Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Ugly Truth

My profound loathe for Grey's Anatomy is by now the stuff of legend. I couldn't be more serious about the fact that if tomorrow morning the craft services truck on the set of this abysmally bad show exploded into a ball of flame, setting Patrick Dempsey's hair on fire, causing him to then run screaming into his fellow cast-members, systematically burning them alive one-by-one, I'd grab a nice cold beer and smile that justice had finally been served and the quality of network television had improved just a tiny bit.

Unfortunately, such a felicitous reckoning would still leave us with Ugly Betty.

Look, I don't want to rain on the fiesta of the many who strangely believe that this gruesome weekly spectacle constitutes a refreshing and brash step forward for the cause of Hispanic-American crossover television; but its popularity -- not to mention its beatification at the hands of a self-congratulatory Hollywood -- doesn't change one very simple fact: it's not a very good show. At face-value -- no pun intended -- its writing is pedestrian and hackneyed, essentially taking one premise and drawing it out not just for one hour, but for another and another and another. I get it. Betty's unattractive but plucky. She overcomes the animus/prejudice of those around her by the sheer force of her good nature, indomitable spirit and the powers she apparently derives from wearing the cape of little-known South-of-the-Border superhero Guadalajaraman. She proves that true beauty is on the inside and through this educates the ignorant, infuriates the vainglorious and fascinates everyone else -- occasionally without even meaning to.

Scratch the surface though, and there's something about the show that really rubs me the wrong way.

Ugly Betty is almost Wizard of Ozian in its disparate portrayals of cultures -- Hispanic vs. Anglo. Betty's co-workers -- her non-ethnic co-workers -- are almost exclusively cast as soulless and superficial; they're prosaic drones whose sole purpose seems to involve doing little more than creating a one-dimensional, monochromatic background against which Betty can so brilliantly contrast. Betty's own household meanwhile is a nearly insuppressible explosion of color, passion and pathos -- with her family portrayed as a bunch of delightfully charming, eminently lovable middle-class eccentrics. They're adorable, fun and above-all, progressive in their seemingly bottomless reservoir of acceptance and lack of prejudice.

It's easy to see which side of the cultural coin the producers come down on.

It goes without saying however that it's never a good idea to attempt to subvert one negative stereotype by perpetuating another -- particularly when the latter is cast in a villainous role.

I have no doubt that the creators of Ugly Betty and its titular star, America Ferrara, will continue to be diefied in the media and by Hollywoood simply for the ground they've broken -- and of course, because it's fashionable and fiscally prudent given the size of the Hispanic demographic which now calls the contiguous forty-eight home. I just wish that they'd created a show that was a little less insulting -- and a lot less dumb.

Anybody know Lou Dobbs's phone number?

Maybe he can get Betty deported.

Incidentally, I deserve a medal for not making a "Vote for Pedro" joke.

(About the picture -- I do my best to stay away from inside jokes on this site, but this time the opportunity was just too perfect. There was no way in hell I was going to force myself to stare at Ugly Betty's, well, ugliness everytime I opened the page -- amazingly though, when I ran "Ugly Betty" through Google image search, the above picture of Sam the Eagle came up. I post it for Matt K., Matt S., Chris, Spencer, Jayne -- and of course, Casey.)


A Bowl Of Stupid said...

Dude, you make milk come out my nose.

kali said...

You had me dying with maniacal laughter from that "Grey's Anatomy" imagery, but I must respectfully disagree about "Ugly Betty".

Albeit I have watched maybe six or seven episodes but I will admit to being attracted (as a hispanic woman) to watching a show that centers around a sweet girl who's trying to learn to stand on her own two feet. Can it be ridiculous? Oh, yes. It's based off of a very famous telenovela and remains true to it's loony soap opera beginnings. The absurd plotlines and characters have only slightly more depth than "Desperate Housewives".

As for the 'Hispanic vs. Anglos' aspect of your point, I always viewed the show as portraying the fashion world in a villianous light, not necessarily anglos however it is understandable how some may see it that way. However I can't help but notice that it's Vanessa Williams who's portrayed as the biggest bitch.

Spencer said...

Laura's anonymity be damned, I just want to make you laugh. If your comments allowed image tags, I'd leave this picture:

Alas, I am impotent in your domain.

Shane said...

Well, if given the choice between Ugly Betty and, oh say, the mind-numbingness of Mind of Mencia, I'll take my Hispanic stereotypes with the heaping helping of 'gay' on top, thanks. It's maybe not as good as Devil Wears Prada, but it certainly fills the void until the Next Big Gay Thing comes along (read: Season 4 of Project Runway).

