Friday, March 25, 2011

An Open Letter to the Writers of Grey's Anatomy

Dear Grey’s Anatomy Writers,

You are dead to me. I mean it. I am through with your stupid show. There was a time it was near and dear to my heart, you know, back when it actually had some heart. Now it’s tired and lame. I thought by giving you a second chance after pulling out last season’s finale, you wouldn’t disappoint me again. But I was wrong. I was so, SO wrong.

Before you bemoan how difficult it is to write a TV show week in and week out, let me just say that I don’t care. Suck it up. This is what you signed up for, so quit making this show suck. Some of the things I suggest you fix immediately include (but are not limited to):
  • A complete moratorium on any storyline that involves a sick person and a doctor. It’s been done. Do you remember Denny & Izzy? I do. It was terrible. Why, oh why, are you wasting the beautiful, talented Scott Foley this season? “The season that changes everything” my ass. More like “the season that recycles as many previous storylines as possible so that we can take more smoke breaks.”
  • Quit making your strong female characters weak, insecure morons. Particularly Bailey. This whole thing with the new boyfriend saying “I’m the man”?!? REALLY!?! And her being insecure about her diagnosis because he questions her? Come on. It's pathetic. Chandra Wilson looked so embarrassed to be delivering this garbage, at one point I'm sure I heard her say “my acting career just died” under her breath.
  • While you’re at it, why don’t you have the male characters actually do something other than sit around and watch the women self-destruct (besides spout misogynist lines)? Remember when Derek went psycho? That was great! When Mark was a sleazy guy? When Hunt was battling PTSD? Also great! Emo doctor guys sitting back looking all puppy-dog-eyed while their significant others fall apart is a pretty terrible statement about how culture believes men should react to women’s problems/concerns.
  • On that note, can someone please date someone who DOESN’T work at the damn hospital? Seriously. At this point I’m starting to feel like the whole Grey’s crew is a weird sex colony – you need a medical degree to get in, but after that, anything’s good until someone says the safe word (which is probably “catheter” or “enema”).
  • Oh, lest we forget this show is supposed to be about a hospital, let me throw in for good measure that it would be really nice if you won’t maim/kill/harm/psychologically mutilate the main characters every time the ratings take a dip. At this rate, the Grey’s crew is such a disaster, I’m pretty their insurance carriers have dropped them.
  • Speaking of, the lesbians. Really? We had to go there? Sara Ramirez sings a song in the next episode to help launch her career as a singer-songwriter? Is this a sign that all the doctors need to be on the market for a new gig? It’s not Glee, it’s Grey’s Anatomy. I know they’re beating you in the ratings, but adding music isn’t going to help your crappy writing.
    For all of these reasons and more, I insist as a loyal viewer that any writer currently still employed who participated in any of the above said atrocities be publicly flogged and stripped of their B.A. in creating writing or theatre, whichever took more credits to finish. Since that will most likely leave you with no remaining writing staff, I suggest hiring some actual talent in an effort to save your sinking ship. I, however, am deleting my season pass from TIVO.


    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Pop Culture Rewind: Scrubs & Gender Politics

    Yesterday, I spent a good half of my day watching back episodes of Scrubs on Netflix, wondering, “why was I never into this show as much as my friends?” I remember it fondly, enjoyed catching episodes here and there, directed several student projects about it – but yet, could not put my finger on why exactly I wasn’t crazy in love with this show. And yesterday I figured it out.

    It’s Elliot. (Or perhaps more broadly, it’s Sarah Chalke since I hated her turn on HIMYM as well and was super happy when they wrote her off…)

    This show did an amazing job playing with our contemporary understanding of masculinity, but nothing for our understanding of femininity. Elliot is an awful character who represents the worst of our culture’s obsessions with femininity. Every other joke on the show is about her ego, her body, or her obsessions with men. Even when she’s acting like a doctor, she’s always comparing herself to the men around her (a competition she apparently always loses in her head). 182 episodes, 9 seasons, and basically zero growth in her character. I find her so incredibly annoying it’s hard for me to bracket it and enjoy the hysterical male performances in the series.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that in contrast, Carla’s character is endearing and interesting. This is a function of the positionality of the white, more educated doctor yet completely neurotic woman who can’t function in a relationship against the Latina, lower-status nurse who manages to keep her man in line and sustain a family outside of work. And in a culture where Bridget Jones caricatures reign supreme in how we frame contemporary white femininity, Elliot serves as a cultural marker for all that I hate about our culture’s obsession with women’s bodies, the devaluation of their intellectual capital/potential, and the correlation of women’s insecurities to insanity.

