The case against Betty White mania
For months, fans of all stripes launched a fervent Facebook campaign to have 88-year-old Betty White host Saturday Night Live. They got their wish – and before the episode has even transpired, people are calling it a success; promos that ran during this past week’s Gabourey Sidibe-hosted episode had TV critics and watchers alike declaring that in just 30 seconds, White “stole the show.”
When White finally takes the stage, it will be he zenith of the fever pitch surrounding her celebrity, which has far eclipsed the level of fandom she enjoyed while starring on “Mary Tyler Moore” or “The Golden Girls.” “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson called White his “crush;” MTV has similarly professed: “We Have a Girl Crush on Betty White.” And while I loved her sweetly, absurdly naïve Rose Nylund, I have to admit: I might be the only person on the planet who simply doesn’t get White’s career resurgence.
Rather, it’s not that I don’t get it. No, it’s more that I’m creeped out by the fact that despite being a gifted comedic actor and seemingly a great-natured human being, the hysteria over White seems to stem entirely from the fact that she is an old woman who jokes about sex.
Her SNL promo inevitably involves White addressing rumors that she’s a “cougar.” As the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, “In the space of one recent week, Betty White hopped in the shower with Hugh Jackman on ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,’ watched a Chippendales dancer gyrate for her on ‘Ellen.’” A recent Snickers commercial in which White plays football with a much younger pack of guys had a burly man end up on top of White, post-tackle, in a mud puddle. When promos from her recent movies show scenes involving White, they inevitably focus on scenes like the one from The Proposal, where she offers Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds a handmade blanket that she has proclaimed “the babymaker.” While playing herself in a guest spot on “Ugly Betty,” White declared that she loves her fans; “Except for the few sickos who write lesbian fan fiction about me and Bea Arthur.” In the new, yet-to-air original series on the TV Land network, White’s character is described as a “salty caretaker” for whom “nothing” is “off limits” – even prostitution.
SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels talked up the timing of White’s appearance, writing on his blog: “I can’t think of a better way to spend Mother’s Day weekend than with Betty White.” And yet, rarely are White’s roles focused on motherhood or grandmotherhood; rather, her being a grandmother is simply a means for her to talk start making raunchy sex jokes, to the discomfort of the much-younger people on-screen.
For all the talk of how girls are being exposed to sex in the media at alarming rates, and how sex-crazed Hollywood drives young girls to develop eating disorders or subject themselves to plastic surgery, isn’t it just as offensive that apparently the only way an elderly actress can re-enter the big-time is by playing the uncomfortably sex-obsessed grandma? I’m glad that White, of the razor-sharp wit, deadpan delivery, and impeccable timing, is enjoying success; but it should be precisely because of those things, not because she’s willing to crack wise about subjects we consider off-limits for old people.