Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We've Come A Long Way, Baby?

I'm just old enough to remember a time when cigarette ads still aired on television. I'm also just old enough to remember when the phrase "women's lib" became mainstream enough for advertisers to pick up on it and recognize the "liberated woman" as a potential demographic for certain products that had traditionally been considered to be the domain of male consumers. One ad campaign that stands out in my mind is the one for Virginia Slims cigarettes.

The premise of the Virginia Slims ads - both the tv commercials and the print ad campaign - was that, among the freedoms newly liberated women could and should enjoy, was the freedom to smoke cigarettes. The print ads would feature two photos. The first photo would be a b&W or sepia-tone image, depicting an "old time" scene of a Victorian woman having to hide to enjoy a good smoke, and invariably being found out and publicly humiliated. The second photo would be a color image of a gorgeous, hip, fashionable, modern woman (usually a super model, such as Cheryl Tiegs or Christina Ferrari) openly enjoying a drag on a long, glamorous Virginia Slims cigarette. The campaign slogan? "You've come a long way, baby!"

A novel concept: consuming carcinogens and buying into the tobacco industry's big lie as a feminst statement! Was this really what the Women's Liberation Movement was all about? According to Madison Avenue, it certainly was.

Note: A whole montage of Virginia Slims TV commercials is available for free viewing and download. A must for anyone interested in advertising trends, marketing directed at women, and the media's tendency to get the whole point of feminism wrong every, single time.

Another Liberation Movement
On the weekend of October 11/12, tens of thousands of gays and lesbians descended on our nation's capitol to protest blatant, government sanctioned discrimination and make a profound statement: ENOUGH. We have had enough of waiting, enough of having to hide, enough of hearing about young queers whose shame has driven them to suicide, enough of gay-bashing, enough of paying our taxes and serving in the military and contributing to society and still being denied our civil rights.

Ever since the Stonewall riot, gays and lesbians in America have been staging a liberation movement. The march on Washington D.C. in early October was the loudest, proudest organized gathering of queers the nation has seen. It received widespread media coverage. A-list celebrities were on hand not just for photo ops, but to vocalize their support. America's gay rights movement has evolved from a handful of pissed off patrons of a local gay bar to a national phenomena. In this respect, we really have come a long way, and Madison Avenue started courting the Pink Dollar long ago. What, though, is the struggle all about? What freedoms are we really fighting for?

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
Gays and lesbians have the attention of the mainstream media. If ever America were poised to hear what we have to say, and what freedoms we demand, that time is now. But what are these freedoms? As someone who identifies as both a lesbian and a feminist I know the freedoms I place the highest value on are about full inclusion and representation, official and significant recognition of my relationship, and protection under the law. I also place great value on the freedom to be out and proud, without fear of violence or recrimination.

I've known enough chauvinistic dykes to know that not all lesbians are feminists. I know it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. When I see the little bit of freedom and visibility the lesbian community has managed to secure being squandered on desperate challenges to a soap opera star to pose in her underwear, it kills me a little bit inside. Is this really what being an out and proud lesbian in 2009 is about? Begging a heterosexual woman to send a tweet, show some skin, play along and pretend she's a team player for just a little bit longer? Is this in any way different from the sleazy guy who shoves a dollar bill in the g-string of some down-and-out single mom, and reckons it buys him the right to cop a feel? If so, if this is what gay liberation is all about, then the only conclusion I can draw is that the Women's Liberation Movement and the Gay Rights Movement are mutually exclusive and cannot co-exist.

I refuse to believe this.

The Gay Rights Movement I'm a part of isn't any more about defending the rights of lesbians to act like twelve year old boys in their objectification of heterosexual women than the Women's Liberation Movement was about defending the right to become unwitting victims of the tobacco industry. Madison Avenue, Hollywood and network television will almost certainly cheapen whatever strides the gay and lesbian community makes. The idea that factions of the lesbian community seem more than willing to help them in this sickens me. The idea that factions of the lesbian community are so comfortable behaving in ways that the Women's Liberation Movement has rallied against makes my blood boil. This is true: people have died defending the rights of both women and homosexuals. To what end?

