Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, and the Evolution of Girl Humor

600x400_insideamyschumer2Given the early coverage before the debut of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer this spring, I figured we were in for another dirty-girl comedian — Schumer was most often compared to Whitney Cummings and Sarah Silverman. I don’t dislike either of those ladies, but both of them, when at their best, retain the whiff of women trying to make it in a man’s comedy world. Of course, it is a man’s comedy world, and I can’t blame them, and I loooved every bit of the shock value of The Sarah Silverman Program. (I also happen to enjoy the show Cummings co-created, 2 Broke Girls. We won’t talk about Whitney.) Cummings and Silverman do the comedy equivalent of business women wearing hyper-masculine, shoulder-padded suits in the ’80s as they fought their way to boardroom levels: They made it in an astonishingly male-dominated profession by out-boying the boys.

Schumer and the also-rising talent Mindy Kaling represent a subtle shift, however, from Cummings and Silverman. They don’t shy away from indelicate topics like sex or body humor — because most modern women are a few steps beyond Jane Austen-style manners. But they don’t try to beat the guys at their own game, either. Kaling showed with her Fox sitcom The Mindy Project this season that she can do a killer awkward-shower-sex scene and poke elaborate fun at women’s love-hate relationship with romance. Schumer’s show, which is wrapping up its first season, takes a similarly female approach — not “female” humor like an eye-rolling Cathy comic strip, but humor that’s simply unique to a heterosexual person with a vagina coming of age during the early 2000s. She gives us a sketch on, for instance, “porn from a female point of view,” which shows mostly how ridiculous (and occasionally gross) sex is for women, all hairy chests coming at them and being slammed repeatedly from behind. This stands in stark contrast to those “porn for women” send-ups that show men with waxed chests doing housework. Because, ha ha, women have no desires beyond a clean house! Schumer acknowledges both female desire and the silliness of what we must endure to fulfill it. And don’t even get me started on the sketch about the guy who falls in love with her because of her terrible perm. You just need to see it.

In fact, you just need to see both The Mindy Project (now in summer reruns!) and Inside Amy Schumer. They both make great summer viewing.


The Feminism of ‘Soul Train’

35_soul train dancerTalented Friend of Sexy Feminist Lauren Rami drew this tremendous illustration of a Soul Train dancer (don’t you want to frame it and put it in some inspirational place in your apartment?) in homage to the women she loves to watch on the quintessential ’70s dance show. She wrote us a guest post about what inspired her.

I really, really love ’70s-era Soul Train. The powerful soul and funk music. The innovative, talented Soul Train Gang. The laid-back, effortlessly cool style. I’m fascinated by early seasons of the show for many reasons, but especially by how surprisingly feminist they were.

Now, I have no idea how women were being treated behind the scenes. While the cameras were rolling, though, the gender equality on that 1970s dance floor was remarkable. Dance moves weren’t gender-specific (the funky penguin didn’t discriminate), clothing was pretty unisex, and almost everyone danced independent of each other. No exploitation. No sexualization. Just people being together and expressing their love for music and dance. Unfortunately, this level playing field seemed to fade somewhere in the ’80s, after the onset of music videos…

The woman I’ve sketched above was a standout on one of my all-time favorite episodes, filmed in 1972. I don’t know her name, but I do know she was a dynamic, athletic, creative, and skilled performer. She was portrayed on the show as a dancer first and a woman second.

This illustration is my way of paying homage to the world Don Cornelius created in the early ’70s. Love, peace and soul.


HBO’s ‘Love, Marilyn’ Gives Us a Thinking Sex Symbol

LoveMarilynAll hail Marilyn Monroe as the thinking girl’s icon trapped in a sex goddess’ body.

Feminists have long been fascinated by the life and death of the self-made siren, who came from nothing and became anything Hollywood wanted her to be so she could rise to fame. (Gloria Steinem wrote a book about her at the peak of her own notoriety as a women’s lib leader.) What Hollywood wanted, of course, was a sex symbol of mythic proportions, and it got just that from her. If it also wanted a source of endless material for years after her death, it got that, too: Reams of books have been written about her from every vantage point imaginable, from Steinem to Joyce Carol Oates to murder conspiracy theorists to Norman Mailer and the many men who admired her. Smash dedicated two ill-fated seasons to a fictional musical about her life. Michelle Williams, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, and Madonna are among the many who have played the star in one way or another.

What’s well-covered territory feels fresh again in HBO’s new documentary, Love, Marilyn. I started watching it out of a sense of obligation, as a feminist and pop culture writer. But I came away feeling, for the first time, what it was like to be Marilyn, a sensation strangely absent from every other depiction I’ve ever seen. I loved Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn, but even that performance, which depicted her exquisite sadness and loneliness, still couldn’t convey to me why she was so sad and lonely. It also couldn’t show me how smart she was, and, perhaps more poignantly, how smart she wanted to be in a world that wouldn’t let her.