    So while I think Scrubs offered us some important cultural moves (particularly the presentation of “emo” men, and how emo becomes racially coded as a white male phenomenon), it saddens me that Elliot is the type of character that sells to audiences because I don’t find her funny at all.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Happy (?) Thoughts about Daniel Tosh

    I’m a big fan of comedy, but I’m hard to impress. I don’t find much contemporary American comedy all that amusing – it tends to rely on standard tropes and forms (particularly racism, homophobia and misogyny), rarely exhibiting any intellectual social commentary. So when I caught Tosh.0 for the first time, I was skeptical. While I enjoyed some of Daniel Tosh’s stand-up, there’s also a running problem with Comedy Central shows where they take a good stand-up comic who’s worked on an act for a year or so, produce a couple good episodes and then demand they come up with new material for a serial program each week. Not a good formula, and as a result, very funny people typically tank their comedy shows. But, due in large part to a format much like America’s Funniest Home Videos, Tosh.0 is usually pretty amusing. I could probably write a whole post on that, but I have a different point to make today. Intro over.

    This fall Tosh came through my hometown on the 2010 Tour, and I bought tickets to see the live show. Pretty funny stuff. Now that the tour is over, Comedy Central taped and packaged the stand-up special Happy Thoughts which broadcast this past Sunday. Since I’d seen the live show, it was fascinating to observe the changes once it was polished and repackaged for TV format. First, throughout the live performance, he had several spots where he inserted relevant social commentary (particularly on celebrity status, gay marriage, women’s rights), most of which was cut from the special. There were a few lines here and there that stayed in because they were embedded within the narrative of a joke, but the ones that weren’t – the ones that were asides or set-ups were mostly cut. As a result, several of the jokes that were hysterical live came off misogynistic, homophobic or racist (despite them leaving in the piece where he claims to be an equal opportunity offender crossing comedic lines wherever it seems fit) which isn’t what I think he’s trying to do as a comic at all.

    Second, he had three bits I distinctly remember that were edited out – one about crazy fans, appealing to the audience to quit doing stupid things like stalking his mother at the hospital she works at and then doing trust falls into her; one about intellectual property laws, telling fans to peer-to-peer share whatever of his stand-up they wanted because he’s insanely rich now and doesn’t need the extra money; and one about the process of putting Tosh.0 together explaining the darker side of the internet (something like, “do you ever wonder if a horse fucked a guy how much horse cock would kill that guy? I don’t have to wonder, I know.”) As a media scholar, I’m not surprised that these were the pieces chosen to edit out since they potentially impact/reveal the economics behind producing Tosh.0, and ultimately amount of money Comedy Central can make in the process.

    Overall, this picture sort of captures my reaction. I’m curious to see if they put those bits back in when they go to sell the special on DVD/Netflix or what have you. Perhaps it was edited for TV broadcast only, particularly since it was being aired on Comedy Central. On the other hand, it could be edited entirely – which is a shame because some of the smartest commentary was void from what aired Sunday night.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    American Idol: TV's Juggernaut Hits Season 10

    Although it’s unprecedented, I believe I have to post twice in a single day. Don’t get used to it. Depending on how it shows up, I might even reverse time stamp my last post so as not to create any expectations that I'll follow through with blogging to this degree ever again. But it’s that IDOL time of year, and I do have to take stock of my addiction to all things Idol despite how it makes me die a little inside every year. Then I remember that when Idol returns, so do Jacob’s TwoP recaps, which are simply to die for and all is right with the world again. (Seriously, if you haven’t read them, and have any kind of snarky humor about TV, you should check them out).

