Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Perils of Straying into Politics

In an article in the Arts section of the New York Times last week ("Equal Pay Agitator Meets the New Her"), about the new musical "9-to-5", Patrick Healy editorialized that a character in the 1980 film on which the musical was based,

emerged during the Reagan era as a symbol for women seeking equal treatment in the workplace.

On Sunday, letter writer Mark Richard responded (Letter: ‘9 to 5’: A Reagan-Era Symbol?"):

Re “Equal-Pay Agitator Meets the New Her” by Patrick Healy [April 26]:

Mr. Healy writes that the character of Violet “emerged during the Reagan era as a symbol for women seeking equal treatment in the marketplace.”

The character of Violet was created in December 1980, when the film of “9 to 5” was released, a month before Reagan took office. Apparently the behaviors deplored in the film predated his Republican administration, as they were set during the Carter years, when the Democratic Party had overwhelming control of government at almost all levels in the United States.

If Violet “emerged” as a “symbol” afterward, she was not a very persuasive one: Democrats controlled the White House for eight of the years since the film was released and the Congress for 16 of those years, without the political measures embodied in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act being enacted.

The implication that Violet became a symbol in opposition to the “Reagan era” is an example of the use of cultural narrative in the service of rather small-minded political partisanship — a trend that is limiting the usefulness of much commentary seeking to relate artworks to the real world.

Mark Richard
Columbus, Ohio

I wasn't familiar with Patrick Healy, and gave up looking for his bio after a few minutes on Google and the NY Times site, but he appears to be a young, former political reporter. The chief theater critic of the Times, the 54-year-old Ben Brantley, who is old enough to remember the zeitgeist of the 1970s, placed the '9-to-5' story squarely in the 70s in his recent review of the musical:

Though released in 1980, the movie, directed by Colin Higgins from a script by Ms. Resnick, feels very much a 1970s artifact. It reflects a time when the feminist movement (or the idea of it) was starting to settle comfortably into suburbia.

The photo above, of 9-to-5 cast members Megan Hilty, Allison Janney and Stephanie J. Block, is credited to Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

No comments: