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The Lady Business Monologue

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There is nothing quite like old movies, advertising or television shows when it comes to social anthropology. Nobody would confuse plot points, costuming or set design with real life. But dialogue is very representative of the way in which people spoke at the time of filming. We can look at films from the 1940s and 1950s and sense racial views of the times. We can watch television of the 1960s and 1970s and see the overt anti-gay sensibilities. Today most film and television depicts bigotry only to make a point. There is one area of bigotry that never seems to have really changed however, and that’s misogyny.

Whether it’s in the casting or the storytelling, women are still objectified and marginalized. Male actors of every age, size, attractiveness and skin condition are regularly cast in prominent roles. Women of one size, one look, one age group and one hairstyle populate film & television roles. If you are an actress who is not a willowy, bouncy haired, 20-35 year old with a symmetrical face you’re lucky to get character roles. Yes, there are exceptions. But for the most part paunchy women over 70 are not getting the guy. The roles themselves often marginalize women. Accomplished doctors, detectives or spies still need to be fashionable and coiffed. When women are depicted as more than a collection of strategically placed highlights they are made to be a masculine cartoon. Even in the most “realistic” television dramas we never see women discussing or experiencing anything about being a woman. Has there ever been a cop show that explains how a female cop on a stakeout deals with her period? Sex, or servicing men is discussed and depicted continuously. Characters are always getting pregnant (and of course having the baby or losing the pregnancy naturally) so someone must be menstruating!

It’s not all that surprising that in the 21st century we still don’t discuss menstruation except as an insult. That’s right, in 2013 it is still perfectly acceptable to refer to someone as “having their period” when the accuser dislikes the behavior of the accused. It is still acceptable to refer to men as “ladies” or “girls” as an insult. In all manner of workplace you can hear these accusations. Imagine just for a moment that instead of hurling a female term as an insult, it was an ethnic or racial term. We wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate it. But insulting someone by calling them a woman; that’s cool. And why not; women tolerate it and even perpetuate it. Women will use the word “girl” to deride (ex., you are such a girl.) Women screenwriters, directors and casting agents perpetuate the one-dimensionality of female characters in film and television. And almost all women everywhere persist in using the incorrect terminology for their own genitalia.

Even those now famous monologues about that part of the body, use the wrong terminology. The vagina is one very specific part of the genitalia. The vagina is the internal, or birth canal, part of the female genitalia. Vulva is everything else (and from a sexual response perspective; what matters most.) Using inaccurate terminology is always troubling. Often, if not always, there is an underlying message in such choices. It is quite possible that the term “vagina” first became popular in the medical field (that same medical field that labeled women as hysterics and viewed sexually responsive women as flawed and/or dangerous.) The (male) medical field singled out the part of the female genitalia that most affected them. The vulva has no role in male satisfaction or in birthing. This is a reasonable explanation/theory. But why have women perpetuated this inaccuracy? We teach our children the word vagina, while we teach them all of the proper terms for male genitalia. We don’t refer to testicles as penises. We don’t refer to foreskin as penises. We use the correct terminology for all parts of male genitalia.

Does all this sound cranky, distasteful and maybe even a bit irrational? Are you thinking; “well someone’s got her period!” As a matter of fact, I don’t. But if I did, I wouldn’t whisper it or discreetly palm a tampon on my way to the bathroom. I don’t routinely discuss anyone’s genitalia in public, and wish I didn’t feel compelled to now. But it is one (important) piece of a troubling puzzle. We should teach our children body pride not body shame. We should correct them when they accuse someone of “throwing like a girl” or “crying like a girl.” We should stop ourselves and correct others when insulting someone with female allusions. It’s not a matter of political correctness; it is a matter of correctness. There is something wrong with considering “acting like a man” to be a compliment and “acting like a woman” to be an insult.

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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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Stick ‘Em Up!

davy

Every so often a new study posits the link between media violence and real violence. The theory most often is that children exposed to violent themes and games become inured to real violence and thus more likely to commit violent acts. There is a certain logic to the premise but is it really that straightforward? Hasn’t violent play always existed?

People raised during the earlier days of television were exposed to far more violent images than their moving picture going or radio listening ancestors. A child growing up in the 1950s was immersed in cowboy-shoot-em-up imagery and play. Cowboy and cowgirl costumes (replete with guns and holsters) were not just Halloween costumes; they were toys. Television, movies, books, comic books and creative play was rife with shooting. Even Superman (the television show) had people shooting (and killing) people. Toy soldiers, G.I. Joe and war games have been a part of child’s play since the advent of war. But all of this happened in a distinct child’s world, in which an adult (related or not) was always at the ready to impose adult order. The world belonged to adults and children knew that. They were ever conscious of their place in the adult world and the distinct delineation between being a child and being an adult. Children engaged in unsupervised play and then returned to the structured adult world.

