Thursday, July 2, 2009

The End is Only the Beginning

I'm not sure what I originally had thought I would get from this class. Perhaps just a general discussion of how the media portrays race and gender, but nothing as heated or intense as we actually.

There were days I would leave the class and be completely frustrated, to the point that it would build throughout the day and I would lie in bed and it would filter through my head while trying to get to sleep. I would think "How can some people still believe these things?" And I would have to remind myself that all of us have different life experiences, and that through these experiences we bring a greater understanding of the world, piece by piece. Some people get a lot of pieces really fast, and some get really big pieces, but the our view of the world is based on our experiences.

There was a time when I identified heavily as conservative and had pre-conceived prejudices about several minorities (including gays and lesbians). Through college, my experiences, my education, and the people I met helped to reshape how I viewed the world. I can say that college provided a truly enlightening experience and one that I wouldn't trade for anything.

As for this class, it has proved to me that there are still things that I have to learn, things that I had never completely noticed (and if I had, it had been peripherally and I hadn't actually thought about them). I really enjoyed our discussions, even the ones that frustrated me. We learned from each other and helped to challenge each others' ways of thinking.

Before this class I had never really thought about privilege, but the more I think about it, the more I see it within our culture, and for many majorities, not just white privilege. And yet it is still surprising and sad that things in our society can be based on such things as being part of a minority or majority.

Another part of what we discussed that has made an impact is the use of phrases that have become so ingrained in our speech that we don't notice that they are something offensive. It never even crossed my mind that "low man on the totem pole" or "no way, jose" or even "paddy wagon" might be taken offensive. It is something I plan to be more conscious of in the future.

To say that the class has exceeded my expectations wouldn't entirely do it justice (see above that I didn't have set expectations before the class). I have enjoyed this class quite a bit. It is impressive that 15 people from pretty different backgrounds and lives can come together to (for the most part) rationally discuss such heavy issues as race, gender, and sexual orientation and how the media (we) portray them.

As Monica has tried to stress several times throughout the class, we are the future of mass communication. In one form or another, we will be the ones creating and distributing images. Will something you produce one day be used in a class like this as a negative example? Are you the next Michael Bay?

ps- Gran Torino was entertaining, but the acting really wasn't that good. I wouldn't have given it an Oscar nod either.
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Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson StarImage via Wikipedia

Pop quiz:

What couple are getting a divorce and how many children do they have?
Name one of the products that Billy Mays sold.
Who has custody of Michael Jackson's children?

(Answers: Jon & Kate, 8 children, Oxy-Clean, and Jackson's mother).

Real answer: Why do we care about these things?

There are several other important events going on in the world yet our American media chooses to fill most of our 24 hour news networks with telling us about these pop culture tidbits.

I love pop culture, but I see a major damage to our culture by how much attention our NEWS sources pay to these items. Is 24 hour coverage of Michael Jackson postmortem with intermittent updates on how Billy Mays died more important than any of the other news items that have come across in the past few days?

Honduras is experiencing a military coup and their congress has selected a new president. Can we even name either the overthrown president or the newly named president?

The U.S. Supreme Court decided on a case, but if we were not in a class that discusses race and/or were not journalism students, would we have even known about this ruling?

In my opinion, it is the creation and dependence of a constant source of information that has caused the need to find such filler. In the past, broadcast news was available at only certain types of the day. Magazine shows did not exist and the 24-hour news station had not been invented, so the amount of news that could be provided each day was limited to the most important news of the day, news that was pertinent to people's knowledge and daily lives. Although I enjoy the ability to have instant access to news and information, I'm not convinced that we are truly getting the best information. If anything, the advent of the 24-hour news networks signaled the death of concise news reporting.

The majority of information we receive is unnecessary. I don't care to watch hour upon hour of coverage about the life of Michael Jackson. At the least, I find it hypocritical that the man they had bashed and labeled as "Wacko Jacko" is now to be endeared into our cultural history and the bad parts are glossed over by the media. At the most, I find it insulting to the American public that the producers and editors feel that this is the most important news of the day. I'm honestly tired of talking and hearing about Michael Jackson. I can understand and appreciate his contributions to pop culture, music, and dance, but I can't understand the constant coverage.

