Clear eyes, full hearts, can lose

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, July 15, 2011 16:39 EDT
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It's been interesting reading feminist responses to both the end of "Harry Potter" and "Friday Night Lights", because it really demonstrates the limits of viewing art and pop culture through an ideological lens.  Sarah Seltzer's dual response article and Feministing's separate pieces fell into what I think is the same trap—because the writers really like the stories and characters, they try to see feminism in them where it doesn't really exist.  The less said about "Harry Potter" and trying to make it seem feminist, the better.  Sure, Rowling has a couple of subversive moments, but seriously, the mother love is the greatest power in the world stuff is just straight up gender essentialism.  

What is more interesting to me is reading Eric and Tammy Taylor as somehow liberal or feminist characters.  They are intensely likeable characters, but c'mon.  In the first season, she was a lifelong housewife who basically had to do all of the socialzing work that his job requires for him, for free.  He immediately balks at the idea of having a girl in the locker room, even though it's obvious that she's got a lot of talent and could be really useful for more than washing stuff.  I would suggest that as characters, they're on the moderate-to-moderately-conservative scale.  They're not right wingers, by any means, but Eric especially has a moderately conservative worldview.  I mean, the show isn't even subtle about it, since Eric's mantra is "Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose."  What I take this to mean, and the series has really driven home is that Eric sincerely believes that if you work hard and play by the rules, things will work out for you.  Tammy believes similar things, but she's more liberal and believes that people with disadvantages need a little more assistance.  But what the show has done is far more remarkable than to show a functional, feminist-friendly couple on TV.  What they've done is shown a well-meaning, moderately conservative couple constantly being challenged by the limits of their philosophy.  Which is probably more effective and interesting anyway. 

Now, I'm only 2/3 the way through the last season, but I can say with confidence that much of the show has been about disillusioning Eric Taylor when it comes to his belief that hard work and clean living is all you need.  Take the rivalry between Vince and Luke, for instance—by any measure, Luke wanted it more and worked harder for it, but Vince simply has more talent.  Sometimes that's how it goes.  There's also the struggle between Eric and Vince, and it's demonstrated that Eric's belief in the power of setting clear rules and enforcing them isn't enough.  There's many scenes where it's clear that all Eric needs to do is talk to Vince in depth about why he believes his way is better than Vince's dad's way (which is an easy case to lay out), but instead he just barks orders and then is frustrated when Vince is more willing to listen to his dad, who actually does him the favor of explaining his point of view.  As much respect as the show has for Eric, let's face it.  Much of the show  has been about the limits of his philosophy.  He isn't even able to keep Tim Riggins out of jail, and Riggins was a layabout but basically a good kid.  

I found it interesting that both Sarah and the ladies at Feministing responded to the "Julie sleeps with a TA" storyline with disgust and disinterest.  Yeah, I get that it kind of dragged on and it certainly made me flinch a lot, but it really revealed what the writers are trying to get at, which is, "Tammy and Eric are good, well-meaning people, but there are limits to their philosophy."  The fact of the matter is that Julie's problems reflect somewhat poorly on Tammy and Eric.  It's clear, especially in the fights over the affair between Eric and Julie, that they thought they just had to keep her relatively sheltered and express strong moral values, and she would then turn into a functional adult who clearly understands why you don't sleep with older, married men.  When that doesn't work, Eric is literally unable to think of how to handle the problem.  He's just angry.  They can't handle her well at all, because the only tool they have is disclipinary—make demands, make rules, enact punishments.  Nothing works.  They're just ill-equipped.  And it's the same story with Vince.  Explaining the situation would be smarter than just yelling at him all the time, but "yelling" is the main tool Eric  has.  

Now, Tammy is much more of a liberal than Eric.  Subsequently, she's more effective, but there are limits imposed by the system on her choices.  And she's got a lot of privilege-blindness.  I'm guessing Tammy wouldn't think it's all that great for Becky to move out of her dad's house to live with a stripper and a guy who barely escaped felony auto theft charges, for instance, but in context, it's clearly the right move for Becky.  (Or that's my read on it; I haven't seen the end of the series, though.)  Tammy's moderation comes out in the abortion storyline, where her defense of herself isn't, "I'm pro-choice, screw you," so much as, "I took an approach that centered around what the girl needs, why do you have to bring up all this uncomfortable abortion stuff that I don't even understand that well anyway?"  

And all that's great, in my book.  I like having likeable but deeply flawed people driving the narrative.  But the "Eric and Tammy are feminist role models" thing doesn't work for me.  They're more models for why eschewing overt feminism can really limit the effectiveness of your good intentions.  

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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