Category Archives: television

Privilege: I’ll Ignore You & It’ll Get Better

So I was watching Kathy Griffin’s new talk show this week and her talkin’ shit guests were Chelsea Handler & Whitney Cummings. I learned two things from the show.

1. Whitney Cummings is actually funny when she’s just being her. ‘2 Broke Girls’ is full of stereotypes and bullshit (which makes me sad ’cause I love Kat Dennings) and jokes about sexual assault so I fell out of that pretty quick. The show ‘Whitney’ feels repetitive and just not that funny. However her manic personality and willing to say anything come through very well when she’s just being herself.

2. Wow Chelsea Handler is both privileged and dumb.

Granted I haven’t had that much exposure to Chelsea. I’ve heard a few of her soundbites, which always seem funny, and read a few excerpts from her books but that’s it. So the first hint that  she really just didn’t know what she was talking about was about being offensive/racist in your humor. Where she basically said you have to start with the groups you belong to and work your way out and that way no one will care.

Okay quick breakdown, making fun of a privileged class is in no way the same as making fun of a marginalized group. So for example when Chelsea mocks someone for being white it does not have the historical weight behind it that making fun of other groups does. Also when people make fun of white people it very rarely has to do with their race directly. One of the things about stereotypes is that very few of them about the dominant group get so powerful as to be called fact “Blacks are more violent.” “Asians are more studious.” and none of them  get coded into laws to be used against your group.  So let’s not pretend that it’s the same thing or even similar. Making fun of the group in power is never as hurtful and damaging in a larger sense as making fun of people who are already treated as other.

That’s not even my main complaint with Chelsea in this show, that comes along when Kathy brings up feminism. Kathy Griffin is actually trying to have a semi-serious conversation about how women make 70 cents for every $1 that men make. Chelsea has the nerve to say (paraphrased) that she doesn’t believe in talking about inequality because that simply leads to more inequality. She prefers to ignore it and it will get better on its on.

What the flying fuckity-fuck?

When we don’t think about things, they get better? Excuse me. I’m pretty sure that no inequality in the history of the world has ever been improved by ignoring that it exists. Honestly being able to say that means that you don’t care about all those people who don’t have the option of not discussing it.  Chelsea can afford that have that opinion, literally. With the amount of money that she has coming in she can insulate herself from the worst of what those who aren’t as wealthy cannot help but  deal with. It seems to come from the same place of “Why are you always bring this up?” which carries the assumption that you derive some joy in discussing the ways we are oppressed in society.

The main assumption being made here though is “It doesn’t affect my life, so it can’t matter right? I don’t have to think about it so obviously you shouldn’t either. And you’re only bring this up to make me uncomfortable of course.”

Privilege is the ability to think that only things that affect you matter. Privilege is asking others to stop talking about inequality because bringing it up doesn’t help you in any way. Privilege is pretending that closing your eyes makes the monsters go away and privilege is not acknowledging that not everyone can or should close their eyes.

Glee, Why You So White?

So Gwyneth Paltrow singing Cee-Lo Green. For all the reasons this hurts and why it should not be even in the most hellish of nightmare worlds, go here: A Few Things About Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘F*ck You’ As Performed on Glee for an excellent, intelligent and hilarious take on why it is so not okay. I’ve dealt with a lot on Glee (I’m looking at you Matthew Morrison and your incessant need to rap) but this is the first time I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting the songs on my iPod. So the part of the post linked above that seems to be causing the most drama up and in the comments is this part:

The song is off-limits for white people
Unless! Unless you really want to match Cee Lo sound for sound. First off, the soul-pop package doesn’t mitigate this song or its message; it mainstreams it. It’s subversion on steroids, and watered down to high-school pop it’s about as subversive as Reader’s Digest. More technically, I guess there’s nothing keeping Paltrow from actually rhyming that “if I was richer/I’d still be wit’ cha,” (hello, Amy Winehouse!), but her whitening of the phrase is kind of… well, disgusting. Let’s face it: Gwyneth Paltrow singing any variation on “F*ck You” is like Pat Boone singing “Tutti Frutti,” and maybe even worse: At least he didn’t have to dance with Cory Monteith and Chris Colfer.

Okay so the inevitable response to such queries as this is to scream “If you said black people couldn’t cover white songs that would be racist, so this isn’t okay! It’s reverse racism!” Okay first of all that’s a straw man argument that has nothing to do with the initial reasons given for why it’s not okay. Second of all, racism (as many people have said over and over) is privilege plus power. Black people as a group have never had enough power to enforce a nation-wide prejudice on white people in the west which continues through media to this very day.

