Monday, November 22, 2021

TV: You can learn a lot from documentaries -- more than they intend to teach

It's a funny way that stories get told. HBO, for example, picks a narrative for their documentaries and facts be damned.

Therefore, we weren't all that surprised a few months back when Alanis Morissette began objecting to an HBO documentary that she herself had participated in. It's not uncommon that the subject is bothered by a documentary or a profile or any coverage. When the coverage is done by a fan, as is the case with JAGGED (an episode of HBO's MUSIC BOX), there's usually something more going on.


We like Lily Tomlin but we're rolling our eyes because it's one of those times when we have to go there And it will result in e-mails of "Why are you so hard on Lily!!!!"

We love Lily. We've praised her many times. We just refuse to take part in the lie that she was always out. We noted, recently, that she was supposed to come out when THE CELLULOID CLOSET did. Vito said no closeted actress (he used another term) was gong to narrate his documentary. And she said she'd come out but then didn't. It was a big deal which is why we objected to the positive spin put on Lily when TCM recently aired the documentary and includes a discussion of it.

If you think we were rude -- we weren't -- we'd be afraid that Ian McKellen's remarks would leave you in tears. He was supposed to be the narrator and wanted to be. Then Lily showed up and said she'd use the opportunity to come out. That was a huge sticking point for Armistead Maupin who wrote the narration.  He wrote Lily's big announcement and was filmed and then Lily . . . cut it out of the film.


It does matter.  It matters because it happened and truth matters.  It also happens because there's a documentary about Lily Tomlin that Lily didn't like.  Lily sued Joan Churchill and Nicholas Broomfield who made the documentary LILY TOMLIN and the perception (the court tossed aside the lawsuit) was that it was clear, from the footage, that Lily and Jane Wagner were a couple. (Lily's team has always been hypersensitive to any attempts to attach lesbian to her name). So Lily sued and she lost.

And if Alanis sued, we think she'd lose as well.

And we think she should lose. When people sue, they're usually seeing things that most won't notice.

Let's leave documentaries for another example. Joni Mitchell has written many amazing songs. One of which is "Free Man In Paris." She saw it as a loving song about her friend David Geffen. David was obsessed with the idea that the song would reveal to the world that he slept with men. Only he was hearing that in the song.

So what's Alanis seeing in JAGGED?

We hope she's seeing a lot she's done wrong because that's what we saw.

There's her Queen Bee moment, for example. The flattering documentarians offer that her all male band on the JAGGED LITTLE PILL tour were probably fairly normal for the time and she couldn't have had an all female band. Alanis wants to disagree. Instead, she explains that her history with women is such that she wouldn't do a female in a band, too much competition.

Well take a bite of the lime and slam that shot of bitchy back, girl.

That's a pretty big confession -- one that sails over the heads of the film makers. It's not a surprise to us. We remember how she refused to tour with Lilith Fair in 1998 and made rude remarks about that tour.

So Alanis who is supposed to be all about female empowerment turns out to disappoint.

It only gets worse.

Alanis inspired a lot of girls and young women with her JAGGED LITTLE PILL album in 1995. And when they showed up for the tour? Listen to the boys brag. The boys in the band were just picking those females off. Just sleeping with them and using them. Alanis, in the documentary says she was opposed to it.

We don't believe her.

Did you see DEATH BECOMES HER? Goldie Hawn's Helen is having a party to celebrate her best selling book. Meryl Streep's Madeline, an old friend shows up:



  • Helen : Oh, gosh, I'm glad you came. I didn't know if you would. I spoke to my PR woman and she said Madeleine Ashton goes to the opening of an envelope. Oh, those people can be so cruel!

    Madeleine : Mmmm.

    Helen : I fired her.

    Madeleine : [pleased]  Oh!

    Helen : Well, I almost fired her.



Alanis is kind of like that. She was appalled, she insists in modern day. Appalled. And she told those boys to cut it out!! Did she threaten them with being fired or think of firing them?

Uh . . . no.

Now when she felt that one or more of them had a problem with working for her, she made it clear to them that they could hit the door or get with the program.

