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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Tiffany Vazquez - New TCM Host - Part 7 of The State of the Classic Film Fan Series


Tiffany Vazquez, the new host on Turner Classic Movies is a reassuring promise of the future of the classic film fan. She appears to have entered the job with many laudable attributes, but this may be chief of all.

This is part seven in our year-long monthly series on the current state of the classic film fan.

When Ms. Vazquez was announced as the new Saturday morning host, many longtime TCM viewers voiced concern that this was another of the network’s unfortunate drift from its classic film roots. 

The plan to attract a young demographic, though practical in business terms, has its downside—there is the temptation to gear programming specifically to that demographic. While I confess, I dislike some of TCM’s shift to post-classic films, I have never been concerned about the youth of a new host. Indeed, I was an “old” old film buff at ten years old, and I’ll bet I was more familiar with classic films at that tender age than many young people (Tiffany, now 29, reportedly came to classic films late—not until college).  I am delighted, always, to come across a young person who enjoys classic films.

Though we may recall that Ben Mankiewicz met some resistance by fans when he was hired for hosting duties in 2003, unfairly principally for not being Robert Osborne, it was never his being younger that bothered me. Indeed, he’s only about four or five years younger than me. What first annoyed me about Mr. Maniewicz was what I perceived at the time as flippancy and sarcasm in his delivery, and TCM’s pointed efforts to package him and Robert Osborne as a kind of Odd Couple. The young hip dude and the old guy.

Since then, with his growing into the job, I’ve come to like Ben Mankiewicz. I look forward to his intros, and he now comes off as a person as interested in the movie as me, and with respect for the people who made it. That’s all I ask. Also, I think I started to warm up to him about the time he began to shave and wear ties.  I like grownups to look and act like grownups.  At least insofar as they are guests in my home.

Remember how in the days of comedy/variety shows on TV when the host would sign off at the end of the show and thank us for allowing them to come into our homes? A gracious act. We don’t see that anymore. The people on TV just barge into our homes like The Desperate Hours (1955) and assault us with their crudeness. If we turned our back on them for one minute, they'd eat everything in the refrigerator, spit on the floor, and then maybe kill us.

What we love so much about Robert Osborne isn’t necessarily his knowledge of classic film (though that certainly is extensive), but his class.

Which brings me back to Tiffany Vazquez. Her polish, her well-spoken delivery, her professional appearance all tell me this is a young woman of intelligence, of taste, of maturity. What classic film means to most of its fans (okay, maybe excluding monster flicks and the Marx Brothers) is a sense of elegance and glamour not seen today. TCM has chosen wisely in a young woman who, by her manner and appearance, reflects that appreciation by its fan base for class. This is why we like Robert Osborne so much: he likes the movies as much as we do, he respects them, and he respects us. He looks, talks, and acts like a gentleman.

This is something that should not be undervalued by TCM. The classic film fan is your demographic, TCM, no matter the age.  It’s a very special demographic.

But Tiffany Vazquez is more than a lovely young woman who likes old movies. She hold two graduate degrees, one of them in film studies from NYU, and she interned at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This most certainly recommends her for the job. If she did not grow up with Saturday afternoon matinees or The Million Dollar Movie like many of us, she still comes with her own pedigree and a special perspective.

It has been noted that she is the first woman to be hired as a regular TCM host, and her Puerto Rican heritage has been commented on as setting her apart as representing a new demographic. But before we skew this into some Madison Avenue pie chart of something up-market, we should remember that  the classic film fan “demographic” has little to do with age, gender, race, or ethnicity, and is remarkably diverse. We’ll comment more on that in future posts in this series.

What is remarkable is not so much that an educated young woman of Puerto Rican ancestry should like old movies, but rather that she does in the face of the overwhelming odds against many young people ever having an opportunity to discover classic films, or if they do, that any appreciation for old movies will be nurtured in a society that has little regard for the elegance and glamour they represent. Especially for a young woman.  Just one case in point:

I recently came across a clothing store website. I think I must have Googled “vests” (I don’t remember why or what now), but the page featured photos of some 12 or 16 models wearing various kinds of vests. Three of them were young men, the rest women, all were from their late teens to early twenties. The boys wore vests as part of a three-piece suit. They did not wear their jackets, but just appeared in shirtsleeves, their ties loosened, their shirts pulled out from their pants and shirttails hanging, their arms crossed. They glared at the camera to send the message of their hipness, their utter unconcern for what we think about them or the vain stubble on their baby faces.  They looked like preppie punks, but each conveyed an image of power. They were confident.

The girls all looked like prostitutes.

They wore vests that were not stylish or businesslike, just various scraps of material to decorate almost as an afterthought the real merchandise—the sexualized, barely of legal age, female. Each by the skimpiness of her unflattering outfits, and mostly by her vulgar posing, represented the old adage “sex sells”. Their dreary Goth-made up faces wore the same look of hip indifference as the boys, but where the boys looked like future executives (God help us), the girls looked like prostitutes. They were not given an image of control as the boys; they were assigned the role of object to be possessed. They were meant to be ogled, but for most of us, their photos are too tragically disgusting to look at. This image was apparently conceived by an ad agency as good business. This image was apparently approved by the store chain as good business.

Neither clearly give a damn about young women.

We often hear in our society today complaints that there are not enough women in Congress, not enough women in business, etc. Well, we’re not exactly encouraging them to wear business suits, are we?

And now TCM has a female host.  I have watched Tiffany Vazquez give her movie introductions for a few weeks now, and I am more than pleased—I am relieved. The future of the classic film fan is going to depend on young people who admire classic films enough not to regard them with snark or condescension, but who will empathize with the long ago generations that made them. They may even want to copy a little of what they see and adopt it for their own personal style. Image, even as those soulless ad agencies and store chains know, is a very powerful tool because it is a personal imprint.

