Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Calling All Four-Eyes!

I had my eyes examined today, with such a tiny change that it wasn't worth changing my prescription. That's about eight years with no real change, so yay. And I have new contact lenses, which is good because I'd just opened my last one (I have disposables).

And that brings up a rant I've been contemplating for a while: the fictional depiction of characters who use corrective lenses. I'm trying to organize my thoughts here for the many mini rants encompassed in this topic.

1) The glasses=smart cliche.
Glasses seem to have become shorthand for "smart, bookish character." Never mind that there's no known link between intelligence and eyesight, and it's a myth that reading a lot makes your eyes bad. I suppose it is possible that kids with bad eyesight are less likely to be active in sports that could break glasses and therefore more likely to do non-physical stuff like reading, but still, it's kind of silly how far Hollywood has taken this. If you've got a group of characters and one of them wears glasses, it's a pretty good bet that the character in glasses will be the one who's smart, good with computers or into books, and possibly not very adept socially.

There seems to be some softening on this in recent years, with characters who are allowed to be smart without wearing glasses. Willow on Buffy didn't wear glasses, Chuck may be a smart, nerdy guy, but he doesn't wear glasses. Samantha Carter on SG-1 didn't wear glasses. Hermione Granger doesn't wear glasses. However, we still don't have too many non-brainy people who wear glasses. The only one I can think of is Harry Potter, who's not an idiot, but he's not super good in school and he certainly doesn't keep his nose in a book all the time. I think we need more characters whose eyesight isn't necessarily related to their brainpower.

2) The reason for wearing glasses is statistically wrong, for the most part.
When a character wears glasses, it tends to be just for reading, especially if the character is in a lead role or is otherwise supposed to be attractive or sexy. They can run around being action hero/heroine and looking hot, and then when it's time to be smart and dig into the books, they put on their reading glasses. But myopia (nearsightedness) is the far more common vision problem among people in their 20s and 30s -- the age most TV characters are. There are younger people who are farsighted and just need glasses to read, but in general, that's more likely to be a problem after the age of 40. Statistically, most of the young adults who need glasses need them to see at a distance, and yet most characters I can think of (especially on TV) just put on glasses to read (I guess it's that "smart" thing again). There was Joel on Northern Exposure, both Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, Fred on Angel, Dr. Cameron on House, the tenth Doctor on Doctor Who* and just about every character who puts on a pair of glasses in a movie but who isn't a total nerd. It would be more accurate to have characters in this age range who need glasses for everything but reading -- I often joke about going against the flow when I do readings at conventions and take my glasses off when I start to read -- but then that would mean the characters spending most of their time in glasses, and I guess we can't have that unless they're supposed to be really, really brainy and not very attractive.

We have had some glasses-wearers who got it right, most of the time. There was Daniel Jackson on SG-1 and Wesley on Angel, both of whom wore glasses all the time, like they truly needed them to see and who did that unfocused blinking thing when they took them off (I know Alexis Denisof is a real-life glasses wearer, so he would get that detail right, but I don't know about Michael Shanks). However, they also seemed to have testosterone-linked vision. Most of the time, they needed glasses to walk across the room, but if they were in a situation where they needed to be action stars or were in the romantic lead role, suddenly they could get around just fine without glasses, and Wesley completely lost his glasses when he became a badass later in the series. Agent Mulder was another one who, in addition to being yet another inappropriate reading glasses wearer, had testosterone-linked vision, so that once they realized he'd become an action hero heartthrob, he wasn't seen wearing the glasses anymore. Never mind the legions of women begging for the return of the glasses.

I suppose we could imagine that all the characters who aren't wearing glasses are wearing contact lenses, but it would be nice if that ever got a mention beyond the standard "oops, I dropped a contact lens" distraction ruse. What about the people getting crabby when their lenses start getting uncomfortable late in the day, or having to consider the lens issue before making a decision to stay overnight somewhere? The only one I can think of offhand is Jude Law's character in The Holiday, who lost his contacts while staying overnight with a woman and had to face her in the morning in his dorky glasses.

* Doctor Who is kind of a special case. I don't know if the Children in Need special is meant to be canon, since it was kind of done as a joke, but in that he admitted that he didn't actually need the glasses and only wore them to make himself look clever. The tenth Doctor wearing glasses was apparently something David Tennant asked for, and he wanted the Doctor to wear them all the time (he said he wanted to have a hero for the kids who wore glasses, and I imagine he also wanted to avoid the double inconvenience of having to wear both contact lenses and glasses, since he wears glasses, himself) but the network couldn't deal with the idea of a hero wearing glasses all the time, so they compromised with the glasses at "clever" moments. Tennant has been known to snark during DVD commentaries on the shots where his contact lenses are visible, and I've noticed in the behind-the-scenes bits on the DVDs that he now has real-life glasses with the Doctor's frames, so I wonder if he cheats a bit for scenes where the Doctor wears glasses for an extended time.

