Songs for the Struggling Artist


If She’s Not Shooting Fire From Her Fingers, I Don’t Want to See It

I was once a voracious watcher of movies and TV. When I was a pre-teen I would go to films even if I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like them. I saw whatever I could get my eyes on. TV, too. I’d watch any old thing. There was always something to learn.

As time has gone by, I am much more discerning in what I put in front of my eyeballs. I am picky about what I watch and will abandon anything that isn’t doing the job. I think that may have something to do with age and a desire not to waste my increasingly precious time.

But in the last few weeks, I have become even pickier. I need my viewing to be medicinal, in some way. I want it to help me through the current moment. And there’s not a whole lot that will do that.

What’s interesting to me, though, is how clear it is what WILL do the job.

I need it to star women, preferably with magical powers, in positions of authority. I want witch stories. I want women in charge with men at their mercy.

What I’ve run into, though, is how little of this sort of story there is. In fact, I’ve already seen most of the things that would fit the bill. I’m exploring a wider and wider range of what will satisfy me. Why oh why is it so hard to find a show where a lady sets people on fire? Won’t anyone give me what I need?

In my search, though, I have found some things I didn’t know I needed. The Worst Witch is a show for young people and while so far no one’s been set on fire, I’m finding that seeing a witch school for girls with an all female staff means, after watching three episodes, there was only one man onscreen for less than 20 seconds. I did not know I needed this. But I did. It is an all girl world and, in it, the girls are learning to become authoritative.

“Do you know what a witch does?”” asks one teacher.
“Spells?” guesses the struggling student. “Broom stick flying. Wears a pointy hat?”
“She bends the world to her will.”

Oh my god I need to learn how to do this. Someone sign me up for witch school immediately.

But what’s funny is – the actual line was not “She bends the world to her will.” In trying to remember this scene for this blog, I made that up. Because that is what I want witching to be. Because it is what I want.

Actual line: “A witch makes things go her way.”
Nice. But not quite as powerful as I need, apparently.

I need to watch women bending the world to their wills – whether it is through magic or some other means. Oh, what other means are there? My needs are so specific right now and so underserved. I want a world full of women but I stopped watching Orange Is the New Black because I cannot watch all those women completely disenfranchised, trapped and unable to exercise real power.

I want women with magic powers because I want women with power. Will the Charmed reboot serve me as well as the old one did? I think so. I’ve seen two episodes so far and before they even discovered their magical powers, one of the Charmed Ones punched an MRA dude in the face, so this show won me over quickly. However, so far, the new Charmed Ones have not set anyone on fire the way the old ones did and this will need to change. Pronto.

I got to see a few episodes of the TV adaptation of A Discovery of Witches and while there is one very satisfying fire circle, one deadly circle of fire is not enough circles of fire for me. I need 99% more fire circles.

I have never been that interested in violence in film and TV. I generally look away and plug my ears but I suddenly understand the desire for it. Why are these characters TALKING when they could be shooting fire out of their fingers?!

So – if you have any shows to recommend that fit this very specific bill, I would very much appreciate it. I imagine someday I’ll be ready to watch something besides women shooting fire again, but that moment has not yet arrived. So send me your pyrokinetic witches, please.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me find power without shooting fire out of my fingers?

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 

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Theatre Is Not a Training Ground or a Compost Bin
September 10, 2018, 9:28 pm
Filed under: art, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A few months ago, this filmmaker told me that someone had told him his screenplay would work better on stage, that he should turn it into a play. I thought that was ridiculous and I told him so, too. Why would you want to produce something designed for the screen on stage? The other way around, I understand. But in probing the question further – it sounded as if his screenplay was very wordy and they were trying to dismiss his work by sending it to the theatre, where they thought dialogue would be more welcome. This made me mad.

Theatre is not here to take your shitty film cast offs. We value words, sure, but if there’s not a reason to put those words on a stage, live, in front of people, in the moment, it doesn’t need to be there. If the piece is just a couple of people talking, make a radio show or something. Podcast that shit. It just felt like some film folks thought of the theatre as their compost bin, where they could throw their scraps and maybe have something to spread on their garden.

