Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett revisits his assertion that the Venture Bros. was only for men.
Last week I was wondering, rather plaintively, how women could be fans of The Venture Bros. In retrospect it seems obvious this was something that could have easily been misinterpreted as being misogynistic, but at the time that honestly never occurred to me. I wasn't suggesting pop culture should be divided along gender lines--anyone who's been reading these things know I've been advocating the exact opposite pretty vigorously lately. It was just something I had been thinking about.
For those coming in late, The Venture Bros. is an Adult Swim animated series which started out as a fairly snide spoof of Jonny Quest but quickly grew into something all its own. Oh, it never stopped smacking around beloved childhood icons like they were piñatas, but once you got into it you discover it's a mythology-driven meta-soap opera that treats its characters (no matter how ridiculous) with a surprising amount of tenderness. It hasn't generated a lot of merchandise other than some action figures and the upcoming book from Dark Horse Comics (see "'The Art of The Venture Bros.'"). I wish there was a licensed comic book but that's not going to happen seeing as the show's co-creators, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, would insist on doing it themselves and they're way too busy working on the actual show to do that. In short, it's not a program that generates a lot of revenue for direct sales shops but I myself super love it. To the degree that if they had a Venture Bros. Con I wouldn't just go. I'd actually pay to attend.
It's not that I thought this mixture wouldn't appeal to women, I only found it fairly unlikely a significant number of them ever got past the "once you got into it" stage. Because all exterior evidence (the nearly all male cast, plots driven by nerd culture minutia, rude sense of humor, etc.) would suggest that Venture Bros. is no different from any other Adult Swim show. All of which, from Aqua Teen Hunger Force to The Boondocks, are basically "Bro Shows." And what all "Bro Shows" have in common (other than their "every day you avoid acting like an adult is a victory" ethos) is that in them women are distant, unknowable cyphers who when not entirely absent usually are cast as prostitutes or nagging scolds.
I concluded my wondering with the comment "Maybe someone out there would be good enough to educate me" as to why the show has such a thriving female fan base. Happily someone did; a female fan of the show wrote me, and I learned I clearly hadn't thought about the matter nearly enough.
For instance, I assumed women wouldn’t be familiar with the boys adventure tropes the show tweaks, but she wrote, "Girls have been forced to watch 'boy shows' for generations. We've always had to… we didn't care, as long as it didn't actually make girls look bad (even if they were more or less absent)." This is something I really should have worked out on my own since I was familiar with the axiom among network television programmers in the 70’s and 80’s that went "girls will watch boys shows but boys won't watch girls." Which I know sounds unenlightened but at least it's marginally better than the one we hear from modern executives which goes "we don’t want girls watching boys cartoons" (see "Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--We Don’t Want Girls").
She also theorized another reason why women might enjoy the show was because of the gender role reversal at play. Not only do women get to see traditionally "macho," archetypical heroes be emotionally vulnerable, the near total absence of female characters forces them to take on such standard feminine genre roles as "victim" and "caretaker." Plus the fact that the cast includes a number of gay and transgender characters apparently doesn't hurt either.
However one thing I realized all on my own, unfortunately after I had written last week's column, was that being a man in my 50's I just wasn't used to women "getting" scatological, profane and absurd comedy. I can still see the look of confused disdain on the face of my sister-in-law when my brother tried to show her an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. But that was on a UHF PBS station, whoa, almost forty years ago, and to once again quote the movie Yellow Submarine, "It's no longer a blue world, Max." It's one where edgy female comedians like Amy Schumer are popular and the movie Bridesmaids reinvented the gross-out sex comedy for a female audience. So it makes perfect sense 43% of Adult Swim's audience is now female. I only wish I could have seen that last week.
"It would be very easy for this movie to be seen as a boys' movie, just like it would be very easy for Frozen to be perceived as a girls' movie. But I think you don't make over a billion dollars by having it just skewed to one thing."
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.