Fighting the ‘War on Women’ with Laughs
Friday, March 09, 2012
So much for the economy, stupid: birth control is currently the hot button issue of the campaign season. Rush Limbaugh’s noxious remarks to Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke (whom he called a "slut" and "prostitute" for testifying in support of contraception coverage, then demanded that she make and post sex videos) led to a rare apology. Liberals, however, insist that his attack is part and parcel of a conservative “war on women” that includes restrictions on abortion, controversy over Planned Parenthood, and opposition to women in combat.
And voilà, the latest front in the culture war.
Rick Santorum attempted to downplay Limbaugh’s impact, telling CNN that the radio host was “being absurd, but you know, an entertainer can be absurd." Yet that can cut both ways, and much of the backlash has been fueled by female entertainers like Martha Plimpton and Amy Poehler.
Irin Carmon, a staff writer for Salon who has been covering the controversy, tells Kurt Andersen that they’re having a real effect on public opinion. “Not only do you have more women who are in a powerful position comedically, that they can say ‘I’m taking over [Saturday Night Live’s] “Weekend Update” to talk about these issues’; you also have a way of talking now that’s become much more irreverent. It is still really funny to hear a woman say ‘vagina’ on television,” Carmon thinks. “You have this perfect storm.”
Kurt wonders if Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and The Colbert Report — which not long ago were criticized (by Carmon among others) as boys’ clubs unreceptive to female writers — might be dwelling on the issue partly as an act of contrition. Carmon finds their new focus encouraging, but believes the entertainment industry remains deeply afraid of reproductive choice, despite its reputation for vanguard liberalism on social issues. “In the 1980s, we had Dirty Dancing and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which represented abortion as either something that needed to be accessible in a healthy and legal way or as just a normal part of your life. Whereas right now if it’s talked about in movies like Juno or Knocked Up, people just turn around and start running.”
But where the official culture industry falls short, Carmon thinks DIY social media is picking up the slack. “Right after the all-male panel about denying people contraception coverage, there were a million comics, photo mash-ups, and comedy skits on YouTube,” she says, “so you actually had a lot of people making their own pop culture about this.”
→ What do you think about how pop culture is portraying women’s reproductive health? Tell us in a comment below.
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