Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Stories"

While I'm far from a soap opera fan and have never gotten through a full episode, a friend of mine had a recurring role on a recently cancelled series. As a result, I know a few things about the genre, more than I ever would have imagined.

The form is highly dramatized, frequently focusing on one central family, and then branching out from there. With new episodes daily almost every weekday of the year, the rule of thumb is generally quantity over quality, and dialogue is sometimes paraphrased (both due to the difficulty of memorizing so much in a limited time span, and that the writing generally isn't high quality--the actors know their characters better than some writers and can change words to fit respective speech patterns). Soaps frequently feature musical underscoring, which can heighten the tension or shape a specific mood.

The genre is losing popularity, largely thanks to the rise of Tivo and the DVR. As soaps are on daytime TV, much of the viewership stemmed from housewives or other women who were at home during the day. When it became easier to view the previous night's shows the next day, ratings dropped. Even though the VCR had been around decades prior, it never had as much of an impact as the digital revolution.

Also worth noting is that some people (especially Southern women) refer to soap operas as "stories." As in: "not now--my stories are on!"

I'd like to point out the similarities between conventions of traditional soaps and the more recent scripted reality for the MTV generation (i.e. Laguna Beach and The Hills, as mentioned in the FLOWTV article), as there are definite overlaps between the two. When Lauren Conrad is deemed a celebrity for doing very little more than allowing the public to view her life (or a fictionalized version of it), that speaks to the strength of the "feminine popular culture" described in the reading by Rogers. In both forms, music is a crucial element, and dictates the emotional impact of the scene. The main difference is that the "reality" shows frequently feature contemporary or distinguishable soundtracks, some of which have lyrics that comment on the action. Soaps just feature instrumentals, and the music is rarely if ever heard out of context of the show.

A major difference between the two genres is the power of women--for the most part, the various jobs and internships being offered to the characters on The Hills are from female employers or authority figures. As far as I know, and based on a quick internet search, (straight) men are only really featured as boyfriends or pieces of the puzzle that is the interactions between the principal female cast, a similar dynamic to that seen in "Sex and the City," as discussed in Arthurs' chapter. This is supposed to be empowering for women, however, the lack of mental prowess of many main characters sets them back even further. Rogers said that men treat soap women like children, as do the women in these scripted reality shows. However, in the case of the latter, it's appropriate...but for the ability to drink legally, engage in adult-level relationships, and worry about employment, these women essentially are children anyway, and it's fair for them to be treated as such.

It's great that girls and young women are being exposed to stories featuring powerful women and giving them something to emulate, but that raises the question--are these the kind of people that the next generation should really be emulating?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

30 Rock takes on GA

OK, so short little follow up, but I just watched tonight's 30 Rock, and it dealt exactly with what we were talking about today! A pretty good episode, to boot.

White Trash or Redneck (what's with all the colors?) Humor

The first thing that came to mind while reading this week's Price article was the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. The Blue Collar Comedy Tour consists of 3 or 4 comedians making redneck jokes. They pretty much just tell the same type of jokes over and over and pander to the stereotype that the south is full of uneducated, racist, right-wing 'hicks'.

But, people go crazy for it. They've gone on multiple tours, have a television show, a radio show and 3 DVDs. And that's just as the comedy troupe. Bill Engvall has his own television show, titled The Bill Engvall Show (in which he apparently plays a character names Bill Pearson). Larry the cable guy managed to secure THREE feature films based his character. Three movies based on stupid junior high fart jokes and intolerance. In his article Ralph, Fred, Archie and Homer: Why Television Keeps Re-creating the White Male Working-Class Buffoon, Richard Butsch describes how the working-class male is portrayed in the media. He states, "[White working-class males] are [presented as] dumb, immature, irresponsible, or lacking in common sense... He is typically well-intentioned, even lovable, but no one to respect or emulate" (p. 576). But the persona's these comedians have created do not seem well-intentioned and are certainly not lovable in my opinion. Jokes like :

"I was more pissed than a queer with lockjaw on Valentine's Day."

"This is a song about an illegal Mexican hitchhiking through Texas. I call it 'El Paso.'"

"There'll be a new show out next week called Black Eye on the Queer Guy."

(all taken from rollingstone.com article on larry the cable guy)
are not well intentioned. Stereotypical humor doesn’t make me draw comparisons and bring me closer to different cultures. If anything, it accents the differences and fuels the fire of racial tension. And it's not even the racism, homophobia, misogyny, and perpetuation of urban-rural/red state-blue state polarization that bother's me most. It's the fact that it's just not funny.

And no, I'm not going to post a clip. But instead, I'll leave you with...
wonder showzen!

The Working-Class Buffoon in the 31st Century

An example of a working class buffoon appears in the animated series, Futurama. Fry is a pizza delivery boy in the late 20th century. On a pizza delivering trip, he accidently freezes himself and ends up releasing himself into the 31st century. He is then taken by the Professor, who is one of Fry’s relative in the future and the one who employs him to become a delivery boy in his company, Planet Express. Whether in the past or the future, Fry possesses every trait of the white male working-class buffoon: “dumb, immature, irresponsible, [and] lacking in common sense” (Butsch 576). He is constantly seen causing trouble while on missions around the galaxy. He is also really good friends with Bender, constantly slacking off with him and committing irresponsible acts.

While there are no “mature, sensible wives” in Futurama, Leela, the captain of the delivery ship and Fry’s love interest, plays that role (Butsch 576). She is a competent captain skilled in combat. She is also quite witty when it comes to rejecting her constant suitor, Zapp Brannigan. As an orphan, she is light years ahead of Fry in maturity. Furthermore, she constantly saves her shipmates from trouble.

It is quite ironic to see that the white male working class buffoon still exists in the (fictional) 31st century.

Swapping trash


(Note the two different hands "swapping": one with red polish and a pearl bracelet, the other is bare.)

Shows like "Wife Swap" use stereotypes to fuel their programs. Because one family is a certain way, the other has to be the polar opposite (to create drama, of course!). There you can find the white trash family, probably "uneducated, macho, close-minded, dirty, fat, insensitive, monster-truck show watching," swapping their wife with a completely organized and proper wife who will make her temporary family lose weight and stop eating so much meat (Price). The white trash family's faults are not only highlighted but are deemed as characteristics that need to be fixed which would "bolster [the American society's] confidence in the correctness of the modern lifestyle" (Price). Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the family nor find a video clip of one, but I assure you, that stereotype lives strong on "Wife Swap."

