine (read my post on Grace for more another discussion on the topic). Clip after clip literalizes the monstrous-feminine through the character of Callie Maggotbone, the boss and love interest of Mark and self-described succubus. Click on Callie below to see a clip:

Callie Maggotbone of Ugly Americans

In short, Callie represents the soul-sucking (literally), power-hungry, professional urban woman. Here’s the Wikipedia description in case you needed more evidence:

Mark’s immediate superior, and also his on-again/off-again girlfriend. In between stealing Mark away for bathroom rendezvous, Callie is berating him for being so soft. She’s the typical 20-some­thing girl who doesn’t know what she wants, but is also bona fide hellspawn, as her father is a high-ranking minion of the Devil. However, since Callie is the product of that demon’s union with her waifish human mother (who was drugged by a cult), Callie is frequently conflicted by her human side. She is drawn to Mark the nice guy, but feels in her heart that she will inevitably end up with someone like Twayne the Bone Raper… after all, it’s what daddy wants. Unfortunately for all of us, such a union could potentially lead to the apocalypse. She also does not like her father, seeming to be more turned on to Mark after believing her father hated him.

Need I say more about how problematic I find this character?

Other female characters prove to be less dangerous but more troubling sexually, like the woman with a face on her crotch and about a dozen breasts on her chest. Even Callie’s yonic abnormality receives attention on the show. The show, then, manifests both fear and awe over female difference through its monstrous-feminine figures.

While I’m not surprised to see Comedy Central churning this stuff out, I’m just a little bit disappointed that the show seems so obviously targeted toward the fanboy with little interest in the fangirl. Gone, it seems, are the days of animated shows like Daria geared toward adolescent and young-adult females. When will producers of such cultural products recognizes that the sex of genre fans isn’t always male?



  1. Nick said,

    Yes, you are right, the sex of genre fans isn’t always male… it just happens to be the over-whelming majority of them. That being the case, what is the motivation of producers to not cater to the predominantly male audience? Is this a sad reality? Yes. But it is reality. There simply aren’t that many fangirls out to make a show geared towards them financially viable. If the majority of people that are willing to consume your product come from one demographic, why wouldn’t you focus on them? My friend wears size 17 shoes. He has to order them directly from the shoe companies because stores generally don’t carry much over size 13. He doesn’t get pissed at Foot Locker for not catering to the needs of freakish, big-footed giants.

    Complaining about this is the same as complaining about the fact that the vast majority of video games are created with males ages 18-35 in mind. And I feel it’s actually caused by a similar issue. Perceptions become distorted as to who actually plays video games. Parents see their twelve year old playing Super Mario Brothers and assume that little Johny and his prepubescent friends just have to make up a HUGE portion of the video game players out there. Not so in reality. By far the largest consumers in the multi-billion dollar video game market are much older males. That’s why “mature” (Yes, I put that in quotes because even as a red-blooded, video-game playing, American male I am willing to admit there really isn’t too much maturity in stealing a car from an old lady at gun-point and then running her down just for the hell of it.) games like Grand Theft Auto, or first-person shooters dominate the market. Then Johny’s naive house-frau of a mom becomes outraged that all video games are “too violent/pornographic/blah blah blah,” when they aren’t intended for her kid in the first place, because her child isn’t going to spend the same amount of money on video games that a 22 year old dude that still lives in his parents basement is going to.

    Females that enjoy animation I feel fall into the same trap. Because they like it, and most likely have other friends that like it, they think there are actually a lot more “fangirls” out there than there really are. Trust me on this one. There really aren’t. As a male that enjoys animated television and movies, it would have been much easier for me to get a date when I was younger if there were countless girls running around that enjoyed the same thing. Alas, the female population of this country generally has a negative view of such things. Seriously, go find a random girl on the street, let her know you watch cartoons, and see if you can get a date. I’m going to place my money firmly on “No”. As a general rule females just don’t watch that sort of thing.

    I’m not really sure where this idea of “days of animated shows like Daria geared toward adolescent and young-adult females,” is coming from. What show other than Daria was there? Seriously, was there another one? This is not meant to be snide, I really just don’t know if another show like that has ever existed. Or if it lasted beyond one season if it did exist. And please do not kid yourself. Daria was a well-written, humorous show that had success in spite of the fact it was geared towards females, not because of it.

    Unfortunately fangirls just don’t exist in great enough numbers for you to get much of a say in this stuff. Sad but true. Up until the demographic numbers start changing, well… just don’t expect to see many double assed toilets getting installed.

    • c8ic8 said,

      I appreciate all of your comments and agree with some of what you have to say. It could be true that there aren’t as many fangirls out there as fan boys, but as you admit, this is a self-perpetuating prophecy, and that is what I find most problematic about shows like Ugly Americans, which may alienate some women so that women don’t feel like animation is a genre for them.

      In general, though, I am skeptical of claims that the audience can be so easily carved out in terms of sex. For years, critics assumed that the horror genre was almost entirely composed of dudes without anything other than anecdotal evidence to back it up. Only recently have the studios invested time and money into measuring the composition of these audiences, and somewhat surprisingly to the press, females generally make up a larger portion of ticket purchasers for horror movies and tend to be repeat viewers more often than males. While this phenomena has often been attributed to horror of the PG-13 variety, industry studies have suggested that even films like Saw or Hostel drew more females than males to the theaters. In short, I think the picture is much more complicated than you suggest.

      You do make a valid point about Daria: it was definitely one-of-a-kind. I apologize for my sloppy phrasing, as I probably should have said “the days in which an animated show like Daria…” rather than implying that multiple shows were out there that did this. I would say, though, that while there have rarely been animated shows geared specifically toward female audiences, there have been some with broader appeal that feature complex, interesting female characters. I’m thinking most specifically of The Simpsons here; growing up, I closely identified with the nerdy and independent Lisa Simpson, who served as one of my early feminist icons.

      In short, I think there are a lot more folks in need of those proverbial double-assed toilets than you think, it’s just too much of a bother to make them when you’ve produced the regular toilets for so long.

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