Sunday, April 13, 2014

TV: The lines drawn

As Carly Simon once sang, "What do they want, what shall we do about them?"


Last week was a series of head shakers and sighs as we realized how the lines drawn weren't being redrawn in a way to benefit women.

We were still the other.

Trina put us wise to Stephanie Hallett's "What Women-Led Movies Can Do for Hollywood" (Ms. magazine's blog) which noted "the Bechdel Test -- a standard that requires films to have at least two women characters who have a conversation on a topic other than men -- actually have a better return on investment than films that don’t pass the test."

What a load of crap.

We hadn't heard of the 'rule' but we knew enough as women to sniff out discrimination when we smelled it.

Why the hell wouldn't women's conversations about men matter?

And is it men or is it sex?

Actually, it's sex with men.  Lesbian Alison Bechdel popularized the rule.

Which is why women having a sexual conversation about women would be okay by her rules but women having a sexual conversation about men wouldn't be okay.

In other words, it's all f**king bullshit.

So was the coverage of (and embrace of) it on NPR.  Listen to Neda Ulaby say the following and spot the mistake:

Of course, there are shows that follow the Bechdel Rule. In "Brothers and Sisters" on ABC, women talk about the family business. On NBC's "30 Rock," women talk about what's funny.

What women, on 30 Rock, talked about what was funny?


Liz Lemon was surrounded by men.  When she spoke to Jenna it was about men or her problems.  When she spoke to Cerie it was to give an order. There were 14 members of the cast who got billing in the opening credits over the run of the show.  11 were men.

What women, Neda?

What women were around for Liz to talk funny with?  The glorified extra Sue?

The Bechdel Rule?

We're straight women and we'll support all women up until one starts telling us what we can talk about or what's subjects have value.

At that point, we flip you the middle finger.

Did the feminist movement not already fight this battle once before?

(Yeah, we did.  In the seventies.)

Alison Bechdel is apparently ignorant of that and seem to think her sexual desires were more important than those of straight women.  Ourselves, we're happy to respect and honor her desires.  But we'll be damned if we'll let her get away with slamming our own.

Shame on her and shame on Ms. for promoting such a stupid 'rule.'

We do grasp, don't we, that by Alison's rule, a film with a scene of a feminist consciousness raising group where two women -- both straight -- discuss the division of labor in their homes wouldn't pass the so-called rule.

Alison Bechdel  should have grasped long ago that when devising 'rules,' you aim for inclusion of all, not just think up what turns you on.

Here's Walt Hickey (538) running wild with Alison's bullshit rule:

One of the most enduring tools to measure Hollywood’s gender bias is a test originally promoted by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 strip from her “Dykes To Watch Out For” series. Bechdel said that if a movie can satisfy three criteria — there are at least two named women in the picture, they have a conversation with each other at some point, and that conversation isn’t about a male character — then it passes “The Rule,” whereby female characters are allocated a bare minimum of depth. 

We're sure Walt loves Alison's rule.

A number of men would -- certainly men born before the sixties.

And they would love Alison's rule for the very reason that women need to talk about men.

The reason that women -- pay attention, Alison -- need to talk about men includes safety.

If, in a movie, two women pull over to the side of the road and get a table in a bar, if there's a man watching them, should those two women not be discussing him?  Should they not be asking is he a predator or a prince or somewhere on the spectrum in between?

What shall we do about them
When they move into your neighborhood
They take over but good
They want you all body and soul
Then it's just your body
Then they go
What shall we do about them

-- "Them," lyrics by Carly Simon, music by Carly and Mike Mainieri, first appears on Carly's Come Upstairs album.

What shall we do about them?

In a comment to the Ms. magazine post, Trina noted:

Myself, I would propose a different test. Does the main female have a female friend? If not, it’s probably not very reflective of women’s lives. Think about how many films feature women --  usually only one but sometimes the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ woman -- and women have no female friends.
Ava and C.I. have a theory about that and I’ll try to get them to write about it.

We do have a theory, Trina's correct.

Why are women so often invisible in the films of so many men?  Oliver Stone, for example.  If a woman appears, she's a token and she's got no friends.

Why is that?

Think back to high school.  When a guy wanted to approach a girl, what did they most often do?

Peel off the friends.

Using cunning or their own male friends or whatever, guys would attempt to isolate the girl they wanted.

They felt a little more secure, a little stronger, when she was by herself.

And this is how some guys prefer it and they reflect it over and over in one film after another.

