Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gender Diversity and the 2012 Presidential Debates

Though every vote counts the same, during the 2012 Presidential Debates, it was apparent that there was a stratification system between the gender of the four debates’ moderators and the four Presidential  and Vice Presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, as well as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

The presidential hopefuls did not treat all of their constituents with the same courtesy and one could observe a glaring discrepancy between the way they addressed the two women and men moderators. The women moderators, Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz, were patronized to during both their debates and babied while the men, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer, were treated not just as equals, but more aggressively as both Obama and Romney interrupted and fought back.

This change in mood was incredibly apparent even before the actual debates, where in an interview with the NPR-sponsored radio show On the Media in September of 2012, former moderator Carole Simpson spoke of how in 1992 she was the first and last woman to moderate the presidential debates. Breaking the 20-year lull, Raddatz and Crowley now follow Simpson, though she says that women moderators are confined to the vice presidential debate and a town-hall style debate where the moderator cannot ask questions of their own. 

“The men are going to be able to go head-to-head with the candidates. I just found out that Jim Lehrer is going to devote half of the 90-minutes to the economy, then we have Bob Schieffer and he will be asking about national affairs for the last debate. Inbetween that is Candy Crowley. She will be doing what I did, be the lady with the microphone among an audience of undecided voters. I didn’t have any opportunity to ask my own questions of the candidates, now Candy, who is one of the most politically astute reporters in the country, has got the same Town Hall format. It looks like the commission has decided that that the Town Hall format is what women should do, and the real tough questioning should come from men,” (Carole Simpson, On the Media).

In Judith Lorber’s piece “The Social Construction of Gender,” she admits that gender is very much like culture in that it is a human  production that depends on everyone constantly “doing gender.” By going by these roles, ideas such as “real tough questioning should come from men,” are seen as normal, and having women in second-tier positions of power is part of how this “system” works. 

In both Lehrer and Schieffer’s debates, President Obama and Romney stepped on toes, interrupted, and at times were just aggressive towards the men. 

An example of such could be seen in the first debate as Lehrer attempted (in vain) to rein in Romney's first response after going five-minutes over his alloted time, to which the Governor smugly replied, “It’s fun, isn’t it?” and Lehrer saying it was alright since the answer was still “about the economy.”  Obama was not much better after Lehrer cut-off his response informing him that "Two minutes is up, sir." The President shot-back, "No, I think — I had five seconds before you interrupted me." He then continued speaking for at least fifteen seconds, before Lehrer replied, "Your five seconds went away a long time ago,” (Oct. 3 Presidential Debate, Comission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The agressive attutide changed by the third debate, where the candiate were in the Town Hall format and, whether it be to win voters good will or not, were much less short with Crowley than they were with Leher. Both candiates would often thank the moderator before or after taking a question from the crowd, and even when they would fight amongst eachother, when Crowley reined them back to the question, they obeyed. The atmosphere of the night was very much like that of two boys agruing and their mother stepping-in when they would get too rowdy.  It was a night where everyone was, quite literally, doing “gender.”

The idea of “doing gender,” though it sounds simplied, in Lorber’s opinion is something that is keeping the male and female gender routines in place, and what makes society raise eyebrows at men caring for children, or women doing manual labor (or in this case, ask hardball questions during a presidential debate).

“Gender is so much the routine ground of everyday activities that questioning its taken-for-granted assumptions and presuppositions is like thinking about whether the sun will come up,” (Lorber, 21). This brings upon the question as to why both genders continue this song-and-dance of gender roles, even with the knowledge of the negative impact it imposes.

The gender struggle between the moderators was seen even with the types of questions Crowley and Raddatz asked as compared to Leher and Schieffer. During the round table Vice Presidential debate, for the final question of the night Raddatz asked both candidates their view on abortion and how their religion has played a role in their own personal views on abortion. After her question Raddatz had added, “And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country please talk personally about this, if you could.” (Oct. 11 Vice Presidential Debate, Commission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The fact that a woman had asked about abortion to two male candidates had already set-up the stage for the framing of the question. There is a bias that is already constructed that is hammered home with the tone of Raddatz voice as she asks for Biden and Ryan to talk about the issue “personally.” Regardless of their answers, it was shown by their facial expressions, the pause taken within their answers, and discomfort in the way they looked at Raddatz that they were forming their answer around their situation - that they were two men talking about what is seen as a “women’s issue” to a woman.

Another uneasy question was raised during the second presidential debate, during Crowley’s Town Hall debate, where an audience member named Katherine Fenton asked the candidates, “In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?”  (Oct. 16 Presidential Debate, Commission on Presidential Debates Transcript).

The issue of women being paid less is something that The New York Times has touched upon as seen in the chart below:

Once again a question involving women’s issues was asked during a debate that was moderated by a woman. Neither of these kinds of questions were asked during Leher or Schieffer’s debates, even though they though they (especially Leher) could have integrated the issue of inequality into their set of questions. The choice to avoid these issues could be an unconscious choice framed by the fact these men were raised in a patriarchal society.

In an opinions pieced from The New York Times titled, “The Myth of Male Decline” Stephanie Coontz blames the ongoing assignment of gender roles on the idea that males are afraid of a sharing the power of gender. 

“Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men. The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a  crime. The curtailment of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy. Indeed, in many arenas the progress of women has actually stalled over the past 15 years,” (Coontz, 1).

Though an intense point of view, Coontz debunking of the Male Decline Myth can possibly account toward the ongoing trend of males squeezing-out women and their issues from these debates, and instead focusing on the economy and national security, which can be seen as more “masculine” topics. 
The stereotypical man, too burly and aggressive to be concerned by women’s issues such as abortion and equal pay, cannot break the on-going cycle of “doing gender” and living in a “patriarchal dividend” society. The aggressive nature of the debates shows how the male candidates worked to show dominates over not over each other, but the moderators as well. 

In the case of Raddatz and Crowley, they did not do much to help their cases, as perhaps going rogue and breaking out of their roles as women with microphones would allow them to gain some sort of stance on the political playing field. During Crowley’s debate, however, she had tried to dip her toe into the political ring by correcting Romney after he had claimed that Obama referred to the consulate attack in Benghazi as an "act of terror.” 

Though earning some applause, the exchange had later caused her to have to explain herself on the Daytime Talk Show circuit, calling-out political figures is impressive when a male does it, as seen in the famous Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy exchange, but when a female does so she is forced to explain if she had producers guiding her via an earpiece. Proving that gender roles, much like habits, are just hard to break.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mud Slinging Leads to Election Exhaustion

In Mitt Romney’s latest speech to rally up his troops for the November elections, he claims that President Obama is “intellectually exhausted, out of Ideas, and out of Energy.” Pointing to the fact that a majority of the Obama/Biden campaign is running on the ground that Obama’s social changes are in motion, and he’ll need four more years to get them to be effective. Though a striking blow, Romney’s campaign doesn’t seem as progressive either, as his tax reform ideas involves cutting funding to many resources, such a medicare, medicaid, and various other social goods. With neither of the candidates really “looking forwards” could it be said that this is an election based on “should’ve, would've, could’ve” arguments, instead of a “should, will, have” agenda?
In Peter Baker’s New York Times article “Candidates Racing for Future, Gaze Fixed Firmly on the Past,” he discusses how neither campaigns are offering dramatic declarations.
“At a time when the country faces an uncertain future economically and internationally,” said Baker in his piece. “The conversation in the capital and on the campaign trail has dwelled largely on the past as the two contenders for the White House and their allies spend their time and energy relitigating old fights rather than focusing on new ideas for the next four years.”
With dirty campaigns aimed at the other, it feels at if this campaign is becoming less about the issues - such as the economy, job creation, clean energy and the personal finances of the american population - and more about the candidates themselves.  A trend that Baker notices himself.
“With federal debt rising, the economy sputtering and partisan divisions polarizing the capital, there is less room or appetite for the sorts of sweeping initiatives offered by previous presidents and challengers.”
But is that really the best way to win this election - by dividing an already incredibly polarizing country? Obama won the 2008 on his “Hope and Change” platform, which energized the country, connecting them and motivating them to go out and vote for a change they believed in. A change, many thing, is too slow coming to keep their hopes up.
In a NPR article from last spring titled “Six Reasons We're Feeling Debate Fatigue,” writer Linton Weeks described why they believe the overexposure of political candidates leave voters feeling over informed, and not motivated to vote. The most interesting being that in this election there has been an emphasis on the personality of the politicians and not the  policies they want to enact.

With so many slam tactics from the Romney campaign calling the Obama team “sinking to a new low” for using the term “chained” to African American voters, to the Obama camp calling out Romney for his tax returns, it feels as if all we’re hearing is about how one guy is worst than the other guy. It’s getting to the point where when we actually take the time to go through policies, people are actually surprised that Obama’s health care bill was modeled after the health care reform taken place in Massachusetts, under Romney’s jurisdiction.  If there was focus on the policies, then there would be more people wondering why Romney suddenly went against his own ideals, instead of wondering if he was a nice boss at Bane Captial.
With voters mislead, it seems that both candidates are instead playing up the “he said, she said” act, like bickering siblings to their mother. The problem being with this tactic is that  the American voters are to act like their  mothers and they’re tired of their squabbling.
“There are no easy choices to make looking forward,” said John Feehery, a longtime Republican strategist, in Baker’s piece. “So both campaigns are probably more comfortable relitigating the past.”
While drama can sell tabloids and make people care about celebrity romances, it’s not the same thing in politics. Hearing the two men who the American public are supposed to represent and lead our country forward is incredibly hard to do when they’re constantly nitpicking on the other’s mistakes. It’s alienating voters, not because they don’t want what’s best for their county, but because they don’t want to play referee with their votes - they want help in improving their country. Maybe when the two boys are tired of slinging mud at each other they’ll come inside and tell us what their policies are for the next four years, until then they can stay outside in dirt.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mark Bittman’s “The Endless Summer”

The failing state of the environment if not a new issue, as it appears in the news more and more. As we undergo the hottest month on record, with droughts leaving much of the country barren, the growing problem is just heating up. As issues involving our environment are becoming more pressing, though it appears to be more widely ignored. In Mark Bittman’s piece in the New York Times’ Opinionator, titled “The Endless Summer,” he rhetorically asked “how bad will things get” and how long “before we wake up to it.”
        The strangest thing about environmental woes is that people are just not ready to face the facts. Texas Governor, and almost-GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry said in an interview last spring that he didn’t believe in climate change.