On this same weekend, the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots were celebrated across the country. June 28, 1969 is not even a date that most history books, unless you are in a more "liberal" college class (like my History of Journalism was), yet it signals the time that the gay and lesbian movement really took ground. Some media will cover pride events (the yearly memorial marches of the Stonewall Riots), show the more extreme sides of the LGBT community (this is a topic for another blog) and move on. But when police raids eerily reminiscent of those that started the Stonewall Riots occur in Ft. Worth this past weekend, it is hardly mentioned in most news sources.

The priorities of our "news" sources have become disoriented. It is no longer the events of the day that affect our actual lives that are the most important on the channels. Our news has become a combination of opinionated talking heads and pop culture tidbits with not much true hard hitting journalistic action.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Future

20 years:
I will be 47. I will have worked as the public relations director for a prominent arts organization in Chicago, such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I will have earned my PhD and will have been teaching part time at the college level. By the time I'm 47, I plan to have left my job as a P.R. director and will be teaching full time. I will sit on boards for various non-profits to keep my connection to that world.

James and I will have lived in Chicago for quite awhile at this point, with a brief time away from there years ago while I was working on my PhD. Our kids will be entering their teens and a lot of personal time will be focused on them.

10 years:
By this time I will have received my PhD in strategic communication. I want to start having kids (adoption, surrogacy, however) around 35 and at 37 I think we would be ready for a second. While I have career goals, I want a job that is flexible enough for me to be a major part in raising my children and possibly work from home while they are younger. I'm not sure how, but I want to make this happen.

We'll be moving back to Chicago sometime around now, having moved to possibly Boston while I worked on a PhD. Balancing my career goals with having a family will be the most difficult part I think at this time. In my early 30s we will be getting married. Whether that means in Canada, in one of the states here that allows it, or hopefully it won't be a legal issue any more and we can get married anywhere and have it legally recognized wherever we are living.

Four of these years will have been in Chicago, working in the arts and furthering myself both in this field and in my public relations experiences.

1 year:
Just having graduated with my masters in strategic communication, I will hopefully have a job lined up either here in the OKC area or if necessary in Chicago. James has a job lined up through his scholarship that he wants to stay in for at least a year. This may mean that I end up moving ahead of him for that year, or I find a temporary job in the area for that year. I can see myself teaching at one of the smaller universities in the area.

My goals are a mix of my desire to teach and my desire to be a strong advocate for the arts by using my professional abilities.

A friend of mine actually started me on making what he calls an "Über List". Here is mine, with ones crossed off that I've achieved. I haven't added to this list in a couple of years and I think that some adding may be called for.

  1. Live in Chicago and/or New York.
  2. Be nominated for an Addy.
  3. Win an Addy.
  4. Go puddle jumping
  5. Go snowboarding
  6. Learn how to surf
  7. Travel throughout France.
  8. Sing in Notre Dame de Paris
  9. See the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace
  10. Get married, legally!
  11. Take a long road trip with friends
  12. Buy a home
  13. Raise children
  14. Learn to speak German
  15. Speak French more often
  16. Learn how to make a podcast
  17. Start my own advertising & design company
  18. Write for a national magazine
  19. See 199 pounds again
  20. Learn to ride a motorcycle
  21. Run a half marathon
  22. Run a full marathon
  23. Continually make a budget
  24. Pay all bills ON TIME
  25. Completely unpack
  26. Call my friends more often
  27. Be more spontaneous
  28. Cook more often
  29. Write Christmas cards
  30. Meet people I know but have never met
  31. Pay off credit cards
  32. Buy a bicycle
  33. Visit the Fred Jones MoA
  34. Visit the OKC MoA
  35. See at least 2 Lyric shows in each season
  36. Work out 5x a week for at least a month
  37. Take a yoga class
  38. Take the GRE
  39. Eat out less than 3x a week
  40. Be supportive of my friends
  41. Judge less
  42. Sing more often
  43. Keep my house clean and organized
  44. Get my APR from PRSA (a PR certification)
  45. Continue to make goals

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Diversity in the Workplace

Cover of "Aida (2000 Original Broadway Ca...Cover of Aida (2000 Original Broadway Cast)

As someone in public relations, I have had different experiences as far as the workplace when compared to some of the others in the class. In other words, my work experience has not been in a newsroom environment, but in a non-profit organization and a medium sized local company.

