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It’s come to my attention that many of you seem to think that TV is just the noise you turn on at night to make your microwaved meal go down more smoothly, and frankly, I can’t let this dire misunderstanding continue for even a minute longer.
Listen to me and listen good: Television is an educational tool, a socializing force and a source of interpersonal enlightenment. The problem is not your TV, it’s you. For example, when you turn on “24,” are you looking for big, important lessons about love and life? No, you’re waiting for stuff to blow up. When you tune in for “The Shield,” are you gaining valuable insights into the sociocultural communication patterns of the urban police force? No, you’re wondering if the team will go down in flames, thanks to the latest IAD investigation.
In order to demonstrate the immense volume of meaning, knowledge and understanding offered by the vast realm of televised entertainments, I’m going to focus on just one small layer of valuable information among countless rich, fertile layers available to the average viewer: TV as a resource guide to the male archetypes in the dating world.
There are lots of single ladies out there, looking for love but ending up with the same crappy guys over and over again. Why does this happen, when it could so easily be prevented? Why do these women repeat these patterns, when the male characters on their TV screens are demonstrating, slowly and clearly and repeatedly, the consequences of these dalliances?
Ladies, whether you fall for the strong, silent type or the flinchy commitment-phobe, by studying some of the major male characters inhabiting the small screen, you’ll learn more about the quirks, endearing traits and major drawbacks of potential partners. Armed with a wealth of valuable information on the these male archetypes, you’ll be better able to make solid decisions about the suitors in your life. That swarthy yet nurturing guy might be sexy in the sack, but did you know that he’s likely to end up playing daddy to a creepy low-life with a little kid? Those nights of wining and dining at the Red Lobster might have your head in the clouds, but do you really want to settle down with a guy who walks around wearing a wall clock on his chest that’s bigger than his entire head? Let’s take a closer look at some of these universal male types before you go throwing yourself at someone who’s liable to treat your emotional needs like they’re just another tricky obstacle in a complicated sexual reward challenge.
Male Archetype: Jack Bauer of “24”
Nickname: Jumpy Jack
Likes: Preventing major terrorist attacks, torturing people, countdowns, teenagers in peril, stuff that might blow up, driving his Ford Expedition very fast, getting calls from the president on his cellphone.
Dislikes: Getting calls from his lady friends on his cellphone right when he’s busy driving somewhere very fast or torturing someone, stuff that might blow up and then doesn’t, relaxing evenings at home, cooking, red roses, long walks on the beach at sunset, scrapbooks, travel that doesn’t involve international terrorist plots.
Best memory ever: That time when he was flying a plane armed with a nuclear bomb toward Palm Springs and just when he thought he was going to have to go down with the plane, George Mason, who he never really liked that much and who was about to die anyway, showed up and took control of the plane for him. Jack got to parachute to safety and watch a nuclear bomb go off in the distance! Awesome, dude!
Benefits: Friends in high places, sexy take-charge attitude, exciting lifestyle, rebellious streak a mile wide, doesn’t sweat the small stuff or even the medium stuff, sometimes gets a tiny bit affectionate, like, say, when a terrorist is about to slit your throat or he’s forced to fake his own death and will never see you again.
Drawbacks: Commitment-phobic, nonconfrontational. He’d slit your throat himself if the security of the nation depended on it. Also, he’s liable to fake his own death just to avoid the unpleasantness of breaking up with you.
Emotional mantra: “I don’t know! I don’t know! I’m sorry, I have to go!”
Summary: Before you consider settling down with a guy like Jumpy Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), consider his history with women. Sure, he’ll probably give you the vague outline of his dating history, making it sound like he had some perfectly normal, long-term relationships, and then nine months into it, you’ll find out his last girlfriend was the high-priced whore of a Mexican drug lord, and their relationship ended when she got shot during an international arms deal gone sour.
The simple truth is that Bauer (who appears on “24″ at 9 p.m. EST Mondays on Fox) is the kind of guy who’ll always be rushing off to save the world when he should be making you blueberry pancakes on a Sunday morning. Bauer can try all he likes to split his time between trying to prevent yet another disaster on American soil and trying to manage the women in his life, but it’s his love life that’s the real disaster.
Ladies, do you really want to end up like that redhead Diane with her needy, sad-eyed teenage son? After Jack gave her a send-off about as sensitive as the one you get from the hostess upon departing Applebee’s, Red looked like she just polished off an entire fried onion, some shrimp-and-steak fajitas, and three blended Megaritas, hold the salt.
