Fairness and the Bristol Stomp

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Almost all children hear a set of conflicting statements from their parents, relatives, and friends. They're told if they study hard, if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they want. It's the "American Dream." But they're also told that life isn't always fair.

            Looking for internships or jobs, America's children learn that no matter how much they studied or worked, it was the boss's niece or a boss's friend's son who was hired. Sometimes, the reason for rejection could be as simple as the boss thought the best candidate was intellectually superior or that the applicant had curly black hair and he liked only blondes.

            Later, on another job, while the boss bought yet another vacation home, the worker was one of dozens laid off, their jobs going to Mexico, China, or Pakistan.

            It's not fair that reality TV "stars" and pro athletes make 10 to more than 100 times the salaries of social workers and firefighters. But Americans seldom protest.

            The owner of a mid-sized carpentry shop loses a contract to a large corporation, not because of a lack of quality work but because the corporation cut deals with suppliers. It's not fair; it's just reality.

            One person driving 65 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone is stopped by police; another, doing 80, speeds along. It's not fair. But it happens.

            It probably wasn't fair that Bristol Palin, 20-year-old unwed mother with no discernible job skills, was selected over thousands of other celebrities for ABC-TV's "Dancing With the Stars." It had nothing to do with fairness or her ability; it had everything to do with a reality that Palin's presence on DWTS would bring in ratings, and ratings bring in advertising income. The first show brought in 21 million viewers who watched 30-second commercials from companies that paid almost $190,000 each, among the highest on all television—broadcast or cable.

            To assure that Palin had  a chance to stay on the show for at least a couple of weeks, the producers gave her a special advantage—her professional dance partner was Mark Ballas, DWTS champion twice in the previous 10 seasons.

            Even with one of the best professional ballroom dancers as her partner and coach, Palin was still at the bottom of the judges' ranking four times, and near the bottom most of the other times. According to the scoring system, each of three judges give each contestant pair—a celebrity and a professional—a score of 1 to 10. A perfect score is 30. But, viewers can vote by phone, website, or by texting. Their vote is worth half the total score. Neither Sarah nor Bristol Palin made any special requests of the viewers that we know about. They didn't have to. Hundreds of conservative blogs and talk show hosts did it for them, urging their flocks to vote. Many may have even scammed the system. At least one viewer told the Washington Post he not only had used fake emails to vote hundreds of times, he also told others how to do it.

            Willing accomplices and accessories, of course, were the producers who made sure that Mama Palin was seen on several shows—sometimes with speaking roles, sometimes with as many as nine cutaway shots. The audience did as they were told. For nine weeks, Bristol Palin, one of the weakest dancers in the show's 11-season history, defeated celebrity teams who had near-perfect and perfect scores.

            The week before the finals, it finally seemed destined that Bristol Palin would be off the show, having again placed at the bottom of the judges' scores. But, it was Brandy and professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who had done near-perfect routines, who were voted off. Shocked, the audience began booing. It didn't matter. Palin was now one of three celebrity finalists.

            The first of a two-part final the following week drew an audience of 23.7 million, highest for any entertainment program this season. However, this time, it was Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough, who had finished at the top of the judges' lists several times, who finally won. Second were actor Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer; Palin and Ballas finished third.

            It makes little difference if numerous celebrities weren't selected for Dancing With the Stars because the producers gave the slot to the less talented Bristol Palin. It doesn't even matter that more talented celebrities were eliminated from the show because a cult of the home audience voted for Bristol Palin. In the American election system, the best candidate, for any of a thousand reasons, including blatant lies and distortion by the opposition, often doesn't win an election.

            It doesn't seem fair. It's just the way it is.

 

 

 

Fairness and the Bristol Stomp

 

by Walter Brasch

 

            Almost all children hear a set of conflicting statements from their parents, relatives, and friends. They're told if they study hard, if they work hard, they can achieve whatever they want. It's the "American Dream." But they're also told that life isn't always fair.

            Looking for internships or jobs, America's children learn that no matter how much they studied or worked, it was the boss's niece or a boss's friend's son who was hired. Sometimes, the reason for rejection could be as simple as the boss thought the best candidate was intellectually superior or that the applicant had curly black hair and he liked only blondes.

