Whatever else To Rome With Love, Woody Allen’s latest continental romp, turns out to be (and while a critique of Italian media is a worthwhile subject, Roberto Benigni’s reappearance makes me cringe a bit), there’s something really delightful about the fact that the movie’s seductresses are Penelope Cruz and Ellen Page. Way to recognize that sexy doesn’t come in a single package:
When the nominations for the National Magazine Awards were announced yesterday, they sparked a spirited debate about gender and representation among the nominees. Liliana Segura found that the finalists included no women in the Reporting, Features, Profiles, Essays or Columns categories, though as I noted, they netted four out of the five nominations for Public Interest reporting. Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein spoke with Erin Belieu, the co-founder of VIDA, which monitors women’s bylines in magazine journalism, about the breakdown. And Sid Holt, the chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors, which administers the National Magazine Awards, mounted a spirited defense of the nominations, and of the existence of a Women’s Magazine category in the competition, though there is no Men’s Magazine category.
It’s easy to feel frustrated with the results, which have roots further back in the pieces editors choose to commission in the first place and the categories in which editors choose to submit entries. But in an extended conversation with ThinkProgress, Holt laid out the process by which ASME assembles its judging pools, and described the organization’s debates about issues ranging from attaching bylines to pieces in the judging process to the existence of the Women’s Magazines category.
243 judges participated in the selection process for this year’s print National Magazine Awards, of whom 118, or 48.5 percent, were women. 40 percent of the judges are editors in chief of magazines, 20 percent come from places other than New York, and 25 percent hadn’t judged the previous year. Of the 20 judging groups, 8 were lead by women—the original plan would have had 9 women group leaders, but one dropped out and was replaced by a man. Holt said his goal is to put together judging pools that won’t produce easily predictable results. “There’s no specific guideline, there’s x number of women or x number of men,” he explained, “but there have to be more than a couple of women or men” in any given pool.
Each initial submission is evaluated by two readers, usually a man and a woman, though Holt said the process emphasizes diversity of background so “It’s not two women service editors. If it’s a man and a woman, it’s not a man from a sports magazine and a woman from a sports magazine.” Those readers initially evaluate the pieces by reading them as PDFs that are uploaded to a website. When submissions move to the judging pool, judges read the stories again in the physical magazines which they appeared, so everything from the paper to the byline is the same. Holt said there have been debates about stripping bylines from pieces, but that certain magazines—like the New Yorker—and certain pieces that are so widely circulated that it wouldn’t make sense to attempt to disguise who their authors are.
Holt acknowledged that the Women’s Magazines category remained the subject of debate, but said it grew out of larger changes when ASME decided to abandon categories in the General Excellence awards that sorted magazines by circulation, which prevented magazines with similar content and ambitions from being judged against each other. “There clearly are men’s magazines, but the number of men’s magazine doesn’t justify having a separate category for men’s magazines,” he said. “We did the general excellence categories for years based on circulation…There was a perception, and it was a reality, that women’s magazines weren’t recognized. So we specifically created a category for women’s magazines to recognize women’s magazines…It was a specific problem, and there are women editors who liked it the other way. We were trying to address an issue in which magazines that competed for readers and for advertisers were competing against one another. It was a system that made sense from a magazine perspective and wasn’t entirely arbitrary.”
And Holt said he recognized the difficulties of a system and a market where magazines with service sections aimed only at men—but with feature wells that aim to compete with publications like the New Yorker—ended up in the General Interest category while Women’s Magazines are separated out. “Putting GQ and Esquire in a category called General Interest, I realize that is problematic,” he said. “That’s a practical solution to sort of an organizational problem.”
I was hatewatching Smash this morning, and I realized the show is managing to be the second example for two mini-trends that have been bouncing around episodes in recent weeks—the sneaky bisexual, and the blonde being abused by her creator.
The fairly clear implication of last night’s episode was that assistant-turned-wannabe-producer Ellis was willing to sleep with a star’s agent to get her to consider playing Marilyn more seriously than she had previously, even though we know he has what appears to be a serious, live-in girlfriend. Much like Revenge‘s bisexual, loner tech billionaire Nolan, Ellis’s sexuality is presented less as a means of personal expression and more of a strategic tool. Ellis is one of the most irritating characters on television, a relentless climber without an iota of personal attachment, whether it’s to another human being, to ideas of merit and talent, or to the work and the subject matter itself. If Smash has been successful at anything, it’s managed to communicate the other characters’ investment in musical theater. Ellis just seems to want power because it’s there. And perhaps its best scene was a fight between Tom and Derek that turned into a sophisticated debate between how gay men and straight men see Marilyn Monroe and the theater. So it’s particularly disappointing that the show defaulted back to the old stereotype of the Evil Bisexual.
