I suppose it’s nice that Roman Polanski is expressing contrition for raping Samantha Geimer in his new documentary memoir. But I think that declaring her “a double victim: my victim and a victim of the press,” is perhaps not quite as effective as it could have been. The press doesn’t get involved unless Roman Polanski gives a 13-year-old drugs and alcohol and rapes her. In any case, it’s important to recognize that the reason Polanski can’t come back to the United States and has to circumscribe his travel is not solely because something happened between him and his victim: it’s because something happened between Polanski and the state. Our rule of law does not—and shouldn’t—depend on individual offenders and individual victims making peace. It’s good for her to get some matter of personal peace. But it’s not enough for the rest of us.
My three favorite pieces felt like a fascinating combination of the past, present, and future. Lorna Simpson’s display of gorgeous prints of hairpieces on felt next to phrases like “first impressions count” is simultaneously witty and cutting about the sense that African-American women have to radically transform their hair or hide it altogether. iona rozeal brown’s gorgeous, detailed images combine traditional Japanese portraits with darkened skin, corn rows, and extravagantly painted fingernails to play with how signifiers of black culture have been adopted in Japan. And Wangechi Mutu’s anemone-like collages incorporate eyes, lips, motorcycle wheels, and beads and glitter to suggest something post-human but still engaged with race.
And I’m always happy to see Kehinde Wiley in a show, and I’m glad to see him back in Washington after the hip-hop portraiture show he was a part of at the Smithsonian American Art museum. I could look at his lush, giant “Sleep,” for ages. I just wish the Corcoran had hung it on one wall and Mickalene Thomas’s “Baby I Am Ready Now” alone on the opposite one so the two would be in direct and clear juxtaposition, a man asleep and a woman waiting. It’s a good example of why even if the show isn’t perfectly staged, it’s very much worth seeing.
I was looking for something fun to watch while crunching a lot of numbers yesterday, so I watched the first six episodes of Cagney & Lacey. While it’s not remotely challenging in terms of format or dynamics — the show’s an entirely conventional slightly melodramatic New York police procedural, and even though the two cops are both women (that is kind of revolutionary — you can have two men or a man and a woman, but not two women) they’ve got a similar dynamic to a standard pairing, one tougher than the other — it’s so awesomely, naturalistically feminist I’m not surprised it was canceled and retooled. And it offers a good look at what the Prime Suspect remake should try to do if it’s going to move away from a caustic depiction of sexism in the police department.
First, on Cagney & Lacey, the cops who are sexists are also people, rather than just creeps who wander around talking about a “beef trust,” a phrase that makes me feel pretty physically disgusted, as they were in the Prime Suspect pilot. Some of the sexism is occupational, like the fact that the characters get put on an assignment where they have to go under cover as hookers to catch a murderer. “You see, when you’re doing a man’s job, you don’t want anyone to think you’ve lost your femininity,” Cagney jokes. And some of it’s personal. When Marcus Petrie, the African-American vegetarian cop they work with is having a baby shower for his wife, you’d think his female colleagues would be logical invitees. But Petrie doesn’t invite them, out of fear that the cop’s wives will be uncomfortable and suspicious about the fact that the male cops have attractive female coworkers. It’s hurtful, and it illustrates the critically important fact that well-meaning guys can do hurtful things.
Second, there are actual debates between women. When Cagney is chasing a dangerous assignment too hard, Lacey tells her partner “I’m a mother-wife cop, emphasis on mother-wife. I’m not going to go looking for trouble.” Neither of them is right—they just have different preferences informed by the different places they’re coming from. The show also isn’t afraid to throw in a duty guarding a notorious anti-feminist spokeswoman, a kind of Phyllis Schlafly, and to show that both women hate it. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” complains Lacey. “I could be out finding Harvey our anniversary present.” “Helen would love that,” Cagney quips back at her. Feminism isn’t just an issue between women and men — it’s between women and women, too, and it would be too bad to leave Jane hanging by herself without a female counterpart in the department or outside of it in Prime Suspect.