Where the ad agency and the store chain make their mistake (and have bludgeoned our society for the last couple of generations) is trying to bait a younger demographic by imitating that demographic's immaturity, instead of trying to uplift them to something better.

I like Tiffany Vazquez’s style. If she had appeared like one of those repugnant store chain models, and saying, "Like, ya know, awesome," I would not have cared how enthusiastic she was about old movies: I'd have canceled my cable subscription.

I look forward to a future occasion where she might express her opinions on classic films, more than just introduce them. I’m interested to hear what she has to say. When she remarked in an interview that she had a habit of “introducing” films in the shower, where some people sing, I had to laugh because I identify with that.

Not that I ever introduce movies in the shower. I just wash up, sing a couple of show tunes, write my initials in steam on the glass shower door, and I’m out of there.

But I do have a habit of thinking about movies and writing descriptions and opinions and analysis in my mind. It was from that habit that this blog was born. I got tired of talking to myself.

Good luck, Tiffany. Congratulations on your new job. See you Saturday.

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Part 1 of the year-long series on the current state of the classic film buff is here: A Classic Film Manifesto. 

Part 2 is here: Cliff Aliperti’s new book on Helen Twelvetrees.

Part 3 is here: An interview with Kay Noske of Movie Star Makeover.

Part 4 is here: Evolution of the Classic Film Fan.

Part 5 is here: Gathering of the Clan at Classic Film Festivals.


Part 6 is here: John Greco’s new book of film criticism: Lessons in the Dark.

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My audio book version of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., narrated by Toni Lewis, is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.
 

12 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

It's true! I don't always look at it that way, but the classic film fan demographic is unique in its make-up. Like you, I look forward to seeing Tiffany grow as a presenter. I hope the staff of TCM realizes their responsibility as guardians of classic film.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, you put it well (as usual) about the hope of the TCM staff realizing their responsibility as guardians of classic film. I don't know if they see it that way at the network, but that makes for an interesting conversation.

John/24Frames said...

I have not seen Ms. Vazquez yet but I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman and Hispanic added to the mix. I don't know what the TCM demographics are, but I assumed they are "older" folks. TCM needs, and we are classic film lovers, need to somehow draw a younger audiences in. Hopefully, Ms. Vazquez can be a start in that direction. It's tough because most young people are not interested or appreciate the past. It's not just the current youth market. I think it has always been like that with many.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

It's a delicate balance between drawing in the youth market, and yet not pandering to them. I do believe that many more people introduced to classic film can become real classic film fans, but I think this is a special demographic. I have had occasion to see TCM on in a public place and been amazed to see people older than I not know anything about the films, or be able to recognize any of the actors - except for perhaps John Wayne.

Beth Ann Gallagher said...

I enjoyed reading your very thoughtful evaluation of Tiffany Vazquez's abilities, importance, and potential! You make a great point that many of us started out as young classic film fans due to the everyday access we had to them to TV. Look at how young Leonard Maltin was when he became an expert! I tend to think his correlation in the much more specified and rarefied world of silent film cartoon is Tommy Jose Stathes. It's a great point that unlike a lot of us, Tiffany studied film and has more of a formal education in it. I'm sad to write that some of the backlash against her I suspect has nothing to do with her being seen as a sheer demographic decision, but simple jealousy. I'm eager to see how she develops as a host! Osborne and Mankiewicz were given that chance, and Vazquez deserves it, too.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thank you, Beth Ann. I agree, I'm very interested to see Tiffany's career progress at TCM, and I wish her well. As for any backlash due to jealousy, well, that may be. People are funny sometimes. But I think she'll do very well in the job.

Thomas Valentino said...

Personally I think she's terrible. Stiff, no connection with the audience, wooden. Katherine Hepburn once said when asked about her success, "I don't know what "it" is, but I've got it." Either you connect somehow or don't. A very poor choice.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Obviously, I disagree with you Thomas. But I understand how a host can either "click" with a viewer or not. There were a few guest hosts on previous occasions I didn't enjoy very much.

Dan said...

Thomas is correct. She's terrible. Wooden, pedantic, grating voice, and she tends to give away plot points in the intro to movies. I skip over her segments.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Welcome to the blog, Dan. We're just going to have to agree to disagree, but thanks for your comment.

Lori Morgan said...

Honestly I wanted Tiffany Vasquez to do well but she is awful. Her monotone, boring introductions are difficult to watch.
She lacks energy and inflection. While her appearance is polished and she refrains from using 20-something slang that is not enough to make her deadpan delivery on par with Her more seasoned counterparts.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Hi, Lori - welcome to the blog. While, as with Dan's comments above, we'll have to agree to disagree on Ms. Vasquez's performance, I can only point out that her introductions are written for her, and that the key words in your phrase, "her more seasoned counterparts" - more seasoned - explains why she is not yet on par with them.

Considering how ill received Ben Mankiewicz was at the beginning of his tenure, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for Tiffany Vasquez to win over the audience -- or if, judging by the strong dislike by a few of the above comments -- she never will.

I like the discussion this subject has generated, however, I'm leery at the prospect of this blog turning into a forum for Tiffany-bashing. With the double intentions of 1) keeping this discourse civil, and 2) ensuring that, because it is my blog that my hands are always on the tiller -- I may cut off further comments regarding this subject if they ignore other issues expressed in the post and simply use this forum to register dislike of Ms. Vasquez. Those who feel compelled to complain about her can easily contact TCM -- where their opinions on this matter will carry more weight.