Kerbloffle: The Olivia Munn Saga

At this point, the blog kerfuffle (try to portmanteau that, Web 2.0) about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart's "woman problem" and their new correspondent Olivia Munn has reached epic proportions. Here's a little he-said she-said to get you caught up.

Irin Carmon at Jezebel published a post criticizing Munn's "geek goddess shtick" ("Munn comes off as a potty-mouthed provocateur whose appeal seems targeted to what she thinks men want"), then another one about The Daily Show's lack of female representation and poor treatment of female writers and correspondents, calling the show "a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed" and implying that Munn was hired more for her appearance than her comedic talent. Munn responded with a a few crude quotes and tweets ("I think that anyone who's out there trying to bring down why any woman would get anywhere... just needs to fucking turn her fucking computer off, take the sandwich out of her mouth and go for a goddamn fucking walk"). The female staff members of The Daily Show responded with an open letter about how much they love their workplace ("While rampant sexism at a well-respected show makes for a great story, we want to make something very clear: the place you may have read about is not our office"), while Emily Gould of Slate responded with a blog post about blogs (haha, dumb, right? But wait, this is... OH NO). Amanda Hess of The Sexist responded to the Daily Show staff message with a dissection of the societal forces that drive sexist hirings even in liberal work environments ("If you haven't considered the societal forces and ingrained prejudices that may contribute to gender disparities in your hiring practices, your hiring practices are probably sexist"), while Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown wrote a pretty scathing satire of it that you should definitely read. Munn then did an interview with about the entire kerbloffle. I never thought I would say this, but - Jesus, enough feminist response to pop culture, already.

Olivia Munn

And now here's some more: in the interview with Salon, Munn says "these women [Jezebel bloggers] sit behind this very thin veil that I can see right through, this idea that 'we stand up for women.' If you stand up for women, then don't bash me." This quote reveals a strict adherence to what I'll call the Palin Feminist Fallacy: the idea that if a woman does something, it is automatically a feminist action. Being "okay" with a sexist remark doesn't mean that it's automatically no longer sexist, and being a female who makes misogynistic jokes doesn't somehow cancel out the misogyny.

There's a distinction between critiquing and "bashing" someone that's sometimes hard to make, especially on the internet. Bashing has an element of simplistic mean-spiritedness to it, which I don't think was present in Carmon's first couple of Jezebel posts about Munn. After Munn responded defensively and rudely, the critique got a little more heated and obviously, much of the comments section could accurately be categorized as Bash City. Saying that Munn can't possibly be an hardworking entertainer because she's attractive is bashing. (Saying that Jezebel doesn't stand up for women because they criticize a woman is also bashing.) I don't doubt that Munn's looks were part of The Daily Show's decision to hire her, but that really can't have been all. It's The Daily Show with Jon freaking Stewart. They don't have to settle for someone they think isn't funny enough.

But despite this ringing endorsement, a rather unflattering image of Munn has emerged from the kerbloffle (I'm going to make fetch happen with this one). Frankly, she seems like kind of an asshole, or at best, an ignorant person who says ignorant things. She really likes one of the most popular corollaries to the Palin Feminist Fallacy: My Gay Friend, also known as I Know Black People, which goes like this: "I'm allowed to make racist/homophobic jokes because I have a friend of that minority." Munn told the Daily Beast that "in the first 10 minutes of my meeting with Jon, I made some kind of Holocaust joke — and by the way? It's always too soon — and he died laughing. He was like, 'Wow, you open up with the Holocaust? ...I said, 'No, no, it's cool. I dated a Jewish guy!... See, I date different guys of different religions and races so I can always make the joke. I date the blacks, I date the Mexicans. I date 'em all for comedy. You can't buy that kind of gold. Having sex with a guy once is worth it." It's possible that this statement was an ironic joke. I really hope so.

Munn is also one of them newfangled "post-feminists," saying to HollywoodLife: "We're all human beings in this world... I think it's really a disservice to all women when there are women out there who try to compartmentalize us as human beings, saying 'women' and 'men,' because I'm just out there… I never tried to use anything besides my own sweat and blood and talent to get somewhere." God, you are so right. All those feminists should just stop trying to compartmentalize people into "men" and "women" – don't they know we live in a post-feminist, genderless utopia world now, where everyone is treated exactly the same all the time? (Although, to be fair, when she jumped into a giant chocolate cream pie wearing a skimpy maid costume on Attack of the Show, one of her male co-hosts did the exact same thing, costume and all.)

Now that we've got Munn's comedic boundaries covered, how about her actual comedy stylings? That's subjective, of course; my take is, she's not the worst, but she's definitely not the best. Her timing isn't great. She fits in moderately well with The Daily Show, but I doubt she'll be kept on. While it's cool that there's a woman of color on the show now, we could definitely use a better representative than Munn.

by Sara Reihani
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20 Comments Have Been Posted

I really like this post, and

I really like this post, and Christ knows I've read them all since this whole shit show got started. And everybody has something really insightful to add which is actually pretty cool. But anyway I felt compelled to chime in and say that I like where your head's at, and I love the graphic at the end. Almost want to make that Panda my fb profile pic but I'm gonna hold back.

