Reviews, Recaps, and Personal Thoughts on All Things TV

Archive for December, 2014

‘The Newsroom’ Controversy: Oh, Shenandoah

newsroom14_10

My relationship with The Newsroom has always been a struggle. Initially, I loathed it to the point where if I was in the room when it was on I would put my hands over my ears and go “la, la, la!!!” so I wouldn’t have to listen to that dialogue delivered so fast and mechanically.

Then I actually sat down and watched it (more accurately, I was stuck on a 9-hour flight back from Budapest and it was available on my tiny little airplane seat screen). And I found it entertaining enough to marathon the first and second seasons whilst overcoming a particularly bad upper respiratory infection. I am one of the few people who thought the second season was great but even though I like the show, I also recognize how exhausting and pretentious it is. It’s so strange to both like and hate something with equal fervor.

So I’ve been approaching this third and final season of The Newsroom in a resigned sort of way. The episodes annoy me, but not enough to make me really feel anything. And I guess that’s the thing about The Newsroom—for being so dramatic I’ve rarely felt any emotion towards it. I apathetically like it and dislike it at the same time.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at this past Sunday’s episode, entitled, “Oh, Shenandoah.” Upon its conclusion I found the episode to be emotional, intriguing, and satisfying. There was one part that I found a little problematic in how uncomfortable it made me, but overall I liked it a lot.

But that part that made me uncomfortable really, really upset a lot of people. This specific subplot of the episode had Don tracking down a college girl named Mary who started a website where victims of sexual assault and rape could go to name their rapists publicly. Charlie told Don that he had to do a story about this website on his show, and that he had to get both Mary (who started the website after being raped), and the man she was accusing of raping her, to go on the show face-to-face live on air. Don sought the girl out to convince her not to go on the show.

Don thought it would be a bad idea to put a rape victim and her abuser on live television together, and I think everyone would agree. The girl however, was eager to do it. She was aware, and angry, that she would never have a trial, never have a jury, never have justice. She wanted to publicly call out the man who raped her.

Then it starts to get a little befuddling. Don has some good intentions with his desire to keep her off of his show (the public will slut-shame her, they will attack everything about her), but he also has some really bad opinions. Namely, that morally he has to believe the accused rapist’s story, which is that the girl wanted it and was begging for it. He took on an innocent-until-proven-guilty-stance and said that his real problem with airing the story was that her website was dangerous. That anyone could go on there and accuse anyone of rape and it could ruin a potentially innocent man’s life.

Okay so, there’s a lot of problematic stuff here. First, to by default not believe a woman who says she has been raped and question whether she is making it up, and chalk all of that up to “morality.” The fear and shame that she won’t be believed is precisely the reason many women never come forward and say that they’ve been raped. And therefore why many rapists are never punished. Second, and more importantly, to believe it is more important to protect a hypothetical few innocent men than to address the very real and very rampant issue of rape on college campuses and how that issue is overlooked, thrown aside, and demeaned every single day. Again, all in the name of moral obligation.

Don’s opinions enraged me. But the scene didn’t. A lot of people walked away from that scene as if the point was to advocate Don’s opinions. That his opinions are the one’s that we as the audience are supposed to side with, because Don is one of the show’s “heroes.” But if you watch that scene, the person who wins (in my opinion) is Mary. She never backs down from her convictions that what she’s doing is right. She says, “There’s not going to be a trial, there’s not going to be an arrest, and there’s not going to be an investigation. Mine is going to be one of the 700,000 untested rape kits so I started this website. This isn’t revenge, it’s a warning, it’s a public service announcement. Do not go on a date with these guys, do not go to a party with these guys. They’re avoiding jail and you think I’m being too harsh? Yeah bitches be bitches, I get it. Yes, I think there’s a chance and I weighed the cost benefit. If another girl got raped because I didn’t say anything, or because someone else didn’t say anything…”

Don is usually a likeable character (insomuch as any character on this show can be “likeable”). His ultimate concern, it seems, is that by going on the show Mary won’t get the justice she’s looking for and could potentially hurt innocent people in the process. And I can see what he’s saying, I guess, but the problematic thing is that in this episode, Don silences a conversation about rape before it even begins to protect innocent men whose lives might maybe someday be harmed by it.

Don’s opinions on rape are baffling and infuriating but many people in this country have opinions on rape that are baffling, infuriating, or worse. It was very, very annoying that Don spoke in a tone of voice as though his was the voice of reason, and Mary was an over-emotional, hysterical victim who should be doubted. But in the end, I don’t think the takeaway from that scene is Don’s thoughts that using the internet as a platform to confront rapists is reckless and wrong because an innocent person could get hurt. I think the audience is meant to side with Mary. I think the driving point of the scene is what Mary says at the end of it: “No, you can’t imagine. Do you want to hear the advice I get? I mean this is real advice, in pamphlets. Say you have a boyfriend. Wear a wedding ring. I’m supposed to protect myself from a man by pretending I’m the property of another man. And of course there’s no shortage of fashion advice. When you came in here, you wanted to go to a public place because you were scared I’d cry rape. I’m scared of getting raped. I’m scared all the time. All the time. So you know what my site does? It scares you. It scares the living shit out of any guy who thinks even once of putting his hands on someone without invitation.”

