Sunday, July 31, 2011

News Corporation and American Democracy


John Buell
John Buell (jbuell@acadia.net) is a columnist for The Progressive Populist and a faculty adjunct at Cochise College. His most recent book, Politics, Religion, and Culture in an Anxious Age, will be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in August.

Will Rupert Murdoch's public humiliation end with the indictment of his son and deposing both as leaders of News Corporation? Murdoch is of course a larger than life figure, a modern day Citizen Kane, the movie character based in part on the life of the real media titan of his day, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst built a media empire through yellow journalism and relentless promotion of American empire. Murdoch has helped reshape modern media, not merely in terms of corporate consolidation or political leanings but also journalistic style and redefinition of the nature and limits of political argument. But though he has helped to define the role of media tycoon in the late twentieth and twenty first century, the evolution of capitalism and its political economy has itself reinforced and in turn been buttressed by his performance. Great actors inspire but also depend on engaged and receptive audiences.

Rupert Murdoch did not begin the process of media consolidation. A generation ago, media scholar and critic Ben Bagdikian highlighted the tendency of corporate media empires to achieve a high degree of both vertical and horizontal integration. (See his book, New Media Monopoly.) Diminishing numbers of corporate media controlled most of the market. In Britain, Murdoch has achieved an unprecedented degree of media consolidation.

That success of course owes something to Murdoch's ability to appeal to--and sow--the politics of backlash and jingoism. Murdoch had a cultural climate that proved receptive. The mainstream media of the sixties and seventies did indeed show some sympathy to growing concerns over racial justice and social issues. Radical critiques of corporate capitalism or sympathetic analyses of the plight of working class whites in an era of outsourcing, however, were hardly to be found. Murdoch had a perfect sweet spot to spread his right wing populism.


Murdoch's success has had other drivers as well. Like the large investment banks and defense contractors, he has depended on a symbiotic relationship with major political leaders. John Nichols points out: "Rupert Murdoch has manipulated not just the news but the news landscape of the United States for decades. He has done so by pressuring the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to alter the laws of the land and regulatory standards in order to give his media conglomerate an unfair advantage in 'competition' with more locally focused, more engaged and more responsible media. It's an old story: while Murdoch's Fox News hosts prattle on and on about their enthusiasm for the free market, they work for a firm that seeks to game the system so Murdoch's 'properties' are best positioned to monopolize the discourse." Murdoch is a prime example of the evolution of US capitalism toward a political economy that imposes market discipline on the poor even as it rewards and buttresses the power of the corporate winners and the wealthy.

Source: the Media Reform Information Center.

Nichols also asks if we should care about Murdoch's journalistic triumph. He suggests that the Murdoch scandal "raises huge questions about how news stories are and will be obtained in an era of new media and about the extent to which supposedly personal communications are private." These are certainly valid points, but a ruthless pursuit and exploitation of information about the private lives of its subjects has early precursors within the national security state itself. Think of J Edgar Hoover's accumulation of information about the sexual predilections of political leaders and his shameless deployment of these to bribe his nominal superiors.

Just as importantly, the corporate culture of News Corp reflected Murdoch's broader political ideals and affected its journalistic practices. Murdoch's notorious hostility to unions expressed itself in actions taken after high profile news takeovers at such papers as the New York Post and this in turn affected the editorial product. Michelle Chen comments: "Eavesdropping on voicemail or obtaining call logs was initially a money-saving measure" to get the scoop fast and cheap. That is, pressure to maximize profits contributed directly to the corruption of reporting practices." Reporters were subject to the same sort of speed up that shaped manufacturing assembly lines and still today is, as Harold Meyerson points out, a major driver of corporate profits even in the midst of the great recession.

More broadly, Murdoch feeds but also reflects a politics of demonization not unique to the United States but exceptionally potent here. Thus to a greater extent than in most modern democracies, such questions as whether one inhaled marijuana or had a mistress pass for informed and important political debate.

Fox reflects and amplifies another vital trend in the evolution of our politics. Naomi Klein's provocative Shock Doctrine suggests that the evolution of neoliberal capitalism with its market discipline for the many and rewards and subsidies for the well placed has depended on crisis. Thus 9/11 gave Bush extraordinary opportunities to reshape the economy and the national security state. Yet from my vantage point Klein underplays the role of the media in framing and fostering the sense of crisis. How is it that 9/11 evoked a far different response from the Oklahoma City bombing? A media that glorified Wall Street as the world's financial capital, that demonized Arabs, that viewed human history in Manichean terms played a crucial role.

