Saturday, September 27, 2008

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for My Close-up."

As I reviewed another textbook for potential use in my classroom, I came across a line that rubbed me the wrong way. However, I couldn't help but wonder if I was reading too much into it, particularly given that, on the whole, I quite like this particular textbook. My negative reaction stemmed from one single caption that accompanied four images of Nicole Kidman as Anna in Birth (Glazer 2004).
Since I don't own the DVD, I can't visually recreate the images used in the textbook; instead, I'll briefly describe the four virtually identical soft-focus close-ups. In the first, her lips are parted, her head titled and her right eyebrow arched; in the second, her lips are closed and her head no longer titled; in the third, her eyes are dewy and her lip is turned up as she seemingly tries to hold back tears; in the fourth, her eyes are closed and her lips parted just slightly. The subtle changes in the tilt of her head, her mouth, and her eyes testify to the character's level of emotional involvement as she becomes increasingly absorbed in a piece of music.

The content of the images is actually beside the point. What I find somewhat problematic is the caption that accompanies them. Intended to explain the film's use of close-ups and long takes, it begins with the following clause: "Great cinematographers love great female beauty, as demonstrated by these four images from Jonathan Glazer's Birth (2004)." I could provide a diatribe explaining my objections, but I'm going to hold off for now. I'll simply say that that little clause got my hackles up. But I can't help but wonder if I'm overreacting. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

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Debate Links

A few debate links, for those interested:

Shakeville's Debate Post, with lots of interesting comments.

Feministe's Presidential Debate Drinking Game

The scary/frustrating/annoying McCain attack ad that came out this morning.

The Huffington Post Debate Fact Checker.

The Washington Post's Debate Fact Checker.

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Feminist Anthems: Tracy Chapman - Fast Car

We need more feminist anthems.

Music is powerful, and feminism needs music if it is to succeed and stay together as a movement. (I've got this theory, that the demise of riotgrrl is partly responsible for the current state of feminism, but that's another post...)

So what would a feminist anthem be, anyway? Fluffy, upbeat "girl power" songs? Angry riotgrrl rantings? Lesbian anthems? Protest songs? Songs about liberated female sexuality?

I think that any and all of these, and more beside, can qualify. We simply need to listen, recognize, and share.

Today, I'd like to consider a song that became very popular in the late 1980's. It's usually not thought of as a feminist song - the song is about generational poverty - but I believe that it is meaningful on many other levels.

Let's listen:

I'm going try and not over-analyze this song - it's too powerful musically to justify it.

"Fast Car" tells a simple story. The singer's father is an alcoholic, her mother leaves. She drops school to care for her father. She can't stand it, so she leaves town with her boyfriend, who has the car, to find a better life. It doesn't really work out, though, and her life starts to repeat her parents' life. She tells her boyfriend to leave, that they are not going to have the dream that she thought they would.

"Fast Car" is a sad, painful song. It seems to point to an inescapable circle of life, a pointless repetition of poverty. But the song is also hopeful. Note that it is not a love song - the word 'love' is never mentioned. The attraction to the boyfriend, even if he is 'nice', is also attraction to the power of his car - the power to leave, to make a new life.

So, it is a song about choice, about freedom. In the beginning, the singer is trapped - in the relationship with her father. Her boyfriend, via the car, provides a way out. She doesn't fall blindly in love with him, though, she doesn't just follow him somewhere. Instead, she make a choice to leave - "let's make a deal", she says.

And she retains this control. She gets a job, and then a better one. She's not dependent on her boyfriend. At the end, she tells him to leave, that she doesn't want to repeat her parents' life. By attaining this power, we know that she actually is avoiding her parents' life.

And notice her situation at the end of the song. No, she hasn't attained her dreams - no house in the suburbs - but she does 'pay all our bills'. Her children will likely remain in school, unlike her. Most importantly, "I got no plans, I ain't going nowhere." Even if she hasn't become "someone", she is also free from the demands of society - free, as a woman, to do the best she can given her situation. It's not ideal, by any means, but whose life is?

