Sunday, February 24, 2008

TV: The strong and the weak

"Bitches get stuff done!" exclaimed Tina Fey on her triumphant return to Saturday Night Live last night. Fey, the headwriter who returned the series to glory and then left to star in and write 30 Rock, was back as the host. Friends with the show were begging us to review the broadcast ("or at least note it") because this is the return of Saturday Night Live after the long hiatus due to the writers strike and is the first of four Saturdays of live Saturday Night Live. As noted, we are accused of being "Tinasters" so we agreed we could work it into today's commentary somewhere, probably at the end, maybe higher up due to the planned opening sketch.

But we'd mention it gladly. As Bambi Haggins observes in "Funny Women Are Finally Back On TV and Revitalizing The Sitcom" (Ms. magazine's winter 2008 edition, on sale now, pp. 52 -54), "The very existence of Fey -- formerly Saturday Night Live's head writer and now creator/writer/star of the Emmy-winning 30 Rock -- encourages other young women to try their hand at television comedy. I must confess I share a kinship with these future funny women, along with a not-so-secret desire: When I grow up, I too want to be Tina Fey."

What a friend at Mad TV wanted was for Tina to fall flat on her face. "She didn't do sketches," he declared meaning that Fey wasn't really an actress among the cast while with Saturday Night Live, "so she's going to fall flat on her face trying to do them now."

That was his hope and one dependent upon ignoring the acting Fey demonstrated in Mean Girls (which she wrote) or each week on 30 Rock. She wrote funny but in terms of being on air herself, Fey mainly handled the anchoring duties for Weekend Update (originally with Jimmy Fallon, later with Amy Poehler). It was no surprise that she'd have a strong bit on Weekend Update last night. Brought on to discuss "Women's News," Fey offered the humorous riffs on news and popular gossip topics and, from the first head tilt reaction to a Lindsay Lohan joke that didn't get as much of a laugh as might be expected, had the audience eating out of her hands. The last section of her segment focused on Hillary Clinton: "We have our first serious female candidate in Hillary." She noted that some people don't like Hillary and "women today feel perfectly" comfortable making "whatever choice Oprah tells them too." Before the laughs died down, Fey was explaining how Hillary's called a "bitch" by some and making the obvious point, "Bitches get stuff done." It was an important point and one that was well received.

It's also one that needs to be made. Now more than ever, you could say and should say at a time when the left has taken to so demonizing Hillary Clinton online that they use the term "c**t" to describe her. Of course, that description tickled Smut Merchant Matthew Rothschild to pieces. Sadly, last week also saw a site run by a woman (Maryscott O'Connor's My Left Wing) allow a man to post a lengthy, trashy and sexist post on what a "c**t" Hillary Clinton allegedly is. How proud Maryscott O'Connor must be of herself and what a (bad) example she sets for all other women -- today and in the future.

Friday's NOW on PBS offered Maria Hinojosa speaking with Letty Cottin Pogrebin and her daughter Abigail Pogrebin. Letty Cottin Pogrebin not only helped found Ms. magazine, she wrote a seminal article for the magazine: "Have You Ever Supported Equal Pay, Child Care, or Women's Groups? The FBI Was Watching You." It's an often overlooked fact of history that among the groups spied on by the FBI was the feminist movement and, outside of Ruth Rosen, it's been years since we've heard anyone talk about how the FBI spent more time and money spying on the feminist movement than they did spying on other movements such as the Black Panther movement. It's one of those details not judged as 'important' because, what the hell, we're only talking about all women, right? And how important can they be?

That's the same attitude that's allowed many women to take part in the trashing of Hillary Clinton. The PBS segment didn't focus on that. Instead it focused on how mother and daughter are in different camps on the issue of who to support for president in the Democratic primary. Letty's supporting Hillary and Abigail is supporting Barack. Letty, as sweet as she is wise, tried to put a happy face on the split by stating that it was proof of the power of the women's movement that women were free to make their own decisions.