The role of the media in shaping and defining crisis is even more obvious in the case of the current debt ceiling debate. The notion that the US is broke is absurd. If we are broke now, we were much more broke in the years following WWII. Yet in those years the US growth rate topped that of the Reagan era and the fruits of growth were much more equitably distributed. Nonetheless, Fox has been an amplification machine for the notion that the US is broke and government, just like today's families, must retrench. This analysis is only half right. Middle and working class families are broke, but the Federal Government can borrow money at historically low rates. If it does not borrow--or tax corporate and wealthy savings---and spend, we may be sunk.

Murdoch and his minions may face criminal charges. His singular ability to sense cultural vulnerabilities and ruthlessly to unearth and exploit personal failings or eccentricities has altered the media and political world. But neither our media nor our progressive politicians should indulge in anti-Murdoch vendettas and frame him as symbol and root of our troubles. True, he is an ideal villain and we love villains. But absent much stronger barriers to media consolidation and more opportunities for a diverse, citizen-journalist- and- consumer- directed media, where something other than advertiser dollars are the prime driver and motivation. Murdoch's demise will do us little good. Perhaps the role of the few remaining independent voices like the Guardian in exposing Murdoch and the truly ghastly practices to which News Corporation has stooped will help foster broad media and economic reform. (See http://www.democracynow.org/2011/7/21/murdoch_empire_pummelled_by_phone_hacking).

If progressives' only success is to punish or remove Rupert Murdoch, we may be disappointed. The larger political economy he represents may survive and even grow with his fall. Gwynne Dwyer points out: "There is something called the "Murdoch discount." It is the gap between the market value of News Corporation as it is, and the considerably larger sum that it would be worth without Rupert Murdoch at the helm. (Bloomberg estimates that it would be 50 percent higher.)" But what is good for News Corporation stockholders may not be good enough for us.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Horseshoe Curve