"I think we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change," Perry said in an interview. “I don't think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question."
Though it’s still baffling that someone in any sort of leadership status, especially a governor of a state, could even question that climate change is just a “theory.” Though, Perry is not exactly the poster-child for rational thought when it comes to social issues. Just ask the LGBT community.
In Bittman’s piece, he talks about how the wealthy in this country are able to see the ongoing changes in our environment as “manageable.”
“As long as you’re wealthy and able to move around at will. But it’s not manageable to the corn farmers losing their crops,” said Bittman in his article. “The ranchers selling off their cattle, the thousands of people in Colorado burned out of their homes in fires caused by the worst drought since 1956 or those who will lose their homes or jobs to fire, flood, drought or whatever in coming years.”
Bittman also mentions the recently released book Global Weirdness, which explains climate change in simple, easy-to-understand language and ultra-short chapters. It’s calmly toned informational book that author Michael Lemonick explains is due to the fact that “some people respond well to ‘Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,’ but others are overwhelmed and just turn off. We believe that if you look at all the available evidence it’s clear we’re pushing the earth into a regime where it hasn’t been before, and the effects could well be disastrous.”
In Lemonick’s interview on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show, he explained how easy it is to disregard climate change, as it’s happening so slowly, though there are many indicators that our weather is being changed because of it.
“It’s too early to connect the dots with a really thick, solid black line,” he said in the interview. “The reason being that climate change pushes on weather in a more statistical way. Meaning you can’t say this particular heat-wave was caused by climate change, but you can say is that in a warming world, these things will come along more and more often.”
The argument that climate change is going to lead to major problems for a lot of people living on this planet is not a new notion, though the consequences that the weather of our future will bring is something that appears to not have stuck with the general populace.
Growing concern/disregard for the environment are one of the many aspects of american public policy that are ignoring real issue at hand; the widening gap between the rich and poor in America. However, it’s important to look at the aspects of industrialization that were the cause of these “greenhouse gases” - oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. These are all multibillion-dollar industries that have strong lobbyist that have Washington in a choke hold.
Bittman mentions the Kyoto Protocol in his piece, a 15 year-old agreement that claimed countries who signed would annually reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. The protocol was ratified and acted upon by almost every country in the world, including every industrialized nation but one: the United States.
“Bill Clinton signed Kyoto,” said Bittman. “George W. Bush, despite an election pledge, repudiated it.”
Only reducing carbon emissions can keep matters from becoming worse, but who is willing to take pay-cut for it? Americans don’t seem to be the answer, and its incredibly selfish of us to push this burden on other countries, and burying our heads in the sand. It becomes increasingly hard to do, especially with weather acting as weird as it had recently, things like winters that feel like springs and blizzards before Halloween.
“Things like snow storms in October is not something that’s unheard of,” said Lemonick, when asked about the bizarre snowstorm last October. “The question is, are they happening more often? And following to see if they continue to happen more often as this century plays out.”
In an uncertain future on the health of our planet, concerns sprung early this month as NASA’s own Curiosity rover droid landed on Mars, taking photos of new strange planet. Thousands of views on the web watched the landing in real-time, through a live webcast, and many followers on twitter posted statuses along the lines of, “Time to pollute Mars, the new Earth!”
It appears that climate change is something that has left us with more questions than answers, and a heavy sense of shame as a species. Though it’s not hopeless, it’s crunch time to open-up to new ideas and start combating the change that has already taken effect. It will take time, though, and if there is a virtue humans are not keen on it is patience.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why the Caged Bird Tweets

As technology evolves, so does communication. With the use of new social networking sites such as Facebook, and especially Twitter any thought can be broadcasted to thousands of users with a click of button. However, are all these thoughts really post worthy, or in Twitter’s case, tweet worthy?
In the case of the 2012 Olympics, it felt like Twitter was a place where spoilers lurked, instead of usual culture commentary. Take, for instance the every popular #NBCFAIL hashtag, which has been used to bash NBC’s various problems broadcasting the summer games, stemming from time-delays to lagging live-streams.

Richard Sandomir discussed the network’ issue with the time delay versus the tweet-it-now world of social media in his New York Times article, “Olympic Viewers Have a New Reason to Complain, and the Means to Do It.” 

In that, Sandomir claims, “The past animosity rested on tape-delaying certain marquee sports into prime time. But now Twitter has turned into a fiery digital soapbox against NBC, as its users have merged their resentment over tape delay with problems viewing the live-streams.”

Though complaints have been made and tweets have been tagged, it didn’t seem to have effect NBC’s glowing ratings for the opening ceremony held late last month. With a reported 40.7 million views for the opening ceremony and 28.7 the following night for the first round of competition, NBC felt they have little to worry about when it comes to broadcasting live, regardless of tweets.

