Archive for the ‘TV Time’ Category

Thankfully for fans, this year’s Super Bowl featured some ads to keep them entertained during Seattle’s demolition of the Denver Broncos. Two of the ads, in particular, stood out to me for their recognition of America’s diversity.

The one that has provoked less controversy was for Cheerios and featured a biracial family:

This commercial is actually a sequel to a previous commercial from last spring that featured the same family. The previous ad ignited racist comments online, leading comments to be disabled on the video at YouTube. These comments demonstrate that a casual depiction of an interracial family is still a big deal over 40 years after the Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in its ruling on Loving v. Virginia.

The second commercial was for Coke and has received considerably more attention:

The attention this ad has received is reminiscent of the controversy after Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at last summer’s MLB All-Star Game. In both cases people seem to have forgotten that not everybody in the United States speaks the same language or has ancestors from the same part of the world. This was also reportedly the first Super Bowl Commercial to feature a gay family.

While it is great to see these depictions during one of the most-watched television events of the year, there is also an element of calculated risk that it seems General Mills and Coke were willing to accept. That is, airing a commercial that will anger some people will also ensure that people will be talking about that commercial and, by extension, the product. Katie Bayne, Coke’s president, said, “We hope the ad gets people talking and thinking about what it means to be proud to be American.” Oh, and Coke!

The fact that these complaints will be written off as bigoted by the majority of the audience they are trying to reach also reduces the actual risk that they take on and says to consumers, “We think those people are idiots, too. Buy our product.”

Update: Here is a post by Jenny Davis discussing these ads and the way our reaction to them helps us overlook systemic racism.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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Here are a few Super Bowl-related posts via the Society Pages.

From Slate, research on perceptions and slow motion.

Or, if you prefer, you can find out all you need to know about Superb Owl Sunday here.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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In a world where Edward Snowden warns that children will never know privacy, I guess it makes sense to deny privacy to everything else, too. Get an early start on your future career with the NSA by purchasing the My Spy Birdhouse, which allows you to see into the homes of birds (including the ability to use a one-way mirror if you want to do so covertly!).

Next year, the makers of My Spy Birdhouse hope to allow us to monitor bird calls without a warrant.

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Penguin Claus by Mark Stamaty

Fox News reports on an article by Aisha Harris at Slate suggesting that Santa should be depicted as a penguin, managing to combine white privilege (“Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change”), Santa, and a blatantly false statement about the skin color of a Middle Eastern man named Jesus.

Harris responds to Fox News here, writing:

Changing Santa does not mean we’re being “politically correct.” It means we’re expanding our perceptions of the “norm.” The argument that Santa must be white spills over into conversations about other, equally fictional characters. Can James Bond or Spider-Man be played by people of color? Why not? And yet some people will tell you—believe me—that they have to be white. Of course, some people also believe that characters who were written as people of color are not actually people of color. Which goes to show how deeply rooted the idea of “whiteness” as the default really is. And that presumption carries over into our everyday lives as well, sometimes with sad results.

For the record, I fully support Penguin Claus. If you’re looking for a new song to add to the Christmas canon (radio stations need something to play instead of “The Christmas Shoes“!), writing one about Penguin Claus is a good place to start!

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Watching college basketball recently, I saw a shorter version of the commercial below roughly 97 times. Of the five named athletes (okay, the Duck Dynasty guy probably doesn’t count as an athlete) in the commercial, there are four men and one woman. Can you guess which one’s stomach is featured in a close up?

I can imagine the ad agency saying: “Can we show the little girl’s stomach? No? Damn it! I guess that it is okay to show a girl without sexualizing her, but add a few more male kids to balance out the threatening non-sexualized female!”

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Over at Sociological Images Lisa Wade breaks down Lily Allen’s new video for “Hard Out Here,” in which she mocks the tropes associated with some recent music videos, particularly Miley Cyrus’s. You can see the video here:

As I watched the video, my first thought was, “Oh, she is making fun of the expectations that women face in the music industry.” My second thought, though, was, “Isn’t she using these black women as props in the same way that Miley Cyrus used them?” Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous was better able to turn these thoughts into words, writing:

Satire works best when you are flipping the script on the oppressor, on the system. When you are calling attention to the ways that the system is jacked by amplifying the absurdity of that system. Not caricaturing and otherwise disrespecting the people who are oppressed by that system.

In general, I think that music that challenges listeners to question the stereotypes associated with pop culture is a good thing, so I don’t fault Lily Allen for writing this song or wanting to make a video playing with these ideas (though Lisa points out that the only reason a song like this can get recorded is because somebody thought that it would be successful at making money). I wish, though, that she had found a more clever way to play with these ideas than simply appropriating them for her own purposes.

The lesson learned here, I think, is that we have set the bar so low for thoughtful dialog about race, gender, inequality, and sexuality in popular music that just pointing out how stupid we are about these things is seen as a thoughtful critique. Everybody can do better.