Thomas Dumm
Amherst College


I have just returned from a visit to Altoona, Pennsylvania, in order to see my father. While there I took a friend to see the world famous Horseshoe Curve. Many people who know my sense of humor think I am being ironical when I refer to it that way, but those who are railroad buffs know better. When it first opened, the Curve was acclaimed as one of the eight wonders of the modern world, along with such sights as the Eiffel Tower and London’s Crystal Palace. But few know of it now, and therein is a sad story.
The Horseshoe Curve came into existence in 1854, as the solution to a seemingly unsolvable engineering problem – how to build a railroad that could cross the high point of the Allegheny Mountains in order to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. There was an urgent need to solving the problem. New York especially was becoming the major trade route between east and west, due to the success of the Erie Canal.
At the time, the most efficient route between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia was the Portage Canal and Rail, a combination of boat – through the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers to the town of Hollidaysburg, where the boats would be hoisted onto cars, which then would be pulled by rope up a series of steep inclined planes to the top of the mountain ridge. A trip between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh took six to seven days, when the weather was favorable. And the transport of freight was just about out of the equation all together, due to the expense.
To address this problem, in 1846 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania chartered the Pennsylvania Railroad and hired the engineers John Edgar Thomson and Herman Haupt to take charge of its construction. They decided that the most efficient route through the mountains was to follow old Indian trails along the ridges of the mountains, straight through the center of the state. This route was perfect, except for one barrier – Kittanning Gap, a spot that interrupted the path between two major ridges. To build a bridge of over two thousand feet to connect the ridges would have been impossible at the time, mainly because the degree of incline would have been close to 3%, much too steep for a locomotive to manage.
So what did they do? They imported about 400 Irish laborers, who, with only black powder, picks, chisels and wheelbarrows, created a landfill. The landfill contained more cubic footage than all of the Great Pyramids of Egypt combined, and created a ridge where there had been a valley. Around that ridge the railroad was laid, in the shape of horseshoe, at an incline of about 1.3%. The time of travel between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was cut to less than a day, and freight was able to make it through the mountains. The Pennsylvania Railroad became, for a time, the largest railroad, by almost every measure – 10,000 miles of track, three times the freight and revenue of its closest competitors – through the first half of the 20th century, and at one point was the world’s largest publically traded corporation. Indeed, for some years its revenue stream was larger than that of the U.S. government, and it still holds the record for continuous dividend payments to its shareholders, over a 100 years. At its peak, the PRR employed over 250,000 workers.
The Horseshoe Curve was such a critical national link in the transportation system that Nazi Germany targeted it for sabotage during World War II. But what the Nazis couldn’t destroy, GM and Dwight Eisenhower could. The establishment of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, pushed by Eisenhower, established a national Highway Trust Fund to build and maintain what is now the dominant form of transport in the country. Railroads immediately went into decline, though the PRR continued to be profitable, until forced by the Interstate Commerce Commission, as part of its 1968 merger with the ailing New York Central Railroad, to take on several other highly unprofitable lines. Two years later, after the U.S. government, led by Eisenhower’s former vice-president, and strapped for money because the Vietnam War, reneged on a $200 million loan guarantee, and the newly named Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt. The pieces went to first to Conrail, a court created successor to the Penn Central, and then to Northern Southern Railway, and CSX, none of which carry passengers.
I drove on the Interstate to visit Dad, and on the return trip to Amherst our car was hit by a truck. The car was totaled. Lucky for me, the airbags deployed. But I had plenty of time while waiting at the car rental in Wappinger Falls, New York, and then on the remainder of the long trip, to think about what it would have meant to have a good rail system in place. Instead of the grinding drive, a relaxing journey. Instead of the crazy drivers, wasted fuel, and butt ugly scenery, perhaps a glass of wine, a meal, and time to read. Instead of wreckage on the highway . . . well, you get the point.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story, it seems to me, is the overt and clear participation of government in the building and maintenance of transportation systems. The assumption, even for the building of the Interstate Highway, that there is a necessary role for the state to play in such huge projects that have such serious impact on the lives of the citizenry, is a shibboleth to the ideologues now in charge of Congress. John Mica (R) from Florida, currently chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has called for drastic cuts in the next round of Highway Trust Fund spending, ignoring the fact that those funds are supposed to be dedicated to transportation projects.
Compounding the misery of our trip on the highway, on our drive home we listened to Mica pontificating on C-SPAN radio, explaining how Amtrak is an abject failure and waste of money, how we can be much more efficient if we would privatize highways, with no evidence, but with a lot of conviction in his voice. When listeners called in suggesting that perhaps running two wars was even more inefficient, he blithely ignored them. Later, we heard how we need a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, one that would require, when passed, 2/3 majorities in each house of Congress to pass tax increases. And so it goes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Looking Beyond Spring for the Season: An African Perspective on the World Order after the Arab Revolt


Siba Grovogui
Johns Hopkins University

There is much misunderstanding today about the decision of African Union (AU) to not endorse the military intervention in Libya undertaken by France, Great Britain, and the United States in conjunction with a few Arab States. Speculations abound as to whether the uniform decision coming out of Africa indicates that the African Union is out of step with the spirit of freedom sweeping across North Africa and the Arab World, or whether the absence of Africa in the battlefield of Libya suggests military ineptitude and political bankruptcy. In fact, the African Union has not been indifferent to the conflict in Libya. The AU opted for mediation and negotiated constitutional compact, with the aim of fostering a different kind of politics. The uniform refusal of the AU to endorse Western intervention has two main explanations. The first is the practice of consensus in decision-making which has a long history within Africa. The other is profound unease on the continent about the form and foundation of the intervention itself.

I suggest that there is continent-wide skepticism in Africa about Western leadership in the eras of global governance, the rule of (international) law, the status of international morality, and the future of global democracy. This development is the result of continental experiences with the modes of enactment and execution interventions in Africa. The African position arises therefore from doubt that the coalition of Western powers leading the military effort in Libya today can be trusted to not abuse legitimate anti-Gaddafi sentiments, to not instrumentalize international law and morality, and to not subvert UN procedures and the mechanisms of global governance in order to advance hegemonic agendas and parochial ‘strategic’ interests. In short, underlying the African objection to military intervention is a longstanding tension between international organizations that represent Africa and the self-identified West around the representations of the will of the international community, the resulting global democratic deficit in times of intervention, and their effects on international morality, including the principles of humanitarianism.

