Virtues of Being a Fangirl: All My TV Boyfriends

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.

3 thoughts on “Virtues of Being a Fangirl: All My TV Boyfriends

  1. Great post Athena. You say “Nothing is demanded from me in return”. But doesn’t the objectivication of your TV boyfriend require that you buy into the idea of objectivification both as subject and object?

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    1. Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comment! This is a question I ponder too. My answer is that this is not necessarily the objectifying, controlling gaze typified by the male gaze and patriarchal culture. Perhaps we need to theorise another way of seeing not governed by this ideology of dominance. In this way, I don’t feel I buy into the idea of this kind of masculinised objectification. Rather, it is a way of finding a place for myself from which to look and come to know the world as a young woman.

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  2. My TV boyfriend (off the top of my head):
    Matt Smith in Dr Who
    David Tennant in Dr Who & Broadchurch
    Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock & Parade’s End
    Rupert Penry Jones in Spooks, Silk, Whitechapel, Cambridge Spies & Persuasion
    Richard Armitage in Robin Hood, Spooks & North and South
    Christopher Meloni in Law and Order SVU
    Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds

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