cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

John Sheppard: Blue Collar or Bastard?

While mainlining SGA (season one) over the weekend, I compared notes with a couple of friends on how we read John Sheppard. It was freaky and fascinating, because it turned out we had two wildly divergent versions of John--I'm talking quantum-mirror type differences here--and up until that point we had all thought we'd been talking about the same man.

Here's my take on the two versions, in broad strokes:

John "laconic bloke" Sheppard
  1. He was born blue collar, and got his education through the Air Force.
  2. He's competent, especially with his hands.
  3. He's smart, but mostly in applied ways (which would include tactically), although he has a higher degree (probably in something applied, like engineering).
  4. He has authority issues, and they lead to him making poor, and sometimes selfish, choices.
  5. His affection for people he considers "his" is genuine, but heavily coded; he primarily signals it with teasing and humour. As Rodney is the person he does this with most, he cares for Rodney really a lot (although it doesn't have to be read as slashy).
  6. He has a really sharp sense of humour that often verges on black humour, but he delivers it very sarcastically.
  7. He feels uncomfortable in "high class" situations, but can fake easiness to some degree due to practice.

John "the bastard" Sheppard
  1. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and had every opportunity handed to him on a plate.
  2. He breezes by on charm, but isn't actually very talented at anything.
  3. He's not that smart, but he's sly.
  4. He's selfish. Even his 'suicide run' came from a selfish place--because he always thinks he has the answer.
  5. He doesn't really care for anyone, and his teasing of Rodney is mean-spirited and not at all pleasant in any way.
  6. He's not as funny as he thinks he is.
  7. He thinks the world owes him... no he doesn't even think about it, he just expects it. His black mark was the only time things haven't gone his way.

[ETA: As vegetariansushi has now pretty openly outed herself as one of the participants in the conversation, I point you to her posts here and here, in which she gives a much better outline of her take on Sheppard. Also, just so you know, she's moving over the next few days so won't be answering comments for a while.]

As we discussed the two versions of John, the differences seemed to come down, primarily, to cultural context. There are a lot of men very like John Sheppard in Australia, even now, although there were more of them a generation ago--he pings my "laconic, working-class bloke" button really hard. Really hard. Those competent blokes--who get promoted out of the ranks and go on to higher education--never quite seem at ease. And those blokes always show affection by ribbing their mates (often in a crude, locker-room way, but not always, depending on where they are), and the more they rib, the closer they are. When I say "ribbing" I don't mean bullying, although the line can be fine, but true ribbing is not the same thing as bullying in Aussie culture. In fact, that kind of teasing is an almost universal way of expressing affection in the social circle I grew up in--I do it with my family and friends all the time.

Apparently, Sheppard can be mapped to really different contextual points in other cultures.

During our discussion we couldn't work out which version the writers were trying to hit, either. The show is made in Canada, but neither of the people I was speaking with was Canadian, so we couldn't decide whether the writers might truly be going for the "laconic" John (given the Brits and Canadians I've met, I think some of this archetype is broader than just an Australian thing). Or whether we were reading him all wrong, and he really was a self-absorbed bastard.

And now I'm really curious. I'm wondering if there are other John Sheppards out there. Other really different Johns.

So tell me, what is your John like?

ETA: Whoa, over 80 comments! And such good comments too! It's gonna take me quite a while to answer in depth (stupid internet cafe prices limiting my fannish time!), although I'd like to clarify a few of my earlier points. In particular:

  • I agree John is probably a military brat, but in Aussie culture, that doesn't necessarily mean "white collar," even if his father was an officer (I'm a military brat, btw. My dad was in the Aussie AF.)
  • I also agree he's kinda fucked up, probably with PTSD, although he could also be a really smart psycho, and that's what I find interesting about him as a writer. Lots of nooks to explore.
  • Also? If the Sheppards had been stationed in an Aussie town, John would have had access to golf as just a part of regular social interaction. And tennis, and water skiing, and swimming, and horse riding, and cricket, and football, and dirt-biking, and climbing, and and and a whole heap of other stuff too. That kind of social sport playing is not prohibitively expensive or high class at all here, it's what everyone does. Or it was at the time he was a kid, during the 70s, especially in country towns. Maybe it's changed now, I'm a bit out of touch.
  • No, I'm not seriously suggesting the Sheppards were stationed in Australia for a few years. But, god, it would explain a lot.
  • I am saying that that's why John pings certain of my buttons--because that's how they map here. And what I found interesting about the conversation we were having (and all the great comments below, not that I've even managed to read them all yet) is that if you change the social expectations John's mapping to, it does seem to seriously change the reading of his character. I find that totally fascinating. How have the writers done that? I mean, clearly there are commonalities and things many of us agree on, but, judging by the comments you've left, we are nearly all open to other readings as well--we don't feel our own is the only way John could be read. Isn't that great?

Thank you all so much for taking the time to leave your thoughts. Feel free to continue the party, although I probably won't be online again until Thursday.
Tags: discussion, essay, sga
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