In relating this conflict, I do not speak for a uniformly-defined ‘Africa’ and/or for all African entities. Nor do I wish to conflate the official West with the sentiments and traditions of all constituencies of what might be called The West. I reflect on a widely held sentiment currently expressed in Africa that specific actions by Western powers with respect to Libya paradoxically undermine the spirit and practice of participative global governance. They also subvert what should have been a moment of transformation of politics at the local, national, and global levels. In short, this is a story of how the global democratic gap or what I call the global democratic deficit has widened precisely at the moment when the national democratic deficit has erupted into violent conflict. The paradox is that humanitarian concerns come once again to serve as pretext for widening the global democratic deficit and, in the case of the Middle East, re-inscribing the term of past imperial relations under new guises.

Today’s democratic deficit may be located in many registers, two of which are of interest here: the national and the international. The domestic democratic deficit is what has prompted street uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. The global democratic deficit resides in the structures of international organizations where states, regional organizations, and other entities necessarily occupy different positions commensurate with their powers, endowments, traditions and the like. However, structures do not necessarily produce deficit, they create the conditions for it. In the present case, one can trace the deficit to the processes of decision-making regarding Libya and the institutions and traditions to which they may be traced.

Few are aware for instance that the Western coalition on Libya decided to declare Libya Arab and not African and thus designated the League of Arab States as the primary address ‘in matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security in the region’ encompassing that country. The purpose it has become apparent was to remove any hindrance to an agenda that did not conform to UN mandates. The UN resolution currently implemented (Res. 1973) (PDF) has a number of stipulations that can be summarized thus: 1) ‘immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians’; 2) ‘the need to intensify efforts to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people,’ aided by a Special Envoy to Libya and the Peace and Security Council of the African Union; 3) compliance by ‘Libyan authorities comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law’; 4) ‘to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.’

The AU understood the point of the resolution to favor a peaceful resolution but it has become apparent today the coalition had a different agenda from that stipulated in it. It has also become apparent that, on account of its position in the relevant international organizations and political and military endowments, the Western coalition was reverting to the imperial tradition of claiming the universal will for itself – and thus to exclude others from its expression. Having sidelined Africans and imputed all hindrances to the resolution of the conflict to Gaddafi, the Western coalition determined to change the regime in Tripoli which one issued from the ranks of the opposition in Benghazi: the Transitional National Council, or TNC. Since then, all measures recommended by Res.1973 have been exceeded. Specifically, NATO airstrikes have gone from forestalling Gaddafi’s aggression to destroying the nation’s infrastructure. In the process, the Western alliance has embraced assassination as a policy; Britain has sent special agents to the ground; and France had delivered weapons to the so-called resistance, despite the putative ban on weapons. The irony, as Gaddafi is finding out, is that to defy Western will is to expose one to a fate not unlike Gaddafi’s answers to those who rebelled against him.

Like the domestic democratic deficit against which Libyans rightly rose up, the global democratic deficit is both behavioral and structural. The connection between the non-democratic behavior of global hegemonic powers and the possibility of democratic politics at the domestic level is often direct. Take for instance the role of the West in the political culture currently brewing in the Libyan opposition. Since endorsing the TNC as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people, the Western coalition backing has remained silent as the organization grows intolerant by the day not only toward Gaddafi, his family, and allies but also toward Sub-Saharan African migrants accused of sympathy with the regime. Accordingly, the TNC has not only excluded negotiation with Gaddafi or his allies; it has snubbed all efforts by the African Union to mediate a political settlement. To either the West or the TNC, there could be only one solution: total and unconditional surrender of political opponents.

Africans are accustomed to a certain instrumentalization of reform by Western powers. One recalls for instance the policy of Constructive Engagement. During the Apartheid years, this official US policy was build on the assumption that effective politically mediation and settlement in South Africa rested in the capacity of mediators (honest brokers?) like the US to engage all parties even, in this case, a regime that was ideologically and politically bent on the total subordination of its local black population and the destruction of neighboring states. Africans are also accustomed to another certainty in Western interventions: this is that unsympathetic entities like the then Marxist regimes of Angola and Mozambique and the African National Congress of South Africa were directed by Western powers to necessarily accommodate opposing Western-friendly entities, whether states, corporations, or political organizations as a requirement for lasting peace. By contrast, it is also a certainty of political life in Africa that, upon Western interventions, reigning or ascendant Western-friendly entities need not accommodate unsympathetic opposing figures or entities. In other words, friends of the West need not bother with democratic niceties as the price for peace. Enemies or adversaries do the same or they are eliminated from the scene.

