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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Two words: Beth Littleford
Posted by Jill | 5:53 AM
I've been following with some interest the foofarah over the hiring of Maxim and Playboy cover girl Olivia Munn as the latest of precious few female on-air personalities at The Daily Show.

At my age, I'm a bit old to be threatened by a twentysomething TV personality, but the whole sad dust-up is yet another example of how our culture turns women against each other, pigeonholing us into the boxes of "the pretty one" and "the funny one".

For the uninitiated, Olivia Munn is the newest Daily Show on-air hire, whose claim to fame is hosting the G4 gaming channel's "Attack of the Show", where as Sarah Hepola notes in a Salon interview with the subject of the whole to-do:
she was beloved for such stunts as jumping into a giant pie wearing a French maid's outfit and gobbling a raw hot dog dangling on a string.
Munn's early appearances led to a Jezebel post about the show's tendency towards being a largely boys club dating back to its Craig Kilborn days, which led to a Slate piece accusing Jezebel of ginning up page views by exploiting the whole thing, which led to Amanda trying to make sense of the whole thing, and now we're left with a situation in which Munn is getting the kind of publicity you can't buy, and the cartoony Kristen Schaal, who is genuinely funny, still pushed to the edges of rare appearances on the show and what else can we assume other than it's because she looks like Olive Oyl?

It has always been thus. There has always been an assumption that when a guy is fixed up with a girl by his cousin, and he's told that the girl has "a great personality" or "a great sense of humor", said guy has always assumed that said girl should have a bag over her head. The boys' club thing that surrounds The Daily Show has never bothered me. Perhaps it's because I'm so used to male dominance in the media that I'm a hapless tool of sexism, but all I really care about when I watch these shows, is "Is it clever?", "Is it smart?" and "Is it funny?" John Oliver's dispatches from the World Cup have been so side-splittingly funny that I really don't care whether his genitalia is the same as mine. And for me, that's the real problem with Olivia Munn -- not that she's pretty, but because I don't see any indication thus far that she's funny, or even particularly bright. And so I'm wondering just who the show is trying to hang onto. If the demographic is 60% male, wouldn't it make sense to try to bring in people who aren't already watching? Is Conan O'Brien's upcoming show on TBS that much of a threat to Jon Stewart?

On the other hand, the idea that women won't watch a pretty woman on a comedy show is bullshit. I don't know anyone who has watched the show since the early days who didn't think Beth Littleford was hilarious:

And last I looked, Tina Fey wasn't causing women to go screaming for the hills either.

But look, I get it. It's hard to accept someone as a trailblazer for women when most of what people know of her is as a jerkoff object for a bunch of geekboys, especially when other, funnier women (like Schaal) who don't stuff a wild bikini as well, are shunted off to the side. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought Beth Littleford was both beautiful and funny, and who thinks Tina Fey is both beautiful and funny. And if Olivia Munn proves the naysayers wrong and turns out to have the comic chops, I don't think women will gripe.

While women fight on this Battlefield of Mutually Exclusive Boxes, the din is so loud that we can't hear each other, and each of us, from our own little box, carrying our own baggage from a culture that values only youth and beauty and nothing else, and even gives THAT a hard time, we still have a culture in which there is rape and in which women are regarded as nothing but fuck fodder -- and only that until they reach a certain age. Olivia Munn seems to GET this, for all that she seems unable to step out of it:
You can see the defensiveness in other ways, too, though. Like there is a post on your blog after the Maxim cover shoot where you say, " If you have any problems with me in this spread, I have two things to say to you: 1. Just don’t look. And 2. You sound like you just need a good fuck."

Because at that time I was in my last relationship [with "Star Trek" actor Chris Pine], and I was fed up with comments on the blogs, when girls I’d never met were like, she’s only dating him because he’s a movie star. And I really still believe that anybody who's sitting there judging my relationship does need to get the shit fucked out of them.

But is there any part of you that understands an objection to your being on the cover of Maxim? Even like a maternal instinct that would say, hey, this is a talented girl. Why is she putting this part of herself first and foremost? The idea that it might diminish your gifts.

Yes, I can see that. But I would like to hope we can get to a place where it’s OK to be funny and sexy and be on the cover of a magazine and you can still be on "The Daily Show."

I wanted to talk about the story you write in your memoir about the Playboy shoot. [Munn agreed to pose for Playboy on the condition there would be no nudity but found herself continually nudged toward it by an overzealous photographer and stylist. She never did take off her clothes, but it was a constant struggle.] It's a lighthearted piece, but it made me uncomfortable. I really felt for you -- stuck between what you had clearly consented to and what these other people wanted, how you were trying to be sexy and keep it together while clearly anxious and upset that some nip slip was going to be snapped and published.

And the photographer kept going, "Be comfortable, be comfortable," and I'm like, "I'm not comfortable, because I don't know you. And I don't like you."

When I went in to approve the photos, I literally had to have a conversation with my lawyers, my publicist, my manager, saying: Is that her vagina, or is that not her vagina? It's tricky if you're clean-shaven, because what determines a vagina is public hair. It brings up a lot of emotions for me to even say it that way. I know all that some people will see in that sentence is: "clean shaven"! But I remember sitting on the stairs, feeling so violated afterward. I was sobbing. [The eventual Playboy cover did not feature nudity but a picture of Munn in a red bikini.]

Amanda Hess on a blog called the Sexist wrote that the story was a case study in how magazines like that coerce women.

I don't find myself to be the kind of person who is easily swayed. I could see what this guy was doing. But if I pose for Maxim, I know that if my nipple accidentally slips out, they can't publish that. With Playboy it's different. I understand that the criticism is: "Yeah, but she posed for it anyway." Well, that's like saying, "Oh, you were asking for it cause you dressed a certain way."

It did mean something for me to be on the cover. There's such an image of what beauty is: Women get their lips done, and their boobs done. But I'm multiethnic. I've got smaller boobs. I'm 5-foot-4. If they're saying that's what sexy is, then I think it's a better image to perpetuate than the stuff that still influences me to the point that I wonder: Should I get my lips done?

I'm very open about the fact that it's nice when someone says you're pretty. Especially for someone like me. I have a vivid memory of my stepfather saying to my mom, "Olivia isn't very pretty, is she?" I remember looking at myself in the mirror that night and hitting myself over and over, looking at my eyes, because they looked more Asian. Literally slapping my face and trying to change it. When people are like, "Oh, I don't care that I'm pretty," it's a disservice to what people really go through. And I know that I wasn't alone. So when I do these magazines, yeah, it's nice. It's nice to feel power for doing it. It's nice that someone like Jon Stewart can watch a video of me and not have ever seen me in a Wonder Woman outfit and say, "She's funny."

If you're tempted to hate Olivia Munn because you think she's exploiting the way people react to her looks, go back and read that last paragraph. And then ask yourself if you blame her for doing so. Look, I hope she DOES turn out to be worthy of all the fuss. And then I hope she pushes Jon Stewart to give more time to other funny women whom Maxim would never think of putting on their covers.

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Anonymous Charlie O said...
I've always thought Tina Fey was hot. Something about girls in glasses. Whoa!