One shouldn’t put a woman on a pedestal. Unless that woman is Sofia Vergara, the lovely and brilliant comedic force who stars in the hit sitcom “Modern Family.” Vergara, who’s from Colombia, gamely played a human pedestal as part of a gag on the Emmy Awards last night. And while the joke may have failed, the backlash against it is completely overblown.
Vergara introduced Bruce Rosenblum, the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, who delivered a typically boring awards-show-executive’s speech while Vergara rotated on a platform, knowingly flaunting her figure. This prompted Twitter to explode with complaints about objectification and sexism.
Perhaps some of the criticism was warranted; the TV industry has a troubling record over gender and racial diversity, and it was unclear whether the Academy was trying to be self-deprecating or ironic. Still, everyone seems to be missing the big picture. While nobody can argue that women — and Latinos— have a long way to go in Hollywood, Vergara is not the appropriate object of our ire. All of that righteous outrage, directed at her, distracts us from the conversation we should be having, about the lack of fair representation on TV screens. It also exposes a huge double standard over sexism, feminism and objectification in media.
Let’s talk about Vergara. Here’s a woman, a Latina, who’s currently the highest-paid actress on TV, precisely because of the persona she assumed at the Emmys. Her “Modern Family” character is essentially a joke on herself and stereotypes of Latinos. Now, some Latinos — a lot of us, actually — have a huge problem with that, which is a subject for a whole different column (see this and this). But mainstream audiences love Vergara and have made her a star. She deserves credit for her comedic chops. Instead, she got loudly vilified by the Twitterati, and made headlines all over the Internet.
But how many of these same Twitteristas, not even 24 hours earlier, were melting with praise for Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs? On Sunday night, “Queen Bey” performed a 16-minute, highly sexualized dance number, highlighted by perfectly-oiled, tight butts. All she had to do was put up the word “FEMINIST” behind her, in big letters, and voila — all was good.
Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist nails this newfound brand of hypocritical feminism:
When there was nothing but headless bodies featuring butts-butts-butts and a spread-eagle Beyoncé singing a song some have criticized for its lyrics joking about Ike Turner’s domestic violence, Jarrett Wieselman of BuzzFeed could not deal with the perfection. But when a fully clothed Vergara did a little comedy bit about her rockin’ bod, sound the alarm, we got a problem… I know this one’s super difficult for feminists, but being funny is a talent, too.
Backstage at the Emmys, Vergara injected some common sense of her own. Asked if she thought the pedestal skit was sexist, she answered: “I think it’s absolutely the opposite. It means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself.” She’s right: A good performance is multifaceted. Someday, there may be enough Latinas on TV that a single actress won’t have to represent all of them at once. Until then, we should resist the urge to judge Vergara for both embracing and poking fun at her image.