Sunday, December 11, 2005

TV: We're losing ground and now is not the time for silence


It's the holidays and things are a little lighter. Which strikes your two TV critics as the perfect time to focus on the tough issues. When candy corn is abundance, we'll serve up the vegetables (steamed) to those wanting something a little more than sugar in their diet.

We take a feminist look at TV shows in our reviews. If we're commenting on a man's weight, read on and you'll find the point made that a woman's not given the same wide berth on TV. She has to fit into the same cookie cutter mode. Actually, it's a smaller mode these days. What you see on the big three networks? It's a smaller mode than what you would have seen in the seventies. You see less color in the choice of leads, you see less empowerment in the women in leading roles, you see . . . Let's be honest, you see boobs. Lots and lots of boobs.

You see them peaking, you see them sporting, but you see them.

Now T&A TV didn't begin with Alias or any other recent show. In the seventies, Charlie's Angels was dubbed T&A TV. (Though it didn't begin there either.) While it's true that the original three actresses, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith, were beautiful women, it's also true that, like the superstar models of that period Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, they didn't look starved. Farrah Fawcett looked athletic. And no one was threatened by that.

So to take the example of a hit show then, one dubbed T&A TV, and then look at some of the hits today is to be pretty disappointed.

What's far more disappointing is that feminist criticism, or what we're assuming passes for it these days, seems to think that a woman in the lead, surrounded by men, is somehow the cause for cheers. It doesn't matter, for instance, that they're willing to risk a war (Commander-in-Chief) that could lead to many dying on both sides, the fact that a woman's threatening war is considered a break through! Breathlessly documented as such.

Or let's take another TV show passed off as must-see for women viewers: Veronica Mars. As they breathlessly report each and every plot twist, do our feminist critics ever absorb what they're seeing? The show gets points, from some, for the fact that two African-Americans are billed in the credits. Now you hardly ever see those characters most episodes other than in the credits. But just the fact that they're in the credits is supposed to mean that the show is inclusive, according to some.

Just like Veronica Mars herself is supposed to be a feminist statement even though she's always hanging with the boys. Her mother's out of the picture (we won't bother you with that messy story, but you can check out our earlier review of the show if you're interested in it), the only woman she apparently wanted to hang with died long ago, she stands for the boys and with the boys, episode afte episode.

That's feminism?

How about this. Her boyfriend? He raped her. But he didn't. For a full season she claimed she raped her. But she wasn't.

Let's be clear here, this wasn't just her old boyfriend that turned out to be the "rapist", this is her current boyfriend. He's also got an ex-girlfriend who's pregnant. That issue doesn't bother Veronica too much.

But when you can tie a pretty bow around a character thinking she was raped, why should it?

"Oh, she was drugged!"

Waking up alone, after the boy freaks because he thinks he's slept with her sister, because of that, it's revealed to viewers finally, she goes a full season thinking she's raped.

That raises a number of issues. When was Veronica sure of what happened? (For all we know she's not sure now.) Since Veronica spent a full season last year until the cliffhanger, convinced she was raped -- what message does that send?

Not just the fact that while she thought she was raped, she was hanging around with the crowd of men that included one man suspected of raping her. (The show's confusing so let's explain that one of the plot points last year was "Who raped me!")

They build a sub-plot the whole year around the fact that she was raped and then sweep the whole thing under the covers with "Oh she was just drugged. Duncan freaked and split and like she totally woke up alone after and so it was just so freaky and all so like she thinks she was raped but, weird, man, she wasn't."

Was she raped or not? There are larger issues here about the drugging (beyond the show's tidy answer).

But more importantly, what message is that sending?

Let's table that for a moment to note Joss Whedon's remarks in October of this year (when the first season was released on DVD) because not everyone at the show is thrilled with Whedon's endorsement. The friend who called one of us (C.I.) to point out the Luna moment (Diane Keaton, Sleeper) stated we should note the great "feminist" Joss Whedon's review:

Last year, Veronica Mars' best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV, collected on DVD in Veronica Mars: The Complete First Season.

Why note Joss other than to pick a part his review? (The friend was being sarcastic when he referred to Joss as a "feminist" by the way). Because that's actually how the claim of rape and then the claim of nonrape was justified by people doing the show: we're a funny show.

Being a funny show, it's apparently important that they provide those humorous storylines and, apparently, nothing's funnier than a woman crying rape when she wasn't raped.

