Commodified Feminism Is Gonna Kill Us

I mean think about it for a second.

How else do we get fragrance creators telling us what female empowerment smells like? Or articles telling us that Stranger Things is “not the feminist show of our dreams?” No duh; that’s why it’s of our dreams. And that’s all before we get into how the article slights teenage girls for making irrational decisions about dating and moms for grieving their missing kids, all the while slamming those teens for wearing makeup and yelling at the moms (cash-strapped and frantic as they are) for not.

st_107-108_unit_0754_r_cropThese are the sort of ghosts of philosophies that
are haunting modern feminism discourse. There is something to be said for the fact that narratives frequently dismiss women who don’t fit a standard (attractive) archetype, or how a character who undergoes abuse is doing so because the creator framed it that way. But there’s a difference between Game of Thrones‘ quick trigger on putting any and every woman through sexual assault, and showing that sometimes teens—even teens who have sex on the regular—can be assholes about people having sex.

To flatten all feminist concepts into basic buzzwords—”slut-shaming,” “looking pretty,” “love-triangles”—ignores not just what feels fresh about shows like Stranger Things who feature an array of female characters, but tramples all over the progress that got us here. In another world Stranger Things would’ve been just about the men in Will’s orbit, finding Will by kicking ass. In Stranger Things, it’s about a community.

Shows aren’t perfect; lord knows Stranger Things wasn’t. Ideologies aren’t perfect. Neither are the people that hold them. But holding things you love to dichotomous standards of “feminist” or “not feminist” is a sure fire way to ruin things you love and feminism.

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On the eve of UnReal‘s finale, we’ve all got questions on our minds: What will Quinn and Rachel’s renewed alliance yield? Who will Darius pick? How the hell did this show go so off the rails?

There aren’t a lot of definitive answers to be found (yet). There’s a lot of awkward growing pains and remaining faults that lined the path for a disappointing sophomore year from last year’s critical darling. But most agree that the seventh episode of the season, “Ambush” is a lowpoint for the show.

After Darius, Romeo, and two of the contestants steal a car, Rachel and her showrunner boyfriend Coleman sic the cops on them, knowing it will make for great TV. When Rachel starts to have doubts after seeing just how far the cops will go when they pull over a black man in a fancy car that’s not his without a license, she darts out to call them off—only to alarm the cops, who accidentally shoot Romeo. unreal-ambush

After the shot the camera follows Rachel as she trips in the field she’s running through, the camera holding and tumbling with her, as she lies on the ground in shock. It’s a highly manufactured shot, one showrunner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro wanted especially to show how the event rocked Rachel and “turned her world upside down.”

Except, it’s not really her role that got turned upside down. It’s Romeo’s. Rachel was not subject to sadly prescient police brutality, Romeo was. Darius was. Rachel, a white woman, would never be. And while the effects of that shooting should affect her—as the cause, bystander, and protagonist of the series—it’s absurd that her narrative would be the one focused on here.

Two episodes later, one left in the season, and we still haven’t gotten an update on Romeo’s medical condition. For a show that’s allegedly supposed to be showing how those outside the black community can’t understand pressures on that community, and then to tell their story specifically through someone else’s viewpoint is a wildly misguided and privileged thing to do. Black lives matter, and white showrunners shouldn’t only engage with that when there’s white lives involved.

Perhaps with a few cuts and snips UnReal could’ve saved its white savior narrative. But the fact that we still aren’t sure whether they’ve saved Romeo means there’s a whole season’s worth of cuts and snips that had already gone untouched.

Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comedians

It’s been two weeks and this Amy Schumer story won’t die, so I guess that means it’s time for my two cents.

Like seemingly every other comedian, Schumer is experiencing the double edged sword of virality: Sure your talents are exhaulted, but then people find your old stuff. Your non-PC stuff.

