As happens so many times when I sit down to write, the coincidences just keep piling on and I am left trying to make sense of it all. It started with my pique at Outlander being left off of the Emmy voters radar and then was fueled by some Tweets about reasons for watching or not watching the show, articles that continue to play up the “bodice ripper” label, and the devaluing of women…always the devaluing of women. I’m not sure I have answers, but I definitely have some concerns and frustrations.
What I’ve been thinking
Let me start by saying, I understand that there is a lot of good television out there right now and that is a good thing. In my opinion, cable TV has broken out of the box of standard TV fare and opened up a world of edgy and varied programs that appeal to once marginalized audiences and interests. Obviously, the market will support their efforts because the ratings and money seems to be flowing in cable TV’s direction. I understand the competition for awards is complicated by the sheer amount of good TV to watch, but I cannot believe that the performances on Outlander were not worthy of awards. How anyone could not be moved by the episode “Faith’ and the shows’ treatment of such heartbreaking material is beyond me.
I can only conclude that they didn’t watch it or that the speculation that Emmy voters tend to give votes for their impression of an entire series over individual performances is true.
…academy rules insist that voters use tunnel vision when casting their ballots. They are told to base their judgments solely on the handful of episodes that actors, writers and producers submit for consideration. Just as jurors are only supposed to make their decisions without taking events outside the courtroom into account, Emmy voters are supposed to disregard knowledge of a series as a whole….
Nonetheless, Mr. Klein said, “I can’t say that a fondness for the series itself isn’t a factor.”
Ms. Cummings echoed that perspective. “That’s something you’re not supposed to do,” she admitted. “You’re supposed to just vote on specific episodes. But if you’re familiar with it, and you know the work on it is consistent, it’s hard not to think of the entire series itself.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/arts/television/emmy-voters-talk-about-sizing-up-the-nominees.html?_r=0
And, if they tend to vote for series that have a good reputation then Outlander is screwed because I think it has an image problem. I believe the series is not taken seriously and I think it all has to do with our society’s value of women…
What I think about what others are thinking
So, I’ve been feeling a bit more than bemused by Outlander being ignored by the Emmy voters (even though I know lots of great shows never get awards), but trying to reassure myself that it is just a matter of time because there is a lot of story to tell and more people are jumping on the Outlander bandwagon than just book readers. Lately, I’ve been seeing re tweets of actors, producers, and generally famous people who have gone on record to say they finally watched the show and just wanted to let folks know how great it is! These tweets are usually couched in a tone of surprise.
I’m tickled to death that these folks found the series enjoyable. I love the show and find myself sporting a smug grin when I read of another famous convert because we’ve been telling folks this is a great story all along. However, upon reflection, I think what we book fans turned series fans have actually been doing is defending the series. Which brings me back to one of my original points. People are surprised to find they like Outlander and fans feel the need to defend the show because it has an image problem.
Here is just one example that lends some validity to my claim that the perception of Outlander is other than what I believe the show is actually about. I was perusing my Twitter feed when I came across a re tweet of what I presumed to be another celebrity endorsement of the show.
Neil calls himself an adopted Scot and is a journalist, novelist, radio broadcaster, film-maker and an Editor for the Sunday Herald (busy guy) and professed lover of Horror films. Originally, I skimmed over this re tweet, but then did a double take. It didn’t seem as positive on second glance and so, I delved a bit further.
Now, I’m intrigued and ventured to interact with these folks, but first I had to Google Mills and Boon…yep, as I suspected it’s the UK version of Harlequin…
Hmmmm….and the “Fifty Shades of Tartan”?…
Admiring my restraint aren’t you? The key words in this scenario are “Mills and Boon”, “Fifty Shades of Tartan” and marketing. The perception that the show is Harlequin style women’s porn “guff” persists. Here are just a few of the articles I found when I Googled Outlander, bodice ripper, and kilt.
The label is consistently and extensively used. Why?