Ignoring that let’s address that argument as if it’s valid. See the problem is that it’s only valid if equality is the base and we don’t live in an equal society at all and Glee certainly doesn’t exist in a universe of racial equality. See when this season started I was already a little put out that football coach Ken Tanaka and glee member Matt Rutherford were written out of the show and essentially replaced with white folk. Beiste for Tanaka, Sam for Matt. This is no comment on the characters of Beiste or Sam (both of whom I actually enjoy) but to show the whitening of the show in terms of diversity, one of the things they were initially praised for.

In the midst of this look at the guest stars they’ve had on the show so far: Eve, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, John Stamos, Johnathon Groff, Britney, Olivia Newton-John, Josh Groban, Cheyenne Jackson and now Gwyneth Paltrow. With the exception of Eve they are all white and Eve doesn’t even get to sing during her entire one episode appearance. How many songs has Kristin Chenoweth had on the show so far? More than Tina, one of the “main characters” that’s for sure.

So why can’t we have some Broadway legends of color? Some Jennifer Holliday, Stephanie Mills, Rita Moreno, Lea Salonga, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs. Shoot at this point I’m willing to accept Carol Channing’s sketchy claim to some black heritage and cheer for her as a guest star. Or even some actors/musicians of color? Jennifer Hudson, Halle Barry, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Enrique Iglesias, Lenny Kravitz. You could just prop Whitney Houston up in the corner and have her bust out some ‘Greatest Love of All’. Shit, why couldn’t Cee-Lo himself play the substitute teacher and sing his own damn song?

I’ve watched Mercedes get slowly pushed aside, until she is the only glee club member without any kind of romantic interest, or urge at all if the show is to be believed. The relationship between Tina and Mike crosses the line from cute to stereotype so many times it makes my head spin and the treatment of Santana, especially in this last episode with the whole Puck/Artie storyline has drifted far into the overly sexualized latina stereotype.

The way the characters of color end up sidelined so much has resulted in many, many songs by artists of color being sung by white characters on that show. The reverse is hardly ever the case. When Mercedes is given a whole song to sing it is most often a song already done by a black female artist. She doesn’t get to cross that barrier ever (with the exception of Rocky Horror which she got crucified online by Glee fans) while characters like Mr. Schuester and Artie do so on a regular basis. This is not a case of there being a basis of equality that has suddenly changed. This is a case of people beginning to notice that the show is getting more and more white and monolithic in terms of race.

Glee does not rest on a base of equality, just as the world itself does not. To argue the charge of reverse racism you basically have to prove that all things being equal the world isn’t already slanted against People of Color and other oppressed groups. I’m not saying that individual members of an oppressed group cannot be prejudiced but the charge of reverse-racism is erroneous and detracts from the overall question I’ve started to have with Glee, a show I love and would like to continue too love, Glee why you getting more and more white?

And don’t even get me started on the conflation of white, young boy and gay that happens on the series, that’s another post that will be going up later this week.

Fringe – Female Characters and Children

So I know I said I would watch Buffy and start blogging it but I got distracted by Fringe. Now I never watched much of the show when it first premiered but in the last week I’ve torn through the whole first season and the first few episodes of the second and it’s an interesting shows that gives at leas some answers while creating new questions, which I like. But I have one nagging question in regards to FBI Agent, Olivia Dunham.

What in the hell is the point of her sister and niece?

No, really.

They do nothing.

This is not to disparage the actresses at all but to say that the roles themselves are useless in terms of plot  BUT not in terms of gender construction. I have a theory. This all goes back to Agent Dunham (played by Anna Torv) who is an emotionally damaged, waifish young woman with a mystical destiny. Some say Anna Torv is simply not the best actress and is wooden in some spots. While I can see their point in places I overall think this is actually an aspect of the character Olivia Dunham.  Dunham is damaged in so many ways and that is how Torv is playing her, as someone who deep down is sort of wooden, whose happiness is a bit sharp and sudden and fades fairly quickly. That’s a hard thing to play and play well and its an assignment rarely given to women’s characters.

So what’s up with Olivia’s niece, is she just another Cousin Oliver? In a way but not quite.

I think she’s there to make Olivia Dunham more maternal and acceptable to the viewing audience as a female badass. As I said the character of Olivia is broken, messed-up, full of rage, thinks before speaking, and is a prophesied savior, that’s a lot for a character and it’s more to work with than women actors usually get. So I think the niece was put in so that Olivia could interact with her lovingly and therefore reassure the viewing audience that she does have the softer emotions that make her “believable” as a woman.

