Sunday, March 11, 2012

TV: Exploring offensive

If you wanted to find the most offensive network, we think the easy choice would be NBC. No, we're not referring to Brian Williams attempting to sing along with "Super Freak" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last Monday. That was certainly scary, but we're not willing to call it offensive.


We think about that a lot, "offensive." In part because we saw a silly not-to-be-taken-seriously sitcom named Work It and didn't join in with NOW, GLAAD and other 'critics' in screaming our heads off about what an insult it was to transgendered people or transvestites. We didn't sing in that chorus mainly because there were no transgendered or transvestites characters on the TV show. Unlike NOW, for example, we didn't worry that the audience might confuse two straight men dressing up as women to hold down jobs with two transvestites or two transsexuals. We were focused on serious issues -- like NPR's exclusion of women when they provide live news (primary) coverage.

A few weeks later, we revisited the terrain to note that GLAAD had been happy to call out Work It (which hadn't exhibited homophobia) but refused to call out Tina Fey's longstanding homophobia on 30 Rock (which at that point had just included making homophobes lovable). GLAAD is useless. Every studio in California knows, if they come after you, make a donation and they go away.

They're seen as less of a political organization and more of a shake-down firm. So if, for example, you've got a Mel Gibson film shooting and your membership is angry about Mel's homophobia, you call up the studio pretending to be outraged, they offer some of your leadership intern positions on Mel's movie and instantly you're vouching for Mel's kind heart to the media.

NOW, however, is something we took seriously until 2008. We'd like to take it seriously again. But they make it so hard. Since their 'media criticism' of Work It (nothing written gave any indication that they ever watched an episode of the show), they've offered only one other media criticism: They roused themselves to call out Rush Limbaugh for calling a woman a slut. Sorry, gals, that's really not media criticism.

Media criticism would be calling out efforts to portray a teacher sleeping with a middle school student as an acceptable, first-step in a long-running and loving relationship.

Now we're feminists and we offer a feminist view. Not "the feminist view." Because there are many opinions and stances and frameworks in feminism. But we kind of thought everyone was in agreement that statutory rape of a 12-year-old child was wrong and that you didn't try to redeem the rapist.

TV has often pretended rape was just another part of courtship. Most infamously, in 1979 on General Hospital, Luke (Anthony Geary) raped Laura (Genie Francis) and, shortly after, they became the soap opera super couple Luke & Laura. In real time, Leslie Charleson (who played Monica) spoke out publicly against the love storyline and the romanticizing of rape. Her 'reward' for standing up? Then-producer Gloria Monty shoved Charleson's character into the background as retaliation. No women's group rushed to support Charleson. Which might explain why the show would wait until 1998 before it would try to get honest about the rape.

30 Rock has offered nothing but one-dimensional and stereotypical gay characters while using homophobia as a joke (and, yes, the term "gay" as a punchline). It's history on rape is no better. Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) called out 30 Rock's season five debut noting it portraying rape as a laughing matter -- not once, not twice, but three times. We only caught one in real time (she's correct, it was three) but we did and do hold Tina Fey accountable for writing the episode. She's actually accountable for all the episodes whether she writes them or not. She can -- and has -- killed storylines, scenes and jokes. She's the creator, the star and an executive producer of the show.

Apparently she and many others were so giddy at the prospect of faded celebrity Susan Sarandon appearing on the show that they didn't think about the storyline they'd created for her? Or maybe they just didn't care?

By the way, did you ever hear the one about a roll of film? Child of a famous actress. A roll of film with the child on it. A roll of film the drugstore returned to a couple because the store would have to call the authorities if they developed it? Gore Vidal thought he was being coy when he worked it into an essay as a blind item but everyone knew exactly who he was writing about.

Tracey Wigfield wrote season five's "Queen of Jordan" where Sue plays Frank's former teacher Lynn Onkman, just released from prison. Why did she go to prison? Because she, an adult, slept with a middle school student (Frank).

Entertainment Weekly gushed, "Susan Sarandon guested as Lynn Onkman (Former Educator, Sex Offender). In this Mary Kay Letourneau-style story, Onkman fell in love with Frank R. during a scoliosis test. And the rest, as they say, is history a felony. When Lynn realized Frank was still the eighth grade boy she fell in love with, she began to rethink her feelings. Cue Frank R. dropping all of his toys into a deep fryer. Now that’s true love."

No, that's truly sick. And considering that females are more likely than males to be the victims of asault, it's very sad that any actress would go along with that storyline or that it would come from a show where the creative 'genius' was a woman.

Having gotten away with it once, you might have thought 30 Rock would avoid revisiting the offensive storyline again but that would be crediting Tina Fey with far more taste than she has. Which is why, March 1st, Sue returned to 30 Rock in "Alexis Goodlooking and the Case of the Missing Whisky" (written by John Riggi). Lynn was back and, it turns out, in a hot and heavy relationship with Frank that had been going on since her previous appearance. When called (rightly) a "pedophile," Lynn explains, "We prefer the term adult-a-phobe." CNN chose to use a photo of Frank and Lynn on bed together with the headline "30 Rock: A love like meatballs" for a lengthy post (by Mary Cella) that never addressed the issue of selling rape as love.

So there you have it, 30 Rock providing viewers with the message that victims fall in love with their rapists and that rapists love their victims. And adult teacher Lynn deciding to sleep with 12-year-old Frank? Perfectly normal. You sort of picture prison visits with sex offenders resulting in the imprisoned citing episodes of 30 Rock to explain just how 'misunderstood' they are. Maybe they too can be interviewed by Matt Bai and have a sympathetic portrayal in The New York Times Sunday Magazine?

What they haven't been, what they won't be, is called out by NOW.

NOW did call out Rush Limbaugh. And reading that 'alert,' we found ourselves agreeing with Margaret Kimberley (Black Agenda Report):

Rush Limbaugh, a man who would have to have been invented if he didn’t exist, called law student Sandra Fluke, a “slut” and a “whore” after she testified in favor of religious institutions being required to include contraception in their health care plans. The liberals then lost their collective minds. There was no limit to their ire. One would have thought that Rush Limbaugh was killing Afghan children with drones, or torturing black Libyans, or planning to attack Iran. Of course, Limbaugh has absolutely no power to do any of those things. He is a celebrity, a media personality who advocates the right wing point of view. He is a sexist and a racist, but he has no power to take anyone’s life. That is Barack Obama‘s job.
Obama, like all American presidents, is among the slickest politicians of all time, but he is certainly no fool. He knew that Limbaugh handed him a political gift and he ran with it. Obama personally telephoned the aggrieved young woman while his liberal sycophants demanded that advertisers drop Limbaugh’s program

And reading Elaine's post Friday applauding Fox News' Greta Van Susteren for calling out the vile, misogynist and cruel Louis CK, we were reminded yet again how NOW fails repeatedly. That Louis CK thinks it's okay to call special needs children vile names doesn't surprise us in the least. We've called him out repeatedly here. And we've noticed that NOW never said a damn word about any of his sexist comments. They were silent on
Mad Men, they're silent on 30 Rock . . .

If you strike NOW as a show considered 'cool,' don't worry about a thing, they certainly won't call you out. But feminism is not partisanship, feminism is not whoring for a political party. When we reflect on how NOW's applied media 'criticism,' we think we've found the heart of that which is truly offensive.
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