Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Battle of Mutually Exclusive Boxes

Well, I must say it's nice to see the current burning question on the internets is "Where are all the female late-night comedy writers?" rather than "Where are all the women writing and drawing comics?" or "Where are all the women bloggers?" And it's also nice to see that, this time, it's women doing the asking rather than myopic men who really could find tons of women blogging and doing comics if they actually opened their eyes or stopped moving goalposts.

Not so with late-night comedy, alas. We look to find ourselves represented in the entertainment we like, because we enjoy being full participants in that entertainment. (Same thing with government – if it's of, by and for the people, it should be all the people, not just males or whites or Christians or etc.) We want and deserve to read about or watch people like us. And I think entertainment that isn’t designed to be exclusionary toward a large swath of its audience has an obligation to follow through on that by embracing a diversity of viewpoints. Especially intelligent comedy and satire. It doesn't take a lot of skill to “work blue” or trade in humor that insults the societally shit-upon (the poor, non-Christians, women, fat people). To me, political humor only hits its mark by the satirist identifying with the powerless against the powerful, not supporting the powerful and viciously mocking the rest. And in order to create humor that better identifies with societal underdogs, it helps to have an ensemble show created and presented by members of said underdog groups.

The Daily Show has gotten better at this; where they used to feature a bunch of talented white male correspondents with diverse personae (because of course, as The Default, white males are assumed to not be monolithic), they now feature an East Asian and two black males, and two white men aren't even American. So yeah, their global and ethnic perspective has improved. On the other hand...

Well, let's let Michelle Dean at the Awl tell it in the introduction to her analysis of what's been going on: "A couple of weeks ago, Jezebel's Irin Carmon... wrote a piece examining what she termed The Daily Show's 'Woman Problem.' She largely defined the show as being a hostile environment for women as evidenced by the perennially low number of female correspondents and the testimony of some named and unnamed sources. The piece didn't really go too far, other than apparently being widely linked on Facebook. Olivia Munn, the Daily Show's but-one-month-old lady correspondent may or may not have heard about it, and, uh, commented."

Then the Comedy Central blog ran an open letter from the mostly-behind-the-scenes Daily Show women (wow, look at that photo, one of them even clearly appears to be non-white!), which was probably just asking for trouble. So Amanda Hess of the Washington City Paper's blog The Sexist (one of my new must-reads) parsed it well, and Sady from Tiger Beatdown (the other new must-read for me) satirized it viciously and (in my opinion) hilariously.

And as these things do, the thing branched out into other thoughtful posts, like this widely-linked post from Amanda Marcotte mostly aimed at male fellow-travelers wanting to broaden (pun intended) their sites or choice of entertainment to include women. I laughed at her #2, about not emphasizing that you want women involved in your hobby or whatever because it increases your chances of getting some. I used to hear that way too often in comic book fandom circles! (The aforementioned Amanda Hess also has a good post on making dude-dominated subcultures more accessible to women, which likewise induces this strange déjà vu in me from my Friends of Lulu days.) Susie asks, "When was the last time you saw a female blogger on The Ed Show, or Countdown, or Rachel Maddow? 'Cause I’m scratching my head and can’t think of one." (Does Ana Marie Cox still count?) Update: I just saw new entries into the discussion from the queen of why-aren't-more-women-in-prominent-media-positions, Melissa Silverstein, as well as Lesley from Fatshionista with a trifecta post covering Munn, the Daily Show situation and exclusionary videogame culture.

Lastly, my old buddy Jill - have I mentioned enough times yet how influential Jill was in helping me form so many of my opinions on culture, politics, feminism, etc. back in the day? Well, I have again - has a good overview of the whole shebang, and goes into more detail about the box in which Olivia Munn voluntarily finds herself. Where we also learn that Munn grew up not believing herself to be attractive, so the whole Playboy and Maxim and raw-hot-dog-gobbling and French-maid-costume-in-the-pie antics are perhaps understandable once someone’s discovered she's actually considered "hot" and can therefore exploit herself as a stepping-stone to, um, tepid comedy bits? In any case, it's probably too early to see whether Munn will make it as a regular correspondent; Kristen Schaal hasn’t made an appearance in over a year. (I hope it's because she's gotten better work elsewhere, even though I have to disagree with Jill's finding her hilarious; that Chenowith-like voice just grates on me. I much prefer folks like Sarah Haskins. Why oh why has The Daily Show not snapped her up? Does CurrenTV really pay her that well?) A really good essay overall, whence I swiped the title for this post.

Meanwhile, having given up on the idea of writing comedy for a living some quarter-century ago, I believe I still have enough chops and comedic timing to present The Daily Show with a golden opportunity to hire their first fat, older, not-hot, amateur female correspondent if they so desire. Daily Show producers, the email address is over there on the sidebar.

Next up: Wonder Woman - what’s up with the costume change?


Dwight Williams said...

Recommend you move north, and join the writing staff for either Mercer Report or 22 Minutes for a year or two first. That will polish your chops big-time!

Jill said...

Thanks for the linky-lou. What I like about Kristen Schaal is how utterly zany she is. She's off in her own plane of reality, and when she works with Jon Stewart, it's like watching Burns and Allen. (Remember, Gracie had a similar kind of voice, and she may have been the funniest woman who ever lived, at least until Wanda Sykes came along....)

It's sad that Munn's way of affirming her own attractiveness still came in an other-directed, exploitive manner. Let's face it -- the guys at Maxim and Playboy won't hesitate to discard her when she hits 40, whereas funny is forever.