It's a song, at some level, about female empowerment.

Let's listen to "Fast Car" again. Think about it this way:

The car represents societal power, power to escape bad circumstances, and the boyfriend, what goes with that power. By the end, though, the singer doesn't need the car, and thus the boyfriend, to try and make the best that she can out of her life. So, she tells her boyfriend to take the car - perhaps he can try again for himself. Because, at some level, she has already made it. She belongs.

I hope to make 'Feminist Anthems' a semi-regular feature. If you have suggestions for songs, please let me know!

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Live Blogging the Debate

This is the first time I've done this, so bear with me. Click on the "read full post" link to follow along...

9:04PM: The debate just began and I'm concerned because Obama is running out of time on his first question!

9:05PM: And yet, somehow, he managed to squeeze it all in. Nice.

9:07PM: McCain, I'm bored. But I get it. Bi-partisanship. Yes, yes. But what about how to stabilize the economy?

9:10PM: Jim Lehrer tries to keep the candidates on task. And fails. I have no idea why McCain is talking about Eisenhower.

9:13PM: McCain has a "fundamental belief in the goodness and strength of the American worker." Really?

9:15PM: Gateway drugs! Woohoo. Oh? McCain's just talking about the perils of earmarking and pork-barrel spending, which Obama has been party to. McCain, are you calling Obama a pig?

9:17PM: McCain is smirking, not a good sign...

9:20PM: But I think that Obama has done a good job of explaining what he's doing and trying to articulate that he doesn't want to harp on one issue (i.e. pork-barrel spending).

9:22PM: Is it just me or does $250,000 or up yearly income seem like a reasonable definition of "rich" (re: Obama's definition of those who will be taxed under his proposal)?

9:24PM: McCain, did you just interrupt Jim Lehrer? Shame on you.

9:26PM: I don't know exactly how what McCain and Obama are saying lines up with the facts (as specious as that term is these days), but McCain's constant smirking and giggling is annoying me. Like a snide little kid who thinks he knows betters. Obama seems a lot more professional. And very relaxed, which is good.

9:32PM: Jim Lehrer for President! ;)

9:34PM: Sometimes I can't quite get the leaps of logic. Obama was talking about not wanting to cut money for education despite the bad economy and then McCain responded by saying that Obama doesn't support nuclear power. Is it just me? Did I miss something?

9:38PM: This is the second time that McCain has said he wasn't voted "Miss Congeniality" in the Senate. I keep imagining him in that Sandra Bullock movie. (Someone should spoof that. Get to it. 1,2,3, go!). And now he just called himself a Maverick. Does anyone else think it's a little goofy to keep referring to yourself by cute little nicknames (not to mention movie titles)? McCain, you Rogue you!

9:41PM: I hate the phrase "we are winning in Iraq." How exactly are we winning...? By the way, regarding something McCain said a few minutes ago, is he really that conservative of a spender?

9:49PM: What prevents someone from lying outright during the debates?

9:55PM: McCain rubs me the wrong way, for obvious reasons, but I think they're both doing a pretty good job so far, as far as argument and rhetoric are concerned (although I'm not thrilled with McCain's "tell-us-what-Obama-will-do-wrong-instead-of-telling-us-what-he(McCain)-might-do right" strategy). But their both articulate and obviously smart. It makes me wonder what the Palin/Biden debate is going to be like, especially after Palin's performance during her Katie Couric interview.

10:00PM: I was wondering how long it would take for McCain to mention the "war that [he] was in," although at least he hasn't reminded us (because we've forgotten) that he was a POW.

10:00PM: Now they're playing the "my bracelet from a grieving mother of a soldier is bigger than your bracelet from a grieving mother of a soldier" game.

10:04PM: McCain's proposed A League of Democracies (a.k.a. A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?). I see a movie option in his future.

10:09PM: This section of the debate brought to you by a new tongue twister. Say "Ahmadinejad" ten times fast and follow it up with a few "perestroikas." It's apparently all the rage.

