Who Speaks Truth to Power?

I didn’t watch the Roseanne reboot. I always found her unpleasantly brash, and I just wasn’t interested enough to see this weird phenomenon of 80s shows coming back to life like zombies.

roseann

So Roseanne being cancelled because ABC suddenly realized she’s racist made me laugh. I mean, they knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years. (BTW, for the Twue Americans who felt like they needed this blue-collar family in their lives – let’s not forget how she feels about the National Anthem.)

A friend of mine commented that she didn’t feel bad for the people who lost jobs, because they knowingly aligned themselves with her, and they, too, knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years.

And yes, Laurie Metcalf, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, writers and producers and actors who are in the midst of successful careers, those who aren’t worried about how they’re going to make rent next month whether they take this gig or not – maybe they just didn’t care enough to make an issue of it. Perhaps they didn’t want the scrutiny or criticism that comes from making an issue of it. For them – well, yeah. I don’t feel bad for them. They knew what they were getting into. Not only that, but they have a big enough platform that if they’d chosen to take a stand, it could have had an impact.

But it is notoriously difficult to get work in Hollywood. Some of the most talented, hardworking people I know remain perpetually underemployed, taking any job they can get – whether it’s waiting tables, answering phones, or, maybe, working on a show they don’t wholly believe in, or with people they probably aren’t asking to be in their wedding party. Many of the people who showed up to work on that show may have hoped it could create other opportunities for them. Some may have been ignorant, either blissfully or willfully. Some maybe just needed to pay rent. And some, sadly, have no problem with who she is, what she says, and how she behaves.

Many years ago, I was talking to an actor friend of mine – he has IMDB credits, he works pretty steadily. You wouldn’t recognize his name, but if you saw him on the street he might look vaguely familiar to you. I told him I’d just been pleasantly surprised to see him show up on my screen for a couple of episodes of a show I was re-watching. (okay, it was Angel, be quiet.)

His response was, “Oh? Good. That’ll be a nice little paycheck.” He told me that a good percentage of his income comes from residuals from day-player or recurring character jobs he’s done over the last 20 years. *(See postscript if you want to know more about how this works.)

When networks stopped airing The Cosby Show after Cosby’s abuses came to light, I thought, “Good. Let’s not continue to celebrate him.” But then I thought about all the people who worked on that show over the years – people who didn’t work closely with him, like recurring characters or day players, the people who have relied on residuals, big or small, from those reruns and others to make up a part of their income for years. And I felt for them. And in a way, they’re victims, too.

Would I work on a show like Roseanne? I’d like to say no. But I did work at a regional theatre whose artistic director was an absolute creep, who preyed on actresses and in general treated people like they were disposable. Hearing about his antics disgusted me, but I had no interaction with him and it was my first job out of college and I needed the money and the credit more than I needed to drop a pebble in the ocean. His actions did impact me, though, because when you have someone like that heading a huge organization, there’s a trickle-down effect to every department. This guy is still working, helming huge productions, and his behavior hasn’t caught up with him yet.

Jeffrey Tambor is another example of this problem. I’ve never really liked him (it’s easy to say that now, right?) but I love Arrested Development. It is one of a handful of shows that has been known to make me laugh until I cry. It is clever and subversive and its biting satire has often been the dose of medicine I’ve needed to get through the day. The harassment accusations from Transparent, his treatment of Jessica Walter on the set of Arrested Development as brought to light by the New York Times interview, none of this is surprising to anyone who has worked in this industry for more than five minutes. Is Jessica Walter getting so much work that she can afford turn down a fifth season of Arrested Development because of Tambor? Would her contract even allow her to?

And this just came to light because of what happened on Transparent.

It was a writer on Transparent – a trans woman, Our Lady J – who first publicly supported the claims made Trace Lysette.

What about every other time this happened? Why did it take a transgendered woman, someone who is historically marginalized, who arguably has a lot more to lose, to stand up and say, “I hear you”? Where were her costars or the producers or the directors then? Surely Ron Howard has enough clout to stand up to Jeffrey Tambor. Did he really not know? Or is this kind of behavior, as described by Trace Lysette, so common that it was ignored:

“He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrust back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” Lysette says.

That kind of behavior has happened to me so many times that I barely remember some of them. For me, and so many other below-the-line people non-ciswhitemen this has been the price we’ve had to pay to work in this industry. Speaking truth to power has never seemed like a viable option to me – instead, again and again, I’ve left the industry and taken jobs in Corporate America – where the harassment still exists, but it’s usually subtler, and it comes with health insurance.

However. We’re at a critical point, here. People (aka straight cis white men) have gotten away with atrocious behavior for hundreds of years because not enough people were willing to make a stand. I’m no John Goodman, but maybe if I refused to do work at a place where I knew this kind of shit was happening, it could have a ripple effect. Maybe others would, too. Maybe if enough of us stopped working with people who were toxic and abusive, or were willing to stand up to that behavior whether it was directed at us or not, maybe we could create that change.

Are we willing to? Are we at a point where it’s gotten bad enough that we’re going to risk our livelihoods to step up and challenge the patriarchy?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot.

 

Post-script re: Day Players:

Day players are incidental characters who interact with the principals or supporting characters to further the plot, but aren’t seen beyond that. They don’t have a recurring contract, aren’t aligned with a studio, and are called day players because they’re only needed for a day of work. A day player, per the 2012 contract negotiation, makes $889 for a day of work as negotiated by SAG/AFTRA. (If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that most day players aren’t making that every day.)

