Not Just Any Kind of Sexuality: The Pornography of Everyday Life

I have a thing for advertisements, especially when they portray sexism, gender stereotypes, or the pornification of sexuality. Elin and I frequently write about advertisements that we find disturbing, annoying, or just plain sexist. And there are many kinds to choose from, as different forms of advertising are everywhere. Some of my favorite analyses and discussions of popular culture and advertising are Jean Kilbourne’s series Killing Us Softly and Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. I also wrote about the documentary Orgasm Inc, concerning female sexual dysfunction.

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Taking on FSD and the Pharmaceutical Companies – Orgasm Inc.

Orgasm Inc. is a documentary by Liz Canner focusing on the recent “discovery” of FSD or Female Sexual Dysfunction. We know that pills such as Viagra can help men with erectile dysfunction. And we also know that the prescription drug industry is big, profitable business. Just how big you might wonder? According to the documentary “The pharmaceutical industry is the third most profitable in the world”. But it is also extremely profitable in America as “The USA makes up just 5% of the world’s population but it accounts for 42% of the world’s spending on prescription drugs”.

Canner explores how pharmaceutical companies scrambling to make a huge profit by telling women that they indeed are abnormal frame FSD as a disorder, even though there are no actual medical discoveries that point to FSD as a disorder. In fact, we find out that all initial meetings discussing FSD were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and that pharmaceutical companies have made it their plight to help define and discover FSD.

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Pink Ribbon Inc. – The story of how breast cancer become a pink marketable good

I don’t usually see movies in central London, but this time I decided it was worth the equivalent of $50 for two cinema tickets. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival was in town and my husband and I decided to see at least one movie. We decided on Léa Pool’s Pink Ribbon Inc, which is based on the book by Dr. Samantha King and boy, was that a good idea.

This movie really should have the subtitle: “Here’s more if you’ve sort of stopped being angry at Komen after the Planned Parenthood debacle.” It exposes how the Susuan G. Komen Foundation and the Avon Foundation have hijacked the ribbon from Charlotte Haley  (which was originally more of a salmon color than the bright pink we know today) and turned it into a tool for corporate gains.

To be sure – raising awareness is important and so is community. However, this film peels away the layers of pinkification and the “tyranny of cheerfulness” which now surrounds this brutal disease and touches upon the difficult issues. It talks about the very important stuff which is left unspoken during the runs and races for the cure. Just a few include: [Read more...]

My Big Breasts and Me: Body Shaming Pretending to be a Documentary

I don’t own a TV and this weekend made my conviction to go TV-free through life that much stronger. My husband and I were staying the night in a hotel and indulged in a rare guilty pleasure: channel-hopping while waiting till the next crime series comes on and we can watch hot detectives make out who killed “the vic” by magnifying images by a kabillion in super high-tech labs. So there we were sprawled in a hotel bed in west England waiting to watch Laurence Fishburne witness a gruesome autopsy, when we came across a documentary called “My Big Breasts and Me.” It sounded . . . well . . . a little weird perhaps, but I guess we were hoping for some real analysis and facts since it said it was a documentary. So we stayed and watched and, by golly, there were fumes coming out of my ears for about 95% of the time I was watching the thing.

The “documentary” featured a bunch of “experts” (including a private plastic surgeon who performs breast reduction – conflict of interests, anyone?) who spent their air time telling women that their breasts are a problem that needs fixing and not that the (mostly) men who react inappropriately should change their behaviour. [Read more...]

Abortion in TV: Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, pre-Roe, drama, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

My parents didn’t let my sister and I watch a lot of television when we were kids, which might explain my pop-culture obsession as an adult. One of the few shows that we were allowed to see, however, was a Canadian teen drama called Degrassi Junior High. We lived close enough to the U.S.-Canadian border that the CBC was one of the few stations our TV antenna could pick up, and every Monday evening the entire family would settle in for a half-hour of the finest teen angst north of the border. Degrassi Junior High eventually morphed into Degrassi High, which spawned the current incarnation, Degrassi: The Next Generation, currently airing on TeenNick (formerly known as The N).

Degrassi distinguished itself by constantly exploring dramatic issues in a pretty realistic manner, and the handling of abortion is no exception. There have been two significant storylines involving abortion, one on Degrassi High in 1989 and the other on Next Generation in 2004. Both storylines generated controversy; when the 1989 episode was aired in the U.S., scenes of protestors were edited out and the character’s ultimate decision was left unclear. In 2005, TeenNick refused to air either the two-part abortion episode or the episode immediately following them. The previous year, the network had declined to air Next Generation’s abortion episodes, finally broadcasting them in 2006.

