Category Archives: TV and Film

No Boobs in Scandi Noir

jakob_saga

(www.svtplay.se)

Firstly, if you haven’t watched Swedish/Danish crime drama The Bridge, do it now.

There are many reasons why the trendy Scandi noir genre, and this show in particular, completely justify the hype, but here is one reason I haven’t heard talked about.

No boobs!

This is so subtle that I didn’t properly notice it until series two, and I like to think I have an eagle eye for these things. What it comes down to is the simple but innovative way in which The Bridge has approached its sex scenes. As I said, no boobs!

Saga Noren, a character who makes feminists happy in so many ways, likes to have sex. She says so, very bluntly (her bluntness is a thing). And we see her having sex several times: but, each time, she is wearing a vest or t-shirt. Her partner may be naked, but she isn’t. And it’s not as if the Scandinavians are particularly bothered about nudity – in fact, perhaps it’s their lack of juvenile excitement at the prospect of naked boobs that means they don’t bother with them.

The importance of this lack of boobs really comes into focus when you think about pretty much all other TV: in, say, British and US shows a sex scene is always – always – an opportunity for boobs.

mad men

Mad Men (www.laweekly.com)

dexter

Dexter (www.fanforum.com)

ripper-street-s01e01-hdtv_-x264-river-mp4_001636760

Ripper Street (www.horrorpedia.com)

Game-Thrones

Game of Thrones. So many to choose from… (www.organiconcrete.com)

The only exception I can easily think of is Breaking Bad, and I reckon that’s because Skyler is pregnant for much of it, so her boobs would make people feel uncomfortable.

The images above are the kind of TV we are used to, in which sex scenes are often gratuitous and always an excuse show some boobs: whether the sex is significant to plot or character development tends to be a minor concern. This is not the case in The Bridge, which deliberately avoids the boobs to make sure that Saga’s character development really is what’s important.

And this is the way forward. The Bridge proves that you don’t need sex or boobs to make people tune in: people are raving about the plot, the dialogue, the atmosphere and the amazingness of Saga’s character. The fact that she is actually really hot doesn’t get much attention, because that’s the least interesting aspect of the show. And that’s just it – as soon as women/female characters are given a chance to show how interesting they can be, they step up. Of course they do. It shouldn’t seem so revolutionary to say that boobs are one of the least interesting aspects of women.

Go and watch The Bridge now. If you’ve seen it, then have a go at Googling TV sex scenes and tell me which ones I’ve missed, either with boob or no boob…

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Book Review: Nanny Knows Best over at FWSA

Nanny

(fwsablog.org)

Anything for a free book! I’ve written a review of Katherine Holden’s Nanny Knows Best: The History of the British Nanny for the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK and Ireland) blog, which you can find here

Considering how childcare has changed over the twentieth century, Nanny Knows Best is surprisingly topical and interesting – even for someone who has never watched Mary Poppins, let alone encountered a real nanny.

Shout out for the FWSA too: their website is always great and it’s well worth being on their mailing list for events and opportunities.


A Lesson in Fat-Shaming from The Guardian. Thanks Guys.

‘Big Ballet’? Yep, had to be a Channel 4 reality show. Feature in The Guardian? Had hoped for a thoughtful and sensitive critique but…

Big Ballet C4 Hannah Baines and dancers

(www.theguardian.com)

As Helen Pidd in The Guardian points out today, a backlash is inevitable for a TV programme that gives larger women (what, no men? Sigh) the chance to dance: at least one person in the comments section dismissed it as a freak show, and more will follow. But I agree with Hannah Baines, one of the dancers (pictured front) who simply says, “I can dance. … Everyone who’s laughed at me, they’re going to watch and see what I can do.”

I suspect they will. Because, NEWS FLASH, people who wear a size larger than 10 are actual people who can do things like dancing. I know. Astonishing.

So I’m looking forward to watching this, for two simple reasons: I like watching dance, and I’m pleased that we get to see a wider range of people dancing. If only that was all that mattered!