Think of Rosemary's Baby.  The 1968 horror classic has Guy Woodhouse frightened only twice.  This is the man who makes a deal for the devil to impregnate his wife.  He's scared, and rushes home, when Rosemary's elderly male friend Hutch visits,  But as scared as Guy is in that scene, he's sweating bullets in another when Rosemary's old female friends attend a party and talk to her -- he's frightened by Rosemary speaking to other women.

Sweating bullets.

Afraid of what the women will share with one another.

One of them asked me to dine
Then he ate me all up
Got full and then he blew me up
I got big and round and lovable
He saw I was immovable
He got bored, went to war
I got one baby, he's giving me more
Once I swore I'd never give myself up

Women sharing their experiences is never a 'waste' or 'wrong.'  Women sharing their sexual experiences, their love affairs, their marriages is not a 'waste.'

The personal is political.

That is a point that second-wave feminism made clear.

If you're Alison Bechdel or similarly clueless, click here to stream (at For The Vault) this 1972 conversation feminists Anais Nin and Judy Chicago.

"Once I swore I'd never give myself up."

Spoken by one woman to herself it has some power.

Spoken aloud to other women is has immense power via recognition.

When women realize their experiences aren't isolated actions but part of a larger system, their is the strength of discovery and the possibility of collective action.

On TV, where can you find scripted programming that tells women's stories?

Not on NBC where every new show this fall and spring season has starred men.

Two e-mailers disputed this statement when we last pointed out NBC's sexism, "About A Boy isn't just an NBC sitcom, it's also their programming strategy."

The two pointed to Crisis.  Good try, but the star of that show is Dermot Mulroney.  Rachael Taylor isn't even the co-star.  She's very talented, we've praised her work before, but she's not the star.  There's also something a little sad about a soon to be 30-year-old woman (July) being bossed around and bullied like the character she plays.

Even Fox is better than NBC.  If your ranked the others in order of progression in terms of female portrayals, it would go CBS, then ABC and, at the top, The CW.

With the exception of Supernatural, all the scripted shows feature women prominently.  The Originals, Reign, The Vampire Diaries and Arrow have all been renewed for next season.

Questions still linger over the state of Hart of Dixie, Tomorrow People, The 100, Beauty and the Beast, The Carrie Diaries and Star Crossed.

Thursday, Marcia noted the rumors that Hart of Dixie, Star Crossed, The Carrie Diaries, The Tomorrow People and Beauty & The Beast.  She noted that The CW should actually renew all and use them to avoid the constant repeats that have plagued networks this season -- a season when the February Olympics gave them several weeks off but they still are plagued with repeats.

Renew those five shows for 12 episodes each an you could have a winter season.  End the shows like Arrow with a winter cliffhanger at the end of November or the first week of December and then air those five shows (with repeats from select other shows) for 12 weeks as a winter season before returning Arrow and the rest of the fall shows in March to finish out their run with no repeats at all.

Marcia also pointed out, "And axing Beauty & the Beast isn't just a bad move due to the quality of the show, it also risks angering the viewers who are embracing The CW these days."

She's exactly right.

The CW really had its best year and should be thinking of how to thank the viewers and expand next season. Beauty & the Beast fans are loyal -- even the switch to another night didn't result in mass defections.  Hart of Dixie is another show that shouldn't get the axe.  It's (a) the only real 'adult' show on the network and (b) able to be plugged in anywhere on the schedule and get solid ratings. The Tomorrow People is a show with problems (which can be fixed and some already have been) but as we noted in February, "We'd love to see a second season of The Tomorrow People because -- even keeping Robbie in the lead -- this could be an excellent show.  Pretty much everything can be fixed with a shift in tone, better sets, better hair, make up and lighting.  But season one has played out like an extended pilot that needed -- but never received -- a tight edit."

The 100 is just awful.  The best that can be said for it is that it conveyed how governments lie to make their actions sound benign.  For example, when the government on the space arc kills someone, it is said they "floated" the person.  That's sounds so much more gentle than what happens when the person is sucked out into space.

Otherwise, you're left with a show about building a new government on earth where the lesson is you need to lie to the citizens and this government is led by a glum little princess who is played by Eliza Taylor.  She's either so glum because resident bad boy Bellamy (Bobby Morely) has bigger breasts than she does or because she's played by a one-note actress who holds the record for being the worst actress on The CW in this or any other season.  Princess has no female friends and is surrounded by countless men though there's a woman headed from the space arc to earth who will . . . hate her when she finds out princess has slept with the woman's boyfriend.

