Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Broad City's Representation of Real Life Feminism

Broad City’s Representation of Real Life Feminism
Broad City debuted on Comedy Central at the beginning of this year. Adapted from a web series, it involves the daily life of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. The show centers on their struggles of living with a low income in New York City. Far from being serious however, these women demonstrate a comedic take on what life is like for many young adults who set out on their own.
            While the show is clearly from women’s perspectives and displays an accurate representation of two normal women struggling to get by in a big city, it does so in a pretty unconventional way. Unlike many shows with women protagonists, Broad City doesn’t focus on the same kind of struggles other women in television have had in the past. Unlike Mary Tyler Moore, Ally McBeal or Sex in the City these two characters are not made out to be “struggling in a man’s world”, a characteristic that is attributed to today’s representation of feminism on TV (Dow).  Their happiness doesn’t depend on the way they balance their personal and professional lives, in fact they seem to have no kind of professional lives at all (Levine). Instead these two represent a more unruly type of feminism, a type of feminism that seems to be much more relatable than their more romantically driven and professionally successful counterparts.
The supposed “feminist” characteristics such as being white, straight, single, and professional are thrown out the window (Dow). These women are not professionals, with Abbi being a janitor at a gym and Ilana slacking off constantly at a sales company, these women are clearly not what many would consider successful. As for being straight and single, the lines are also pretty blurred. The two women’s love lives are never a dominant characteristic of the show. It only seems to be relevant for a comedic effect as opposed to developing their characters or story lines. Abbi seems the typical type, obviously straight and having an obsession with her neighbor Jeremy, but she never seems to be able to hold on to a guy for longer than one episode. As for Ilana, she is much more sexually liberated. She has a pretty physical relationship with their friend Lincoln, but she clearly states that it is all simply physical. This is a clear deviation from the past representations of feminism on TV, where the woman’s plotlines revolved around the idea that relationships are the key to happiness (Dow). She also has an infatuation with anything that has to do with Abbi and strongly hints at the fact that she may have romantic feelings for her. In the end though the two always end up back with each other as best friends, solidifying the notion that they care more for each other than they do about finding someone to be romantically involved with.
            Abbi and Ilana’s unruliness does not cause them to be self-loathing women who are on a journey to make a better life for themselves. They seem to be content with their low income, constant pot smoking, and simple lifestyle. They just want to get by and relish the simple things like going out for birthdays and having Abbi’s artwork hang in a gallery (which actually turns out to be a sandwich shop, but Abbi is proud of herself all the same). This type of feminism display can be more attributed to the feminist styles of Grey’s Anatomy and Roseanne.
 Grey's Anatomy seems to ignore the obvious political and social surrounding’s of the women and minorities in the show. It displays a kind of utopia where sexism and racism is as irrelevant a topic as a typical straight couple representation (Levine). For much of Broad City there seems to be no political or social context in the background of the script, it’s just the way things are. For example, one night Abbi and Ilana clean a man’s house in their underwear in order to get money for concert tickets. Other shows like Girls, to which Broad City has been compared, might address the degrading aspect of how the scene demonstrated how we live in a world where women’s bodies are scrutinized by the (creepy) male gaze (Tabyrs).  Instead, however, the two turn it into a comedic scene where they freak out about not being paid and end up trashing his place and walking out with some of his stuff as payment. The two also do some degrading of their own. Standing outside a basketball court and guessing the size of the men’s penises is not seen as a typically feminine quality. But in reality these kinds of situations happen, and real life situations are not usually turned into obvious political or social statements.
Roseanne has clashed with the typical feminist ideal in other ways. The character of Roseanne, and her in real life, represent a woman that clearly does not try to coincide with the high beauty standards of modern television actresses. While other feminist shows try to represent women in positive ways, it is still deemed necessary to have them conform to the typical thin and good looking beauty standard put on all women in the media (Karlyn). Through this representation, these shows do not combat this prejudice. Like Roseanne, Abbi and Ilana represent the typical body types of real life women, and their eating and drinking habits clearly show that they do not attribute happiness to shaping up to that ideal. Another characteristic of Roseanne is her unruliness. She transgresses from the typical female representation by being loud and at points acting outrageously and even “un-lady like” (Karlyn). Abbi and Ilana do the same. Shows like Mary Tyler Moore, Ally McBeal, Sex in the City and others display the ideal that women should be calm, cool, and collected. It is seen as failure to lose control and have moments of weakness. Abbi and Ilana are constantly in and out of outrageous situations though - whether it’s getting high or panicking when a toilet get’s broken, these two are the farthest thing from having their “shit” together.

