Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Blackout


It is Monday night and millions of women are glued to the television screen wondering what one of the women will do next. They are watching Sex and the City, the hit HBO series about four different women living in New York City looking for love, success, and independence. In this particular episode Carrie has asked Samantha for her advice on choosing an outfit for her book cover that represents sexiness and strength. With this information all Samantha hears is the sexy and tries to dress Carrie in nothing but a negligee. Meanwhile Miranda is struggling to balance life as a single mother and powerful attorney while Charlotte seeks love advice from self help books. These four women made up the cast, and every episode offered a new and interesting storyline which included sex, love, and power. Throughout the country everyone was watching it, talking about it, and, more importantly, following the show's "style tips." Women in droves started buying designer handbags and designer shoes in which before the show, had never heard of. With each of the four women being so vastly different, any woman who watched could relate to one of the four characters. The show taught women how to develop a love for themselves which was evidently shown in an episode where the women give Charlotte advice on how to please herself and finally take a look at what was “down there.” Sex and the City also revealed how the four single women could be successful in their careers and not have to depend on a man to give them what they wanted.
Sex and the City epitomizes a very recent turn in the history of the representation of independent women in popular television. The show aired on the cable television channel, HBO, but it has also aired in syndication today on TBS and the CW, garnering unparalleled exposure for the liberated and freed woman on television. It has been said, for good reason, in the mainstream press as a breakthrough for women’s television. Many say that Sex and the City was the first of its kind in what it introduced to popular culture; four single women, living life, and exploring vast radical topics. For many television goers, Sex and the City was not their first introduction to single women exploring radical topics. In the early 1990’s came a television show that followed the lives of four vastly different friends, Max, Synclaire, Regine, and Khadijah called Living Single. Three of the characters shared a New York apartment while Max, the powerful attorney lived across the street and visited every day. The show was filled with plots that revolved around their ever changing relationship with their neighbors, boyfriends, and each other. The show was popular on the FOX network and had to be seeing that for most of its run it was up against the hit Seinfeld. The show ran for five seasons from 1993 to 1998 then ended after FOX cancelled the show. If a search was ever done on the show Living Single, it would be found in two categories. The first is comedy for its witty and comedic plots that always landed one of the girls in a sticky situation. And the second is African-American sitcom for having an all black cast. The show never hit the viewer over the head with the fact that the characters were black, the actors just happened to be black.
Circulating in society and education is the notion of a “color-blind society” (meaning that color is no longer used as a determination of an individual’s chances at life.) This idea had been replaced by the media with “postracial,” (meaning that we have moved beyond race and that race no longer structures our thinking or our actions) (Esposito). In the late 1980’s to early 2000’s the notion of the media being post-racial could have easily been believed. The country seen the emergence of television shows with predominantly African-American cast members that lived normal lives, and the plots never focused on the characters being African-American like their earlier counterparts that emerged in the 1970’s, with shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons. We saw an example of this with the legendary and groundbreaking Cosby Show. When the Cosby Show premiered, it became the most popular television show in the world (Weinman 2009) and demolished the idea that African American television shows were only for a niche audience. The Cosby Show looked into the lives of the Huxtable family as they grew and learned life lessons. The Cosby Show was so legendary because it was the first time an African-American family was displayed as being middle-class and just like any other American family. The show followed Cliff and Claire Huxtable as they raised their five children: Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. Every show was warm and comedic while Cliff Huxtable instilled life lessons and values into his children. The Cosby Show was rated number one in Ebony magazine’s Top 25 Black Shows of All Time. Other shows that made the list and also were big hits during the late 1980’s to early 2000’s were A Different World, in at number two, Living Single, number three, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air at number six. Other shows included were Martin, Girlfriends, The Steve Harvey Show, The Jamie Foxx Show, and Family Matters (Monroe 2007). Today if one was to turn on the television and flip through the major network stations, the only predominantly African-American show on would be The Cleveland Show, a cartoon spinoff from Family Guy.
As Richard Dubin, a professor at Syracuse University, says it bluntly, “There are no more black shows.” This primetime “blackout” as Weinman calls it is happening at a time when things are progressing for African-American actors in films. There is the Oscar hype for Precious, a film based on the novel Push about a young African-American girl who is physically and emotionally abused, Jamie Foxx is being recognized again for his work in The Soloist, and Tyler Perry is becoming one of the country’s most successful film producers. This “blackout” also, strangely enough, happened as overwhelming numbers of people were voting for Barack Obama but making fewer TV shows with African-American leads (Weinman 2009). So what is happening to African-American television shows and why the dramatic change from 20 years ago when viewers could not get enough of African-American shows like The Cosby Show and Living Single? Things that must be examined to help understand the lack of African-American shows in primetime television are viewer trends and network executives, race, racism, and stereotypes.
Mara Brock Akil, the creator of the hit shows Girlfriends and The Game, responded to the cancellation of her shows by writing “somehow, because my characters were of colour, my shows don’t count as much.” What happened with the cancellation of these types of shows so quickly? Some say that it is the same thing that happens to any other type of show. Networks decided they weren’t delivering the exact viewers they (or their advertisers) wanted (Weinman 2009). Just like with comedies aimed at young viewers, networks have moved them to cable channels like Disney and ABC Family. The same goes for light dramas and mysteries, when they are rejected by the major networks, they are shipped to channels like USA and TNT. The same thing may have happened to shows African-American shows; Julie Miller of Movieline.com speculated that the decision of the big networks to shut down production of African-American sitcoms—despite the huge success of Cosby, Fresh Prince and others—was “due to a focus group determining that the ‘trend’ had been exhausted (Weinman 2009).” Another problem with the networks is that African-American writers are finding that there are fewer opportunities to create shows. “As the business contracts, and there are fewer black show,” Dubin explains, “there are fewer black writers in this segregated system.” Akil is one of the several producers who have already found that out; she wrote that she is still not taken seriously in Hollywood despite ‘my veteran experience, which includes running Girlfriends and The Game for two years at the same time (Weinman 2009).’ Weinman points out the counter-arguments to all this by saying that there is no virtue in giving the go-ahead for African-American shows just for their own sake. He points out that shows like Sanford and Son and even The Cosby Show were sometimes accused of ghettoizing black actors and separating them from other shows. As Dubin puts it, “black people work on black shows, and white people work on white shows.”