            Later, on another job, while the boss bought yet another vacation home, the worker was one of dozens laid off, their jobs going to Mexico, China, or Pakistan.

            It's not fair that reality TV "stars" and pro athletes make 10 to more than 100 times the salaries of social workers and firefighters. But Americans seldom protest.

            The owner of a mid-sized carpentry shop loses a contract to a large corporation, not because of a lack of quality work but because the corporation cut deals with suppliers. It's not fair; it's just reality.

            One person driving 65 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone is stopped by police; another, doing 80, speeds along. It's not fair. But it happens.

            It probably wasn't fair that Bristol Palin, 20-year-old unwed mother with no discernible job skills, was selected over thousands of other celebrities for ABC-TV's "Dancing With the Stars." It had nothing to do with fairness or her ability; it had everything to do with a reality that Palin's presence on DWTS would bring in ratings, and ratings bring in advertising income. The first show brought in 21 million viewers who watched 30-second commercials from companies that paid almost $190,000 each, among the highest on all television—broadcast or cable.

            To assure that Palin had  a chance to stay on the show for at least a couple of weeks, the producers gave her a special advantage—her professional dance partner was Mark Ballas, DWTS champion twice in the previous 10 seasons.

            Even with one of the best professional ballroom dancers as her partner and coach, Palin was still at the bottom of the judges' ranking four times, and near the bottom most of the other times. According to the scoring system, each of three judges give each contestant pair—a celebrity and a professional—a score of 1 to 10. A perfect score is 30. But, viewers can vote by phone, website, or by texting. Their vote is worth half the total score. Neither Sarah nor Bristol Palin made any special requests of the viewers that we know about. They didn't have to. Hundreds of conservative blogs and talk show hosts did it for them, urging their flocks to vote. Many may have even scammed the system. At least one viewer told the Washington Post he not only had used fake emails to vote hundreds of times, he also told others how to do it.

            Willing accomplices and accessories, of course, were the producers who made sure that Mama Palin was seen on several shows—sometimes with speaking roles, sometimes with as many as nine cutaway shots. The audience did as they were told. For nine weeks, Bristol Palin, one of the weakest dancers in the show's 11-season history, defeated celebrity teams who had near-perfect and perfect scores.

            The week before the finals, it finally seemed destined that Bristol Palin would be off the show, having again placed at the bottom of the judges' scores. But, it was Brandy and professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who had done near-perfect routines, who were voted off. Shocked, the audience began booing. It didn't matter. Palin was now one of three celebrity finalists.

            The first of a two-part final the following week drew an audience of 23.7 million, highest for any entertainment program this season. However, this time, it was Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough, who had finished at the top of the judges' lists several times, who finally won. Second were actor Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer; Palin and Ballas finished third.

            It makes little difference if numerous celebrities weren't selected for Dancing With the Stars because the producers gave the slot to the less talented Bristol Palin. It doesn't even matter that more talented celebrities were eliminated from the show because a cult of the home audience voted for Bristol Palin. In the American election system, the best candidate, for any of a thousand reasons, including blatant lies and distortion by the opposition, often doesn't win an election.

            It doesn't seem fair. It's just the way it is.

 

 

 

Analyzing The Last Airbender’s Casting Controversy

Summer is in full swing, which means that Hollywood has come out with the usual set of summer blockbusters. This year’s summer movies – from Inception to Despicable Me – have generally been good quality, well-done things. Indeed, the film Inception may become one of the great classics of movie fame.

Then there was The Last Airbender, by M. Night Shyamalan – a movie which may earn the title as the worst movie this year. From its inception (pardon the pun) to its sorry release, Airbender has been dogged in the wake of controversial casting decisions.

Shyamalan has also been criticized for yellowface – casting white actors to play Asian main characters, although the TV series Avatar, upon which the movie was based off of, puts itself in an East Asian setting. The evidence for the latter claim is fairly strong. Take, for instance, the following six battles: the Siege of Ba Sing Se, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Battle of Han Tui, the Hu Xin Provinces Campaign, the Battle of Jinyang, and the Battle of Kapyong. Some are from Avatar and some constitute real-life events in Asian history.

