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Newsroom review

Posted by pocochina on August 12, 2012

So! The Newsroom is, as adeptly predicted at TBD, terrible.

My problems with The Newsroom are my problems with Sherlock. A) It sucks. B) It sucks because it not only utilizes the Great White Man trope uncritically,** but because it fails to adequately use or characterize its designated GWM. It neglects to create credible character logic. Though the GWM in question are extremely flawed (and therefore potentially interesting) characters, the narratives both misrepresent and dismiss the flaws as being a mere lack of “niceness” – that is to say, that the GWM’s borderline-pathological refusal to acknowledge the humanity of those around him is merely a refusal to distract himself from his own greatness with manners.

The Newsroom is in some ways an even worse offender than Sherlock in terms of its GWM. Whatever Sherlock’s other failings, and they are many, the protagonist is at least credible as having the intelligence imputed to him. Sherlock is a brilliant man and a great detective. Will is a mediocre newscaster. He has a lay person’s knowledge of American politics (perhaps less, as he is still under the impression that a “liberal Republican” is something that a person possessed of an ounce of intellectual honesty can be in 21st century America – because why should a GWM limit himself to, like, ~labels, man, and actually deign to admit to having a viewpoint?). His nostalgia for a simpler age when everyone “acted like men” doesn’t only reveal his objectionable politics, it also shows that doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. He seriously argues that American history had some great golden age of fluffy statesMANlike non-partisanship. That’s just a full-on falsehood.

Will’s grip on the contextual and systemic political issues is lacking. He’s a special snowflake who exists without social context, and therefore so should be everyone else affected by the issues on which he – allegedly – reports. He needs an inside source (yet another hyper-convenient close personal connection, no less) to tell him the what the DOJ’s budget is, in a series of cases he’s been reporting on for weeks? Nobody thought to look into that? Of course not, because prosecutors should effortlessly, immediately, and costlessly win all of their cases out of sheer Righteousness Magic. Easier to bloviate than research, I suppose. He assuages his conscience over his support for xenophobic anti-immigrant policies by dropping a fraction of an hour’s pay to one undocumented worker whose plight moves him personally. He considers public health issues mere “human interest” fluff that can be easily trimmed.

In order to make up for its failure to show us intelligence on the part of the GWM, it tells us (a highly improbable and frankly insulting story) about his heavily abbreviated education. I really, really dislike the wunderkind trope generally. I take serious issue with the idea that any accomplishment for which one puts forth time and effort is no achievement at all, though this mindset does a good deal to explain the quality of both Will’s and Sorkin’s work product. Just as the GWM doesn’t have to deign to take a position on the political issues that affect the lesser beings, he also doesn’t need to pay even lip service to the idea that he has worked to hone his thinking. Narratively, that does nothing solve the FUCKING MORON problem. It just makes it more glaring, even to any slack-jawed boneheads in the audience who got their JDs on the three-year dumbass track.

The motif of the Newsroom as a courtroom of public opinion is a serious, serious structural issue for a lot of reasons. This is another trope Sorkin likes, and one that he has historically been capable of using well. (Hey, at least no one was supposed to give Jack Nicholson a cookie and a cabinet position for taking it upon himself to decide who may or may not be able to handle the truth.) It doesn’t work here because the analogy doesn’t work, as anyone with a passing familiarity with either the role of the legal profession or the role of the free press knows why those two institutions do and should function very differently. But somehow all of the characters we’re supposed to root for – not just Will – are operating under some appalling misappropriation of legal-ish sounding rhetoric. Mackenzie’s casting of the news anchor as “attorney for both sides” is a fundamental impossibility in an adversarial justice system. Her insistence upon “only calling expert witnesses,” while slightly less rhetorically grating, snobbishly dismisses the value of direct evidence in both trials and reporting. Charlie’s smug declaration that “the American people need a fucking lawyer” is even more of a non-sequitur than his usual unprofessional babble.

I’m disappointed to have to loathe Sam Waterston’s character. Not quite as much as I loathe Will, if only because he doesn’t get as much screen time, but when he is around he makes the most of it by simultaneously enabling Will’s jackassery and indulging in his own. “Sometimes things fall into your lap, and by ‘things,’ I mean ‘women!’ HUR HUR!” is the punch line to his his charming character-establishing anecdote. He subscribes to the SAE Pledgemaster theory of effective business management, spending half of his time drunk and making misogynist good-ol’-boy cracks, and half of his time drunk and threatening physical violence against anyone who insults Will’s honor. He would be a great love-to-hate character if his behavior were appropriately critiqued, but the only time his behavior bites him in the ass is when he’s too drunk and sloppy to adequately appreciate the threat posed by Conniving Bitch #45. Charlie, like Will, is really super awesome at his job! Totally! But we have to take his word for it.