10:16PM: Is McCain paying attention or has he been reading Sarah Palin's talking points? Henry Kissinger has, in fact, suggested that meeting Ahmadinejad without pre-conditions could be a possibility, for exactly the reasons Obama outlined.

10:24PM: "John, I'm sorry, that's just not true." Obama is not against nuclear power. Cautious is not the same as against. And, McCain, you have not consistently supported renewable energy. No matter what you say.

10:31PM: Seriously, McCain, stop using your soft, condescending, "I'm important and sensitive" voice and stop saying that "Obama doesn't understand [insert pretty much anything here]." Uncool.

10:36PM: P.O.W. He just said it. (Although it's kind of funny that he said, "when I came out of prison.")

10:37PM: How come McCain got the last word? Didn't he start the closing statements?

10:38PM: Okay, as my partner just pointed out, the weirdest thing ever is the fact that the wives come out afterward and supportively hug and kiss their husbands. Why does that seem so wonky?

10:39PM: Bob Schieffer of CBS: "This was supposed to be John McCain's debate [...] but Obama really held his own."

11:00PM: I'm out for tonight. More comments later. Any thoughts from you all?

CNN has a transcript of the debate if you missed it.

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Men FOR Title IX??? Are you kidding?

No, I’m not kidding. It’s beyond me that any father of daughters would be anything OTHER than a vigorous supporter of Title IX, the US civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in education. There’s a guy who ,lives in a big house on Pennsylvania Ave in DC with 2 daughters who glaringly doesn’t support TIX—one of the many things I don’t get about him.

Anyway, it’s a no-brainer for dads of daughters to support gender equity for girls and women—all we have to do is put our own daughters’ faces in the picture. Would we stand for them being denied opportunities JUST because they’re female? No way, so we shouldn’t stand for it with anyone else’s daughter either.

Fortunately, we don’t stand alone among men, as this NCAA video shows.

If you’re a man, be sure you’re speaking up for your daughter or stepdaughter—making sure that her school and world are safe and fair for girls. Learn more at

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Feminist Flashback #3 (and links!)

It just occurred to me that I completely forgot to post a feminist flashback video this past Sunday. To make up for it, I'll not only post the highly entertaining video of Walt Disney's 1946 animated short The Story of Menstruation, but also a quick round-up of other interesting links from the past few days.

Come really don't want to miss the menstruation film. It'll only take ten minutes and afterward you will feel edified with the knowledge that it's okay to vacuum and dance with boys and do all the sorts of things you would "normally do" when you have your period (I suppose if you're really pressed for time, you can just fast forward to the middle and watch from there, but don't you want to see how the pituitary gland works?)

(H/T AD Miller)

And, some links:

Hillary Clinton on the economy (from The Wall Street Journal): Let's Keep People in Their Homes (H/T Fewthistle).

Last night's Late Show with David Letterman in which Letterman expresses rightful indignation that McCain canceled his appearance on the show, lied about the reason and then stood Letterman up to speak to Katie Couric instead. Yes. For real.

On Appetite for Equal Rights: Sarah Palin on Katie Couric.

Jump off the Bridge on Bush and the Economy: Oops, the Dog Ate the Economy.

And, of course, if you haven't had enough of the linkage yet, the most recent Carnival of Feminists is up at Green Gabbro.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I promised I would try not to do this, but...

I promised I would try to not talk about Sarah Palin anymore, but I recently caught up on some of my emails and finally read a couple articles people had sent me (H/T to my parents and to Few) and feel that they're worth sharing.

The first, Drill Drill Drill, was written by playwright and activist Eve Ensler and published in The Huffington Post on September 8 (Ensler is, of course, the creator of The Vagina Monologues, among other things.) Here's a short excerpt:
I don't like raging at women. I am a Feminist and have spent my life trying to build community, help empower women and stop violence against them. It is hard to write about Sarah Palin. This is why the Sarah Palin choice was all the more insidious and cynical. The people who made this choice count on the goodness and solidarity of Feminists.