For another example, I present Brooke Hogan.
From reality show fame, Brooke Hogan is often referred to as "white trash with money," thanks to her wrestling dad Hulk Hogan. With her tan and platinum hair, Brooke isn't just a white blonde; her clothes, behavior, and style just don't belong in the same class that her family wealth suggests. Her attempted career as a pop singer is not a typical working-class occupation and those in the working-class work regardless of job type, a paradox Price includes in his site because "white trash" is about lessening "moral qualities" rather than "economic difficulties," and even with money, she behaves in low-class ways (Price). Also after promoting her (terribly unsuccessful album) at Walmart, her association with that store caused her social status to plummet in addition to the low sales. Her image encourages the label of "white trash."



Plus, there are pre-made costumes that you can purchase if you want to be "white trash" for halloween..

Bridging The Cultural Divide

Looking through these readings I was reminded of two intersecting videos, the first a sketch from the comedian Louis C.K about "white trash" from a performance a few years back and the other a video by the comedian/ actor/ performance artist Andy Kaufman from the early 1980s. What's strange now is how different the two videos are, while Louis C.K. appraisal of white trash is funny and seemingly neutral, Kaufman's assesment of the working class is deeply disturbing, though this likely has more two do with the comedians than does the issue of classism, it's interesting none the less.



Louis CK in positioning himself as a member of the lower class (which he is not) neutralizes the issue of material wealth class and instead makes class an issue of
local -- he uses "white trash" to describe people from "upstate" rather than those of less substantial means and what begins as a conversation about wealth ultimately becomes device when taking about geography.

What Louis CK is particularly good at, is separating himself from his comedy. By reporting the assertions of society, rather than his own views, he implicates us all. In doing so the responsibility is either spread among us all or transfered to another (abstract) group entirely. As a result his humor remains funny without making him seem to antagonistic or personal.

This separation from subject puts him in an odd critical position and forces us to reconsider the power structure implicit in any kind of evaluation of the other.




That relationship is played up in this video from Andy Kaufman in which he becomes the unquestionable oppressor in a highly antagonistic, confrontational video which is funny only in its incredible unease. Unlike Louis CKs video which is funny and neutral, this video is highly disturbing in a way that immediately makes the viewer uncomfortable. Here Kaufman villainizes himself and helps us sympathize with the underclass only through his own spectacular oppression.

Mulder and Scully Go Down Home


"Home" from season four of The X-Files deals with many of the issues brought up in the reading. In the episode, Mulder and Scully are called down to the rural Home, PA to investigate the death of a deformed baby fond buried under a baseball field. As it turns out, this is the work of three brothers (who are all themselves deformed), who are a part of a family that has been in-breeding since the civil war. The brothers have been sleeping with their mother, who they store under a bed, limbs removed.

This paints an extreme portrait of the "hick" or "hillbilly," as an inbred, unenlightened subset. We see these people as extremely dangerous, primitive (they live without electricity or running water), and physically disgusting, which is obviously what these people are actually like. This portrayal reinforces rural lower-class whites as violent against the upper classes (represented as the sheriff that is killed and Mulder and Skully) that is exemplified in the reading.

However, and Mulder talks about this at the beginning of the episode, there is also a hint of the "good country folk" that Price discusses. Mulder seems to respect the simplicity in which these people live, even if they seem disgusting and are committing crimes. Throughout the episode there is a sort of reverence for the rural lifestyle, which is also explored in later episodes.

White Trash Turns Buddhist....Sort of


My Name Is Earl is a perfect example of how a TV sitcom uses the white trash stereotype. It's complete with all of the stereotypical white trash components from the trailer park to the southern drawl to the dumb girlfriend who's dating a black guy. Just take a look at Earl himself: Plaid, scrungy shirt, jeans, and a handlebar mustache. He also embodies the characteristics of the working-class buffoon that Butsch describes. Earl appears to be "dumb, immature, irresponsible, and lacking in common sense" (576) however there's a bit of a twist. The whole show is based on the knowledge that Earl used to be all of these things and always have run-ins with the police, but after losing a winning lottery ticket, he blamed this on a life of sin so he decides to change his old habits by seeking karma through performing good deeds. The show's creator, Greg Garcia, says "It shows that just because you live in a trailer park it doesn't mean you can't have an epiphany and want to be a better person, and whether you are competely immersed in the teachings of Buddha or not, you can still grasp the concept of do good things and good things happen."

So does the show help to break the white trash stereotype or at least put a positive spin on it or not?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Motivational Televison?

Both of the articles this week focused on different elements of the "poor, dumb, White trash" stereotype used in the media. While Butsch explains this phenomenon from a Marxist perspective, citing cultural hegemony as the basis of this stereotype, Price examines it from an audience perspective, claiming that cultural interpretation of the real life American working class affects the representation of the working class portrayed in the media.

While Butsch's argument is valid, and most likely true, I believe that the continuation of the use of these stereotypes in the media is mainly attributed to the fact that the audience is consistently willing to indulge in these stereotypes. Price claims that "our capitalist society teaches us that we all get what we deserve -- the rich and the poor". The constant focus on programs including smart and sophisticated middle to upper class citizens is partly due to ambition on the part of the viewer - most people want to watch programs that inspire them and make their own goals appear easier to achieve.

In recent years, many reality shows have fueled the "working class White trash" stereotype. Usually, they incorporate a potential chance for these characters to gain monetary compensation or social status by, for example, marrying someone of a high class, or by becoming famous. There are many examples of this, but VH1's "Rock of Love" first comes to mind - this show deliberately depicts women in the "white trash" stereotype as they compete for the heart(this is debatable) of Bret Michaels. However tacky as this may play out to the majority of the audience, there is a sense of ambition, as these characters compete to raise their financial and social statuses.

Is This Really Texan Life?

Until I can find a higher quality clip, this will have to do:

King of the Hill is an animated sitcom from Fox, which aired for over a decade. I've only seen one episode, but it was surprisingly interesting. The show is set in Texas, and centers around one family--the father is in a white shirt below, and the other three men are his friends. The opening theme gives the impression of Butsch's "working class buffoons." Four men stand outside a house drinking beer all day, while the world functions around them. The most productive thing any of them do is take out the trash, but even that's a stretch--the wife has already taken it out, and merely hands it off to her husband, who just has to walk a few feet to the trashcan.

What was memorable to me about the episode wasn't the elements listed above. Had that been the main content of the series, I doubt that it ever could have lasted for over a decade, let alone more than a full season or two. Even though there were plenty of jabs at stereotypical Texas (and one guy in a tank top who was borderline mentally retarded), the show was about family. Regardless of the state, economic class, or general way of life, most parents want to instill good values in their children.

While at first, my middle class New Yorker Democrat self was laughing at the characters featured in "King Of The Hill," and I certainly looked down at the "buffoons," I ultimately realized that there was more to it, and that the messages being delivered were no different than higher class shows dealing with family or raising children. Not bad for one 22 minute episode!



The Buffoon and the Rest

I'm really sorry but this is just the perfect example.

