Showing posts tagged throwing shade
The Onion is masterful at satire. I’ve LOL’d a million times at wonderfully biting irony The Onion has crafted. This week though, they attempted to satirize the very tragic story of the three women in Cleveland freed on Monday from a home they’d been kept prisoners in for a decade. The piece titled “Men Are The Best” was “written by” Ohio kidnapping victims Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, and it had me in tears. Actual tears. From sadness. It starts out like this…
“But based on our experiences over the last 10 years—being kidnapped and locked up against our will by a group of three men who didn’t think twice before physically and emotionally destroying us—the one thing we do know, in fact the only thing we can say with absolute, 100 percent certainty, is that men really are the best.”
I’m a comedy writer. I get dark comedy. I was booed at my aunt’s funeral for not telling jokes. I get satire. I get that this is supposed to be satire. I get it all. There’s certainly a way to write a biting, sarcastic piece about a monster who locked up three teenagers in separate rooms and sexually assaulted them for ten years. And there’s a way to do it without using the actual victims as the mouthpiece. If the point is to be ruthless about the extent of the abuse, couldn’t it be from the POV of the cops, called to investigate the house, twice, who never bothered to check the interior of the house? Or what about all the neighbors who didn’t do anything because they didn’t want to seem “nosy”? I just don’t understand writing from the perspective of the three actual victims and using their actual photos. Their ACTUAL PHOTOS. From when they were teenagers. You know, before they were kidnapped by a sexual predator. Please, someone explain to me why that’s ok, cause I’m not buying the old “because satire” excuse. Outside of using the identities of actual sexual assault victims to execute satire, there’s also this weird gender attack:
“You know those little biological and primal impulses men have that take over their entire psyches and dictate their every action? The ones that they are seemingly powerless to control or deny, even though society is repeatedly pleading with them to? Boy, those are just nothing short of our very favorite things.”
Stripped of irony, isn’t this making the point that all men are the worst? Not child molesters or kidnappers or rapists. Just all dudes, everywhere.
Here’s the other thing I don’t understand. There’s this real thing, called Stockholm Syndrome. I’m not saying that Berry, DeJesus, and Knight suffer from it, I’m just saying it’s a real thing that happens to women in this situation. Jaycee Dugard, who was held captive in a backyard for 18 years, told police that the monster who had kidnapped her was a “great person” and “good with her kids.” Real victims have time and time again defended and sided with their captors, in real life, and that fact makes this sarcastic piece lousy with sad truth. I don’t think The Onion writers meant to make fun of Stockholm Syndrome, but as satirists, not considering all the sensitive issues is irresponsible.
There’s no law that says that comedians get to say or write whatever we want without criticism cause we’re like changing the world or something. We’re not. As far as influencing sweeping social change, our jobs are not that important. Lenny Bruce didn’t end apartheid and Bill Hicks didn’t cure AIDS . We write jokes for a living, and every once in awhile, if we’re lucky, we get someone to say “hum, I never thought of it that way.” And furthermore, at no point, ever, is it our job to put comedy and satire above being decent human beings.
I’m not trying to force The Onion to apologize or incite a flame war on some Disqus platform. I’m writing about this because I think we should talk about it. Talk about how we can make double triple sure that satire is diligent about vilifying the wrongdoer while being careful not to exploit the victim. Or maybe we won’t have a discussion, maybe nothing will change, but maybe after reading all this, one of you will look at comedy and think “hum, I never thought of it that way.” Or maybe you agree with this Onion piece, as is. If that’s the case, let me ask you this. Would you print it out and hand it to Michelle Knight? Would you walk into her hospital room and would you tell her that thanks to her, The Onion has been able to make a trenchant social comment on the evil nature of her kidnapping and rape? Would you sit in the room with her and read this to her…
“Oh, sure, once in awhile they’ll get you pregnant and then lock you in a darkened room for 10 or so years while they viciously beat you until you lose the baby and almost die, but hey, we all have our own little quirks, right?”
And would you look her in the face and say “And they used your real name and face, cause, you know, satire.” (read “Men Are The Best” here)
Last week, every single GOP senator voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, an act that would make it hard for companies to continue to practice pay discrimination, which is a thing where companies pay women less cause they have teet teets and a nana, and not because they are less skilled then their male counterparts, who have pee pees.
When I heard the news, I rounded up all my lady friends at Funny or Die, and we made this.
I don’t understand a lot of things. I don’t understand why my neighbor is pursuing a career as a 1990’s electronic music artist. I don’t understand why the ice cream shop near my house considers two scoops of ice cream one scoop. And I don’t understand how women, educated journalists, can be so unfair when writing about other women.
Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times was saddled with the task of writing a review of NBC’s newest show, “Best Friends Forever.” The article “Old Pals Falling into a New Dynamic” starts off strong by setting up the premise of the sitcom, the tone of the show, joke quality and a serious review of the acting. JUST KIDDING! She kicks off her article by ripping right into the looks of star and writer Lennon Parham.
“Ms. Parham, who is funny and appealing, has the pleasant, ordinary looks that are usually reserved for sidekicks”
Ms. Stanley is right to make this point. In the history of ALL OF TV, there has never been a woman driving a sitcom who has looked like a normal person. Except for Lucille Ball. And I guess Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, and of course, my comedy idol, Bea Arthur.
