America’s shock radio hosts are not particularly know for their respect for and decent treatment of women. It’s hard to think of a week in American politics where that tendency has been more on display. When Rush Limbaugh gets so disgusting in his smearing of a monogamous woman who’s testifying in support of the administration’s birth control policy that President Obama is moved to intervene, it’s a clear sign—as if we needed yet another one—that we’re harboring something disturbing in our public discourse. So there’s something very odd about the pop culture effort in recent years to rehabilitate shock jocks—or at least to persuade what are clearly America’s ridiculous uptight feminists to get over themselves.
First, there was The Ugly Truth. In that movie, Katherine Heigel is a television producer who’s forced to work with a gross, lowest-common denominator shock jock played by Gerard Butler. He’s the kind of guy who we’re supposed to think is clever because he boosts ratings with jello wrestling, and who, when he spends a dinner torturing Heigel’s character with a pair of vibrating panties (literally), it’s supposed to be hilarious rather than at minimum sexual harassment. But instead of interpreting him as a crass creep, the whole point of The Ugly Truth is that he’s actually a nice guy, who is good to his nephew, brings his coworkers closer together, and is actually what Heigel’s uptight, narrow-minded control freak needs in her life, sexually and otherwise. The reckoning isn’t really about the gap between his public behavior and his private self—it’s Heigel’s character being forced to realize he’s right about everything, and to stop giving him trouble about behavior that is ugly but commercially successful.
Now, we’re going to be forced to go through this all over again in a show that’s not just meant to sell us on the idea that shock jocks are cool but that will also be about trying to get us to like Dane Cook. NBC, in what seems to be proof that the network that gave us Community can go lowest-common-denominator with the worst of them, is going to have Cook play a shock jock who’s paired with a feminist radio host. His character is supposed to be a “disheveled, unshaven, hung-over and purposely detached magnetic grouch who doesn’t like that his co-host is a woman.” The formula’s so obvious it’s painful: Cook will get over his objection to his co-host being a woman because they’ll evolve into a will-they-or-won’t-they pairing. But it’l be the co-host who starts making compromises on her feminism on discovering that Cook’s character has some sort of painful past. In other words, utter nonsense that requires the man involved to accept approximately zero responsibility for being sexist and awful.
But in real life, slut-shaming women in an effort to terrorize them out of speaking publicly, sexually harassing them on the airwaves, and treating them like objects aren’t excusable because your’e a wounded man-child. They’re not acts that have no impact in the world and can be made up for with dinner, or good sex. And feminists of both genders and women in general aren’t the people in this dynamic whose attitudes need to change.