I’ve written here before about the wonderful documentary programming on the new Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), but the film debuting tonight at 9 p.m. – “Miss Representation” — is not up to the high standards that have been set by the cable operation over the past few months.
Produced and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the documentary is intended as an expose of demeaning depictions of girls and women by the media. A torrent of images that Newsom says hold women back by undermining their own confidence and causing young men to view women in purely sexual terms.
Newsom has gathered some impressive talking heads — ranging from Jane Fonda to Dianne Feinstein to Condoleezza Rice — who point out the continuing inequities faced by women in politics and the corporate culture.
There is no debating the fact that women still earn less than men who hold down the same jobs. And despite the fact that women make up 51 percent of the population they are grossly underrepresented in local, state and federal government.
Where Newsom goes terribly astray is in her blanket assault on “the media” — she stoops to using clips from Victoria’s Secret commercials and sound bites from semi-crazed right wing pundits to illustrate what she terms an anti-female bias in TV programming and movie content.
Pop entertainment is so huge and diverse now that you can build a case for or against almost any sociological argument, depending on where you look for evidence.
I could make America look like a moral cesspool by showing you nothing but clips from bad porn movies and the dregs of reality TV — “Cheaters” et al — but I could also make our entertainment culture look very sophisticated and enlightened by serving up nothing but excerpts from “The Wire” and “Six Feet Under” and all of the other high-end TV dramas that have made this a Golden Age of home entertainment.
Newsom makes the mistake of portraying women as the passive victims of sexist media. You don’t have to watch the insulting crap she compiles in “Miss Representation” — you can turn the channel to something more edifying or download any one of the thousands of good movies available from Netflix and its competitors.
I agree with Newsom that there is a lot of stupid, sexist junk out there, but she doesn’t show much respect for the intelligence of other women by implying that they don’t know enough to watch something else.
She also implies that watching a questionable program means that you are endorsing it. Two of the smartest women I know love to hoot and holler over the latest episode of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” — it’s relaxing escapist fun for them — but they realize it’s just a nutty concoction. Don’t we all enjoy occasional bad TV binges and then move on?
Newsom’s analysis of the movie business is also shaky. She tells us that male actors get more leading roles in films than women but she doesn’t really analyze the quality of the material the big male stars have been playing over the past decade.
I would argue that no man was seen in anything like the variety and quality of roles that Meryl Streep has tackled over the past ten years. Her paychecks might be smaller, but would she want the big bucks that peers like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino have been getting for dreck like “Meet the Fockers” or “88 Minutes”?
The “image” of men in the big mainstream movies is just as bad — if not worse — than the way women are portrayed. That’s why so many smart adults of both sexes have become more selective about what they will pay to see.