Peter Griffin is the ultimate working-class buffoon because he works in a beer factory/ toy factory, and he's the biggest idiot on television. He is "dumb, immature, irresponsible, and lacking in common sense" (576).

Meanwhile, Lois is the sensible, nature wife who tells Peter not to act like an idiot. She is a housewife but occasionally teaches piano. But because it is a comedic show, she can act stupid and foolish sometimes.


What is great about using Family Guy as an example is the fact that its history is proof of the success of the used formula of the working class buffoon. Family Guy has been canceled twice and brought back and is currently on air. Its DVD sales are so high and the following is strong and cult-like.

I believe that most shows almost always has that one buffoon and that one sensible character(s) that straightens the buffoon.

The Office- Michael Scott is the buffoon
30 Rock- Tracy Jordan is the buffoon and Tina Fey is the sensible one
Parks and Recreation- they all do stupid stuff and straighten each other out

Arrested Development- everyone is buffoon-like
Malcolm in the Middle- the mom works in a grocery store but she's the sensible one who straightens out her boys

The RV White Trash


OK... so as a lot of us already noted, based on the Price article about the White Trash stereotype, this stereotype is constantly recreated in different kinds of media, such as literature or movies. And every time a character/characters are created according to this stereotype, they exhibit the same characteristics and they act the same way. But I think that I agree with the argument that Butsch poses, saying that the reason why these stereotypes, whatever they are, are constantly re-created, is because it makes it easier for the producers to have a character that the audience will already know, and not a lot of time would have to be deducted in order for the character development.

One of my favorite examples of the White Trash Stereotype, is the Gornickes family in the RV (2006). They travel in their RV throughout the country, and that's why their children are home schooled. Below is a clip from the movie, that perfectly mirrors the way that the Gornickes represent the White Trash stereotype.



Here are the reasons why the Gornickes are perceived as the White Trash by the Munros:
  • a "hippy" name of the Gornickes daughter
  • the Gornickes speak with a heavy accent that is often ascribed to the White Trash stereotypical characters
  • Bob suggests that the only reason that the Gornick's wife can make money while being a stay at home mom, is through being a hooker
  • the Gornickes are seen as stupid and primitive when the daughter of the Munros is offered deer organs to eat for dinner
  • the Munros try to leave the dinner and the Gornickes company as soon as possible, because they think that the Gornickes are too simple and "hippy"
  • the singing that the Gornickes perform at the end of the scene is viewed by the Munros as weird

Al Bundy, The Working-Class Buffoon.

The Ralph, Fred, Archie, and Homer selection, Why Television Keeps Re-Creating the White Male Working-class Buffoon, suggests that certain formulas are employed over and over again by television producers to adhere to time and money restraints. The “male working-class buffoon” is used over and over again because it brings in viewers over and over again.

4375.jpg

http://images.tvrage.com/shows/5/4375.jpg

The perfect example of this “male working-class buffoon” image is alive within the show, “Married with Children.” Al Bundy is a shoe salesman who is dissatisfied with his present life and therefore frequently revisits his past as a football great. As a result of Al’s unhappiness, he is shown frequently tipping back beers and watching tv on the couch.

From his dead-end job to his dysfunctional family, Al Bundy’s life epitomizes Ralph, Fred, Archie, and Homer’s definition of the “white male working-class buffoon.”

Rednecks portrayed on Jerry Springer

The depiction of the working class on the television show "The Jerry Springer Show" does not depict this class in a very positive light. Known as the epitome of the "trash TV talk show" and the "Worst Television Show Ever" by TV Guide Magazine, this show that highlights the troubles found in dysfunctional or bizarre families, most of which would be considered "trailer trash."  For example, some of the show's guests have been 12-year old mothers on welfare, a man cheating on his wife with his sister, or someone confessing to bestiality, pedophilia, strange fetishes, prostitution, etc. The purpose of this television show is to provide some kind of guidance or aid from the host, Jerry Springer, or the audience. However, this attempt to resolve these family's problems usually escalates to tempers flaring, foul language, hearts being broken, women flashing the camera, and fights among the guests. The unkempt guests on the show further deepens the stereotype associated with "rednecks" because, according to Jim Goad, they are considered "inbred, less intelligent, unattractive, trashy, racist, and violent." (Goad, 76) Below is a clip from Jerry Springer in which the previous description is pretty accurately portrayed. 
What is quite amusing about this show is that Jerry Springer, its producers, and pretty much everyone considers it to be more of a joke than a serious talk show. The show has even boasted that it is "an hour of your life you'll never get back." Jerry Springer is portrayed as the helpful, knowledgeable host which develops a contrast between the host who is part of the upper-class and its guests of lower class. He has become more synonymous with his celebrity status, with the audience chanting "Jerry Jerry! Jerry!" at the  opening of the show, rather than the advice he gives to his guests. He has even admitted: "I would never watch my show. I'm not interested in it. It's not aimed towards me. This is just a silly show." 

Monster


The film, Monster, which is based off a true story, depicted the life of Aileen Wuornous (played by Charlize Theron), one of America’s first female serial killers. Though she was born in Michigan instead of the rural south she definitely embodied qualities of “white trash” mentioned within Price’s article, White Trash: The Construction of the American Scapegoat. In Price’s article he mentions that “one class gets the sugar and the other gets the shit,” and in Aileen’s case this was unfortunately true. Firstly, Aileen was clearly “poverty stricken and powerless” (Price), her father was a child molester and spent most of his life in and out of prison. Aileen never managed to receive much education and succumbed to using drugs at a very young age and even became a prostitute at the mere age of 15 when she became homeless.

In the movie, Monster, she clearly embodied the biological differences of a working class white as she was portrayed as being “less intelligent, unattractive (In fact, Charlize Theron had to undergo an extensive make-UNDER in order to play her character, which included gaining a lot of weight, wearing false teeth to make her teeth look more crooked, making herself appear more unkempt and dirty), poor, sick, lazy, dirty” (Price). Furthermore, she embodied moral differences such as being “trashy and violent” (Price). Aileen began having sex with multiple partners at a young age, even including her brother and became pregnant at the mere age of 13 after claiming to be raped by an unknown man. She then became a prostitute and experienced the most violent period in her life when she killed 7 of her clients. She lived in various motels from day to day and often had to shower at gas station bathrooms.


Here is a picture of Charlize Theron before her make-under to look more like Aileen Wuornous:

In Price’s article he mentions that “the working class white is burdened with all the crimes and guilt of the white race over time”, and Aileen’s murder rampage only goes on to reinforce this ideology. It is unfortunate that this is the case as many of these working class whites do not have any control over the life that they are thrust into; some of them just don’t have enough money to afford education even if they want to and their only means of survival is through menial labor. It’s unfortunate and society should focus on helping them out of this plight instead of creating them as scapegoats for the rest of society’s problems.

