English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Ajanta Choudhury

An Ode to Greg

Having watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, there’s a lot I’ve taken away from the show, and there’s a lot I admire about it. One aspect I really appreciate, and which I’ll focus on in this blog post, is Greg’s character. Throughout season 1, he’s consistently been one of my favorite characters – if not my favorite – and that’s because I think he’s a complex, deep character.

One way this is true is that he’s unapologetically quirky, and yet his importance and relevance to the show aren’t negatively affected in any way because of that. The show is very good about organically incorporating his quirky personality into his interactions with the others, especially Josh and Rebecca. Perhaps the best way his quirkiness comes across is through songs he sings in. In “Settle For Me,” for instance, he’s suave and well-spoken for the most part, but he has moments where his awkwardness dominates the scene. Sometimes, it’s charming and clever:

I know I'm only second place in this game

But like 2% milk, or seitan beef,

I almost taste the same

Other times, it’s more grimace-worthy:

Don't make me feel like a little girl;

Exposed and raw, whose boobs can't even fill a training bra

...Let's pretend I didn't say that

Despite his quirky demeanor, though, Greg is not a character’s that lacking in struggle. He has several legitimate issues to grapple with throughout the show. He wavers on whether he should date Rebecca, which represents the larger problem of people struggling to leave and quit relationships that they know aren’t healthy for them. His parents went through divorce, and his commitment issues due to his fear of being left by the people he loves is proof of how the divorce still affects him. He also struggles with pursuing his dreams; while he was accepted into Emory, he was initially unable to go due to his father’s ailing health. While he eventually is able to attend Emory, this doesn’t change the fact that this was a difficult situation for him, and one of his solo songs – “What’ll It Be?” – does a great job of portraying his resentment and fear over the situation and whether he’ll ever be able to leave to go pursue his dreams.

In summary, I think Greg is a very dynamic character. He has a lightness and darkness to him that makes him a very realistic-seeming character, and it’s in large part because of this duality to him that he’s stood out as a highlight of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Works Cited:

“Settle For Me,” Genius, https://genius.com/Crazy-ex-girlfriend-cast-settle-for-me-lyrics

#Exposed: The Writing in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a very clever show; its writing is frequently deceptively critical. When speaking about the writing in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s impossible to ignore the songs; they’re always super catchy and super focused in their criticisms of various issues, from women’s oversexualization to the glorification of mental illness. This is true in the case of the song “Sexy French Depression,” which is featured in episode 7, “I’m So Happy that Josh Is So Happy!”

In strongly playing up the concepts of mental illness being interesting and of girls who are struggling being interesting and quirky, the song ends up poking fun at said concepts and deconstructing the fantasy inherent to them. Take the first stanza, for example:

My eyes are dark from sadness
My lips are red from pain
My bosom ‘eaves with sobs
I’m in a sexy French depression

Each individual line portrays an idealized image of struggle and sadness, and by so strongly embracing the concept that female suffering is sexy, the song is able to shine light on the ridiculousness of the concept, right from the start. The second stanza also deconstructs the concept of “sexy depression”, but in a different way. First, a quick look at the stanza:

I walk, oh, so slowly
I can only breathe and sigh, oh!
My bed smells like a tampon
I’m in a sexy French depression

In this case, the stanza doesn’t play along with depression being sexy. Instead, it shines light on how depression really is, unflattering aspects and all, through lines like, “My bed smells like a tampon.” The song switches through these two approaches, going from wholeheartedly embracing depression’s “sexiness” to exposing depression for what it really looks like, and by doing this, it more effectively gets its point across.

This clever writing isn’t very surprising, considering that “Sexy French Depression” was written by Rachel Bloom and Adam Schlesinger. Rachel Bloom has past experience with the particular style of blunt, oftentimes-explicit comedy, from writing and singing the song “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” in 2010 to singing “My Sex Junk” on “The Sexual Spectrum” episode of Bill Nye Saves the World in 2017. She also has experience with musical comedy—as of now, she’s released 2 musical comedy albums, Please Love Me and Suck It, Christmas—and regularly speaks about mental health issues, having a history with it herself (she has depression, OCD, and anxiety.) As for Adam Schlesinger, he has a broad wealth of experience with songwriting, having written song lyrics for movies, TV, and musical theater.

