Greg and I have been watching the TV show Scrubs lately. I love it for the zany humor, the serio-comic approach to working around sickness and death, and for its depiction of "guy love," a phrase coined to describe the relationship between J.D., the protagonist, and Turk, his best friend. J.D. is a general medical intern and Turk is a surgical intern; they both work at Sacred Heart hospital where they are often tormented by superiors.
The episode we watched the other night began with a gag where Turk is talking to a cute woman J.D. has never seen before. (Turk is happily married; J.D. is bad with relationships.) Turk explains to J.D. that the woman, Kim, has actually been around Sacred Heart for years, but J.D. has never noticed her because she is wearing a wedding ring. Turk asks all the women present to take off their wedding rings, and J.D. is suddenly surrounded by tons of attractive women. Then they replace their rings and vanish.
OK, haha. Cute. Kind of. J.D. only sees women who represent potential relationships/mates/fill in the blank. It's funny on the surface, slightly disturbing if you think about it, but clearly draws on the way some people operate. It didn't bother me because I don't think we're supposed to root for J.D. here, just to see that he has typical, if unfortunate, tendencies.
As the episode progresses, J.D. finds himself increasingly attracted to Kim. She is gracious enough to be friendly to him although he has apparently ignored her for years because of that pesky ring. (To be clear: the show doesn't make a point of her graciousness, it simply shows them interacting in friendly ways.)
However, J.D. discovers that Kim has opted to forego surgery on an elderly patient because of the risk the patient would die during the surgery. The medicine is glossed-over, but the point is that Kim doesn't want to risk her surgical stats looking bad. J.D., who is defined by his commitment to his patients, is disappointed by Kim's decision. As he has every right to be.
It is clear that J.D. is especially upset about Kim's decision because he has begun to think of her as more than just a friend. He learns that her wedding ring is a bluff, as she has been divorced for over a year. It is at this point that he creepily begins talking about her as though they were in a relationship, when he has never done more than interact with her.
J.D. finally summons the courage (or self-righteousness, but I don't want to tip my hand here) to chastise Kim about her decision. As he lays into her, expressing how personally disappointed he is that she balked at the surgery, Kim's face crumples and it seems clear that J.D.'s words are hitting home, a fact which is confirmed when she decides to go ahead with the surgery. Up until this point, she has appeared as a spunky, driven woman with a quirky but fun sense of humor. However, in the face of J.D.'s disappointment, she can only hang her head in shame.
Watching this storyline play out, I wanted to scream. J.D. has no right to play the shame game with a woman he barely knows. The show clearly wants you to root for him, to think he is right in correcting Kim. But what irked me so much is that he presumed that his attraction to her was grounds for his disappointment in her. If she had been someone he didn't find worth knowing (as she was before the wedding ring vanished) he wouldn't even have noticed the surgery. Additionally, before he approaches Kim, J.D. has a conversation with Turk in which Turk admits that he has done the same thing--avoided high risk surgeries to protect his stats. J.D. completely ignores Turk's confession.
Why? Why can he wag his finger in Kim's face while Turk gets no similar "I'm so disappointed in you" speech? Turk is J.D.'s friend, someone he actually has a right to be disappointed in. I may be overreacting (and I'm certainly spending way too much time putting the whole thing into words) but it felt like a very gendered confrontation to me, the kind you would never see between a guy and his buddy, but which people can accept between a guy and the woman he wants to put on a pedestal.
Perhaps one reason this stupid scene from a two-year-old episode bugged me so much is because it reminds me of one of my favorite moments in literature, when Mr. Knightley confronts Emma after she has behaved poorly to a woman of lesser social status. (Disclaimer--I've read the book, but the movie version is clearer in my mind.) Mr. Knightley is aggrieved that Emma has been so catty and unfeeling, and he chases her down, explains very carefully to her the nature of her transgression, and then says, "Badly done Emma, badly done."
At first, the two scenes seem very similar, and one would think that if I take offense at one, I had better take offense at both. But the difference between Emma and Scrubs is that Jane Austen realized that Mr. Knightley's opinion would matter to Emma. She respects him, and for good reason, so his dressing down is a serious matter. (Not to mention that Austen clearly is willing to allow women to give as good as they get--see Lizzie's fantastic multiple dressings-down of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.) Kim, on the other hand, has no reason to respect J.D. On the contrary, she should probably think he's a toad for the way he refused to recognize her as a colleague because he thought she was married, i.e. not available. And yet, she completely caves in to his blowhard smackdown. There's just no reason for it.
Greg was watching with me, and his quarrel with the scene was much more succinct, and perhaps even more significant than mine: it just didn't make sense for either character. And bad writing is just as offensive as bad morals.