Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Britta Perry is a Terrible Character (That's Why I Like Her)

For the longest time I've had a problem with Britta Perry. I don't like her. I found her obnoxious, overbearing, and way too involved in everyone else's issues when she should be focusing on herself. She irritated me. Then there was the constant will-they won't they romance with Jeff (when I totally ship Jeff/Annie), and her insistence on dating horrible guys and making awful life choices. Britta was not my favorite. I even took a poll of my friends, and she wasn't anyone's favorite. She's wasn't even most of their backup favorite. She was about as popular as Pierce.

And that kind of annoyed me, from an ideological perspective. Here we had a character who was great on paper: feminist, interesting, a protester, into cool bands, reasonably compassionate, who sticks up for herself, and I can't stand her.

What gives?

Well, according to Gillian Jacobs and Dan Harmon (the actress and show's creator, respectively), that's kind of the point. In an interview at WonderCon on March 18th (which I actually got to attend, and it was awesome, oh yes), Harmon explained that Britta's character was originally conceived as a "carrot to get the Jeff character into the study group". They wrote her by throwing in a pile of the most attractive qualities they could think of for a woman into a pile, and making her a character, figuring they would flesh her out if the show got picked up.

They did (obviously), and Harmon brought Britta up to the writing staff. One of his female writers immediately said, "I hate her." Harmon was surprised by the vehemence, and asked why. The writer responded, "She seems like the kind of woman who, if you went shopping with her, would yell at you for trying on heels." (Or something like that. I took notes, but verbatim this isn't.)

And here's the gold. Harmon thought, okay. This is a character women hate. Good. Let's run with that.

Let's run with that.

I come from a long line of wives and mothers.
Instead of retconning Britta's character and making her more palatable to female viewers, Harmon decided to work with Jacobs to make Britta real, a woman who women hate, a fully fledged character who had all of the traits he'd given her, and showed how irritating a person with all of those traits would be.

That's AWESOME.

As Jacobs explained, it's what made Britta lovable. "She tries so hard, and gets knocked down and just shit on all the time. And then she tries again. She has no self-awareness and no learning curve and I love her for it."

What Harmon and Jacobs did is actually show us what the male ideal looks like when she's translated into the real world. It isn't pretty. She's kind of a bitch, and no one wants to go to the bathroom with her, because she will tell you that your heels are an emblem of the patriarchy. She meddles, she's self-righteous, she's kind of a skank, and she has disturbingly low self-esteem. It's great, because it's real.

Knowing this made me like her. Because she's supposed to be cool, but actually kind of awful, and just the tiniest bit aware of it, made her cool again. It's the bad movie effect, if you will. Britta is a bad movie writ large, and we can either mock her or marvel at her. Or both. I choose both.

Read the banana, Britta.
I also choose to appreciate the fact that Harmon went on to add in a few choice bits about writing. When men write about women, as they typically do in Hollywood, because there are so few commercially successful female writers (Grr. Arrgh.), they write about them as "others". Men, they give foibles and character traits that they themselves understand, because they can relate to men. Women, though, are so foreign and different, that men are reduced to giving them the flaw of clumsiness and a weakness for shopping. The key, Harmon explained, is to treat women like people. Not as objects or icons, but just normal people with normal flaws. Britta says bagel wrong because Harmon says bagel wrong. Once you're able to view female characters as normal people with completely normal, fleshed out flaws, you'll be a lot closer to having a story that is good and true.

So take a deep breath next time you watch Community and you feel like you're going to strangle Britta, it's okay. You're supposed to.

It's good for you.

Community is also good for you. On Thursdays at 8 EST on NBC.

4 comments:

  1. That is how I started liking Britta. She was okay enough in the beginning since there wasn't enough to her character to dislike but then as the series progressed I hated her and it wasn't until I realized that the other characters did as well and that it was kind of the point that I started liking her again and realizing that she wasn't "the worst."

    When the writers and actors and characters are all aware of the problem and aren't trying to suggest or force us to believe that an unlikable person is likable or the best then it becomes okay to like that person. If more shows did that with their Mary Sues fans wouldn't hate them so much. It's laugh at us or laugh with us. The Community writers chose to be in on the joke.

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  2. Since when is feminist a good thing? Everyone hates feminists. And every time she opens her mouth to spout her leftist nonsense I honestly feel like punching the screen. The only redeemable quality in her is the fact that she makes Shirley look more likeable. At least the writers came to realize how stupid she is and now feel comfortable in portraying her as the big joke that liberals truly are.

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    1. Wow, you missed the joke pretty widely there sport. Also most people don't think of feminism as a bad thing anymore.

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  3. I was reading another book with a similar character to Britta the other day, and as I read this critique, I wondered: why can't this character type have a character development arc? It seems to me that a character similar to Britta that wants to explore other life choices other than hooking up with an alpha male and starting a family is deemed a failure by authors/writers of fiction books and tv sitcoms.

    I am a man, but I have at least 2 sisters who have made commitments to the greater society/community at the cost of not being to have a family of their own. One is a community doctor serving in poor mountain areas, and another is a government prosecutor. People apply pejoratives like "social justice warriors" to young people who are younger versions of my sisters - the notion in fiction that feminists like these are either failures or jokes carries over in real life in, for instance, how Gloria Allred is dismissed as a feminist lawyer, or how my parents tries to "setup" my sisters with dates in the hopes that they get married and have children.

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