House of Cards Signifies the End of Wish Fulfillment Women Presidents.

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This article contains spoilers for the final season of House of Cards.

Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) on House of Cards, which dropped its sixth season on Netflix in early November, is the latest in a long line of woman presidents to leave the airwaves. Scandal’s Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) is gone. State of Affairs, NBC’s drama about the first Black woman president Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard), was cancelled after one season. HBO’s Veep is on hiatus as Julia Louis Dreyfus, the actress who plays President Selina Meyer, undergoes breast-cancer treatment. And Underwood, the steely, blonde-bobbed, long-suffering First Lady, finally usurped her husband Frank (Kevin Spacey, who was fired from the show last year amidst sexual assault allegations) to become president. Ending the show with Underwood as the first woman to lead the United States also signals the end of TV’s wish-fulfillment of woman presidents.

While 25 other countries currently have female heads of state, American pop culture is consumed by its obsession with Hillary Clinton, with about just as many fictional depictions of a female president on the small screen alone. House of Cards leaned into this preoccupation hard, with Underwood’s icy, if at times boring, Clintonian competency juxtaposed with the circus that is current real-life U.S. politics.

For keen-eyed political pundits or, really, anyone who’s followed the news, House of Cards offered heavy-handed comparisons between Underwood and Clinton. For example, a conservative news host called Underwood a “pussy,” and, later in the season, the President reverted to her maiden name, Hale, a struggle which Clinton has also encountered.

But perhaps the most keen correlation between Hale and Clinton is the fact that their husbands fucked it up for them. Long-standing accusations of rape and sexual assault against Bill plagued the Clinton campaign. Hale probably thought her problems would go away with the death of her husband (“Doesn’t everyone love the widow?”). Though it was widely considered that House of Cards would have ended with this season regardless of Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct, in the show’s last gasp effort to wrap everything up by subbing in Hale as president, it did a disservice to the wish-fulfillment aspect of seeing a woman president on TV. Instead of a competent, qualified, Clinton-esque Commander in Chief, Hale was the result of the process of elimination of the inept men in the Oval Office’s orbit.

Speaking of inept men, in a plot that mirrored both Donald Trump’s accusation that Clinton lacked stamina on the campaign trial and Melania Trump’s mysterious exile from public view earlier this year, Underwood holed up in the White House residence for a month, feigning grief for her dead husband and a general unfitness for the job, reaffirming “America’s worst fear: a female in the Oval Office.” It’s House of Cards, though, so of course Hale had something up her sleeve. Her elaborate retirement to the proverbial fainting couch convinced her cabinet, consisted mostly of old, white men who didn’t look much different from their real-life counterparts, to begin the process of ousting her. Just in time, she dismissed her entire staff, declared that “the reign of the middle-aged white man is over,” and ushered in an all-woman cabinet. This may have appeared to be a bastion of gender equality and female empowerment to outsiders, however it was nothing more than a political power move to rub it in former friend and political donor Annette’s (Diane Lane) face, who had been blackmailing Hale with her past abortions in order to get her to succumb to the promises Frank made to Annette and her brother, Bill (Greg Kinnear).

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In this way, House of Cards shared similarities with Scandal, in which two Clinton stand-ins were glimpsed: former First Lady and series-ending president, Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young), and political fixer and fellow First Lady, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). While Mellie spent Scandal’s seven seasons fighting to emerge from her husband President Fitzgerald Grant III’s shadow, Olivia occupied her own First Lady sojourn. In season five, Pope hosted a Christmas party at the White House where she offered a party-goer her snickerdoodle recipe, evoking Clinton’s infamous cookie quote. Pope ended that episode by having an abortion and leaving the president, just like Hale.

Much has been made of Hale’s decision not to have children in previous seasons. Though more people are choosing to remain child-free, it’s still a fraught conversation and, with Hale’s departure, the time is ripe not only for further explorations of child-free women who would have the means to access to childcare and nannies while they pursue their high-powered careers but, more interestingly, women who don’t and how that impacts their lives.

However, a House of Cards trademark twist came into play that turned the Clinton comparisons on their head: Hale ends the series with child! (Not because of any maternal calling but for political protection against Doug Stamper, Frank’s former chief of staff who has become obsessed with avenging the disgraced president’s death.) And it’s a girl! That, coupled with her all-female cabinet, solidified Hale’s femininity (because there’s no room for gender non-conformity in the White House of Cards or, indeed, in any White House) and, thus, feminism was fulfilled.

Hale was well aware that her pregnancy would shield her from a lot of criticism. She played into the perception of pregnant women as delicate, fragile and worth protecting (at least, the fetuses inside them) at all costs and used it to wreak political havoc. As follows, House of Cards could be seen to have flipped the wish-fulfillment of the show’s woman president again: that is what would happen if we let women and their hormones rule the free world.

While some of the remaining women TV presidents, such as Tea Leoni on Madam Secretary and Lynda Carter on Supergirl, have been seen uncomplicatedly aspirational, they, too, are changing in response to the current political climate. In the most recent season of Supergirl, President Olivia Marsden was outed as an alien, drawing on the birther conspiracy that followed Barack Obama’s presidency and echoing the groundswell around immigrant rights. Two years removed from the 2016 election, maybe one thing we can take solace in is that the new crop of shows with women presidents are tending away from the rigid ideals that boxed in Clinton and the characters inspired by her and allowing for a more multifaceted portrayal of women and power.

