I have in my cubicle at work a quote from Werner Herzog: “I’m fascinated with trash T.V. The poet must not avert his eyes.” This is approach I am taking when it comes to writing. I mustn’t look away from the accident. I must take it all in. I must observe and record.
Saying that – I’ve watched the first episode of the glorious train-wreck that is FX’s A Teacher. This mini-series is based on the Mary Kay Letourneau case. I’ve linked a Wikipedia article to it in case you weren’t around for it.
What makes me want to close my eyes, or at least change the channels, is that we’re given a sympathetic view of the Mary Kay character. In the first episode, we see she shoplifts (because the poor dear is under stress), wants to get pregnant (when her husband seems to be around, which so far is not that often) and is in a new school environment. Do we blame her for wanting to hook up with a male teen who looks good, and is ambitious enough?
The show seems to be telling us ‘no’, and this is one of the problems I have. Even at the outset, we’re warned that there will be scenes of sexuality and ‘grooming’. For those of you who may not know – grooming is when a person gets the target of their affection to lower their guard enough to make a sexual advance. This is usually done by catering to their target’s whim – buying them gifts, inviting them over to hang out and other things. We even see it in the first episode when the teacher covers the meal of her intended target and his friends. The show ends with her tutoring him on poetry because he needs to raise up his SAT scores.
The teacher is played by Kate Mara – who is absolutely hot. Speaking as a former (very much so) sixteen-year-old boy, if I had an English teacher who looked like her – grooming wouldn’t be a problem beyond whispering to me ‘wanna screw?’. This is the truth.
Let’s have a little thought experiment: reverse the genders. Now the English teacher is a man, wanting to be a father, but his wife is usually out of town on business. He finds a girl in his class who needs help getting into a good school for pre-med. She’s athletic, smart but needs a leg up. Let’s even say that this teacher looks good – George Clooney-esque. Let’s even extrapolate based on the real story, that the girl wants to be a mother, but knows that her education comes first. Are we going to have the same feelings for this couple?
No. We decry the teacher as a predator, the girl as misguided and naïve, nay be bordering on troubled if we find out she was a little more aggressive about having that child. The teacher ends up in jail on a sex offender’s list, and the girl gets a book deal.
The other problem I have with this is that, as I mentioned earlier, the teacher is hot. I know, I know – Mary Kay wasn’t ugly, and no doubt that the show’s writer would mention this as a defense. Why not make this into a demonstration of abuse of power? Why not make the teacher look less like Kate Mara in a low-cut sweater and more like Danny DeVito in drag? Hell – let’s put Danny DeVito in drag and put him in the show. Let’s really crank up the uncomfortability on this show! Rather than showing us Kate Mara pleasuring herself to a fantasy of her chosen victim, and brow beating her husband into having sex with her (despite his protestations) – let’s see Danny DeVito in a doggy position moaning.
I’m not happy with FX reaching for the lowest of the low hanging fruit on this show. They had a chance to challenge our views of sexuality and power, but they went the predictable route.