Songs for the Struggling Artist


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.

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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 and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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