Maybe it was the Megaritas that made her confront Audrey Raines, Jack’s former lover, to tell her that Jack said that he was still in love with Audrey. Audrey looked totally shocked and confused — which isn’t surprising, since she was actively making plans to get back together with her chumpy husband — you know, right before he died because CTU had only one life-support system and Jack needed it to keep a terrorist alive so he could keep torturing him.
Look, it’s important to let a guy have his little hobbies, even when those hobbies involve threatening to cut some guy’s eyeballs out of his traitorous head. But do you really want to end up like Red, just another truck-stop town along the highway of Jumping Jack’s crazy, messed-up, federal-agent life? I mean, sure, it’s hard not to moon over a guy who fakes his own death and doesn’t even tell you about it, then shows up at work one day like nothing ever happened. Granted, it’s tough not to long for a guy who the Chinese government wants dead. Fine, it’s impossible not to be madly in love with a guy who’s always hanging up on you because someone’s holding a gun to his head and the president is on the other line. But eventually, no matter how cool you are with his lifestyle now, your patience is going to start wearing thin. You’re going to wake up one day and you’re going to be that girlfriend — you know, the one who whines, “But you always have to go! I don’t care if it’s the president! Tell him you’re on the other line and you’ll call him back, damn it!”
Male Archetype: Flavor Flav of “Flavor of Love”
Nickname: Public Enemy No. 1
Likes: Words that rhyme, purple velvet, big clocks, big butts, big breasts, Red Lobster.
Dislikes: Women who look good but aren’t being real, raw chicken that’s supposed to be fried.
Best memory ever: That time when he was driving in the car and he saw someone on the street he knew, so he yelled out the window: “Flavor Flav!”
Benefits: Honest. When he wants to get a piece of that ass, he’ll just tell you, flat out, “Baby, give me a piece of that fine ass.” Direct. When he wants to get on that, he’ll tell you, “Yeah, boyeee, I got to get on that, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Drawbacks: Slightly self-involved. Whenever he does something outrageous, or sees someone he knows, or gets excited about something, or just when there’s a lull in the conversation, he shouts his own name at the top of his lungs.
Emotional mantra: “Flavor Flav!”
Summary: Before you get serious with a guy like Flavor Flav, you have to get to know the fiery revolutionary within. Sure, Flav might be all about having fun now. It’s easy enough to live in the moment when your life is a whirlwind of big old buttery biscuits and chilled champagne and huge plates of delicious, juicy lobster, but don’t let that cloud the fact that this good-time guy has a checkered background. What do you know about his apparently serious relationship with Brigitte Nielsen? Despite his success in Hollywood, does Flav still want Hollywood to burn, burn, burn? Is the federal “intentional rape system” still in place? Should power still go to the people? Is 911 still a joke? Many questions remain unanswered.
In addition, will Flav’s mother, a staunch Christian who’s somewhat disapproving when it comes to Flav’s lifestyle, ever be able to fully accept you into her heart? Will you have to go to church every Sunday, and can you wear your favorite bright-orange micro-mini with your leopard-print halter top, or will all those Christians recognize you for the whoring sea donkey that you are?
And just how old is Flavor? Remember, on “Flavor of Love” (VH1, check listings) when he took you and the other girls to the old folks’ home because he wants a girl who can take care of him in his older years? How far off are those older years? Looking at Flav’s face, he could be anywhere from 38 to 65, and those crazy gold teeth — are those going to be entirely fake within a decade? Can you see yourself getting down with Flav when there’s a glass filled with teeth by the bed?
Plus, he said he wants to have four more kids to add to the six he already has. Are you ready to be a baby machine for the next six years of your life or more? How are you going to get along with his other baby mamas? You and Flav might be hitting Red Lobster together alone now, but once you get married and have some kids, is it going to be you, Flav, three baby mamas, and 10 whining brats? I hate to undercut the romance you two have shared, grinding up against each other while the champagne was flowing, but sometimes you’ve got to push the charm, the wit and the enormous clock out of your mind and focus on the concrete facts of how your life might look down the line.
Male Archetype: Vic Mackey of “The Shield”
Nickname: Sick Vic
Likes: Helping helpless women in distress, threatening lowlifes, violating thugs’ Miranda rights, roughing up degenerates, hoarding big piles of cash, holding knives to people’s throats, giving unwanted advice, glaring menacingly.
