Fortunately, no one on the internet has anything to say about the way women are portrayed on The Newsroom, so this is going to be a totally original and mind-blowing discussion. I can’t help it though! I can’t stop watching the show, and the women on it drive me insane, so I just have to talk about it.
Now, people who like this show have told me that yes, the women are flawed, but all the other characters are flawed, too. It’s true that the men on the show have various issues, and they certainly make mistakes. But while the men’s screw-ups tend to affect their personal lives, they’re still generally pretty great at their jobs. They’re often misogynistic as hell toward the women in their lives, but still, they are competent human beings.
The women, on the other hand…the only phrase I can think of to properly describe them is HOT MESSES. They are a bunch of hot messes who are totally, bizarrely incapable of handling anything in a remotely rational manner, from their love lives to their jobs (and most of the time, those two worlds are more or less interchangeable).
I’d also like to say that I really hate talking about feminism and junk, because I like to pretend that we live in a society where everyone believes that Everyone Is Equal. But, unfortunately, we totally don’t, because HELLO THE NEWSROOM IS A SHOW THAT’S ON HBO OF ALL CHANNELS AND PEOPLE WATCH AND ENJOY IT.
Anyway. I’m going to attempt to make my point by talking about how each main character is portrayed. Let’s start with the men!
Will. Will McAvoy is the deeply damaged anchor of News Night. A lot of the reason why he’s damaged is because his current executive producer, Mackenzie, cheated on him this one time when they were dating, like, four years ago, and it was the worst thing anyone has ever done to anyone ever. He didn’t see her for years after that, until she started working for his show again, but he’s still not over it, and she is a horrible person because she cheated on Will McAvoy, OK? Will is our hero, and we are supposed to like and admire him…I think. Sometimes I’m not sure if we’re supposed to like him (I certainly don’t) but I think we’re at least supposed to find him admirable.
Anyway, he likes going on dates with lots of vapid women with whom he has nothing in common and he likes to teach them why their interests are wrong and stupid, and he likes to parade these women in front of Mackenzie, because, did I mention she cheated on him? Despite the fact that Will is a total asshole in his personal life, he is a god when he’s on the air, because he is the Media Elite (because he said so one time I guess?) Sure he makes occasional mistakes, like that time when he gave Sarah Palin unnecessary coverage to improve ratings (but mostly to piss off Mackenzie), or the time when he stuttered a bit because he was unnerved by the fact that he was a bully on the air, but Will is also the kind of guy who can give a perfect report on the death of Osama Bin Laden, even though he’s so stoned he has forgotten how to tie a tie and has lost most of his motor skills.
Jim. Jim is Really Great at Journalism. We are told that in the first episode. He has many sources, and he knows all kinds of things about pretty much every topic without even having to use Google! He has a crush on his coworker, Maggie, because Mackenzie told him to in the first episode. But Jim is a Nice Guy, so he doesn’t pursue anything with Maggie, or tell her he has feelings for her, because she has this terrible boyfriend, Don. Instead, he lets Maggie bully him into continuing to date her roommate after Don sets the two up. Actually the roommate doesn’t seem that bad at all, but Jim can never love her because, you know, Maggie. Anyway, Jim is mostly just a well-meaning guy who gets caught up in drama because Maggie is insane, but is generally just really focused on doing well at his job. And also saving Maggie. He saves Maggie whenever he isn’t doing his job.
Don. Don is the worst. He is a producer who’s dating Maggie, and he mostly exists so Maggie and Jim can’t be together. He yells at people a lot and is arrogant as hell, and is basically a bad person. He breaks up with Maggie and gets back with her a bunch. He condescends to her (and everyone else). I think he’s about the same age as Maggie, but he takes it upon himself to instruct and correct her a bunch. Most recently he was a total asshole to a female flight attendant who was doing her job, but then immediately calmed down and got super respectful when a male pilot made an appearance. Yeah, Don sucks, but he’s way into his job. Most of his mistakes come from pushing people too hard, like when he encourages a reporter to go into the streets of Egypt to get a story, and the reporter is attacked. So you know, he does make professional missteps, but they’re errors of passion rather than incompetence.
