Friday, April 25, 2014

Disappointment in Analysis, volume 2.

I'm not entirely certain, but I think my favorite episode ("Fancyman, Part 1") of New Girl doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. I'm distraught, dismayed, disappointed. The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd rarely pass. So many of my favorite things are becoming tainted by an underrepresentation of women...and that tainted tint is evident simply because I've opened my eyes to that harshly glinting light, the source of which is a crippling patriarchy piercing every aspect of my life.

Before the event was cancelled, I was due to attend a burlesque show this evening. I was all atwitter worrying about whether or not I would get outraged at the objectification of women, even if they're objectifying themselves. I've been to a burlesque show before, several years ago. I really enjoyed it the first time, finding it empowering and exhilarating, but now...now I'd be bitching about the lack of men taking off their clothes. Now I'd be noticing the comments of men in the audience. Now I'd probably be storming out of the bar, blood boiling. I'm angry all the time these days, simply because I am paying attention.

Examples of television with very small casts, such as The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd, would be acceptable forms of entertainment not passing IF it wasn't such a problem everywhere else. If only every media representation of people in the human race (casts) included non-sexist humor, equal numbers of women to men, well-rounded character representations of women, trans-people, racial diversity, sexual orientation, size-variance, and people enduring disabilities of various kinds. I could enjoy so many more things! I would spend all my money buying entertainment! Is this too much to ask? How are we still a humanity that barely includes HALF (women) our human race on television and in movies?! How have we maintained this white dude dictatorship for so long? How have intelligent people such as myself been brainwashed to not see it for so FUCKING LONG?! I'm so outraged to have to live in a culture of obscured truths and obfuscated perceptions. I will always stand up for those being slighted/de-humanized, but it is exhausting to realize how often this needs to be done.

In the last couple of days I've watched five more episodes in my search for my top ten TV shows of all time. Three episodes passed the Bechdel Test, and that's counting Rupaul's Drag Race, a show that includes a cast that is about 98% men.

I just went back to the New Girl episode and rewatched the two scenes including women talking to each other. There was a very BRIEF paragraph wherein Jess is telling her boss something about assembling a group of kids together for a fundraiser, but really, everything in both conversations is about a man...I'm stretching it to let it pass.

Most of the time, New Girl is very great about representing race, size, gender, and feminism. Of the five main characters (Jess, Nick, Cece, Winston, and Schmidt) two are women and two are of a race other than white. Often, side characters represent many different aspects of humanity as well. The jokes are usually not sexist and the "minority" characters are represented as well-rounded people with nuance. They're not there to be the butt of jokes, at least not any more so than Nick and Schmidt, the two white dudes on the show.

In an episode called "Jess and Julia", Julia is a lawyer dating Nick who is intimidated and hateful towards Jess because she makes cupcakes and brakes for birds. Julia is a woman that has made her brand of feminism about distancing herself from everything "girly". This is exactly the type of dismissive attitude women like Zooey Deschanel have to endure daily. I am this type of girl. I like unicorns and glitter and Hello Kitty, but I'm also a fierce feminist who will rip you a new asshole if you say something sexist to me. I am not less of a badass bitch because I like hearts and have a baby deer tattooed on my forearm. Don't call us "manic pixie dream girls"! Jess notices this attitude and attempts to be nice and make friends with Julia, being met only with disdain and passive-aggressive insults. Finally, Jess makes this speech:

"Ok, HEY. I've got something to say to you, man! I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children....and that doesn't mean I'm not smart and tough and strong...I'm about to go and pay this $800 fine and my checks have baby farm animals on them, bitch!"

This was a moment for me. Perhaps this is really my favorite episode of New Girl. Later in the ep, Julia goes over to the apartment to hang out with Jess and they become friends. It's ok to be a Julia in pantsuits but it's also ok to bake cupcakes and wear Rainbow Bright t-shirts. Never forget that.

It sucks to want to put a shit-ton of glitter on your face but feel hindered knowing the comments you'll have to endure by doing so. Because Jess represents the exact type of girl I feel I am in my glittery pink heart, I will always love this show. Also, it's really hilarious most of the time. Lately, they've been stumbling, but I still watch the show every week.

Whatever slight feminist failings New Girl possesses, Parks and Recreation has none that I can see. Passes Bechdel Test? Check. Half the cast is women? Check. Racial diversity? Check. Size diversity? Check. Well-rounded, flawed, nuanced characters of all kinds represented? Check. Non-sexist humor? Check. Feminist agenda? Check. Feminist icon? Check!
This show is just, perfect. It is lacking in vampires and ass-kicking, but not every feminist show can be Buffy. I'm learning to accept that. This show is like if The Office were more feminist. This show, sorry Tina Fey, is what 30 Rock wishes it could have been. Oh, God, I just pitted two wonderful, iconic, fierce women against each other! I take it back!
{Lately I've been asking myself if my life passes the Bechdel Test. I have spent the entirety of my adult life in relationships with white men. I've internalized a good chunk of my personality based upon the reflections I make in the men that I have loved. I have to genuinely ask myself how I feel, when it is easy to think about how someone else feels. Nauseating, isn't it? I'm at least 75% the doormat society wants me to be, but I'm LEARNING.}

The episode of Parks and Rec I rated is called "Pawnee Rangers" and it involves a men-only camping trip headed by Ron versus Leslie's all-girl camping trip. Leslie's is much more fun and eventually all the boys from Ron's group want to join, so they are then initiated as "Pawnee Goddesses". There wasn't a single second of this episode that wasn't enjoyable to me. It's also the one with
No spoilers, but this show will be on my top five, which is a feat, because the show isn't over yet, so it loses points for not having a complete arc to judge and it STILL made the top five.