Unfortunately, The Guardian has trouble with this larger-people-dancing-is-no-big-deal thing. They can get behind the larger-people-as-normal thing, but only in that really derogatory way when larger women are praised for being normal rather than, you know, spectacular or cool or anything else which is only possible at a size 8.

I have made a list of things in Helen Pidd’s article that I find Questionable:

  • “Baines is a size 18 and weighs 14 stone despite being just 5ft 3in tall.” Despite being just..? Oh right, being that weight at that tiny height is actually unacceptable. Disguised fat-shaming #1.
  • “Would viewers tune in to laugh and point at someone playing a role usually danced by a woman half her size?” That’s right half her size! She’s huge, right! And we’re really concerned that people will bully her for being so huge. Disguised fat-shaming #2. (I know this point has some value but I feel it could have been better made.)
  • Show choreographer Wayne Sleep “gave an interview declaring them “quite frankly fat. They’re too big to be dancers and they don’t mind me saying it.” Some of the women begged to differ”. I’m sure they did: even their choreographer thinks they’re “too big to be dancers”, not perhaps that the dance industry has very narrow standards that this programme is supposed to challenge. Disguised fat-shaming #3. They just couldn’t help quoting Sleep there.
  • There follows a section insisting (quoting Sleep and others) that the show is not intended either as a freak show or a diet show. This is good. But then: “Loughman is far more worried about the dancers’ fitness than how they look. “We’ve been plagued by injury. One girl tore a ligament in the very first rehearsal,” she says.” I.e. ‘we’re doing our best but they’re just too fat to move’. Disguised fat-shaming #4.
  • Dancer being fitted for her costume: “Her cheeks redden as a camerawoman pans up her size 20-body”. Ya think? The cameras just can’t help emphasising how fat these women are, and The Guardian just can’t help mentioning it. Again. Disguised fat-shaming #5.
  • “Early on, Sleep and Loughman decided to spare the women the indignity of wearing tutus”. Excuse me? Oh of course, they’re too fat for tutus. Disguised fat-shaming #6.
  • “The contrast between the dancers and the willowy [professional dancer] Loughman could hardly be greater”. Totally needed reminding of that. Disguised fat-shaming #7.
  • “Loughman says she and Sleep choreographed a 30-minute version of Swan Lake to “enhance the beauty of these everyday women”. Because ‘everyday’ is the best they can ever hope for. It’s a compliment, honestly! Disguised fat-shaming #8.

I’d like to emphasise that there was plenty of good stuff in Pidd’s article, and I’m glad this show is getting attention, but when reading it I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that between the lines it read FAT! FAT! FAT!

Am I overreacting? I’m willing to reconsider in light of other opinions, but I’ll stand by my list: this is a far too common way of talking about weight, and it is not OK.


Let’s Rip into Ripper Street

I will have to confess now that I only watched the first episode of the BBC’s Victorian crime drama Ripper Street, but I’m fairly confident that my criticisms will stand for episodes two and three. And for the first series that I also missed.

I know, questionable grounds to hold an opinion, but please don’t make me watch them all.

uktv-ripper-street-promo-cast-shot

BBC/Tiger Aspect (digitalspy.co.uk)

Frankly, I’m astonished that they made a second series, but apparently not everyone is so bothered by the following small niggles:

  • The female characters are all prostitutes
  • Except for one loving wife
  • But they’re all hot totty with very few lines
  • The men get to be dashing and complicated(ish), like actual real people
  • The only non-beautiful character is actually THE ELEPHANT MAN
  • None of this is as fun as it sounds, so that’s no justification

It’s pretty boring to have to cover those points yet again, since they apply to almost all TV and films, like, ever made and have been pointed out quite a number of times. But if the BBC haven’t yet noticed that this is a problem requiring action, then I guess it does need to be said.

After all, it wouldn’t have been that hard to develop some female characters who bear some resemblance to human beings, especially since women actually were people in the Victorian era, who had a whole variety of thoughts, conversations, roles and wardrobes, despite the best efforts of history and pop culture to convince us that they were all either tightly corseted wives or tightly corseted whores. It is no longer convincing to represent women in this ridiculous cartoon way, whatever period the TV drama/film/book is set in, because we know that women. are. people.

