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