On “Girls,” internet commenters, and male critics

OK, a few quick things.

Thing 1) Todd VanDerWerff got fed up with the rampant sexism on the comment thread for his “Girls” reviews over at The A.V. Club, and wrote up an impassioned response.

Thing 2) While it’s great that many (including myself) linked to his response, many people seem shocked–SHOCKED, I TELL YOU–to learn that sexist douchery exists on the internet.

Thing 3) Slamming douchebags that spew that stuff online (all in the name of “comedy”, they mewl, when confronted with their idiocy) is fine and noble but misses the point.

Thing 4) The point is to deal with these systemic problems at a root level before the fact, not after the fact.

Thing 5) While we have a few female TV critics doing the heavy lifting of filling in the spaces left far too blank for for too long by male critics, it’s no longer enough to simply link to articles by Mo Ryan, or retweet material by Alyssa Rosenberg, or nod approvingly at the work done by Emily Nussbaum, Linda Holmes, and others. We should be applauded that work, but we should also be ashamed we’ve left that work for them to do.

Thing 6) It’s true that everyone should write from a perspective that is true and interesting and vital, it’s equally true that not every unique perspective need be left alone in order to respective the individual voice. An individual voice within a shared space is one thing. A voice crying out to be heard inside a veritable vacuum is another.

Thing 7) While I have supported these female writers, I haven’t done nearly enough in this regard. They don’t need my help, but their voices shouldn’t exist in a space unto their own, either. I respect them so much that I may have left them unintentionally isolated, and that’s a pretty shitty thing to have done. It’s hard for me to decry sexist shit on the internet when I have done so little to foster an environment in which such discourse doesn’t need to be policed in such a vigilant manner. This isn’t about swooping in to “save” these women. It’s about recognizing how much I have to learn from them.

Thing 8 ) I’ll do better. Don’t know how, or in what form. But I’ll do better, and I hope my other male critics do the same. Accepting things as they are isn’t possible anymore, and it’s up to all of us to do our part to make things better. And then? Make them right.

4 Comments

  1. elena
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Yay! (This made me happy)

    With critics, with TV show writing staff, with showrunners, with network executives…there’s a lack of people of color and women, and it shows in the things that get produced and the things that become popular. I’m definitely for varied viewpoints, and while Lena Dunham’s show might not be for everyone, isn’t it cool that there is a woman who’s sharing her viewpoint with others?

    While it doesn’t surprise me that the comments section is crazy-heated (and crazy-incorrect, some of the time), it does make me sad that people still think those kinds of opinions are acceptable, and not only acceptable, but valid enough to post many, many times, anonymously on an internet site. The internet is easy because it’s anonymous, but that doesn’t make the things said any less hurtful or wrong or sexist or racist or full of shit.

    It’s a symptom, though, of the larger systematic problem of a lack of representation (Glad you pointed that out, Ryan!). I still think it’s good to comment and let people know why their viewpoints are offensive, because maybe you’re the only person who will ever be able to tell them that, but I think all this Girls controversy has really brought to light how important it is to have women in the mix, in the conversation. That’s how we grow, right, by learning from people who are different than us?

  2. Ned
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you do need to do any more. If you a review shows honestly and without bias then you are doing a service to every female auteur anyway. The last thing you want to do is treat female writers, show runners, etc any differently than the male ones, thats every bit as sexist and the idiots who shout obscenities at them.

    As for the morons who make those distasteful comments let them at it. Most people are horrible anyway, there is nothing you can do about it.

  3. Frank
    Posted May 28, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    Thing 1) You’re not going to solve a widespread social problem on a fucking TV blog. By the way, I think you’ll have a hard time linking to your fellow black and Hispanic reviewers, because they don’t exist.

    Thing 2) Good work speaks for itself. Maureen Ryan is a good writer, but she’s not always a good critic – and I don’t say that because I sometimes disagree with her particular take on a TV show. Roger Ebert has written scores of reviews that I don’t agree with, but I usually understand the reasoning behind his positive or negative feelings about a particular movie – because he explains it. If you think obvious symbolism is bad, you must tell me why it is bad. If you think that disparate and unconnected storylines that don’t add up at the end of a single episode are bad, you must tell me why. If you think unrelenting darkness in a TV series is bad, explain yourself. Support your intuition for fuck’s sake. You (and others) make assumptions about what distinguishes good TV from bad, and what bothers me, personally, is the presumption that all people will agree that what your assumption is innately correct.

    I generally appreciate Alyssa Rosenberg’s political perspective because few reviewers are brave enough to be political, but I don’t think she’s always a very good writer or a very good critic. Viewing every single TV program (or any piece of art) solely through a political prism can and does sometimes betray a lack of greater perspective. Art isn’t always about how we wish things were (ideologically) – it can be about how things actually are (or how someone perceives them to be), and to point to a piece of art and then to say, “This is bad because it doesn’t represent my values,” is, in my opinion, bad criticism.

    Thing 4) You’re not responsible for commenters who are sexist or racist or otherwise biased. You are, however, responsible for the quality of you own criticism. As a reader, I don’t give a shit what you think about other people’s shortcomings as readers and amateur critics – I’m interested in your ability to look at your own shortcomings and biases and your ability to mitigate them.

    Thing 5) You should be reading Alan Sepinwall’s reviews and studying them as if they were scripture. His reviews are neither flashy nor impassioned nor novel, but he does consistently support his arguments and observations, and he is almost never presumptuous. What his reviews lack, and what your reviews (among others ) are full of, is ego. I don’t want to read a review of a TV show whose sole purpose is to prop up your fragile self-esteem – I want to read a review that gives an objective assessment of your subjective feeling about an episode of TV. If I feel that you’re writing a review and I get to feeling like that review was written only out of a desire to contradict (and therefore distinguish yourself from) fellow critics, it will leave a very bad taste in my mouth. I, as a reader, may be wrong about that, but if I’m not, would you even be able to recognize it?

    Thing 6) I personally think that racism and sexism are bad (evidently, that’s not the obvious stance that I once thought it was), but there is no need for male critics to provide links to all reviews written by female critics, even if male critics do outnumber female critics. I support affirmative action, but I don’t want to read a shitty review by a woman just because it is written by a woman, no more than I want to read a shitty review written by a man. By the way – here are some examples of male reviewers who sometimes write shitty reviews: you, James Poniewozik and Andy Greenwald. Like the female critics that I mentioned, you, Poniewozik and Greenwald (to name a few that I read) make arguments based on assumptions that you never bother to support with evidence of any kind. Sometimes, the reviews read like reactions to reactions (which I feel is the case with you), or as reactions to expectations that come from the actual program you’re reviewing. I don’t think that’s good criticism.

    Thing 7) Before you write me off, I’d like to point out that I like “Girls”, and I fucking love women. I regret that I’m adding to the toxic landscape created by many commenters by drunkenly typing up my vitriol, but I hope that you can see that neither my drunkenness nor my drunken anger invalidate my fundamental argument which, in case you missed it, is this: good criticism is good criticism, irrespective of race or gender. Write a good review and the readers you’re hoping to reach will respond positively.

  4. Steph B
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Does this mean you will recap “Hart of Dixie”?

    Just kidding, but glad to hear people are thinking about bringing serious criticism to more “feminine” works (if that’s even a thing). I would love someone to take a serious look at Veep though. That is turning into an interesting show (from a lady in power perspective).