Sexual Inadequacy: Taking Aim at Archer
I have been watching the FX show Archer for about two years now. Archer is the brainchild of Adam Reed, one of the creators of Frisky Dingo; the lead character, a misogynistic, callous, handsome secret agent douchebag named Sterling Archer, is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin of Home Movies and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. His mother, the head of the spy agency Isis, is voiced by Jessica Walter—Judy Greer, another Arrested Development alum, is Cheryl Tunt, a railroad heiress/secretary with little to no moral compass. Archer is the next in a line of shows whose comedic tension is produced by the central character’s regressive belief system, bad manners, or disdain for other people, using other characters as foils. In this way Archer is Groening’s Bender or Homer, Carol O’Connor’s Archie, or McFarland’s Peter Griffin. The show works as a critique of the myth of the globe-trotting, debonair lady killer and shows us what a dude with a hefty expense account and a belief that he’s nine feet tall and bulletproof would be like to be around. To everyone else he’s “the world’s most dangerous secret agent” but to the people in his office and his butler he’s just an unreliable asshole who has skated his entire life on good looks, nepotism, and luck. On the other side of this coin we have Lana Kane, voiced by Aisha Tyler, one of the strongest, most badass female characters in recent memory, who just absolutely hates his guts.
But then there is Ray Gilette. Ray is an intelligence analyst and he’s queer as a three-dollar bill. He’s a dream character for me, a queer character standing athwart of gender, expectation, and sexual determinism. He’s also funny, and quick, and I just absolutely adore 99% of his character. There is a great scene in “Jeu Monegasque” where Archer, Lana, and Ray are in grand prix racing cars, chasing down a concierge who has stolen millions in bearer bonds. As the three round a bend, a helicopter with rocket propelled grenades flies into view. Ray takes one look at it, assesses the situation, and pretends his car is malfunctioning. He’s not a coward per se but he does have a lovable amount of yellow belly in him, and I like that.
Which is why I was disgusted that Reed made his character a rapist. In “Blood Test,” Archer is trying to beat a paternity test by swapping a liter of his blood for blood from his coworker, Cyril. He is knocked out with a bottle, dosed with heroin, and drained of blood, and both Pam, the human resources manager and Ray—both queer characters—separately take the opportunity to sexually assault him. It is true that rapists are sometimes sassy and playful, sometimes they are good family men or upstanding members of the community. The myth that rapists aren’t likable or sociable only serves rapists and rape culture. But I identified so much with Gilette throughout the first season, and now I feel let down.
The idea that queers are predatory isn’t a new thing, and it isn’t just straight people who hold it. I remember in the Will and Grace episode “Field of Queens” that Jack asks of Karen (speaking about Andy Garcia, that episode’s celebrity guest) “Does he have a gay brother? Or better yet, does he have a straight brother who drinks a lot?” At the time I thought the joke was that it was a joke, that no one would take Jack seriously because he’s a generally good person and good people insist on sex with consent. But the joke—and it's along the same lines as the Archer plot—is that given the chance, he would sexually assault someone if they were incapacitated. Which isn't any kind of joke at all.
Image Credit: Kjerstin Johnson
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