My roommate and I have been watching The Newsroom without fail every Sunday evening. For anyone unaware, The Newsroom is the latest creation of Aaron Sorkin, perhaps most famous for his show The West Wing and his favored medium of people having very fast conversations while walking.
The show’s premise is actually pretty interesting. Set in an alternate reality where there’s actually a single news channel actually devoted to journalism and integrity (as much as anyone can hope for, anyways), anchor Will MacAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his intrepid crew struggle to keep the beacon of integrity and unflinching honesty lit in a mire of shady politics, fear-mongering, and cheap entertainment.
With the show set about two years in the past, Sorkin pretty much uses The Newsroom as a way to examine old headlines and how they were (or weren’t) handled by the press. Again- really interesting concept, though not one without its problems. Sorkin has a bad habit of making strawmen of the individuals and groups he wants to criticize. He has, admittedly, reeled this in a bit (so far) in season 2, though as you can probably imagine, I’m not exactly a fan of his (frankly) condescending critique of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Heck, I think his treatment of Republicans and conservatives is a bit unfair, and that’s coming from a Marxist.
But the greatest issue that faces the Newsroom really has nothing to do with the politics or rather one-sided way Sorkin seems to deal with his material.
It’s the women in the show, and why they’re all ******** crazy.
This has been sticking with me (and more than a few others) for some time now. It’s been gnawing at the back of my mind since the first episode, and it’s gotten to the point where it really can’t be ignored anymore.
Let me break it down:
I. Every Single Woman In The Show Is Neurotic
Look, I get that a job as busy and as hectic as journalism is inevitably going to lead to people shouting at each other or stress eating or generally getting pushed to the edge, but come on. Each and every single woman in the show seems to alternate between joy, rage, cynicism, and devastating despair on an hourly basis. Women we are told are journalists of the highest caliber- people who’ve been in combat situations or had to get some evil oil baron to confess to embezzlement in a 10 minute segment. That these same women should be so incapable of keeping their cool under pressure or act like adults- I just can’t believe it.
II. Men Are Capable, Women Are Incompetent
Perhaps the most clear example of Sorkin’s vicious double standard would be last week’s episode, in which we see two very different courses of action from the leading male and female characters. When one of the reporters is wrongfully imprisoned, the news anchor marches down the police station, cites a legal code, produces video of the reporters’ arrest on his phone, and (successfully) negotiates the reporter’s release. In the exact same episode, we see a couple of the lead female characters make a panicked rush to a local laundromat to beg a woman to take down an embarrassing YouTube video. They barely convince her to agree to do so, and she winds up leaving the video up anyways.
This isn’t an isolated incident- this is a pattern. Consistently, the male characters are (comparatively) calm, collected, and proactive about achieving their goals while their female counterparts are frenzied, distracted, and for the most part reacting to events set in motion by men. Even the female lead character, a woman we’re told is on par with the greatest investigative journalists in the world, can’t work the company e-mail system.
III. The Women Have No Lives Outside Of The Men
This partly due to a (wrong) assumption by Sorkin that we’re more interested in seeing the petty office romances and dramas than we are seeing the actual news. Sorkin, believe me- nobody heard about the concept The Newsroom and thought “Wow, a show grappling with the issues of contemporary entertainment-news, journalism, and honesty- I can’t wait to see who hooks up with who.”
Even so, pretty much every female character in the show has her actions driven by the attempt to get with/get away from some man. The lead female character, formerly engaged to the lead male character, is still carrying on some weird romance with him, and the rest of the female characters (I mean, yeah- all of ’em) are somehow involved in the love triangle that’s dominated most of season 1. Season 2 isn’t looking much better, with the female characters again basing all of their decisions exclusively off of how it will affect their relationships with guy X, Y, or Z. I’ve yet to see a single woman acting out of pure professionalism or heck, any motivation other than a male character. It’s ridiculous.
IV. The Women Let It Happen
I wouldn’t call any of the female characters active in the degradation of their own gender, but they’re certainly not doing a dang thing to prevent it. In one scene, a female character (one we’re told is an expert in economics with more than a couple PhDs) is dragged into an office by her wrist. Her response?
“Don’t do that again.”
If I were so much as touched on the arm, I’d have grounds for legal suit and could probably expect a pretty decent cash settlement. To say the offending party would be fired goes without saying.
But not in The Newsroom.
No, here in The Newsroom the women simply bow to the misogynistic comments and tacit sexism. I’m not going to claim that this is somehow setting a bad example, mostly because I think that if you harmed emulating what you see on TV, you probably had it coming and then some. Still, these women aren’t acting like any women I know.
V. The Women Aren’t Women
If there’s any single message that we’re getting about Sorkin’s creation, it’s that. These aren’t so much characters as they are props to help drive the story forward. The girlfriend whose just a prize to be won, the old ex the memory of whom keeps the main character moving forward. The rest who are just kept around as spares in case the writers need to ratchet up what they think amounts to romantic tension.
Shy of a couple women rarely having a conversation on a possible news lead, The Newsroom would fail the Bechdel Test entirely. And it’d be bad enough if the women were just in the background, but the singular presentation of them as being all hyper-emotional, barely-functioning human beings is insulting if not outright malicious.
It’s a wholly false presentation of the facts, and considering that’s exactly what this show is supposed to be reacting against, the hypocrisy is all the more painful.
It’s not a hard problem to fix, people, let’s get it together, shall we?