Monday, May 13, 2013

Television: In Black and White

A new Writers Guild of America report on women and minorities in television offers some encouraging news. In the past 12 years, for example, the number of minority writers has roughly doubled moving from 7.5% of all writing jobs to 15.6%. The biggest increases were in the number  of Asian-American and Latino writers, especially those working in "multicultural dramas."

Similarly, the number of women writers has risen from 25-30% over the past decade, promising, perhaps, but still far less than the 50+% of the population women actually represent. Perhaps this is why, the authors of the report had considered subtitling the report “Pockets of Promise, Minimal Progress.” Overall, the numbers look better—more representative of what our country looks like—but are these numbers truly encouraging?

Is there reason to be optimistic? Let's look closer at some of the numbers: "only 9% of pilots had at least one minority writer attached [to their writing staff] and just 24% of pilots had at least one woman attached, according to the report." Shockingly low, no?

Here is a recent picture (see right) of a panel of Emmy nominated writers. Ask yourself who is represented? Who is not?

And the numbers are even more stark when you behind the camera. According to Think Progress, in an article called "TV Directors get Whiter and More Male," the percentage of episodes of television in the 2011-2012 television season directed by white men rose from 72 percent to 73 percent. White women directed 11 percent of episodes, the same as last year. And women of color and men of color basically traded work: men of color directed 13 percent of episodes, down from 14 percent last year."

With a disproportionately high percentage of white writers and directors, it perhaps not surprising that news for actors of color is similarly frustrating. Among actors on TV there had been reason to hope in 1998 when Andre Braugher took home a leading-actor Emmy in 1998 for his work on "Homicide: Life on the Street," becoming only the third black actor to win in that category (Bill Cosby and James Earl Jones got there first). But in the last 14 years, there has been only one minority nominee: Braugher again, for the swiftly canceled ABC medical drama, "Gideon's Crossing."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Between the Lines: Covering (and Uncovering) Sports


Things really seem to be progressing. Take, for example, the responses to Jason Collins, the first openly gay male athlete in a major professional sport.

(We like the "first ever..." narrative so much we seem quick to forget about women athletes such as Martina Navratilova, who came out over 20 years ago or even male athletes such as boxer Orlando Cruz or the professional lacrosse player Andrew Goldstein since they did not compete in the so-called "big four sports"). Collins received enthusiastic support from almost everyone. He even got a call from the President thanking him for his bravery. High-fives all around. But, to what extent does Collins' brave articulation of his identity really represent progress? The answer may be found in those very high fives.


Consider the case of Glenn Burke, the man who invented the high five: an article on "the origins of the high five." The article itself is fascinating, particularly in light of our consideration of stories and storytelling. Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Dodgers and later the A's invented the phenomenon, but the behind-the-scenes stories are where the real action lies here.

You see, Burke was a gay man at a time when no professional athlete in "major sports" had ever come out. That Burke -- and presumably many other gay athletes -- had to keep his orientation secret in 1978 may come as no surprise. After all, many gay professional athletes still think they must keep their identities secret for fear of hateful reactions from teammates and fans and the loss of advertising revenue. (Think of recent ex-pro athletes Tualo Esera in the NFL, Billy Bean in the MLB, and Jon Amaechi in the NBA, who came out when their careers were over).

So, do you see Jason Collins' announcement a cause for celebration or an opportunity to lament the pain of earlier -- and current -- athletes who could not come out? Some, including Josh Levin at Slate  have even seen a new form of homophobia in the responses to Jason Collins' announcement.  Levin cites a chorus of people who aggressively shout "I don't care" or "This means nothing" as a means of shutting down the coverage altogether.

How are the storylines of sports are being managed today? Whose stories are privileged? Whose stories are silenced? Are the lines drawn differently for men and women? For athletes of different races, classes? Do we see in the case of Jason Collins and others reasons to be optimistic for the future of sports?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Having Plenty of Green

We've been considering markers of social class this year, focusing on language, dress, and location. Here's a new site my wife passed on to me that thinks about trees and social class. Yes, trees!  

One of the first pairs of photos shows Hyde Park, a wealthy area on the south side of Chicago (remember our field trip?!) and under it a very poor neighborhood to the immediate south, Woodlawn. The photos are staggeringly different, aren't they?  

Here's my own pairing: Kelvyn Park (in Chicago) followed by Winnetka:  






I chose this pairing since our school is in Winnetka and our Social Service Board has partnered with Kelvyn Park. Even a color blind guy like me can see that the difference is all in GREEN (money, trees, green lights!).

It turns out the pattern seems pretty universal: "Old Money" areas -- think East Egg or the North Shore -- are loaded with incredibly mature trees that have stood for 100 years or more; whereas, less affluent areas have little to no forestation. This is not to suggest that you can't find a poor stretch of Appalachian forest in Kentucky, for example... only that trees in any area seem to offer a key clue of relative wealth.    

Though the photos on the site (above) are aerial views, it seems likely that you can infer the wealth of a town or  even a neighborhood within Chicago, say, by counting trees.  Saplings are relatively inexpensive but slow growing.  Mature trees are extremely expensive to plant.  Yet, trees not only connote wealth, but they also provide shade, invisibility, and privacy, a particularly important commodity among American aristocrats.   

Neighbors near where I live just planted a perimeter of 90 trees around their property. When Michael Jordan bought his new Palm Beach home, as he did with his $28 million dollar Highland Park home -- he immediately landscaped with "a literal forest of trees," offering "little or no glimpse of his mammoth 28,000-square-foot home, together with 3 separate structures; a guard house, guest house and pool house." Why is this? Why does American wealth manifest itself in withdrawal from the larger population? Why is it so rooted in exclusivity? (Think: Charles Foster Kane -- "NO TRESSPASSING!") To what extent should trees be considered a public resource?  

What other markers of social class are you aware of?  

Sunday, May 05, 2013

White Trash


This image does not come from a post-Katrina Gulf-scape. No, it is instead a shot from the annual "spring cleaning" event on the Northshore.


Residents clean house and put their unwanted goods — especially large items that the garbage men might not take — on the street. Then huge numbers of people, driving ancient cars and flat bed trucks that you would never see at any other time of year in these parts troll the streets for goods.  (In Fitzgerald's terms, think of them as "Ash-gray men...stir[ring] up an impenetrable cloud, which [usually] screens their obscure operations from your sight"). One man's trash is another man's treasure, the saying goes, and the interlopers are either treasure seekers or garbage pickers, depending on who you talk to.

Some of my neighbors love this event. One told me that it was "the best kind of recycling" since the goods people leave out at the curbside are often used by other people. Then "why not donate those goods to a children's hospital or the Purple Hearts veterans?" another neighbor countered. "Those groups are always looking for donations."

Part of what's on display in this spectacle is the enormous disparity between the roaming trucks and the everyday residents. It's not just their cars that look different. Every other marker of social class we've discussed in class is also on display here: clothing, noise, mannerisms, wealth, and race. 

The class disparity seems heightened to me these days given the contentious debate over affordable housing in Winnetka. Winnetka appears to open its doors — or its curbs! — to outsiders for one week each year. Do you see a connection between the "spring cleaning"/trash removal and the housing issue?  Are the issues contradictory? How do you reconcile them?