Culture Clips: Emmys Put on a Red Shawl

The Handmaid's Tale

Back in the day, television was considered something of a cultural unifier—the very definition of mass entertainment that would serve as a focal point for familial, communal, and even intergenerational gatherings.

Yeah, about that.

The Emmy awards—from the tone of the show to the awards themselves—illustrated a certain cultural divide. “In an age of hyper-polarization, Americans can’t even share television anymore,” wrote The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson.

The awards show, hosted by one-time-fake-conservative-pundit Stephen Colbert, was overtly political, with everyone from Atlanta creator/star Donald Glover to the legendary ladies from the 1980 movie 9 to 5 throwing shade at the current administration. The 9 to 5 reunion also proffered an unexpected joke about sex toys, as well, which was barely noticed. “And so here we are, America,” wrote Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Franich, “it’s less controversial to talk about vibrators than to talk about the President of the United States.”

Alec Baldwin won an Emmy for his outsized depiction of a certain politician on Saturday Night Live. Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her sixth consecutive Emmy for her role in a show satirizing Washington politics. And Hulu’s A Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian fable of a women’s lack of rights in a hyper-conservative, fundamentalist future America, took home the top dramatic prize.

But The Handmaid’s Tale’s victory signaled a shift in another way, too: The Hulu show was the first Emmy Best Drama win for a program connected not to a traditional television channel, but a streaming service. In The Atlantic, Thompson suggested that Handmaid’s victory paints a dystopian future for traditional television itself. Others aren’t quite so gloomy, but it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a sea change in how we watch television. Cord cutting and the rise of streaming platforms “doesn’t signal a shift in what people want to watch. It’s how they want to watch,” eMarketer analyst Paul Verna told NBC.

The Emmys also were lauded for their particularly diverse batch of winners, from Lena Waithe’s writing award for her work on Master of None (becoming the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing) to Donald Glover’s win for comedy directing (a first, too) to Sterling K. Brown’s acting victory for his work in This is Us (another first).

The TV award show also registered record-low (or nearly so) ratings. Some believe the show’s politicization was to blame. Others aren’t so sure, and it’s probably worth noting that ratings for many an awards show have been sagging as of late. (Perhaps if Netflix hosted them, they’d see a tick up?)

Speaking of people not watching television, count actress Shailene Woodley among them. “I’m a reader,” she told E!. “So I always read a book instead of turning on my TV. … I actually haven’t had a TV since I moved out of my parents’ house at 18.” (I think she deserves special props for telling the world how little television she watches while attending, y’know, an awards show dedicated to television.)

The Emmys weren’t the only things illustrating how much the world is changing. Rolling Stone, which Salon dubs the “Bible of the boomer culture,” is up for sale. Jann Wenner, who founded the magazine and edited it for decades, is selling his share in it. “I’ve enjoyed it for a long time,” Wenner told The New York Times, but it was “just the smart thing to do.”

Does the fact that Wenner was editing a youth-oriented magazine at age 71 have  something to do with the proposed sale? Can’t say. But there’s no question we’re all getting older—like, every day. Even tough-guy actor Liam Neeson announced he’s a little too old to star in action movies anymore. “I’m like, ‘Guys, I’m sixty f—ing five.’ Audiences are eventually going to go, ‘Come on.'”

And maybe we’re getting older culturally, too. A new study found, for instance, that the average new dad is older than he’s ever been. Another study reveals that today’s teens are typically three years older than they were in the 1970s when they first have sex, take their first swig of alcohol and get a job.

There’s even some discussion about whether NBC’s Will & Grace, a 1990s sitcom credited with helping normalize gay relationships, may feel too old and outdated when it returns to NBC this fall.

“… With with the legalization of gay marriage and Transparent and gay characters even popping up on the Disney Channel, the question is not whether Will & Grace is too inclusive—too ahead of the culture—but whether it is inclusive enough,” writes The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes. “At a time when Hollywood is under intense pressure to avoid stereotypes and to promote diversity from every possible angle, Will & Grace—once seen as the epitome of diversity on television—could actually find itself assailed for being behind the curve.”

We could go on and on and on this week. I haven’t even mentioned how HBO’s filming several versions of the Game of Thrones finale to foil hackers. Or how Apple wants to turn its stores into “town squares.” Or how the Navy wants to use Xbox controllers in its new periscope systems.

But really, I have other things to write. So let me leave you with Max Landis’ quest to prove that all of pop star Carly Rae Jepsen songs say, essentially, the same thing. Don’t believe him? Well, feel free to read his 150-page thesis on the subject.

If someone turns it into a screenplay, maybe it’ll win an Emmy.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Chuck Anziulewicz 7 months ago
"Back in the day, television was considered something of a cultural unifier—the very definition of mass entertainment that would serve as a focal point for familial, communal, and even intergenerational gatherings."

I'm 58, which I suspect is considerably older than YOU, Paul, and I remember when your TV options were limited to FOUR: NBC, CBS, ABC, and "educational television." And it WAS a cultural unifier. People would always talk about the big show that was on the night before. Those days are long gone. People are always telling me I need to watch THIS show or THAT show, and there is a huge amount of great content out there, but I can't even BEGIN to encompass all of it.
charitysplace 7 months ago
People attack the most what they fear the most.

