Reuters: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story

Last week at Reuters, I wrote about how the diversity – or lack thereof – among guests on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is in conflict with Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s reputations as liberal icons:

Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

And yet when it comes to gender and race, their guest rosters more closely resemble a GOP national convention than they do the liberal vision of a diverse and equitable America. Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 17 of them, or 38 percent, were women. This is closer to gender equity than many comedy and news shows manage, and it’s certainly a better showing than Colbert. But when you factor in race, Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white, and of the very few African-American guests who appeared on his show, all were entertainers – the band Wu Tang Clan and the comedian Kevin Hart. Women of color fared similarly poorly on The Daily Show: Out of 45 guests, just three were women of color.

In Colbert Nation, the numbers were worse still: Of 45 guests, 73 percent were men, and 89 percent were white. And of the 12 women (12!) who appeared among Colbert’s last 45 guests, three of them shared a time slot. Of those 12 women, there was just one woman of color — District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

You can read the whole thing here.


The Hairpin: My Best Friend’s Wedding

This week at The Hairpin, I wrote about My Best Friend’s Wedding, as part of the ongoing Hairpin Rom Com Club series:

I have so many questions about this movie. First of all: Jules and Michael made a pledge that if they were still unmarried at 28, they would marry each other? That is the average age of first marriage for American men right now. I’m a woman, so I’m not great at maths, but I’m pretty sure “average” means that lots of people – lots! – get married well after 28. Because maybe this is just my unwed 26-year-old denial talking, but 28 is not that old. Did they make that pledge to each other while living in a Jane Austen novel, in which 28 was considered irredeemably over the hill? I have jokingly made pledges like that, but the deal is that we settle for each other when we’re forty-five, not TWENTY-EIGHT. Secondly: Jules and Michael have been best friends since they were in college (which was a decade ago because they are now 28 and therefore basically ready to check in to a nursing home), but he doesn’t tell her that he’s getting married until about 72 hours beforehand? There’s no handbook for how to be a best friend, but if there were, I’m pretty sure there’d be a chapter called Give Your Best Friend More Than Three Days’ Notice If You Decide To Get Hitched On The Other Side Of The Country. Sure is lucky that Jules has a rom com job, and not a real job, so she can just hop on a plane at a moment’s notice for some dress fittings and hilarious highjinks (a rom com job is one in which you do almost no work but still make a salary that allows you to live an upper middle class lifestyle and go to all sorts of fancy work events where men have the opportunity to stage grand gestures in order to win your love. See also: magazine journalist, party planner. Rom com jobs are not equal opportunity employers, as only women characters seem to have them).

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Why the contestants on Dating Naked are (kind of) just like us

I have a piece at Reuters today, on reality shows about looking for love, hatewatching, and horseback riding in the nude:

If naked horseback riding strikes you as a bad idea, then Dating Naked is not the reality show for you.

The show, which debuted last month, is filmed on a Caribbean island, and it’s much like any other reality dating show, except that contestants show up for their dates — which involve island-y activities like spearfishing, zip lining, paddle boarding, and yes, horseback riding — totally naked, and stay that way for the duration of the date. Suffice it to say, the folks responsible for pixelating the footage for this show have their hands full.

Dating Naked is one of several reality shows in which nudity is part of the central premise. Recently, we’ve also seen the debut of Buying Naked (TLC), about a real estate agent who caters to a nudist clientele; Naked and Afraid (Discovery Channel), in which strangers are left naked in a deserted location and must fend for themselves in the wilderness, is currently in its third season. If you hold to the journalism adage that three makes a trend, then naked reality shows are officially a hot new trend (or, in the case of the Naked and Afraid contestants who spent three weeks in the Yungas cloud forest of Argentina, a cold one).

What is striking about these shows, however, is how quickly nudity becomes the least remarkable element. In Naked and Afraid, building a shelter and obtaining food quickly become top priorities for many contestants, and being naked while doing so is an uncomfortable inconvenience, but not a central concern. Similarly, the contestants in Dating Naked say that by the time they’re stripping down for their third naked date, they’re getting comfortable with the idea of meeting a purported complete stranger in the buff. Since the discomfort, awkwardness, and innuendo that, uh, arise, from the nudity are central to the appeal of the show, their dissipation reveals Dating Naked for what it is: Yet another formulaic reality dating show, just as heavily edited and booze-soaked as any other member of the genre. Once the contestants get comfortable, the show loses much of its appeal.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: John Oliver, the insider-outsider perspective, and jokes that punch up

I’m at Reuters again this week, writing about John Oliver’s new show Last Week Tonight, about how to make humour out of dark and dull topics, and about why a man with a thick Birmingham accent is so good at American political satire:

Oliver’s addition to the news-comedy landscape demonstrates the value of a half-American’s perspective on American politics and culture. He was born and grew up in Britain, moved to the United States as an adult, and has a strong Birmingham accent. He has been living here for almost a decade, is now married to an American, and has become a citizen. He is at once an outsider and an insider, a powerful position from which to critique and mock the United States.

