Grr….I am still boiling from this week’s episode of “The Newsroom”! Are you watching? My hubby is an Aaron Sorkin devotee, so in efforts to be a better wife/share common interests/I am sometimes too lazy to leave the room when it’s on I’ve been watching the show with him. I guess I should day, trying to watch. Because it’s really, really hard. Why? THE WOMEN! The women in this show are KILLING ME. Because they are messes. Complex does not have to equal a complete mess, Sorkin!!! From the odious Maggie to the lovelorn Mac, each and every gal on this show is just a big steaming pile of flaws. And worst of all, in my opinion (or at least the one that’s rankling me the most) is Sloan Sabbith, played by Olivia Munn.
For those who don’t watch, a tiny bit of background. The newsroom is a show about a nightly news show and the team surrounding it-the on-air talent, the producers, the writers, the investigative reporters, and the network honchos. In a weird gimmick, the show deals with the news of the past year (so I get to relive the execution of Troy Davis, the Zimmerman trial, etc. Great fun. Oh wait…just kidding). Anyway, Sloan is the economics guru on the network, sort of a sexy Suze Orman. And that’s my first problem. One cannot discuss Sloan without mentioning her hotness. She dresses conservatively, she has the audacity to be a brunette, and yet she’s still somehow super-duper hot. The show’s mythology admits she was hired primarily for her looks, not her fiscal know-how. Everyone agrees-Sloan is gorgeous.
Sloan is also a mess. She’s really, really awkward. Like, makes Jessica Day look like Michelle Obama awkward. She never says the right thing, blurts out weird stuff, and is totally crushing on her coworker, the cheater-yet-somehow-redeemable Don. While we wait for Sloan and Don to leap into a supply closet between takes, we’re constantly treated to Sloane gaffes. And I think that Aaron Sorkin is trying to be clever, showing a hot lady being weird. Because if she was hot and smart and cool, we’d have to hate her. Because women who have it together are not likeable, according to the men who make TV. You can be pretty or smart or socially cool, but never, never all three. And that makes me mad. When men write TV, the male heroes are awesome. You root for them. You want to be them. Women, on the other hand, are laughable-in that you laugh at and with them. You say “I am them”, not “I want to be them”. And even women who write TV fall into this trap (Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, I am looking at YOU!). Why can’t we have a woman to root for? Are we so colossally insecure that we would be threatened, rather than inspired, by a brilliant, sexy, cool lady person on TV? I think not.
Anyway, back to Sloan. This week, she made the biggest gaffe of all-she posed for nudie pics for a boyfriend. And when she broke up with said boyfriend, he posted them online in revenge. She gets called onto the carpet by her two (male) bosses, one who demands she gets fired and the other insisting the pics are fake. When she admits they’re real, everyone’s stunned into silence. Sloan spends the rest of the episode literally curled into a ball in a dark room, eventually talking it over with and getting advice from Don. The end of the episode finds Sloan paying a visit to her erstwhile beau, kicking him in the groin and bloodying his nose, and gleefully snapping a pic (presumably to post online). When the beau limps after her, he is prevented by…Don! Roll credits.
Some other weird stuff happened in this episode, but I am still fuming about this storyline. So, so many issues here.
#1) what’s the big deal about naked pictures? They were consensual. Sloane was in a committed relationship. She’s an adult. It really rankles me that a woman partaking in sex at all is such a big to-do. We giggle at the latest Kardashian sex tape, but if a professional woman has a sexual picture, oh no, alert the media! Because the unspoken assumption is that enjoying sex is beneath a proper woman, a smart one like Sloan Sabbith. But let me get this straight, Anthony Weiner showed pics of his weiner to several ladies (outside of his marriage, at that) and now he might become the mayor of New York. So, it’s okay to flash your junk, as long as you’re a dude? Or only if it’s committing adultery? Which part was the okay part? No wonder Sloan is so awkward…these rules don’t make a ton of sense.