On a different note, I tried The Handmaiden's Tale. The premise was so ridiculous / unrealistic and anti-men that I quit after four episodes. It's as if the people screaming about it's relevance and truly terrified this sort of thing could happen live in an alternate reality where men don't like independent, strong-minded women, but then I realized: if you're anti-man, of course you think they're all out to enslave you! LOL
Dan Haynes 7 months ago
I respectfully disagree. I read the book almost 30 years ago and saw the first movie adaptation. I have not yet watched the Hulu series, but have been told it's pretty faithful to the source material. In the late 80s-early 90s, it seemed pretty fantastic and far-fetched. After watching the Taliban take over Afghanistan in 1996 and de-modernize the nation so thoroughly, it didn't seem far fetched at all. Now that the religious right and conservatives/tea bag patriots/white nationalists are all in bed together here in the US, the possibility of a real life Gilead is frightening. If you think that people like Mike Pence and Rafael Eduardo ¨Ted" Cruz wouldn't turn this nation into a theocracy given half a chance, you're not paying attention. This is why religion and government can never, never, never mix. 
Andrew Gilbertson 7 months ago
As a conservative and Christian who has nothing but contempt for the white nationalists, I'm sorry, but that is both ridiculous and insulting. If that's what you think that conservatives want, or what a Christian theocracy would entail, then I would politely suggest that you understand neither conservatism nor Christianity. And if you think that Christian-conservatives *want* a theocracy, then I'd suggest you try actually dialoguing with a few. That's not us at all.
Dan Haynes 7 months ago
I tried not to paint with too broad a brush. For example, Billy Graham, while advising Presidents of both parties for many, many years never gave me a bit of pause. His son, however, hitched his wagon behind a very un-Christlike man, for political ends, I don think every Christian American is a white nationalist, not even close. But politics makes strange bedfellows and all that, 
Andrew Gilbertson 7 months ago
Well, I can understand that- and I apologize if I took your statements the wrong way.
charitysplace 7 months ago
Even believing such a thing is possible in the immediate short term for America is denying the importance of men, not to mention that most 'enforced' moralizing legislation has failed - abortions were still committed while legal, and Prohibition worked real good, didn't it?

The Handmaid's Tale is an irrational fake-feminist's feels exposed (I say this, because true feminism believes in equality to men, not that men are evil, because making them evil and us females good puts us higher than men, therefore is not feminism) that the world is out to get you, especially the men. Nowhere is safe. No man will ever defend your rights. No man would die to protect you. Every man is mostly unfeeling and evil, deep down.

If you believe this rampant anti-female sentiment is spread among the populace in the average American male, that they would allow anything like this to happen on a national level, I suggest YOU are not paying attention.
Evan Weisensel 7 months ago
Quick grammar correction: It's not "This and That and This again." It's This, That, and This again." Unless you're quoting something.
Andrew Gilbertson 7 months ago
Glad to hear about Sterling's win; that's well-deserved.

Baldwin's, though? I mean, he's doing a goofy celebrity impersonation. Calling that 'important' just because a lot of people don't like the guy seems like a stretch.

And Handmaden's Tale? Oy.
Evan Weisensel 7 months ago
Fun Fact: The Handmaid's Tale was inspired by the treatment of women in conservative Muslim countries, believe it or not.
Andrew Gilbertson 7 months ago
That's not fun- it's depressing. But also a relevant point. I tend to treat the show (and its fans) as 'completely divorced from reality'. But it's important to keep in mind that something like this IS reality, in some places and for some women, and that's something we need to make every effort to combat.
Evan Weisensel 7 months ago
Yeah, maybe that was a poor choice of words to use....
bobed 7 months ago
Source for that claim? I read a few articles about the inspiration for the novel (here's one and none of them mention the subject.
bobed 7 months ago
The Emmys - 3 hours of Trump bashing. Seeing the articles the following morning made me glad I didn't watch it. The hatred and bias against Trump from the liberal elite is staggering.
bobed 7 months ago
Besides, who wants to watch 3 hours of delusional rich people patting themselves on the back??? Regular human beings can find nothing in common with these people. I certainly don't watch any of the shows that were up for awards. I'm glad I didn't waste my night. I used to watch awards shows - no longer.
Evan Weisensel 7 months ago
My sister and I like to watch the Oscars, it's fun. But then again, she wants to work as a production designer for movies and I want to get into animation, so I guess we have a bit more of a stake in award shows than the general public does.
Anonymous 7 months ago
For once, you and I seem to agree wholeheartedly on something, bobed. :)

I once thought the Emmys were about...oh, you awards to shows based on merit and excellence. Now it's "Let's find the most depraved thing out there and celebrate THAT! Look how inclusive we are!" Nevermind about a show's actual content (i.e. plotline or characters) - if it shows enough perversity (which in the eyes of the world is a good thing), it's "brave" and "bold" and "stunning" and "a work of art."

That, and the liberals railing against Trump and/or conservatives as a whole, is good enough reason why I'll never watch the Emmys.

- Lionsong
Anonymous 7 months ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

The liberals are just being sore losers for losing the election. They want to get rid of the electoral college just because the election didn't turn out the way they thought it would. They don't want to be controlled by out president.

In the end, they're just being plain silly. I never liked Obama as president, but I never felt like I was being 'controlled' by him.