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Abortion in TV: Party of Five

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, pre-Roe, drama, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

Some television shows will come right up to the edge of abortion, then back away with the Conveniently Timed Miscarriage. My favorite example of this phenomena occurred on the mid-1990s TV show Party of Five, the occasionally-overwrought drama about five siblings orphaned after their parents were killed in a car crash. Residing in a ridiculously pretty house in San Francisco, the Salinger kids – headed by a scruffy Matthew Fox rocking a semi-mullet – dealt with dead parents, alcoholism, infidelity, cancer, business woes, and Jennifer Love Hewitt.

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Abortion in Film: The Shame of Patty Smith

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, drama, pre-Roe, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

Released in 1962, The Shame of Patty Smith sounds like a classic exploitation flick: cheaply made, poorly written and acted, and full of lurid images of young girls led astray. Which, honestly, is why I wanted to see it – I do love Reefer Madness-style cult classics. Imagine my surprise, then, to see a staunchly pro-legalization message repeated throughout this tale of Patty’s rape and desperate search for an abortion. [Read more...]

Abortion in Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, drama, pre-Roe, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

This is an intense movie. Not to mention terrifying and infuriating and impossible to turn off – a masterfully written, filmed, and acted chronicle of two young women’s attempt to obtain an illegal abortion in Romania, circa 1987. Otilia, a resourceful and unflappable college student, raises the money, secures the hotel room, and meets the abortionist who will terminate her roommate Gabita’s pregnancy. She’s the one making the arrangements because Gabita is on the edge of panic, essentially sleepwalking through the day until the abortionist comes to the hotel, at which point the movie takes an even darker turn. The dynamic between Otilia and Gabita, more than any other relationship in the film, is riveting and complicated, and a large part of what makes the movie so compelling. It’s no wonder that critics largely adored this 2007 release, which won that year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. [Read more...]

Abortion in Film: Waitress

To quote Gloria Feldt, “Media portrayals, real or fictional, don’t merely inform us — they form us.” In this series, I will be examining five films – classic, mainstream, independent, foreign, and pre-Roe – and five television shows – daytime soap, drama, pre-Roe, critically lauded, and teen-oriented – that address unexpected pregnancy, to examine how past portrayals can influence and reflect society’s view of abortion.

Oh, I so wanted to like Waitress. I have a soft spot for independent films, a long-standing affection for Keri Russell, a love of pie, and a Southern heritage. So really, all the elements were in place for me to love this movie.

Instead, I became so frustrated with how the lives of three small-town waitresses were depicted that I turned the movie off halfway through and only finished watching because I kept hoping that at some point, Russell would turn to the screen, wink, and say, “Just kidding!” Because really, how else to account for a film in which the main character staunchly continues a pregnancy after flatly and repeatedly stating that it will ruin her life, and one of her friends not only falls in love with an almost-cartoonishly creepy man who promises to stalk her until she will marry him – but does, indeed, marry him? [Read more...]

Abortion in Film: Knocked Up

Released in 2007, Knocked Up was a bona fide hit, and received a lot of good reviews. The predictable story centers around a one-night stand that results in pregnancy and a relationship, and purports to be a no-holds-barred examination of sex, relationships, and slackerhood. Instead, what director Judd Apatow and his mostly-talented cast have tossed on the screen is 132 minutes of shrill, one-dimensional characters screaming at each other, fuming about their lives, and making decisions that seemed to make absolutely no damn sense, given the little character development that does occur.

In the three years since its release, Knocked Up has gotten a lot of ink following star Katherine Heigl’s comments that the film is a bit on the sexist side. As Meghan O’Rourke notes in a great piece for Slate, such criticism could be leveled at a whole generation of films. “[T]here was a time when romantic comedies … were more egalitarian in their assignment of playfulness,” O’Rourke writes, adding that the conventional wisdom of both films and culture does neither men nor women any favors, relegating both genders to narrowly-defined constructs that don’t allow for individuality or happiness. In this sense, Knocked Up is deeply traditional, despite its ample of dick jokes, drug use, and a truly disgusting lesson in how pink-eye can be transmitted: Ben, the amiable slacker, can only achieve truly respectability by moving out of the house he shares with his friends, getting a steady job, and reading a whole mess of baby books; Alison, the curiously isolated go-getter, must … wait, what exactly does Alison have to do? Besides deciding to reconcile with Ben after a particularly vicious argument, very little changes for the mother-to-be, which would be more noteworthy if the character were not completely devoid of personality or even a spark of an inner life. [Read more...]