Advertising for Traffickers

In 2008, one of my students in a global feminisms course I was teaching brought in a Google Ad for dating Indian women that kept popping up on her yahoo mail account. She pointed out how the ad capitalized on a generic image of Indian exoticism both in its images and text. She encouraged the class to consider what type of email they used outside of the university provided one because free email was being paid for through marginalization of women of color.

Bindi Girl Exhibit – Prema Murthy

(amazing feminist critique of exotic erotic images of Indian women)

We had just finished watching two separate documentaries on child sex workers in India at the time and one of the students asked if there was anyway to know whether or not the advertised “dating site” was involved in trafficking. My answer was to send them back to Google to do research. I told them to ask Google:

  1. how it screens its ads
  2. if there are any ethical standards related to safety (ie child safety, anti-trafficking, etc.)
  3. general questions about race and gender in its ads

The responses they received were fairly expected. Google does not screen its ads for trafficking nor check the background of the companies that place ads through Google. Their argument is that the volume of ads placed with them is too high to do the kind of individual human rights work implied by such a check. They also do not choose the ads you receive on your pages, so there is no standard form they could use to determine who sees what, ie boycotting yahoo would not stop those ad from showing up on other sites nor would everyone who used yahoo see those ads. Instead, Google uses a cookie system to track your internet usage that generates ads based on your supposed preferences. Since the program is based on a heterosexual white male model, that means if you spend a lot of time on sites about women, you are likely to receive dieting, shopping, and dating ads or if you spend a lot of time on sites about India or women of color in general, you will receive dating ads specializing in hooking men up with women of color. The assumption in both cases is that you are either a man, needing a heterosexual dating services, or a heterosexual woman needing a man, and therefore needing to meet beauty myth standards. To cover its basis it sends both kinds of pop ups to you.  As implied, these ads not only represent gender bias by centering both male needs and female insecurity but also implicate you in heterosexism and potentially racism, since the ads seldom include sites that are queer inclusive nor those that fail to peddle in exoticism assuming a white male audience looking for the “dark mysteries” of the “exotic erotic”.

Besides the invasion of privacy aspects, this makes Google seem fairly benign. Google does not make the ads nor determine who receives them based on any disregard for your politics or rights. However, the answer also reveals two key issue: (1) Google is primarily a search engine with both human and program-based web crawlers and (2) Google plants cookies to track usage. So why is checking basic information on the people who place ads too difficult a task? It seems that while people are not likely to be forthcoming about using the internet to traffic women, Google’s own search engines should be able to reasonably flag connections to known traffickers and subsequently deny advertising space. Given the volume of ads, it could not guarantee 100% success but it could be a step in the right direction.

The second set of questions has to do with general standards and modeling. There are a number of products whose dubious connection to human rights could easily be excluded from Google ads. While this leads to questions about market based freedoms and potentially freedom of expression that I think are equally important, exclusions have long been a part of advertising strategies for certain markets. A less sticky option, would be for Google to modify the programs that select ads to stop assuming a heterosexual white male norm. Thus when cookies reported you spent considerable time on pages related to women of color, it would trigger a subset of programs that would cross-reference that usage for things like “feminism”, “social justice”, etc. in the same way that it checks larger categories like “women”, “health”, “education”, etc. So that feminists and feminist web sites were not being supported by demeaning or potentially anti-woman advertising. By anti-woman advertising I mean, for example, ads that show large women as disgusting and then try to sell you dieting pills that we all know will likely be recalled the following year for causing all kinds of health problems and even death in users, or more benign ads that focus on a sexualizing gaze at various women’s bums in order to sell you shoes. Imagine these ads popping up on body positive websites.

Take for instance, this blog. I recently discovered that there are similar ads to the one my student brought into class on my blog! These ads show up on pages about women’s sexual freedom and global feminisms. At least one shows up on a post about rape as a war crime. So on the one hand, my text is discussing women’s rights, equality, and to respect women as subjects and on the other advertising is telling you to participate in international heterosexist digital dating which may or may not be implicated in larger trafficking issues. A simple modification to Google’s programming could prevent such things from happening. However, I suspect that these types of ads generate more revenue than an ad for Make/Shift would. (There are also ads for skin lightening cream and hair straightening gel on posts about black women and beauty …)

The discovery of these ads and their offensive and contradictory placement on certain blog posts on this blog brings me back to the larger question about the meaning of “free” raised by my student. I regularly ask my students to think about “free” and “freedom” in my classes. I teach unit on reproductive justice where I point out how reproductive freedoms in the Western world were/are based on reproductive injustices to women of color, incarcerated women, and women in purposefully underdeveloped nations. The speculum itself comes from a myriad of abuses perpetrated against the bodies of enslaved black women and girls. Many advances in certain medical procedures and medications for birth control have been gained through practice or testing on marginalized women with varying forms of questionable consent. My goal in this lesson is to move them past the discourse of reproductive “freedom” to a global sense of reproductive justice in which one woman’s freedom is not bought on the backs of another’s oppression. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask who pays for my free email account? Who pays for my free blog? Isn’t my free lunch free?

For those of you who do not know, unlike other blogs, wordpress places Google ads on free blogs without the knowledge or consent of the blog owners. They recently let this practice be known because of questions raised by bloggers. WordPress claims that these ads offset the cost of providing free services to its 300,000+free blog users. WordPress and Google share the profit from these ads, bloggers receive none. You can opt out of this system by paying $120/year for your blog. Even if you are not as concerned about issues of oppression as I am, umm skin bleaching cream on a black is beautiful post had better upset you, basic math should point out that bloggers are getting worked in this system. If each time an ad pops up Google and WordPress split $1.50 even if each blog only had one visitor a day, that means they are splitting a revenue of $450,000/dy based on our collective labor while we get $120/yr in the form of a “free” site.

So it seems whether you are concerned about women’s and human rights or the market, there is a major problem here with how Google Ads work and for whom they work. Discovering these offensively placed ads on my site has not only made me have to take a good look at my own decision-making but also at the sustainability of this blog.

Ultimately, there was no real resolution to my student’s question nor the research projects and activism that it inspired amongst my students that year. Google is ubiquitous on the internet and so it seemed incredibly daunting to try and fight them collectively. Instead, we engaged in individual choice making in the hopes of making larger change. One of those choices, is that I pass out a handout on how to make complaints about Google Ads. While the most effective way to complain requires a google account and a complicated process for locating the actual complaint area on the page, you can also send a generic complaint via this link. If you see an offensive or offensively placed ad on my blog, please complain about it to Google.

Maintaining this blog, on this site, is a choice and it is a choice that is becoming more antithetical to my support of decolonized feminism every day. If you have suggestions of other blog sites that you are using and happy with, please let me know.

On this Historic Day

newly revised edition

“to struggle together … to stand up for freedom together”

African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr., on this Glenn Beck and I agree. No one but slaveholders own people. But truthfully, aside from a few overly snide liberal pundits, I do not think anyone thinks Beck meant that literally. Instead he was referring to the legacy of King. A legacy of civil rights, social justice, and, nearing the end of his time on this earth, an increasing commitment to global equality and ending violence (including state sanctioned wars without end). In fact, it was his stance on these key issues and his ability to sway people from ALL races, religions, genders, and even sexualities (a feat, since he never spoke out for gay rights), to join in his cause that got him assassinated by white supremacist fearing a message of equality.