Network executives are in the seats of media decision making, they decide what gets aired and either un-consciously or consciously help to socially construct images that are usually partial and distorted in their portrayals of African-Americans and other minority groups. This was reinforced when Fernando Espuelas, the chairman and CEO of Voy Group, talked about his experiences with media executives who seemed to have no realistic concept of American minorities (Dates 2005). Espuelas recalled his conversation with an executive during negotiations to sell his talk show, which is executive-produced by Jose Pretlow, whose father is African American and mother is Filipino (Dates 2005). Dates continues to write, at one point, the executive stopped the meeting and said, "I'm totally confused. You, Fernando, are Hispanic but look more German than I do; and you, Jose, are not Hispanic, but you look Hispanic." Espuelas was stupefied:
Here's someone who's literally the gatekeeper of what gets on television, and he still hasn't gotten the news that Hispanic is not a race. It's a culture and an ethnic group, and that we're black and we're Asian and we're everything, and that's very American--we are a reflection of America and that's as simple as it is.
- Fernando Espuelas
“The Hollywood executive, trying to recover from his faux pas, went on to say how much he appreciated his gardeners because they are so hard working. Espuelas confessed that at one time he suspected there was a plot to keep minority programming off television, but he now concedes, ‘There's no plot--there just is no context.... How do you ever recover from a meeting like that (Dates 2005)?’”
This brings us to the topic of stereotyping in African-American shows and how the negative portrayals of African-Americans only help further the damage. Dates finds that:
Among the first African American scholars to identify and comment extensively on the bifurcation of black images in American culture along racial lines was the literary scholar Sterling A. Brown. In his pioneering study The Negro in American fiction, Brown described the striking differences in the fictional representations of African Americans by white authors as opposed to black authors. Brown identified recurring caricatures, particularly the "contented slave," the "wretched freedman," the "tragic mulatto," and the "comic Negro" as the most persistent African American stereotypes to emerge from the nineteenth century and carry over into his era. These stereotypes continue to be cultivated today--and without strong intervention strategies, they will contaminate the twenty-first century.
The most often portrayed stereotype in the twenty-first century of African-Americans is one of the overly aggressive, large black male. Black masculinity being defined by urban appeal, attitude, and aggressive behavior, has made its way into the cultural mainstream. The image of black masculinity had developed largely as a result of the commodification of hip-hop culture (Henry 2004), rap music and the videos that promote it. Specifically, Henry finds that the popular urban “gangsta” and his embodiment in rap of musicians like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Tupak Shakur.
In the American culture, beginning the early 1980’s, we have seen an increase in the presentation of the male body in the media as the hard body. Before the 1980’s, presentation of the female body was most popular in advertising, television, and film and still continues to be popular today. The media presents men’s bodies as big, strong, and more muscular than ever before in history. Concomitant with this change in the male body image has been a rise in the level of violent behavior among men (Henry 2004). It has also been observed in men that a way of compensating for loss of power or manhood is to adopt what Jackson Katz calls the “tough guise,” the pose or mask of “hard” masculinity (Henry 2004). The tough guy which, the media has exploited in television and films, and has aligned with black male identity, Henry says is increasingly defined within popular culture by urban life, rampant materialism, fatalistic attitudes, physical strength, and the acquisition of respect through violence or the implicit threat of violence.
As noted previously black male identity has been popularized by the commodification of hip-hip culture. The hypermasculine fa├žade is neither unique to hip-hop culture nor particularly new (Henry 2004); pointing out the Black Power movement of the 1960’s. Henry argues that that the Black Power movement helped “define the politics of race within a metaphorics of phallic power,” which formed out of the male activists’ “desires to counter cultural articulations of black male inferiority,” which is seen in the writings of such activist Malcolm X and Huey Newton.
As is known, “black images in American films have usually been reflections of the history of race relations in this country (Henry 2004).” Today being no different than 50 years ago, W.E.B. DuBois said it best when prophesying “the problem of the color line” would dominate the planet for at least another one hundred years.
Race is simultaneously personal, intracultural, intercultural, and inseparable, in terms of creation and consumption, from popular culture (Dates 2005), which in America is not just entertainment. Popular culture, especially television and film, is a power vehicle for change. “During the civil rights movement, television was ‘the chosen instrument of the revolution’” (Dates 2005). Even though gains have been since the civil rights movement, racism continues to be prevalent in America and the media, limiting portions of the nation’s citizens. It can be said that the media functions as transmitters of ideologies because the myths they reproduce for the public “explain, instruct and justify practices and institutions… linking symbols, formulas, plot and characters in a pattern that is conventional, appealing and gratifying… in tales of redemption that show how order is restored (Dates 2005).”
It is argued that in American society the mass media “helped to legitimate inequalities in class, race, gender, and generational relations for commercial purposes (Dates 2005),” and communication matters as it encourages consumer consumption. Dates argues that the media tilts toward the upper classes with information systems tending “to distribute information, including the mass media, in a form most familiar to users with more education,” contributing to the knowledge gap between the classes and widening the gap between races (Dates 2005).
Racial images in the mass media are marked with positive and negative symbols. When these symbols become accepted, they help drive the misperceptions and misunderstandings between the racial groups. Representations of the different races help mold public opinion and set the agenda for public discourse on the race issue in the media.
The media and society need to reassess how African-Americans and other minorities are represented in television and film. This can be done by displaying the gains and refusing to show negative images for commercial reasons and documenting their realities, even if different from the “norm.”




