It’s a lonely burden working as a female anchor/journalist over at Fox News. Yes, you are provided a once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve national fame and a fortune, but the occupational hazards are enormous. For one thing, there is the ever present threat of employment termination for refusing the sexual advances of your predatory boss who also happens to be one of the most powerful men in the media. Then there is that unrealistic expectation that you must always remain youthful and wrinkle free, so women who take off their make-up or gain weight need not apply. Finally, there is that shameful requirement to spew out right-wing, racist “talking points” to a rabid, gullible fan base desperate to have their prejudices validated. All of this is done in service to bolsterthe morally abhorrent white power structure which is an integral part of the patriarchal system in the United States. It’s a system meant to keep people of color and other disadvantaged groups in their place. And it is a morally repugnant system which was very good to women such as Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, the female protagonists of the film BOMBSHELL, as long as they played by the repugnant rules which they did for years.
BOMBSHELL is a film which depicts the sexual harassment and toxic work environment that was a daily reality for many of the women who worked there. The fact that a major film dealing with this topical subject was ever produced and distributed is a noteworthy accomplishment. But the film is also a disappointment because it is largely a by the numbers account of what happened that never takes its female protagonists to task. It fails to address that perhaps these women were morally complicit in doing the bidding of Fox News, a truly dangerous media conglomerate that has enabled the rise of white nationalism, racism, and sexism, the likes of which our country hasn’t seen in generations. And in Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carslon they had willing foot soldiers who merely posed as journalists. Their blonde, all-American persona gave them a thriving career in that hostile environment, thus paving the way to host their own national television shows.
Am I being too hard on this film and its depiction of the female protagonists? After all, they are not responsible for the sexual advances of a predator like Roger Ailes. But the film utterly fails to acknowledge the sheer awfulness of the views that these two women espoused to a national audience, all while posing under the guise of journalism. This has had a devastating implication for our culture that can’t be underestimated. Megyn Kelly has a history of offensive and racist comments. A Google search brings to light some of her greatest hits including her approval of wearing blackface for a Halloween costume, and her insistence that Jesus Christ and Santa Claus were both white. While Kelly may not grasp that Santa Claus is a mythical figure and Jesus Christ was of Middle Eastern and not European origin, surely she understood that such a bizarre argument sounds a little as if she is advocating for the supremacy of “white” folks.
Gretchen Carlson has an even more troublesome history regarding her defense of far right ideology. Her great contribution to political discourse as a “journalist” include disparaging the very real struggles of the LGBTQ community, and questioning the citizenship and religion of Barack Obama, thus fanning the flames of bigoted conspiracy theories that gave rise to birtherism. The film now wants us to view these women as worthy of our sympathy. This is sloppy, intellectually dishonest storytelling that borders on irresponsible as it fails to give the audience a complete and nuanced depiction of the lead characters it is presumably portraying. In one laugh-out-loud scene, Carlson hosts a segment where she is make-up free and lectures the audience regarding the evils of objectifying women. This is her version of a principled defense of feminism. Meanwhile, she delivers her speech with perfectly styled bleach blond hair and not a hint of self-awareness. The audience is expected to find her great defense of women’s rights as brave, but I found it gimmicky and shallow. Everyday millions of women go through life without wearing make-up, and we don’t ask to be applauded for it. If we are to find this individual as brave, then she must do something to earn it. Perhaps she could have used her voice to speak out in defense of historically disadvantaged groups to which she is not a member. At the end of the segment, Roger Ailes shouts at her, “No one wants to watch a middle-aged woman sweat her way through menopause.” Given the blatant disrespect shown to women by Fox News over the years, these words couldn’t have come as a surprise to Carlson.
BOMBSHELL is a film which had great potential to be a powerful indictment against a media conglomerate that utilizes shoddy reporting to bolster their racist, sexist, hawkish, reactionary worldview. It was and is a powerhouse that will destroy anyone or anything that gets in its way. The female leads of BOMBSHELL understood that moral rot was an integral part of the system, but as long as it benefited them, they looked the other way and happily contributed to the ugliness. The more compelling story is that of women who are inevitably betrayed by an inhumane machine that they had enabled before it turned on them once they no longer served the machine any purpose.
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