Mindful(l) Media is a new show and podcast from Dr. Rosanne Welch helping the audience to be more Mindfull about the Media we both create and consume as it relates to the portrayal of Gender, Diversity, and Equality.
Mindful(l) Media is part of the 3rd Pass Media Network which is launching a series of shows this week including Mindul(l) Media, The Render Break Report, New Media Interchange and More. You’ll find more information about 3rd Pass Media at http://3rdPass.Media.
Mindful(l) Media with Dr. Rosanne Welch Show Notes – Episode 1 – What is Mindful(l) Media and DC Fontana, Star Trek and Women Writers
Welcome to Mindful(l) Media: Thinking Critically about the Media we Create… and Consume with Dr. Rosanne Welch
First a bit about who I am and what Mindful Media hopes to be.
And then how the original Star Trek acted as a gateway for many female writers thanks to the work of D.C. (Dorothy Catherine) Fontana.
More after this…
Today’s show is brought to you by Audible.com. While I watched hours and hours of television in my childhood, I also read tons of books – and as a professor I have found that you can easily tell the readers from the non-readers by their spelling and their level of vocabulary so I always tell students to find time to read. It’s also deeply peaceful to get lost in a story. If you love audio books you can support us here at 3rdPass Media by starting your free 30-day trial with Audible today. Choose from over 100, 000 books. Including one of my favorites, A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – my favorite gift for female friends.
Who I am…
Sicilian kid from Cleveland whose first big trauma came not from my parents’ divorce but from needing to decide whether to watch Gilligan’s Island OR The Monkees when they aired opposite each other in my early childhood.
I grew up to be a television writer on shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences and Touched by an Angel And then I earned a PhD in Film history so I could spend my time analyzing all those programs I adored as a child – and share that Perspective with students.
How I come to critically thinking about media… well, I’ve been doing it all my life without knowing what I was doing.
–from my early childhood sitting at the end of the hallway watching “All in the Family” through the work I did analyzing the shows I was writing spec scripts for in order to create that writing career – through the writing I do now about shows I love such as Doctor Who or The Monkees or a new article I’m writing about how the Civil rights movement made its way onto the television screens of middle America.
So, yes, this will be a broader show about media – but seen through my own liberal/feminist eye it will likely naturally highlight things that catch that eye – things I liked or disliked.
And while I’m speaking to Creators (since thanks to YouTube ‘Content Creator’ has become more ubiquitous than ‘Producer’) I think those Creators all agree that they are also the other big “C” – no, not THAT ‘c’ but this one – Consumers. If what our mothers told us was true – you are what you eat – then I’ll modify that to say We are What We Watch. So as Creators we need to be reminded not to regurgitate old stereotypes into new characters. How does one do that and still create work that audiences will cozy up to? Good question. And something this show hopes to explore.
Spending the last few days discussing feminism and feminists with college sophomores – getting Steinem’s name and going “Ew” until they read about her support of Civil rights and then thought she rocked…
Speaks to misinformation or lack of information in this information-raging modern world.
Feminism on film does not begin and end with Thelma and Louise – in fact I use that film as part of a 2 film a week analysis I have my writing students do. I pair two films and they have to discuss how one learned from the other or what themes match them. Everyone gets that Thelma and Louise is a feminist film – but few pick up that it’s partner in my assignment – Sense and Sensibility is just as much a feminist piece – I mean right down to having been written by TWO women – originally by Jane Austen, adapted by Emma Thompson.
Writing is largely a feminist profession – regardless of gender – men have always been and will continue to be feminists – women didn’t vote to give women the vote – MEN voted to give women the vote. Likewise, some of the most feminist films (at least in America) were co-written (or completely written) by men – men like Garson Kanin (who co-wrote Adam’s Rib with Ruth Gordon – they were married screenwriters. I discovered that about Garson when writing my PhD thesis — and I discovered that while Joan Didion wrote novels alone, she co-wrote screenplays with her husband John Gregory Dunne (among them the 3rd A Star is Born and the Michelle Pfeiffer/Robert Redford Up Close and Personal). Meanwhile, on television right now Michelle and Robert King are enjoying a wonderful run as creators and writers of The Good Wife.
It takes feminist men to write/produce quality feminist characters – but in the end if the other cliché we were taught – women’s rights are human rights – then what does gender got to do with it?
Is it not the artistry of writing the art of capturing a bit of humanity to show other humans so they’ll remember how to treat each other when they walk out of the movie theatre?
When we speak of our favorite films among a series such as Indiana Jones, there’s a reason the first film fares the best – Marion is a real picture of a 3 dimensional female and her relationship with Indy rings true – daughter of famed archaeologist and her star pupil spend so much time together they fall in love, but the relationship falters after his death. Even when talking about film #4 which is generally agreed to have been wrong on so many levels, the only line that rings true is the one where Marion asks what was wrong with Indy’s string of girlfriends since her time and he snaps back, “They weren’t you.”
A final note on the title – Mindful – media – yes I have a mind full of media but I also want us all to be mindful of the media in our lives – in the same way this word – mindful – has taken over the business world and even the world of education.
That said, will this be a class – no – a conversation. Feel free to join in by leaving a comment on the webpage.
