A Final Act of Contrition: A Follow-Up to New Girl

An unfortunate instance of synchronicity.

I have a screenwriting class that meets twice a week, and in one recent session, we had to go around the room and discuss voice. Specifically, each writer’s voice when writing, and each writer’s voice when speaking. I use “voice” in the vague sense of one’s personality as it comes across in her writing, and one’s personality as it comes across in her conversation. A writer’s term, naturally, to describe some innate quality that is difficult to assess in concrete language.

I’ll take subversive, feisty, even direct and opinionated. But what I can’t tolerate is being told that I have a tendency to apologize for my work as printed copies are passed around the room. Do I do this? I don’t think I do this. All my life I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid the stereotype of the insecure woman who can’t stand behind the quality of her own work. Sure, I can’t take a compliment to save my life, but apologize for my writing? I never thought I was guilty.

But in writing script, one learns to consider every possible outcome of the story until the right one is clear. So I’ll entertain the possibility that my voice is uncertain and apologetic. And I will work harder to ensure it doesn’t always seem so. But before I go, I need to apologize for one more thing:

I’m sorry I wrote nice, bland pleasantries about New Girl. I’m sorry because when I think about the show, and I think about the conversations I’ve had about it with other women, I need to acknowledge that it’s really just another piece of post-feminist, fairer sex bullshit. So what I’m really sorry for is trying to convince myself and my readers that it was alright.

Here are the reasons why I didn’t eviscerate this undeniably mediocre show:

  1. I went to the screening with friends from the film school, and they all enjoyed it. It’s very hard to be mean when you want people to like you. So you take the easy route and laugh along every time a pretty girls plays at being a loser. Because you know what it feels like to be a loser, and it’s not quite what she’s feeling, but it’s easier to laugh and say Oh, yes, that’s exactly it.
  2. I had just moved to Los Angeles three weeks earlier and I didn’t want a reputation as the mean girl. And I know I’ve earned it, this second sandpaper skin that abrades against everything with a rotten core, but it was too soon. Too early to be the girl who doesn’t like anything.
  3. I wanted to believe in the golden lie that permeates every writers’ room in this town, every coffee shop critique, every mid-morning pitch: if a woman made it and we show it, that’s progress. And I know this is so incredibly wrong, but there it is. The lie that will take me places, the lie that will get my television shows on the air, my romantic comedies on the screen.

Do these sound like women’s reasons? Do these sound like apologetic musings? They should.

I’m sorry I pretended to like a show that was mediocre. I’m sorry I wanted to make friends before art. I’m sorry I bought into that incandescent lie.

I assure you it won’t happen again.

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6 Responses to A Final Act of Contrition: A Follow-Up to New Girl

  1. Nathan Burba says:

      I kind of feel bad for writers today. While Production and Interactive students can distract themselves with technology and spectacle, the writers must strip away all of that to inspect cultural foundations. As a writer you can’t turn away from the inaneness of New Girl by gee-wizzing about production techniques. You can only see the cold reality of the regressive political malaise that would birth such a “marketable” show.
      However, take heart in the knowledge that other people watching New Girl with you are suffering the same effects of this uber positive socially driven critical Group Think. They might not be as aware of it as you are, but, I’m sure that feeling is there somewhere. 
      It is in this situation where feminism and personal tastes clash with the harsh reality of professional temperament and social lubrication. 
      This might sound cynical, but, I think there is a legitimate place in professional collaborative writing for people who put on a nice social face for their colleagues while slyly slipping subversive elements into their work. George Meyer from The Simpsons is a good example of this. His cultural cynicism added a sharp anti-consumerist undercurrent that made the show that much deeper. TV Producers actually need these people because, under the crowd pleasing facade of a show like New Girl if there doesn’t lie a challenging philosophical viewpoint the show will not produce a set of fans who are interested in the show on a deeper level. This can quickly erode a show’s appeal. Playing the political game of becoming a professional working writer sometimes sounds like you have to abandon your ideals, but, that might not be entirely true. Erin Hoffman visited IMD a week ago and she talked about the symbiosis between the art that challenges us with new ideas and the art that reinforces our current convinctions. Basically, and I might be butchering this concept (sorry Erin), its natural to vibrate back and forth between, let’s say, a literary novel and a trashy magazine. When we realize this about the television watching public we see that the regressiveness of New Girl as well as The Playboy Club, Pan Am, etc might be representative of the need to culturally recharge some batteries. 
      So, to conclude this rambling response, I say its natural to want give in to the “incandescent lie” of  making friends before art. And if you understand that people enjoy something like New Girl on the low-brow ebb of their psychological cycle then you can capitalize on their need to be challenged the other half of the time. So, when you hand a script to someone, instead of apologizing, say to them: “read this when you’re ready to be challenged”.

    • telerevision says:

      Nate–thanks for this. A really wonderful and well-thought out response. Nice to know I am not alone in wanting to make better work.

      I agree with your first point about the challenges of writing–in the biz, it’s at the core of every single media project, whether it’s movies, TV, or interactive media. We can’t rely on visual effects and pretty faces to create a story with a strong emotional component, and that’s what can be so innately challenging about the process.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to write an insightful response!

  2. Meg Wray says:

    I didn’t really have an opinion on New Girl one way or another – until the latest episode when she puts those false teeth on at the wedding. The false teeth are a way to ensure that Jess ‘having fun’ = Jess being unattractive. In the wedding episode, her awkwardness is presented as Jess ‘being herself.’ Her male roommates are depicted as being torn between wanting her to act normally (in their minds – like a sexy female) or ‘be herself.’ Her sex-appeal and awkwardness MUST be mutually exclusive.

    I think the show is just a pretty dull playing-out of a girl in the balancing act of a dork/whore dichotomy haha. I’m sick of the balancing act. At least Bridemaids (for all its flaws) had a female lead who was able to be awkward and attractive at the same time.

  3. Meg Wray says:

    Of course, a character who’s awkward and attractive at the same time isn’t particularly subversive either. However, I at least found Annie (in Bridesmaids) likeable – not mildly depressing like Jess.

    • telerevision says:

      Yeah, I think the problem is that I find all these female characters mildly depressing because they need to be awkward to be seen as cute/adorable by men. And that’s just lame.

      • telerevision says:

        Now that I think about it, that’s not really my problem. But I guess I’ve internalized that it’s a problem for some people who don’t like when women (and men!) reject the standard formula of awkward=adorable.

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