Matthew Macfadyen, you have been Mr Darcy. If Jane Austen could write proper female characters in 1813, why are we still not getting it?


Moral Dilemma: Suri’s Burn Book

I’d like to recommend Suri’s Burn Book to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, but I have a niggling feeling that it might not be totally OK to enjoy this website.

suris-burn-book

shinyshiny.tv

After all, it’s an adult (Allie Hagan) pretending to be Suri Cruise, and in that character passing cutting judgements on the appearances of other celebrity children. Of course, it is a satire that highlights how ridiculous it is to analyse paparazzi photos of famous people, in the hope that we can criticise them till they seem acceptably imperfect.

For instance, ‘Suri’ captions a picture of Sandra Bullock with her adopted son Louis, “On a boat, in Venice, with two Oscar-winning actors, one of whom was George Clooney, and Louis Bullock is still irritated with life. I love him.”

Or, with a photo of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale with their kids: “It’s Zuma Rossdale’s birthday, and he celebrated in Superman pajamas. On my fifth birthday, I wore Prada and supervised a dignified party game, but I guess to each their own. At least Kingston understands how I feel.”

And then: “Apple Martin is the Tilda Swinton of the celebrity child community. (She’s weird.)”

And it’s very funny. But I’m still not sure it’s OK. And I am not the only one to think this: The Daily Beast and The Washington Post have also posed the question. So I have drawn up a list of pros and cons, and hope that you can help me reach a morally respectable conclusion.

Pros:

  • It’s useful to have such a satire to remind us not to read the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame.
  • Suri is depicted as being pretty cool in an ironic sort of way.
  • Her criticisms of fellow celebrity children are absurd rather than cruel.
  • Katie Holmes hasn’t sued them yet, so it can’t be that bad.

Cons:

  • It sort of works as a substitute for the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame.
  • Suri is, in fact, a real person whose identity has been hijacked for comedy purposes.
  • The kids featured on the website are also real people, and don’t really need more scrutiny.
  • We probably shouldn’t encourage the paparazzi to take pictures of said children.
  • Why hasn’t Katie Holmes sued them yet? There’s a published book now and everything.

Suri's Book

amazon.com

Oh dear, this isn’t really the result I was hoping for. But please cast your votes and help me decide!


Fighting Fit

One of many reasons I don’t do Twitter: in a follow-up to my post on the abuse of Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon, here is a neat selection of the kind words she received on Twitter. Thanks to Nesrin for the link.

1068366-portrait-of-a-styled-professional-model-theme-teens-education-sport

www.123rf.com

My previous discussion of sportswomen wearing makeup barely scratched the surface of the problem – as the folk on Twitter demonstrate, it takes more than lip gloss to conform to their idea of a woman, and Bartoli received a ridiculous number of tweets saying that she must be a man (because she doesn’t look like Lisicki).

As we have seen in the past couple of weeks, Twitter has become the platform of choice for displays of misogyny, most recently rape and bomb threats to Hadley Freeman, Mary Beard, Laurie Penny and other female writers and journalists, for no apparent reason. Is it the thrill of a public audience? The 140-character limit that is so suited to insults? These are some of the theories put forward by Claire Hardaker in the Guardian. Is it that these thoughts (if they can be called that) would have been expressed anyway, somehow?

Or is it, even worse, just a trend? One of those things that seems isolated and weird at first, but gets picked up by bored people and snowballs, like printed leggings?

OK, maybe not just a trend. The misogyny is clearly there. But the sudden enthusiasm first for rape threats and then bomb threats has the hallmarks of a fad, getting picked up and proliferated like the word ‘awesome’ in its current, irritating UK usage.

The question then is whether to publicise these tweets and talk about them, or deny them the attention.

Should I perhaps have refrained from posting the Marion Bartoli tweets?


Face of Radio

467732-how-facebook-changed-the-world-the-arab-spring.jpg

(telegraph.co.uk)

Since her appointment as the new panel member of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mishal Husain has already been salivated over by virtually every newspaper reporting on the story. By the male journalists, that is, who felt called upon to discuss this important event.

