Effeminacy and Beta Orbiting in Gravity Falls
Gravity Falls is one of those shows that’s been blipping on my radar for some time now. Up until now I’ve ignored it, as I generally avoid children’s TV; the recent fascination with children’s entertainment – SpongeBob Squarepants, Steven Universe, Twilight and Harry Potter are all prime examples – is, quite frankly, worrisome. While there are works out there that genuinely transcend all ages (I regularly reread The Chronicles of Narnia and take away something new every time), the children’s entertainment which is promoted in today’s culture tends towards the narcissistic side. I’m left wondering if people enjoy it, not because of clever writing, but because they’ve become fixated and locked in to a pubescent understanding of the world.
Nonetheless, I decided to check out Gravity Falls when I found out that the villain was an Illuminati Pyramid who planned to induce an apocalypse of Lovecraftian proportions; the realization of his plan was both dark and entertaining.
The show proved itself to be well written, cleverly plotted, and downright heartwarming with fleshed out three dimensional characters. There’s great appeal to adult sensibilities, somewhat of a Rick and Morty vibe (minus the nihilism), and while I worry about exposing children to topics such as divorce (it came up in a throwaway joke), I suppose that’s par for the course these days. It suffers from the “Happily ever after, nobody suffers or sacrifices” trope endemic to modern culture, but again – par for the course. At least the protagonists have flaws which they need to overcome, which is more than you can say for the manifest destiny of Harry Potter or Abram’s Star Trek reboots.
The overall quality of this series is what makes the following critique all the more damning. When pablum advocates obsequiousness, you shouldn’t be surprised; but when a show with flawed, but good-hearted characters advocates for nastiness and effeminacy, while calling it virtue? This is not so much an indictment of the program, as of society as a whole.
In S01E10, Fight Fighters, the fledgling love triangle between the protagonist Dipper (12, but almost 13 – technically a teenager!), his 15 year old coworker Wendy, and her angsty friend Robbie comes to a head when Robbie asks her to go steady. Dipper’s reaction is to turn into a Sneaky Male; he tries to undermine their relationship through underhanded tactics rather than direct confrontation, until Robbie finally calls him out and challenges him to a fight.
Dipper is understandably terrified; Robbie’s three years older than him, and twice his height; he’s going to get his ass beat, and even his Great Uncle comments that the smart money’s on Robbie. During the hours leading up to the fight Dipper wallows in fatalistic misery, playing the
Street Fighter Fight Fighters arcade game which opened up the episode. At one point he stumbles upon a secret code, etched into the side of the console, and upon entering it one of the characters comes to life in front of his eyes; a pixellated Ken Rumble McSkirmish who offers to fight for him, under the delusion that Robbie killed Dipper’s father, a standard trope in Martial Arts cinema.
The ensuing fight between Rumble and Robbie nearly turns into a blood bath as a result. Rumble goes after him with no-holds-barred, and is about to kill him when Dipper finally admits that, no, Robbie didn’t actually kill his father… and in fact, Dipper is the real bad guy here.
So far, so good; Dipper gets beaten black and blue for being a Sneaky Male, and Rumble returns to the video game world. Robbie then decides that beating him a second time isn’t worth it. This is where the episode should have ended, with Dipper realizing that his crush on Wendy didn’t justify his behaviour, while developing a male bond with Robbie – who for his part, shouldn’t have been picking on a 12 year old. Unfortunately, the program keeps going.
Wendy shows up, and says, “Hey – you two weren’t fighting were you? I hate it when boys fight!” They both deny it, and then Dipper recalls some ‘wisdom’ proffered by his twin sister Mabel earlier in the episode: “Why can’t you learn to hate each other in secret? Like girls do!” He suggest this to Robbie, and the episode finishes with both of them acting like sycophantic Beta Orbiters to Wendy’s face, while hating one another whenever her back is turned.
But hey, at least they’re not being disruptive, right?
It isn’t enough to condemn the show, but it was disappointing. The problem with children today isn’t their overabundance of masculine exuberance, but the pervasive deficit we see. The school system pathologizes normal boyish behaviour, medicating and punishing healthy rowdiness, while rewarding the obedience of our girls, with no regard to the damage this will cause to our young men as they grow into stunted, effeminate adults. Sometimes boys – and men – need to handle things physically; and more often than not this leads to a lasting friendship, or at least mutual respect, and a recognition that fighting over women is seldom worth it. Wendy’s protest – that she doesn’t like men fighting over her – is equally disingenuous. She may not like the result – but she certainly enjoys the attention she gets when two men are competing for her.
Ironically this came after an episode where Wendy explained to Mabel that you can’t let guys down easy; that when you try and do that, the only result is that you’ll be leading them on. In Fight Fighters we see the result of what leading a guy on does, but instead of dealing with the resultant mess, the message is that we all need to play nice and get along. It doesn’t matter if we all hate one another and we’re all miserable – so long as we can put on a fake smile, and pretend that everything’s fine.
I’m being harsh on the show, but that’s because effeminacy is a major issue in our time. Whether it be the weaklings who demand safe spaces on college campuses, or the Republicans who want to play nice with the Democrats, wherever we look there is a deficit of frank, belligerent, and honourable masculinity. Weakness needs to be called out wherever we see it…
…especially when it’s being pushed on our children.