Tag Archives: TV

Merry Christmas To All!

It’s been a little quiet here, but I wanted to drop in to wish everyone happy holidays.

If you’re looking for some seasonal reading, my friend Patrice has an essay up over at the Hairpin about her childhood dancing in The Nutcracker, and if that doesn’t satisfy the urge, may I suggest David Sedaris Christmas classics “Santaland Diaries” and “Six to Eight Black Men“.

Also, there’s the new Sherlock mini-episode, which I will most likely be watching on repeat at hourly intervals until the new series airs in January.

Happy holidays, everyone, and in case you don’t hear from me before then, happy new year!

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“A Simple Answer”

Linda Holmes’s “At The Movies, The Women Are Gone” (which I linked to yesterday) put me in mind of something I wanted to add to that post I made recently about gender parity in the media.

One of the consequences of a gender disparity like the one Holmes is describing is that stories about women simply aren’t readily available.  It’s easy to a man to find a movie about someone (more or less) like himself, but it’s much more difficult for a woman to do.  (We’ll say nothing of whether that movie, once found, is any good.)  In other words, men have to, to borrow Holmes’s turn of phrase, “go out of their way to see any kind of film that’s about people other than themselves”.

In other words, the experiences (and emotions and agency and personhood) of half of the population are all too easy to ignore.  Men don’t even have to work to get the impression that women aren’t real people.  Hell, if the movies are to be believed, only about 30% of women are even capable of speech. As far as most mainstream viewers are concerned, women exist only as as wives and girlfriends, as props, as window-dressing.

Meanwhile, women pretty much have to do the work of empathy, if they want to watch a movie (or read a book or watch a TV show, etc).  A woman might luck out and come across a story about someone a lot like her, but chances are when she sits down in front of the screen, she’ll be asked to identify with someone with whom she has next to nothing in common.

Is it any wonder, then, that studies suggest that women tend to have higher emotional intelligence than men?  How could we not, when we’re required to exercise it in a way men simply aren’t by the mainstream media.  This isn’t some nonsense about women’s intuition.  Women are trained to empathize — not only by our elders and peers, but by the stories we consume, from the very first — while men, largely, are not.

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“GO!”

I’ve been thinking recently about the issue of representation and gender equity in fiction.

I’ll be first in line to acknowledge what a serious imbalance there is in gender representation in the worlds of literature, film and TV, both in the media itself and behind the scenes.  VIDA perennially demonstrates how little the publishing world values the voices of women, and, as A.M. Homes put it after winning this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, “we still live in a world where the work of male writers dominates.”  A study out of the University of Southern California recently found that there’s 1 female film director for about every 15 men, and 2012 had the lowest number of speaking roles for women in five years.

I shouldn’t have to point out that this is straight-up bullshit.  Women make up half the population, but we are the actors of our own narratives surprisingly seldom. The reasons behind this are immensely complex, from institutionalized sexism in the publishing and film industries to the fact that many women wind up writing about men because stories about men are the only models they’ve really been exposed to.

Which is all to say, gender disparity is a serious problem in the creative arts and I’m all for any efforts to redress the issue.  But recently, I found myself wondering, do we really need to see people like ourselves in the media? Isn’t that what empathy is for?

Empathy is the central exercise of fiction, which asks the reader to identify with someone else’s experience.  By that definition, I should be seeing people like myself in fiction all the time, because what reading fiction requires me to do is put myself in another’s shoes. Or, to put it more precisely, I should be able to recognize the similarities between myself and characters regardless of our respective demographics.

But obviously it’s not that simple.  Sometimes we just can’t put those differences aside, no matter how hard we try to identify.  And we shouldn’t have to.  It’s not the reader’s responsibility to be the bigger woman and ‘just get along’ with characters in the face of extreme differences.

And, really, to say that we need to see more people like ourselves in fiction is oversimplifying the issue.  Rather, fiction should reflect the diversity of reality.  If women make up fifty percent of the world population, then it seems fair to say that probably around fifty percent of narratives should be about women.  Now, of course, that’s not to say that the demographics of reality need to dictate their representation in fiction.  I’m not suggesting that 10% of fictional characters — and not a jot more or less — should be left-handed simply because 10% of the population is left-handed.  This isn’t about filling a quota.

But the fact remains that being exposed to diversity makes us more comfortable with diversity. If so few of the books and movies we consume as a culture treat women as human beings possessed of agency and intellect, is it any wonder that so many men fail to treat women as real people?  It isn’t fiction’s job to teach us or subject us to exposure therapy (although it can certainly serve that purpose), but the world is a diverse place, and I think it’s only fair to expect the world of the imagination to be the same.

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“Murder By Numbers”

I think I’ll save a full write-up until the show is finished, but I have to say I feel like I’ve been waiting for The Bletchley Circle my whole life.

It’s about a group of female codebreakers in post-WWII Britain solving serial murders.  This is absolutely everything I love — feminism, friendship, mystery, period drama, cryptanalysis.  I just — I can’t even.  I’m so in love.  The only problem I foresee is that there are only three episodes.

If you’re still on the fence, you can read the review in the Times, but I wouldn’t waste a single second.  Go watch the first episode on the PBS website right now.

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“Reunited”

My mom and I finished watching Parade’s End this evening, and I’m not going to post a real review or even talk too long about it, because basically all I can say is:

Parade’s End Parade’s End Parade’s End!

It’s totally gorgeous — handsomely made in every respect: beautifully styled, wonderfully written (of course, Tom Stoppard), and magnificently acted.  Not only is the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch incredble, Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens are equally, if not in fact even more, phenomenal.  The whole cast is fantastic — Miranda Richardson, Stephen Graham, Rufus Sewell, all kinds of marvelous people.  Everything about it is so, so good.  I just want to lie around in it and absorb it entirely.  Man.

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