And this guy, with his dialogue heavy screenplay, had thought, “Maybe I should turn this into a play.” But he had literally no idea what went into producing a play. He thought it must be easier than producing a film. Don’t worry; I dissuaded him from that idea pretty quickly. His screenplay was a two person kitchen table type scenario. He could easily shoot it with a couple of actors and an iPhone if he wanted to. He could do it for almost nothing. To produce those same two people at a table in a reputable theatre in NYC would cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. AND – there’d be no particular reason to see it onstage. It wasn’t meant for the stage. It would bring nothing to the medium. The medium wouldn’t improve it.

I tend to believe that theatre should have a reason to be live, to be theatrical in some way. If it’s not necessary that an audience be in the room with it, I don’t really care about whatever is onstage. That’s my particular taste, of course. But yeah, film dudes wanting to offload their dialogue on our stages don’t make me happy.

Not long after this conversation, I met a student who wanted to work in animation. She had been advised to take some theatre classes to help her with this goal. She had no interest in theatre. She did not particularly want to do it – but she was open to exploration. And you know, that’s fine. Explore away. But I found myself irritated by the teacher who’d advised her to study theatre. I felt similarly about this as Mr. Screenplay. Like, if you want to do animation, do animation! Draw! Make silly voices! Put voices to your drawings. Put drawings to your voices. And sure, theatre can help all kinds of people with all kinds of stuff but it feels a bit, I don’t know, condescending. No one sends people to film or animation classes to improve their theatrical skills. Like, if the training in your medium is insufficient, work on that! That’s the issue, not some strange sideline investigation into an entirely different art form.

And I don’t mean to sound snobby about this. I am so happy to have people explore whatever kind of art they want. If you’re a banker who wants to study theatre, I welcome you! If you’re a nurse who wants to learn to be a clown, come on over! Join the theatrical party! But I’m not so keen on this using theatre to substitute for training in other art forms.

Theatre is an art all by itself. It is not training wheels for film or TV or animation or video. It’s just not. And it’s not the place to send cast offs from those arts either. There is, of course, great value in experimenting with other forms to improve your work in your own. In college, I studied a little printmaking and drawing and I think it gave me some perspective on my work in theatre. But broadening your horizons in other forms is very different than trying to use a form as a stepping stone either toward or away from your own. Explore, by all means. Experiment! Discover! I just hope that everyone who dips their toes in a new form gives that form the respect it deserves, in and of itself.

Does this sound a little defensive? Maybe it’s a little defensive. As someone with a lifetime commitment to theatre, I have a lifetime of people assuming I’m aspiring to film or TV. I have hundreds of experiences of telling people I work in theatre and instantly being asked, “Have you ever been on TV?” It’s not the same. It is not the same. Some people, yes, go back and forth and more power to them. TV will make you a whole lot more money than theatre ever can. But theatre is theatre. It’s not practice. It’s not training. It’s not a stepping stone. It’s not a compost bin. It’s not here to try and be something else. Theatre is theatre.

 

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Like theatre? Want to support someone who makes it?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



TV Folks Feeling Uncomfortable

Reading excerpts of a roundtable of TV showrunners made me unexpectedly angry. I found myself throwing down the magazine. There seemed to be a general consensus that the “Me Too Climate” was inhibiting their work as comedy writers. Showrunners, male and female, bemoaned the PC atmosphere.

And it made me mad. Not because I don’t understand. I understand that a certain amount of freedom and safety definitely helps the creative process. I understand that continually censoring one’s self can put a big obstacle in front of creation. But….a lot of us have been dealing with that our entire creative lives.

I don’t really feel bad for people who suddenly have to hold back from saying their misogynist joke or their racist joke or whatever ugliness they feel they should be able to just let loose with.

I don’t feel bad about these folks who suddenly have to be a little more self-conscious for fear of saying something inappropriate.

Some of us have had to be self-conscious this whole time. Some of us know how to make jokes in an inclusive way. (If you don’t think it’s possible to be funny and also kind, listen to the comics on The Guilty Feminist podcast. It is entirely possible to be funny and sensitive to power dynamics, race, gender and ability. Or listen to Cameron Esposito do crowd work. She brings everyone in with inspiring warmth and hilarity. And, of course, if you haven’t seen Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, get on that.)

But the folks running TV shows have generally been in The Business for a while. They came through the ranks when the ranks required a comfort and ability with working with the status quo. They are the Establishment.

In order to become a part of the Establishment, you have to have had a certain level of comfort, ease and understanding of the status quo. You have to have been okay with the bizarre power dynamics and the bananas world of mostly wealthy white men making the majority of the decisions. Most folks who made their way to the top of a media chain did not get there on the back of nuanced feminist or racial sensitivity. That’s not how you get to the top in TV.

