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These stories are all heavily watched, which means they’re entertaining: The 2019 film Bombshell (about the predations of Roger Ailes), Apple TV’s The Morning Show (about a disgraced anchor), and Netflix’s Unbelievable (about reporting rape) and 13 Reasons Why (about teen suicide resulting from sexual assault). But what’s “entertaining” about sexual assault and harassment? What makes for a sensitive as opposed to a sensationalized portrayal?
Erica, Mark, and Brian consider which stories work and why. How much divergence from true events is allowable in Bombshell or Confirmation (about Anita Hill)? By having characters interpret their situations (Erica gives an example from the show Sex Education), are writers essentially telling audiences how to feel about their own experiences? Should certain depictions be ruled out as potentially triggering, or is it good to “bring to light” whatever terrible things actually happen in the world? Should shows delve into the psychology of the perpetrator (maybe even treating him as a protagonist), or must the message be wholly and unambiguously about the victim?
Art is about risk-taking and capturing difficult ambiguities; this doesn’t sound much like a public service message. So what responsibility to do show creators have to consult professionals about how to present difficult topics like this?
We drew on some articles to help us look at these questions:
- “Hollywood Taboo: A Review of Bombshell” by Spencer Hagaman
- “Megyn Kelly, Other Fox News Accusers Dissect ‘Bombshell’ In New Video” by Greg Evans
- “Unbelievable Has Delivered a Rare Honest Portrayal of Rape Survival on TV – It Should Be Our New Blueprint” by Harriet Hall
- “13 Reasons Why a Conversation About Rape Culture Is as Important as One About Suicide” by Alia Dastigir
- “Yes, ‘The Morning Show’ has a #MeToo problem. That’s the Best Thing About It” by Meredith Blake
- “The ‘13 Reasons Why’ Graphic Sexual-Assault Scene: Did the Show Go Too Far Again?” by Kevin Fallon
- “We’ve Seen Sexual Assault on TV Before—But Never Like This” by Jessica Radloff
- “TV’s Reckoning with #METOO” by Emily Nussbaum
- “From Harvey Weinstein to the New #MeToo Movies, True Justice Still Remains in the Realm of Fantasy” by Mary Elizabeth Williams
- “The Progress and Pitfalls of Television’s Treatment of Rape” by Maureen Ryan
Here’s that weird scene where Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup sing on The Morning Show.
This episode includes bonus discussion that you can hear now by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop.
This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by openculture.com.
Will Le says
A caveat to begin: I literally could not sit through the entire episode….I would still like to comment, if I could. A lmost a decade ago I came to a realization which was a catalyst for me to expunge from my abode and my life all television sets. Every last one of them. I have not watched 5 minutes of TV in well over 8 years. And the less I watch it, the more horrifying it becomes…because I see ever more clearly what it is doing. This initial insight was my realization.
The television is spewing poison into the entirety of our humanity, top to bottom, and it should be treated the same way we would treat a particularly vile abuser of children. I’m absolutely serious. Placing a child in front of a TV is the same as placing your child in front of a rabid cur.
So, I hope you understand that I consider debating the merits or minuses of a TV program exactly the same as comparing the minutia of the various aspects of drinking cyanide. And, in addition to a vast tendency for the masses-at-large to believe literally every word that comes out of it, the most insidious thing about that evil eye hanging on your walls is just how pervasive it has become… while millions of super alert, super protective, super cautious parents remain horrifyingly oblivious to this box as it relentlessly, day in and day out, year upon year, sucks out the souls of our children.
Will Le says
I meant to mention I heard one of the guys refer to the show 13 Questions was it?….(I’m sure I got that wrong) You know what show I’m talking about – at any rate, he referred to it as an “art form”….I find this interpretation of the medium perverse. TV is a tool of propaganda and a marketing instrument – and extremely effective in both arenas. Further, it is a dangerous weapon against our minds through the powerful use of thought control. You might be thinking me a kook by now….this would be a tragic mistake. I am trying to alert you to extreme danger. Peace