3) There's a distinct gender difference -- men in glasses can be sexy, but women generally aren't.
Testosterone-linked vision aside, we do seem to be seeing more men who can be sexy in glasses, and that's spilling over into real life, with male celebrities wearing glasses in public. I can't recall him in a glasses-wearing role, but Nathan Fillion often shows up for public appearances wearing his glasses (one of the many reasons to love him). David Tennant is another one who is totally public about his need for corrective lenses. I think Alexis Denisof may win the prize, though, after some travel thing he did with Alyson Hannigan in which he had two pairs of glasses (one regular, one sunglasses) on cords around his neck, and switched out as needed. But where are the sexy women in glasses? There's Tina Fey, and that's about it. When we do see female celebrities in glasses, they're in the paparazzi photos where they've just run to the grocery store in sweats. They don't seem to deliberately make public appearances in glammed-up mode in glasses, and I recall that there was a lot of "get lasik, why don't you?" snark about whichever female Oscar presenter had to put on her glasses to read the nominees. Men get called sexy for wearing glasses, but in women, removing the glasses is always an important part of the makeover process in those "nerd to glamazon" movies. It does seem that women are more likely to find glasses sexy on men than men are to find glasses sexy on women. Though there are some enlightened men out there. I remember one time at a convention when I switched from contacts to glasses during the con, and a guy came up to me to tell me how much sexier I looked in the glasses. I generally wear the contacts for events when I have to go outdoors at some point because I need sunglasses, and making the juggle and switch is a pain (though I guess I could put both around my neck on cords). The contacts are also easier on me when I want a lot of peripheral vision (since the current tiny glasses trend looks cute but offers a smaller field of vision). I have to admit that when I want to look really pretty, I usually wear the contacts, so I guess I'm buying into the expectation, but a lot of that has to do with eye makeup. I have long lashes that smear the lenses when I wear mascara, and I have an interesting eye color that I like to show off sometimes, especially when I'm wearing something that makes them look really green. And, yeah, I did get tired of people assuming things about me because I was considered smart, so it's kind of fun to throw people off-guard. They have totally different expectations of a woman with long, curly hair without glasses than they do of a woman with glasses. I like letting them build an expectation and then proving them wrong.

I'm not sure what my point in all this is, other than that I don't really feel represented in fiction, yet again. I did make a point of having Owen wear contact lenses because he needs glasses to see, not just read (and the glasses really show up in book 4). I haven't written a female character with glasses, though (not in a published book -- I do have an unpublished book with a glasses-wearing heroine). I'll have to do something about that. Maybe it's because I find glasses very sexy on men but find them a pain to deal with, myself.

In entirely unrelated news, I've just learned that the latest reprint of Damsel Under Stress corrects the cover issue, so the new covers should be matte like the other books instead of the glossy that was done by mistake. So, if you want a matched set, be on the lookout for the matte covers. I wouldn't risk it by ordering online, though, because there's a chance they'd still have glossy covers in stock. Perhaps when the new book comes out, if they restock with the rest of the series you might find a matte cover.


Carradee said...

*grins* As a twenty-year-old chick who wears glasses (along with most of her friends), I really appreciate that tirade. I even have a bit of astigmatism, and I am, for the record, really, really blind without my glasses. (I can see clearly for about 3 inches. Six inches on a good day.)

Reminds me of the entire overrepresentation of blondes and redheads in fiction. Oh, and green eyes. And "alabaster" skin.

(Of course, I've recently noticed that I'm starting to lean towards my characters having a wise blonde friend, so I'm fixing that. —The tendency of them all to be blondes, not the blondes being smart.)

The fiction misrepresentation probably stems from the fact that it's presumably a glamorization of life, and most people who wear glasses don't want them, so those writers won't include them.

And people who don't wear glasses likely avoid them as characters because there's so many details to keep track of (like glasses fogging up, peripheral vision, what does the world look like to a glasses-wearer when you remove the glasses?). Someone who doesn't wear glasses wouldn't know what to do.

The one realistic case I can think of, when a book character lost her glasses, was in Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness. I think her name was Bernie, and she had to drive home without her glasses. And from how Peretti described it, I think her vision was supposed to be comparable to mine.

I have toyed with glasses-bound characters in some of my "junk pile" stories. I can't see them appearing in my current fantasy novel I'm trying to finish, though your post has made me realize that I do need to figure out what people in that world do for vision problems.

Thanks for (admittedly inadvertently) pointing out that logic issue!

Shanna Swendson said...

I think the green eyes thing has been relatively recent, especially with non-evil characters -- speaking as a green-eyed person who used to feel very non-represented among the good guys.

But there are logistical issues to deal with when you have a character using lenses of any type, and that may come into play when writing main characters. It's one thing for the person in the library the hero goes to for info, but when he's running around and stuff, keeping track of glasses could be a pain.