References
Dates, J L, & Mascaro, T A (Summer 2005). African Americans in film and television: twentieth-century lessons for a new millennium. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 33, 2. p.50(5). Retrieved December 15, 2009, from General OneFile via Gale
Esposito, Jennifer. 2009. What Does Race Have to Do with Ugly Betty? An Analysis of Privilege and Postracial Representations on a Television Sitcom. Television and New Media.
Henry, M. (2004). He "Is" a "Bad Mother*$%@!#": "Shaft" and Contemporary Black Masculinity. African American Review, 38(1), 119. Retrieved from MAS Ultra - School Edition database.
Kaye, Jermey. Twenty-First-Century Victorian Dandy: What Metrosexuality and the Heterosexual Matrix Reveal about Victorian Men. Journal of Popular Culture. Vol 42, No 1. February 2009. P 103-25
Monroe, Bryan. 2007. "TOP 25 Black TV Shows OF ALL TIME." Ebony 62, no. 12: 229. MAS Ultra - School Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed December 15, 2009).
Weinman, J J (Dec 7, 2009). Prime-time blackout: Where did all the major network shows about black families go?. Maclean's, 122, 47. p.50(3). Retrieved December 15, 2009, from General OneFile via Gale:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sex and the City


I was lucky enough to be a part of the fabulous Sex and the City group and work with such great group members who did a great job. I'm sort of a fan of the show and had probably seen about 85% of the episodes before the presentation. We gave out mock martini's, showed a clip of a scene, and broke the class up into character groups to answer questions about views of the women on Sex and the City. I helped through contributing questions that the individual groups answered.

