Sunday, April 22, 2012

TV: Why Revenge resonates

Revenge continues to perplex commentators.  The secret to the ABC series, we're told one moment, to the show's success is that the men are the real lovers on the show.  They care about love.  They act on love.  While the women are ruthless.  Most recently, Emma Gray (Huffington Post) was on stronger ground by attempting to identify three reasons she loved the Wednesday night series.


It's not that complicated.  Revenge's attraction is in the title.  It's interesting that when a number of women write about the show for various publications and websites, they immediately go to the men.  Casting them as draws because they're supposedly into romantic love or some other nonsense.  Even Gray uses one of her top three to praise Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann).

The story is Emily and it's Victoria.  No, this isn't the tired Madonna v. Whore that fills so much entertainment.  Neither woman can be considered "good."

Both women are -- to use the word so many women writers are shying from -- powerful.

Revenge is the perfect show for the person who feels disrespected.  All the more so because the battle is between two people belonging to the most disrespected gender.  So little ever changes that much of what the Marquise de Merteuil writes in her letters (see Less Liaisons dangereuses) still seems likely.  If you're going to do a story about revenge, you need an underdog the audience can identify with and, in the US today, that's women.

Hilary Rosen went on national television to mock stay-at-home mom Ann Romney, to state that she'd "never actually worked a day in her entire life."  (See last week's article if this is news to you.)  Bob Somerby spent the week ignoring the further sexism his friend Bill Maher added to the mix and spent the week referring to the response to Rosen's comments as "silly."

At a time when White Bob Somerby would be hanged in the public square of opinion if he tried to tell African-Americans that they were "silly" to be outraged over some racist comment, it's still a-okay for a man to tell women they're "silly" to be outraged over insults to them.

And while pigs like Somerby and Maher call women's issues "silly," where are the high profile feminists?

Ms. magazine's blog was silent on the whole thing as was Women's Media Center.  And maybe we should be thankful for the silence because the alternative appeared to be whoring.

Newsflash, feminist issues have nothing to do with presidential candidates.  Presidential candidates come and go.  Feminism is about equality for women.  Housework?  It's a political issue.  Raising children?  It's a political issue.  Last week saw a few women and a few men (more men than women) rush to tell you what Mitt Romney wanted to do with stay-at-home mothers on public assistance.

It didn't register at all.

The reason was because it wasn't a discussion of women.  It was attempting to graft an issue onto the presidential campaign.

Now if we'd all been smart, feminists would have seized the discussion two weeks ago.  We would be making the argument that raising children is work.  We'd be making demands regarding childcare and public assistance.  But we have to make those arguments because they matter, because they effect women's lives.  Not because we're trying to elect some man or block another from public office.

In an era when women are the punching bags over and over, verbally and physically, and when feminist leaders silence themselves on our issues out of fear that it might hurt whatever male politician they're supporting, Emily (Emily VanCamp) and Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) own their power and put their needs first.

There's no raise your hand first or wait your turn for these women, they push forward and live like they have a right to.  For Victoria, that's protecting her children and her self.  For Emily, she pushes forward to get revenge (what she considers justice) for what Victoria Grayson's family did to her father (falsely framed him for terrorism leaving her to be raised in foster homes and her father to die a criminal).  These two women who stand up carry the show as they refuse to be sidelined or stopped.

That's very attractive and very seductive in a country where 'liberal' hero Keith Olbermann was able to trash Paris Hilton and call her a "slut."  There was no furious outcry the way there was recently when pig Rush Limbaugh called a woman a "slut.".  The left remained silent.  Publicly silent.  As The Daily Caller revealed in their expose on Journo-List, Olbermann's sexism was discussed privately.   Never called out publicly and the reason for  the silence was best explained by Luke Mitchell who was then with the sexist Harper's magazine, "Olberman is irritating and his obvious sexism is reprehensible. But yes, someone going on TV and saying that torture is bad is a net positive."

There you have the state of women on the left in this century: If someone says torture -- a crime -- is "bad," we overlook all their sexism and their non-stop encouragement of violence against women.

Because, after all, torture's serious and violence against women . . . Well, that's not torture.

It's in that climate that Revenge is embraced.

Or take The Office which lost Steve Carell as its lead.  Who did they toy with as a replacement?  Will Ferrell.  Who became the replacement?  James Spader.  It never occurred to them to cast a woman.

