Tag Archives: Fairly Legal

OK, OK, Maybe It’s Not That Bad

So, I watched the first episode of Fairly Legal, the new show on the USA Network about Kate Reed (played by Sarah Shahi), a young, attractive lawyer-turned-mediator who works at her late father’s fancy shmancy law firm.  I previously lambasted the show for sexually objectifying the character of Kate in its previews and advertisements (“So, what does justice look like? About 5′ 5”, brunette, great smile . . . .”).

However, having watched the pilot episode, I feel compelled to admit that I may have been too hasty in encouraging people to contact USA and ask them to cancel the show.  What I saw on the pilot episode was completely different than what was advertised.  Kate Reed’s, or rather, Sarah Shahi’s appearance wasn’t emphasized, especially in relation to her work.  The character didn’t run her mediation sessions with her finger flirtatiously resting in her mouth like it does on all of the pictures USA decided to use to advertise the show.  Rather, the character of Kate seems to be someone who is deeply concerned with her clients’ welfare.  The pilot showed her struggling with conflicts between notions of justice and the reality of the law.  It also showed her solving problems for clients in mediation sessions in clever and creative ways.

The difference between the advertisements for the show and the show itself provide a different, and more interesting critique, I think, on marketing and popular culture.  The advertisements demonstrate what USA feels it must do or say to get you, the public, to watch its shows.  USA thinks the only way you’ll tune in is if you’re given sex.  You don’t care about justice unless it’s 5’5”, brunette, and has a great smile, right?

I noticed this marketing vs. actual product dichotomy recently with one of my Christmas presents from my father.  He gave me a DVD copy of the film, Cyrus, the cover of which makes it look pretty damn dumb.  It shows the main character, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), pushing John (John C. Reilly) away (or grabbing his chest, as I originally thought), and features the tagline, “Seriously, stay off his mom.”  This makes the film look like a silly comedy about a weird, jealous son.  I had never heard of it, and I was surprised that my dad, knowing my somewhat snooty taste in movies, gave it to me.  He had seen it and insisted that I would like it.  I watched it, and of course, my dad was right.  The DVD cover, on the other hand, was not.  In one way it is about a weird, jealous son, but it’s also one of most thoughtful and sensitive love stories I have seen in a long time.  I can’t help but wonder how many potential viewers the film lost by the decision to make that DVD cover.  As one friend who recently came over to my house said while examining the DVD, “Oh, is this good?  I like these actors, but it looks like it could be really stupid.”

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Actually, Justice Looks More Like This Show Getting Cancelled

USA is wheeling out a new “legal drama” called, “Fairly Legal,” about a woman who was a lawyer at her father’s firm, but quits after her father dies, and begins working as a mediator. The preview begins with a narrator with a male voice saying, “So, what does justice look like? About 5′ 5”, brunette, great smile . . . .” This sexy embodiment of justice, called “Kate,” is played by Sarah Shahi of “The L Word.” The preview continues with Kate doing lots of cute things, like winking at the camera, and running around in high heeled shoes and tight skirts. You can see for yourself by clicking the link…

http://widget.usanetwork.com/singleclip/singleclip_v1.swf?CXNID=1000004.19010NXC&WID=4984adb196fcedf7&clipID=1261580

Now, I’m sure a lot of people reading this will say, “What are you worried about? No one watches USA anyway.” And that may be true. But, there is always the chance that someone, especially some little girl, or a girl in middle or high school, will turn this on, and get the idea that this is what lawyers look like. Yes, girls are already bombarded with images telling them how they should look, but there is something even more appalling when these ridiculous beauty standards are tied together with a profession that does not depend on or care about the attractiveness of the people who are a part of it. Kate is portrayed as a successful attorney and a successful mediator. Her good looks and sex appeal are part of her success. All she has to do is wink at the guys and she gets her way. This presents a few problems: (1) The risk that people watching will believe that a woman needs to be “attractive” (read: look like Kate) to be a successful attorney, and/or (2) more generally, that a woman must look like Kate in order to successful at all. It also presents a problem for female attorneys who do look like Kate, but got where they are because they worked hard, and not because of their looks. Male attorneys and judges may think, “She only got this far because of the way she looks.”

It is frustrating to no end to constantly see being conventionally good-looking tied together with happiness and success for women. Jessica Wakeman, writing for “The Frisky,” points out that a man with his own show is allowed to be brilliant at his career without having to meet certain height, weight, and attractiveness requirements, and she gives the great example of “House.” House is a white, male doctor who is somewhat of a misanthrope, and also a genius at diagnosing mysterious medical conditions. Can you think of a show that starred a female professional who was brilliant at what she did, where the emphasis was not placed on what she looked like? Can you think of a show where a female who was brilliant at what she did was somewhat misanthropic? Of course not, women must be attractive AND social butterflies in order to be good at their jobs.

I still remember seeing “Ghost World” in the theater for the first time. It was like a whole new world opened up. Girls! Being misanthropic! And sarcastic! And they’re not wearing all-name-brand, shiny, gold, skin-tight crap! You should see “Ghost World,” or read the comic, if you haven’t.

As a law student, I can personally attest to the fact that the majority of women in law school do not look like this Kate character. The vast majority do not run around in high heels and wink at people. The same can be said about female lawyers I have worked with in internships. While, of course, there are many attractive women in the profession, being a good lawyer does not depend on that at all. The women I’ve met while in law school care much more about being good at what they do, and about fighting for their clients, than about what they personally look like. I have never read an opinion in which the judge decided in favor of a female lawyer for being good-looking. I have, however, heard of female lawyers being referred to as “baby,” or “sweetheart,” by male lawyers and male judges, and I’ve also heard of female lawyers receiving sexually suggestive e-mails and phone calls from male clients. As long as shows like “Fairly Legal” continue to get on the air, more men will get the idea that it is OK to treat women as sexual objects, including female professionals. It may also lead women to think it is OK. What is really scary is the idea that shows like this can make some girls think twice about going to law school because they do not look like Kate. If you are reading this, and it did that to you, listen to me very carefully:   It is all bullshit.

Call or e-mail USA to tell them that this show should be cancelled. Contact information is here.

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