Ms. Stanley marches forward with her unique brand of media criticism, mixing random and personal observations to prove her point about this new era of “interesting” looking women on TV. This would be an opportune time to discuss how talented, funny women, have taken things into their own hands by creating careers and names for themselves, thereby circumventing the system by which women are cast only for their looks and ability to set up/respond to the joke delivered by the male lead. But it’s more Ms. Stanley’s style to prove her point by bringing other successful female leads into the fray and describe their looks. Like Whitney Cummings:
“Whitney Cumming, a sexy comedian with an Olive Oyl figure.”
Sure, “Olive Oyl” is not an outright mean way to describe a woman’s body. It would have been meaner to describe Cummings’ body as a “skinny, nothing pile of skin covered sticks”, but “Olive Oyl figure” has a more whimsical feel to it. And take what Ms. Stanley says about Lena Dunham:
“Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), doesn’t look like a Hollywood actress pretending to be a Brooklyn slacker; she looks like a Brooklyn slacker, and not the Zooey Deschanel kind.”
What a skill! Calling out the average looks of one woman by insulting the “conventional beauty” of another. It’s like a weird competition all women are participating in, where no one really knows the rules and there’s no winners and everyone is sad. Also, TV fun fact - Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl character neither lives in Brooklyn nor is she a slacker. Way to watch TV, person who is paid to watch TV!
The most insidious thing about Ms. Stanley’s piece is that she seems to think she’s doing something worthwhile by pointing out the plainness of the actresses. What it comes down to is that for it or against it, discussing either the attractiveness or the “normalness” of a woman’s looks still means that you’re keeping it in the cultural zeitgeist. It’s not relevant, dude! This is supposed to be a review about a half-hour sitcom, not a piece about beauty trends in TV. When was the last time a review of Two and a Half men felt the need to go into how Jon Cryer is “such a normal-looking man?”
All in all, here are the terms used in this piece to describe women in comedy: “not conventional beauties,” “jolie laide” (French for “pretty-ugly”), and “pleasant, ordinary looks.” Add similarly overused “not the meanest” adjectives like “interesting” and “unconventional”, and you’ve got the perfect list of “not the meanest” way to characterize the “not hotness” of a woman.
Slate.com, not to be outdone, threw their own hate hat in the ring with an article that does nothing to hide its real intention with the tear inducing title “Is Rachel Dratch Too Ugly for Hollywood?” Written by, yup, another woman. In the article, Torie Bosch explores an argument that Dratch makes in her new book “Girl Walks Into A Bar…” Says Dratch:
“I am offered solely the parts that I like to refer to as The Unfuckables. In reality, if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I’m a troll, ogre, woodland creature, or manly lesbian. … Trolls, ogres, and woodland creatures can be done with CGI, so that leaves yours truly to play the bull dykes.”
But Ms. Bosch doesn’t buy the argument that Dratch is too “ugly for Hollywood”. Her deep journalistic desire to get to the bottom of this problem pushes her past this obvious solution (that Dratch is too ugly to be hired in Hollywood, in case you forgot what we were talking about) to a more complex explanation - that Dratch’s looks aren’t to blame for her lack of success, but rather she’s unsuccessful due to her talentlessness as a comedic actress. Yay! A definitive answer! Just goes to prove that every problem has a solution because life is super simple.
Bosch herself wrestles with the theory that Dratch’s lack of success is due to her lack of talent. Despite her real feelings, she’s confused about what to think because OTHER cool woman think Rachel Dratch is a talented comedienne. Bosch writes:
“That comedy sisterhood is part of what so makes me want to like her: She is considered hilarious by women whom I consider hilarious.”
How will Torie ever be besties with Tina Fey if she doesn’t like Rachel Dratch? Will Amy Poehler ever let Torie sit at the “cool table” if Torie’s down on Dratch? And if Torie can’t laugh at Dratch’s jokes, she’s never gonna get high with Maya Rudolph on the soccer field during study hall! WHY IS HIGH SCHOOL SO HARD?
Dratch has a book out, one that Torie (I guess?) likes, or at least that’s what I imagine she means when she writes “I’d rather read another Dratch memoir than watch her in a sitcom.” But really, why dive into Dratch’s book “Girl Walks Into A Bar…” when there’s a bunch of space on the page to compare Dratch to another comedienne?
“But maybe the best rebuke to Dratch’s argument at the moment is Lena Dunham, whose HBO comedy Girls is about to debut to already rave reviews, despite that fact that she spends significant time in the show examining her rolls of fat.”
Wait, so the point of all this is that Rachel Dratch is not “too ugly for Hollywood” because fat Lena Dunham’s doing just fine? I feel like I’m reading the transcripts of vodka fueled vitriol spewing out of the freshly glossed mouths of a bunch of shitty 16 year old girls who have been binge drinking at a slumber party. You know what kind of party I’m talking about. The kind that’s over only when someone gets stabbed with cuticle scissors. On purpose.
Why is it nearly impossible for women, even journalists, to talk about other women without bringing up looks? I don’t know. But I do have a solution. Stop talking about women’s looks in articles that have nothing to do with women’s looks. I did it. I didn’t once mention the looks of Torie Bosch or Alessandra Stanley. I wrote about how shitty they were to other women in their articles without once mentioning anything about what they look like. I didn’t even Google image search them. I promise It’s possible to talk about the merits of a woman’s creative work without talking about how weird her hair is or how much her butt weighs. All it takes is retraining your brain to stop being a superficial dick.
Special thanks to Lindsay Katai for reading this a million times and copy editing and helping in general!