She goes on, discussing--as many of us have over the past few weeks--the reasons why McCain-Palin is a scary choice (creationism, overturning Roe v. Wade, abstinence-only sex ed, etc.) and ends up relaying this rather-horrifying analogy:
If the Polar Bears don't move you to go and do everything in your power to get Obama elected then consider the chant that filled the hall after Palin spoke at the RNC, "Drill Drill Drill." I think of teeth when I think of drills. I think of rape. I think of destruction. I think of domination. I think of military exercises that force mindless repetition, emptying the brain of analysis, doubt, ambiguity or dissent. I think of pain.

Personally, I feel her wording is a bit sensationalistic, but she's a writer and creative license and rhetorical flair are part of the job description. That said, it's not lost on me how right she is about the violence--to our earth or otherwise--implied by the RNC "drill" chant or in McCain-Palin's stated policy changes in general.

The other article I wanted to share is Bumping up against the limits of female bonding by Ellen Goodman over at The Boston Globe. What scares me about this article isn't so much the content--it's a pretty short op-ed piece in which Goodman makes some interesting points about voting-for-your-gender versus voting-for-the-issues and the complexities of feminists responses to Palin--but the comments. Here's just a small sample:
Thanks, too, for confirming what we've known for ages: That the feminist movement was really about liberal ideals and NEVER about women. So quit the charade and please refrain from hallucinating that normal women want access to the "sisterhood". Who would want to be in a club that (apparently) only lets in bitter, fat ladies?
Oh, please! Get over it, you elitist lost women when you ignored the predations of the Philanderer in Chief. You sold out women long ago when you only allowed for one line of thinking - liberal thinking. And now your hypocrisy has come back to haunt you. Sarah Palin is a woman who didn't need you or your daycare mentality. She believes in life, is in love with her husband, and is all the things your "Sisterhood" used to celebrate. She has it all, except for the "D" after her name, so you want to eat her alive.
Sarah Palin has more courage than all of you so called feminists put together. she loves her family, her country & is not in your "club" of mean spirited militants who are always fighting no matter how much you have- its never enough.. she is not a woman who hates men but she loves her husband & doesn't belittle him or compete with him. they have a good marriage because they have learned to compromise. which is something pro-choice, anti'life women will never be able to do. As long as someone acts, looks & thinks like you- you say they are acceptable. Not all women think it's ok to kill babies because "it's convenient."

Yes, because feminists think abortion should be a legal choice every woman can make on her own just because it's so damn convenient to kill babies. And we're all fat, bitter, hate men and emasculate them at every opportunity. Because feminist women rule the world and have been making it so hard on everybody else.


That is all.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The Women

So last weekend I went to see the new version of The Women and as soon as I left the theater I vowed to write about it here, it's taken me a while but here goes...
At first I thought that I hated the movie because I think the original is so fabulous. Here is a 1939 trailer for the film:

But then I realized that I was the only one of the women who I went with who had seen the original, and everyone universally disliked it, and one friend actually found it depressing. I'll warn you right now I'm going to reveal the ending, so if you have a need to not spoil it, by all means stop reading.

So the original film, based on Claire Boothe Luce's play, and with a screenplay by Anita Loos (who wrote the book, Gentleman Prefer Blonds) is snappy, witty and incredibly fun. The movie centers around Mary Haines (played brilliantly by Norma Shearer) whose husband is having an affair with a perfume salesgirl played by the irreplaceable Joan Crawford. The movie follows Mary as she makes the decision to divorce her husband, travels to Reno to get the divorce and in the end wins her husband back. All of these events are colored by the presence of Mary's mother, daughter and friends (notably the fabulously catty Rosalind Russell). In the new version of the film, Meg Ryan plays Mary Hanes as Meg Ryan (sorry Meg, I'll always love When Harry Met Sally, but you kinda phoned this one in). Eva Mendez plays Crawford's role, and doesn't hold a candle to Joan who while not sympathetic, at least comes off as a bit smarter. Anette Bening plays Rosalind Russell's role.