It’s fairly difficult to tell which is which. As it turns out, the first, third, and fourth events are from Avatar; the rest are actual historical battles (congratulations if you recognized the second name, and even more congratulations if you recognized the last name).

The puzzle, then, is why Hollywood does things like this – why it, for instance, continues the practice of yellow-face more than half-a-century after blackface was rightfully ended.

Simple old-fashioned racism does not fully answer the question. Shyamalan himself is Indian, yet cast an Indian actor as the villain. Most people in entertainment are not racists in disguise, although their pool of friends may lack diversity (in this they are not much different from most people). The vast majority probably voted for President Barack Obama, for instance. Most probably view segregation or Japanese internment as tremendous wrongs in American history. Some even go all the way and marry interracially (often, ironically enough, with an Asian-American women), before casting a white actor to play an Asian lead.

The answer, rather, seems to involve economics and the faceless forces of the market. Take supply and demand. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the vast majority of Hollywood’s available labor pool is white. Becoming a Hollywood superstar is something that appeals to a very specific demographic, and that demographic is probably paler than America itself. There are, moreover, not many Asian-Americans in entertainment. Choosing the white actor to play a non-white role may simply be the easier path.

Hollywood’s writers and producers also have families to feed and ambitions to make it big, ambitions to which some principles can be sacrificed. Shyamalan and others of his industry want to make productions that sell; that constitutes the purpose of their job. And they think that a show without a white male lead would be less popular – which is often true. So they set white male leads because they think only those types of shows will sell. They make what they think the audience will accept.

Ironically, this probably causes the audience to become even less accepting of non-white, non-male leads since they’re so used to the traditional version. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Yet for all this, practices like yellow-face do not seem entirely justified from a purely financial perspective. Shaylaman’s movie, after all, turned out into a disaster despite his best efforts to appeal to white America. Americans have proved willing to watch movies with black male leads, despite early fears. Movies such as Despicable Me and District 9 have cast main characters who speak in accented English; those movies also did well.

Finally there is the international market to factor in. Rich Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan constitute an increasingly important audience. Then there is the growing market in China. China allows only twenty Hollywood movies a year; because of Shyalaman’s controversial casting, The Last Airbender will almost certainly not make the cut.

If Hollywood and the American entertainment industry wake up to these facts, they might realize that a change in practices such as yellow-face would probably gain them sales – and besides, it’d also be the right thing to do.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Analyzing The Last Airbender’s Casting Controversy

Summer is in full swing, which means that Hollywood has come out with the usual set of summer blockbusters. This year’s summer movies – from Inception to Despicable Me – have generally been good quality, well-done things. Indeed, the film Inception may become one of the great classics of movie fame.

Then there was The Last Airbender, by M. Night Shyamalan – a movie which may earn the title as the worst movie this year. From its inception (pardon the pun) to its sorry release, Airbender has been dogged in the wake of controversial casting decisions.

Shyamalan has also been criticized for yellowface – casting white actors to play Asian main characters, although the TV series Avatar, upon which the movie was based off of, puts itself in an East Asian setting. The evidence for the latter claim is fairly strong. Take, for instance, the following six battles: the Siege of Ba Sing Se, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Battle of Han Tui, the Hu Xin Provinces Campaign, the Battle of Jinyang, and the Battle of Kapyong. Some are from Avatar and some constitute real-life events in Asian history.

It’s fairly difficult to tell which is which. As it turns out, the first, third, and fourth events are from Avatar; the rest are actual historical battles (congratulations if you recognized the second name, and even more congratulations if you recognized the last name).

The puzzle, then, is why Hollywood does things like this – why it, for instance, continues the practice of yellow-face more than half-a-century after blackface was rightfully ended.

Simple old-fashioned racism does not fully answer the question. Shyamalan himself is Indian, yet cast an Indian actor as the villain. Most people in entertainment are not racists in disguise, although their pool of friends may lack diversity (in this they are not much different from most people). The vast majority probably voted for President Barack Obama, for instance. Most probably view segregation or Japanese internment as tremendous wrongs in American history. Some even go all the way and marry interracially (often, ironically enough, with an Asian-American women), before casting a white actor to play an Asian lead.