Martin Luther King Jr. changed the face of N. America. Along with the help of dedicated women, children, and men from across racial divides, Dr. King put an end to legal discrimination against black people in transportation, employment, education, etc. Yet, in the last few years, radio hosts like Glenn Beck have done their best to foster s well as harness long standing social discrimination and turn it back into law. Thus he argues against access to education, employment, or health care for hardworking indentured undocumented workers, more policing in black and poor neighborhoods because of the fear of black criminality, against marriage equality and even going so far as to criticize fluffy films about upper middle class cis white single working mothers; these are the very people Dr. King stood with and up for.  Worse, Beck and his ilk have tried to make this discrimination and fear the very definition of being N. American. Anyway who supports civil or human rights for the marginalized is transformed into anti-American, non-American, or members of that mythic “Other” America.

So no, African Americans do not own Martin Luther King Jr. but Glenn Beck and his followers will NEVER own another black man again no matter how much they wish they did.

Truthfully, I had not meant to talk about Beck today. You’ll note I seldom mention anyone on Fox News on the blog. I’m old enough to remember when news was somewhat apolitical (somewhat, because the crime reports were always “a black man did …” or “a man did” and often highlighted stories that reinforced similar long held believes about poor people and people of color even as they kept the editorializing about them to a minimum). And before conservatives line up to call me a hypocrite for using footage from MSNBC, one needs only look through this blog or my twitter feed to see that I am just as likely to call them out for race and gender issues as anyone else. More so than Fox news because I expect better of them, and often get it. In my mind the answer to most of Glenn Beck’s antics is: It’s Glenn Beck. Nothing deeper seems warranted when you think about it.

Yet here I am, writing.

There is something so inexplicably demented about a man who spends every day on his radio show inciting or expanding, or simply making space for existing, racism in this country daring to say that he is keeping a dream of equality alive by recreating a history that is only mirrored in the fall of the Weimar Republic and reconstruction in the U.S., particularly in 1865. Like a DW Griffith film, Beck and his ilk have hammered home the idea that there is only one people who can govern and represent a civilized nation and only one solution for everyone else. As a historian, I watched the information coming from Beck surrounding this rally with the knowledge of the history with which Beck has actually aligned. Looking at image after image of his 78-87,000 supporters, there can be no doubt where we are headed or that is decidedly away from any dream Martin Luther King Jr had for this nation.

Glenn Beck wants to make you think it is about a date:

Again, we’re arguing about the date.

He wants you to believe that such a historic date slipped his mind:

I had no idea August 28th was the day of the MLK speech when we booked it. I knew that MLK spoke at the Lincoln Memorial. I knew that it was about the content of character. I knew it was about civil rights and injustice. It knew all of those things, but I’m sorry, media, that I forgot the, oh, so important detail of the date.

And truthfully, Like Jon Stewart, I do find it possible a man who does not think MLK Day should be a national holiday would not know the exact date of the historic I had a Dream Speech. But given the way Glenn Beck has attempted to harness the image of King, Rosa Parks, and even Booker T Washington to advertise for the event, how could anyone believe that he did not know what he was doing? And according to HuffPo, when Beck started advertising this event a year ago, he made several comments on his radio show about the historic date. By calling up actual civil rights leaders he does what others have done with the n-word, ie incensed the opposition to his crusade so thoroughly as to make their arguments sound incomprehensible, condescending, or stuck on a single issue, a word or a date, rather than the much larger issues at stake. And like those people who play victim when caught using the n-word, or yelling “re-load” to those who do, Beck is using this supposed tunnel vision to claim victimhood:

At best, they’re operating in the same old political boxes they usually operate out of: Glenn Beck, bad; Sarah Palin, bad; must destroy.

While I don’t doubt there are a few people who have called for Glenn Beck’s actual destruction, they need mental health services, nor do they have access to a 24 hour network or nationally syndicated radio show. They have not been cited as a reason for actual physical violence involving the shooting of others, as at least two mass shooters and one targeted murderer in the last 2 years have cited Beck and his contemporaries at Fox news for their actions. Nor have they helped create and sustain a movement that includes people who have made threats against the president, against immigrants, queer people, and oh yes, black folks. Nor have any of the people Beck is actually blaming for saying he must be destroyed, actually been guilty of saying so. That is where liberal media and conservative media often definitively part ways. While the Olbermann’s on the left due wax indignant often, and often righteously, very few members of left media would use their radio or tv shows as a place to deify themselves in the name of hatred and violent gun imagery knowing that their supporters are armed and ready “to reload”.

And who exactly is it Beck has invited to stand with him on this historic day in which he claims he is taking the reigns of freedom back from actual civil rights leaders?

  • A woman who responded to the use of the n-word & an angry tirade against interracial dating by saying the speaker should reload & that America was “unfair”
  • A singer whose lyrics for the event include “you preach your tolerance but lecture me” … “we’re taking names; waiting for the judgment day”
  • A country musician who has sponsored events under the title “taking our country back” that has not included more than a handful of people of color if any
  • Members of the 9.12 Project whose racist, xenophobic, and homophobic signs have been archived at the top of my blog (and whose comments on that page further underscore them)
  • A woman willing to bastardize her own family’s legacy to make a single issue point about denying reproductive rights ( a woman whose participation will no doubt be used to legitimate the date of the rally and the erroneous belief the audience and the event were integrated or diverse)

And let us not forget, that Beck’s rally is not only hiding behind the skirts of Alveda King but also the troops. You see, when all of his denials fall away, Beck resorted to calling the people criticizing him anti-American because they were “anti-Troops” and pointing to the fact that his rally supports an organization that helps widows and families of disabled veterans. Never mind that he could have given money to this group without such a rally or that no money will go to them until the expensive venue, advertising, and speaker’s fees have been paid. And let us be clear the Republicans Beck often supports on his show and at least one of his speakers ran with last election, have voted repeatedly against VA benefits, medical care, pensions, and even protective gear for troops all the while claiming to be the party that supports them. Does Glenn Beck rally around that on his show? no.

According to eye witnesses the event also included:

  • a union worker passing out fliers with a picture of Dr. King that criticized the use of Asian laborers in the capital instead of “hardworking [white] Americans” – apparently he did not know Beck has continuously rallied against unions
  • people who came out to prove “the backbone of this country is the family. Messing with the definition of the family is dangerous” – apparently they did not know that heterosexual families include incest, domestic violence, child abuse, and codes of silence that are often generationally transferred as much as they include happy and healthy people
  • people who want to ensure there is no Mosque at ground zero but claim they aren’t anti-Muslim they are just “pro-American” – because apparently no one has told them that there are already Mosques in the area and Muslim Americans exist and have for a considerable amount of time in this country, some even died helping survivors in 9/11
  • and people with genuine criticism for the state of the economy, the lack of community in this nation (tho they don’t note the irony in how this rally is furthering divides rather than healing them), and the cost of education (again failing to recognize that the Republicans tried to block a critical education bill that saved teachers jobs and ensured schools had funding)
  • and people who sent emails or made comments out loud to reporters like these:

This is hardly a scene that mirrors any Martin Luther King Jr would have helmed nor one that reflects the basic principles of civil rights and social justice, something Beck has gone on record as saying he does not support anyway. (On Friday Beck told a radio show host that he did not support social justice.) Instead, 828 just like 912 highlights the growing racial divides and racial tensions in this country between white people and people of color, between white citizens + occasionally citizens of color and non-white immigrants, between white heterosexists + occasionally poc heterosexists and white + non-white queers and allies, between white arch-conservative women + woc pro-lifers and feminists, between arch-conservative protestants and every other religion represented in this country as well as those of us who are Catholic or Protestant who follow G-d’s highest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. While the boundaries of these groups shift to make provisional room for those who can increase their numbers or be put in photo ops to claim diversity, and while people from either side of the binaries can find themselves on the other side because of a single issue that matters more to them than others, the reality is that unlike the diverse multicultural coalition of King, Beck offers us a vision of N. America that is decidedly hierarchical, homogeneous, and willing to police its boundaries with violence. The only thing Beck and his supporters have learned from their last march was to leave the signs at home so it would be easier to play victim when people called them racist, or homophobic, or violent. But he did not tell them, could not tell them, to leave their hatred at home, so it showed up in the things both he and they said to each other and reporters. As Beck said himself:

Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don’t want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.

. . .

If you think things are tough now, you ain’t seeing nothing yet.

“if an American, because his skin is dark cannot … enjoy the full and free life that all of us want, than who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed to stand in his place”

please note the quotes for this piece were taken from Glenn Beck’s broadcast yesterday and not the transcript of his speech today which was unavailable at time of writing

God Willing … A Spike Lee Joint

This week marks both the 5th year anniversary of Katrina and Spike Lee’s return to New Orleans and the people whose stories he helped bring to light in the aftermath of the Republican made disaster.

shadowandact.com

I have watched the 4 hour documentary twice now and am still processing the radical difference in tone Lee’s documentary takes from all the much more celebratory documentaries/news specials produced by mainstream media. (I am also still processing some of the personal stories and the flashbacks Lee’s documentary induced, so we are going to focus on other things in this post.) While some have dismissed Lee’s work as polemic, the results of recent studies on New Orleans cannot be ignored. According to one such research project, white people have returned to New Orleans in greater numbers than black people, mixed race and white neighborhoods have been largely rebuilt or sustained less damage so they were easier to bring back, and white transplants to the area are enjoying a middle class lifestyle that has actually made costs of housing, food, and other essentials inflate beyond the means of original residents. Black residents or former residents in the study have less housing options, less economic security, higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, violence, homelessness, and incarceration. Many cannot and have not returned due to widescale gentrification and intentional rezoning and rebuilding policies that have neglected rebuild in the 9th ward, closed down public housing, and failed to re-open schools in traditionally black, poor, areas of NOLA. There’s is not a story of recovery, it is one of intentional abandonment and current displacement. Add to that the BP spill, which Lee’s film shows is hitting working class and subsistence level creole and immigrant fishermen the hardest and the story of recovery begins to look a lot like a gigantic lie.

In fact, as I watching Spike Lee’s film, I found myself thinking about the tsunami. I was teaching an activism course at the time as well as participating in several Ford funded faculty reading groups. I remember that the campus lit up with concern for tsunami victims and that my class organized a donation drive as part of their final project. All of our book groups were redirected toward discussions of how to help and organizations to support. And all of this was done in the spirit of altruism and deep concern for fellow human beings, not some paternalistic charity model. But when the giving was done, the posters, updates, and discussions came to an end. When the world stopped looking, the government swooped in and used a little known or used statuette to reclaim beach front property and build high end resorts, restaurants, and other tourist oriented businesses to capitalize on the new found interest in the region. Like former first Lady Bush’s comment that the hurricane would help Nola finally get rid of its problems and her son’s belief that this was an ideal opportunity for big businness, the post-tsunami government felt the same way, displacing thousands of working class and subsistence survivors permanently in the name of “progress” “recovery” and “rebuild”. And also like Nola, the story is not solely about victims and re-victimization, many people received some aid or even enough to start to rebuild their lives, but the story only Lee seems willing to tell is about how many did not.

hbo.com

As someone who has kept a close eye on Katrina and its aftermath, someone who like many black Americans took to heart how easily the national and state government could turn on black people with guns, militarization, and life-ending indifference, nothing in Spike Lee’s film is new. There have been multiple rallies over the loss of low income and public housing in New Orleans reported here on the blog. The mental health crisis hit home for me as someone with family members who served both displaced Nola residents and then people still in the city during and after the initial crisis and I wrote about the clinics that were trying to make up the slack for the closing of the only mental health crisis center in poor black neighborhoods as well as what that closure meant over 1.5 years ago here on the blog. And while Lee’s film only touches briefly on women’s issues in favor of focusing on the violence being experienced by young black men in the city, I also wrote about the particular impact Nola had had on women and children and the work that New Orleans’ based feminists were doing to create women’s centers, health clinics (which granted could not find a trans positive physician but were not guilty of “killing trans women” as some claimed on the internet), domestic and sexual violence support groups and safe spaces, and feminist libraries here on the blog. So having spent so much time writing about what is going on in New Orleans, Spike Lee’s film seems fairly mild to me given what he could have included. He did not indict the Red Cross, who as I wrote here, sat on housing funds for displaced people until the cycle for that funding almost ran out. Nor did he talk about the 100,000s of pounds of aid that was never distributed, looted, or shipped elsewhere by FEMA when doing his comparisons to Haiti in the film, whose people, as I wrote here and everyone else wrote about in the news, suffered and died waiting for dispersal of aid. He did not mention the number of women who have been raped, beaten, or abused by their partners, strangers, or the police during and after Katrina as part of a predictable trend in crisis and crisis aftermath around the world; but of course, in this case, I think that was because Spike seldom mentions women’s issues in his films. Nor did his discussion of medical needs in the community extend to the discussion of what happened to both the HIV population and trans people whose access to meds was limited during Katrina until queer and inclusive clinics stepped in and whose access now remains under-reported or addressed.

So why such animosity or ambivalence about Lee’s version of events vs the happy-go-lucky promos flooding my tv every night for 5 years later specials? Why is it that when interviewers bring up the issues that remain, intelligent reporters like Brian Williams respond by talking about all the good going on in New Orleans? Is it because we need a feel good story after so much devastation? Or is it because, once again, we as a culture want to minimize longstanding racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and transmisogyny and how it played out in the aftermath of Katrina, not just the event itself? And more to the point, we want to be able to blame the victims who are still suffering so that we don’t have to ask why they are suffering, who benefits from their suffering, and why prosperity seems to be mapped on racial as well as class lines?

Ultimately, I think it is both impulses. I think we do want to see a New Orleans that has returned to the magic and splendor of its hey day. We want to honor survivors of Katrina who say they want to talk about growth and recovery not pain and abandonment, they want their city to be remembered for the good times not the lows. But we are also invested in a narrative in which black people are always guilty and poor people have invited their own suffering and where the people and systems that abuse them go unnoticed or with a simple slap on the wrist. More so than ever, this nation has divided in ways that highlight racial hatred and victim blaming and shifted the language of oppression to crown the oppressors as the most oppressed. Spike Lee’s film refuses that narrative with a force that makes it hard to ignore and so we are left with the only dismal most people can imagine “polemic” because after all, it is Spike Lee. But I would encourage you to watch this film carefully. Pay attention to the cited studies and actions and then look them up yourself (using more than wikipedia and blog posts). I think you’ll find that Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” is quite tame compared to what is really going on in New Orleans.