Good old white trash...vacation style


National Lampoon's Vacation is probably one of the most widely seen and well-known films. If you havent seen the series, I definitely recommend watching because they are hilarious. Through each movie the Grizwold's take a family vacation and are put into all kinds of crazy scenarios and hilarious situations, especially with their white trash counsin -- cousin Eddie. In the original, the trip to Wally World, they encounter a distant cousin living in the middle of nowhere Kansas. They are the classic depiction of what is known as the "white trash" stereotype. Here at cousin Eddie's house, they are introduced to the family who continue to "pop" kids out and refer to them as a "liter." Eddie is drinking beers, wearing his "wifebeater" tanktop, while the kids have an ant farm outback they show off. The cousins daughter is chatting out back with the Grizwold's daughter saying that shes already french kissing and that "daddy says" shes the best at it. Even, their meal of choice is the hamburger helper :) The family definitely embodies Price's theory of the the "white trash" family being racist and filthy. Here's a clip of the "best of cousin eddie."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From White to White Trash

I really enjoyed exploring Price's analysis of "white trash" on the website because I think he did a great job explaining how the representations of working class whites in popular media are responsible for this dissemination of the "white trash" stereotype in society. In this case, Price describes the white trash folk as "the other" in comparison to the typical, white country folk. So, I want to examine an example of this idea of "the other" in media, such as in the movie, Joe Dirt.It doesn't get much more low-class than a low-budget movie containing incest, crazy sideburns, mullets, auto trader, and daisy duke shorts. I tried uploading the video of my favorite quote from this movie but it won't load so here is what Joe Dirt says as he tells the tale of his life story, "Well, I was born without the top of my skull and I guess a little bit of my brains was showin' and it was grossin' everybody out so my mom put this wig on me to cover it up and then the bones grew together and it got all infused and entwined. I mean I don't mean to get all scientific with you.." This is very poor speech, exemplifying Joe Dirt's low-class because this is a long,run on sentence, and it is neither grammatically or socially correct. Before this statement, Joe Dirt talks about his previous jobs of being a janitor at a grade school, a walking billboard, and even a circus carnie- not exactly high paying, respected jobs. Furthermore, as Joe Dirt continues his journey in search for his estranged parents, he has incestuous sex with his assumed sister, gets pelted by hot chili and hot dogs, beat up by thugs, receives mental torment via Kid Rock and his white-trash crew, and finally shoots fireworks at gasoline-filled tubs.
It's too bad that instead of exploiting the ignorance and ridiculousness of the white-trash mentality, Joe Dirt is portrayed more as a sympathetic loser who continues through life by believing in his motivational statements such as "Life's a garden, dig it." Unfortunately, he still illustrates all of Price's qualities of a white trash character because he embodies "ignorance, violence, filth, and base desires" Joe Dirt operates on the "outside of societal boundaries" by committing actions such as hooking up with a family member- something very unacceptable in society, and corrupting the peace by vandalizing and committing stupid acts such as shooting fireworks at gasoline tubs and therefore loses any respect from a typical classy, white, middle class member of society. However, I can't lie, he's pretty funny!
I just wanted to share this timely (and hilarious) clip from The Onion, one of my favorite sources of fake news.

Media Trials

In Surette’s “Crime and Justice in the Media,” where court news is treated as a miniseries and are termed “media trials” (67). A media trial that is developing today is the Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland for his sex crime with a minor back in 1977.

This case fits the criteria of a media trial since it involves “human interest laced with mystery, sex, bizarre circumstances, and famous or powerful people” (69). There are many bizarre facts in this case. First of all, why dig up this after 32 years? How did he, a famous and high profile director, flee the US for this long and was free to travel around Europe directing films? Furthermore, the crime was committed when the victim was only 13 years old. Readers are definitely more sensitive when a sex crime is committed towards children. Lastly, one of the most bizarre things is that the victim of the crime, wants the courts to drop this, claiming that this case has brought onto her damage on her physical health.

The strange thing about these reports is the emphasis on Polanski’s career. Surette writes in the article that media trials focuses on “personalities, personal relationships, physical appearances and idiosyncrasies” of the people involved (68). Many articles mention that Polanski is an Oscar-winning director for his work on “The Pianist.” To me, it is just strange that many articles made such emphasis on his accomplishments in his films, as if underplaying the crime he committed 32 years ago.

Tragedies made even more tragic

A bullet burst through the first-floor window of a Bronx home on Tuesday evening, striking a 92-year-old woman in the back and killing her, the police said.

That’s the opening line/paragraph or “standard lead” of the New York Times article “Shot Kills Woman, 92, in Her Home” from October 21, 2009—and it’s all you need to know to understand the story, basically (Surette 53). The killer was not identified, but the police said “it appeared some youths had gotten into a fight on the street.” This makes the story interesting because there are no suspects and no arrests were made that night.

Rather, the story reveals more information about Sadie Mitchell, a 92 aged widow. With the victim unable to speak for herself, “neighborly bystander accounts” fill the story, told by Mary Fields (Lambaise 75). With her narrative, we know that Ms. Mitchell was a “devout Catholic” who “prepared food and purchased for the homeless” at a convent every Thanksgiving. This is a story “based on the speculation of authoritative police sources and, for balance, include the perspectives of acquaintances” (78).

We gain instant sympathy as immediately as when Lambaise’s article discloses the death of two “all-American” girls because of the tragedy of a sudden death. Another stereotype of the youth getting into a fight on the street add to the speculations of answers. In a utilitarian standpoint, these positive conditions helps make the news article make sense (78). With no answer to the question of why?, the main idea of the news report is not only was a woman shot (accidentally) but she was an innocent 92-year-old, community-service-giving, nice lady.

From tragedy to hoax

One news story that seemed to be everywhere two weeks ago was that of 'The Balloon Boy.' Now, it is quite silly to think that such a story would exhibit newsworthiness, which is "the value of any particular item to a news organization." News stations were providing live coverage of the balloon in the air and during its landing. It even cut away from a live broadcast of President Obama in New Orleans. This story attracted such attention because it was such a bizarre story about a young boy's life in danger, which consequently triggered the audience's emotions and concerns over his safety. This is a perfect example of Surette's definition of a media trial, "in which the media co-opt the criminal justice system as a source of high drama and entertainment." When this news story first unfolded, it was presented as "breaking news" and was dealt with on a very serious level, as you can tell in the youtube video below:
The news reporters followed this story with great concern and described the great lengths authorities took to aid the boy. 
However, once the truth behind this story was revealed, respect was lost and it was portrayed by media as a hoax. It even resulted in a "Balloon Boy Halloween Costume.
This article from New York Magazine deals with this issue as a joke. It jokes that "The best part about dressing up as Falcon, though, is that when you get drunk and vomit on yourself later in the night, you can pretend it's all part of the costume, and instead of people being disgusted, they'll respect you for your devotion to authenticity." The Balloon Boy case is similar to the example Lambiase gave in "The Problem with All American Girls" which focused on the evolution of a murder coverage. It is interesting how quickly the media changes its standpoint and portrayal of the same news story as new evidence is received.   