That was, until a reporter took the issue a step further, took control of the situation through twitter. In an article reported by the New York Times, Los Angeles-based correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, Guy Adams, began venting his feelings about NBC’s delayed TV coverage. He tweeted his frustrations on the time delay as well as NBC’s attitude towards “pretending” to broadcast the games live. It was his last tweet, however, that sealed his fate.

“The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel,” read Adam’s tweet. “Tell him what u think!”

Adams ended the tweet with Zenkel’s work email, and instantly he was retweeted and some angry followers added the hashtag #NBCFAIL. The tweet was taken down, as    Adam’s account was suspended by Twitter after Zenkel, an executive at NBC,  filed a complaint with Twitter, finding that Adam’s had posted his email to be harassing.

Though he had posted the email of a network executive on his twitter for all his followers to see, tweet, retweet and use for themselves, Adam’s still stressed in a statement, “I do not wish Mr. Zenkel any harm.”

The extreme lapse in judgment is testament to just how much of a ripple effect Twitter’s posts can create. Unlike a site like Facebook, where posts can be contained to only a user’s circle of friends, Twitter is more like posting into the wide world of the internet. Whatever happens after a tweet is posted, however, depends on the user of Twitter itself.

It’s not just news-outlets who are falling to understand the ramifications Twitter, as many celebrities have be aware to the scathing punishment that comes with posting without discretion. Once used for a way to better connect with fans, Celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Lily Allen have since signed-off their account for good.

In a New York Times article, Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist who counts several celebrities among his patients, explained the dropping number in high-profile tweeters.
“Sharing so much often backfires and invites negative response, which is difficult for most celebrities to take in,” said Meyers. “They quit Twitter, or their publicist tells them they need to quit for the sake of their career.”

Much like Adam’s, many celebrities do not comprehend the magnitude of their following and just how many people can read what they tweet, and share it to others. Also, Twitter archives tweets, so even if they are deleted the site can still pull them up if needed.

James Franco, one of Hollywood's hottest young actors, quit Facebook after tweeting some unflattering remarks, and off-color posts.

“’My thought was: ‘This is my Twitter. I can do whatever I want,’ ” said Franco in an April 2011 interview. “But certain companies I work with contacted me about what I was saying.”
Does this mean the end for Twitter? Are we perhaps living in an era where users are providing too much information? Meyers doesn’t think so, as he notes that many celebrities return to twitter, like a boomerang. Users like John Mayer, Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown have returned from short-term hiatus. Even Adams has returned to Twitter, his account unsuspended as he continues to tweet about the 2012 Olympics.

Why do users keep coming back even after such major gaffs? Meyer claims it has to do with the fact that famous people love a following.

“For some celebrities,” he said, “they go back to Twitter because they need the attention and the audience.”

Meyer’s claims that the draw of twitter is the constant feedback from others, and the instant gratification creates a feeling of being important. Especially for high-profile celebrities and journalist, having a following and being able to cause controversy feeds directly into their narcissism, allowing them to “keep up their grandiose image of themselves.”

The lure of Twitter could lie within the inner narcissist of not just high-profile users, who are attracted to the attention, but everyday users. They keep coming back, constantly tweeting, and always following. Twitter has evolved to become more than newsfeed of what people had for breakfast, or pictures of their desks, it has become a soap box for everyone can yell their opinions into a crowd. And while blunders are embarrassing, deep down users enjoy being burnt for what they’ve tweeted because it means someone was listening.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?

In Stephen Marche’s article Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?, it’s easy to see where he has found the dots in believing that Facebook, as well as other social networking sites are creating more shallow relationships and isolating Americans. While I see how he came to the conclusion, I feel like Marche has connected his dots a bit too cleanly with a broad-felt marker rather than a fine-point pen.

In his article, Marche describes social media to be more of a person-to-person connection, in which everyone connects with everyone randomly. In reality, when a person first joins a site like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ it begins with them connecting to their friends and family, their immediate contacts. These are people they most likely talk to on a regular basis. As these connections expand, it’s to second degree connections - friends of friends, sisters of boyfriends, cousin’s fiance’s, etc. The third degree being people in similar schools, jobs, and towns. Once a user gets to the point where they’re being bombarded by updates and photos of people they don’t even talk to in real life. This is where the sense of isolation lies, not that people are spending too much time on these site, but that these sites are filled with people they don’t know.

In the August 6, 2012 episode of the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media as well as author of the book Talking Back to Facebook offered his two-cents on the way people use social media today. The means by which social media has improved the social lives of people are just as astounding as the claims being made by Marche. 

He talked about having a “media diet” which limits time spent on these sites as well as how we use them. Doing so will allow users to “deal with [time spent on Facebook] in their own ways, relating to people and taking advantage of new technologies but not letting it to completely dominate our lives.” 
Steyer also talked about the roles of parents and their children, discussing how the internet forces parents to have conversations with their children regarding social issues such as sexuality, body image and bully. “Empathy is an important thing for parents to talk about with kids,” said Steyer, “In an age where Cyber Bullying has been in the news the last few years, it’s important for everyone to understand how we’re supposed to communicate and treat other human beings.”