If this is what Stonewall has ultimately resulted in, have we really come a long way, baby?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Sign Of The Times

Several Y&R cast members were asked their opinions about the recent turn of events involving Eric Braeden, and resulting in his walking away from the pivotal role of Victor Newman. The comments were posted yesterday on soap website Daytime Confidential. For the most part, there were few surprises: long time cast member (and constant gentleman) Kristoff St. John exhibiting a fair balance of class and diplomacy, respectful newbie Daniel Goddard walking on eggshells so as not to rock the boat, fan favorite Sharon Chase providing a sane, rational assessment of the situation, recognizing that budget cuts do, indeed, need to be made, but stressing that they should be made wisely. The one truly shocking statement came from the most unlikely source, the cast member who is quite possibly the least qualified to pass judgement on another actor: Adrienne Frantz, who plays the role of Amber.

Here is what Frantz has to say:
"They are cutting contracts all around. I mean everybody has to bite the bullet. It’s not like anyone gets special treatment. If you don’t want to play fair with everyone, then don’t play. If you want to step out…. everybody is dealing with the same stuff. So if anybody thinks they are better than anyone else, then they should leave if they want to. It’s a cast. We are all working together. We are all working our hardest to make it go, and if you don’t want to work with everyone than you are not helping."
Really, Adrienne? Really?

Paying Your Dues

It's clear that Frantz has, in a fit of misplaced hubris, imagined herself on par with Eric Braeden. She clearly sees herself as his equal in terms of the effort she has put in to make Y&R a success, and overall importance in the show's #1 status. Someone give this self-important, delusional idiot a bang on the head with the Reality Stick. Better yet, sit her down and make her watch a few clips of Eric Braeden in action, followed by a few clips of her own "work", as she awkwardly stumbles over lines, muddles through ridiculous story lines that no one cares about, and generally ruins the landscape of Genoa City.

Even if Adrienne Frantz were the finest of young actors - say, an Elizabeth Hendrickson (Chloe) - comments such as these would be way out of line. In most work places seniority carries a certain amount of significance, and it's not because of age, but because of experience. The new guy on the assembly line would be remiss to try and tell the veteran how to do his job or how to talk to the foreman. The rookie cop, if he has any sense and decorum, doesn't walk into the squad room and criticize his commanding officer's attitude. The young soap actor - even the best young actor - does not walk onto the set of the #1 show and pass judgement on the veteran cast member who has fairly carried the show for over 20 years, and imply that she is his equal. Even the best young actor hasn't paid her dues and earned to right to pass such judgement in so public a fashion. If Jeanne Cooper wanted to make such a comment about Eric Braeden? Fair enough. Of course, fans of Cooper know that she is too much of a class act, too much of a professional, to even go there. But she could, if she wanted to. She's more than paid her dues and put in her time. Jeanne Cooper truly is Eric Braeden's peer.

Adrienne Frantz is no Jeanne Cooper. Adrienne Frantz is no Elizabeth Hendrickson. Adrienne Frantz is no Sharon Chase or Kristoff St. John. Adrienne Frantz isn't even a Daniel Goddard. Adrienne Frantz isn't much of anything. She's daytime's answer to Pia Zadora. Adrienne Frantz is a talentless, boring, annoying woman who has the screen presence of a test pattern and is about as compelling to watch as a PSA from The Emergency Broadcasting System. In fact, her voice and mannerisms are about as grating on the ears and eyes as the high-pitched EBS hum. Frantz' character on Y&R is an insult to women - a blonde bimbo throwback to the days when such stereotypes were acceptable. Her audacious comments about Eric Braeden shed light on how she even landed the role: she's clearly not acting like a crass, dopey, immature fool, she is one.

