Kesler addresses in her essay the issue of whether or not it is actually “good business sense.” She thinks it is not. She disagrees with the claim that film audiences will tune out scenes in which female characters talk about something other than a male character, and she explains why. Now, you may disagree with her on that point, but don’t frame your disagreement as though you’re bringing up something she didn’t touch on in her piece. She discusses at length whether or not it makes good business sense to excise female dialogue in this manner.
The fact is, you frame your arguments in a profoundly self-serving and inaccurate manner. Let’s take your description of her thesis:
“…that screenwriters are being trained in utero to marginalize women, and that this doesn't reflect how silly the audience is but instead endemic prejudices of a whole slew of individuals with the curse of the Y-chromosome who are all acting in concert (I'll take a step back here from using the word "conspiracy", although that'd be funnier) to repress all those pure and noble wymyn out there -- is, arguably, an attack on us gents.”
What you’re doing here is hyperbolizing what Kesler actually wrote in order to make it sound as irrational and unreasonable as possible. Apparently it’s not enough for you to say that her premise is “that screenwriters are being trained to marginalize women, a policy driven by industry leaders who are wrongly projecting their own adolescent attitudes towards women onto male audiences in general.” This would be a fairly accurate description of Kesler’s premise.
But describing her premise honestly would make it more difficult for you to attack it. So you stick in the words “in utero” add that she’s blaming the “endemic prejudices” of “individuals with the curse of the Y chromosone who are all acting in concert” flirt with the term “conspiracy” and, for good measure, throw in the word “wymyn,” a radical feminist spelling that appears nowhere in that piece.
I plead guilty to distorting her premise, but not for the reason you suggest. I thought at the time, and still think, that her piece is highly unintentionally funny. (I'll go into more detail as to why this is so in a bit.)
I know too many talented people who have opted out of a specific artistic field -- or settled for something within it that’s less renumerative -- because they were unwilling to make the moral or artistic concessions that success demanded.
Some years ago, when I was in need of money, I had that experience to a lesser degree. I sent off to a romance publishing company for their writing guidelines. Someone I knew had made a tidy sum selling a book to them, and she told me it had been easy, lucrative, and not especially time-consuming.
I am a damn good writer myself, but after a week of reading over those guidelines I realized that there were some things I wouldn’t do for money. Following those guidelines, which required the main female character to be an easily flustered flibbertigibbet around her love interest, who was required to be strong, masterful, and brooding, was one of those things.
So, yes, I can imagine a talented screenwriter opting out of screenwriting because she didn’t want to end up reflexively censoring female dialogue from her screenplays. Someone who strongly values both her writing ability and her principles could very easily make that decision.
Declining the opportunity to write dopey romance novels is one thing. Foregoing a college degree in film from UCLA when you intend to make motion pictures your life's work because of what a bunch of academics and unnamed "industry professionals" think is quite another. In fact, given all the doors that shut if you lack the right degree, that's a highly unpragmatic decision no matter how you slice it.
It would hardly surprise me to discover that basically all degree programs are mandatory ass-kissing environments. What you're supposed to do when your professors tell you that you absolutely, positively have to eat your boiled eggs from the big end, not the little one, is smile, nod, comply, then quietly go about with other ambitions. Academics tend to be losers who could never hold down a job in the real world; that's why they're academics. An important part of any degree program that nobody in the counseling office will ever mention is that you have to study your professors, too... in some cases, even more thoroughly than you study the stated material covered in the courses... and you just have to tickle 'em in the right spot to ensure your own survival in the institution, just as the smarter abused children learn to play their parents like a violin concerto (and using a lot of the same techniques). I did exactly this sort of thing when I was in university, and thought as little as possible afterwards of my former masters and everything they said; I fail to see why Ms. Kesler is somehow too good for that sort of thing. It's an old, old story: only by tempering one's ideals with pragmatism may one hope to deal with problems effectively.
[therealstain]I would suggest that Ms. Kesler is actually completely talentless -- like most Arts and Crafts students -- and that she treated her classmates and professors to her large mouth and large ego (funny how those so frequently come in a matched set) once too often. I would further like to say that, even though I've not spent a day in film school, I will put my spec scripts up against hers anytime -- assuming, of course, that Ms. Kesler has ever finished a single feature-length screenplay in her life.[/therealstain]
My, my, what a freight of insulting presumption and generalization is crammed into the above 90 words.
Well, I did say back there that if I wanted to belittle Ms. Kesler, I could do a far better job of it than by addressing her as "miss". *evil grin*
Let me explain something that may offer some insight into why Kesler responded to your comments the way she did.
One of the things I’ve learned in many years of writing online, is that anyone using a female name and posting an essay on sexism is likely to attract a certain type of male commenter. Typically he interprets the piece, no matter how measured its language, no matter how many caveats the writer may have added about not referring to all men, as an attack on men in general.
Typically he cannot sum up the writer’s premise without ginning it up out of all recognition, adding a few adjectives that the writer on sexism neither used nor implied, sticking in at least one gynecological term, alluding to radical feminist jargon that was not included in the original piece… That kind of thing.
Typically, if the conversation goes on for very long, the commenter descends into the personal, speculating nastily on things like the female writer’s appearance, and/or her personality offline, and/or her marriage, and/or her mental stability, and/or her professional competence.
I suspect Kesler knew exactly how the conversation with you would go and didn’t want to waste her time.
Oh, dear. You do still think that I'm some sort of troll, don't you?
Would a troll attempt to engage you in a perfectly civil debate, and put this much effort into it, ma'am? Would he refrain from any sort of profanity, and indeed object to any usage of it in the thread? (Well, I did use the word "ass" up there, but there's just not a good euphemism that fully conveys meaning for certain things.) Would he take a four-month break from a debate and still remember to get back to it?