Unlike the typical feminist shows from the past, Broad City represents a more realistic representation of young women in the real world. Although much more exaggerated, these two are just trying to get by and deal with whatever life throws at them. Through their trials and tribulations, they symbolize a type of feminism where women can be who they are and not depend on professional success or romance to help further the feminist cause. By displaying unruliness and not turning everything into a politically significant event, these two portray the real “politically incorrect” realities of feminism in American society.

Works Cited
Dow, Bonnie J. "Ally McBeal, Lifestyle Feminism, and the Politics of Personal Happiness." The Communication Review 5.4 (2002): 259-64. Print.
Friedman, Ann. "The Genius of Broad City: At Last, a Comedy That Speaks to My World." Guardian News and Media, 14 Apr. 2014. Web.
Karlyn, Kathleen Rowe. "Roseanne: Unruly Woman as Domestic Goddess." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 250-61. Print.
Levine, Elana. "Grey's Anatomy: Feminism." N.p.: n.p., n.d. 139-47. Print.
Tabyrs, Jason. “Broad City Series Premiere Review: Is This the Anti-Girls?”. Screen Rant. N.p., Feb. 2014. Web.

Hoarding: Buried Alive Unwrapped

 My reaction while watching Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC is disgust with a wave of nausea. I cannot process how a human being can endure these types of living conditions. The camera work of close-ups focus on the mountains of garbage festering and oozing, then moves onto a sink filled with infested water along with other spoiled items that the hoarder refuses to throw away. Items like plastic bottles and newspapers layer the unstable narrow pathways that are used to get from room to room. As the camera focuses to the glue strips hanging from the ceiling that are coasted with a layer pests I involuntarily start to itch. I gasp in speechlessness at the hoarder’s degraded condition of living in the filth and stench of animal feces, fur, and sometimes even the corpses of their dead pets. The images are grotesque and surreal, which creates a pure and simple affect that shakes the viewer to the core. Hoarding: Buried Alive is an example of how certain television shows attempt to govern through the encouragement of participants and viewers at home to be self discipline or self dependent. “Governmentality operates “at a distance” by enrolling individuals as “allies in the pursuit of political, economic, and social objectives” of the state by managing each individual’s capacity to achieve “socially desirable goals- health, profitability, and the like.” (Zimdars, 2014).  Once viewers witness these extreme hoarding cases they will attain the knowledge needed to maintain their waste, and refine from misbehaving, because they do not want to end up like the participants on the show. As I begin to analyze Hoarding: Buried Alive I realize it is a show that does not really emphasizes how powerless these people are in the face of their mental illness, but instead shames and harasses its participants by viewing them as ignorant freaks that are resistant to change.

Hoarding: Buried Alive, season 1, episode 2 “Beyond Embarrassment” (original aired March 21, 2010), follows 43 year old Judi a former personal trainer, and 51 year old Jim who is contemplating moving back in with his mom because he feels like he cannot control his hoarding alone. Viewers of the show might believe these people are getting the help they need, and are being reconstructed back into status quo or normal living citizens. In reality this so-called help is being used to frame the participant as a resistant lazy slob. They are consistently shown in a negative light as being inflexible and foolish for hanging onto what most consider being trash. For example Judi is asked, “When was the last time you took out the trash?” And her response was a year. Healthy minded people know that the trash should be taken out weekly, but Judi cannot distinguish what is trash and what is of value anymore. Judi is shown sitting in her only available space in her 3 bedrooms, 2-bathroom home, and Jim is shown siting in his recliner falling asleep in front of the television. What the show does not focus on is that Judi and Jim have both been victims of trauma.

Judi saw the love of her life die in a freak lifting accident right in front of her, and Jim has to deal with being diagnosed with sever social anxiety, OCD, and the divorce of his parents. These two individuals have built these massive caves of garbage to protect them from the outside world. Judi mentions, “I built up these walls to keep everyone else out, like a cocoon.” There is no way a 30 minute show can build a strong therapist-client relationship to being to address the trauma, make since of the trauma, and begin the healing and recovering process of two traumatized human beings in one short episode. Another element that must be taken into account is the commercial breaks. Each participant maybe gets 12-13 minutes of airtime to make some progress. Since the therapy is just a small portion of the show they jump right into the cleaning process, which creates great distress. This pressure from others to start cleaning before the participants are ready causes them to become overwhelmed by the huge task and causes major resistance. They are not ready to let go of their belongings that have seemed to make them happy or protect them for so long in that short amount of time given by the producers.

