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Category Archives: Television/Film

Veep in a Man’s World

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Though this is not news, I am totally in love with HBO. The subscription-based network has premiered two female-driven shows within the month: Girls, which I wrote about recently, and Veep, the return of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Thanks to HBO, the first episode is streaming here. Basically, the gist of the show is the life of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) as the Vice President of the United States. The premiere did a wonderful job of setting the plot and showing its humor. (I am a big fan of Louis-Dreyfus from the Seinfeld days.

When Sarah Palin was in the running for Vice President, there was obviously a big splash on the political scene. I remember that the media covered her personal life as well as her politics, which ought to be covered when running for political office. However, it was interesting to see how the media honed in on her looks and femininity.

There is no doubt that Palin was viewed as a cougar and a sex symbol by some, and was always objectified. As far as my knowledge go, there were not many Presidents who were sexualized in the mainstream media, besides perhaps JFK. But when a woman had dreams of the White House, there was no shortage of judgment based on her looks. (To clarify, I did NOT agree with Sarah Palin’s politics, but she makes a wonderful example.

From a feminist standpoint, there are a few things that I noted as interesting:

  • There was a moment when Meyer’s press team noted that someone continuously hacked into her Wikipedia page to change her weight.
  • When giving a disastrous impromptu speech, she mentioned filling the President’s shoe, but didn’t realize he wore a ‘kitten heel.’
  • When she asked a member of her team what her biggest mistakes on the campaign trail were, he replies: “You looked tired a lot and the hat—the hat hurt us. Your head looked weird in the hat”
  • When a U.S. Senator dies, it is noted that Meyer had been molested when he grabbed her breast when she took office.

So far, I am digging Veep. The wit shines through while still creating drama and cliffhangers which entice me to watch this week. I’m really interested on the small jokes that will be incorporated because Meyer is a smart, independent woman who holds a great deal of power.

HBO’s Girls

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Property of HBO

Last Sunday, HBO premiered the series, Girls, which chronicles the lives of four twenty-somethings trying to find lives for themselves in New York City. Though the show itself doesn’t necessarily parade its feminist features, I have to say that I am in love with this show. There has been some discussion about the diversity, or lack thereof, of the four white privileged characters.

Phoebe Robinson, author of Blaria.com (Black Daria), writes about her opinion of the show :

Girls doesn’t represent me nor the women I know who have matured in NYC. And I’m not stating that it doesn’t represent me because of race. Although, the complete lack of diversity on this show, while not surprising, is terrible given that it’s 2012.

However, Executive Producer Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad) states that it really isn’t supposed to be representative of New York City life.

Instead, it follows one group of friends who are having a hard time coping with the pressures of post-grad life, and finding a career, or at least a job to pay their rent after their parents, namely Hannah’s (Lena Dunham) cut her off financially.

Lena Dunham is the director, creator and producer of Girls, as well as Hannah Horvath on the show. Now, it should be known that I am a young woman, white, but not what I would call privileged. I have tens of thousands of dollars in loans, and you better believe that I will not be able to work as an intern, like Hannah did, for two years.

Regardless, I was able to accept the characters for what they are:  real. Maybe not likable or relatable to every young woman terrified of the future, but real. The dialogue is wonderful. It captures the youthful nature of the girls, while not going to lengths of utter nonsense as Diablo Cody’s Juno did. Dunham, only twenty-five, is able to capture the embarrassing moments of young adulthood perfectly, while balancing them with honest terror as the main characters must find their place in the “Real World.”

Episode Two, Vagina Panic, captures raw emotion and nervous energy during Hannah’s STI screening. For example, she overwhelms herself by mumbling about her fear of HIV/AIDS and when the nurse has nothing to add, she blabs on even more, in order to keep herself at ease.

The great thing about this show is the characters. Each character is not really meant to be a protagonist. In fact, the show is not set up with truly likable characters. Each girl is flawed or lost in her own way, which made the series truly enjoyable to me.

In this episode especially, I found the situations and opportunities unlike my own. If you are comfortable with suggestive language and situations, and are not easily offended by HBO programming, give Girls a chance. For a limited time, HBO is streaming the pilot episode for free here!

American Horror Story’s Feminist Monologue

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Wednesday nights required perfect silence and perfect darkness. Each week, my roommates and I sat still for the one-hour mind-fuck that is FX’s horror television program American Horror Story. The suspense, the character development, the flashbacks all allowed for a scary, unique viewer experience. One of the most intriguing characters was Moira, the maid who always had something poignant and sobering to say. She proved herself as a tough, strong woman who will never let a man take control of her… again. In fact, she has learned to control them herself.

