A Year of Curated Media, and Anchorman 2

It’s 2014, and although I no longer do resolutions, I am still a big fan of the “new year, new projects” thing. I have two major projects this year: the first is an extension of my Year of Self-Care, which will be blogged, when I blog it, over at Fibro Files; the second is a year of curated media consumption.

When I posted a facebook status about this second project, Lynn Comella (and let me just take a moment to squee over this) suggested that I post my reviews of this year’s content, so, since Lynn Comella (who is an amazing feminist porn scholar) told me to do it, I’m doin’ it. In this blog, since it’s related to my academic interests.

This project was the result of three simultaneous realizations/events.

The first was that near the end of 2013, I got very tired of all the straight white men in my media. Straight white men writing my books. Straight white men directing, producing and starring in television shows, movies, and everything else. I have always casually sought out diverse media, but always as an add-on to the default media all around me. I never seriously considered how lacking in diversity most of what I was watching and reading really was. Very white. Very, very white. Slightly less so but still very masculine. And slightly less than that but still very straight.

This fits with what I’ve found as I dive/drop further into issues of social justice – the issues that are most personally relatable are the ones that get attention first. So for years now I have pulled in more queer media, because my queer identity is the one closest to my sense of myself a person. Then more gender-diverse media. Then, and only then, more racial diversity since the whiteness on screen didn’t previously jar me – it’s the same thing I see in the mirror. Now that I’ve seen the whiteness, though, I can’t unsee it and it is overwhelming.

Second, Ender’s Game came out near the end of 2013, and that was a critical moment for me. The book was formative when I was young – the Ender saga was read and reread, recommended to my friends, discussed and pondered and analyzed and loved. But Orson Scott Card believes and actively supports some things that are just anathema to who I am and who I want to be in the world. I can’t support him. I won’t support him. (Even if, as Scalzi suggests, my refusal to buy a movie ticket has no impact at all on Card’s profits.) It became much more important to me to think about where my money was going, even if that wouldn’t have an impact on the creator. It has an impact on me, and on how I chose to interact with the world around me. That seems like enough for now.

Finally, near the end of 2013 I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stunning Half Of A Yellow Sun. It was beautiful (and beautifully narrated) and I listened to Adichie’s various talks on YouTube and realized that I really, really wanted to support her and writers like her. Not just casually happening across their work, but actively seeking it out. I want more than a single story.

This all came together and it seemed like time to start actively curating the media I consume. I am going to put my money and my time into media that fits my feminism.

Now, “feminism” is a wibbly-wobbly identifier. My feminism attempts to be pleasure-positive (meaning that I maintain a strong focus on issues of consent, autonomy, self-determination and collaboration), trans*-inclusive, anti-colonial, anti-racist, pro-PoC, pro-sex worker, and socialist. What that means, practically, is that the “feminism” is just one piece of an anti-oppressive ideology that I’m slowly constructing for myself. It would be counter to my feminism to limit myself to media that only addresses gender issues, or that is only self-identified as feminist. Because of that, and because I want to set the bar low enough that I can actually see this project through the year, I am only asking that my media meet one of the following categories:

  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of people of colour
  •  that it is created by a person of colour
  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of women
  •  that it is created by a woman
  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of at least one member of the QUILTBAG*
  •  that it is created by a member of the QUILTBAG
  •  that it features issues of sex worker’s rights, sexual autonomy, consent, safer sex practice, or sex ed

AND

  • that it does not harmfully misrepresent the above groups or actively contribute to harmful stereotypes about the above groups

That’s really not that much. I’m *hoping* I can find a majority of media that meets multiple criteria, but that’s not this year’s project. This year, it just has to meet one. I’m even flexible on “created by” and will take any single significant creative role – director, writer, etc. (And, I will be completely honest, I’m also giving myself a couple passes. One pass will be used on the second Hobbit movie, for example. The point of this project is not that straight white men can’t make fantastic media about straight white men, it’s just that I’m tired of that being the vast majority of available media.)