The narrative is, to some small extent, aware of these issues, and it throws us a bone with a glorious gem of a call-out from Jane Fonda: “do you wanna play golf, or do you wanna fuck around?” Unfortunately, this one moment of lucidity is undercut by the fact that it comes from the antagonistic network owner. But sometimes, the higher-ups stumble on a good point. This review by an actual journalist points out the major flaw in Sorkin’s depiction of what he thinks journalism should be – basically, that facts magically appear if you’re a morally good person, and therefore any need to consider trade-offs in time or resources in gathering and presenting those facts are evidence that you’re criminally lazy and irresponsible.

The defense of this is narrative necessity – and yes, in order for the show to retain some dynamic drama, things do have to fall into the protagonist’s lap once in a while. And that’s generally fine, but in this case it fails aesthetically and philosophically. I’m not sure which is easier, because they’re both pretty blatant. Aesthetically the protagonist privilege thing is a problem because it greases the narrative wheels so easily. That means EVERYONE DOES IT. So it’s boring on its own. And if we’re all conditioned to it to that extent, because EVERYONE DOES IT, and the special snowflake protagonists still stand out, then that’s bad. And it’s also just not credible worldbuilding. That is not how the news works.

Along those lines, I ended up most sympathetic to Don, the executive producer. The script goes so far out of its way to make him as unsympathetic as possible, which is pretty much the #1 way to get me to see a character’s perspective. In the pilot, he’s set up to be SO WRONG about how he doesn’t just TRUST the inside Halliburton tip from this kid he doesn’t even know? Because hey, reliable sources: who needs that, amirite? How could he be so negligent and incurious as not to know off the top of his head the names of the RESIDENT GEOLOGISTS? How could he be so DISLOYAL as to want not to work for this jackass who treats him and everyone else in the world like shit? Don’s tawdry obsession with audience investment doesn’t get half the sympathy given to the sucking black hole that is Will’s need for approval, even though it really is his fucking job.

It’s very sweet, that these new people come in with a blaze of energy and incredibly plot-convenient sources? but poor Don has been getting stuck with all the glory-free cleanup work for years now. This, too, is symptomatic of the GWM trope – that someone else will be around to do all the unglamorous work that sucks up all your energy and attention, and then is around to be the emotional punching bag when it gets SO HARD being SO GREAT. I mean, I guess it’s a little bit interesting that the nagging harpy sitcom wife is a straight man? But okay.

Because the show can’t be bothered to show us intelligence in its GWM, it fills the world around him with characters who are even dumber and shallower than he is. By which i usually mean, women. (OH, HERE WE GO, AND YES, IT’S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU’VE HEARD.) Miss Armed Southern Liberal doesn’t know how to use her own gun? Sarah Palin, the “sorority girl” (is there ANY MORE CONTEMPTIBLE CREATURE on GOD’S GREEN EARTH?!) in the introductory scene in the pilot; the pageant queen/Tea Party economist – their existence is a burden to him. Oh, sometimes there’ll be a shocking! surprise! about how YOU’RE the sexist for underestimating that hot lady who is only on screen for two seconds to make Will look good in one way or another, she’s a secret neurologist, but never mind that, she’s Will’s date and Mackenzie is JEALOUS JEALOUS JEALOUS! (Of course, the accomplishments of women who don’t meet Minimum Hawtness Standards are completely nonexistant in Newsroom-world.)

This sets up the excuse for when he does finally get something even vaguely resembling the much-deserved comeuppance: it’s so NOT HIS FAULT, Will is totally the victim of lying bitches, in whose path he was thrown by Unable To Keep A Man Overeducated Awkward Olivia Munn. Anyway, he was totally set up by Conniving Bitch Jane Fonda, who is the only woman so far who has not spent the vast majority of her screen time fussing about romantic relationships and therefore was clearly the villain of the piece. Will’s and the show’s contempt for fashion is illustrative of the good judgment it takes to be suspicious of lying stupid feminine bitches.

