thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Marriage Woes: “House of Cards” and Critiquing Marriage

In gender, TV, Marriage, House of Cards on April 14, 2014 at 7:00 am

Phoebe B.

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I got engaged about a month ago. Around the same time, we started watching House of Cards. This is perhaps not the most romantic of gestures, since the relationship between Frank and Claire is hardly the most fairytale-like of marriages. Their connection is one forged on the battleground of politics and power. The show offers up their partnership as a testament to what two people so committed to each other can accomplish. On the flip side–and here is what I’m most interested in–it is also a truly dystopic portrait of marriage.

As individuals, Claire and Frank are powerful; they are equals in intelligence, strength, and determination and most importantly, here, mostly equal partners in their relationship. Thus, each of them is quite possibly the only character who could ruin the other. Together they are vicious, ruthless even, and seemingly unstoppable.

Frank and Claire accept each other in their most savage forms. Is that perhaps what marriage is really about? To find love and be loved even in darkness and in the most unlikely of places, when our makeup and protective gear are off.

But their complete acceptance of and devotion to one another creates an us-against-the-world mentality that allows them to hurt others who get in their way. Everyone else–from the President of the United States to political aides, journalists and many others–winds up as collateral damage in their meteoric rise to power.

For instance, Frank helps a congressman, Peter Russo, get sober, mount a semi-successful governor’s race, only to orchestrate his downfall, help Peter return to drinking, and ultimately Frank kills him, staging his death as a suicide. This pattern of manipulation repeats itself throughout the series, as Frank and Claire help their marks rise in the ranks and then, inevitably crush their hopes and dreams, rendering each victim desperate and dependent on the Underwoods.

Sit Down, Devil’s Advocates: SNL Tries On a New Look

In misogyny, TV on April 4, 2014 at 11:04 am

Sarah T.

Comedians who employ racial stereotypes, homophobic slurs and misogynistic language in service of their jokes often try to deflect criticism by arguing that comedy is about pushing boundaries. But it hardly seems edgy to insist on targeting people who already occupy marginalized positions in American culture—particularly when the person telling the jokes is a straight white guy, as they so often tend to be. I mean, Daniel Tosh can insist that his rape jokes are about breaking cultural taboos all he wants, but it seems obvious that all the man is doing is reinforcing the status quo.

There are, however, plenty of ways to be funny and fresh about race, class, gender and sexuality without making the jokes come at the expense of people that American culture seeks to disempower. This season, several sketches on Saturday Night Live—a show that has plenty of diversity problems of its own—have explored topics like privilege, white guilt and the problems that arise when people outside specific cultural groups try to appropriate insider language.

One recent example is “Dyke and Fats,” a sketch penned by the two Saturday Night Live cast members who star in it: Kate McKinnon, the show’s first openly gay female comedian, and Aidy Bryant, the series’ first plus-size female hire.

The sketch, which unfolds as a promotion for a vintage buddy-cop TV series, incorporates multiple cultural stereotypes about fat people and ladies who like ladies. McKinnon’s character, Les Dykawitz, is an arm-wrestling cop who keeps a scroll of dog photos tucked behind her police badge. Bryant’s character, Chubbina Fatzarelli, has a string of bratwurst under her badge and slips a particularly juicy-looking hamburger her phone number. (A very smooth move, and one that I will certainly emulate when I come across perfectly crisped French fries in the future.) The show-within-the-sketch has obvious affection for the characters as they bust down doors and use each other’s bodies to roundhouse-kick a semi-circle of bad guys. At the same time, it seems straight out of the 1970s exploitation boom.

But the last moments of the sketch reveal that it has no interest in exploiting the characters’–or cast members’–identities. And any viewers who were watching and laughing because the sketch affirmed their prejudiced beliefs have a knock-out punch coming.

“Try This Instead:” Interview with Cameron Johnson

In race, social media, web series on March 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

Phoebe B.

About a month ago I was searching for web shows to teach in my class on comedy, race, gender, and sexuality. Then I happened upon “Try This Instead,” a series of short, satirical videos on how well-meaning white people can avoid racial microaggressions. Not only is the web series totally hilarious, it proved a great way to frame discussions about race.

“Try This Instead” has already been featured on HuffPo; Shadow and ActClutch Magazine; and even Upworthy (among other places)! Thus, I was super excited when creator and star, Cameron Johnson, agreed to answer a few questions for GLG.  Read on for Cameron’s thoughts on the project, what he’s up to next, and his favorite non-work activities like hanging out with his pup and watching lots of awesome TV.

How did you come up with the project “Try This Instead?” Can you talk a bit about what this project means to you?

There are so many stories of microaggression from my life, but what inspired this show was an evening in November. I was sitting at the Standard Hotel Downtown when a group of white guys with an ethnically ambiguous friend came in and started throwing around the n-word with reckless abandon and making us all really, really uncomfortable.

It is a daily struggle for me to keep my mouth shut, so after about five minutes of this, I turned and said  “are any of you black? If not, did your black friend co-sign on your ability to say the n-word? Because I don’t.” They were really uncomfortable. Apparently, the ambiguous one was biracial and had, in fact, led them to believe that it was okay for them to say the N-word. It occurred to me though that one person saying you can do something that is offensive to a large group of people really isn’t enough, so I went home and started writing.

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