You may be right. Ugly Betty may not be the best show on television, but it is kinda fun. And guessing that you are heterosexual, you at least get to spend the hour enjoying the titular delights that are Vanessa Williams and Rebecca Romjin. I mean, hell, if you won't let us look to the news for escapism anymore, we have to look somewhere!

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge,

Chez said...


I figured someone would bring up the argument that Vanessa Williams isn't "Anglo" per se. Come on though -- if you're inclined to refer to her as an African-American, then there's no denying that her character is intended lean further toward "American" than "African." It's more about her nationality than it is her race.

As for the show's slam at the fashion industry (which, having to endure the cultural affliction known as Fashion Week in my place of residence I'll readily admit is a ripe target for ridicule), would someone please tell me how the hell an overweight, style-challenged, hideous fucking chud of a kid is supposed to have gotten a job in the fashion world to begin with? What did they need leaves blown off the sidewalk or something and then found that they couldn't get rid of her?

Yeah I know -- I suck.


Huh? THAT'S what you watch for your televisual gay fix? There's an entire cable network now devoted to gay programming -- two if you count Bravo -- and you turn to a show whose main character is (see above description)? You're a serious underachiever -- although I'll admit that Ugly Betty features the single most annoying gay character on television: that queeny little kid makes Carson Kressley look like Lee Marvin.

And if for whatever reason I wanted to subject myself to excruciating pain just to catch a glimpse of Rebecca Romijn, I'd rent Femme Fatale.

Nothin' but love man. : )

John said...

My only problem with the show (aside from the fact that Alexis Arquette was not cast as the crazy tranny) is that it perpetuates the myth that dowdiness somehow equals inner beauty. If there were any truth to the show it would be called That Girl Who Wore Sweatpants To School Every Day And Always Smelled A Little Bit Like Urine. And nobody wants to watch a show about her.

Chez said...

I swear to god John -- the gayest thing about this topic/thread is how completely in love with you I am.

You fucking rule.

kali said...

"What did they need leaves blown off the sidewalk or something and then found that they couldn't get rid of her?"

That almost made Coca Cola come out of my nose. Very painful. This is why I dig the hell out of this site. Point noted on the "American" aspect.

As far as how this kid got the gig in the fashion world? I'm pretty damn sure it's intended as a modern day fairy tale where the not so pretty girl gets to go to the ball and have Salma Hayek pat her on the shoulder while cooing how lovely she is.

On thinking about it, I'd do a whole hell of alot to have Salma coo in my ear.

Chez said...

Saaaaaaalmaaaaa. Look what I've goooooot.

Mmmmm, a burrito -- aaaaaall for you.

Come on over here baby.

Daphne said...

Maybe it's just me, but I find the main character of Betty annoying as hell. Probably the most annoying on the show. If she could, like, not be in the show at all, I would be quite happy. I think John hit the nail on the head - dowdiness does not equal inner beauty in all cases. Frankly, I find Betty to be a hypocrite, a bit self-righteous, and rather passive-aggressive. Which is fine, she's certainly not the first, or only, TV character with said traits, but wrapping it up in a package with braces, uncombed hair, and poor sense of coordination doesn't make it "inner beauty." Please producers - don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining. Thanks.

Shane said...

Chez...this website and its postings are some of the most chauvinistic offerings I've read on the web in quite some time, and I'm not sure, but I kinda think they might be a little bit racist as well.

My point?

GOD, this site makes me miss college where things were all NCAA '95 on Playstation and Playboy channel all the time!

In a world where I tend to be surrounded by mostly gay guys, every now and again, it's nice to get a whiff of actual testosterone. And now that I realize just how gay THAT actually sounded, I'm probably just gonna go cut myself and watch last week's episode of Ugly Betty on TIVO.

Your biggest gay fan (and I mean that strictly in a Kathy Bates way),

Harris said...

If you think Grey's Anatomy is the nadir of woman-centric TV, you've clearly never seen Brother's and Sisters. The problems of wealthy Californian (I think it's California but as there's no blacks or Mexicans it's no California I've ever been to) white people do not make for compelling television. I won't even discuss Calista Flockhart doing that flustered-yet-cute-chick -with-a-bony-ass thing she's been doing for more than a decade. Yet my wife is hooked on this crap. Every time she turns that show on I lose a little respect for her intelligence.