Even leaving aside the context,  the relationship between Will and Mackenzie is…hard to watch. Mackenzie goes around telling everyone Will is so great! Really! Everything that went wrong was all her fault! He’s such a fucking prince, he agreed to a non-compete clause in his contract so he could have the pleasure of holding Mackenzie’s job over her head indefinitely. But that’s just his prerogative, because he has a “way of doing things.” Oh, well, that specific and effusive praise explains her all-consuming need to be bathed in the warm glow of his approval. Because he’s great! Really! So great that he makes a big show of flying off the handle and dressing her down in front of everyone she works with. Because when you’re as GREAT and IMPORTANT and JUST GREAT as he is, it’s SO HARD to be disobeyed and embarrassed in front of DOZENS of your underlings. After which spectacle, Mackenzie stumbles into his office and placates him by reminding him that he’s so great and it’s all her fault because she just couldn’t bear it for other people not to know that things are just great! This at least explains on a Doylist level why Mackenzie is incapable of anything other than cryptic, superficial, and highly improbable interactions with other women: because if she did have a credible female friend, she’d have someone to tell her to RUN LIKE THE FUCKING WIND.

Women – not only Mackenzie with her sexy sexy cheating, but also pretty sorority girls with their sexy sexy stupid voices and sexy sexy Sarah Palin and sexy sexy beauty pageant winners – just make him SO MAD HE CAN’T CONTROL HIMSELF. The only woman who can speak more than a sentence of dialogue without setting off his explosive temper is sweet, artless, loyal, baby-faced Maggie.


In keeping with the show’s determination to make Jim shoulder any deserved animus the audience may have for Will, the script warps and minimizes the problems with Mackenzie/Will and projects them onto Maggie/Don. Unlike Will’s disregard for everyone below his esteem – that is to say, everyone – Don’s reluctance to meet Maggie’s father is shown as evidence of a slimy, untrustworthy lack of character. Because awkwardly dude-heavy family brunches, like marriage, babies, and shitty chocolates, is one of those wacky and inexplicable relationship milestones toward which all women push reluctant men. Oh, and he’s a dick because he leaves her alone when she has a panic attack because she has asked to be left alone during panic attacks.

And Maggie, when she’s “mean” even though she claims to feel no reason to do so (she’s also quirkily and arbitrarily mean to whats-his-name with no provocation other than her quirky adorable inexplicable neuroses), “we break up, I apologize, and he takes me back.” Which, no, is not a healthy relationship, but it’s not remotely close enough to Will’s endless manipulation of Mackenzie to be an illustrative comparison. Don wants a low-key relationship and a reasonably stable job; Maggie’s not sure yet what she wants in romance or career. That might not make them the best-suited couple on the show (or, worse, they might still be that), but it’s not a character flaw on anyone’s part. Maggie/Don is the only one of the younger woman/older man relationships to reflect any of the discontents of that particular power dynamic, but it’s unclear what differentiates this relationship from all of the other pairings on the show.

Don’s flaws-which-aren’t are basically there to support the sole dimension of Jim’s characterization, which is that he’s obviously more deserving of Maggie’s affections. It’s to the actor’s credit that the character doesn’t always come across as a Nice Guy (TM), but he’s still awfully smothering and more of a Douchebag Guy’s idea of what women think a Nice Guy is than anything else. I guess it’s thoughtful of the series to throw us a bone with a strong supporting cast. But that doesn’t change the fact that having them all mill around to prop up Will only underlines the reality that there’s nothing there for them to support.

But what the fuck do I know? I’m just an Internet girl.

**As a point of comparison, Mad Men is similarly structured around a charismatic GWM. Unlike The Newsroom, it is an excellent show, because it is a deconstruction of the GWM and a world warped enough to place him at the center of it.

So anyway, if this thing stops sucking like a Hoover, let me know. In the meantime, The Rachel Maddow Show is on MSNBC weekdays at 9PM Eastern.

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Posted by pocochina on December 10, 2011

AKA, everything the nice or not-so-nice lady at Schmedrick’s of Gollywood or Michelina’s (In)Discretion didn’t tell you and you didn’t know to ask.

The first rule of fight club bras is that “standard” sizing is bullshit. If you paid attention to department and famous name brands that will remain nameless, you’d think there was about a four-inch range of female chest cavity sizes, and that all women could be neatly divided up into A-D cups, with a few freakish outliers wearing the dreaded DDs. Crap, just as much as the notion that “standard” “straight-size” dress sizes represent most/all women. A 30 back size is not particularly uncommon; neither is a FF cup size. Most women wear a back size that is far too large for them, and a cup that’s too small, which lets the bra move around and is a recipe for back pain, chafing, pokey underwires, worn-out straps, and the aesthetic horrors of quad boob.

