Do men only want to watch fellow men on screen?

Single, middle-aged women are now a disappearing alien race on television. Why?

Back in February, Mike White floated his theory on male and female protagonists on television and movie screens to Vulture: “If I have a male protagonist, it’s a studio movie, and if it’s a female protagonist, it’s an indie movie,” he said. “It’s not about the studios. It’s about America and who goes to see movies. Women are interested in men and women, and men aren’t interested in the woman’s story. They just aren’t. That’s just how it is.” His words brought up a half-forgotten memory; a 2005 study at Queen Mary, University of London into the reading habits of the sexes made a finding similar to White’s: while women seem happy to read the works of both male and female authors, men stick to books written by men. Mike White is more qualified than most to make that kind of statement. After all, he’s a Hollywood veteran – working as a writer, actor, director and producer across television and cinema. His latest show, comedy-drama Enlightened, was only recently cancelled by HBO after just two (critically acclaimed but audience-shy) seasons. Is he right? Do men only want to watch fellow men on screen?

I’ve not seen a full episode of Enlightened, which stars Laura Dern as a formerly high-flying executive who re-assesses her life after a nervous breakdown and rehab, and becomes a "do-gooder". But I have seen several clips and read what feels like a million think pieces on what Dern’s somewhat unlikeable character Amy Jellicoe means for women, both in the context of modern Western femaleness, and in the current television landscape. Whatever she may have been, she seems excellently written and acted – Dern won a Golden Globe for her performance – and the show (which she co-created with White) was nominated in the Best Series category as well. On that point alone, it’s a shame that it’s been cancelled. Because despite what sometimes feels like a crowded space, filled with interesting, dynamic and human female characters, there is still room for more. How do we get audiences watching these women? Pressingly, how do we get men to watch these shows?

The most talked and written about TV show of the last year or so has been Girls. It, too, is a product of the HBO stable. Like Enlightened, it is co-executive produced by its (white, female) star, in this case Lena Dunham, who has also won Golden Globes in the same categories as Enlightened. The two shows have more in common: a flawed, not-so-easy-to-like lead character, who almost gleefully falls down and rolls around in her flaws to the bemusement of others; with time, a change of coast and continued, uninterrupted and concentrated narcissism, Hannah could quite easily turn into Amy, I think. But then the shows begin to differ. The biggest difference is the one of age – there are so few examples of Amy’s demographic i.e. single women over 40, that to casually snuff one out, especially one with the chops and growing clout of Enlightened, seems almost cruel. A short piece by Sasha Stone entitled "Women Not Naked" sums up another glaring difference: the absence of naked breasts and pubis. Stone succinctly calls out the problem in paragraph one: “Sex that shit up or pay the price.” Is that "all" that was needed? Is that what will get the male audience interested in female-led television? A transgressive sex scene or two, something to jolt audiences out of their stupor when faced with a quiet, subtle and brilliant comedy-drama about an awkward 40-something woman in California? How thoroughly depressing.

Middle-aged women make up a strong, growing demographic when it comes to TV-watching. What will they watch? What do they want to watch? Borgen is great, sure, and Birgitte Nyborg, with her un-Botoxed, perfectly normal face, a fine, solid lead character. So’s The Killing’s Sofie Gråbøl, and Broadchurch’s (admittedly 39-year-old, so hardly middle-aged) Olivia Colman. There will always be room for maiden aunts and dowager countesses thanks to our continued love affair with costume drama. But wherefore art thou, new Jane Tennison? How come we haven’t seen a good contemporary drama starring someone like Meera Syal or Samantha Bond or Cathy Tyson? Just think of the possibilities with a cast featuring Joanna Lumley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Zawe Ashton as three generations of a north London family...

Back in 2009, Jezebel writer Anna North wrote a piece called “On TV, Single, Middle-Aged Women Are Aliens”. In 2013, they have become even more special: despite being all around, on television, they are part of a disappearing alien race.

Olivia Colman is great. But wherefore art thou, new Jane Tennison? Photograph: Getty Images

Bim Adewunmi writes about race, feminism and popular culture. Her blog is  yorubagirldancing.com and you can find her on Twitter as @bimadew.