Corzine and the Upcoming Election

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/nyregion/05corzine.html

Using the Thompson article, I will analyze a New York Times article about the upcoming gubernatorial election in New Jersey and candidate Jon Corzine entitled, "Corzine’s Wall Street Résumé Loses Value for Voter."

This article shows the first part of good journalism: what just happened

Kociniewski cited another article that vilified Goldman Sachs and labeled it as "a great vampire squid" that took everyone's money. Republican rival Christopher Christie campaigns by using Corzine's GS years to ruin his image.

The article also contains some longstanding facts that highlight the career of Jon Corzine:

Corzine's campaign advisers are trying to rebuild his reputation by stressing to the public that it's been 9 years since he left Wall Street. Kocieniewski highlights Corzine's spending habits and goes over his victory in the 2005 gubernatorial election. The article establishes Corzine as an experienced individual with a strong background in finance and someone who came from Wall Street.


The article is more historical than a progressive news story and therefore, the details of how the information was retrieved is not really covered in the article past the occasional citing of a person associated with Corzine. Kocieniewski does refer to surveys that show that the voters’ confidence in Corzine to lead the economy have plummeted.

One part of the good journalistic approaches that was not covered in Corzine's reelection story is "the things we do not know." Perhaps, one could argue that the future of the economy is something that we do not know.

This news story takes into account stakeholders because Corzine, like all politicians, has a tram behind his success and persona. And so during the process of campaigning, it is his team and his allies and partners that have a "stake" in his future for reelection this coming November. The communitarian perspective also needs to be employed because this type of news story is dealing with the citizens who are voting and are deciding the outcome of the election. Therefore, truth and justice are necessary so as to give people a most accurate portrayal of the candidates, in this instance.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Foxy Knoxy: The many (media created) faces of Amanda Knox

It's been two years since the murder of Meredith Kercher and the subsequent arrest of Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy. In those two years the media has managed to create the most sensationalized murder case since O.J. Simpson, involving claims of sex-games gone awry, drugs, race politics, false confessions, police and prosecution misconduct, intertwined civil trials and the popularization of the nickname, 'Foxy Knoxy'.

For those of you not familiar with the case, Amanda Knox, the 20 year old ( now 22) American student and her former boyfriend Rafaelle Sollecito, 24, are accused of murdering and sexually assaulting Amanda's roomate, British student Meredith Kercher, 21, who was found semi-naked with her throat cut in her bedroom in the house she shared with Knox while studying abroad in Italy in November 2007. Based on DNA and fingerprint evidence, a third party, Rudy Guede, 21,was convicted of Kercher's murder and rape and sentenced to 30 years in prison in October. Prosecutors say that Sollecito and Knox held Kercher down while Guede raped her in a sex game gone wrong.

In her "All-American Girls" article, Jacqueline J. Lambiase writes that stereotypes are often used in journalism in order to help the audience connect with the story. She states that women specifically are "frequently depicted in polarized ways. They are either purely feminine or unpurely not - with no middle ground available in this good-evil binary" (75).While both Knox and Sollecito are still standing trial for the murder, the media frenzy has focused only on Knox, with the Italian and British media painting her as a promiscuous and wild "femme fatale". Contrastingly, the American media is portraying Knox as a scared, innocent young girl at the mercy of an unjust, foreign court.. This is can easily be seen from just the headlines of stories about Knox: "Lovers without any inhibitions" , "And in prison, she even tries to sun tan" , "Innocent Abroad", "Amanda Knox: Cold-blooded Killer or Angel-faced Victim?".

Though each countries' news outlets are taking a different stand on the case, they are all employing utilitarian principles in their coverage. Under the utilitarian perspective, "reporters use any means necessary to uncover information pertinent to the unfolding story of suspects and motive" (Lambiase, 79). Journalists have plastered their newspapers with photos they found of Knox on the Internet, even using the nickname "Foxy Knoxy" found on her Myspace page to refer to her. Items from the police's investigative reports including Knox's diary, police interrogations, photos of Kercher's body, video of Kercher's body (which wound up on YouTube but has been pulled), and video of the Italian forensic police carrying out their investigation all made it to press. These media outlets have also been using sensationalizing tactics such as offering explanations of the murder that are direct and simple (Surette, 68), many of them framing the Kercher murder as a "morality tale about unhinged sexuality and drug use among a new lost generation of privileged youths taking a year off from elite colleges to run wild in Italy under the guise of learning a new language" (The Daily Mail).

While the coverage of Amanda Knox focuses more and more on her youth, looks and alleged sexual appetite, it also leads further away from her alleged crime and the memory of Meredith Kercher. For this case should not be centered around Ms. Knox but rather focused on finding justice for the young woman who was brutally murdered.

High Crime

In "Crime and Justice in the News Media", Surette claims that "Criminals tend to be of two types in the news media: violent predators, or professional businessmen or bureaucrats." Adding to Surette's description of criminals portrayed in the news, I argue that going along with the author's latter definition, certain corporations and institutions have become more commonly depicted by news outlets as criminals, most likely as a result of the current economic climate.

The airline industry is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Recently, it has become an enemy of the common public as rising prices and diminishing flights have become common conditions among various airlines. The ideology that big corporations are cheating hardworking Americans out of their money has shaped many news stories concerning the airline business.

Below is a snippet of a news story published by aol.com concerning two Northwest Airlines pilots who missed their final destination by 150 miles because they weren't paying attention:

Wayward Pilots Were on Laptops
By JOAN LOWY

posted: 2 HOURS 7 MINUTES AGO

WASHINGTON (Oct. 26) - Not sleeping, the pilots say. They were engrossed in a complicated new crew-scheduling program on their laptop computers as their plane flew past its Minneapolis landing by 150 miles — a cockpit violation of airline policy that could cost them their licenses.

They were so focused on the scheduling — quite a complicated matter for the pilots after Delta Air Lines acquired Northwest Airlines a year ago — that they were out of communication with air traffic controllers and their airline for more than an hour. They didn't realize their mistake until contacted by a flight attendant about five minutes before the flight's scheduled landing last Wednesday night, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.

The pilots acknowledged that while they were engaged in working on their laptops they weren't paying attention to radio traffic, messages from their airline or their cockpit instruments, the board said. That's contrary to one of the fundamentals of commercial piloting, which is to keep attention focused on monitoring messages from controllers and watching flight displays in the cockpit.