Other more minor roles from the original film are bulked up for the other major players and a few are lost. Like the 1939 version, the new film,(written and directed by Murphy Brown's Diane English) the film talks about men, but never shows them. It also, in some places stays very close the the original scrip, borrowing lines and pieces of dialogue.

The major difference between the original film and the new one is the the strange "girl power" bent that the new film takes on. After getting divorced, and losing her role in the family business, Mary decides to strike out on her own and design her own clothing line. Only after she is a success on her own does Mary go back to her husband. Finding a way to make this movie modern was probably not easy. At base it is about a woman who despite her husband's affair and all the gossip and humiliation surrounding it, still loves her husband. Even without ever seeing her husband on screen, Norma Shearer is able to convince the audience of this love, and the conflict it causes for her. Meg Ryan on the other hand is not nearly as convincing.

In the original film, with the help of some of her new and unlikely friends (fellow divorcees from Reno) Mary shows up her husbands new wife, Crawford who is having an affair of her own. In the original film Mary discovers that those she counts as friends are more interested in gossip and status than her well being, and that a gold digger and a rich old woman who has been married several times over may be the best friends she has. The Women's portrayal of vicious gossiping women may not be quite what we are looking for, but neither is the contrived "girl power" of Diane English's contemporary take on the story. Now the characters are too flat. Where before it was possible to see the nuance, even of Rosalind Russel's gossipy wife (who gets her comeuppance in the end), now the characters are just pale imitations of the ladies of Sex and the City and their strong bonds of friendship. For example the new film forces Anette Bening's character to gossip to save her job so that the audience is sure to sympatize with her, because we couldn't be counted on to do so if she was just a gossip. English's version of the film dumbs down the characters making them fit too neatly into good and evil roles, which is what makes Meg Ryan's reunion with her husband even more inexplicable.

I'll take 1939's bitchy, catty, smart and witty Women over 2008's flat and sappy women any day!

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Feminism in the Film Studies Classroom

Baignade dans un torrent, Alice Guy (1897).

Last week, while completing some lecture notes for an upcoming class, a textbook representative from a major academic publisher popped his head into my office, asking if he could have a moment of my time. The very pleasant and knowledgeable rep. was hoping to learn a bit more about what I teach so that he could better assist me in the selection of textbooks for my upcoming classes, particularly my "Introduction to Film Studies" and "Film History" courses. I tend to try to cut such conversations short, in large part because I know exactly what the person is going to say as he or she attempts to sell me on the publisher's books. The sales pitch usually involves a run-down of the merits of their text and a delicate reminder of just how it improves upon one of the other often-used options in the field. Because my institution is a relatively large one, with over 11,000 undergraduates, these representatives have some sizable stake in convincing me to adopt their book. If we do adopt their book, it means about 200 copies of it will be purchased by our students each semester. That number isn't huge, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at in an era when textbook sales are plummeting and academic publishers are feeling the effects of the resulting loss in revenue.

In any case, when the representative asked me if there was anything I found lacking in the textbooks currently available for use in core film courses, I quickly pointed out the exceedingly marginal space allocated to women directors in virtually all of the major film studies textbooks. He looked somewhat surprised, but quite sympathetic. He also admitted that even though he'd recently graduated from college and completed several film studies courses at a neighboring institution with a highly-regarded film program, he feared he could only name a handful of female directors. He took a moment to collect his thoughts and then rattled off a depressingly short list of names: "Jane Campion. Penny Marshall, and Sofia Coppola." There was a rather pregnant pause as he struggled for another name before finally adding Leni Riefenstahl, explaining that he'd watched a bunch of her films in a history class. He quickly conceded my point, admitting that if he could only name one female director for each of his four years of film study, there was obviously a problem.