Now Joss' adds "romantic" to the list which right away should mean every feminist that's been holding onto their poster with Joss on it as the face of feminism should tear it down immediately.
That's pretty much it for Joss and his so-called feminism. Those interested in deconstructing his "feminist" take can read the review.

Let's be clear here that we don't think this "I wasn't raped!" ends the rape issue. That's not just because someone at the show's pushing for another "funny twist." (The friend that called thought we were breaking news about a decision that had been made when our earlier commentary addressed Veronica being involved with her "rapist." We weren't. We were going by a report from a friend who filmed a guest shot on the series this season.) So if they decide to go for another "funny" or "romantic" twist and it turns out Veronica once again thinks she's raped, that may be an issue for some then. We're surprised that a drugged out teenage female is supposed to be seen as comptent to consent to sex at the time it happened.

That's certainly a "message" worth exploring. And certainly people could debate what impact the rapist/not rapists's popularity in her own crowd helped impact her decision as she 'rethought' her claim?

But we're not going to delve into that.

What we're going to focus on is that she was marketed as a rape victim.

Rob Owen, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last February was helping to market that strategy. (He's not the only one and this isn't laugh at Rob Owen or anyone else. The show marketed this. The people behind the show.) Owen noted Veronica's "ability to adapt to the hand life's dealt her" and that "[d]espite her sad state in the premiere episode -- friendless, date raped, abandoned by mom, dumped by her boyfriend -- Veronica bounced back."

Again we're not attempting to embarrass Owen. Owen reported what the show was pushing and what they were pushing was Veronica Mars was a strong woman who'd overcome so much including rape! That at last a rape victim wasn't the third or fourth supporting female lead in an ensemble show or that it wasn't a guest star dropping by for a very special episode of 90210, it was the lead character and she was strong! and she would overcome! and she was overcoming!

(Owen might want to check whether or not he transcribed Rob Thomas' quote correctly. One of them is wrong. Owen quoting him or Thomas' own recollection. In Soap Dish, Sally Field doesn't go to a "ball" to be admired, she goes to a "mall.")

Heather Havrilesky, writing in Salon last March, made a long list of what she loved about the show and the character. That included mentioing, not surprisingly, the rape: "I love that she's been through hell -- her friend's death, her mother's disappearance, her mysterious rape -- and she's pissed off about it, but she doesn't have time to wallow." Let's repeat Havrilesky's not lying about a rape. Nor is she bringing up a minor plot point. The "rape" probably shows up in all the coverage of the show because the people behind the show marketed that.

C.I.: We had an all nighter and then some due to my stopping the writing process to do a long reply to an e-mail on feminism. I was supposed to have called my friend at one in the morning my time (and his) because I'd mentioned Ava and I were going to be commenting (again) on this show he's involved with. I didn't do the fact check, with that call, that I should have and will cop to it. I focused on something I thought was more important (for several hours -- and I'd have to think it was important to put everyone involved in putting out these editions on hold while I did the e-mail I did). It was eleven in the morning my time when we finished this edition. I crawled into bed and slept through the ringing phone. When I finally answered it hours later it was my friend explaining we had a mistake in our review. He quickly explained that Duncan didn't rape Veronica. I wasn't bothered by that and made the Luna joke on myself. I was hurrying to get off the phone to call Ava and tell her we needed to do a correction and, I felt, an apology when he asks who I heard from that Duncan raped Veronica? I give him the name of the guest star and he replies he was afraid I'd heard that from ___ and that a decision had been made to "milk" the rape yet again by having it turn out that Veronica was raped. At which point, I asked, "What do you mean she wasn't raped?" and settled in for a long phone conversation.

Ava: C.I. calls me and tells me, "There's news and news. Which do you want first?" I pick what turns out to be that Duncan didn't, by the story's current plot and non-complex view, rape Veronica. I didn't laugh it off as easily as C.I. did in the inital reaction but I didn't see it as the end of the world and said, "Okay, let's work on the correction." Then C.I. says, "It's a little more complicated than that."

To accept today that Veronica Mars wasn't raped, you have to be willing to toss out questions of consent. We're not ruling that issue out. We've raised it and may explore it at a future date. We're also not going to rule out the possibility that at the end of the second season, Veronica may well "realize" that she was raped. We've noted it. Sick minds at work on that show will do with that show whatever they want.

As it stands at the moment, Veronica wasn't raped by Duncan (if you dismiss issues of consent).
Go through message boards for the first season (we went through two but we're told this is true in most places) and what do you read from young women? You read that Veronica's strong and powerful and they usually work in the example of her rape (some type "rape" and some type "date rape").

