I watched most of the first season of House, but since have mostly just dipped in once in a while. While the medical mysteries, the ethical quandries and House’s general outrageousness were pretty compelling, I was getting pretty sick of all the highly sexualised fifteen-year old young women and House’s casual bigotry.
Recently, a few feminist critiques of House have popped up. The spoiler disclaimer appiles from here on in. (What is this disclaimer of which I speak? Check out the new “Further Notes” page up top.)
In Saved from destruction?, a post largely focussing on the treatment of Hadley’s (Thirteen’s) bisexuality, mzbitca wrote:
Hadley’s sexuality is not truly touched on until she has trouble dealing with her Huntington’s diagnosis. She goes on a reckless spree that involves doing drugs and taking random women home with her. […] The fact that her taking home random women is considered part of her downward spiral sends a very clear message about what type of relationships are “correct”.
Now, I haven’t seen all of the episodes that mzbitca discusses, but from what I know, I agree with this. This is a reflection of some of society’s attitudes about bisexuality, specifically that it’s not quite real. I don’t want to run the risk of speaking for people identifying as bisexual, so I’ll just pick out the phrase ‘bi now, gay later’. Not only does it treat bisexuality as temporary confusion or cover, it invokes a shallow commodity rather than a rich segment of identity. This story arc draws on such attitudes in wider society and perpetuates them.
I can’t say I entirely agree with mzbitca’s idea that the writers successfully balance House’s attitudes with ‘making sure that House is not someone you should want to be’ through episodes in which he is shown to be ‘messed up and miserable’. I think that for this to work, the lines need to be more clearly drawn. After House makes any given racially inappropriate comment towards Foreman, for instance, the dramatic power relations have House high and Foreman low. Drama lives from scene to scene, on immediate power and emotion, much more than the memory of House’s unhappiness. If the writers are doing as mzbitca suggests – and that would be a good strategy, subverting the idea of the bigot as the truly powerful character – they’re doing a half-hearted job. Perhaps cynically, I think they’re just getting a kick out of epousing a little hate in what they can argue is an acceptable manner.
Moving on to the episodes around the “Painless” and “Big Baby” mark, neither of which have aired yet in these parts. I’ll just quote as I can’t do much commenting. Apparently it’s all about women – in their quinessential role of motherhood, that is. Bene has a succinct breakdown of “Big Baby” in everybody lies in the dominant paradigm, with outlines of what occurs for four female characters. But I think her last sentence says it all:
Yep, it’s nesting time.
Too right. You can also read mzbitca’s follow-up (heh, medical) called Ok, now I do feel kinda sorry for Cuddy:
Of course, since apparently the writers have lost any ability to write a well-balanced and nuanced character arc, now Cuddy is almost physically incapacitated at work because she loves her baby SOOOOOO MUCH (remember ladies, you don’t really love your baby unless you stay at home). She acts like an idiot, blames House because she created a monster only she can handle, and watches her baby on the computer instead of doing her job.
Immediately prior watching this latest season, I was watching Season 3 reruns. Well, you’ve got the idea of how I feel about House so far. Which is why I was so surprised to hear this in “Lines in the Sand” (S3E4) during a conversation about a young autistic patient:
Cameron: Is it so wrong for them to want to have a normal child? It’s normal to want to be normal.
House: Spoken like a true circle queen. See, skinny socially privileged white people get to draw this neat little circle, and everyone inside the circle is normal, anyone outside the circle should be beaten, broken and reset so they can be brought into the circle. Failing that, they should be institutionalized or worse, pitied.
Here’s a transcript of the whole episode. First, I hardly need point out Alison ‘Normal Normal Normal’ Cameron’s… behaviour in that quote. Pretty bad coming from a doctor. But I want to talk about House. It’s kind of odd to see him switch from bully to advocate. Of course, it’s really because he’s describing himself, too.
Isn’t that a great explanation of privilege, particularly with regard to disability, chronic illness and medical conditions? Cameron, the pretty, heterosexual, highly educated, middle class doctor, is part of the ruling group. There’s an arbitrary, indelible line which grants all the “haves” a privileged place and community. The “have nots” are not only left in the cold, they’re left alone, no brethren for them. And isn’t that just the case with so many disabled and ill people and their carers? Society won’t deal with you, so the best way to make you go away is to isolate you. But it’s better still that the normal people don’t have to have the marginalised hanging around at all, so the thing to do is tear people down and reshape them to specifications that will mean the privileged will be comfortable. if it doesn’t work, shut them away from everyone else and/or remove the need to treat them as people because they’re just creatures of misfortune and pity. Just keep working at the other so the privileged can maintain their comfort, their obliviousness, their sense of entitlement to all they have.
House is multifacted, to say the least. Even if I go off it again this season, I’m sure I’ll want to come back again. However skewed, there’re some interesting depths in there, which is what has made it as popular as it is.