Blaxploitation: A Black and White Issue?

December 4, 2008 at 4:05 pm (Uncategorized)

52,230 days since slavery was abolished in the United States. 18,262 days since public high schools were integrated in Little Rock, Arkansas. 4,748 days since the film “Friday” was released, reestablishing innumerable black stereotypes in popular culture. It has been 3 days since I first viewed the movie, and I am still processing the blatant propagation of racist clichés.

Our final assignment in Mass Media and Society was to explore the media’s portrayal of individuals of a specific identity. I have chosen to assess the movie “Friday,” a 1995 flick that follows a day in the lives of two black men in the heart of Compton.

To qualify my analysis I am following Bonnie Dow’s (1996) model of qualification as seen in the book “Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement Since 1970.” I am in no way establishing my interpretation of the text as the only perspective, and further, I do not wish to present my view as the most correct. I am asserting independent claims not intended to predict or sway how others may frame their evaluations. My sole aim is to encourage readers to reexamine previous assumptions and to take into consideration the position of another.

“Friday” induced me to laugh on many occasions, but it was foundationally flawed as it exploited black culture as a comic device. Of course it can be argued that it is all in jest with no ulterior message, but that does not address the possible results it may have upon uninformed viewers, or negate the film’s inappropriate response to issues of race.

The producers played into some of America’s skewed misconceptions about the central and peripheral elements of black life. It was given form by drug dealers, addicts, and objectified women. Unemployment was prevalent, drive-bys threatened to rob the movie of its main characters, and all of this to the constant pounding of raucous rap. The movie showed no shame: from stereotyped references to fried chicken by the main character’s father, clad in a denim mechanic’s suit, exaggeration of cultural nuances, to the cavalier use of the undeniably detrimental word “nigger.” If an understanding of black culture was derived from “Friday,” dysfunction would serve as its singular definition.

Race as a construct of television and media is, in my opinion, influential in shaping public perception of race as a reality. To create a culturally independent faction out of racial minority and twist its historical struggle into a commercial package is a dangerous venture. In selling this comedy, Hollywood not only glamorized a lifestyle of drugs and terminal lethargy, but it trivialized many serious issues not only within the black community, but apparent in all strata of American society. Poverty becomes a laughable condition, marijuana an instrument of relational bonding, and crime an effort to pass a lazy afternoon.

At times it was undeniably hilarious. Yet I would not go so far as to fully agree with Phil Villarreal, a reviewer on celebritywonder.com, who says, “the comedy that synthesizes blaxploitation and pot-comedy genres and melds them into a colossus of unending laughs. The film pulses with heart and wisdom as it romps through its plotless terrain.” The term blaxploitation perfectly represents my problem with the film, yet for those who see it as a respectable genre, the term only adds status to “Friday.” Personally, I am unwilling to embrace the use of race as a path to the punch line.

Despite any redeeming qualities, “Friday” undermines the efforts of thousands throughout history who have worked to build understanding and erase structural inequalities. The movie promotes outdated stereotypes that contradict the potential progress the film may have made toward mainstreaming urban black culture. Funny, yes. Inappropriate? Absolutely.

References:

Dow, B. (1996). Prime0time feminism: Television, media culture, and the women’s movement since 1970. Philadelphia: University Press.

Ice Cube (Producer), & Gray, G.F. (Director). (1995). Friday [Motion picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.

Villarreal, Phil. “”Friday”.” Celebrity Wonder. UGO. 4 Dec 2008. <http://www.celebritywonder.com/movie/1995_Friday.html&gt;.

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When Fact Meets Fiction.

November 14, 2008 at 12:53 am (Uncategorized)

skype_censorship1

“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.” Fahrenheit 451.