I felt bad for Judi’s cleaning experience. The show mentioned previously that she only trusted one other person to see the inside of her home. Now Judi is confronted with a whole cleaning team she has to trust with all her, what she considers, meaningful possessions. Anyone could see the distress on her face. She was completely overwhelmed by having complete strangers tearing down her comfort zone. A professional organizer, psychologist, or otherwise hoarding expert always leads the rationalizing process that is to redeem the hoarder’s logic. “This ritual sorting of things entails speaking out loud about different objects as each is made rational and separate, organized into piles to keep or discard. The mute, material chaos in managed, slowly and methodically, by bringing it into the symbolic order through language. Through this ritual, the hoarder’s secrets are revealed their private shame is exposed and aired (Lepselter, pg. 933). The participants obviously need more attention and time put into therapy than cleaning; their whole life needs to be reorganized not just their living space.

I see this as an act of bullying, and different from any other television shows that promotes human transformation. For example participants on Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition are all willing participants to change and transformation. They know what they have signed up for and have made the choice themselves. In contrast a loved one volunteers the participants on Hoarding: Buried Alive, which is somewhat like an intervention that pressures the participant into treatment (meaning it was not the participants will, but they have no other choice or they will be evicted). I agree with the statement, “The professional help, aside from the psychologist assigned to the hoarder, is generally not helpful either. They spend the majority of their time cajoling, harassing, and berating hoarders to get them to release their possessions more quickly “(Feminspire, 2014).

At the end of the episode both Judi and Jim have made small improvements. Judi has cleared her kitchen, but still has many of her belongings in storage bin in her backyard and the rest of her house to clear. Jim has realized he needs to set small goals for himself so he does not get discouraged and relapse. His goal setting results in an organized kitchen area in his one bedroom apartment. Ultimately viewers should see these achievements as great leaps considering the lack of ethical treatment on these mentally ill participants. Instead the imagery and lack of time of the television show disciplines its viewers into being well obeying citizens who take out the trash and throw away items that are not of use so they do not create fire or health hazards to the community.  

Hoarding: Buried Alive Casting: About the Show: TLC." TLC. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

"Hoarding: When Did Being Buried Alive Become Good Entertainment?" Feminspire. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <>.

Lepselter, Susan. "The disorder of things: Hoarding narratives in popular media." Anthropological Quarterly 84.4 (2011): 919-947.

Zimdars, M. (2014, April) Weight-loss television & governing at a distance. Lecture. Lecture conducted from University of Iowa, Iowa City.

News and South Park

Dan Brumbaugh
Melissa Zimdars
TV Criticism
News and South Park 
            Cactuses cause cancer. Pies promote prejudice. Lemurs like lasers. Ok not really. But if these were headlines on the evening news, you would probably keep listening.  News programs have some of the biggest responsibilities in terms of keeping the citizens of the country and world informed.  These programs are supposed to reflect our societies deepest interests 24/7, but many prominent news programs today function more as tabloids and gossip channels, rather than intellectual sources of information. In addition to this, these programs also have to satisfy America’s thirst for rumors and possibilities by constantly updating their stories and keeping Americans in the loop.  The South Park episode “Quest for Ratings” reflects this culture, and by mocking the formula of many popular news programs, gives reasons to why we need to re-sort our priorities of what the news should really be about.  
            The episode begins with the South Park boys’ showing their Super School News program similar to the way news is “supposed” to be done. School economics, sports, weather, and celebrities are all talked about in the program.  However, when their news program is constantly being beaten by their rival Craig’s show about animals close up with a wide lens, the boys have to take drastic measures to increase their ratings. By understanding the audience and catering to their newfound interests, the boys shape their show to now include animals with the Panda Bear Madness Minute. They also include sexier stories about the Raisens girls’ new outfits to appeal to the sixth graders, and keep the audience wanting to know more after hinting that the school could explode from a dangerous gas leak. The news program also changes its name to The Sexy Action News Program to have more mass appeal. The constant pressures of having to one-up Craig’s show eventually forces the boys to do cough syrup, where they actually find a real news story to end with, but the “Quest For Ratings” episode as a whole offers much criticism to the functionality of the American society and the news brought to them. 

