Miss Representation
Do Yourself a Favor: See It

Once I put on my “critic” hat for screening a film, I’m pretty hard to provoke.  At the moment a movie starts, it’s my job to evaluate it, not react to it.  Even Michael Moore— at both his best and worst—provokes little emotional response in me.

Miss Representation royally pissed me off, and in the best possible way.

Bear in mind that I’m the lone audience member who walked out on a packed commercial screening of Risky Business because I was so incensed at that film’s portrayal of women.  From the first time I saw Joe Francis’ ridiculous Girls Gone Wild commercials on cable, I’ve lamented how the misguided women who buy into Francis’ fetish are traitors to their own gender.  And no, Halle Berry’s sex scene in Monster’s Ball was not empowering; she merely sold her integrity for the sake of artistic “respect.”

I’m also the guy who was addicted to porn for twenty years, so I’m definitely no holier-than-thou prig.  I’ve rolled in the dirt with the best of them.

Miss Representation riled me because it lays out, it spectacular and infuriating form, the ways in which our entire culture—men and women alike—tends to unthinkingly consume whatever advertisers fork over… or blithely assume “it doesn’t affect me.”  Well, it does.

Katie Couric in Miss RepresentationAs reported in the film, young people today spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours listening to music, three hours watching movies, four hours reading magazines, and 10 hours online—and the vast majority of all that media is being coordinated and produced by a monolithic industry with a fairly coherent message.  As the film’s director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, reports, five—count ’em, five—media conglomerates have almost exclusive control over the messages packaged for our consumption.  And the general tone of it all?  “We are a nation of teenaged boys.”

Now, I’ve got nothing against teenaged boys.  Seriously.  I used to be one.  But I also understand how they think.

Let’s consider Risky Business once again.  The film’s teenaged hero is hounded by his self-absorbed shrewish mother.  He’s of near-genius intellect.  He believes his libido is repressed (and, in the context of what may be the movie’s most shrewdly deceptive appeal to the audience’s sympathies, he is awfully, um, pure for his age group).  And he’s got, indirectly, money to burn.  So it’s only natural that the apex of his romantic aspirations would be… a high-priced call girl (of the, naturally, sexpot-with-a-heart-of-gold variety).

At the risk of sounding like a moralist (which I am not), there is not a positive male or female role model in the film—which would be fine if the film were countercultural, or even possible to take seriously as a black comedy… which it never was, and can’t be, respectively.  When the film was released, any cultural prognosticator could have predicted that the public’s embrace of Risky Business was only affirming what our culture wanted to believe about itself—that good intentions and a bagful of cash do a mighty fine job of paving the road to heaven, or hell, or wherever you want to go—and that something like Girls Gone Wild would certainly materialize.  It was only just a matter of time.

Well, dammit, why is that the case?  In part because our educators themselves buy into this Superbowl Halftime way of life, and because most of us just don’t have an interest in educating ourselves.

Personally, I’m intensely grateful for the 8th-grade English teacher (whose name I can no longer recall) who, in 1975, led my class through the U.S. code of advertising to show us how our government was letting advertisers lie to us… legally.  It’s an industry built on deception, and the way laws are written (no doubt with the aid of lobbyists) only the most egregious of deceptions can possibly be prosecuted.  So, to a degree, my eyes have been relatively open all of my adult life.

I sincerely hope that plenty of people—and women in particular, as this game is largely in their hands—get out to see this movie, and get riled up about it… and conclude, to steal a line from Serenity, “I aim to misbehave.”

It’s about time that women, as a whole, check out of this system.  While this may seem an unfair assessment, particularly given that the boards of the media conglomerates are really just glorified boys clubs, I don’t hold out any great hope that men have it within themselves to change any of this.  Boys, after all, will be boys.  Why must women be boys, too?

Take the $10,000 or so that you would normally spend on clothes, makeup, and hair care products in the next year and use that money instead to back female candidates for congress, the Senate, and President.  Now, that would shake things up a bit.

If there’s a downside to the film, it’s that Newsom (who also narrates) is not the most magnetic of personalities.  However, she wisely puts most of the film’s words in the mouths of powerhouses like Katie Couric, Condoleeza Rice, Margaret Cho, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson, and Rachel Maddow. 

But in the end, Newsom’s voice is the right one for the material.  What, after all, was I expecting?  A kickboxing sex kitten?

Miss Representation is unrated.  There’s a good bit of frank language here, but nothing your kids wouldn’t hear in any grade school restroom.  Call it PG, though, because you’re going to want to talk about this film with your kids.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Greg screened a promotional copy of Miss Representation.