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'Devious Maids' On TV: Thumbs Up Or Down?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Today, Texas is scheduled to execute the 500th prisoner since the death penalty was reintroduced. We are going to introduce you to Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first prisoner released from death row 20 years ago because of DNA evidence.
And he's going to give you his perspective in just a few minutes. But first, we are going to head into the beauty shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's news with our panel of women writers, journalists and commentators. Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club.
Jane Delgado is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. She's also a clinical psychologist. Bridget Johnson's back with us. She's Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's the conservative libertarian commentary and news website. They're all here in Washington, D.C. And with us from St. Louis, Missouri is Danielle Belton, editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine Online. Welcome back, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us once again.
BRIDGET JOHNSON: Hi, Michel.
VIVIANA HURTADO: Hi.
DANIELLE BELTON: Thanks for having us.
JANE DELGADO: Most definitely.
MARTIN: It's been such a busy week for the Supreme Court that I just had to start there. There were rulings on any number of issues - affirmative action, voting rights, same-sex marriage. And I just wanted to start by asking each of you, which was the most significant ruling to you and why? Viviana, will you start?
HURTADO: Yesterday, the Supreme Court pretty much gutted the Voting Rights Act, and that's the one that probably was the most impactful for me. Basically, what happened was that it's been punted back to Congress, this Congress, this Congress that can't get the most basic things done, like passing a federal budget.
And I can't help but feel that the way - that this leaves it up to some states going forward and protecting the rights of minorities and expanding participation and other rights maybe not so much. So it's 2013, but it sure sounds like pre-1965 to me.
MARTIN: Bridget Johnson, what about you?
JOHNSON: I am happy with both rulings, actually. I think this was actually a good week for the Constitution. And I will say that because on the Voter ID, it's basically saying that you do not need preclearance from the government in order to knock these laws. It doesn't mean people can't challenge them. It doesn't mean people can't go to court. It doesn't mean people can't vote against them at the polling booths.
On same-sex marriage, you know, show me an argument in front of the Supreme Court that the proponents of DOMA made that didn't violate freedom of religion. And so to just, you know - you have to ensure religious protection's going forward and make sure that, you know, clergy are protected from, you know, if they don't wish to perform same-sex marriages, etc. But all in all, you know, I'm very happy because it's constitutional on both ends.
MARTIN: Danielle, what about you?
BELTON: It's been a mixed bag for me. I was really disappointed with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court kind of punting on affirmative action, mostly because it's kind of - this attitude is permeated, like, we have a black president and people think that racism is over with. I mean, racism is still a very real problem in the workplace when it comes to voting. I mean, the Voting Rights Act worked.
You know, that was their argument for gutting it was that it's worked so well, so let's just get rid of it altogether, which just seems strange to me, you know, considering we're still living in a reality where people work for folks like Paula Deen, where you have to deal with race and racism. So I was disappointed in that particular one. I was happier today with the rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.
MARTIN: Jane Delgado, what about you?
DELGADO: For me, also was a mixed bag because I think that the Voting Rights ruling was awful. It takes into - does not take into account that people need some parameters to make positive change. Look at the things we're still talking about. We're still talking about Paula Deen and "Devious Maids."
Obviously, the Court can do one thing, but how people do that in their lives is a totally different thing. And of course, DOMA is great. I'm glad that it is out. But you know, we have a lot - you know, passing a law and implementing in peoples' hearts and behaviors, that's a different thing.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of Paula Deen - for those who don't know, the eight people who have not been following this by now...
MARTIN: ...Celebrity chef, now former Food Network host, major fallout since a court deposition revealed that she had used racially insensitive comments in the past. She and her brother are being sued by a former employee who said that there was a hostile environment, that she was subjected to sexual harassment here.
This is a white employee, by the way. This morning, Paula Deen, after previously canceling on the Today show, gave a very kind of emotional interview. And I'll just play a short clip for those who missed it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")
PAULA DEEN: If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you're out there, please, pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please, I want to meet you. I is what I is, and I'm not changing.
MARTIN: Well, Danielle, you raised the question. You know, what do you say? I mean, a lot of people are saying, you know, she's a 66-year-old woman, she was raised in a certain time, and you know...
MARTIN: ...She's paying a very heavy price for, basically, not having diversity training or whatever. What's your take on this?
BELTON: Well, I mean, it would be different, you know, if she had - I just feel like this is what happens, you know, when you do something like this in this country. I mean, you have to own up to what happened to you. You have to own up to what she said. That's the reality of it. She said something that was offensive.
She's going through this whole deposition with this employee that's suing her. I mean, essentially, her racist chickens came home to roost. Yeah, it's been brutal, you know, what's been going on, the response from people, but I mean, what do you expect? This is the response that people get regarding the use of the N-word.
MARTIN: Do you think it's overblown? I'm not sure, I think, I understand what you think about it. Do you think it's overblown? Do you think it's fair?