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The She Hulk-Mary Tyler Moore Connection

411Nws28DOL._SY300_Marta Acosta, the author of  The She-Hulk Diariesguest blogs here about her heroines — She-Hulk and The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Mary Richards.

 

Sometimes we think we’re the only ones still crazy about an old television series. We channel surf and always stop when we see the images we love, listening to dialogue that still makes us laugh. The Husband says, “Haven’t you seen that before?” and I say, “Haven’t you seen documentaries about the Ottoman Empire before?” Because, really, no matter how many of those documentaries he’s seen, he’s never been able to explain the Ottoman Empire connection to footstools, so what exactly is the point? Okay, I’m going to get back to this in a minute.

When I began my novel The She-Hulk Diaries, based on the iconic Marvel character, writing about a snarky, sexy 6’7” green party girl superhero was easy as pie. (Theoretical pie because I have never mastered making a crust, which my pie-shop owning neighbor recently informed me is a genetic ability. But I digress.) She-Hulk, aka Shulky, is as big, bold, and badass as she wants to be. However, I struggled to find the authenticity in her human identity, Jennifer Walters, a highly-accomplished and painfully shy attorney. I was stepping into more than 30 years of She-Hulk canon, but most of it centered on Shulky and all of it was written by men. I wanted to give Jennifer Walters the attention she deserved.

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Why I Loved ‘Behind the Candelabra’

behind-the-candelabra-michael-douglas-matt-damon1Most critics reviewing HBO’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra mentioned director Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant decision to temper the flamboyance of Liberace’s life with a gritty and unflinchingly realistic framing of the story. Even the slightest tic toward taking the movie over the top could’ve felt like farce, and besides, there was plenty of over-the-topness in the story — the sets, the costumes, the plastic surgery. Maybe Soderbergh overcompensated a little, thus sapping a bit of the joy Liberace clearly took in sparkly and ornate things. But I liked his approach more than the alternative.

Because he shot it like any straightforward, serious biopic, he instead brought out both the intimacy and the intensity of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson. He also, through that relationship, focused on the politics underlying their lives, and thus the lives of many gay men in the ’80s. The closest they could get to being married was for Liberace to adopt Thorson, a bizarre realization that ought to send everyone running to do whatever we can to get gay marriage legalized. And how heartbreaking to see people still trying to pretend, even after Liberace’s death, that the great love of his life was a woman! There’s something so devastating about not being acknowledged for your place in your great love’s life — even as an ex-spouse, you get some recognition at the funeral for your loss.

And, oh, the vanity! Being gay and famous made Liberace, and thus Thorson, as vulnerable to the pressure to be beautiful and young as women are. I loved the brutal cosmetic surgery sequences — I couldn’t even watch them, which I think is a good thing. We too rarely acknowledge how painful cosmetic procedures are — calling them “nips” and “tucks,” cutesy names that make us forget that this is major surgery. Not to mention that this is the creepy end result. Something about seeing men go through this on screen makes a difference, too, highlighting the inherent weirdness of it all because we’re not as used to it.

Most of all, the film normalized even a rather bizarre relationship between two men, something we could stand to see more of as we march toward the (hopefully) inevitable breakthrough of legalized gay marriage.


Gendered TV: Is ‘Game of Thrones’ for Boys, ‘Girls’ for Girls?

This guest post is from Andrew Daar, who writes about pop culture, baking, photography, wordplay, and the law on his blog Pop Tortes. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewDaar 

 

wallpaper-cersei-1600Pop quiz: Whom is the show Game of Thrones “made” for?

A.    Men

B.     Women

C.     All people

“All people” seems like the obvious choice, right?  No one involved with the show – not HBO, the network that broadcasts it, not showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and certainly not George R. R. Martin, author of the books upon which the show is based – has ever said that the show is intended only for a certain gender.

And yet, some critics seem to be under the impression that Game of Thrones is a “man’s show,” and that it does not appeal to women.  In one of the earliest reviews of the show, New York Times television critic Ginia Bellafante argued that the showrunners include romance plots and sex in the show “out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.”  Bellafante goes on to state that women are uninterested in fantasy and that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.”  More recently, in one of the worst-argued pop culture pieces I’ve ever read, Renata Sellitti of Thrillist made the sweeping generalization that women don’t like the show because it caters solely to men with its ickiness, swordplay, and nakedness.  Sellitti’s arguments were made without citation to any evidence and were insulting to both women (one of her arguments was that the plotlines are too complicated to follow) and men (they only like the show because it’s “gross” and features lots of naked breasts).

