Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sexism or a Way of Deflecting the Issues?

Does the fact that I’m a woman make anything potentially controversial I post more contentious?

Now, before I sink my teeth into this, I’ve always been of the impression that the general belief is, controversy sells. In this article from the Time dated Feb. 22, 2007 the writers says that last fall Rosie O'Donnell took over The View like the loudest third-grader at a school recital and made it a must-see--building buzz and many other sources concur: The View was struggling and Rosie O’Donnell put it back on the map.

Even Ivana Trump declared "Donald and Rosie, they're getting fantastic ratings, they're getting publicity, they're really using it as a marketing tool, not because they are enemies, and I understand that only too well."

Right. Controversy sells.

These days I don’t watch much TV at all. We could pull the plug and it wouldn’t bother me. However, I am certainly familiar with different shows. I have, in the past, seen The View. And ages ago I did watch Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show sometimes. Even now, if I’m in a really extreme mood and desperate for TV distraction, I can enjoy a half hour of Roseanne.

Rosie has been credited with basically saving The View, and now she is departing. With news that she won’t be returning to the show in the fall has come an accusation from Trump that being able to come to a contract agreement had nothing to do with it:

Insisting that O'Donnell had been fired instead of being unable to come to a contract agreement, Trump said O'Donnell was an `'embarrassment to this country.'' That's because she had latched on to the growing "9/11 Truth Movement," which dismisses the official story about the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Hmmm. What happened to controversy sells? What could Rosie have possibly said that would make a network allegedly fire the person saving their bacon?

"In America, we are fed propaganda and if you want to know what's happening in the world, go outside of the U.S. media because it's owned by four corporations. One of them is this one (ABC)," O'Donnell said in March, reaching an audience at least 15 times that of Fox News.

And there have been other things. She accused fellow ABC daytime host Kelly Ripa of making a homophobic remark, said "radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America" and has been critical of President Bush.
Statements by public figures are being watched more closely in the post-Don Imus era. The lobbying group Focus on the Family said it was preparing to contact advertisers on "The View" as part of a campaign against O'Donnell. The group is angry at O'Donnell for comments they feel were insulting to Catholics.

As the author of the article I’m referencing in The Toronto Star said, Unlike all the blond-trophy-second-wife types flanking old men co-hosts all over the TV grid, neither Barr nor O'Donnell shut up and look pretty.

Not a single mainstream media news show is hosted by a woman who is aggressive and candid, the way that Bill O'Reilly is on Fox, or Joe Scarborough or Keith Olbermann are on MSNBC. There is no female David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel or Bill Maher.

Oprah Winfrey, as revealed on Bill Moyers' outstanding post-mortem on the pre-Iraq media last week, shut up audience members who questioned the Bushies. Ellen DeGeneres hasn't uttered a controversial word since she yelled, "I'm gay!" on her sitcom 10 years ago.

Has no network found the courage to offer, say, Sarah Silverman or Janeane Garofalo a platform? Or will O'Donnell's replacement be Red State straight?

(Larry) King, who is floating the rumour that (Roseanne) Barr could get the job, sought her opinion. "I think she has a lot of guts," said Barr. "And I think she put everything on the line to go on and say things that real Americans were talking about and wanting to hear about and which is just, you know, pretty much non-existent in the media.

"I mean, we could hear stuff about Anna Nicole's baby and gossip and dieting every day until we are blue in the face. It's kind of like ... dumbing women down and making them barefoot and pregnant again. And she changed that and I love her and I love freedom of speech."

Is it that old ‘men feel threatened by smart women’ line, that by censoring women who hold controversial views and want to discuss issues more serious than Anna Nicole Smith networks are trying to keep women in a very narrow gender role box?
Which had me thinking about something I wrote in Suspicious Circumstances:

Farraday glanced at her. “I never thought of you as a romantic.”

She (Lara) shrugged. “Most honest men want women to be romantic and idealistic. Isn’t that what makes it possible for them to find wives that overlook their faults?”