These young women aren't "wrong." (Qualifier, these young women -- or men of any age or older women. The voices we're referring to present as young woman -- but it's also true, shhhh don't tell, that Veronica Mars' staff also works those message boards; while accusing scorned Joan of Arcadia fans of working the message boards to slam The Ghost Whisperer, friends at CBS say that there were also people paid to post postive notes about the then unyet aired Ghost Whisperer.) The critics and reporters pushing that line were sold it. We don't mean by what they saw on their TV, we mean by the show. In press conferences and interviews, this was seen by those with the show as a marketing point, as a way to raise interest in a program and as a way to demonstrate their "empowerment" cred. (And sold via the staff that posted as young girls on the message board.)

So the public was fooled and critics were fooled. (Count us fooled for accepting that she was raped when we did our review of the show and wrong for, this morning, believing that Duncan was still the rapist.) (But note, we didn't push the show as view worthy either time.) And some will chalk it up to another moment similar to Victoria Principal's Pam stepping out of the shower on Dallas to realize that episodes of Bobby's death and more were "all a dream."

That may be true for some, but it shouldn't be true for feminists. Especially not ones who promoted this show and noted the "rape."

Young women (see qualifier) identified with that plot. They saw Veronica overcoming. She gave them hope last season. Now rape is nothing but a marketing tool. And a fictional victim (ficitional works on several levels) of rape isn't one.

What is the message now because we're confused. Apparently it's "You been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down." ("I Am the Walrus" -- credited to John Lennon & Paul McCartney.) Apparently it's that when TV gives you a leading actress who's supposedly competent and strong and can overcome rape and get on with her life, she's actually not a woman who's been raped. Apparently, since this is one of the few leads to be raped and a first for a show marketed to young woman, we're back to no leads get raped in shows for young women.

Reading one post, via a cache -- use that for the real time posts, and it goes beyond the normal reasons you'd use a cache version, shhh, we can't reveal all the show's staff secrets -- of a young woman (see qualifier) writing of her own rape and how she identified with Veronica and found "strength" from Veronica, we had to wonder what she's supposed to think now? Especially when she wrote about how some people didn't believe her. Let's hope she didn't use Veronica Mars as an example anywhere but online.

Let's hope too that her school isn't populated with any of the 'ironic' commentators that populated Buffy or else she may be spoken of in terms similar to this: "She says she was raped. She's so first season Veronica Mars."

When the only female lead of a show aimed at young women and marketed as a rape victim for it's debut season turns out not to be raped, we're not just back to not having a lead in such a genre who's been raped. We now have a young woman who cried rape where there was none.
That's a message. The show felt the guys were performing better with the audience then they hat expected them to. (The same "logic" that led to the "softening" of Tony Geary's rapist Luke on General Hospital.) So it was decided, while the rape was still being marketed, that Veronica would in fact not be raped.

It's as though the final episode of Joan of Arcadia had a Crying Game twist wherein we found out that Joan was in fact John.

Because the show broke the trust it sought to build with young women.

In doing so the show didn't just fall back into the "logic" of only supporting actresses and guest actresses get raped, it offered a new "message" -- that a rape victim lead isn't raped.

We've gone from an attitude of "I can find strength in Veronica because she proves that you can be strong and still the victim of rape" to apparently "I was raped but Veronica wasn't after saying she was. How do I find strength in that?"

In the original version of this commentary, we took feminist viewers to task for promoting a show where Veronica Mars ended up with her rapist. We were wrong. We were insulted based on faulty information and have no problem copping to that.

We think the facts (or "facts" since the show may change them again) as they stand today are even more damning. Feminists who pushed this show as empowering last season need to be screaming their heads off. Not just because they and the viewers were lied to. (And let's repeat one more time, the show marketed Veronica as a rape victim in publicity and promotion for the show.) Though they should be angry about that. But more importantly, rape's not an issue to "play" with.

And enough victims to this day still find their accusations denied (and themselves attacked). Would this have happened if a woman was running the show? Possibly. Because, as we often point out, a first can be a worst, a woman can be as a bad as any pigheaded man. But if a feminist, a real feminist male or female, was writing this show, rape wouldn't have been "funny."
Presenting Veronica as a "rape victim" and then as "not a rape victim" wouldn't have been done by a feminist.

A feminist would have known the charged environment that still surrounds rape. She, or he, would have realized that if the character had been marketed as a rape victim, that detail was "locked in" because there are way too many doubts that still greet women who are raped.

