Ladies! Are we tired of talking about The Daily Show yet? I know I am! You know who’s not tired of talking about it, though: DELETED COMMENTERS. There are dozens of them, apparently! Many of them angry that I haven’t published their first-time, openly hostile comments right away, and willing to leave a series of increasingly unhinged comments to that effect! (This isn’t a customer service gig for me, folks. I am not here to optimize your trolling satisfaction.) (Although I like to imagine the thought process. “Hmmm, she didn’t publish the one where I called her a bad feminist and accused her of damaging all women everywhere with her damnable 500-word blog posts. Maybe if I just called her a bitch? Yes! That’s it! That’s the move that will GET MY COMMENT PUBLISHED.”) Yes, my past few days have been FILLED with deleted commenters. Like this one:
Think there’s sexism on TDS? Don’t like it? Stop watching the fucking show. You’re stupid as hell for making as big a deal about this as you are, you’re dumber for having written this ignorant ass letter, and well…change your tampons already. I’m a feminist who’s watched the show for years, and I don’t see anything racist going on.
Ah, yes, the eternal problem of the person — sorry, “feminist!” — who wanders around the Internet screaming “I DON’T SEE ANY [INSERT X PREJUDICE] GOING ON”: Sometimes, you just forget which problem you’re supposed to be not seeing! I feel for you, “Chelsea,” I really do. But here’s the thing. I’m also deleting comments that run like so:
bitch poses for maxim and tries to act like men and women are equal. please. she was graced with an uber sexy bod and shes crazy if shes trying to act like she hasn’t used her looks to get her where she is. i guess that the part that pisses me off the most and will make me tivo right through her segments.
And now, I will piss you all off by explaining why.
The thing is: I have actually seen Olivia Munn’s former show. It was called Attack of the Show, and my former boyfriend watched it, because he liked video games and comic books very much. Olivia Munn’s job, on this show, was not to be funny. Her job was to be a girl — a real, live, female girl! — who actually quasi-interacted with and tolerated her audience of primarily male, 20-something geeks, and gave them the impression that she would be their girlfriend, if only she weren’t trapped on the other side of the TV screen. Maybe when the new holo-technology hits, right, guys?
Now: Given that she was playing to an audience of dudes whose expectations of women were primarily informed by ever-more-anatomically-impossible video game heroines, the flying thongs of superhero justice to be found in comic books, and cooing, squealing, saucer-eyed anime girls, did it help that she was pretty? AYUP. It also helped that the show continually cast her in misogynist skits that “proved” to the audience that they could control her and she would like it: Skits that played to the audience’s frustrations with women, their feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, and their continual rage that real-life girls couldn’t be controlled by mashing the buttons on their PlayStation consoles. One golden example of this — so effective, apparently, that they repeated it over and over again — was the comedy/technology news chestnut I like to call “We Can Make Olivia Put Her Mouth On It.” It went like this:
ANNOYING FRAT DUDE HOST WITH BAD RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Guess what, presumed-to-be-male audience members? A new piece of technology, relevant to your interests, has come out today! And now, Olivia Munn will lick it.
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (Creepily.) Wooo!
OLIVIA MUNN: Oh, no, I’m not going to lick that!
RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Oh, yes, you are, Olivia! Lick it! Lick it because I am a man, and told you to!
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (Extremely creepily.) Woooooooooo!
OLIVIA MUNN: (Licks it.)
MALE LIVE AUDIENCE: (At this point, creepy enough to merit several dozen restraining orders.) WWWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Wow, you sure do like to lick it, Olivia!
OLIVIA MUNN: Ha, ha ha ha ha! You are so funny!
If no new tech had come out for a while, they used a hot dog. Now: You don’t need a lot of comedic talent to do this, if you are Olivia Munn. What you need is a steadfast desire to keep pulling paychecks, and maybe an iPhone to lick. This doesn’t mean Olivia Munn has no comedic talent; it just means that her comedic talent was not what her audience wanted to see, and so we never really got to see it. The fact that it was her job to appease her audience’s geek misogyny, and that she built a brand that gave her misogynist audience what they wanted (read: hot bikini pics) doesn’t mean she’s a bad evil slutty bimbo. It just shows that she was smart enough to capitalize on her fan base, and that hot bikini pics were the surest way to keep that particular audience interested. Ain’t none of this slut-shaming. Girls have to get by, and if you are a girl and work in the entertainment industry, this is one of the ways to do it. It’s depressing, but it’s true, and hating on individual players for seeing the options open to them and taking them isn’t cool. Or feminist. No matter what Olivia Munn has done with her career, this and this are still fucking gross and anti-girl.