Grow the fuck up, Adrienne Frantz. What Eric Braeden expects and asks for isn't "special treatment." He wants and expects to be treated in a way anyone who has put in his dues deserves to be treated. If you think he's acting like a star, you're mistaken: he's not acting. He is a star. People tune in to watch Victor Newman - to find out what he'll do next. How many tune in and wait with bated breath to find out what Amber has up her sleeve? How many years have you lead Y&R to the number one ratings spot? And, if you think you win because you're still on the cast, while Braeden has walked away, you're an even bigger fool than I'd imagined. You're still around because you're cheap labor, and Sony has clearly decided to do away with the hand-crafted model of production, and move towards the unskilled-labor-in-a-sweatshop model of production. Eric Braeden is a skilled journeyman. You're some guy they picked up at a Home Depot parking lot who's working under the table.

For your viewing pleasure - the woman who will carry CBS' The Young and the Restless, once Eric Braeden is gone. Soak it in, and remind yourself that she's "working her hardest to make it go..."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mad Men, Mad Times: Art Imitates Life

"It's makes me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now."

On tonight's episode of Mad Men, this was Betty's comment to Carla, the black house servant. They were discussing the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that left four little girls dead. Four murdered children, and Betty's response wasn't about finding the murderer or drawing a line once and for all on hate crime and racism. Betty, an ultra-privileged white woman living the American Dream instead questioned if the time was right for "negroes" to get a little bit of equity. Maybe, the implication was, black America should just wait.

If this business of suggesting that the disenfranchised not make so much noise and piss off their oppressors sounds like a deja vu it might be because serendipity called for Mad Men to air on the night of the day that tens of thousands of gays and lesbians marched on Washington to demand their basic civil rights. It's also the day after our president, Barack Obama, made a speech before the Human Rights Campaign in which he spoke vaguely and without commitment about his intention to champion equal rights for gays and lesbians in the United States.

If you're anything like me, you found Betsy's "Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now" appalling, and all too familiar. By her twisted, privileged logic, those four little girls from Birmingham died not because of the murderous act of a cowardly bigot, but because of the black community's impatience. Betty believes in desegregation in theory but, really, how dare they expect equity a mere 100 years after the civil war!

This is exactly the sentiment Barak Obama puts forth every time he talks about his deep and abiding belief, in theory, in equal rights for gays and lesbians: sure, you queers deserve some satisfaction, but not right now...and the more you hem and haw about it, the more problems you're going to cause for yourselves.

When Obama says that he intends to do away with the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy, but wriggles his way out of committing to a time line he's echoing Betty Draper's half-assed, not-in-my neighborhood brand of liberalism. In 2009, looking back at this logic in action in 1962 on a fictional television drama is appalling. Seeing it in action today, in real life, and from the leader of the most powerful nation in the world? Unacceptable.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Thank you to FlyingPeanuts for use of her photo.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Y&R part 2: What the hell are you doing?

In Y&R, CBS has the top-rated daytime drama, a huge and loyal following, an amazing cast, and writers who truly understand the genre and it's compexities. Writing for a show that airs five days a week, 52 weeks a year is vastly different than writing for the big screen, or for a weekly series. The pace is different. The level of relationship fans form with their favorite characters is different. In many ways, the daytime serial is as close to real time as drama can ever be. The writers of Y&R get all of this, and they mostly do a great job. At the moment, they're writing some of the best stuff seen on daytime in well over ten years.

So, what do you do when you've got a certified hit on your hands? A show that no one can even come close to, in terms of ratings or quality? Most people would pay attention to this success, try and figure out what the strongest assets are, and make use of them. CBS? CBS decides to mess with a good thing.