Love Letty though we do, we beg to differ. We think it's important not only for feminists to make decisions but also for them to make informed decisions. And we think it's a failure of the women's movement that certain facts are not addressed or widely known.

We've long noted Barack Obama's use of homophobia in South Carolina and, for any still confused, no feminist supports the use of homophobia. Those who are supporting Barack Obama and claiming they are feminists need to step up to the plate and explain why they've been silent on his use of homophobia. Maybe they'd argue that lesbians and gays, like all women?, just don't matter? Maybe they'd explain away their silence by declaring that it had nothing to do with their own lives? If it's the latter, feminism has always been about the lives of all.

The women's movement has failed to hold accountable liars of their own gender. On Super Duper Tuesday, Laura Flanders wrote a rebuke to Robin Morgan's "Goodbye To All That (#2)" (Women's Media Center) that repeated lies and distortions about the women's movement in the United States. Now with her recent commentary on KPFA about George McGovern, Flanders ripped off one of us (C.I.). We have no idea who she ripped off for her lies about the feminist movement but the truth is, Flanders not only wasn't in the United States during the period she's commenting on, she also wasn't even old enough to have followed it from Europe. What she did was what she does best, pretend to be speaking reluctantly while tarring and smearing. Flanders' ass should have been called out loudly by feminists. When we asked one NYC feminist (where Flanders is based) why she wasn't, the reply was, "Well, she's a lesbian and maybe she sees things differently." That's not a pass we're willing to give a woman who ignored the use of homophobia by Barack Obama.

The women's movement has been highly ineffective throughout this campaign season. Gloria Steinem's strong and powerful "Women Are Never Front-Runners" (New York Times) led to Barack supporters tarring and feathering Steinem as a racist. It was and is a false charge. Women who were 'amused' by it (such as Katha Pollitt and Nickled and Dimed "Stab") shouldn't be considered feminists anymore or even 'friends of.'

A lesser offense, but an offense none the less, was Kim Gandy and the national NOW feeling the need to disassociate themselves from press releases issued by the NYC chapter of NOW. Considering that the press repeats as truth (it's not true) that NOW (national) endorsed Hillary Clinton and Gandy's not up in arms correcting that (she should be, NOW can't endorse anyone without risking their tax status, NOW PAC endorsed Hillary), the rush to say, "We're not NYC NOW!" was disgraceful. There was no reason for Gandy to get invovled with what a local chapter did. There was no need for NOW national to issue a press release.

What did NYC NOW do? They acted like feminists. Real feminists. Loud feminists. Proud feminists. They didn't back down. They called it like they saw it and, whether you agreed with their call or not, there was no denying that they were embodying a living feminism at a time when many others played timid and scared.

Look at some of their press releases and you'll quickly see that while feminism is too often treated as a dying ember -- one that means we must all not do or say anything too strong because it might cause the ember to die out; NYC NOW hasn't played that game. They've lived feminism and living it is the only way it stays alive.

Maria Hinojosa's segment of NOW on PBS wasn't about life. It was dead on arrival. It was the sort of thing Charles Kuralt made a name for himself with. It played like a video broadcast of True Confessions. We watched in shock waiting for someone, anyone (Abigail is exempted because she supports Barack and may not be aware of it) to bring up the record Hillary Clinton has on women's rights and issues. It never was brought up.

Last week, a breast cancer survivor posted "My Right Breast, Michigan Healthcare and the Presidential Primaries" (No Quarter). The survivor, while recovering, began checking out both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's statements and plans for health care and found one candidate sharing her concern and another not. Maybe when he can find a pretty and convincing way to speak of breast cancer -- a disease that took his own mother's life -- he may have something to say? Breast cancer is very much a woman's issue and as more and more studies find that where you live, what regions of the country, puts you at greater risk of whether or not you develop breast cancer [see Francesca Lyman's "The Geography of Breast Cancer" (Ms. magazine)], it has also become an environmental issue. The breast cancer survivor concluded her post with this:

In the end, the differences were clear one candidate’s solutions were concrete and specific. The other candidate relies on employers to pass on the savings for reduced healthcare premiums to employees and challenges the medical system to fix it’s own inequities instead of coming up with a plan to address them. Based on what I have learned, I donated money to the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton.