Why I think people think what they think
Mr. Mckay isn’t the first person to be surprised at the show’s actual content. I’m thinking of a particular TV critic who was angry the show had serious themes because that wasn’t what she was “led” to believe the show was about! Neil said he got his ideas about the show from marketing and talking about marketing always brings me back to that EW cover. Last season, this campaign aimed to bring new viewers to the fold and take advantage of a huge and enthusiastic fan-base to sell magazines by playing up the sex and romance in the show. Because, …what else could women possibly be interested in? If you finished watching season 2 you know just how ironic the hoopla over this cover was.
If this was the marketing Mr. Mckay and Ms. Kane saw for the show then I’m pretty sure the jump to Boon and Mills and “Fifty Shades of Plaid” wasn’t too strenuous a leap. I remember when I first saw trailers and teases for the show begin to appear on my TV. In my excitement, I failed to notice what my husband did, “They are selling sex”. I took a look with new eyes and found it hard to deny there was a focus on flesh and romance in these clips.
The were selling sex and the perception that this show is only about sex persists because there has been little done to counteract this impression. This marketing choice coupled with the persistent referral to the show as a “bodice ripper’ is obviously making an impression.
So, despite being brave enough to sink money into a program with a female protagonist and KNOWING that the plot was certainly more than a formulaic Harlequin romance ( I don’t have a thing against romances and will explain) Starz chose to use/allow these tired marketing ploys based on gender stereotypes despite research showing that their use may even turn women and (Emmy voters) away from viewing the show.
Megan Walsh, in an article for Romper, wondered if there wasn’t a connection to the shows perceived image and the lack of attention the show was given by voters.
It could also be that Outlander is considered a genre show with a focus on romance and time travel that has had some people (stupidly) dismissing it as nothing more than a chick show (as if that’s a bad thing to be)….
Is it all to do with the network it comes from? Or could it be that the show has such an intensely female point of view that it has alienated the voters? If that’s the reason, it’s a dumb one, and it’s also even more proof that Outlander should be earning heaps of awards. https://www.romper.com/p/why-didnt-outlander-get-emmy-nomination-it-deserves-the-accolades-14308I
I agree. If the reason the show is considered less worthy is because it is something women would be interested in, a “chick show”, then it’s a dumb and …insulting reason.
Why I’m concerned and frustrated
Maybe it’s this election and all of the subtle and not so subtle focus on toxic patriarchy , Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright telling me I have to vote for Hillary because she is a woman or they’ll wish me to hell, people criticizing Hillary for her laugh, her smile, her pantsuits and Donald Trump evidently getting a pass from his supporters for continually disrespecting women, that has caused me to look a little deeper at the issues of how women are valued and what it means to be a feminist.
I’m sure you are wondering what the hell does the election and feminism have to do with Outlander and where in the hell am I going with this?
I hope somewhere that makes sense.
Why should how Outlander is marketed and the perceived value of “Chick Flicks” or “Chick Lit” matter in the big scheme of stuff that matters? The answer is simple. It’s because I have six granddaughters. I have six granddaughters who will get at least some of their cues from Hollywood and popular culture as to what their value is in this world. I happen to feel that Hollywood has some ethical obligation to portray women as real people and not caricatures.
…a Strong Female Character. There are plenty of them in movies. But think of what comes to mind as traits for a woman being badass: loud, assertive, rides a motorcycle, maybe really good at martial arts. And yes that woman does sound badass. But we pretty much never explore the idea of strong female characters that save the world by being feminine, empathetic, and caring. https://medium.com/@sailorhg/coding-like-a-girl-595b90791cce#.azsjq079h
I’m frustrated because I think Outlander does an excellent job of portraying women as real thinking feeling human beings. Outlander’s main character Claire is a principled and kind woman worthy of admiration. Claire is a badass who moves through the world “being feminine, empathetic, and caring” and sexually confident.
Let me say again, I have nothing against romance novels or romantic movies. Like most things in life there are good and poor examples. I’ve watched and read my share over the years. There is nothing wrong in the themes women enjoy watching or reading. But, for some reason, a film or book with female-centric themes or romance makes them less worthy of critical acclaim and worth and this sends a message to the world about the worth of women.
