United States of Tara, a show about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), recently wrapped up its second season. I haven't yet seen it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first season—I love Toni Collette and Diablo Cody, and there are not a ton of shows about women by women. There are even less shows set in my home state of Kansas. It's a funny, well-written, and on some levels well-executed show.
But, after rewatching and researching the show's origins and authorship in a critical context, I was perturbed to realize that the show's portrayal of disability was not only sensationalistic, but inherently based on appropriatiion. In United States of Tara, DID is used as a metaphor, an analogy, a plot point—part of the human experience, yes, but also an opportunity to speculate, crack jokes, and make grand statements about Life (normal life: that is, with able privilege) and Being A Woman (an everyday woman: that is, one who is not crazy).
In an interview with Salon, Munn says "these women [Jezebel bloggers] sit behind this very thin veil that I can see right through, this idea that 'we stand up for women.' If you stand up for women, then don't bash me." This quote reveals a strict adherence to what I'll call the Palin Feminist Fallacy: the idea that if a woman does something, it is automatically a feminist action. Being "okay" with a sexist remark doesn't mean that it's automatically no longer sexist, and being a female who makes misogynistic jokes doesn't somehow cancel out the misogyny.
Weeds in its first three seasons was an excellent show—it was well-written, clever satire with multifaceted and funny characters. Its send-up of the rhetoric and culture of suburbia was funny and pointed and coherent. Celia was a hilarious and capable antagonist, and I loved that the older het white men on the show—Doug, Andy, and Dean—were strongly characterized as inept and lazy. In contrast to the class and race privileged characters in Agrestic, Heylia James and her nephew Conrad Shepherd, the pot dealers who gave Nancy her start in the business, were funny, sympathetic, and competent. They were easy to root for, while Nancy made irresponsible decisions by the dozens. Heylia and Conrad took themselves and their ambitions as individuals seriously, and handled themselves and their business adroitly.
I'm not alone in thinking that Weeds has fallen hard in recent years. The basic thesis of the show in its fourth and fifth season seems to be "everything falls to shit, and Mexico and Mexican folks are every awful stereotype you've ever heard." All but the most clearly and slowly spelled out motivations of the characters are completely unintelligible. It's not very funny, and doesn't put sexism or racism or classism in any kind of critical context. The greatest indicator of this steep drop in quality is the complete and total erasure of Heylia and Conrad. Much to the show's detriment, these two fine characters have been abandoned, literally never mentioned at all after the end of the third season.
Today, I conclude my comparative review of South Park and Family Guy. This is the last part of a four-part series (one, two, three for your convenience) called the Offensive Olympics. These shows are both notable for their propensity to rely on political shock value and the oppression of marginalized bodies to make their jokes, so I am investigating which is worse, and on which axis.
My affection for shows like King of the Hill and the Simpsons (the kind of shows that Family Guy half-heartedly rips off) grows the more I watch it and the better I know the characters, the setting, the style of humor. With Family Guy, though, I just grow irritated and bored.
Image: A seafoam green television from the past, the Braun HF 1. From Wikipedia.
TelevIsm is a series about currently airing television shows. I imposed this parameter on myself so that I would not post endlessly about shows that I love that are gone, like Battlestar Galactica and King of the Hill (an excellent show that the brilliant Snarky's Machine and I turn the discussion to in a few comment sections round these parts.) But today, I thought I'd shift the conversation to the future: the 2010-2011 network television season.
Since I've begun my stint here at Bitch, I've been watching a lot of Bones on Netflix. Are you ready for a surprise, faithful TelevIsm readers?
I'm kind of in love with it.
I spend a lot of time critiquing how ladies and folks of color are portrayed on television, but Bones is a rare show that consistently portrays their politically marginalized characters as competent, admirable, and worthy of respect and commendation.
The Office is a show about an everyday office and the romances therein. There are a lot of fairly responsible portrayals of verbal violence and references to sexuality, but there are few opportunities to portray rape. But on the rare instance that rape does enter the narrative, The Office whiffs it by playing into tired patriarchal tropes about false rape allegations and making a mockery of male rape victims.
Image: Cartman looks angrily at the camera in front of a tank full of manatees and balls.Both South Park and Family Guy have issues. But which privilege do they insist upon most thoroughly? At what rate do these shows oppress which bodies, and in what way? Which is more offensive? In the next few posts, I'm going to take a quantitative (though inherently subjective, of course) look at exactly how offensive these shows are. I will take five episodes spread over the course of each series and analyze the rate at they make offensive comments or jokes, whether in language, image, or action, and break it down by sexism, racism, classism, ableism, cissexism, sizism, and heterosexism.