I think Ms. Kesler's article is really full of it. You disagree. Well... that's your right. I would never even have tried to have this discussion with you, or even have read your blog long enough to notice the post from which we started this discussion, had you not struck me as a mature and thoughtful individual. You say in your user info that you enjoy debate. Well, so do I. I was curious to see if you would turn out to mean what you say if I challenged one of your ideas in a serious way, and you have. You of course will never have
to agree with anything I'm saying, but perhaps we can both learn something from this exchange of ideas.
I can see that I darn well ought to be more detailed and precise about why, exactly, I find Ms. Kesler's article to be so risible. (In fact, this is the main reason that I disappeared for a while... and I probably still
wouldn't have gotten back to you, had not a special screening of a number of Stan Brakhage films sold out on me.) Well, for what it's worth, I will now elaborate on what exactly I mean, and why I'm not just an antifeminist nasty for saying so.
1) The title of her piece is "Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test". In the text, it turns out that she's basing this assertion on her experiences at one, and only one, film school. This is a hasty generalization if ever there was one. If I was her I wouldn't give up a UCLA film degree even if statistics actually backed up the notion that most producers absolutely won't underwrite a production that passes the Bechdel test -- the implicit assertion that the entire film industry has this monolithic consensus on what's marketable and what's not is a frigging laugh riot. Has she not heard that a lot of the big female stars have their own production companies? Are we to assume that they won't go near a Bechdel script, too... and that in their case also this is the result of raw prejudice and not market research?
Ms. Kesler's essay, however, is free of statistics... and any other evidentiary backing.
You know, if I were in her Birkenstocks, I would suck it up to get the grade, submit the deBechdeled scripts to my professors while keeping the real versions on hard disk, take my "pure gold" writing talent and pull the same stunt that John Sayles did... work on other folks' movies, no job too large or too small (you might recall that he wrote the scripts for a number of Roger Corman horror and sf productions; he even has a cameo as a morgue attendant in The Howling
), develop a reputation as a crack screenwriter and script doctor, then use the money earned from script rewrite fees to make my own movies the way I wanna make 'em.
Would that have been such a terrible ethical compromise? More to the point, does Jennifer Kesler have any idea who John Sayles is?
2) Earlier we were talking about my comparing her piece to some of the UFO nutcasery that's always floating around the media of every stripe. Well, the reason that specifically UFOs came to mind is that when I read her essay I immediately thought of this, which I had recently spotted while websurfing:http://www.ufos-aliens.co.uk/cosmicstonehenge.htm
You know why? Because Ms. Kesler writes her piece in a very similar "this is the Great And Secret Truth that THEY don't want you to know" tone. I mean, look at one of her starting sentences: "...here it is: my screenwriting professors taught me not to write scripts that passed the Bechdel/Mo Movie Measure/”Dykes To Watch Out For” test, and I can tell you why, and this needs to be known
." You can just hear the dramatic sting.
3) I am a regular contributor to the Usenet newsgroup misc.writing.screenplays.moderated. The widely recognized alpha male on that group is Neal Marshall Stevens.http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0139605/
(Stevens is his real name.)
There was a little debate he was having with some guy who was going on about the "liberal agenda" of Hollywood. Mr. Stevens stated something that I consider rather astute: "There's always this myth floating around that Hollywood has a liberal agenda. Hollywood has a money agenda." (Message-ID: "email@example.com".) This is confirmation by an actual bonafide working screenwriter of what I was saying earlier about how "Hollywood" really could give a flying one about most any/all content of their movies (e.g., named female characters talking to one another about something other than men) as long as they make money.
Speaking of misc.writing.screenplays.moderated...
4) ...here's a little something I posted there a while back:http://groups.google.com/group/misc.writing.screenplays.moderated/msg/f8ca7a1b8bdeeb47?hl=en&dmode=source
In short, Ms. Kesler's piece, and what I think of it.
Here's the Google Groups link for that whole page of the thread:http://groups.google.com/group/misc.writing.screenplays.moderated/browse_thread/thread/cf122f93cba0024b/64f06272fc3367a3?hl=en&q=Kesler+group%3Amisc.writing.screenplays.moderated+author%3AAvoid&lnk=nl&
Therein, you can see that, despite that most of the MWSM regs are fairly left-leaning, not one person challenged what I had said or defended Ms. Kesler in any way. And mind you, I am not the most popular person there. Many of the regs have been there for a decade, give or take a few years, and several -- including Mr. Stevens -- have occasionally taken a rather brusque tone in addressing me, especially when they disagreed with something that I said... and have even ridiculed me publically on occasion. I hold, therefore, that if Kesler really made all that much sense, somebody would have blown the whistle on me, particularly as I'm very slow to flame anyone in that forum.
I therefore put it to you, ma'am, more or less what I've been maintaining all along: Jennifer Kesler probably flunked out of UCLA, and is now hiding behind feminist dogma in the hopes of
deterring any unpleasant questions of where the heck all that tuition money went if she doesn't have a degree. Furthermore, I suggest that, if you still don't believe me, you ask Ms. Kesler yourself for some sort of evidentiary backing for her ideas. To paraphrase Jello Biafra, her reaction may not be pleasant, but it sure isn't going to be boring.
The worst thing about her essay is that, if it continues to get passed around and gets widely believed, it will actually discourage women from getting into film. I do not say this is a bad thing because I'm such a good feminist or a nice fellow -- I say this purely out of enlightened self-interest. As you might have guessed, I have been a big devotee of cinema ever since I was a boy, and if there's another Susan Seidelman or Nicole Holofcener or Isabel Coixet out there I don't want them to be dissuaded from pursuing their ambitions to direct motion pictures for any reason, much less by a piece of disinformation.