What if our democratic nation, this shining city on a hill failed to function as a beacon for the freedom we so hardily espouse? What if we lost our independence not because it was taken by force, but because it was consciously surrendered by apathy? The quote which opens this entry addresses man’s failure to value intellectual authenticity over the non-threatening ease of emptiness. Censorship, which is taken to an extreme in Fahrenheit 451, is a device that, as history can attest, has the power to disarm an entire people.

It is because of the enormous threat censorship holds over independent thought that responsible citizens need to actively and jealously guard their right to free speech. This week’s assignment in Mass Media & Society was to address a case of attempted censorship and assess its validity. I have always been intrigued by the various movements across the country to ban or censor the use of certain books in schools, and was recently shocked to learn that Fahrenheit 451 was among the accused. The Orange County Register reported a censorship battle in an Irvine school over the book’s offensive language, and deletecensorship.org exposed a similar struggle that ended in Fahrenheit 451’s removal from a high school reading list in Foxworth, Mississippi.

A book that encourages readers to shake off their complacency and awake to the realities of a delicate freedom has been attacked on the grounds of objectionable content. The irony here is too rich. Are we really to the point where literature that inspires action is a threat? And if so, then we should be consuming such works with a furor. Novels like Fahrenheit 451 are of an interesting genre, painting a future of dystopia, I believe, in an attempt to avoid such a reality.

Some concerned Americans seem to have taken away unintended lessons from the novel. Rather than identifying with the protagonist and his need to seek unfiltered truths, a movement took action to resemble the flat homogeneity of a sheltered and censored society. In ignorance, fear, or insecurity, a vociferous few took their cue from the novel’s book burning firefighters, and attempted to protect today’s youth from its radical messages. Thank goodness they failed.

When we begin silencing voices of dissent, ignoring the revisionist, and tiptoeing around controversial issues to avoid offending a faction’s sensitivities we risk entering the proverbial slippery slope; possibly leading to a failure to exercise constitutional rights. We will unconsciously erode principles that, as James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, were meant to protect not only the minority from the majority, but the majority from the dangers of a powerful minority.

I hope that those who called for censorship of books will someday sit down and read a few. That they will allow themselves to come to an independent decision with careful scrutiny of each work’s conclusions and merits, then allow others the opportunity to do the same. Fahrenheit 451 would be an excellent place to start.  At 88 years old, the author, Ray Bradbury would most likely be the first to say that it is never too late to reexamine your assumptions. No one should become so insulated as to lose their awareness and idly watch the world transform around them as books disappear from once crowded shelves. I believe that by speaking out against the gradual acquisition of freedoms, even in the seemingly benign form of literary censorship, we can keep the dark future painted by Bradbury within the pages of a book. Let’s keep it fiction.


If you have read and appreciated Fahrenheit 451, then I would also highly recommend A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and of course, George Orwell’s classic, 1984.

 

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Media and Science: Not Always Sensational

November 9, 2008 at 9:26 pm (Uncategorized)

cancer460x276Scientists have decoded a full set of cancer genes, a breakthrough which could very possibly lead to the isolation of key genetic markers and lend insight into the mysterious phenomenon of cellular mutation. This could be an incredible step for the medical community. It has the potential to open new doors in international research and translate into effective personalized cancer treatments for families ravaged by the disease.

I am writing in a spirit of critical exploration of mainstream media’s science coverage. Do they sensationalize stories to achieve top circulation and profit, or cautiously evaluate the validity and source of released information? As prompted by my assignment this week, I will attempt to answer the above question within the frame of Denise Grady’s article “Scientists Decode Set of Cancer Genes” on The New York Times online edition.

After thoroughly reading Grady’s story, I have come away impressed by her ability to present complex material in an accessible yet accurate form, while maintaining academic distance and objectivity. From her opening statement, Grady was careful to qualify her assertions and avoid false promises by reporting only “on a set of mutations that may have caused the disease or aided its progression.”

I appreciated rather than filtering the facts entirely through a personal lens, Grady relied heavily upon direct quotes from experts and researchers alike. Additionally, the article was free from broad, sweeping predictions as she relayed the facts and provided the reader with a foundation from which to interpret the findings.