But as long as they were 'just' cherry picking, she didn't care.

That's a funny attitude for a woman to have -- especially one who has made her whole career about how she was victimized.

It's this anti-woman attitude that she repeatedly exposes that is probably behind her slamming the documentary. The film makers never make a judgment on her and don't appear to really register what she is saying. But we did and we are appalled.

We're also appalled by Alanis' music career.

Unlike the 'experts' offered in the documentary, we don't think she's amazing. A laundry list song is not a sign of insight or skill ("Ironic") no .matter how many spoons you have when you only need one fork is nether poetry nor indicative of the human condition. In fact, laundry list songs are among the worst form of songwriting (see also "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover"). There's also a hilarious claim that Alanis is a great singer. She's not a great singer. She is someone who owes a huge debt to Maria McKee who is a great singer and paved the way for Alanis' copycat attempts. But back to songwriting. The documentary insists that poor Alanis did not get credit for her songwriting because she wrote with Glenn Ballard and she's, please note, no Wilson Philips!

Indeed. Wilson Phillips had talent.

It's really hard for Alanis to face the fact that she is not that talented. She cried like a baby after she basically grabbed -- physically grabbed -- Joni Mitchell and insisted that they were the same equivalent when it came to songwriting. No. Never. She's not even up to Wilson Phillips level, let alone a master like Joni.

She wishes she were Carole King and seems to feel that she can ape Carole. In other words, how many damn times -- ask it to the tune of "Perfect" -- is she going to rerecord JAGGED? Like Carole dipping into the TAPESTRY well yet again, Alanis keeps relying on JAGGED over and over. She'd do better to try to write something new. She'd do even better to stop turning her journal entries into 'songs.' Carole has rested on TAPESTRY, yes. But that's a solid album, track after track. Alanis's JAGGED is not a solid album. She got famous for having a potty mouth.

In fairness, she got famous for one other thing: Being an assertive female. That's a good thing but, like too many female artists before, she quickly gave up her strength.

"Thank You Psychobabble" was really the end for Alanis. She had a massive hit with "You Ought To Know" and then earned respect with her "Uninvited." And that was it. She wanted to do sappy. Apparently, one episode of BOY MEETS WORLD mocking her (a detail the documentary missed) left her reeling. She was accepted as rock. She sent many fleeing (and Limp Bizkit and others were a response to her success). And she became timid and dull. When it should have been all over for her, she released "Hands Clean" in 2002 and she got embraced. But then came more wimpy garbage.

Why do women fear their own strength? Why does Alanis prefer to play the victim?

Who knows?

But she destroyed her own career and, watching JAGGED, we didn't feel the least bit sorry for her. She threw young girls to the wolves (and she can claim she was appalled but then we see tour footage from 1995 where she's laughing with the boys about their 'cherry picking'). She should be very upset over this documentary but its her own mouth that got her in trouble.

Janet Jackson was the subject of an FX NYT documentary that started airing last Friday. It was a confusing documentary. That's only surprising if you don't pay attention to THE NEW YORK TIMES. They have never liked Janet. From 2004 through 2006, they carried out a repeated war on Janet.  And, in 2006, when they did a hit piece, they though they could get away with it.  One of us complained about the coverage  and the person over that desk was dismissive. Big mistake. The matter was then taken to the publisher and the  article got a correction. Because, besides being a hit piece on Janet, it was factually incorrect.  They thought they could get away with it.  They couldn't.  But that goes to how Janet was truly beaten up so forgive us if we're not going to pretend like NYT can just sneak in the door today and do so without facing any real criticism.

For those who missed it, Janet Jackson was performing at the Superbowl in 2004.  Justin Timberlake was on stage with her.  He ripped her top off.  Her breast was exposed.  He got away with it and she was crucified.

We don't expect NYT to get it right, they couldn't in real time.  But their bad 'documentary' is full of errors.  From the beginning, they blamed Janet.  But, check NYT's e-mails the night of the Superbowl, check the FCC complaints and you'll see that people bothered were bothered by Justin, not just Janet.