He’s worked on a ton of shows over the last twenty years, occasionally had recurring roles, but never gotten picked up for anything really big. He told me that he’s lucky. He makes enough money that he doesn’t have to work a second job, but he does count on those residual paychecks. For Angel, he was a recurring character – he appeared in two episodes – so his day rate was slightly higher and his residuals are slightly bigger. (I really don’t have numbers on this, residuals are really complicated. It can range from under a dollar – you get a paper check, in an envelope, in the mail (Seriously, you get a check for 78 cents in the mail to several hundred. Maybe more. Like I said, it’s complicated.)

Sure, a day player could refuse to work on a show – but it’s not a call I could make. Could you turn down $889 for a day of work? I don’t know that I could.

 

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Dub-Con, Non-Con in Fiction

I’ve been underemployed for a couple of months, so in between writing a lot, I’m reading a lot. I’ve gone from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Abigail Barnette, Jasper Fforde to Celeste Ng, Madeleine L’Engle to Lilah Pace to Patricia Highsmith to Atul Gawande, and then, I guess because it kept appearing as a suggestion in my Amazon account, I read Hostage by Annika Martin and Skye Warren.

Then I read The Pawn by Skye Warren.

Then I read The Knight by Skye Warren.

My rich fantasy life includes a lot of bondage and pain in my sex, along with a possibly-unhealthy amount of (consensual) coercion, and a decent amount of humiliation. I love dark, twisted romance.

But Hostage (Spoilers ahead) starts with a 16-year-old being kidnapped by a man who thinks frequently about raping her and/or killing her. It escalates from there, with him penetrating her with his fingers, and even though the actual penile penetration doesn’t happen until she’s 18, and is therefore, somehow, “legal” his seduction and coercion started much earlier, on a girl so young she still referred to her father as “Daddy.” On a girl so sheltered she barely knew how to drive and had only been kissed a few times.

And the entire time, it’s written as this hot, elicit affair, and she’s clearly smitten with him, and I’m thinking — wait. This is rape. This is criminal, in more ways than one.

I go back to the reviews. 278 five-star reviews. 278 people read this and not only had no problem with the molestation, but also gave it a star rating that I reserve for books by Jane Austen, Barbara Kingsolver, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I finished the book, I did. But I’m still wondering if downloading it at all has put me on some kind of Watchlist. I’m still baffled by the authors treatment of this subject matter.

Like I said, I like dark sex, and I have to admit, however squickish it was, the sex was good. So I read The Pawn. (More spoilers, if you care)This character is, at least, technically an adult, but once again, emphasis is put on her virginity, on how young and pure she is. The entire plot hinges on the auctioning of her virginity, and even though she goes into it somewhat willingly, it’s pure desperation that drives her to this point (although the necessity of her doing so is a very thin premise). And when the auction ends, and the victor claims his virgin, there’s no doubt that this is not how she wants to lose her virginity, that this is not a situation she wants to be in.

And I guess I kept reading because — okay, dammit, yes, some of the sex was pretty hot. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking – this is not what this girl signed up for. This is not what she wanted. She had no idea what she was getting in to. And we’re supposed to fall for it, right along with her, because this Alpha male who’s despoiling her is secretly looking out for her, secretly has her best interests at heart.

News flash, writers: No matter how Alpha the male, no matter how many orgasms the unwilling female has, the only word for this kind of sex is rape.

Want to see hot, consensual non-consent, with great writing and even a storyline to back it up? Read The Boss by Abigail Barnette to see how a real Alpha male can treat a woman with respect while still giving her the kinky sex of her dreams. Read Asking For It by Lilah Pace for the absolute hottest consensual rape fantasy sex you will ever read.

 

The sex is hotter, I promise you. And even better? You’re not left with that queasy felony feeling in your mouth afterwards.

 

 

(Lack of) Feminist Perspective in SEO Writing

I write SEO Content for a few (and I mean a very few) extra bucks. It’s always a little strange for me to switch into that mode, because, in that gig, I am writing for the norm – which comes with its own set of assumptions and mores.

mouse and keyboard

Here’s an example of what I mean. I know some people who are child-free by choice. I know other people who can’t have children, and I recently struggled with fertility issues of my own. But when I’m writing a blog post about TV Installation services in the suburbs? The audience I am picturing is the bill of goods I’ve been sold – it’s that white, Christian, heteronormative, middle class family with 2.5 children in the suburbs. And if I need to throw in the necessary navigation of children’s toys as some color and an extra seven words, I’m going to do it. I’m going to write the breadwinner role as a male, and the stay-at-home parent as a female, and I’m going to write Easter dresses and Christmas cookies and going to church on Sundays and fitting the laundry in before picking the kids up at school in your minivan. Even if I don’t personally believe in any of that. (Except Christmas cookies. Everybody loves Christmas cookies!)

There are times I think about subverting this, and find myself wondering if I can do it in a way that doesn’t get me fired, but I get paid by the word, so I’m not always concerning myself with whether or not I’m falling into paradigms that I’ve been actively resisting since I was old enough to understand that women are people. So instead of thoughtfully considering how the words I’m writing perpetuate the stereotypes I despise, I toe the line and write with those stereotypes in mind. And as quickly as possible. Because if I’m not churning out at least 1200 words an hour I may as well get a job at Starbucks, and I don’t want to get a job at Starbucks, I want to write my own damn novel in any minute I can carve out.

I’m not saying I like it.

And yes, there are times that I feel pretty crappy for contributing to the noise that’s on the internet, thank you for asking. And yes, whenever possible, I try to use gender-neutral pronouns or examples that don’t rely too heavily on tired assumptions about how “normal” people live.

But mostly? I’m just trying to make enough money to pay the electric bill.