Robot 6

Quote of the day #2 | “We have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing”

Dan Harmon and the cast of Community (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

Dan Harmon and the cast of Community (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

[AV Club]: You’ve employed a lot of female writers, in both seasons. That’s not true of a lot of other TV comedies. Was that a conscious decision?

Dan Harmon: It was conscious on the part of [former NBC programming head] Angela Bromstad, before she left NBC. Angela said, “Get more women on your staff. Make it half women.” I remember going, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to myself. “Okay, I got a sitcom, and this is as far as you go,” because I’ve just been told that half of my staff needs to be a quota hire. From the mouths of bureaucrats come the seeds of great things. I dug extra hard. You find somebody like Hilary Winston. You find people later like [Emily] Cutler and [Karey] Dornetto.

They’re harder to find. It’s definitely not because women ain’t funny, because I’m finding the opposite. It’s because there’s fewer of them. The statistical probability of picking up a shitty script, it’s compounded for women. There’s the same percentage of genius happening in both genders, but there’s less women writing scripts and out there looking for the job. So you dig a little extra-hard, and you end up with a staff that took a few extra meetings and a few extra shitty scripts to read. Now you have a staff that is just as good as the staff you would have had, but happens to be half women. And it seems like the greatest thing in the world, because the world is half women. And the male writers across the board, from top to bottom, in their most private moments drinking with me, when they’re fully licensed to be as misogynist, reactive, old-boy-network as they want, all they can say is, “This turned out to be a great thing.”

…I don’t have enough control groups to compare it to, but there’s just something nice about feeling like your writers’ room represents your ensemble a little more accurately, represents the way the world turns.

Race is another thing entirely. It would be fantastic to have 18 percent black writers on your TV staff and stuff. But the fact is, black women have ovaries and white women have ovaries; black men have testicles and white men have testicles, so actually, race is far more an artificial construct than gender. There’s a literal, actual difference between men and women, and it’s in their blood, and it’s in their brains, and it’s in their fingertips, and it’s in our conversations. I think women are different, and I think having them in the room is crucial to a family comedy, ensemble comedy, television comedy, where half the eyeballs on your show are women. As it turns out, I think Megan’s the only female writer who’s staying this year, so now, even though Bromstad’s gone, now I’m carrying this legacy, going, “Eh, guys, we really need a half-female writing staff.” I would teach it. I think we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing.

–Dan Harmon, creator of the NBC sitcom Community, in the middle of an unforgettably long and candid episode-by-episode interview on his show’s second season with The Onion AV Club’s Todd Van Der Werff — technically “not comics,” but as relevant to this medium as any other. When you go out of your way to include more non-white, non-straight, non-dude creators (or characters, or panel participants), you’re not cutting yourself off, you’re opening yourself up. You’re not importing less-qualified people, you’re gaining access to eminently qualified people whom you might otherwise have ignored thanks to centuries of culture and a lifetime of ingrained, unexamined habits regarding who you hang out with, who you talk to, who you listen to, who you’ve worked with, whose opinions you’ve been conditioned to take seriously. When you force yourself to work around that, bang, a new world opens up to you, a world more reflective of the one we all actually live in, a world full of people whose differing experiences can only make your final product stronger by complementing your weaknesses and complimenting your strengths. (I get what Harmon is saying about the difference between gender and race, but I think the principle applies in either case.)

Within certain parameters, a monocultural lineup may make sense, and I think it behooves those of us who argue for the inclusion of non-white non-straight non-male people in a creative team or superhero team or panel or article or exhibit to have candidates ready to hand, but that’s almost always a vanishingly low hurdle to clear. Harmon’s quote, Cord Jefferson’s recent Good Magazine piece calling for a boycott of all-white-dude panels by white dudes, Erin Polgreen’s Graphic Ladies tumblr, and Tom Spurgeon’s repeated calls for a comics-industry version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” have all provided nourishing food for thought on this point for me as a straight white dude who’s been privileged enough to overlook this sort of thing in the past. This is something it’s within our power to change, and make comics the better for it.

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Comments

5 Comments

Stating the obvious never sounded so sweet.

Looking through comics these days you would think Gail Simone and Amanda Conner are the only women professionals available and they always seem to appear on ‘girl comics’. You cannot tell me there is only one female writer worth a steady gig. Can a woman not write Batman ongoing?

This month, Kelly Sue DeConnick becomes the first female writer to write Supergirl without a male co-writer and she’ll become the first to write more than one issue of a Supergirl ongoing (including Adventure and Action Comics backups) period. IN 50 YEARS!

I brought this up over at Bleeding Cool on the 12th:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/forums/showthread.php?44079-Gendercrunching-The-DC-Relaunch&p=198585#post198585

I’m glad that others are doing the same.

This is a good thread (ignoring the obvious trolls) and there’s some creator input in there, too:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/forums/showthread.php?44079-Gendercrunching-The-DC-Relaunch

We’ve had a couple stop by in the other recent thread on the matter (concerning Gail Simone and another comics professional) here:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/forums/showthread.php?44234-Gail-Simone-And-B-Clay-Moore-The-Gender-Politics-Of-The-DC-Relaunch

Harmon’s so close to being right-on about this, and then he loses completely in the last paragraph quoted here. FFS, it’s not about reproductive organs – it’s about shared experiences of being in the world, i.e. of how the world treats you due to your apparent/visible gender. So fair representation of racial diversity – experiences of how the world treats people of colour *because* of their colour – is absolutely an equally desirable and necessary goal, and it’s ridiculous to claim otherwise.

It’s true, race is neither an unassailable divide between people or an infallible guide to someone’s personality/intelligence/interests (any more than gender is) – but it does shape the way people act in and perceive the world, because for better or worse it shapes the way the world acts towards and perceives *them*. Colour blindness is not a virtue, because it blinds us to the fact ways in which the world is not a level playing field.

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