In fact, some could have cared less about a bared boob.  They were offended that a White boy -- emphasis on boy -- ripped off the top of an African-American woman.

The media never wanted to get it right.  

That includes the whorish 'left' media which wanted to reduce it to 'oh, they can't handle a bare breast!'  

Again, the original complaints -- including the ones NYT received -- called out Justin Timberlake.

And they were right to do so.

Janet didn't cooperate with NYT's documentary -- and she was right to refuse to do so.  They crucified her and did so with glee.

As two who know Janet and who consider her a good friend, it hurt to read NYT's coverage.  It was cute, watching the piece of garbage 'documentary' and seeing how NYT pointed fingers at many but never at themselves.  

Janet will tell her story in the new year on LIFETIME and A&E --  and it will be a better documentary.

Will it be better evaluated?

We ask because NPR's got a real problem with African-American women.  Diana Ross, a living legend, releases a new album about making it through the pandemic -- new tracks, most of which she co-wrote and NPR ignores it.  During this same time, Barbra Streisand -- who's voice is gone -- releases an album of tracks going back decades.  And NPR rushes to interview her.

No woman charted on BILLBOARD's HOT 100 more than Diana in the 20th century.  She's a legend, she's a pioneer and NPR thinks they can get away with ignoring her and that Americans won't notice.

[We covered this last week in "NPR, stop the racism (before you break our hearts)..."]

And now comes the attack on Janet.  Eric Deggans -- one of those effete males you hear on Terry Gross' NOT-SO-FRESH AIR -- decided to weigh in.  Why?  Apparently to sport his own stupidity.

His column is a text book sexism.

This isn't a new idea; Jackson's fans have complained for a long time that Timberlake paid a much smaller price than she did when their stunt went wrong in front of a massive TV audience.

But the film also implies that the idea for the stunt came from Jackson or one of her staff, quoting former MTV executive Salli Frattini, a senior vice president at MTV who worked on the halftime show. Frattini says Jackson left the stadium immediately after the incident and never really explained to CBS or MTV staff onsite what happened, though the star later issued several public apologies.

According to the film, people who worked on the halftime show recall watching a rehearsal with Timberlake where he pulled her skirt off, concluding it didn't work. MTV was producing the halftime show; with a roster of performers that included Nelly, Kid Rock and P. Diddy, the lineup had already spooked the NFL and the network, which made it clear they didn't want anything overly risqué to occur.

The film notes news reports implying Jackson's stylist may have purchased new wardrobe items, including a sunburst-shaped nipple shield, after the rehearsal. According to Frattini, Timberlake met with Jackson and her stylist privately for a few minutes before the performance and they did the show, where Jackson's naked breast and a sunburst nipple shield were exposed for an instant.

"I felt betrayed," Frattini adds during the film. "My instincts told me that there was a private conversation between wardrobe, stylist and artist, where someone thought this would be a good idea. And it backfired."

And while it is tragic to see how much criticism and backlash Jackson endured, the film never quite contends with the notion that this was a mess which may have originated with the singer herself, at a time when everyone involved knew that sexual content on TV was a hot-button issue with CBS, the NFL and the general public.

What a load of nonsense.

Reality, it doesn't matter if Janet was the mastermind.  That's not the issue, you sexist pig.

Janet and Justin did that nipple-gate.  They were both responsible.

But Justin never was held responsible.

Quit your b.s. garbage that if she helped plan it, it should be on her head.

You're a sexist piece of trash.  Justin participated.


Janet's career was destroyed.  And Justin got to play the big man.  She gets pulled off pop radio while he becomes the king of pop radio.  

And there's more reason to be appalled by Justin.