I usually skim a few blogs

I usually skim a few blogs like yours when I see them show up on twitter and generally hate these back and forth blog fights. That being said I'm so glad you wrote this and pointed me to some critiques of the letter. I read that letter and the first thing I thought was omfg. I thought there was an entire feminist paper in the way so many women rose to defend a liberal man. I can't imagine the reverse ever happening. Ever. I can't imagine so many women in one workforce rising up either to do the opposite and criticize the disparity. I thought it was bordering on nauseating. I've never actually seen the show, but ever since I've been on the internet I've been seeing reference to Jon Stewart as "my boyfriend" from feminist women. Look I'm married and even have friends whoa re boys! (ha!) but I'm still not about to idolize and defend to the end some man/boss/celeb just b/c he's liberal.

What really ruffles my

What really ruffles my feathers is that to me Munn's post-feminist polemic smacks of appropriation. Her argument about people being people would be legit in my mind...if she considered herself to be non-binary-gendered, which she has given no indication of being. As someone who's working out h(e/i)r own genderfluid identity, seeing people who are apparently 100% binary break out those kinds of arguments reminds me uncomfortably of <a href= article.</a>

For the record, that's why the statement, "God, you are so right. All those feminists should just stop trying to compartmentalize people into 'men' and 'women' – don’t they know we live in a post-feminist, genderless utopia world now, where everyone is treated exactly the same all the time?" makes me uncomfortable—I certainly don't bury my head in the sand and ignore disparities of power due to gender, but I really try not to compartmentalize people as men and women because there are people out there who identify as both, neither, or some other sort of non-binary identity. Compartmentalization erases these people's identities and de-legitimizes them in a world already so hostile to them.

Yes. This.

Yes. This.

Agreed. And...

Good post! I agree on all counts.<br /><br />It's funny, I was watching 'Last Comic Standing' for the first time this week and there were a number of women on that I thought would be better suited for the correspondent role and who'd sacrificed a lot to write and perform stand-up for years. They were good! They're are making it on their humor alone. Munn says she worked hard and earned this position, but I hardly think hosting a video game show and performing all sorts of sexually suggestive stunts is what comedy is about.<br /><br />I saw her first segment on the oil spill. It was fine. That's it. Nothing special. She basically imitated other correspondents. We'll see if there's anything underneath it all...

Briar, how many of those

Briar, how many of those women made it to the semifinals? 2. Laurie and Rachel, both of whom were called out by the judges for being SOOOO PRETTY! I loved Fortune because a) she wasn't "conventionally" pretty (awesome curly hair, what looked like no makeup, fuckin' proud of it) and b) she was genuinely funny, also c) she's proudly gay. Did she make it through? Nope. One of the two ladies--I forget names at first--she basically just joked about being a kinda irresponsible parent. I guess the judges got hypnotized by her prettiness or something and put her through. That made me sad, I wanted to see more than 2 women in 10 semifinalists. More than 20% plz especially when so many of the other women were super funny too.

But maybe those who were not chosen can now go back to makin' it on their own with their comedy. Which is good. It's just sad that the two who got the most "YOU SO PURDY" compliments got through...

and don't forget

Stewart referencing it on air "Jezebel thinks i'm a sexist pig" in a long lament.

? Is there a clip online of


Is there a clip online of this?

A rock and a hard place

It's tough though for women who have 'object value' in any job let alone the media, particularly women from ethnic minorities who are often positioned as the 'exotic' other. From experience, I'm guessing she gets a lot of terrible job 'offers' and has perhaps had many many nights of feeling pretty worthless. Rest assured she may have recieved little support from women who may feel they've been side lined in a business that places object value above all else for women. I'm also guessing from experience that she has taken the best 'offers' she's had with great suspicion. But worse than all that, based on experience, she is probably painfully aware that she will never be taken seriously by a lot of women and will always be the subject of suspicion herself. As some of these responses show, she has to prove herself as a superior talent very early and will be aware that she has to prove herself before being treated equally. She will be very aware of all this as she is trying to deliver an effortless performance. And when the inevitable happens and she is offered a great job in what is on the surface a pro feminist work place, suspicion is cast upon her and the reasons for why she was hired... What is she to do in this position? Walk away? Cut her hair and ware baggy clothes? Never but never apply makeup? I think she comes off as scared and emotional and who can blame her?? What will she have to do to shake the predjudice that she is only/partly/slightly hired for 'her looks'/object value. In truth, like so many women in so many situations in life, she will never shake it and it will haunt her life and achievments till she reaches 'an age' when she nolonger has object value. As feminists we need to be very careful and reflexive about our comments regarding these public discourses because a real woman's life is being ruined here!


