Did Lisa Ling Take 40 Shots At Dads (in 40 Minutes)?
Updated: May 3
Oh hell naw.
I'm offended. I think.
Did you see the same 40 times that Lisa Ling's, This Is America episode, "Dad's Dilemma" looked more like "The Red Wedding" on Game of Thrones than an endorsement for dads? On the surface - the episode parades how tough it is - for dads on the losing side of custody battles. But if you look closely, it‘s littered with thinly-veiled, negative associations, undertones and biases about men/dads (behind the scenes). Many of these sneaky undertones, hurt guys in divorce court and cost us custody of our kids. The Bottom Line - I think the episode has good intentions, but quietly damages the image of everyday, loving, custody-seeking dads.
Side Note: I respect, but am not affiliated with ANY group depicted in the show and isn't remotely bitter. I'm a savagely curious, happily remarried and divorced dad of two. I'm one of the 20% of custodial fathers who easily WON custody of my kids several years ago. I'm just a regular guy - who's walked where they walk, felt what they're feeling and wished this episode was done differently. The episode felt like I'd shook somebody's hand to seal a deal then looked down to see their other fingers crossed. Maybe I'm being too sensitive. You be the judge.
Shot 1: Openly empowered women in scene 1 vs. bitter divorced men, drinking together in scene 2.
Damage Done/Message: Women are stronger, smarter and better organized than men. We complain, drink away our pain and bash women together in un-meaningful ways.
Shot 2: Lisa Ling, "goes to the place where men are empowered to share their souls - the internet".
Damage Done/Message: Really? Her comment implies that men are weak and must lurk in the shadows online to feel empowered. Men need anonymity to feel empowered, compared to the openly empowered women in the first scene.
Shot 3: Lisa introduces the "thriving community of men expressing grievances about women (the Manosphere)".
Damage Done/Message: Men are banding together to secretly complain about women, as though we don't/can't express ourselves publicly. It even has a name..
Visual Shot 4: The episode visually shows dark images of Manosphere sites that, "cater to men's views and fears" to set their negative tone.
Damage Done/Message: All Manosphere sites are dark and creepy. I'm not familiar with any sites on the Manosphere, but I assume they're not all negative towards women.
Shot 5: Lisa Ling, “be warned, these guys don't hold back", followed by an extreme guy yelling, "fuck this women's movement"!
Damage Done/Message: Men are angry asf and hate the women's movement.
Shot 6: Lisa digs in deeper now to introduce deeper a more extreme faction of men who, "give a stiff middle finger to relationships".
Damage Done/Message: Not only are men mad and gathering in secret, many of them aggressively reject real relationships with women too.
Shot 7: Lisa Ling introduces MGTOW... (men going their own way) and how they hate women.
Damage Done/Message: The episode now introduces ANOTHER group of men (not dads - since the episode hasn't introduced them yet) who swear off women all together. First, many guys (like me) had no clue that MGTOW existed and LOVE women. How do these extreme views relate to dads losing custody? What percentage of MGTOW guys are even dads? These extreme views detract from the core message of the show. It's like drinking something VERY BITTER then trying to have a nice meal afterward. My meal's fucked up now. It probably won’t taste the same.
Shot 8: Enter Jerry (MGTOW)...
Damage Done/Message: With respect for Jerry and his MGTOW views, Jerry displays an underlying bitterness that you'd expect from "an underground movement of women-hating men". Jerry is the opposite of 95% of traditionally normal dads who've fought for custody, like me (and who this episode is supposed to be about). No disrespect, but interviewing Jerry negatively represents dads fighting for custody. I'm still struggling to understand why he's on this episode.
Shot 9: Enter John (MGTOW)...
Damage Done/Message: Why do you think this episode began with a discussion of MGTOW? I don't understand it. We're 5 minutes in and haven't scratched the surface yet. Respectfully, John‘s been through a lot and is clearly redirecting his anger into some extreme views that most men/dads don't have. Did I enjoy getting divorced? No. Was it easy? No. Was my X a pain in the ass? YES. However, 95% of guys don't think women are, "feminist bitches" or sharpening our swords for the "battle of the sexes". I had a messy divorce and STILL aren't remotely in that mindspace. Can we please get to what the show is about??? Meanwhile, we're now informed that white men lose custody.
Shot 10: Lisa jumps into "the lion's den" with John (MGTOW), who laughs....