Works Cited

“Adam Schlesinger,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Schlesinger

“I’m In A Sexy French Depression,” Genius, https://www.genius.com/10127238

“Rachel Bloom,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Bloom

“Rebecca Tries to Make Healthy Choices!”

What constitutes a healthy choice, and how does one make them? This concept is the thematic motif of episode 4, “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!” In this episode, Rebecca aims to make healthier choices after almost following through on the impulsive decision to have a one-night stand with a Tinder date. While Rebecca has a solidly clear end-goal in mind – to feel less regret about the decisions and choices she makes – she has several ways to go about this that the episode demonstrates.

For most of the episode, Rebecca believes making healthy choices comes down to resisting her urges. It’s why she becomes vegan, despite expressing several times how much she misses meat; it’s why she becomes Buddhist; and it’s why she goes on a date with Greg, despite being in love with and wanting to wait for Josh.

Combined with resisting her urges, Rebecca’s approach to making healthier choices also includes being more practical and less idealistic, and the episode’s two songs, “Sex with a Stranger” and “Settle for Me,” both demonstrate this dilemma. “Sex with a Stranger” musically summarizes Rebecca’s sexual experience with the Tinder date, and there’s an intriguing dichotomy present in it: the visual presentation of the song is hypersexual and idealized, but the lyrics express a more realistic thought process, featuring thoughts like how stinky his genitals are and whether he’s been tested for STDs.

This same dichotomy is even more present in “Settle For Me,” the song summarizing Rebecca’s interpretation of Greg asking her out. The video and instrumentals depict an idealized version of romance and love, complete with a dance sequence, fancy outfits, and a black-and-white tint. And yet, Greg says several awkward things, and the lyrics are literally about how Rebecca should settle for him despite loving someone else.

Ultimately, Rebecca’s approach to making healthier choices leads to more regret as she ends up making a chain of impulsive decisions – namely, eating meat and then leaving her date with Greg early to hook up with the hipster taco vender she met during the date – and at the end of the episode, Rebecca’s moved away from such an approach, acknowledging its unhealthiness.

This theme of making healthy choices – and the associated, inherent dilemma of practicality versus idealism – is relevant to the show as a whole, especially in terms of how healthy Rebecca’s pursuit of Josh is and whether it’s actually worth it. This theme is also definitely relevant to society. There’s been a cultural shift in the last several years in favor of leading healthy lifestyles, which has led to more discussion of how exactly to live healthily; and the “practical versus dream” conflict is one that emerges frequently in people’s lives, from jobs to romance.

Girl Crush/Hit List Target: Gender Reps in Crazy Ex-GF

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is simultaneously great and horrible when it comes to gender representation, and episode 2, “Josh’s Girlfriend is Really Cool!” especially highlights this. In this episode, Rebecca meets Valencia, who’s Josh’s current girlfriend, and the episode revolves around Rebecca’s efforts to become friends with her. Throughout the episode, Rebecca’s cautioned about befriending Valencia. She’s warned by Josh, she’s warned by Paula; even Greg chimes in near the end, though his dialogue is less a warning and more an expression of concern. Despite the warnings, though, Rebecca is resolute in wanting to befriend Valencia – and then the ending happens, where Rebecca kisses Valencia and then admits that she and Josh used to date. Needless to say, that budding friendship ends sourly. Through this, the viewer is privy to a paradoxical presentation, where gender roles and relations are simultaneously progressive and regressive.

The main characters, and the main bearers of agency, in the show are arguably only women – Rebecca, Paula – and yet many of their actions revolve around Josh. There are many men-women interactions depicted – Rebecca and Josh, Rebecca and Greg, Valencia and Josh – and yet, many of those interactions are sexual or romantic. Few male-female interactions on the show are purely friendly or platonic in nature, and the ones that are – Darryl with Rebecca or Paula being the main ones I can think of – typically feature some comedic misunderstanding of one gender by the other.