    So – big news this year, format changes and panel changes. The judging changes have actually been kind of fun. I’ve been enjoying Steven and Jennifer’s additions, at the same time wondering how Randy has suddenly become the Simon of this season. It’s clear, however, that the panel has two new judges when you put through double the number of people to Hollywood that you did in previous years. And thus, the auditions went on FOREVER and I was actually mostly bored. There’s only so many times Steven can creepily hit on under-aged girls before it’s simply not amusing anymore.
    This is the second time in this 10-year process where I “know” one of the contestants that made it to the Top 24. [I use the term “know” loosely since there’s a difference between talking/acquainting with someone and being friends with them – so yeah. The only reason I made it through the audition rounds watching all of the footage was to see what happened to Tim Halperin. Go Nebraska! Represent!]

    Now that we’re getting to the competition part, I’m excited again. And I kind of like this new format where they just cut people and get to the real stuff. I hated the painful weeks when it was clear that there was a top half/bottom half and people stuck around week after week. This way we can just cut to the chase. I’m interested to see how this online voting thing will play out – though I’m pretty sure it’s not REALLY going to change the voting demographic all that much.

    Which brings me to my observations/predictions about tonight’s first elimination show. As I mentioned last year, I am constantly amazed at how many contestants fail to see the industry politics of Idol once the performances roll around. You’ve got one shot. The whole point is to give me a song that will convince me to buy an entire album of your music, or at least the single on iTunes. What was painfully obvious to me, but perhaps not to most viewers, is that through the production of the audition rounds, it seemed like they were picking individuals who were musicians rather than just singers. A bunch of the outtakes had contestants playing instruments, yet in this first round, my guess is they weren’t allowed to have them. This made it all the more awkward when people were criticized for “not being themselves” – if you’re a singer/songwriter type (like Tim or Paul), just singing a song doesn’t really show me what you can do.

    That said, PREDICTIONS! Given what I know of this show’s history, what I think of the public’s ability to judge musical talent, and a variety of other industry audience factors (not the least of which includes the gendered, racialized politics of this show), I think there was a pretty clear top-half/bottom-half on both nights.

    For the guys, I think James, Casey, Jacob and Scotty will sail through to the next round. I feel mixed about this because of those four, I can really only conceptualize one of them making an album produced by Idol that will make any money (I’ll let you guess which one). In the fifth spot, it’s a toss up. While I’d like it to be Tim, I think we’ll see Paul – though I wouldn’t count Brett out given the disproportionate number of tween girls who vote on this show and the large number of fans who enjoy voting for the worst contestant in an attempt to see more train-wreck reality TV.

    For the gals, the performances were far more lackluster. That said, I think Pia, Thia, and Lauren A. are locked in to the next round. Personally, I thought Haley was the best of the night though the judges beat up on her, and I think she’ll make it through. In the fifth spot, I’m kind of hoping Lauren T. pulls it out because I like her voice, but if I know this audience at all, it will probably be Naima instead. I suppose I can also say not to count Karen out for a spot. If history is any indication, Latino performers never do well on this show – but with the addition of Jennifer on the judging panel, the viewing demographic might have changed slightly from previous years.

    And that's it for this week. More on Idol in coming weeks, for sure.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Being Social About The Social Network

     I had a really good conversation about film last night, and thought I’d write a bit about it this morning as I’m still thinking about it. Post-Oscars there’s been a lot of wonder about why The Social Network didn’t come out on top (at least among the “younger” generation). After talking through the film with a colleague, I realized that at the core of this is probably the fact that most people just don’t get (or don’t WANT to get) David Fincher.

