Having lots of sex with as many women as possible is the best, most desirable thing that any man can aspire to, right?
That’s usually the message presented by most male characters in popular media today. Male promiscuity is almost always portrayed as something admirable. But rarely, if ever, do we see a character who realizes that this behavior is self-destructive. So when Jason Stackhouse came to this introspective realization on last night’s True Blood, I was blown away.
The subject of an attractive older teacher taking the virginity of her younger male student is often highly fetishized. Ask any horny teenage boy with a “hot teacher” and he’ll proudly proclaim that he’d “tap that” given half the chance. So when it comes to portraying the trope on TV and movies, the damaging psychological effects of this kind of inappropriate behavior are often completely overlooked. Where this makes great fodder for low-level entertainment like American Pie and letters to Penthouse Forum, True Blood‘s treatment managed to address the real issues in a way that made for rich character development and thought-provoking drama.
While shopping in the supermarket, Jason runs into his former teacher Ms. Steeler. 15 years have passed, making Jason somewhere between the ages of 13-15 when he was her student.
“I remember everything you ever taught me,” Jason remarks, to which Ms. Steeler’s face belies remorse.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t… I better get going…” she replies.
In that moment, Jason looks back fondly on those memories before returning to his former teacher’s house to catch up on old times. Curious about how he’s turned out, she asks if he’s married or seeing anybody, and Jason recounts the string of highly dysfunctional affairs that made up the majority of his storyline through the first three seasons of the show. Upon hearing this, Ms. Steeler is visibly shaken, the guilt creeping over her face once more.
“I’ve been thinking about you a lot over the years. What happened between us was…”
“Amazing, I know.”
“I was gonna say wrong. I made a terrible mistake. I never meant to hurt you. Or take advantage of you. I’m so sorry.”
“Well, I’m not. You taught me how to do the only thing I’ve ever been great at,” says Jason, slipping his hand up Ms. Steeler’s skirt.
After having sex on the living room floor, Jason is contemplative.
“You were right. What we did back then… it was a mistake,” he says as he gets dressed and heads out the door. The reunion, having come full-circle, has caused Jason to think deeply about how and why he engages with the act of having sex the way that he does.
When we next see Jason, he’s sulking at home. Jessica, comes over, highly aroused, and though Jason tries to perform at first, he expresses a character-redefining realization.
“I ain’t some mechanical bull you can come ride on whenever you feel like it.”
“What the hell happened to you today?”
“I realized that I’ve got this big fuckin’ hole inside of me that I’ve been filling with sex cuz that’s what I’ve been taught to do. Because I was too fuckin’ young and it felt too fuckin’ good and it made it all go away. And it ain’t workin’ no more. And I don’t know how to deal with what I’m feeling.”
Jason asks Jessica to leave, stating that he doesn’t know how to just be friends with a girl. But she reassures him that he does, in fact, know how and the two continue to talk off camera about feelings. Yes, his feelings.
So here we have Jason, the stereotype of what supposedly so many men ought to be aspiring to, reflecting on his past and realizing that it hasn’t made him feel fulfilled. Rather, it’s left him feeling more empty than he ever expected.
While some viewers might groan at the idea of talking about feelings over having sex, thinking that this makes Jason a pussy, a mangina, or whatever other insult one might use to emasculate a guy, chances are those viewers are probably either undersexed themselves or have yet to tackle some of their own personal demons. To assert otherwise and deny a man the right to value something above sex is to do a disservice to men everywhere. Either way, I was thrilled to see Jason finally become a fully fleshed-out, relatable, self-reflexive character.
For too long, the notion that all men want is sex has pigeon-holed male identity to an offensive and problematic standard. I can only hope that more TV shows will take a note from the story of Jason Stackhouse and find the time to add this layer of wholeness to their “philandering playboys” in the future. Sometimes showing a little vulnerability is the bravest thing you can do.