That is one of many issues directly effecting women that Hillary Clinton is stronger on though we're sure Laura Flanders would trot out the usual lie she falls back on whenever Hillary has a strength which is "there's no difference between them." There is one area and only one area where there is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- neither pledges to end the illegal war. (Barack's statements are about "combat" troops only -- and are dealt with elsewhere this edition.)

That a segment, on PBS no less, wanted to deal with a family split on the candidates, a split between two feminists, but didn't think to offer up where the candidates stand in terms of women was at first shocking and then became appalling as we realized the segment was over without the issue ever being raised.

That issue hasn't been raised. Instead we've gotten lies from the likes of Katha Pollitt that "both would probably be equally good on women's rights, abortion rights and judicial appointments." Barack voted "present" in the Illinois legislature on the issue of abortion and the rights for sexual abuse victims. The spin has been loud and fierce stating that Planned Parenthood wanted him to vote "present" and so did the local NOW chapter. Reality is that the local NOW chapter can be seen as a feminist organization and they were, despite lies to the contrary, opposed to the "present" vote. Planned Parenthood has historical roots but it is a medical organization, it is not a feminist organization. (The country is pro-choice and that's a good thing. But extrapolating that being pro-choice means being a feminist is a dangerous leap to make.)

Records, not pretty speeches, is how you judge a candidate. Barack Obama elected to leave no record on abortion rights. Lies -- such as from the Liar claiming to speak for the Chicago chapter of NOW when she wasn't even a member of the organization when the present votes were being taken -- can confuse some but they cannot alter reality, only perceptions.

The issue of holding Hillary Clinton to a standard but having none for Barack Obama was addressed on last week's To The Contrary (PBS) and the comments by Irene Natividad should be heeded by the press.

Ah, yes, the press. In a surprisingly strong return, Saturday Night Live opened with a must-watch segment parodying the Austin debate last week between Hillary and Barack -- or, rather, parodying the press. It was hilarious and greeted with tremendous laughter -- we hope the laughter came both from the funny lines (and movements) as well as from the observations because this was observational humor at its best.

Playing Campbell Brown, Kristen Wiig captured fanatical devotion long before declaring that she and the panelists were "totally in the tank for Obama." She explained that CNN's "John King" had just "suffered his third Barack-attack" and "Jorge Ramos" got the opening question, which was long-winded (again, observational and true humor) before getting to the point: "Are you comfortable and is there anything we can get for you?" That question went to Obama (surprisingly well played by Fred Armisen). "John King" got the follow-up and, after apologizing for his lengthy note and being parked outside Obama's car, wanted to know of Obama, "Are you sure" you're comfortable?

"Obama" would go on to applaud the chorus he hears from the media ("I'm hearing the same sentiment from everyone") that, as he put it, "Yes, you can. They're saying, 'Yes we can take sides! Yes, we can!'" We laughed loudly but doubted the press corp was laughing.

The skit included humor aimed at Hillary as well but that wasn't well handled and goes to the fact that Amy Poehler plays every character the same. She uses the same mannerisms for Weekend Update that she does for any character she plays including Britney Spears. There is no character, only Poehler acting goofy. She played Hillary mainly due to the fact that SNL really doesn't have female cast members this year. 8 of the regulars are men, two are women. Someone thought that was the way to cast? Someone thought that you could capture and parody a week in the US with a top-heavy cast of men?

While the acting was weak in that aspect, the writing was strong and Wiig managed to save the moment the sketch built up to, when CNN went to what Wiig, as Campbell Brown, informed us was an average citizen picked totally at random to ask a question: Obama Girl.

She sang her song while "Campbell," "John" and "Jorge" got lost in the groove. At the end, "Hillary" noted the selection didn't see random and asked where the question was? "Campbell" flew up in arms telling "Hillary" that Obama Girl had not finished, accused "Hillary" of assorted things and told "Hillary" that she owed Obama Girl and America "an Obama-apology."