I’m relying fairly heavily on reviews, and when I read this review, I was optimistic! And this review also gave me hope. So yesterday I went on a date to see Anchorman 2. An hour in, I walked out. I can’t give a full review of the movie, since I only saw half, but this is why I left the theatre (which I rarely do – I’m not much of a walker-outter).

I enjoyed Anchorman, despite my skepticism going into it. My partner assured me it was “not as bad” as I feared, so one night last year we curled up and watched. I enjoyed it! It was offensive, but it seemed intentional and satirical, and I enjoyed the final message of women’s workplace empowerment. At the very least, I didn’t hate it.

Anchorman 2, though, started to lose me almost immediately. There were things that bothered me because I don’t like seeing them represented, even though the scene appeared to be satirical – Veronica allowing herself to be sniffed and petted by a network exec in order to get a job, for example. I would have stayed in a movie full of these scenes, just like the first Anchorman was, because I do think that satire can be such a powerful tool. Making people squirm because they recognize how inappropriate common behaviours are can be a strong motivator for change. I don’t often choose to watch that kind of humour because it does make me uncomfortable (particularly when it’s created by someone in a privileged group rather than someone in a marginalized group – punching sideways rather than punching up), but I can still see the value.

And then there were scenes that bothered me because they were nothing more than humour at the expense of marginalized groups. I was starting to get angry already – Champ’s extreme racism seemed one part satire and three parts an excuse to make the jokes we’re no longer allowed to make – when Ron’s transphobic rant happened. There are no trans* characters or performers in Anchorman 2, there is no counter to the transphobia on display. Whereas Veronica proves herself competent in the news room so the sniffing and petting is clearly stupid, there is never any pushback against the transphobic (and whorephobic, and classist) rants. I almost left at that point, and I almost wish I had. But I stayed.

When Linda first shows up on screen, Ron’s response – repeating the word “black” over and over again because it’s the only thing he can say – seemed like a highlight, because it was obviously ridiculous, other characters in the scene were horrified by it, and Linda held her own. Satire. Awesome!

But Linda, set up in that scene as a tough-as-nails, ball-busting, strong woman (problematic in itself, given the unrealistic expectations we have of Black women), is immediately disempowered. Ron and the news team come up with their own format for the show, run with it without consulting her, are a huge success, and she is, in addition to being humiliated in front of her boss, apparently overcome with lust at, I don’t know, finally having been shown her place? It’s weird and gross and completely lacking in context. And it’s the reason I walked out. Or at least, it leads to it. First, she corners him in her office and proceeds to make animal noises at him and demand that he “bark like a puppy.” How upsetting was it to watch a Black woman perform aggressive animalistic sexuality on screen while people laugh at her? A lot. It was a lot upsetting. It was disgusting.

And then… and then!… Ron Burgundy goes back to the news team and says he thinks he’s been raped.

And I walked out.

Fuck. That. Noise.

What works in a movie like this is when a character believes something bigoted and the story around them reveals the belief to be false. What does not work is when the story itself believes something bigoted. When the story itself believes that trans women are not women, or that Black women are dangerous, aggressive, hypersexualized animals, or that “rape” is something you can joke about.

When the story itself believes something awful, the story is awful.

I wanted to like Anchorman 2. I was excited about seeing racism and sexism challenged in a movie that will appeal to straight white men who might not be watching a whole lot of other overlapping media with me this year. But while the misogyny directed against Veronica was challenged in the film, the misogynoir directed against Linda was not. And the transmisogyny was not. And the racism was not nearly enough. And that’s just not good enough.

I’m not willing to say that Veronica is enough to give the movie a “well-rounded woman character,” but even if she was, the misogynoir and transmisogyny would disqualify it. (Disqualifiers will be harder to catch going in to media – I suspect those will have to be analyzed in my reviews after watching or reading something, unless I’m lucky enough to find a review like this AutoStraddle critique of Dallas Buyers Club.) Anchorman 2 definitely isn’t worth a pass, and I wish I hadn’t spent the money on it.

So, there we go! One of my two major projects for 2014. I’ll try to blog as many reviews as I can.

* Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay

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