Sunday, December 22, 2013

TV: Feminism is telling painful truths

It's hard to tell what's worse?  The attacks on women or the women who lie to pretend everything's going great?


We wondered that especially as we read over the nonsense of Melissa Hugel's "2013 Was a Huge Win For Women in Television" (PolicyMic).

2013 was good?

The same year not one of NBC's new fall shows starred a woman?

That year?

Hugel insists it was amazing because:

While the picture isn't exactly rosy for the female writers and directors (per usual), I couldn't help but notice the Best Actress in a Television Comedy nominees. In an industry where the roles of women are largely defined by the men around them, all of the nominees in this category are the headliners in their own show: Zooey Deschanel in New Girl, Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie, Lena Dunham in Girls, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep, and Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation. These women are all stars in  their own right — not supporting players

Uhm, that's not good news.

In fact, that's really bad news.

It goes to the lack of interest in women because not one of those women is on the list for the first time.

In a great year for women on TV, the categories would be noted for surprise upsets as new women emerged to shove predictable nominees off the lists.

Instead, it's the same old and same old.  And try to pretend that it's about comedy and that it's about lead actresses.

Edie Falco, for example, is a star of her show. It's a stupid dramedy.  And she's only nominated because of The Sopranos.  As Falco noted when she won the Emmy in this category years ago, "I'm not funny."  And she explained in statements later that she's performing drama.

She's correct.

Julia is a comedic actress. As is Zooey.  Both women are lead actresses in their TV shows.  The same cannot be said for the remaining two.

Lena Dunham is part of an ensemble and, worse, she's a non-actress.  Let's hope she saves the money from the show because her acting 'talent' is so small, there is no future for her in acting.

Also part of an ensemble is Amy Poehler.

And Parks and Recreation is back to first season tricks.  Meaning, this season is all about how Poehler's character is a freak.  She's nominated for the season where she's so inept that the town turns on her and votes to strip her from the city council.  And if you can pretend that's progress, you can also pretend that her character's not being upstaged by Ben, Tom and Ron.  In the season of heavy professional loss, Leslie's not even the main focus.

And let's also pretend that those city council scenes are 'funny' and 'modern' -- all those men and Leslie.  And, of course, the men get the jokes and Leslie rants like an idiot.

Was that too much truth for you?

In the DC area last week, we had a friend's daughter.  Her mom was going to pick her up -- the young girl was at a mall with friends and an adult -- but work prevented it.  We were near the mall and got a call asking if we could go there and pick her up?

Like good friends, we said yes.

But due to what happened, we had to wonder if we were good friends?

When we got there and picked the girl up, we'll call her Heather, from the adult, Heather asked if we could stop at a bookstore.  Sure, as long as we didn't take more than 30 minutes.  We get in, we go around and, in the last minutes, Heather wants to look at the clearance books (she's found nothing worth reading in the non-discounted books).

She sees three Mad magazine books and grabs the one in hard cover on superheroes.

"Maybe," she says excitedly, "it'll have Wonder Woman."

We exchange a look but stay silent.

She flips through a bit in excitement and then goes to the front of the book, to the table of contents.  No Wonder Woman.  No female superhero at all.

"Well I'm bummed out."

And good friends of her mother might have left it alone.

Or maybe good friends did what we did.

We told her the truth.

Mad's not going to print Wonder Woman.

They're not going to offer their parody of the TV show with Lynda Carter because their parody was sexist -- was sexist in the 70s when it ran and is only more so now.

But that's not the main reason.

The main reason they're not going to carry Wonder Woman in their collections of past parodies is because when they used sexism to mock the TV show, all hell broke loose.

Cute, little, funny Mad magazine got some of its harshest feedback as the parody of TV  Wonder Woman served to remind readers of an earlier parody of the comic book Wonder Woman.

See Mad did a parody decades ago of Wonder Woman.

