Tonight! What not to watch

3 Jan

On Jan 3rd a new sitcom hit the 21st century airwaves. According to ABC, Work It is a “new high-concept comedy about two unrepentant guy’s guys who, unable to find work, dress as women to get jobs. Not only do they pull it off, but they just might learn to be better men in the process.”

And here’s The Daily Beast‘s take on this comedy about cross-dressing:

After having been laid off, two manly men are unable to get new jobs. (How manly are they? So manly that they swill a half-dozen bottles of beer at every sitting, cracking jokes about consuming meals while using the toilet.) Of course, their habitual drinking and general boorishness are not why they are unemployed. The problem is that ladies have taken over the workforce. (And the reason for women’s dominance? Their sex appeal. Natch.)

So, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. In this case, don a pair of pumps, slip into a dress, and sashay into a shiny new job (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/03/boycott-the-crossdressing-show-abc-s-new-sitcom-work-it-doesn-t-work.html).

What I like about the full Beast review is two things:

  1. The transparent POV. Journalist Noelle Howey takes her stand on the show and explains her bias: her father is transgender and suffered real, unfunny, quantifiable discrimination as a result of her (the father’s) transition. Meanwhile, ABC doesn’t bother to explain its bias: what it is in its own corporate experience, history and consciousness that makes this show funny… to them. This contrast reminds me of the controversy over Judge Walker, the federal judge who struck down California’s ban on gay marriage in 2010: concern over Walker’s bias as a gay man ruling on Prop 8’s legality seemed legitimate cause for national discourse. Meanwhile, the presumption that a heterosexual judge–any judge–is biased went largely unexamined, which was especially concerning since it was precisely the hope that a heterosexual judge would be more likely to be biased in favor of Prop 8 that fueled ProtectMarriage’s call to have Walker’s ruling overturned. What both of these situations raises for me is the need for us to practice awareness and inquiry around majority, normative cultural biases, which we grant even more power to when we pretend they don’t exist.
  2. The trust in people’s discernment. As much as Howey denigrates the show and finds it offensive, she explicitly opposes censoring it. Instead, she opines:

ABC isn’t going to pull Work It from the schedule. And it shouldn’t. Better for all of us that it dies a natural death from simple repulsion and lack of interest. That way, before another pilot gets greenlighted featuring manly men trying to apply mascara and squeeze into Spanx—all the while making tone-deaf pronouncements about women—the powers-that-be will think: let’s skip it.

It’s a gamble. Howey might be wrong. Girls might respond positively to being stereotyped as clueless Lindsay Lohan-ites (but then again, girls aren’t the target demographic for Work It, now are they?) but whether she’s right or wrong, I appreciate that she recognizes that this is perhaps a lesson best learned the way network learn best: through money. Call it an unexpected lesson in diversified instruction, but if a network gets the message via remote (control) then so be it. It’s like green, sustainable and/or organic products and energy: they have to make business–not just moral–sense. If that seems like a shame, I would ask us all to consider the possibilities of a society in which morality is profitable. I, for one, like the idea. 

And it’s not as if Howey just sits back and crosses her fingers: she uses the tools and power she has as a journalist to raise awareness, educate (her anecdotes and statistics about transgender discrimination in the workplace are spot on) and impassion the public to help ABC get what’s funny without being so exclusive, ignorant and hateful. For me, there’s a reminder here about being the change I want to see in the world and recognizing ways to facilitate others to be the change, too, instead of just passively experiencing it.

* For more on the Walker controversy, check out Slate’s coverage from June 2011:   http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2011/06/too_gay_to_judge.html.

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