BELTON: I don't know, necessarily - I mean, I feel like a lot of this is media-driven, so people just tend to get really amped up, 'cause it's an easy story for people to understand. I feel like, she lost her job, that's enough. You know, she lost her job on the Food Network. I'm - you know, that - to me, that's fine. She's dealing with all these problems with her - the people she's done endorsements for. She's got a tough road to hoe to begin with, anyway. So I feel like it's been enough.
MARTIN: Viviana, what do you think about the whole thing?
HURTADO: Pardon me while I butter my Melba toast.
HURTADO: Paula Deen, in the larger scheme of things, particularly in the context of what we were just talking about, the Supreme Court decisions, really doesn't matter. What matters are the Paula Deens in positions of power in local, state and federal government that are making rules and laws that affect the way people are able to participate in our great democracy. Interestingly, it was social media where this was able to take off. Social media can shine a really harsh spotlight on the wrongs of the world.
But I think it's really important for people to be as concerned about what happened with the Supreme Court. And as this marches forward, then it is about the Paula Deens of the world. And here's another thing, her ratings, they weren't going so great on the Food Network. So it actually made...
MARTIN: You think that's why?
HURTADO: I think it contributed heavily. Are you going to really defend somebody who's not bringing home the bacon?
MARTIN: As it were. Jane, what do you think?
DELGADO: Talk about the bacon, you know, I think that there were lots of issues with her. One is that she hid her diabetes for years. She had a paid endorsement that people didn't know about. This was just, you know, icing on a cake.
But I think what has raised my concern has been the conversations on both sides that I have watched in the e-mails. That tells me our country is not where I had hoped it would be.
MARTIN: What - tell more about that. What do you mean? Like, what kinds of conversations - people saying it's no big deal or what? What is it? What is it exactly that concerns you about the conversations you've seen around this - that people are making fun of it, you think it's too mean, you think...
MARTIN: ...That people don't care? What is it?
DELGADO: I think the anger and hostility towards anyone who would be upset because someone used the N-word, and that's what surprised me. But also, just like, oh, this is nothing. No, it is something 'cause when you're a public person, it's not just the words you use, but your actions. So it's wonderful that she said she was sorry, that she didn't mean to do this or hurt anyone. But you know, sometimes you do and then you have to do something to make up for it.
MARTIN: Well, telling you, being devil's advocate for a minute here, what is it about it that you think is so important? I mean, her argument is this happened years ago, years ago. You can argue about how many years ago. The former employee, Lisa Jackson, alleges that, when talking about that plantation-style wedding, that she says that, quote, what I would really like is a bunch of little N-words to wear long-sleeved white shirts, black bow ties. Now that would be a true Southern-style wedding, wouldn't it?
Now Deen says she didn't say that, but she does admit to having used that word in the past. So other people say, well, you know, she's - not to be ageist, but that, you know, she's old, she grew up in a different time and a lot of our grandparents would use words like that. So what - tell me what you feel is so significant about it.
DELGADO: I think, first of all, that it's not acceptable to say that because someone is X, Y or Z that something inappropriate is OK. I mean, that is not tolerable in our society.
MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think?
JOHNSON: I mean, you know, I'm from LA. I don't understand the whole, I grew up around this, you know, around the house argument. I don't understand anybody who wants to hang a Confederate flag anywhere other than a museum. But you know, the libertarian side of me starts getting into fearing the free speech police. And so, you know, I'm looking at this and, you know, obviously, just what she said is offensive. I'm kind of comparing it in my mind, though, to like, you know, a John Galliano anti-Semitic-type rant on a street corner, where the fashion designer, you know, lost his career after that versus something she confessed to in a deposition and then apologized for.
You know, obviously, you know, any corporation that employs somebody, you know, who would use that kind of language has the absolute prerogative to take away somebody's contract. But I think that, you know, as we're talking about offensive language, we should just, you know, kind of have a discussion about it and think, you know, how far we want to go into policing it, so.
MARTIN: Well, in the workplace, though, I think it's - that's what a lawsuit is. I mean, I know a lot of people get very upset with lawsuits, but, you know, I would, you know, argue that's our society's way of saying, taking it outside. Let's take it outside. You know, to me, that's better than dueling with pistols, right.
I mean, that's where we sort this out, and we'll find out, I mean, if these allegations are actually valid or not. She's validated some of them and dismissed others. Well, let's switch the channel here because there's something I must ask you all about, which is this new Lifetime show called "Devious Maids." Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DEVIOUS MAIDS")
REBECCA WISOCKY: (as Evelyn Powell) You mop floors for people who don't bother to learn your last name, and still you dare to dream of a better life. I am in awe of your determination to succeed in this great country of ours. That said, if you don't stop screwing my husband, I'm going to have you deported. Comprende?
MARTIN: All righty, then.
MARTIN: The show was created by Marc Cherry, who also did "Desperate Housewives." And speaking of which, one of the stars, Eva Longoria, is an executive producer. It's an all-Latina cast. The critics have piled on, but Eva Longoria is not taking this lying down. She says that there are - that Latinas are over-indexed, as she puts it - you know, she's a very bright and well-educated woman and says that - and activist - and she says that Latinas are overrepresented among the ranks of housekeepers and that they have a right to have stories told about them, too. So Jane, what do you think?