I’m not saying everyone who works in high power positions in TV are complicit in mounting sexist, racist and abelist structures but a lot of them are.

And now as the big players in their industry begin to tumble down, people are looking to them to say something to address things that they are frankly ill equipped to address. There is a shifting of the balance of power happening, for sure. But it’s a looking glass world.

I saw, in this same magazine that I threw down in fury, an advertisement for a conference on change. It was clearly an attempt to help guide people through the shifting sands of power, to address sexual politics and new norms. But of the maybe 12 speakers, there was only one person of color. And one of the lead presenters was a white haired man who appeared to be about 75 and is the “Creative Ambassador” at Barneys. These are the people folks are looking to help them through a changing landscape? I mean…

It just suddenly struck me that rather than reach out to the people who have been historically shut out of those worlds, they’re just asking the people inside the gates to do things a little differently.

Instead of hiring people who have been working for racial equality and gender equality and disability rights and so on, they’re turning to the people who never cared about those things and asking them to figure out how to address them.

And you know, I don’t object to all those folks getting more woke, as it were. That’s great. Let’s wake everyone up! But…I don’t really have the patience or the good will to watch celebrities and TV execs learn about feminism from each other. It’s just not that interesting watching them make mistakes we all made back in college.

I’d rather watch W. Kamau Bell get given four shows to develop and Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s shows get picked up by a major network and then get three more. I want to see Hari Kondobulu and Negin Farsad on TV all the time. I want Zach Anner to have a show.

I mean…I just don’t feel bad for those still holding on to their comfortable jobs and finding it a little less comfortable. It should be a little less comfortable. It’s your comfort with how things were that contributed to the ickiness of the media culture. Stay uncomfortable. Stay present. And invite some other people in.

And listen, I don’t really have a dog in this race. I have no ambitions to work in TV.

But I do suspect the same mechanism is already at work in theatre, where I DO have ambitions. I’m sure that, as the big companies are making their reckonings, they are not saying to themselves, “Hey I wonder if we could bring in some people who have been working in feminism or racial justice or disability rights and produce their plays, for a change?”

Nope. I’m pretty sure the first order of business will be to turn to the people already inside and ask them to write (or direct or create) something on the topic they’re hoping to improve their image on. Mark my words, we’re going to see Neil Labute’s Me Too play before too terribly long or David Mamet’s. And I’m sure it will sell a lot of tickets, Lord Help Us. But…I’d rather see a big theatre stage all the feminist writers who have writing without reward in the trenches for years. Or hire any number of feminist directors who have not gotten the work offers they should.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this time theatre won’t follow TV the way a little sister follows the older one. Maybe this time theatre can lead the way and invite in all the folks who have working tirelessly on the fringes. Maybe.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support my lifelong work on the fringes

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



The Most Womany Woman Episode Ever
October 26, 2017, 11:59 pm
Filed under: feminism, TV | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been watching GLOW – the Netflix series about the women’s wrestling show of the 80s and I’ve been enjoying how many women there are on the show and how different they are from one another. It is refreshing to watch a group of ladies figure out how to make something – even if that something that they’re making is kind of kitschy and weird and also racist and sexist a lot of the time.

It has been enjoyable viewing thus far but then I watched an episode that switched my experience from enjoyable to revolutionary. It blew my mind a little bit. Or a lot. I don’t know yet what impact this episode will have on me.

At first I wondered if I was having an experience similar to my reaction to Call the Midwife – a sense of “Wow. Is this what being a man feels like? Seeing you and your friends’ experience reflected on screen all the time?” But then, no…I realized that GLOW isn’t showing me what it’s like to be a man. (Or rather what it would be like if women had authority and dominated the storytelling landscape.) GLOW just showed me what it’s like to be a woman. Right now. And 32 years ago when the show takes place.

Episode 8 (“Maybe It’s All the Disco“) was the womany-est woman story I have ever seen on TV. Or in film. Or anywhere. It’s not just the menstrual cycle plot line or the pregnancy test or the abortion under consideration – it was the extraordinary community of women that finds a way to come together under the clumsy patriarchal sexist authority. It took eight episodes to get here – but after the initial jockeying for the limited slots in the job, the women of Glow have started to do what I have seen women do again and again – work together to support each other and deal with difficult situations even without the authority to do so.