It’s true that Olivia Munn does bring out a certain amount of hateyness and frustration among girls. She brings it out in me! So I know! Up till now, she’s been getting it maybe specifically from girl geeks. And, although this isn’t fun to hear, or to recognize in yourself, this particular form of frustration is based on insecurity. (THERE WAS AN ARTICLE WHICH WAS IN PART ABOUT THIS AND YOU HAVE ALL READ IT AND IT IS BY SOMEONE WHOSE WORK I LIKE AND RESPECT.) An entirely understandable insecurity, based on the fact that (as girls never stop telling us, in Tweets and e-mails and in blog comments) it’s fucking hard to be a lady and like comic books. Or video games, or computers, or anything else. Nerd culture is, famously, sexist as all hell; all of that frustration with women, those unrealistic X-Lady nourished expectations, that need for women to be as controllable and fun as the lines of code you’re working on — it’s not just expressed on Attack of the Show, it’s expressed in the day-to-day lives of women who try to have fun with this stuff and find that dudes (a) are the cultural gatekeepers and (b) have some ISSUES with the ladies that they are oh-so-ready to take out on any lady that crosses their path. If you’re not hot, you’re shit; if you’re not prepared to concede that dudes know more about this stuff than you, you’re shit; if you’re not controllable and acquiescent and ready to laugh at all the dudes’ jokes (even the jokes that are on you), you’re shit. And then we see Olivia Munn, and we see that she is hot and she is allowed to possess a (secondary) authority on this stuff, and she is laughing at all the jokes, even or especially when she’s the butt of the joke, and we’re mad. She’s doing it! She’s playing along! She’s making it harder! If there’s one Olivia Munn in the world, those dudes will expect all girls to be Olivia Munn, and the girls who don’t want to, or can’t, will keep getting shit on! She’s perpetuating our oppression.
Or, you know, not. Because Olivia Munn is not the one running this show. If she weren’t willing to play this role, she wouldn’t have her job; if she didn’t have her job, someone else would. And even if, by some miraculous circumstance, there were no girls in the entire universe willing to do this job, the dudes still wouldn’t let you in. They wouldn’t change their expectations. The key thing about those expectations is that they are unrealistic, because they are based on a dislike of real-life, three-dimensional girls. Olivia Munn embodies geek-misogynist expectations and desires for women, in this one specific job she does, but those expectations and desires are what make girls’ lives hard, not the women who are paid to fulfill them. If there were no girl in the entire universe that men could point to and say, “well, she likes it,” they’d still keep doing it, because, here’s the secret: Misogynists don’t care what girls like. Being angry at a girl because you’re constantly told that you’re not enough, and you’re constantly told that she is enough, being angry that she won’t take your side (because not being on your side is part of what makes her “enough,” part of what she’s paid to do), is really, really tempting. And, honestly, human. But it’s not feminist, and it’s counterproductive as all hell. Taking that one girl down, or taking down all the girls who are like her, isn’t going to change anything. Because girls — girls like you — still won’t be the ones in charge. And they still won’t be valued. Guys who want to treat girls like shit are going to treat girls like shit, and I recommend we keep on getting angry at the motherfucking guys about that, because they’re the ones calling the (bikini) shots.
And then, you know, there are Hot Girl Problems. Turns out they have those! I myself have never been a particularly Hot Girl, so I haven’t had a share in it. But I do have friends — friends who are entertainers, or models — who fit the Hot Girl Mold, at least for the 0.5 seconds after people see them and before they open their mouths, and I’ve seen what the Problems are like. Guys who want to date them because they’d make nice trophies, and then turn nasty and try to “knock them down a peg” when they turn out to be people with, like, opinions and needs and such; guys who just want to knock them down, period, because pretty girls make them feel inadequate and angry; people who assume they’re stupid, who “like” them but refuse to respect them; constant allegations that they got where they are, wherever that is, because of their looks, which honestly does sting, what with the continual people-assuming-they’re-stupid problem. And, in a twist that is perhaps relevant to this conversation, some of those girls are geeks.
My best friend K has worked as a model. She’s tall, she’s blonde, she’s super-duper skinny, people comment on her looks when she leaves the room: She’s a Hot Girl. Also, her favorite things in the world are comic books, Ultimate Fighting Championships, and books with dragons on the cover and/or as subject matter. She is a geek; it is her passion; she carries it with pride. When she told me about it, this is what she told me:
“Guys are always so happy to talk to me about comic books,” she said. “Which is great, because I don’t know that many people in real life who will talk to me about comic books. It goes really, really great, with these guys, until they figure out that I’m not going to sleep with them. And that’s when they start getting cold and assuming I’m stupid or shallow like everybody else.”
So, yes: Hot Girls are subject to misogyny, just like everybody else. The fact that some Hot Girls can pull paychecks from it isn’t the actual problem; it’s a manifestation of it, which individual Hot Girls are not primarily responsible for. And everybody needs paychecks. I sure as crap do! And, unsurprisingly, when girls get shitty at them, when they have to deal with assumptions that they’re “anorexic” or slutty or “Mean Girls” or just plain dumb, this doesn’t exactly make them feel that they can get support from girls when dealing with all this. And when they see people framing it as “feminist critique” whilst talking about how modeling is fundamentally a useless and awful profession, and GOD who cares about the problems of SKINNY GIRLS like I bet they have it SOOOOO HARRRRRRD right, and UGH these girls are just UPHOLDING THE MAINSTREAM BEAUTY STANDARD and look SO UNHEALTHY (maybe they’re anorexic), the idea that feminism could provide some meaningful support seems increasingly unlikely.