Or take the post of US Ambassador to Iraq.  Barack Obama has just nominated his third person for that post.  Like the other two, it's a man.  There's not even a pretense that Brett McGurk is qualified.  He doesn't speak Arabic, the political slate that won the most votes in the last parliamentary elections is against him and he has no managerial experience but may end up in charge of the State Dept.'s biggest budgeted item: The Iraq mission which has a yearly budget of  6 billion in taxpayer dollars.  If Barack were even half the things his Cult insisted while they trashed and cursed Hillary Clinton, he would have asked Ann Wright to head the Baghdad Embassy.  (Wright is a retired US Army Colonel and she went on to serve in the State Department for over 15 years.  She resigned from the State Dept ahead of the start of the Iraq War and in protest of that war.)

Sadly, we could go on and on.

It's that bad.

And that's why  Revenge is popular.

Emily has power.  Victoria has power.  Both use it and both abuse it.  Victoria fears Emily is a younger her and she's probably right.  If Emily continues down the path she's on, she will become Victoria.

But if Emily doesn't continue down that road, there's no series.

Emily was born Amanda Clarke.  Her father, David, fell in love with Victoria.  Victoria reciprocated to a degree.  David had money.  But not enough for her to leave her husband Conrad Grayson.  Not enough for her to refuse to frame David for terrorism when Conrad would otherwise be arrested.

Her father was sent to prison and died.  Now Amanda's Emily Thorne and she's back for revenge.  In Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, this story was told using a commoner wrongly convicted due to lies as well as the social caste system.  That system's largely vanished in most modern societies with one exception: gender. 

Gender allows women and men to root for what they relate to while thinking it's just about a character.  By utilizing gender, the show (intentionally or not) sends a message that registers.

Emily is the Hillary Clinton speech that became the t-shirt, "For everyone who’s ever been counted out but refused to be knocked out and for everyone who works hard but never gives up, this one is for you!" And if real change -- or even the faux change of the last four years -- frightens you, there's Victoria, defending what she has, fighting to maintain her status quo.

These are the elements the show plays with and these are the elements that register with viewers.  It's why some respond gleefully when Amanda takes down, for example, the prosecutor who knew her father wasn't getting a fair deal.  It's why another group identifies more strongly with Victoria and, in fact, applauds her for having her son Daniel beaten up because it's the only way the judge will agree to bail.   She does what she does, they would tell you, for the greater good.  Daniel in prison is at risk every day so better to hire some people to beat him up and force the judge to realize he's at risk and release him on bail and house arrest.

It registers with the worker coming home from another day of worrying that lay-offs are just around the corner.  It registers with those outraged at the silence over the drone wars. It registers with those who refuse to stop fighting for marriage equality.

It especially registers with those outraged at the White House definition of self-determination: Find a tiny subgroup in a country, arm them, train them, back them up with drones and bombing and maybe foot soldiers because everyone has a right to self-determination, everyone that agrees with us. In a country where violating the Constitution and lying to the country no longer means impeachment, when checks and balances are tossed out the window, where those who drove the economy into the ground continue to get big bonuses, accountability is longed for.

Television is the pulse of the nation.  In the 70s, The Mary Tyler Moore Show embodied the desires of some (women and men) to see female advancement and reassured those who were unsure or hostile that a modern woman was still the girl next door, M*A*S*H spoke to America's need to deal with Vietnam despite the government's refusal to address it. (Yes, M*A*S*H was set in the Korean War.  No, that didn't matter.)  As the decade closed, Dallas embraced the unbridled greed running through the country.  Dynasty overtook it as the nation began to see the limitations to wealth (chief among them, that no one would achieve it), Knots Landing survived because upper middle class suddenly seemed more attainable -- if only in daydreams -- than massive weatlh and as the economy collapsed, you had Roseanne and Melrose PlaceRoseanne revolving around a working class family, Melrose Place took the glitzy night time soap opera away from the oil industry and to an apartment complex off Los Angeles' Melrose Avenue.  Two years later, Friends arrives and becomes a massive hit at a time when the press is writing about adult children returning home or college graduates deciding to keep roommates and how this is normal and in societies like Japan . . . .

Television is the pulse of the nation and currently much of the nation is splintered.  Victoria represents one section, Emily represents another.   That's what makes for a TV show that resonates.


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