The adult world demanded marked different behavior than that of a child’s world. The language (e.g., slang, profanity,) manners, appearance and attire requirements in the adult world were different from that in the child’s world. Adults maintained the boundaries in various ways. There were many subjects that were not discussed in front of children (little pitchers have big ears; what in the world does that mean!?) Adults socialized without their children and enjoyed other privileges of adulthood (e.g., choosing which television shows were watched, what foods were eaten, which clothes were purchased, etc.) The rigidity of home life was countered with the wildly independent social life of a kid. Play was unsupervised and free-range. Children engaged in activities without parents. They played sports, danced and sang without their parents witnessing every single moment. They were in their world and they were just playing.

Children flourish when they can explore the world safely. Knowing that adults are in charge and are sure as shootin’ gonna tell them what to and not to do, is very comforting. However, if a child is left with a feeling that the adults are not in charge, or worse yet, the child is in control, that child can grown very frightened and insecure. The same child who senses that “no one is the boss of me” not only has a fuzzy sense of fiction and reality (which is an inherent part of childhood development and why children need parents) but also could possibly be left to immerse themselves far too often in violent games and play. There is nothing about holding a plastic gun and aiming it at a screen that is more violent than holding a Davy Crockett pistol against a friend’s head. However there is something numbing about playing alone and obsessively. An interesting treatment in these “violence studies” would to be to have one group of children “Go Outside And Play!”

This dance of control in which parents involve themselves in a child’s world and children are given equal footing in the family may not be the most effective formula for growing strong children. Children flourish when they are given limits. They want to grow up when being a grown-up looks better than being a kid. While there is nothing positive one could say about violent video games, it is short sighted to think any imagery in any form has the power to change collective behavior. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and childhood and adulthood is much more likely to affect change. If in fact the exposure to violent imagery (in games, film, video, etc.) has risen and violence in children and young adults has risen, that is indeed correlation. But to suggest (yet again!) causation and wag our finger at the media makes us look silly and a bit irresponsible.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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If You Can Make It There

gottadance

Dozens of wonderful movies have been made about making it in New York City. Heroes and heroines flock to the big city seeking understanding and/or excitement. Often they hail from small towns with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream. They emerge from buses and trains into a bustling mysterious brightly lit metropolis. They pound the pavement for a room and a job, knocking on countless slamming doors (a la Gene Kelly; Gotta Dance! Gotta Dance!) They find a room, perhaps even an efficiency or worldly roommate. They get a job and make it all work. They won’t quit ’til they’re a star!

Movies about the big adventure that is NYC aren’t really made anymore. NYC appears quite frequently in film but less as a place to conquer, and more as a posh playground. They still come from small towns and less glittery cities. But the heroes and heroines of today are more likely to find shelter in a 2,000 square foot loft than a room in a boarding house. Young women don’t share an “interview dress” but news of sample sales. And it’s been a few decades since a call girl found it entertaining to window shop at Tiffany. The scrappiness is gone. The roughing it and hard knock pursuit of a brand new start of it is a thing of the past; and for good reason.

You’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate boarding house in NYC. There are efficiency apartments still holding on, but they’re most decidedly not for out-of-towners. If there are buildings which house nothing but theatrical agents, even Gene Kelly wouldn’t be allowed past security. It’s a different city than it was 80, 70, or even 20 years ago. It is a town less about cab drivers answering back in language far from pure, than it is about gentility. Searching for grittiness can become a scavenger hunt. There is a gloss to the city that doesn’t sleep. Our heroines of yesteryear would not know what to make of bicycle paths, pedestrian malls, man-made beaches and midtown pop-up swimming pools (that are nothing more than oversized dumpsters). For the out-of-towner arriving to make their fame and fortune, these sights might be comforting and not the least surprising. Their perceptions of NYC, gleaned from television & film will be confirmed; it is a luxury cruise ship! The food is copious, the entertainment splashy and every need is easily fulfilled.