Damage Done/Message: John’s laugh alone (and you know which one I'm talking about), teleports John, MGTOW and the rest of us into a sinister and creepy, new place. That scene was ridiculous and I wonder if they enhanced his laugh to make it more impactfully creepy.
Shot 11: Lisa Ling calmly destroys MGTOW John in this interview.
Damage Done/Message: Again, no disrespect. Maybe the interview was edited favorably for Lisa, but John's hyper-aggressive online demeanor now looks timid. He completely backs down in the interview with Lisa. He's out-talked, out-reasoned and appears fearful. This further sends the message that publicly, men aren't assertive with our concerns. He's then slapped in the face with one sentence, "John is less combative then his online persona". I imagined John talking back as a child and Lisa snapping back with, "what you say?!" And John lowering his head and saying, "nothing ma’am", as she stared him down. That was this interview, for me.
Visual Shot 12: The episode visually shows John "in the shadows".
Damage Done/Message: He appears dark and creepy AGAIN "because of the woman that hurt him."
We've now spent the initial 1/4 of this episode establishing how sneaky, angry, extreme and weird men can be. Will this skew how you feel when we finally hear about the dads that the episode is truly about?
Shot 13: Enter Jake..
Damage Done/Message: We're now informed that military men and heroes lose custody. Even the less aggressive ones who aren't in the MGTOW “faction of men”.
Shot 14: The episode shoots Jake saying, ”juggling marriage and my job was tough".
Damage Done/Message: Men don't balance daily responsibilities well. As a military man, we all know that he probably wasn't around much. It paints a stereotypical picture that he's another guy who prioritized his job over family.
Shot 15: Lisa mentions, “Jake's arguments with his X and her grad-school dreams”.
Damage Done/Message: Jake (men) are un-supportive of women and their dreams. She probably had to defer her desires for Jake and that's why she left.
Shot 16: Enter Civil Protection Orders (silver bullets)...
Damage Done/Message: This is another extreme tactic/scenario discussed in the episode that doesn't represent 95% of guys and their custody battles. I get that it captures his experience and the range of things that can happen in messy divorces, but introducing silver bullets publicly give the small percentage of shady, unethical women in the world yet another new tool to potentially use against dads.
Visual Shot 17: The episode visually shows Jake in angry, creepy images.
Damage Done/Message: Again, men are dark and creepy "because of the women that hurt them".
Shot 18: The Jake Crying Scene: Lisa Ling‘s discomfort gets equal camera time as a visibly shaken and crying Jake???
Damage Done/Message: In one of the truly authentic scenes that drives home the point of the episode, why did they give equal weight to Lisa's uneasiness and Jake's pain? This is the one scene that should have never panned away from Jake. Isn't his (and other dad's) pain what the episode is about?
Shot 19: The episode ties Jake's pain to the already depicted "dark men's rights movement".
Damage Done/Message: The episode effectively connects Jake's (men's) pain to the idea that it leads to dark places and extreme views. This tactic by the episode desensitizes you to the difficulties that he and other dads face in custody battles.
Shot 20: The episode uses an Alec Baldwin interview to transition to the next scene.
Damage Done/Message: Alec Baldwin is known for his nasty public divorce. At one point he said that, “many family court lawyers and their manipulations and delays make the child custody duel much worse than it needs to be. The judges are like pit bosses in Vegas casinos. Their job is to make sure everybody stays at the table and keeps gambling." With respect to Alec, his Hollywood case is another extreme example that's not representative of most everyday messy divorces. Using his viewpoint to highlight dad divorce bias, is like turning on all the lights in a dark house, to find something in the corner of your bathroom. This episode has an issue with staying on message.
Shot 21: Lisa interviews a club for divorced men. They’re drinking in the very first scene with an empty fridge.
Damage Done/Message: Middle ages guys drink too much and still don't take life seriously, even after divorce. They're drinking and complaining instead of fighting for their kids.
Shot 22: The divorced men's club publicly badmouths their Xs.
Damage Done/Message: Publicly badmouthing Xs can hurt you in court (trust me - I successfully used my X's public badmouthing of me against her in court). Even though the parental alienation they're dealing with implies their X is doing the same thing - they're not on camera doing it! But lo and behold, now these dads are. There's now public record of them badmouthing Xs that can be used against them later.
Shot 23: The divorced men's club publicly badmouths the courts.
Damage Done/Message: First they publicly badmouth their X, now their court system. This could hurt their cases too. There's now recorded evidence of their beef with their court system. It's like saying, "police suck in my area" then wondering why you start getting so many tickets afterward.
