Bones: The Plain in the Prodigy

Hey, who else spotted the ableist language in this week’s Bones? Because I did!

This week, Bones went to Amish country, and a lot of very interesting issues were brought up.

The first was teen sexuality, as a running B plot. It was nice, first of all, to see Cam’s daughter, Michelle. I feared last season that she was being introduced as a prop that we would never see. And she may still be being used as a prop, but hopefully we will see her regularly this season, because she’s an interesting character and there is great potential there.

At any rate, Cam faces a dilemma: Michelle is growing up, so how do we handle her sexuality? On the most part, I think it was handled really well. I loved Angela’s discussion about sexuality, and her stress on the fact that, you know, teenage girls like to have sex too. I also thought Cam’s reaction was very realistic. She struggled at first about how to talk about it, and kind of messed up, and then apologized, and stressed that Michelle needed to do what she was comfortable with, whether that was waiting or not. It was really great to see people saying that it was ok to wait (especially Brennan, confessing that she lost her virginity at 22), but that Michelle didn’t have to wait if she didn’t want to and was making a choice without pressure.

The outlier, of course, was Booth. I really didn’t like his response to the situation, but, the thing was, it was also spot on for his character. Booth does embody the double standard in a lot of ways, and it would have been uncharacteristic of him to do otherwise. I kind of appreciated that they struck a balance, showing us various models of handling sexuality, and kind of letting us form our own judgment. And I appreciate that Brennan called him on his double standard. Again, in keeping with her character, and also great for viewers to see a reminder of the fact that Booth was being kind of unreasonable.

The one thing I did not like, though, was Booth’s paternalizing attitude at the very end of the episode, where he stepped in to hassle Michelle’s boyfriend. It was the classic dad act, and it made me feel uncomfortable, the man protecting teh innocent wimmiz from the evil menz. (For the record, my father never did this, probably because he knew I’d punch him in the schnozz if he did.) The bit at the very end, in which Bones demonstrated actual knowledge of the boyfriend and the fact that he’s going to Princeton, was especially interesting, because Booth kind of did a doubletake. I felt like the scene was, in a way, showing some subtle racism, with Booth making assumptions about Michelle’s boyfriend because he is a young black man and those assumptions being refuted by Bones, who likes evidence and does not speculate or jump to conclusions (although she may infer).

Speaking of racism, I loved the very subtle play between Brennan and Clark. Brennan has delegated fieldwork to Clark, because she thinks he’s the best fit for the job, but he feels more comfortable in the lab. One of his acts of protest is to use a stereotypical slave accent from Southern dramas, referencing the fact that, you know, it’s kind of problematic to stick the only Black member of the team out on the railroad tracks in the hot sun. The protest flies right over Brennan’s head, of course, as she thinks (and is right, as far as I know) that he is the most appropriate person to supervise some delicate fieldwork.

The A story was the investigation of the death of a pianist, which brought our characters into connection with the Amish. I am not even going to pretend that I know anything about the Amish, because, while they interest me, I have not studied them, so am not really qualified to talk. So I have no idea about the accuracy of the Amish storyline. But I did think it raised some great questions which, once again, put the faith versus reason debate in the spotlight.

If someone is forced to choose between being an incredibly talented pianist, and following the religion ou was raised with, what do you choose? I can’t begin to judge or say, but it was interesting to see the characters explore it. Brennan, of course, thought that the pianist should have stayed in the English world and performed, because he had an amazing gift. Booth, though, respected the desire to keep the Amish faith.

Brennan also brought up a great point, and something I really respect about the Amish: You have to choose to be Amish. Even if you are born into Amish culture, you are still expected to actually make a conscious choice to commit to the church. This is in contrast with a lot of other faiths, in which people are born into a faith and expected to keep it.

I know I’m kind of getting off on a tangent here, but I wish we dealt with more things like the Amish do with faith. Like, say, gender in children, or sexual orientation. Why assume that just because someone is born into something, ou will follow it?

Laura also reviewed “The Plain in the Prodigy,” and you should check her review out as well.

10 Replies to “Bones: The Plain in the Prodigy”

  1. Amish youth aren’t exactly free as a bird to leave the church… They have to positively affirm the faith to be considered a member, yes, but choosing otherwise just happens to mean becoming “English” and therefore cutting yourself off from the insular community that contains all your friends, family, and relations.

  2. Thank you for that clarification; I do remember reading that at one point, but it is nice to have a reminder. Also underscores the decisions the character was making, it’s not just like not being Catholic anymore but still retaining ties with your family, it’s totally cutting yourself off from your family and the community you grew up in.