The film next airs on HBO this Friday and Sunday and will play throughout the month

—–

Some specific issues I will raise in a follow up post

  1. the smugness of Brownie, which seemed to mirror BP
  2. Lee’s discussion of BP which will forever stand for “Bitch Please” from here on out
  3. LSU’s implication in the closing of the major hospital serving poor and working class people of color and mental health patients in the name of profit
  4. why Brad Pitt seems to be the mainstream media’s take away moment from this film  … grrr …
  5. how this event sent the message that black lives don’t matter & what Lee’s film tells us about the people left to survive after such an intimate lesson

“From Text to Film”

blogging librarian flickr/ http://libraryofdigress.files.wordpress.com

One of the great perks about blogging is that you get to have conversations with a wide range of people about things you may not have thought about or about which you had not thought of in the ways you do as a result of those conversations. I’ve been joking around for a while now that I wanted to teach a class on novels adapted to film. While many people have done this before, and I get a lot of leeway in my department(s) with my cinema courses, novels to film is fairly clearly in the realm of the English Department, the one place at this uni I don’t teach. The other issue has always been that since my courses tend to meet both the gen ed and the specialization cores in several fields, there are certain expectations about the material my courses contain. In thinking about the novel to film genre, it means that I would likely have to expand to Made for Television movies to incorporate enough diversity into the curriculum and then the discussion becomes not only about shifts from one medium to the other but also the freedoms or lack there of granted television vs film. I did not want to get bogged down in discussions solely about the latter to the detriment of the overarching questions about identity. While I knew I could probably pull this course off if I modified the time-frame, ie set it in the historical period I teach, that would mean having to read novels that would ultimately get us bogged down in discussions about period and expectation around identity vs the movement from one form to the other. Ugh, does your head hurt yet? Mine certainly did. So I let it go.

Enter Scott Pilgrim and his bevy of fans + the book meme, in which I mocked the film “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” for not actually following the story and rewriting some key characters. Like an aha moment, I found these two blogging conversations combining to make me question the age old encoding/decoding debate in new ways. In other words, there is a metaconversation taking place about the meaning of movies that is radically changing the discourse of how see and understand film. This post is about those changes; if you want my movie review of Scott Pilgrim look here.

In talking about my experience of the film/reviewing it and  its racial and gender content, I have received multiple comments here and elsewhere that reference the graphic novels as counterpoint. In looking at commentary on the internet, I found the same thing. In other words, people reviewing the movie have largely talked about the movie itself: its content, the acting and directing, and the overall plot, and occasionally, its niche appeal. The people responding to their reviews have pretty much all gone back to the source material to contradict what people say is in the movie. Yet, what most have reacted to in the film: (1) the absence of female perspective, (2) the focus on a largely unlikeable character or characters, and (3) confusing or choppy plot, have all been fairly consistent. Are we to believe that because the original graphic novels make clear that Scott Pilgrim is meant to be unlikeable that the film does a good job of telling its uninformed audience this information when so many did not get it? Or are we meant to excuse the absence of female subjecthood in the film because the graphic novels apparently center them and their thoughts?

brian o’malley/oni press

As I said in my review, should Scott’s supposed growth, reduced to a few minutes in the film that I argue are undermined by the way he once again treats Knives at the end, negate racialized and/or racist depictions of API Americans in the movie? This is an issue that most reviewers and comment makers have yet to address precisely because one of the film’s more stereotypical scenes is taken directly from the pages of the graphic novel without any editing or changes; sadly, the reviewer from the Harold seems to explain it best when he says that as a white surbuban gaming male who fits the intended demographic he was easily able to overlook the bollywood scene until a comment on twitter about race in the film made him think through the movie with race in mind. Like it did for me, the meta-conversation surrounding this movie, ie between novel, film, and multiple internet and social network sites, is creating a radical rethink of meaning on all sides. And for everyone who has gone off the deep end over Dr. Laura’s comments, tell me, what is the difference between Dr. Laura  calling a black woman “oversensitive” because she does not like the racist jokes made by her white husband’s friends in her home and white fans of Scott Pilgrim saying “hater” to anyone who mentions the racial depictions of API Americans in this film?

Race issues aside, there seems to be a struggle going on between those who saw the film on its own and fans who saw the film and read the graphic novels or simply read the graphic novels but have not gone to the film. The latter have been quite vocal about the fact that people criticizing the film “don’t get it” despite the consistency of the reviews. This reaction varies considerably from earlier fans who willingly critiqued films for failing to represent the text upon which they were based. Films with huge fan bases in fact, have almost always had to address fan expectations in order to be successful at the box office. When fans say the film is not accurate enough, movies generally tank at the box office.

(note the Asian mom’s broken English)

Brian O’Malley/Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim is tanking at the box office. Yet fans are defending it and the studio is blaming it on Michael Cera. Apparently, several of Cera’s last few films did not do well, so he is an easy whipping boy. Yet I can think of no one better to play a 20 something year old slacker who quips about life, resents having to defend himself, and looks like the kind of guy you expect to see in the arcade and root for when attacked. I think he was a perfect choice and his comedic timing are spot on as always. Even if we factor in the people who have just had enough of his t-shirted, saggy chords, skinny boy schtick, there is still something more interesting going on here.

The cry from fans of “you don’t get it”, seems like a generational issue to me. In this context, the film becomes irrelevant. What is at stake is youth who identified with Scott Pilgrim as a graphic novel and see it as a depiction of their generational angst in the same way people thought of American Graffitti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, or even The Big Chill or Diner.  Their embrace of the graphic novels at a gut level combines with the total rejection of the movie by accredited film reviews who are all over the age of 30 (to riff on that old adage “don’t trust anyone over 30”). These “older” reviewers have combined their general dislike of the movie with comments about largely negative comments about the slacker generation and in some cases outright ageism. This stance makes them easy pickings for youth who already feel screwed over, ignored, or condescended to by the generations before them. The more these youth respond with “you don’t get it”, the more older people bristle. Yet the mode of this conflict is not one in which either side is openly talking about age and stage but rather cinema vs text, with one group pointing emphatically at the failings of the movie and the other willingly filling in the blanks or omitting those failings with the original text in order to maintain their stance.

I find this fascinating.

First, I do think there is a generational issue in the reception of the film. I walked out of the moving clear that there were at least two cultural reasons why this film did not appeal to me and that they overlapped. I also know there were other people in my theater who felt the same way, because they kept looking over at me in confusion. And when I frowned at the racist parts, they were so attuned to my presence that they reacted as well. Nothing like being a zoo exhibit or a fossil at a movie screening …

Second, I’m wondering what it says about the nuances of marketing that they can graft a film so carefully onto an identity as to make those who identify with it ignore the disconnects present. In other words, when other movies have differed from the text people have complained. These films were marketed as stories or true adaptations not as cultural artifacts. This movie seems to be encoded and decoded by its core audience as the latter and therefore omissions and lapses are forgiven or ignored. Even the feminist viewers in this group have been largely silent about the absence of well-rounded female characters in the movie. Those fans who acknowledge it, only bring it up to once again point to the source material as a way of avoiding the critique of the film.

