Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Amazing Representation, Brought to You by... Network Television?

So, normally when I talk about a show or a movie or a book or what have you, I try to keep it to sci-fi or fantasy. Maybe horror, paranormal, wuxia, bizarro. That’s for hopefully pretty obvious reasons. I’ll never deny the power that sci-fi and fantasy has to bring people together (Perhaps I’ll go in depth on that at a later date.).

But not today. As much as I’m for SF/F, I’m also for diversity a hundred times more. With my work, that tends to cover sexual diversity, gender diversity, and ethnic diversity more than anything else. That’s my schtick, so to speak, and it’s important, and there’s a lot of room to work with in there. But there’s so much more that can be done than that. There’s religious diversity and socioeconomic diversity. But I’ve even touch on that. A lot of people have.

I want to talk about something I’ve never seen anybody have (Pardon my French) the BALLS to cover before. I certainly don’t have them. I’m sure it’s been done, but I would bet not often. And I have to hand it to Jenna Bans for not only taking this plunge, but for hitting it out of the fucking stratosphere.

I want to talk about The Family. So, if you haven’t seen it or haven’t caught up, this is your warning: Spoilers. All the spoilers. Well, maybe not all of them, but definitely spoilers. So… turn back now if you don’t want any, basically.

(And seriously, you really should watch this show. Because fucking Christ on a bike is it a head trip.)

All right, so if you’re here I’m just going to assume you’ve seen it or you don’t care if the show gets spoiled. I take no further responsibility. If you have seen the show, you can probably figure out where I’m going already: Hank Asher. He’s easily the most likable (Read: only likable) character in the entire show. He’s the moral center of the whole program.

He’s also a pedophile. And before you run for the hills, I want you to note that A: I didn’t say child molester and B: there’s a difference. There is a child molester in this show. That’s Doug Anderson, the man who kidnapped the boy who’s the center of the entire plot and kept him locked up to molest him at his leisure (Did I mention the adult themes in this show? No? Oh… well, there are adult themes.).

But Hank Asher is a pedophile. He doesn’t molest children. He’s attracted to them, and the entire show, you see him fighting against his urges at every last second. He admits to kidnapping a boy and gets sent to prison, because he knows he won’t be able to hurt anyone there. He voluntarily receives hormone injections to curb his desires. He’d rather not feel any arousal than risk doing something he knows is wrong. And sure, he has some genuinely creepy moments. He has a box of children’s toys under his bed. But you see how he got at least one of them, and can extrapolate that it’s how he got all of them. A boy left it behind. He never touched the boy, but he kept that one thing… and that’s as illegal as it gets. Technically, I think that’s theft, but it’s really just an accident that happens sometimes.

Hank Asher knows he has these urges, but he works to protect children… from himself. At least once, he attempts suicide, because that's the most complete solution to the problem. A boy comes to see his mother, a piano teacher, and he refuses to open the door. He tells another boy that he can’t come over there anymore. And in the finale, we see a brilliant scene. He almost does give in. We’ve all been there with something we know is not right, although I’m guessing to a lesser degree for most people. A twelve year old boy asks for a ride home after he takes a bad crash on his skateboard. Hank tries to resist, but he ends up giving in… and giving a false name. As the viewer, your heart just jumps up into your throat. You’ve watched him resist and fight the entire season, and he’s skirting so close to it, now. He’s missed his latest hormone injection. He’s capable of this, and his desires are back.

And you cut to them in front of the boy’s house. He’s given him a ride home, and he’s obviously having some issues. He’s saying more and more insistently that the boy needs to get out of the car. Starts yelling. The door is sticking. Tension is building. Hank’s just not holding it together, and all you can think is “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

And he reaches across and opens the door for the boy, yells at him to get out. And that’s it. He stays in control. And I don’t think that’s a narrative we see often enough. Whether or not you like the plot, I think The Family is worth watching just for the character study that is Hank Asher. You initially think he’s super-creepy, but it’s not long before you start really feeling sorry for him. And then you start siding with him, out of everyone on the show. By the end, he was the character I was most invested in.

While this family is dealing with stupid shit, like the upcoming election, or an affair, Hank’s the only one who notices that their son is sneaking out in the middle of the night. And it gives you one of my second favorite lines from this whole show. “Your head’s so buried in the sand, you need the friendly neighborhood pedophile to come over and tell you that you should be a better mother and keep an eye on your son.” And he tells this family even after they filed a restraining order against him, and have just generally been vile people. After it came out that Hank Asher didn’t even commit the crime in the first place.

But I think my favorite bit is what really sums up why I love this show so much, and more specifically the way Hank Asher is handled. If I could track down a clip, I’d put it here. I’ll link the whole episode if you’re interested. Just jump to 28:48. But I’ll transcribe the important little bit (It’s of note that John is the boy’s father.).

Hank: Have you ever wanted to have sex with a woman who didn’t want to have sex with you?
John: That’s rape.
Hank: Yes.
John: That’s wrong.
Hank: Yes.
John: I’d never do it.
Hank: Neither would I.

That’s why this show wins, in my opinion. In our society, we conflate child molesters with pedophiles. And yes, this is a touchy subject, but that’s why it doesn’t get talked about, and that’s why I can’t do anything but commend this show for the way it handled Hank. It’s a big fuck you to the way things “Should be.” It said, “We’re going to make you like this pedophile way more than the rest of the people on this show.” And then it delivered.

If you want to see a character done right, I can’t recommend The Family enough. And you can watch the whole run of the show for free (And legally.) on ABC’s website. So yay!


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