  3. I caught parts of the episode — unless it’s on disc TV tends more to happen around me because the wife watches it. (I like to have way more control over what I watch than broadcast ((we get our TV through rabbit-ear antennas)) provides and commercials usually leave me screaming at the Big Box o’ Hate. So I do not exactly approach TV criticism from a sympathetic perspective to begin with.) That disclaimer out of the way:

    I didn’t much like that Brennan announced she’d first had sex at twenty-two. Yeah, it’s nice to let kids now that it’s okay to wait but seriously that message is about as rare as gas-state nitrogen. Everyone tells kids it’s okay to wait. I feel some wild-eyed prophet shouting at ducks in the wilderness whenever I say “It’s okay to not wait. Sex is fun, which is why we do it. There are ways to make it safer and scarleteen.com has most of them so you should educate yourself. And a lot of the time older men (and some older women) like to exploit younger people so if that’s the situation you’re in that’s really not so okay. But if you want to because the person you want to do it with is hot and there’s not so much exploiting going on? That is a perfectly valid reason.”

    And it sort of feeds into the autistic equals sexless emotionless Vulcan (and even that’s wrong; the Vulcans don’t not have emotions they, as a culture, reject emotion as unhelpful) stereotype.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I was eleven when I had my first sexual experiences involving another person. They were with a boy down the street a couple years older and I still remember his name. In one of those amusing coincidences life throws around, his (exceedingly common) last name is the same as my married last name now.

  4. Well, I think my takeaway from the treatment of sexuality and Brennan’s confession is that no one should be telling anyone when it’s appropriate to have sex, and that’s an important thing to say. Advice like “here are some resources to learn about safe sexuality and exploitation” is the advice which should be given, without commentary on whether one is/isn’t having sex. And I definitely don’t think that Brennan should be shamed for waiting, if that’s what she decided to do when she made her informed choice. Just like I don’t think people who had sex earlier should be shamed. In fact, if we could just take all of the shaming out of sexuality, that would be terrific.

  5. That’s not wrong, but it doesn’t happen out of the social context just chock-full of messages telling young people but girls and young women that they should wait wait wait wait wait. That however much sex they’re having, it’s either not enough or it’s way too much.

    There are vanishingly few positive portrayals of young people having sex and enjoying themselves in American popular culture. Something terrible always happens to kids who have sex, whether it’s something more ‘realistic’ like getting caught and abused by parents or getting pregnant which ruins the pregnant girl’s (though rarely the boy or man she was fucking) life for ever and always, or something fantastic like having a serial killer chase you as you run, all sexy-like, through the woods and chop you to pieces with a machete.

    Kids never just spend a quick pleasant fifteen minutes exploring each other then put their clothes back on and study for the history test tomorrow. Because that would send the message that sex can be had without consequences and heavens to Murgatroyd but we can’t have that.

    If I came across as sounding like I was shaming Brennan’s character for having first had sex as an adult then I miswrote. I meant only to address, there, the very common perception that autistic persons and people with mental illness in general are either unfuckable or uninterested in fucking.

  6. Oh no, you were definitely not shaming her character, it’s more that other people have (even in the context of the show, Booth was kind of mean about it).

    And you’re absolutely right: given the chorus of “it’s ok to wait” messages and the lack of “hey, look, two teenagers had sex and NOTHING BAD HAPPENED,” television probably does not need to support the “it’s ok to wait” bandwagon. That’s why I appreciated that the episode had a balance of experiences, with Angela being very sex positive, Cam recognizing that she got up to some hijinks in her youth, etc. One thing which I thought was especially balanced was the shift in Cam’s treatment. At first, she really messed up with Michelle, and said some uncool things, and then she later recognized that she had not handled it well, and tried to approach things in a much more sex positive way.

    And, very important point about the portrayal of people with disabilities in television/the media in general. It is kind of unfortunate that the character who appears to be on the autism spectrum is the one who did not have sex until she was 22. And it’s also unfortunate that Brennan has been punished in the past on the show for her sexuality (since while she may have been a late bloomer, she got a lot accomplished). In televisionland, people with disabilities never ever have sex or are sexual beings, and that is something which needs to be addressed. (Heavens, can you imagine a show where a quad got to be sexual?! Land sakes! It would probably break televisions across America.)

  7. Oh, I know! Well, it’d have to be an ongoing major character in a series for me — putting that into a Very Special Episode doesn’t exactly help with the marginalization.

    It’s veering off the topic of Bones, but that’s one of the oh-so-many reasons I hate the shit out of Family Guy. Joe’s got a spinal cord injury so of course anything to do with his sexuality is a joke. Barf. And no, not at all offensive personally to disabled me struggling to hang onto what sex life the fibromyalgia will let me have.

  8. Oh, yeah, I should have said “wouldn’t it be amazing if a show featured a quad as a recurring character/main character who wasn’t used as a prop AND who had sex.” And, for double bonus points, “wouldn’t it be amazing if the actor playing the character was also a quad.”

  9. *peers, all wary-like* Woman, what are you doing with my brain? Or do I have yours? Though it could just be some kinda Jungian collective thing going on here. It may require some ponderation.

  10. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that everyone who reads the Feministing letter is actually being indoctrinated into The Borg. Welcome to the hivemind!

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