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November 06, 2013 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-11-06

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2413 - 5A

Watching TV through a
permanent feminist lens

Creative 'Demise'

love television. When I
was 6, I snuck into my
parents' room to watch
"The X-Files" through the gap
between my index and middle
When I was --
10, my fam-
ily moved to
a new house
** big enough
for my sis-
ter and I to
have our KAYLA
own rooms,
but the first UPADHYAYA
change I
noticed was
that we now had cable. When
I was 12, I started with "Lost,"
the first show that I would
watch from its airdate until the
day of its finale. When I was 17,
I live-tweeted an episode of TV
for the first time (it was "Glee,"
which I steadfastly followed
until I was 20). At 21, I decided,
with as much certainty as a
21-year-old can summon, I
don't want to go to Washing-
ton, D.C. after graduation like
most of my public policy peers,
but to L.A. to fight for a seat in
a writers' room.
I love television, but I also
hate it, and not only because
I've invested far too much
time and emotional energy on
fictional people. My love-hate
relationship with television
stems from the ongoing battle
between my identities as both a
TV lover and a feminist.
When I told a friend that
"The Mindy Project" makes me
uncomfortable, she prodded.
"I thought you loved Mindy
Kaling," she said.
I do. But my love for Kaling
can't trump the show's
oft-problematic storylines
(including an episode in which
guest star James Franco's
character Dr. L is raped, yet
none of the other characters
call it that) and racist, sexist
jokes. I told my friend all this
and more, breathless by the end
of my crescendoing soliloquy.
She blinked.
"Can't you just enjoy the
show? It's funny. Do you have
to always be in Critic Mode?"
It wasn't the first time I'd
heard something along these
lines. I've been called "too
sensitive," "too harsh," even
"too feminist" and all the
other usual epithets hurled at
most feminist critics I know.
Multiple people have asked me
if I'm ever going to write a TV
column that doesn't make some
mention of race or gender. Well,
no. I sincerely doubt it.
I have a professor who often
talks about the burden of
consciousness. "Consciousness
is a curse," she tells us.
Being a feminist requires
a constant vigilance that's
exhausting. Sometimes I
wish I could just walk away
after hearing a sexist or racist
remark, and there are times
when I do. But when I don't
engage, I end up thinking
about it for the rest of the day,
sometimes longer, frustrated
with my own inaction, wishing
I could just close my eyes and
blindly go on.
Consciousness is a curse,

and I can't ever escape it,
even when I'm watching TV.
Just enjoying a show isn't a*
concept I can wrap my head
around. Recently, the struggle
of reconciling my TV-love and

my femi
time sot
of "Ane
the the
black in
also pro
for TV (
Patti Lu
and Kat
the seas
But the
in parad
(the wh
very fla
the Blac
the pre
device d
my fem
it with
hat that
for all t
no swita
my ides
I am as
as mixe
that Oli
'man. TI
I love at
talk abo
them (n
lack of a
the Vam
I often,
show of
about s
with An
can't pr
It happa
my own
of other
life and
the day
from th
an epis
I wasn'
social c
shows fi
and see
of "Los:
racism c
It's n
accept t
plenty o

