Music Television Becomes Activism: MTV’s Sweet/Vicious Voice on Assault

The smartest show on TV…is on MTV.

Yeah, that MTV. The channel that long ago ceased playing their namesake music videos and instead became the primary purveyor of belittling content chronicling the spoilt, reckless or sadly self-promotional new American teenager (SEE: Jersey Shore, My Super Sweet 16, Jackass).

I wouldn’t expect MTV to shy away from risk. It has always been provocative.

But, advocative? You wouldn’t anticipate that the folks who brought 16 and Pregnant to the masses (and by “masses”, I clearly mean “impressionable, vulnerable teenagers”) would end up making the most activist-minded female content on cable.

But, in fact, they have. MTV took the delicious camp of its previous unscripted content, added legitimate talent and took a stand against the societal issues that for so many recent years have been the exploitational bread and butter of its brand.

The premise is simple: two masked vigilante co-eds take abusers’ justice into their own hands.

Sweet/Vicious, from creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, would certainly have been a dynamite pitch. But it’s clear that having veteran producer/writer and showrunner Amanda Lasher (Gossip Girl) at the helm lends a legitimacy and deftness never before seen on the cable channel.

The show has all of the humor, levity and pop-y design (SEE: Taylor Dearden’s graphic-novel-green hair) of a Gossip Girl or a Scream Queens, but there is a dedicated commitment to the commentary central to its concept that is wickedly intelligent, refreshing and necessary. What could easily be witless or exploitational, is – instead – a wisely-crafted, candy-coated ass-kicking of campus rape culture.

Sweet/Vicious is both entertaining to watch and inspiring as a new model for revolutionary, inciting content.  

Damaged-but-determined and adorably-dimpled Jules (Eliza Bennett) and punky-sarcastic-but-honorable Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) are a classically delightful and relatable teenage TV duo, upgraded for the 21st century as tech-savvy, enviably badassed crusaders. They are the millennial Buffy and Faith, armed with feminism, fighting the patriarchy rather than the undead. Or…perhaps [since in all my MTV programming references have been antagonistic], they are live-action Daria and Jane: less snarky and misanthropic, but similarly well-balanced and steadfast and aided by taut martial arts choreography.

The show never forgets its ultimate calling and treats the moments where we drop into the victims’ private experiences with respect and a deserved dignity. The writing staff does a phenomenal job, too, of thoroughly exploring all potential injustices of their setting by not stopping at male-on-female sexual abuse. The commentary on campus culture – institutions’ refusal to ensure the rights provided by Title IX, bullying, girl-on-girl assault, race issues, social media – is comprehensive and scathing.

Sweet/Vicious is a show that makes me proud to be a girl. The leads are written and performed with realism. Even the secondary female characters are given dynamic storylines that allow for positive and accurate female representation over stereotypes. The negative portrayals have intention and purpose. And though the presentation of the show’s campus parallels our real world in which women or minorities or the disenfranchised often walk in fear for their literal safety, the message Sweet/Vicious emphatically voices is that we are not alone and we have a voice.

So, thank you, MTV, for content with a voice.

Thank you for programming that is willing to stand up and say what needs to be said, no matter how disquieting it may be.

Sweet/Vicious is a much-needed respite from material that pities or perverts and a brave call-to-action that I, for one, am proud to put on my figurative mask and join.

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Sweet/Vicious airs on MTV on Tuesdays, 10/9c. Episodes also available via iTunes.

 

Taking Their Power Back

I wasn’t sexually assaulted in college. I was one of the lucky ones. I went to a small, private, liberal arts college in Minnesota filled with wholesome, community-minded students and a faculty of passionate, dedicated, hard-working mentors.

But I’m not naive. I know the statistics. One out of five college women are raped during their time in school, and one out of sixteen men. The survivors were my friends and my classmates. And the attackers were, of course, their friends and classmates.

