Part 2 of 2 exploring media in modern life:
Part 2 of 2 exploring media in modern life:
Miley Cyrus, trap queen, and twerk team champ released a new album this week along with a new persona: country Miley is back! Gone are the gold chains, grills and booty shorts. Instead, Miley is rocking country ruffles, cornsilk skin and white supremacy–guess White is in for summer!
To be clear, Miley has made several statements about this radical brand realignment, saying that she doesn’t listen to hip-hop because, basically, of people like her.
Wait, this is Miley, right?
Cue the outrage and the twitter dragging–well deserved. After copulating with hip hop to birth herself a new career, Miley was public-shaming her fling and claiming her roots didn’t include them-over-there black people. The think pieces started to look more closely at Miley, who she is and why she as an individual decided to ditch hip Hop for the white right. But like Dead Prez sang, it’s bigger than Hip Hop–or just Miley.
Young white pop stars have been using black culture and black bodies as a PR rite of passage into an adult career for years. It goes like this–say you’re a producer looking for the next big pop star. You want someone as palatable as possible so you can reach the widest audience. You want that squeaky clean all-American look, like a Mouseketeer look. You audition hundreds and hundreds of kids to find those magic ones that fit the image of American teen idol. They sing and dance their little feet off for you. For years. But they’re getting older, and their fans are getting older too. Hanah Montana’s fans now are wearing makeup, now dating. How can Miley be their idol if they are growing faster than her? How can Justin still be sexy if he’s just so wholesome? If you want that star you invested all that time and money in to keep paying dividends you have to shake them clear of their childhood image, sever them from their innocence and make them seem edgy enough to appeal to twenty-somethings who often love risk and seek danger. So you black them up, even the ones that are already brown or black–change their friends, change their look, change their sound, sometimes even darken their skin.
Now look at your favorite pop star, fans. They smoke weed, they sag their look, they hang out with those boys your racist dad told you not to hang out with. They’re getting wild. They’re growing up faster than you. They’re doing all the dangerous shit parents warn you about. You, fan, pay attention to ads or articles they appear in again. Their songs go back in your rotation.
But you, fan are maturing too. After a few years, that pop star making bad decisions is like a lot of your friends who aren’t doing too great–getting too high, acting stupid in public. You start to lose interest, again. Luckily the PR machine is here to remind you that that pop star is just like you. Ethnically cleansed and fresh from rehab with a mea culpa in hand, they’ready to be a mature star now, earning again for investors, and paying dividends to companies that have been banking on them since their Mouseketeer days.
It wasn’t that Miley, or Justin or Brittany or Christina were brilliant brand strategists–they were just the star shining on stage. The puppet master lurks above, pulling strings in a shadowy world driven by profit, data, and research as much as ideology. What many of theses stars have in common is their parent company: Disney. This PR path over black and brown bodies to the bank is part of the Magic Kingdom. Think about that–the company that so many parents trust their children’s hearts too has repeatedly used a calculated racist process to drive profit into their pockets and ideology into the hearts and minds of their customers.
Disney has long had a reputation for being racist. Walt Disney himself was a racist and many early Disney movies and cartoons were also racist. Song of the South and Dumbo have never been rereleased unlike many other titles in Disney’s catalog because they are so racist. Even Disney’s greatest hits are packed with stereotypical characters, and reinforce dominant ideology about race.
Look, I know you love Disney and here I come to shit all over your mouse parade. But the fact is that this is important. Disney has a mainline into American children, pumping not just Frozen song lyrics, but ideas about what–and who–is right and wrong. Disney shows, movies, and stars are vehicles for communicating ideas about how to be a good friend, good person, how to be a good girl or boy (how binary). Disney media shows us how to fall in love, how to fight for what’s right, and who the bad guys are.
It’s more than Miley. It’s that Walt Disney Company, one of America’s largest purveyor of ideology, has a long-standing widespread practice of using black bodies as the stand in for wildness, incivility, hypersexuality and violence. With America’s–and some of the world’s–children fed at the tit of Disney since birth, this equates to a silent symbolic war where one side has all the weapons. How can black people, already underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, battle a Kingdom complete with land, legal protection as a corporation and a legion of children ready to scream “Acuna Matata”?