#2) Why does Sloan, after getting yelled at for partaking in a private consensual act outside of work, take to a dark room and assume the fetal position? I feel sympathy for her-she talks about how humiliated she will be when her dad finds out, I have parents, I can relate. But the whole episode? Granted, nobody seems to do any work in the newsroom at all, but surely somebody missed Sloan’s presence. Especially since she was due to be on TV later that evening. In my life, have been dealt some serious blows. I’ve found out bad things at inopportune times and I have wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. But after a quick trip to the ladies’ room to take a deep breath and reapply my lipstick, I went back to work or class or whatever and did my damn job, because I am an adult and you can’t let the bastards see you when you’re down. And I’m not applauding myself, either-this is what all the women I know do, too. Yes, we get a pint of B&Js later, and we cry in our flannel PJ pants on the couch. This tired TV trope is true. But we don’t shut down the second something bad happens. We fight through it. And it bothers me that Sloan didn’t do that.
#3) The groin-kicking. And the nose-bloodying. I won’t lie, part of me wanted to cheer. For a second. But then I was majorly grossed out. Same thing I felt when I listened to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”. Because, as thrilling as violence can be on TV-it’s not cool in real life. And it’s not the way to fix any problem. Period. I hold a really hard line on this, and I won’t apologize. You wanted to look ridiculous, Sloan? Now you do. And it’s seriously messed up that people will judge her for taking the nudie pics but not for seriously injuring a man. Yes, the boyfriend is a disgusting jerk. Yes, he should also be publicly shamed. But fight him with words, not a swift kick. We are better than this. I am not pushing some “women are the fairer sex and need to be gentle” crap-I hate that with all my heart. I’m just saying that all people need less violence, and for Sloan to resort to such a base impulse in order to make herself feel better was a cheap out for Sorkin. And he could have done way better.
#4) The Rescue! Why, oh why, did Don have to be there? Couldn’t Sloan pick up her mess by herself? Why did Jim have to rescue Hallie (and try to rescue Maggie?). Why is every woman on this show constantly patronized? Men who like women are sometimes the worst offenders. Yes, this is a bold thing to say. But I have seen women repressed WAY more under the guise of protecting them than I have ever seen women repressed out of blatant animosity. And this show is just chock-full of kind, sensitive, enlightened, good men who patronize the shit out of every female character this show has. Perhaps with the exception of Jane Fonda’s character. But she’s the bad guy. Woman not taking shit=the bad guy. And I have had just about enough of it.
Aaron Sorkin, you can do better! You wrote CJ Craig! And Donna! And Mrs. Lanidngham! You’ve penned (via The West Wing) some of the most badass, complicated, intelligent women around. So WHY are you phoning it in here? Is it too hard? Did you just give up? Well, whatever the reason, I’m about to give up. Because my blood pressure can’t take much more of this.
In other depressing TV news, the new Doctor Who is…white! And male! The most controversial thing about him seems to be the fact that he’s old(er). Way to fumble, Steven Moffat! And to those who say “Well, since Moffat is such a misogynist anyway, it’s better that he’s not writing a female doctor, because he’d screw her up,” I say- WE CAN DO BETTER. We can DEMAND better TV shows, shows so good that we forget all about the Doctor. Joss Whedon, are you listening? You want to do something about the dearth of female superheroes, here’s your chance! Women writers, are YOU listening? Let’s tell stories so excellent we don’t have to rely on the ones men tell about us.
Let’s write more stories like “A Wrinkle in Time”, by Madeleine L’Engle. That was the first book on my summer list, and re-reading it was as dazzling as first love. Meg Murry, the heroine, is complicated and flawed, but never stupid or simpering. And Mrs. Murry, her mother, is gorgeous, brilliant, totally sympathetic, and a female scientist. I missed Mother Murry as a kid, but I sure as heck appreciated her as an adult. If you haven’t read this book-drop my festering blog and get it NOW. If you have, re-read it. When I turned the last page, I said “I will never write anything as good as this. And I don’t care. I’m just glad this exists.” It is stunning, shocking, truly magical, and pretty darn near perfect. I will divulge that, for the first time this read-through, it made me weep. Just go. Read it now. You can thank me later.
How are you all doing out there? Do you agree about “The Newsroom”, or am I being too hard on it? What do you think about the new Doctor? And how’s your summer reading list looking?
Keep looking up,