In some ways, it reminds me of the limited critique of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite including episodes in which Native Americans were evil genocidal ghosts on Thanksgiving, spreading syphilis and needing to be killed because “they were engaging in genocidal revenge”,  resurrecting “the primitive” in discussing Buffy’s origins, or including rape of beloved characters by other beloved characters, fans of Buffy refuse to address race and gender issues embedded in the show. Those who breach them are summarily dismissed as “not getting it”. And like Scott Pilgrim fans, when footage of these events or director’s script notes are actually shown to an audience as proof, as happened at two conferences I went to in the late 90s, fans simply make up elaborate excuses based on the overall storyline of the show. And of course there is always the a line or two that are included in these scenes to mask the overarching racism that they can glom onto.

So what is that spark needed to so thoroughly fuse audience with product? And why does it work so well at erasing or allowing for the justification of marginalization even for audiences who are quite savvy about how marginalization works? What makes something off limits? And why do these conflicts seem to take on generational significance whether it is between reviewers and fans or fans and older non-fan directors?

I’m going to be mulling this over for the rest of the term because, as I said, I find it fascinating but also because now I really am going to teach that course in a way that places it firmly in my disciplines and gets at some difficult questions about race, gender, sexuality, class and fandom. In Spring, the campus bookstore is going to be full up on graphic novels, required itunes passes for videos of tv shows, and classics on Race, Class, Gender and the Media. I can’t wait!

WordPress Wednesday Aug 18: The Fail Continues

Think about this as you read these stats, blogging is not only the new way of publishing it is increasingly the way to access the old way of publishing as well, it is also second only to twitter as a go to source for media pundits looking for “the pulse of the nation” or the “important story”, and it is one of two media sites that form the basis for much electronic research. When we are not included in the places that legitimate and draw attention to the voices on the internet we are in essence once again being erased and shoved out. Since blogging is a medium that so many diverse people have made their home, and wordpress among the top places to do it, doesn’t it warrant at least a question about why they choose such a narrow focus in representing both their brand and all of us?

brittanica.com

Here are this week’s stats:

Images

  • men of color: 18
  • women of color: 6
  • TOTAL PICS OF PEOPLE OF COLOR: 24
  • white men: 40
  • white women: 32
  • TOTAL PICS OF WHITE PEOPLE: 72

The number of white people pictured on chosen posts outnumbered people of color by almost 3xs as much this week. All of these images were of able-bodied cis gender people. Images of white women were 5xs more likely than images of women of color and even more were likely to be seen on the Freshly Pressed page pointing you there because images of women of color appeared in posts with images of white people and the latter were almost always chosen for the Freshly Pressed page image. White men outnumbered men of color two to one and would also have been overrepresented on the Freshly Pressed page for the reasons listed above.

Authors

  • men of color: 3
  • women of color: 2
  • TOTAL AUTHORS OF COLOR: 5
  • white men: 12
  • white women: 30
  • TOTAL WHITE AUTHORS: 42

The number of people of color featured remained constant from last week representing an average of 1.7% of the total available bloggers for highlighting. The number of people of color blogging on wordpress is unavailable but they certainly make up more than 2% of the 280,000 bloggers from which to choose. There were also three authors of unknown race, only one of whom was a woman and one author who identified as asexual gender neutral, who was white.

Gender & Sexuality

  • pictures of cis women: 37
  • pictures of cis men: 55
  • pictures of trans women: 1
  • pictures of trans men: 3
  • female authors: 33
  • male authors: 17
  • gender unknown: 1
  • gender neutral: 1
  • articles about feminism: 3
  • articles about queer rights: 1
  • articles about, related to, or otherwise assuming overt heterosexuality: 17

Interestingly, this week marked the first time since the study began where a photo of a white women used in the post was replaced by a photo of a white man not used in the post to highlight the post on the Freshly Pressed page. In other words, the blogger used an image of a woman and the wordpress staff replaced it on their page with a picture of a man.

On the plus side, this week marks the first time a post about transgender, gender queer, and transmisogyny has been highlighted during the study and in all the time I can remember glancing at the Freshly Pressed page. On the negative side, that post included 4 photos of transgender or gender queer people engaged in a photographic awareness campaign, none of whom where people of color. In looking at the source material I discovered that of the 20 photos in the exhibit the author had to choose from, there was only one person of color photographed. The failing then is both with the author of the blog post who failed to mention racially disparity or choose the only pic available of a person of color to include with the group of other images chosen and the project itself. I also noted that while this post was highlighted, there were several posts, including on this blog, about a similar project specifically highlighting the dual erasure of black trans people from mainstream society and trans communities, as well as highlighting their diversity across the African Diaspora, none of which were ever featured on Freshly Pressed.

There were an unusually high number of feminist posts this week as well given their general absence on the Freshly Pressed page. One of these posts highlighted global feminism but was actually a blog for an organization that features innovative speakers and puts the videos up on its website. The post was literally the name of an international speaker and the theme of her talk accompanied by the video. There was no analysis, no prose, nothing. Given the number of posts written by marginalized people on wordpress about global feminism this seemed like an odd choice to represent the best wordpress has to offer. Another post on feminism praised a movie that was essentially a colonial fantasy in which a white woman finds herself through a vacation in India, Brazil, and other exotic erotic places, complete with hooting at brown men, spending money to “save” poor kids, etc. The point of the post: anyone who disliked this movie was a sexist hater. The final feminist post critiqued the same film and originally questioned the classism and racism involved but was followed up by a non-featured post apologizing and claiming it was really a critique of narcissism.

While we are documenting the number of posts that reference heterosexuality outright, please do not take this to mean other posts are sexuality neutral. With few exception all of the posts highlighted on wordpress are written by or read as heterosexual posts due to their lack of queer content.

As white women continue to gain in the featured section, I wonder if this is why we cannot get any traction on this issue. Like the woman who sees critiquing colonialism as a sexist endeavor, is the fact that white women often dominate the freshly pressed section preventing them from engaging in a feminism or social justice mindset that includes the rest of us? And if so, why is this an all too familiar position for a group that would largely define themselves as socially engaged and inclusive? It should be noted that many of the people making decisions about features on wordpress are also white women who considered themselves social justice folks.

WordPress Criteria

  • grammatical errors: 11
  • copyright: 41

This category counts the items wordpress says will preclude you from being featured. Interestingly, this week wordpress published another post referencing the importance of copyright on images used on blogs at the same time that the number of copyright infringement based on freshly pressed images was at its highest.

This week also saw the largest number of blogs featured that had been featured before and/or were not actually blogs (company “blog” pages that simply pointed people back to the company and magazines that are hosted on wordpress.org) instead of looking at diverse authors who had not been highlighted prior. The number of professional journalists and photographers is also much higher in general on the freshly pressed page than people who blog as bloggers. Given the gender, race, sexuality, etc. disparities in print media, you can see how this would translate to similar disparities on the freshly pressed page.

