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TelevIsm: Shh, It's On!

Hi there! I'm Rachel McCarthy James. In most internet-type contexts I go by RMJ. I write and edit the recently-revived feminist blog Deeply Problematic, and I'm here to talk to y'all about some TELEVISION.

They say that television rots your brains. I don't agree. My folks were always inclined to limit my television time pretty severely, but since I went out to seek my way in the world nothing has stimulated my intellectual interests quite so much as television.

Television shows are relevant to feminism because they, like music, like news, like advertising, shape the world that we live in and how we view it. Television shows frame how we think about our lives and our bodies, and lives and bodies unfamiliar to us. Sometimes it has truth. Sometimes it perpetuates, well, isms. Racism, classism, cissexism, ableism, ageism, sexism, and so many other patriarchy- (or kyriarchy-) enforcing systems of oppression can be seen on so many kinds of shows. But not every show reinforces all of these systems, and some fight against them.

Television is relevant to feminism because it is a reflection of what the dominant narratives are in our society. The situations and conversations portrayed on our television and computer screens are something that we as a society see ourselves in. Whether our privileges are refuted or our oppressions are mocked, the fact that these portrayals are on television, being watched by millions, makes them significant. Television reflects and creates our cultural framework, and it's worthy of analysis both broad and detailed.

In my previous analysis of television, I've looked at patterns and framing and different qualities of particular episodes or full runs of shows. They have often been my most popular posts. Sometimes these queries are broad – how is 30 Rock ableist? Sometimes these queries are specific – does a single scene in Mad Men trivialize domestic violence? These posts are indicative of how I'll approach my work for TelevIsm. But I'm also gonna branch out just a little bit.

I studied political science in college, and in my studies I often combined qualitative analysis with quantitative, verifiable date. I'm interested in combining the qualitative and the quantitative by looking at these shows from a verifiable perspective.

For instance, I see the claim frequently that Lost is a racist show that is particularly violent towards its characters of color. I'm interested in asking: How racist is it, exactly? In what contexts does this violence most frequently occur? Or with South Park: It's ableist, but how often? What other forms of the kyriarchy does it reflect? How do I define and identify this ableism?

In this series, I'll be looking at how shows perpetuate inequality, and reinforces privilege. I have a lot of material for that, as you can imagine! For instance: Last week's Family Guy was incredibly transphobic! Lost: it has some issues with women and in particular mothers (as I believe we'll see tonight)! South Park dehumanizes people with disabilities on a regular basis!

But I'll also try to look at how television tells truths and works towards social progress. A frequent answer to calls for better and more responsible television is, "It's too hard! And no one else does it!" But some shows do show inequality responsibly, and it's important to note those examples and use them as models for how to do better. For example, does The Office sometimes succeed at portraying and making fun of ableism or racism? Lost's portrayal of John Locke is in many ways ableist, but does the framing of Hurley's mental illness work better? How, and when, and how does this reflect on the show as a whole?

In my work for TelevIsm, I'm going to focus on currently airing shows. Rather than writing about how Scully from The X-Files is a totally badass character, I'd like to write about a current female badass character. I'm not going to post about how Buffy is totally feminist because, seriously, tons of people have covered that. I want to look at shows that are currently relevant, currently shaping how we view the world. Some of the shows I want to focus on are Lost, The Office, South Park, and Family Guy. As we get into the summer, I'll probably branch out some into the shows that have summer premieres – such as Weeds and Mad Men. I'm not strictly limiting this to scripted shows – I'm currently planning a post on wrestling – so if you have any tips or ideas, email me.

I am so excited to be writing for Bitch – it's a dream come true! I'll be posting here on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Check in on Thursday for an exploration of what distinguishes a joke at the expense of the patriarchy from a joke at the expense of marginalized bodies.

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Comments

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Welcome, RMJ!

Can't wait to see how this blog series unfurls. I'm embarrassed to admit I hadn't heard/seen the term "kyriarchy" before, and I think it's great -- even more inclusive than bell hooks' "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy," not to mention less wordy.
The idea of posts on The Office is especially exciting. For some reason, the episodes dealing with sexism and ableism have come across as much smarter and successfully satirical to me than the homophobia episode, and I'm still deconstructing why. (Also, what's to make of the lovable chauvinist trope?)
And personally, I've come to experience some serious Shh-It's-On! syndrome with Glee. I never thought one show could both infuriate and delight me so often. Alyx Vesey, Page McBee and the Transcontinental Disability Choir have all written eloquently about the show on this site, but I, for one, don't think its potential for feminist commentary has been exhausted.