Audiences have issues with strong female characters or more perhaps honestly executives believe that audiences have issues with strong female characters and one way to mitigate this in their eyes is to show her character in ways that are more traditionally conceived as female spaces/norms. So basically the only time we even see the niece is when Olivia is cuddling with her in bed or refusing to stop reading to her or praising her drawings or any other number of “maternal” actions that are presented to prove that she’s not just a hardcore FBI agent but also a “real” woman. And of course they couldn’t give her a daughter and show a single mom being badass and such (which would’ve actually been really interesting) because that would anger some of the audience with the idea that she could die and leave her child alone. So a niece is perfect, shows her maternal side while also having another support system.

But  like I said it’s just a theory. Who knows once I push farther into the second season the niece and her mother will actually have things to do and become interesting rounded characters?

I somehow doubt it though.

Open Letter

Dear Mr. Schuester.

Your performance in Glee’s season finale almost made me like you again. Please never do a rap song again. No more “Bust A Move” or “Thong Song” or even “Ice Ice Baby”. Never Again. Please. Ever. Thank you.

Sincerely,
A Fan

Buffy!

So I have returned from WisCon where I had a fantastic time. A lot of conversation we had about Joss Whedon had to do with his supposed feminism (which I refer to as girl power, a de-fanged, patriarchal reinterpretation of feminism). Even then I usually feel like Buffy is the only one of his shows that really holds this sensibility for any length of time. A couple of months ago I ended up buying the entire collection of Buffy on DVD. I had been toying with the idea of rewatching the whole show from beginning to end already and these talks at the conference simply made me want to go through with it.

See I was pretty young when Buffy premiered, in fact I was year behind her which I think is one of the reasons I connected with the show so strongly. So the premiere season where she was a sophomore in high school I was a freshman and dealing with a lot of the things that I was dealing with. Yes the bully was disguised as a deformed monster and the abusive boyfriend was a Jekyll & Hyde analog and on and on but they were dealing in metaphor with things that I was dealing with in real life. While this definitely allowed for a greater connection to the show it most likely also gave me blinders for some of the issues of the show. I’ve critiqued Buffy before and certainly will again but there are certain issues in episodes that friends have brought up and I’ve realized I completely missed even a hint of it.

Since the show ended I have rewatched episodes I love (Oh I wanna see the musical episode! or Oooh how about where Willow rips the skin of that guy?!) but never the whole thing from beginning to end. I think it’ll be interesting to see who I love this time around versus the first time around. To be honest the only characters that I can remember really dis-liking in the core cast is Buffy. I can also remember being heavily on Xander’s side through most of the show. Wonder if it’ll be the same this time around?

Appropriative Racial Politics VS Pseudo-Liberalism in Glee

So I am addicted to the new tv series Glee. I talk about it with friends and never miss an episode. Last night’s episode was…interesting in terms of racial identity.

Warning Spoilers Ahead

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Rekindled Love: The Real World #459

Okay so it’s not at #459 yet but I’ve long since lost any interest I had in The Real World. Most of this probably comes from the fact that I remember the first few years of the Real World, when it was really a revolutionary show, when open talk about sex, politics, religion, race and everything else on television was always stringently scripted. Those first few years of the show gave us characters we’ll never forget (Norman, Heather, Pedro, Judd, Puck, Beth, Aaron, Pam, Kevin, etc.) and interactions I still remember:

The Original New York Cast’s Kevin and Julie having a loud raging fight about race in America.

London Cast’s Neil getting his tongue almost bitten off at a show.

Pedro of the San Francisco Cast openly talking about living with HIV.

These were really images that are historical in the framework of Reality Television and compared to those moments, what the show has become?  The latest crop of starved, late teen/early 20’s, wanna be-actors/singers/models (because at a certain point the show stopped even entertaining the idea of allowing people who look average into the house at all), gossiping and generally acting like a bunch of six-year-olds holds next to no interest to me at all.

Then last week I caught the beginning of the new season, set in Brooklyn, and I met Katielynn, the first trans- contestant on The Real World. Suddenly I was interested in the show again. Not because Katielynn is transgender but because she’s not the usual stereotype of transwomen that we’re allowed to see on television. See Katielynn is a black belt martial artist who recently moved to Montana to be with her boyfriend and would love to own her own dojo one day.

Generally, when a transwoman gets featured on a television show she has to be a sex worker or a …well generally sex worker is all that transwomen are allowed to be in Hollywood, with Alexis Meade from Ugly Betty being an exception. Wait, I forgot the stock character of the tranwoman who is also allowed to be the suffering, tragic outcast who has no (or one) friends, no romantic prospects and eventually falls into something against her will that destroys any hope of a happy life for her – like drugs or… sex work.

