In the 1970’s, the television show, All in the Family, was one of the most popular shows in the nation and a real cultural mainstay. One of the reasons for its enduring popularity (aside from great acting and interesting plot lines) was the fact that regardless of where you fell on the political spectrum, All in the Family offered a humorous portrayal of the generational divide. The show’s creators (and many viewers) felt that the show clearly illustrated Archie Bunker’s bigotry and was therefore critical, rather than condoning, of his prejudices. In reality, studies actually showed otherwise. In, True Enough, Farhad Manjoo points out a study that showed that bigots and non-bigots each found the show equally humorous but that they also, “harbored very different ideas about what was happening in the show.” The psychologists Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach, who conducted this study, found that people of low prejudice saw Archie Bunker as closed minded and a bigot, whereas people of high prejudice saw Archie Bunker as, “down-to-earth, honest, hardworking, predictable and kind enough to let his daughter and son in law live with him.”

Like most women whose hopes and passions reside in this business of the written word, my friend and fellow Nervous Breakdown contributor Arielle Bernstein and I have been following Franzen-gate with interest. In chat after chat, we wondered if this was merely sour grapes on the part of Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, if their criticism of gender-bias within the “literary establishment” (as represented by The New York Times) would’ve had greater heft had it come from a woman whose talents might be considered more on par with Mr. Franzen’s (like, say, Mary Gaitskill, Marilynne Robinson, or Jhumpa Lahiri). We had no real answers, but our questions lead us down the rabbit hole of gender parity in popular media.

When I was little, my parents and I would watch television together. Usually, our TV diet consisted of evening news, Jeopardy! at 7:30, and  if I was lucky  an 8pm show like MacGuyver or Full House. But for a few nights in September of 1990, my parents let me stay up a little bit later than usual to watch something entirely different: a PBS documentary about the Civil War.

“You don’t know the history of psychiatry,” Tom Cruise famously told Matt Lauer.“I do.”

“I want to be the face of depression,” Delta Burke once said.

“This is the new AIDS anthem,” Liza Minnelli proclaimed before singing a song no one ever heard again.

Last week was a momentous one for television. There were the Oscars (most of which I missed). There was the birth of The Office baby (the birth of a baby being the second in the three stages of impending sitcom apocalypse).  And we can’t forget the premiere of Jerry Seinfeld’s Marriage Ref, in which real-life married couples receive advice from such marriage stalwarts as Alec “Thoughtless Little Pig” Baldwin and Madonna “Crazy Arms” Ciccone.

But the real momentous event for me was the 100th episode of Ghost Hunters.

 

We’ve all heard the old adage: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” or the revamped version penned by Joan Rivers:“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”I generally keep my negative opinions to myself, but I’ve just about reached my limit.

In the fall of 2002, after a brief stint in LA, my wife and I moved back to Michigan. We realized as soon as we got there, that it had been a mistake. Then winter settled in, and we really, really knew it had been a mistake. We had a big apartment, little furniture, and a lot of life to kill.

Yes, OK. I admit it. I, in my foolhardy youth, was in the cast of the Australian production of Playing It Straight. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, well, first of all, you can be justly proud of your life choices. Second, for the purposes of this piece you need to know that Playing It Straight, originally developed and screened in the US, was, for all intents, exactly the same as The Bachelorette, with the added twist that six of the twelve men present as potential partners for the Bachelorette equivalent were gay, and six were straight.

It’s possible that I am way, way late to this particular party, that everyone else in the western world has seen both installments of “Man vs. Beast” a dozen times and that every time I enter a room people are waiting for me to leave so they can resume their secret (from me) conversations about the show. But I saw it for the first time last night, and assuming there are other culture vultures out there with the same elephant-sized gap in their knowledge base, some context (and yes, the above photo of forty-odd midgets trying desperately to move a jetliner is completely relevant, though if anyone is looking for an explanation as to why the midgets seem to be color-coded you’ll have to go elsewhere, as that is beyond the scope of my (admittedly slight) “M v. B” knowledge):