Scott Pilgrim Vs My Sanity (spoilers)

According to Hit Fix one of the reasons Scott Pilgrim did poorly in the box office this weekend was because people were having trouble determining the plot. I never read the graphic novels upon which the film was based, so I think it is pretty fair to say I only had the trailers to go on myself. It seemed fairly obvious to me that Scott Pilgrim was based on a particular genre of graphic novel addressing disaffected youth, counter-culture, and the pursuit of women and/or girls. I’m not sure how you could watch the trailer and not know that.

Just in case:

the plot of Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old slacker bassist in an unsigned band who thinks he has met the love of his life, hipster Ramona Flowers. In order to date her drama free, he must fight her 7 evil exes all of whom have magical or video game like powers. The bulk of the film takes place at video game speed, with power ups, point values, and information bubbles. Visually it is a cross between the arcade games of 70s childhoods and modern day play station lives. The whole thing is also set to music capitalizing on the popularity of guitar hero and indie rock cred to reaffirm its geek + hipster sensibility.

The Good

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The script is full of snappy one liners that in lesser hands would come off as pathetic caricature. Fortunately, from the smallest roles to the largest ones, almost every actor in Pilgrim has the necessary comedic timing and snark to pull it off. Both Alison Pill and Kieran Culkin serve up the best performances in the film, helping keep the pace of Pilgrim moving and entertaining when it could just have easily insulted and fallen flat. Johnny Simmons is brilliant as Young Neal managing to delight in every scene he is in despite having few lines. The only people who don’t seem to elevate this film to similar teen-period-piece classics are  Bree Larson, whose comedic timing on US of Tara is always a joy to watch but here seems like she’s been directed to overact to avoid dealing with real female emotions, and Satya Bhabha whose role suffers from offensive stereotype too much for him to do much with it. But we’ll get to that … wait for it …

The music is both entertaining and sometimes really good in this film. Despite failing at the acting end of her role, Bree Larson on stage is a real treat and the song is one of the best in the film. All of the actors take their dual roles as grunge heroes seriously. When they are on stage their parodies play like the real thing. The least effective of these moments is the Asian dragon sequence, but we will get to that … wait for it …

The romantic moments in this film are both visually and emotionally compelling. Scott takes Ramona’s hand in the snow the shot captures the individual snow flakes and the open heart shape of their arms to the soft background music that would make any girl’s heart go pitter-pat. When they walk together in the x in the snow, the shot not only calls up the plot of the film (evil exes) but also speaks to the crossroad both of them have or will meet in the film. These scenes have all the magic of any romance and yet are couched in enough hipster quipping to keep it from making its core audience wonder what they got suckered into. For instance, in the scene where they sit on the swings in Toronto winter, Flowers in nothing but wool tights, mini, light jacket, and fingerless gloves, they both remark how ridiculous it is that they are outside trying to be romantic in freezing cold temperatures; then, they go inside. Take that Hollywood!

b. o’malley/bigshinyrobot.com

Ramona also makes a nice alternative to the leading women that dominate mainstream romantic comedies. While her disaffected attitude toward both the world and Scott has critics stumped, this seemed no more or less disengaged to me than any other hipster film. Ramona could just as easily be Juno or Nora from Nick and Nora, both of which critics loved. More interesting to me was the fact that she has a healthy body. While she is far a cry from a “plus size” model, she has ample hips and undefined arms; in other words, she’s normal. When Ramona takes her clothes off, the camera does not shy away from angles that will make her hips larger or her chest flatter, and no CGI turns her into Laura Croft eye candy either. As much derision as I have for hipster culture, one thing I have always appreciated is that there is room for women of all shapes and sizes in their films, you know as long as they are young, mostly white, and able-bodied … but will get to that … wait for it …

Finally, unlike any number of mainstream and alternative films, this is one of the first studio movies aimed at summer audience with prominent queer characters. Scott lives with his gay best friend Wallace, played by Kieran Culkin. Wallace is hilarious as the non-stereotypical wise-cracking best friend who just wants to live his slacker life and get laid like everyone else. Unlike the chirping snarkfest gay bestfriends of stereotype land, Wallace is compassionate when needed, horny in believable and non-pathologized ways, always has Scott’s back even when that means calling him out sans a single “girlfriend”, and rather than snark he peddles in a fair amount of cynicism that offers the only real moral compass of the film. While his ever increasing sex partners are a consistent joke in the film, this too is depicted in a way that runs against the grain of the hypersexed gay man or the tragically grateful coming out story that dominate queer young adult films these days. And truthfully, I like that he gets laid without much fanfare, struggle, or questioning but instead is just another guy living his life.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Ramona is also not completely straight. Throughout the film, Scott displays typical heterosexism as he works out how exactly he ended up having to fight Ramona’s 7 exes. Every time he says, “7 ex-boyfriends”, Ramona corrects him with “7 exes”. It starts out as a subtle reminder about how heterosexism works and how people with gay bestfriend’s can still be guilty of it. This subtlety-turned-unnecessary-repetition is followed up with Scott finally cluing in with a scene that reaffirms the way the film naturalizes all sexualities; when Ramona says she was going through “a phase”, Scott replies “what a sexy phase?”. While in some ways that rejoinder reaffirms a heterosexist gaze at lesbian sexuality, ie for the entertainment of straight men, it also refuses to judge or pathologize Ramona’s chocies. And while it is not the most questioning -affirming comment in the world, I loved it when Romana’s ex responds to their love affair being called “a phase” by calling her a “has-bien”, we used to call it L.U.G. (lesbian until graduation) in my day. And I don’t think this film used the term to demean bisexuals, which I assume is how it is used in the real world. Instead, the comment markedly calls out women who deny or disavow parts of their sexuality with little regard for the women they ab/use in the process. To me saying a real relationship was “a phase” with all the implied judgment in your tone in front of your ex is a far cry from being confused about what you like or being bisexual and deciding to commit to a man. Ramona is guilty of the former.

Truthfully, as a person who teaches film, if the movie had not failed so horribly in other places I would be comparing it to Fast Times or Singles, for its ability to capture a particular cultural moment in youth culture that people can identify with now and look back on fondly later when, like those other moments, youth culture has moved on,

The Bad

This movie is choppy. It very seldom lets a scene play out all the way through and has even less transition scenes. While this fits with the overall goal of the film to be like a video game, it leads to some scene splicing that pulls you out of the film and makes you wonder about technique rather than story line; visionary work can use new techniques while telling a story.

The same thing happens with excessive use of pop ups. While most of them are in keeping with the film’s overall feel, sometimes they seem like an unecessary device reminiscent of the decline of Pop Up Video on VH1 than innovation. In at least one scene there are so many of pop ups you don’t have time to read them all. Alternatively, the film uses black marks to cover up cursing to hilarious effect.

Ultimately, the problems seems more about too much and timing than technique. While Director Edgar Wright had an amazing grasp on cinematography and story, his love of his concept gets in the way. Some times I think he does not trust himself with the meatier parts of the story (of which there are few) so he dumps in some graphics instead. This is particularly true when he is dealing with the love story that supposedly drives the film and is unfortunate because he clearly has the chops to make the story line sing.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Most of the characters in this film are two-dimensional. Some characters are introduced and then never seen again. Others are given significant enough attention or back story that we want to know about them but they are simply plot devices that appear and disappear in the night. This is particularly problematic with regards to Scott’s ex-girlfriend who is supposed to motivate all his douchebaggery. Of course, the film isn’t invested in female characters … But we’ll get to that … Wait for it.