Katielynn (from what I’ve seen, which I admit is only one episode) seems to be a strong and capable woman, someone who knows who she is and what she wants. Even though I’m sure that’s not her point and it’s certainly not her job just by being who she is she breaks down stereotypes society holds of transwomen. That interesting notion and how the rest of the house might react to her openness (there’s already two guys I’ve pegged as idiots) is definitely enough to make me interested in the show again. Because at it’s heart that’s what I think the show was originally all about – exposing people in the house and around the world to folks of all different walks of life, people they might not run into in their everyday life, breaking down stereotypes and showing humanity.

Some classic moments from past Real Worlds:

Kevin & Julie – Original New York Cast

Fellow Castmates remember Pedro Zamora

Heroes – I Don’t Even Watch You And I’m Sick Of You

Okay geek confession time – I don’t watch Heroes.

I know, I know *wrist slap* bad sci-fi comic geek.

I tried during the first season and got about 11 episodes in mostly carried by my interest in the Nikki/Jessica and Claire characters – I like crazy, homicidal women and women who will put a man through a car windshield. But I’ll be honest my interest was simply not enough to carry me through the winter hiatus/re-runs. Plus the race politics from the jump were sketchy as hell. We had the silent Haitian – who I’m pretty sure still doesn’t have a name, the drug addict Latino Issac and the criminal black man DL. Sure we had Simone but she had no powers and look how she ended up. Then there are Hiro and Mohinder who are based on the “overachieving Asian” stereotype.

Now some of you are sitting back there thinking “How can this guy critique the show when he’s only seen 11 episodes?” and I agree that I can’t do an in depth critique but the fact of the matter is that being in geek circles I know the basic story lines of what has gone down on the show and really it sounds like its gone down the toilet hardcore.

I watched parts of the third season opener with my housemates and as K. Tempest Bradford says in her awesome column on the premiere Unbreakable Habits: Heroes Returns (which y’all should check out) it was “Two hours I will never get back.”

It was simply train-wreck after train-wreck and as one of my friends said (can’t quite remember who) “Heroes never met a stereotype it didn’t like.” and that’s one of its main problems right there. Every brown and female character on the show starts as a stereotype and I have yet to see them grow beyond that or disrupt that even a little bit (of course most don’t live long enough to get the chance). Mohinder and Maya engage in the out of nowhere rough brown people sex after he injects himself with the serum. The literalmagical negro in Africa – who again I don’t think we have a name for as of yet – helping out white boy Matt Parkman. The friendship between Hiro and Ando being broken apart by Hiro’s continued naivete and obsession with the truth of comic books – at this point it’s just annoying because he makes stupid ass decisions over and over again. You think that after the first two seasons he would have learned something. And there’s … have any of the other brown characters been featured as of yet? Micah? Monica? Are they just gone into the ether never to be mentioned again? 

There are basically no strong female characters on the show who are not evil in some way – the only two I noticed were crazypants sociopath Elle and manipulative Angela Petrelli. The other women have been crippled or broken in ways where they basically have nothing left of the fire that attracted me to the show for even that short while.  And can we talk about the lack of diversity in the female characters? I’m not just talking race here but size and hair color as well – there’s a preponderance of the the skinny white blond girl that Ijust find confusing and odd – Daphne, Elle, Claire, Nikki/Jessica, Tracey I mean damn is there some linkage between blondness, skinniness and the gene that gives these folks powers? Also don’t even get me started on Niki/Jessica’s death and the whole any sexually free or confident woman must die trope and the whole Tracey vs. Niki/Jessica thing they’re trying to do – show how different they are which stinks of  and plays on the Virgin/Whore dichotomy women are constantly subjected to in our society.

The other part of Heroes that works my last nerve is that its comic in visual form which I normally would be down with but all their are doing is taking X-men and Justice League swallowing it down and regurgitating it onto the screen. There is almost nothing new or original in what they are doing. Every snippet I watch just reminds me of a comic I watched as a child. Sylar as the third Petrelli brother = the search and mystery surrounding the third Summers brother. The Shanti virus = the Legacy virus. The future “league of villains” thing = something we’ve seen dozens of time. And as my housemate Jackie pointed out the whole third “book” Villains is just a rehash of Kingdom Come …but y’know bad.

They say there are only seven original stories and everything after is simply a copy of those. Yeah that’s all well and good but if you’re going to rehash a bunch of things I read growing up then you need to add something, make it your own in some way otherwise it’s just seems like boring adaptations of old favorite but without the characters and twists that made it great.

Critiquing Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon created – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity and the upcoming Dollhouse. Now I have issues with a lot the shows listed, I’m also a huge fan. My problem isn’t entirely with the shows but also in the way a lot of of fans perceive Joss. He gets a lot of cachet from certain segments of fandom – about how he loves strong women, how he describes himself as a feminist, his population of diverse women.

