come and be king of the world: Unpopular Opinion Ahoy: A lot of people have been complaining about sexism in Merlin.
It’s drama. Stop taking it so literally - They aren’t saying it’s alright that Gwen was banished or that Arthur shook her. They are simply portraying events, not commenting on them.
Also let’s not forget when this is supposed to be set - It’s the middle ages. Women had…
When I saw this post coming by, I initially scrolled over it with an instant reaction of, NOOOOOT TODAY! But when five minutes later I still couldn’t let it go, and then ten minutes later I started feeling a little frustrated (but also kept on forgetting why I was frustrated, and then OH YEAH that post), I decided that maybe I should dive into this anyway. It’s not so much that I think I’m here to ‘correct’ someone’s views on anything (mostly because I know how tumblr works and everything gets buried under everything), but rather that I think matters like this can’t be repeated enough, especially concerning the media, especially concerning shows that we love.
And I do. Love Merlin, that is. Like, a shitton. Really. Yesterday I baked a Merlin cake! A CAKE THAT LOOKS LIKER MERLIN! I am as far gone as you can get, really. So I’m not saying this out of some resentment toward the show or other people who love it—believe you me, we’re all in the same boat. (NOT SHIP THOUGH EEEEH). And, yes, I’ve definitely had moments in the past (oh god idek how many) years that I thought that some fan reactions were beyond extreme, and that some people were taking certain elements of the show too much to heart. Which is sad, obv, when you disagree and the other person seems to just get sadder watching a show that makes you happy. But at any rate—what I’m trying to say is, I can see where you’re coming from, and why some fan’s reactions to the show might’ve made you go, AW WHY YOU GOTTA BE LIKE THAT. And oftentimes with Merlin you’d be in the right. It’s a show that has pigeon sandwiches and unicorns. It’s silly and lovable when it wants to be, and it’s not a show to watch for social criticism and highly philosophical reflections.
However, on this particular matter, in this particular situation, I’m afraid I’m gonna hafta disagree. Sexism on the show is a pattern that has settled further and further over the years, and I’ve come to watch it these days with a sort of pre-emptive grimace and a variety of sarcastic voiceovers I mutter at the tv during every other wideshot of the castle. I’m more than open to any suggestions as to why and more importantly how I can watch the show with my “oooooh that’s a bad miss” mode turned off—I would love to watch it as I used to, wincing only at that lovable bbc GCI and laughing yet half-seriously-kind-of-still-hoping for Merlin and Arthur to neck in a nook off shot somewhere. This is a discussion I’m more than willing to have. The argument, though, of “they are simply portraying events, not commenting on them” doesn’t seem to work.
The fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as ‘simply portraying events’ without commentary. At least not in cases relevant to this discussion: shows, movies, storytelling of any kind in popular culture. And I’m not saying that commentary happens in the way of the producers and writers sitting down for a meeting and one of them going, GUYS GUYS I JUST CAME UP WITH AN AWESOME WAY OF SHOWING HOW MEN ARE AWESOME AND WOMEN STINK! Because that’s not what happens. ‘Commentary’ through the media is not always direct, not always extensively premeditated, but it is always a conscious choice to reproduce or create a negative image—a choice to portray something as positive or not, of giving someone a voice. When the show brings in a lady that is a snake demon that sucks men of their life source by means of her sexuality, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. They are reproducing a trope, a stereotype that will inevitably serve as commentary on women and their sexuality. They might not mean to, might not be aware of it, but it’s there all the same. It’s not so much commentary on women in society—it’s perpetuating the existing (mythical, if you ask me) narrative on what women are, and how they can be represented. Now, let me be clear: I’m not watching Merlin because I’m waiting for some earth-shattering gender norms breaking kinda form of storytelling. Hells to the no. That’d give barking up the wrong tree a whole new definition. No—I’m watching it because I’ve come to love the characters, some of their stories, and beyond that I’ve come to love the community around it, the creativity and brains and HILARITY that comes of it. But I still maintain my right to point out flaws, and lawd knows Merlin has its flaws, I still maintain the right to disagree with representations of gender, of ethics and sexuality. I’m not campaigning for the beeb to change its ways (well, not on this platform, at any rate), but I am saying that there’s no harm in checking the show where it needs to be checked—acknowledging the elements that could’ve been better dealt with. Saying that people are ‘complaining’, especially when it comes to critical and sensitive issues such as sexism and gender-bias, implies a certain excess—too much butthurt over too little content. Are there occasions where people can go a little far in the way they voice their discontent with the show? Definitely. Yes. But calling the pointing out of sexist tendencies of a show complaining, is, I would say, inaccurate. You can always call it what I call it! TOO MANY DICKS ON THE DANCE FLOOR.
