A recent episode of “Inside Amy Schumer” parodies the 1957 Sidney Lumet movie “12 Angry Men.” A “jury” of dudes deliberate whether Schumer is “hot enough” to be on TV. Jeff Goldblum, John Hawkes, Paul Giamatti, Nick DiPaolo, and Kumail Nanjiani are spot-on with their mimicry of the original actors from the movie—Henry Fonda, Ed Begely, Lee J. Cobb, and others.
This stinging piece is at once hysterical and poignantly critical of a male-dominated industry that perpetuates the notion that women are to be rated or scored on the basis of their physical appearance. I cannot but think of the “babe” contests loudly and proudly aired on certain male-dominated radio stations.
No doubt someone defends this man cave-caveman practice on the basis of it being all in fun. To say nothing of the fact that some women seem quite willing to participate. And yet, every time I hear one of these “competitions” hyped, I’m tempted to change the station as a matter of principle. Why I don’t is a topic for another column.
In the “12 Angry Men” parody, discussion of Schumer’s appearance takes the tenor you might expect. She’s too heavy to be on TV; not attractive enough; a bit awkward for a girl; and so forth. Doggone it! She just doesn’t turn them on!
New Hampshire Public Radio commentator Linda Holmes reviews the performance at her blog. “The detail in the critique embedded in Schumer’s satire grows,” she writes. “The men talk about how they can appreciate women who are accessible, who would clearly be grateful for their attention — you know, regular women like Rosario Dawson or Jennifer Aniston.”
They lament, these men do, that comedy’s been co-opted by Schumer and other uglies (Lena Dunham’s mentioned). Where are the Megan Fox and Kate Upton talk shows? they want to know. “They speculate with disgust that Schumer probably can’t get a man and that she probably sleeps around.”
When Schumer learns from the judge, played by Dennis Quaid, that she’s been deemed just hot enough to be on basic cable, writes Holmes, “her eager gratitude is its own send-up of how absurd it is to hold these public debates on the attractiveness of women ….
“Schumer is certainly pointing out the absurdity of many of the verdicts, but more than that, she’s pointing out the insult of having this trial in the first place. That’s why it matters that John Hawkes is the holdout: who is John Hawkes to be in charge of saving Amy Schumer from accusations that she’s not hot enough?”
Schumer barely appears in the episode. That, I think, is significant for a couple of reasons. One, the self-deprecation takes on a different dimension when the audience knows that, even though she’s not present, it’s her show, and she’s written or signed off on all its content. Two, and more subtly perhaps, we might all do well to learn, and teach, that, as Holmes puts it, such “debates” over one’s fate typically have little to do with the person per se “and take place where he or she can’t even participate.”
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.