Better a Witty Fool than a Foolish Wit

Inner Workings of My Twisted Mind.

Leading Ladies

I consider myself a feminist.  I know that term has about a million different meanings and connotations, but to me it’s all about being female and being proud of it.  I own the fact that I like to paint my nails and wear pretty shoes.  I also own the fact that just because I’m female doesn’t mean I’m not smart or worthy of an equal paycheck.  I like the fact that I can be a total bitch sometimes, and completely supportive other times.  I’m not some man-hating chick who shaves her head and refuses to wear heels, though I think those ladies are feminists too.  I’m not a completely cosmo-feminist who adheres to the ‘if you can’t beat them, seduce them’ kind of ideology, though I’m think those ladies are feminists too.  I wouldn’t vote for Hilary Clinton specifically because she was a woman, but I loved the fact that I had the option of voting for her has a viable and credible presidential candidate (woman or not)…and in all honesty I didn’t vote because the DMV lost my voting registration form.  

As a feminist, and a feminist who happens to be a connoisseur of pop culture, I do love the leading ladies.  A good leading lady can make a movie like Legally Blonde into a post-modern feminist triumph.  A blonde girl who is written off by everyone makes it to Harvard Law School and learns that she doesn’t have to get by on just her looks.  Sure she goes to Harvard for a guy, but she quickly figures out that he kind of sucks and she is better off without him.  In less able hands than Reese’s, this movie could have been tired and schlocky, a vapid look at a dumb blonde.  Reese made the character lovable, relatable, and a sort of everywoman who is stereotyped because of the way she looks and overcomes the obstacles that arise because of those stereotypes.  
Now, my interests lie more in television than film.  I’m of the mind that t.v. is much more important to study than film is, even though film is considered the higher, more artistic media.  As a writer, t.v. is where the interesting character development is.  Think about it, you identify more with Rachel Green or Dylan McKay or Jan Brady than with Lester Burnham or The Dude or Ilsa Lund.  They are all fantastic characters, but Rachel Green and Dylan McKay and Jan Brady came into your living room for anywhere from five to ten years.  You watched them grown and change within a relatively realistic time frame.  They didn’t jump years in advance to show the change and you didn’t have to see major character arcs play out over two hours.  For writers, and I would assume for actors, television can be a fantastic exercise in representing real life (albeit a slightly heightened version of real life).  
A few years ago I noticed that there are an uneven amount of shows on T.V. that revolve around a female lead.  I can really only think of two shows on network television right now that revolve directly around one male lead (those would be My Name is Earl and 24) and seeing as I don’t watch either, I can’t comment on how often Jason Lee (Earl) or Kiefer Sutherland (Jack Bauer) are on screen.  But I have watched a whole lot of female led dramas (My So-Called Life, Buffy the Vampire SlayerAliasVeronica MarsJoan of ArcadiaUgly Betty, Felicity, etc).  The thing that strikes me about all these shows is how often the leading ladies are on screen.  In AliasVeronica Mars, Ugly Betty, and Buffy, especially, the actresses are in almost every single scene.  So here’s the deal.  If you are the lead in a series and you are in almost every scene your day would look something like this: get to work between five and seven in the morning, go into hair and make up, go to wardrobe, rehearse with a camera, eat breakfast, start shooting.  Depending on how long the scene is you could spend hours and hours on the actual set, under the lights, being asked to perform again and again and again…if it’s an emotional scene, you get to cry over and over and over again.  Around 12 or 1, depending on when you started, there would be an hour for lunch where you could eat, go to your trailer, relax for a bit before going back to work.  Throughout the day you would have multiple make up and hair changes, multiple wardrobe changes and anywhere between 10 and 20 pages of dialogue to shoot (keep in mind that on a film set you shoot approximately 1 to 2 pages of dialogue a day).  Hopefully, you get out of there within 12 hours of getting to work, but this is always a pipe dream and never happens.  More likely you will be at work for 14 to 18 hours, only to go home, go to sleep and go back to work.  Now, this is thrown out the window on Friday, where often times you will be on set until 2 or 3 am because you won’t be at work tomorrow.  
This is the same formula as all 1 hour shows.  And all the actors on those shows work like hell.  I’ve worked enough t.v. to fully appreciate that.  But for a single female lead, you’re on the whole day every day.  In a big ensemble cast, there are scenes certain actors aren’t in.  Though I would love it, Patrick Dempsey isn’t in every scene of Grey’s Anatomy, so sometimes he doesn’t have to come in until a little later, he might get to leave a little early.  He might even get a day off once in a while (though I doubt it).  With the exception of The Office (everyone has to be in almost every scene because of the way that show is shot), all ensemble shows run like this.  
The question that comes to my mind, and one that I’ve been grappling with for a while is, why women?  Why is it that, for the most part, a single lead character in a show is almost always a woman?  
The interesting unifier between all the shows is that the female lead are usually ultra-strong, superwoman kind of women.  Sidney Bristow (Alias) is a badass spy that kicks a whole lot of ass, much like Buffy Summers who is not a spy so much as a Vampire Slayer, who also kicks quite a lot of ass.  Veronica Mars is uber smart and a total smart ass, Joan Girardi (Joan of Arcadia) talks to God, and Angela Chase is every teenage girl.  But why is it always a woman, do we not care to see men kicking ass and taking names alone?  Have we just seen enough of it?  I mean, Jack Bauer is a spy, but he’s no Sidney Bristow, what with the speaking a million languages and being a double agent.  Philip Marlowe is a fantastic P.I. but he’s no Veronica Mars (though she’s definitely got some of him in her).  
A part of me loves these shows because I like to see strong, realistic female characters on screen.  The feminist inside me likes that there are strong roles for women.  But a third, much smaller, part of me wonders if Hollywood is exacting some kind of torture on these ladies.  
Peace, Love, and Great Acting,

September 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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