By Madison Anidjar
Last week, as news broke of Danny Masterson’s 30-to-life sentence for two rape convictions, I started to reflect on a show that I once loved.
Like many ‘90s and 2000s kids, I watched ‘That 70’s Show’ as an adolescent and teen. I was already a young feminist, and I loved the show despite its casual misogyny, mostly in the form of the teenage boys acting like creeps. The male characters do classic 90’s teenage boys-will-be-boys dirt — snooping in underwear drawers, peeping in windows at women undressing, and feeding their crush drinks to help their chances with her. Despite all this, I still loved the characters. It was like each one was a different side of myself. Eric was the nerdy, nervous part who had not grown into himself yet. Jackie was the self-absorbed pretty girl who did not care if she was a bitch. Kelso was the dumb, goofy and inappropriate part. Donna was the girl next door, the feminist and the idealogue. Fez was the part that did not quite belong; who was always there, but was less wanted than the others. Hyde was the cool, anti-establishment part and also the messy, damaged part.
To me, Kelso and Fez were the kind of guys that were always desperate for sex and blind to any real humanity on the part of the women they pined for. Kelso grabs women’s butts and kisses them out of nowhere. In one episode, Fez suggests that Kelso set up his girlfriend, Angie, to be raped, saying Kelso should have sex with Angie in a dark room, only to leave halfway through and let Fez “finish the job.” For some reason, Hyde was different; he was not that. He was not perfect. Hyde still made some of the same jokes about women. He had no problem casually calling even his friend Donna a w****, but unlike Kelso and Fez, Hyde was almost never the one acting on the boys’ misogynistic attitudes. He did not need to resort to drunkenness or shame to get a girl’s attention, and he did not want to either. He had common sense, smarts and some level of kindness. He is the only one to remember Eric’s mother's birthday. He bonds with a girl he likes over his knowledge and love of Malcolm X. He takes Jackie to prom when Kelso ditches her. He takes the fall for the friends’ many blunders, like smashing a TV or getting caught with drugs. And that is why it hurts so much. In this storm of sexism, objectification and patriarchy, Hyde was actually a good person. Aside from raucous pranks and general nihilism, Hyde was the best of the teens on the show.
I have probably watched ‘That 70’s Show’ five or more times, but I will not be watching it again, or its recent 90’s spinoff. It is just too much. There was never anything progressive about it. Any sexual liberation in the show is wholly on the part of the men. ‘That 70’s Show’ paints a similar rape-culture-enforcing picture that many others do. Women do not really mean it when they say no, getting a woman drunk is the same as getting her consent and a certain amount of misogyny is to be expected from men; all women can do is put up with it.
Maybe part of why I tolerated the obvious flaws of the show for so long was because it felt accurate, but accuracy comes at the cost of normalization. Even when the boys’ perversions were made fun of, the women were really the butt of the joke, constantly reduced down to stereotypes. Donna was an unreasonable man-hater, Laurie was an insatiable whore, Jackie was a nagging b**** and Midge was a ditsy piece of meat.
The years Danny Masterson was acting on ‘That 70’s Show’ were the same years he was drugging and raping women, and it’s not just his behavior I have concerns about. Wilmer Valderrama, at 20, dated a 16-year-old Mandy Moore and later a 17-year-old Demi Lovato, a relationship which is assumed to be the source of Lovato’s song “29” about a 29-year-old that she dated at 17. The song includes lyrics such as, “Far from innocent, what the fuck's consent? Numbers told you not to, but that didn't stop you.”
As Masterson faced sentencing last week, The Hollywood Reporter obtained letters from four of his ‘That 70’s Show’ castmates. Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp all wrote to the judge requesting lenient sentenceing for Masterson’s two rape convictions. The rest of the show’s main cast have not spoken a word on the matter.
I do not know if Danny Masterson’s actions were at all shaped by the worldview of ‘That 70s Show,’ but it certainly has not helped to create a world where we treat women as having sexual agency, as being able to want sex without being a slut, to say no and be respected and to come forward about being assaulted and be believed.