Mike White (Nacho Libre, Orange County, Dawson’s Creek) thinks men don’t want to watch women on TV and his current show, Enlightened (co-created by star Laura Dern), is suffering for it. As a queer woman, I love blaming my problems on men. Sometimes I just sit at home and knock over glasses of water then raise my clenched fist in the air and say through clenched teeth, “DAMN YOU, MEN!” They are the root of so many problems. I just don’t know if that’s true here.
“If I have a male protagonist, it’s a studio movie, and if it’s a female protagonist, it’s an indie movie. That’s just how it is. It’s not about the studios. It’s about America and who goes to see movies. Women are interested in men and women, and men aren’t interested in the woman’s story. They just aren’t. There are exceptions, but by and large…I mean I do think that it’s feminizing for a guy to go see a movie with a female lead unless it’s Angelina Jolie shooting people or Zero Dark Thirty or something that feels like it’s in the male sphere. The devaluation of the traditional female roles or the traditional female approach, it starts to feel like this is what’s wrong with our country.”
Lol. Well, yes. People hating women in general is one of the many things that is wrong with our country, but is that why people aren’t watching your show? Questionable. At this point in time, men not caring about women’s stories is a problem for him because his show is in the danger zone. It seems he thinks he should be praised for writing about the women no one cares about and thus rewarded for such a brave and daring career choice. Which is fine I guess. Do I think his efforts should be greeted with a firm pat on the back? Sure. Should it be held at the highest esteem because he stepped down from his podium of white malesness to write about women? No, not really. I appreciate it. I do. Thanks dude. But that’s all I have for you right now.
It’s especially interesting that this is coming from Mike White who is, from all indications, kind of dope. He’s a nerdy bisexual vegan who also happens to be an animal and LGBT rights activist with a gay dad. I don’t think he’s the problem. I think he’s frustrated and in that frustration and misunderstanding of why his show isn’t killing it despite critics’ love for it, he blamed some people that hardly get blamed for…well, anything. None of this makes it okay. I am only too aware of the excuses people make for non-queer people that aren’t down for a cause let alone THE cause but I’m still unwilling to not hold awesome people to task because they might actually listen and do an even beter job of making the world a better place.
[Sidenote: It's also worth mentioning that movies and television tend to vary with respect to their treatment of women, so the employment of "If I have a male protagonist, it's a studio movie, and if it's a female protagonist, it's an indie movie" as evidence to bolster his claim that womanhood is getting his television show cancelled isn't necessarily the best one. It's not a secret that women are vastly underrepresented behind-the scenes of movies and that movies about women aren't being made and that Hollywood remains, by and large, a boy's club, churning out movies deliberately oriented at male viewers under the misleading conviction that movies about women don't sell. But television isn't the same kind of wasteland with respect to female representation onscreen, although behind-the-scenes the situation is obviously quite bleak, though slightly less bleak than film. (18% of women behind-the-scenes in film are women vs. 26% in television.) Unfortunately, that serious issue isn't what we're talking about here.]
When shows are canceled or underperforming, it’s easy to blame the intrepid American public so often called “viewers,” who in cases where they are called viewers, are usually being done so because they’re usually non-viewers. I mean if 30 Rock had been canceled prematurely, I for sure would have had a big eff you for “viewers” and blamed it on their stupidity. This blaming of viewers is especially prone to happen when said show is about a woman or group of women. Yet there are countless examples of shows about women, even strong women, that have done well and and in some cases, become full fledged franchises. There could be plenty of problems with Enlightened. It could be its alleged non-genre, it could be that it doesnt fit the voice of the channel, it could be that the show sucks (even critical darlings can fail to connect with viewers), it could be because there’s been very little promotion — truth be told, it could be ANY multitude of reasons that I can’t speak to at all because I’ve never even seen the show. This is all to say that to take on the burden of women in media because your show is struggling seems disengenious and self-serving.