Of course there is still a grittiness to be found in the city, and there are still wonderfully diverse foods and entertainment. But it gets harder and harder to live an urban life beyond the homogenization. With each passing year the city becomes more a place for tourists and less for residents. People come from all over the world to see the prescribed sights. The intensity of the city and its lights might be exotic but the ads, retail and amenities are very familiar. A person could come to NYC; complete their tourist attraction checklist while eating, drinking and sleeping in very familiar places. But what of that young man or woman arriving with three bucks, two bags, one me? How do they find their way in a town priced at tourist levels, no longer as welcoming to the young yearning to be free? What does it mean to a city, and a world capital to no longer be the incubator of extraordinary young talent? The world will always welcome bankers and engineers, but what of artists?

NYC will never (willingly) go back to its hardscrabble ways. The tourism dollars are simply too good to turn down. But it is possible to recapture the opportunities and promise of the big city. Dotted throughout the island are examples of how. There is (at least) one subsidized residence for actors. There are small-business incubators supported by the city. There is even health insurance for freelancers. Gathering these meager resources and augmenting them to support artists and innovators would be a great legacy for a mayor. City sponsored art projects, theatres, and music would open the door for those Ruby Keelers and Gene Kellys and who knows whom else. The only way to ensure true diversity is to actively support success. It’s really up to you New York, New York.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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All The World’s A Stage

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20th Century Fox has created a Broadway division to produce film-to-stage productions. This is newsworthy as they are the last movie studio to do so. It isn’t that Fox has shied from the stage; the ill-fated 9-5 musical was a Fox picture. But they have not had an in-house formal process for repackaging movies into stage productions. Now this type of news is likely to send a certain demographic into a bit of a crise (say; the kind of person who uses the word “crise” or “picture” instead of “movie”.) But if we slowly dismantle and examine the conceit, we may not have to draw the curtains and take to our beds.

First off, having a film-to-stage production division is not synonymous with big-box theme park type productions. It is also does not mean that dramas or even comedies will necessarily be turned into chirpy musicals. (I know, I know, you’re making your “Let’s start with The Color Purple” list right now, but hear me out.) 20th Century Fox plans to have 9-12 projects slated to jumpstart this initiative. They’ve indicated that these productions are not necessarily Broadway bound. This disclosure increases the odds that regional theatre will occur and to do so there will have to be smaller productions. Regional theatre is always welcome.

There was a time when almost every Broadway production took to the roads. (And this was back when there were dozens and dozens of productions on the Great White Way at any given time.) Often the original cast would make the tour. Not only did this give life and exposure to a play and its creative team, it made live theatre accessible. A diverse audience was cultivated and that in turn supported live theatre. More audience equaled more revenue equaled more opportunities for creativity (on the part of producers) and more jobs. Times have changed and the result of those changes is an elitism of Broadway. To get on a Broadway stage a production better be damn sure it will make money. A New York City audience is not enough to ensure a full house. Visitors must buy tickets and buy them at a very high price. If visitors come from lands no longer exposed to Broadway theatre on a seasonal regional basis; a little flash is necessary. A boldface name (e.g., a television star, a reality show contestant, or a recording artist) combined with a known property (e.g., a revival or film-to-stage production) greatly increases the seats sold. Ticket prices have skyrocketed, presumably to sustain the boldface salaries and bells & whistles of a big-box show. This in turn creates a phenomenon known as “consumer grade inflation” (just because I made it up doesn’t mean that it’s not a phenomenon.) Someone who procures tickets for a price of over $100 a piece (and I’m being conservative) is not likely to be all that critical. People aren’t stupid, (stay with me on this) they know when they’re paying more than something is worth. Ask any real estate agent how their clients behave once they’ve outbid other buyers. Take a look at people willing to dine at 5:30 PM or be treated like vermin by a maitre d’. Most likely they’re doing so for the bragging rights, and brags don’t begin with “Wow, was he/she miscast!” or “Lots of noise, little fury.” At $100+ a ticket you are going to enjoy it dammit. And that ladies and gentlemen is how the standing ovation reflex was born.