Shot 24: The policeman/veteran in the red sweater talks about being alienated.
Damage Done/Message: We're now informed that veterans and policemen lose custody.
Shot 25: Enter Carlos..
Damage Done/Message: We're now informed that successful, professionals lose custody because they cheat. They have it all, then break hearts and destroy women's lives (along with their own). Watch out for the women they work with too. We're men and can't keep it in our pants.
Visual Shot 26: The episode now visually shows Carlos in all black.
Damage Done/Message: The bad guy always wears black. We all know that. This is overt. Again, men become dark, bad guys "because of the women that hurt them." I was waiting for him to put on a black hat like they wore in the wild west but it never happened.
Shot 27: The episode shows Carlos' wife and kids five times.
Damage Done/Message: As if you weren't aware that he had a family, the show punctuates the pain he caused them and drives home the idea that men are cheaters and destroy lives.
Shot 28: Carlos is portrayed as a deadbeat dad and inmate who currently lives with his aunt on welfare and owes 680K in child support.
Damage Done/Message: There's no publicly redeeming qualities for deadbeat dads. No one cares how they got there and the root causes. Carlos will be considered a deadbeat dad forever whether he explains his situation or not.
Shot 29: The episode now ties Carlos's situation to the already depicted "dark men's rights movement" too.
Damage Done/Message: Men's pain AGAIN leads to dark places and extreme views, which desensitizes you to the fact that he's behind on child support because he lost his job and went to jail. Had he maintained his lifestyle, he'd most likely be current on his child support obligation.
Shot 30: Carlos and his legal team (of men) talk about how to keep him out of jail.
Damage Done/Message: This repeats the theme of guys gathering to plot against women. Dads depicted as aggressive bullies of women, hurt many dad's custody in court. It's best to have women represent you in court (I may talk about that in a post later someday).
Shot 31: Enter Justin.. His son's accident in and pissing on the floor. Lisa Ling helps Justin clean up his son's mess. Justin talks about, "how hard and overwhelming caring for his son is."
Damage Done/Message: Within thirty seconds, Justin's already shown struggling to care for his kid. Again, men are ill-equipped to handle care-giving and need help to prevent their kids from pissing on the floor.
Shot 32: The episode visually shows that Justin is big as hell. They literally made him bigger than the entire screen.
Damage Done/Message: Justin is an already big, imposing black guy - towering over Lisa. Despite how caring he shows himself to be, this looks overwhelming and aggressive. We're now informed that black, irresponsible men lose custody. Seriously, the camera man couldn't move back a little to capture his entire head???
Shot 33: The episode points out that Justin barely knew the woman he got pregnant.
Damage Done/Message: The episode is now highlighting his irresponsibility and diluting the presence of his faith (as shown by him going to church in the previous scene).
Shot 34: The episode highlights that 70% of African-American mothers are unwed.
Damage Done/Message: I wonder whose fault that was? Typically, not the mother's. This sounds like another backhanded dig at dads - this time African-American ones.
Shot 35: The episode highlights how Justin and his baby's mom made a "casual decision" to keep his child.
Damage Done/Message: Exposing more of Justin's irresponsibility and loose decision-making.
Shot 36: The episode highlights how Justin's baby mom considers him unreliable.
Damage Done/Message: Whatever "unreliable" means, it doesn't display him in a good light.
Shot 37: The episode highlights how Justin barely knew the woman he got pregnant.
Damage Done/Message: Driving home the idea of Justin's irresponsibility and loose decision-making.
Shot 38: The episode highlights that Justin's name wasn't on the birth certificate.
Damage Done/Message: Again, driving home the idea of Justin's irresponsibility and loose decision-making. Lisa, I think we get the message.
Shot 39: Now Justin is badmouthing the courts.
Damage Done/Message: Now there's public record of Justin badmouthing court that can be used against him later.
Shot 40: The show weaves Jake and Carlos' story together. Only Justin escapes the "dark men's rights movement".
Damage Done/Message: I'm surprised that the final scene wasn't Justin, Carlos and Jake on a trip together expressing their beefs against the system. This episode went to great lengths to show that dads fighting for custody participate in seedy, underground movements - disguised as a "support networks".
1. What do you think Jerry, John, Jake, Carlos and Justin thought about their portrayal?
2. Did Lisa's episode help or harm dads?
3. If you're a dad who's fought for custody (like myself), did you see the shots I saw in this episode?
4. What can be done to support real dads in less extreme ways?
5. More importantly - how did you feel about the episode and/or this post?