tikiwanderer (tikiwanderer) wrote,

Apparently one of my fave TV shows is misogynist (huh?)

I've been watching Newsroom lately. Someone posted a link to the first scene of the first episode, which hooked us to watch the first episode, which hooked us to watch the first season, which hooked us to start watching the second season. Common story, though very unusual for me as I don't generally watch TV at all (long story, short version is that I invariably have something better to do). What I loved from the get-go about Newsroom though was that it was, well, a newsroom. Many years ago I was an assistant producer for a radio talk show, and over the course of seven or eight years that became several different radio shows. I loved it. It was high-energy, in-the-moment, every show a once-off-production never to be repeated. And behind the scenes it was frantic work to make everything seem seamless, to have every resource ready on time at the host's fingertips so that it never occurred to a listener to think of all the people who must be making this happen - they only ever imagined the host, and the guest. The series Newsroom evokes that for me, that adrenalin high and that excitement, the joy of creating something that people want to listen to and engage with, something that matters. (OK, it's arguable that the late-night psychic talkline show I was on was content that mattered, but to everyone who rang up there's no question that it was.) So the show for me is nostalgia of a sort.

The episode we most recently watched happened to include a shot of the news anchor, Will McAvoy, doing a hate search on himself under the desk during a broadcast. For kicks I decided to do one too and see what was actually out there. To my surprise, I found a lot of stuff on how misogynist the show was. This really took me aback. I know that I'm very grounded in the casual sexism of my generation of Australians, and that I've had to learn to recognise some of it (especially when I perpetuate it), but I hadn't noticed any in this show. So I read the arguments. They seem to centre on two things: first, a lack of strong competent women characters, and second, a dismissal of "women's" topics such as gossip and fashion, with an occasional third of female characters getting undermined.

The first puzzles me. The show has roughly equal numbers of male and female characters, and I'd have said all the speaking women characters were strong and competent. I read several comments saying that MacKenzie was ditzy - which seems like people cherry-picking their moments. She's got her flaws, but I find them very consistently realised throughout the episodes and it's hardly a case of playing her for laughs. Instead, they feed the action and the slow reveal of the relationships she has with the people around her - crucial to a drama. I read many comments saying that Maggie isn't strong - but she is. I actually find her very realistic because she is so heavily socialised to be nice and unconfronting, and I find it funny that this is considered "not strong". She makes a lot of mistakes, and you might argue that that makes her not competent, but most of her mistakes are not professional but social. They drive the drama without undermining her work. She is consistently well-realised, and she is not a bully or a harridan or a soldier. And, y'know, you don't have to be one of those three to be strong. Just sayin'. As a side note, we didn't let people with those kinds of strengths in our newsroom either (apart from the occasional RSL veteran, but they're a different case). I have to conclude from what I read that most of the comments on the characters come from the first three or four episodes of the first season, or less. That would make it easier to cherry-pick the anger without seeing the strength.

The second... is one of those elephant in the room things for me. I personally have no interest in gossip, celebrity, or knowing about something that some other person is doing just because everyone else knows about that person too. That kind of social knowledge and being "in" on the details of society's Big People? Not interested. I know a lot of people are - there's even science that suggests that we humans might be hardwired to follow the details of the Big People as a social survival mechanism. I didn't need science to tell me that though because I went to high school. I can totally understand following the details of what's happening in your local community. I just have no interest in people who are only part of my community because they're famous. They don't know anything about my community or us, we know everything about them, it's a one-way-street, and so it's not important to me. And so, when on Newsroom they set an agenda for the news that dismisses gossip, I'm cheering. I hate people talking about each other, it's a huge source of meanness and I hate meanness. I do love information, but I value most the information that's actually about something real and not just talking about people talking about people talking. For instance, why on earth would you bother to set up a camera facing a closed hospital door while waiting for a woman to give birth? Labour could take 48 hours, and that's a lot of filling that someone has to do. If it were me, I'd wait until there was *actual* news. Which is the premise Newsroom takes. I love it. We had to do that kind of filtering constantly in our shows - when is a story really a story? It's a question you're asking all the time. "Why would someone want to listen to this?". There was one show where we'd share celebrity gossip - but it was a specialist music show, and we only talked about things that these not-so-obvious artists were actually doing. Tours, shows, recordings, the things that influenced their music and their careers. With occasionally some (usually historic) trivia thrown in to intrigue listeners with something they might not have known before, or (even better) something they once knew but had forgotten.

So, I took this basic premise of Newsroom for granted - and it is a really basic premise of the show - they are trying to gain acceptance for a show which is about information rather than entertainment. It's a fightback against current mass media. If I had to name one thing that the show was about, this would be it. It had never occurred to me that this could be seen as a feminist issue. However, now I've seen it. If you argue that the demographic with the greatest consumption of topics such as gossip, fashion and other stuff dismissed during the season is predominantly female, then yes, trivialising this content as unimportant is trivialising and "othering" female interests. However, I think this might be a failure of humans to understand statistics. All bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs. It is rather shallow and stereotypical to say that current events is *not* a "female interest". I'd have said at a guess, knowing I might well be wrong, that equal numbers/proportions of males and females wanted current events - and that equal numbers/proportions of males and females wanted entertainment and to not hear about things that made them think. The demographic difference just becomes what's considered "entertainment". I personally trivialise gossip. *And* I equally trivialise sport, stereotypically considered primarily a male interest. Newsroom manages to never mention sport at all other than as an occasional recreation of the male lead, which is a rather interesting and curious oversight. Whether that makes it more antagonistic to female demographics or male demographics I'm not sure.

We're now a couple of episodes into Season 2, and I'm finding myself liking Newsroom less. The news events are (naturally) very US-centric which makes me less likely to care about them - some of them were major events in US consciousness but barely ripples here. More importantly though it's also becoming much more of a drama about people, rather than about the news. I'm generally not interested in people-dramas and don't get why others are. I had a wonderful friend once who explained it to me. He was a huge, cheerful, traditional-chauvinist/heterocentric kind of guy who worked a day job as a security guard and a night job in emergency services, who genially took women, children and animals under his wing to protect them - you know the type. And he was totally addicted to Home and Away. He'd cry over it with no shame. When I asked him why he watched it, he said "Because no matter how bad life is, it's not as bad as theirs". Drama made him feel good about his own life because to him it wasn't real. But I watch drama, and I see people I've had to work with, study with, share space with - real people made talking shadows on the screen. I think Newsroom does a good job of drawing real people, and the real mistakes they make interacting with each other. Sadly, that's the biggest thing pushing me away.
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