The Miley Cyrus story has raised cries of cultural appropriation. Miley’s use of blackness, now discarded and demonized is a clear case for how cultural appropriation winds up hurting black people. But I believe when we move up the food chain, there is no personal fetishization of blackness, as much of the analysis suggests with Cyrus. Instead, blackness functions as a code to indicate a pop star experiencing a wild awakening. Blackness is there merely to represent the dark, seedy, undesirable side of America that is valuable only as a rumspringa for white American youth. They aren’t stealing your beauty or your swag–they grant you neither. Instead, they are stealing only their vision of you: raw animal aggression and untethered sexuality that they project onto black bodies so they can touch it, sell it, without taking any ownership of their own dark side.
For decades, from Annette and Frankie to Miley and Justin, Disney has used black bodies to flip child stars into adults. If you think they couldn’t have meant to–the old argument that their intentions were not racist–that still means that Disney has perpetrated years of cultural war on blackness without any concern for those represented or hurt. If you like your theory with a healthy dose of
paranoia reality, maybe you believe Disney is intentionally vilifying blackness in the representational binary with their innocent white stars, then we agree on nothing less than symbolic genocide and ideologically armed racism delivered in brightly colored costumes.
Either way, Miley is just the tip of the cultural appropriation iceberg. Disney’s pattern of using blackness as a code shows that the ultimate result of cultural appropriation isn’t the inappropriate use of cornrows or coochie shorts but symbolic annihilation. Remember that the next time someone tells you to let cultural appropriation go.
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In our super saturated ocean of media, there are lots of celebrities floating around. Musicians and entertainers, famous politicians or notorious bad boys, and even a ton of people famous for…well…being famous. Is seems as though everyone is famous for something. You can get famous in just a few hours just by writing a tweet, posting a video, even just being captured in an image.
In a 24-7 media environment, fame seems to be almost as important as money, power, and status. In days gone by children dreamed of growing up to be doctors, lawyers, firefighters or ballerinas. Studied in 2007 by Uhls and Greenfield, the number one thing children wanted to be was famous.
So what is fame? How do you get it and who gets to keep it? And once you have it, is it worth it? In this article, we’re going to look at the price of celebrity, not only for people who rocket their way to stardom but for our whole culture: how does fame change the world you live in?
In just a minute we’re going to look back in history to see how fame is different now than it was before. To start off, though, we’re going to hear from this guy.
This is Andy Warhol an American artist. If you’ve ever seen these paintings of a soup can
or these of Marilyn Monroe,
then you’re familiar with his work. Warhol was really interested in breaking down the line between high art—classical paintings and work important in the world of art—and low art, like soup cans and Hollywood actresses. Warhol was instrumental in the pop culture world. His work and his fascination with popular culture made the mundane seem special, where before only the great works of literature and art were worth studying. To Warhol, though, even the basic items of people’s everyday life were worth examining.
Warhol made art, went to parties, and, through his public activities and an art house nee club called The Factory, Warhol was also interested in making celebrities. He famously discovered British model Twiggy and helped to catapult her to stardom, making one of the first supermodels.
Perhaps Warhol’s most famous quote is this:in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.
Look, he didn’t mean that everybody should be famous, or that this was like a squad goal. He was predicting that as the tools to become famous are more available, more people would use those media tools to achieve fame. Was he right? You better believe it.
As we’ve learned, media messages have an impact on our perception of the world. Remember Gerbner’s Cultivation Theory that states that the more we watch TV the more likely we are to replace our own perception of reality with ideas from media. Media messages tell us what is important, what is worth doing, and who matters. Celebrities are like super-peers, acting as an image that we are to aspire to, so who are celebrities are will impact the norms beliefs and values of that culture.
In the early days of movies and TV, there were only three television channels, and programming only lasted part of the day. That meant that being on TV was a more unique experience than it is now, something affording to a very small number of people. Now, with over 1000 TV channels, billions of YouTube videos and a camera in every pocket, we have a lot more channels than we used to have, and we have to fill up those channels with something. Simply put, the space for fame has changed dramatically, so the number of people in our culture that fill that space is larger than ever. Consider for a moment how fame has changed over time with these pairings of famous celebs from then and now.