That's why this is so damaging, the reversal. It's far worse than Veronica dating her rapist. That's offensive. But it's a "plot point" that males never tire of airing.

What's been done here is something news. A supposed strong and competent woman cries rape where there was none. A feminist wouldn't do that in today's climate, in a show marketed to young woman. She, or he, might do it in a play or a film for adults (we don't mean X-rated, we mean geared for an adult audience). She, or he, wouldn't do it in a show geared towards young women.

At a time when rape shield laws aren't just under attack but are publicly ignored, a feminist wouldn't enter into the areana with a show about a high school student, one geared to young viewers, and present a storyline where for a full season the young woman claims rape only to learn that it never happened.

When someone objects to a portrayal of race on TV (these days it's just as likely to be a non-portrayal since we've lost so much ground and the big three aren't interested in people of color being cast as leads), you'll hear someone say, "It's just TV." We don't buy that argument. These are the folk tales and fairy tales of our culture. These are the narratives we're sold.

But for those who want to question or quibble that point, let's point out (again) that this show was marketed as "empowering" for young women. (By the people with the show.) And this marketing was picked up by critics, female and male, feminist and non-feminist.

It's time for feminist critics to call the show out. It would be great if all critics did, but for feminists this should be a no-brainer. We saw photos of woman charging rape posted online (and a name and a phone number) in a recent high profile rape case. We saw some in the mainstream media use the excuse that it was online to spread that information.

When rape shield laws are under attack, when "thinkers" such as Camille Paglia dismiss the very concept of date rape, the last thing young women need on this issue is a "plot twist" that tells us the rape victim wasn't raped.

We joke and laugh but we take our responsibility here seriously. (Even if one of us did fail to make a needed phone call. Copped to and owned.) We know that we're providing a feminist critique at a time when most have "moved on." We know that "the age of irony" supposedly made such critiques "unneeded." (We don't buy that argument and we also don't buy that irony died post 9/11.) We also take seriously the audience for The Third Estate Sunday Review which includes a number of young families who are struggling and can't afford cable. That's why we spent our reviews that we penned (as opposed to the intial group efforts) focusing on the big three. We reviewed (and slammed) Veronica Mars only when CBS started airing it in the summer. We avoided Fox and UPN and the WB until the summer when we could confirm that long term readers did have those choices. (News flash for some, if you don't have cable you may live an area where you only get the big three.) We've hit hard on covering Friday nights because the young families who read The Third Estate Sunday Review wrote often and early about being in a situation where going to the movies was impossible. They couldn't afford it. Not just a baby sitter, but trying to raise a family in a Bully Boy economy was a difficult task. So they spend many Friday nights at home. (Many other nights as well.)

That's not any failure on their part, it's the economy which continues to do "well" if you're sitting near the top. If you're in the middle or below, there's no good economic news for you despite the headlines in The New York Times. (Nor was The Times' editorial noting the death of free TV good news. Give the paper credit for being one of the few to cover this impending development.)

We also take seriously that they do have young children. So we take on the messages that are being sent. If a show's nothing but sex, we'll note it. We won't condemn it for that. (As our reviews requesting more male flesh will attest.) But we will work it in so that people with children will be warned if it's an issue to them. (Sex was never an issue for us growing up. You can read that as a message to let your children watch anything on broadcast TV or you can see it as a cautionary tale.)

Neither of us now read the e-mails on the reviews. There are too many that are threatening and we don't need the headache or have the time. We will read something that Dona or Jess or Ty insist we read for a reason other than the person is praising a review we wrote or bothered by it. But we do get a summary of the e-mails and we pay close attention to it. What shows haven't we covered that readers want? (Disclosure, we won't say anything bad about David E. Kelley so there's no point in asking for a review of one of his shows. We wouldn't be impartial and the most extreme criticism we'd ever be comfortable leveling would be that Lara Flynn Boyle should have been kept in the cast of what's emerged from The Practice.) We pay attention to the statements of what issues aren't being raised or addressed (by us or others)?

We're not interested in making the TV world "child safe." We are interested in making sure that our readers who are parents have the information to determine whether or not the show we're reviewing is something they'd want their children to watch.

So we are actually more offended by the new "twist" than that Veronica Mars isn't having a relationship with her rapist. That theme is offensive and it's popped up numerous times. But marketing a high school student as a rape victim and then offering "It never happened -- she was wrong" is even more offensive in the current climate.

If a show promotes the notion of rape as some sort of event on the road to courtship or an exteme social mixer, we can demand that it be stopped. What do we demand with Veronica Mars? If we all were on the same page and all expressed our outrage and the show and the network had to respond, it's not as simple as "breaking up" Veronica and her rapist.