The answer, rather, seems to involve economics and the faceless forces of the market. Take supply and demand. It would not be unreasonable to assume that the vast majority of Hollywood’s available labor pool is white. Becoming a Hollywood superstar is something that appeals to a very specific demographic, and that demographic is probably paler than America itself. There are, moreover, not many Asian-Americans in entertainment. Choosing the white actor to play a non-white role may simply be the easier path.

Hollywood’s writers and producers also have families to feed and ambitions to make it big, ambitions to which some principles can be sacrificed. Shyamalan and others of his industry want to make productions that sell; that constitutes the purpose of their job. And they think that a show without a white male lead would be less popular – which is often true. So they set white male leads because they think only those types of shows will sell. They make what they think the audience will accept.

Ironically, this probably causes the audience to become even less accepting of non-white, non-male leads since they’re so used to the traditional version. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

Yet for all this, practices like yellow-face do not seem entirely justified from a purely financial perspective. Shaylaman’s movie, after all, turned out into a disaster despite his best efforts to appeal to white America. Americans have proved willing to watch movies with black male leads, despite early fears. Movies such as Despicable Me and District 9 have cast main characters who speak in accented English; those movies also did well.

Finally there is the international market to factor in. Rich Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan constitute an increasingly important audience. Then there is the growing market in China. China allows only twenty Hollywood movies a year; because of Shyalaman’s controversial casting, The Last Airbender will almost certainly not make the cut.

If Hollywood and the American entertainment industry wake up to these facts, they might realize that a change in practices such as yellow-face would probably gain them sales – and besides, it’d also be the right thing to do.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

Makutano Junction Soap Opera

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

The last place most of us look to for useful information is television soap operas. But Makutano Junction, a Kenyan-produced soap opera set in the fictional town of the same name is not your average TV drama. Broadcast in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and throughout English-speaking Africa on Digital Satellite Television (DSTV), Makutano Junction doesn't deal with the evil twins, amnesia, and dark family secrets typical of U.S. daytime dramas. Instead, the show's plot lines revolve around more grounded (although not necessarily less dramatic) subjects like access to health care and education, sustainable income-generation, and citizens' rights.

Funded by the U.K. Department for International Development, produced by the Mediae Trust, and broadcast by the Kenya Broadcast Corporation, the show was originally designed as a 13-part drama in 2004. But Makutano Junction was since developed into a six-season TV phenomenon, with over 7 million viewers in Kenya alone. Its website provides all the information one might expect from a television show site, including episode summaries and character profiles. It also features "extras" on themes from specific episodes and encourages viewers to text the producers for more information.

In Episode 8 of Season 6, which aired in 2008, the character Maspeedy gets into trouble for soaking seeds. Seed soaking works by essentially tricking the seed into thinking it has been planted, allowing it to soak up in one day as much water as it would in a week in the soil. This speeds up germination and significantly shortens the time between planting and growth, leading to a vegetable harvest in a quick amount of time.

But the other characters in the show are unfamiliar with this practice and, when they discover Maspeedy's project, have him thrown in jail because they are convinced that he is brewing alcohol illegally. After some plot twists and a little slapstick humor involving two trouble-making characters who attempt to drink the water in order to get drunk, the truth comes to light and Maspeedy is released from jail. He then teaches the rest of the town the simple technique of soaking seeds to speed plant-growth time.

After the episode aired in May 2008, thousands of viewers sent texts to Mediae  requesting more information about seed-soaking techniques. These viewers were sent a pamphlet with detailed instructions on how to soak their own seeds. Follow-up calls- which were part of a study to test the effectiveness of the show's messaging- revealed that 95 percent of those who had texted for more information had found the pamphlets helpful. And 57 percent had tried out seed soaking even before the pamphlet arrived, just based on the information provided on the show. Ninety-four percent said that they had shared the information with up to five other people.

By peppering the drama-infused lives of its characters with demonstrations of agricultural practices, trips to the doctor for tuberculosis tests, and Kenyan history, Makutano Junction serves to both entertain and provide reliable information for families throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This is soap opera drama that people can actually relate to-and learn from.

To read more about innovations that use entertainment and media to alleviate poverty and hunger see: Using Digital Technology to Empower and Connect Young Farmers, Acting it out for Advocacy and Messages from One Rice Farmer to Another.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

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