All Roads Lead To Victor

I know there are some people who disagree with me, but here's my take on Y&R: It's all about Victor Newman. Every relevant character, every story line worth watching right now, is connected to Victor. Take Victor out of the mix, and everything good about Y&R falls apart. Without Victor, there is no reason for Nikki to even exist. Without Victor, not one bit of Adam's story line means a thing and, in fact, Adam, himself, becomes irrelevant. Jack's sole reason for existing is his rivalry with Victor. Without Victor, Jack has no foil, Ashley has no great, star-crossed love, and Kay has no peer. Without Victor, Newman Industries becomes an empty shell, and Jabot, which only really exists to compete against Newman, becomes a ghost town. Without Victor, Michael doesn't have a client anyone gives a damn about, making both him and Lauren obsolete. Without Victor, Jack and Nick don't really have any differences, and are left with civility between them. Without Victor, Gloria has no one to grovel to, Paul has no one to constantly be suspicious of/work for. Without Victor, CBS' The Young and the Restless becomes a show where the main stories are Amber/Daniel/Kevin and some annoying art heist, Lily and Cain's boring marriage, Jill still acting like a petulant child around Kay, and Nick singing the 70s hit, "Torn Between Two Lovers.". That's it. Thats what's left if Victor leaves Genoa City.

I have no problem admitting that I love Victor Newman. He's the perfect soap opera character: a man who does terrible things, all the while believing he's being perfectly fair and just. He's a tyrant. He's a charmer. He's a controlling, egotistical son-of-a-bitch. I love him. He's been described as "the man every woman wants and every man wants to be." I don't know how true that is, but I do know that Victor Newman is the draw for many Y&R fans, including heterosexual men.

Soaps have long been the domain of women and gay men, but Victor Newman long ago made it perfectly acceptable for straight men to watch daytime television. I read a story, years ago, in Sports Illustrated, about a-day-in-the-life of the average NFL player. An integral part of the day for many NFL players, it turns out, is the hour set aside to watch Y&R. Players interviewed for the article pointed to Victor Newman as the reason Y&R was the show for them. Professional athletes who are fans of Y&R and Victor Newman include: Football players Boss and Champ Bailey, and Brett Favre, basketball player Patrick Ewing, and baseball players Dave Roberts, and Jim Rice.

Victor Newman is, in many ways, the glue that holds Genoa City together. And Eric Braeden is Victor Newman.

Daytime Suicide

If you had a certified hit on your hands, and there was good reason to believe that one actor was responsible for a significant amount of that show's success, wouldn't you treat that actor well, keep him happy, and do what needed to be done to keep him around? I would. CBS, however, doesn't seem to think this is the best tactic. What they've chosen to do, instead, is invoke a clause which allows them to renegotiate an actor's contract every 26 weeks, and insist Braeden take a significant pay cut. Is this legal? Definitely. Is it a respectful way to treat an actor who has made the network tens of millions of dollars over the years? No. Is it good business? Definitely not: where he was clearly expected to timidly agree to terms posed by CBS, Braeden has instead chosen to hold his own and walk away from Y&R and Genoa City.

If CBS was trying to force their strongest link to to break, they've failed miserably. Eric Braeden, it turns out, is a lot more like Victor Newman than anyone at CBS thought he was. This isn't some 20 year old cupcake with no talent, no experience, and nothing to fall back on. This is an actor who has made sure he's remained recognizable to a wide range of viewers through television and film work spanning nearly 50 years. His recent interview with TV Guide makes it clear that he is not afraid to speak out, and that paying him so little respect has clearly been a mistake on the part of CBS.

What the hell are you doing?