Elsewhere: [The Atlantic] A Short History of Hillary (Rodham) (Clinton)’s Changing Names.

[CNN] Donald Trump: Hillary Clinton “Doesn’t Have the Stamina” to be President.

[NYTimes] Hillary Clinton & the Return of the (Unbaked) Cookies.

[AV Club] Madame Secretary is Good, But it Could Stand to Be More Cynical.

Images via Robin Wright Site, Bustle.

Interview with World Wrestling Entertainment’s The IIconics, Billie Kay & Peyton Royce.

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This interview was conducted via phone a week before Billie Kay and Peyton Royce performed at Super Show-Down in Melbourne, Australia on 6th October, 2018.

Tell me a little bit about your wrestling background, specifically your time on the Sydney indie scene.

Billie: I found Pro Wrestling Australia’s online training academy in Sydney. I found that place when I was seventeen years old and I became the first student they had when it first opened. I trained there for three months and on my 18th birthday I had my first match which was awesome. A little while later Peyton joined PWA and that’s when we properly met and spoke to each other and we became best friends ever since. Since then we’ve both travelled individually across Australia and America just performing. We were fortunate enough to get a WWE try out and the rest is history.

Peyton: I joined PWA when I was 16. What really sold me on it was I had seen a poster with Billie on it while I was out celebrating my birthday so it was kind of like a sign; that’s how I feel. I started training with Billie in 2012 in Canada at Lance Storm’s school for three months. And when I came home I came home to Melbourne and I stayed there for a few years. MCW was my home in Melbourne and then Billie and I had our tryout and the rest is history!

Who are some of your Aussie peers currently wrestling in NXT that you’re excited about?

Petyon: We have Rhea Ripley in NXT at the moment and she’s just killing it. She has so much potential. She’s still so young. When she does progress to the main roster she’s going to do amazing things and we’re excited to see her do that.

What does it mean to you to be wrestling in a marquee match in a stadium show such as Super Show-Down?

Peyton: To say we’re excited would be an understatement because we cannot wait to get back home to Australia and then perform for this massive show—Super Show-Down, 100,000 people, MCG, it’s gonna be absolutely incredible… It’s gonna be one of the biggest shows Australia’s ever seen, and worldwide, too. The fact that it is in our home country just makes the experience that much more special. An Aussie way to put it: we are bloody stoked.

Do you want to be booed as heels or cheered as hometown heroines?

Peyton: We just want the crowd to have fun, so if we hear the crowd booing or cheering [a reaction is] all that matters to us. We just want to hear the crowd having fun. Either way, that is what we hope to get.

What do you think Super Show-Down will do for the profile of professional wrestling in Australia?

Billie: I think it’s gonna take it to a whole new level. It’s been amazing for Peyton and I to watch the Australian scene grow so big. I think having such a massive show like Super Show-Down in Australia I think it’s just going to make it grow even more, so we’re pretty excited to see how it does affect the Australian scene.

Are you hoping the next big stadium event in Australia is in your hometown?

Peyton: That would be amazing to be able to wrestle for WWE in arenas that Billie and I went to as kids when WWE came to Australia. And to be able to do it in front of our friends and family in our home town, that’s a dream right there.

Are your friends and family coming to Super Show-Down?

Billie: We both have a lot of friends and family coming down for the show. To have them watch us perform and have them watch us in this special moment that we’ve worked so hard for is going to make it extra special, I think.

Will you have the chance to do any sight-seeing while you’re in Melbourne?

Peyton: It is pretty go-go-go. I hope some of the Superstars are able to get out and just go for a walk in Melbourne and just see the city because there is so much to see and do. There’s so much to explore and it’s an absolutely beautiful city and we’re so excited to come back.

What does it mean to you that Evolution is taking place at a time that you just so happen to be wrestling for WWE?

Petyon: It’s such a crazy thought to think that when we were ten years old we were dreaming of being in a WWE ring and now that we’ve made it it just so happens that it’s in the middle of this massive women’s evolution. Having the first-ever women’s pay-per-view and we will be able to be a part of it. It’s really astounding that we came in at this special time and we get to be a part of it. October is gonna be a big month for us but we are excited to be a part of it.  

What are you excited for for the event? What match do you hope to wrestle in at the event?

Peyton: We definitely have dream opponents. We often talk about how amazing it would be if we could have a match against the Bellas, or LayCool. And then another team that Billie and I would have so much fun being in the ring with is the Hug & Boss Connection, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Those two women have done so much for us and our careers so I think that would be so amazing. Honestly, any match that we have at Evolution would be a dream come true because we get to be a part of it.

Do you think those matches could be for a women’s tag team championship…?

Peyton: Laughs.

Billie: That would just be the icing on the cake. We’ve always wanted to help pioneer the women’s tag team division; that’s something that Peyton and I have always wanted to help do. So if that were to happen it would just make it that much more special. But it’s already special. It would be so overwhelming if that is a possibility but it’s something that we both really care for and would love to happen.

Guest Post: The Erasure of People of Colour from Sharp Objects.

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This article by Shane Thomas contains light spoilers for Sharp Objects.

One area where Sharp Objects has left itself open to criticism is in the optics of its cast, which is hugely—if not exclusively—white. In recent years, Western television and film has gradually moved away from using male whiteness as its default perspective to tell stories.