The biggest example of this paradox within the episode, though, is the relationship between Valencia and Rebecca. Throughout the episode, we see Rebecca combat the idea that she and Valencia can’t be friends and must be feuding, and we see Valencia progress from not having female friends to coming to see Rebecca as a friend (before the club scene, of course.)

If only things stayed this well…

And yet, intertwined with this progress is an inherent element of competition between the two. In their first meeting, Valencia is dressed impeccably, and Rebecca is definitely not. Valencia is a yogi, so Rebecca tries to be one too. Rebecca agrees with many of Valencia’s statements, even when she has no truthful reason to; and Rebecca even wears the same dress as Valencia when they go clubbing. The song, “Feeling Kinda Naughty,” best describes this competitive envy that Rebecca feels for Valencia. To quote it: “I wanna kill you and wear your skin like a dress; but then also have you see me in the dress; and be like, “OMG you look so cute in my skin!”

I think Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does a decent job with gender representation for the most part. However, the plot and the type of humor don’t always translate to great gender representation, and in this episode, that’s apparent.

Evolution of Gender Representation in Children’s TV

Source 1: Allan, K., & Coltrane, S. (1996). Gender display in television commercials: A comparative study of television commercials in the 1950s and 1980s. Sex Roles, 35(3), 185. Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1308101890?accountid=11107

There are two main research questions that this study investigates. The first is whether gender representation has changed in television commercials from the 1950s and 1980s, and the second is when and how often nontypical gender presentation occurred. While the ratio of female to male main characters decreased over time and many of the commercials’ narrators remained male, women’s representation changed in terms of activity. In the 1980s, a greater percentage were seen working, as opposed to parenting, and in a greater variety of jobs too. Nontypical gender display improved for women and decreased for men over time, and activity/work was the most significant factor in how masculine or feminine a character appeared.

This may not be about children’s television, but this is still a relevant read because commercials are an important aspect of TV, and children watch more than what’s specifically marketed toward them. Plus, in understanding how commercials handled gender in the 1950s through the 1980s, both through its own data and the results of other, related studies, it provides perspective on how TV’s handling of gender now reflects in the grander scheme of time.

Source 2: Berg, Leah R. Vande and Diane Streckfuss. “Prime-Time Television’s Portrayal of Women and the World of Work: A Demographic Profile.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 36, no. 2, Spring92, p. 195. EBSCOhost, prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=syh&AN=9208170546&site=ehost-live.

This journal article’s aim was to examine the portrayals of women and men in the workplace, in terms of both representation and activity, on primetime TV during the 1980s. For both analyses, the same set of variables were used. Male characters were found outnumbering female characters in both representation and workplace activity. Male and female characters were more commonly seen in different types of industries. Female characters were less likely to be high up in the workplace’s power hierarchy—and when they were, they performed less actions than male characters did in the same positions—and they were more likely to be depicted as students and home caretakers.

This source is a valuable one in examining how gender representation has evolved in children’s TV over multiple decades. The analyses conducted identify trends in an important aspect of representation on TV—the workplace—and the article is helpful in clarifying how the identified trends compare to previous research. While the research was on primetime TV and not children’s TV, primetime TV is still watched by children, and primetime TV affects children’s TV’s programming, so these trends are worth considering when evaluating children’s TV’s evolution.

Source 3: Case, S. (2015). Tough turtles and pretty princesses: A content analysis of gender representations in popular children’s media (Order No. 1587267). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text. (1679935870). Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1679935870?accountid=11107

This study sought to answer several questions. It explored gender representation in the top-rated children’s shows of 2014 and whether representation differs by preschool versus school-age shows, animated versus live action shows, TV networks, and gender makeup of the shows’ audiences. Overall, 60% of characters in these shows were male and 40% female. School-age shows tended to have more balanced gender representation than preschool shows, and live action shows had more balanced representation than animated shows. In preschool shows and animated shows, there were more male characters portrayed. In comparing Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and PBS, Disney had the most equal representation, and Nickelodeon—by a slight margin—had the least balanced, most male-dominated representation. More teenage characters were female on children’s TV, but more child and adult characters were male. Female characters’ behaviors included more gender stereotypes than behavior in male characters.