The corner of his mouth turned up and he shook his head. “And I thought I was going to hear the ‘men feel threatened by smart women’ speech…”

Now, as author, I know two things. This exchange happens almost exactly halfway through the book (so these two have a certain amount of banter that's built up). And Lara has a bit of the dry sense of humour I’m cursed with. I’d peg her at only half serious. And she suffers with a rotten boss – as one reader said in a recent note to me: Hatcher… yeah he was a nasty piece of work, but I’ve had managers like him, and just thought he was arrogant and sexist. (He was.)

Despite that, my own words have prompted a bit of introspection on my part.

I have to admit, I like guys with backbone. They think for themselves. They don’t let women push them around or manipulate them. I mean this in a broad, general sense, because I have definitely manipulated a few things out of Evil Kev in my day. Like a bite of his chocolate bar. Or the choice of a holiday destination. But when it comes to beliefs, values, pursuits we respect each other’s choices. There have been a lot of sacrifices that come with his commitments to the fire department. There’s a lot of time I spend at home alone because of it. But it’s important to him. It doesn’t mean we don’t talk about our feelings about it sometimes (or other things, like all the sacrifices he makes for me and my writing) but we don’t use emotion to manipulate decisions about that stuff from each other, although there might be something slightly spiritually abusive about his frequent declarations that I’m going to hell…

When I read the piece in The Toronto Star I really got wondering. Did the author, a female columnist with The Star have a valid point? Are women who are too controversial being silenced?

Or is this just a way of avoiding other issues? Is it easier to hide behind sexism than to say that if Rosie was axed it was because of politics? Sounds to me like Trump is inferring it’s her stance on the 9/11 Truth Movement that’s prompted this alleged move by the network… Not because she’s a woman who expressed an opinion. Is the author of the Toronto Star article suggesting that if Rosie was actually Ross and was an outie instead of an innie that the network would have taken no action at all?

Are we perpetuating ideas about sexism when there is no valid basis for the accusation? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy, that by making reckless accusations without facts to back them up it contributes to the conclusion women are irrational, illogical and emotional?

How much of this goes to networks, anyway? I have to think that no matter what, short of a critical backlash from the viewing public based on something Rosie O’Donnell said, the network would tolerate just about anything for the ratings. After all, as I understand it, ratings are what give a show it’s advertising ranking, and a better ranking means more money. Call my cynical, but since when does network television put principles over profit? We need only think back a matter of days to the decision by NBC to air footage of the Virginia Tech shooter on air after receiving that package… (Which in reality only extended the legend of the VT shooter and gave him even more press coverage as networks and investigators speculated over his reasons for sending the package, why NBC, etc. Here’s a thought – he did it to prolong his 15 minutes. When he sent it he had no idea if he would succeed with his planned actions. Sick as it is, I think it’s reasonable to think he wanted to be sure he got lots of media coverage because he didn’t know yet… well, you know. And I don’t want to be disrespectful.)

I don’t know. I’m not saying I didn’t find the column interesting – I did. And you’ve got to know I respect anyone with as much sass as the author to actually say some of what she said. However, I’m a humanist, and I get nervous any time people jump to conclusions about the reasons for a certain action. As far as I know, at this point it’s only speculation that Rosie was actually fired. That hasn’t even been proven. To use it as a platform to build an argument that the networks are stifling intelligent, controversial women? I don’t know… Seems reaching. Plausible, but unlikely.

It’s what Rosanne Barr said that I find really interesting. "I mean, we could hear stuff about Anna Nicole's baby and gossip and dieting every day until we are blue in the face. It's kind of like ... dumbing women down and making them barefoot and pregnant again.’

Look at the news. Some days, I wonder who it’s written for. So many of the ‘hard news’ articles start off sounding more like a work of fiction, some piece that’s trying to be overly dramatic. What happened to who, what, when, where, why and how, and we’ll let the reader interpret the facts? I find myself wondering how low the bar will go in what appears to be media efforts to sensationalize the news in order to keep readers.

There is something very soap-operaish about it. But is it part of some elaborate conspiracy to keep women stupid, or is it feeding a percentage of society what they want? No matter how little appeal it has for me, loads of women read romance novels. By publishing them are publishers conspiring to keep women barefoot and pregnant? What does it say about the women who write them?

