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Oh The Grey’s Humanity!

May 8, 2010

I was late to the party on Grey’s Anatomy and in doing so I missed out on all the new show giddiness. Nevertheless, I quickly got up to speed – we’re talking within a matter of weeks – and find myself surprisingly addicted to the show.

My framing of the show is probably different than most folks in that I tend to view it as a performance art piece by creator Shonda Rhimes and when viewing it through that lens the show is really intriguing.

Grey’s Anatomy – which centers on the days and nights of a group of surgical residents, interns and attending physicians – says nothing NEW about any of those groups, which is fine, given that neither does House, Nurse Jackie or any other medical show currently on the air. That said, GA does provide an intriguing view of how a particular black female – Rhimes – has synthesized all the pop culture she’s consumed throughout her life: pushing it through the meat grinder of her own lived experiences.

GA is the kind of show I would create, though I would be FAR more explicit regarding its performance art framework and probably wouldn’t keep breaking up couples the audience enjoys. Being an unapologetic ‘shipper myself – Maddie and David be damned – I tend to find this really freaking annoying.

The characters are the most logical place to start if one wishes to find evidence for this grand performance piece. It breaks down like this:

  • Characters with marginalized experiences are dynamic.
  • Characters without marginalized experiences are static.

One could lose count of the number of times someone’s life is cracking at the seams only to have their pain and concerns pushed aside by Meredith – expertly played by Ellen Pompeo (more on her in a bit) – in order to talk about what’s going on with Derek’s hair or inside his pants. It’s not even a matter of simply dismissing her as “vapid”, but rather possessing the kind of unawareness often demonstrated by those devoid of complex marginalized lived experiences. Daddy and dead mommy issues aside, It’s not real bad to be Meredith.

In contrast, my favorite character – Alex Karev – might have had some serious hard knocks, yet inexplicably understands the currency of his myriad of privileges (maleness, whiteness and so forth), in a way nearly NO other character does.

I liked Karev before I knew about Keisha Chambers.

Yeah his life sucked REAL bad, but only someone with an understanding of what traits are most favored in society would then turn around and say, “But I’m gonna fucking be a surgeon. Yeah, that’s mine. Got my name on it.” None of that fake piety or romantic notions of poverty. He’s all about telling folks JUST HOW MUCH BEING POOR sucked for him. I like Alex a lot. I find his loyalty, directness and lack of chow chow REFRESHING. Plus, I have a very good friend who is like him in every way – including being a doctor – and he’s a lot of fun. Is he flawed? Most definitely. But I find his flaws far more tolerable than say Meredith’s self absorption and flaming lack of awareness. He’s also the only resident who nearly ALWAYS shows Bailey the respect she goddamn deserves.

GA shows me lots of folks familiar to me in a way I don’t recall seeing on television before. In Chief Webber I see my dad – minus Webber’s drinking and Adelle problems. In Christina, my good friend Maureen. In Arizona, my best friend Gia. While I know the world sees me in Bailey, I’m probably a lot more like a cross between Teddy and Callie, though more so like Teddy, but not nearly as soft spoken. Bailey, who I adore for lines such as, “Y’all wanna move this tail wagon. You’re blocking me in.” and the fact she’s short and bossy. Love a short, bossy ass woman. Love being a short, bossy ass woman. That said, she’s not the center of her universe enough to accurately reflect the way I am in mine. Sloane definitely reminds me the kind of guys I usually end up being friends with. The Dereks of the world – like with Bailey – are always trying to get me to like them because they know what I know – they’re generally nothing but a hairdo and some hard working arrogance.

And Meredith. Well she’s like any number of girls who always want to be friends with me, despite my rather large disinterest in doing so. That said, I do have friends like her and I don’t actually find them all that annoying, given that I’m much quicker to say, “And this concerns me how?” or “Did you really just equate your lack of dating prospects with shit that actually matters?”

just another moonlight mile

As for the actress who plays Meredith – Ellen Pompeo – she reminds me of Calista Flockhart in the sense their bodies were given far more press coverage than their incredible ability to inhabit a role. I first saw Pompeo as the soulful and hypnotic Birdie in Moonlight Mile, which did not suck despite what seemed to me to be concerted effort to do so! This is in no small part due to Pompeo’s ability to say everything with her face in a subtle way.

It is a testament to her fine acting that I do not like Meredith. I don’t think we’re supposed to like her that much. It’s different for male characters who are often shown leading an “ensemble” cast while being complete asshats. House is the most recent example, but Cheers, Evening Shade and MASH also feature similar unlikeable leads. Women framed this way often are relegated to the second banana role and used to demonstrate another reason why the lead is a great human being. I see you, Mary Tyler Moore. So while I don’t particularly care for her character I love that she is in fact the lead.

I’m still sorting things out from the last couple of episodes so most likely I will refine things a bit in another post. THIS IS NOT a clown horn ending, but merely a good place to stop, letting folks know there will be a part two.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. lemonadeandlemoncake permalink
    May 8, 2010 2:08 pm

    i REALLY like grey’s. george, though, was my favorite character. kinda sucks how they killed him off. meh.

  2. hsofia permalink
    May 8, 2010 2:48 pm

    I have seen exactly one episode of Grey’s Anatomy – it was either the first or second episode. But I cannot keep up with tv shows that air on tv and really couldn’t deal with Meredith’s pout and flounce routine. But I had no idea it was created by a black woman, so maybe I’ll give it another go.