Dropping back to March for this from our "TV: Clark Kent reported the truth but then he was fictional:"


Ask yourself also what role the media played in the dog piles on women.  No we're not talking about Tara Reade.  We could but we're talking about that fey sprite Justin Timberlake.  BLACK SNAKE MOAN should have never been made but, if it had to be made, there was no reason to cast castarati Justin Timberlake.  Long before Lance Bass came out, the big rumor about NSYNC was that Justin was gay.  He wasn't gay.  He was effete. In our society, thanks to the narrative popularized by Hollywood (to protect in the closet money makers), effete equals gay. So Justin went through the early '00s with a chip on his shoulder and another one on his smug ass.  As a result, he felt the best way to shore up his questionable manhood was to objectify women.

Last month, Timberlake realized he could no longer ignore his past actions -- because people weren't letting him anymore.  In 2018, he suffered the first significant wave of backlash over what he did to Janet Jackson.

That year, his poorly received Superbowl performance came on the heels of weeks and weeks of outrage over how he'd progressed just fine, after Nipplegate (the 2004 Superbowl performance where he ripped off Janet's top leaving her breast exposed).  

Janet was banned from the Grammys that year, he performed.  Les Moonves ordered all CBS radio stations to stop playing her songs, Justin's continued to be played.  While Janet was banned and lost out on one opportunity after another (including the lead in a TV biopic about Lena Horne), Justin had endless opportunities and people endlessly applaued him -- endlessly applauded his theft and appropriation of Janet's brother Michael's musical style.

What changed last month? Britney Spears.  Justin's ex-girlfriend received attention over the unfairness that is her currently life situation.  Justin was part of the anti-Britney drama, using her to advance his melodramatic "Cry Me A River" single.  A lot of people used Britney.  We didn't.  We noted at one point during her struggles that we don't do do pile ons and we had other things to cover. Britney's life has been difficult in the last two decades as she has fought for the basic right to run her own life.  And Justin has coasted.

As the outrage grew, Justin finally issued an apology or 'apology' last month.  

Too little too late? How about: Not one damn bit believable?

The media should have told everyone that -- should have, but didn't.  Kylie Minogue.  Those two words were missing from most of the coverage. (One notable exception here.)  In 2003, he made a big point to grope and cup her ass.  Again, he felt the world saw him as gay.  So what to do, what to do?  Demean a woman, objectify her.  That's all he's offered his entire solo career -- that and trying to rip off Michael Jackson.  It was disgusting, please note, in 2017, when THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER did a musical roundtable and Tori Amos (who knows better) was making nice with Justy

Justin's stunt at the Superbowl was not new.  He'd already done similar with Kylie Minogue.  Poor little Eric, so unaware of anything and unable to do research.  He could start by reading Rick Fulton's 2003 report:

KYLIE MINOGUE gave Justin Timberlake the bum's rush at the Grammy Awards - after he tried to grope her rear again.

Justin, 22, wanted to repeat his antics at the Brit Awards when he fondled the star's rear during their raunchy duet. He has admitted being "obsessed" with Kylie's bum and rates it 58 on a scale of one to 10.

As they met on stage to present an award for Best Pop Vocal Album, Justin asked the Aussie beauty: "By the way, can I grab your ass again?" But Kylie flatly refused his naughty request and yelled: "No!" leaving Justin looking shocked.


He used women to look 'like a man.'  Because he was just a squeaky voiced  boy trying to steal Michael Jackson's act.  The documentary -- like Eric -- leaves that out.  It happened.  It's reality.  And they should have asked all the MTV and Superbowlers -- the ones who praised Justin because he "manned up" (honest to goodness, that was a quote on the documentary made by a woman) -- why they allowed Justin to be part of the Superbowl after what had already happened with Kylie.

Eric insists:



 That may be the biggest reason why this documentary feels less impactful than other projects urging us to reconsider past scandals distorted by sexism and racism; unlike Spears' conservatorship, what happened to Jackson is not ongoing as the film airs.

She survived the scandal, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has a two-night documentary of her own set to air on A&E and Lifetime early next year, promising to tell her life story her way.


She survived the scandal?

Okay, that explains everything.  Eric's saying the woman didn't drown so she's a witch and she got what she deserved.   

NPR really thought that garbage was worth publishing?  


Sometimes the most telling thing about a documentary is what it presents; however, sometimes what's most telling is the way the media reacts to a documentary.





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