When was the last time you saw a TV bloke behave with intelligence and
sensitivity? MATT CONDON finds macho man has been replaced by moron man
You can see it straight away in Billy's eyes. Billy, the boofhead, in Melrose
Place. His face has the same intellectual range as a cow being milked, or a dog
waiting for a Meaty Bite, or a buffalo with all four legs stuck in a swamp.
You just know, in an instant, that there is nothing behind Billy's irises.
They are as full of life and knowledge as two glace cherries stuck on the top of
His actions, too, say it all. In the great tradition of dumb males, Billy
spends 99 per cent of his waking hours scheming his way around the bleeding
obvious. There's his endless pursuit of ex-girlfriend Alison (now he's finally
realised he loves her after all), his daily attempts to outwit his bitchy boss
Amanda in the piranha pool of the advertising world, the void that is his
emotional intelligence. You can almost hear his few brain cogs turning around
beneath the bouffant hair.
Startlingly, Billy is not alone. TV in the mid-90s is awash with brainless
blokes. There are male fools, buffoons and laughing stocks everywhere you look,
from soaps and sitcoms to commercials.
While the idiot is a long-time staple of soaps and sitcoms, the dumb man has
finally become a fixture on our TV sets.
There are the commercials: in the ads for Yellow Pages, one particularly
thick bloke uses the current phone book to pack crockery while moving house,
while another stands on the books to plug a leak. How is he going to find the
And what about the guy who sits down to watch the footy, only to find written
instructions on how to do the laundry and make a sandwich with cream cheese?
Then there are the characters: Seinfeld's hapless George Costanza, Mad About
You's Paul Buchmann, Roseanne's Dan Connor, Friends' Joey Tribbiani and Ross
Geller, Murphy Brown's paranoid producer Miles Silverberg - and let's face it,
Home Improvement's Tim Taylor can barely find his way around the toolshed, let
alone the kitchen.
Invariably, these male goons are seen in a familiar pattern of behaviour.
Firstly, there is the assumption on the part of the goon that he knows
everything and is in complete control of his life. This, naturally, establishes
the framework for the gags.
Miles in Murphy Brown, for example, is one of those neurotic, highly strung
individuals. He is under a delusion regarding his own competence as a TV
producer. He believes he can produce Murphy's show with sharp sophistication. It
takes nothing more than a sarcastic jab from Murphy to burst the balloon of his
Likewise with George from Seinfeld, yet another high-wired character who is
dumb enough to believe his view of the world is absolutely correct. Problem is,
the rest of the world sees George as a splinter under the skin. When his
illusion meets reality, chaos ensues.
Home Improvement's Tim may wield an electric drill with style, but he needs
his wife to tie his shoelaces.
But which remedial school has produced this posse of brain-dead blokes? And
why are we seeing the concurrent rise of powerful female characters, in both
drama and comedy programs, such as Cybill, Ellen, Melrose Place, Halifax f.p.
and Central Park West. Check out those shoulder pads!
Head of drama at the Seven Network, John Holmes, said the emergence of the
dumb man/smart woman combo reflected changing attitudes to sexual equality.
"I guess female actors would suggest that this is an equalising situation,
rather than just the rise of the powerful female character," he chuckled. "Until
recently there just weren't very many meaty roles for females.
"I'm currently working on a drama with a female homicide detective in the
lead. There's no question that the increase in strong female roles is great for
Judith John-Story, head of drama development at Beyond International,
co-producer of Fire and Medivac, suggests the emergence of the guileless guy is
part of a politically motivated female backlash and will pass like any social
So, whatever happened to the days when father knew best and Mike Brady's word
was law on The Brady Bunch? Would his eyelid-batting blonde wife, Carol, dare
challenge him? No way.
Over the years dumb women have not only become politically incorrect, they've
also become like the corny old joke endlessly repeated at Christmas parties.
Everyone's heard it before and it's passe.
And, according to screenwriter and director Morris Murphy, dumb men are
funnier than their female counterparts.
"It's basically easier to construct a dumb male character than a dumb female
character," he said. "Usually, the dumb girls are attractive - you rarely have
an unattractive dumb girl. But the history of dumb women on TV has not been
great for a very long time. You can't pull enough laughs with them. It's not
about gender in the end, it's about how many gags you can pull."
As with the brainless bimbo, the dumb but endearingly cute kid has also been
shown the studio door.
"American TV has finally pulled away from dumb kids ... you know, the shows
featuring 28-year-old dwarves playing kids," Murphy said. "Dumb men are now
filling that role."
Politically motivated or not, the dumb man is having a renaissance which will
probably go unabated for some time. In essence, the shows and advertisements
deliberately target the so-called traditional male areas of expertise. Look at
Friends' Joey. He may be a super-studly gym devotee with abdominals you could
bounce a $1 coin on, but all his looks have got him so far is a poster
advertising the dangers of venereal disease and a role in a movie playing Robert
De Niro's nude body double.
The boofy blokes from The Footy Show send up the sport's lack of intellectual
giants. This is the age of the imperfect male. Male myths are being studied and
dismantled in the guise of comedy half-hours and 30-second advertisements for
anything from motor cars to food stuffs.
What we need now is an indentification symbol for these programs, in case the
really dumb blokes out there don't recognise the social change beneath the
Perhaps a small dunce's cap beside the ratings for sex, violence and nudity
in the listing of these programs would suffice.
HARVESTING THE LOVE SAP
Male characters aren't always just fools, sometimes they're fools for
love.Jake Hanson - Melrose Place.
He started out dating the whipsmart Jo, who quickly realised there wasn't a
lot going on behind those baby blues. Then he fell for Amanda, who walked all
over him. He had a good thing going with Jane until he did the ultimate dumb man
thing - slept with her personal assistant, who blabbed.
Travis Nash - Home And Away
A drifter who arrived in Summer Bay and promptly shacked up with feisty young
intern Kelly, Travis' rampant stupidity keeps upsetting the balance. He loves
Kelly, but can't understand why she has to work such long hours. Hello? She's a
Ross Geller - Friends
The ultimate love sap, Ross married a woman who became pregnant then
proclaimed her love for another ... woman. Yes, Ross married a lesbian. And just
when he's getting over his marital woes, he falls for flighty waitress Rachel.
He loves her, everyone knows he loves her, but she has absolutely no idea.