Nolan’s portrayal on Revenge has been more nuanced: he’s clearly very personally invested in helping Amanda/Emily at minimum in memory of her father (thought it would be nice if the show spent some time articulating how Nolan and David Clark got so close in the first place). He’s got an actual attachment to the cause at hand. And when he seduces Tyler, the unstable imposter who’s insinuated himself in wealthy scion Daniel Grayson’s life, Nolan appears to feel at least some sense of sympathy with the other man—there’s an actual frisson of attraction there, not merely convenience. But it’s true that Nolan doesn’t appear to have much of a life of his own, at least in the slice of time we’re seeing him. He’s not allowed genuine romantic attachment, or even business moves that don’t serve Emily/Amanda’s interests. His whole life, not just his sexuality, are at her disposal, though the show has clearly demonstrated the limited scope in which that arrangement can remain comfortable.
Smash is also in company with Mad Men in taking out some nastier emotions on its signature blondes. As much as I think that what Mad Men is doing to Betty Draper, turning her fat and even more miserable than usual, has some basis in Matt Weiner’s distate for the character, I also think it makes sense as an arc. The woman who had, as the only tool at her disposal, beauty, finds it can’t bring her happiness, and then loses her power. There’s an un-vindictive plot available in there if this means that Betty ends up forced to address some deeper issues. Only time will tell if the show avails itself of that option.
By contrast, Smash is being just nasty to Ivy, and that nastiness comes from a profoundly illogical place. Prednisone does have side effects, but the show seemed to take a real leap in turning its most professional and disciplined character into a pill-popping, drunk, show-flubbing hot mess. More to the point, turning Ivy into a joke minimizes her disappointment in a way I think is unfortunate: she’s legitimately heartbroken at the loss of her first big chance. If the show wants this to be an even fight between Karen and Ivy, which is the sense I’ve gotten from the show’s renewal and the dismissal of its showrunner, it’s got to make Karen more legitimately compelling, not undermine Ivy in a way that denies her character consistency.
I know, I know, I should have gotten to The Interrupters sooner. But I do whatever Ta-Nehisi tells me, and so I finally sat down to watch it yesterday. While the documentary, about anti-violence advocates in Chicago who work to deescalate situations that could lead to violence and crime, on the surface of it has very little in common with Appropriate Adult, the British film about serial killer Fred West and Janet Leach, the social worker trainee assigned to make sure West understood what was going on during interrogations to cut down on the chance of an appeal. But taken together, they’re a powerful indictment of the poverty of our popular entertainment’s approach to telling stories about crime and violence.
The Law & Order franchise’s formula of voiceovers is the clearest condensation of this approach. It’s”"In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.” Or “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.” Or “In New York City’s war on crime, the worst criminal offenders are pursued by the detectives of the Major Case Squad. These are their stories.”
In all three cases, and in many other crime-solving shows, the point is clear. Crime in our culture is about the people who arrest and prosecute criminals. Criminals exist as obstacles for those people to foil, problems for them to solve, people for them to break. Victims exist to provide meaning to that process. People who seek to prevent crime, or to heal victims of the trauma from it are largely incidental—when we see psychologists on television, they’re largely present to help detectives and prosecutors assess criminals or obtain convictions, or to help make prosecutors and detectives more effective and functional. There’s no question that crime affect the people who investigate them, and that case investigation is a neat package for television storytelling. But officers of the law are not the only people affected by crimes. And arrests and trials aren’t the only ways to tell stories.
The Interrupters is a phenomenal movie, and lots of people have laid out why, but I want to discuss it here as an example of how to tell crime stories with different people at the center of the frame, and through different processes. The movie, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is about violence interrupters in Chicago, people who work directly with people who are at risk of committing crimes to de-escalate both short-term and long-term situations that could lead to violence, acting on the presumption that violence is a public health risk that can be combatted by disrupting cycles of behavior. “The story about sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you? Words can get you killed,” Says Ameena Matthews, the daughter of Jeff Fort, an influential Chicago gang member who herself was involved in gang activity until she was shot. She’s since converted to Islam, and works to disrupt conflicts, whether she’s wading into an impending fight; confronting gang members who are hanging out with a much younger child and putting him at risk and telling them “This is unacceptable for me to be holding this young man’s obituary. Schools, church’s, your mama’s house…those are safe zones”; helping arrange a burial for Derrion Albert, an honor student who was beaten to death in a case that drew national attention; or taking a young woman whose mother is an addict on a carousel ride for the first time.
The bridge is yours.
-A dissection of Roman Reloaded.
-How to tell when the superhero movie craze is over.
-I’ll be writing more about Chris Klein’s disappearance and American Reunion, but this is a nice little chat with him.
-I feel like fighting someone while attached to a chair would be pretty difficult:
I’ve been following the age discrimination suit actress Huong Hoang filed agaisnt Amazon.com and IMDb.com for revealing her name for a while now, and it’s worth revisiting now one of the central claims in the case has been revealed. Hoang’s allegations that the companies had committed fraud and violated her privacy have been thrown out, but she’s still got a live consumer protection claim against them. The grounds for those charges? Hoang alleges that Amazon.com and IMDb got her age information from her credit card data.