The skit perfectly captured what passed for journalism from Real Media and also could be applied to Panhandle Media as well. And if you doubted that, you should have checked "Hillary" reacting to "Barack" touching her.

That skit brought home what none of your gas bags -- in Real or Panhandle Media -- bothered to note of the debate: Barack disrespected Hillary. She is not a "girl" on the campaign trail. She is a US Senator running for president and damn well better be treated as such. When the field was more crowded, Barack never felt the need to invade the space of Bill Richards or John Edwards or Chris Dodd or . . . Get the point? Hillary was making strong remarks and there was Barack invading her personal space and sending the message that HE THINKS a woman needs 'comforting' or 'humored' or 'reassured.' Hillary is a candidate and a senator. Someone tell Barack Obama to keep his mitts off her. It was a degrading moment and an offensive one. You didn't hear about it because the male mind set didn't want you to. They saw it as 'touching.' It was inappropriate touching and an attempt at scene stealing that even Joan Collins would have been reluctant to go for. In one skit, SNL offered you more useful commentary about the debate than all the hours and pages from Real and Panhandle Media last week.

Other sketches on the broadcast included a new medication that could reduce your period to once a year. ("Your"? We're doing like the male writers do and making our own gender universal, live with it. Don't worry, though, there will be no "and then at the big game, I learned, as we all have . . ." crap in our commentaries.) There was a reality based contest where Poison's "Brett Michaels" selected the sleazes of his dreams. A funny short involving the strongest current cast member (Andy Samberg) and a lot more. Forget the "for a hastily pulled together" qualifier, it was a strong show (and Poehler was strong during Weekend Update).

What wasn't strong was what preceeded it (interrupted by local news). We'd just landed when a friend at NBC called yesterday and asked, "Are you really going to review a cartoon this weekend?" No, we weren't but only because we'd forgotten to ask that TiVo be set. (We were in the air Saturday morning and not near a TV.) Then, he suggested, we should review the two-hour Night Rider. We were reeling from the thought that times were so tough due to the writers strike that NBC was putting on a two-hour concert by the one-hit wonders famous for "Sister Christian." Fortunately, that time hasn't come. He meant the TV movie/pilot for an update of Knight Rider, an eighties TV series that neither of us has ever felt the need to watch. We were about to pass on his kind offer (he stated that he could get a copy of the show to us) when he explained that the problems NBC had with Bionic Woman weren't "in this show." Right away, we were curious.

We didn't expect to see anything different because the two were filmed at the same time. We did expect to find out how much NBC hates women. He was telling the truth. The two-hour pilot wasn't as offensive as Bionic Woman. In that series, a strong woman was reduced to a simpering fool with both Daddy issues and a Mommy complex. In fact, it was so awful that they had to create a "kid sister" for Jamie to look after. If you don't get how offensive that is, you don't remember or know what went down on Shirley's World in the early seventies. To make that show, Shirley MacLaine had to go up against a great deal including the edict that her roving correspondent character (also named Shirley) should look over an orphanage to "humanize" the character. Otherwise, Sheldon Leonard explained, the character would be seen as 'too strong' and the audience would reject her.

Knight Rider offered no "kid sisters" or "orphans" in two hours. It mainly demonstrated that NBC could return somewhat to their nineties attitude where women were at least acknowledged in dramas if not starred in them. Early on, we grasped that Sarah (Deanna Russo) was not, despite being in the computerized talking car, going to be the new "Knight Rider." When we saw Mike (Justin Bruening) in bed (didn't really see his body, not even his chest -- the camera appeared skittish, in fact) with one woman while his male roomate attempted to alert him to angry visitors, we suspected he would be the new Knight Rider and we knew it for a fact when, seconds later, another scantily clad woman climbed in bed with Mike and the woman already in his bed.

