AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, January 15, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Maybe it’s men who “just aren’t funny”; sexy Star Wars lack imagination; how not to depict girl geeks and

MAYBE MEN JUST AREN’T FUNNY. The late-night wars of this past week — Leno’s out at 10pm! Conan’s moving to 12:05! No he isn’t! — have reminded us of one important fact. No, not what late-nighter Craig Ferguson noted, that it’s just a bunch of rich white guys fighting over millions of dollars, but that it’s just a bunch of guys. Period.

Last night is a man’s world. There are no women hosts on late night TV… and, as an article on Salon this week demonstrated, not many women working on those late-night shows at all. As Lynn Harris puts it:

Indeed, if aliens landed tomorrow and analyzed the writing staffs of late-night comedy shows — Earth’s daily dose of mainstream humor — they might draw the conclusion that laughter is almost exclusively the domain of the human male. “It pains me,” Scovell wrote, “that almost 20 years [after leaving Letterman], the situation for female writers in late-night-TV hasn’t improved.” And this isn’t so much about political correctness as it is about quality entertainment (to say nothing of simple fairness and equal opportunity). Because let’s face it, if aliens analyzed certain late-night ratings, they might conclude that Earthmen actually aren’t that funny at all. The bottom line here is what makes better comedy. And as Scovell says, “It’s been my experience that a room with a fairer sampling of humanity will always produce funnier material.”

Again we see Hollywood — for whom it’s supposed to be all about the money — insisting on sexism even though it doesn’t make financial sense. Why? Because it isn’t really about money, as one of the rare late-night female writers notes. Her observation:

“When a guy tells a story about an ex-girlfriend screwing him over, he gets laughs and maybe sympathy. When a girl tells a story about a guy screwing her over, she gets a lecture, or worse. The whole discussion becomes a referendum on women’s sanity,” she says. “I call this ‘nice guy misogyny,'” she goes on. “Overt sexism is easy to deal with. Someone zings you, you zing him back. The real problem comes from the supposedly ‘nice married guys’ who secretly resent women for being on their turf and take it out on them in various subtle ways.”

And there’s all of Hollywood sexism in a, ahem, nutshell: Men simply don’t want to have to compete with women. One can only imagine that they’re terrified of being forced to discover that their insistence on general female inferiority has been wrong all along.

SEXY IS NOT GENDERED. With the metal bikini-clad Princess Leia starring in the fantasies of a generation of human men, the Star Wars Burlesque LA Weekly covered this week was probably inevitable. Bikini Leia features prominently in the show, of course, as do a sexy Darth Vader, a sexy stormtrooper, and a sexy Boba Fett. The problem? They’re all performed by women. Why would a “naked” C3PO have breasts? Where’s the sexy Han Solo wearing nothing but that enticing thigh holster? Gay guys Straight girls (and gay guys) are geeks, too.

SPEAKING OF GIRL GEEKS… Anne Billson in the Guardian puts forth a bizarre defense of Sandra Bullock’s character All About Steve (which just opened this weekend in the U.K.):

Because while nerdy guys like Seth Rogen and Shia LaBeouf are everywhere these days, their female counterparts are still barely to be glimpsed. In every genre other than the shopping-and-wedding romcom, women are little more than decoration, trophies or spoilsports whose function is to remind the guys it’s time they faced up to adult responsibility instead of smoking pot/watching Star Wars/putting their albums into alphabetical order. So shouldn’t we be treasuring those rare female characters who don’t conform to these stereotypes? Even the annoying ones?

It’s true that there are no female counterparts to Seth Rogen and Shia LaBeouf onscreen — but Bullock’s Steve character isn’t one of them. For one, she’s 18 years older than Rogen and 22 years older than LaBeouf… old enough to be mother to both of them. It’s bad enough, and certainly not worth celebrating, when supposedly adult men continue portraying overgrown children well into their 20s (or 30s!). But the major issue with Bullock’s Steve character isn’t that she’s annoying but that she’s 45 years old and appears not to have lived any kind of adult life, not even the faux sort of adult life that male movie geeks are seen to have. But even if the Steve protagonist was played by, say, a 25-year-old actress, she still would not be worth “treasuring.” Guy geeks like the ones Rogen and LaBeouf often portray are generally depicted in a positive way. But the same thing cannot be said about Steve’s heroine, whom the movie itself appears to despise.

There are genuine, funny, human stories that could be told about girl geeks. This is not one of them.

OPENING THIS WEEK. As usual, the weekend’s new wide releases focus almost exclusively on male characters. The Book of Eli posits a postapocalyptic world in which women are offered by tinpot warlords as prizes to their henchmen and as gifts to guests, and Our Hero is heroic partly for not engaging in such transactions. In The Spy Next Door, Jackie Chan attempts to secure the ongoing affections of Amber Valletta by babysitting her children, a transaction in which he would not, perhaps, have to enter if she weren’t such a terrible mother: her children are the worst kind of brats who appear incapable of showing the tiniest iota of respect to any adult (including their mother).

The Lovely Bones is, at least, about a teenage girl, though not in any interesting way. As critic Roger Ebert so succinctly puts it:

“The Lovely Bones” is a deplorable film with this message: If you’re a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they mourn you and realize what a wonderful person you were. Sure, you miss your friends, but your fellow fatalities come dancing to greet you in a meadow of wildflowers, and how cool is that?

See the AWFJ’s regular weekly rundown of new releases for more.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).