I can't blame one individual for not knowing more about women's actions behind the camera. Let's face it, most undergraduates--and certainly most filmgoers--are woefully unfamiliar with the films of women directors. And who can blame them? Judging by the syllabi available on the internet, many Film Studies programs still relegate women directors to the margins; when their works do appear in the classroom, it is often in stand-alone courses on "women directors" or feminist film theory. Some people would argue that this omission on course syllabi simply reflects one of the long-standing realities of the film business: relatively few women find work as directors, particularly in Hollywood.

Barbara K. Quart, author of Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema (1989), provides (albeit dated) statistics that explain the depth of women's underrepresented status as film directors:
Since half the world's population is female, roughly half of all feature films should be made by women. The actual numbers, as is well known, are shockingly different. One statistic has it that between 1949 and 1979 (and this takes in the period when women started entering feature filmmaking again in numbers), one-fifth of 1 percent of all films released by American major studios were directed by women. Before that, only one woman director, Dorothy Arzner, worked in America from silents and the beginnings of sound in the 1920s into the 1940s--one woman directing in the heyday of Hollywood's productivity and power. Even in the more active years at the beginnings of the film industry, the years that were more hospitable to women, the numbers were small.
Though I would quibble with some of Quart's claims--Arzner was certainly not the only woman making inroads in Hollywood during the 1920s--she calls dramatic attention to women's underrepresented status in what is, arguably, one of today's most important economic and cultural industries.1

In August, 2002, the feminist art-world activist group, The Guerrilla Girls, also tried to call attention to the Hollywood bias against women, publishing a billboard with an "Anatomically Correct Oscar"

The campaign also included the distribution of stickers proclaiming that "The U.S. Senate is more progressive than Hollywood. Female Senators: 9%, Female directors: 4%." And if the response to recent attempts by women to run for national office is any indication of the current state of feminism, to realize that Hollywood, full of supposedly left-leaning liberals, is even more discriminatory towards women is very depressing in deed. As Michelle Goldberg explains in her report for Salon magazine, the study used to provide the statistics for the Guerrilla Girls' campaign suggests that "the dreams that radiate off theater screens and into our culture are still almost exclusively the dreams of men." What's more upsetting are the statistics Salon quotes from a study by San Diego State professor Martha M. Lauzen:
women directed 7 percent of the top-grossing 100 films released in 2000. (In a sample of the top 250 films, the percentage was a little higher, at 11 percent.) Last year, that already dismal number plummeted. 'We're just putting together preliminary figures for films released in 2001. The percentage [of the top 100 films] has gone way down. It looks like 4 percent, which means it's below 1992 levels.'
If all these statistics are true, can we really blame textbook publishers and professors for focusing primarily on works by male directors? After all, they should concentrate on maintaining the pedagogical integrity of the textbooks and the courses that use them, right? And that should mean selecting the most appropriate, high-quality film titles that will best illustrate the film technique or historical development being taught. We shouldn't select "inferior" films simply because they are directed by women, right?

In fact, I firmly believe that the goals of pedagogical integrity and feminist film scholarship need not be mutually exclusive. There are a great many excellent films directed by women that should be included in core courses in film studies and film history. In fact, I believe that the responsible film scholar is obligated to introduce his or her students to works directed by women. We should also feel obligated to include films by other underrepresented groups. Because the textbooks often pay short shrift to such films, if they include them at all, it may mean moving beyond that textbook and supplementing students' readings with articles by feminist film historians and theorists. We may have to pressure publishers to pay more attention to women's rolls in Hollywood, avant-garde and international cinema. Or, it may mean rewriting the damned textbooks ourselves. Otherwise, students will finish their programs with the impression that the Guerrilla Girls' "anatomically correct Oscar" accurately represents the film director, not just Hollywood's gender and racial bias. So with that in mind, I will return to planning next semester's syllabi and I will do my best to work women directors into the calendar--even if they rarely appear in the pages of the textbooks currently available to me.

a scene from Lois Weber's Hypocrites (1915).