we inter
and see
when sc
care too
TV, the

nism is triggered every things I care about aren't worth
meone asks what I think caring about. They're telling
'rican Horror Story: me my worldview is invalid.
On the one hand, I love My "Mindy Project"-loving
me. Witches are the new friend thinks it's unreasonable
my book, and the show to hold all shows to feminist '
vides space for very standards, to want all shows to
I women who would be "feminist" shows. Is it really
be considered "too old" all that unreasonable to want
legends Angela Bassett, to watch television that doesn't
pone, Jessica Lange tokenize or decontextualize
hy Bates join forces as people of color? That both
on's baddest witches). represents and speaks to the
racial themes "Coven" diverse lived experiences of
s to tackle are steeped humans with a whole range of
Toxically racist images social identities? That's written
ite witches' magic is and made by more than just
shy and modern, while white dudes? That I can relate
k witches' magic more to beyond just an emotional or
resembles "voodoo" and story standpoint?
tic rituals). And the way Lucy Liu said it best during
miere uses rape as a plot her acceptance speech at the
tisgusts me. New York Women in Film and
ly put, I can't take off Television's Muse Awards in
inist hat and replace 2012: "I remember when I was
my slightly pointier younger, what did I want more
represents my love than anything? I wanted so
hings witchy. There's much to belong. I wanted to be
ch I can flip, because the things that I saw around
tity as a feminist is as me in my environment, the
ant and indelible to who things on television, the people
my identity as a woman, on television."
d-race. Ultimately, the idea of a
"feminist show" is kind of a
myth. Critics love to force
ement hat feminism into spaces where'it
doesn't exist. The Washington
Post called "Mad Men" TV's
S e most feminist show, and ever
the w itches since its pilot, critics have tried
to make the case that "Game
Of 'AHS' of Thrones" is a champion of
The back-and-forth
discussion about whether
the shows nearest and these shows are feminist series
to me aren't exempt. or not, while interesting,
al" is one of my favorite usually misses the point.
right now, but I hate When it comes to feminism,
via Pope's fatal flaw is a most television shows exist
here are a million things on a spectrum. We can't
bout "The Vampire make the overly simplified
," but its refusal to case that "GoT" is a feminist
ut race isn't one of show when its female
or is Elena Gilbert's characters are brutalized,
agency). Even "Buffy raped and objectified, and
spire Slayer" - which when Daenerys's entire story
credit as my favorite arc overflows with racism
all time - sends and white saviorism. But we
ng, sexist messages can acknowledge the show's
ex (Buffy is literally pockets of feminist thougt and
d when she has sex action, seen through the way
agel for the first time). the different female characters
many feminists, I wield power and resist the
ecisely pinpoint my patriarchal structures of their
ion of consciousness. fantastical realm. The same
ened through a can be said of "Mad Men,"
ated process of which features some of the best
ing and reexamining female characters on television
experiences, (and one of the most female-
anding the experiences dominated writers' rooms), but
s and looking at my also downplays the experiences
surroundings in of people of color in the 1960s.
y new ways. During You might be annoyed by
s when I rushed home my constant criticisms and
e bus stop to catch - seeming lack of satisfaction, but
ode of "Digimon," I'm not exactly thrilled about
t thinking about it either. They say "ignorance
roles or stereotypes or' is bliss" for a reason. The curse
onstructs. It's always of consciousness is exhausting,
hat jarring to re-visit and a part of me wishes I
rom my childhood could just watch TV, smile and
things I didn't fully go about my day. But then, I
and the first time wouldn't be me.
the heteronormativity I love television, but that love
t," the voyeurism and isn't blind. I love television so
of "Charmed" and the much that I want to constantly
'ative dogma of "Boy challenge it and demand
World." progress. If that makes me an
ot "just TV." I refuse to angry feminist, then I'm OK
hat, and not because with that. As long as sexism and
f social research racism persist, I'm always going
indicate media has a toube mad about something,

ad impact on the ways even if those "somethings" exist
ract with each other in fictional worlds.

Basement Arts'
latest production full
of wit and humor
For the Daily
Milena Westarb's play "The
Loving Demise of Lord Blackwell
and His Wife" got its first taste
of life at "Play-
fest" 2013, an The Loving
annual festivalD .i
of theatrically
staged read- of Lord
ings produced Blackwell
by the students
in School of and His.
Music, The- Wife
atre & Dance
Professor E.J. Thursday at 7
Westlake's p.m., Friday at
playwriting 7 and 11 p.m.,
and production and Saturday
course. The at 7 p.m.
script, plucked
from Westarb's Basement Arts
work in MT&D Free
Professor Oya-
mO's playwrit-
ing course, was workshopped and
set into motion last March as a
staged reading.
If the title of the play sounds
- familiar, you may be remember-
ing the buzz it generated during
Playfest last spring. Not'only did
the audience rave about it, but
the show also won the Dennis
McIntyre Prize for Distinction in
Undergraduate Playwriting in the
University's Hopwood Awards.
This year, Westarb, an LSA
junior and chemistry major who
pursues her literary passion
through a minor in writing, pro-
posed her play to Basement Arts,
one of the oldest student-run the-
ater groups on campus. Matching
her with Director Ellen Sachs,