You’ll notice that Turner isn’t talking about how important or amazing individuals are. He’s talking about getting people to fill the space that we have for fame—who is the it girl actress of the day, who’s everybody’s favorite hero or villain, who it the bad boy of the moment: these are all roles in our media culture.
Any person who has the chance to occupy one of these rolls becomes famous—usually not for long, not because of any great accomplishment, but because they are fulfilling a role, playing a stereotype in the culture that gains lots of attention. We think what makes a celebrity a celebrity is some special and magical quality, but more likely, they are an individual that fits a role in our media culture, they’re cast in that role and rocketed to stardom, whether they wanted it—or deserved it—or not. Turner calls them celetoids.
Notoriety, name recognition, relevance: these are the keys to fame. It’s not about being the best, the most or the only, but about being the most widely known. Being a celebrity these days is about nothing so much as it is about being popular. The more followers, likes and fans one has, the more you can make the case that you are a valuable commodity in our media environment. Remember in a capitalist media structure, the main goal is to sell product—so anyone that’s going to get lots of attention becomes a valuable commodity media companies can use to improve their bottom line.
Whether you’re trying to save all the puppies and kitties, or if you are a horrible human through and through, if everyone’s talking about you then you can be the star. But just like the most popular kid in your graduating high school class—not everyone that’s popular has earned all the respect they get. Reality TV stars are especially controlled by their relevance factor. Shows may shoot a variety of people for a season, but only those most interesting to fans will get big story lines on the show.
So it’s not the nicest, smartest, or most generous, but the most divisive, most engaging, most attention-seeking characters will get the biggest story lines, therefore the most popularity, setting up a cycle that privileges explosive and outrageous behavior over behavior we may find more acceptable in our own personal relationships.
Drink throwing, tuna catching fights, father-son bike-remodeling arguments, circling sharks in the Shark Tank: conflict drives reality TV, more than other scripted shows even. Why and how is reality TV so important? We’ve got to get into our time machine and go waaaaaay back to the not so groovy days of the 2007-2008 Television season.
Reality TV is certainly very tightly controlled in the process of production to shape stories and creating interesting plots out of people’s everyday activities. While I am sure that your life is full of drama, there’s probably not enough for a 16-episode season. Producers ramp up fights, gossip, conflict and disagreement all to build more exciting stories. Yes they make up stories, and even tell people what to say and how to act, but one thing reality shows don’t have is union writers. The media industry has very strong labor unions—the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America in Hollywood to name just a couple. Every TV show that has a script has to use a union writer.
But in 2007-2008 TV season, there was writer’s strike. The Writers’ Guild of America went on strike and that meant that no shows that used a script could be made. What were the TV networks to do? Instead, TV networks turned to reality TV—free from union writers—to fill airtime. Instead of new dramas, TV was awash in reality shows. The networks learned something interesting—first, viewers watched the reality programming instead of totally turning off TV altogether, and second, reality TV was much cheaper to produce. There were no expensive actors, no scripts to pay for or costumes. Instead, regular people stepped up for their chance to be a celetoid. So enough viewers + cheaper production costs=more profit. What looked to be a losing TV season turned out to be a very profitable one, and the proliferation of reality TV continued.
Whether we’re talking about A-list celebrities or just the hero of the day from the latest viral video our media culture is absolutely obsessed with fame. Media technologies have made it easier than ever for someone to be known to millions, sometimes billions of people. That kind of power just wasn’t available to anyone in centuries past. Now that this era is here, analysis of who is famous can help shed light on the values of our culture.
The people that we make famous are a reflection of the cultural values that are most relevant at a given time. Remember, it’s not about what is right, good, just or best, but about what is popular—the lowest common denominator.
In media studies, the Uses and Gratifications Theory says that we use media to help satisfy our urges, needs and desire. But how does media decide what people need? Using psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can look at the needs that are most basic, and therefore most common versus those that needs that require basic needs to be met before we pursue them, thereby being less common concerns in the viewing audience.