If the article had been a construct for storytelling and written with the sole aim of profit, then I would have lacked the knowledge to comprehend, or even contextualize its significance. I am extremely pleased that Grady provided a scientific refresher for those of us who have long departed from our high school biology days. She plainly but intelligently explained possible ramifications of the study, explored the history of cancer treatment, and gave the reader tools to independently analyze the findings. All of this Grady accomplished without a trace of condescension. Impressive.

Grady’s writing was not free of enthusiasm, a characteristic that could be interpreted as unwarranted for research that is only one step alongside thousands in the journey toward a cure. There is some evidence of cherry picking, with nearly every quote affirming the great potential of, as Doctor Richard K. Wilson, senior author of the study called it, “holy grail sort of stuff.” Despite such arguments, I am pleased by the modesty with which Grady presented the story—a story that could easily have been sensationalized beyond recognition.

Several years ago, my mom had a breast cancer scare that, after weeks of testing, was proven to be a false alarm. At that time, my family underwent a tremendous amount of stress, and we joined in empathy with the millions across the globe affected by the disease. I can personally attest to the desperation with which you pray for a breakthrough and call for healing in the name of God, in the name of science. During those terrifying two weeks, I would have been extremely malleable to the manipulations of the press. The release of an unprecedented study such as this could easily be misrepresented, capitalizing upon the deep emotional power cancer holds over individuals, families, and the public at large. My respect for the New York Times, and especially for Denise Grady, is greatly increased by this excellent example of professional and restrained reporting. 

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Thirsty?

November 3, 2008 at 6:42 pm (Uncategorized)

milk4I swear he just stepped out of a trailer park. Heaven’s highest rent trailer park. His polyester robes flow, his synthetic white wig gently floats upon an artificial wind, and with a shining electric guitar he sings praises to…milk. Yes milk.

It’s disturbing, really.

And what exactly is it? A branded community called White Gold is White Gold. A leading ad campaign meant to encourage today’s youth that milk is more than nutritious and delicious, it is downright cool. This week’s assignment led me to http://www.whitegoldiswhitegold.com, as we were asked to explore an online advertising community meant to target an audience to the extent that they seek exposure to the product as entertainment.

To lose the appalling Jack Black, Steven Tyler, Michael the Arch Angel hybrid, I clicked an icon at the top of the screen. Instead of sweet escape, McNasty was back; this time transformed into a loincloth wearing Tarzan with a veritable pelt of chest hair. His message was basically the same as before: strong teeth, strong bones, strong bod.

So by now I’m supposed to be overcome with desire. No, not for the musical spokesman, but for the delightful goodness straight from the cow’s udder. Milk. Surprisingly, the converse has happened. I am actually ashamed that I ever poured a glass to accompany my cookie, that I used to take pride in a milk mustache, and that once upon a time my mother produced some especially for me.

The website plays on tired themes that appeal to young teenagers and frat boys alike. The worse the hair, tackier the songs, and random the raunch, the more successful the sell. But I am still confused as to why the “got milk” campaign is taking such an elementary approach with lyrics like “the way to tame the white tiger, is to set the milk beside her”. Is that supposed to gross me out? It kind of does, although I am confident it is just another empty and pointless verse meant to rob me of my time and prod my subconscious into wanting some dairy.

Let me repeat, it failed. I do not want milk. Not now, not for a long time.

Sure, I laughed when I visited White Gold is White Gold, I also cringed. I got my fill a little too quickly, closed my laptop, switched on the T.V. and was welcomed by an iPod commercial. Ah the sweet sophisticated class of Apple. They make white beautiful.

Now to be fair, I will admit that I have never been milk’s biggest fan; at least, not since 3rd grade. Ben Atchison, the class science geek, and therefore a favorite classmate of mine, told me about the percentage of milk composed of dead skin cells sloughed from the udder walls. I remember the strong urge to gag as my favorite childhood drink became a daily horror.

