Misogyny In The Newsroom

I wrote about The Newsroom last season, and it’s back on tonight! In preparation for this event, friend Dale and I have published a commentary over at our new venture, tvquila. Below is an excerpt.

Chewing her nails: character development

But if Will is Sorkin’s platonic form of masculinity, the show balances that out with characters that embody the ideals of femin—oh, wait, that’s not femininity, it’s misogyny.

Despite women in power roles, women are not actually empowered. They’re either the stereotypical vindictive shrews, or constantly flailing at simple things which would be required every day in their jobs. They will fight hard for their ideals, unless you tempt them with a shopping spree, most notably when Don gets Olivia to do something she doesn’t want to do by name-dropping designer duds. They are duplicitous, dunces, klutzes, romantically blind, and no matter how high a position they hold, they must hire scruffishly handsome male underlings who are constantly saving their asses by knowing things like ‘how to email.’ In addition to the e-mail debacle, there’s an entire meltdown based on Mac’s inability to subtract 13 from 30, the most important number for every show, every day. The inadvertently-appropriately-titled “Bullies” has at least a dozen instances of gratuitous sexism. These caricatures are more in line with an SNL skit, only they’re being played for that ‘so funny because it’s true!’ vibe. 

We’ve mentioned Will owning Mac’s job, buying her a fake past engagement ring. etc. Will leverages his wealth, while Mac has maxed her credit cards out. Distraught or literally falling women have to be restrained or caught. Mac is torn between Will and another man, which may seem feminist on its face—hey, women have sexual desires and foibles too!—but the fact she’s still reduced to tears by the two men in one room several years later suggests she’s blindly following her pheromones instead of making up her mind. This is all worth bringing up again and again because The Newsroom’s ideal world is one in which a man controls a woman emotionally, vocationally/financially, verbally, and sexually.

Though the CEO of the corporation and Charlie and Will’s boss is Leona Lansing, a woman, she’s also a baldfaced reference to Rupert Murdoch, Bad Guy. The woman with the most actual power, the one who tells the men one to do, is also the spawn of Satan (We actually could like Fonda in the role, but the way the director pushes her towards the edge suggests someone’s been watching the most recent version of Moriarty.) But the way Leona’s character is so blatantly, uncomplicatedly evil is an insult to the audience, even in a show full of insultingly uncomplicated characters.

Sorkin’s misogyny has blinded him to brilliant opportunities in the plot. For instance, in the second episode of Newsroom, when Maggie has a panic attack triggered by the stress of accomplishing daily tasks, Sad Panda Jim runs out to help her. This is not only a perfect opportunity to talk about the collateral damage of the war on terror even to those who aren’t official combatants by having a war correspondent suffer recurring panic attacks, it’s a moment where all of your goals as a screenwriter point to one thing: subvert the viewers’ expectations and make the story matter in new and interesting ways. Not just to the characters, but to national consciousness. Instead it becomes tired ‘commentary’ on women in high-stress positions.

Click here to read the rest.

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