DELGADO: Well, first of all, yes, they are over-indexed as housekeepers and so have the stories of Hispanics as women as housekeepers. You know, it's just too much. Plus, what kills me is that this is supposed to be a translation of a Spanish telenovela. The telenovela, all the characters were Hispanic, so you didn't have just the maids being Hispanics.
That's very different. Also, the title in Spanish translates into "they are the joys of the home," very different than "Devious Maids." And when we have a problem with young Latinas attempting suicide more than any other group of girls in this country, this kind of negative image is just unacceptable.
MARTIN: Viviana, what do you think?
HURTADO: Interestingly, you know, "Intellectual Maids" just is not a sexy, you know, TV show name, is it? And I want to say that the ratings on Sunday night were OK. They weren't really great. They were 2 million on the night of the debut, and they were bested, you know, almost by a third with "Mad Men's" close. I think what's interesting to note is that in telenovela culture, this trope of the maid is actually been there since the beginning of time, since Cinderella. And - but what's different is precisely what Jane said, is that you don't have - the day that we have all kinds of Latino characters, like Huck on ABC's "Scandal," who is an awesome computer programming and just happens to be Hispanic, when we have that rich fabric...
MARTIN: And also a trained killer.
HURTADO: Right, exactly...
MARTIN: Just thought I should mention that part.
HURTADO: ...Complicated kind of guy. But when we have that tapestry that shows the diversity and the richness and the contributions of Latinos in society, then I think "Devious Maids" is going to be OK just to exist within that dynamic. Right now, I think it kind of overplayed the stereotype card.
MARTIN: Bridget, what do you think? I know you're a pop-culture fiend, as well as, you know, an awesome political analyst.
JOHNSON: There was one major thing that I thought with the show, and that is the cofounder of my media organization, PJ Media, Roger L. Simon, he wrote the story for the Oscar-nominated film "A Better Life," so apparently, a conservative Jewish man can document the Latino experience better than Eva Longoria.
MARTIN: OK, not sure I got that. So are you going to watch it or not? I mean, I know that you're a libertarian, and you feel that language, speech is a free market in entertainment and so forth. But are you going to watch it or not?
JOHNSON: I don't, you know, I don't care for those types of stereotypes. You know, I don't even care when I watch a horror movie and there's always the black best friend who always dies an hour into it. You know, so it's tired. It's tired. It's a tired narrative.
MARTIN: Danielle, what do you think?
BELTON: You know, I agree with Viviana. And I mean, the reality is, if there were a bunch of different shows on network television that showed the diversity in Latino life, then, you know, who would care about "Devious Maids," you know? But that's the main thing, when the fact that you've got these four actresses who've been on so many different shows, who've been successful in their own right and when they finally get, you know, a job, this is the job that they get.
It's kind of the same argument that surrounded "The Help" when the film came out in the African-American community. It's like, yes, you want to be excited that, hey, you got a job. That's great. You got a really good role. That's wonderful. Oh, you're playing a maid. Oh, you know...
BELTON: ...It's disappointing.
MARTIN: Here's a question I have for my pop culture vultures here, which is how do people get the programming that they do want? That's the question I get. I mean, I - you remember...
MARTIN: Well, when "The Cosby Show" was a top ten show for years, I mean, it was - and yet people criticized that show. They said, oh, having the doctor, lawyer, mom and a functional household was not realistic, so they were criticized for that. But it was a very popular show. How do you get the programming that you like, that you feel creates a kind of a balanced constructive dialogue? How does that happen? Because all the popular shows these days all seem to have something about it that just makes people feel kind of sick.
Even in "Mad Men," which is an incredibly popular show, critically acclaimed, I personally don't have a need to go back to the days when, you know, women had to be, you know, used as sort of sex objects in the workplace to keep their job. I don't have a need to watch that. How do you get what you want, Bridget? I don't know.
JOHNSON: I feel like the networks are trying to play catch-up with the excellent shows that are showing on pay cable, on HBO and Showtime, etc. And - but that they think that the way to do it is to just strip out the shocking elements and not necessarily the good writing that happens on those shows.
MARTIN: Viviana, final thought?
HURTADO: Well, I didn't watch "Devious Maids" because I went out on a date.
HURTADO: So you know, am I going to watch it? Perhaps, but you know what, I go to social, and I see what people are tweeting about, and then I, you know, pick it up on demand.
MARTIN: OK. Jane, what about you? Final thought?
DELGADO: I think we have to get the sponsors to sponsor good programming, and that's what we need.
MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll see. Thank you all so much. Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, the conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Jane Delgado is president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and a clinical psychologist, here with us in Washington, D.C. And with us from St. Louis, Danielle Belton is "The Black Snob" - that's her pop culture and politics blog - and also editor-at-large of Clutch Magazine Online. Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.
HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.
BELTON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.