Neal. OK, sure, Neal has a quirk: he’s kind of a conspiracy theorist, who insists Bigfoot is real, and wants to talk about aliens. He seems to legitimately think these things should be reported on the news. But fortunately, he’s very good at using the internet. He updates Will’s blog, and he even goes online to find reliable foreign correspondents! Generally, he’s just a loveable nerd who understands how to use basic technology.
Charlie. Charlie runs the channel’s news division. He drinks too much. He’s old school (check it out, he wears a bow tie!) and he believes in Doing the News Right, and presenting the facts rather than both sides of the story. Or maybe Will says that. Anyway, one time Charlie called Sloan, who is a grown up, female economics reporter “Girl” a bunch. That was weird. Then he tells her to lie and pretend to be an idiot to get her out of a jam she got herself into. That doesn’t seem like great advice, D.A. Jack McCoy! I mean, Charlie. In general, Charlie seems to be a pretty good guy, who is trying to protect Will and keep him out of the tabloids.
So, OK, those are the men of The Newsroom. Definitely flawed! Often dismissive of women. But still, they are like humans who are capable of functioning in society on a daily basis. Now, let’s talk about the women.
Sloan. Of the three main female characters, Sloan generally bothers me the least. She was chosen by Mackenzie to be on News Night in a nightly segment where she talks about the economy. She was chosen for a combination of her great legs, basic comprehension of grammar, and for her expertise on economics. But whatever, that’s not Sloan’s fault. Actually I thought she was mostly fine until last week, when it turned out she didn’t understand what off the record means. Now, Sloan is presented more as an economist than a reporter, but as a person who is making nightly appearances on the news, who is intelligent enough to have a PhD, and who is the one who told the person she was interviewing that he was off the record, the whole thing was inexcusable. Basically, she called this guy out ON THE AIR, bringing up an off the record conversation they’d had earlier to try to make him admit something. Also she screamed at him in Japanese. On the air. What? In the same episode, Sloan asked to touch a bodyguard’s pecs, and confused a comment Don made about how she is “expanding” professionally as a jibe at her weight. As Sloan gets more screen time, it appears she’s getting stupider, which is a total bummer.
Mackenzie. Mackenzie is a total train wreck. The weird thing about the show is, it seems to want us to think she isn’t a train wreck, and that she’s actually a very competent person. I feel like this based on the fact that, when we’re first introduced to her, we’re told that she’s been working in war zones. But I mean, when she was working in war zones was she capable of using a Blackberry without accidentally forwarding an email to everyone she works with confessing she cheated on her ex-boyfriend/current co-worker that one time a few years ago? I hope not! I hope that didn’t happen after someone specifically gave her directions about how to NOT DO THAT earlier that very same day. Because, ugh, that would be an insanely stupid thing to do.
Every time Mackenzie tries to do anything related to her job, she’s distracted by the fact that she dated Will and cheated on him. She seems to be overwhelmed with guilt over this mistake she made, in cheating on such a paragon of virtue (I’m not saying cheating is right or anything, but OH MY GOD THIS IS AFFECTING EVERY ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE, TIME TO LET IT GO). This causes her to be perpetually frazzled. I think we’re supposed to find this endearing, but it just makes me want to shake her. She’s passionate about her work, which is nice, but mostly she expresses it by being shrill and yelling at, like, everyone all the time. Mackenzie is basically the worst, except for…
Maggie. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Poor, sweet Maggie. Maggie is the character who makes me the angriest, because I feel like she’s the one I have the most in common with. She’s a 26-year-old woman who works in journalism and is prone to anxiety. Those are also facts about me! The problem with Maggie is…everything else. Maggie is an associate or assistant producer or something who repeatedly shows herself to be intelligent by having a vast pool of knowledge and getting important interviews and all kinds of useful things. So that’s good! But then there was that time she interviewed a guy who she used to date until she hid under his bed while he had sex with his ex-girlfriend. Wait, what? Anyway, she didn’t tell anyone she had a personal connection to the source, blew the interview, then told Jim (who is her boss) the whole pathetic story for some unknown reason.