By bringing professionally produced theatre into the regions we stand to turn the tide just a bit. Arts education has suffered in public schools. It’s been decades since networks televised stage plays. Singing and dancing contests now dot the airwaves, and this should be taken as a sign of interest in the performing arts. It stands to reason that tickets sold by 20th Century Fox will sell. Yes, there’s a chance that X-Men The Musical will be green-lighted. But there’s also a chance that more, shall we say; human stories will be told. The simple act of developing a theatre habit has a ripple effect. People who attend the theatre on a regular basis are more likely to be a discerning audience. Buying tickets for a Broadway show will no longer be synonymous with buying tickets for a tourist attraction. A curious audience with an appetite for adventure will support more creative offerings. Less reliance on celebrity or flying machines means lower ticket prices. A lower ticket prices creates more of an audience. And so on and so on…

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Media/Marketing

 

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We Dress Alike*

triplets

There’s a stark yet strangely beautiful photo essay by Nolan Conway. Identically styled people sit in various MacDonald’s restaurants. At first (second and third) glance it would appear that this is a collection of twin portraits. But the captions prove otherwise. Capturing clusters of indistinguishable people is no doubt the point of a MacDonald’s story. It makes that obvious and the also not so obvious point of; when did everyone start looking alike?

Recently a story about the ‘edgy’ art scene in the newest hippest neighborhood was accompanied by a photo. A cluster of identically clad and groomed under 40s was captioned. But you’d have to be the profiled artist’s mother to pick his knit capped head out of the half-dozen style clones. The men had moppish 80’s hair, the women had asymmetrical 80’s hair. The men were wearing what they considered ironic T-shirts (when did ubiquitous and mundane become synonymous with irony?) The women are in clothes made to appear as if they were accidentally washed on the incorrect cycle. They are faded just so and just a bit worn. And they all are wearing vaguely ethnic scarves and polyester knit hats perched on the top of their heads. Even the manner in which they wear these unattractive utilitarian hats (indoors!) is identical.

The Bobbsey Twin-ness is not reserved for the under 40 crowd of course. If you’ve attended a high school graduation in recent years, and perhaps sat in a back row, you would see a sea of identical heads. Over 40 female hair is almost always long, straight and highlighted (it’s the equivalent of our foremother’s blue rinse.) The clothing style depends on the B.M.I. but almost always includes denim w/ a minimum of 3% lycra. This Doubleminting has always been pervasive among teens of course. It is the holy grail of adolescence to look exactly like everyone else. But what about college? Have you been to college lately? Move-in day is a riot. All the dads are in cargo shorts, untucked shirts & baseball caps; and all the mothers are in capris and generous cleavage (you think it’s easy to see your daughter turn into a grown woman?!) and the freshman are in uniform. The young women are dressed in body-con pieces from head to shin. From shin to toe they are most likely either in an Ugg or wellie (making them look as if they’re standing in a bucket, which is flattering on exactly no one) or if the weather allows, a rubber ‘shoe’ suitable for the beach, pool or hospital. The young men are either in baggy cargo shorts (like father like…) or slim fitting madras shorts. T-shirt (with message/image suited to the corresponding college/university) and unlaced sneakers or shower shoes complete the look. Since when did college students want to look alike? When did they want to follow the lead of their parents in any pursuit, least of all an approach to style? Wait but what of the art students you ask? Well if completing the checklist of body modifying (piercing, tattoos, earlobe stretchers) is a sign of creativity, then we’re good. (Note to medical students on the fence about their specialty; restorative cosmetic surgery – ka-ching!)

So how did it happen? Is it all the result of very cheap clothing in chain stores? Is it that the same ‘look’ is available across the country in a mall or big-box store near you? Is it our celebrity culture that drives style? Could it be that people (consumers, media, merchandisers) turn to celebrities (who turn to a handful of stylists) to create their look? Or is the styling of one’s person just the tip of the iceberg? Is it more that a culture that celebrates sameness is ultimately going to look the same. A culture that applauds and supports genre over niche does not cultivate creativity. Television talent contests award very specific sounds and looks (there is no Gong Show diversity on display anywhere.) Since the Rocky and Godfather days, film sequels are king. Broadway’s percentage of revivals grows every year. Where are the new ideas? How much wonderful writing never sees the light of day? What happened to the novel? Memoirs (which is a lovely sounding word for ‘it happened to me so it must be interesting’) is the genre of choice. Sensation and sequels sell, but what about good writing and great stories? Is there an audience (aka money) for talented novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights? We could also shine the light on indistinguishable home design and decor, museums exhibits and performance arts centers. You’d have to have a GPS to know where you are sometimes.

There have always been style trends. People don’t much go for operetta the way they once did. Sonnets went the way of hoop skirts, and you don’t see a lot of domes and columns being erected. But not since perhaps the 1950s have people strived to look and sound so much alike. Perhaps it is merely cyclical and not a harbinger of the demise of creativity. My goal is to outlive the cycle, seek creativity and to do so while wearing what flatters/interests me.

*The Triplet Song (The Bandwagon 1953) by Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

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