Category Archives: Uncategorized

Daddy’s Little Girls

TV has located the perfect family structure: apparently, it’s an accomplished, sexy father, and a pert, cute tween or teenage girl.  Ex-wives/mothers can be occasional guest stars, but the focus is on the Dad, who is both virile and understanding, and the daughter, who still needs guidance, but can also help dear old Dad understand the softer side of life by explaining things like emotions to him.   I found this model instantly annoying when I encountered it recently in a show I can’t remember the name of–it was billed as House with lawyers, and focused on a star criminal attorney who decided to become one of the good guys, but it’s much more recent than The Guaridan (if you know the name, please comment!). But I began to get more seriously annoyed when I found it repeated in other up-and-coming money-maker shows, Castle and Lie to Me.  In fact, the tween daughters of Castle (Alexis) and Lie to Me (Emily) look quite a bit alike, except for the striking red hair of Castle’s daughter: they are both notably elfin, with big round anime eyes.


Emily in Lie to Me

Alexis in Castle

Alexis in Castle

Why does this pattern give me the willies?  First of all, it relies on one of my most hated of cultural tropes, The Enlightened Dad.  I’ve got nothing against dads changing diapers; what I hate is how they are lavished with praise for being even minor participants in child rearing.  A man tenderly dandling a baby makes everyone smile and sigh; a woman doing the same thing is just par for the course.  Both Lie to Me and Castle show their heroes’ softer sides through this sort of nonsense: they can be tough and arrogant, but don’t worry, they will be redeemed through their status as Good Dads!

What’s more troubling, though, is the kind of fantasy family these shows create. In effect, father and daughter replace husband and wife, offering a new couple that gets rids of the sort of things that make trouble in a real heterosexual marriage, particularly in the wake of feminism   Without a female authority figure at home (Mom), we get a family that boils down to the big sexy in-control male figure and amusingly willful yet ultimately sweet subordinate female figure.  No need to worry about who works, since the daughter doesn’t need to earn money; in fact, no need to worry about equality at all, since the roles are polarized by age and family position.  In other words, the father-daughter model recreates the sort of husband-wife family we imagine we used to have before women got all uppity.

Part of the satisfactions of this model are purely Freudian: getting rid of Mom so Dad and Daughter can pursue their own family romance is one of those omnipresent, barely masked cultural fantasies; it’s not for nothing that our fairy tales are filled with evil step mothers who try to keep worthy daughters from marrying the prince.  And certainly this model has a history on TV beyond Disney fairytales (anyone old enough to remember Family Affair?).

But I think the reinvigoration of the Dad-Daughter pattern now has more to tell us about the cultural fantasies of post-feminism than the Freudian fantasies of the family romance.  For one thing, both Lie to Me and Castle belong to a larger pattern of shows that pair men who possess almost supernatural powers with feisty, street-smart professional women who are never quite able to best them.  In Castle, it’s the tough female cop who supervises a team of male detectives.  In Lie to Me it’s the ‘uneducated’ Latina with a raw talent for recognizing micro-expressions.  In Life it’s the Persian-American cop with a history of substance abuse, and the African-American lawyer/ex-Olympian runner.  In Burn Notice, it’s the Irish mercenary with a penchant for violence.

In every case, the women in question are clearly figures of the post-feminist present–that is, they belong to a cultural landscape that assimilated certain palatable aspects of feminism, and jettisoned the rest.   These characters are all  tough professionals who expect equality and have  a kind of sexy swagger that borders on the butch.  And, in every case, they are either overtly mentored by or consistently bested by their borderline-omnipotent male counter part.  In cases like Castle and Lie to Me, proving the woman wrong becomes a key plot point in many episodes. What’s palatable, apparently, is the sexy, savvy woman who can almost beat a man at his own game.  What got jettisoned was the whole equality thing.

That three of these characters are women of color (two in Life, and one in Lie to Me) gives the whole process a sick twist: both shows suggest that their heroes are somehow progressive in pursuing this close relationship with a woman of color, at the same time that they consistently show them up.   That Life gave its hero another tough woman-of-color partner when its lead actress went on maternity leave suggests this pattern is no coincidence.

Once upon a time–I think it was the ’80s–having women characters like this in books and TV shows seemed to mean something was shifting.  Women who were tough, who carried guns, who kicked ass, were certainly a breath of fresh air, a little gust that seemed poised to blow away some elements of the status quo.  But, as it so often does, popular culture found a way to have its cake and eat it too: as shows like Lie to Me, Castle and Life make clear, we can now enjoy the sight of an ass-kicking woman (it helps if she’s beautiful, of course) without there being any real threat to male supremacy.

It makes sense, then, that the father-daughter family occurs in the some of the same shows that feature the tough female mentored and/or topped by the brilliant man: in both cases, we can have all the smarts and savvy we want provided we stay daddy’s little girls.