We've now got a season where she's raped and a season where she's not.

We could speak out about the "romance" of Luke and Laura. (Something, the rape, the show eventually had to deal with many, many years later.)

When we reviewed Veronica Mars, we pointed out that the rape, the death of her friend and her mother's then presumed death didn't appear to have any impact on her as she went from one group of males to another with extreme pluck.

We didn't buy the marketing of "empowerment." (We did buy the marketing that she was raped when reviewed the show this summer.)

She was never "empowerment." She was daddy's little girl. That's what Veronica Mars still is.
Only now you can add in that she's a woman who falsely cried rape. And in the current context, that's not a message feminist should support.

To that, we're supposed to scream, "Hurray for feminism!"

That bothers us. Especially when we hear crap about how this show is so wonderful for "young females." Maybe if your message to "young females" is "Date your rapist because it turns out he didn't rape you!"

The issue of the rape wasn't addressed in the gushing from some women, old enough to know better, and men over Veronica Mars. Joss Whedon and others felt the fact that it hadn't effected her was somehow powerful. Whedon writes:

At the center of it all is Veronica herself. Bell is most remarkable not for what she brings (warmth, intelligence, and big funny) but for what she leaves out. For all the pathos of her arc, she never begs for our affection. There is a distance to her, a hole in the center of Veronica's persona.

We're biting our tongues to put this as nicely as possible, but unless we're ready to reconfigure the acting attempts of Ali MacGraw as some sort of female counterpoint to the acting attempts of Clint Eastwood, we don't see anything praise worthy in Bell's "hole." As we noted in our review this summer, nothing effects her. She seems completely unaware of what the character she's playing is supposed to have gone through. That's superficial line reading mistaking itself for acting.

As some of you push that show as a strong choice, a recommended one, for young women in their formative years, ask yourself how you justify the rape ("rape") storyline in the current climate that women are living in.

We see that as neither empowering nor healthy.

We see it conveying that "the woman really wanted it" and only cried "rape" afterward because the male she had sex with vanished/split. (A rather extreme reaction to no post-coital cuddling.) That is the point of that storyline and we're not going to kid (whether tomorrow the "great brain" behind it decides Veronica was once again raped or not).

When we offer our opinions here, we're usually going against the grain. That's because we don't buy into the hype. We're not evaluating what's "hot" at the mythical water cooler, or what "conventional wisdom" screams you should notice in a "Don't look behind the curtain!" kind of way.

So when we look at a "family sitcom," we do notice that yet another emanciated (not emancipated!) young actress has been cast in a role while the "sons" are allowed to be as stocky or overweight as they want to be. Maybe that's because wardrobe's not handing the guys plunging necklines?

We've got nothing against plunging necklines in and of themselves. We just don't see them as a mandatory wardrobe. We've praised Charmed for its message of women's empowerment and for the fact that three female leads control their own lives (and impact the world around them). The women of Charmed aren't wearing habits or burkas. We're under no illusion that they aren't seen as eye candy by some viewers. But Charmed hasn't been afraid to parade male flesh either. (Julian McMahon to cite but one example.)

If anyone slobbering over Desperate Housewives can't grasp the point, Charmed's featured healthy does of Antonio Sabato Jr., McMahon, Kerr Smith and more. (We're hoping Ivan Sergei will sport some skin.) Those aren't boxy men, waists spilling over their Dockers, standing next to twigs possessing unbelievable breasts that spill out of their blouses.

Nor do the women of Charmed fulfill the fantasies of uptight, Republican men. They're not hidden away from the world in their little enclave where they backbite and wait for something to happen. They're not laughable characters. In fact, in real life, they're the targets of the 'vangicals. That's due to the fact that the women do have a sex life, that they're witches and that no man can destroy the bond between the women in the long run.

Charmed is now the longest running prime time drama starring women, revolving around women. So forgive us if all the mindless chatter over Desperate Housewives, with it's archaic view of women, struck us as less than feminist critiques.

We understand that settling has to occur with TV. That's largely because we've stop demanding, but that's a topic we'll address shortly. What's on the air is less than perfect and Charmed's not Shakespeare (or Crimes of the Heart). But it's also not degrading women.

When trouble strikes, it's send in the Charmed ones, not send in Sydney Bristow with a bunch of men or plucky little Veronica Mars who is basically Shirley Temple with a magnifying glass and a dash of Kathy Webb tossed in.

