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Women In The Media: A Search For Positive Examples

While preparing to find an example of positive representation of women in the media for class several sessions ago I found myself finding few truly positive examples on basic channels like: ABC, NBC, and Fox. I then turned to premium cable channels and found several interesting examples on HBO; among these seemingly positive views of women are Girls created by, written by, and starring Lena Dunham and Game of Thrones based on the novels by George R. R. Martin. The major characters of the show Girls are in fact girls as the title of the show would lead one to believe; however the title may be hitting at a deeper level as the characters are adults, yet often behave as children, something alluded to in a recent Rolling Stone interview with Lena Dunham. The show is certainly driven by its female leads and has been applauded for its realistic portrayal of modern female lives; in brief the show chronicles the lives of for women living in New York City and navigating through various problems in their lives. I found the show to be funny and engaging and the characters to be both simultaneously likable and sometimes irritating as I find many people in the real world. One thing that struck me was that much of the show focused on the four main characters pursuing men; a point raised in Miss Representation was that while many female driven movies are really still male focused as the female leads are spend much of the film shows their pursuit of men. I did notice a form of this on Girls, but not in the same form as a romantic comedy. For one the characters are on Girls both male and female are not idealized, rather they are flawed individuals that are more reflective of reality. Perhaps reflective of this reality are rather explicit sex scenes that are fairly commonplace on the show; these scenes too, are not idealized and are often quite odd and overall uncomfortable for the characters involved as well as the viewer.

Game of Thrones is an adaptation of the Song of Fire and Ice series of books by George R. R. Martin. The show depicts a fantasy world on scale with The Lord of the Rings series that shows a serious of intertwining plots and characters during a time of supernatural danger and civil war. It like Girls showcases several important and multidimensional female characters and their lives; also like Girls is often sexually explicit and these scenes are depicted in great detail. I was initially struck by the amount of these scenes and what they depicted including an example of fraternal brother-sister twin incest; I decided to research the books upon which the series was based and found this amount of detail to be consistent with the world depicted in the books.  This series again like Girls is critically acclaimed and its sex scenes do not initially appear exploitative as they occur naturally within the narrative, but I do question if these shows would have reached their level of acclaim and fame if these scenes were not present. The female characters depicted are strong individuals with a high degree of agency and are interesting to watch and several of them are worthy of a more in depth character analysis, an issue I may explore later.

Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars

I found the class discussion regarding Seth MacFarlane hosting the Oscars to be one of the most interesting discussions thus far in the class. After class ended I continued doing further research about reactions regarding the Oscars and about Seth MacFarlane himself; to the latter end I watched several episodes of MacFarlane’s television series Family Guy and American Dad, along with Ted the movie he directed and arguably starred in. I have watched Family Guy for about ten years and I remember watching it before it before it was canceled in 2002; eventually the show was revived and more episodes were created starting in 2007. When comparing the episodes from before the cancelation to those after the revival, there are several noticeable differences in plot; after the revival the show featured more crude humor and it lacked some of the endearing moments of the earlier episodes. The newer episodes have also been marked by a decreasing creative involvement from Seth MacFarlane; he is still involved in voicing many of the characters, but his writing duties have been passed to several other people. This seems to confirm a point that was raised in class that many of MacFarlane and Family Guy’s audience do not look deeply into the jokes and do not understand some of the satire. On one early episode of Family Guy one of the main characters, Peter Griffin, quotes a phrase often attributed to the French philosopher and writer Voltaire “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.  I appreciate the context of this joke and find it funny due to its historic prominence, something MacFarlane intended to show; my brother on the other hand finds the joke funny and has no knowledge of any history behind it because it is a funny thing to hear Peter say. It seems that this cruder level of humor triumphed over the years as MacFarlane decreased his involvement on the show; it is this higher level of humor that I think was to be conveyed in his Oscar song “We Saw Your Boobs”. On one level it is funny because of its subject matter and the absurdity and ridiculousness of the song; on another it is a commentary on the lengths that many actresses have to go to to be recognized or noticed in Hollywood. Likewise MacFarlane is cognizant of the controversy of what he says as during the Oscar broadcast he once remarked that he had thought several more controversial jokes had been cut out; similarly a recent episode of Family Guy began with a title card saying “Further Evidence of Family Guy’s Decline”, showing that MacFarlane or at least the writers of the show are aware that the show has been slipping in quality.

In short, believe that many of MacFarlane’s critics do not look past the surface of his humor and the satire is lost on them. When reading “Seth MacFarlane and the Oscars’ Hostile, Ugly, Sexist Night” by Amy Davidson from class it was hard for me to take her comments seriously; I had to stifle my laughter several times as Davidson’s comments seemed to be a satire in and of themselves. It reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s famous satire, A Modest Proposal, as it was hard to see it in a serious light at all; something I found ironic as much of Macfarlane’s satire seemed to be lost on Davidson.

Women In Hip Hop

Women In Hip Hop

            While thinking about the issues raised in this class, I found myself reading through several selections across the book in an effort to find out what this class was about. I skimmed through a few readings from each of the book’s chapters to see if anything caught my interest. One of the most thought provoking articles I encountered was “If Women Ran Hip Hop” by Aya de Leon. The reading consists of a free verse poem that explores the titular proposition; the world described by the poem is very different from the current world of hip hop. The poem is fun to read and contains several semi-humorous passages like “the only folks dancing in cages would be dogs & cats from the local animal shelter”. Its humor is similar to that of “If Men Could Menstruate” by Gloria Steinem, as both articles begin by setting out to examine how the world would be different if another group was in charge. After reading the poem I wondered how different the hip hop and rap worlds would be if women were the majority in control; the first problem I encountered was, would hip hop be hip hop if women were in charge, secondly I wondered if hip hop could ever be controlled by women? In my experience hip hop and rap are certainly male dominated genres in nearly all regards, the vast majority of artists are male and they do not seem to give much value to female artists; in fact they do not give much value to females in general, even female artists like Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj’s lyrics are derogatory towards females. It seems that as a genre hip hop undermines women almost intrinsically and I cannot imagine that hip hop would appear in any recognizable form if women artists were in control. Likewise it appears unlikely that women can take control of the genre, however since Nicki Minaj became famous every major hip hop record label has acquired a female artist; so perhaps this trend will allow more females into the genre and allow for more variety in the future. This is an issue that I intend to research and explore further.

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