Filed under feminism, girls, mainstream media, TV, Uncategorized, work

Why I keep not blogging about health care

Basically, it’s rage.  The whole thing is making me so mad that I can’t stand to follow the stories.  Everytime I try to watch Rachel Maddow or listen to NPR I wind up turning them off ten minutes in because I get so angry I feel like my hair is on fire.  So, instead of a reasoned blog about the current debacle, I’m offering the only thing I can: a list explaining why I’m too furious to blog properly.

1. Because of Obama’s obsessive, truly pathological inability to accept that, strange as it may seem, SOME PEOPLE WILL NOT BE CHARMED BY HIM.

2. Because of Obama’s resulting inability to stop trying to please Republicans and just get the damn bill passed by his MAJORITY party.

3. Because of the idiotic comments of people who believe that any chance of having some government option is somehow equivalent to ‘Russia’.  HELLO!  What is this, 1982?  Russia is a raging capitalist chaos now, people.

4.  Because  American ideology of ‘freedom’ and ‘individuality’ is so tenacious that some people apparently think the Preamble to the Constitution contains an argument against affordable health care.

5.  Because American exceptionalism so prominent in that ideology  that, no matter how many times the statistics are bandied about, most people seem incapable of believing that we have the worst health care system among the industrialized nations.

6.  Because so many people really seem to think that it is better to have exceptional medical care for a few than decent medical care for all, and have no problem saying so.

7.  Because it is fucking heartbreaking to watch ordinary people, many of them lower-middle or working class, make impassioned statements that boil down to arguing that they should keep suffering so that insurance and pharmaceutical companies can keeping getting richer.

8.  Because for about 5 seconds it seemed that, for once in my adult life, something in American might actually change for the better, and I can’t stand watching too closely as that possibility apparently goes down the tubes.


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Beer Summit for Black Woman?

Will the Black woman who was removed from Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting on health care get a “beer summit” at the White House? Turns out she was reacting after a white woman snatched a poster of Rosa Parks out of her hand. The white woman then ripped up the poster. After the Black woman reacted, she was quickly removed from the town hall meeting. According to MSNBC, the white woman was not. McCaskill tries to explain what happened to the crowd, but quickly aborts that attempt as boos erupt from the audience.

Here’s the video–notice the freeze frame of the “angry Black woman.”

Obama, hello?


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Julie and Julia

I found Nora Ephron’s portrayal of a 30-year-old blogger in Julie and Julia so offensive I’m going to indulge in an intergenerational critique. Generally I try to avoid harping on generational differences between women, associating it as I do with whiny middle-class white women suffering from a prolonged case of adolescent rebellion. But Ephron’s portrayal of Julie Powell, who created the Julie/Julia Project in 2002, a blog that described a year-long journey to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s epic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” dismissed the continued difficulties of women seeking a purpose outside of the traditional roles of raising children and the newer imperative of making lots of money to prove that their self-sufficiency and independence is deserved.

Powell was a failed novelist who worked in a cubical at the lower Manhattan redevelopment project when she began her year-long project, which landed her a book deal, the rights of which were also sold to produce Julie and Julia. I didn’t read the blog—not many people read blogs back then, difficult as it is to remember this—but I did read and enjoy the book. Powell’s life as a childless 30-something woman who expresses no desire for children, whose career has stalled and whose ambition has become nameless spoke to me, as I spent my first year outside of academia struggling to build credibility as fledgling journalist. It was a pleasure to see Powell develop her own sense of legitimacy as a writer through her blog. I liked the portrayal of the complexities of her marriage in the book too, grateful for a story from a woman who seemed to be on equal footing in her relationship with her husband, despite the fact that she was rather lost in her work while he was on steady ground.

None of the pleasures of the book translated in the film, where Julie is a spoiled brat, who whines her way through a year of cooking as her husband, “the saint,” a title the character at one point disavows but the film ultimately endorses, lends his strong shoulder of support. A typical scene: Julie drops a stuffed piece of foul, sinks to the floor in a tantrum and slathers herself in the stuffing, which appeared to be pate- based. Meanwhile, her sage husband calmly fields a phone call from a reporter who wants to do a story on the Julie/Julia project, which the pate-covered Julie accepts, rising from the floor, but still sniffing, toddler-like.
One might conclude from the repetition of such scenes in the Julie segments of the film that Ephron lacks respect for women, but then there is her tender, thoughtful representation of Julia Child. In the movie, Child is a misfit of a woman who nonetheless blazes passionately through her life with little regrets, but one: She is unable to have a child. And since “one must do something,” as Child says in the film, she learns to cook, and brings the United States French cooking in the form of her book, her accomplishment offered to the world in lieu of her heart’s desire of children.

