The Emmy Awards’ New Low for Women (9/21/08, ABC)

It’s ironic that in a year when Tina Fey practically swept the awards for her work as a writer, actor, and producer on 30 Rock, the Emmy Awards shows’ writers can only come up with lame misogyny to bolster its desperate humor.

The ceremony was hosted by five reality tv malingerers—Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Howie Mandell, whom I admit I’ve never watched; Jeff Probst, from Survivor, which I tuned in during its first few seasons; and Heidi Klum, whom I occasionally enjoy on Project Runway. As awards show hosts, the group collectively blew their appeal in their first bit. The show began by humiliating Klum, who looked lost and stayed silent through most of the hosts’ opening “nothing” routine, in which they proclaimed proudly to viewers that they hadn’t prepared a thing, supposedly just like good reality tv stars always do (or don’t).

The joke fell instantly flat, and its insults redoubled when Klum was mocked for trying to look like the guys, who were all, like Klum, dressed in black suits, white shirts, and skinny black ties, making one of their few honest points of the evening—they’re all interchangeable. With her blond locks tied back and looking years younger and less mature than her pre-scripted lines make her appear on Runway, Klum protested that she was just trying to fit in.

At that point, for unfathomable reasons (or perhaps inside-joke ones that I just didn’t get), William Shatner was summoned up from the audience, ostensibly to pull at a thread on Klum’s costume. But it turned out that the old coot had a more devious assignment; he and his host henchman proceeded to rip off Klum’s suit to reveal the black spangled mini-shorts and low cut sleeveless blouse that lurked beneath.

To worsen the insult, Klum happily loosened her hair from its bindings, shaking it down into the Prell shampoo-style rich and luxurious look we recognize on her more easily. The skit offered the worst possible stereotype of a woman who gives in to her “femininity” since she can’t compete with the boys.

In another moment between awards during the long evening, Klum and one of the male hosts demonstrated the difference between drama and comedy. They guy embraced the hapless Klum as she threw her hand across her forehead to define “drama,” then dropped her on the floor to demonstrate the joke’s punch line—the definition of comedy. Klum seemed good-natured (if lifeless and clueless) throughout these shenanigans, but watching her being abused for cheap laughs was painful.

After serving as the butt of these jokes, Klum was, thankfully, missing in action the rest of the night. She was out of her element off the Project Runway set, as were three of the other four hosts. Only Howie Mandell, a comic by training, had the necessary charisma to even come close to pulling off the rigors of hosting. The rest of these fools looked awkward and phony (and not at all funny) even reading off the prompter.

Luckily, since the show quickly began to veer off schedule and to threaten its promise to end on time, the hosts were rarely seen after the halfway mark, until the unfortunate skit in which the winner of their competition for “best reality tv host” (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) was announced. I hope “the Academy” doesn’t dream up such a dimwitted idea for managing the show again.

Five bad hosts weren’t the least of the evening’s problems. Some of the fake banter between awards was amusing, especially at the beginning of the show, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler teamed up, for instance, to announce the first award. But the introductory bits quickly grew tiresome and most were eventually cut altogether. Left intact, for some inexplicable reason, was the exchange between Brooke Shields and a male actor whose name I didn’t catch, in which he confessed that from the time he was a small child, he always found her seductive, and always “respected” her. Then he proceeded to fondle her rear end. She quipped, “Is that your hand on my ass?” To which he responded, “Yes, it’s being respectful,” or some such inanity, to which Shields wasn’t even given a comeback.

These moments of gratuitous sexism seemed rude and ignorant, compared to Fey’s wit and grace and the implicit feminism of her acceptance speeches. She’s a consummate performer and writer; as Alec Baldwin said, introducing her, she’s the Elaine May of her generation. Fey and Poehler’s smart, insightful, sharp parody of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live last week was consummate proof not only of her skills of mimicry, but of her astute satirical eye and her incisive political observations. Her imitation of Palin wasn’t just physically uncanny; her ability to capture the woman’s vacuity, her pride in her own limitations, and her willingness to be a pawn for a party that doesn’t even respect her itself was all there in Fey’s vivid, cutting, hilarious rendering (clips from the sketch appear in multiple versions on YouTube). Compared to Fey, the scribes of the Emmy Awards are simply hacks.

In other, unscripted moments, women didn’t fare much better. Glenn Close tried to score one for the team when she accepted her award for Best Actress in a Drama series. She credited her stiff competition—which included Kyra Sedgwick, Holly Hunter, and Mariska Hagaritay—with being strong, mature women who can carry their own shows, and was eager to say more about female solidarity before the cue music cut her off. But on her way to the mic, Close brushed aside presenter America Ferrara as the young woman tried to hand Close her statuette, barking “Hold that for me” and swanning into the spotlight. It was unnerving to hear Ferrara gasp, “Oh, okay,” Ugly Betty-style as Close gushed at the audience.

To top off a rather squirm-inducing evening for women, Mary Tyler Moore appeared close to the end, trotting out Betty White to make a presentation with her. (I have to admit that by the third hour, I was multi-tasking, and probably got wrong some of the details I’m sharing now. Although as Dick Smothers noted earlier in the evening—accepting an Emmy that Steve Martin explained Smothers had recused himself from in 1968, when he was deemed too politically leftist to be worthy of it—the truth is only what you persuade other people it is.) While I’m a great fan of Moore’s work, I wasn’t taken with her outfit. The sleeveless black gown showed her skeletal arms, from which her skin now hangs in loose folds painfully evident when she gestured. This anorexic image of a senior female entertainment icon did nothing to help redress the evening’s many insults to women.

Maybe someday, Tina Fey will produce, write, and host the Emmy Awards ceremony (and maybe the Oscars and the Grammies and the Golden Globes, too). Until then, maybe she could just suggest that the writers behave themselves and stop polluting the airwaves with sophomoric stunts at women’s expense.

Irritated, to put it mildly,

The Feminist Spectator

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2 thoughts on “The Emmy Awards’ New Low for Women (9/21/08, ABC)

  1. Bless you, Jill. You watch the Emmys so we don’t have to. Tina Fey IS the Elaine May of our time, except she gets to be on TV in our time, which should make for more feminist possibilities, not fewer…

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