"It is unsettling when you see experienced pilots who were not professional in flying this flight," said Kitty Higgins, a former NTSB board member. "This is clearly a wakeup call for everybody."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called the incident "the ultimate case of distracted driving, only this time it was distracted flying."

The deliberate choice to include this event in the news hints at a current societal focus on corporate "crimes" such as these. Also, Surette argues that "the news...conveys the impression that criminals threaten the social system and its institutions." This is true regarding the basic logic that companies are supposed to provide goods or services in exchange for a fee. The news story threatens to disrupt this equilibrium by hinting that businesses are no longer holding up their end of the bargain. Overall, while this story wasn't a crime in terms of legality, in terms of ethics, it fits in perfectly with Surette's theories.

Here's the full story. I apologize for not getting the link to work.

http://news.aol.com/article/wayward-pilots-we-were-on-laptops/735575?icid=main|main|dl1|link3|http%3A%2F%2Fnews.aol.com%2Farticle%2Fwayward-pilots-we-were-on-laptops%2F735575

Good Cops Gone Bad

One of the most controversial news stories of the 20th century occurred on the night of March 3, 1991 when Rodney King and two friends were driving back from a night of watching a basketball game and drinking at a friend's house in L.A. King, who was driving, had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 (nearly two an a half times the legal limit in California). King refused to pull over, continuing the chase which involved several police cars and a helicopter. After eventually pulling him over, Officer Koon ordered his men to strike King with batons (56 times) and to taser him.

Of course, there are more elements to the story in the police's defense, such as King's alleged bizarre behavior of giggling and grabbing his buttocks at the police, however most of the population reacted to this news story with horror and disgust towards the policemen's actions. In fact, the coverage of this story triggered the Los Angeles riots of 1992 which were strongly linked to civil rights issues of racism (since the cops were white and Rodney was black).

This particular story was extremely popular and was covered by all news television stations, newspapers, magazines, and radio stations because of its obvious controversial subject matter. But what makes it even more controversial and attractive to the American public is the fact that it involves police officers, who are of high ranking and are regarded as the protectors of justice, who are now being shown as the criminal. According to Surette, "the general rule is the higher the rank, the more media interest in the case. Cases involving police corruption and justice system personnel in general are especially attractive to the media" (71).

To make this story even more attractive to the public, a video of the entire incident was recorded by a witness which was broadcasted on a local TV station. Because "pictures are preferred over text" (Surette, 68) the video made audiences even more interested and gave the story a sort of sensationalism or thematic value.

Judge Judy


OK... How many of us just simply don't love Judge Judy?? I'm pretty sure we can all agree that she is one tough cookie, who always has her way. Although I don't follow her reality court cases religiously, I've seen enough shows to know that she ties in with our readings for today. Although this form of media may not be exactly following the layout presented by the Lambiase article, I believe it can reflect a lot of its qualities.
Judge Judy is a 30-minute show that presents domestic cases. Ech of these cases, however, could be represented the same way a typical newspaper article is formatted. At the beginning of each airing, the Plaintiff and the Defendant are both presented in clear light, usually both make it seem as if they were innocent. But as the short trial progresses, Judge Judy uncovers newer and newer aspects to the case, that put both sides of the argument in more negative lights (similarly to the way that the murder of Freelove and Golchert was presented in the papers).
But at the same time, Judge Judy is a show that can express certain qualities of the typical crime/justice news media. As described by the Surette's article, Judge Judy can be classified as the "Media Trial." This is "a regional or national news event in which the media co-opt the criminal justice system as a source of high drama and entertainment" (68). I believe that Judge Judy can be thus described as >a regional event in which the media co-opt the criminal justice system as a source of high drama<. Although Judge Judy is a real judge, who solves real domestic cases, she is also an entertainer who allows to put herself on a TV display, where she is capable to reaching a vast audience in the privacy of their homes. She is definitely a part of the judicial system, and with the help of the media, almost everybody has an access to her. And although real cases are solved by Judge Judy on her show, as Surette point out (76), this judicial system of media is mainly meant for the entertainment of the viewing mass audience.

Perez's news story on Kristin!

kriswenn2625797.jpg

We say, BLAME KRISTIN CAVALLARI!!!

Could this be the end of The Hills?! Has Speidi seen it's day?! Has Kristin destroyed the franchise?!

We sincerely hope so!

In Lambiase's article, she examines how audiences are trained to relate to news characters based on their stereotypes. She states, "throughout U.S. media history, the most familiar characterizations exhibit salience and power." So, I chose to examine one the most popular celebrity blogs, Perez Hilton, and his story on MTV's The Hills' new reality character, Kristin Cavallari. With Lauren leaving the show, The Hills producers had to hire someone "with salience and power," or, someone who would bring in drama and keep audience interest in the show. Hence, producers casted Kristin, and used the slogan "The Bitch Is Back" to advertise for her debut on the show. Kristin exhibits the same stereotypical Hills character qualities: she's blonde, beautiful, thin, sexy, fashionable, and a true California girl. These are all qualities that all characters on The Hills cast embody, including qualities that Lauren brought to the show. However, Perez discusses how it just isn't the same without Lauren and states that Kristin's forced drama is dragging down ratings for the show. Lauren was much more passive and sweet and did not go looking for drama, but rather had to deal with unfortunate and frustrating run-ins with Heidi and Spencer. Instead, Kristin puts herself in a position to create drama by dating Justin Bobby, an ex of Audrina's who she rightfully knows is off limits. This makes Kristin a less classy character than Lauren was, and perhaps this is a reason why so many people have given up watching the show because Lauren was someone most girls look up to and aspire to be, and Kristin is not exactly the girl we want to model our behavior after. Additionally, Kristin's careless attitude also gives a bad vibe because it makes people think she thinks she's better than everyone and is only on the show to ruin people's lives, and many of the viewers who used to watch Lauren do not want to be apart of someone who's taking over a show to make it some big publicity scene and further their career. So, whether Kristin was hired as a media character for Lambiase's reasons such as "sudden deadlines, economic viability, or management expectations," she seems to not be doing as good of a job as producer's expected. Maybe she'll care and want to change her attitude, but chances are we're not going to see that in any upcoming episodes.

Following a crime...