Space and Place

For those that are fans of the hit television show Sex and the City, they know that it follows the lives of four very different women and it chronicles their relationships, friendships, careers, failures, and successes. The television series ran for a few seasons on the HBO network and through those seasons we followed the many relationships of all four women. In the YouTube clip Carrie Bradshaw, the main character and her relationship with “Big,” the guy that she has been seeing on and off and eventually ends up with. In the scene Carrie is having a flashback of when Big and herself where involved in a bedroom scene. In Barker’s Culture Space and Urban Space, he discusses space and place and describes them as being “absence-presence” (376). “Place is marked by face-to-face encounters and space by the relations between absent others” (376). In Carrie’s flashback she is reminiscing on their time together because she is feeling guilty about it. Carrie’s flashback, although not being an actual face-to-face encounter would still be considered happening in a place rather than space because as Barker says to distinguish between space and place, place “focuses on human experience, memory, desire, and identity” (376). Carrie’s flashback was came from her memory and her desire to be with Big.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Pretenders

The Pretenders
MySpace, one of the worlds largest social networking sites, connects it members with old friends and allows its members to meet new friends through unique profiles that allow them to share pictures, comments, blogs, and so much more. The social networking site is popular among all ages ranging from middle school children to grandparents. Some of MySpace’s members utilize the site to keep in touch with old friends and relatives; others use the site to meet new friends. It is even a widely known fact that some employers use the site to spy on potential candidates with whom they have interviewed to see if they would be a right match with their company. For those that use the site to meet new people, they are not just looking to meet any type of new friend. They are looking for potential mates and sometimes even just a “booty call.” At times MySpace can resemble a dating website. The ability to share pictures allows for potential suitors to view each other without ever having to meet face to face and comment sharing allows for its users to communicate without ever having to reveal personal emails or phone numbers. Unfortunately just like a dating website, the information shared between users on MySpace can sometimes be deceitful.
According to a study that examined the accuracy of dating websites it found that “both men and women report lying to a member of the opposite sex to initiate a date.” “In the absence of direct physical contact between daters, characteristics such as height and weight can be easily misrepresented, photographs manipulated, and status and income exaggerated.” This is all done to make themselves seem valuable in the eyes of those they are trying to pursue. For many the goal is not to be the most desirable man or woman on the planet but to be the most desirable man or woman among those they are competing against for the affection of another. As I stated earlier, some MySpace users use the site for one thing, someone to hook up with. These users can sometimes be deceitful in their profiles, masquerading as someone they are not, with one goal in mind, sex. The movie Wedding Crashers is an example of those who masquerades as something they are not to end up having sex.
In the movie Wedding Crashers two men Jeremy Klein (Vince Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) crash weddings as their hobby each weekend for free food, alcohol, and the hopes of seducing lonely bridesmaids. Jeremy and John use fake names while masquerading as war veterans, hikers, MLB players, and bankers all in hopes of romancing women to the point that they will sleep with them. Jeremy and John’s factitious characters are so convincing that every time they embody the character they end up with the woman. This element of romance falls under the category “sex comedy.” As McDonald states, “in the sex comedy the adoption of a new persona is carried out by one the protagonists against the other. Usually it is the man who puts on a different person with the adoption of an accent and the creation of a new name... The usual motivation and terms of the masquerade are both sexual: frequently, in order to bed the woman, the man will pretend he is too courteous, or shy, or even impotent, to do so” (45-46). What McDonald is saying is that the reason these men pretend to be something they are not is for one reason, and that is to get the woman into bed. At the end of both John and Jeremy get the woman they were vying for and realize that they are in love. This is contrary to the beginning of the movie when both guys believe that real love does not exist because they have seen many marriages fall apart. McDonald points out this trait in the sex comedy by giving an example of Dustin Hoffman in the movie Tootsie. In the movie he pretends to be a woman and as a woman he is able to realize his true self. McDonald describes this as “the hero of the sex comedy has his personality enriched by the pretence as well as being rewarded with experiencing the true love he had never known in his ‘real’ self. The man, pretending to be someone, or more accurately something, else, ceases to be the sexually aggressive he-man he has habitually been acting, and while his more passive, respectful self is invented as a ruse to trick the woman into bed, its real effect is not her capitulation, which is always prevented at the last minute by some plot invention, but his improvement, becoming nicer, more loving, by the insights he has gained while not being a wolf”(McDonald 47-48). McDonald explains here that the transformation that the male character goes through helps them to realize the more loving person inside them. The male is unable to reach this conclusion through the him that he has been only through the self that has been invented. Once the characters are able to see their true selves they can fall in love. Much like John and Jeremy they do fall in love with the women that they masqueraded for then the story ends. Like McDonald said, “the drive of the sex comedy from whatever period is generated by fighting, insults and scheming, and once the couple love each other sweetly the films have to end” (McDonald 58).