In the case of Libya one may even wonder why the TNC would want to negotiate, compromise, or reconcile when the largest armies in the world are committed to the destruction of the one obstacle to their own path to power? President Ahmadou Toumani Touré of Mali, an engaged democrat himself whose own behavior in power contrasts drastically with that of Gaddafi, gave an indication of his own sentiment about the situation in an interview granted to Radio France Internationale. Asked by the reporter why he would not join the West (again dubbed during the interview as the International Community), Touré gave the following answer, which I paraphrase: ‘We are asked to promote democracy in Libya against a man who holds power at the barrel of the gun and you want me to unseat him at the barrel of the gun and seat another group in his place. If Gaddafi’s unwillingness to negotiate and compromise is the problem today why is the other side relying on forced removal?’

Ahmadou Toumani Touré

The current intransigence of the West and the TNC has unnerved Africans because it reveals a culture of intolerance. A quick survey of the response of the West to the Arab Spring thus far tells a mixed story. There was no protest when, upon the departure of Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali, the old regimes essentially maintained themselves. Western reactions to Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria contrast starkly with reactions to Libya. Here, the coalition has fomented and condoned intransigence on the part of the rebels against negotiated settlement. Significantly, with NATO support, the TNC is now on its way to Tripoli without any warnings from the coalition on the fate of civilians in that city if the rebels succeeded in overtaking it: the stated motivation of attacks on Gaddafi’s army.

I know of few people who would argue that the situation in Libya was tenable or that it should have been allowed to persist. I also know of few individuals who would pretend that an operation such as the one currently undertaken by the West could be carried out without mistakes or blemish. Yet, these are not arguments against global democracy and the reasonableness that is required in interpreting international law, particularly UN Resolutions. To paraphrase a dissenting opinion by Judge Kotaro Tanaka (PDF) of the International Court of Justice, ‘different treatment under international law should be permitted only when it can be justified by the criterion of justice’; thus, one may replace justice with reasonableness but only that criterion does not logically lead to arbitrariness. In short, even a doctrine of reasonableness required by pragmatism should not be allowed to do away with the questions of democracy and the morality implied in different treatment of similarly situated events and persons.

The idea that one can be excluded from the political compact simply because of one’s position in the global system or association within an undemocratic regime is a nightmarish scenario to generations of activists who have fought for human rights, constitutionalism, and democratic inclusion; as well as humanitarians who have tended to the social calamities caused by endless civil wars and leading to the collapse of peace and the failure of state. To those who are undeterred by the idea that Africans may actually formulate coherent views of international morality, including an aversion to war, consider these facts. In 2003, even after dispatching Colin Powell to Africa to seek support for the war in Iraq, the US failed to move a single one of them. This refusal to join the Iraq war effort came at the heel of great sympathy for the US following the 1998 US Embassy Bombings in East Africa and the attack perpetrated against the US on 9/11/2001. Further, for nearly 4 years, the US has failed to find a single state from fifty three to host AFRICOM (the US military Africa Command) even as all African states have endorsed the aims of US anti-terrorism programs. Today, none of the countries, and all of them African enlisted in the US initiated Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership, all of them poor and dependent on US aid, has endorsed military intervention in Libya.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bridesmaids


Laurie Frankel
   Writer and teacher in Seattle at work on    

    her second novel.
    Laurie Frankel’s first novel, The Atlas of    
    Love, came out in August 2010. 


The summer Bridesmaids came out, Salon ran two articles on it with these headlines: “Bridesmaids: A Triumph for Vomit, and Feminism” and “Seeing Bridesmaids is a Social Responsibility,” the former of which begins with the line, “Meet Bridesmaids, your first black president of female-driven comedies” and ends with the line, “Three cheers for equality.”  The New York Times calls its humor “liberating” under the headline, “Deflating That Big, Puffy White Gown.”  The LA Times calls it the “rarest of treats: an R-rated romantic comedy from the Venus point of view,” and goes on to introduce “an ensemble of witty twisted sisters who come in all shapes and sizes (both the wit and the sisters, the unrelated kind, just ‘doin' it for themselves’).”  Entertainment Weekly writes, “Bridesmaids has a fully rounded, textured, and original script, even if it does offer a funky-lady spin on a number of Apatow tropes” (italics mine).


