When does a television show cross the line from entertainment into propaganda?
Consider the upcoming Netflix show, GLOW. The setup is promising. The series is a fictionalized look at the female wrestling franchise (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) from the 1980s. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin play dueling wrestlers fighting more than just each other.
Spoiler alert: They’re fighting sexism!
We won’t know the details of the show itself until it starts streaming June 23rd but the trailer offers some hints that this will be an offering to warm the hearts of social justice warriors.
The tease starts strong, as a wannabe actress reads the “male” movie part at an audition by mistake. Of course, the role is far meatier than the character she showed up to land. The rest of the clip mocks stereotypes and the male gaze; it’s a tour de force of politically correct writing. “I get it. Women can do anything men do. Blah, blah blah,” one clueless male says.
It gets worse.
“This is about justice. This is about holding on to what’s ours,” an unseen female character declares. Exhausted yet?
Let’s be honest: The original GLOW appealed not to budding feminists but to adolescent boys eager to see scantily clad women in scripted battles in the wrestling ring. That’s understandable. You can’t argue with hormones.
But in rewriting the GLOW story for today, the show’s creators have made a disappointingly predictable choice to cater to feminist sensibilities rather than to just entertain.
That would make it part of a frustrating trend.
Proudly vulgar and proudly feminist comedian Amy Schumer’s new movie, Snatched, drowns in overt, “You go, girl” moments, for example. And last year’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising ladled on the feminist bromides thanks, in part, to a pair of female screenwriters tasked with overseeing the production for that very purpose. We expect movies to have casting agents and key grips, but “woke” consultants who act as ideological script police? No thank you.
Audiences aren’t buying this aggressive brand of feminism. Snatched is under-performing at the box office. Neighbors 2 bombed, generating roughly a third of the original film’s box office bounty. Turns out being woke isn’t helping comedy, or feminism. More often than not it crushes both.
Being woke first and foremost restricts comedic impulses. Writers put empowerment and equality above making audiences laugh. As with any film or TV show, starting out with an agenda is a mistake. And audiences can smell it a mile away.
The old writing saw, “Show, don’t tell,” applies to Hollywood as well as wannabe novelists. Too often today’s feminist comedy tells, and tells some more. That isn’t persuasive art. It’s lecturing the audience about how they should think, act and, most importantly, feel.
Entertainment can be a persuasive way to address social ills. The recent drama Hidden Figures earned Oscar nominations because it’s a powerhouse film, not a lecture. You didn’t need the three female stars breaking character for some analog virtue signaling.
We saw their lives, their obstacles, and their tenacity in the face of racism. And we cheered.
Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey also found an excellent balance between comedy and political signaling. Although she is outspoken about her liberal political views, on her show, 30 Rock, she rarely let social arguments outweigh the comedy (and as a result produced a show that enjoyed excellent ratings for many seasons). It’s a lesson Schumer and her feminist comedian cohort would do well to heed.
Battling systemic injustices in the arts can be a good thing. Doing so with a ponderous hand, and with an eye toward appeasing Social Justice Warriors, is something else entirely. It’s definitely not funny.