Jodie Foster confesses: the midlife crisis of popular culture

January 14, 2013

Call it baffling, call it brilliant. Whatever: On Sunday night’s Golden Globes awards, Jodie Foster bared it all.

She trumpeted her age. She embraced her sexuality (sort of). She reconciled with her mom, embarrassed her kids and hailed a rather dazed looking Mel Gibson as the wind beneath her wings.

In short, Foster had a midlife crisis, live and direct, for all the world to see.

It was a paradoxical move for a woman who also used her moment in the awards ceremony spotlight to slam reality television and champion privacy.

But it wasn’t just Foster melting down last night. The Golden Globes provided one opportunity after another to ponder another midlife crisis: the one happening around women in pop culture.

Sure, it was definitely a night to celebrate women, especially the young ones. Lena Dunham, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence all won awards for fine performances in challenging roles. You could practically hear a collective sigh of relief as the millennial Lawrence swept a category (best actress in a musical or comedy) dominated by seniors like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith.

Each winner dutifully remembered to pay homage to the trailblazing women who came before them, in tones profound (Chastain on director Kathryn Bigelow for creating a female character who could “disobey the conventions of Hollywood,”), patronizing (Hathaway on Sally Field’s evolution from The Flying Nun to Norma Rae) and proud (Lawrence joked about beating out Meryl Streep).

So, great. A new generation of female talent ascends. But what other changes are they bringing along with them?

Not many. The Golden Globes hired Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host – two smart, sexy and  funny women  – and then shuffled them off to the sidelines. Instead, audiences were treated to a string of male comedians trying to outdo one another’s presentation bits (an exercise in futility exemplified by Sacha Baron Cohen’s slimy reference to Anne Hathaway’s “up skirt shot”). 

Meanwhile, executive producer Katherine Sarafian couldn’t get a word in when she accepted the best animated feature film award for Brave alongside the film's director Mark Andrews. Now that’s standard operating procedure at awards ceremonies: Lena Dunham also shut out Judd Apatow, the man she called an “honorary girl,” while accepting the best musical or comedy series for Girls. But Sarafian’s silence also spoke to the tribulations of Brave, the so-called “feminist” film whose writer and original director Brenda Chapman was fired by Pixar for “creative differences.”

Chapman has said she was forced to leave the film after producers wanted to make story changes she was powerless to oppose. And Lena Dunham’s cultish slavering over HBO while accepting her awards hinted at her price of admission: Come on board. Just don’t rock the boat. Or the crew for that matter. The rest of the characters crowding the stage confirmed that despite all the new faces, show business is still a largely white, largely male affair (Don Cheadle's win for best actor in a comedy or musical series was the only one by a person of color).

Last night Jodie Foster offered living proof that for many women, making it in show business comes at enormous cost, in terms of personal pain and isolation. But her messy confession was also a pointed confrontation. Retired or not, she's done playing the game. If only audiences would take the opportunity to do the same: To grow up, and demand a little more of their awards and other entertainments.