  3. May 8, 2010 2:49 pm

    (This is Snarky. Redlami is configuring my computer and I don’t want to mess with his settings)

    Lemonade:

    I am eager to start watching Skins. People keep saying how it reminds them of Degrassi. Thanks for your comment and I look forward to reading your take on Skins.

  4. May 8, 2010 7:19 pm

    Degrassi? Really? I’m curious how since I don’t see it.

  5. May 8, 2010 7:38 pm

    @Kate, I am wondering if they are referring to the way in which “hot topics” are discussed. I’m not sure. Nevertheless I can’t watch it.

  6. lemonadeandlemoncake permalink
    May 8, 2010 8:47 pm

    redlami, i just posted an analysis of it on my blog. it’s eh, kinda sorta degrassi-ish, i guess? but i’d rate it about 100 points higher than degrassi.

  7. lemonadeandlemoncake permalink
    May 8, 2010 8:47 pm

    0h, that was you, snarky! ha!

  8. hsofia permalink
    May 9, 2010 1:23 am

    Good lord, what planet have I been living on? I didn’t even know the show was set in Seattle!!

  9. May 10, 2010 10:22 am

    Cool–I’d never thought of GA that way, but it makes a lot of sense.

    I’m digesting the last two episodes right now–loved Karev, as usual. Pissed about the breakup. Trying to come up with some coherent thoughts on the things that were trainwreck–and things that weren’t–about ‘How Insensitive’ and coming up blank at the moment.

    Also, if they break Christina’s heart this season, I may have to break someone’s kneecaps. I mean, I love Teddy dearly, but nnnnnnnngh!

    (ahem.)

  10. May 11, 2010 12:00 pm

    Good lord, what planet have I been living on? I didn’t even know the show was set in Seattle!!

    Might be the absence – embarrassingly so – of a diverse representation of Asian folks in medical specialties such as Oncology, Neurology and Radiology.

    GA, while being progressive in some areas of depictions, is woefully stuck in the mid 90s in terms of having men of color in fields where they no longer dominate – Psychology, Cardiology, Pathology or Anesthesia – the last one being the field most riddled with mediocre white folks, which has definitely been a well utilized trope on the show.

  11. May 14, 2010 12:58 pm

    I LOVE Karev. Hated all the partners he’s had, especially Izzie. Given the Owen/Teddy and McSteamy/Lexie situations (which of course we already knew but were finally confirmed) I predict that Christina and Karev will hook up. I think they would be the most badass couple that hospital has ever seen.

    Do you watch Private Practice?

  12. TheHobo permalink
    May 14, 2010 3:32 pm

    I’ve been watching this show since the beginning (and Private Practice) and what I like best about it is that all of the characters end up being complicated and interesting, and there is always a hint of the dark side in each of them. Even Derek has been called out on his need to be seen as a good man. And yet, look at his actions, and he is not actually as good as he wants to be. Contrast him with Karev, who could give a shit about how people see him, and Karev actually is a good man, because when he does good it’s because that’s the right thing to do, and when Derek does good, it’s because that is the good thing to do. Subtle difference, but still there.

    All the characters seem real (or at least TV real); they have reasons for their flaws, but they still have their flaws, flaws that dictate their choices and actions, flaws they have to actively work against–there are conflicts between characters where neither side gets to be right, including Meredith who is the lead of the show. She gets to be wrong, and not in a “and I learned my lesson and everything was okay” sort of a way. Issues don’t usually get resolved in one episode but have lasting effects.

    And it’s still one of the most diverse casts on current TV, even if still more whitewashed than otherwise (I was disappointed that the merger interns were all white–I keep waiting for Christina not to be the ONLY Asian and Callie the ONLY Latina, etc).

    Private Practice won massive props from me when they had not only a character in a wheelchair who was not the super sympathetic stereotype, but showed that character in a sexual relationship without making too much of a fuss about it. That and it has some of the most interesting conversations about abortion going on on television.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading part 2. :-)

  13. May 15, 2010 1:09 pm

    And it’s still one of the most diverse casts on current TV, even if still more whitewashed than otherwise (I was disappointed that the merger interns were all white–I keep waiting for Christina not to be the ONLY Asian and Callie the ONLY Latina, etc).

    Jackson Avery is biracial, but for the most part I think they did a disappointing job with the casting of the Mercy West crew, which is probably why those characters haven’t really connected with the audience.

  14. May 15, 2010 2:28 pm

    I require Part 2 almost as much as I required my iced mocha to finish this blasted paper! Pleeeeeease Snarky? There was much screaming whilst watching on Hulu last night.

  15. May 15, 2010 4:10 pm

    Chava, I am working on another post. I am trying to figure out whether it’s worth it to wait until the finale airs or just reframe this whole thing as a trilogy. Any thoughts?

  16. May 18, 2010 9:30 am

    Its hard to say. Hook, Line and Sinner, Shiny Happy People and How Insensitive make a good trio for issues of various fail vs. Derek’s hair, but who knows what will be in the finale.

    Arizona and Callie are BREAKING MY HEART and I hate Shonda at the moment. Remind me why we have to break up the lesbian couple again?

    Ahem. Yes, yes, I am a little bit of a shipper.

  17. TheHobo permalink
    May 20, 2010 7:10 pm

    Jackson Avery is biracial

    I wasn’t sure about him–he looked mixed but they have only shown the very white side of his family.

    But he sure is pretty. And oddly, he is one of the most interesting of the Mercy West because he had that whole storyline with his grandfather, and keeps making the moves on Christina.

    I’m a week behind thanks to Hulu, but I’m very much looking forward to the finale. :-) Well, ‘cept for the summer of no more show. :-P

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