I guess what I’m saying here is, interesting points. To some degree valid, just taken a bit too far. Honestly, if people thought Rosie O’Donnell was booted because she was controversial I can’t fathom how anyone would consider Roseanne Barr for the job for even half a heartbeat.

But if she gets it, I’ll smile. Rosie and Roseanne both share a common trait I admire that’s sadly lacking with most entertainers: candor. It’s the entire reason why they both made names for themselves in show business. Whatever else you want to say, I don’t consider either of these amazing women to be ass-kissers.

The only thing to fear from people who express a difference of opinion is that they might challenge you to open your mind. I am friends with many people I hold different views from. We do not need to see the world in the exact same way on every issue in order for me to love and respect them. Those who know me know my views on some very serious topics have changed dramatically over time. Ignorance is bliss, and it can be a tool used to control people. I honestly don’t find anything Rosie O’Donnell has been reported as saying to be that controversial. She should be commended for having the courage to stand for something. In these days of phony grins, faux celebrities and people without opinions that might offend anyone I salute those who stand for something. And since I did watch Rosie’s show from time to time years ago I remember the gun control debate – I actually believe Rosie’s quite passionate and sincere about the issues she tackles.

** Homophobic statements are okay? Personally, I’m dead on with Rosie here. Radical Christianity has been responsible for bilking millions of dollars from people while ‘spiritual leaders’ use prostitutes. Not surprising that Focus on the Family would advocate censorship of opinions, though. I mean, speaking of keeping women barefoot and pregnant…

*** And if it sounds like I'm not 100% convinced on the subject, I'm not. Not enough facts. Interesting to think about, but that's about it.


sandra seamans said...

I'm probably putting my foot in my mouth here, but it's not what Rosie says, but how she says it. She dismisses anyone who doesn't hold the same opinion she does. She never wants to hear the other side. If you want to be listened to, you have to listen to the other person also. It's called conversation and/or debate, not a screaming match. People don't take the time to listen anymore. They take a stance then shoot off their mouths. It's the I'm right, you're wrong attitude and it really sucks.

Jersey Jack said...

You need only watch a tape of Rosie's departure announcement to see why she's leaving The View--Barbara Walter's face says it all. Barbara is tired of being embarrassed. Freedom of speech is wonderful, necessary, and often enlightening, but most of Rosie's ideas belong in the National Enquirer, not national television.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sandra, not putting your foot in your mouth. Bearing in mind I haven't watched Rosie on tv in ages, I'm taking words in black and white... Which isn't the same. Jack, sounds like you also think Barbara lied when she said she'd hoped Rosie would stay on the show longer.

Here's my question: Do you guys think Roseanne Barr would actually be more agreeable? doesn't sound like either of you think she's being booted because she's a woman, as the columnist asserts, so here's my other question, out of sincere-I've-had-three-hours-of-sleep-and-posted-in-the-midst-of-my-grumpiness-curiosity: any idea why the columnist went the way she did? Hobby-horse?

sandra seamans said...

I haven't watched Roseanne in years, but if she hasn't changed since her sitcom days, you'd just be trading up to an older Rosie.

I remember thinking when Rosie's fued with Donald Trump hit the news that it wouldn't be long before she was gone. I always thought of The View as a Koffee Klatch. Somewhere you went to calmly discuss life, books and movies. There is nothing calming about Rosie and her views.

As for the columnist, not being familiar with her writing, I don't know why she played the sexist card. Perhaps because there was no other argument. I think Rosie quit or got fired because she refused to tone down. Barbara Walters is a very classy lady and I think she's trying to keep her show on a higher level than Jerry Springer.

Funny how we all make up our minds about a situation without the facts. None of us, the columnist included, knows what happened. We can only guess. And she's guessing that the network wants to dumb down women. Perhaps that is her hobby horse.

Sandra Ruttan said...

From eons ago -and in thinking about this, I realize it's been about 8 years since I've seen any of them on television - I gather from what's been said over the years that part of the reason Star Jones was axed was being opinionated. Now, I'm aware there were other arguments at play, but (and I say this without having said any of it) it certainly seemed like it was a way of appeasing some people.