Much of the news dealing with crime and justice has risen to great heights of popularity over the years. As Surette reported in her article, criminal news is paired a lot of times on the same level as entertainment news in terms of readership and popularity. One of the most recent big cases that comes to mind when I think about the news is the Bernie Madoff scandal. This is believe is a great example of what Surette refers to as "court news in a miniseries." Madoffs investigation and trial is still an on going process to this day; however, much of what has already been found out has been through news reports of investigation followed by reports of the trail and sentencing. Surette notes that "media trials involve cases that contain the same elements popular in entertainment programming - human interest laced with mystery, sex, bizarre circumstances, and famous or powerful people," (Surette). The Madoff news has definitely struck a cord with many people, not only because he has ruined the lives of many, but it is in the best interest of the people to be informed of what has gone on because he has effected so many. Surette continues to say that "the media offer explanations of crime that are direct and simple: lust, greed, immorality, jealously, revenge, and insanity." Clearly, there are many opinions believed by the American people involving Madoff -- greed, lust, power-- could be just a few. She then states themes that go hand in hand with these "explanations" --
"abuse of power and trust, the sinful rich, and evil strangers," (Surette). Recent stories such as CNN report on Oct. 22, 2009 stated that Madoff's workplace was involved heavily with cocaine and sexual acts. This further investigation reveals the long process of the criminal justice system as well as the continued reports that follow in the news that appear like a miniseries. These stories are meant to attract large readership and audiences and yet try to maintain and neutral voice in reporting, but it is clear that the media portrays Madoff in a very negative light as they are supporting what the American people want to hear in regards to him and his case.

Big Enough for The Both of Us



Several years ago, while traveling through New England on a dizzying road tour of east coast colleges, I found myself in Middletown, Connecticut once home to the Mattabesett Indians and now to the 2,700 students at Wesleyan University, a school perhaps best known for its nude dormitory and student porn magazine. With an afternoon to spare and some student publications to read I arrived on campus just in time to hear a fully clothed and suprisingly old George Packer lecture on the ethics of journalism. As an enthused reader of The New Yorker desperately trying to establish my credentials as such, I felt no small obligation to pack up my things and join in to hear one of their most respected (and least interesting) writers. Despite the endless prose and obscure references which constitute his massive, though infrequent, contributions to the magazine, his talk was somber and straight-forward.

Having returned from Iraq at the high of the war, a tired and visibly aged Packer relayed two important points: The first was that the war in Iraq was a mis-guided, poorly-managed, under-staffed and over-funded last attempt at American Imperialism the secondly was that only, in the 15,000 words The New Yorker agreed to publish, could he possibly begin to scratch the surface of what he had come to learn in the ten paid months he spent preparing the it. One of these two points seems particularly apt in reading Matt Thomas' article in Poynter. While Thomas' criticism of journalism does not explicitly mention the war it does make use of an article culled from the same publication in this case to make a point about the state of journalism.

What was clear to Mr. Packer but seems to allude Matt Thomas is the privileged position The New Yorker is in. Published only once every other week, with a two month backlog The New Yorker has few obligations to be timely and even fewer to be informative (at least in the utilitarian sense.) Rather, The New Yorker, trades on its insight and rigorous fact-checking (even in fiction), on its in-depth analysis of issues already in the public purview. Quite contrarily The New York Times which is printed every day and updated at least twice an hour online does not have the leisurely privilege of spending 10 months pay or 15,000 words on any single issue, let alone a article. The primary function of The New York Times is ultimately to tell us what happened. While they have an obligation to be transparent it is equally important they are efficient; something no informed reader would accuse The New Yorker.

One needs not go into the archives to draw such a conclusion. Implicit even in the examples mentioned in the article is a fundamental disparity between two very different modes of production. At under 1,100 words stacked neatly on 121 lines, compacted into 29 short paragraphs, the article in The New York Times is could be read almost anywhere by nearly anyone while at a sprawling 7,762 words, 700 lines and 108 paragraphs, the article in the The New Yorker calls for an on duty wet nurse and an external catheter for uninterrupted reading. Equally at odd are the authors: one a compulsive corespondent for The New York Times with a background in journalism and political science (David D. Kirkpatrick) and the other an occasional contributor to The New Yorker and full-time professor/ practitioner of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Hospital (Dr. Atul Gawande.) Though this may seem an aside from the issues at hand it is in fact at their center. To consider Dr. Gawande's article over Mr. Kirkpatrick's is to completely ignore the conditions under which each was written and to discount the prospect that they might each present something valuable; while Dr. Gawande's article was thorough and thoughtful, at nearly 8,000 words it is neither pertinent nor practical for consumption outside of the magazine's limited subscriber base. And while the Kirkpatrick article is does not approach the issue of healthcare with much depth or technical wherewithal, it is clear, timely and well-suited for wide, quick consumption.

This purpose of this comparison is not to assert one journalistic method over another, nor to assign any value or judgement, but rather to point out their differences and ultimately to suggest that they need one another. That together they constitute everything that news should and can be, and that only by engaging in both of these models can we ever truly hope to be "informed."

*If You Like The New Yorker's Legnthy In-Depth Coverage Take a Look at Some Of These: Laphram's Quarterly, n+1, Dissent, The New Left Review, Democracy,

Good Girls Go Bad.

The Liambiase selection addresses the stereotypes employed by present-day journalists in their newspaper articles. She looked specifically at the murder of two “all-American girls” whose characters were turned from innocent to corrupt within a matter of days.

When we think of the phrase “all-American girl,” we get a mental image and character profile to match. The phrase symbolizes beauty, popularity and a sense of athleticism. It is impossible (according to societal ideologies) for anyone who embodies the essence of an American to be anything but perfect. Consider for a second the Natalee Halloway story that was all over the news in 2005. Natalee was portrayed in this light in the early stages of her disappearance. A well-liked teen, honor student and overall good kid, the early reports on Natalee’s disappearance adhered to Liambiase’s definition of the “all-American girl.” Even the pictures printed in the paper backed up the claim:


natalie_holloway1.jpg

http://evilbeetgossip.film.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/natalie_holloway1.jpg

Pearl necklace, long blonde hair, charming smile (perfect American girl).

Just like the article that Liambiase examined in his selection, Natalee’s image was altered as her story continued to be followed. Reporters focused on her heavy partying and carelessness after learning that she ran off with Arubian native, Joran Van Der Sloot. This change in depiction of Natalie paralleled the change in depiction of the two girls in the Liambiase selection.

Crime in the Media

Since the emergence of “yellow journalism”, newspapers have given space and importance to “disasters, scandals, gossip and crime, particularly personal crime” (Surette). Centuries later, the portrayal of murder, rape and assault is still prevalent and has taken on the form of infotainment, which is “tabloid-style television programs that mix news and entertainment formats in exploitative depictions of crime” (Surette). A recent example is the breaking news story regarding Jaycee Dugard, a young girl who was abducted by two religious fanatics, Phillip and Nancy Garrido 18 years ago only to be found a couple months ago. Information regarding this story was broadcasted worldwide in newspapers, news stations as well as in tabloids such as People Magazine (infotainment). Large, powerful headlines summarizing Jaycee’s horrific story and melodramatic depictions of her and her abductor were broadcast all over the news.