Basement Arts has provided the
platform for "Loving Demise" to
rise toa full production.
Set in Victorian England, the
play tells the story of James Sol-
omon and his inheritance of a
large fortune upon the death of
his uncle, Lord Blackwell. Lady
Blackwell, the young, gold-dig-
ging widow, schemes desperately
to secure the wealth for herself.
With all the elements of drawing
room farce, "Loving Demise" is
a silly tale propelled by wit and
slapstick that is placed against
highly proper conduct and expec-
tations of the era.
"One of the things that's really
great about this show is that we
have this very serious facade -
this very serious outer level of
what Victorian England should
be, sound, act 'and look like ...
there's a lot of very intense for-
malities," Sachs said. "But from
those formalities we're able to
grow and find the jokes. There's
always something right under-
neath the surface bubbling and
that's where the humor comes
Westarb's script calls for
numerous sets and locales. These
were easily created at "Playfest"'s
staged reading through that most
expedient of all production devic-
es: the imagination. But as full-
on theater, the script challenges
Basement Arts' abbreviated pro-
duction period and tight budget.
The solution: adaptation.
"The thing about this show,
more so than any other show
that I've worked on, has been the
beauty of adaptation and how
great it can be to adapt - how
exciting and fun it is. Because
from these adaptations we're
finding so many jokes and ways
of telling the story that we hadn't
originally anticipated," Sachs
said. "We've retained every sin-

gle character, every single story
line, every single plotline. It's
still there, but what we've done
is we've sort of economized the
Basement Arts' production
process has been a collaborative
one in every sense. Actors have
been the chief source of ideas for
physical comedy and they work
off each other's creativity. Com-
ing from varied backgrounds and
levels of experience - a mix of
musical theater, drama, LSA and
the Residential College students
- they each bring something
fresh and fun to the rehearsal
atmosphere. As inventive as
the actors have been in finding
moments where they can layer
the scenes and highlight absur-
dity, they ground their humorous
choices in historical accuracy and
"Everyone in the cast has
been a dramaturge. Everybody
has been doing historical and
social research and bringing
that to the table," Sachs said.
"That's just adding to the pro-
duction and rmaking it so much
more rich."
A lot of ingredients, locally
sourced in just the right propor-
tions, have gone into the Base-
ment Arts' production of "The
Loving Demise of Lord Blackwell
and His Wife." Sachs divulges
the key to the recipe: "the per-
feet balance of keeping the stakes
high, but not having them weigh
down on the characters, and
the production, to the point of it
becoming melodrama."
A text filled with rich and
descriptive language, a cast bub-
bling with personal flair and
innovative direction will bring
to life Victorian England, with
mannerly exteriors giving way
to lighthearted jest and drunken


the world, but because
omeone tells me not to
much, that it's just
y're telling me that the

Upadhyaya is polishing her
feminist lens. To send Windex,
e-mail kaylau@umich.edu

E-mail arts@michigandaily.com to request an application.

The School of the Art Institute of
Chicago's (SAIC) Master of Arts
in New Arts journalism program
reinterprets and transforms the
skills of a traditional journalist
into the multitasking demands
of a contemporary arts journalist
where art writing, editing, and
design skills are intertwined.

Unlikejournalism schools that
add an arts emphasis, SAIC is a
vibrant school of art and design
in which New Arts journalism
students can combine the in-depth
study of arts and journalism,
and work closely with artists, art
historians, and cultural critics.
800.232.7242 1312.629.6100

e Art Institute





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