For the vegan viewers, this film will also enrage. One of Ramona’s evil exes is a vegan who as a result of not eating animal products has magical powers and the condescension to match. For me, his ridiculous banter and ultimate dethroning were deeply satisfying as a critique against self-righteous vegans who act as though they are better than everyone else. Example: PETA’s beached whale campaign that incited an endless barrage of fatphobia and hatred toward large people as non-vegan or self-appointed voices of the vegan movement on the internet who transform multiple conversations about racism, classism, and other oppressions preventing veganism from reaching certain people or changing world systems that impact animals into myopic rants about how everyone who disagrees with them “eats meat” and “hates vegans”. This kind of pseudo-sainthood that targets others and refuses to address one’s own oppressive behaviors makes vegans an easy target and the film is spot on in its depiction of the sanctimonious set within a much larger social justice movement.

At the same time, there is no room in this film for vegans who actually are neither elitest nor judgmental. There is no real vegan in this film. The evil ex, it seems eats chicken occasionally. Even if he did not, there is no other vegan in the film who is sane, committed to social justice, and just trying to live their life in the best way possible. For those vegans this image is a huge slap in the face. It smarts even harder no doubt because in the graphic novel the character is actually a drummer with a bionic arm not a vegan at all … but wait for it …

The Ugly

The article I linked to at the top of this post, has a whole list of reasons Scott Pilgrim did not do well at the box office. None of these include that the film is offensive and thus fails to entertain at a deeper level. However, I would argue that it is the depiction of women and APIs that is at the heart of its failure.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

Scott Pilgrim begins with a backstory about Scott being on the rebound with a high school girl. He is 22 and she is 17. To get around both legality and the potential morality issues involved in this hook up, the film spends a considerable amount of time pointing out that they do not kiss nor have sex. I know I am Catholic, and so is Knives Chau, the girlfriend, but seriously … Worse than these age differences is the way Scott treats her. Not only does he forget about her regularly, he misses dates, picking her up, and even jumps out of a window to avoid her. (The window scene is hilarious out of context but fails to read the level of the panty scene in the Breakfast Club precisely because the film never takes its female characters seriously and its characters of color even less so.) Worse, he also cheats on her without even thinking about it; the majority of the film depicts his heartless cheating as the great love story for us to invest in with little regard to Knives either. It is one thing if your hero is a douchebag, it’s another if your storyline elevates it to romance.

While Knives is doting on his every word, Scott is trying to get Ramona to pay attention to him. He orders a useless gadget to get her to deliver it after he finds out that is her job. He slides up to her at a party and tries to be witty using the same pick up line he used on Knives a few scenes before. He even goes to bed with her, though they end up not having sex because Ramona changes her mind at the last minute, while still dating Knives. In fact, he is so insensitive that he invites Ramona to the same concert Knives has promised to come see without breaking up with her. When they start to confront him, he simply runs away and does his best to keep them from talking. Only Wallace tells him he is cruel and needs to man up and even then, his answer is to try to avoid it and then simply tell her as she is going on about how wonderful they are, that it is over.

In a scene that should make every girl’s skin crawl, Scott rides home on the train looking pathetic because he had to break up with his girlfriend and that made him feel bad. Poor Scott. And then, his pathetic shell-shocked expression twists into a giddy grin as Ramona’s face pops into his head. His 5 seconds of guilt don’t even amount to remorse since they are really about how much it sucked for him to have to look at Knives teary eyes than about how how he treated her, demeaned her, and took her for granted. Did I mention he makes her pay for their dates?

In typical male fantasy fashion, we are supposed to excuse Scott’s treatment of Knives for three reasons: (1) Ramona is his true love, so of course he pursued her. Except, Scott was a self-absorbed user before Ramona came into the picture. (2) Knives is better than Scott, Wallace tells us so and so does Knives herself so that makes all his neglect and douchebaggery ok. And (3) After stalking him throughout the rest of the film, Knives herself gives him permission to go after Ramona even though he was perfectly willing to take her back as a consolation prize at the end of the movie. You know because Ramona said she was leaving and Knives still has an allowance to buy video games and pizza with on their dates. (Supposedly he learns a lesson in this movie, there is even dialogue saying “I think I am learning something” except the fact he is willing to reunite with Knives when he does not love her undermines the entire thing.)

What is most offensive about the Knives storyline to me is that it does not need to be there. Knives serves no purpose in this movie except as a vehicle for Scott and his friend’s racism and/or sexism… wait for it … and his overwhelming self-absorption. Including Knives seems like a huge mistake for a film that tries so desperately to convince us that Scott is a good guy. In case your smart enough to know better, the movie has Ramona says it over and over again. In this way, I agree with many of the mainstream reviewers who said one of the big failings of this movie is that the main character is not particularly likable or interesting.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

The premise of the movie is also basically sexist when you get right down to it. In order for Scott to be with Ramona he has to fight for her with a bunch of beefed out men, and one puckish girl, who barely care that Ramona is there. In fact, it turns out that none of them are fighting for Ramona but instead to get her back for the only guy in this movie who is more narcissistic and sexist than Scott himself. Haven’t we gotten past the woman as property or prize days yet?

Worse, it turns out Ramona’s motivation is that she is only using Scott to get her ex to pay attention to her. Seems like Scott and his rival have a lot in common whe it comes to how they treat women and Ramona’s quite the catch with her lust for self-absorbed people who barely care about her.

Despite supposedly being empowered, Ramona does nothing to defend herself or put a stop to the conflict, except when Scott refuses to “hit a girl”. He can use them and ignore them but hitting is where Scott draws the line; I wish the director felt the same.

Hitting girls is pretty common place in this film. Mr. Vegan punches Knives with such force that he “knocks out her highlights”. While the refrain about her highlights being gone is meant to make us laugh, there is nothing amusing about seeing the former Superman punch a 4 foot something teenage girl in the jaw. And there is even less amusing about the fact that neither Scott nor her new boyfriend do anything about it until he insinuates his sexual domination over the two white women in the room. The white women don’t care either by the way, one even seems turned on by it. Worst of all, this fight takes place between two women in the graphic novel, meaning the director decided it would be “funnier” to have a huge, muscle bound, male actor punch a thin teenage girl than follow the existing story line; it’s a “joke” he resorts to too often and it also speaks to the fact that while he does not mind changing the pre-existing story to heighten iniquity, he has no qualms with leaving it alone when the inequity is already there.

