Now that the dust has well and truly settled on HBO’s vibrant new drama series Vinyl it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the season and more specifically, the representation of women in the series. Despite the cast being dominated by male characters, its the three women who pull the strings and clear up the mess. They are the driving force behind the powerful men in the season and are often the cause of those men making big decisions. Terence Winter, the show’s main writer, explained in an interview with The Independent that they were conscious of being “true and faithful to the reality of how hard it was for women in this time” he goes on to say “we are much closer to the Mad Men era than we are to 2016, and I think that’s important. You know people might say about Juno’s character – ‘Well, why doesn’t she tell that guy off?’ The answer is that because if she did she would get fired. She can’t answer back to anybody, so she is going to sit there and take it and go back to her office and fume or cry or kick the wall, but she can’t say anything. That’s the reality of the music industry in [the Seventies], and that’s what the show depicts.”
Juno Temple as Jamie Vine
Juno Temple’s vivacious character, Jamie Vine, might seem at first glance to be something of a bimbo, with the big hair, revealing clothes and bad attitude she doesn’t do herself any favors in breaking a stereotype. In the first episode we see her scantily clad attending a punk show and then sleeping with the lead singer. You can put this kind of behavior down to her age, as the youngest of the three women she is also the most inexperienced. Her sass might trick you into thinking otherwise but her confidence is part of her charm. She is desperate to make waves at American Century Records and she wants to drink from the fountain of success, so she clings on to the band, she starts a relationship with the lead singer and she starts to take control over them. Nasty Bits are useless, they are all on so many drugs and are actually quite terrible at writing songs that people will want to listen to, so it isn’t hard for Jamie to assert herself over them because they don’t really argue with her. It’s not until she is face to face with Julie, Richie or Lester that she is dwarfed by their power thirsty, over-inflated egos. The men are quick to shoot her down but Richie sees something in her and will give her the time to talk to him about her ideas, it is the Nasty Bits after all who he is pinning all hopes of saving his label on. When Jamie needs Richie however, the tables turn and he slams doors in her face.
Jamie is an example of a young woman who is trying to get ahead in her career, fighting for the jobs that men normally have and trying to get people to see beyond her looks. As an attractive young woman she finds it easy to get what she wants from men, purely by using her allure, but as she matures she learns that she can also get what she wants by being smart. Her mother thinks very little of her and doesn’t support her life choices or her clothing choices, she thinks the best way to make her see sense is by cutting her off all together. Her mother is rich, she has a huge house, lots of nice things and she is very stern and proper. Jamie inherits her mother’s forceful nature but nothing else and when she is thrown out of her nice comfy home, she finds herself living in squalor with her heroin addict boyfriend Kip. Jamie learns very quickly that she can’t have her cake and eat it, if she isn’t going to play by the rules and do what she’s told then she is going to get into trouble. She gets too big for her boots and the people supporting her aren’t afraid to drop her. The next step for Jamie is finding her own independence, to stop relying on other people and get her feet firmly on the New York ground, then build up from there.
Olivia Widle as Devon Finestra
Devon Finestra (Wilde) starts off the season as a typical stay at home mom, she lives out in the countryside and Richie lives in the big city. She looks after the children all day while Richie snorts cocaine, drinks whiskey and schmoozes with up and coming artists. She lets go of her dreams to have children, Richie still clings onto his and does the family thing when he has time. Devon is an interesting character because we are shown throughout the first few episodes, glimpses of her past and how she and Richie got together, how he overpowered her in the toilets and had aggressive, passionate sex with her on the bathroom sink. It’s not until she and Richie split in the middle of the season that she starts to find herself again, she starts putting herself first, rather than her marriage and goes out drinking with friends, starts a new relationship and poses nude for a photographer. She embraces her artistic side again and runs with it.
The episode when Richie asks Devon to accompany him to a meal with Hannibal and Cece is when she proves that despite Richie dropping her and treating her like shit, she still has immeasurable power over him. She uses her body, in a revealing red dress, to seduce Hannibal, dancing with him seductively in front of Richie. Richie’s outburst causes him to lose the record deal with Hannibal; the cause and effect of all that was Devon. The most interesting scene for me with Devon was when she wanted to put on an event in her neighborhood and she needed some money to do it. She tells Richie that putting on this event was his way of “throwing her a bone” and keeping her happy, she gave up on what could have been an amazing career as an artist and Richie wants her to have a little project of her own so he allows it. It’s so patronizing and so controlling it makes my stomach churn. In Richie’s eyes, he thinks he is being supportive but what’s important to her isn’t important to him. To him, she is a wife and a mother. The fact that she flips everything over and takes control over him by the end of the season is a testament to her character and her journey in the season. She found herself again and in doing so she was able to find the strength to leave him and move on.