That said, Olivia Munn seems like a real douchebag in her interviews. And hiring Olivia Munn did bring up legitimate questions about the role that The Daily Show plays in the Hot Girl system. (THERE WAS AN ARTICLE WHICH WAS IN PART ABOUT THIS AND YOU HAVE ALL READ IT AND IT IS BY SOMEONE WHOSE WORK I LIKE AND RESPECT.) Olivia Munn worked on a misogynist TV show — not “misogynist” in the way that people are alleging “The Daily Show” might be, the kind of sexism that’s expressed through hiring practices and office culture, but misogynist in terms of what they put on air, the kind of show that’s pretty much openly not interested in women except as hot objects and things to quasi-humiliate on camera. She worked her way up through the industry by building and capitalizing on a misogynist fan base. And, honestly, good for Munn for branching out — and, hopefully, getting out. But now she’s on a show whose on-air content is, famously, “progressive.” Not far left enough to be unmarketable, but still to the left. And the left usually keeps its misogyny in its back pocket (unless you are mean to Jon Stewart, in which case WATCH OUT). I don’t know if Munn is down with misogyny — she seems pretty invested in not criticizing it, probably because it’s made her name and paid her bills for years, although she’s also been open about the ways being objectified can be traumatic and shitty — but the sudden disjoint between seeing someone on a misogynist show where she was required to serve as a pinata and fantasy-gratification-dispenser, and then seeing that same person on a progressive show where she’s required to have good delivery and tell relatively smart jokes, produces a certain amount of cognitive disjoint.
People wondered if Munn was supposed to play the same role for The Daily Show’s audience that she did for Attack of the Show’s audience, because we’d simply never seen her play any other role. I really, sincerely hope that she will be doing something else for TDS — that she’s got a ton of skills that Attack of the Show just never utilized, and that we’ll get to see them now. Jon Stewart and Tina Fey think she’s funny, apparently, so that’s really promising. And to see someone escaping the Hot Girl Ranks and displaying some talents that aren’t primarily about feeding weird XBox Live players’ fantasies of female subjugation is, or should be, heartening. But to see a girl with this history hired to work as, essentially, a stand-up comedian — when she’s never worked as a stand-up comedian — is weird, and raises questions about which qualifications are important to the people doing the hiring. And to see that The Daily Show is responding to criticism of its gender politics with nothing but defensiveness or that Olivia Munn’s first response to questions about her talent was to say that anyone who asked those questions was a girl who should stop eating so much, only added fuel to the fire.
Basically, I wish Olivia Munn were more like Megan Fox. Granted, I wish everyone were more like Megan Fox, because I love her. But still! Fox has been open about the fact that she’s working as a product, selling Hot Girl because that’s what people want from her, and that it is an act. She’s felt free to point out the ridiculousness of what she’s selling, and to criticize her bosses. She’s also felt free to point out that women are sometimes threatened by her, and assume that she sees herself as “hot shit.” Which is almost always met by women who feel threatened by Megan Fox complaining about how Megan Fox must think she is such hot shit, but whatever. There’s a level of self-awareness there, an ability to pinpoint her own place within the system and acknowledge the oft-shitty nature of the system, that Munn — maybe because she’s still nominally working at Attack of the Show — doesn’t seem to share. Asking her if the bikini shots have helped her career, if there are different expectations of her because she’s a woman, only ever produces the response that she’s funny and pretty. Which, sure, maybe she is. But that’s not what the interviewers are asking, and anyway, you’d hope that the “funny” part would be more important, if she’s being hired to do comedy. And thus far in her career, the “pretty” has been way more central. Her indignation that Jezebel described her as “primarily known for putting things in her mouth” is understandable on a human level (no-one likes to be told that they’re not qualified for their job) but doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that she’s worked for years at a TV show that produced a greatest-hits package of her putting things in her mouth, and that there are over seven million hits on a G4TV-posted YouTube video of her (at first, reluctantly! Like fucking always, because that’s the dynamic her gross-assed viewers find sexy!) deep-throating a hot dog. (One of the recommended videos, also from G4TV, is entitled “Kevin Pops Olivia Munn From Behind!” It involves balloons.)
[EDIT: Actually, I thought you all should just see the video. You might still want to click through, though, to check out the comments, which include lines like, “dude he gets paid to play video gmes and violate girls all day man i wish life was that simple,” “mmm thats some good rape right there” (which was one of the most up-voted comments), and “he can get her to do anything if he keeps asking her enough she breaks down and says ok. she trust kevin.”]
G4TV knows what they’re selling; so does Munn, most likely. She has every reason to. Whether she thinks that’s cool or not? I’m of the mind that, if she doesn’t, she’s probably too smart to say so while she’s still getting paid.
Even if she does think it’s cool, though — even if she is a misogynist, even if she is one of those dreadful people who just thinks girls should have to be pretty and that being thin and cute is a sign of “self-control” or greater value or whatever (and there are plenty of girls who think this way, too), even if her politics are more Attack of the Show than Daily Show(‘s stated on-air politics) — there’s still a solution that would make everyone happy, I think, and it doesn’t require anyone to get rid of Olivia Munn. The Daily Show could just put some more fucking women on the air.