Friday, August 26, 2011

My Dream

is that some day this comic will not be humorous.

 Instead, people will read it and think, "Of course they're going to read Margaret Atwood novels together as equals - what romantic couple doesn't read Margaret Atwood together? Wait, why is he yelling about it? I'm confused."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Glee Project Finale: Yup, Still All About the White Boys

Above: the top four finalists talk about winning the homework assignments, and Lindsay points out a strange pattern that follows female contestants. Wonder why the show didn't air this conversation?

If you haven't watched the season finale (and I don't recommend it - frankly, I'm still trying to figure out why I watched the series), this post is full of spoilers. Rather predictable spoilers, mind you.

What happened in the season finale? Well, they took the four finalists and had them produce one last music video with the rest of the cast in the background. Then each finalist gave a solo performance, performing a song of his or her choice. But that's not the interesting part, since we all know the finalists' performances on this last episode had little, if any, impact on the final outcome. These actors have been auditioning for weeks, and the directors have had plenty of time to decide whom they want.

And their decisions in the season finale reveal yet another racist, sexist preference, disguised as progression: the two winners they selected are white men. Each of these white men gets a guest starring role on 7 episodes. The other two finalists won two-episode roles, and those runners up include a white woman and a black man. 

Why is that a problem? I'll list off a few reasons:

1. The judges themselves referred to Alex, the black man, as the best singer in the group. They also referred to Lindsay, the white woman, as the best actor. Yet, when it came to the roles that would offer the most opportunities to sing and act, the strongest actor and the strongest singer were passed over for white men.

2. Out of the three white men (not including Matheus, a hispanic man) who began the competition, the only one not to win actually chose to leave. Granted, the judges said they would have sent home Damion, a white Irish man, if Cameron had stayed, but even if that's true, it suggests they needed two white men enough to push Damion through once they lost Cameron.

3. I really couldn't see how Damian and the other winner, Sam, were as strong performers as the runner-ups, never mind stronger performers. This point is subjective, of course, but I mention it because I see no evidence that the white male performers simply happened to be better. Remember, the directors said they were going to eliminate Damion in the 7th episode, after weeks of comparing him to the other contestants. He's charming, I'll give him that, but the judges only preferred him after losing another white boy.

4. Offering much smaller roles to minorities, while featuring white boys (and a few white girls) mimics everything that Glee already does: it creates the appearance of a progressive show that features talent, regardless of race or gender, while still focusing all the attention on white boys.

Of course, the ultimate sad truth is that the judges' decision probably reflects viewer preferences. Viewers in the US by and large prefer stories about white boys. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

No, Rioting Is Not Synonymous with Blackness

When a friend sent me a link to this BBC discussion about the recent riots in London, I can't say I was overly shocked by David Starkey's assertion that the riots resulted from white youths who have "become black," though I was certainly troubled by it. Though the video is full of your typical live news interruptions (Cross Fire style, I might add), it's worth watching the full ten minutes just to listen to the issues the participants bring up. . But if you don't have time to watch the video, here's how I'd sum up the debate: David Starkey says that these white youth have become black, pointing to the way they speak, as well as pointing to violence that he equates with gang culture and rap music. The rest of the panel accuse him of equating whiteness with goodness and respectability, which he denies, but without amending his original statement. Dreda Say Mitchell  argues that the real issue at hand is the prevalence of us/them culture and that we need to move toward a sense of unification.

I find myself oddly excited by this interview, in large part because David Starkey has taken an assumption that many share (ignorantly, in my opinion) and he has brought it out into the open where we can interrogate it
So, here is the question: is gang violence a "black culture" problem, as David Starkey asserts in the interview?

That question and Starkey's assertion have me thinking of a few things. First, I'm reminded of a conversation I had six or seven years ago, when I was a wide-eyed college freshman, and my South Carolinan roommate was dating a North Carolinan man. I mention where they were from because they brought up their home region, not because I buy into the myth that American racism only exists in the South. In one instance, this man made a comment to the effect that he knew and was friends with several black individuals, and that as individuals they were "nice people," but that "when you get a group of black people together, they tend to turn violent." When I mentioned this conversation to my roommate, she said she didn't agree with him but that at the same time I didn't understand what he meant, because I wasn't from the South, and I didn't have the experience with race that the two of them had experienced. As you can imagine, I found this conversation disturbing, particularly because they both held the attitude that I just didn't understand what large groups of black people were like.

Second, I'm reminded of the profound impact that racial stereotypes can have on the way we perceive the same behavior in individuals of different races. The article What if the Tea Party Were Black? makes an excellent and perhaps chilling point about how race impacts political dissent in the US, as does Jon Stewart's more humorous discussion about how Common's rap lyrics compare to the lyrics of some more conservative white musicians (included at the end of this post). Perhaps this all goes back to Mitchell's point about the us/them mentality, and as long as we think in us/them terms we will never be able to see past our own bias.