In Marche’s piece he writes, “We should recognize that is it not use isolation that is rising sharply. It’s loneliness, too. And loneliness makes us miserable.” With that said, I think it’s important to instead of finding excuses as to why we’re lonely, pointing fingers at the world wide internet for a scapegoat, but to change our behavior. Taking a step away from technology and into the sunlight, where we can have a conversation with each-other that doesn’t end with “TTYL.” 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Catching Jungle Fever: Exploring the Sociological Depths of Spike Lee’s Racial Jungle

Jungle Fever is an American drama film directed by Spike Lee starring Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra. It was Lee's fifth feature-length film, and mainly explores interracial relationships against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the early 1990s. The film focuses on Snipes character, who is a married African American named Flipper who works as an architect in an architectural firm in New York, and Sciorra’s character, a single Italian women named Angie who is hired as his secretary. The two fall into an adulterous relationship, causing Flipper’s wife to throw him out of the house, and Angie to be ostracized from her family. The film follows their struggle, which eventually leads to both Angie and Flipper returning to their family.

The film, on the surface, appears to be a simple narrative of a star-crossed interracial lovers trying to stay together in a cruel and unforgiving world, but the depths that Lee dives into the social issues surrounding the romance is deeper than what is perceived in this two-hour film.
Diluted down to its four major components the thematic layers of Jungle Fever as a follows:

Motives behind Interracial Relationships
Drugs and the Black family
Treatment of Women

Each of these issues compliment the other, the first and most obvious being the interracial relationship between Flipper and Angie, then branching off into two major themes from their own races (drugs for Black communities, and Racism for white) which finally lead to the deepest layer which is the treatment of women in both communities.

I. The Motives, Pros and Cons of Interracial Relationships

As the title of the film suggest, the love affair that blossoms between Flipper and Angie is major conflict throughout the movie. From the beginning scenes of the film, audiences are introduced to Flipper as he ravishes his wife, played by Lonette McKee, showing that the two of a healthy marriage. He then wakes up his daughter Ming, played by Veronica Timbers, and walks her to her school in their neighborhood in Harlem. The scene shows Flipper as a successful family man, with a sexually healthy relationship with his wife, showing that whatever angst that plagues him does not come from his home, but somewhere else.

At work, Flipper is shown working hard, as his white partners joke and pal around his cubical. They bring in Angie, who they introduce as Snipe’s new temporary secretary, who is a white Italian woman even though Flipper had requested they hired an African American. Here is where the stress is Flipper’s life lies.  Though not happy with Angie’s hiring, Flipper sucks it up after confronting his bosses who claim that his claim is “reverse discrimination.” 

It is noteworthy to point out that out of Flipper’s two partners (Jerry and Leslie), Jerry shows far more distaste for Flipper, than Leslie. He is the one who quickly shoots down Flipper’s request for a new secretary, as well as his promotion later on in the film. He is a character who is quick to call Flipper out on his promotion, claiming that it’s his ego and that Flipper feels entitled to things due to the color of his skin. 

This shows the active racism that whites express, while on the other hand Leslie shows his racism in a far more subtle way. He attempts to be more diplomatic than Jerry and is the one who claims that they hired Angie because she is the “best human being for the job” and well as advises Flipper to be “patient” when he denied his promotion. By their names and features alone, it is assumable that both men are from Jewish decent, and therefore can lead to the assumption that Lee is playing on the racial tensions between Jewish Americans and African Americans. 

With this tension holding him back, Flipper is left in his situation, working in his tiny cubicle hoping for the promotion that, unknowingly, will never come. Though his wife tries to warn him of getting his hopes up, Flipper is confident that his hard work and effort will pay off, which it does, but not by landing him the promotion he so desperately desires.

Angie and Flipper work a late shift, Angie avoiding the dysfunctional home of her dependent Italian brothers and father, and Flipper to somehow prove to Jerry and Leslie the work ethnic they refuse to acknowledge. Both avoiding their stresses, they come together after only one late night together in the office.

How quickly Flipper and Angie fall into their adulterous relationship is an intriguing issue, as the two only spend one night together in the office before beginning their affair. Beforehand, they hardly exchange words. Lee had already established Flipper as a character who was in a sexually healthy relationship, so the motives for lust alone probably wouldn’t be enough to propel him to do something so against his established character. Even before he jumps into the pool of adultery, he tells Angie that he “never ever thought of cheating before” and knew it was a terrible thing to do. Yet, he does it anyway, though the next day he pretends that nothing has happened.

How Flipper and Angie take the late-night rendezvous is another interesting aspect to their relationship. Flipper doesn’t think of them as a couple, but tells his friend and confidant Cyrus (played by Spike Lee) that he cheated on his wife for “the first time.” The way Flipper phrases his confession to his friend is strange, as if he was talking about trying a new meal for the first time, or going to see a Broadway play for the first time. Using the phrase “for the first time” means that times following are expected, whether it be with Angie or someone else. 

After his confession of his white-lover, Flipper’s reasons behind it are, “I was curious - so I jumped on it.”  He then tries to explain that he’s still “down” to which Cyrus dismisses and explains why Flipper and Angie hooked-up so quickly. “The both of you got the fever,” he explains. “The both of you got jungle fever.”