Yet I’m not sure it’s wholly fair to upbraid Sharp Objects for telling a woman-focused story that only concerned itself with its white characters, because it also positioned its black characters—on the brief occasions we saw them—in interesting ways. Ways that seemed too specific to be coincidental.

The narrative surrounded the town of Wind Gap, Missouri and the emotionally wretched state of its citizens. It’s a place that’s archetypal small-town America: mellow southern accents, a sunny climate, a community where everybody knows each other, and good ol’ Southern hospitality. In actuality, it’s a space rife with social deprivation, patriarchy, racism, personal misery, and murder.

In Wind Gap, white women are obligated to be dutiful wives and mothers (note the dialogue; “I don’t think a part of your heart can ever work if you don’t have kids”, and, “I didn’t really feel like a woman until I had McKenzie inside of me”), men intersperse lechery in between bouts of drinking, and the social event of the year paints the Confederacy as a plank of history to be proud of. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to these social norms will be either demeaned, ostracised or exiled. When John Keene cries, Wind Gap doesn’t only look at him as a failure of a man, but it’s indicative of him being a social deviant.

It’s the legacy of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy”. These people spend their time instinctively judging others for the lives they lead, all the while being miserable themselves, finding it easy to aim their ire at anyone they deem as outsiders. One of the best aspects of Sharp Objects was to demonstrate how aligning oneself to the dogma of oppressive structures also damages those who reap its ostensible benefits.

At one point, Jackie says, “We could do what we always do around here and pretend it doesn’t exist.” In this town, alcohol isn’t just medication, but a portal to oblivion.

It’s ironic that nearby Kansas is disdainfully looked down upon by Wind Gap as the cosmopolitan, uber-lefty, politically correct big city. Not just because it’s inaccurate, but consider the most famous work of art to feature Kansas. Thanks to The Wizard of Oz, its place in the wider cultural imagination is as (white) America’s safe space.

Wind Gap is Oz at its most malignant. Intentional or otherwise, Gillian Flynn has given us a story that centres whiteness, but not in order to enshrine it as society’s ideal, instead showing that as it is currently constituted, whiteness in concert with patriarchy contaminates all. It doesn’t have to be spelled out for the audience that Wind Gap votes Republican. We don’t hear the name “Trump” once. No character ever utters the n-word. These signifiers are superfluous in a place where, to quote Christopher J. Lee, “whiteness has been transformed into common sense.”

It’s not tough to read the map of scars on Camille’s body as a cartography for the psyche of Wind Gap. Nor is it hard to read Adora’s poisoning of her own children under the guise of care and love as a metaphor for a diet of white supremacy and patriarchy fed to white Southerners going all the way back to the Lost Cause.

Sharp Objects’ black characters don’t appear often, but when they do, they operate in a distinct way to add depth to the story. Lacking socialised power, they are impotent to stem Wind Gap’s continuum into destruction, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of their surroundings. They are, to quote Reni Eddo-Lodge in her book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, watching as an outsider to the insularity of whiteness.

Note the Preaker’s family maid, Gayla (who was costumed to bear a striking resemblance to Betty Gabriel’s indelible performance in Get Out), especially the couple of moments of unspoken warmth she shares with Camille. It’s not explicit, but she can see the destructive way Adora runs the household.

While Camille’s boss, Frank, periodically checks in with her to see how the assignment is going, Frank’s wife, Eileen, is more concerned with Camille returning to a place that holds so many traumatising memories. Frank can see a great story. Eileen can see just how tender Camille is.

In one episode, Becca—seemingly the only black person of Camille’s age in the town—explains why she doesn’t hate Camille, despite being treated horribly by her when they were younger. Becca recounts the time she noticed that the younger Camille self-harmed. She doesn’t state this in order for exploitative purposes, only to indicate that unlike the rest of Wind Gap’s citizens, Becca can see Camille’s self-destructive tendencies.

Later in the episode, Camille comes across her sister, Amma, and a group of Amma’s friends outside a convenience store. They are heading to a party, and offer to give Camille a lift home. Yet this is a ruse, as Amma plans to drag Camille to the party with her. As Camille reluctantly gets in the car, an unnamed black man pensively looks on. He can see the destruction the white youth of Wind Gap are bringing on themselves.

When Richard walks into Woodberry Hospital—where he’ll discover the truth about Adora’s Munchhausen’s by proxy—two nurses (one black; one white) stand outside. The black one immediately notices Richard, while the white one carries on smoking. It’s as if she can see what Richard’s seismic discovery will bring.

Usually such moments would be nothing more than nondescript cutaways. But it appears deliberate that these moments not only feature black characters, but black characters watching white characters. Fans of Doctor Who will know that the Time Lords are a sagacious race of beings who observe, but never interfere in the affairs of others. With director, Jean-Marc Vallée giving Sharp Objects a visual texture more often found in speculative fiction, it elevates the lesser spotted black characters to more than just bystanders, almost as if they’re Wind Gap’s very own Time Lords, who could do so much for the town if people would listen to them.

If this interpretation feels a bit too meta, a more prosaic analysis would be basic self-preservation. Do Sharp Objects’ black characters have such wary deportment because they are aware of the precarious state of their bodies existing in this town, in America, in the world? Often being black means operating at a heightened level of awareness. And to underscore this, in the show’s shocking reveal, we find out that the one black character who doesn’t have her head on a swivel (which she should never have had to) pays for it with her life.