In Schumer’s case it’s about race, and the problematic blindspot she seems to have for at least latinx people. And in the grand tradition of comedians on social media, Schumer jumped in to defend herself.

There are many arguments I suppose one could make for Schumer here: Stand-up comedy is always a sort of hit-or-miss medium, and often times comedians judge their success in the moment after a joke is told. Digging through any joker’s past is sure to illicit a few skeletons and jokes that bombed (or should’ve, or would if told today).

The difference is, Schumer was so beloved because of her unabashed focus on taking on controversial issues (like rape, equal pay, and feminism in the media) and punching up. And if you look at that list of things she’s tackled, the most successful ones are where Schumer is speaking from her own lane: White womanhood. From here, Schumer is able to root in (presumably) her own experience and voice and stick it to the man.

So what makes Schumer’s response so disappointing is that she’s defending material that ultimately isn’t coming from her own viewpoint, but from the viewpoint of an ally who believes they’re servicing the greater good. But here’s the thing about being an ally: You don’t get to decide when you’re in the right. You sit down, shut up, and listen when disenfranchised communities tell you they feel wronged by you.

Arguably Schumer’s response is that of a comedian, dismissing complaints as people who might not understand her “edgy” comedy, instead of hearing what are essentially critiques of her job performance. If Schumer took the time to hear the complaints, she could make herself a stronger comic, and an unstoppable force in today’s needlessly PC-phobic world of comedy. Instead she’s just telling 1995 edgy comedy to a 2015 club. It’s not falling on deaf ears, but we don’t need to hear more of it.

 

All the White Ladies

It’s that time of year again: When Autumn starts to fall into Winter. Or, for me, the time of year when my schedule fills up with movies to see, reviews to write, and opinions to share. For those who might not know, right now is the part in the yearly movie cycle where the films churned out are in prime placement for consideration for Golden Globes and Oscars. Like I mentioned, that also means there’s a sincere uptick in not only the quality (and/or intensity) of the movies coming out, but a significant uptick in speculation around those movies.

I will be among the first to admit that I place no solace in awards, accolades, or even reviews to a certain extent. Movies will resonate with me in their–and mine–own way; if I liked it then I’ll tell you why, and fuck the haters. But I still know a good talking point when I see one, and unfortunately for me award season is that.

Now we’re past discussions that purely talk about what we thought of the movie, or (my favorite) what gems of wisdom, insight, or genius we can mine from the film. No, now it’s all about the politics of what merits an award that pretty much everyone agrees means nothing but we all desperately care about.

And right now we’re at the time when we’re not just speculating about who will win, we’re speculating about who will even be nominated. It’s that much of a circlejerk. Thus press circuits turn to campaigns, interviews turn to stump speeches, and largely that stumping pays off. Almost any film critic or culture writer could write pages on awards that went to the wrong person who played the game better or had a stronger producer backing them (even though they don’t care and they’re total bullshit anyway).

Which is why the latest Hollywood Reporter cover has me disappointed: they basically took the opportunity to convene a room full of white women to discuss issues that “face women in Hollywood.”

Look at that diversity
Look at that diversity

I get it, ok? It’s not like it was a particularly banner year for women of color in media. But since we’re still in the age of speculation, why can’t we even try to think outside the box? The women in this piece gave great performances, some gave outstanding ones. But pretending like that makes them any more qualified to discuss the issues facing women in Hollywood is total horsecrock.

I would wager that there are issues facing women of color in Hollywood that this piece couldn’t even begin to touch on (nor should it, with a lineup like that), so clearly that’s not what the magazine is really trying to get at. They’re all about playing the game.

If The Hollywood Reporter–one of the biggest trade mags in the biz–can’t see the cyclical nature of these sort of self-fulfilling prophecies that go around and around each year, then I don’t know what to tell you. They clearly know that there’s a game being played, because they’re staking a major amount of real estate in their magazine to get in on the action. And with the amount of white in that room I think it’s blindingly clear where they stand.