This advertising campaign could have been an opportunity to refresh milk’s image. Failure. Udder failure. Now, maybe if they’d convinced Jude Law to be the milkman I would be a heck of a lot more thirsty.

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Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone: At Least They Had Rambo as a Role Model.*

October 30, 2008 at 3:17 pm (Uncategorized)

The worldwide exportation of movies, particularly by the American film industry, is exposing cultures to one another in a manner foreign to past generations. Individuals and even entire societies are learning of the West through the viewing of movies; unfortunately, such exposure indiscriminately erodes cultural identities. Movies are a vehicle for globalization, and the question of globalization as a positive or negative force is paramount. Does the influence of film serve to unify viewers across the globe with common understanding, or erase the diversity that enriches the human experience?

Our class assignment this week was to explore a possible negative effect of a mass medium; through secondary research and analysis I have concluded that the film industry’s role in globalization is detrimental to the fragility of culture.

To gain insight into the trend of globalization through America’s hegemony on filmmaking, I have examined several academic journals that address the issue. The International Journal of Cultural Policy was fairly critical of Western media’s influence, as it recognized “the homogenizing trend of global markets dominated by American films and television programs” (Feigenbaum, 2004, p. 252).

There is little doubt that in film we export more than simple laughs and explosive adrenaline-packed action. I believe the effects of American film are extremely powerful, framing worldviews and repackaging Western ideas under the benign label of entertainment. Feigenbaum addresses the issue, asserting that with the increased distribution of media, “people located over increasingly extended areas began to see themselves as part of the same culture, and part of the reason for the change is that the barriers of distance had been demolished by technology” (2004, p. 252). With further reading, a clear argument crystallized upon diversity as vital to the human race, “a kind of insurance policy” that encourages “constant renewing of the intellectual environment” (Feigenbaum, 2004, p. 253).

In reviewing three academic articles, I confirmed my understanding that many nations are beginning to pursue cultural protectionism and developing a sense of cultural nationalism that is often juxtaposed with a world moving toward economic liberalism. It may seem strange to view the film industry as a threat to national cultures, but it is a theory supported by well-respected researchers across the globe. The connection between film and globalization is much more abstract than many areas of research, but its existence is generally undisputed in academic circles; the matter becomes subjective at whether or not it is harmful, and in that I take my cue from researchers who have spent lifetimes studying the mal-effects.

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, in the journal of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, even goes as far as to name the Hollywood cinema as having a “complicit relation with a particular vision of globalization in which the world is divided into the U.S. as the unmarked centre and the rest as national particularities” (2003, p. 451). I find it difficult to accept that the American media is in possession of an ethnocentric agenda for globalization, but I do believe its sole aim is to create a profit. In that pursuit, elements of culture are trampled and the film industry serves to corroborate claims of American imperialism.

Although it is evident that the pervasion of Western movies is instrumental in reshaping societal mores, such transformation is inevitable. Whether led by Hollywood’s capitalistic industries, the advent of the Internet, or the gradual erasure of borders through modern transportation, there is a movement toward uniformity. I hope the sharing of ideologies revitalizes humanity’s recognition of a common foundation while allowing cultures to maintain independent identities. It remains to be seen whether globalization will be of benefit to the world or if will provide additional tools for exploitation and degradation of the weak by the powerful. Perhaps the outcome is beyond control, or perhaps it is in the hands of my generation.

 

*Ishmael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone, speaks of his time as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, and the heavy influence violent films had upon young recruits. It was the special adoration Beah’s squad had for Rambo that contributed to the development of a violent psyche.

References:

Carroll, R. (1952). Selecting motion pictures for the foreign market. Journal of Marketing. 17(2), 162-171.

Feigenbaum, H. (2004). Is technology the enemy of culture? International Journal on Cultural Policy. 10(3), 251-263.