What then, is Julie’s blog, clearly not a stand in for a child? Given how it serves as a way for her to master and manage her own impetuous temperament, the blog seems like Julie’s pacifier. A child’s toy.

Indeed the contrast between Julia and Juila’s levels of maturity are so pronounced that the audience might have been shocked if reminded of the slight age difference between the two. Julia is 36 when the film begins, a mere 6 years older than Julie, which indicated to me that Ephron’s problem is with younger women of my generation. Rather than using the clear parallels between the women’s lives to tell an intergenerational story by comparison and contrast, the film simply finds a whining Julie undeserving of comparison.

Julie, the film suggests, who doesn’t long for children, revere her husband, or slog through the time-honored process of slaving away on an opus to see her words in print, does not have a life to be taken seriously.



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One Feminist Analysis of Gates Arrest on NPR

A woman called in a comment on the Gates incident to Talk of the Nation, read aloud by Neal Conan today, one of the most hilarious I’ve heard so far. After identifying herself as African American, the woman summed up her analysis of the Gates arrest in three words: “Too much testosterone.” Priceless.



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Food Inc.’s Blind Spot

I fixated on the carrera marble backsplash of Eric Scholsser’s kitchen throughout Food Inc., even though only a few scenes were shot in his kitchen. I sincerely admire the muckraking work of Fast Food Nation, and Scholsser changed how I eat, as did Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. But as I intimated in another post, the elitism that marks the reception of their books– I believe I called this, inelegantly, the “whole fart smelling aspect of it”– puts me off. I don’t believe the books themselves necessarily lean in this elitist direction, but the uses of the book do. I liked aspects of Food Inc., as a film can capture image in a visceral way that is difficult for a book to replicate. I would challenge anyone to catch a glimpse of a typical Tyson chicken house and then eat a Tyson chicken. That is, if they can afford to make that choice. The central thrust of Food Inc is that real food costs more, and we should be willing to pay more. The people who can’t may more? I found that the film demurred on that point, and at moments, like in the trophy kitchen shots, appeared totally clueless. People with money telling everyday folks to spend more on food seems really nutty to me. And I found and still find myself hoping that future work aimed at challenging the food industry and consumption habits could show people how to alter their diets for the better while spending the same amount of money at the grocery store. At this point, it seems to me that a good batch of bean recipes would have a broader political impact than the entire film. If we aren’t coupling muckraking with viable solutions, what are we doing but talking to each other, and patting ourselves and our heritage pork on the back for it?



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Sotomayor ‘unflappable’? Quelle suprise.

I’ve been feeling for a while that I was going to have to blog about the whole Sotomayor debacle, but I was really hoping I could avoid it. It’s kind of like feeling like you might have to throw up; you know you’ll feel better afterward, but you still would prefer not to. Even thinking about the “She’s not a white man and therefore she can’t be ‘impartial'” line of Republican argument as applied to Sotomayor makes me so furious that I can’t stand to contemplate it for more than about 12 seconds. News flash: white men are still the unchallenged universal, and since they stand for the whole world, there is of course nothing they can do that isn’t “impartial”! Even their most bigoted and wing-nut actions and theories get to stand in as logical assessments for the good of the universe, while Sotomayor’s judgments are the “passionate” acts of a fiery Latina who can only see from her “narrow” perspective (which consists of the desire to punish white men). Coming from money and going to Harvard like your grand-dad apparently gives you unparalleled and uninflected access to all views of all issues–because the view from the projects doesn’t count anyway.

Even the most seemingly positive accounts of Sotomayor’s conduct seem unable to escape falling into this sort of (non)thinking. The New York Times today marveled that Sotomayor left behind her “passion” and remained “unflappable” in the face of small-minded badgering by Republican senators. That she was able to do so seems to be put down to appropriate “coaching”, as if it never would have occurred to her to act this way on her own. Does the NYT seriously think that this is the first time Sotomayor’s had to face this kind of reaction to her accomplishments and ambitions? I would guess that the journey of a Latina from the Bronx to Supreme Court confirmation hearings has been littered with these sorts of slurs–and that she wouldn’t have made it as far as she has had she not found a way not to react “passionately” to everyone who treated her like an undeserving interloper. The audience this time is bigger, but I would bet money that the comments aren’t the worst she’s heard.

If Sotomayor is confirmed, her place on the Court will be celebrated as a sign of the continuing progress of American race, class and gender relations–as if this whole sick drama surrounding her ability to think rather than feel, reason rather than react, didn’t happen. But the real story of American race, class and gender relations is in the drama, the seemingly unavoidable need everyone from the senators to the press has to air their unconscious (or conscious) and abhorrent fantasies about people who deviate from the white-male universal standard and still expect to play a leading role in the government of this country. If anyone ever thought that Obama’s election said anything promising about the decline of that standard–I’m pretty sure I did, for about twenty minutes on election night–this spectacle provides an inescapable corrective.


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