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Shonda Rhimes, creator of TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, recently talked to NPR. According to Amanda Hess at Slate, one of the things she discussed was the challenge of getting Grey’s Anatomy on the air:

When NPR asked Rhimes if she helped “create the change” in representing complicated and diverse women on screen, Rhimes told the story of pitching the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy to ABC in 2005. Rhimes conceived of Grey’s as a racially diverse show featuring “smart women competing against one another” that she’d actually watch. But higher-ups at ABC had different ideas about what women really wanted. “A bunch of older guys told me that nobody was going to watch a show about a woman who had casual sex and threw a guy out the night before her first day of work—that that was completely unrealistic and that nobody wanted to know that woman,” Rhimes told NPR. “I remember sitting in that meeting and thinking, ‘Wow they don’t know anything about what’s going on in the world right now.’ ”

I’m not sure how the show was allowed to move forward at ABC without changes, but it apparently was and is now in its tenth season. Rimes doesn’t think those views would be expressed today, partly because of the success of Grey’s Anatomy:

“That kind of conversation would never happen now,” Rhimes told NPR. Executives are “no longer worried about whether or not the women are likeable.” It used to be that if you pitched a show with a female lead, “it was so rare [that] everyone wanted that person to be perfect, because she had to represent everybody.” White female characters, at least, are now allowed to be complex. Scandal‘s Olivia Pope, however, “is very rare because she’s an African-American woman,” Rhimes told NPR, “and everyone wants her to be perfect because she has to represent everyone.” The good news is that Rhimes now has the clout to reject that premise: “There’s a box you get put in. My goal is to blow that box wide open.”

Rhimes is speaking to a central challenge of breaking gender and race barriers on television: Because nonwhite, non-male leads represents a risk for a network, producers can put pressure on writers to play it safe in other ways. But characters that are designed to “represent” all women, or all black women, are guaranteed to be boring to pretty much everyone. Rhimes is successful enough now that she can call the shots. I’d be interested to hear how these diversity and likability conversations go with television creators who are not established powerhouses.

As Hess points out, it is great that Rhimes has enough clout to  do what she wants, but the underlying fear on the part of executives likely remains. As long as diversity on TV is rare there will be pressure to make diverse characters bland. When these shows fail the executives will likely point to the fact that the shows featured diverse characters, not their blandness, as the reason for this failure, reinforcing the idea that audiences don’t connect with diverse characters. Hopefully, shows like Scandal and Orange is the New Black will help break this cycle rather than remaining aberrations.

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Last night, Kerry Washington was the host of Saturday Night Live. Since Washington is a black female and was hosting a show that currently has no black female cast members, the topic of race made a few appearances. The first was in the opening sketch, where Washington was asked to play Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Beyonce.

Race also played a major part in a sketch about Obama’s approval rating among black voters, with a special focus on The Wire (examples: “Personally I thought white people would be more excited about their lines being tapped, considering how much they like The Wire” and “Have you even been at a party and a white person approaches you with a smile and you just know they’re going to want to talk about The Wire?”

These examples highlight the way that humor can be used to discuss race. Unfortunately, discussing race is not the same as doing something about it (just like watching The Wire isn’t the same as volunteering at a school…) As Al Sharpton said, “What have we learned from this…as usual, nothing.”

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Happy Halloween, everybody. Here is a roundup of some of this year’s Halloween-themed posts:

I hope that the Great Pumpkin brings you lots of toys and candy. If not, there’s always next year!

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For over ten years I have had some sort of TV service. During that time, I became accustomed to the yearly bill increases that were followed by yearly phone calls to the company, asking to speak to a manager in order to remove or reduce the increase. The good prices, I’ve been told time and again, are for new customers. Why, I’ve asked time and again, don’t you just give everybody the same fair price? Every year it was the same thing, but every year I was able to negotiate a lower price. Until this year. This was the first time that I have gone through this process with Comcast.

A few months back I received my monthly bill and noticed that it had nearly doubled, from $98 to $180 per month. My introductory rate had clearly expired. It was time to go through the yearly routine. So I called. Once again, I was told that the good prices are for new customers. I could reduce my rates, however, by changing my services: fewer channels, dropping HD, slower internet, faster internet (yes, there was a bundle with some new sort of internet that would have reduced the price). The problem with all of these options was that I did not want to reduce my services and I did not want to increase the amount of money that I was paying. Comcast’s offers would have placed my bill between $130 and $160 per month.

I told the representative that I wanted to continue receiving the same services I had been receiving for the same price I had been paying. The representative said it wasn’t possible. I asked to speak to a manager. I again stated my desire. The manager said it wasn’t possible. I said that it was likely I would cancel my service but that I needed a day or two to explore my options and that I would call back. I explored my options and called back. I talked to a friendly representative who understood my situation but couldn’t help me any more than the previous representative or manager. I cancelled my service. A few days later, I returned my equipment to Comcast’s local office. Then I got angry.

The same evening that I had returned my equipment, I got a phone call from Comcast (likely a different arm of the company) saying that they were sorry to see me go and that they were able to offer me my original services at my original price in order to keep me as a customer. Having spent over an hour on the phone with various Comcast representatives in the past week, none of whom could make me this offer, I told the representative that there was absolutely no way I would be renewing my Comcast subscription. I also made it very clear that if this offer had been given to me at any time during my previous phone calls I would still be a Comcast customer. Instead, I’m one of the millions of customers Comcast has lost in the past few years.

Cable companies exist largely as monopolies in the United States. In recent years, pressure from satellite and phone companies have led to bundling and a wider variety of services, but this hasn’t been enough to prevent customers from leaving. In this time period, Comcast’s profits have actually increased, as has its stock price. This strategy may work in the short term but in the long term it seems that Comcast is fighting a losing battle. Treating existing customers poorly as alternatives increase will not lead to customer loyalty, it will lead customers to flee as quickly as they are able. Once these customers are gone, it will be hard to get them back.

Imagine how successful a cable company could be if it offered customers a fair price that would not increase dramatically after six months or a year and if that price included common things like HD channels, DVR service, and the ability to connect more than one TV. Cable companies have had a monopoly but the changing technological landscape means that customers are able to go elsewhere to get the things that they have traditionally relied on cable companies for.  The pricing tactics of cable companies may have served them well when customers had no other choices, but if they don’t change soon these tactics are going to fail them.

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