Feminsim shouldn't run after trends that the mainstream's pushing, feminism should be critiquing those trends, questioning them. And when feminists push Veronica Mars and ignore the rape issue, we've got a problem with that.

The reason that a wider range of women could find success on TV in the seventies wasn't because the networks suddenly wanted a wider range, it's because feminists demanded it. When networks put together their schedules, they knew they'd be criticized strongly and loudly. And we all benefitted from that. TV didn't become perfect in it's casting, but a wider range of performers was seen. You had Maude, you had The Jeffersons, you had Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Good Times, Family, One Day At A Time, Alice, What's Happening?, and much more. It still wasn't a full range of women, but it was a wider range.

What we've seen since then is a much more narrow view. And, to focus on one network, we've seen an outright pattern of hostility to women. That would be CBS which isn't happy to have a hit show, it's determined to have a hit show with men in the lead and women providing "support." It's not just that Everybody Thinks Everybody Loves Raymond couldn't get behind the concept of a married woman working after she had children, it goes beyond that.

Cagney & Lacey? How did that show stay on the air? Not from the support of CBS, but from the support of viewers who screamed bloody murder when the show CBS never really wanted was under attack despite being a hit. Now in the so-called "free market," you'd assume a hit show would be seen as a hit show and something for CBS to be happy about. That wasn't the case with Cagney & Lacey. CBS actively undermined that show. They insisted that an actress be fired because the brass didn't find her "feminine" enough. They fretted that Christine might be seen as "loose." No such problem with Magnum P.I. On that show, women could be as "loose" as Thomas Magnum wanted. When it's a show from a male point of view, issues like "Is the character having too much sex?" are rarely raised.

Cagney & Lacey isn't the only female led show that CBS actively undermined. Go down the list, it includes Cybil (whose show was outperforming Ally McBeal until CBS decided to put it on hiatus -- a good way to lose viewers and they knew that), it includes Touched By An Angel, Murder She Wrote, The Nanny, Murphy Brown, Kate & Allie, Judging Amy, Joan of
Arcadia . . .

This isn't something that just happened, this is a pattern. CBS gets away with it because we don't pressure them. We don't talk about their history of playing the shuffle game with female led shows. In the past, feminism wasn't afraid to demand that magazines, TV shows, radio programs provide representation. We never got full representation but we had a better view provided than what we have today.

During that period, had Desperate Housewives aired, it would have been rightly ridiculed for what it is, an attempt to put women where some small minded male thinks they belong. And you certainly wouldn't have seen writers desperate to credit Marc Cherry (Marc Cherry!) with The Golden Girls. That was Susan Harris' brainchild. She steered that show to success. Cherry comes along in the final seasons as one of a multitude of writers and producers -- yet to read the coverage today, The Golden Girls is Marc Cherry's credit. Not Golden Palace, the hideous spin off that Cherry did have a hand in creating. (Harris wisely avoided that show.)

It is awful when male writers strip a woman of her proper credit, it's worse when women who portray themselves as feminist do the same. When you take a show that Susan Harris created and gave her time and energy into bringing to the air and you turn around and give credit for it to a man who shows up late in the show's long, long run, you're spitting on women.

You're doing that by denying women's accomplishments. Now every generation, women have to reinvent the wheel because their accomplishments are erased but let's not kid that some of the erasing going on currently is not being done by women, including women who call themselves feminists. Let's not pretend that it's okay to strip Susan Harris of the credit she deserves and has earned just to prop up the man (isn't it always a man, as Rebecca would say) behind a trend show.

Studies still come out on the lack of representation of people of color and ethnicity in TV portrayals each year. They don't get a lot of attention. When we were all working together to actively and vocally demand wider representation, we made strides, we had accomplishments.

So it's not just women or women of color or ethnicity that are harmed when feminists line up to applaud some white male pushing some retro program, it's everyone that's hurt.

And Geena Davis starring as window dressing, fish out of water, isn't helping feminism and it's not helping women. Don't kid yourself and don't blather on kidding other people. As we noted in our review, this "independent" voter, ran on a ticket with a man whose programs, as noted on the first show, if carried out, would turn back the rights of so many. If you missed it, that's the reason Davis decides not to step down, because the dying man wants Donald Sutherland to carry on his agenda. But what's the reason she agreed to share a ticket with a man like that begin with?

That's not feminism. Her character allowed herself to be used to make horrible programs palitable.

