Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Different Reaction to Male and Female Power in the FX Show "Damages"?

I love the new FX show "Damages," starring Glenn Close as high-powered Manhattan attorney Patricia Hewes, who it seems it will resort to anything to win a case against billionaire CEO Arthur Frobisher, played by Ted Danson. Both characters wield tremendous power in their work lives, though it's questionable how much they have in their personal lives (there are suggestions of children and marriages run awry) and both are willing to hurt and even (order others to)kill others (so far, Hewes maims a dog, and Frobisher orders a hit on a woman who is going to testify against him) to sustain that power.

"Damages" is really all about power, magnified through the lens of gender. There's one episode in which Hewes says (disclaimer-this quote is from memory): "The most dangerous thing you can do to a man is take away his power," alluding to Frobisher.

In a recent Newsday article, one of the show's creators, Daniel Zelman, said they made the character of Hewes a lawyer because "We were looking for a world in which women could exercise as much power as men. There is the glass ceiling, but at the same time there are very, very powerful women who have risen in the ranks of the legal profession." In that same article another co-creator, Kessler says of meeting with Glenn Close before they shot the shows, "she had a lot of thoughts and ideas and wanted us to really push the boundaries in terms of a woman with that kind of power."

So how do people react to seeing a woman with so much power act so Machiavellian? It's interesting that today's New York Times has a piece on Ted Danson, "A Veteran of Comedy Rediscovers His Dark Side," which mentions how surprising it is that viewers responded to Frobisher's unethical conduct (cheating on his wife, snorting cocaine and then putting out a contract on the life of this woman who glimpsed him getting into his broker's car--need I mention that these three acts took place in the space of one minute--the cheating, snorting and ordering the hit) by feeling sympathy for him. Says one creator of the show, Glenn Kessler, "I don't know how many actors could have those huge plot points in their story and have the audience walk away liking them more." This is a testament to Ted Danson's acting skills, but even more so, it's a testament to our reaction to men wielding power and going to lengths to protect it: we have a natural sympathy for powerful men, a willingness to forgive them their wrongs and weaknesses.

I wonder what the public reaction is to Glenn Close's character, Patricia Hewes. How did people feel about her when they learn she was the one responsible for killing or injuring the young woman's dog in one show? Are viewers less sympathetic to her unscrupulous conduct than they are to Frobisher's? I'm guessing they are.

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