I’ve increasingly worried that all “diversity” means is that those in charge of our entertainment cast people of colour not to broaden the dynamics of our stories, but to stop the internet being angry. This makes for a very low ceiling for progress, when what’s more important is the quality of fictional depictions rather than just sheer quantity.

This doesn’t inoculate Sharp Objects from criticism, but we should be clear on what terms we criticise it. One can definitely argue that an increased focus on its black characters would have improved the narrative. But I don’t think we should reflexively assume that a minimal spotlight on blackness indicates erasure.

Elsewhere: [YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You’re Making Your Mother Ill”.

[Salon] How the GOP Became the White Man’s Party.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “Have a Drink with Me”.

[Africa is a Country] The Global Ways of White Supremacy.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You Just Let It Happen”.

[Smithsonian] How I Learned About the “Cult of the Lost Cause”. 

[Goodreads] Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race.

[YouTube] Sharp Objects Clip: “You’re Not Safe.”

Image via Den of Geek.

White Women & Orange is the New Black.

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This article contains spoilers for season six of Orange is the New Black.

After the deaths of two guards and the destruction of Litchfield Correctional Facility’s minimum security campus at the culmination of last season’s riot, “camp” has closed and our favourite inmates have been reassigned to new prisons in season six, which dropped on Netflix on Friday.

Some inmates, like Piper (Taylor Schilling), Alex (Laura Prepon), Red (Kate Mulgrew) and Sophia (Laverne Cox), have made the short journey down the road to max, while other favourites such as Boo (Lea Delaria), Martiza (Diane Guerrero) and Janae (Vicky Jeudy) are seldom heard from, if at all, this season.

In their place are Piper’s latest foil, Madison (Amanda Fuller) who goes by the intentionally cringe-worthy nickname Badison, and two of the driving forces of this season’s main plotline, long-term incarcerated sisters Barb (Mackenzie Phillips) and Carol (Henny Russell), which fellow white inmates Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Morello (Yael Stone) and Frieda (Dale Soules) all become embroiled in.

This outsized focus on white characters is puzzling not only because most of them die at the conclusion of the season but also considering that OITNB’s claim to fame when it premiered in 2013 was its employment of the Trojan Horse trope. Drawing its name from the Greek myth, OITNB introduced homogenous audiences to the Nice White Lady decoy, Piper Chapman, then pivoted to the stories of poor and trans women of colour in prison. After criticism in recent years, season four particularly, that the show engaged in trauma porn featuring its transgender characters and characters of colour crafted by a predominantly white writers room, maybe it’s not so puzzling. Write what you know, right…?

After all, OITNB is based on real-life experiences of author and prison reform activist Piper Kerman, and this season acknowledges that by planting the seeds in Piper’s mind of the memoir that started it all, an epiphany which occurs while Piper’s fantasising about seeing her gynaecologist when she gets out in nine months, while she and Alex queue to see the prison doctor. “Dr Chin doesn’t take insurance but she has a full herbal tea bar in her waiting room,” she muses.

But Piper, always one to fall on her feet by virtue of her rich, white womaness, gets out a lot sooner than that. As in, by the final episode of this season, because even when she has someone with a vendetta against her striving to get her extra time, Piper lands on her feet on the outside, free to visit expensive gynos, “wear pretty bras” and, hopefully, engage in meaningful discourse about prison reform.

Yet somehow Piper’s preoccupation with her petty problems, amplified by the prison environment, is given equal credence to the insurmountable odds against Taystee (Danielle Brooks) in taking on the justice system after being set up to take the fall for the death of CO Piscatella (Brad William Henke) in the riot. Their differing circumstances are highlighted in a scene in the prison salon, where Piper is getting the gum Madison mashed into her hair cut out while Taystee prepares for court. “What is it about me that makes people want to fuck with me?” Piper laments to her.

“It’s ‘cause of what they see when they look at you,” Taystee humours Piper. “They see the shit they never had: money, education, opportunity. That’s why they’re never gonna stop fucking with you, ’cause of what you represent. But that’s only in here. People out there have been fucking with me my entire life. They see: a dangerous, ghetto, poor, Black girl that should be locked up in here forever. So if you want to trade places, I’m game.”

There have always been parallels between these two characters, from the swatch of Piper’s hair Taystee wears as a weave in season one, mirroring the above mentioned salon scene; to their shared involvement in the riot; to Piper’s lover Alex seeking absolution for informing on her in the past during their wedding, which Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore), whose guilt over framing Taystee festers inside her, is a witness to. And given the media interest in Taystee following the riot, viewers might wonder whether she’s better positioned to be writing a prison memoir. (How many prison memoirs by women of colour are out there?) But Taystee doesn’t think so.

“I’m not special. I’m one of millions of people just like me,” she tells a reporter from ProPublica. “People behind bars and caught in the crossfire… You can’t put a whole system in prison so they[‘re] coming for me. But I’m coming for them. I’m gonna keep standing up for better inmate treatment in here, for my friend, Poussey Washington, because she can’t no more.”