So, this morning the Emmy nominations were announced, and guess what? From Melissa Silverstein:

<blockquote>The Emmy nominations which were released this morning, shows how few women are working as writers. The Daily Show which was nominated in the outstanding writing category has two women listed on its writing staff and 15 guys. Last year there was only one woman so they increased the percentage of female writers from 6.25 percent to 11.7 percent. Better. Still sucks.</blockquote>

Seriously. Full article here:

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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I cant imagine anyway who

I cant imagine anyway who watched Attack of the Show is surprised that her viewpoint is less than feminist. It's pretty mind-numbingly misogynistic. But she did at least show lots of personality, I thought. I was a little uneasy about how many people thought she would suck and must have simply been hired because of her undeniable good looks. The show has writers, it's not like she'll be developing all her bits by herself. And watching the segments she's done so far, her personality comes through and she surely has some comedic acting ability. There was way too much misogyny or hints of misogyny in the parade of scoffs and quick dismissals. It stinks she probably wont bring a very strong feminist viewpoint, but this is the daily show. She'll be doing liberal satire, and not shoving hot dogs in her mouth in front of a pack of howling boys.

I'm disappointed in the Daily Show for having zero women writers and having 2 woman corespondents (Olivia and the fantastic Samantha Bee). But I DO agree that there's a sexist system at work that's bigger than daily show, that's weeding out capable women before they even get the chance to make it to TDS, and cultural norms that tell women they cant be funny.

I liked <i>The Sexist</i>'s take on it, which presented it terms of systematic and societal sexist forces. It was critical but not completely dismissive (like Sady) of the women of TDS's open letter. To be fair to them, they were exonerating Jon Stewart and the show from charges of personal sexism and the shows sexist atmosphere. Remember that the original piece took testimony from former employees that spoke to the sexism-charged atmosphere of the show. It's perfectly reasonable for them to respond and say that that hasn't been there experience. Tiger Beatdown's letter was less helpful. "Jon Stewart is my boyfriend" (written in the mock-voice of the Daily Show women) is just as patronizing as anything they said.

What was less satisfying in their letter, is the explanation, or lack there of, for the absence of women corespondents, writers, and shockingly disproportionate number of women guests. The Sexist again paints this very helpfully as an opportunity for the Daily Show, a known liberal entity, to make (an overdue) progressive change.

in case you haven't had enough.

I never read Pandagon, but I thought Amanda Marcotte's response was pretty balanced and thoughtful, similar to Amanda Hess's look at societal forces:

Also, Sady has a new post today Responding to the Response to her Response to the letter. It is pretty freaking great, and takes a much more nuanced look at why Olivia Munn is complicated: @bravo I don't know if you read Tiger Beatdown very much, but Sady's writing style tends to be exaggerated and shouty, which is why we love her. (If you do read it, sorry I just explained the obvious.)

And I think, after those two posts, we can officially be done with this kerbloffle FOREVER!

It Does Seem That It Escalated

One of the interesting aspects of the Olivia Munn Saga is that so many of the people and media who are commenting or blogging about it strive to be funny, sarcastic, tongue in cheek, sharp-tongued and witty. i guess that's not surprising, and what a shock that someone in that field may have used the "F" word or mentioned having worked her ass off in an interview. At Jezebel, as on a number of blogs, commenters are encouraged to me funny and interesting. To me the idea of writing about feminism using an in-your-face blog named Jezebel (look up the definition of jezebel) seems interesting in itself, the whole point being that sexuality, morays, and promiscuity would not preclude feminism, even if it means acting out a stereotype. Then again, i haven't studied Jezebel's history or learned why they chose that name.

It's okay, i can comment on sarcastic sexy feminists because i know some.

i watched the video clip at Jezebel at the link provided by another commenter (FUNNY), read the letter of solidarity from the female staff members (written by a guy?), the satire by Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown, and all the comments at Jezebel. Wow. Tempest in progress.

i would think that Olivia Munn being a John Stewart correspondent is more related to whether she is funny, and whether she helps get ratings. The show is, after all for entertainment and John Stewart is funny, but with that said, even if the staff is actually around 40 percent women they could always use more feminist women and writers on staff. Some of those quotes attributed to Olivia Munn would be extremely egregious if they were meant to be serious. and not at all funny as a joke either but i like the sex humor stuff. i'm inclined to concur with your bottom line assessment.

Olivia Munn makes me gavomit.

"...trying to bring down why any woman would get anywhere." this makes absolutely no sense. It's boggle in sentence form. And the computer/sandwich/walk ramble was just as incomprehensibly ridiculous. And someone needs to tell her that swearing like that doesn't make you tough, or cool, or edgy. It makes you a flipping moron who can't string together a simple sentence. And that joke of hers? I actually gavomited.

Yeah it's pretty much the

Yeah it's pretty much the same old hat that you can't be a feminist without being a fat, ugly, misandrist, shrew. It's the "boys won't like me if I don't play nice" mentallity that has royally f*ked up Munn's (and a whole slew of women I know) brains.

I loved this article. At

I loved this article. At first I was really dumbstruck about what a shitstorm this turned into, but after reading some really well thought-out, wonderful articles from feminist bloggers I'm starting to feel a little more optimistic that something good might actually come out of this. Not sure exactly what, but I have my fingers crossed.

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