Dislikes: Bossy females, police chiefs, lawyers, bossy female police chiefs, bossy female lawyers, IAD investigators, dorky fellow cops who date his ex-wife just to get under his skin, flavored coffee, throw pillows.
Best memory ever: That time when he got to smash a murdering drug dealer’s face into the pavement while his buddies planted a pound of heroin in the scumbag’s car because there wasn’t evidence to get the jerk off the street.
Benefits: Friends in low places, sexy take-charge attitude, makes breaking the law look vaguely appealing, can be relaxing to have a bossy daddy-figure to make all your decisions for you, very smart, always has lots of cash on hand, sometimes gets a tiny bit affectionate, like, say, when you’re being stalked by some violent criminal.
Drawbacks: Glowering, intimidating, temperamental, controlling, full of regrets, takes work home with him. Also, he’d hold a knife to your throat if the continued immunity of his team of dirty cops depended on it.
Emotional mantra: “I’ll take care of it. Here’s a hundred bucks. Just sit tight.”
Summary: Before you consider settling down with a guy like Sick Vic (Michael Chiklis), you need to know that this kind of a guy gets bored very fast — he constantly needs a new hit of excitement to get his blood pumping. You also know from watching “The Shield” (10 p.m. EST Tuesdays on FX) that Vic is sneaky and slippery and smart as hell, and he can snake his way out of the most absurdly daunting scenarios imaginable. Do you really think he’s not going to manipulate you as well? This guy violates every code in the book before breakfast. But don’t let his devil-may-care demeanor fool you — check out that haunted look in his eyes. He’s so guilty and takes so much responsibility for the other (corrupt) members of his (corrupt) team that he barely sleeps at night.
Plus, do you really want to spend all of your time around Vic’s team? Sure, Lem’s an OK guy, but has there ever been a sleazier, less charismatic opportunist in the world than Shane? Why does Vic treat the guy like a brother and a son, mixed into one? Does that make any sense to you?
You also have to consider the likelihood that Vic will spend a handful of his golden years in the slammer for corruption or murder charges. IAD investigator Tom Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) is breathing down Vic’s throat and has enough brains to have a shot at catching him red-handed. Yes, I agree, it’s enjoyable to watch Vic and his boys thwart Kavanaugh’s every move, and chances are Vic will figure out a way not only to beat Kavanaugh, but also set him up for some kind of a violation or crime. But remember, just because you’re cheering Vic on, that doesn’t mean what he’s doing is right, or that you should consider spending another second with Mr. Bossy McBosserson.
But maybe, considering Vic’s temperament, the looming threat of prosecution doesn’t sound too bad to you: You can keep all that glaring and glowering and mean-daddy behavior at a safe distance while his boys still stop by with regular cash payments — you know Daddy Vic is going to take care of you whether he’s in the big house or not. But what happens when you go out looking for a little action while you’re waiting out the last six years of Vic’s 10-year term? Even if you remain unscathed, your little boyfriend is going to get pulled over for a minor traffic violation and the cops are going to discover a pound and a half of high-grade cocaine in his glove compartment. Forget that he’s a music teacher with a heart condition. Tell it to the feds, little lady!
Look, I realize you have to let a guy have some fun outside of your relationship with him, even when that fun involves shooting a fellow cop in the face. But do you really want to get involved with a controlling meanie who won’t let you have any fun of your own? I mean, sure, it’s hard not to fall head over heels for a guy who busts down doors and blackmails witnesses into identifying the criminals, then gets all depressed and gloomy when those witnesses show up dead the next day. Naturally, it’s difficult not to swoon over a guy who plants evidence and illegally hands suspects over to the Mexican police and kicks people’s teeth in to get to the truth. Of course it’s impossible not to be passionately in love with a guy who’s so full of empathy for helpless female strangers that he helps to house and feed a young Salvadoran mom for six months straight. But eventually, no matter how cool you are with his lifestyle now, your patience is going to start wearing thin. You’re going to wake up one day and you’re going to be that girlfriend — you know, the one who whines, “But you spend all your time checking up on her! I don’t care if her kid is messed up and the IAD is breathing down her neck! Tell her you committed to coming to my cousin’s engagement party a whole month ago!