Which brings me to my next point. Fully aware that by now I’ve hit the tl;dr bar about eight paragraphs ago, I have to add this: it’s not just the tropes in which the women are represented that gets to me, that makes me write ridiculously long essay shit like this—I have been able to enjoy shows that trope and troll away without getting quite as bothered as with Merlin—it’s more the presence of women, the actual scope in which they tell the ‘female’ stories of the show that constantly underlines all the things that are, in my opinion, wrong. Or, in other words, there is ONE LADY WITH A NAME IN CAMELOT. The show is so used to telling dude tales, that whenever the guest star of the week is a woman, the show’s highly gendered way of storytelling become blatantly obvious. Again, not saying I don’t enjoy dude tales. Enjoy ‘m as much as the next slasher. What I dislike is the grand, over the top use of the Smurfette principle. If there were more instances of female narratives in the show, or just in Camelot, this might’ve been a different discussion, one in which we could compare and define a trope by seeing how it effects a story arch. But since we have only one lady and a bunch of Evil/Virginal/Demonic vehicles that have all either Gone Bananas/Left/Died/Died happily for a man/Died because they deserved it/Got banished/Cursed to pine for all of eternity, well …
As for the time period argument, though—I think it’s safe to say that as much (as the people above have pointed out) as Merlin is not about social criticism, it is most definitely not about representation of medieval times. Ceeeeeertainly not of Arthurian legend times. Keeping in mind we’re talking about a show that is about a legend commonly set (and correct me if I’m wrong here, my introduction to medieval lit class has by now long sunk into the quicksand that is known “what did I do freshmen year what year was it even”) between the 5th and 8th century. Filmed in a castle from the 14th century, using weapons from the LOLLAND century, eating sandwiches and oranges and drinking beer from cans. I think it’s safe to say this show isn’t all about historical accuracy. Saying that it’s okay for the writing to recreate sexist narratives because it reflects on that time is overlooking the basic premise of the show: retelling an old legend through modern goggles. Beyond that, though—say that that wasn’t even the case, there are still a million ways of telling a historical narrative and not falling into these traps of stereotyping and sexism. Take for example a point brought up above: Gwen’s banishment. Ignoring everything around it, did you notice the language used to describe the event? First she was ‘banished’, then, after Arthur had his ten seconds to cool down, suddenly she was ‘lost’. Lost! She ain’t lost, fool. You banished her and said, “It’s either this or I kill you. Your call!”
And that’s what I mean. There are so many ways that could’ve been dealt with better. Small ways, significant ways. Things like Gwen’s virtue being played off as her highest quality (next to her boobage), that the only thing that could’ve broken her moral armour would be magic—things like choice of words, point of view when telling a character’s story, HECK—even colour! Dress a virginal OR bad woman in something other than white or black. You know. Small things. Easy. That would change a lot. Like I said—there are a million ways they could’ve told any of the female character’s stories, and yet they somehow Forrest Gump’d into the worst ways possible, time and time again. And that’s the sad part. This show had (still has, ngl) a chance to retell a legend in
That’s the sad part: had a chance to retell a legend in new innovative ways, and they were clearly capable of it—the show has many male characters that show great potential and have character development and everything (though also a lot that don’t, but y’all know that), and it has this awesome way of getting its viewers really involved, of getting us to adore even the wonky bits. Yet it didn’t seem to want to extend this storytelling beyond Arthur and Merlin (and the occasional fluke dude or knight that photobombs the day), let alone any of the female characters past S1, and that’s something I think we’re in our full right to be sad about. To, most importantly, talk about. Because that’s what we do. Fandom. We take the things that ache at us, and we turn them inside out, make them into something we can live with.
And oh yeah, one last thing:
obviously some uber feminist is going to reblog it and say what horrible women we are and whatever
Y u no like uber feminists? WE’RE AWESOME! WE MAKE CAKES! That look like Merlin. And you get to eat it too. Unless you’re a man. Then it’ll be poisoned. Just kidding. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry if that’s the image you have of passionate feminists. From what I know, feminism is all about how there’s no single ‘right’ way to express yourself as a woman, or to be a woman, or any person for that matter. Nothing about feminism would ever imply that you’re ‘horrible women’ for thinking what you think, let alone for saying it. I hope that maybe this can put it into words better than I can.
Anyone who’s made it this far, ten for you! YOU GO READER COCO! And none for derryere she’s supposed to be asleep at least three hours ago.
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