Earlier in the day, I’d listened to a podcast about collective intelligence – the show went on at some length about all the different factors in creating a group that can solve a problem most effectively. They talked about equal distribution of contribution and emotional intelligence but they saved the real kicker for last. This is that scientific evidence suggests that if your goal is to have an effective group – you should work to include the following: creating an environment wherein everyone feels they can contribute, stack your team with emotionally intelligent people and include as many women as possible.

That’s right. According to several different studies, groups of women solve problems of many varieties faster and more effectively than groups of men. And the more women in your group, the better off you are. This does not surprise me What does surprise me is hearing two men say it. What does surprise me is seeing that experience of extraordinary community intelligence reflected in a TV show alongside some basic female body experiences.

I am surprised by my own surprise in watching a collective feminine experience on a TV show. But it really did set off an explosion in my head. What if we lived in a world where it was common to see the accouterments of our menstrual cycles within our narratives? What if the female experience were so often revealed that an abortion story could become commonplace and one day maybe even a cliché? What if we regularly saw women of a multiplicity of backgrounds come together to celebrate each other? Like we do in real life. What would that world be like? Really. What would that world be like?

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



The Sherlock Fridging
January 10, 2017, 1:36 am
Filed under: feminism, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I should have been crying. The music was telling me that’s what I ought to be doing. And I cry at commercials so it is not usually hard to push the tears button in an emotional moment on a TV show. But I was not crying. I was flailing my arms in fury. My boyfriend looked at me and asked, “What?”
I explained that I needed a minute to deal with my rage. It didn’t take him long to work out what had made me so mad. It was (WARNING: SPOILERS for Sherlock Season 4 Episode 1 ahead) not just that they’d killed off one of the only complex female characters in the show to forward the story of the two male leads (a trope that happens so often that it has a name. It’s apparently known as fridging.) It was that in her dying moments she said to her husband, John Watson, “You were my whole world. Being Mary Watson was the only life worth living.”

Which is gross enough in its sentiment but was magnified by a million by the fact that the character was a super bad-ass spy type genius. It’d be like if James Bond jumped in front of a bullet and then while he was dying proclaimed that all his years as 007 were meaningless and only the previous year when he became a house husband and a father were important. No one who gave a shit about James Bond would stand for that but because Mary took John Watson’s name and had his baby, suddenly anything she ever did before was meaningless. And most people probably watched this show and cried as the charming lady died, the one who was a mother, too, oh no….but really the most important thing is , what are those two boys going to do! That lady’s death has caused a rift between them!

Now – surely I’ve seen this sort of story before. And maybe I’ve even cried if they played the right music and made me care about the character enough – but THIS TIME… this time, I was done.

I mean, really, I’ve had actual women say similar things to me…things like, “Pursue your ambitions all you like but in the end, the most important thing you can do in life is to have children with a nice husband.” And sure, I get that having kids and a husband is really profound and meaningful to a lot of women. I’m glad that it is so fulfilling for so many. But when this is our only story, when we learn again and again that a woman’s only value is a) her looks and b) her reproduction, I get furious. Diminishing Mary’s ambition to just being Mrs. Watson is insulting to us all.

And listen, if the writers wanted to have her deliver a sweet goodbye to her husband that made him feel super special, great…it could have gone something like, “I did a lot of pretty kick-ass things in my life and had a lot of amazing adventures. This one, with you, has been the best so far. I’m sorry to miss our future adventures. It would have been exciting and fun solving more mysteries with you. Also our daughter is pretty great. I love you both. I’m off to the Great Spy Story in the Sky!”

Instead we get a Mrs. Watson whose sole ambition is being Mrs. Watson. And every young woman watching internalizes the idea that nothing matters but getting married and having babies.

The best part of the episode for women and an actually progressive moment, was when the whole Watson family, including the baby, went on a clue hunt with the bloodhound. For a moment, we had a mother pursuing her own interest and passion, with her husband and baby. It was a great “Take Your Daughter to Work” moment and not something we get to see very often. I’d love to watch a show wherein a woman finds a great way to balance her life with her kid. But of course, rather than continuing to show us a sharp working mother, they had to kill her and undercut everything she ever did before.

It felt like a slap in the face – particularly in a world where women have recently had so many losses. If we lived in a world where we saw more of another narrative for women – more Good Girls Revolt and more Hidden Figures and we got some of those genius movies people like so much but with a woman instead – like a female Beautiful Mind or a Lady Good Will Hunting or a Woman Theory of Everything – well, then I might be able to tolerate this sort of story as a nice change of pace. However, due to the fact that is 100% status quo and getting more quo-y all the time, I would like to politely suggest that the Sherlock writers go fridge themselves.

