Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Liking Something Does Not Entitle You To Ownership Of It

The debate about institutionalized sexism within the offices of the Daily Show was prompted by several articles on Jezebel and addressed by several other publications in recent days (see here & there & there also & there too & back here again & again & again & again.)

It got me thinking about a few things.

First off, I'm convinced that watching an episode of Mad Men with Jezebel writers as of late would probably be akin to watching League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sitting next to Alan Moore. What's going on over at Jezebel? They've really taken themselves a bit too seriously since founding editor Anna Holmes quit and was replaced by former Gawker editor Jessica Coen. Certainly too serious for as inconsistent their message has been. I mean, it's difficult to take gender criticism from a site that over the last few weeks has had daily posts objectifying shirtless soccer players and is under the same umbrella as Fleshbot (link very NSFW). Not to mention their recent odd insinuations.

On a more personal note, the debate has me worried about my friend Shalewa's blood pressure. The stern tone being carried out in the comment sections reads like a half-assed undergraduate women's studies discussion group—and Shalewa reads ALL of them. They're clearly weighing heavily on her heart, so please, lighten up, people.

But most of all, this argument has got me thinking about a phenomenon that I've noticed called devotional ownership entitlement—the condition in which a fan, follower, or even critic, feels entitled to ownership over the work of their subject of interest.

This is the same issue that inflicts fans of bands to feel slighted about any disparity between some aspect of the band and the fans' own expectation. It's a common infraction that we've all been guilty of at some point or another, to varying extent.

I've certainly used the term sellout in this manner—proudly and indiscriminately at times. I've complained, bitched, moaned, and downright felt betrayed by countless bands who were too shortsighted NOT to do EXACTLY what I expected of them at ALL TIMES. I did this for years, much to my own detriment, until I eventually decided that it probably wasn't fair to expect so much from people whose lives were not my own and whose motivations I was not privy to. I was wrong to think I was entitled to any ownership of their invention.

And all right, I still do it, but I'm trying, Ringo, I'm trying real hard to be better about it.

As a matter of fact, I was recently in an argument with a friend about Radiohead's decision to drop the song "Creep" from their setlists in the late 90s. To this day they only play it sporadically, even though it is undoubtedly the song that catapulted the band to success. My friend argued that making such a public statement is petulant and disrespectful to fans, and that Radiohead have a responsibility to play the song for the people who pay to see them perform live. I, in turn, defended Radiohead's artistic mandate to do whatever they please with their own song, and argued that since they publicly stated they would no longer perform the song live, the fans should adjust their expectations accordingly.

Basically, my point is that just because you've invested your interest in something, it doesn't mean that you've bought your way into the artistic process. You're not a majority shareholder in all the things you like. A concert ticket, an album download or a t-shirt does not entitle you a chair on the committee.

Getting back to Jezebel's argument, I have no problem with them raising questions about The Daily Show's hiring practices if there is evidence to prove they have been sexist or otherwise engaged in illegal or unethical practices—that's perfectly legitimate and commendable. But in this case, the catalyst for Jezebel's recent criticism was not any misconduct, but rather, it was The Daily Show's recent hiring of (2008 bazookaluca celebrity-girlfriend) Olivia Munn as a correspondent.

So really, the issue Jezebel is taking The Daily Show to task for is not them hiring too few women, just not the "right" kind of women. Had they framed the issue around actual investigative journalism, they'd have my full support, but instead, the articles have come off as personal attacks of Munn's perceived hackiness.

According to Jezebel's Irin Carmon, Munn being hiring was motivated by Munn's "carefully-crafted image as a geek sex symbol " and not by her own merits as a comedic talent. Thing is, to people like myself who have been watching Munn for the past four years over hundreds of live episodes as the co-host of G4's Attack of the Show!—her goofiness, timing, and commitment to a gag seem like perfect qualifications for a job as correspondent. There's never been a question in my mind whether she'd be great on that show. In contrast, none of the Jezebel articles indicate that any of the authors have ever even seen an episode of AOTS, so it's difficult to take their criticism seriously.

There's no mention of Munn's knack for improvisation, her interviewing skills, her perfectly timed off-the-cuff comments, or her genuine natural charm—all qualities she displays on a daily basis on G4. Hell, they don't even give her credit for her ability to read a goddamn teleprompter, which seems like a major qualification of any correspondent. All we get are links to videos of some her stunts on the show—jumping into a giant pie or seductively eating hot dogs, things that aren't indicative of her comedic talents on the show.

These omissions are either deliberate or conveniently overlooked to fit a simplistic narrative. It's easier to paint Munn as a young pretty thing who's only qualifications are appearing in Playboy, Maxim, and coming off "as a potty-mouthed provocateur whose appeal seems targeted to what she thinks men want." That would actually be the basis for a valid complaint. But that's not the case here. They're appropriating a legitimate gender issue to what is basically a petty personnel complaint. And I don't think jealousy is the motivation like some have suggested, I just think they're guilty of pigeonholing and prejudice.

And here's where we bring it all back to devotional ownership entitlementJezebel, as invested as it may deem itself to be, is entitled NO OWNERSHIP WHATSOEVER over any person The Daily Show chooses to lawfully hire or not hire. They just don't get a say over any creative decision, no matter how much they might disagree with one. It's not their place. The reason The Daily Show is great is because it does not outsource its decision-making to a committee of outsiders.

I suspect that Jezebel will continue to attest that all they're doing is exploring "the institutional sexism that, depending on certain experiences, may exist at a liberal-leaning, comedy-centric organization that is widely watched and respected", but that's just not coming across as the true motivation.

And personally, I think Olivia is doing great.

1 comment:

  1. no joke. it's killing me. (also, excellent point, luca.)




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