Yoshimoto, M. (2003). Hollywood, Americanism, and the imperial screen: geopolitics of image and discourse after the end of the Cold War 1. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 4(3) 451-459.

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When Exotic Dancers Outstrip Osama in American News Coverage…

October 18, 2008 at 3:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Attention world: a stripper’s flying shoe has sparked a lawsuit somewhere in the great expanse of the American south. More specifically, at Florida’s Booby Trap club. 

Oh, and 300 suspected illegal Mexicans in South Carolina were torn from their families and are awaiting deportation in the wake of a massive immigration raid.

Whatever. Doesn’t the stripper intrigue you? Now that will sell advertising space! At least CNN seems to think so, as evidenced by the story’s prominent and bold placement online.

This week’s assignment for Mass Media & Society was to reflect upon the differences between a mainstream media source and an alternative medium. I chose CNN because it’s a favorite and trusted source for many, and Democracy Now because I have confidence in their independent reporting. The first three minutes of my exploration had me chuckling at the stark contrast in my chosen sources’ top U.S. headlines. It would have seemed melodramatic to cry at CNN’s ridiculous focus on sensationally cheap stories, so instead, I laughed, not without bitterness, and obligingly read on.

Conversely, the nonprofit activist group Democracy Now gave me hope in its attempt to force Americans to face the harsh realities of a nation bordering the impoverished Mexican state. Yes, the issue of immigration was highlighted over the many glittering and popular topics of the day. It would seem that the alternative news medium seeks to address current issues with a force and dedication less evident in the corporate world of CNN.

I do not believe mainstream media is fatally flawed, but it is likely their freedom to report the news is restricted, as they must answer to money. To visit CNN online is to be exposed to consumerism at its worst. Pop-up ads, messages encouraging weight loss, flashing Netflix links, and enticing offers for phone service. Once I was able to swat away the pop-ups, there were some relevant articles reported on location by journalists, along with a disappointing amount of coverage wired from the Associated Press.

In today’s coverage, CNN reported on a successful air strike that killed 60 Pakistani rebels. Democracy Now exposed the death of 35 Afghan civilians as a result of a NATO strike last Thursday. Further, Democracy Now states that NATO has recognized that an attack was carried out, but is refusing to acknowledge the death of civilian noncombatants. Such a tragic story is unlikely to appear in mainstream media for months, and in my opinion, will not surface at all unless forced by undeniable evidence and a unified call for the truth. But who wants truth when it is so entrenched in the mud of our own failures? Without reporting by alternative media groups such as Democracy Now, the “informed” American would know only of a great success in Pakistan, and a (promising?) silence in Afghanistan.

Although I generally believe CNN leans to the left in their coverage, I found it surprising that their reporting on the wars and conflicts in the Middle East were fairly supportive of U.S. policy, or at the very least, blind to any missteps. Most disconcerting was that of today’s four stories in the Middle East section, two uncritically addressed U.S. actions, and one told the story of a couple arrested in Dubai for having sex in public. I would like to believe in a world where “sex sells” is overcome by “unbiased, uncomfortable, and undeniable facts sell”, especially in this time of worldwide upheaval and war. I guess I can just keep on dreaming. Either that or read Democracy Now.

 

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New York Times, Please Don’t Play in the Politicians’ Mud.

October 13, 2008 at 2:50 pm (Uncategorized)

The constant barrage of media assaulting Americans during this controversial election season requires us to discern responsible reporting from shallow, grasping headlines. My professor has asked our class to monitor several days of election coverage in order to discover the balance and quality of its presentation. We will use the roles described in Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman’s book “The Press Effect” as a frame to analyze our chosen media source. To best diagram my argument, I will utilize Toulmin’s model.

Over the last three days, I have followed election news posted by the New York Times. Despite the Times’ attempt to conceal journalistic biases, the paper often served as a platform for partisan politics. In my opinion the Times’ political articles within the last three days have done a disservice to their readers, inadequately preparing them to navigate the complexities of the 2008 election.