If that’s proven to be the case, I’m firmly on her side. I believe that age discrimination is a real and persistent problem, and IMDb has, in court filings in the case, underestimated the impact of it. I also believe that journalists have a right to do their jobs, and there’s a legitimate public interest in having access to quality, verified data about actors and actresses, so among other things, we can analyze if the number of jobs women book as they get older drops relative to men. But journalism means you don’t get workarounds. You have to come by that information honestly, whether you’re tracking down public records or paging through old magazines for age information in questionnaires. You don’t get to snoop on people’s credit card information (or for that matter, hack their phones).
In our conversation about Two and a Half Men creator Lee Aronsohn’s recent complaint that, in terms of bodily female humor on television, “we’re approaching peak vagina on television,” one line of defense was that he was simply expressing a perfectly legitimate preference. His comments weren’t as horrifying as those of the racist fans of The Hunger Games who, in response to a character who is described as dark-skinned in the books being played by an African-American actress, tweeted things like “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself.” But both strains of thinking get at something important: preferences in art aren’t neutral things unaffected by larger cultural forces that shield the people who hold them from any charges of racism, sexism, or homophobia.
Dan Savage wrote as much recently in response to a reader who wanted to know if his preference for masculine white men made him a jerk or biased: “You’re entitled to your preferences — but I hope your preferences are yours. I hope you’ve given your taste in men some thought and you can honestly say that these are your preferences, Masculine Man, and not just gay beauty ideals and/or masculinity standards that the culture stuffed down your throat and up your ass. And if they’re your preferences, well, you’re entitled to them. But you’re not entitled to be an asshole about them.”
It’s one thing to prefer stories about male characters, because that’s who you relate to most easily. It’s another to mistake that preference for some sort of proof that stories about men are inherently superior or more sophisticated. If you’d rather not watch gay people have relationships and build families, no one’s forcing you, but it’s worth interrogating why you feel that way. If you’re uncomfortable watching characters carry out their lives in a cramped, less-than-perfectly-maintained house but fine watching characters waltz through unrealistically enormous apartments, you might want to get to the root of that impulse. And if you bond more closely with a white child than with a black one, you should think about what that means on a deeper level than an #ihatemyself hashtag. There’s nothing wrong with treating entertainment as if it’s a source of fun rather than vitamins. But if being comfortable in your enjoyment means being comfortable in a narrow set of ideas, that’s not a neutral position, much less an admirable one.
This post contains spoilers through the April 3 episode of Justified.
There’s a lot of ridiculously fine writing going on in this episode of Justified, whether it’s Boyd telling Arlo “Arlo, I’m not saying you’re a lion in winter, but your roar ain’t what it used to be,” or Wynn asking Quarles indignantly “Are you smoking Oxycontin in my motorcoach?” But for all the wealth of language and character that’s present in this episode, it’s also proof to me of the signal failure of this season of Justified: there’s far too much plot, and not enough sense of what the emotionally richest strains of it are.
In fact, I think the show’s devoted time in inverse proportion to the strength of the characters and the themes. Quarles’ dissolution isn’t unpowerful, but he’s a monster more than he is a man, a disappointed gangster who tortures rentboys and has discovered Oxy, reducing him to snorting crushed pills in a trailer and carrying on conversations that operate at the level of “You ever seen Platoon?” “That movie with the old people who go to outer space?” It’s a fine performance, but the character’s contrived to the point of grotesque. And while there’s a marvelously operatic sense of Theo Tonen’s power—as Wynn puts it, “Does he sound like the kind of man to which would you like to say, ‘I’m sorry, but he escaped from a diseased whore factory up in inbred holler?’ But it feels wasted on a character who, I assume, is here one season, gone the next.
I feel that way particularly strongly given how rich Noble’s Holler, with its internal power struggles, its relationship to abused women, and its role as an informal financial center is as a setting. Ellstin Limehouse is a marvelous character, and if we’re not going to get a show that’s told through his eyes (which are quite sharp at assessing Harlan, as in his explanation of Boyd’s modus operandi: “Blow up something on one end of town, and when all eyes are there, hit the bank.”), I still wish he’d been the titan this season.
But the two people who have gotten the shortest shrift at the expense of the show’s core emotional development are Ava and Arlo. Ava’s emergence as a kingpin in her own right is a fascinating development, in terms of the balance of power in her relationship with Boyd, the role for a prominent criminal woman left open by Mags Bennett’s death, and what it means to have a woman running hugely vulnerable hookers in a region where sex work is easily blunted by powerful drugs. Similarly, Arlo’s decline could have been the story that bound all the character’s together. Whether it’s his and Limehouse’s history, the brokenness of his relationship with Raylan and Boyd’s decision to step in as his surrogate son, and his own titanic sense of pride in the meager field of knocking over Harlan banks, he could have been the central thread of the season. It’s easier, and richer, and ultimately more important and touching to chronicle the ravages of dementia than to invent a flamboyant, out-of-town gangster. It’s unfortunate to see Justified go for flash, instead of for the gut.