The us/them issue isn't a new one - it exists in chaos and in the most structured civilizations. Just think of Lord of the Flies, a book usually touted as a moral about what happens when civilization is gone and humans return to a primitive, tribal state. Yet that simplified conclusion is belied by the end, when the survivors are "saved" by a military ship, whose very existence proves they will never escape from the us/them brutality they have engaged in.

Now, I'm not suggesting that all who equate blackness with violence do so on a conscious level, or, in the words of Avenue Q "go around committing hate cri-i-imes." But a person's appearance impacts how we perceive what they say and do. If you don't believe me, try a few IAT automatic preference tests. These tests look at how quickly you're able to sort items into pairs of concepts and ultimately help reveal unconcious biases. The basic premise is that if you're much faster at sorting pictures and words when European/good and African/bad are paired than when it's European/bad and African/good, it's because on some level you associate European with good and African with bad. But you'll find a variety of tests on this website.

But there's another issue at stake here that I want to suggest: while it is both unfair and inaccurate to describe violence as "black," or to even describe "this particular type of violence" as black (as Starkey does), perhaps seeing white young people behave in a way that many stereotype as "black" reveals something very important - this is desperate behavior, not black behavior.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Glee's Love Affair with White Boys

Glee's Chris Colfer, with the show's creators, Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy. Murphy is a judge on  The Glee Project.  (Photo courtesy of vagueonthehow)
Maybe I'm a glutton for self-righteous but hypocritical pop shows, or maybe it's just my backwards penance for having once been a gleek. Whatever the cause, I've been following The Glee Project. I've never been a huge fan of reality TV, so I can't say much about the genre as a whole, but The Glee Project (let's just call it TGP from here on) has revealed a lot about what Glee thinks it's all about - and what it's really about.

If you aren't familiar with this show, here's the basic gist: 12 performers between the ages of 18 and 24 compete for a recurring role in season 3. Each week they sing and "act," ultimately creating a group music video. Based on their performance in the music video, the bottom three are selected, who then perform a "last chance" song, and one is sent home. Same reality schmuck you see everywhere else, right? Except TGP has the Glee legacy of thinking it's progressive and inclusive and multicultural. And like Glee, TGP is so wrapped up in its own image that it can't see the truth, which is that Glee and TGP are all about the white boys. 

Exhibit A: let's check out the initial demographics of the contestants. There were 12 contestants total in the first episode. Six women and six men. That's fair enough, right? But if we look at the race of the contestants, we find 8 white people and only 4 people of color. By the end of the fourth episode, only one person of color was left, compared to 7 remaining white performers. Of the first four eliminated, 3 were women and only 1 was a man. That one man, as you might expect, was a person of color. He was eliminated for suggesting an alternative move in the music video, a suggestion that he made politely and which improved the original direction they gave him. The three white judges who eliminated him thought he had a bad attitude.

When, in the fifth episode,  they finally eliminated a white man, it was a very short man whose hometown was in Brazil. After him, they eliminated a white girl, leaving the cast with four men and just two women. It's miraculous that Alex, the only person of color currently on the show, has made it this far. All these decisions are made by three white men.

If I were to sit down and talk with those three white men, they'd probably tell me I'm missing the big picture and that they choose whoever is most talented and the best fit for the show, regardless of race or gender. They'd probably point to the people of color (and white women) who feature prominently on the show. They'd probably remind me that two of the main characters on Glee are big women and that unlike any number of other shows, Glee actually shows big women in relationships with men who aren't big. They'd probably also remind me that Glee is progressive by developing relationships for homosexual characters. And then, when they said all that and I still insisted that the show is in love with white men, to the detriment of everyone else, then those three white men would probably shake their heads and walk away bewildered.

But here's the problem with Glee's attempts at including everyone: yes, on the surface, Glee and TGP do a hundred little things to suggest they're including everyone. But when you look at the key decisions that determine who gets camera time, character development, and storylines that are worthwhile - and who doesn't - when you look at those key issues, it's hard to ignore the sad truth. When it came to the initial performers TGP eliminated - the ones they saw so little promise in that they didn't want to wait and see more of those performers - they valued white men more than anyone else. And when it comes to characters with depth, characters whose parents are portrayed on Glee and who overcome real challenges in order to grow and learn as individuals - those characters are white men more than anyone else. Yes, some of them are gay and thus minorities in their own right, but they're white men all the same.