Male Archetype: Jeff Probst of “Survivor”
Nickname: Safari Boy
Likes: World travel, bug bites, thunderstorms, poisonous snakes, watching people eat live insects, watching people starve, ancient legends, local native customs, speeding on a Jet Ski from the Amazon to New York City.
Dislikes: Quitters (they never win, you know, and millions of more deserving people would give their left arm to be on this show!), whiners, belligerent dickheads, dirty hippies, manipulative liars, teams that vote off the strongest players first, nice weather, shark-free waters, shirts that don’t have pockets on the chest, shorts that aren’t khaki.
Best memory ever: That time when he said, “Immunity, back up for grabs!”
Benefits: Stern on the outside, but you just know he’s a total softie behind closed doors, nice dimples, listens well, explains things carefully and comprehensively, romantic, adventurous, full of empathy for tough underdog types, looks good in his little safari outfits.
Drawbacks: Never, ever wears anything but safari outfits, fault-finding, prone to publicly shaming others, stubborn, opinionated, pushy, mind-blowingly repetitive, constantly reads into everything.
Emotional mantra: “The tribe has spoken. It’s time for you to go.”
Summary: Before you consider settling down with a guy like Safari Boy, you’re going to need to know a little bit more about his plans for the future. Didn’t his last marriage fail because he refused to spend time with his wife, choosing instead to run off to Africa and Thailand and wherever else? How could his poor wife possibly compete with loony Mark Burnett for Probst’s affections?
And that’s not to mention the girls, girls, girls — half-dressed and sweating and suffering sexily. Do you know what 39 days of badly cooked rice does to a woman in her prime child-bearing years? Fine, I’ll spell it out for you — she gets horny with a capital H. To those starving island horndogs, Safari Boy looks like a big, juicy steak, one with dimples and a charming way of asking, “Ready to hear about today’s reward challenge?” like he really wants to know the answer.
And this season on “Survivor” (8 p.m. Thursdays on CBS) there’s a whole team composed only of young ladies! That’s right, the survivors have been segregated into four tribes by age and sex — older women and older men onto their own teams, and young studs and young babes on their own teams. The young-babe team name? Bayoneta, a little pun on what Probst wants to do with those juicy young things when he gets them alone on Exile Island. What do you think Exile Island is for, anyway? My God, you’re so naive.
Plus, Probst keeps harping on the non-babe team, saying over and over again “Older women, falling behind!” and “The older women are pulling up the rear!” and “Look at the sagging tits on those older women!” OK, he didn’t say that last thing, but how long until he does? Do you really want to hitch your wagon to a guy who’s this flinchy about the natural effects of aging on women?
I know, I know. It was all Mark Burnett’s idea — Probst challenged him to the end on this one, saying that he didn’t want to say those words “older women, older women,” over and over and over again. Are you sure that’s the whole truth, or are you letting those crazy dimples cloud your mind again?
Look, I can see why you think the guy is a serious catch. He’s richer than God, his little safari shirts are always clean and pressed, and he lets you play boss when the camera’s not rolling. And yes, I know that he’s promised that he’ll stay in one place, even going so far as to lament that he’s tired of all that exciting world travel. Don’t you think he fed the same line to his first wife? I mean, do you really believe Safari Boy will step back and watch some vastly inferior host utter the phrase “Immunity, back up for grabs!” without half of his chipper enthusiasm or his suspense-building smirk? Face it, Probsty would rather die than face a world without immunity idols and complicated puzzles to solve and fawning hotties with their asses hanging out of their “Survivor” buffs.
As you can see, the male characters of TV land teach us an age-old lesson: With every male-female entanglement, there is much pain, agony, second-guessing, bickering, irritation, boredom, compromise and suffering. No matter how much effort you put into trying to find Mr. Right, in the end, you’ll just be left holding the shotgun, the baby, a bag of embezzled cash and last year’s immunity idol. Meanwhile, your man will be off doing hard time in prison, jetting to Tahiti, or faking his own death just to get out of being tied down to you.
OK, then! See how much you can learn from television? Good luck out there, ladies!
Next week: Can Veronica start seeing Deputy Leo (Nickname: Sweet Lil’ Copcake) again, now that Duncan is safely tucked away in Mexico with his love child?
Heather Havrilesky is a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, The Awl and Bookforum, and is the author of the memoir "Disaster Preparedness." You can also follow her on Twitter at @hhavrilesky.More Heather Havrilesky.