Every review out there, every one, remarks on this movie as a female-centric film.  That deserves some exploration to begin with.  It is directed by a man.  It is produced by a man.  So what all these reviews are noting is that the film is written by women and starring women.  The latter, of course, is not unusual -- most movies feature women, even in leading roles.  What they’re noting as unusual here is that the women are funny.  And what the marketers and promoters of this movie contend is that the very fact of this film -- women being gross and lowbrow and funny and for sale -- is a triumph for women and that seeing it is a feminist act.


It seems important, then, to look at the film critically from a feminist perspective, and I have some complaints.  Many of them are, in fact, the usual complaints.  Here we learn:


1) Single women are losers.  Annie’s life is a disaster.  The sex she has with the hottest man in pop culture right now (John Hamm) degrades her because it holds no promise of a relationship (consider how much of a loser we’d label a hapless male lead for having commitment-less sex with the hottest woman going).  She has weird, unsuitable roommates and then lives with her mom.  Her business fails and closes and then she even loses her mindless backup job.  She has no money; her car doesn’t work; she can’t afford to be a real friend (love, of course, being nowhere near enough).  But much, much worse than any of that is this central tragedy, presented as such: her best friend gets engaged.  Plus, to top it all off, despite the fact that she is reed thin, she makes several comments over the course of the film as to her jealousy that her rival is so much skinnier than she is (she isn’t, best I could tell).  Speaking of which, we also learn that...


2) Fat women aren’t really women.  
Here we have four Hollywood-thin bridesmaids who each embody a female caricature (single loser, rich wife, naive newlywed, and mom) and one large woman presented so butch that she’s barely female at all.  In fact, that she’s heterosexual, worthy of love, and can attract a man is one of the film’s final punchlines.  Speaking of attracting a man, we learn that...
3) Weddings = happy ending.  Even when they’re disastrous.  Even when the love story is so underdeveloped that the groom appears on screen for about a minute.  Even when their ruin has been the topic of the previous two hours.  This truth extends to show us that unloved, uncoupled heroine = loser whereas equally poor, equally unemployed, equally socially inept heroine at the end but with the promise of a boyfriend also = happy ending.  Which brings us to my final usual complaint...


4) Women can’t really be friends for women are too shallow, catty, selfish, self-involved, petty, and jealous.  
Is Annie happy for her lifelong friend Lillian when she gets engaged?  No, not even for a moment.  Can she swallow her annoyance with Lillian’s new friends or her own feelings of inadequacy and jealousy or put aside the challenges in her own life for just a little while while her best friend gets married?  She cannot.  She’s supposed to be endearing, suffering from slightly exaggerated, comic versions of the flaws we all share.  Instead, she’s selfish, self-absorbed, and a really shitty friend.  This is especially alarming because usually the friendships are the heart of Judd Apatow movies.  The media has labeled them “bro-mances,” and that slightly ridiculous monicker seems in fact appropriate to me because what’s enjoyable about those movies is the pleasure of watching these friendships -- the pack of endearing guys who are crass and gross and just want to get laid but nonetheless have one another’s backs and, though they rarely admit it, really care about each another.  They’re the reason why these movies work.  The friendships are the sweet parts holding together the grossness and crassness and over-the-top slapstick humor.  Bridesmaids has grossness, crassness, and over-the-top slapstick humor but, lacking these friendships, nothing to hold it together.  This is a movie about friendship and a wedding which is almost entirely lacking in love.  Worse, it reinforces stereotypes that women can’t support each other when weddings, money, men, or other skinny women are involved.


That’s not feminism folks.  It’s the opposite.  


Meanwhile, here’s complaint #5, the unusual one.  This movie is earning praise for women being just as raunchy, gross, and scatological as men.  Think only men can make money making movies where they shit and vomit on screen?  Think it’s only funny when guys puke on one another’s heads or have diarrhea in a sink?  Wrong.  Great dawning day for women!  Now they too can poop and puke on the big screen.  So what we learn is in fact not that women are funny too or that women can be as funny as men but rather, again, the opposite -- that women can only be funny by being as much like men as possible, that women’s humor does not earn them a place on the big screen, that only men’s humor is worthy of that spot.  Women are earning condescending praise here -- for not being squeamish, prudish, I-won’t-see-that-kind-of-movie nags.  Does that sound like the voices of talented, powerful, groundbreaking artists finally being heard?  No, it sounds like farting in a wedding gown.