This idea that television shows, or, for that matter, any work of popular culture, is meant to be consumed by only one gender is one that needs to be eliminated.  It is not only insulting to both genders, it is bad for our culture.  Many people who would otherwise enjoy a work will dismiss it based on a silly prejudice, and many potentially great works will go unproduced out of fear that not enough people will consume it because of said prejudice.
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‘The Cosby Show’: One of the Most Feminist Shows of All Time?

I’ve been overdosing on Cosby Show reruns (6-7 p.m. EST weekdays on Centric!), and watching the series as an adult, I’ve discovered something surprising: It’s feminist. Like way feminist. Like stridently feminist. The show overall is not an exercise in subtlety, of course — Bill Cosby meant to teach you all some things while making you laugh — but wow. Cosby carefully and famously avoided taking on most modern issues — namely racism, but also anything political or topical. Except, it seems, the issue of where women stood in Cosby’s vision of a perfect world. As a man who was preaching strong family, he wanted to make one thing clear: In his mind, “family” was not a euphemism for patriarchy like it is for so many others.

Countless plots and subplots involve Cosby’s character, Cliff, schooling his son-in-law, Elvin, in what amounts to feminism. Elvin arrives in the Cosbys’ lives as a blatant sexist and eldest daughter Sondra’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. This amounted to a clever plot device, since Sondra was a smarty pants going to Princeton. It made for funny, teachable conflict. And woman-power always won, though the show was careful not to get too aggressive toward the men. The men who were sexists simply didn’t know any better, and had to be taught. One episode I recently watched had Elvin trying to endear himself to mother-in-law Clair by learning to cook. After several verbal missteps — saying he was learning to do “women’s work,” for instance — he’s put in his place by nearly every Huxtable female. Then Cliff teaches him to cook a simple meal, and everyone wins.

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Links For Sexy Feminists: Oscars’ Opening Fallout, Sephora Addiction, Body Acceptance, and more

Rape Culture and the Oscars: This New Yorker blog offers a great, balanced look at the problem with Seth MacFarlane’s opening number. And his independent blogger calls us all out for ignoring rape culture when it comes attractively packaged. Finally, though we don’t normally think it’s fair just to turn the tables and objectifiy men, but this video pokes lighthearted fun at the whole thing.

Solve for XX: For a nice antidote, check out this talk by Geena Davis on media portrayals of women and girls.

Makeup Addiction?: Sephora can be fun, but beware: it’s an expensive habit. To keep it fun, moderation is key!

Women’s Health: Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women, yet too many people see it as a “men’s issue.”

The Body Beautiful: You don’t have to fall for the trap of trying to lose weight specifically because you’re getting married. Find a bit of courage from photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero, who documents others’ reactions to her body. From a medical standpoint, this article offers insight into how doctors should approach a “weighty” conversation.


5 Feminist Shows to Watch This Winter

BunheadsGet your teen show fix from Amy Sherman Palladino’s returning ABC Family ballet drama, which is rife with great female characters of all ages. Will it change your life? No, but the banter will make your head spin.

Game of ThronesSticking by this one, too. The women of Westeros are getting more kick-ass by the second. We can barely even remember the dudes anymore.

Girls: Yep, we’re sticking by this one, backlash or not. It’s a great, gritty, realistic portrait of female friendship. It talks frankly about sex — and abortion, and HIV — like no show before it. Lena Dunham, love her or hate her, is a revelation, both for her balls-out writing style and her willingness to bare it all, literally, on screen, despite her unconventional (for Hollywood) body type.

The Good Wife: This show is so consistently good it makes us angry sometimes. And it’s feminist without wallowing in it. The amazing thing is that we stop thinking about “strong” female characters and just take them in when we’re watching. Afterwards, we realize how wonderfully varied, flawed, and admirable they are.

Portlandia: Yeah, they make fun of feminist bookstore owners, but in a loving way. And, hey, at least it’s a way to tackle feminism on TV! More importantly, Carrie Brownstein is a feminist goddess, and this show is just further proof. She rocks and does goofy comedy at least as well as the boys.

 


Links for Sexy Feminists: Gay marriage, ‘The Year of Heroine Worship,’ and more …

Gay marriage goes to the Supreme Court: The highest court’s ruling could lead to federalizing gay marriage — or not — by late spring or early summer, says The New Yorker.

More gay marriage: Meanwhile, same-sex couples started getting legally married in Washington State this weekend. And Jezebel has a piece by a woman who grew up with two moms.

‘Year of Heroine Worship?’: New York Times critic A.O. Scott heralds 2012 as a golden age of strong female leads. New York mag’s The Cut says not so fast.

Gwen and Gavin are our aspirational-couple heroes: They are never allowed to break up. Here is some video of them singing “Glycerine” on stage together, via The Frisky, to reassure you that they are still awesome and together.


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