Sunday, 25 September 2011

How success of film Bridesmaids brought change to US TV

A long article with good detail about the current wave of female-led comedies on US TV which are pushing boundaries and causing a real outcry, not least for their wisecracking leads playing such countertypes and transgressing the gender boundary with much risque, traditionally male, humour.
Could this simply be the 'ladette' phenomenon again though?

All this has come about after Hollywood executives noted the ability of Bridesmaids, a seeming chick-flick comedy, to attract a large male audience to cinemas. ... A useful point to consider when addressing your coursework's target audience.

Female comics take over US sitcoms following success of Bridesmaids

American TV executives wake up to fact that wisecracking women don't need male foils to be funny


    zooey deschanel
    Female comedians and actors such as Zooey Deschanel are leading the new wave of US sitcoms

    Something strange is afoot in the world of the American sitcom. A breed of character has emerged that curses profanely, talks frankly about sex, sleeps around and drinks too much, all while wisecracking rudely with the best of them.
    None of those attributes is especially original, except that these characters are all women. A fresh crop of TV comedy shows has hit the US cultural landscape anchored on a new breed of sassy, independent, freethinking woman.
    Building on the success of the hit Hollywood movie Bridesmaids, which seemed to convince movie executives that male cinemagoers would pay to see funny women, America's television channels are now also placing a big bet on a feminine twist to some tried and tested comic set-ups.
    They have even raided the worlds of independent cinema and cutting-edge stand-up to get their talent. First up is New Girl, which stars indie darling Zooey Deschanel in her own show about a woman called Jess who moves in with three men. Though it is an ensemble cast, the show is firmly centred on Deschanel as its main draw. Next is 2 Broke Girls, which features another star of the independent scene, Kat Dennings. She plays Max, a gritty waitress with a strong line in witty put-downs that have stretched what is previously tolerated on mainstream TV. In the first show – on the CBS network no less – Dennings's Max responds angrily to a restaurant customer who clicks his fingers at her to get her to come to his table. "You think this is the sound that gets you service," she says, clicking her fingers right back. "I think this is the sound that dries up my vagina." That line alone inspired a wave of hand-wringing articles in America wondering about current broadcasting standards.
    Finally, there is Whitney, a show that stars Whitney Cummings, a rising stand-up comedian who has drawn rave reviews for her comic routines. Now she has been given her own TV show. The format is standard – it explores Whitney's life as she lives with (and refuses to marry) her boyfriend – but network executives have been promising the show will not pull its punches in dealing frankly with sex and relationships. "This has been coming for a while. A lot depends on these shows. If people respond well to them, then that is all we are going to see. If not, then we'll have to wait another five years to try again," said Janette Barber, a stand-up comic turned radio host on SiriusXM satellite radio.
    Of course, there is a long tradition of sassy, funny women in US television comedy. From almost the very start of the genre, major female stars emerged, like Lucille Ball in the classic 1950s show I Love Lucy. In the 70s Bea Arthur starred in Maude as an outspoken liberal, while Loretta Swit was nominated for 10 Emmys during 11 years in M*A*S*H. In the late 80s Roseanne Barr, as the lead character in Roseanne took a wisecracking female lead character to new heights. However, those series nearly always placed their female comics in the role of a wife or mother. With a few notable exceptions – such as the TV news comedy show Murphy Brown – they were set against a husband or with a family.
    That phenomenon reached its apogee with a wave of comedy shows in the 2000s which seemed to make a fetish of placing attractive, intelligent and witty women in roles where they played second fiddle to often overweight and not especially clever husbands. Shows like The King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond and According to Jim were enormously successful using this formula. "We were seeing a lot of this. The pretty, attractive woman who lives with a schlubby guy. Why did these women marry these guys? They are brighter and more intelligent and more funny than their husbands, who clearly often infuriate them," said Professor Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert at Syracuse University.
    The new TV comedies are helping to end that. Here the women characters are not defined by men, even as they fulfil some of the cliches of the sitcom genre: by getting dumped, or trying to bring spice back into a relationship or going on a first date. They put the woman character first and are building on a number of recent female successes, especially Tina Fey's award-winning role in 30 Rock and to a lesser extent the Amy Poehler-led comedy Parks & Recreation.
    But the largest influence is the runaway critical and commercial success of Bridesmaids, which starred and was co-written by Kristen Wiig. That movie blew away the critics with its focus on female friendships and, far more importantly in the minds of entertainment executives, it cashed in at the box office in spectacular style. It notched up a staggering $283m in ticket sales, on a budget of just $32m: a paper profit of almost a quarter of a billion. No wonder a host of follow-up films, such as the upcoming Bachelorette, are now in the works. And no surprise that America's TV executives hope to cash in with their female-centric shows. "New things don't happen on TV. They happen somewhere else and TV gloms on to them. The audience for Bridesmaids had a lot of purchasing power and they want a piece of that," said Barber.
    That clear-eyed focus on the bottom line is gradually shaking up US television's natural conservatism when it comes to recognising social change. After all, American life is filled with several generations of independent, working (funny) women unconstrained by their men. But TV, many experts say, has a history of being slow to catch up with the society it claims to reflect. Thompson points to the success of the 1960s comedy show Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Despite being set on a marines base during the brutal height of the Vietnam war, the show never once mentioned the conflict. Instead it focused on the daily tribulations of its main character, a former petrol station attendant who had signed on in the military. Or look at the furore surrounding the coming out of Ellen DeGeneres as a lesbian on her sitcom Ellen in 1997. Though it became a momentous event in TV history, gay people in actual public life in America were already prominent and had long won numerous civil rights and social acceptance. But with these new shows it is possible that the medium is at last catching up with the reality of everyday life. "We are finally at the point when TV is not so many steps behind. Soon it might even sometimes be a few steps ahead," said Thompson.
    However, there is still a way to go when it comes to the treatment of women in comedy. It has long been a male-dominated world. "I'm saddened that we are still talking about women in comedy as if it were an oddity. When I first started doing stand-up in the 80s, I was usually introduced: 'And here's something different – a female comic!'," said Judy Carter, a comedian turned motivational speaker. Despite the wave of new women-led shows, there still does seem to be a double standard when it comes to female comics. They are not entirely judged on the quality of their jokes, but also on their gender, in a way male comics are not. Perhaps the new shows will help change that. To do so they will have to be successful in terms of ratings, thus generating the required advertising revenue to make them a standard part of the broadcasting ecosystem. The early signs are good.
    New Girl's debut scored some 10.1 million viewers and was the most popular show of its night among younger viewers. Meanwhile, 2 Broke Girls got a huge 19.2 million viewers for its heavily promoted first show. If such performances are kept up, the shows might cease to be viewed as sitcoms featuring funny women and just seen as funny TV shows. "I look forward to the day when we laugh at a movie such as Bridesmaids, and we don't even notice: 'Oh my God, women are funny!' Funny is funny regardless of gender," said Carter.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Roseanne on institutional sexism of TV