At times, Oliver is explicit about his outsider status, particularly when he is addressing those subjects that are especially hard to joke about. In a May segment about the death penalty, Oliver noted that, as a Briton, “I come to this as a bit of an outsider. Britain does not have the capital punishment, so in a way, I really don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“But,” he continued, “in another way, I really do know what I’m talking about.” He then proceeded to give a brief overview of the lurid and grotesque history of British execution methods — “we boiled people, and in the grand tradition of British cuisine, if anything, we over-boiled them” — and joked about how British people respond when asked if they want to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished there in 1965. It was, quite literally, gallows humor. It also demonstrated Oliver’s ability to joke about grim topics and situations that no one wants to talk about, in a way that does not detract from their gravity or strip the people involved of their humanity.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: What When Harry Met Sally… got right – and wrong

At Reuters last week, I wrote about why When Harry Met Sally… is as relevant in 2014 as it was when it was released 25 years ago:

When Harry Met Sally… concludes that friendship between men and women is possible but ultimately unsustainable. Sooner or later, the friendship will involve sex and, in Harry and Sally’s case, love. Like so many other Hollywood romantic comedies, the movie posits that friendship between men and women is a holding pattern en route to the most desirable kind of relationship they can have. Harry and Sally’s friendship is based on respect and honesty, and it’s mutually beneficial; these are two people who care about and for each other. And yet, that’s not enough for them — or for the audience.

The notion of friendship as a consolation prize is the basis for the “friendzone,” a term that did not exist in 1989 but that would have made complete sense to a man like Harry. The friendzone is, in 2014 thinking, the place to which women cruelly relegate men in whom they have no sexual or romantic interest, with whom they want to be “just” friends. It is a hellish place, cultural wisdom tells us, a purgatory devoid of sex where men are forced to enjoy women’s affection, support and admiration without any coitus whatsoever. To be friendzoned is to be stuck at the halfway house with no hope of reaching your desired destinations: Sexburg and Boyfriendville.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Hairpin: The Hairpin Rom Com Club

I’m writing a series at The Hairpin, about romantic comedies. The first installment is about Notting Hill:

Notting Hill is what some scholars of the genre call a “special relationship” rom com: a British man and American woman overcome their minor cultural differences—represented here by his charmingly diffident awkwardness and her brash mouthiness – and make it work. Four Weddings and Funeral and Wimbledon, all made by the same production company that made Notting Hill, are also special relationship rom coms. Notting Hill also signals the start of a wave of rom coms that are aware of or about the film industry—Anna is an actress who makes rom coms herself, and of course the movie is all about the challenges of being or being with a highly visible actress—and it paves the way for rom coms that are even more self-referential, like Friends With Benefits.

And the second  is about It Happened One Night:

Throughout the movie, the central tension between Peter and Ellie is that she’s rich and he’s broke. She’s a spoiled brat, and he’s a man of the people. On the road, with no sense of how to budget her money or fend for herself financially, she needs Peter to survive. He, of course, needs her in order to keep his job. This tension makes a lot more sense when you consider the larger context in which the movie was made and released. It’s 1934, it’s the middle of the Great Depression, everything is shit, everyone has a hangover thanks to Prohibition and its recent repeal, most Americans are miserable. Little wonder, then, that Peter gives Ellie so many resounding verbal beatings, and takes her to task so often for being spoiled and out of touch with real people. Little wonder that he takes so much satisfaction in seeing her brought financially low on the road and relishes the fact that he knows how to live on a tight budget, while she doesn’t.

Peter is meant to be a stand-in for the 99%, Ellie for the 1% who screwed the country over and were still barely dented by the Depression. Along the road, they meet people who are even worse off as a result of America’s economic woes, like the young boy who is riding a bus with his parents all way up the East Coast because his father was promised a job in New York City; the family’s spent all their money on bus tickets, and his mother passes out from hunger. A lot of screwball movies from this time period ignore the Great Depression and continue to tell stories about rich people who are untouched by the poverty and panic around them, but It Happened One Night doesn’t do that. It is explicitly a story about class, and about a roguish but decent working-class man who humanizes, and falls in love with, a pampered rich woman. In fact, if you recognize the hitchhiking scene from It Happened One Night, in which Ellie’s leg pulls over more cars than Peter’s thumb, it might be because it was featured in Sex and the City 2, in which Carrie and the girls go to Abu Dhabi to be mortifyingly ignorant about Arabic culture: cultural embarrassadors, if you will. Sex and the City 2, released in 2010 when the economy was once again in the shitter, and concerned mainly with the sex lives of four obscenely wealthy women, is an example of how not to make a movie during economic hard times. It Happened One Night was, at least, much less tone-deaf.

Next up: Hitch!

Reuters: Forget Harry Potter, Hermione is the real heroine

I had a piece at Reuters last week, about J.K. Rowling’s new Harry Potter story, and about how, for me, Hermione has always been the real heroine of the series:

For many young women, Hermione was (and still is) a role model: a smart, determined young woman who wasn’t afraid of working hard or of taking a principled political stand. Like Ron, she stood in the shadow of The Boy Who Lived, but he wouldn’t have lived through all seven books without her. And, despite Rowling’s regrets at writing them as “just” friends, reading about a teenage boy’s fierce respect for a teenage girl’s intellect and scholastic drive contributed to my belief that men and women can be close, fiercely loyal friends without sex or romance.

Hermione is a role model for readers, and she’s also a trailblazer for our current literary and popular culture heroines. You can draw the line from Hermione Granger to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and to Divergent’s Tris Prior, all of whom are thinkers, fighters and political activists whose stories have romantic subplots that are important but are not what define the female characters. Just as Hermione repeatedly saves her friends, these characters repeatedly save the day to create political and social revolution. You can imagine Tris, Katniss, and Hermione — all these smart, brave, politically astute young women for whom dating is really not a top priority — meeting each other for the first time and recognizing each other as kindred spirits.

It’s unclear whether this new story signals Rowling’s return to writing about the lives of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Certainly, she will be returning to the Potter universe as she writes three new screenplays about “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, which are set well before Potter’s birth.

Like so many other fans, I’m hoping for more. I want to see the young woman who helped define a generation grow up and shape the world. I want to know what kind of Minister for Magic she’d be. I want to watch her friendships deepen and mature.

You can read the whole thing here.