I started watching Supernatural recently. It’s a show highly recommended by friends, and I had just finished a couple of other series (Person of Interest and Attack on Titan, both of which I’m going to write posts about) around the same time. Supernatural looked like exactly my type of show. A little bit of creepy, a little bit of funny.
The first episode completely killed any enthusiasm I had for the show. I’ve been limping along for a few more episodes, but what I’ve seen hasn’t made me feel any better about it.
What could have stopped me in my tracks so quickly? I’ll answer your question with another question. Have you ever heard of the trope “Stuffed into the Fridge”? Here’s the link to a page on TV Tropes that talks about it: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StuffedIntoTheFridge
For those who don’t care to click away, I’ll briefly describe it here. When a character is “stuffed into the fridge”, they are killed off solely for the purpose of motivating the main characters into action of some sort.
Here’s an excerpt of the article that points out why this is a troubling practice.
“The term (sometimes formed as “fridging”) was popularized by comic book writer Gail Simone through her website “Women in Refrigerators.” On that site, Simone compiled a list of instances of female comic book characters who were killed off as a plot device. The term came to be used more broadly, over time, to refer to any character who is targeted by an antagonist who has them killed off, abused, raped, incapacitated, de-powered, or brainwashed for the sole purpose of affecting another character, motivating them to take action.
“While it is strictly true that Tropes Are Not Bad, this one, especially as a catchphrase, is often given a very negative connotation as it is all too often a hallmark of supremely lazy writing – using the death of a character as “cheap anger” for the protagonist, and devaluing the life of that character in the process, instead of giving the villain something actually interesting to do that can involve all three characters and more emotions than simple anger and angst.”
The problem here is that, when a piece of fiction does this, they’re no longer treating the character in question AS a character. Instead, they’re using the character as a tool.
Supernatural does this in their opening episode not once, but TWICE. Both times with women. In both cases, the characters have less than a dozen lines of dialogue and no character development. These characters were CREATED to be stuffed into the fridge, so to speak.
Afterword, the main characters don’t grieve like normal people. They don’t discuss the relationships they’d had with the characters in question, meaningful interactions with them while they were alive. They just talk about how the deaths have motivated them to cooperate with the plot. Even the suggestion that a recent death is bothering a character is brushed aside, with him instead saying that it’s returning to the monster hunting world that’s bothering him. Her death is given no weight other than to influence a single decision in the main character’s life. What’s worse, though: her LIFE is given no weight whatsoever.
The monster of the week for the first episode? A wife who went insane when she learned her husband was cheating, killed their children, and killed herself. So three out of the five speaking roles for women that I recall die, one of which fitting into the “psycho jealous wife” stereotype. The other two are one-scene info-dump characters.
I’m not saying this is definitely sexism. I wasn’t with the writers as they wrote it, and I haven’t talked to them about what was going through their minds. I AM saying that, intentional or not, it’s a complete failure to represent women in their work, and because that’s something that’s important to me, it ruined my enthusiasm for the show before it even really began. I am saying that whether it’s sexism or not, we deserve better.