In addition to the memoir, Piper is preoccupied with reinstating a kickball league to boost morale in the prison, not only for the well-being of the inmates but, in typical Piper fashion, because it will be a “positive note to send the reader off on”. She makes kickball—as with her tone-deaf Community Carers taskforce to dismantle “gang-related” activity in season four—her mission like Kim Kardashian made prison reform and the granting of clemency to non-violent offenders hers.

Given Piper’s history of activism (written with tongue firmly in cheek) and her subsequent appropriation of experiences not her own with her impending memoir, she may not be the abolitionist we need, but she’s certainly the one this show deserves. Just as, in the larger celebrity-as-king (or President, rather) hellscape it exists in, Kim Kardashian is the biggest hope for prison reform the U.S. has, agitating in May for the clemency of non-violent African American drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, who was released a week later after twenty years in prison.

Kim has said she’s interested in getting involved with other cases, helping to affect changes to the justice system “one person at a time”, through her connections with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the latter of whom is the poster girl for complicity in Trump’s America. Perhaps it’s her way of giving back some of the close-to-a billion dollars she and her family have made from appropriating black women’s features and putting them on white women’s bodies.

There are several other easter eggs, intentional or not, placed throughout the season that hint at white women’s complicity. Kim’s archnemesis Taylor Swift’s name is dropped a few times, while Madison’s continued foiling and suspicion of Piper could be viewed as a commentary on society’s hatred of Kim. Warden Natalie Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) spends an inordinate amount of time pondering the purchase a coat, which unintentionally invokes the image of Melania Trump and her “I really don’t care, do you” coat from earlier this year. Linda Ferguson (Beth Dover), having convinced prison officials in Ohio where she was shipped after the riot that she is, in fact, an MCC (since renamed PolyCon Corrections) executive and not a scammer named Amelia von Barlow, offers Sophia hush money in exchange for her signing a non-disclosure agreement and not testifying for Taystee.

Women like Sophia don’t have the luxury of martyring themselves for a greater cause; they will take whatever they can from wolves in white women’s clothing to get ahead in a system that’s corrupted against them, and Linda is well aware of that.

As always, it’s through these more nuanced portrayals of the cases of Sophia, Taystee and Daya (Dascha Polanco) that OITNB succeeds at portraying how hopeless the justice system is for prisoners. The majority of incarcerated women are automatically presumed guilty so are advised against taking their cases to trial and, if for some reason they do get out, they’re forced to watch their kids live in a group home, like Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez); live out their lives in poverty, unable to secure a job or vote; or succumb to recidivism, like Taystee. You’d think OITNB would learn from past missteps that these are the stories viewers want to see, not those of petty white bitches.

Related: Orange is the New Black: Sacrificing One for the Good of the Many.

 Orange is the New Black Season Five Attempts to Right Last Season’s Wrongs.

The Perception of Power on Orange is the New Black.

Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New Black‘s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance.

Elsewhere: [NPR] Orange Creator Jenji Kohan: Piper Was My Trojan Horse.

[Junkee] This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet.

[Forbes] How 20-Year-Old Kylie Jenner Built a $900 Million Fortune in Less Than 3 Years.

Image via Metro.

 

I Am Cait Might Just Change How We See Reality TV.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

Yesterday marked the long-awaited premiere of Catilyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait, the latest addition to the Kardashian ckonglomerate.

Some might say that the last thing we need is another reality show, and from the Kardashian-Jenners, no less. But this isn’t just any reality show: this is the first time we’re seeing Caitlyn Jenner on television as her true self.

Serious news headlines and tabloid magazine covers alike have traded in the transition of Caitlyn Jenner since she told Diane Sawyer in a late April interview seen around the world that she identified as a woman and her early June Vanity Fair cover in which she asked to be called Caitlyn and to be addressed using female pronouns. Reality TV is the next frontier that Caitlyn Jenner and, by extension, transgender awareness will attempt to tackle.

Reality TV is no stranger to dabbling in issues network and/or scripted TV won’t touch. Laverne Cox is best known as prison inmate Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black, but one of her first television roles was as herself on the VH1 reality competition series I Want to Work for Diddy, a far cry from the transgender sex worker roles she was relegated to on Law & Order. Closer to home, The Voice and My Kitchen Rules have featured contestants with disabilities, while reality TV as a whole has been more accepting of (or at least providing a platform for) this demographic. The same could be said for people of colour (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop), people of sexual orientations and genders other than straight and cis (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Prancing Elite Project, Brave New Girls, America’s Next Top Model), the plight of refugees (the returning Go Back to Where You Came From, airing tonight on SBS) and people living below the poverty line (the ill-fated Struggle Street). Not all of these portrayals are positive, to be sure, but Margaret Cho once said, “something is better than nothing,” right?

To many people’s minds, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and its myriad spinoffs are the scourge of culture today. But it is one of the only reality series—and certainly the one with the most reach—to look in depth at gender transition. On a two-part episode of KUWTK entitled “About Bruce” that aired in May when she was going by her birth name and male pronouns, the Kardashian-Jenners’ were challenged by Caitlyn’s coming out. The episodes were prefixed with a statement from Caitlyn:

“Families of trans people often feel like they need to grieve the loss of the person that they thought they knew. My family’s feelings are included here in the hope that other families will know that they are not alone…”

Caitlyn’s transition and her family’s reactions were dealt with sensitively and honestly. In a revelation that will irritate Kardashian haters, two of the most reviled cast members Kim and Kourtney’s partner Scott Disick responded with acceptance and in a well adjusted way when they have more right than the naysayers on social media and around the water cooler to struggle with Caitlyn’s truth.