In the eight episode of the season, “Rubber Man”, Moira explains to Vivien that men have always tried to control women. This monologue BLEW ME AWAY. Talk about feminism at its finest, if not a bit bitter. (Who could blame her? She was raped by her boss in his home. During the rape, she was killed by the cheating jerk’s wife.) Anyway, the monologue is as follows:

Haven’t you read “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman? Her husband—a doctor—locks her away in the upstairs bedroom to recuperate from a slight hysterical tendency. Staring at the yellow wallpaper day after day, she begins to hallucinate that there are women trapped in the pattern. Half mad she scrapes off the wallpaper to set the women free. When her husband finally unlocks the door, he finds her circling the room, touching the wallpaper, whispering “I finally got out of here.” Since the beginning of time, men find excuses to lock women away. They make up diseases, like hysteria. Do you know where that word comes from? The Greek word for “uterus.”  The only possible cure was hysterical paroxysm. Orgasms. Doctors would masturbate women in their office and call it medicine.

OH. MY. GOODNESS. I cannot love this any more than I do. The tone of her voice, mixed with a quick history of female oppression, equals a very happy feminist. Women’s rights have come a LONG way, but there are still inequalities and some men trying to control women in any way they can.

If you have all not been exposed to the Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1899), I highly suggest it. The full text can be found here! It speaks volumes about how mental illnesses were treated, and in turn, how it affected women.

Also, if you haven’t watched American Horror Story, I would recommend watching it, legally, of course.

The Swan (Fox 2004)

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Do any of you remember the 2004 Fox show The Swan? The reality show featured two “average” women each week, who were pinned against each other to make to most dramatic make-over ever shown on television. Basically, a “team of experts” would determine what was wrong with the women’s physical appearance. (The team of experts included a plastic surgeon, cosmetic dentist, personal trainer and swan coach.) The one redeeming quality of the program involved much-needed therapy for the broken women. In order to be cast by The Swan, women would send in a video, explaining why they needed the makeover, and any emotional trauma they had endured in their lives.

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I am not here to bash this show per se. In fact, when it was airing its first season, I watched every week, mesmerized by how much a person could change in just three months. It is no wonder that these women were transformed into only a shadow of their old self. Each woman would subject herself to invasive surgeries such as: liposuction, breast augmentation, chemical peels, Lasik eye surgery, a full set of veneers, tummy tucks. At the end of the mirror-free three months, the women would have their full make-up done and dressed in an evening gown. At the end of each episode, one winner would be chosen to move onto the series finale beauty pageant.

There is a lot to be said on my opinions of beauty pageants, but in terms of The Swan, I could not help but watch which completely altered women would reign as The Swan. The program placed unbelievable importance on beauty (read physical beauty.) Each contestant, save one, was given a breast augmentation. One contestant assured the team that she did not want her breasts done. Needless to say, she was not chosen to continue to the beauty pageant. The resonating moral of this story is “You cannot be truly happy unless you are physically beautiful.”

During a particular episode that I had watched recently gave me these lovely tidbits. These are from the Christy/Cristina episode.

-After her transformation, Cristina, who has immigrated to the country years before states “I came for the ‘American Dream’, and I got it”

-Christy, after her transformation states “I feel like such a better person”

-The “experts” state that “[both contestants] are in desperate need of dental work” – (Instead of fixing existing teeth, each contestant was given a full set of veneers.

It is no surprise that the pressure to be beautiful is placed upon women in our society. The Swan takes it to a new level. From the contestants’ audition tapes, it is clear that both women are suffering from low self esteem, but also marital problems and past trauma. However, each contestant is shown in their therapy session once. It is never mentioned again. If one wants to be happy, one must be willing to make the effort and work on their emotional issues. Whether or not their breasts are two sizes bigger, the problems will never fade without coming to terms with the pain that is kept within.

The series finale of The Swan revealed all nine contestants showing off their new-found beauty. It was a bit scary to watch, and I found myself confusing the contestants. There were no quirks in their appearance. Each had the same smile. All contestants were given extensions and a face full of make-up. Each contestant’s carved hourglass figure was encased in a glamorous dress. I am still in awe that this was a real show, and that real women subjected themselves to numerous surgeries in one day, and in turn, had to recover from all procedures within the same time frame. I truly hope all of these women are happy with their decision, however. Everyone deserves to be happy, but it makes me wonder-

What is the cost of physical beauty?

What is the risk of putting this type of show in primetime network television?

Girl 27 (film) The [Brief] Story of Patricia Douglas

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The name Patricia Douglas may not ring a bell. In the 1930s, she was a dancer for Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Production Company. After an exposition in California, Patricia came out with the shocking news that she was by an executive. Though this story made the cover of newspapers, Patricia Douglas never got justice on her rapist. The key witness of the crime, a parking attendant, was paid off with a permanent job at MGM. Even Douglas’ own mother was swayed by the power that MGM held.

Back then, Hollywood ran the world. Instead of giving Patricia an honest trial, MGM attempted to destroy her character. There were surveys given to peers, asking questions of her morality and behavior. In the film, it is suggested that if she was not ‘moral’ by 1937 standards, that she was not ‘rape-able.’