Take the tastefully-lace-lined pink pill, or, if you prefer, the fierce leopard-print one, and leave all that behind.

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in which real life is, basically, a Glee outtakes reel

Posted by pocochina on August 18, 2011

I can’t decide if I’m wildly amused or disproportionately outraged by this case. Because, when a decision starts off with an ominous:

Not much good takes place at slumber parties for high school kids, and this case proves the point. [Ed note: dun dun DUN!]

you expect some CRAZY SHIT, right?

T.V., M.K. and a number of their friends had sleepovers at M.K.’s house. Prior to the first sleepover, the girls bought phallic-shaped rainbow colored lollipops. During the first sleepover, the girls took a number of photographs of themselves sucking on the lollipops. In one, three girls are pictured and M.K. added the caption “Wanna suck on my cock.”

They posted these pictures, and other similarly tasteful (GET IT?) shenanigans on Facebook, though locked for their friends. When the school year rolled around, the extracurricular sturm und drang was such that the superintendent and principal of the school felt the need to take the drastic measure of suspending them from volleyball, cheerleading, and show choir for a year. (They were later out on good behavior given the opportunity to attend counseling and reduce their punishment.) They sued and won for the violation of their constitutional rights.

At least the legal reasoning is pretty cut-and-dried here. It’s pathetic that I’m relieved when pearl-clutching does not overcome the First Amendment, but that’s the way it is. But said pearl-clutching – even by the judge, who qualified the ruling with so much disapproval you can practically see him wincing – is really revealing.

I can’t bring myself to get in on the wisdom of those party games, because it boils down to the universally-acknowledged truth that kids are, in fact, pretty dumb. These kids – tenth graders, prime dumb shit age – happen to have been dumb in a way which broke no laws and did not endanger themselves or others, which puts them ahead of most adults I know.

The fact that they posted it on Facebook and Photobucket really doesn’t change my reluctance to be bothered. I’m aware that the internet never forgets, and that girls and women who go online and share something we construct as “compromising” – BASICALLY ANYTHING THAT IS ANY FUN EVER – may face negative consequence at work or school, and will more likely than not be subject to social shaming. But at the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, the answer to that isn’t in validating the mass migration to the fainting couch by guaranteeing more punishment and shaming.

Past the counterproductive nature of punishing them, there are a lot of issues at play here which I don’t mean to trivialize. I worry that there’s some level of implied (internalized?) homophobia in the idea that their kiddie-pool simulations would definitely obviously be totally absurd and hilarious and could in no way be mistaken for actual attraction. I am more than a little disturbed and saddened by the extent to which girls are taught that their sexuality is something to be viewed by others, not experienced by themselves. Those are all serious concerns, worth addressing at every level.

Unfortunately, the school district’s argument was, in full, that THEY HAVE BROUGHT DISHONOR UPON OUR HOUSE.

…the photographs were inappropriate, and that by posing for them, and posting them on the internet, the students were reflecting discredit upon the school.

Absolutely nothing else. Nothing about laws or safety, not a mention of educational environment or even school property. Just that the fact that these girls seem to have some small knowledge of and sense of humor about sex and didn’t try to hide it. And someone had to put a stop to that nonsense!

I mean, no, this isn’t the biggest deal in the world. (Money quote: one could reasonably question the wisdom of making a federal case out of a 6-game suspension from a high school volleyball schedule. One could indeed.) But that’s the worst thing about it all, that this was solely about the school district making a statement that such a relatively innocuous thing was not only worth the upheaval it apparently caused, but necessitated them getting involved and meting out public punishment and disapproval, and spending two years in court defending their finger-wagging.

There’s something deviant, transgressive, presumptively disruptive about female sexuality meeting female humor. When it’s Alison Brie or Sarah Silverman, performers for whom comedy is the goal in and of itself, it can be dismissed as absurdity. When it’s about teens recognizing on some level the ridiculousness of the role they’re expected to play, and seizing by way of humor whatever agency it affords them – learning, as kids do, something that if they are very lucky might help them toward well-rounded adult lives – people lose their shit. Because if it’s funny, it’s less scary, and if sex gets less scary for young women, it becomes that much harder to uphold all the punishment and shaming. However embarrassing the particulars of this case might be for everyone involved, I’m not convinced it’s entirely contemptible and trivial.