The non-profit had differing levels of diversity. As a theatre company, the genders were fairly well represented on both sides. If anything, there were actually more women working in the office than men. Racial diversity, on the other hand, was greatly lacking, both in the office and on stage for the most part.

That season there were two shows that called for race based casting: "Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida" and "Five Guys Named Moe". Though, even in Aida, the Egyptians were (and typically always are) played by white actors. Additional black actors were brought in for Aida to fill out the ensemble because the other two ensemble shows that season had a majority of white actors.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, it's just theatre, right? But how do we promote the shows? Do we specialize any attention to outlets such as The Black Chronicle? As it turns out, my manager decided that she didn't want to specialize any promotions toward any specific community. Stories ran in newspapers including The Oklahoman, The Gazette, and also The Black Chronicle without specializing the message when we sent out the press releases. Whether this across the board equal press release was the right move, I don't know. But the situation did bring up the thoughts of how do we promote shows with a potential special interest to a community without coming across as pandering.

The majority of people I've met working in the arts tend to be white, not just on stage but also in the office and working backstage. This requires diligence on the part of the public relations staff to make sure that everyone is equally represented by the organization.

My job out of college was with a local home builder. The company actually had a pretty racially diverse set of employees. This may have had to do a lot with the fact that the owners belong to a minority and they felt a need for diversity in their business. However with gender diversity, just looking at how many men and women worked for the company did not provide an accurate view of the company as a whole.

Between positions in the field (construction and warranty) and in the office and sales, the amount of jobs were fairly evenly split. But the construction positions were all male. I had heard there had been one female assistant superintendent in the field at one point, but she didn't feel comfortable. The office jobs were predominantly female, to the point that if anyone in the office needed something done that was slightly more physical, it came down to me and a guy in architecture to do it for them. Every time.

A further analysis of management showed that even though women were being hired, there were still more men with positions of management than women. There may have been cultural reasons for this, but I can't really make any assumptions.

Having diversity in the workplace is undeniably useful in being able to think outside of the box as a team. You become more aware of how others will view ads and will read articles when you can see it from a co-worker's point of view.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How do we solve a problem like....stereotypes

How are stereotypes formed? Who has created these beasts of prejudice and assumption and perpetuated their existence?

The answer isn't simple at all. The media, the minorities, the majorities, the interpersonal relationships, the mediated relationships, and society in general are just a few ways in which stereotypes are formed, perpetuated, and hopefully eventually controlled and eliminated. If we were to make a model of how stereotypes worked, there would be a huge circular series of loops leading to and from all of those interactions.

We can say that stereotypes are based in some kernel of truth. Some stereotypes are self-perpetuating, but is it up to the minority itself to regulate and stop those who perpetuate certain stereotypes? Can you tell one group of a minority to stop acting a certain way, to stop dressing a certain way, to stop talking a certain way? Would it really be better for society if we took out the kernels causing all the self-perpetuating problems?

I believe the first step is in recognizing the stereotypes and prejudices we believe. From there, the process of eliminating them involves confronting your beliefs by meeting people that are different from you or challenge your thinking.

Communication and being able to meet people who are not exactly like us are key factors in breaking down the walls of prejudice that we have made comfortable for ourselves. This class, I believe, is one step in the process, in getting us to step outside of our comfortable little worlds and discuss, see, and hopefully understand points of view and experiences that are shaped by the prejudices we have and the stereotypes we have made.

I grew up about fifteen minutes north of NW Oklahoma City, and about fifteen minutes west of Edmond in the community of Deer Creek. Through the oil boom in the 70s and early 80s, Deer Creek started to become more and more of a white flight community of executives, business owners, and oil men than even Edmond. The majority of my school was white with a few racial minorities. No one in the late 90s had come out as gay in my high school, though the people that were assumed gay weren't ever treated negatively to my knowledge. I literally had a white, middle to upper-middle class, heteronormative existence the first 18 years of my life.