This source has a lot of relevant data on gender representation in children’s TV today. It’s especially helpful in how it analyzes children’s TV shows by many variables. However, the amount of data present can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to pick and choose which data is relevant.

Source 4: Mary, S. L. (2001). Interactions, activities and gender in children’s television commercials: A content analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 45(1), 41-56. Retrieved from http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/227290365?accountid=11107

This source examined gender representation and portrayal in commercials that air during children’s TV shows. Of identifiable characters, there was no significant difference in the number of girls and boys portrayed. Significantly less commercials are girls-only than boys-only, and in mixed commercials, there were slightly more boys than girls. The settings were statistically different based on the gender makeup of the commercials, and so were the interactions featured between characters. Activities performed also varied significantly between commercials; girls-only commercials featured more playing and less eating than either boys-only or mixed commercials. Finally, the presence of violence and aggression, and the product types advertised, differed significantly depending on the commercials’ gender makeup.

This source is very valuable for determining how gender presentation has evolved in children’s TV. Commercials are an integral aspect of TV, as the study points out, so this study is relevant to the question. This study has a fair amount of data, and yet the study summarizes it well. This study’s discussion section also does a great job of connecting their results to previously-obtained results, which allows for a better understanding of how gender representation has actually evolved over time.

Source 5: Signorielli, Nancy, and Aaron Bacue. “Recognition and Respect: A Content Analysis of Prime-Time Television Characters Across Three Decades.” Sex Roles, vol. 40, no. 7, 1999, pp. 527-544. ProQuest, http://prx.library.gatech.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/225370372?accountid=11107.

This study examined the recognition and respect that were demonstrated to male and female characters to evaluate whether there’s been any change in gender portrayals from primetime TV in the 1970s to the 1990s. It was found that while women remained underrepresented by the 1990s, representation had significantly improved from during the 1970s. Women appeared most frequently in sitcoms and least in action adventures. Consistently, female characters were judged as being younger than male characters. More male than female characters were portrayed as having work outside the home consistently, though this difference decreased over time. The percent of women working outside the home increased from the 1970s to the 1980s before stalling in the 1990s. Representation of gender-nontypical work for both male and female characters increased from the 1970s to the 1980s before decreasing again in the 1990s.

This source was an informative read. One thing it did especially well was contextualize the changes in social history that occurred from the late 1960s to the 1990s to explain the study’s importance. While this wasn’t about children’s TV, it’s likely that the same trends were present in children’s TV from the 1970s-1990s and influenced children’s TV today.

Source 6: Steyer, I. (2014). Gender representations in children’s media and their influence. Campus – Wide Information Systems, 31(2), 171-180. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/CWIS-11-2013-0065

This source summarizes research done on gender representation in different forms of children’s media—literature, TV and commercials, the Internet, and computer program—spanning multiple decades. For TV and commercials: one point made was that women have historically been underrepresented, with representation decreasing from the 1930s-60s and increasing from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. Another point made was that women are typically portrayed as more physically attractive and intelligent than men, and that women are seen more as mothers and significant others while men are seen more as single. The last point made was that children have the potential to conform to the stereotypical or nontypical behaviors reflected in TV.

This source, overall, provides valuable information. It provides information on a variety of children’s media, which is helpful in linking trends in children’s TV to children’s media in general. The source is also concise and not difficult to read. One issue that is noticeable is that it is inconsistent in mentioning or not mentioning the decades that the identified trends span from. Overall, though, this provides relevant background and topical knowledge on how gender representation has evolved in children’s TV over time.

Why Settle For One Visual Aesthetic?

First episodes are a tricky thing to get right. There’s a lot of information to unpack, so many shows’ first episodes are a bit awkward. After watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first episode, though, I wouldn’t include this show within that category. “Josh Just Happens to Live Here!” is an engaging episode, and its cinematography and direction especially stands out. There’s major visual appeal, and not only does this stand out – this also compliments the show’s other aspects. One example of this: the color tone. The tone of the show varies from scene to scene, based on what’s happening, and this contrast of warm- and cool-looking scenes adds to the viewing experience. By seeing moments like Rachel, the show’s protagonist, first arriving in West Covina tinted with a warm tone – and Rachel’s mom berating her for moving, via-phone call, with a cool tone – we, the viewers, get a better understanding of how different scenes affect Rachel.