On Angie’s side, as she tells her girlfriends about her affair with Flipper, they are much more against it than Cyrus. Unlike Cyrus who was more passive, and outwardly saying it was wrong morally and pointing out the “jungle fever” aspect, Angie’s friends are more disgusted. One of her friends saying it was “gross” and that she would never get with a black man, the other trying to be more tolerant, and instead bringing up that Angie’s father would be furious. Much like the Italian family in Do the Right Thing, there is a tension between the two ethnicities. The attitudes towards blacks that are shown with Angie friends mirror very much the attitudes of Jerry and Leslie, Flipper’s bosses. 

After the two are discovered, and both Flip and Angie are kicked out of their respective homes, their relationships is cemented. However, the dynamic of their romance does not do anything to push Flipper off the social ladder, and in effect make him more “white” but integrate Angie into the black community and make her more “black.”

Moving with Flipper to an apartment in Harlem, visiting his family, show Angie comforting into Flipper’s culture, lessening her social status. Flipper does not gain anything form his relationship with a white woman, other than the white woman. He doesn’t want anymore children (as he tells Angie towards the end of the movie), he doesn’t want marriage, and after not getting a promotion and quitting his job, he no longer can use her as a leg-up in a corporate world. He also doesn’t love Angie, as he makes clear to not only his wife, but to Angie herself. Meaning that unlike theories explored by Rajen Persaud, which predominately claims that black men love white woman as a means to become less white, Flipper’s attractions were solely from curiosity, and desire to nibble the forbidden fruit of the white woman. 

It is Angie, on the other hand, who sees Flipper as a way out. Living with him saves him from her unappreciative brothers and rage-fueled (to the point of abusive) father. At the core of this interracial romance is not love, or Flipper trying to escape being a black man (as he returns to his home and roots after leaving Angie) but Angie luring in Flipper, hoping for a way out.

II. Drugs and the Black Family

Below the layer of interracial romance, was a message about how drugs have destroyed the black 
family. Set in the 1990s, the height of the Crack Epidemic that was sweeping New York, drugs motivated some of the most powerful scenes in the film.

Flipper’s older brother, Gator (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is a reoccurring character of the film. A crack addict, he is often asking Flipper or their mother for money to feed his habit, while trying to avoid their father the Good Reverend Doctor (played by Ossie Davis). Gator represents the drug culture that is currently tearing the black community apart. In the scene where Flipper ventures into crack-infused areas that his brother lurks in hopes of returning their mother’s colored television. 

Here, viewers see the life that Flipper had rejected, unlike his older bother, to focus on his career, marry and raise a family. He sees familiar faces, most likely friends who had fallen into the same crowd as his brother, who greet him and tell him where his brother hides. This leads Flipper to a Crack house, called the Taj Mahal, filled with junkies (predominately black) and showing Flipper in his own personal hell, very reminiscent to Dante's Inferno.

Drugs weigh heavily on Flipper, as scene in a scene where he walks his daughter to school and a girl offers his sexual services for drug money, he quickly leaves the woman and angrily demands that Ming never, ever get into drugs. The ending scene of the film reflect this, as a young girl who looks like Ming turns the corner and offers him a similar service, causing Flipper to break emotionally and scream into the camera. 

In the white communities, drugs are an issue, as during a standoff in the candy store a fight erupts as one character calls out another for having a brother who is a heroin addict. Interestingly enough, Lee has the white people on heroin and the blacks on crack, showing that even in drug cultures the two are segregated.

III. Treatment of Women

Lee has often by accused of not having strong female characters in his films, a compliant that he has admitted to have needing to improve. Regardless of that, there are three main female character in Jungle Fever, who are mistreated by the men in their families.

First there’s Angie, who from the get-go is under-appreciated by her brother and father. Keeping the house clean, cooking, and spending her time making sure they’re all right is all Angie does before working as a secretary. She is wasting away in Bensonhurst, and as discussed earlier, quickly clings to Flipper as means to escape her life and be independent. After her romance is found out, Angie is beaten by her father, her brothers simply standing by cowardly instead of helping their sister, who had done so much for them already. Angie is taken out of her house by her girlfriends, who lead her to their house down the block, saving her from their abuse.

In a similar scene, after Flipper’s wife Dew learns of his affair, she kicks him out of the house by means of throwing his belongings out of their bedroom window, demanding that the locals take his things. After the scene, she sits with her girlfriends and they debate why black men love white women and the issue of what is considered attractive. Again, like Angie, it is not a man who has Dew’s back, as she cannot trust them because they’re “all dogs”, but women. 

The last major female character is Flipper and Gator’s mother, Lucinda, who is constantly trying to evangelize her crack-addict older son, and find the silver lining of her of younger son’s failed marriage. Completely at the beck-and-call of not just her sons, but her husband the Good Reverend Doctor, as well. During the final scene, when her husband shoots Gator to death in the groin, Lucinda is helplessly sobbing over her deceased son’s figure. Unlike Angie or Dew who had other females to pull her from her prison, all Lucinda has are her sons and spouse. Spending her entire life to take care of the men in her family, Lucinda was who Angie was in danger of becoming if she did not leave Bensonhurst. 
However, during the final scenes of the movie Angie returns to her home, her father allowing her into the house. The same for Dew, who allows Flipper back into her life, sobbing as he makes love to her. This illustrates the vicious cycle of these women, who save each other, only to allow the men in their lives to take control and break them down again.