Also, give it up. Those giant rainbow lollipops were probably pretty funny.

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Posted by pocochina on February 1, 2011

In looking at some of my favorite media, I keep coming around and around and around to ladies I love whose stories I HATE. Which is a pretty odd thing to say, and it should be a peculiar experience, but it keeps happening over and over and over.

Eventually, it started turning into an undeniable pattern. The creators of a particular story would be commendably thoughtful when they created female characters, on some level recognizing that traditional expectations of femininity are actually designed to squash out personality rather than make for interesting people. And I would get lulled into a false sense of security, that maybe this would be the show where I did not become an incoherent volcano of lava-hot feminist rage. But then, apparently the thundering back-patting among the writers would drown out their own words being said aloud, which resulted in the characters reveling in unchecked, unacknowledged at best and usually openly validated woman-hate. Then, sometimes, the story itself would become a fetid cesspool of misogyny, punishing those women for whatever was most fantastic about them. Or just for breathing, whatever.

Then my soul would die. I would be unable to remember why I was ever invested in the show. Then my love for the characters, usually the much-mistreated Awesome Ladies, and what is apparently my sunshiny rosy optimism, would return and I would watch a few favorite episodes, just enough for me to realize the horror of the meta-narrative. Then I’d fume about it for a week’s worth of sessions on the elliptical until I was forced to take DRASTIC MEASURES, like for example making up a word and then sitting up until 6 am ranting in a Word document. And here we are. Sorkinitis (n)., a storytelling pitfall wherein a show which began with interesting, well-rounded female characters ends up with the feminist viewer feeling like she got smacked in the face with a cold misogynist fish.

This post contains Battlestar Galactica spoilers! If you have seen Battlestar Galactica, you know why this was completely unavoidable. If you have not, I tried to keep them vague, but in any event they are contained within a section which is helpfully marked BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in big bold letters so you at least have the chance to have your heart slowly, bitterly crushed over the run of the show like the rest of us. I AM GRACIOUS LIKE THAT. (Also spoilers for: The West Wing, Angel: the Series, Chuck, and various crime procedurals, but I think most of you have seen most of these.)

Aaron Sorkin gets the dishonor of being the namesake of this disease, even though I am sorry to report he is not even the worst offender, because this really started to bother me years ago when I first watched all of The West Wing. Not to bore anyone with the obvious, but CJ Cregg is perfection. She is perfect. (Also, she is based on Dee Dee Myers, who is a real person, which is a thing you can use on terrible horrible no-good very bad days to remind yourself that the world is actually not completely bereft of awesome. You’re welcome.) Abby. Ainsley. Donna. Andy. Zoe. Ellie. Amy. All ladies who are awesome and interesting and better than anything else I had ever seen on television.

But then I started to look closer at their stories and became woefully disappointed. Other than CJ, the way to be important in the WW-verse is to be someone’s love interest or daughter. As great as they all were, they were still important because of their relationships to men; kind of a meta-Bechdel test. The women who very clearly weren’t – Mandy and, to a lesser extent Ainsley – dropped off the face of the earth no matter how little sense it made. CJ, through the overwhelming might of her awesomeness ALL SHALL LOVE HER AND DESPAIR, managed to escape this fate, but she ended up walking away from politics completely in order to pursue an inexplicable, inappropriate relationship with a Nice Guy ™ reporter who thinks professionally undermining her at every turn in front of as many of her co-workers as possible is flirting.

Ugh. But even more disturbing, Sorkin uses the show as a means by which to vent his frustrations that those mouthy bitches dare to question his Dude Feminism. The show throws down with an empowerfulized sex worker lecture Sam out of wondering if he’s unknowingly and undesirably participated in a very real, very ugly type of exploitation, and then ends with Sam congratulating himself on deciding to save her anyway. Spunky, loveable duty-minded Ainsley bravely takes a stand against (brunette, sensible-shoed, unhappy-looking, natch) women having the nerve to nicely ask that the senior staffers in the White House keep their cat-calling out of the office.

AtS has a borderline case of Sorkinitis. There are so many amazing women on AtS who differ from each other so wildly, and they really do have varied and interesting stories. But that doesn’t change the fact that the more awesome a lady is on AtS, the more likely she is to die of that foulest of black magics, pregnancy (her own or someone else’s), and given that all the ladies are awesome, they’re also ALL DEAD by the end. SERIOUSLY, THOUGH?

