The House that House Built
Dr. Gregory House makes it hard to like him. The eponymous lead character of the television series House M.D. is a poster child for inappropriate behaviour. Finding examples is like shooting fish in a barrel: in any House M.D. episode there is an abundance of instances of insensitivity… or worse.
Take Who’s Your Daddy? for example. It is the show’s 45th episode (1).
In that episode, Gregory House lies (repeatedly) to his patient and her kin. He mocks the members of his own team. He ogles the buttocks of his female boss. He disregards the advice of highly qualified medical professionals. He physically hurts a patient (in a scene that borders on torture). He suspects a young girl of running a scam, just because she is an African American inner city child who survived the horrors of hurricane Katrina. He even confesses to having had sex with the girlfriend of one of his friends. All of that in a mere forty minutes.
House’s outspoken irreverence, his political incorrectness and lack of tact are all played for laughs. Actually, they are the basis of the show’s appeal and the corner stones of the character’s implausible charisma. Millions of viewers flocked to House’s brand of inappropriate humor for eight successful seasons. But, in hindsight, should we have laughed at all of his jokes?
To be clear: the character Gregory House is not a bigot. He denounces racism, even though he is defiantly insensitive to racial issues. He condemns anti-intellectualism. He practices (and preaches) science. He snubs any kind of illogical bias, even raging against the irrationality of patriotism (2).
But does that justify the way his humor hinges on impropriety? As we were laughing off his risqué remarks and indecent innuendo, were we also lowering our bar for such behaviour in real life? Did House’s raw and racy rhetoric cross over into reality? Do we now live in the house that House helped build?
(1) Who’s Your Daddy? is the penultimate episode of season 2. It was directed by Martha Mitchell and first aired on 16 May 2006.
(2) House delivers a short diatribe against patriotism in Risky Business. It is the fourth episode of the eighth season, was directed by Sanford Bookstaver and first aired on 31 October 2011.
This video essay includes video and audio clips from exactly 46 different episodes of
House M.D. [television series] Created by David Shore. Shore Z Productions et al., USA, 2004-2012.
Most of the music used was composed by Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka for the House M.D. television series. In addition, these tracks were used: