My first TV boyfriend was Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
He had that magical mix of brooding darkness, a troubled and shadowy past, and a righteous heart. Plus, he was a total babe. It might seem oxymoronic to suggest he possessed the qualities of ferocity and chivalry, evil and goodness in equal measure. But the TV boyfriend manages to balance these extremes in ways that make him deeply attractive. I’ve had many TV boyfriends, these wonderful male characters whose emotional depth and array of black leather jackets that seem to speak to me in interesting ways. What is it about the fantasy man, so contradictory yet at his core, constant, loving, and wounded? His appeal to the everyday fangirl, who witnesses his intensity and complexity, his erotic faculties, his faltering attempts to make known his emotional depths, is immense. In conversation with girlfriends, I can understand the intimacy that this emotional availability the fantasy man provides for our imaginaries. When I think about my favourite TV boyfriends – Angel, Tim Riggins, Damon Salvatore, Eric Northman, Oliver Queen – I think about how profound it is that these male bodies and minds are made absolutely available to the heroine’s and female viewer’s gaze.
He is open to us, he is allowing us in, he is relinquishing control over his image, status, and persona. He is ours, in this sense. Not in the sense that we must dominate him with a controlling or cruel gaze. But in the sense that we are invited to freely look, intimately experience him, without the burden of objectification turned back on us. Our relief at not be observed in turn by the male gaze that contemporary patriarchal culture enforces in ways that regulate and govern our status as objects, as well as the way we see ourselves. So the appeal of the TV boyfriend is, for me and for other women I’ve spoken to, in the freedom to look, to fantasise, to come to know him in intimate ways. And nothing is demanded from me in return.