Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Daily Show meets feminists; feminists meet the internet

It all started when the Daily Show hired Olivia Munn, someone who was established as a TV host, but not necessarily a comedian.  With all the great female comedians out there, Jezebel writer Irin Carmon couldn't help but wonder, did the Daily Show have a woman problem?  Although her investigation started with Munn, it didn't end there:
Given its politics and the near-universal adoration with which it's met, the current iteration of The Daily Show is held to a different standard by the viewing public. But behind the scenes, numerous former female staffers tell us that working there was often a frustrating and alienating experience.
"What I was told when I was hired is that they have a very hard time finding and keeping women, and that I was lucky to get a one year contract," says Lauren Weedman, a comedian and writer who worked on the show as an on-air correspondent from 2001-2002.
...Stacey Grenrock Woods was on Stewart's show from 1999-2003, longer than any other correspondent besides Bee. (She later chronicled the experience in her book, I, California.) She told me, "Did I feel like there was a boy's club there? Yeah, sure. Did I want to be part of it? Not necessarily. So it kind of goes both ways."
Unfortunately, the piece of it that was about Munn led Emily Gould to wonder if frustration with The Daily Show was really about jealousy over (the very pretty) Munn's success, and if Jezebel was feeding on women's insecurities by throwing Munn to the wolves.  Gould's piece is somewhat thought-provoking.  She discusses the way feminist blogs encouraging "outrage" can really just be another form of the snark and self-loathing fed by traditional women's magazines.  But, I wish Munn had been left out of the whole thing, since the issue with the Daily Show isn't really about Munn, it's about whether there can be a progressive news source that nonetheless has a "boys club" attitude backstage.  And the issue that Gould brings up with feminist blogs isn't really about Munn either.  But the missed-connections back-and-forth didn't stop there.

Shelby Knox, guest-blogging for Jezebel, wrote a scathing response to Gould, pointing out that her attack on Jezebel was humorously un-self-aware, since she was essentially doing the same thing she accused other blogs of doing by encouraging readers to criticize Jezebel's successful writers to improve their own self-esteem.  Knox's piece has some good points, but also misses one.  First and foremost, Knox wants to make this a war between feminists, but Gould has never (that I know of) called herself a feminist (she's just a famously overexposed online writer, and former Gawker editor).  Making this a war between internet feminists is not only inaccurate, it's tiresome.  There's a bigger issue here, and we're missing it by making the medium the message.

Speaking of that bigger issue, the women who work for the Daily Show responded in a letter (a sentiment echoed by this Jezebel comment) saying Jon is a good boss, they participate in every level of the show, and they don't need Jezebel looking out for them, thankuverymuch.  Does that settle the issue?  No.  Sady Doyle does a great job parodying the letter, pointing out that you can have some (many, even!) happy women on staff, and still not be an equal workplace for women.

Now that we've covered the issue, back to the distraction: Olivia Munn.  Some of the criticism against her has been portrayed as feminists lashing out because Stewart hired an attractive woman.  I don't think that's fair (although some of the criticism has been a little slut shame-y, so let's please not use the fact that she posed for Playboy and Maxim as a talking point).  As Sady (again!) points out, Munn is not just a pretty woman, but a pretty woman who became famous by engaging in misogynist skits for men's entertainment, and who now lashes out at feminists and others who question the system that made her famous:
Given that she was playing to an audience of dudes whose expectations of women were primarily informed by ever-more-anatomically-impossible video game heroines, the flying thongs of superhero justice to be found in comic books, and cooing, squealing, saucer-eyed anime girls, did it help that she was pretty? AYUP. It also helped that the show continually cast her in misogynist skits that “proved” to the audience that they could control her and she would like it: Skits that played to the audience’s frustrations with women, their feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and their continual rage that real-life girls couldn’t be controlled by mashing the buttons on their PlayStation consoles. One golden example of this — so effective, apparently, that they repeated it over and over again — was the comedy/technology news chestnut I like to call “We Can Make Olivia Put Her Mouth On It.” It went like this:
ANNOYING FRAT DUDE HOST WITH BAD RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Guess what, presumed-to-be-male audience members? A new piece of technology, relevant to your interests, has come out today! And now, Olivia Munn will lick it.
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (Creepily.) Wooo!
OLIVIA MUNN: Oh, no, I’m not going to lick that!
RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Oh, yes, you are, Olivia! Lick it! Lick it because I am a man, and told you to!
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (Extremely creepily.) Woooooooooo!
OLIVIA MUNN: (Licks it.)
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (At this point, creepy enough to merit several dozen restraining orders.) WWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Wow, you sure do like to lick it, Olivia!
OLIVIA MUNN: Ha, ha ha ha ha! You are so funny!
If no new tech had come out for a while, they used a hot dog.
If you check out any of the Olivia Munn videos on youtube, you'll see what Sady is talking about.  Yes, they are degrading, and no, I wouldn't call them comedy.  But Sady also points out (the piece is good--go read it) that this doesn't make Munn a bad person.  It makes her a person who did what she needed to in order to earn a paycheck in a world that is unequal, and isn't set up for women to succeed in show-business along the same channels as men.  So now that Munn has a chance to do something else, to be in a role that distressingly few women have been in, let's give her a chance.

How's she doing? You be the judge.
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