He seems, quite frankly, slightly oblivious to the privilege-laced language he’s using while trying to take a stand and speak the truth to the man. Did he forget when he said, “I do think that it’s feminizing for a guy to go see a movie with a female lead”? If that’s what you think, you’re part of the problem. To say there is something inherently unmanly about watching shows with female leads doing anything other than shooting shit up in the same breath you use to reprimand men for not watching your female-fronted show seems odd. Clearly plenty of men don’t have this problem — Girls, Enlightened’s Sunday night lead-in, was doing pretty well the last time I checked (and research shows a full 56 percent of Girls’ “linear” audience (those who watch the show on their TV or using a DVR) is male). Also doing well? 2 Broke Girls, Whitney, and Once Upon a Time, shows about women outside of male spheres that I don’t particularly care for, but men still watch. Not to mention the present success of female-led shows like Homeland, Nashville, Scandal, Smash, The Mindy Project, Veep, The Big C, New Girl, The Good Wife, Damages, Raising Hope, Ringer, Nurse Jackie… and so on.
I’m sure from Twitter, all internet articles, and everything your male friends have to say about anything ever, you would guess that they don’t truly appreciate these shows. Certainly not the way they love their Mad Mens or their Breaking Bads yet they’re talking about them because they’re watching them. And at the end of the day, no matter how many times they’ve expressed conflicted feelings regarding Lena Dunham’s boobs, they still tune in every week to watch those boobs. They haven’t missed an episode of those boobs, and the ratings reflect that.
I think the problem is people have a hard time accepting that a man can appreciate “manly” television and still have seen every episode of Desperate Housewives. I don’t think a majority of dudes are sitting at home like oh no, I don’t wanna watch these television shows about extremely attractive women or I won’t watch this show because omg there’s a woman on it and she’s not cooking or breastfeeding but the machines that crank these shows out and advertise them insist they feel this way because it’s easier. They can more reliably convince the powers that be they can make money off of a show if you know who it’s for and how to reach them which duh, if you only market the show to women of course way more women are going to watch it and then you pat yourself on the back because you successfully got women to watch the women’s show. But every now and then a show gets lucky and finds an audience outside of their network mandated demographic. A real audience. An audience that’s diverse and likes a show because it makes them feel the feels or laugh harder than they had all week. And that’s how you end up with 2 Broke Girls being the post halftime spot and Elementary as the Superbowl lead out.
Americans disdain for women isn’t as simple as no women on teevee evarrrrrrr and the part it has to play is backend misogyny if anything. The problem isn’t that people won’t watch women on TV, it’s that networks think people only want certain kinds of women on TV when they want women at all. The average television viewer has no idea what the process is and how unlikely it is for a television show to make it to air. All they can do is work with that they’ve got. If he wants to talk about men being the problem, why not talk about the men that decide that his movie with a female lead is an indie and not a studio film since it’s those people that are constantly trying to convince US that what WE really want to see is a straight white dude being the hero.
Over and over Americans have shown not only that they want diverse stories but that they will embrace them and still, here we are. Shows with the whitest, straightest, manliest casts in the world fail all the time because every now and then no one buys the bullshit. However, when those fail it’s because an idea was underdeveloped or it was in the wrong time slot or it wasn’t the right time. There are always excuses ready that have nothing to do with that fact that maybe people are tired of seeing Home Improvement Part 87 on TV. But when there’s any deviation from that, it’s obvious why it failed. It was too smart, too gay, too black, too many women. If a strong female lead does well, it’s because she’s in a men’s sphere, if it doesn’t do well it’s because she comes off as a bitch or people want women in a more traditional role. There’s always a convenient excuse that caters to whatever your viewpoint of women on television is. These studios and networks put money where they expect to make money not realizing that by not giving shows the support they deserve is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of having faith in the writing, the directors, and the performances and giving these shows the support they need and deserve, they hang them out to dry and when they fail they say it was unavoidable.
“There is a little part of me that feels like I have a little bit of creative capital, and I’d rather use it to put a different face forward as the center of the world.” The process of white men trusting white men to know what other white men want to see and then blaming white men for their own failure is laughable. Essentially White is saying he’s making this show for everyone to appreciate but if you’re a dude and you watch it, you’re a pussy but also you should be ashamed of yourself if you don’t because that means you don’t like shows with women on them. Someone should point out to him that his own faulty logic is the same shit that keeps shows like his from getting to air and women like the lead on his show from getting to make shows of their own. And also maybe that it’s not that men aren’t watching his show. No one is. Just as a P.S.