Annie Parisse as Andrea Zito
Andrea Zito (Parisse) doesn’t feature in the season until much later on when Richie hires her to re-brand his label and make it sell again. It doesn’t take long for her to start pissing people off as she dominates over the office. Richie put his faith in her so she storms in there and starts making changes instantly. The men don’t seem to know how to be with her, she’s almost untouchable because Richie needs and wants her there, but they don’t agree with what she is doing. It’s an interesting dynamic and Zak, especially, can’t get on board with her. When she steps out of line and fires someone, Zak is the first to put her in her place again. She is a perfect example of how women overcame male oppression in the work place, she is what Jamie could be in a few years’ time. She has learned how to assert herself in a boardroom, how to make her point heard and listened to and how to handle sexist remarks.
Second wave feminism was in full swing by the 1970’s and women were finding their feet in the world, they were becoming career minded, fighting for birth control, inequality and workplace sexism. Having won the war on suffrage, it was time to win the war on men. As we all well know, women are still struggling for equality today but it was in the 60’s and 70’s that they started to speak up about it. Women were gaining traction as valuable members of a workforce, that having sex didn’t have to mean getting pregnant and that if getting pregnant was a problem, it was a problem that could be solved. Giving women control over their bodies and their working lives allowed them to excel and reach higher status in the world. Andrea is the epitome of this part of second wave feminism. She fought to be where she is today and she isn’t going to let a man undermine that. Jamie is basically Andrea, but 20 years earlier. She is already making waves in the workplace from being just a sandwich girl to being a respected member of the label and she isn’t afraid of using her sexuality to her advantage.
Second wave feminism was also responsible for giving women a voice for marital domestic abuse and rape. While Richie never rapes Devon, he does physically hurt her and he treats her extremely badly. The issue is skirted around with Richie and Devon but there are occasions when their relationship is breaking that you can see how he could have abused her in the past. The first time they sleep together is incredibly aggressive, her face suggests that she is completely powerless and that he is hurting her but she seems to get into it a bit more and it isn’t turned into a thing. I don’t think it would have been necessary to make their relationship any more volatile than it was but it showed that Devon wasn’t afraid to fight back and she wasn’t afraid to leave him when he treated her like shit.
Even though these women represent second wave feminism of the time, the other women in the show are largely stereotypes and used for the purpose of male gratification. For example the American Century receptionists are all very stereotypical receptionists of the time. They answer the phone, answer to men and look flawless while doing it. The women that are used as arm candy for all the big shot men in the show are all total stereotypes and in contrast to Jamie, Devon and Andrea seem so weak and pointless. Their names are also reflective of their feminist movements as Jamie, Devon and Andi (she is quite often referred to as this throughout) are all gender neutral names and all the other women; Ingrid, Heather, Penny, Cece etc. all have very feminine sounding names. It doesn’t say much but it just further solidifies the point that the show is trying to make.
Vinyl has never been about women, it’s been about Richie and his rise and fall in the music industry. It would have been very easy to have the female supporting cast members as merely support to the men. The opportunity to create a dialogue about how hard it was for women in the seventies to find their place in the world was taken by the show’s creators and rather than ignoring it, have dealt with it tastefully. I would like to see more women in powerful positions in the new season and I am especially interested in how Jamie and Devon’s stories are going to progress. Jamie, riding on the success of the Nasty Bits opening for the New York Dolls puts her in good stead for Richie and her future at American Century and Devon, who profited from Richie’s meltdown has proven that she still loves him but she needed to show him that she can survive without him. The female characters are great, just double them and we will be onto something. Size zero women with big boobs and minimal brain activity will always crop up in shows like this because it’s sexy and its representing an era which was known for illicit sex and wild parties. Portraying female characters accurately and tastefully isn’t always easy but I think Vinyl has largely got it right, the balance is right and the spectrum of women being represented has been done realistically. It’s exciting to think what the next season will bring!