Awhile ago I was talking with a friend about how it bothered me that I'd read so little African American lit in my time as a college undergrad. She said, "Well, I don't care who wrote a book. I just care whether it's good or not." But the point she was missing - and which so many of us who are privileged by race, gender, and/or socioeconomics miss - is that what we perceive as "good" is always tinted by subjective lenses. Her high school teachers only assigned one or two books by black people, so how did she have the chance to determine whether she liked black authors?

And the same principle applies with The Glee Project and its parent show. If the three white men who eliminate contestants on TGP don't know how to relate to people who aren't like them, how can they truly determine whether a woman of color is giving a moving performance? A panel of truly representative judges probably would have selected an entirely different cast.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Being SAHD: A Discussion

I have a stack of annotated bibliographies waiting to be graded on my coffee table. What does that mean? Basically, I’d rather do anything else than actually grade them, therefore I decided to surf a few of my favorite websites, a situation that led me to some very interesting articles about the situation of SAHDs or Stay At Home Dads.

Incidentally, this post has no intention of declaring one gender as more suited to staying at home, nor do I wish to belittle the efforts and beliefs of those who choose to do so (my own mother was a stay home mom, and a damn good one too). I merely find the points that these articles raise to be unique; all three articles made me reconsider and rethink the way that I view choosing to stay at home with your children. I think that the questions that these articles promote to be valuable in any kind of feminist discussion, especially since I believe that true feminism is concerned with gender relations and removing sexism from both genders, male and female.

Several months ago the popular feminist blog, Feminist Mormon Housewives, featured an enlightening guest post from a SAHD named Stephen. In his article he discussed his reasons for becoming a SAHD and the fulfillment, concerns and questions his particular circumstances raised in his life.

While Stephen makes a profound statement about the way that a working parent may sometimes view the stay at home parent’s time, (he points out that often the working parent may view the other parent’s time as less-valuable or more flexible) on the whole he views his time as a SAHD as a positive one. Besides that, Stephen is an engaging and humorous author (a fact that makes his article my favorite).

In his final few paragraphs he explains that while he was the primary breadwinner he expected his wife to bend to his schedule and to accommodate the needs of his time; it wasn’t until he became a SAHD and chaffed under a similar attitude of his wife’s, that he understood how frustrating that situation could be.

*Stephen’s article is based on several religious sources and ideals, but the point he makes at the end of his article is definitely a general feminist concern.

On to the article in the New York Times, which is a guest post by a SAHD in response to the release of a new book, Torn, by Samantha Walravens; a book that features essays by women about working vs. staying at home.

Vincent O’Keefe is the guest writer and his argument (or rather concern) is a unique one. He wonders whether his example of staying at home has sent his daughters an anti-feminist message, since it still shows separate gender roles and the financial dependence of one gender on the other. It’s an interesting concept, and one that I think O’Keefe says better so I’ll include a direct quote for clarification; “In larger terms, is a stay-at-home father actually anti-feminist in some ways, since he contributes to traditional breadwinner/homemaker roles, just with different genders — roles that will most likely continue to put more pressure on women than men to tether their ambition for their children’s sake?

While I had always wanted an equal division of labor within the home, I’d never considered the issue in terms of SAHDs. Does the division of labor (no matter who does it) ultimately send a negative idea about housework and raising a family to our children? I know I have more thoughts about this, but I’m struggling to put them into words.

However, my night of work-avoidance didn’t stop there as I discovered another article that dealt with O’Keefe’s and the issue of stay at home


I encountered

this article on mommyish (a website I don’t normally frequent), which offers a rebuttal to the

point made in the New York Times article. Here the author makes the argument that, “choosing to prioritize family (regardless of gender) can absolutely be a fem

inist decision. So often, breadwinner/homemaker debates fail to recognize that parenting and domestic responsibilities are work. Cooking meals, doing laundry, changing diapers, keeping tabs on doctor’s appointments is a vital contribution to families that deserves just as much respect as bringing home a paycheck. To assume that stay-home-parents are somehow “not working” by assuming a domestic role slights both men and women who have devoted themselves to maintaining a home.”

Again, another great point! Was there no end to the discussion? By this point a felt a little like I was going in rounds. Some say yes, some say no, yet all make valuable arguments.

After reading and thinking about the various angles presented in these articles I finally managed to settle on a place for myself (though it sort of feels like a cop-out to me). I think that a fair division of labor is really the only way to go; such a division seems to be the only way to attempt to break out of defined gender roles (no matter who’s doing what).

Now of course, is a true division of labor actually possible or am I merely being idealistic? Probably idealistic, however I do think it’s always positive to have goal.

(Please don't take the top graphic as any kind of commentary; the little boy's face just cracked me up)