I admire actor Jane Lynch (Glee, Best in Show) for many reasons — her comic timing, her touching memoir Happy Accidents, and her courage to come out as a lesbian when it was still dangerous to be gay in Hollywood.
So I don’t know whether to blame or forgive this dear funny celebrity for making a statement on her popular TV show, Hollywood Game Night, that I appreciate yet find appalling.
Hollywood Game Night features celebrities who compete in what we used to call parlor games, except the contests are so ridiculous and the contestants so wild that chaos fills the screen.
In one game, the stars sing melodies of songs by substituting DO for lyrics (as is in do, do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do … that’s Tea for Two, see) until a teammate guesses the title. In another they look at pictures of two famous faces (or cereals or junk food) mashed into one photo and guess a name that would combine the two. In another they’re given six famous magazine covers from, say, People or Rolling Stone, which they have to arrange from earliest to most recent.
The fun of Hollywood Game Night is not watching the games but scrutinizing stars like Amy Poehler, Ray Romano, Minnie Driver or Martin Short (and a lot of younger stars I don’t recognize) being unaffected and sincere while they race around hitting buzzers and making faces and shouting instructions.
Part of the show is deliberately phony — all that self-conscious applauding and high-fiving can drive you nuts — but for the most part, the point seems to be that stars can’t be divas. They have to at least try to show genuine enthusiasm and spontaneity even if the pressure to win puts them in awkward situations.
(It was very funny, for example when Brooklyn Decker, the actress/model wife of tennis star Andy Roddick, correctly answered every question within seconds while Andy stood there dumbly trying to figure out how the game worked. Later he pretended to glower at everybody while saying how great it was to be emasculated on national TV “BY YOUR OWN WIFE” — a risky joke that he pulled off as the good sport he seems to be in real life.)
The show moves at such a crash pace, with the (unnecessary) live band too noisy and the (unfortunate) open bar too boozy and the (white-gloved) stagehands too quick to bring in one stupid game after another, that the center of the action falls to Jane Lynch herself.
I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at stopping arguments and explaining rules while joking with contestants and having so much fun, fun, fun in the chaos that you wonder why she took this gig in the first place.
Which brings us to that thing she said.
It happened at the start of a game in which six poster-sized Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues were randomly placed on easels in front of the two celebrity teams. Most of the models’ faces were recognizable, so the celebrities found it relatively easy to rearrange the magazines chronologically (i.e., a young Heidi Klum would be #1, a more recent model #6).
Now you have to say that in most TV game shows, the emcee would overlook the fact that here were nearly naked models, so bosomy and posed so suggestively that looking only at their faces (not their bodies) proved difficult for everyone, stars and audience alike. And this was not a cable channel — it was NBC, which has formal “standards and practices” policies about such things — so not a lot of, you know, trashy T&A talk was going to be allowed.
Still, Jane Lynch is not somebody who’s going to let an opportunity for humor pass by, so as the magazines were positioned and before the game started, she said this:
“Can I just say that as a feminist, I am appalled by these images. And as a lesbian, I am delighted!”
(Reporting on the remark, Page 6 of the New York Post spelled the last word “de-light-ed” because she did emphasize each syllable.)
The comment was so bold and unexpected that I laughed out loud, perhaps more in astonishment than anything else. Never in my whole life have I heard a gay woman wisecrack on TV about how much fun it is to be a lesbian, let alone a bawdy one.
Plus I’m also a feminist and come on, Sports Illustrated, enough with the soft porno! Quit looking like an outdated Playboy and celebrate women swimmers for athletic achievement the same way you do male swimmers.
At the same time, I wondered if Jane Lynch realized what a huge faux pas she had just made. I can’t speak for other gay women (as she shouldn’t have), but I don’t know any lesbian who would say that pimped-out female bodies with their chests and haunches in your face is appealing, let alone arousing.
Maybe if she had phrased the second sentence differently — instead of “As a lesbian,” which includes all gay women, she could have referred only to herself, as in, “But I’m a lesbian, and I’m de-light-ed!” — it wouldn’t have sounded so smarmy. But then, some of the rhythm and a lot of the humor (I guess) would have been lost.
Then I got to wondering if retail stores still cover up Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions like they used to so that children won’t see these images and assume that women exist to be objectified. Nobody wants that, and yet here is Hollywood Game Show coming on early enough and accessible enough
(by On Demand services) for all to see! How many families tuned in for some old-fashioned Charade-like fun only to see a bunch of tits filling up the screen?
That’s when it struck me that Jane Lynch might have pulled off quite a stunt. After all, she IS a feminist and she IS a lesbian. If she had said nothing about the Sports Illustrated magazines, then yes, all those kids and families and American viewers might have regarded the almost-nude models as acceptable, everyday fare.
But if she had said only that as a feminist she was appalled by the covers, a lot of people would have looked at her in horror because these days, as we all know, feminists have no sense of humor and spoil the fun for everybody.
So Jane, I’m still adding up what you accomplished by that remark:
1. You refused to let the swimsuit images go by without some kind of comment.
2. You sneaked in two references (feminist, lesbian) that were (I feel) more controversial than humorous.
3. You sacrificed a tiny bit of respect from nit-pickers like me for making all lesbians appear to “de-light” in objectifying women’s bodies. BUT in terms of stopping the show and making us all think more deeply about such matters than before, Jane, bravo. You pulled off a genuine breakthrough.