Today in Ridiculous B.S.: "The Julie Taylor Test"

Today in Ridiculous B.S.: "The Julie Taylor Test"

Today, Laura tweeted a post from Salon's entertainment section, to which I reacted quite viscerally.

This (somewhat link-bait-y) piece is called "The Julie Taylor Test," referencing the daughter fo Eric and Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, and it's absolutely dripping with sexism. The author, Willa Paskin, asserts that bad acting can be identified by comparing the performer suspected of bad acting to Julie Taylor on Friday Night Lights, portrayed by Aimee Teegarden.

She argues, 

Enter the Julie Taylor Test, an easy way to identify bad TV acting: Ask yourself, is it  to imagine the inner life of this character? If no, is it possible to imagine the inner life of the characters surrounding him or her? It was all too possible to imagine the inner lives of every character on “Friday Night Lights” but Julie.

The thing is, using Paskin's own example, Julie Taylor has an immense inner life (watch The Giving Tree, S3E10, if you don't believe me).

However, her "inner life" is that of a teenage girl, so there are two strikes against Julie the character and Aimee the actress.

We're programmed to be dismissive of young women (see John Green's recent response to a fan who is concerned that "teenage girls" will be using The Fault in Our Stars quotations out of context when the book becomes a movie). That's a reality of our society.

How often have you heard an adult dismiss a teen girl's heartbreak, for example, as silly and invalid? How many critiques of Twilight have included an off-handed reference focus on the books and movies being adored by teenage girls (as opposed to the problematic gender roles and ridiculous portrayal of the precious few non-white characters)? How often do you read a book review in which the reviewer complains that a young adult novel contains "too much teenage girl drama"? How many critics decried the popularity of young adult fiction because it's associated with a teenage audience--particularly girls?

That which is beloved, felt and experienced by teen girls are regularly dismissed by adults as bad, stupid and wrong, and that certainly carries over to many, many people's assessment of Julie Taylor as a character. On a big-picture level, this is incredibly troubling.

I don't know if Aimee Teegarden is a "good" actress. I do know that her role on Friday Night Lights was written in a realistic way, and the actress played the role of Julie quite effectively. I believed in her struggles. Julie frustrated me because of her decisions (none of which seemed out of character), which were often painfully unwise--like so many teenage missteps. In fact, I often cite Julie Taylor as one of the more authentic teen characters in my recent memory. 

The Salon piece doesn't stop at Julie and her oh-so-silly teenage problems, however.

Paskin continues to name a number of other characters/performers who fail "The Julie Taylor Test": Tracy Spiridakos/Charlie from Revolution; Katharine McPhee/Karen from Smash; Emilia Clarke/Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones; January Jones/Betty Draper from Mad Men. (An aside: who else is sick about media coverage of Jones' supposed "bitchiness"?) She also casts suspicion on Kalinda, played by Archie Panjabi, from The Good Wife (huh? really?) and Marnie, played by Allison Williams on HBO's Girls, as being actresses/characters who some would give a failing grade on this absurd test. 

See anything these characters/actors have in common? They're all female.

Once again, we have someone from a popular media outlet damning female characters and female actresses for being bad/wrong/stupid/evil/unlikable/vapid/et al. The author is not talking about the huge problem of the lack of quality roles written for women. She's not talking about the even greater lack of quality roles for women over 40. She's asserting that the female actors are the problem.

Paskin could have used the same "criteria" to critique, say, the fairly unmemorable crop of male actors on Nashville (I'm sure I'm not alone in struggling to remember Avery's name). But she didn't. And that's not okay. 

Screen Capture, 05/05/2013

Screen Capture, 05/05/2013

This is not isolated to this single flip column from a Salon writer--it's pervasive. If you Google "bad acting," Google suggests several alternatives, including three mentioning specific performers. And you got it, they're all women: Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart and January Jones. This is quite revealing, isn't it?

Maybe "The Julie Taylor Test" was intended as satire. If so, it's not at well executed. 

Regardless, this piece points to the insidious problem of the way we talk about women--especially young women--in media and entertainment. (And this includes books--if I see the term "Mary Sue" on Goodreads one more time, I'm going to kick a wall and likely suffer a not insignificant foot contusion.)

Ultimately, the way we talk about fictional characters and the actors who play them matters.

Pieces such as Salon's "The Julie Taylor Test" only perpetuate an already-troubling entertainment landscape, and frankly, I'm absolutely weary from this and other similar pieces.

What about you?

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