Then I came to college. Oh, here is where we might speak of the evils of the college world where students are subjected to such horrid liberal ideas that, dare we say it, challenge our thinking and beliefs. That is if I was prone to speaking ill of such an idea.

It was through meeting other people not like my high school self that I began to be able to question why I had such beliefs about people.
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Thursday, June 11, 2009

But I'm a Cheerleader!

In class today we began talking about the high school sports camps going on around campus, which led to a discussion on gender roles and expected gender participation in certain sports.

Boys are to play baseball, football, basketball and soccer. Girls, on the other hand, do gymnastics, cheerleading and dance. These are your assigned gender norms and if you step outside of them, we will scoff and mock you. Right? Okay, we'll give the girls basketball, soccer and softball, but the boys will get any other rough and tumble sport that comes along, like hockey.

Why is it socially acceptable to place such strong connotations on sports that when a member of the opposite gender wants to take part, that they are labeled as being outside their gender norms? Or as the chapter "Gender in Pink and Blue and Vivid Color" states, we categorize girls who take interest in expected boy roles a tomboys, and boys who take interest in expected girl roles are sissies.

I don't really remember ever being told, "You can't be a cheerleader, you can't do dance, you can't do gymanstics. You must play baseball, basketball, soccer and wrestling." Two of my sisters were cheerleaders, and one of my sisters played basektball. All of these seem to fall within the "proper" gender norms.

But why do we continue to accept such ignorant categories?

In the words of one classmate today, wrestling is the manliest of men's sports. According to the New York Times, there were over 5,000 girls wrestling at the high school level as of 2006. And some boys would still rather forfeit than wrestle a girl. Why is that? Is it really that embarrassing to lose to a girl? Or is it not proper for a boy to beat a girl at such a physical sport? I wrestled for a year in high school. It's one of the most physically demanding things I've ever done, and I was terrible at it! If a girl had beat me in a match, I don't think I would have been ashamed. She would have obviously been better than me (though to be fair, maybe I shouldn't use myself in this example; did I mention I sucked at it?).

I think, as a society, we tend to have a fear that the activities our children are in will make them into tomboys and sissies. And that if our children are too influenced by these activities, they will remain tomboys and sissies into adulthood. But let's lay down the code words at age 18. Society has told us somewhere along the way that females who do things that are typical for males are lesbians, and males who do things that are typical for females are gay.

Male cheerleaders are not by default gay. I know it's what some people in the class think, because this was said in not so many, and certainly not as appropriate, words. Yes, it was agreed upon that, there are some straight guys who do cheerleading too. Strong men who can throw girls around like a stuffed animal. "And there are also the flamboyant ones." (Another code word!). And it is such a shame that we place such a stigma on being a male cheerleader. I knew one guy who refused to admit to anyone that he was gay, because he was on the cheerleading team and he didn't want that stigma attached to him. Stigma because... he's a gay cheerleader? In the 2000s?

I ended up not playing sports after my sophomore year of high school. I wasn't very good at most things athletic, and somewhere around 8th grade I started throwing like a... well like someone who can't throw very well. (You thought I was going to say girl, admit it. Have you seen the softball team throw??? No way I could ever throw a quarter as well!) My electives became band and theatre, which strangely enough was one of the most popular classes offered at my high school. My dad just couldn't understand why I would give up sports for theatre. Let's just say he finally realized I'm a better singer than I ever was at sports.

"That's So Gay!"

The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) teamed up with the AdCouncil to produce a series of videos that encourage teens and young adults to take a second and think before they speak.

Do you really mean to call someone a "flamer" or is it just easier?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Privilege can be Straight and Narrow

Consider this scenario:
My girlfriend of three years is Canadian. We both live in Oklahoma and are going to OU and have plans to get married some day. In the next few years we plan on moving to Illinois. She is here on a green card with her family, which will expire in about seven years. By marrying her in the next seven years, getting full or even dual citizenship can be expedited and her naturalization won't really be an issue.

Everything in that paragraph seems normal and wouldn't be cause for discussion when talking about privilege. Nothing based on race, creed, color, or nation of origin causes any red flags to go up in that situation. Everything seems normal and is what we have come to expect from immigration laws in the U.S.