Add in the macho nonsense that puts two nations at risk, she's willing to risk war. That's not feminism. (Even if the single person being saved is a woman.) A woman whose cabinet is apparently made up solely of men, that's not feminism. Giving the role of communicator to a woman (who needs a Saved By The Bell reject to teach her how to 'look' like a woman, a male Saved By The Bell reject of course), that's not feminism.

You can blather on about the red sweater Davis wore or her crimson lipstick or how her lips closed indicate power or some such nonsense, but don't hail it as a feminist statement, because it's not.

Maybe you got lost when GRRRL Power was watered down and transformed into Girl Power or maybe you thought Do-Me-Feminism truly was a breakthrough? "It's feminism! Feminism even Playboy can get behind!" But your priorites are out of whack and you need to return to core principles. If you've never studied them, you should now.

We've offered our opinions week after week. We haven't made a point to say, "This is the only opinion!" We should be part of a larger feminist critique offering many other voices and providing many other perspectives. But we think some of the threatening e-mails stem from the fact that we're part of a very small group that's offering any kind of feminist criticism. While a lot of other women are rushing in to celebrate that a Buffy alumni is guesting!

Instead of true feminist criticism, we get, "It stars a woman!" Instead of questioning the cowing of Buffy or the producer's desire to undermine women (which didn't end with Buffy), we get "Buffy was great!"

We get, "Willow's on this show! It's a feminist statement!"

Was the killing of a lesbian a feminist statement or was it the same crap we've seen in The Fox and countless other shows and movies? Was the cowing of Buffy feminism? Were the efforts to pair Buffy with Spike feminism? What was the message behind any of that because we don't detect a feminist one? Nor did we see the addition of the show's own Cheryl Ladd (the character of Dawn) as a feminist statement. We saw it for what it was, another busty, young female tossed into the mix playing a bumbling, giggling, sheltered fool making sure women didn't appear too strong or too threatening to men who get the willies when a woman actually has a mind and uses it for something other than selecting a shade of lipstick.

Early on, Buffy provided some strong television. We're not disputing that. But we're not pushing the notion that the show, from start to end, provided a good message for young females. Nor have we fallen into the trap of praising Serendipity or any other nonsense that Joss tries to churn out with token female characters. If he had his way, they'd be serving the role Sally McMillan served on McMillan & Wife. (That would be the role Joss cast Cordelia in on Angel.) But, though he doesn't appreciate it, he's known as the man who can create "strong" women characters. So when he tries to sell a new show, the first question is, "Are their strong women characters?" So we get tokens. And Joss Whedon is turned into a poster boy for feminism.

We just know that we're tired of women's accomplishments being ignored and we're tired of women being stripped of their credit or having their talent dismissed.

We're tired of seeing Threshold, a really bad show by any standard, promoted as a show women should be watching. Why is that? Bad TV is something women are supposed to be interested in? Or are we to rejoice in the fact that the lead character lies regularly because she doesn't trust the public and doesn't believe in the public's right to know?

Threshold's not feminism and you need to quit kidding yourself and stop promoting it. Feminism has often argued that if every woman told the truth about her life, the world as we know it, would cease to exist. So forgive us for not applauding a show where the woman, the sole female lead, actively promotes disinforming, misinforming, the public.

Feminism never dies. It goes through periods where it's not noted by the mainstream media. But go to any area, talk to any group of women and you'll find that feminism never dies. But let's step away from the mainstream media and wonder why women (and men) self-portraying as feminist think it's okay to praise shows that are damaging to women?

Or to turn one man after another into a poster boy for feminism? Marc Cherry, Joss Whedon, go down the list. Men who cashed in off women's interest but didn't do anything to promote women aren't the poster boys for feminism. Instead of applauding these sorry excuses, you should be holding them accountable if you're a feminist. You should be demanding to know why Tara had to die on Buffy, why the role of Dawn appeared to be cast on breast size, why Buffy's growing strength needed to balanced with silly female characters and why, in the final seasons, Buffy had to be cowed?

Those are questions feminists should be asking. Wasting time portraying a show pushing the notion that wome falsely cry rape won't address those issues. Celebrating a Peyton Place reduxe as feminism won't address those issues. They may get you read more since you're endorsing false beliefs that are passing for truths. No one will sneer "bra burner" or "women's libber" at you. Maybe you think you're making feminism "palitable." You're not.

You're playing it safe at a time when we can't afford to play it safe. Women are under attack all over the world. If your focus is pop culture or that's a terrain you often comment on, then you need to do so in a feminist way or you need to quit calling yourself a feminist.