Star Crossed is a promising show with real chemistry between the leads (Aimee Teegarden and Matt Lanter), a strong supporting cast and improved plot points with each episode. The Carrie Diaries is doing better on Fridays then Nikita did last fall.

This has been the best season The CW has had artistically speaking since it came into being.  These are building blocks that any network would kill for -- especially NBC which is finding out that About A Boy was a premature ejaculator and each broadcast finds less and less viewers tuning in.

I know that them we are not
I have loved them a lot
And I have loved a lot of them
You could say that I'm experienced
Enough to know that they are aliens
Do you keep them away, beg them to stay
Say it's O.K., do it their way
I used to swear I'd never give myself up


Men of a certain age certainly are and proved it repeatedly last week.  To note only two examples . . .

Friday on The NewsHour (PBS), 'analyst' (hack) Mark Shields said of Kathleen Sebelius, "She was secretary of HHS. She stepped up manfully, to use a bad adverb. She took responsibility. She took accountability. She apologized."

Mark Shields wanted to compliment a woman and the only thing he could think of was "manfully"?

That's the standard for praise, in 2014, that's how we judge a woman?

As the sixties were ending, Joni Mitchell used to explain the way Reprise marketing execs responded to her first album, "They said I didn't have balls.  Since when do women have balls anyway?  Why do I have to be like that?"

Exactly.  And Joni's a trailblazer who's proved that she can write classic songs on her own terms, explore her own muse and leave a lasting body of work, become a legend.  And she did that not by aping some man but by being herself.

But 'herself' isn't good enough for Mark Shields clearly by his use of "manfully" to praise women.

Which begs the question of why is Mark Shields on the show?  Why, every Friday, is America presented with male experts unless it's vacation time and Ruth Marcus gets to fill in as one of the two experts?

Mark Shields is paid to 'analyze' on The NewsHour and his best 'analysis' is to say a woman acted "manfully"?

That's when it's time for the 76-year-old man to be shown the door.  His day is done.

By the mid-sixties, Jerry Lewis' day was done as well.

But he's still leaving a filthy ring around America's bathtub.

Most recently, he did so on Saturday.

Like Alison Bechdel, Jerry wanted to dictate what women could and could not talk about.

Jerry Lewis has repeatedly and publicly said in recent years that women aren't funny.

Saturday, he wanted to expand on his 'thoughts,' "Seeing a woman project the kind of aggression that you have to project as a comic just rubs me wrong. And they're funny -- I mean you got some very, very funny people that do beautiful work -- but I have a problem with the lady up there that's going to give birth to a child -- which is a miracle."

His attempt to rationalize?

It's as full of crap as he is.

A woman can do whatever she wants and her actions do not need the approval or Jerry Lewis or Alison Bechdel.

But there's another aspect of Jerry Lewis' remarks: He's a damn liar.

His supposed 'respect' for women?

March 2, 1953, Bob Thomas (AP) interviews Joan Crawford and she notes Marilyn Monroe's entrance at the February Photoplay Awards in a skintight dress, "It was like a burlesque show.  The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis got up on the table and whistled."

Yeah, Jerry, deep respect for women.

No respect for women.  That's what it really comes down to.

And, consider it progress, a woman can impose restrictions on other women as Alison Bechdel has done and now she is the measure for some people, she has defined the unit and determined what is and is not acceptable.

Anais Nin: You know, we've had so many things taboo.  But one of the things that surprised me the most when I went around and talked to women's studies about women's writing and talked about how women writers had developed this extraordinary faculty for perceiving human relationship within a very small circle and that this quality could be transferred to larger issues -- you know, could be preserved and transferred to larger issues.  And I, if you'll remember, somebody said once, 'When women are good at this they call them interpersonal relationship and when men do it, they call them diplomats.'  And I said, 'Of course we can transfer this into diplomacy and always with the hope of ending war."   

Feminism is not about telling a woman she can't talk about this or that.  Feminism is not about saying a woman can't do stand up or that, if she's a comic, she can't or shouldn't be 'crude.'

Feminism is about choices.

What we need on the screens -- big and small -- is our lives reflected.

And the notion that we, as women, are served by tokens is laughable.

It doesn't reflect our lives.

It does try to tell us that 'normal' is women who live apart from other women -- what we long ago called the Deanna Durbin syndrome (100 Men and a Girl).

It's a construct that isolates women on screen.

It's a male created construct.

And it's a construct that needs to be torn down.

It'll never be torn down when portrayals of women in film and TV is judged not on the world the women live in onscreen but only on whether or not -- in one brief scene -- they had names and spoke of something other than men.

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