Saturday, November 16, 2013

Amy Poehler's "Smart Girls at the Party"

Amy Poehler is fantastic for many reasons (she has a hilarious show, she is half of our nation’s Best Friendship, and she's working on her memoir!), but one of her projects that I most appreciate doesn’t get a lot of attention: Smart Girls at the Party.

scene from ABC's "Modern Family"
Full disclosure: I’m potentially twice the age of the target audience for Smart Girls at the Party. I’m more of a…Smart Lady at the Bar. Either way, that doesn't stop the messages sent by Amy's show from being relevant to everyone (regardless of age and gender), but because we don't often see girls and young women being honored for their intelligence, this show focuses on them. Poehler says the show was created, in some ways, as a response to the, “lack of celebration of the unique original girl,” and to, “represent real female friends and celebrate that stage of life where you write down what you want to be when you get older, before too many people tell you no.” (Kinon, 2009)

Unlike most YouTubers who only care about the view count on their latest video, Poehler gave some serious thought to the mission of her web series. Smart Girls mission:

"What worries me the most is this trend that caring about something isn’t cool. That it’s better to comment on something than to commit to it. That it’s so much cooler to be unmotivated and indifferent. Our culture can get so snarky and ironic sometimes, and we kind of wanted Smart Girls to celebrate the opposite of that.”  (Schnall, 2008)

Based on this mission alone, Poehler can be called a full-fledged auteur: someone who'd do Maggie Humm's definition proud. Poehler found a way to fulfill her feminist vision despite the male-dominated media heads (Humm, 1997). Her 'girrrrl power' character Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec doesn't take a back seat to her 'uber man' boss, Ron Swanson. She doesn't allow the media to smear her friendships with other females. She doesn't let all of television transform into a 24/7 male-dominated "make me a sandwich" snarkfest. And she does it all with a smile.

But while Poehler has many fans in the fempire, she isn't immune to criticism. In her other regular web series "Ask Amy" (embedded into the Smart Girls brand), Poehler tackles viewer questions. In the following video, she answers a question posed by a girl whose father won't allow her to wear makeup.

Seemingly innocuous, right? Yet, not all viewers were 100% on board:

I really do love Amy Poehler, and I think that she's doing her very best to answer this question in a way that promotes a healthy body image, but I'm concerned that she might fall short. I dislike that she uses the argument that boys will like you if you don't wear much makeup. While that might be one of the girl's concerns, perhaps she could have pointed out that adjusting your appearance to appeal to a potential romantic interest (assuming that the girl asking the question is even interested in boys) isn't the healthiest idea. I'm also troubled by her repeated mentions of "needing" to wear makeup, e.g., her suggestion that the girl has years ahead of her when she'll need to wear makeup.
I certainly don't intend this as Poehler bashing, and, again, I think that she had the best of intentions. I'm just suggesting that we don't hold up this particular comment of hers as the height of awesomeness.
Other than this, it's tough to find criticism of Poehler's work at large other than random commentors saying her character on Parks & Rec can be annoying. Poehler is a pioneer in woman-driven new media and I hope she continues this series for as long as possible because this web show succeeds in encouraging girls to focus on developing their unique talents. Where else can this be seen on TV or the internet? The interviewees are not talked down to, as girls their age often are. In fact, the Smart Girls creators allow their guests to teach them, and Poehler's "Ask Amy" videos allow the viewers to feel like even they can connect with a Hollywood giant and that they're not alone in their growing pains. 

Humm, Maggie. Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. Print.
Kinon, Cristina. "'SNL' Alum Amy Poehler Goes Online with 'Smart Girls at the Party'" NY Daily News, 21 Jan. 2009. Web. 13 Nov. 2013. <>.
"SNL Star Amy Poehler on Her New Online Show "Smart Girls"" Interview by Marianne Schnall. The Huffington Post, 2 Dec. 2008. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <>.

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