Yeah I kind of scoff at all of that. First of all I will never understand why men who choose to treat women decently get a fucking medal, that should just be par for the course. I know it’s not and we as a society need to work on that but handing out cookies to these men and not allowing them to be critiqued or not critiquing them just allows them to get away with a lot of bullshit – that without the cachet of being a “feminist man” or “pro-feminist man” they would be torn to shreds for.

While I love Buffy & Firefly. (Angel I’m kinda *meh* on) the first thing that I notice is that Joss likes a certain type of woman to be strong: they have to be skinny and white and ever so traditionally beautiful. Not really that feminist to me. I’ve had a lifetime of reading comics where skinny  women become superheroes all the time. Buffy was little different from them to me. I liked her sarcasm, her determination but didn’t truly see her or the show as ground breaking…wait rephrase perhaps it was ground breaking for the medium of television specifically. But it seemed to me that everytime there was a feminist moment of fabulousness it was always within this very narrow view of women so that no ground was actually gained in my eyes. If it was anything it was the feminism he ascribed to was this prevalent “girl-power” pseudo-feminism. Yes, it was great to see girls and women being strong but you know what I would have loved? If we could have seen women of different colors, sizes, abilities, classes being just as strong without fucking up and killing someone innocent (Faith) or dying (Kendra).

And so often the shows fell into stereotypes and tropes:

The destruction of Angel’s life through Cordelia’s rampant sexuality and yes we find out she was possessed and it wasn’t really her but that whole excuse was way muddled and not thought out. 

I would have loved for Gunn (the only recurring POC in his first two shows) to just be able to be smart without a mystical intervention.

The dead lesbian – Tara

The breakdown of women without a male partner or when the male partner leaves – Buffy, Anya, Willow and on and on – in a way where we rarely if ever saw the reverse with Xander and Giles.

There’s a way in which Joss likes to consistently pair physical strength in girls with emotional weakness or fucked-up-ness, almost as if they have to exist side by side and that’s what pissed me off more than anything.

And yes we can’t say that Joss had a hand in all of those, he was the creator but he did not write every episode but as the creator he sets the tone, the pace and the message of the show. None of the show writers are going to write a character completely out of the character that Joss has set. It’s a trickle down effect.

Also I think most of us can agree while Joss might have an inkling of feminism he’s really bad at race…really really bad. Yes, in Firefly we have a mixed crew – which I love – but there’s a way in which River and Inara never have their heritage brought up and the complete absence of Asian folks in this Asian inspired show could be a whole post in and of itself. Just plopping down some folks of color is not good race politics you have to explore it at least a little – and I know he only had 12 episodes. Also the gender politics in Firefly/Serenity weren’t the best. In fact cracked.com listed Hollywood’s 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism- River’s at #3.

I want to talk about these things, I want to talk about his consistently really bad race politics in all three of his shows. I want to talk about the co-opting of feminism by the mainstream into this whole “girl power” movement where there’s not real critique of power structures and the similarity of this “girl power” movement to the Republican ideology of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” without any discussion of the continuing hierarchies and how difficult that can make it. I want to talk about all of that and how that’s filtered into Joss’ work but all too often I’m completely shut down by calls of “He’s a feminist!” as if that gives him a free ride to do whatever else he wants.

I own: all 7 season of Buffy, Firefly, Serenity & the first two seasons of Angel so it’s safe to term me a fan but I know that Joss has issues that crop up as do all creators. Shoot I know my own work probably has issues but I would hope that no one would give me a pass, that folks would tell me imy issues so I could be aware of it and either acknowledge it as a problem that had to exist in the work or apologize and try and do better next time. When we don’t allow for these critiques and questions to be voiced then we’re doing a disservice not only to the work but to the creator as well.

There might be posts later that focus on these shows and specifically their race politics when I get the time because:

Buffy – So. California town with little-to-no People of Color?

Angel – Only representation of POC is the trope of ghetto-gang-hustler?

Firefly/Serenity – The already mentioned absence of Asian folks coupled with the complete appropriation of their culture.

More of me @ Fantasy Magazine!

My second column about SGA is up at Fantasy Magazine right now:

Now this is the point where I and anyone else raised on sci-fi/horror films began to scream, “No don’t do it! Don’t go on the ghost ship!” While on the ship energy begins to build up (”Run, run now! Like the wind fools!”) and in a blink something happens (”You’re screwed.”). They figure out that there’s a drive on board that is jumping them through dimensions rather than space (”See, screwed.”)

Check it out.