It is no secret that we are failing sexual assault survivors on virtually every level in this country (and around the world, but that is for a much bigger, more involved conversation). The epidemic was beautifully and heart-wrenchingly shown in 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground. News articles with headlines like “X University’s Rape Problem” and “The Problem with Title IX” pop up in my feed on a daily basis. So I wasn’t surprised to find my own beloved St. Olaf College in the news for failing to protect and defend its’ students.

But I was inspired. Not by the reports of severe case mismanagement, fishy legal gymnastics, and utter disregard for the survivors’ emotional and physical well being. I was inspired by how these brave survivors have responded to St. Olaf’s failings.

Madeline Wilson (and a group of other kick ass survivors) brought these issues to local and national attention this week by wearing ASK ME HOW MY COLLEGE IS PROTECTING MY RAPIST shirts around campus. They’ve also launched a website outlining their grievances with the institution and offering a safe space for other survivors to come forward and enter the conversation. They’ve banded together to support one another emotionally, and hold St. Olaf accountable for its failings. Instead of allowing their experiences to silence them, they are taking their power back. And while my heart breaks for what they have experienced, they are the reason I am proud to be an Ole.

Unfortunately, I think it is going to be a very long time before sexual assault survivors are treated with the care, attention, and compassion they deserve. And I think it is going to be an even longer time before sexual assaulters are treated with the severity and consequences they deserve. But in the meantime, Wilson and co. are setting an incredible example of how to work around a flawed system and to inspire change from a grassroots level. It’s inspiring, brave, and revolutionary.

Thank you, Madeline, for channeling your power, your brain, and your voice. I am so grateful for how you are drawing attention to this horribly pervasive problem.

Check out their work here:

https://mycollegeisprotectingrapists.wordpress.com/

Angela Gulner, St. Olaf Class of 2009

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Women, work and wolves.

Dear Miss Matters,

I’d always heard that working in an office environment with women had the potential to be unpleasant, but until recently I’d never experienced it myself. Now, however, I’m faced with a tough situation. My former boss, who had a great deal of power over me before the company split, has done her level best to grind me down to sawdust. I started off for the company feeling terrific, but over the course of two years this woman took every available opportunity to belittle me in front of others, and to speak poorly about my clothing, hair, make up, skills, intelligence and weight to her friends and our fellow co workers when I was not present. Frankly, it hurt. A lot. I tried everything in my power to be likable and friendly, but it seemed that there was just something about me that offended my former boss to such an extent that she took to mocking even my tone of voice on the phone. I was left bewildered and sad. I was not the only one she did this to. Continue reading

“Oh, Rosalind! Rosalind! [I]t’s a poor substitute at best.”

Dear Miss Matters, 

It’s been four months since my boyfriend of a year gave me a sorry excuse for not being interested in the work required of a healthy, mature relationship. He broke my heart and I’ve been trying my best to mend and stop missing him. So I was pretty wrecked all over again when I found out from mutual friends that “Mister I-have-to-be-alone-so-I-can-figure-out-who-I-am-outside-of-a-relationship” has quickly found a friend-with-benefits (who also apparently looks a lot like I do. Eek.). Continue reading

Welcome to Miss Matters

First thing’s first: a formal introduction:

My name is Alexis. I have spent the last 10 years working in a professional capacity as a tutor/mentor/informal educational therapist/academic consultant.

I’ve always been curious about blogging. I like writing. But I didn’t want to sit at my computer and spout poorly-quoted philosophy.

When I asked myself what I – as a reader – would look for in a blog, I wanted interactivity. I always find that when I have one question answered, another 45 questions follow. And I find that the best part of being a mentor, or one who professionally dishes out advice, is the opportunity both the advice-giver and the advice-seeker have to learn from their shared experiences. I have no interest in pretending that I have all the answers. So this blog will be a collaboration.

With your help, lovelies, and with the inclusion of guest editors’ columns, I invite you to help create a community within which we can all learn and share and challenge and inspire…and matter. This community is a place for questions and concerns and answers and support. This is a space where women of all generations can meet and mingle and share their personal experiences so they may help another woman on her own journey.

Welcome to the 21st century version of the age-old advice column.

Welcome to Miss Matters.

Have a question? Need a friendly ear? Some life advice?

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