So Maggie is in this relationship with Don, which is mostly bad because of how Don is awful. She is obviously in love with Jim from episode 1, but because she has no agency whatsoever, she just keeps dating Don for the next year anyway for no reason. Don senses there’s something between Maggie and Jim, so he sets Jim up with Maggie’s roommate. From then on, Maggie gets insanely jealous of Jim’s relationship, and literally screams at him in front of their coworkers in one of the most cringe-inducing scenes ever. She also becomes overly involved in Jim’s relationship, doing things like planning his Valentine’s Day (because ladies are OBSESSED with Valentine’s Day, it turns out) in a really desperate attempt to hide her feelings for him.
Maggie thinks LOL stands for Lots of Love. She confuses Georgia the state with Georgia the country. She can only stop having a panic attack when Jim saves her. And even worse, her whole relationship drama isn’t even interesting. Like, I just saw this EXACT SAME TRIANGLE on The Office. The Jim Halpert character is even literally named Jim! Ugh. I hate everything about Maggie and every plot she’s involved with, and the thought of working with someone like her or Mackenzie who allows their personal life to affect every aspect of their professional life makes me want to vomit.
OK, this went on much longer than I was expecting, but I have to say, I feel like I have at least scratched the surface of the things I hate about The Newsroom! It feels very cathartic. I may do this again…there are three more episodes in the season, after all, and I’m sure there will be all kinds of things that fill me with anger.
Mostly I started this blog so I could rant about how much I hate The Newsroom. I’m only sort of kidding. Not many of my friends have been watching it, so I’m kind of running out of people to vent to.
The thing about The Newsroom is, on paper, it sounds like it should be a good show. It has a fairly impressive cast and it’s written and created by Aaron Sorkin and clearly someone has done some research about big, nightly news shows and the way major networks covered major news stories in the past couple years and so on. This set up all sounds like it should make for a good show, and that’s why I was especially disappointed when I realized The Newsroom is TOTALLY NOT A GOOD SHOW.
I should probably note that I haven’t seen a lot of the work Sorkin is best known for. I’ve seen a few episodes of The West Wing and a few of Studio 60. I liked what I saw of The West Wing. Also, I loved The Social Network and I liked Moneyball a lot, too. And that was a movie about sports! I hate movies about sports.
One of the problems with The Newsroom is its central character, Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels). I think he’s supposed to be some kind of loveable asshole, who might appear to be horrendously pompous and obnoxious, but deep down inside, he has a heart of gold. I think this is supposed to make him complicated and layered, but I don’t buy it. I wish he was just an asshole all the time, because when he does things like act surprised to learn people dislike him, it just comes across as disingenuous.
Also, his “inspiring” speeches are the worst thing ever. Can you imagine if you knew this guy and had to listen to him say this shit on a daily basis? He says a lot of junk about the importance of “true” journalists, out in the field, reporting on the real stories shaping the world. This doesn’t ring true because, supposedly, right before the show began, Will was pandering to advertisers and reporting whatever his bosses at the network wanted him to. Now that he’s randomly developed integrity, he feels inclined to lecture everyone around him about the ways in which they aren’t living up to his standards, and it’s totally annoying. In the most recent episode he took offence when some gossip mag lady called herself a journalist. After calling her out on it, he proceeded to say he could use his position as a news anchor to ruin her. Um, what? Oh, so that’s good journalism. OK.
The whole premise of the show is also just so obnoxious. Basically in every episode we go back in time a year or two ago, and Sorkin tells us how he would have reported the news. (He would have known everything! He definitely would have known which aspects of the story were the most important before the entire story had even unfolded! He would never have made a single mistake or gotten a single fact wrong ever!) I don’t even think I find this annoying as a journalist, I think I find this annoying as a television viewer. It’s basically the equivalent of looking back at any historical event and saying you would have handled it better, with the benefit of knowing exactly how everything is going to turn out. I mean, no one knew how serious something like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was going to be until more of the facts came out. They didn’t just know based on having two incredibly convenient sources, which is what happens in the pilot of The Newsroom. That’s stupid, and it feels like a cheap cop-out.
OK, there are way more things I hate about The Newsroom, but I think this is going to be a two-parter. Next time I’ll tell you why I hate the way women are portrayed on the show! I don’t think anyone else anywhere on the Internet has ever addressed that aspect, so you’re in for a treat.