Okay, this isn’t the most earth-shattering thing in the world, but this is so upsetting. I am a fan of both John Cho and Karen Gillan’s, and so I’m devastated to see that they’re going to star in an ABC sitcom called Selfie, based on Pygmalion, that looks unbelievably sexist and terrible. The premise, from this video at least, is that Eliza Dooley is an egregious misogynist stereotype of a bubble-headed narcissist and John Cho plays Henry Higgins, who is apparently going to fix her by teaching her, in part, to be more humble and self-effacing. Also, for some reason, she has to learn to dress down a little, because god forbid a woman attract attention.
This trailer has it all, starting with the ridiculous assumption that women who take selfies are terrible people. This trailer is a perfect encapsulation of the trap set for women: We’re supposed to be beautiful, but we’re supposed to make it look both effortless and take no pride in it. We’re supposed to be eye candy, but god forbid we actually want positive attention. And, of course, everything about a woman is supposed to be tailor made not just to male tastes, but to a specific kind of male taste, the taste for self-effacing, humble, but still knockout gorgeous women. (Men who actually like women who are loud or garish or proud supposedly don’t exist.) The possibility that a woman might dress for herself and for fun is beyond the pale. You’re not supposed to be a human being, ladies, but a J. Crew catalog.
But what makes this particularly enraging is that the source material stands in opposition to all of this. The original play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw comes across as some kind of feminist manifesto compared to this. Here, let J.F. Sargent at Cracked explain:
[T]he end of Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play that My Fair Lady is adapted from, ends with Doolittle leaving Higgins to stew in his own grumpy, cruel juices, because that is the entire goddamn point of the story. Shaw wrote Pygmalion in order to subvert the narrative trope that a male lead always gets the girl. The end of the play is Doolittle walking out the door, setting off as an independent woman to do whatever she balls well wants. It’s an ambiguous ending, which is the point: What she actually does is less important than her decision to think and act for herself.
Eliza doesn’t need Henry Higgins. She needs Man Repeller.
Of course, as Sargent points out, allowing women to think for themselves has repulsed audiences since this play first debuted, and so it was hastily revised by the director so that Eliza accepts Henry’s abuse and chooses to be his wife. (Leading Shaw to say that the director “ought to be shot”.) Of course, My Fair Lady, the musical based on Pygmalion, goes with the revised ending. Since this is a sitcom and that “they have to end up together” urge is still in play, I expect this will go the same way.
Or maybe not. Maybe this is a bait-and-switch and the person who will learn a lesson is Henry, who has to learn to stop being a judgmental asshole and to appreciate Eliza for who she is. But that seems implausible, as they’ve gone out of their way to make her an outrageous misogynist stereotype that no one could actually like. So, yeah. Bummer.
I would like to see a revitalization of Pygmalion that stuck to the original ending and original meaning, however. Now that would be amazing.