Jungle Fever is a multilayered film that spends its two-hours trying to address many issues that plague not just African American life, but American life as a whole. Though it may spread itself out too far, spending more times on some things than others, its a multifaceted story with layers of content that are waiting, and willing, to be pulled back.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beneath the Print: The Underlining Bias of Journalistic Writing

There is no such thing as completely objective-based journalism. While news outlets may attempt to cover a story and stay solely “to the facts,” humans are bias creatures. They base their opinions and views of the world on their own life, experiences and expectations. In journalism, the angle in which a story is covered by a reporter is where the bias brews, and eventually bubbles to the top. 

The three newspapers to be compared are the New York Amsterdam News, and two papers that many New Yorkers pride themselves in reading, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. All three papers re based and printed in the New York area, have each have rich and expansive history, and report on the news through their own filters.

A topic that all three papers recently covered was the story of how the New York Police Department was the secret surveilling Muslim students at college along the Northeast (including Baruch College). The issue was typically met with both side of political parties fighting with the other for either too or too little concerned with homeland security or personal privacy. 

In the Wall Street Journal article titled, “NJ Muslims, officials discuss NYPD surveillance” dated March 3, 2012, the outlet takes a simple approach. Using the barebones news from the Associated Press wire service, they inform the reader of the situation, and how lawmakers and the NYPD respond to the scandalous news. 

From the lead of article, it is evident what type of article it is with a line that reads, “Muslim leaders in New Jersey are meeting with officials to discuss the state's response to the New York Police Department's secret surveillance program.” The lead does what it is supposed to do, it explained the story without giving enough away to be any more informative than is necessary. However, it’s also vague enough to not point fingers at any of these “Muslim leaders” or “officials” which still leaves the reader ignorant, and forced to read more in hopes to learn more about the story.

However as the article continues, it does not add anything more. Later in the article is a line that reads, “Leaders representing a cross-section of New Jersey's diverse Muslim population participated in Saturday's session in the capital city.”  Still, the reader does not know who these leaders are, but simply that they are “diverse Muslim” leaders. There are no names or faces associated with these groups, and the only name the article mentions is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who have spoken out against the surveillance. It is not ironic that the figureheads of the article are those who appear to be the heroes who were unaware of the situation, but now against it.

The next article that grapples with the Muslim surveillance is from the New York Times and is titled, “Bloomberg Defends Police’s Monitoring of Muslim Students on Web” and was written by Al Baker and Kate Taylor and published on February 21, 2012. The article discusses how New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg responded to the surveillance, and unlike Christie who was against the program, Bloomberg fully supported it. 

Unlike the Wall Street Journal article which was barely half a page long, this article is extremely expansive and focuses on how Bloomberg’s views differ from Yale University’s president, Richard C. Levin, and between their views bouncing back-and-forth there are paragraphs explaining the reports and how the surveillance was conducted.  

The article’s view is mostly showing how the academics institutes felt about the surveillance compare to the police and government. It paints a picture for the colleges and universities involved, but does not give a face to the Muslim organizations who were being examined, or what it implies. The only line that comes close is in the first paragraph, where the article states that Bloomberg framed the effort as “one way to guard against the threat of terrorism.”

Unlike both publications prior, Amsterdam News’ point-of-view as rather clear halfway through its leading line. The first line reads, “The NYPD is in the hot seat over reports that confirm the department participated in widespread surveillance of innocent Muslim,” and is filled with various trigger words. The term “hot seat” is used and gives the impression of the police, who are usually the ones interrogating suspects, being the ones in the interrogation room, sitting under a lap, as society plays good-cop-bad-cop. The term “innocent Muslim” is also eye-catching, even though there were no charges pressed or suspicious activity found during the surveillance, it shows Muslims not as targets, but victims. The article even sites an instance where a City College Muslim group went on a whitewater rafting trip, and were spied on by an undercover agent.

The article also discussed Bloomberg’s support, much like the New York Times article had, but also has quotes from those of the Muslim community. Unlike the Wall Street Journal who vaguely referenced them, and the New York Times who dismissed them, the Amsterdam News shows the side and feeling of those whose privacy was intruded, and in effect humanizing them.

  This view is not something that was done in the case of the Muslim surveillance video, but in earlier editions as well. The front page story of the February 9 - February 15 issue of the Amsterdam News was titled, “NYPD kills again: Community outraged after police shoot unarmed man” - one does not even have to read the article to know what angle the article is covering. The article, written by Herb Boyd, focuses on the story of the shooting of Ramarley Graham, an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed in his Bronx apartment. The story discusses the protest which was held outside the 47th Precinct in the Bronx, where furious demonstrators chanted against Ramarley injustice, with such chants as "The NYPD is the KKK". The article sourced the story from the New York Times, who unsurprisingly had their own take on the protest.