Sex in the television costume drama is suspicious because it explicitly appeals to women (largely straight women, but 2002’s Tipping the Velvet and last year’sLife in Squares are rare exceptions) and is seen as bringing often high-brow source material too close to the lowbrow romance novel. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/24/arts/television/emmy-voters-talk-about-sizing-up-the-nominees.html?_r=1
While I certainly don’t agree with the article quoted above’s assertion that Outlander is to be counted among the low brow because the show is ,”laser focused as it is on the muscled male body”, I did agree that”Outlander, which has been praised for its “handling of on-screen sex,” had to prove itself a serious drama and not simply a “sexual fantasy.” and that when talking about costume dramas it has ” always been a problem with the genre—female fandom is seen to threaten its seriousness”.
Why can’t women be all things? Why must I apologize for liking movies that feature relationships and nurturing? Why must female characters be skewed male to be considered worthy of any value. Why do books and films written by males get more critical acclaim even when he is writing about the same themes as women writers? Why can’t a woman character reflect who women where at the time she inhabits without it being considered an attack on feminist advancement and women’s identity? Why can’t a woman like sex?
Literary critics and establishments have long believed that bodice rippers were …
…manufactured to engage the lurid fantasies of frustrated housewives. Often, their authors suffer public disdain, viewed as the sordid peddlers of a mysterious and unfortunate contraband – female desire…
and not very feminist and yet, …
…The very contradiction at the heart of romance fiction is a lesson: within feminism lies the permission, even the imperative, to enjoy, even if the fantasies you enjoy are not very feminist. https://aeon.co/essays/can-you-enjoy-romance-fiction-and-be-a-feminist
One of the most frustrating things for me when it comes to the perceived identity of Outlander as a “bodice ripper” is that those folks who aren’t tuning in because they believe it is just women’s “guff” are missing out on a show that is progressive in it’s story-telling and portrayal of women when compared to most women characters on film.
Outlander’s women talk about things other than men
Over twenty years ago, Alison Bechdel penned a cartoon about two women discussing going to the movies. One woman told the other she had three rules for attending movies;
- It had to have at least two women
- they had to talk to each other
- about something other than men
This cartoon has famously resulted in the “Bechdel test” for how women are portrayed in film and has become a standard by which feminist critics judge TV, movies, books. An article on fivethirtyeight.com looked at Hollywood’s portrayal of women and cites research that found in, ” 1,794 movies released from 1970 to 2013, we found that only half had at least one scene in which women talked to each other about something other than a man.” http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-dollar-and-cents-case-against-hollywoods-exclusion-of-women/
Outlander meets the Bechdel test and then some. What those who dismiss Outlander as unworthy of their time are missing are women who are strong characters who deal with the big issues in life that we all deal with love, loss, finding purpose, making tough choices, living with the consequences, and forgiveness. Mr. Mckay was a bit startled by some of the themes the show wasn’t afraid to tackle. Let me reassure him that the show takes its time showing the aftermath of such trauma and allows the characters to work through it. They are telling more than a formulaic love story. It is well acted, directed and produced, a virtual feast for the eyes and ears. I shouldn’t have to defend this show or apologize for enjoying it even IF it is considered a “chick” show because it’s theme are not less important than a show featuring a male protagonist.
I’m sure you have heard that Lionsgate has purchased Starz and Outlander was a big part of that pitch. I’m not under the impression that Hollywood is not in the business of making money, but I believe that some of the long held beliefs about marketing films about and for women need to be challenged. Statistics show that women make 80% of the purchasing decisions in America and that they are becoming more discriminating. There is no money to be lost and a lot of money to be gained if Lionsgate gets it right. I’m hoping that PR for season 3 of Outlander will look a lot different than the stereotypical pandering of last seasons’ EW spread. It deserves a better more honestly reflective image than “Fifty Shades of Tartan”.