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Laurie Penny on New Girl: not so much a sitcom, more a new front in the war on twee

It's not technically impossible to fight patriarchy in a Hello Kitty thong.

It's not technically impossible to fight patriarchy in a Hello Kitty thong, although it might be a little uncomfortable.

New Girl, Channel 4's flagship US import whose second episode aired last night, is not a sitcom so much as new front in the war on twee. The show stars every lonely child-man's fantasy indie girlfriend, Zooey Deschanel, as a hapless twenty-something who moves in with a group of, can you believe it, men, after breaking up with her boyfriend.

That's the plot. That's the whole of the plot. Cue a succession of lacklustre 20-minute riffs on the theme of boys and girls and how hilariously incompatible we are, during which Deschanel gabbles and twirls around with her candy-coloured skirts tucked into her knickers until female viewers with an ounce of self-respect get an overwhelming urge to rifle through our fix-up bags, find our sparkliest, prettiest make-up pencils, and push them firmly into the wet meat of our eyeballs.

The posters for the show depict Deschanel -- an adult woman whose real-life website is called "Hello Giggles" -- in a pastel tutu and a confused expression arriving in a packing crate, like a kitten waiting to meet her new owners. Treading the fine line between insulting and merely infuriating on dainty ballet pumps, New Girl was created by a woman and designed to appeal to women - Hollywood execs having finally realised that female viewers actually like to watch female leads with real personalities and real emotions.

Enter Jess, a character who seems to have been created, like the plot, by committee, specifically a committee of bored, sexist hipsters rummaging for inspiration in the reject bin of noughties pop culture.

Jess is the sort of manic-pixie-dream-cliche for whom words like 'kooky' and 'zany' were invented. She is precisely what mainstream culture believes a woman with 'personality' looks like: ram together some vintage bird-themed jewelry, wacky accessories, the sort of sunny disposition that wanders around singing little songs all the time, and an overplayed clumsiness - "oops, I fell off my heels!" - that, as several commentators have already noted, is the standard 'flaw' given to lady characters in a universe where women are required to have all the solid, three-dimensional weight of a cigarette paper - and voila, real female personality!

In its conviction that oversized glasses are an adequate substitute for actual character traits, New Girl is hardly guiltier of concessions in the war on twee than hundreds of Shoreditch teenagers. Jess is a two-dimensional caricature of the sort of girl-woman who, in real life, really does wear Hello Kitty thongs and kiddie clips in her hair and bakes endless cupcakes that don't even have any drugs in them.

I have met many iterations of 'that girl', and occasionally I have been her myself -- the girl who lisps and giggles as a way of making the men in the room feel better about the presence of a woman with a job and a mind of her own. When stereotypes are trotted out on television, sometimes we should ask ourselves what roles they play in real life.

It's not just Hollywood that's painfully uninterested in three-dimensional women with complex emotions. In a world where women and girls grow up negotiating a soup of stultifyingly gendered aesthetic cliche, sometimes the best way to tell the world you're hurting really is to cry theatrically and watch Dirty Dancing on repeat. So, we dumb down; we prattle when we could speak our minds; we play retro-cutesy as if to apologise for the modernity and maturity that so often terrifies the men in our lives.

It's not technically impossible to fight patriarchy in a Hello Kitty thong, although it might be a little uncomfortable. The war on twee, however, is a much an aesthetic crusade as it is a feminist one -- and as long as lisping, kiddie-clips and drug-free cupcakes remain in vogue, I'll know which side I am on.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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11 things I feel more sorry about than Cornwall losing money after Brexit

The Leave-voting region wanted reassurances that funding wouldn't dry up after Brexit. 

Eight months after 56.5 per cent of Cornish residents voted Leave, the region received some unwelcome news. 

Those who helped to tip the country towards Brexit no doubt did so in the knowledge that £60m of annual EU funding would have to be sacrificed. But the council hoped the government could reassure the region by making up for it in domestic funding.

Instead, in the latest funding round of "growth deal" investment, the Department for Communities and Local Government awarded the region £18m. It is the last round of such funding, and councillors are worried about what the future holds. 

According to the Independent, Julian German, Cornwall Council’s member for the economy, complained that: “The current process forces Cornwall to compete for investment with more affluent places such as London, Birmingham, Bristol, and the South East.”

It’s possible to feel sorry for Cornwall. But only up to a point. Here are some of the people and places I feel more sorry for:

  1. EU nationals in the UK, who face the fear of deportation after Brexit.
  2. British expats abroad who didn’t get to vote because they had been abroad 15 years, even though the result will affect them forever.
  3. Anyone with a stake in the Northern Irish peace process.
  4. The Highlands and Islands, a rural region of Scotland just as reliant on EU funding as Cornwall, and which voted to stay in the EU.
  5. Academics who rely on EU funding.
  6. Black and minority ethnic groups who have experienced a post-Brexit rise in hate crime.
  7. Millennials who voted to stay in the EU and will have to live the longest with the consequences of leaving.
  8. Children, who didn’t even get to vote. 
  9. Anyone who voted Remain and now dreads dinner with their family.
  10. Scots who voted No in 2014 in order to stay in the EU.
  11. The Labour party. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.