tv

A semester ends, and here’s what I learned…

…from JOMC 240, that is.

The question:  What’s the most important thing you learned about media this semester?

The answer: Disruption.

In the world of mass media, I learned that disruption is always going to happen, and it’s actually exciting. Unsurprisingly (given my  general worldview), I embrace the idea of disruption in communication as a downward power shift.

It’s true that a very small number of companies control the bulk of media companies, but the actual voices that are being heard are expanding, and that is all thanks to a more recently crowdsourced media landscape.

Newspapers were disrupted by radio, which was disrupted by TV, which was disrupted by Internet streaming. Books were disrupted by radio, which was disrupted by film, which has been disrupted by Netflix and the Internet. The lists go on, and we’re nowhere near the end of the lists of media disruptions.

But that’s OK. We don’t know what is coming next, which leaves us with a remarkable amount of power over where communication goes and who gets a say in it.

The most exciting part of all of this? We have the ability to be the next disruptors.

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Media Literacy: Why We Should Be Teaching It to Kids

It’s that thing that’s super necessary if you want to understand the cultural landscape around you, and also that thing that’s annoying to have when you’re trying to enjoy an old movie or a reality TV show or a tabloid…

YouTuber and media literacy educator Melissa Fabello made a “Media Literacy 101” video, in which she outlines the super basic questions to be thinking about when consuming media:

1) What is the content of this product?

2) Is it really selling what it’s advertising?

3) Who made this?

4) Why do they want me to consume it?

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I feel pretty confident saying that I’ve become a pro at asking myself these questions without consciously thinking about it, but I certainly was not always that way.

I really only became remotely media literate late in high school, and after coming to college, I became a bonafide media skeptic. But until I was about 16 or 17 years old, I don’t remember many people talking to me about how to interrogate the images I saw, so for the most part, I didn’t.

I read magazines that marketed unattainable standards and scripts for how to be and how to act that were unrealistic, shallow, and ultimately ingenuine for me. In retrospect, had I understood and had the language to talk about the disconnect I saw between media representations of normalcy and the reality I was surrounded by IRL, the media would have been more dumbfounding, but I ultimately would have been happier.

A lot of misplaced energy spent on trying to attain the unattainable could have been spared, and I could have been satisfied with a more complex—and interesting!—reality than the one in magazines, on TV, in ads, in films, etc.

Meeting and becoming friends with intelligent and critical people who exposed me to new ideas and provided spaces for discussion empowered me. The women’s studies class and sociology class I took during my first semester of college empowered me. I’m glad I eventually found my way to these settings, but these environments need to be more available and more accessible to kids, long before their self esteems have time to be squelched by media images.

The profit-driven perspectives of those at the top of media food chains still confound me, but I’m more satisfied in knowing that I don’t have to be a sponge, absorbing every image I’m presented with. I can observe, I can be entertained, and I can ultimately choose to internalize only the bits of media I desire. And best of all: I can choose to mute all commercials.

“Cosmos” and Neil deGrasse Tyson, communicating astrophysics to a TV audience

IT'S ALL CONNECTED

IT’S ALL CONNECTED

“Have YOU seen ‘Cosmos’ yet???” has been one of my most commonly asked questions for the last week or so.

Astrophysicist, author, and all-around science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey,” a new installment of Carl Sagan’s 1980 “Cosmos” series.

My favorite episode of the four thus far is “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” in which Tyson explains perfectly to viewers that space and time are really two sides of the same coin, that most of the stars we see have already died, what black holes actually are, that gravity is the uniting force of all corners of space, and the fact that we can see certain stars at all is proof of the age of our universe.

I dare you not to be in total awe after this episode, of the science and of the effects and animation that carry you through Tyson’s mind-blowing journey.

He also debunks creationist views of Earth’s origins in every episode with so little effort and emphasizes the history of scientific discovery that have led us to what we know now. His enthusiasm for the scientific is infectious, as is his reverence for the things science has not yet figured out.

And finally, the show has proven to me that there is room for mass media and science to collide because we’re all innately curious, and curiosity is one of the driving forces behind our efforts to make sense of the starscape and our place in it.

 

Miss Representation: media coverage of women politicians

Miss Representation (which is now streaming on Netflix) covers an array of issues, and the whole thing is worth watching. If you’re like me, you’ll re-watch it a few times, and you’ll want to break it down and take it apart piece by piece, especially the part 41 minutes in that digs into the gaping gender disparity in politics.

After a long and all too familiar sequence of political commentators disparaging the credibility of female politicians based on looks and gender, Pat Mitchell, who is the president and CEO of Paley Media Center and the former president and CEO of PBS, says:

“There’s probably no more powerful influence on the way we view power than the way media treats power, and media treats power as defined by men because it has been, throughout our generation and the ones before, generally defined that way.”

Interviewees in that section of the film goes on to explain that writing articles about a politician’s looks or insulting a piece of clothing she wore is not only irrelevant and objectifying, but it also trivializes that individual, making her appear less powerful or credible.

At a panel I attended last year, former NC senator Ellie Kinnaird’s final words to the audience, nearly all of whom were women, was to run for office. She brought up the fact that women are often not asked to run for office as persistently or as frequently as men are, so she encouraged us to tell the women leaders that we knew to consider running.

Media is perpetuating the image of what power and intelligence looks like, and with its often embarrassing coverage of female politicians, it affects what we imagine politicians can hope to be in the future, as well. If we see strikingly few female politicians holding public office and watch as so many media organizations follow their careers in a horribly sexist way, how are we supposed to see a future when it will be desirable for more women to pursue public office?

The best we can do now—and absolutely must do—is encourage women to run and demand that the press will fairly cover their achievements and actions and than it will stop visually dissecting bodies and discounting logic as emotional defeat.