Those needs that are most common are likely to draw the biggest viewing audience for a media production. For example, think of the old adage that sex sells. Sex is a basic human drive, along with food, shelter, and so on. That means that media representations that feature messages about sex are going to appeal to anyone who has sex, wants to have sex, has had sex, or is interested in sex: that’s pretty huge audience. By contrast, the need for self-actualization—a deep and complex understanding of yourself and your life’s purpose—is a higher level need. Sure it may be great to sell yoga classes with ideas about self-actualization, but for many people, this idea may not be as relevant to their life at a particular time. Needs that are higher level, like self-actualization or belonging are sure to attract people, but it will be a more narrow audience than those basic human needs.
Now it’s time to leave you with some questions to keep in mind while you navigate our fame-obsessed culture. Think about some of the most famous people in our media universe and think about why they’re famous. What does their fame tell us about what we think is important or worth watching? Are we encouraged to focus on people who are doing what is right or just relevant? Are celebrities and celetoids truly powerful, or are they media product? And if they are products, do they really deserve our time, attention and hard earned money? There won’t be one answer—there isn’t just one kind of famous person. The next time you decide to be a fan of a celebrity, take a second to think about fame, and make sure they’ve earned your attention.
In case you haven’t noticed, black people are really slaying these days. From music to art to literature knowledge and activism and of course fashion. There’s even new language to describe the fabulosity of black people: lit, melanin poppin’ and now, TNS.
TNS stand for the new stereotype, and it is an intentional move by artists to create new ways of seeing– and therefore thinking–about black people. It all started with this photo shoot by artist Marqulle Turner showing black men far from the brutes who populate the evening newsreel. These black men are diverse, sophisticated, cosmopolitan and fresh.
Not to be left behind these womyn showed how to get into formation.
TNS seeks to challenge and provide an alternative to the stereotypes of black people that we look at all the time here at smntks. TNS reminds me a bit of the Sapeurs, the elegantly dressed members of this Congolese fashion club.
Stereotypes are formed in the machine of culture, rarely owned by one person, so can you create a new one on your own? My answer would typically be a no, but these images of TNS come at a time when they are reinforced by amazing images of blacks as thoughtful, creative complex and conscious, from the Sapeurs, to Lemonade to black twitter. Taken together there is a widespread pattern of a new image of blacks in our culture.
So get your crew, get your melanin poppin’ and add your images to the new stereotype.
Recently this Ariel laundry soap ad, titled #sharetheload , from India crossed my desk (thanks, D!) and brought a little tear to my eye.
The touching story of a father who learns–not too late–the importance of balancing the second shift at home is more than just bubbly suds. When women entered the workforce, the talk was all about being able to bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan AND of course cater to your mates masculinity. After years of all y’all trying to have it all, it’s time to concede: work-life balance is a struggle if the partnership follows the plotline of Leave it to Beaver or today’s patch of modern sitcoms with dope dads and super moms.
The Don Draper uber-masculine scotch drinking dad of yesteryear is dead. Cold distant dads are out. Today with a wide variety of family structures and work commitments, the old school gender-role driven division of labor is giving way to more balanced homes. What’s more, sharing chores with your mate is good for more than clean laundry. Here sociologist Michael Kimmel talks about the many benefits shared home-work.
So don’t wait till you’re a silver fox to pitch in at home. Who knows, dinner might not be the only thing you get cooking!
We, at Black Lives Matter Nashville, believe we are in the midst of a revolutionary movement for black lives. We believe we are at war with systems in this country and world that demean and undermine the humanity of black people–namely, white supremacy, patriarchy, transphobia, homophobia, capitalism, and imperialism. Thus, we believe in arming ourselves for the war. And we believe there’s no better way to arm ourselves than with books. We’ve compiled a rolling bibliography of books that have been helpful for us while we conceptualize and navigate this movement. It’s rolling because there’s always more to add. Please submit more books, documentaries, links, and resources that have shaped and impacted you to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture by Angela Davis
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I came across this super cute ad from Australia’s ANZ Bank where little girls detail a world that seems weighted on their failure. The depressing facts are spoken in sweetly by girls in some fantasy room, drenched with sunbeams and piled with books. To top it off, there’s one tough little grasshopper who wants youth know how strong these girls can be.