I'll cross-post this on several blogs as it touches on gender, regulation, class prejudice and the general financial machinations of the entertainment business. Assuming you're unaware of what 'Roseanne' is, a few clicks on wikipedia or youtube will swiftly bring you up to speed - it was a hugely successful US sitcom with the USP of centring on a working-class family (with money problems and lousy jobs, not the usual facsimile of working class, or 'labour as Roseanne Barr refers to it, with a tough domestically inept/disinterested woman at the head of the family).

There are very, very few comparisons - aspects of Taxi perhaps, maybe even Married With Children.
Her article, and forthcoming book, reveal just how unprepared the US TV network (whose working practices, being fundamentally driven by financial calculations and audience testing, are not so different to those of the film biz) was to let an unvarnished depiction of working class folk go on, let alone allow a female creative lead the way. Roseanne Barr found that her own creation was credited to an entirely uninvolved male producer, who went on to make her life hell.

There may be a 'PC' moral behind this, but it is a fascinating read from a very un-PC lady.

Roseanne Barr: 'Fame's a bitch. It's hard to handle and drives you nuts'

With a hit TV show, Roseanne Barr could get the best tables in the best restaurants. Never mind about the empty flattery, the nervous breakdowns and the feeling of being used for 10 years. But she's not bitter. Honest
Roseanne Barr 11.6.11
    Roseanne Barr
    'I walked into the producer's office, held up a pair of wardrobe scissors to show her I meant business - "This is no character! This is my show. You watch me. I will win this battle." ' Photograph: Robert Maxwell/Art + Commerce
    During the recent and overly publicised breakdown of Charlie Sheen, I was repeatedly contacted by the media and asked to comment, as it was assumed that I know a thing or two about starring on a sitcom, fighting with producers, nasty divorces, public meltdowns and bombing through a live comedy tour. I have, however, never smoked crack or taken too many drugs, unless you count alcohol as a drug (I don't). But I do know what it's like to be seized by bipolar thoughts that make one spout wise about tiger blood and brag about winning when one is actually losing. It's hard to tell whether one is winning or, in fact, losing once one starts to think of oneself as a commodity, or a product, or a character, or a voice for the downtrodden. It's called losing perspective. Fame's a bitch. It's hard to handle and drives you nuts. Yes, it's true

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Bond (as) girl + some theory

This strikes me as viral marketing for a troubled franchise, with the next Bond movie stalled while the studio MGM continues to teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, and a somewhat ironic source ... but its undeniably thought-provoking and worth 2 mins...