Works Cited


McDonald, Tamar. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. Wallflower Press, 1997.
Toma, Catalina L., Hancock, Jeffrey T., Ellison, Nicole B. Separating Fact From Fiction: An Examination of Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2008 34: 1023-1036

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ethnography


Ethnography

Place: The Grove – Los Angeles

Date: September 20, 2009

Observations:

While at The Grove, I am watching the interactions between couples. The place is filled with couples. On every side of me I see people holding hands, cuddled up, and laughing. Everyone appears very well dressed. Women are wearing makeup and I smell a lot of men’s cologne. There is a man and a woman walking side by side who I believe is a couple due to their proximity in age but they are not showing any signs of affection towards each like the other couples I have observed so far. With most of the couples, I notice that the man has his arm around the woman, pulling her closer to him almost as a sign of protection or maybe even as a sign property. There is a lot of ethnic diversity among couples here. I have observed some interracial couples pass me by. Since I’ve been here I’ve noticed three couples where the male was African-American and the woman was Caucasian. One couple with a male that was Caucasian and the woman African-American and three couples with a Caucasian male and Asian woman. I have not observed any homosexual couples yet. All of the couples vary in age from teen to elderly. The few teen relationships that I have observed seem very playful. One couple which I presume to be in their late teens walked by and were playfully hitting each other. Another teen relationship I observed had the female being carried on the back of the male. Most of the elderly couples I observe seem very relaxed with the males carrying most of the shopping bags. Some of the younger males are carrying the shopping bags mainly the woman are carrying their own bags. One thing that I am surprised at is with all the stores in view, the males, regardless of age, are opening the doors for the women. I have observed my first homosexual couple of the day. It is an older female couple in their mid to late 40’s. They are holding hands. One appears to be more feminine then the other.


Analysis:

This analysis is based on my observations made above during my visit to The Grove in Los Angeles. During my visit I focused my attention on individuals that were in romantic relationships. I was able to determine their status by observing their body language towards each and their facial expressions. There body language towards each other mostly all the time seemed to display some sort of affection. The couples were holding hands, kissing, and also had their arms wrapped around each other. All of these actions showed an intimate connection between the couple. Also in my observations I noticed that most of the women in these pairs felt the need to wear make-up and tight clothes to add sex appeal. Not only do women want to look nice for themselves, they also want to look nice for their companions. Another observation I made was with the placement of the arm by the males. I noticed that the males pulled their female companions closer to them by wrapping their arms around them. When a woman feels a man pulling her close to him she feels protected. But it leads me to wonder if that is the same thought that the male is having. I believe that the action, not necessarily negative, of pulling a woman closer by a man is more of a display of ownership a saying of “this is mine, you cannot have her.”
Another surprising observation I made was the amount of males that opened doors for women. Although this is not new to me because I have a knack for picking quality men that possess this attribute, I thought they were a dying breed. In the Romantic Comedy and Genre, in which the author described the visual elements of a romantic comedy. I thought of this because in every romantic comedy, on the first date the couple will visit some place and the man will open the door for the woman followed by the line “after you” and the woman would get the largest grin on her face as if that was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for her.
My last observation was that of two homosexual women who displayed their love for each other quite openly. They walked by holding hands and smiling. After observing the two women and reviewing the comment I made about one being more feminine it only made me think of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. In Beauvoir’s article she asks the question what is femininity and does it exist. This couple reminded me of the article because I began to ask myself if one is more feminine then does that make the other less of a woman. According to Beauvoir yes because she asserts herself as man and is therefore masculine.

Monday, August 31, 2009

All Constance, All day everyday!

HI, my name is Constance (not Candace) Vance and I'm so excited to see what this fall semester has in store for me. I'm excited about all my classes especially my swimming class (its for beginners)! I'm not really big on blogging so if you want to know more about me just ask and I'll tell. See you later.
Signing off!