In it, a villain traps Wonder Woman and removes all of her powers.  The villain?  It's really Steve Trevor and -- for fun, you understand -- he literally kicks the s**t out of her and makes clear he's wanted to forever.  She then becomes a battered wife.

It's bad enough that he's physically beaten her, stomping on her, in fact, jumping and down on her, but, despite that, she marries him.

As Heather said, "That's f**ked up."


"As feminists," a reader informed us in an e-mail, "you should be ashamed of yourselves.  You've always acted like you were better than Bones and now you've ignored the wedding episode October 21st and that was a feminist episode!"

We didn't ignore "The Woman in White," we just didn't comment on it.

See, like the reader, a Fox friend had pimped the episode (written by Karine Rosenthal).  We set aside our many problems with the show because a feminist statement, well that we'd have to write about.

We saw Ryan O'Neal walk Bones to Booth and we saw Bones yammer on about how she was not property and she wasn't being given away.  She looked like an idiot reciting the lines but we still might have noted it except they were pronounced "man and wife."

Not only was that not feminist, it wasn't in keeping with the little speech Bones had given.

It was faux feminism.

And it was completely undermined by the "man and wife."

That phrase was repeated on Revenge last week at Emily and Daniel's wedding.  Since that wedding is a fake one (Emily's plan was to stage her own death on her wedding night and frame Daniel's mother for murder) we didn't worry too much about the phrase.

But on Bones?

It's offensive.

And, for the record, we are better than Bones -- most people are.  In fact, the show's only saving grace at present is David Boreanaz's butt which has gotten much bigger in recent years and made his jiggling buns sexy.


We were also criticized by some readers for ignoring the 'response' videos by women to Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines."

What were they responding to?

So many seemed confused by the videos they made.

No one was more confused, and ignorant, than the men who made this Gavin Valentine parody.  If a woman says "no," that's rape.  They fail to grasp that.  Not only does the woman in the video not grasp it, her father is offended because Thicke impregnated her, not that he raped her.  Police show up to arrest Thicke for hashtag abuse not for rape.

We'll cover public affairs here but we'd really prefer to just focus on art.

Our biggest problem with feminist 'response' videos to "Blurred Lines" is they weren't artistic responses.

They were intellectual responses, sure.

But if your problem is that Thicke sexualizes women -- scantily clad women while he's fully clothed -- scantily clad women who have to bump and grind while he does nothing -- what's the feminist response?

We would assume it would be to do a mirror version.  There are women who get off on being sexualized.  There are men who get off on being sexualized.  But the people who really think Thicke is cool for that video?  They're not going to respond well to parallel response videos.  They might even, in their anger and repulsion, grasp how some women are offended by Thicke's video.

So the feminist response is not this crap by Platinmoon.

Pushing men off you and wrapping them in plastic?

Congrats, gals, you've given the critics what they wanted: You don't like sex.

That's what your video says.

You should have instead been Thicke-like and treated the pretty boys like sexy cup cakes.

That would have offended the Thicke crowd.

Instead, you tried to do a scholarly discourse of some form.  You intellectualized and you completely lost the points.

And Thicke's not pushing women around in his video. He's also not insulting the women verbally, telling them their breasts are too small or something similar.  So when you make the too-small-penis remark in the video you look really hostile.  So you look humorless and violent.

The feminist responses, with few exceptions (Kat noted one good response video), weren't response videos.

'I don't want to objectify men!'

Then why do you have them in underwear in your video?

Clearly, you do want to objectify men you just don't want to own your own desire and explore it.

As Heather might say, "That's f**ked up."

And so is the fact that Amy Poehler's nominated -- for the third time -- for playing the same role in the same way.  Not a thing's changed in her portrayal.  The character and Poehler's performance are both dead.  It reminds us of the Emmy nominations in the 80s and how Angela Lansbury kicked off her annual nominations in 1985 and would go to be nominated 12 times for Best Actress for the same role.