“Broad City”: the most hilarious show about twenty-something-year-old women figuring out life in New York yet

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the glorious Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer

I started watching Broad City last night, and I cannot believe I did not start watching it sooner. This show focuses the best friendship of two women living in New York in their early twenties. And it does that without feeling like any other shows that may feature a similar description. And it’s hilarious.

(Also, in keeping with the show’s theme of finding round-about ways of getting things when money is tight, shout-out to the sister of the friend of the friend whose Hulu Plus account I’m currently using for this particular binge-watch….whoever you are, you’re the best.)

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In awe of your generosity ❤

Rather than ramble about why I like the show, here is a short list of reasons why you, too, should love Broad City:

-Ilana and Abbi’s terrified reaction to having to venture into the Upper East Side—not Harlem—is SPOT. ON. Ilana calls it “a horrible, vapid wasteland.”

-It’s actually laugh-out-loud funny.

-Lines like, “You’re so anti-racist sometimes that you’re actually really racist.” They really hit the liberal-arts-educated-but-still-trying-to-be-young-and-edgy nail on the head with that one.

-Despite doing a lot of positive things, the show is not self congratulatory.

Ilana’s outfits.

-New York appears as both completely fascinating and disgusting, both of which it actually is.

-It’s still funny.

-Lincoln, Ilana’s dentist non-boyfriend.

-And his endearing conversations with dogs.

-Abbi and Ilana’s experience with the accountant. (Particularly poignant because I was doing taxes five minutes before watching that episode.)

-The characters get to experience actual joy, even when their lives aren’t exactly representative of classical success. They’re resilient and find ways to get happy anyway. Y’know, what actual people do everyday!

Now, go forth and watch!

Now, go forth and watch!

Unpacking St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness”

St. Vincent/Annie Clark‘s new album is gleaming. It took me a couple of listens to fully immerse, but when I did, it was magic. And just a couple of weeks after the album was released, her live show at Haw River Ballroom quickly became one of the best and most tirelessly exciting I’ve seen.

The fifth track of her self-titled album that dropped in February, the song “Digital Witness” is reflective of a general disillusionment with how immersed many of us have become in the realm of digital media.

Part of the chorus facetiously instructs, “People, turn the TV on. It looks just like a window.” She speaks to the ways we’ve replaced tangible experiences with ones we can passively experience on a screen.

Later on, the phrase turns as she suggests, “People, turn the TV on and throw it out the window.” Clark sings about the pursuit to get in touch with actual reality, and she proposes that the most reinvigorating and radical thing we can do reconnect with what it is to be human is to actively reject the technological options we’re handed.

There’s an evident, deeper reason for this critique than simply turning off your phone when you want to get something done or trading time spent on Facebook for time spent reading a book. There is a meditation on existence at the heart of the song. Clark is proposing reflection on the digital age in a way that is not shallow or empty; she’s getting at what exactly it means to be a person in this era.

Clark asks repeatedly, “Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping? If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me, what’s the point of doing anything?”

The idea of sharing has become so integral to feeling as if we are communicating effectively, not just to one but to many. Are we really just witnessing the world and electing to participate in it less and less? It seems with all the sharing we’re doing, someone should eventually be asking what we are gaining. I’m glad Clark is one of the people publicly engaging with the topic.

She ends the song with a lyrical plea: “What’s the point of even sleeping? So I stopped sleeping, yeah, I stopped sleeping. Won’t somebody sell me back to me?”

On days when I’ve spent longer than a couple of hours on my laptop—which is almost every day—I feel you, Annie Clark.

A Snapshot of the Women’s Media Center Annual Report

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The comprehensive annual report from the Women’s Media Center revealed what I already expected to be true: media’s representation of women is seriously lacking, and in many cases, actually worsening. Here’s a handful of stats:

  • “The percentage of episodes directed by minority females slid from 4 percent to 2 percent. (That was the most glaring year-to-year change, driven largely by the cancellation of a single show, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.)” This is just dismal.
  • “Fifty-two shows for which minorities made up 10 percent or less of the casts got the lowest Nielsen rating, 0.39 points.” Execs: people will actually watch your shows in greater numbers if they contain diverse casts. In addition to representational issues, shows are simply more likely to be of good quality if they are not grossly whitewashed. I’m tired and bored of watching this many white people on TV and in films, and I am not alone in this.
  • “Black women respondents said “Young Phenoms,” “Girls Next Door,” “Modern Matriarchs,” and “Individualists” were the black women they knew most in real life.” How about more representations of these kinds of women, rather than more of the “Angry Black Woman” trope?
  • “89 percent of tech start-ups are launched by all-male teams.” Again, dismal.
  • “The number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science dropped 64 percentage points from 2000 to 2011.” Loss of interest in growing fields is a real problem. As the daughter of two computer and telecommunication engineers, I grew up listening to my mom tell me about her college engineering courses, where she was one of only a few women in her entire department. But just when I get discouraged by the reality that this disparity in the tech world has barely changed, I think about Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code. Check ’em out, and tell every young woman you know the truth: coding is power.
  • “By 2020, the United States is projected to have 1.4 million computer-based job openings.” See my previous point.
  • “Leadership ranks in television news were 21.6 percent female. Leadership ranks in newspapers were 19.2 percent female. Leadership ranks in radio news were 7.5 percent female.” I’m wishing I were shocked. Glass ceilings still exist.

That’s just the result of a perusal, and I feel steeped by those percentages.

And one more thing to keep in mind: poor representation is a systematic problem that will require conscious action to be improved. These disparities will not simply even out on their own. So here’s to the individuals who will use whatever power and platforms they have to make next year’s report a lot more hopeful.