As the Emmy Turns

Occasionally the Chair must break from his weekly posts to address up-to-the-minute breaking news… and sometimes he just has an opinion and he can’t shut up about it. Enjoy this mid-week visit with the Chair as he spins his truth on this year’s biggest Emmy moment.

Sophia-Vergara-Emmys-Sexist

The takeaway from the Emmy Awards on Monday night is not about Breaking Bad deservedly sweeping in almost all of its major categories. Nor is it the fact that Emmy stalwarts such as Modern Family, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (Veep), Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Allison Janney (Mom, Masters of Sex and previously West Wing) continue to dominate in all of theirs.

It’s not even that the presumed-to-be sure-fire dramatic TV-movie winner of the year – The Normal Heart – was snubbed in all of its categories until the very end.

Oh Matt, we're trying!

Oh Matt, we’re trying!

And no – it certainly is not that the usually smart, glib and poised in just-the-right-way host Seth Meyers delivered an unusually static set of jokes that made him and the entire show seem a bit off its game.

What it is all about are three minutes and one half minutes of special material that fell flat. And…

Sofia Vergara.

Who knew that the funny and beautiful actress from Colombia who became a gigantic American television star by playing a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia on the Television Academy’s favorite situation comedy of the last five years (see above) would be so heavily chastised, shamed and otherwise criticized for participating in a comedy bit where she played a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia on television?

Life is strange.

Clearly, many people do not feel comfortable with or understand that Ms. Vergara’s success is based on the idea that publicly she ALWAYS plays the part of a beautiful and funny woman from Colombia. And that despite what the writers name her in whatever venue she presents herself, that persona is ultimately always named Sofia Vergara and has as much or as little to do with the real her as… well… only she knows for sure.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

But here’s what we should all know: that is what actors do.

For those unfamiliar with the segment, Ms. Vergara strutted out clad in her usual body-hugging garment and speaking in her exaggeratedly extreme Latin accent (Note: As thick as Fran Drescher’s but evoking Colombia rather than Flushing, Queens – the latter being my home town). After explaining to the audience that she came to America with the same big dreams of many young women her age– to be on a stage as big as the one she was standing on at the Emmys – she then disappointedly noted that this also relegated her to the duty of only being able to introduce from that very stage Television Academy president Bruce Rosenblum.

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Quickly making his entrance and taking away center stage was Mr. Rosenblum, who if nothing else is Central Casting’s version of what most everyone around the world imagines television executives to be. Which is to generously say that he is not at all a performer or else he’d hire himself and his colleagues instead of paying actors like Ms. Vergara millions and millions and millions of more millions of dollars each year.

This also appeared evident as Mr. Rosenblum took the reigns of what now promised to be on ongoing routine and asked Ms. Vergara to stand on a rotating podium center stage – not unlike that of a real-life version of an actual Emmy – and demonstrate for the audience the meaningful impact American television has around the world.

As Mr. Rosenblum blathered on about something to do with charitable foundations, diverse audiences and more devices and platforms than ever before, the spotlight was on the 360-degree view of Ms. Vergara as she slowly rotated and milked every single moment of the routine with all the skills of the multi-Emmy nominated comic actress that she is. Let us just say Ms. Vergara held nothing back in terms of “body language” and this made the routine far more or less amusing depending on who you were or what your point of view was or is. Especially when Mr. Rosenblum concluded television’s success is always about great storytelling and giving viewers something compelling to watch.

I will admit to being amused by Ms. Vergara and how willing she was to poke fun at her sexpot image and pose as some living statue of – something – while a boring man – who stood in for all of the many boring men I pictured watching at home – talked on obliviously about stuff no one really wanted to listen to despite his determination to continue boring them. I mean, isn’t this something that most guys, including myself (and maybe even at this moment) routinely do?

That is not the way many of the women close to me, or the tens of thousands of other people on Twitter and various alternative platforms and devices, viewed it, however. Charges of TV Academy sexism quickly abounded, celebs like Katie Couric voiced their disapproval, and pundits much more powerful and wider read than myself posted think pieces and visual aids about feminist representation. Most also mentioned the irony that some moments after Ms. Vergara exited, Julianna Marguiles accepted a best actress Emmy in a speech that boasted how we are currently living in a “golden age of television ” in terms of roles for women.

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It’s difficult to know what to think of all of this and clearly impossible to prove those thoughts since this is all about a matter that is subjective – or more rightly – objective-ication.   In fact, one of my female friends argued that if a gay guy were presented center stage in the stereotypical throwback way that Ms. Vergara had to endure, I’d completely change my tune. Not true, I protested. If they put Neil Patrick Harris in a speedo on that podium – the most famous and attractive out TV gay I could think of – and twirled him around as he cleverly camped on his own terms (the key word being clever) – I’d think it was funny. But not if some random gay reality TV show guy who was not as funny or quick as Mr. Harris (Note: Take your pick) tried it. There’s a difference.