    My colleague enjoyed the film, but questioned the rowing scene’s inclusion as he felt it had nothing to do with the storyline. I thought the scene made the film. Here’s why: it equated the struggle of intellectual labor to physical competition, illustrating how several people can be working at the same goal/problem but inches, days, hours, weeks can make the difference between who wins and loses. At any given point in time, a lot of smart people think very similar things – it never pans out to be the person who was thinking of something the same time as someone else who actually capitalizes on it first. It’s part of why academia has become even more paranoid about ideas and intellectual capital. I can’t even tell you the number of people who’ve told me I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog. Using crew as a metaphor, even from early on in the film, was one of the best parts of its construction – because at the end of the day, your average individual does NOT equate intellectual labor with physical labor, though it can be equally exhausting and requires similar training and discipline.

    We also discussed at length our fairly different views of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. Part of why I think the film gets mixed reviews is that David Fincher seems to specialize in characters (almost always male) that are narcissistic and highly unsympathetic. At moments in his work, you start to feel a bit for these ego-involved men, and at the end of the day, no one really likes to feel like they identify with that type of character. Audiences (particularly American audiences) like to identify with the underdog – the self-made individual who overcomes adversity. This is part of why Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech was so lauded, while Jesse Eisenberg’s role met with mixed reviews. And while I feel like he did a pretty good job playing Zuckerberg, I did feel myself wanting more from it. Perhaps I’m just annoyed that if this role were written for a woman, NO ONE would have seen this film. Smart men can be as pompous and narcissistic as they want, and their image conveys strength, determination, and vision. You can be an asshole and have redemption through intellectual labor. As an aside, I was surprisingly impressed by Justin Timberlake’s performance.

    On another note, with all the talk of this film representing a “younger generation,” I don’t think it really captured the ambiguity of emerging adulthood. The film makes references to “not knowing” what they have going on throughout – the idea that any intellectual (particularly a young intellectual) doesn’t exactly know where an idea or a concept is going to take them. Yet, the direction of the film was so confident and self-assured it rarely allowed those moments of insecurity that every intellectual has – granted, most DO cover up those insecurities with the type of bravado and cockiness depicted in the film, but as a viewer, I need to see those insecurities more clearly to feel even remotely interested in your character. So, I think it works – I could point to a number of intellectuals who really are that unlikeable – but I guess I don’t see that kind of poise and self-assurance in the 18-21 demographic I work with every day. There’s a lot of faking it, but not actualizing it. I would have liked to see more contrast between the Harvard 2003 Zuckerberg and the post-Facebook Zuckerberg.

    At any rate, it was nice to have a solid, intellectual conversation about film. I certainly don’t follow it as much as I follow TV (keep your eye out for my yearly first American Idol post – probably tomorrow after the results tonight…though I guess maybe I should make some predictions before that…okay, maybe I’ll be back later today).

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Post-Oscar Recap

    As a media junkie and scholar, I feel like I should say something about the Oscars this year. Since it was perhaps the most boring experience of my life as a media scholar (I fell asleep twice it was that boring), this should sum it up:

    1) The King’s Speech is evidence that you can win multiple Oscars by writing a screenplay that is primarily about White men, is completely formulaic in its relational progressions, then directing it in the most obvious fashion to highlight men’s accomplishments. Helena Bonham Carter’s role was paltry in comparison, even if she did get an Oscar nod for it (further evidence that women written in specific roles that don’t take too much of the limelight will get Oscar nods, especially if they have British accents).

    2) The Oscars spent a lot of time pretending to care about a “younger generation” but a lot of time appeasing them with the equivalent of Halloween candy (here’s your best music score for NIN, congrats! Or, okay, we get you liked Inception, we’ll give it some technical awards no one really cares about).

    3) The flippant inclusions of LGBT politics (“It’s been a great year for lesbians!”) made me cringe on multiple occasions. Sexuality is not the powerhouse social issue it once was when Brokeback Mountain or Philadelphia appeared. As a feminist scholar, I also have to ask, why in the year that you get a serious, thoughtful look at lesbian relationships do we spend most of the time making fun of it (except to say Annette Benning is beautiful) when the male counterparts were lauded as smart, edgy and critically worthwhile?

    I could go on, but I really feel it would be a waste of effort at this point. I should be getting back to other battles.