So I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure as we think mindfully TV and movies
How William Shatner’s Chest Inspired one (or more) Female Television Writers to Succeed in the Boys Club of Hollywood
As a child I didn’t come to Star Trek for the fantasy or for the fun futuristic optimism or even for the glory of the gadgetry of the tricorders and communicators. I came for William Shatner’s chest. Glimpsed quickly one day while changing channels, my pre-adolescent hormones screeched to a halt as I sat transfixed. That tight Star Fleet uniform shirt truly rippled across his chest, which seemed to strain to be released. We didn’t ‘flip’ in those pre-remote days. We sat in front of the set and manually spun the dial like the combination lock on our high school lockers, which brought us in to much closer contact with the (sometimes still black and white) pictures flashing upon our (compared to modern day frightfully small) screens. I don’t even remember which episode it was that first placed his pecs in front of me, but this obsession with Shatner’s chest focused me so much so that I never cared for the writers’ propensity for finding ways for his co-star to flaunt his own brand of sexuality. Forcing the unfeeling Mr. Spock to feel never moved me at all, so in second, third and fourth runs I never found “This Side of Paradise” much to my liking. In the epic mash up between Sexy Shatner and Sexy Spock, Shatner always won. But being a budding television writer even as a ten year old, I recognized in the idea the need to offer the actor a way out of the rigid character description enforced upon him by his creator.
Viewed now from the perspective of a fifty-year old female television writer and scholar, no longer merely a fan, I find the episode fascinating for what it says about the history of women writers – and the female characters they create — in television. In those days of heady chest-worshipping I didn’t know that the D. C. in D. C. Fontana stood for Dorothy Catherine. When I later learned that information from reading The Making of Star Trek, I took her success as a beacon for my own journey, as did many other future female television writers I came to meet throughout my career. While countless books have been written about the influence of the program on science fiction and on television in general, what I came to learn was the influence Star Trek wielded on bringing women into the industry – and how their participation changes the way female characters are portrayed.
Because of Fontana, future writers of future Trek franchises invited other female writers to pitch ideas so that, to my great joy twenty years after I stumbled upon the original Trek, I found myself in the offices of Star Trek: The Next Generation pitching ideas for stories involving what was still largely a boys club of characters. Sure, they had accepted two women into their continuing cast – both in ‘soft’ occupations as ship’s counselor and medical doctor and still under the command of Captain Picard. But the franchise had proved a stepping stone for a variety of female writers I admired (including Jane Espenson and Melinda M. Snodgrass) and I was excited to be among them. I never sold a story to that iteration of the show, but I kept watching — and kept noticing – that written by women, female characters were (and sadly are still) often more developed (in ways other than their chest measurements).
In “Paradise” that is true of what actress Nichelle Nichols is given to do as our cast regular female, Lt. Nyota Uhura (whose first name I never knew until the writing of this essay) and what Jill Ireland is given to do as the guest character, Spock’s former girlfriend, Leila (who in the tradition of sex objects was never provided a last name). Normally confined to dialogue discussing ‘hailing frequencies’ and only seen taking orders from Captain Kirk, in “Paradise” Uhura commits mutiny against her captain. He has to state for the Captain’s log that, “Lt. Uhura has effectively sabotaged all communications.” While all the male starship members also commit mutiny, Uhura is given one-on-one screen time with the lead actor to do so. Likewise, while Leila seems at first to only be demonstrating that the most perfect, porcelain-faced blonde can even be sexy in overalls, she was also spouting Thoreau (as in Henry David) and his brand of 19th century Transcendentalist philosophy to Spock – and to the audience. For a show airing at the height of the hippie movement, Leila served as a mouthpiece for their dream of peaceful co-existence, one not yet shared by other generations. In several online interviews Fontana has chosen Leila as one of her favorite characters, so we know much of what Leila says comes from Fontana’s own philosophies.
Of course, in the end television was then (and still is now) a man’s world so Uhura’s and Leila’s interests are eventually subsumed by Kirk’s desire to prove, “Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is.” This philosophy discounts ‘woman’ as part of ‘man’ and makes the female-gendered idea of creating peace and happiness submissive to the more male dominant idea of success defined by changing the world around him. Why is a love of nature, as evidenced in Spock’s line: “I have seen a dragon… but I’ve never stopped to look at clouds before, or rainbows” less of an ambition for man? Even the American Founding Fathers cared more for the land and its beauty than these final frontier founders seem to do as they travel the galaxy. Why is the existence of this previous girlfriend and the chance to hear “I love you” from a formerly feeling-less alien male, less of an ambition of (wo)man?
Despite her straining to include her voice in this world, the male producer(s) still stamped their voice on the final product that became “This Side of Paradise”. Over the course of my career, I came to learn that Fontana shared that experience with many of the female writers who followed her, each one planting just enough seeds or dropping just enough breadcrumbs of her own opinion onto the fields of male creation for the rest of us ‘chick writers’ to follow. Where as a child I saw “This Side of Paradise” as an epic battle between sexy male leads, as an adult I see it as the continued battle for the hearts and minds of the audience waged by writers of different genders. It is a fight that several other sisters have carried on through the decades and one I’m willing to declare has been won by a relative newcomer to the scene, Shonda Rhimes. Through the creation of her own new frontier in Grey’s Anatomy, Rhimes provides male and female audiences alike with an all-inclusive world entirely conceived in a female mind. What do both the male and female doctors of Seattle Grace Hospital hope to provide their patients everyday? As Rodenberry provided a masculine ‘trek’ for man into the final frontier, the feminine goal Rhimes provides her characters is right there in the title of the hospital, ‘grace’. (And thanks to D. C. Fontana, Shonda chose to use her first name in her credits.)
All this musing makes me wonder how many young female writers are now coming to their careers because of a love of the way Patrick Dempsey’s chest ripples under his uniform shirt?
That’s it for this episode of Mindful(l)l Media “Thinking Critically about the Media we Create and Consume”.
Join me in the next episode for more Mindful(l) Media.