So I was watching Glee the other night, waiting desperately to see if Brittany and Santana would show some sign that they were still together. As I tried to peer into the minds of Glee's creators and discover their subversive intent in having the lesbian character Santana dance to a song with romantic lyrics about boy/girl love with the gay-in-real-life Ricky Martin, it hit me: TV is not activism. I mean, critiquing TV can be activism, but TV programming itself exists, by and large, in the service of profit, not activism. In recognition of TV's persuasive powers over "impressionable youth," there is a long history of the "after school special" and the "very special episode" of family sitcoms. But the structural inequalities and relations of rule responsible for the most urgent cultural problems of our time run way deeper than the politics of media representation.
We all know Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and others. Disney latched on to these classic fairy tales starting in the mid-20th century, and they began churning out princess after princess—treating these traditional stories as a marketers' wet dream, resting on the faith that people will continue to not only buy into these stories, but also into the massive amount of marketing and branding that surround them. But just because these stories remain popular doesn't mean they're any less unsettling when you start to pick them apart. Even with the multitude of remakes (television, movies, Broadway, etc...), very rarely do writers and producers seek to infuse a little imagination and creativity, absolving these stories from the tired tropes they've come to push. So it was with a bit of trepidation and some skepticism that I chose to watch ABC's new drama, Once Upon A Time. While the show hasn't worked out all the issues with "Disneyfied" fairy tales, it certainly is a step in the right direction.
I realize that I'm the umpteenthbloggerto toss ina couple pennies on the gender dynamics of the fall TV lineup, but I couldn't resist. Since "Isn't He Lovely" is examining social attitudes like "What Men Should Like Look Like" and "How to Perform the Tap Dance of Masculinity with Aplomb," the handful of male-in-crisis sitcoms debuting this season fit right into the narrative. For all the words that I've spilled on how men are tending to their pubic hair and pumping iron and generally not liking what they're seeing in the mirror—and also not wanting to talk about it due to the feminine associations of expressing dissatisfaction with their looks—these shows are out to grab heterosexual male America and shake his softened shoulders into action. One is even called Man Up! for heaven's sake.
I watched 2 Broke Girls last night with what I felt were managed expectations. The show was co-created by a woman, but that woman is Whitney Cummings (who, with the addition of her show Whitney, may be responsible for this season's network sitcoms being schlockier than ever). The show is about a female friendship, but the premise is really trite and predictable. The show stars Kat Dennings (whom I like), but it is also really bad.
I agree. These uniforms ARE a visual representation of the tired stereotypes that permeate our show!
Many characters on television are explicitly mentally ill, and they come in a wide range of presentations. Television as a medium provides a unique opportunity for long, complex character arcs, which can be good when a show wants to take mental health seriously and really explore characters and their development. It can also be very, very bad, when a show doesn't do the research, and instead presents extended, truly awful depictions of mental illness.
I just finished watching the new NBC comedy Up All Night, and though repeat viewings might reveal plot holes and problematic jokes (it is a network sitcom, after all), I absolutely loved it. Will Arnett and Christina Applegate are terrific as Reagan and Chris, a completely charming married couple who support one another but aren't too sappy or perfect, and Maya Rudolph is hysterical as Reagan's boss Ava, the Oprah-esque talk show host with a flair for the dramatic. I may be speaking a bit too soon since I've only seen one episode, but color me psyched about this show. (Yep, I said color me psyched. That's how psyched I am.)
A few of us saw The Change-Up for the most recent Popaganda podcast (the things we'll do for you...) and one of the many things I was struck with during the movie (among an inexplicable plot, a million penis jokes, etc.) was the character of Sabrina, played by Olivia Wilde. Around the time she called her date out for ordering a bottle of wine (the nerve!) and ordered a manly scotch instead, I knew what we were in for. She's a conventionally hot and sexy legal aid who loves drinking, sports, and daring people to get tattoos: A version of a trope—a woman who likes "dude things" yet is still traditionally feminine—that we've all seen before in countless movies and TV shows.
The dogs are hot and so am I! Baseball!
However, my scouring of TV Tropes for a name and a clever description yielded no results. Thus, it's time to Name That Trope!
I'm not saying that violence should never be shown or described. We need our movies and TV shows and games and books to address issues of the violence in our culture, and violence against women is included in that. But some of these examples just play into the same old misogyny—without asking anything more of the audience—which is a shame and a missed opportunity.