In a recent episode of HBO’s The Newsroom, Maggie, a young associate producer on the fictional cable show News Night, cut her long, blonde hair to a short, red pixie. This was foreshadowing. In a later episode, viewers found out why she cut her hair: She’d witnessed the death of Daniel, a little boy she made friends with, while reporting in Uganda. Cutting her hair was a way to express outwardly her inner trauma. She recalled a moment when Daniel touched her hair, during which the boy’s teacher told him that blonde hair was “nothing but trouble.” The connection between the memory and her decision doesn’t really make sense. If the blonde hair is a terrible reminder of the incident, the dye job would make sense, but not the cut. To make the chop all the more dramatic, emphasizing her emotional instability, Maggie cuts it off herself. Plenty of women cut their own bangs and trim their ends. Not many women try to cut a short, complex hairstyle themselves. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look very good.
Maggie’s not the only TV heroine to chop off her hair in a moment of distress. At the end of the second season of another HBO show, Girls, Hannah Horvath cuts her hair off during a period of mental illness. In Season 4 of Mad Men, Sally Draper cuts her hair for reasons that may include a desire for her father’s attention, a desire for everyone’s attention, or a need to have some form of control over her life after her parents’ divorce.
The dramatic haircut has had mixed success.
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The 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations were announced in the wee hours (of PDT, anyway) this morning, and there were actually some surprises reflecting the ascendancy of new “prestige” television, where cable reigns fully supreme. That is a rare occurrence for an awards ceremony that tends to recognize the same people over and over and over again.
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Two weeks into the new HBO series Girls, one character has emerged as the most divisive: Marnie, the gorgeous, uptight roommate of the show’s heroine, Hannah. In a discussion about the most recent episode, Slate's L.V. Anderson asked, “Does she have any redeeming qualities?”Vanity Fair's Julie Weiner echoed the sentiment, calling Marnie “a gallerina with overbearing mothering tendencies.”
Marnie is not TV’s first beautiful control freak: She fits squarely into a character type formed by Mad Men's Betty and Sex and the City's Charlotte, two stunning women with deep neuroses. Marnie, Betty, and Charlotte highlight a strange trend in highbrow television: With beauty comes a desire for control—which the character ultimately must lose in humiliating fashion.
Most television characters are physically attractive, of course, andGirls is no exception. But the other women on Girls have qualities that blunt their beauty in some way and make them seem “realer.” Jessa has her ridiculously bohemian outfits and tough attitude; Shoshanna her laughably dated Juicy jumpsuits and tense, eager-to-please smile; and Hannah her well-documented arm and tummy fat. Marnie, however, is basically physically flawless. She has beautiful hair, clear skin, and a long lean frame, and she wears classically fashionable clothes that fit her well. She has no obvious outward flaw to signal to the audience that she’s “just like us.” […]
This combination of beauty and obsessive self-control is toxic. Countless articles and video montages decry Betty’s poor parenting skills,self-pity, and all-around annoyingness. Charlotte didn’t inspire the same amount of vitriol as Betty, but still had her detractors. Over the course of the Sex and the City's six-year run she was dismissed as “dopey,” “prudish,” and “conventional.” After just two episodes, Marnie is getting the same treatment: Good magazine wonders why Hannah would ever be friends with her; Vanity Fair calls her the show’s “most polarizing character.” Even her defenders couch their approval in apology: A male reviewer at Mother Jones says, “I fully understand the kind of guff I’m inviting by reserving praise exclusively for the hot one.”
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