If you deconstruct the, ahem, Danielle Craig, you get a handy list of common signifiers of the stereotyped sexy female: killer high heels (built for discomfort and potential long-term injury); seductive black tights; tight, short(ish) dress (red a better choice for what seems the preferred reading?); bust/cleavage/decolletage prominently displayed; blonde - B(l)ond indeed. Short hair remains part of the common lesbian stereotype (seen to signify masculinity - look around your classmates and you'll note the general lack of long hair amongst the chaps, and preponderance of long hair amongst the ladies; its human nature to seek to fit in, conform and avoid grief for 'transgressing' common codes, even though we don't see these little details as conscious decisions) ... so Craig sports a long-haired wig.
[Notice how we start discussing gender but veer off into sexuality? We could also bring up age, plus social class/status - signified by the pearl necklace. In the exam you focus on the topic given, but should utilise useful explanation/analysis/argument drawing upon some of the 6 other identities; they generally interlink]
Judith Butler, 'queer' theorist, would recognise this: she argues that we learn to perform gender, a concept that exists in culture but not nature.
There's a lot more provocative material to be found at (producers of this vid). You can also make links between these issues and our exam work (useful for coursework too) on British cinema: there are several extensive posts on women's roles in the film industry. Here's one of the many resources cited/discussed/linked through the BritCinema blog:

Monday, 7 March 2011

Some terms

Details to follow in time...
new man

Monday, 24 January 2011

Androgyny as fashion statement?

This is a humorous, flippant article, but raises the useful concept of androgyny: purposefully rendering one's gender identity as polysemic; stripping out all the usual anchorage, perhaps combining binary opposite signifiers (all eg's of trying to squeeze in some semiotic terms too):

From David Bowie to Suede to (arguably) Lady Gaga, androgyny has been a potent, enduringly controversial part of the pop industry - and still a useful idea to help grasp complex ideas (such as Judith Butler's 'queer' theory that gender doesn't exist, it is something we perform [she writes of the 'performativity of gender'])...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The 'man up' discourse

Well argued article from the commentisfree section of The Guardian, focussed on how the discourse (language) of machismo has grown in US politics, with a link made to the shooting of a female Congresswoman in January 2011:

The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords highlights the 'man-up' culture in US politics
In a country that sees violent masculinity as the ideal, it's no wonder this rhetoric resonates
  • Jessica Valenti
  • This is not the kind of history we want to be making. US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the youngest woman to be elected to Congress, is in a medically induced coma after being shot in the head. She is believed to be the first female politician in America to be the subject of an assassination attempt. It remains unclear why 22-year-old Jared Loughner targeted Giffords, though reports of his mental instability and possible political beliefs are slowly pouring in. Without obvious answers at the ready, Americans are focusing on the culture of increasing vitriol in US politics. Even Arizona's Pima county sheriff Clarence Dupnik couldn't hold his lip at a press conference on Saturday, saying: "The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous. "People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American people by people who make a living off doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences." What's not being discussed, however, is that a fair amount of this violent language and imagery is coming from female politicians on the right. Giffords was a "target" on a map created by Sarah Palin's political action committee – Giffords's district was marked with an image of gun cross hairs. In a March interview that would prove eerily prescient, the congresswoman criticised the image, telling MSNBC: "When people do that, they've gotta realise there's consequences to that action." In June, Nevada politician and former Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle suggested that if Congress "keeps going the way it is", people would turn toward "second amendment remedies". (The second amendment of the US constitution outlines the right of Americans to bear arms.) And in an interview with a local Nevada paper, Angle said: "The nation is arming … If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?" Stephen Ducat, author of The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity, says that masculine and violent language is often used in elections and campaigns – especially by men on the right – because of a fear of being perceived as feminine. In a sexist society, what could be worse than being called a girl? So it doesn't seem unlikely that conservative female politicians feel the need to peddle their ideas in gendered and violent language in order to fit in with the masculinised right. After all, the phrase – and sentiment – "man up" was one of the most popular in the 2010 elections. In the Colorado Senate primary, Republican Jane Norton accused her opponent of not being "man enough"; in the Delaware Senate primary, Republican Christine O'Donnell said that her opponent was "unmanly"; Angle told Harry Reid to "man up"; and Palin praised Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer as having "the cojones that our president does not have" to enforce immigration laws. In a country that sees masculinity – especially violent masculinity – as the ideal, it's no wonder that this type of language resonates. But it's a sad state of affairs when women in politics have to resort to using the same gendered stereotypes that kept all women out of public service for so long. Palin staffers now say that their target list wasn't an allusion to guns. Spokesperson Rebecca Mansour told a radio host that they were meant to be "cross hairs that you would see on a map" and that there was "nothing irresponsible about our graphic". Yet the same day that Palin posted the image to her Facebook page she tweeted: "Commonsense Conservatives and lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!" Pls see my Facebook page." The target map was the only image posted to her account that day. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was one of the six people killed in Saturday's shooting. The young girl – born on 9/11 – was at the "Congress on your Corner" event because she had just been elected to the student council and a neighbour thought she would enjoy seeing politics in action. Christina's uncle told the Arizona Republic that she loved activities "from ballet to baseball". This is not the kind of history we want to be making.