Chuck has terrible Sorkinitis. What the hell happened to Sarah? She used to be awesome and complicated and have emotional problems which were sad but made sense with someone who would choose her particular lifestyle. Lately her job has pretty much been to wander around puppy-eyed nagging Chuck not to go on some mission or other BECAUSE IF HE DIES, WHO WILL TEACH HER TO LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE? Retch. What the hell happened to Anna Wu? She used to be there. But, no! The Nerd Herd has to be completely composed of men who sit around venting their insecurities by sleazy and vaguely threatening ogling. How I Met Your Mother brings us the lovely Lily and the BAMF Robin, and then cannot go a single episode without body snark and/or rape jokes. Even 30 Rock is becoming this, as much as it hurts me to say. (Trigger warning on the link, kids, it’s that bad.)

Most (certainly not all but most that I can think of) crime procedurals have some mild form of Sorkinitis, but since they’re designed to avoid too much investment in ongoing storylines, it rarely gets as bad as serialized dramas. The Closer has gorgeous lovable Brenda, who is surrounded by men – seriously, she is the only woman in the main credits – who like to roll their eyes about the ex-ball-and-chain. (Of course, adding the sublime Mary McDonnell to the cast as the delightfully bitchy Sharon Raydor permanently would go a long ways toward fixing this. HEM HEM.) NCIS has more women in refrigerators than bodies in Ducky’s morgue. There’s actually a Chick Desk, for the one lady who is allowed to be alive at a time. Bones used to be an awesome showcase for quite a few awesome ladies. Remember when Bones wasn’t about BRENNAN + BOOTH 4EVA!!!!11!!? I do. It was fun. Jack McCoy had, as a rough guess, FOURTEEN THOUSAND spunky young ladies as second chair at one point or another.

Really, it’s the shows that are the most facially problematic that are least likely to suffer Sorkinitis. Mad Men is brutal to watch, but the show is consciously aware that it’s displaying widespread cultural misogyny, and does so honestly without destroying the female characters. I am aware that Dollhouse is controversial to say the least, but I love it to pieces because it tears any pretense we have of structural equality away with absolutely no hesitation, and it does so with fantastic female characters who only get more fantastic every time we see them. I don’t so much mind things being awful for great female characters as I do mind being asked to pretend that everything’s okay, because LOOK, SHE DOESN’T HAVE A BABY, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, FEMINISTS?

SORKINITIS IS A COMMON PHENOMENON, so I am fairly certain that I’ve left off shows because I haven’t seen them, or haven’t watched them consistently enough to track the progression of the issue, by all means let me know what I’ve missed. Specifically, I understand there is a recent Major Issue with Doctor Who and someone named Donna, which from what I gather seems likely to fit here; if so, please feel free to share with the class. (Also, privilege being privilege and oppression being oppression, I’d hazard a guess that something similar happens with male and female characters of color and queer characters. We could probably call it Gunn’s Disease for MOC. I’m focusing on female characters because that’s what I relate to the most, not because THIS IS THE PROOOOOOOOOOOBLEM IN MASS MEDIA, other issues are totally on topic. There are actually too few great characters with disabilities to come to a conclusion on something similar in that arena, which is similarly dispiriting.)

Battlestar Galactica has THE WORST CASE OF SORKINITIS THERE HAS EVER BEEN, particularly because it’s not just (PRETTY MUCH ALL OF THE) individual character stories that suffer from arrested development on the lady issues front, but the entire universe-building project. The rumors are true to some extent, there are so many great female characters. There are more fantastic, beautifully-drawn, complex, sympathetic female characters on Battlestar Galactica than there have been in the history of some entire networks. This show gave me my favorite character EVER, the Awesome Lady who presides with a fearsome benevolence over all Awesome Ladies and their gentleman associates, BOW BEFORE THE MIGHTY LAURA ROLSIN, and then proceeded to JIZZ ALL OVER HER FACE FOR FOUR SEASONS STRAIGHT, eventually relegating her to a miserable pod!person shell version of herself so That Man Bill Adama could wander around gibbering and drooling in Man Pain. The creation of Kara Thrace was one of those flashing beacons of brilliance that makes remakes worthwhile – the original Starbuck acted, dressed, and mainlined moonshine just like our Starbuck in every way; the one thing the re-makers altered to change the character from a derivative carbon copy of hundreds of swaggering action heroes before to something almost completely unique was to make her a woman. She is so great. Unfortunately, her story devolves from conflict to angst to UTTER PUNISHING SADISM until half of her screen time is spent crying on cue.

