Norman Lear James Wolcott - Essay

James Wolcott

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Blazing with large intentions, Norman Lear's new series All That Glitters … is a firebird that never takes flight: It flutters, sputters, then falls. Like Eve Merriam's entertainment The Club and Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away, All That Glitters is a dramatic exercise in role-and-gender reversal. The women here are queen bees in a corporation known as Globatron and have no need of subscriptions to Savvy—they've already mastered the martial arts of careermanship. The men are little more than stingerless drones, but unlike drones they are forced into labor as secretaries, toga-clad waiters, househusbands….

Fifteen years ago, it might have been subversive to mock sexual stereotypes, for those sterotypes were firm in the public mind…. Since then such stereotypes have largely melted…. What is a shock is that the women of Glitters are so rapaciously Nixonian. Is this intended to mirror the male corporate world, or is it meant to suggest that once women possess power they'll be every inch as ruthless and vulpine as men? When they ogle their boy secretaries, is it a parody of male lust or an illustration of how sexually exploitative women can be? Actually, it fizzles either way since the Boy Fridays are so mincingly fey that it's easier to imagine them making it with other boys than with their bosses….

What links The Club and Swept Away and All That Glitters is that all are fundamentally incoherent…. All That Glitters displays women in caricatures of maleness, men in caricatures of femaleness, and the sexiest woman turns out to be a transsexual…. The Club at least has some liveliness as a lesbian jamboree, but Glitters doesn't provide any kicks with its confusions—it makes one long for Milton Berle in Southern-bell drag. All That Glitters is a Myra Breckenridge whirlpool and everyone gets sucked under.

James Wolcott, "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Lear," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), May 9, 1977, p. 87.