Astonishingly, this is the first time the Today Programme has had two female presenters on its panel, and one of an ‘ethnic minority’ (unpleasant phrase, implying as it does that white is the universal norm). Yet despite the er, groundbreaking nature of her selection, Husain is still discussed almost entirely in terms of her looks.

Peter Hoggart at the Guardian felt it necessary to note that Husain is “captivatingly intelligent and beautiful” (hey, at least he said she’s intelligent, right?), while his colleague Peter Preston chose the same combination, describing her as “the most luminous of BBC presenters, combining beauty and a keen intelligence”.

The Telegraph helpfully recounted a 2009 clash between Husain and her new Today co-host John Humphrys, when on Celebrity Mastermind he asked her whether she was only employed for her looks, and implied that in 10 years’ time she would be getting the sack.

However, Quentin Letts at (where else?) the Daily Mail trumps them all with his assessment of “Dishy Mishy”: “her gaze is as steamy as a pan of slimmer’s spinach”.

The thing is, you would think that she could escape this kind of appearance judgement on radio. Where no one will see her.

Nope, apparently not.


Game, Set, Mascara

I am cautiously optimistic by the number of people who are expressing their fury at the judgement of female sportswomen purely on their appearance. An almighty furore blew up after BBC Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale celebrated Marion Bartoli’s Wimbledon win with the meditation, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”.

Bartoli

www.ball71.com Power over pretty: shame that the uniform requires knicker-flashing though.

However, when Tanya Gold at the Guardian took Inverdale to task for this display of mean-spirited idiocy, she still felt the need to add that Bartoli is in fact pretty. And therefore OK after all.

I thought the whole point was that it didn’t matter? That sportswomen are inspiring because their achievements are based on talent, discipline and rigorous training? Perhaps not, when even those defending this ideal feel that the sportswoman in question needs to be validated by prettiness.

This seems like a good place to start in rejecting the focus on sportswomen’s looks: being careful not to reinforce it by mentioning their looks ourselves.

But I would like to mention their makeup. Did anyone else notice a number of sportswomen at Wimbledon and last year’s Olympics appearing to wear makeup to compete? And didn’t this strike you as odd? I certainly wouldn’t want to wear foundation or mascara when my sporting performance is of the utmost importance: not comfortable, and I would worry about it all dripping off my face as I leapt over hurdles or flung a javelin.

And yet some did. Sabine Lisicki was definitely wearing eye makeup in her match against Bartoli.

Rhona Foulis at Progressive Women observes the habit of interviewers to ask sportswomen about their beauty regime (imagine Andy Murray’s response to that). Jessica Ennis responded to such a question:

“I always wear a bit of make-up to compete – foundation, Olay Essentials SPF30 […], eyeliner, mascara and a lip moisturiser. If I feel I look nice it’ll help my performance.”

Ennis

Daily Mail article which considers Ennis’ beauty regime the only thing worth discussing.

Really? Why? Oh right: Ennis is the “face” of Olay’s Essentials range. I sense a problem here.

As Meli Pennington of Wild Beauty writes, some athletes such as US boxer Marlen Esparza have worn makeup to compete without the influence of sponsorship – though Pennington asks whether this is a kind of ‘audition’ aimed at getting sponsored. Esparza, who is now sponsored by Cover Girl, is quoted as saying, “I think if you look good you feel good, and if you feel good then you fight good.”

I wouldn’t want to reject this argument entirely (actually I do want to, but shouldn’t presume to know what goes on in people’s minds), but I would question the assumption that women need makeup in order to look good. But it does seem useful to mention here that women’s sport receives on average only 0.5% of all UK sports sponsorship. They need the money.

It is not easy to assert how much makeup sportswomen wear while competing, nor why they wear it, but this is a discussion that needs to remain in play. If we accept unquestioningly that sportswomen should make an effort to look pretty, then that assumption will continue to hold for all women, and we really don’t need that.

To finish on a lighter note, the New York Metro has conducted an amusing experiment, to show what men’s sports coverage might look like if it was photographed in the same way as women’s sports. Turns out that recognising people by their buttocks is not so easy.