"Just a little prick in the mouth." 
Judging the feminism of Rupaul's Drag Race proved a more interesting and difficult task than I originally anticipated. Fortunately, most episodes include at least two women judges, though they're mostly critiquing/talking about men, men dressed as women. The men refer to each other by their female drag names and female pronouns most of the time. One could argue that drag queens are men making fun of women, but I think they're really making fun of the over-the-top expectations of women. Much of the time they're honoring female icons that they identified with as young gay boys growing up in our sexist culture. I would argue that many gay men that often dress as women would consider themselves feminists. So, do I judge Rupaul's Drag Race as a show about men, a show about men so in love with women that they want to become them, or perhaps the more important question, is a show whose premise is about gender really the LEAST about gender of any of the shows I love? Each episode you get to see these men as men, these men as women, and these men in every stage on their way in and out of Dressing As Girls (drag).

At the very least, this show is eye-opening, gorgeous, and fascinating. At its very best, it's a pun-filled punch of eye candy that humanizes gay men (more than Will and Grace EVER did) and is schooling a nation in acceptance of gay men both as themselves AND as women. If you've never seen this show, it truly is extremely entertaining. These girls are gorgeous and witty and campy and talented and they cry backstage when their parents Skype them telling them they accept them for the first time since they came out two decades ago. It is heartwarming, breathtaking, and hysterical.

You will be amazed at how fishy (feminine, mistaken for women) these queens can be.

I've learned more about charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent from these lady boys than I have from most female icons in the media. I think the way men imitate women can teach us a lot about how very NOT seriously we can take ourselves. Sure, for them it's a costume they can take off, many of them reverting to masculine white men that can "pass" if they wanted to. The "otherness" of gay men, all other things being white, can be hidden. However, there is something refreshing about men doing women better than I can. Being beautiful is baldly an act for these men, but it's an act for women too, only we're supposed to be "authentic". You're not supposed to see beyond our mask, but this show exhibits that mask for what it truly is. It is ARTIFICE, children. Employ it whenever you wish, do as you please, but boys and girls, don't ever forget:
Ultimately, I came on the side of Rupaul definitely being a feminist show. The episode I watched is called "Snatch Game", an episode played each season wherein the queens impersonate a famous female celebrity. I used season 4's version of this episode. It was delightful. I can't believe I almost didn't consider Rupaul's Drag Race in my quest for best TV shows ever.

Next, I watched Firefly's episode entitled "Our Mrs. Reynolds". This episode's premise involves an accidental marriage (custom confusion on a planet the crew visited) between captain Mal and a woman who, by all appearances, seems to want nothing more out of life than to be a very good and submissive wife. Throughout the episode, almost everyone on the ship's crew attempts to teach her a bit of autonomy, tries to lift her up, and treats her like a human being. It turns out that she was playing them to steal their ship, but she was gooooood.

Firefly is a Joss Whedon enterprise. It's basically space cowboys, if you're into that, and who ISN'T, amiright? Don't judge it by the ATROCIOUS theme song. Being a Whedon show, it passes the Bechdel Test with its hands tied behind its back. Nearly every shot involves men and women on equal footing. Women on this show are to be respected, even if they're prostitutes. This show has the most interesting portrayal of a prostitute I've ever seen in television, actually. In this universe, courtesans are trained in a very high class and sophisticated way. In fact, they are considered among the highest class in the caste system. Inara is constantly getting the crew (who are mostly thieves and law-breakers) out of deep shit with her aristocratic influence. She chooses her clients (men and women) very carefully and takes pride in her job. There's this whole involved ritual process in her seduction techniques that sometimes don't even involve sex. Inara has complete control and can back out at any time she feels her work is not progressing to her liking. She's one of the most beautiful (pictured above) women I've ever seen in my life, and she's a PROSTITUTE, but she's not treated with less respect or objectified by the fellow members of her crew. When someone does treat her derisively, she shuts them down. She is principled, funny, and is seen cultivating genuine relationships with other members of the crew.

The show itself is like any other Whedon show. The characters are funny and well-developed. The show is thought-provoking, feminist, and entertaining (did I mention space cowboys?!?). I am among the legion of fans outraged by she show's cancellation after only one short season. We could have had so much more time with this wonderful troop of outlaw space explorers!

"The One With the Football"
Then there's FRIENDS. Despite the obvious criticisms of the show (no racial diversity, some sexist humor, some backhanded gay jokes, etc), I really enjoy FRIENDS. It employs pure physical comedy that lasts 10 seasons without getting stale, in my opinion. I'll rewatch this show forever. Almost every episode is quotable and accomplishes the biggest goal of entertainment in my book: total immersive distraction. There are definitely things to not like about FRIENDS, but I forgive them a lot of these things having grown up with Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Monica. The show is also wayyyyyy less sexist than the most popular sitcom on television now (Big Bang Theory).

In conclusion, I like TV a lot, though I'm learning to see the terrible injustices within the things that I love, a fact which is both disappointing and sadly, not surprising. I'll take painful truth over blissful ignorance any day if it makes me appreciate fabulous feminists such as Amy Poehler, Joss Whedon, and Zooey Deschanel even more than I already do.

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