The article titled, “A Raucous Protest Against a Police Killing” was published on February 6, 2012, and was written by Tim Stelloh. Unlike Amsterdam’s take, which showed demonstrated the hostility and rage that engulfed the Black community, the New York Times article showed the protest in a different light, calling it a “dramatic conclusion”  and instead of speaking of the shooting itself, discusses the Graham family’s heartbreak. Most interestingly, however, is that the article does mention the “NYPD KKK” posters and chants from the protest. Though, unlike the prior article which mentioned the stunning accusation at the beginning of the article, it is snuck at the end, and merely mentioned instead of elaborated. 

The last Amsterdam News article to be is discussed is titled, "Opponents to Bloomberg school closures plan to face off on Feb. 9” and was written by Nayaba Arinde in the February 2 - February 8 edition of the paper.  The article focuses on those against Bloomberg closing the schools such as teachers, parents, students, etc. The article starts with a quote from a technology teacher named Del Sledge, who encourages students to stand up in the face of adversity and fight against Bloomberg’s closure of their public schools. 

The quote by Seldge was taken during a hearing and used to set the tone of the article goes as follows, “A message that instills the idea of resiliency and helps children understand that just because you fall does not mean you stay down. Just because you meet adversity in life does not mean you claim defeat. Let them know that they count.”  

After the quote the article reads, “The countdown is on!”  That sentence is not a quote, but a line from Arinde’s article. Exclamation points are something most journalists should avoid unless they are writing a headline, or using a quote from a source. It shows an excitement, and that leads to the reader seeing a bit of bias in a the writer, and publications find that to be unprofessional. The Amsterdam News does not appear to feel that way, as the author of the article is the paper’s News Editor, and their feeling of support for the protest and well as distain towards Bloomberg’s wish to close school are fuel to a fiery piece. A fire that is not evident in the New York Times’ take on the story.

The article by the New York Times was published on February 10, 2012, and focused on Bloomberg’s decision to close 18 schools and eliminate the middle school grades at five others, citing the schools’ poor performances. The article is titled, “Amid Protesters’ Disruptions, City Board Votes to Close 18 Schools and Truncate 5” and an interesting aspect of the tile is the use of the word “disruptions” which has a negative connotation.  The protestors, who the News Editor at the Amsterdam News felt were so important as to use their quotes as a lead for a front page story, is demoted to mere disruptions in a New York Times article. 

Much like the Muslim article, the New York Times means of reporting is to show two side of an issue, and between each’s views give a bit of background on the issue at hand. Again, a completely different angle than the Amsterdam News, who obviously picked a side, supported their side, and rooted for their side to be victorious. While the New York Times may have dismissed the protest, an article on the subject by The Wall Street journal barely even mentioned it.

The Wall Street Journal published their article titled “NYC board votes to close 18 schools, shrink 5 more” on February 10, 2012, and was again, short, sweet and vague. The article took facts from the Associated Press, and described the protests that the Amsterdam News supported, and New York Times villainized as “the United Federation of Teachers and many parents oppose the strategy of closing failing schools.”  The article is a true barebones rundown of the story, without the reporting that is found in the New York Times article, and the energy behind the Amsterdam News article.

If there’s one thing journalism professors harp on to their students when it comes to writing news articles is the importance of being an objective journalist.  The belief that the only way to accurately cover a story is to not take any side, report the facts, and inform the reader accordingly. Publications like the Wall Street Journal take this belief to the extreme, and for stories that do not require in-depth reporting, rely on the Associated Press to provide them information and they simply publish the facts on their site. Even though they’re simply presenting the facts, they’re hands-off enough to show that they as a publication, do not enjoy rocking the boat and getting their hands involved in issues that may cause controversy. 

The New York Times shares this ideology, not wanting to take a side, but instead of giving almost too little information, they give so much information that all their bases are covered. Also, as seen in the Bronx Shooting article, they do not enjoy upsetting their readers and rather hide controversial aspects of a story within the story instead of making it any more of a focus than necessary.  This is also an angle, showing the irony beneath going so far to be  objective that the paper’s own objectivity becomes subjective.

The Amsterdam News kicks both ideologies to the curb, and instead prides itself as being “The New Black View” - its subjectivity is the paper’s slogan. The paper is not afraid to take on any issue, whether it be political, local, or international, as each article is filled with the  each writer and editor’s original point of view. None of these views hold back punches, and though the paper is labeled as a “tabloid” when compared to other publications it bring up issues like why some things are printed and others things not. 

News outlets who pride themselves as being “the most trusted” or “the most hard-hitting” are usually ones who are the quickest the hold back on stories. The problem with mainstream media is that in the United States, the media is run by a handful of companies who fund their publications, and have in effect made the newspaper business less about selling news and more about selling papers. The Amsterdam News does not have to worry about that, as an independent paper with a low price point and weekly publication, it does not have those financial woes, and if it does the paper’s quality and means of reporting does not reflect it. As mentioned earlier, there is no such thing as objective journalism, as every paper has a voice even when it tries to hide it, and the only way to understand the real goings-on in the world is to be aware of not just one, but every outlet.