Mary’s voice is the one that should resonate from that scene. The fact that in the plot of the show, Don silences it by not putting it on his show, doesn’t mean that America didn’t hear it, or that The Newsroom necessarily believes that’s the right thing to do. Mary may not have been given the opportunity to confront her rapist, and Don’s opinions on the matter are abysmal, and the episode ends. But the conversation doesn’t end just because the credits rolled. After all, what are we all talking about?

The Weird and Wonderful Sub-World of Internet Shipping

Daryl and Carol

No, I don’t mean shipping as in FREE with a purchase of $35 or more from Amazon.com.

Nor do I mean ship in the Titanic sense of the word (though that is closer, more on that later).

I’m talking about a “shipper,” that is, a fan of a television show who very strongly supports the relationship union between two characters.

The term “shipping” (“shippers” are those who ship) originated in relation to television characters as early as 1996, when it was used within an X-Files newsgroup in reference to Mulder and Scully, one of television’s most famous Will They/Won’t They couples. “Shipping” is derived from “relationshipper,” a word used to describe someone who avidly wishes for a romantic relationship between characters to occur.

Shippers range from the enthusiastic, to the fanatical, to the delusional. The practice of shipping imagines that fictional characters get together, but sometimes these imaginings are canon (that is, they do occur on the show). Other shippers ship unions between characters that are likely to never happen for a variety of reasons within the storyline. But most are so insistent in their belief that characters should get together or will get together despite what may be happening on the show, that they absolutely won’t hear otherwise.

I’ve dangled on the outskirts of this interesting little planet for about 2 years and have dabbled in immersing myself in the culture that is rampant on websites like Tumblr. It’s a fascinating place to be. Shippers have their own language they use and they have their own battles. The acronym “OTP” or “One True Pair” is used to label a ship. OTP’s are the only acceptable pairing, the ship of ships, and usually the person’s favorite pairing of all the various ships they might be invested in (though fans can have multiple OTP’s).

“Slash” is used to refer to homosexual pairings. These pairings usually occur solely in fanfiction. The most famous (and arguable first) slash pairing was Kirk and Spock from Star Trek. The “slash” refers to the punctuation between the character’s names to identify them as a pairing (Kirk/Spock, for instance).

Kirk and Spock

Then there are “Shipping Wars” which occur between supporters of contradicting OTPs—two relationships featuring the same character paired with different love interests. These shipping wars are exacerbated with shows that have a love triangle, such as The Vampire Diaries, which has as many die-hard supporters for Stefan/Elena (Stelena) as it does for Damon/Elena (Delena).

Shipping truly is its own sub-culture on the internet. Fans will write fanfiction featuring these characters, will photoshop their heads onto bodies of people actually embracing, and if the show in any capacity puts these characters together in an episode (even if they’re only sharing the screen and doing nothing else), the fandom will EXPLODE with screencaps and gifs and long posts analyzing every single thing that happened between these two. They’ll include reaction gifs of things like the Titanic sinking with Dido’s White Flag lyrics superimposed, “I will go down with this ship.”

I will go down with this ship

It’s hilarious and wonderful and so intense.

And it’s the intensity that I find fascinating. My interest with shipping was recently piqued with the return of The Walking Dead and subsequently the return of the Daryl/Carol shippers (referred to simply as Caryl). Women love (I love) Daryl. He’s a bad boy with a leather jacket and a crossbow and a motorcycle and a secret, hidden heart of gold. We have maternal, protective instincts about him as we watch his character development slowly progress through now 5 seasons of the show. We love him. And because we love him, we want him to find love.

Enter Carol, who had a storyline with Daryl during season 2 and so it begins. Carol appears a lot older than Daryl, and has had her fair share of excellent character development. Their relationship has certainly been a slow build but my question is: Is the show even taking them towards a relationship?

Daryl and Carol

I’m kind of thinking no. I’m thinking the showrunners put these scenes in because they know it will drive the shippers crazy and they know the shippers are an important demographic of their audience. I think Daryl and Carol share a friendship and a connection but it’s not going to be a relationship. But if you look on Tumblr, these shippers won’t hear of it any other way.

Immediately following every episode of The Walking Dead on Sundays you can find gifs upon gifs upon gifs of mere moments between Daryl and Carol. They’ll analyze each facial expression, each camera angle, each gaze and breath and movement. They’ll caption it with things like, “YOU CAN’T TELL ME THIS ISN’T LOVE” or “IT’S COMING. MY OTP IS HAPPENING” (forever in caps for particular emphasis).

How this scene didn't break the internet, I'll never know.

How this scene didn’t break the internet, I’ll never know.

And the thing is, even if I think they’re wrong, they’re so much more invested in the show than the average viewer. Their emotions are higher, their excitement is greater, and their desire is fiercer. They don’t just watch TV shows, they consume them. They pick them apart, they talk to each other about it, they care more. And in doing so, I would argue, they enjoy the show more. They are more of an active audience and they’re having fun. Even if it’s agony to wait and see if two characters will get together, they’re experiencing shows on a level that showrunners can only dream their shows will one day be experienced. I would liken it to the sense of community and the emotionality someone might feel about their favorite sports team winning. It seems crazy. But it’s not crazy, it’s just love. Fanatical love. But love nonetheless.

And isn’t that kind of great?