Monday, November 09, 2015

Amy’s Men: Unruliness, Media Parody, and the Male Audience

[the following are notes from a roundtable discussion I participated in on Amy Schumer]

What’s left to say about Amy Schumer?

She’s been riding a wave of critical acclaim over the last year that recently culminated with winning the first Emmy for a sketch comedy program, preceded by a hit romantic comedy, and a Peabody Award. Her program Inside Amy Schumer has become the kind of Must See TV that Chappelle’s Show briefly enjoyed in the mid 2000s. The programs are very similar in their format: sketches separated by stand-up. Chappelle’s musical guests are replaced with Schumer’s interviews.

And, of course, whereas Chappelle was must see TV because of his satiric critiques related to race, Schumer critiques gender norms. As has been oft-remarked, Schumer is an example of the “unruly woman.” She follows a line of female comedians that aren’t just funny, but who exceed the bounds of what is considered socially acceptable for women. Unruly women are talk too much, are loud, have too much sex, fart, poop, and in other ways exceed bounds of what is considered normal or acceptable.

In TV, we can trace that line back to Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen, up to the 80s and 90s with Roseanne Arnold, and Schumer’s contemporaries Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham. Amy, though, works in sketch comedy versus sitcom or drama, and because of this the boundaries of how the takes on gender norms are less restricting. Roseanne in a domestic comedy and so was about motherhood and family. Lena Dunham is also bound by narrative, if not the domestic. Amy is in sketch and has freer reign, and has proven relentless in her focus on her own unruliness.

However, I would suggest that because Amy’s show is a sketch comedy on CC, the “male skewing audience” has meant particular attention to the question of Amy’s sexual desirability among men. What’s interesting to me is the success of that critique, and the ways that has perhaps been made more acceptable to the male audience. I think that the ways in which the critique has been crouched within media parody is important to this.

That is Inside Amy Schumer emphasizes not being unruly in culture, but unruly in media culture specifically. Going up against media norms deflects the critique, and avoids being directly critical of men.

A significant amount of time that Amy has spent talking about sex has been focused on whether or not the male TV audience wants to have sex with her. The first scene of the second season dealt with this explicitly

Not only did this scene open the first episode of the second season, but it also immediately followed what has been IAS’s lead in all three seasons: Tosh.0. On the air since 2009, that program has been enormously successful, and IAS’s success has been reported in terms of not how big her audience is, but how much of Tosh.0’s audience she loses.

This scene directly represents the stereotypical “bad” male audience member through a collection of dipshit “bros.” Even the guy who says he appreciates that she provides a feminist perspective on a “male-skewing channel” is doing so only to set up a joke that he also is only concerned with talking about whether or not he would fuck her. Finally, the guys battle over beef jerky and energy drinks. If this is the audience Amy loses, good riddance. But there’s a implicit argument here also: don’t be like these guys. Be more sophisticated. You understand how focus groups, etc. work, and you are not like these guys.

But I think that it is not too difficult to connect this skit to the male audience that is constructed indirectly through media parody. That is, there (understandably) aren’t scenes illustrating the smart, ideal, sophisticated male viewer as that would be incompatible with satiric ridicule. The prevalence of parody posits a sophisticated male viewer even when it is not an explicit “behind the scenes” sketch like the focus group. Parody requires being in on the joke; that is, understanding the media forms being adopted in order to critique gender norms (Milk Milk Lemonade, Amy Live Blakely).

The ultimate example of this is “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer.” This is an entire episode devoted to the question of whether or not Amy is sexually desirable. In contrast to the focus group scene, it is entirely couched within a remake of 12 Angry Men. This isn’t in order to parody 12 Angry Men, rather it is parody used as a form for satire. The target here is…not clear exactly. It’s an incredibly well produced homage to 12 Angry Men, but only as a format within which to continue the same debate about whether or not Amy is within the bounds of conventional desirability. It’s another chance to rehash Amy’s unruliness, but especially to celebrate the cultural savviness of viewers. The cast are all-stars from film, TV, and comedy. Slowly their true desires are brought to the surface and they ultimately will agree that Amy could elicit a “reasonable chub.”

This may be the best example of what I am talking about in terms of how parody becomes useful as a mode to cage critique of patriarchy and gender norms within media parody, but the same gesture is present in many other scenes which are in effect, at least superficially, media parody. Again, the point is not to parody the media, but to use parody as a form through which to debate gender norms and critique patriarchy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

TV Family available for classroom use

I'm excited that my film, TV Family, is now available in a 56-minute educational version for classroom use. It is being distributed by the Media Education Foundation. I'm continuing to work on home distribution, and expect to be able to announce TV distribution soon.

Here's the link to their page: TV Family via Media Education Foundation

And here's the quotes from reviewers:

"Fascinating. If you're an educator looking at the rise of unscripted programming, representations of the family in mass media, or how myths of the American Dream have always been caught up with dominant ideas about gender, class, and race, this is the film for you and your classes!"
- Michael Morgan | Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst

"Emotionally moving and insightful, this film exposes television's ideological whitewashing of representations of family and domestic life."
- William Yousman | Director of the Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program at Sacred Heart University

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Scenes from TV Guide: November 12, 1960

He's not the "houswives' conscience" but he does have a special "friend"--and a new show, My Three Sons.
He's the housewives conscience, so keep up, ladies. Also, keep up, "vintage males."

