Hard life isn’t it. Imagine. Everyone running around after you. And you, never having to think of the consequences.
Don’t Tell the Bride is, as it will readily admit to being, trash TV. It is not supposed to be taken seriously, and it is clear, in its contrived notion of reality, that its simple objective is to entertain. It is purported simplicity and throwaway nature though, that makes it so questionable in its representation of gender. A TV series that is eminently watchable, popular, and easy to engage with at any point in the episode (encouraging casual viewers to begin watching at any point in the episode) should always be brought into question. Its professed casual nature and silliness mean that its viewers are more susceptible to any moments of insidiousness.
Those familiar with the concept of hyperreality will recognise the importance of highlighting the pseudo-reality of Don’t Tell the Bride, particularly given its proliferation and popularity. The continually reasserted trope of women being princesses on their wedding day, or of men selfishly using a large proportion of the wedding budget to provide themselves with a decadent stag do, allows such negative concepts to gain traction, and in turn, gain belief with viewers.
Each episode follows the same format, with the bride professing her desire to have a special day juxtaposed with the groom’s desires to have a showy, themed wedding. There have been occasions where the groom has considered the bride’s sensibilities, but there are rare, given that they don’t generate the manner of entertainment that the show has become associated with.
Too often, the women in Don’t Tell the Bride, despite harbouring very real complaints against their counterpart, are portrayed as harridans, whose absence allow the groom to enact his masculine proclivities of drinking, playing computer games and indulging in sport. Reinforcing these outdated stereotypes, and setting genders as so diametrically opposed is hardly progressive. Rather, to reinforce such demarcated gendered roles is damaging. Grooms who express their love for their bride and neglect to engage in with standard stag do behaviour are held up for mockery, with their fellow stag do attendees laughing at their devotion. While brides who profess a desire for a particular form of a wedding are heralded as demanding.
The show revels in depicting men as indulging in behaviour that has become associated with typical masculine pursuits, intentionally contrasting shots of men drinking, or indulging in juvenile behaviour, with shots of the bride wandering around a country estate as she discusses her dream wedding.
This concept itself is questionable. The idea that the wedding day must be perfect, one in which the bride feels like a princess and has every whim catered for, encourages the infantilising behaviour. The idea that a grown, adult woman, desires to act and be treated like a princess is entirely suspect. Following, and encouraging this model of gendered roles encourages the couple to be perceived only through a heteronormative lens that allows for little else.
While Don’t Tell the Bride is, and certainly can be, enjoyed as an indulgence, its reinforcement and purveyance of such roles should, and must be acknowledged.
It would be easy for the casual viewer to dismiss Fresh Meat as another hyperbolic comedy. Certainly, its comedic moments, while often grounded in reality, do frequently present as entirely inane and improbable. Its characters too, for some, are largely unlikeable, with their selfish nature preventing true audience engagement. Yet, to believe this is to not truly engage with the brilliance of the series.
Highlighting the all too recognisable types that students meet, or aspire to become, at university, the series offers a realistic insight into university life, while employing ridiculous moments of humour, moments that, in stemming from reality, offer as cautionary conceits.
What largely helps to make the series so wonderful, is its dedication to character development, particularly the development of the female characters. Each character embarks on a clear trajectory, and each is left changed by the series end. The series initially presents each character as a clear type, utilising well-known tropes to convey to its audience their characterisation. This simplistic use of stereotyping is effective, particularly when these stereotypes are so clearly subverted as the narrative progresses, encouraging the audience to question their previous misconceptions.
Take Josie, for example, a character whose seemingly sensible nature and devotion to becoming a dentist is rapidly unravelled as she struggled to truly embed herself within university lifestyle. Her Welshness is initially used to convey a familiarity, and the other characters, perhaps through her nationality, perceive her as the group’s matriarch. She cooks food for her housemates when ill, and is the one character who is studying a course that will lead to a clear career.
The breakdown of her relationship with Dave, who she has left behind in Wales to start university, causes Josie to question the nature and state of her life and results in a rapid spiralling out of control. Quickly, Josie begins to act in an increasingly erratic and unpredictable nature, resulting in her being forced to leave her course. Her subsequent relationship with Kingsley does, briefly, bring her stability, but she quickly realises that this form of traditional stability is not one that she wishes to embark upon. Through her breakdown, Josie is compelled to question her actions, and in turn her own nature.
Similarly, Oregon, aware of her class privilege, attempts to hide her origins as the horse owning Melissa, essentially adopting a costume through her assumed moniker. Her admiration of Vod, causes her to lose sight of herself and her roots and causes her to lose any sense of stability that she previously had. Her belief in her academic ability is never personally brought into question, and Oregon, despite her lack of self-belief in terms of her very personality, never doubts her academic ability until it is too late. This then forces to Oregon, like Josie, to question the preconceived idea that she had for her own life. Both Josie and Oregon started university with a clear plan, and by the end of their study, have rejected their previous notions of themselves.