Lansbury is talented.

But Murder She Wrote?

That's a step above -- or maybe a step below -- a guest spot on The Love Boat.  There is nothing she did in any season of that paint-by-numbers scripted TV show that she hadn't already done in the first season.  She didn't deserve twelve nominations, she shouldn't have received them.

Amy Poehler's talented, no question.  But she's not doing anything on Parks and Recreation that we haven't seen her do in season one.  You can debate whether she's even created a character or if she's just reciting lines with good comedic timing?  Her character Leslie has no physical dimension.  Or are we not supposed to tell that truth either?

Martha Plimpton, by contrast, has continued to deepen her role on Raising Hope.  Greg Garcia's best TV show (one of TV's finest, in fact) was lucky to have Plimpton in season one.  She nows lucky to have them because Virginia Chance is not a static role.  The writing and Plimpton's performance this season allowed the actress to deepen her portrayal.

We agree with Martha politically. We disagree with Patricia Heaton politically.

But when is Heaton's work in The Middle going to get recognized?

We're not fans of the person but when we finally watched the show we had to praise her because she was doing amazing work and she continues to do amazing work in the role.

Are acting honors about acting or about who we think is 'cool'?

Lena Dunham can't act.

She's not Sada Thompson.  Hell, she's not even Lea Thompson.

She's on a 'buzz' show so she gets nominated (and won the Golden Globe last year).

But, apparently, don't tell those truths.

Not until her awful show is off the air and then we'll all forget it and her so truths won't matter.

But right now, let's all embrace Lena and treat her non-success as a 'victory' for women and for feminism.


Like Dyan Cannon's character in Such Good Friends, Lena suffers.

Dyan's husband won't pay the cab, for example, and her affairs go poorly.

It's a 'tragedy.'

Lena doesn't have a tenth of the acting skill Dyan does so all you're left with is 'drama' about four boring women with four boring lives.  Girls exists to make HBO's Sex In The City seem positively Chekovian by contrast.

If anything, Girls is the advertising for The Sterile Cukoo presented as plot.

The 1969 film was directed by Alan J. Pakula and starred Liza Minnelli as a college student who can't communicate with (or even tolerate) her peers, "weirdos."  And then she falls for Wendell Burton and thinks she has found a soul twin but he's just a tag along.  It's not a major look at alienation and the college campus scene in the film must be 1948 despite pretending to be then-modern day.  But there's enough going on to qualify as drama (and Minnelli is spellbinding in the lead role).

The film was a little too complex for the advertisers who felt the need to sell it with these lines, "I'm 19, I want to be loved.  Hurt me!"

That promo effort ignores all the complexities of the film and also sounds suspiciously like both the plot for an episode of Girls and dialogue within said episode.  It sounds a lot like a Girls episode.  It sounds specifically like the "One Man's Trash" episode of Girls.

This is the woman who, in 2012, said voting was like sex -- demonstrating that she understood neither.

And how is it a good year for TV when the Golden Globes again overlooks Mindy Kaling?

She created The Mindy Project, she stars in it, she frequently writes the scripts.

She's damn funny.

So where's her nomination?

And, FYI, Mindy's lowest rated episode still has over twice as many viewers as the highest rated episode ever of Lena Dunham's bad show.  In fact, when you're dropping down to .48 million viewers for an episode (season two's lowest rated episode), you're 'influence' as well as your 'popularity' are exposed as being as fraudulent as your alleged acting talent.

Do you tell those truths?

And if you do, do you so openly or, like Policy Mic's Melissa Hugel, do you bury them in your second to last paragraph?

More importantly, what's with the need each year for a great feminist savior?

See, every portrayal of a woman is not a feminist statement.

They are open to feminist interpretations.  We can claim the characters or reject them based on our interpretations of feminism.

But why do we keep celebrating feminism as rally-round-and-worship-that-gal?

Lena Dunham created a White world for her White show about White girls -- not women.