For more on this see Hadley Freeman at the Guardian on sportsmen’s girlfriends, and Dodai Stewart at Jezebel on the different shapes of athleticism.


Apprentice to Beauty

I confess that I haven’t watched the new series of The Apprentice – partly because I simply can’t stomach yet another round of shouting and incompetence, and partly because this year it seems that the criteria by which the candidates are chosen have changed.

p00pyn0tp00pynl3p00pyn21p00pyncc

http://www.bbc.co.uk – I wonder how much these were retouched?

They’re all gorgeous.

I know it’s TV and eye candy is a requirement, but there has been a clear shift in the participants of this series, so that any big noses, fatties and spotties have been scrupulously filtered out. Have a look here.

Admittedly this is more true of the women, but that is no great surprise, and the overall youth, slimness and attractiveness of all the candidates cannot be ignored. This is the culmination of a beautifying process that has increasingly pervaded The Apprentice, and this series is the first in which they all, ALL, fit the profile. The problem is that on a programme like this, which is emphatically (or so Lord Sugar claims) about business skill, the profile of a candidate no longer seems to prioritise the vaunted business acumen: now, you can only make it if you are beautiful.

Of course no-one should be considered incapable or unintelligent if they happen to be good-looking and groomed – an assumption often seen in previous series – but this is the other side of the coin, and we’ll never make any progress with one of these predicaments if we do not also address the other.

Beauty needs to be irrelevant.

Presentation, no; if you work with people it inevitably helps to appear polished and smart. But you should not need to look like a pop star just to be in with a chance. In fact, I quite resent having to say something so obvious.

So I won’t be watching The Apprentice – once a programme like that has become indistinguishable from The Only Way is Essex it’s probably time to turn to a good book.


Cyber Beauty

While researching glass and ice as metaphors of human beauty for my PhD, I keep coming across the question of why a cold, static and untouchable beauty is so alluring. Think Snow White, Sleeping Beauty… and the 2002 film S1m0ne, in which a computer-generated ‘actress’ becomes far more successful than her human counterparts. Simone, the beauty who was created behind a glass screen and only exists behind it, is the 21st-century cyber beauty.

s1m0ne

http://www.lovely-pics.com

William R. Newman writes in Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature that,

“Even fashion models are beginning to feel threatened by their virtual counterparts – the New York Times has reported that modeling agencies have begun using cyberspace personalities such as “Webbie Tookay” in their clothing advertisements. The founder of a famous model-management company expounds his semijocular wish that “all models were virtual,” in view of their “hassle-free” personalities and their ability to keep looking good over the long haul.

The virtual model, a two-dimensional creature of unthinking electrons impelled by human artifice, could end up replacing her (or his) natural exemplar.”

webbie-still50

http://www.sandyressler.com

It shouldn’t surprise any of us that, just like Simone, Webbie Tookay is female, white, alarmingly symmetrical and comes pre-programmed with interview responses. Perfect beauty, right? I’m not convinced: as I argued in my last blog, ‘perfect’ beauty, correctly formed and surreally smooth, tends to disconcert us rather than turn us on, and the YouTube clip of Webbie Tookay gives a perfect example of that.

Newman may be overstating the ‘threat’ to real-life fashion models by such avatars as Webbie, but there is a genuine threat in the digitalisation of beauty:

Retouching could be just the beginning of our culture’s movement from flesh to pixels.

So what is the appeal? Perhaps the wish of the model-management company founder that all models were virtual, avoiding ‘problems’ of age and personality, comes down to control: a virtual model can be literally modelled into an ideal of beauty, and can stay fixed in that exquisite shape forever (or changed at the touch of a button). Moreover, like Snow White she (or maybe he) produces the desire of the unattainable, a desire that maintains its strength because it can never be satisfied.

In theory this seems a good place to conclude, offering a possible explanation for our cultural obsession with placing human beauty behind a glass barrier. But please, don’t take the ‘desire is strengthened by being unsatisfied’ idea as relationship advice. The notion of a world where everyone holds out is surely not an enticing one – too perfect, too inhuman.