            In Anne Helen Petersen’s Entertainment Tonight article, she talks about Financial Interest and Syndication rules. “By limiting the amount of programing that each network could produce for itself, they freed a portion of primetime from network control” (Petersen 236). In this episode, South Park’s AV Club is the network, and Craig and the boys’ shows are what they are paying to run in their primetime slots. The pressures from the network, the audience, and the money to be made all become factors for deciding what goes into these shows during these primetime slots. The episode even addresses the push and pull battle of giving the audience what they want vs. giving the audience what they need when Jimmy tells Stan “F-f-fellas, I have a serious problem with where our news program is going. We’re dumbing down the school”. To which Stan responds, “No the school is already dumb. We’re just making it more appealing to students.”
            When reading between the lines of “Quest For Ratings”, the episode also sheds light on some topics that aren’t as easy to talk about in the News Room. For instance, all the boys have their real hair replaced with “News Hair” that is bigger, more groomed, and gelled up, mirroring a majority of news anchors that have to dress and look a certain way to play the part of bringing in the news. However looks aren’t enough in the News Room. A scene between Eric and Token in “Quest For Ratings” takes place where Eric asks Token to change his voice to sound more like a white news anchor. “People love SEEING African Americans in the news, not hearing them. That’s why all African American news people learn to talk white. Token if you were to hide your natural tone with a more Caucasian dialect, I think it would really help our ratings.” While these words do come from a cartoon fourth grader, they do make the viewer think and reflect upon the real news world and the type of mold that most news people have to fit and maintain to satisfy their audiences.
            Jeffrey Jones article on Fox and Friends illustrates the flaws of shows like Fox and Friends and compares their approach to stories to a high school homeroom, and being targeted to a specific audience. “The show is designed to thrust the viewer into the world of common-sense groupthink, complete with all the rumors, smears, and innuendos with a lack of rational discourse” (Jones). The Sexy Action News of South Park operates very similarly, bringing up rumors of children having flaws, and mocking them for their behavior. “Third grader Pete Feldman pees while sitting down like a girl. Sally Turner stuffs her bra, and Clyde Donavon has only one testicle. Hahaha one testicle! What an asshole.” While these are strictly stories about children this does relate to the idea of Fox and Friends making up stories that aren’t really stories, like the Barrack Obama paperclip and flip flop incident, and the “War On Christmas”. Both of these programs “other” anybody outside of their community, and do everything they can to make them the odd man out.
            Newsrooms should be considered a library of knowledge that’s full of diverse ideas and perspectives on worldly issues. However, today’s newsrooms function much like the newsroom in South Park’s “Quest for Ratings”. Lunchroom gossip and community conceptions flood the thought process and end up making their way onto the screen. Newsrooms must learn to face their responsibilities of delivering more diverse and opinionated stories, or continue to be mocked by shows like South Park. However, as consumers of the news and media outputs, there are responsibilities on us as well to raise the bar of “quality news”, and reframe these programs to give us more of what we need, not what we want. 

                                                                                Works Cited 

Petersen, Anne. "Entertainment Tonight: Tabloid News." N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
Jones, Jeffery. "Fox and Friends: Political Talk." N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.
"Quest For Ratings." N.p., 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lesbian Feminist Fantasy: The L Word

Shane: Queer Performance

            The fluidity of gender expression allows one to follow their true desires, unshackled by the repressed societal binary, submitting to one’s inner plurality of identities. Erving Goffman explains that our identity is not a linear, fixed progression, and instead represents a multiplicity of representations; we all lead multiple roles within our daily life, and we express them in different ways. As an example of queer performance and ideology within television, as well as diving into a world of lesbian feminism in theory and action, The L Word portrays an array of personalities and identities, a stunning display of fluid sexualities, as well an unusual representation of androgyny on a primetime series.
The audience is immersed in a seemingly realistic portrayal of the lives of a group of Lesbian/Queer/Transgendered/Bisexual/Straight/Fluid women in Los Angeles. In many ways the series is comparable to many other drama series, both daytime and primetime, as the characters switch between romantic partners, cope with death and disease, experience financial and employment issues, struggle with both conceiving and raising a child, and the like of. However, the deportation from the average drama series lies within the diversity of sexualities and gender expressions from the female characters on The L Word. Never before has there been a more positive, and enlightening representation of female characters, far from the 1950’s housewife portrayal of powerless, submissive, soft spoken, and unrealistic women. This series proves that lesbianism is not a mere act of french-kissing your best friend at the bar to impress a boy, as well as celebrating the female orgasm as something society does not need to be afraid or ashamed of.