Nice, right? The ad is a part of a campaign by ANZ Bank to address the gender wage gap. In addition to the ad, their announced they will be adding and extra $500 to the annuity funds of each of their 12,700 Australian female employees. That’s 6.3 million dollars for the ladies: bonus!
Now I love free money as much as the next, and the bank is clearly articulating that they know the wage gap exists-soooo with you! As a woman that earns a wage, I’d rather be paid fairly–every year–than receive a lady-boys to make up for it. That seems like a booby prize to me. I wager I’m not the only woman who wants wage equity, not a handout.
Saturday morning, activist Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol building and took down the confederate flag capping a week of hot debate and fast movement towards removing the symbol of southern aggression from official state buildings. Sadly, the flag is flying over the capital yet again, reminding us that symbols are only as powerful–or weak–as the acceptance of the ideologies they represent. Removing the flags that celebrate America’s racist past will not eradicate the racist ideology that radicalized Dylan roof any more than removing a label from a can will vaporize what is inside.
Even as the President eulogizes the most recent victims of racism, the war rages on– arson, death and defense of the killer continue unchecked–and unexamined in the mainstream media. Instead, the flag has taken center stage in the discussion of the Charleston Massacre. A quick google trends search shows that the focus is squarely on the flag, not the victims, nor the ideology that sparked the killing.
You’ll recall the flag furor kicked up when killer Dylan Roof displayed one on his website. But while mainstream news has focused on the flag, the actual hate groups that pushed their racist filth on the internet, and whom Roof points to in his own radicalization continue to operate. The presidential candidates who have taken money from Council of Conservative Citizens and other racist hate groups get an easy pass for their support of the flag’s removal without addressing their own past ties to hate activists. There was no critical questioning of candidates ties to these group son the Sunday talk circuit, but plenty of flag not-waving.
Assuring us that there’s more than one hateful racist willing to perpetrate violence, six predominately black churches have burned in a string of arson stretching from Macon to Tallahassee. Ongoing investigations will identify perpetrators where they can, but the echo of the 1960’s replete with racially motivated murders and overt attacks on the black community via the black church sound in ears still ringing with this week’s gun shots. Mainstream media has all but ignored this string of violence in favor of the simply packaged story of the flag which looks to be moving toward a happy ending–audiences love a happy ending!
Two children lost their lives in the course of a police chase in Detroit–a chase that had been called off by commanders concerned about the danger to the public just moments before the deaths. Gunshots, rough rides and speeding vehicles all resulting in dead black bodies still happen daily, leaving the black community decimated emotionally, socially and politically. The flags that flies over Ferguson, baltimore and Detroit are all American, and the struggle for justice continues in all those cities.
Lets also not forget that Dylan Roof is not an old racist–he is a young racist, a millennial–from that generation that is supposed to mark the end of racism. The flag may be a worn out symbol, one long past its prime. Bu the perpetrator is merely 21–a man born in the heyday of hip Hop, and only 13 when Obama was elected–so squarely a member of new school racism, a racism proving just as deadly as old school. Racism won’t just die with the rise of the millennials–education is still key in stopping the spread of racism to yet another American generation.
The flag needs to come down. Removing this symbol from state grounds is important, yes, and long overdue. But more important than the flag is the ideology that the flag represents–that was what radicalized terrorist Dylann Roof and emboldened others to burn down churches or commit one of hundreds of thousands of hate crimes that happen each year.
Attacking the overt labels of racism is important. But we’re going to have to open our can of
worms racism and deal with it if we are ever to reach a place free from racism and its violent devotees. Celebrate the small victories in this week filled with funerals, but stay conscious, stay activated and never settle for taking down the flags of the fathers without addressing the sins of their sons.
In honor of Father’s Day I thought I’d share this endearing little ad from Nikon’s I Am Generation Image campaign starring two Dads, Kodale and Kaleb Lewis, whose story went viral when they posted a picture of them braiding their daughters’ hair. This short lets us spend a little time with this super cute–and very photogenic family.
Happy Father’s Day out there to all the dads–cute or not!