Third, don’t be afraid to show the characters having setbacks, especially those that relate to gender. Whether it’s Jane realizing she might have offended by her boss by asking for a dead colleague’s job too soon after his passing, or Lacey complaining that a date’s gone badly, telling Cagney, “Check me out. See any hickeys? Any beard burn? Nothing…We had this little argument about the criminal justice system. I might have ruffled his feathers,” the path to victory’s boring if it’s smooth. There needs to be actual debate, discussion, and mistakes on both sides for this to seem real.
As a first-generation Kindle adopter, my beloved e-reader is nearing its last legs (OK, it doesn’t help that I threw it when Bad Things Happened to a Character I Love in A Song of Ice and Fire). So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the details of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet so my smart tech-reporter friends can help me figure out which device I should get as a replacement for my little white-and-gray box. At Wired, Friend of the Blog Tim Carmody writes that the Kindle Fire tears the levees — high-priced technology that keeps folks from adopting certain methods of getting content — down:
The Kindle Fire, tablet, though, is the star of this show, because it leverages everything Amazon offers, from its multimedia sales to Amazon Prime streaming video service and free two-day shipping and Amazon’s industry-standard cloud infrastructure.
Quick hardware specs for the Kindle Fire: 14.6 ounces, dual-core processor, 7″ multi-touch IPS (i.e. infrared) LCD screen. What it’s missing: camera, GPS, 3G. It also has only 8 gigabytes of storage. But that’s a moot point: It’s a cloud-driven tablet…
Video isn’t the only draw of Kindle Fire over the mainstream e-readers. It also has Silk, a web browser leveraged by Amazon’s EC2 cloud processing power. Bezos calls it “a split browser.” It promises to use that extra computation power to do all of the DNS, TCP/IP, interactions, etc., on the back-end to make Silk much, much faster than competing mobile browsers. It also stores, reformats and compresses common instances of over-sized media designed for the desktop for faster mobile delivery. An Amazon engineer calls it “a limitless cache” to optimize the last-mile delivery between the web and the tablet.
At GigaOm, Darrell Etherington says the Fire isn’t an iPad killer:
The problem is that Amazon hasn’t really unveiled much with the Fire besides a fairly barebones delivery method for sales of its digital offerings. Limited storage means Amazon’s cloud services are almost a necessity for buyers, and yet the lack of 3G means that accessing content when you’re away from home will be difficult. The lack of both camera and microphone also mean that people can’t easily use this for taking or sharing mobile photos, or as a phone replacement with VoIP apps. The new Silk browser tech that does much of the processing work on Amazon’s EC2 servers is also interesting, but again severely limited by Wi-Fi-only network access. Amazon also didn’t talk about battery life, and a decision not to talk about it could mean it doesn’t compare favorably to the iPad’s all-day power.
So, tech-smart folks in the audience, what do you think, especially given the following things: I’m likely to pony up for a mobile hotspot shortly, so the 3G thing is not decisive; I do almost all of my job in a browser, so I don’t need anything fancy, but I would like the ability to bluetooth a portable keyboard to the device, which I’m gathering the Fire will not; I, uh, obviously watch a lot of media. Either way, I don’t really think the idea that the Fire won’t be a phone replacement is a killer. Of all the things the iPad can do, that never struck me as persuasive. And I do think Amazon is smart to realize that the main point of these devices for most customers is consuming media, not all of the other jazzy stuff Apple tells me the iPad can do in its television ads.
The Parents Television Council has to be one of the smartest outfits in Washington. They’re incredibly good at identifying winning controversies, even if they’re not necessarily right on the merits. And it looks like their latest scalp might end up being NBC’s The Playboy Club. PTC’s been targeting the show for months, and now they’ve announced that seven advertisers have pulled out of The Playboy Club, theoretically in response to PTC’s call for a boycott. There’s no question that such a move would make sense given the show’s dismal ratings. And while PTC is right that the show has, in the words of PTC’s president, Tim Winter, been “a commercial disaster,” I think he’s wrong to call the show a “degrading and sexualizing program.”