The New York Times has presented me with a disproportionate number of articles relaying only the facts without verification, and ignoring their implications. It became clear that like many media outlets, the Times easily falls victim to the “press as storyteller” role. Articles that dealt with enormous issues such as the candidate’s views on nuclear power, diplomatic efforts with Pakistan, and the impending recession did nothing to address the plausibility of offered solutions, or even their probable impact. The governing philosophies of Obama and McCain were rarely called into question. Instead the focus remained upon the tiresome game of “he said, she said”, or even worse, lofty analyses and unsupported claims of what the politicians were really saying. I also noticed a disconcerting amount of horserace coverage, with terms such as competition, battle, winner, and loser saturating the stories and creating an empty sense of urgency. Prominent alongside storytelling was the supporting role of “press as psychologist”. The Times has created caricatures of the two tickets, and is now selling them to the public as accurate portrayals. The magnification of selected traits was prevalent in many articles, and it did much to distort the candidates’ character and public perception.

There are significant problems found in the media’s concentration upon promises rather than governance history, their propensity to allow stories to shape the facts, and their creation of political personas. The primary goal of journalists should be to attain the vital role of “press as custodian of fact”. The New York Times seemed much more prone to fulfilling roles inconsistent with its duty to seek truth. A quality journalist must provide a balanced frame from which the public can become informed, but in my reading that purpose was abandoned. The Times’ was able to compensate marginally for its jaded and willful voice by acting as a watchdog, selectively calling attention to misplaced quotes and freeing them of rival politician’s distortions. If it could have expanded the emphasis on truth and analysis more often, I would have come away with higher confidence in the Times’ recent coverage.

As a devoted reader of The New York Times, I expect to receive information that will both challenge and inform me. When that does not happen, the media has failed itself, and it has failed the public. The mission of the press should not be corrupted by the need to sell headlines, or the extreme bias of its source. If influential and reputable outlets like The New York Times were to consistently slip in their provision of comprehensive and informative coverage, then our society would be deeply damaged. It is imperative that the media maintain a reverence for truth, as the press is the strongest form of accountability.   

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Debut

October 3, 2008 at 5:48 am (Uncategorized)


“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”

~Lord Byron

The beauty of this quote is something I was taught to believe in at a young age. I love the great power of language and its ability, as Byron said, to institute change. As a student at the University of Oregon, I have been given the opportunity to define myself within the educational community, and within the world. I am working toward undergraduate degrees in Journalism and International Studies. They are fields that will complement one another in giving me a platform from which I can begin to make an impact.

Perhaps this blog will help me to publicly develop a voice. To not only share my views with my readers, but to cement them within myself. I sincerely hope that with this first blog, I will begin a journey that will last a lifetime. Today I am finding within myself the courage to express my views, and tomorrow perhaps I can empower others to do the same.

Why this decision to begin writing in a forum as broadly accessible as WordPress? The credit for my creation of a blog must be given to my Mass Media and Society professor, Tiffany Gallicano. As part of our class curriculum, I will be writing consistent entries addressing assigned topics. The prompts will surround the mass media, communications, and their effects on public opinion of controversial subjects. I believe that the media has a profound influence in our society, and as responsible citizens, we must encourage honesty, and be willing to stand up when we experience otherwise.

I’ve been given 400 words to introduce myself to you. 400 words to give you insight into my character. 400 words to familiarize you with my writing. I’m surprised to find that I am struggling to reach the threshold of 400. Is that a reflection on my own inability to allow the focus to linger within my own mind? It has always been easier for me to invest in others, and dig deeply into their personality, thought processes, and opinions. No doubt more interesting. This blog may be the turning point at which I finally find comfort in Erin Carter. Not in relation or contrast to others, but solely as myself. Uncensored. Pure. Free of distraction. Here I am. Welcome. 

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