Unless it's this reality show gay, in which case, MORE BILLY PLEASE

Unless it’s this reality show gay, in which case, MORE BILLY PLEASE

Well, that didn’t work. They didn’t believe me. And really, how do I absolutely know for sure? All I was probably thinking about was seeing Neil Patrick Harris in a speedo on a podium. Which, in a strangely symbolic way, is how all of this began.

I guess it’s all about choice and history and perspective. And who or what you find funny. Though what do I know: for my money, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham are the best comic actresses on TV – not Julia-Louis Dreyfuss. Not to mention Louis C. K. and Andre Braugher make me laugh a hell of a lot more than Jim Parsons or Ty Burrell.

This is a very long way of saying – what’s funny to me may not be funny to you. And, vice-versa. And it may very well be offensive to somebody. Hopefully.

 

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16 thoughts on “As the Emmy Turns

  1. I didn’t see the segment, and your post will influence whatever reaction I may have once I see (or not see) it. Academically, there are interesting observations and comparisons to make about the straight male objectification of women’s bodies and the gay male objectification of men’s bodies. However, I’m not bright enough to make those observations, having killed off my last remaining intelligent brain cells in seminary with Jaeger shots. My main takeaway from this is that your taste in music matches my own, the evidence being your inclusion of “Your Spin Me Round,” one of the greatest (dance) songs ever recorded. They’ll never do it, but maybe someone IMPORTANT at AMPAS will read your post and do a similar sketch with NPH posing as Oscar. Just for you.

  2. Another great post, Steven.
    I think the reaction of the funny, successful, rich actress/businesswoman herself says it all: “It means someone can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself and enjoy and work and make money, so I absolutely think it’s ridiculous.”

    • Thanks – and, well, obviously we agree with her. Do people think for one millisecond she doesn’t get what she’s doing? Interestingly enough, every character on “Modern Family” is a total stereotypical exaggeration who all sometimes appear as versions of their characters outside of the show. Yet she is the one people seem the most bothered by – which is in its own way a different kind of minority/feminist backlash. But I digress…

  3. Sorry I disagree. I know she plays a funny, beautiful woman from Columbia on TV. I get the joke I just don’t think it’s funny no matter how many times you say it. It just wasn’t clever. It was sexist. You keep saying how smart and funny and beautiful she is but all I saw was her ass. And we all know that smart, funny comedic Latina’s must have a good ass. Yes I know she was in on the joke but it doesn’t change the message. Also Neil Patrick Harris in a speedo is not an equivalent stereotype. His claim to fame is not prancing about in a speedo. I think Nathan Lane in full La Cage Aux Faux regalia screaming and prancing about would be a more apt comparison. Would that be funny as well? Love you. xoxo

  4. I agree – maybe Nathan Lane would be the better comparison. And yes, I’d think it was funny – his version of the “Pepper” character on “Modern Family” i the best thing on the show. I totally understand your feelings about it but I think the biggest negative of the whole thing was that it wasn’t hilariously funny. I actually think she made a not very good routine work because of what she did with it. It’s what the entire show is about – exaggerated stereotypes – it’s not my thing but I’ve always liked her because she gamely embraces the stereotype and is able to laugh at it and emerge as the one in power at the end. Still – this is all a matter of opinion and what we all think is funny and not. xoxo
    PS – I think I should still get to see NPH in a speedo on a revolving podium.

  5. You didn’t think “Waiting for Guffman” was funny.

    • I didn’t but it wasn’t as if Nathan Lane was playing the Corky character. That’s the difference. The guy wasn’t in on the joke.

      • So Christopher Guest wasn’t in on the joke?

      • Christopher Guest was a white straight guy mocking the characteristics of a closeted gay man. Sofia Vergara is a heavily accented Latina owning the stereotype and using it to show how ridiculous it is. There’s a difference.

      • So if john travolta played corky then it wouldn’t be offensive? Sorry still not buying it but I guess we will agree to disagree

      • If John Travolta were out and owned who he was he would have brought something to it that would’ve made it better. So yes. But that would never happen. It’s all about attitude – and yes – we can disagree and still send the love back and forth as we fetishize ice picks 🙂

  6. To quote a wise, old, sage……..”Fuck em if they can’t take a joke!” Haysoos, people have no sense of humor anymore. You may not have liked the schtick but it saved a good part of the show from the fatal “click” of the channel changing.

  7. As Tim Gunn used to say on “Project Runway” – don’t bore Nina!

  8. I think the weakness with the gay male analogy is that there isn’t the same long history of sexually objectifying men, gay or straight, in popular media.

    • That’s a good point but I might perhaps add the gay male analogy could work. While in that case it’s not about sexual objectification, it is about what is considered “gay” vs. “masculine.” Hence the comparison to Neil Patrick Harris camping (I probably should have said “mincing,” but I hate that word) on a pedestal. There’s a painful history of that for gay men. I think we would probably pull the stereotype applied to any one group for a comparison.

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