I don’t think that being a Playboy Bunny was inherently liberating, and I think it was a mistake for the network and the show’s creators to sell it that way over the summer. It was a ridiculous claim, and easy for the show’s opponents to debunk. But showing women being super-empowered all of the time isn’t the only way to make a feminist show. And while The Playboy Club has some contradictory elements and mixed messages, I think that on balance, the show does more to display the evils of sexism than it does to promote them.
There’s no question that, at least in the pilot, The Playboy Club was still trying to sell the idea that being a Playboy Bunny was, well, the Hef’s pajamas—glamorous and liberating all at once. Voiceovers from Hugh Hefner in that episode insisted that the Bunnies were super-liberated, even as the actual events of the show insisted, they were still quite vulnerable. In the world of the show, whatever the Bunnies might have believed about their jobs, they were still vulnerable to clients who assumed they were prostitutes, powerful figures who sexually harassed or assaulted them on the job, men who didn’t want to promote them, and rigid standards for their self-presentation enforced by other women. And outside the club, the characters have boyfriends who want them to quit, abusive ex-husbands they’re in hiding from, or sham marriages to help them hide their sexual orientation. The Bunnies may get excited about the chance to be on the cover of Playboy, but the $2,000 that comes with the career opportunity is also a big deal. They may live in a swanky dorm, but they’re still grown women who can’t afford or aren’t allowed to have their own apartments.
This, as with The House Bunny, a charming Anna Faris vehicle about a former Playboy Bunny from 2008, doesn’t really do much to make the case that it was awesome to be one of Hef’s girls, now or then. Maybe being harassed was worth it if the money let you hide from a husband you couldn’t divorce. Maybe selling your sex appeal was worth the chance to become the first person in your family to own property in a gentrified Chicago neighborhood. In its clumsy way, The Playboy Club has made these dilemmas clear. The show isn’t good. With the ratings it’s getting it’s probably going to be cancelled. And the PTC will be able to claim a huge scalp out of it. But when The Playboy Club dies it’ll be because it’s a not very well-written, and often badly-acted television show, not because it glamorizes Bunnydom, or because it’s sexist.
The bridge is yours.
-Figuring out the extent of the damage to the Washington Monument.
-Really wish Grey’s Anatomy wasn’t going to punish Cristina for having an abortion.
-Not going to lie: I don’t care how bad this movie is. I will go see it.
When I first wrote about Deena Pilgrim last week, commenter Seth D. Michaels wrote that “I have a weird, hard-to-shake emotional reaction to depictions of police brutality, particularly as carried out by female characters” like Deena, or Kima Greggs from The Wire. Now that I’m done with the second volume of the hardcover edition of Powers, I wanted to dig into that a little more, especially after Deena acknowledged to Christian that she’d killed Johnny Royalle and almost beat Harvey Goodman to a pulp.
Superficially, the book seems to defend Deena’s actions, particularly in the scene where Christian asks her to work with him again and apologizes for judging her for the murder. “In my day, I had to—decisions had to be made that I would rather not have questioned,” Walker says. “I, of all people, should not have moralized on you. I don’t care what happened to Johnny Royale…the guy clearly gave up his membership card in the human race a long time before we had anything to do with him.” But I think Powers pretty forcefully establishes that the reason Walker is okay with what Deena did, the only reason we’re supposed to be semi-okay with her beating Harvey Goodman to a pulp in custody, calling her “Cop killer! Hero killer! I’ve got two words for you—pain management,” and warning her “You think I’m fucking around? You think I won’t kill you right here?” is that the system is irretrievably broken.
Harvey may be a fanatic, and I’m not sure she’s right that superheroism is going to lead to environmental degredation, but she is pretty much right that “Every one of these so-called superheroes inflicts his own brand of justice and morality on our society without any understanding of the ripple effect.” I sympathize with Diana Shutz (whose Dark Horse Coffee I assume is a riff on the comics label), the character who tells “Powers That Be” that:
We have created a society where we freely allow men and women to take the law into their own hands. Cape or no cape—brightly colored logo or not—a superhero is a vigilante who is taking the law into his own hands. We root for who we decided is the good guy, and we boo for the person we decide is the bad guy. And we never consider that just the idea that we allow these people to put the law into their own ahnds, that we let one person make a moral decision for another person, is wrong.
