As they prepare their August issue on camp, the feminist film journal is seeking donations to help pay operating costs and their writers. Over the course of their previous seven volumes, the publication, founded by newly minted Toronto International Film Festival programming associate Kiva Reardon, has consistently provided a place for smart and thoughtful approaches to popular culture. Here are a few excerpts from “Boob Tube,” their most recent issue on TV.
From the pilot, Veronica’s voiceovers and flashbacks to the party where she was raped tell us this: she is more than a Sexual Assault Survivor™. She is more than an accessory to a man’s storyline and also more than a tool to make a villain seem worse. In “Veronica Mars,” sexual assault isn’t a mere plot device. It’s a reality that one in six women have experienced before, and the feisty, unflappable Veronica is among them. She is smart, determined and powerful — but she is not invincible. And because she’s a human being, she can’t simply shake off the effects of her attack. That’s why she channels her pain and experience into helping the people around her: after years of searching for clues, she exposes her own rapist. Then, after high school, she crusades against the men who have been raping drunk women at her college. All while talking about her own rape when she wants to talk about it, plain and simple.
Because of this subtlety, even to this day the show is largely unheralded as the revolutionary feminist series it was. “Murder, She Wrote” gives us a self-actualized female character and independent career woman, yet it does not draw attention to those things as unusual or make them the show’s defining identity. It’s thanks to this “low-flying feminism” that “Murder, She Wrote” infiltrated and endured in prime time. It was enormously popular, earning a slew of Golden Globe wins and Emmy nominations, 20 million viewers every week for five of the series’ 12 seasons, and the prestigious Sunday-night spot following “60 Minutes.” The famous two-episode crossover with “Magnum, P.I.” was designed to bolster his flaccid ratings, not hers — and did. So while Fletcher might not have been on the front lines of feminist protests, the character did write 24 novels, tend her garden, and volunteer in her community — all while solving 264 crime cases.
Author Claire Messud famously made headlines in 2013 when, in response to a question about the unlikability of her novel’s female protagonist, told off her interviewer: “If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.” Soloway has similarly bristled over the accusation that her characters — and, in particular, her women — are difficult to sympathize with. Courtney Cox’s assistant clings to racist stereotypes and crafts offensive fantasies to get off; the women of “Six Feet Under” were all notoriously flawed (“which is to say they act and think like recognizable human beings,” as Michelle Dean once wrote); even “Transparent’s” Maura has lived as an old rogue actively hiding her true nature from those closest to her. When asked by a reporter at a Television Critics Association panel why her shows are short on sympathetic characters, Soloway replied that “rootable women, or likable women, is a kind of trope that I was asked to be part of [while working on] getting network pilots picked up for a decade.” It makes a statement to write women who aren’t always nice. For one, it demonstrates that they’re human.