Think Being a Woman in NYC is Hard? Try Being a Comedian!

As filmmaking technology and online content outlets continue to make attracting viewership more competitive, quickness tends to supersede quality. A recent example of this compromise premiered on Funny or Die just a few days after Shoshana Roberts’ daylong endurance of 100+ catcalls went viral. Inspired by the Hollaback video, 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man depicts a white man receiving unwelcome spoils of privilege at purportedly heightening levels of absurdity. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Hollaback video—25M+ views to date—is a wise and practical strategy for engagement in this ever-splintering content landscape. In this case, however, the rush to draw related views came at the expense of muting the seriousness of the source material, weakening the attempt at satire almost immediately. And in so doing, the decision to co-opt the structure of the Hollaback video to make light of an indirectly related issue paradoxically demonstrates the privilege being satirized.

If only white privilege were so discomfiting...
If only white privilege were so discomfiting…

To be fair, the shared structure of 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman and 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man mark the end of the similarities between them. Replacing the target phenomenon of verbal street harassment in the former with “verbal street privilege” in the latter underscores the absurd divergence the creators of the latter video sought. Still, the deep resonance of as a Woman demands an equally deep satirical cut from as a Man—regardless of its topical shift—for a critical audience to see artistic value in it. Instead, as a Man reads as self-congratulation for understanding the source issue, but only to the extent that Funny Or Die could take advantage of as a Woman’s popularity and remain ironically detached. And with such a well-documented history of privileged appropriation of marginalized feelings, ideas, and cultures to diluted ends (e.g. Hip-Hop), a critical assessment that detects the limitations of as a Man’s privileged point of view should not surprise anyone who has felt marginalized within the white patriarchal context. In other words, a humorist with adverse experience with white patriarchy would have created a far more provocative satirical piece than as a Man.

Only from the comfort of that privileged position would a joke inspired by street harassment of women frame privilege as undesirable. Despite the absurd progression of being called “powerful” in a flirtatious tone, being offered a job out of hand, and reluctantly being hoisted into the air as king, the sarcasm of this woe-is-the-white-man narrative alienates more than it enlightens, especially juxtaposed with a very real tale of woe that is the female experience under the male gaze.

Snickers tried to turn catcalling on its head in an Australian commercial, creating its own paradox in the discourse.
Snickers tried to turn catcalling on its head in an Australian commercial, creating its own paradox in the discourse. [Video]
Responding satirically to street harassment by sidestepping it altogether, so to frame the absurdity of white male privilege, misses an opportunity to creatively address an issue that has been made clear since as a Woman’s release: many men still fail to recognize how male entitlement behavior poses a constant threat to women’s safety and security. Funny Or Die may have seen as a Woman as an opportunity to answer “What if we played on that for something else?” but the finished product falls flat as most works do when not given enough time (and rewrites) to turn it into a positive asset to the discourse or, at the very least, a fitting release of tension. As it stands, as a Man will likely be considered another negligible piece of content on an ever-growing pile that reflects how often the online comedy landscape shirks its responsibility to speak loudly in the name of progress, all for the sake of meeting the time-sensitive demands of the digital appetite.

But had more thought been given to making an impactful statement about an especially topical matter—as opposed to seizing a timely opportunity to dash off an undercooked joke for Funny or Die to feature—as a Man would have left the realm of disposable content and become legitimate supplementary fodder for an extremely important conversation.

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