The one thing I'm not certain about is whether The View really is above Jerry Springer. There were definitely things done way back when, that came off as just for publicity. Lisa Ling and Meredith Viera kissing. Now, perhaps others feel differently on it, but that's when I knew that even on my sick days dying on the couch I wouldn't watch The View anymore. Two women kissing wasn't the issue at all. To me, the issue was that they were exploiting very real issues around sexual orientation discrimination for ratings. I thought it was inconsiderate. What do either of them know about discrimination that gay and lesbian people face? As far as I know they're both straight-straight.

Exploiting people's sexuality for ratings seemed (to me) just about as low as you could go. In a way, The View was even worse than Springer. There has always been the perception (note I'm not saying it's always true, but it's the perception) that Springer brings on dumb people who will easily be provoked into outbursts. The View seemed to come off with an air of respectability and intelligence, and then pulled stunts like the kiss.

Of course, my perspective is also skewed by memory. A lot of time has passed since I've seen any of them on TV. When I did have my feet up on the couch I always enjoyed Rosie's talk show. I had enjoyed The View until a series of niggling things turned into disgust about the issue I mentioned. And maybe I completely overreacted back then - impossible to say now. It was just how I felt about it, but even on rare days I'm looking for something to watch while I eat my lunch I'd rather watch the news.

There is one thing I get from the news articles on it, though, and this could also be wrong. It sounds like they're considering a new talk show with Rosie at the helm. Has she not alienated fans - I would think based on what you guys have said about her behaviour that she would have. And if she has alienated fans there'd be no reason for a show as nobody would watch.

If we don't see Rosie returning to network television in the next 16 months or so, does that mean Donald Trump was right?

Sandra Ruttan said...

"and I say this without having said any of it"

That would be seen any of it.

I am going to bed!

norby said...

I have to agree with everything that's been said here. For some reason when Rosie got her talk show she thought it gave her the right to steamroll everyone who thinks differently than she does.

As for the reporter, a lot of women have developed this knee jerk reaction whenever a female celebrity seems to have been mistreated. They take up the banner of a smart, strong woman being held down by men. The trouble with that is they never bother to ask what the average person really thinks. Rosie O'Donnell would never get away with her behavior in the regular work world, why should she on television?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Norby, you think this goes back to her talk show? I don't remember the steamrolling aspect, other than the big bruhaha over gun control. Problem there is that I tend to agree with Rosie, so perhaps I wasn't that objective?

But way way back (and admittedly, it was before she stopped it that I stopped watching) I don't remember that. Is it my memory, my perception or is her present behaviour seen as tainting her past endeavours?

This almost makes me think I should watch an episode, just to see what I think. Or will it be bad for my blood pressure? Might be good for the blog...

norby said...

Well, the thing is, a good daytime talk show host doesn't let personal views get in the way of the show. Her show started out family friendly and fluff, then all of sudden Rosie's getting pissed at people, confronting people and getting in your face. All of a sudden, there was this image change on and off the show and she lost part of her audience.

Rosie did her stand up act at my college long before the talk show, VH1 and all that-she was a completely different person. She was likeable. That's the difference. Sometime during her talk show, she stopped being likeable and it I think it showed in her interviews and her whole show. And that's what carried over to The View.

Dana said...

As avid TV watcher for pure entertainment, I never watched The View, but when Rosie went on, I watched once in a while, now that she's leaving, I'm going back to never watching The View again. For me, at least Rosie made things interesting.

susan said...

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Sandra Ruttan said...

Norby, sounds discerning. And sounds likely that this change in her image that did alienate some of her viewers happened around the time I stopped watching. I used to see it sometimes when I worked split shift and would turn on the tv when I ate... ages ago.

Dana, interesting observations, from the other side of the equation.

Susan, sounds like you're starting a review site - best of luck with it!

spyscribbler said...

Wow. You know, I used to love Rosie O'Donnell's afternoon show, especially because she was so nice.

I swear, this hardly sounds like her! What happened???

Sandra Ruttan said...

A case of celebrity going to their heads? I don't know... I think what I've gleaned here is that I'd have to actually watch to get a handle on my thoughts about it. And since I haven't, I'm not really sure what to make of it all. But I, like you, always thought of her as so nice and that was a big part of her appeal.

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