That acceptance extends to I Am Cait. The first episode focuses on Caitlyn’s mother and sisters meeting her for the first time. Mum Esther continues to use male pronouns and her birth name to address Caitlyn, which can be grating, but seeing Caitlyn’s family’s conflict normalises her transition. Even the gender expert they brought in to counsel the family slipped up: “I meant he then. Pronouns are very important.”

After the first twenty minutes I was hard pressed to see the bumbling and disrespected patriarch of the Kardashian cklan I’ve watched for eight years. Caitlyn draws comparisons to this as well, saying “Bruce was never this much fun” and marvelling over the enjoyment of getting her hair done with her sisters and Kylie versus talking about sports. The more we watch, the more understanding Caitlyn as a woman—and thus, other trans people—becomes the norm. And that’s why I Am Cait isn’t just your stock standard E! fare. Despite Kim, Kylie and even Kanye’s appearances on the inaugural episode, Caitlyn takes pains to highlight the plight of trans people who don’t have the privilege and support she does, visiting the family of a trans teen who committed suicide. “I feel a responsibility here because I have a voice and there are so many trans people out there who do not have a voice,” she says. It’s part “exploitat[ion]”—as all reality shows are to some extent—of Caitlyn’s position as a bastion of American heroism and part “PSA”.

In her interview with Diane Sawyer and, more recently, accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s, Caitlyn further drew attention to the high rates of discrimination and crime trans women—particularly trans women of colour—experience. Just last week the eleventh trans woman, not including those who are misgendered or go unreported, was murdered this year in the United States.

In “About Bruce”, Caitlyn says she “can’t die and not experience her,” and in the opening scenes of I Am Cait, its star films a message on her webcam after a sleepless night. “We don’t want people dying over this, murdered. What a responsibility I have toward this community…” As I Am Cait heads into its eight-episode first season, all eyes will be on whether it continues to uphold this duty.

Elsewhere: [The Conversation] The Voice, & the Body: Contesting with Disability on Reality TV.

[Daily Life] My Kitchen Rules: Does Reality TV Do a Better Job of Depicting People with Disability?

[This Ain’t Livin’] The Only Place to See Disabled People on TV: Reality Shows.

[Kill Your Darlings] Shame & Stigma on Struggle Street.

[Margaret Cho] Harajuku Girls.

[Time] Caitlyn Jenner’s I Am Cait Uses Top Transgender Consultants. 

[Frontiers Media] Janet Mock Co-Anchors MSNBC Show & Talks Trans Murders & #BlackLivesMatter.

California Love: Straight Outta Compton, Tupac Shakur & Misogynoir.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

The surprise smash of the year, Straight Outta Compton, which follows the formation and subsequent breakup of gangsta rap supergroup N.W.A., hit Australian screens last week.

The film, produced by its subjects Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, along with Eazy-E’s widow, Tomika Woods-Wright, comes at a time when race relations between police and African Americans in the U.S. are fraught, much as they were around the time N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes) was coming up in Compton in the ’80s and the 1992 Los Angeles riots that punctuate the biopic.

There is no doubt that these are important issues and it’s refreshing to see them being dealt with by Hollywood however, as The New York Times claimed of unarmed black teen Michael Brown gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Dre, Cube and E are “no angels”.

Much has been written about the misogynist lyrics in N.W.A.’s music, with songs such as “A Bitch Iz a Bitch”, and its members’ abusive history. Dre’s ex-fiance and the mother of one of his children, R’n’B artist Michel’le, claims he physically abused her during their relationship, while his assault on music journalist Dee Barnes in a nightclub in 1991 is widely known. Female rapper Tairrie B has also alleged that Dre punched her twice in the head and face at an afterparty for the 1990 Grammy Awards.

Much has also been written about these women’s absence from the film in an effort to make its subjects and their plights more palatable to a mainstream audience. Is the inclusion of Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and infamous music producer Suge Knight’s unhinged violence towards randoms who park in his spot and dog fights at Death Row Records really pertinent to the trajectory of N.W.A.? Knight’s reprehensibility aside, why take pains to paint Knight in such a bad light while glossing over Eazy-E’s drug dealing beginnings and Dre’s violence towards women? Surely movie-goers are savvy enough to feel empathy towards characters portrayed with nuance, truth and humanity.

Speaking of Tupac Shakur, his brief cameo in Straight Outta Compton (where he is played by Marcc Rose) betrays his prolific rap career that extends to this day despite his death in 1996 at the age of twenty-five. Though his music is at risk of slipping away according to the new generation of Spotify users, he remains my favourite rapper despite the dichotomy between his progressive lyrics and significantly less so actions. (My fave is problematic.)

His portrayal in the film also comes at a time when Dre and Knight took him under their Death Row wing upon his release from prison (the company posted his $1.4 million bail) for the sexual assault of a young black woman in a hotel room in 1993. During Shakur’s incarceration he became the first artist to simultaneously have a number one album on the Billboard charts and be in prison. And we wonder where our reluctance to vilify violent and criminal men who happen to create stuff we like comes from.

Unlike much of N.W.A.’s music, Shakur wrote many pro-women lyrics that can be heard in “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. So how do we reconcile his apparent entitlement to women’s bodies with said lyrics?

