Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Was Miss Representation Misrepresenting?

After reading Heather and John’s blog posts, I decided to give my two cents on Miss Representation as well.  I also found some flaws in Newsom’s documentary and the presentation she gave here at BSU.  Actually, too many to fully analyze in the span of a blog post because I’m lazy, but I’ll touch on a few.

First, I think she negated the responsibility we have as consumers.  It’s easy to point the finger at the media, but at what point does the media’s responsibility end and the consumer’s responsibility begin?  I would argue that consumer responsibility supersedes media responsibility.  As consumers, we can choose whether or not to tune into a program.  If a consumer deems a program to be particularly damaging, why not shut it off?  After all, if enough consumers follow suite, the program’s funding and rating would eventually tank, and it would be removed from the air.  And this all raises another question—who are the consumers?  Reports show that women generally consume more television than men, by as much as an average of 40 minutes a day (excluding video game time).  And this is just straight television time—I’d be curious to see the viewer demographics on tabloid shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  So while, according to Newsom’s documentary, men may generally have more say as media producers, women may generally have more say as media consumers.  And the persistence of programs like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo can only evince that consumers are allowing them to exist.

Second, Newsom made kind of an unwarranted jab at capitalism.  She characterized the media as these big capitalist exploiters—constantly selling us products without any sense of morality.  Assuming this is true, how can we be sure Newsom is not guilty of the exact same thing?  What is Miss Representation if not a money-making, capitalist machine?  Miss Representation is not a nonprofit piece of media.  In other words, the proceeds go to Newsom, not the cause she claims to support.  How are we to know that she is not exploiting the social-conscious youth that her documentary is directed towards?  If she truly wanted to establish credibility and solidify her position against the supposed exploits of capitalist media, why not make Miss Representation not-for-profit and donate its revenue to her supposed cause?  Newsom may be using the exact business model she criticizes by masking it as social justice.

Third, at one point during Miss Representation, Paul Haggis claims that the 20s, 40s, and 50s were a better time for women in the media.  He states that, back then, “we allowed women to really embody all of the contradictions that make up a human being,” and concluded that 50s media accepted women as “complex human beings.”  And yet later in the documentary, the same time period is criticized as being non-progressive.  Jane Fonda states, “This [gender inequality] is not new.”  She says that even in the 50s women were being exploited in the media, using the fact that her film executive asked her to “wear falsies” as evidence.  Why did Newsom choose to include two contradicting pieces of evidence in her documentary?  To me, this either shows a large executive oversight on Newsom’s part, or her willingness to utilize any unfiltered speck of evidence to sell her idea, self-contradictory or otherwise.  It makes me question other evidence she uses—where else does she (perhaps more subtly) contradict herself?

Lastly, Newsom chose to conclude her documentary with these final words spoken by Dianne Feinstein, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as a man to be thought of as half as good; luckily that’s not too difficult.  I thought this was an extremely poor conclusion.  While Newsom persistently stated in her BSU presentation that gender inequality should not be viewed in terms of “males vs. females,” I feel that Feinstein’s words do just that.  They encourage a rift between males and females by placing them at odds with each other, and the fact that this is the very last message imparted by Miss Representation speaks volumes.  Why not instead conclude the documentary with words of unity?

So while I fully agree and support what (I hope) is Newsom’s ultimate goal, gender equality, I disagree with a lot of the methods she is using to achieve it.  And don’t get me wrong, I agree with some of the methods she uses as well.  For instance, I found some of the empirical data Newsom cites to be astounding and some to be, better yet, verifiable, but ultimately I think that the utter fallaciousness of a few methods really undermines her cause as a whole.

But as I said, this is just my two cents.  What do you guys think?

P.S.  I really didn’t intend for this post to be so lengthy when I began writing it, so kudos if you were able get through it.  As I’m sure you must be visually stunted by now, please indulge in amusing yourself back to health.  Here, have a LOLCAT.


  1. I think that we do have a bigger role as consumers than the documentary indicated. Most of the students that were interviewed all attacked media and businesses and advertising, but I can't really think of any where they talked about the role their fellow citizens (and themselves) play.

    We watched that Go Daddy commercial and bemoaned the commercials we're given these days, but if you check on youtube most commercials like that probably have millions of hits. If that is the case, why would a company change their marketing and advertising strategy? We are merely feeding the beast in that regard.

    I also didn't really appreciate the women vs. men angle that was sometimes taken. I liked that there were men (and male students) who were interviewed, and some of them, like the mayor of New Jersey, I particularly liked. However, I think it is important, as you noted, that a message of unity be pushed.

    I recently read a book called "Half the Sky", which is about the oppression of women in third world countries and the different efforts that are being made to overcome it. It was an encouraging book for multiple reasons, but for one it did not paint men as the villains but instead noted that culture, tradition, family pressure, and, significantly, a lack of education are the bigger obstacles (among others - its a decently-long book). Men and women are the key to change, and the book notes that.

    I would have liked for the documentary to push that more as well. I will say that I did appreciate the pressure that men are subjected to through the media towards the end - but at the same time it felt like a quick add-on rather than a fully-fledged argument.

  2. I would definitely agree with you, Jacob, that consumers play an even larger part than corporations. We decide what sells, because we are the ones buying it! Of course, there is a population who honestly do not believe there is anything wrong with shows like "America's Next Top Model" and "The Bachelor," or the oversexualization of ordinary shows and commercials, but I think we also need to admit that those of us who are not very fond of such programming are still attracted to it in one way or another sometimes. Whether it's because we want to see what embarrassing thing Snookie says next so we can ridicule her, or we secretly long to get caught up in some drama every now and then, I think it's safe to say that many of us watch stuff we don't really like sometimes, or at least that we don't want to like. I think that is one reason why the cycle is so hard to break: because even those of us who are against offensive programming are sometimes attracted to it. It's like being afraid of sharks but loving shark week...we can't look away, and that causes there to be more people than just the fan bases of these shows watching them, let alone the fact that offensive commercials are shown between shows we may even like or for products that we buy anyways. Who wants to go out of their way to boycott and possibly spend more money on less favored products just so that no one will notice? It's a vicious cycle that we feed because we feel that we have no other choice.

  3. I'd like to bring up an important point streamlining the flaw of these "women empowerment" videos. Although it is interesting to see these videos and have these discussions about how the gender inequality has evolved and what to do about it, it stems from different branches. The ideas expressed in the video bloom from branched of the same trunk. They have an ultimate goal and vision. However, as we keep moving outward and beyond with new ideas and projects, the purpose becomes more distant. The flowers on the branches reach farther and farther away lessening the impact of the original goal.

    With that long, lofty metaphor (I hoped it helped if not was fun to read) when these women come together over this particular topic there a variety of feminist views that pour into this one video. The bad thing is they are all different branches. They have or had the same idea but they split off going in different directions. The contradictions come from radical feminists clashing with more liberal. Having the two different perspectives on women in the 50s is showing how feminists interpret that time period differently. Liberal want equality for everyone where as radicals feel women are oppressed and should rise above the glass ceiling and what not. Probably would have been better to explain the quality of those different feminist attitudes then letting the umbrella of "feminism" reign free.

  4. I think you made some great points, and stuff I definitely wish we had brought up in class.

    One thing that bothered me about the rhetoric of Missrepresentation was the generalization of the other sex (males). I realize I'm a man, and I realize that this might make my opinion a little bias, but I felt that the documentary did very little to show how the media has a negative effect on men.

    Now, I realize that the purpose was to consider issues of women, but when one group is generalized by another, I have a hard time taking the argument seriously.