Last night, observing that Joy Behar had said Sharron Angle was going to hell, Stephen Colbert joked, "I hadn't realized [Angle] would be on The View." Readers, I laughed. Indeed, I'm kind of surprised that I've gone this long writing about television from a feminist perspective without directly addressing the national embarrassment that is The View.
In many ways, on paper, The View appears to be the platonic ideal of feminism in media: it turns the microphone over to women exclusively, just like we've always wanted, right? Women talking to women about issues of importance to women: what could be more feminist than that? That claim to fame is bolstered by The View's excellent ratings for its time slot, and its cred even led it to land a coveted interview with President Obama this summer. (Question one: "Have you ever watched us?") And it's now, officially, spawned an imitator at CBS called The Talk.
If you've never watched the show, I suppose, that all sounds wonderful. But as someone who has, and continues to for reasons that often defy explanation, I don't, personally, find much comfort in this. Because it turns out that all The View proves, or has ever proven, is that at the level of a purely formal equality, women are indeed men's equals when it comes vacuous, uninformed blowhard commentary on the issues of the day. Of course, it's not that every one of the various women who have hosted the show are idiots—indeed, I've loved and respected work many of them have done in other contexts—nor is it that every word that has come out of their mouths is foolish. It's more that as a matter of general impression, for people whose job it is to follow and comment on the news, The View co-hosts are remarkably gaffe-prone. Between Whoopi's confusion about "rape-rape," Elizabeth Hasselbeck's logic-fails about Erin Andrews and lesbianism and Sherri Shepherd supporting homophobic discriminatory federal policies because of her views on the "down low", The View is far more famous as a source of bad analysis than good. I can barely stand to have the show and its ethos associated with "women," frankly, as a matter of personal opinion.
Of course, tune into almost any cable news channel at any time of day, and you'll hear male commentary that is even worse, and perhaps more objectionably, presents itself as being made by "experts" in the field. (This foible at least The View avoids by never pretending to aspire to any level of professionalism whatsoever.) And that means my dislike of it, of course, is open to charges of sexism. Why, after all, should it be somehow more objectionable if women do something badly? Why don't I aim my ire at "bad commentary" generally, rather than "bad commentary by women"?
Well, first of all, it's true that I'm pretty much equally appalled by the state of political/social commentary found anywhere on television these days. That's why I'm one of those people who gets much of her news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. (The rest I do read in print.)
But more importantly, I don't know that the discussion has to be kept at that level. I don't expect more of women because I believe women to be superhuman. I just don't know if what happened, when I got involved in feminism, is that I signed on to the status quo of life, generally, in all aspects other than gender disparities. Did I sign up for a life of equal mediocrity or even badness? So long as everyone, male or female, had equal access to it? This appears to be the paradigm that some feminists adopt, after all, when they argue that women have the same right to be wrong as anyone else. And it's not so much that I disagree with them on the fundamentals: I don't, at the end of the day, want women to be held to a different standard. I do, however, want the overall standard to be better.