“Keep Ya Head Up”, for example, could be held up as a feminist anthem that extols reproductive freedom, safety from sexual assault and gender equality in general:

“And since we all came from a woman

Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman

I wonder why we take from our women

Why we rape our women, do we hate our women

I think it’s time to kill for our women

Time to heal our women, be real to our women

And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies

That will hate the ladies that make the babies

And since a man can’t make one

He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”

On the other hand, Shakur’s missive could be seen as a precursor to songs such as John Mayer’s “Daughters”; a Nice Guy™ who wants a cookie for demonstrating basic human decency towards people of the opposite sex and other minorities.

But I’m not sure that’s the case with Shakur; released posthumously and featuring Shakur’s side band the Outlawz, “Baby Don’t Cry” explores similar themes to “Keep Ya Head Up” and is actually dually billed as “Keep Ya Head Up Part II”. With shared narration by Shakur, Edi Amin and Young Noble, the song empathises with the molestation, rape, teen parenthood, drug addiction and poverty of a young black woman.

Furthermore, one of Shakur’s best-known singles and Mother’s Day staple “Dear Mama” sifts through the rapper’s mummy issues. Shakur’s mother Afeni was a member of the Black Panther political party, a drug addict, and pregnant with Shakur whilst serving jail time for domestic terrorism charges. The single mother–helmed family moved around the U.S. often and lacked stability. Much of this is rapped about in “Dear Mama”:

“And I could see you coming home after work late

You’re in the kitchen trying to fix us a hot plate

You just working with the scraps you was given

And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’”

And:

“And even as a crack fiend, mama

You always was a black queen, mama

I finally understand

For a woman it ain’t easy trying to raise a man

You always was committed

A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it”

As illustrated above, Shakur muses often about “black queens” and makes explicit reference to them in both “Baby Don’t Cry” and “Dear Mama”. The strong black woman trope, as explained by Trudy from the black womanist blog Gradient Lair, portrays black women as “unfeeling objects to project pain on based on compliments of us being ‘strong,’ a word often used as permission to dehumanise [us]”. In “Keep Ya Head Up”, Shakur challenges this notion, acknowledging that “Because there’s too many things for you to deal with/Dyin’ inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.”

This empathy for beaten down women extends all the way back through Shakur’s discography to his debut single, “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Inspired by a newspaper article, Shakur raps about a pre-teen who was raped by a cousin, fell pregnant, briefly abandoned her baby in the garbage but had a change of heart and decided to raise the child on her own. She turns to drug dealing and sex work, and eventually ends up as the headline, “Prostitute found slain and Brenda’s her name”.

And in “Wonder Why They Call U Bitch”, Shakur makes it clear he feels a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her body, whether that be “Giv[ing] it up free/or make your money on the corner,” but not everyone in his ’hood feels that way. Harkening back to “Keep Ya Head Up” again: “I was given this world, I didn’t make it.”

To be sure, the misogynoir (the intersection between blackness and femaleness) of gangsta rap, and wider culture in general, is rife in Shakur’s music. In “All About U”, Shakur, Snoop and Nate Dogg et al. rap about the “tricks”, “bitches”, “hoochies” and “sluts”—groupies, essentially—who are only after rap stars’ fame and money. Juxtaposed with Shakur’s other music mentioned above, he implies that there are different kinds of women, those worthy of respect and those who aren’t.

Echoes of this notion can be heard in Ice Cube’s recent defence of his misogynist lyrics:

“If you’re a bitch, you’re probably not going to like us… If you’re a ho, you probably don’t like us. If you’re not a ho or a bitch, don’t be jumping to the defence of these despicable females. Just like I shouldn’t be jumping to the defence of no punks or no cowards or no slimy son of a bitches that’s men. I never understood why an upstanding lady would even think we’re talking about her.”

One  would assume drug dealers and wife beaters would fall under the category of punks, cowards and slimy sons of bitches yet Cube continues to keep company with Dre…

*

In Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A.’s manager, Jerry Heller (played by Paul Giammati), defends the group when they’re roughhoused by police outside of the studio. “They’re artists. They’re rappers.”

“Rap is not an art,” a white police officer replies.

A lot has changed since the mid ’80s, with performers such as Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Kanye, Kendrick and Nicki helping to redefine the rap game into something explicitly resembling art.

Which leads us to ask, can we separate the men from their art? Straight Outta Compton attempts it by denying us any real insight into its subjects. Surely audiences are smart enough to feel empathy for victims of racial profiling, police brutality and human rights abuses who also happen to victimise people themselves. But in such a racially fraught time, maybe Straight Outta Compton’s producers (who are also, without question, protecting themselves) couldn’t risk providing White Audiences with any ammunition against this plight.

Elsewhere: [NYTimes] Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling with Problems & Promise.

[NYTimes] Dr. Dre Apologises to the “Women I’ve Hurt.”

[The Daily Beast] Suge Knight’s Shocking Rap Sheet.

[Yahoo!] 50 Cent’s Sales Slide.

[Pudding] The Most Timeless Songs of All Time.

[Your Fave is Problematic] Homepage.

[Gradient Lair] What the 20-Year-Old Tupac Song “Keep Ya Head Up” Means to Me as a Womanist.

[Gradient Lair] Explanation of Misogynoir.