Seriously, who makes these decisions at CBS, and what the hell are they doing? Someone get this guy a noose or a bottle of pills - faster is better, when it comes to suicide. Whoever you are, making all these crappy decisions, I have a message for you: If you need to save some money, why not cut fat, instead of meat? Instead of fixing what isn't broken, why not look at some of the weak links at Y&R? What if, instead of demanding Braeden take a pay cut mid-contract, you just wrap up the art heist crapfest, and have Kevin, Amber, Daniel and Kevin's annoying wife leave town for good? Surely, getting rid of four younger actors that no one cares about or follows makes more sense than gutting the core of Genoa City by forcing the hand of the actor that so many viewers enjoy, and doing away with the character who serves as a crucial linchpin to so many stories that viewers do care about and follow. But, wait - why would you consider this logical move? You're the same guys who decided to destroy every ounce of good will Guiding Light created with the LGBT community - a significant demographic with tons of spending power - by neutering Otalia. It's clear that idiots are running the show at CBS.


Fans of Guiding Light spent the summer repeating this mantra: FUCBS. It would seem the network is hell-bent on pissing off as many viewers as possible. Not satisfied with canceling the lowest rated soap - a show with a loyal following and a significant place in television history - they've aimed for a loftier goal: pissing off viewers of the top rated daytime drama. Well done - especially since CBS has ranked 8th in a list of major American corporations at risk of falling into bankruptcy. CBS, of course, vehemently denies they are in financial trouble. Why, then, would they even consider invoking the 26 week rule with their most popular daytime actor? Bankruptcy is clearly looming overhead, and no one in a position of power seems to have an ounce of common sense.

Unless there are further developments in the near future, Eric Braeden's final scenes air in early November. I've been a fan of Y&R since the 70s. After Braeden takes a bow, and it becomes the full-blown Amber Show (despite the fact that I have yet to meet a single Y&R viewer who can even stomach this character) I won't be watching, anymore.

Once again: FUCBS.

NOTE: As has been pointed out by a sharp reader, this should really be a FU to Sony, who owns Y&R and who Braeden, himself names as the corporation that has treated him so poorly. So, yes, FU SONY. But FUCBS, anyhow.

Next - Y&R part 3: Where are the strong black characters? Bring back Dru!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Y&R Part 1: This is How You Do It

This will be short and sweet (as opposed to part 2, which will be long and bitter), because the clip speaks for itself.

For a gazillion years, The Young and the Restless has held the top ratings spot for daytime. It's an excellent show with great acting, wonderful writing, great sets, fine production values, and a healthy respect for history and continuity. As I've written in the past, every episode of Y&R is like a mini movie. The sets, the camera work, the blocking, the high def, the sound track, the acting and writing - they're a winning combination.

Anyone who watched October 5th's episode was treated to a little taste of classic soap opera - soap opera the way it used to be, when soaps were truly great. Picture it: evil Victor Newman about to receive a heart transplant from the virtuous, young Colleen Carlton, whose death he is partially responsible for. Every major character in Genoa City is present. Three generations of Newmans and Abbotts. Kay Chancellor. Nikki Reade. Emotions run high. As the episode winds down to the last few moments, the old school Y&R theme begins to play. No dialogue. This is what a hospital set should look like. This is what tight editing looks like. This is what an umbrella story line is all about. This, people, is how it's done.

Next time - Y&R part 2: What the hell are you doing?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Same-Sex Marriage: An Open Letter to Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist whom the U.S. Congress eventually called the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement". On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.

In 1960 four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro strolled into the F. W. Woolworth store and quietly sat down at the "whites only" lunch counter. They were not served, but they stayed until closing time.

Dear Miss Parks:

Didn't anyone tell you that the seats in the back of the bus are identical to the ones in the front? That they're made of the same fiberglass and vinyl? That seats in the front have old pieces of chewing gum stuck underneath them, just like the seats in the back? That neither seat is particularly comfortable for your back after a long day's work?

Didn't anyone every tell you these things, Miss Parks? Didn't you know?

Someone must have mentioned it, but there you were, pushing your uppity self onto the bus and sitting right down in the front. In a seat that wasn't meant for you. In a seat that was meant for someone else. Someone who had a right to it. What could you have been thinking, Miss Parks?