The fridging. Including the most appalling example of fridging I have ever seen, wherein the Man Tears were induced by the man himself boo-hooing over his own MURDERING THE FRIDGEE IN COLD BLOOD. The favoring of the stories of painfully bland men over their likeable and often fascinating spouses. Our Awesome Ladies are boned. (Also, I know I said above that I wasn’t going to focus on queer characters, but OH MY GOD, RIGHT? The gay tokenism and the awfulness of the patterns thereof in BSG are also their own post, but really, we could just change character names and move around a few words and have the basic idea.)

You should only read the following if you are braced for cold, jarring horror to seep through your soul whenever you consider the BSG universe and all of the writers and producers: these people actually thought they were creating a gender-egalitarian world. This is a similarly horrible thing about our universe: PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT.

I know. There, there.

In my subversive feminist – that is to say, completely contradictory to authorial intent but fuck ‘em – reading of BSG, it’s the fascinating logical extension of our preoccupation with putting a band-aid on some forms of gender inequality while stubbornly ignoring pervasive structural sexism. All officers get called Sir! Which would be a lot more impressive if they weren’t overwhelmingly men anyway. There’s a female president! Who is never elected by THOSE INGRATES, but rather assumes power through succession and then appointment, having her presidency interrupted by three dudes (and is succeeded by a fourth dude) who take credit for her awesomeness and blame her for their fuck-ups. Men are doctors, women are nurse’s assistants who are grateful there’s someone to take the big scary operations out of their little lady-hands.

BUT BUT BUT THE COED SHOWER – not showers with doors, ONE SHOWER – surely that showcases progressiveness? Obviously not, and actually, this is the sharpest crystallization of my issue that there is. This is a society only a hair less regressive than our own, but even taken on its own merits, the constant threat of violent sexual assault under which these women live would make being forced into that position frightening enough on its own (and quite possibly traumatic for the several victims THAT WE KNOW OF floating around the main cast, edit and trigger warning, white-texted for the AWFULNESS: particularly the Athena situation, where the men who tried to assist when Thorn attempted to rape her, assuming they survived the exodus, are living on the Galactica and therefore potentially sharing those facilities; I want to heave just thinking about it end edit and warning), but the lack of alternatives is basically the admiralty saying “yeah, well SUCK IT UP.” Even if it’s just fear – and lord knows, doors do only a little to deter rapists, though a little is better than nothing – that fear is fucking real, and to disrespect it is to disrespect rape survivors, who are overwhelmingly women raped by men. To me, this looks like a thorough and valid display that is the horror show of…not invisible misogyny, but skillfully-obscured misogyny.

The misogyny lurking just under the surface of Colonial society, and the way that culture maintains the surface, is a whole other post; it’s probably its own dissertation or seven. Suffice to say, it’s there. It wasn’t consciously created, for sure, but it was built into this world and this story and the Job-like trials in store for these Awesome Ladies we all fall for so hard.

Stories are how we show our aspirations. What happens when an Awesome Lady is created, gets public attention for being as such, and then is dragged through the mud is a reflection of how we punish real-life awesome ladies. When speculative fiction, which after all is about daring to dream of other worlds, bigger and clearer and maybe even better, calls a viciously misogynist society “gender egalitarian” it’s not just an inappropriate label. It’s telling us, this is all we can hope for. That even beyond the stars, a world without misogyny is not just unlikely, but actually unimaginable.

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everything is still abortion. unless it’s condoms.

Posted by pocochina on December 21, 2010

The lies.  I’m so interested in what the lies are.  It’s not a rational argument with rape apologists.  We can’t make people understand if we just disprove every excuse these people make, if histories of whole civilizations of rape cultures have shown anything it’s that those goalposts can always move farther, and I don’t expect anyone to engage with these arguments on their own terms.  But the lies that work, that people can convince themselves to buy?  Those do say something about the form rape culture takes.  Lately, I’ve been kind of shocked at just how open misogynists have been lately about the huge overlap between rape culture and denial of reproductive rights.

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Posted by pocochina on September 22, 2010

So…I figured out what it is that bothers me so much about hipsterism.

It’s nihilist.  It’s scruffy.  It’s not enjoying anything.  It’s glamorized even though it’s not particularly glamorous.

It’s depression drag.