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Five things Hillary Clinton’s released emails reveal about UK politics

The latest batch of the presidential hopeful’s emails provide insight into the 2010 Labour leadership contest, and the dying days of the Labour government.

The US State Department has released thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. This is part of an ongoing controversy regarding the presidential hopeful’s use of a private, non-governmental server and personal email account when conducting official business as Secretary of State.

More than a quarter of Clinton’s work emails have now been released, in monthly instalments under a Freedom of Information ruling, after she handed over 30,000 pages of documents last year. So what does this most recent batch – which consists of 4,368 emails (totalling 7,121 pages) – reveal?
 

David Miliband’s pain

There’s a lot of insight into the last Labour leadership election in Clinton’s correspondence. One email from September 2010 reveals David Miliband’s pain at being defeated by his brother. He writes: “Losing is tough. When you win the party members and MPs doubly so. (When it's your brother...).”


Reaction to Ed Miliband becoming Labour leader

Clinton’s reply to the above email isn’t available in the cache, but a message from an aide about Ed Miliband’s victory in the leadership election suggests they were taken aback – or at least intrigued – by the result. Forwarding the news of Ed’s win to Clinton, it simply reads: “Wow”.


Clinton’s take on it, written in an email to her long-time adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, is: “Clearly more about Tony that [sic] David or Ed”.

Blumenthal expresses regret about the “regression” Ed’s win suggests about the Labour party. He writes to Clinton: “David Miliband lost by less than 2 percent to his brother Ed. Ed is the new leader. David was marginally hurt by Tony's book but more by Mandelson's endorsement coupled with his harsh statements about the left. This is something of a regression.”
 

Peter Mandelson is “mad”

In fact, team Clinton is less than enthusiastic about the influence Mandelson has over British politics. One item in a long email from Blumenthal to Clinton, labelled “Mandelson Watch”, gives her the low-down on the former Business Secretary’s machinations, in scathing language. It refers to him as being “in a snit” for missing out on the EU Commissioner position, and claims those in Europe think of him as “mad”. In another email from Blumenthal – about Labour’s “halted” coup against Gordon Brown – he says of Mandelson: “No one trusts him, yet he's indispensable.”

That whole passage about the coup is worth reading – for the clear disappointment in David Miliband, and description of his brother as a “sterling fellow”:


Obsession with “Tudor” Labour plotting

Clinton appears to have been kept in the loop on every detail of Labour party infighting. While Mandelson is a constant source of suspicion among her aides, Clinton herself clearly has a lot of time for David Miliband, replying “very sorry to read this confirmation” to an email about his rumoured demotion.

A May 2009 email from Blumenthal to Clinton, which describes Labour politicians’ plots as “like the Tudors”, details Ed Balls’ role in continuing Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s “bitter rivalry”:


“Disingenuous” Tories “offending” Europe

The Tories don’t get off lightly either. There is intense suspicion of David Cameron’s activities in Europe, even before he is Prime Minister. Blumenthal – whose email about a prospective Cameron government being “aristocratic” and “narrowly Etonian” was released in a previous batch of Clinton’s correspondence – writes:

Without passing "Go," David Cameron has seriously damaged his relations. with the European leaders. Sending a letter to Czech leader Vaclay Klaus encouraging him not to sign the Lisbon Treaty, as though Cameron were already Prime Minister, he has offended Sarkozy., Merkel and Zapatero.

He also accuses him of a “tilt to the Tory right on Europe”.

In the same email, Blumenthal tells Clinton that William Hague (then shadow foreign secretary), “has arduously pressured for an anti-EU stance, despite his assurances to you that Tory policy toward Europe would be marked by continuity”.

In the aftermath of the 2010 UK election, Blumenthal is apprehensive about Hague’s future as Foreign Secretary, emailing Clinton: “I would doubt you’ll see David again as foreign secretary. Prepare for hauge [sic, William Hague], who is deeply anti-European and will be disingenuous with you.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.