1. If you'd like to get a more comprehensive picture of women's roles in the early film industry, take a look at Duke's Women Film Pioneers project website. The work of the Pioneers project makes clear that hundreds of women were involved in behind-the-scenes early film production--as writers, directors, producers, and editors. Though some of these figures have been all but lost to history, this collaborative project seeks to rewrite that history and give women their rightful place within it. Information found there will introduce you to other key figures such as Lois Weber, Jeanie MacPherson, and Alice Guy-Blache, to name but a few.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Turn the world on with your smile

Friday was the 38th anniversary of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which first aired on CBS on September 19, 1970. The show and its cast and crew won twenty-nine Emmys over the course of its seven year run, and as I sit here and watch the hosts of the 60th Emmy Awards make fools of themselves (and objectify Heidi Klum) I thought I'd post a small tribute to my one of my favorite television shows.

I've loved Mary Tyler Moore for as long as I can remember. I was too young (read: not yet born) when it first aired, but I watched it in re-runs on Nick-at-Nite when I was wee (8 or 9) and still watch it to this day--and now that I own the first four seasons on DVD, I can enjoy Mary's quirky humor, her eternal optimism, her victories (and her failed parties), and her friendships whenever I like.

Even then, I think I could appreciate the (historical) importance of Mary's role as the working, single girl. While she wasn't always explicitly feminist, she epitomized a woman who wasn't all about what she was to men, who had relationships outside of her home and her immediate family, and who was good at her job and enjoyed it. She wasn't perfect. She had her foibles and her quirks. She was constantly on Lou Grant's bad side and never sure how to deal with her overbearing neighbor Phyllis. She was sometimes shy and self-deprecating. But she was sure of what she was doing with her life and she was smart. And she had a wonderful best friend. (Rhoda was actually my favorite character...shhhh...don't tell Mary...)

I just found this short tribute to MTM in The New York Times archive and thought I'd share a bit here:
Mary was a gentle role model, someone for the shaky career woman to identify with in the transitional 1970's. The show ran from 1970 to 1977 when, even though the women's movement was on its way, women were still expected to work between school and marriage and then put their jobs on hold after the wedding. If their lives didn't pan out that way, well, there was probably something a bit weird about them.

Mary wasn't weird. Not in the least. What was so endearing about her was that in a medium so well known for exaggerating, she was conventional and believable even as she knocked down stereotypes and barriers. She was Barbie Doll-pretty and slim, the way the ideal woman is supposed to be. But she had her frustrations and failures anyway and wasn't afraid to admit her impatience with the dating game. So did her friend Rhoda (Valerie Harper), who had an acknowledged weight problem. Before Oprah.

Subtly and sensitively, Mary's writers managed to address subjects as diverse as anti-Semitism and sexism without preaching, and without copping out. As tempting as it may have been to have Mary settle down into marriage, she didn't. She wasn't even divorced or widowed. Mary was television's first single working woman of significance who didn't have a standard explanation for her status.

She worked -- because she worked. In fact, at a time when many young women were striving to establish themselves professionally, often at a price to their personal lives, Mary Richard's job was at the center of her life too -- so much so that in the final episode, she said she no longer worried about treating her colleagues as family because, in a way, they were.
Sometimes I watch Mary Tyler Moore now and I think that it might still be one of the smartest sitcoms on television--especially one with a clever, capable female protagonist--and it aired over thirty years ago. Certainly shows like 30 Rock have followed in its footsteps and deservedly so (and congrats to my all-time favorite leading lady, Tina Fey, for her multiple Emmy wins and to the show for its seventeen nominations), but I can't help worry that we haven't come much farther in terms of television's representations of women than we were in the 1970s. Or perhaps we were getting somewhere and now we've reverted.

I mean, on the Emmys just now Heidi Klum had her suit pulled off by two men, revealing a skimpy formal shorts one-piece and stilettos. Seriously. That's sure quality entertainment.

Am I just being cynical? Maybe. And I don't think Mary would approve.

Update: Emmy and I must have been on the same page tonight, since the Emmys did a little tribute to The Mary Tyler Moore Show just before 30 Rock received its Best Comedy Series Emmy!

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