People have always enjoyed reading crime because of its “extra-ordinariness, its novelty” (Surette). Stories such as Jaycees’, where someone is kidnapped 18 years ago, and found healthy and alive with two children after being kept in a shed for more than half of her life is an extremely extra-ordinary, novel story that extends beyond the boundaries of the usual crime stories. This tragic story was definitely portrayed to audiences as being a “frightening new strain of crime” (which it definitely is) and thus was able to capture the attention of a wide audience.

“The repeated message of the news and entertainment media is that crime is largely perpetrated by predatory individuals who are basically different from the rest of us” (Surette), and Phillip was definitely portrayed in the media as being different; he was described as having “sick sexual fantasies about little girls for decades” and having “dark desires” and that he was known to neighbors as “Creepy Phil” (NY Daily News).

Lastly, in Surette’s article she mentions that in stories involving crime, “the public is simultaneously shown that the traditional criminal justice system is not effective and that its improvement is the best solution to crime.” In this particular story, it was discovered that Garrido had previously raped a young girl when he was 25 and was sentenced to 50 years in prison but was released after serving just a dozen years. Thus, the media is insinuating that if the criminal justice system had been stricter then this horrific event would have never occurred for Jaycee. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Can Stop Once You Get Enough

While there is a population of people in this country who read a newspaper cover to cover daily, or who feel compelled to know as much as possible about every significant event that has taken place recently, they're the definite minority. Most people don't have time for that--rather, they just want enough coverage to feel as though they've been informed about the world around them, so there's a level of awareness about their place in society. For this majority, headlines usually suffice, which is why the half hour evening news shows are optimal. In one hour, viewers can get updated on all the significant national and local topics of the day. There's not enough time to speak to the missing components mentioned in Matt Thompson's article, such as reporting methods or lengthy supplementary information, but viewers typically assume that reporters have done their research and know what they're talking about. For everyone else, there are numerous 24 hour news networks. Even to people he had never met, Walker Cronkite was the most trusted man in America--he didn't need to justify his methods or detail his research. It was assumed that anything he said on air was reasonable. That kind of support is what networks still aim for today.


In the new reading, Surette says: "The electronic news would give a topic saturation coverage for a short time, then would slack off and turn to something new" [Surrette 56 (Altheide and Snow, 1979)]. I can think of no better current example than the death of Michael Jackson. For days and days, there was practically nothing covered other than every single angle of that story. Once the networks had run out of things to say about his death, they started airing tributes and retrospectives about his life, and interviewing random people with loose connections to him about their thoughts and perspectives. The memorial service is an excellent example: networks had commentators who had to admit to being on the air with no new stories to share, and who had to kill time during the hearse's drive from the funeral to the service, all of which was televised. This is the job of a lesser reporter, yet Anderson Cooper on CNN still managed to draw the proverbial short straw.


It's not as though other things weren't happening in the world while Michael Jackson's death was still a hot topic. Politically, the conflict in Iran was much more important, but wasn't as attractive as having an excuse to play "Can't Stop Till You Get Enough" on the air. Now, Michael Jackson's death has gotten enough coverage to be safe for parody, and I have no doubt that I'll see at least a few at upcoming "dead celebrity" Halloween parties. When a new fact is revealed about the story now, it's just a piece of the puzzle, and isn't usually even a headline anymore--America has moved on to the "enough already" mentality.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Token, the token.

When analyzing this next character, we actually don't need to go further than his name: Token Black.


A comment on tokenism, the creators of South Park added a black student to the show in season four. He's now always seen in group scenes and has an occasional witty or sassy line or two, but rarely has much substantial presence with the exception of episodes that center around racism or plots where his blackness is key (i.e. Cartman being charged with a hate crime, or Stan's realization about the "n word"). He's self-aware of how out of place he is, but still wants to be a part of the group--essentially, resigned desperation turning into an attempt to make the best of an unfortunate situation.


I would argue that Token is a positive representation. While he's the lone black student, we're supposed to be fully aware of this discrepancy, and revel in its ridiculousness. His name makes that clear. The writers weren't adding him to be racist saying: "hey, we make fun of Jews, fat kids, and the poor--let's attack black kids too!" Rather, Token is there to make a point, and subtly make fun of those who do think like the previous statement.


In this clip, Token "magically" discovers that he can play the bass. He's never picked one up before or had a single lesson, but all black people can play bass--that's just obvious! He's only doing this to help the white kids in his class. While it's not as degrading an example as most magic engross, many of the same rules apply:


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Uncle!


The animation series, Jackie Chan’s Adventure, is filled with many stereotypes (many Asians, including Jackie and Uncle, have very heavy Chinese accents) and amongst them is the “wise, old, Asian Asshole.”

Jackie Chan is portrayed as the Asian Indiana Jones. He lives with his VERY old Uncle, and everyone in the series calls him Uncle. First off, he is old. He has gray hair and I mean, the man owns an antique store, which further suggests that he is quite old. He is also cranky and mean. He will scold Jackie (or anyone really) with his signature two-fingered smack on the forehead. He is quite demanding in always saying “one MORE thing” in a chain of commands. He also fits in the stereotype of being skilled in martial arts. However, he is also wise in another way. He is very knowledgeable in history and magic. Throughout the show, he saves the day with magic (CANTONESE!) incantations while armed with a dried salamander and a puffer fish. I personally think that he is pretty awesome.

Here is Uncle armed with a Salamander:

Franklin in Peanuts



The Peanuts cartoon franchise started in the early 1950s and is one of the most famous and influential cartoon series of all time. Because Peanuts was featured primarily in comic strips in the Sunday newspaper and later in films and television specials, its target audience is family friendly, with both children and adults taking part. In 1968(according to Wikipedia), which was also in the heat of the civil rights movement, a new character, Franklin, was introduced into the Sunday comic strip. Because he was African American, Franklin made history and quickly became one of the most famous African American cartoon characters of all time.

Franklin represents many complex themes and ideas, both positive and negative. Primarily, his presence represents the acceptance of diversity. Franklin appears to be normal, and is easily accepted by his peers. His actions and personality appear to be remarkably average. Franklin's ability to blend in sends a message to the readers that being a minority is no big issue because everyone is truly equal. Franklin is normal, therefore all African Americans must be too.

However, Franklin also appears to represent an underlying notion of segregation. Charles Schultz seems to include certain subtleties in order to keep Franklin from fully integrating with the other characters. For example, in this screen shot, taken from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), Franklin is sitting across the table from the other characters all by himself.



Perhaps decisions like these represent political pressure on Schultz in order to diminish Franklin's role. Or maybe they stemmed from the creator himself, who believed that minorities could never be fully immersed into American society. Whatever the case, minor details like these, although not entirely noticeable, tend to become unconsciously consumed by the audience and affect their thoughts and behavior.

Overall, the character Franklin featured in the Peanuts series represents a seamless inclusion of minorities into a largely Caucasian society, however other characteristics appear to undermine this concept by promoting a separate-but-equal mentality.