No secrets will be revealed when I say that I watch television with depressing regularity, and that this habit chaps my hide a mile wide, but I can’t stop, because the carnage endlessly fascinates. Even the supposedly feminist shows (“30 Rock”) feature, not real feminism, but only bogus patriarchy-marketing TV feminism.
Bogus patriarchy-marketing TV feminism is when the lead character is a woman, but she’s doing a man’s job with a bunch of other men, only backwards, in high heels. And sexxxy.
The exception is Jada Pinkett Smith, non-threateningly depicted doing a woman’s job, but with attitude: she stars as a caring, nurturing (but sexxxy) head nurse on a mediocre hospital drama. Smith’s is a proper female minority character who lives to serve. She bosses the honky doctors around a little, but when she bucks the system it’s always for her suffering patients, and never for herself.
During the last TV season, the trend was toward saucy female leads as blonde cops with relationship problems and buttloads of sex appeal. In “The Closer,” Kyra Sedgewick — horrible South Carolina accent and comical chocolate addiction complete — simultaneously heads a homicide squad and amuses her FBI husband with endearing feminine airhead antics while dressed as June Cleaver. In “In Plain Sight” Mary Somebody plays Mary Somebody Else, a US marshall who has triple-X muchacho-on-gringa sex with her smokin hot Telemundo soap opera star boyfriend. Holly Hunter is every biker’s raunchy fantasy chick in “Saving Grace,” one of those shows where a Christian-type God is a wisecracking mentor character.
Despite featuring women in title roles, these shows all feature male knight-in-shining-armor characters, dudely authority figures, scenes wherein women are chained by the wrists in dungeons, and dialog that alludes to the female rape/murder victim as “the girl.”
The girl, the girl, the girl. It is beyond insufferable when TV cops allude to female rape/murder victims as “the girl.” “The girl” is a convention enjoying huge popularity since the invention of TV cops, and before. Why, just this morning, in another hot flash-induced state of TCM-watching insomnia, I saw 20 minutes of a godawful 1956 western called “The Last Hunt,” in which the central theme is two white guys, one “good” and one “bad,” fighting to the death over ownership of a kidnaped Native American “girl.” This character appears as a silent prop in practically every scene, has like 2 lines, and is named in the credits only as “Indian Girl” (but is played by a smokin hot honky actress). Every line of dudely dialogue includes the phrase “he stole my woman.” Dude Nation translation: questions of good and evil are questions for white men; whoever ends up with the captive mute squaw wins.
Speaking of TCM and Native Americans, currently they’re running a series called “Race and Hollywood: Native American Images On Film.”
They get a UCLA professor to say a few introductory words about how patriarchal 20th-century Hollywood portrayed Native Americans and pretty much invented the damaging stereotypes that persist to this day, then they show John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (Geronimo’s on the warpath!) to illustrate the point. That’s swell, but what drives me nuts about these things — they’ve done similar series with gays and Asians — is that they seem to think it absolves them of the crime of perpetuating racist propaganda. For a week or two they pretend to support a critical approach to these horrible, bigoted movies, but then for the rest of the year they show’em over and over again, without UCLA professors of Native American Studies introducing them, without offering the slightest critical analysis, and without compunction or apology or chagrin. In fact, if anything, the tone of the presenters toward Hollywood’s joyful immortalization of honky oppression is downright celebratory. And of course TCM completely ignores the massive sexism and misogyny that oozes out of nearly every “classic movie” ever made (see my essay on “How To Murder Your Wife.”).
Mang, I gotta get some sleep.