How do you explain Bowling for Dollars, Uncle Miltie? I mean, Mr. Television?

Yes, you can "Fly Mohawk." Presumably they needed Sterling Cooper Draper Whatever to rebuild the brand after this campaign. Or maybe it was just unfortunate ad placement, like being next to this giant poodle getting a shave to celebrate 90 years of Sprattsmanship.

Dave Garroway peers into the abyss, then hammers his name onto it and beckons you to join him.

I bought this because of this program, Story of a Family, a prototype for family reality shows that is pitched here as a documentary investigation of the postwar family. 

So screw you, Emerald Isle.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Tom Petty was Right about Homebrewing

That is, the waiting is the hardest part.

I decided to take the jump to homebrewing after one of my colleagues did and I found out how affordable and doable it really is. Plus,  I couldn't let him have all the fun. So top of the list this Christmas was a 5 gallon homebrewing set and this useful book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. That book is all the encouragement you'll ever need. It's kind of like buying a tourist guidebook for a vacation. You don't necessarily do the things/go the places in it, but it gives you the confidence to go ahead and get there.

My daughter is not impressed by the smell of the wort.
Before my equipment arrived, I spent a lot of time perusing the 1000+ recipes available from Austin Homebrew Supply. With 800+ clones and 400+ original recipes, one can spend a whole lot of time window shopping. Luckily, if you create an account you can save the recipes to a wishlist to keep track of them. My kits on that list should keep me busy at least until the summer.

After toying with making a clone of one of my favorites, Stone IPA, I decided instead to go for the original recipe, AHS Greenbelt IPA. The reason is that it was a bit cheaper than the stone, the included hops were supposed to contain citrus, floral, tropical and pine notes--all of which sounded great to me. Plus, in my five years living in Austin, I spent a lot of time hiking, biking, and tubing on the Austin Greenbelt. Also, I figured I was best off creating a beer that I wouldn't be forced to compare with something I had already had. So...Greenbelt IPA it was.

My ingredients were due to be delivered on 12/30, along with a 21 inch spoon and thermometer I had ordered from Amazon to supplement the equipment that came with the kit. UPS said it would be delivered by the end of the day. My wife and two kids took off for our weekend ranch where we planned to spend New Year's and I stayed at home waiting--and waiting, and waiting--with our oldest daughter. Finally, around 9 pm, the package arrived.

Since I was waiting around all day like a giddy kid on Christmas Eve, I decided to make my first "unboxing" video, grown up hop head style. So if you've never watched an unboxing video, here you go:

The next day I packed everything up and drove to the ranch, sanitized, and got to work. I laid out all my ingredients, as well as my handy Field Notes to keep track of everything.

What you don't see in this picture are the gallons of Ozarka drinking water I also brought. My initial plan was to brew the beer completely using well water at our ranch in Live Oak County. However, I tested the water and it had a very high pH, lots and lots of minerals. From what I read, it seemed this could adversely affect the fermentation process. So I decided to cut the well water with Ozarka. That way it is still unique with plenty of authentic South Texas terroir to taste. But it would still be appropriately alcoholic.

I guess I really won't know if I successfully sanitized everything until I open up that first bottle. But I did my best and got cooking the wort, closely following the instructions from Austin Homebrew. They won't send you the instructions until you actually order the beer ingredients, which I suppose is understandable. But one unpleasant surprise was that the last line on the sheet said this beer would be best after six weeks in bottles. SIX WEEKS?!?!?!? Not going to happen. I guess I should have called. But I hate phones. I really love online shopping because it means I don't have to talk to anyone. But in the future, I will call and find out if there are any hidden surprises like this. My buddy's IPA kit from Austin Homebrew only suggest 3 weeks. So this was unique.

Anyway, cooking went fine, but there were a couple of issues. One is that I was using an electric stove, and I couldn't really get a good rolling boil without the lid on the kettle. You are supposed to have a rolling boil going for an hour (Papazian stresses this, and the Austin Homebrew recipe called for it as well). What I had to do was continually put the lid on, then take it off and stir when it started to boil over. Then it would have to build up to a boil again. So I was a little worried that I didn't get it boiled appropriately. 

Air lock after about 36 hours. So gross, yet, so tasty.
The other thing is that you are supposed to cool the wort to 80 degrees from boiling in 15-20 minutes before you put it in the primary fermenter. It took me about 40 minutes. I had a bag of ice, but that wasn't enough to do it quickly. Must devise a better method.

But I got it into the fermenter, split the water between Ozarka and Lagarto well water, and put on the lid. We were in the midst of a cold front, which in South Texas meant temperatures in the forties. I kept the heater running constantly and a vigilant eye on the air lock to look for activity over the next couple of days. Since the beer is supposed to ferment 70-78 degrees, I decided I better take it home rather than leave it in the ranch house that wouldn't be heated.

So now it sits in my man closet, next to my road bike, skateboards, wet suit, and boxes of old cassettes. And every day I count the frequency of the CO2 bubbles escaping. Besides that, all I can do is obsess over my beer labels. Here's a glimpse of what I plan, assuming this thing comes out quaffable.

I actually came up with a good four batches worth of labels before my first set of ingredients came in. Who knows...maybe another post just about making labels will be forthcoming before I get this thing in bottles.