[Rolling Stone] N.W.A. Tell All: Inside the Original Gangstas’ Rolling Stone Cover Story.

[Jezebel] Was Banning Tyler, the Creator the Victory International Feminism Needed?

[Reappropriate] When White Audiences Have Problems with TV Diversity.

Australian TV & the Lack of Racial Diversity.

This article originally appeared on Spook Magazine.

America has experienced a racial revolution in the past twelve months both in their communities as unarmed black people are shot and killed by police and on their TV screens. The apparent “big trend” of “ethnic casting”, as Nellie Andreeva called it in a controversial March article for Deadline, can be seen all over some of the U.S.’s biggest hits, including Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat and Jane the Virgin, but is bounds away from holding a mirror to the actual racial makeup of the country, which is much more diverse.

Still, Hollywood is doing a hell of a lot better in making their TV screens reflect their population than Australia. It seems the bulk of our local content is reality, and the majority of that is home renovation shows: the equivalent to watching paint dry, literally. Or watching other people watch paint dry, as with Gogglebox. There are some diamonds in the rough, like Love Child (featuring Most Popular New Talent and Most Outstanding Newcomer Logie winner Miranda Tapsell), House Husbands (with the Lebanese-Australian Firass Dirani) and Winners & Losers (which tackles taboo subjects such as domestic violence and euthanasia), but on the whole Australian TV is a wasteland of haphazard time slots and shows getting pulled off the air all together.

Take, for example, the abovementioned How to Get Away with Murder and Empire. Both enjoyed unprecedented success in the U.S. upon their debuts in September 2014 and January this year, respectively. Being a product of Shondaland, the popularity of the Viola Davis-helmed HTGAWM was a no brainer, even outdoing crown jewel Scandal in its debut. (The current season of Scandal, which just finished in the U.S., is yet to air here.) Empire seemingly came out of nowhere, proving audiences want quality melodrama regardless of who happens to be performing it.

However, in Australia both shows have been given the run around. HTGAWM was performing strongly at the start of the year, however has been replaced by Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and pushed back later and later upon each scheduled return, the most recent of which was Monday 1st June, a move from Tuesday nights. And who knows what happened to Empire? (A quick look at Ten’s website indicates the finale aired in early May.) This is why I don’t own a TV.

So what am I doing writing a piece about TV, you may ask? Then again, you may not. According to a 2009 study, less than 5 million Australians are watching TV regularly. In the six years since, we’ve seen a rise in multi-screen viewing: streaming on computers, tablets and phones; next-day catch up on that network’s website or via DVR; and waiting for the whole series to be released on DVD, Netflix or iTunes so we can binge watch. It’s no wonder Australia is a nation of pirates: when we can’t even get the shows of our American comrades until months (or even years, as with The Mindy Project on Seven, which is now airing episodes that first screened two years ago. Come on!) later, we’re left with slim options of obtaining them.

And where are the other runaway, diverse successes I mentioned at the top of this piece on Aussie TV? Airing on cable, of course. Which does nothing to debunk our pirate status. That quality TV is so hard to get in this country on a reliable, accessible, cheap and/or free platform is one of the failings of modern Australia. That and, you know, our stance on refugees.

On the other hand, the reason why such generic fodder as Married at First Sight has succeeded here may be because we’re a nation of lackadaisical, she’ll-be-right-mates. How many of Married’s viewers tuned in after a long day’s work or school for a geezer and a laugh at these pathetic guinea pigs than were actually passionate about they were consuming? We’re so used to the unbearable sameness on TV served up by a select few apparent “tastemakers” that it’s easy to forget there’s myriad other cultures out there that we’re missing out on in our pop culture. Why should Indian culture, for example, be relegated to Bollywood stereotypes instead of in prime time with something like, again, The Mindy Project? And even then, Mindy is hardly a paragon of progression.

There’s no argument to be made for the over the top soapiness of HTGAWM, Empire and the like being a factor in our reluctance to give them a go: the recently axed Revenge performed much better in Australia than on ABC in the U.S. A lot like Australia’s soaps of choice, Neighbours and Home & Away, it also seldom featured a person of colour.

It’s an embarrassment when people from other countries visit here and realise people who look like them are living their Australian lives, but rarely see representations of themselves in our media. American writer Roxane Gay was in Oz for a series of talks in March and made some astute observations about our lack of diversity, especially in advertisements.

Diversity is not a trend; it’s life. It’s about time Australian TV took a page out of U.S. networks’ books and make it one in an effort to show and normalise diversity.

Related: Domestic Violence, Sex Work, Abortion, Women Proposing to Men, Marriage Equality, Euthanasia… Who Knew Winners & Losers Would Be So Progressive?!

Three Problems With Married at First Sight.

Elsewhere: [Deadline] Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings.

[Mumbrella] Viewers Turn Away from TV in 2009.

[Techly] Aussies Watching Less TV Live But Embracing the Multi-Screen Lounge Room.

[Junkee] The U.S. Ambassador to Australia is Embarrassed by Your Pirating of Game of Thrones.

[Bitch] I Love The Mindy Project—But the Show Has Diversity Problems.

[Junkee] A Collection of Roxane Gay’s Delightfully Bemused Tweets About Australia.

[HuffPost] Shonda Rhimes Says She Isn’t “Diversifying” Television, She’s “Normalising” It—There’s a Difference.