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Like the Blog?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



“Is this what it feels like to be a man?”

I recently finished watching Seasons 1 and 2 of Call the Midwife. My first thoughts, after watching an episode or two, were “Is this what it feels like to be a man? To see your gender entirely at the center of stories? To have a wide variety of characters and not just one pretty one to be the romantic interest for the lead?”

It has been remarkable to watch stories not just featuring women but about some of the most quintessentially female experiences you could have. Watching stories about pregnancy and childbirth, for one, but also abortion, domestic violence and motherhood.

That all feels pretty revolutionary to me.

But in addition to things like the thrill of having the main romantic story happening to the most awkward of the women, there is also the extraordinary effect of watching so many women in authority.

Every single midwife in the series finds herself in a position of authority at some point, so we watch the younger ones struggle with it and find their own voices and power. That, in itself, feels instructive as this is not a narrative we ever really get to see in the media. But the other part of it is the way authority sits on the older women in the show. They are in charge and there is no question about it. It occurs to me that I have spent most of my life watching media that models for men how to take on authority (or how not to) but leaves women to figure it out for ourselves.

To watch a community of women in full command of themselves and the world around them is something I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to watch on screen before. I love Orange is the New Black and its community of women, too, but because it is set in prison, all authority rests in the hands of the state, so even though the show is fantastic, it doesn’t have the same empowering effect.

Call the Midwife isn’t perfect (It’s very white, it can be way sentimental and sometimes the plot twists make me roll my eyes) but it is thrilling to experience a TV show that offers so much female-ness.And given the way theatre tends to follow TV and film, it gives me hope for a future when we could also have this sort of thing can stage. More please. More of this.

*call the midwife

P.S.  On another note, I also love Masters of Sex. Set in almost the same time period, dealing with women’s health and created by women with a woman at the center. I am particularly thrilled to see a story that is so concerned with women’s sexuality and ambition in a way that we rarely see on TV. It doesn’t have Call the Midwife’s variety of bodies and ages or its authority – but it embraces some of the darkness and pleasure that Call the Midwife couldn’t possibly engage in. What would happen if these worlds could collide? I would definitely watch that show.



No applause for the Ladies
June 7, 2014, 5:54 pm
Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , ,

The Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast (which I love) will sometimes have two of its lead actors (Marc Evan Jackson and Paul F. Tompkins) answer questions from listeners. In an episode I heard not too long ago, they discussed something that I cannot stop thinking about.

Thrilling Adventure Hour often features well-known guest stars from TV and Film. Apparently, when they enter, the audience tends to applaud but it never applauds for the women the way it does for the men. Both Tompkins and Jackson were confused and distressed by this fact. They wondered: Is it that the women aren’t as beloved? Or is it just that the audience doesn’t recognize them?

I don’t have an answer, obviously. In addition to not having ever seen a live performance of this particular show, the psychology of an audience will always be a mystery. But I can’t help turning over the problem. Are women on TV and film less recognizable? Or said in another way: Are women on screen more alike than not?

Certainly, given the extreme standards of beauty in the Industry, women tend to fit into a very narrow band of physical appearance. There is less variety in body type, in shape, in bone structure even. And when there IS variety, make-up, hair and stylists do a great deal of work to even that distinctiveness out.

The actors that appear on Thrilling Adventure Hour don’t tend to be mega stars. Many of them are featured players on TV shows. You’d love them from Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, not from a movie blockbuster – and at this level, men are in a position to be distinctive character actors. They can look any which way. Every man can look different.

Women, however, are styled (and chosen) to be objects in pretty much every scenario. And as objects are often seen as interchangeable, they can be more forgettable, perhaps. So when a man from someone’s favorite TV show shows up, the audience applauds wildly, thrilled to see their old friend. They can be fat, thin, FBI types, Doctor types, Garbage Man types, whatever. And when a woman shows up, it’s not clear which TV show she was the girlfriend or wife on and thereby draws less applause. She might be familiar but not immediately recognizable.

Is this what’s going on at Thrilling Adventure Hour? I have no idea. But I don’t think the adulation for men and tepid applause for women is unique to that show. And I think it is really worth thinking about.

And, of course, I’d like to see the crowds go crazy with applause for the ladies, too.

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