We don't believe feminism encourages impressionable young girls to watch a show that promotes the lead in a show geared towards young woman, a character in high school, as the first rape victim (in a lead role) who turns out to be the first rape victim in that genre to cry rape falsely.

We find that outrageous. Usually, we try to make our points with humor. We realize that many will miss them (we're surprised, happily so, that so many do get the points). But we like to laugh and we figure if we can make you laugh, maybe one of the points that you don't grasp immediately (or that you initially disagree with) is something that will stay with you.

We know some read just to laugh and we're figuring that some readers will be disappointed with this piece. They'll feel that we've hopped on the soap box and abandoned our usual humorous treatment. We have. We'll cop to that.

But it's time someone said "Enough." It's time someone said that feminism isn't about one woman, whether she's president or whether she's the lead in a show. It's actually about women and men, straights, gays, bis, transgender persons, all races, go down the list. That's because feminism is focused on humanity. It's not supposed to revolve around whether or not Geena Davis is cast as the lead in a group of males. It's not supposed to revolve around setting up fan clubs for men who promote stereotypes about women.

But somewhere, something's stopped connecting. And we find it outrageous.

There are plenty of shows that are open to various feminist interpretations. Is Twins, for instance, a feminist show? That topic would result in a variety of answers, a wealth of opinion. But while some programs might be debatable, when you're dealing with a show like Veronica Mars, we don't think it's open to various feminist interpretations -- we think they've sent a message loudly and clearly of where they stand. We only wonder why their message is being ignored?

For all TV critics, online and in print, male and female, we hope you think seriously about what you're promoting. You can't dismiss it with "it's just TV." You've chosen to write about it. Criticism isn't recapping the plot. Criticism entails addresing what's being done and what being said. We don't feel that most criticism has reflected anything other than a desire to play follow the herd blindly. We think that does everyone a disservice. As feminists, we think there's no excuse for actively promoting a show that presents rape as some sort of more active social mixer or that presents rape as a charge that women make on a whim.

A reader wrote in this week and Dona passed the e-mail on saying, "Please read this." We did.
She wondered, the reader, why it is that we are part of a small group of feminists that have praised Medium? Considering all that crap that's being pushed as empowerment, we're surprised that she was able to list as many online feminists that have praised the show. (And we're glad to be included in that grouping.) But she wondered why a show that demonstrates a woman can work and have children (revolutionary in the wake of Raymond), a show that "stars a woman playing a woman, not another big boobs and no brains fantasy of a woman, ain't promoted" by the other online feminists. (She named names.)

We can't give you a simple answer. We wish we could. We could offer best guesses. But we seriously think you need to ask the names on your list why they're ignoring Medium but showering Veronica Mars with praise.

We realize feminism is diverse. We also realize that some core beliefs exist. Minimizing rape has never been one of them. Now maybe they find the actor playing the rapist "sexy" or maybe they're suffering from rape fantasies themselves? Or maybe they think it's "powerful" that a woman who cries rape can figure out, after a full season, that she wasn't raped? Who knows?

They can think whatever they want for themselves. They can't, however, promote to impressionable young girls that Veronica Mars is a show that will empower them.

You can't dismiss the message as an "interesting plot twist." You can't close your eyes and shut your mouth to what the show's promoting. Not if you are truly are a feminist.

In the seventies, our statements wouldn't have been controversial. That this commentary may shock some shows how much under attack women are and how much ground we've already lost.
It won't be reclaimed by rallying around the token. It's time to start making the sort of demands that women did in years prior. And the thing is, despite the marketing of rape, there was never anything empowering about Veronica Mars. Nancy Drew has Bess and George (both women), Mars is for the boys and with the boys. Getting behind the power of her rape in the first season when she was claiming she was raped, required noting that maybe her interactions with males weren't in keeping with the actions of most rape victims? Or were we supposed to find this "hole," as Joss did, in the character worthy of praise?

If serious questions were raised about Veronica Mars from the start (and if Joss' opinion wasn't wrongly given so much weight), we can't imagine that the show would have been promoted as much as it was by critics. That can't be changed now. The criticism is "out there." But we can ask serious questions because we're not the Bully Boy. Feminists wouldn't claim on Iraq, "Well we're over there so we have to stay there." They wouldn't make that claim because they wouldn't offer the same "logic" to a woman in an abusive relationship. They'd tell her, things aren't going to get better, get the hell out.

But what can be done now and in the future is for serious questions, feminist issues, to be raised before the next token female in a male dominated show gets praised as "empowering" and the be-all, end-all, must-watch program.
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