At Monday night’s Emmy Awards, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences President Bruce Rosenblum decided to spice up his annual rote spiel about the academy’s mission by inviting Modern Family actress Sofia Vergara to stand on a rotating pedestal and pose mutely. As Vergara mimed a clueless international bimbo shtick—”If that’s how you do it in American television, OK!” she said as she moved into position—Rosenblum championed the academy’s commitment to diversity. “Our academy is more diverse than ever before, both in front of and behind the camera, resulting in a greater diversity of storytelling,” he said. (Vergara pretend-struggles to face the audience as the pedestal slowly turns her ass toward viewers.) “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.” (Vergara touches her ass.)
How diverse is the academy? It does not disclose its demographics, but they’ve supposedly improved since 1946. What we do know, courtesy of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, is that women comprised 28 percent of behind-the-scenes roles in network television shows during the 2012–13 season, and that does constitute a (depressing) improvement since the 1990s. Last year, 43 percent of speaking roles on television went to women, but female characters were more likely to be young and less likely to have an obvious job; they were also more likely to be skinny and sexualized.
Vergara later defended the bit, saying that it represented “absolutely the opposite” of objectification because “it means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself.” Possible alternate interpretations of the academy’s message: Women on TV can be funny as long as they are also hot; the academy believes that television is so totally gender-equitable that it’s free to objectify women as a joke; when you are a woman working in television and the president of your industry’s most powerful organization asks you to serve as his car model for the evening, you serve as his car model for the evening.
I appreciate Rosenblum for daring to make TV’s woman problem so glaringly obvious: The actress on a pedestal, the male president delivering the speech, and the true demographics of the 19,000 Emmy voters too unimportant—or else embarrassing—to even mention. (Leaving Vergara to answer for the bit was another nice touch.) Stephen Colbert, meanwhile, took television’s commitment to under-representing women one step further last night when he publicly acknowledged that he employs very few women, and then clarified that he doesn’t really care.
Just before Rosenblum took Vergara for a spin, Colbert took the stage to accept the Emmy for Most Outstanding Variety Series and gave a shoutout to the show’s writers (who also won an Emmy this week): “I’m so proud of those guys, and one woman,” he said. “Sorry for that, for some reason?”
That’s one woman, by the way, out of 19 writers—upward of 5.2 percent! Rosenblum’s bit made him look clueless, but Colbert’s pronouncement was particularly annoying because fans of his show know he really does understand why hiring women is important: He’s built a career lampooning conservatives for, among other things, pretending to value women but never actually investing in them. Let’s hope that at his next gig, he holds himself to the same standard as the jerks he skewers.