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PORN PORN PORN!: why i should never read alternet

Posted by pocochina on September 22, 2010

So through the endless series of links I have waded in these last couple of days,* I somehow came across this post by Clarisse Thorn:  “Why I Sympathize with Anti-Porn Feminists.” And, lord help me, I dove on into this particular front in the endless straw battle of nudie flicks.

The post isn’t particularly incisive.  The author doesn’t share any new insights into feminism, porn, or human sexuality.  But what struck me about it – what clued me in to the specifics of some of my (extremely muddled) feelings about the Porn Issue – is the extent to which it mirrors right-wing rhetoric.  The article utilizes narratives familiar to the authoritarian theocratic right in order to contextualize the development of her feelings toward pornography and argue against anti-porn feminists.  Though she’s making an argument associated with left-wing feminism, she’s utilizing the bad-faith thought processes of the radical right in order to do so.

And if you’ve got to argue like them…I’m not sure you have a good argument.

NOTE:  I am NOT saying you are a bad feminist or a bad person if you like porn or loathe it.  I don’t care if you are rubbing one out right now.  This is about people who mischaracterize the concerns of some feminists about porn in order to dismiss them out of hand, rather than engage in difficult and potentially painful questions about mainstream depictions of sexuality, particularly those which are prevalent in mainstream pornography, and the wide-ranging impact they have on sexuality and gender inequality.   This post isn’t even about my feelings about porn (which, for the curious, are mixed) or people who enjoy/don’t enjoy porn (because, IDGAF).  It’s about wanting to have an intellectually honest discussion of the issue.  I understand that there are lots of places where folks have to defend their enjoyment of porn, their discomfort with porn or both, but this isn’t one of them.

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trust women

Posted by pocochina on September 10, 2010

To trust women is to trust our own political judgment.

Trusting women is supporting each other’s decisions.

Trusting women means trusting ourselves and, when possible, each other.  I’m not a fan of the navel-gaze-y “call to action” because “we” have been Bad Liberals lately.  This is a celebration of the pro-choice movement. We organize. We tell our stories. We support with resources and with care. We stand with and behind providers of real health care services, and we name the liars for what they are.  We come together to rally, and we sit alone at our laptops and we reach out to the world with our morals and our thoughts and our stories.  We will continue on, and we will grow better and stronger.

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dollhouse body issues

Posted by pocochina on August 17, 2010

Not that it takes a lot of stimulus for me to be thinking about Dollhouse, but Nick’s recent poll and post about body issues in the Jossverse got me thinking about one of the reasons that I really love the show. And that – despite the eventual fail that Nick points out in his incisive post, with which I do vehemently agree – is that one of the ways Dollhouse is subversive is that it is, quietly but consistently, anti-diet.

Say what? I hear you asking. Summer! Eliza! Amy! Dichen! They thought Miracle was “heavy,” for fuck’s sake! And that’s true, but it’s not all there is to it. Both in-universe dialogue and authorial intent point firmly towards not just discontent with but outright derision of the narrow range of acceptable bodies in popular American culture, and extreme skepticism about the lies that we tell ourselves in order to choke back the poison more easily.

(cut for discussions of disordered eating, please read with self-care in mind)

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pet peeve: “reduced” to feminism

Posted by pocochina on August 16, 2010

Since I’ve been having some more time to read reviews, discussion, and meta of shows I love, and since I nearly exclusively enjoy shows that have strong, interesting female characters and at least some awareness of feminist politics as a part of their high-quality storytelling, this has naturally resulted in my reading discussions of shows wherein dude reviewers talk about female characters and feminism.

Which is cool.  I have no issue with that – in fact, it’s at least as important for men to see shows which feature feminist politics and characters as it is for women.  Stories, perhaps fictional more than biographical, are the way we learn how to empathize with people who aren’t like us, and can help us examine our own privilege in a way that’s far more accessible than academic texts.  And I’ve actually largely been quite pleasantly surprised by the intelligence on feminist issues shown by these reviewers.

But sometimes, and this is the exact wording I keep seeing, is praise of a character or character’s storyline which recognizes that a female character has expressed a feminist thought within the context of her greater storyline by saying that said character isn’t “reduced to being solely feminist” or “just about feminism” or other minimizing language.  And this is really problematic.  It is an incorrect interpretation of what feminism is.  On a philosophical level, this is a misunderstanding of feminist storytelling.  And when this language is used by men, even men who seem to be explicitly politically feminist, it comes across as an exercise of privilege which trivializes women’s lives and concerns.

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