            The value of the numerous sexual scenes, which is shown in almost every episode, goes beyond simply the pornographic and sexual satisfaction of its viewers. This is a liberating move, pleasing for Third Wave Feminists everywhere, as the personal becomes the political within the spotlight of the television. The viewers of the series are able to see that a woman’s sexual desires and personal pleasure is a perfectly normal and a healthy part of life and relationships. These scenes go beyond the standard missionary position of intercourse, and plays upon multiple forms of expression and fore play, which is counter to the traditional portrayal of Puritan-esque sex being a functional tool for procreation. In one instance within Season 2, Alice, the bisexual of the group, enjoys a brief period of sexual encounters with a ‘Vampire Lesbian’, which included her being shackled to the ceiling, unable to move her hands, and subject to the sexual exploration of her vampire lover. The value in displaying these unique forms of sexual identity and expression, is for the audience to be exposed to a variety of sexual encounters that oppose the heteronormative view of intercourse, and prove that those who venture outside of the norm are not crazed sexual deviants, but everyday members of a productive society who may very well share the cubical next to you at work.
  Women are shown in this series to enjoy having more than one sexual partner at a time, especially in regards to Shane, who counters the traditional gender binary and the rigid expectations of femininity. As an opposition to the traditional ‘slutshaming’ of female sexuality and promiscuity, Shane embraces her identity as one who’s not to be tied down to one person, fluidly moving between women, whenever her whim desires. To further illustrate this, within Alice’s apartment, there’s a dry-erase board with all of the main characters names, and lines are drawn to link the women to each other, as well as other women who they have been romantically involved with. This visually creates the image of sexual fluidity, and further explains that the people they’ve slept with can be linked to essentially the rest of the world. This notion goes beyond sexual orientation and gender, and complicates matters by suggesting the fact that desire is not linked to our sexual orientation, but instead comes from an intrinsic feeling that doesn’t fit into neat categories, such as gay or straight.

This positions the belief of queer performance theory, in which one often ‘performs’ a multiplicity of actions and mannerisms, which counter the traditional feminine or masculine standards. Shane, for instance, embraces an androgynous persona. She doesn’t fit into either masculine or feminine ideals, but instead blurs these fine lines. She can be seen wearing skinny jeans, being a traditionally more feminine approach to pants, as well as a masculine-looking blazer, and a plain masculine-contouring T- Shirt. She seems to often be emotionally repressed, as well as aggressive, being commonly masculine associated traits. However, she works as a hairdresser, which is categorized as a very feminine position, and adds another dimension that complicates the heteronormative categorical system:

“The politics of difference that emerged in response to this critique distinguishes between Woman- the unitary and illusory subject, characterized by a set of qualities largely derived from white “middle-class” experiences- and women, the concrete historical beings who find themselves caught up in gendered relations…” (Kath 17)

            Our physical appearance, as well as our mannerisms, are all calculated in order to ‘police’ one’s gender, as a result of one’s performance being mainstream or not. Shane is an outlier in this regard, and thus questions our typical belief of what exactly being a woman is, and what qualifies as a legitimate feminine performance. As discussed by Kath, these markers are more complex than being based solely off biological gender, but are often influenced by racial distinguishers as well. The realization that these gender performances are completely socially constructed, gives in to the theory of countering the mainstream normative, and embracing the ideals of the queer performance theory, much like Shane represents.
The beauty of the L Word relates to the fact that it makes its viewers question everything they may have believed was true and standard, and muddies the waters of heteronormative standards. Whether you’re gay, straight, transgendered, republican, or a practicing atheist- this series will tug your emotions, and give you a sense of community with the characters, as well as a better understanding of one’s self.

 Shane, in all her glory.

Works Cited

Goffman, Erving. The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. Print.
Weston, Kath. “Do clothes make the woman?: Gender, performance theory, and lesbian eroticism.” Genders 17 (1993): 1-21