As you can see, Rachel is very excited to be in West Covina.

Another example of the show’s quality cinematography and direction comes from the composition of the scenes themselves. The scenes are directed in such a way that they last for as long as the director intends. Scenes that would typically feel too long, like when Rachel waits for Josh to text back, don’t drag at all, and this is thanks to effects like the superimposing of her typing her text. In contrast, any of Rachel’s awkward interactions, especially with Nathaniel at the party, appear painfully long. Besides this, the scenes also don’t feel bloated. For all that’s being introduced, most of the scenes only possess as much detail as is necessary. The best example of this is Rachel’s mom: throughout the episode, the viewer never catches a glimpse of her. All we get of her is her voice – and yet, from the dialogue she has, that’s all we need to know that she’s cold, ruthless, and ambitious. Of course, this only applies to most of the scenes. There’s one significant exception to this observation, and that’s the musical scenes.

These scenes are very elaborate, complete with choreography, costumes, and back-up dancers. There’s a lot of detail within these scenes, and this is best exemplified in how the locations and actual happenings of the scene affect the songs. A shot of the music program being cut is shown just as Rachel sings a reference to it – and later in “West Covina,” the same band plays before being forcibly stopped. The explanation-parts of “West Covina,” where Rachel justifies moving to West Covina, are set to shots of her defending herself in conversation. The rapper in “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” stops rapping after seeing the state of Rachel’s bathroom and leaves to apologize to the women “he’s wronged” (which the show kindly shows us at the end.)

If only there hadn’t been a budget cut…

Overall, the cinematography and direction in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s first episode was excellent and has left me eager for what comes next.

About Me & My Oh-So-Interesting Self

Hey there! I’m Ajanta Choudhury, and I’m a Biology major that’ll (hopefully) graduate in 2022! English/Language Arts is a subject I’ve always been fond of because of its emphasis on writing and reading. This is my first English class at Georgia Tech but hopefully not my last since I’m aiming to take some LMC courses. Out of the WOVEN communications, written and oral communications are my favorites. With written communication, I can always improve the way my ideas are being conveyed, and I find that from grammar to word choice, its elements allow me to have a very precise control over how I express myself. As for oral communication, I used to really fear it, but 4 years of debate in high school gave me the practice I needed to feel more comfortable about speaking publicly. While it still makes me a little nervous, the personal nature of oral communication appeals strongly to me, and I find it fun to experiment with my tone or speaking cadence and see how that affects my oral communications.

As for the WOVEN communications I struggle with, I struggle most with visual and electronic communications. For visual communication, I always struggled with this as a kid and compared myself to my friends, which didn’t help. I believe I’ve improved my ability to communicate visually since then, but it still feels unnatural to me, and I’m still self-conscious about this skill. As for electronic communication, I’m competent, but I’m not as tech-savvy as I’d like to be. I’m hopeful that I’ll improve at both this semester, though.

Feminism and intersectionality are both topics I care greatly about, and I like TV. When I watch a TV show, I either binge watch it or take forever to finish even one episode—there’s never any in-between. I try to watch different types of TV shows, but my favorite genres are drama—especially political or medical drama—and comedy, though stand-up comedy (if it counts as TV) is quickly becoming a new favorite of mine. I don’t know as much about how TV represents or perpetuates feminist issues, though, so I’m super excited for this opportunity. Choosing a TV show to review was difficult because I’ve been meaning to watch several of the shows listed, but ultimately, I’m going with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

So excited to watch this!

I don’t know that much about the show besides its basic premise and title, so I feel like I’ll better be able to enjoy watching this show. The premise is very intriguing to me; it seems like the show will explore a different perspective on the not-uncommon portrayal of a crazy ex-girlfriend, and I think that subversion will be very interesting to watch.  Plus, I’m a sucker for musical projects, so I think this’ll be my type of comedy.

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