Vod too is confronted with the idea that her nature is not static, but is susceptible to change and development. For Vod, a character whose troubled childhood is only alluded to, the idea that she can be academically and professionally successful proves to be a revelation. Interestingly, Vod, like Oregon, is dependent on her best friend. Both Oregon and Vod view each other through the lens of their friendship, and before the end of the series, allow this relationship to define their identity.
The male characters in the series are engaging, but their development is not as notable as that of the female characters. It is praiseworthy that Fresh Meat allows the female characters in the series the room to progress and grow. Notably, they are largely afforded this opportunity through the more stable nature of the male characters, who, while allowing themselves to become embroiled in various escapades, are largely dependable. Fresh Meat’s approach to its female character, while problematic at times, is relatively innovative and refreshing, allowing for thei
r trajectories to change and develop while also proving to be a source of comedy. Importantly, the female characters in Fresh Meat are allowed and indeed encouraged, to be funny. That this is still notable, demonstrates its vital nature.
Too often, women are forced into two opposing roles with little nuance. Frequently, they are either wholly good or wholly bad, with no room for subtlety. Those women that are good, are rewarded, often marrying or achieving career success at the end of a film’s narrative. Those that are bad are either punished in some rudimentary manner or, more commonly, compelled to learn something and to somehow develop and gain a sense of morality.
It is then, relatively rare to see a woman who is not only entirely selfish and destructive to others around her, but utterly engaging throughout a narrative. Young Adult features a protagonist who is entirely self-centred in her pursuits. Her ambition throughout much of the narrative is simply to reward themselves, caring little for those around them. The film features a woman who revels in her lack of self-awareness and, rather progressively, is not punished for it.
Creating such a character is more than simply writing in acts that render the character mean or hurtful. Indeed, despite the apparent lack of nuance, these characters are deftly and skilfully written. It is apparent in films such as Trainwreck, that characters that are simply egocentric do not manifest themselves are engaging. The protagonist of Trainwreck, regardless of her actions, lacks engagement. Her character may revel in her decisions, and profess to enjoy her lifestyle in which she engages in numerous short-term relationships, but she lacks the conviction and wit to persuade the audience. Without the ability to convince the audience, the viewer is left questioning the worth of these moments.
Young Adult alternatively, features a character whose dedication to her ambitions is entirely convincing. Deciding that her high school boyfriend is still in love with her, she returns to the town of her adolescence. Caring little for his marriage, or indeed the birth of his baby, Mavis (Charlize Theron) sets about attempting to orchestrate a reunion between the two. The success of her plan matters little to the film’s central plot. What makes the film so enjoyable, and eminently watchable is Theron’s central performance.
Theron’s Mavis, wrestling with her own problems, cares little for the problems of others. Her compulsive hair pulling, which seemingly indicates a response to stress for Mavis, is presented for the viewer to watch but asks for little active engagement. We are instead, invited to watch Mavis live her life, preparing herself for her numerous dates, and struggling to ghost write her last young adult novel. Her actions cause much pain to those around her, and her impact on those that she grew up with is revisited by many characters. Clearly, her cruelness left an indelible mark, which many of the characters have struggled to get past. Mavis is an expert in presenting herself and knows how to manipulate the emotions of those around her. Scenes show her carefully applying extensions to cover her bald patches, expertly applying makeup, and selecting clothes designed to highlight her attractiveness and success.
Mavis, in ghost writing her teen novels, has essentially never left high school and is still surrounded in that world. Several scenes show her eavesdropping on local teens, using their dialogue as inspiration for her writing. Not being able to move away from the polished prom queen image that she so carefully cultivated in high school, Mavis is stuck and remains so. The film, in the hands of a less skilled writer and director, would have concluded with some form of life lesson or punishment. Instead, rather joyfully, Mavis simply leaves, caring little for the results of her actions. Her unwavering selfishness feels entirely true to her character. She will never learn, and will never have to truly face that consequences of her actions, and that’s OK. This belief that all characters must learn something is clichéd and dull. It is Mavis’ lack of character development or progression that makes her characterisation feel real. There is no life lesson for her to learn here, and nor should there be.
Is he OK now? He didn’t look great when I saw him this morning.
I think so. He just needs some time. Imagine experiencing that.
She knows what she wants to do. She’s also been very clear. Just needs to stay focused. He’s becoming a distraction.
He said he wants to move now. Fed up of where they live at the moment.
Will she go with him?
You can’t escape yourself. You can move. You can forget. But the mirror always reminds you. Brings you back each time.