Posted by Debadrita Saha
When Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by CW premiered in 2015, it met with rave reviews about the acting chops of the main cast, and the witty screenplay, which showed a brilliant lawyer from Harvard chasing her former sweetheart from New York to West Covina, leaving her successful career, family and luxurious NY life in the process. Apparently, the word “crazy” in the title refers to this decision of Rebecca, who quits luxury and comfort of her high-profile job, and imminent promotion to win back her lost love. The show was pitched in a manner that promised to debunk the stereotypical notions associated with the word “crazy”, and the implications that arise when someone is labelled as a “crazy ex-girlfriend”– impractical, possessive, obsessive, and doesn’t understand the importance of consent or personal space.
Unfortunately, the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does not make any substantial effort to destroy these myths of a former female romantic partner. Rather, it tries to gain a few boisterous laughs at the expense of the main character, feeding into the stereotypes she is intended to debunk.
The first thing that struck me as problematic was the depiction of mental illness in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rebecca, who has bipolar disorder and depression, is shown to dump all her medications once she transfers to West Covina and suddenly become cheerful. Only much later does she realise that she should not have quit medication all of a sudden. In the meantime, it is shown that her newly rekindled love for Josh, the former sweetheart is an uplifting influence on her, making her more social, mirthful and interactive. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend thus stigmatises mental illnesses, conveying the message that only the validation of a man can gain a woman an enlightening perspective on life, and supposedly, make her happy.
According to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s script, a successful careerist woman cannot strive to change jobs for her own peace of mind, but to chase a man, a conventionally tall, dark and handsome, heterosexual male, who shows no interest or affection towards her when he meets her after a long time. To worsen matters, the supporting characters do not accept Rebecca’s decision as normal. Be it Paula, the paralegal at Rebecca’s new office, or Greg, the bartender: they all try to investigate the underlying motives behind the Harvard alumnus quitting her lucrative job with all its perks to join a barely floating law office. In fact, it is only when Paula hacks into Rebecca’s computer and gathers information about her devotion for Josh, does she accept Rebecca and befriend her. Even the women in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend cannot afford to be supportive of another woman’s personal life choices (like Heather, Rebecca’s neighbour who finds her a grappling subject for her psychology class and writes a paper until she sees Rebecca heartbroken and ruined after a disastrous first date with Greg) unless they find a reason that conforms to the patriarchal narrative- the quest for validation and love of a man.
In her quest for Josh, Rebecca frequently throws casual expletives at other people, humiliating them and discriminating against them for their racial and sexual identity. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend frequently perpetuates Asian and Latin American stereotypes, through caricatures of some of the main cast who belong to different ethnicities.
Josh’s girlfriend Valencia is exoticised and ostracised by Rebecca, and is shown as cold, detached and haughty, who condescendingly looks down upon Rebecca’s friendly gestures. In the show, she is insecure and discriminating towards other women, and is possessive about Josh. However, she warms up to Rebecca, and confides to her about the root of her insecurities- when she was slutshamed for being assaulted as a minor by her English teacher. Rebecca, instead of trying to be supportive and educative, too, ends up judging Valencia.
In fact, Rebecca’s proclamation of herself as a feminist is revealed to be a sham when we get to know that she became friends with Valencia in the first place to get closer to Josh, and not as she asserted, to get to know Valencia and cement a sisterly bonding. Thus, she perpetuates the very misogynist myth she raged against when Paula said she and Valencia are like the then feuding Taylor Swift and Katy Perry- “that women cannot get along”. Our protagonist’s obsession with Josh extends to Valencia too, who she views as an exotic yoga guru performing near-absurd body gymnastics and make the white Americans look like a fool (the song “I am so good at yoga”).
Valencia, played by Gabrielle Ruiz, is the subject of extreme cultural appropriation of Latin Americans in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend as she is assumed to be Venezuelan without any evidence and her job as a yoga trainer is mocked constantly, indicating the West’s myopic vision of the Global South as culturally regressive, where science and reason aren’t the prime pillars of Enlightenment, but where women perform yoga like sorcerers, and dance Bharatanatyam to the beat of Indian classical music (Episode: Josh’s Girlfriend is really cool!). She becomes the cultural Other whose diet chart is not planned by any qualified dietician, but by an advisor who determines diet by blood group. Her anorexia nervosa is parodied, when Rebecca decides to go vegan and follow Valencia’s diet chart and style statement merely to entice Josh. Under Rebecca’s scrutinising eyes, she becomes just another stereotype of the exotic enchantress from an unknown country, who has no successful career, and from whose clutches, Rebecca, the White virtuous female protagonist, must save the innocent man, Josh.
Adhering to the trend of myopic representation of Latinos in TV shows, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend too discriminates among its characters on the basis of race. With her heavy accent, thinner figure and attires with plunging necklines, Valencia is shown to be sexually provocative, addictively romantic (saying “I do” to Josh excitedly when he asks her to move in with him), sensual, sexual and exotically threatening. Unfortunately though, Rebecca isn’t saved from the sexual objectification either. The guy she pines for is only attracted to her, as he confesses, for her breasts and curves, and not for her individuality.
Ultimately, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend drives home the concept that a woman with mental illness will be jealous, obsessed with a love interest and narcissistic to a point where they don’t acknowledge other people’s opinions- cementing the “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope than subverting it. She can sabotage other women’s happiness, racially profile and compartmentalise them based on physical features, stalk a person impulsively, and that too in full glory- all because she’s “in love”. While some might argue that it is a sort of empowerment for the oppressed sex, who is now taking up the roles usually acceptable in men, I wonder if the critics and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be equally sympathetic to her if she was not a white, cis-gender, young, heterosexual and petite-curvy female. But then, that’s what White feminism is: it serves the agenda of the Western consumer market, with its Eurocentric beauty standards. Gender equality is merely a farce here.
Debadrita Saha is a postgraduate student of English literature in Presidency University, Kolkata. Her field of interests include Gothic fiction, bengali literature in the 19th century, postmodern literature, psychonalysis, and gender studies. While she is not juggling between online classes and freelance content writing, she curls up with a good old tome or binges on Audrey Hepburn movies or her favourite TV show, Twin Peaks. She can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
Featured image source: PPcorn.com