Now let's look at the actual situation:
My boyfriend of three years is Canadian. We both live in Oklahoma and are going to OU and have plans to get married some day. In the next few years we plan on moving to Illinois. He is here on a green card with his family, which will expire in about seven years. Even if we get married in one of the six states now allowing equal marriage rights, the federal government does not recognize these marriages and they are not eligible for expedited naturalization. Within the next seven years he will either need to start a longer immigration program on his own, find an employer who provides sponsorship for immigration, or we move to Canada. O Canada!

This is one of many legalized privileges afforded to heterosexual couples through civil marriage.* Other legal issues arise even outside of civil marriage rights. Sexual orientation is not covered under the Fair Housing Act, any related acts, or any housing related executive orders.

Coming off of the legal privileges and focusing back on a social and cultural privilege, we can look at the knapsack McIntosh discusses(pdf) and make similar comparisons to the privileges straight men and women have in our society.

For example: "I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my sexual orientation widely represented."

In the 2008-2009 television season, 2.6% of all regular scripted characters on network television are identified as LGBT, an increase over previous years. Of those, lead characters on network television who are gay or lesbian consist of Kevin Walker on Brothers and Sisters and Callie Torres and Erica Hahn on Grey's Anatomy, both found on ABC. This is twelve years after Ellen first came out as a lesbian on her television show (her sitcom, not her talk show) becoming the first lead character to be out on television. This is the generation that grew up watching Will & Grace, gay characters on television is not supposed to be an issue anymore, yet only three lead characters can be found on network television.

Is privilege only in being seen on television? What about in the way gays and lesbians are viewed. If only three lead characters are gay or lesbian, that still leaves supporting characters. It seems that being the leading man or leading lady is left more to the straight characters.

(I differentiate civil marriage here for a reason. All legal marriages conducted in the United States must have a civic element, usually a marriage license provided by the government. Not all marriages in the United States, however, have a religious component to them. Therefore we can use the term civil marriage to define the act and rights afforded by government recognition of a union of two people).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Watching Television in Black and White

I grew up watching quite a bit of television. I credit certain parts of my sense of humor on classic 1950s and 1960s sitcoms like I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. These shows weren’t exactly the bastion of multi-cultural casts and didn’t expand my young views of the world. And growing up in a pretty white washed semi-suburban, semi-rural community didn’t add any real exposure to people of other races.

However, one cornerstone of family television in our house was The Cosby Show. The Huxtables were able to reach into the middle American family in a way that previous shows with predominantly African American casts had not. But that may have had less to do with America’s general acceptance of a black family on their television every week and more with how the family was constructed

The Huxtables were an upper middle class family living in a nice brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. The parents were a doctor and a lawyer and the children didn’t seem to have any concerns about how they would attend college. The show featured some African American themes, but in general they didn’t branch outside of their typical sitcom family situations. This wasn’t as accepted by everyone though. Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis wrote a book criticizing The Cosby Show claiming although well intentioned, it helped to create an “enlightened racism” through the non-discussion of race, class, and achieving the American dream.

Has television really changed that much since the Huxtables last came into our living rooms? Shows with African American families have existed on and off on various stations, but when it comes to other minorities, they have had much less screen time.

In 1994, ABC and Margaret Cho premiered the short-lived All-American Girl. Cho’s traditional Korean family tries to come to terms with the culture clash that is embodied by their daughter Margaret. Screen time for the mostly Asian American cast lasted for one season. ABC featured Hispanic American’s with George Lopez’s self-titled family based sitcom in 2002 and lasted for five seasons with an all Hispanic American cast.

Television dramas seem to be a bit different. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy have a culturally diverse cast and characters. The race of the characters never seems to be a direct issue, however moments of racial stereotyping do tend to pop up from time to time. Law and police drama shows also tend to have fairly diverse casting. The premium cable thriller Dexter features a storyline focusing on two of the characters Afro-Cubano heritage and the Hispanic community at large in Miami, where the show takes place.

It starts feeling like television is continually segregated, especially sitcoms. It can be hard to be diverse when filming a family sitcom, but other shows that are more ensemble based have the potential to be more diverse. The more diversity shows can bring in without making it an issue or relying heavily on stereotypes helps to break down barriers in the racial tensions that still exist in our society today.