I highly suggest the 2007 film Girl 27. The documentarian does a wonderful job at digging up the facts that were easily overlooked during the 1937 debacle. Patricia Douglas, herself, appears on the film, and gives heart-wrenching testimony of her place among the MGM executives in Hollywood.

No matter what one has done in the past, rape is rape. Patricia’s life was virtually destroyed by the incident. After the rape, she claims that she never danced again. She remained a shut in with a broken relationship with her daughter. Patricia died soon after the release of Girl 27. Everyone must remember the story of Patricia Douglas. Though her rape occurred over 70 years ago, our justice system still allows rapists to sneak under the radar, unscathed. The film is available on Netflix Instant Watch.

Lisa Simpsons, the Feminist

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So in the realm of feminist TV characters, Lisa Simpson has not been left out of critique. She is a musically-talented brainiac whose headstrong morality often causes her trouble. Lisa Simpson is my idol.

The Simpsons premiered on Fox on December 17, 1989, only one month and one day after my birthday. In all senses, I grew up with The Simpsons. Every Sunday at 8 p.m., I would lean much too close to our Zenith television and watch the pop culture references spew from the seams of the 30-minute series. Being young, and what I considered intelligent (in comparison to my peers at the time), I greatly admired Lisa.

The eight-year-old is already a member of MENSA, and well on her way to a fulfilling life of activism.

In this particular episode of The Simpsons, Lisa v. Malibu Stacy (Season 5), Lisa discovers that her Barbie-like doll Malibu Stacy has finally graduated to speaking! However, after setting up a political meeting for her brand new doll, she finds that Malibu Stacy says the following phrases when her string is pulled”

“Thinking too much gives you wrinkles”

“I wish they taught shopping in school”

“Let’s bake some cookies for the boys”

And after prompted by Lisa’s plea, “Come on, Stacy, I’ve waited my whole life to hear you speak. Don’t you have anything relevant to say,” she replies…

“Don’t ask me. I’m just a girl”

After tracking down Stacy Lavelle, the creator of the Malibu Stacy franchaise, she aids Lisa in creating a feminism Barbie whom is planned to say

“When (alternative” if I decide to) I get married, I’m keeping my own name” and “Trust in yourself, and you can achieve anything”

She names the doll, Lisa Lionheart. Perfect.

All in all, Lisa is a wonderful progressive little firecracker. I suggest watching this and finding some of your own Lisa remarks! The Simpsons are full of references and quick quips which are guaranteed to make you think.

My Living Doll- Holy 1960s Sexism, Batman!

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It started with a psychiatrist. And a life-like android. In the 1960s comedy, My Living Doll, a psychiatrist has run into a leggy blonde (played by Catwoman, Julie Newmar) who is actually … an android! He has to take care of this beautiful, yet robotic, creature. So he puts her to work as…his secretary. Funny right?!

Well, no, not exactly. Chances are if you were not alive during this time, you may not have ever heard of the show, and I envy you.

I was introduced to you in my TV History class during Bad TV week. During the sixties and seventies, network television pumped out such classics as The Flying Nun, My Mother- The Car and My Favorite Martian, whose producer Jack Chertok, also created My Living Doll. If you are unaware of these gems, I suggest you look up the premises. Really ridiculous.

A bit of backstory- these shows were being pitched and created during an infamous time of activism (women, African-American) and in turn, assassinations (JFK, RFK, MLK Jr., Malcom X). Americans did not want to deal with ‘real’ television, and were content with magical premises.

As of about one week ago, I have never heard of My Living Doll. Now, I know why. First, it only lasted one season. Second, the premise is offensive.

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To give you a rundown of the episode I saw:

To begin, during the credits, Bob Cummings is given credit for playing Dr. Bob McDonald. However, Julie Newmar is credit simply as The Doll. (Note: The character had a name: Rhoda)

-The show is based around a scientist’s experiment to make a brilliant robot with outstanding artificial intelligence. Nevertheless, the robot was referred to as The Doll. Not only The Doll, but in the show’s title, there is ownership implied.

-Rhoda, while typing furiously, is asked by Dr. McDonald, to file a few things away. While filing, he sits down in her chair. After, he asks her to type a memo. She asks if she should sit on his lap because that’s what other secretaries do to make them feel closer to their bosses. He replies that she should not do that. Not because he was a respectable man, but because of her android-status, he would not receive the fringe benefits.

Ugh. Can we say sexist? The Doll is seen as an object, but this is acceptable because she technically is an object.

The excuse of making her a woman as sexy as Julie Newmar came as a way to keep Rhoda out of the hands of the U.S. Military. If the military had found that she was a robot, what would her sex matter? Also, women have been allowed to serve in the military since the late 1940s.

The DVD is being released on March 20th. I think I will be avoiding this in the stores.