The "bed scene" was how the NBC friend had mentioned that. He didn't tell us Knight Rider was in it, he just advised to wait and see on one "bed scene" because there was another one which, we'd see, proved that it wasn't just a "tits and ass" pilot. We waited. There was Sydney Tamiia Poitier (an actress so talented that famous relatives need not be mentioned when noting her) on the beach with the camera work providing lots of T & A long before she stepped under the outside shower. (Where, of course, the T & A continued.) She then steps inside her beach house and we're guessing we were supposed to be thrilled that she had a conquest in bed as well. It was another woman and, like we said, NBC seems intent to demonstrate that they can go back to the 90s in terms of today. (For visitors, NBC has been one of the worst offenders when it comes to portrayals of women this decade. The 90s were a better time for female characters at NBC. This decade found them trying to ape ABC and CBS and sinking lower than even those two networks did.) What did the scene say?

We thought very little. But for an African-American actress to get a role of prominence, we were willing to wait until the thing ended to make a judgement. In a scene following a shooting, near the end, Poitier's Carrie will be left with nothing to do but crouch by a corpse while everyone else -- the good and the bad -- rushes off. We remembered that Carrie was an FBI agent but wondered if the director and writers had forgotten?

The bad guys were with Black River. Mike explains that they are a "private security firm. I spent time with some of their men in Iraq. They're just after the money." Yes, you are supposed to think of the mercenaries of Blackwater. And we'll give it credit for that.

We'll even give it credit for the fact that Carrie's a lesbian despite the fact that, while Mike rolled around in bed with two women, we never saw anything similar between Carrie and her unnamed lover. We're told that the original Knight Rider featured only one female on the team ("team" -- think of it as the pit crew, the man always drives in these shows because there's apparently something desirable in seeing a man grab and stroke a stick shift as if it were a penis), two women were on the team today (Carrie and Sarah). But in the end, it's still true that while cheesecake was on non-stop display, we never saw Paris, we never saw France, we never saw Justin Bruening clearly in his underpants. And, considering his female and male daytime following, that might have been the only thing that could have made the show a hit. See, in the 90s, NBC would have grasped that fact.

They also would have found a little more for the women to do because, as Tina Fey noted, "Bitches get things done." The shy and the timid do not. Nor do idiots as the Village Idiot of the Water Cooler Set (falsely called a 'feminist' by some) demonstrated when she took time out to praise the female bashing Jericho. Yes, that would be the Idiot Bellafante who could marvel of that tired crap in last week's New York Times, "The series reminds us that people are people no matter what happens, that epic tragedy doesn't get a man to stop cheating on his wife, or the woman he's been dallying with to wonder why he hasn't separated. This feels like both folly and truth." She sounds like both folly and fool. At this late date, it should occur to even the Idiot Bellafante that a show that reduces women to props in need of rescue is nothing to blather on about. But there she is blathering on about a do-nothing, New Age female and praising the "progressive softening" of her character.

Yeah, Idiot Bellafante, that's what America needs right now, half-baked female loons who go on to be 'softened.' No, "Bitches get things done." It's a point that today's feminist movement needs to grasp and grasp quickly.

For some strange reason, a male candidate who has promised women voters nothing has garnered a sizeable number of endorsements from women. It's disgusting that this has happened while the female candidate's own accomplishments have been ridiculed, reduced and dismissed -- a female candidate who actually is aware of women's issues. Should Barack Obama get the nomination, exactly what do the "Feminists" for Barack plan to do next?

Katha Pollitt, The Banshee of The Trivial, usually shows up each presidential election year, shortly after the summer conventions, to bemoan that the Democratic candidate is ignoring women voters. Since she has a very sleight catalogue which she insists on regularly recycling, chances are she'll try to again pass that column off as 'new' this year. If and when she does, feminists need to remember that it was women like Pollitt who not only refused to make demands during the primary but also elected to go with the candidate with no record on women's issues while ignoring Hillary Clinton's very real record. Bitches get things done. The sad state of today's women's movement goes to the fact that there's too much 'niceness' and not enough fire.
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