And there's another thing, Miss Parks. While we're at it, I feel compelled to point out that the food served at the Woolworth's lunch counter was not all that, Miss Parks. Maybe, in fact, probably, there was some negro restaurant right there in Selma or Mobile or Montgomery that served better food than anything they ever even thought to serve at the Woolworth's counter. And I bet a person could get a better milkshake, too. Didn't anyone tell those young people that making a big stink over those seats at the counter was a waste of time? That there was perfectly good food to be had in the colored section of town? Why, then? Why sit down and demand to be served? What did they have to gain?

President Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but supports the idea of civil unions that provide same-sex couples with the same rights as marriage. Let's ignore the fact that civil unions do not, in fact, provide same-sex couples with the immigration protections and privileges that heterosexual couples enjoy, or that a little something called Social Security is a federal program which does not recognize civil unions. Let's not even get into the 1,100+ federal programs that pertain only to male/female couples who are legally married, and not to people in civil unions. Let's ignore the lie about civil unions being almost exactly like marriage in every way. Because, you know what? Even if that were true, "almost" is not good enough, anyhow.

Let's instead, think about another right. Maybe voting. How would it be if one group (I don't know, white men, maybe) had always been denied the right to vote ? And then, as a concession, the new president stated that he felt white men should have all the same basic rights as everyone else, except, techincally, for the right to vote. Let's pretend that, instead, the new president would like to set it up where white men could "opinionate" on election day. In other words, when all the rest of the world was voting, white men could stand on line to "opinionate." Their votes wouldn't really count, in terms of really swaying anything. And the rest of the world would still be the only ones allowed to actually vote. In all other ways, though - standing in line, getting into a booth, having confidentiality - in those ways, voting and "opinionating" would be exactly the same. And when white men had kids, if their kids were boys, they'd have to tell them that, one day, when they were old enough, they could, of course, "opinionate", but not vote. Because voting was for everyone else. For girls. And black people. And Hispanics. God, after all, wants it that way, they'd have to explain. And, really, "opinionating" is almost exactly like voting. Would that feel very nice? Would it be fair? Would that tiny difference in rights seem irrelevant and insignificant? Would it be fair to say that the little white male child who has just found out he can never vote still has all the same opportunities as every other child? That he can still dream and hope for the same things?

I don't think so.

The minute a person - child or adult - finds out that there are very real limits, due to discrimination, to what he or she can actually hope to achieve in life, things change.

I did not grow up dreaming about marriage. Lots of people do, though. And they should be allowed that dream. Even if they're queer. Liberal straight people, who don't want to find fault with the presidential candidate they fawned over in so many shows of political correctness, liberal straight people who are still basking in the self-congratulatory afterglow of the inauguration love to spew the neat, little lie that civil unions are exactly the same as marriage, and every bit as good. And then most of them run out and get married. Funny that!

And really, how dare anyone say it's not a big deal, or that civil unions are almost exactly the same as marriage, or that gays are making a big deal over something irrelevant. Especially a mixed race president - the product of a marriage that, not so long ago in American history, would have been illegal.

How dare anyone who enjoys a privilege take it for granted in such a cavalier way, when others hope and pray for that same, basic privilege to be theirs before they die. When thinking about why the right to marry is important to same sex couples in America, think about Miss Rosa Parks. Civil rights pioneer. Warrior. Stroppy woman.

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Later, recognized as the mother of the American civil rights movement, she noted,
"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day.....the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Getting a seat on the bus was not what the greater civil rights movement was about in America. Getting a husband or wife isn't really what the gay rights movement is about. Miss Rosa Parks didn't care about that seat on the bus - that front seat that was almost exactly like the back seats. She saw the bus rules as a festering symptom of a greater systemic injustice.

Those seats in the front of the bus were not all that comfortable, and they were made of the same stuff as the seats on the back of the bus, but you sure as hell wouldn't tell that to Miss Rosa Parks. Nor should any of us have the audacity.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves