Wednesday, March 17, 2021

TV: Representation, inclusion and the message sent

Queen Latifah is making history on CBS currently. Is anyone noticing? In 1974, MS. MAGAZINE did an article on the then-breakthrough of two women starring in primetime series -- Angie Dickinson in the hour long POLICE WOMAN on NBC and Teresa Graves in ABC's hour long drama GET CHRISTIE LOVE,. It was significant at a time when few women starred in hour long shows. Sadly, not a lot has changed in all the decades between then and now. As we noted last week, for example, NBC won't cast Black American women as a lead of an hour long drama. So Queen Latifah being the lead in the new EQUALIZER, just for that, is historic. 


It's also historic in that she's not a damsel in distress. Nor is she hopping up on a bar to sit and kick when a villain comes near (a la Yvonne Craig's Batgirl). She's actively engaged in the action on this, an action show. And unlike a lot of action shows of the last three decades, she's not Deanna Durbin-ing it. Meaning it's not 100 MEN AND A GIRL time. The regular cast includes 3 other females besides Queen Latifah -- friend anf former Air Force sniper Mel (Liza Lapira), Aunt Vi (Lorraine Toussaint) and The Equalizer's daughter Robyn (Laya DeLeon Hayes). That's historic as well.

We weren't a huge fan of the original series that first aired in the 80s and has continued in syndication. The only episode we'd watch of that again is the one where Ashford & Simpson show up as musical guests and sing "Count Your Blessings" to promote their 1986 album REAL LOVE. Of the two Denzel Washington films, we prefer the second one because we especially enjoyed his secret room in his home. But, no, the show is not our preferred type of show. That doesn't stop us from appreciating what Queen Latifah's doing on it or what a breakthrough her character is.


Last week, one of us noted that Glenn Greenwald was a sexist and that was apparently big news to many judging by e-mails. Yes, sexism still exists, Virginia.

And how do we judge it? By actions. Not just by words, but also by actions. Check out, for example, Glenn's Twitter feed. Notice how many men he reTweets and how few women. Check out what he did at THE INTERCEPT. He was part of creating a new news outlet and, as we noted throughout in the early years, it was male, male, male. In fact, you could argue more men with bylines have quit the outlet than women with bylines have been hired to this day. THE INTERCEPT was created in 2014, not 1914. There's no reason it couldn't have parity. But it was -- and still remains -- pretty much a Boys Only Clubhouse. Don't bring up Betsy Reed, not to us. She's a useless person who is known as a woman hater. Sell the pro-Betsy garbage to two people who didn't compile the stats for THE NATION in 2006 when Bisty Ditsy Betsy was an editor over there. Yes, girls and boys, women can be sexist as well. Gloria Steinem long ago defined the type of woman Betsy Reed is as a "queen bee." As Gloria explains in REVOLUTION FROM WITHIN, some women want to be the token in the room -- which would explain how THE NATION published 491 male bylines in 2006 and only 149 female bylines.

It would also explain why Betsy recruited Naomi for THE INTERCEPT. We find it hilarious that Naomi got the Gloria Steinem Chair at Harvard. First, Naomi's not a feminist and has been vocal in the past about that. Second, she's a citizen of Canada where she grew up. She grew up there because her father self-checked out of the military during Vietnam and went to Canada. Despite how this benefited her, she refused to use her writing -- even once -- to champion the war resisters of today's war. In fact, before we began calling her out for her silence, most in the US and in Canada had no idea that Naomi was the child of a war resister. The closest she ever came to vocalizing that reality was on Al Franken's AIR AMERICA RADIO SHOW where she indicated she was frightened that Bully Boy Bush might put a stop to her ability to enter the US. She then clammed up and refused to elaborate. Naomi's always been in it for herself. Another reason we find it hilarious -- and telling -- would be that Harvard is the home of war and more war -- especially the Carr Center but not only the Carr Center. We'd argue Naomi is exactly where she belongs and that a chair in the name of former CIA employee Gloria Steinem is perfectly in keeping with Naomi's image.

To drop back to Glenn, we don't think he's the most sexist man or woman in media or on the face of the planet. We'd place his sexism at a two on a scale with ten being the worst.

Most sexist? That's an interesting call and we say that because a number of writers online have decided that "Wives & Lovers" is the most sexist song.


The song appears over the opening titles of the 90s hit FIRST WIVES CLUB and is sung by Dionne Warwick. The song was also recorded by Jack Jones back in the sixties and he won a Grammy for his vocal. Recorded by both a man and a woman. Does that make a difference? "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones is often seen as a sexist song. We know it better via Tina Turner's version. Was it sexist when she recorded it?

Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach wrote the song back in 1963. Does that change the way we view it?

We're asking. We think a lot of people should be asking. We need a dialogue and we need many opinions.

One opinion we share is that songwriters -- like all writers -- need to be free to write what they want to write. That doesn't spare them from criticism. But we do wonder about how we judge the art?

Is Taylor Swift sexist when she writes a song about an ex-lover? We think she's being powerful (if it's a song that delivers). We think the same whether the writer is Taylor or Mick Jagger or Ashford & Simpson or Gregg Dulli or Sade or Carly Simon or Smokey Robinson or . . .

The dream pixie girl or whatever the term is -- we're not impressed with non-musical discussions or discussers of music? Is it sexist? May be. May not be. A writer is trying to capture something -- song, book, whatever -- to portray something. The idealized versions of girls and women (or boys and men or nature or whatever) may not be sexist on the part of the artist. We agree the audience has every right to interpret art as they see and experience it. But we're not so sure about ascribing motive. Sometimes, someone is just trying to extol praise on another person. Sometimes they're confusing love with co-dependency. There are a lot of things that can happen. And, our opinion, there are a lot more sexist songs than "Wives and Lovers." We can think of several sexist songs that promote violence against women and we'd argue those are much more harmful.

Mick Jagger? Mick's a devil (we say that fondly, we know Mick). If someone accuses him of sexism on one song, we'll he's got a long history so it's not a shock or a surprise and it's probably a good call. But on the scale, with ten being the worst, we'd put him about a three -- just a little ahead of Glenn. That's our take, others may feel differently.

"If he's a sexist," one person e-mailed THE COMMON ILLS last week, "why do you highlight him?" As already noted there, because he's an important voice. People don't have to be perfect to be highlighted -- goodness knows we're not perfect (and we never argue or dispute it when someone calls us a bitch). Glenn is an important voice on many issues, especially the First Amendment. It would be wonderful if he took a look at himself and found a way to have a more expansive view.

Do you get how important that is? Maybe not if you're a White male who's represented everywhere. Especially in animation. THE SIMPSONS was copied by FAMILY GUY (which turned hating the daughter into an art) and pretty much set a pattern for all that followed wherein the main protagonist is a male as is the main secondary character. BLESS THE HEARTS is one of the first series to break THE SIMPSON's mold and last for more than one season. THE PJS and KING OF THE HILL also lasted several seasons and had female characters who were not background players.

But look at SOUTHPARK. Great show. But sexist as hell. It started in1997 and continues to this day. We love Butters as Marjorine or Cartman having his hissy fit over an IPAD. We even think PC Principal (originally) was a good character. (He's a hollow shell in the later episodes.) They had a hilarious episode last week about COVID and vaccinations. No surprise, a woman died. A new female. They can create them, they just can't keep them. And BeBe and the other female characters might get an episode tossed out for them (the way THE SIMPSONS did for years with Lisa.) But they're never the lead characters and even something like Towlie -- a talking towel is voiced by a male.

They created the show. They determined what it would be. And the lack of females and female led episodes goes to sexism.

Trey and Matt have narrow minds when it comes to gender. They're reductive and not expansive.

At least they can shoot back, "We're artists!"

What's the media's excuse?

It's a question to ask specifically right now with regards to TO THE CONTRARY. The PBS program is celebrating its 30th year of production.



From the "About" section of the program's website:


To The Contrary (TTC,) public television's successful all-female news analysis series, is now in its 27th season on air. The program was launched in 1992, dubbed the "Year of the Woman in American Politics" as women's representation in Congress blossomed. With women in the forefront of politics and on the cutting edge of national agendas, To The Contrary continues as an essential, timely forum for women to discuss national and international issues and policies. The program covers news and offers a platform to views that are rarely, if ever, available elsewhere on television. It is true appointment television. With more women in Congress, in the Cabinet and on the Supreme Court, women's perspectives are more high-profile than ever before. Americans have cast strong votes of confidence in women leaders and leaders who promote concerns embraced by women. To The Contrary, available in 91% of television markets and a leader in women's news and perspectives, will continue to make women's voices heard as we cover all issues affecting women, families and communities of color. To The Contrary is produced by Persephone Productions. Airing on PBS stations nationwide, in Canada, and internationally on VOA TV, To The Contrary has built a solid viewer base including more than a million viewers each week. Viewer response, media attention and strong carriage on national public television stations and elsewhere have all helped to confirm that the show does indeed fill a much-needed niche in American television programming.

Successful? That's putting it mildly. Broadcasting since 1992 makes it very successful and that's still faint praise. The show exists because it fills a huge void in the media landscape. When it was created, it filled such a void. Public affairs programming in 1992 featured male guests overwhelmingly. That's still true today, whether the program airs on a broadcast network, a cable network, YOUTUBE or some where else. That's true even when the host is a woman. That surprises some. As two who've analyzed what women do when they're in charge -- of THE NATION magazine, of THE DIANE REHM SHOW, of Teri Gross' FRESH AIR, etc -- we're not at all surprised. It's sad but not surprising. And it's true of 'new media' programs as well such as RISING and pretty much every program.

It's stupid and self-defeating. If you're a female host and you're not bringing on an equal number of women, you're saying women don't matter. That's not really helping your own cause, is it?

We have to use our spaces to promote diversity and inclusion because if we don't do it, it's not going to get done. Alice Walker always says she writes to create the world she'd like to live in. That's how broadcasting choices should be made as well -- including who gets invited on as a guest. Also including who we celebrate. We celebrate Bonnie Erbe and TO THE CONTRARY. We hope others, as they become aware of the program's 30th anniversary throughout the year will choose to celebrate that as well.









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