'Feminism' exists for that show solely as a marketing strategy.

Time and again, we are confusing women who achieve a level of success with feminists.

As a general rule, until the revolution is over, feminists will never be applauded by the mainstream media.

Feminism is a threat to the patriarchy.

You should be suspicious when a tool of corporations writes a drippy book like Lean In and is hailed as a feminist.

What did Sheryl Sandberg ever do?

Did you see her at a march for reproductive rights in the 70s, 80s, 90s or since?

Us neither.

Did you read her fiery column calling for the media to treat violence against women seriously?

Us neither.

She's a successful Jewish woman so women and Jewish people (male and female) might identify with her.

But she's never done anything for feminism and, even now, she's not doing anything for feminism.

She is, however,  happy to use it to market her book.

If Lena Dunham didn't have faux feminism to hide behind, people might be asking real questions.  Such as how did a no-talent, unattractive woman with a failed film-fest movie end up on HBO to begin with?  They might find out about family connections, for example, and traded favors.

They'd see her for what she really is: Corporate America's response to The Occupy Movement.

She's been given a position (which she did not earn) so she can pretend to be (and have the media present her as)  The Voice of Young America.  Said voice will insist that all these meaningless bulls**t moments she tries to turn into drama are 'reflective' of Young America.  And Corporate America will endorse her because a stupid Young America will always be preferred to an active Young America.

Where in any of this is a strain of feminism?

It's just not there.

As we move into the new year, as feminists we really need to stop looking for someone to save us.

It's the feminist movement.

It's not the girls fan club.

Meaning, we are our own leaders, we are participants in a movement.

An ongoing movement that has not ceased and will not cease until equality has been reached.

We can discuss and interpret, agree and disagree, over pop culture -- the 21st century fairytales that new generations of women and men will be raised on.

But we need to stop this rush to crown this woman or that woman as our great leader and our standard bearer.

If a real feminist emerges, great.  We'll applaud that.

Amy Poehler?

We'll applaud her line delivery -- even in the stale context that it is today.

But seriously, would a feminist in charge of a show allow another woman to be disrespected for six seasons?

That's what Amy's done.  Retta's played Donna since season one.  Even now she can't get her name included in the main credits.

What would Parks and Recreation's office scenes have been for six seasons without Donna?

Not as funny, that's for damn sure.

But the show's in season six and she can't even get a main credit? Retta's performed in 95 of the show's 99 episodes that have aired so far and she can't get a main credit?

We don't question  Julia Louis-Dreyfuss' personal feminism.  But, even while we allow that she's amazingly talented, we are bothered by her back sliding professionally.

On her previous show, Kari Lizer was the show runner.  The cast was a balanced cast in terms of gender. Women could also write for the show.  And did.

The New Adventures of Old Christine was easily the finest sitcom CBS has had in the last 20 years.  The Water Cooler Set ignored it.

They love Veep.

Is it just a coincidence that in two seasons not one episode has been written or co-written by a woman?

We love Julia.  But we'd be hard pressed to promote her as an artistic feminist since she could use her star role (and the power that comes with it) to demand that women be allowed to write episodes.

See, feminism isn't 'you-ism.'

It's not good enough for you to 'succeed'  while others' lives remain unchanged.

You need to be bringing others along with you.

Again, we love Julia -- as an actress and as a person.

And we know what we typed will hurt her.

But it's not 'youism.'

It's feminism.

It's a movement, not an individual.

And we need to stop looking at what one woman has done for herself and focusing more on what women are doing for women.

As Tina Turner has sung, "We don't need another hero."  We are the ones who can lead and we need to root for ourselves.  Media portrayals should be analyzed, discussed and debated but it's really time to stop insisting this woman or that woman is a feminist hero just because she was successful in her field.

Most of all, in 2013, we need to remember that feminism is about telling the painful truths and, until the revolution is won, there will always be plenty of painful truths to tell.

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