Deena’s actions are only excusable in a world where morality has entirely broken down. And in beating Harvey, she’s seeking a narrow factual truth, but denying a larger one — that the heroes she protects blur her own authority. It’s the inverse of all those television shows that suggest that cops who beat up pedophiles and murderers are letting a larger truth leak through — that we’d all like to exact retribution on criminals — they’re just supposed to restrain themselves where we couldn’t necessarily. That’s complex, but it’s a powerful indictment.
I hate to think this about a show that Kat Dennings is involved with. But after last night’s nigh-inexcusable episode of 2 Broke Girls, it’s hard to escape that the show is relying heavily, and unattractively, on clumsy and unfunny racial humor.
It’s not just the diner manager, though he’s pretty bad. His name appears to be changing from episode to episode, though whose mangling of the English language seems likely to persist until Michael Patrick King doesn’t think they’re funny any more. Nobody thinks that producing a nametag for an employee means “you’re killing it.” And making jokes about said Asian boss like, “You can’t tell an Asian he made a mistake. He’ll go in back and throw himself on a sword,” isn’t funny, it’s just gross and stereotypical and treats Asia as if it’s a single country without distinct national lines and cultures. Then there’s the cashier, Earl, an older African-American gentleman, who sits around saying things like, “That’s the exact same sentence that got me hooked on cocaine,” or making horrible jokes about rape at Duke. There are some relationships where I suppose it might be okay for a younger white woman to say to an older black man that she’s making cupcakes that are made with “Delicious dark chocolate the ladies can’t help but love. I’m calling it the Earl.” But in the context of a show that hasn’t even reached the 30-minute mark between its two episodes, that just reads as kind of gross.
Then, there’s the show’s propensity to treat Brooklyn as if it’s full of alternately charming and distasteful ethnics (and the borough as if it smells bad). Caroline complains that the diner is “Three blocks and fifteen ‘Hola, chica!’s away” from the apartment she’s sharing with Max. When she complains that it’s noisy outside, Max explains that “that’s Puerto Rican noise. You’ll get used to it.” Caroline dramatically overpronounces “Juan” and “Javier,” as if it’s supposed to be hilarious, and she and Max make fun of a countergirl named Nabulungi.
I mean, seriously? A major television network saw this cut and decided, yes, what we desperately need in an already super-white television season is two milk-white chicks making fun of non-white people? It’s not as if ethnic and racial humor is impossible to do well, even if you’re not operating at Louis C.K.’s level, but this is just disgraceful. The show can contrast Caroline and Max’s backgrounds all it wants, but it’s increasingly obvious that King and the other folks working on the show are the ones who need etiquette and basic humanity classes.
So, I’ve been trying to reserve judgment on Tom Morello’s “part Suicide Girl and part Joan of Arc” comic, Orchid, until I actually got a look at it, because I have some doubts about the whole badass-sex-worker enterprise as executed by dudes, but Morello has generally good politics. That main character doesn’t show up yet in the preview Dark Horse has released, but that sample did kind of hit on one of my pet peeves: science fiction that’s immediately scientifically ridiculous.
The book starts with the line, repeated elsewhere, that “When the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed.” I realize this is nitpicky as hell, but you know what? Global warming is probably not going to create an alternative to DNA, or human beings wouldn’t be running around in their present form. It’s interesting enough to suggest that dramatic global warming and rising sea levels, say, made the return of giant marine reptiles possible, depending how far we’re supposed to be in the future. And the fight over high ground happening along class lines also makes sense as an interesting global warming-related conflict. I’m sure that not everyone, or even most of the folks reading Orchid will care that the book starts with something that patently silly. But it’s a distracting invention. The real consequences of climate change are terrifying enough. I wish they’d saved the wild inventions for changes in human society.