B. O’Malley

Which gets us back to the other major issue in this film: race. The way Scott treats Knives is bad enough on its own. But as he discusses her with his friends and family, he makes sure to mention that she is Asian. Many of their reactions point to the exotic erotic. Just in case we are too dumb to pick up on the unspoken orientalism, Scott spells it out for his sister when he points out that she is both Asian and has a Catholic School uniform …

Throughout the film her race is used to casually express racism. Besides the multiple conversations referenced above, when Scott wants to break up with her he asks if she is “even allowed to date outside her race” as if his eroticization of her is acceptable but her parents’ potential fears about that eroticization are discrimination. At the end of the film, she shows up dressed like a hipster version of a ninja. And when she gives Scott permission to go after Ramona, he says “Chow Knives” you know, cause her name is Knives Chau …

The other Asians in this film fair little better. Ramona’s first ex is Indian and is forced to do an obligatory Bollywood dance with ghost-vamps in the middle of their fight scene. It’s the kind of thing that made me question what exactly does go on behind the doors of 20-something hipsters’ homes when they’ve locked all the people of color out. When Ramona explains their relationship, she says “he was the only non-white jock in the town.” So she did not date him because she liked him; she dated him because he fit into her rebellion against hypermasculinized whiteness that left her no room for female autonomy. In this way, she has something in common with Scott in that she dated a person of color to give her friends and neighbors something to talk about but otherwise could care less about them as people or lovers. She also has something in common with Julie Roberts’ new movie, in as much as her supposed act of feminist enlightenment was bought on the back of brown men. Yippee!

Ramona also dated Asian twins. Their sole contribution to this film is a synthesizer that shoots out Chinese dragons. If that weren’t bad enough, let me just point out that the twins last name is not Chinese, it’s Japanese.

Conclusions

Scott Pilgrim vs The World/Universal Studios/2010

I walked into Scott Pilgrim with the last shred of hope I had left for the summer movie season. I was expecting a sort of graphic novel angst that both entertained and sent up the original in unique ways. While the graphics and the overall gifted cinematic eye were certainly present in much of this film, its tongue-in-cheek hipster angst fell flat in the face of so much unnecessary racism and sexism. The film’s race politics seem to be  a fairly faithful adaptation of the graphic novel which means both the racism and some of the sexism originated there and the directors and writers made the decision not to omit it in the re-telling for film. What concerns me most about Scott Pilgrim then is that it is not new in its peddling of either oppression; instead, it seems like a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes visually compelling version of the same old 20-something shlock. While hipsters pat themselves on the back for being completely disaffected with all the evil in our world, able to cut through the bullshit, and take on any number of liberal causes it seems like in their fantasies, and for many in their real lives, the oppressions that do not impact them directly do not matter to them any more than the fascists and neocons they define themselves against.

I understand why young men would be attracted to this film. Michael Cera as average Joe is always compelling and his fight scenes, done mostly himself, and endless supply of women makes him the perfect nerd hero whether playing Scott Pilgrim or the myriad of other versions of this character elsewhere. However, it is hard to know why white women, and a handful of women of color, buy into this culture that does not take them anymore seriously than the sexist society they rally against. While mainstream culture is both blatant and unapologetic about its exploitation and objectification of young women, hipsters do pay lip-service to their empowerment and does so in this film as well. But if all feminism means these days is you get to be as big a douche as the pompous boy ignoring you and you get to have everyone around you acknowledge that you are smarter and cooler even while they do nothing to change their interpersonal worlds to make room for you as anything other than the ignored girlfriend, hated interloper, or object of racialized sexual fantasy, than give me a new movement. And please spare me the transparent cinematic reinforcement that elevates average Joe at Jane’s expense.

Overall Scott Pilgrim gets a C for Crap.

Getting Radical About Publishing

I am pointing you all to the post at Vegans of Color blog today in order to raise awareness about radical publishing. As many of you know, issues of diversity in publishing are very important to me as an editor, author, and activist. I have spoken often on the blog and twitter as well as at academic conferences about the disappointment I have in the feminist, critical race, and queer activist communities for excusing away exclusionary practices, erasures, and unequal treatment of authors by publishers because they publish books that support some feminist, queer, or people of color authors. Quantifying our support based on proximity to our identities is not a revolutionary or radical act.  IE saying white women feminists are published and actively supported here so we can’t shop elsewhere or use our money to build alternative publishing just because black women do not; or really committed black cis male revolutionaries get published here but not elsewhere so we cannot shop elsewhere or use our money to build alternative publishing because black women and black queer people do not, etc does not ultimately support social justice or social change for the communities we claim to support because ultimately feminists, queer people, poor people, elders, etc. are being left out and often intentionally excluded or erased to support others.

Now the vegan community is debating whether or not feminist and vegan authors being published matters by a zine distro (zines and their distros being important intervention into mainstream publishing) more than the fact that the publisher is accused of domestic violence. Once again people are weighing who matters and who can be “left behind” and once again doing it the name of social change and “alternative culture.”

I find myself compelled to ask, what kind of revolution is it when we leave any marginalized person behind just because they don’t look like us or we are not directly impacted by their issues? When did we give up on getting creative about how we support existing published authors, or any other community, AND work toward inclusive publishing in favor of “some is better than none”?

via Vegans of Color
What’s it worth to you to have good vegan recipes? Would it bother you to pay money to a publishing company run by an abuser? (more info here; linkdump here.) This cookbook has gotten a lot of positive reviews, but I won’t buy it because I can’t stomach giving money to Microcosm. Probably a lot of people reading this blog, who may have this cookbook or be thinking about ordering it, won’t know the story behind its publisher. Given that people hav … Read More

In many ways this gets us back to the issue of boycotting I raised earlier. When people engaged in bus boycotts, they also created alternative transportation for people who needed to get to work or to school. They did not just say “screw working class people who need public transportation; racism is more important.” Instead, they got together all of the people who had access to transportation and helped to make sure as working class people got to work and to school all the while demanding that public transportation be inclusive. When people boycotted mainstream education, teachers who were providing inclusive education did not say “what about me?” the majority of them joined the walkout and taught on the streets, in the coffee  shops, or in alternative schools designed to provide the education that was lacking in mainstream schools. While the fight for educational equality went on, teachers worked to integrate existing school curriculum while actively working for freedom schools and providing books and training for those schools and alternative school models, people with education began to imagine and open schools specifically for excluded students of color. Radical by definition means actively working to change the system while envisioning and providing alternatives to it. You can do the same thing with publishing and the books you buy. You don’t even have to figure out a way to do it, Cherrie Moraga, Barbara Smith, and more recently the Speak! collective have all show you the way now the choice is up to you.

Color of Change Save Net Neutrality Email Campaign

Worried that the end of net neutrality is the beginning of the official sanctioning of class, race, and location (as in rural vs urban, inner city vs gated community) inequality on the internet? Worried that this will in turn translate to large inequalities in the real world as even the most basic job now requires a large degree of internet savvy? I am. Most of the people who I know, read, or follow on the internet are as well. And if you are, here is your chance to tell Google how much it will cost them to join hands with the oppressor (you know, for those of you who don’t think they already have):

Dear friends,

If you value the free, fair, and open Internet, then you need to act now, before two corporate giants deal it away.

Several news outlets have just reported that Google and Verizon are about to cut a deal that would allow giant corporations to control which websites load slowly, quickly, or not at all. Google used to oppose this kind of corporate control over the Internet, but now it looks like they’re changing their tune. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil,” but it looks like their pursuit of profit might be getting in the way of living up to that ideal.

Thankfully, it’s not a done deal yet. If enough of us speak out now, we can create enough pressure to get Google to back off this corporate takeover of the Internet. Will you join me in adding your voice, and then ask your friends and family to do the same?

sign petition here

The basic promise of the Internet lies in the guarantee that information you put online is treated the same as anyone else’s information in terms of its basic ability to travel across the Internet. Your own personal website or blog can compete on equal footing with the biggest companies. It’s the reason the Internet is so diverse — and so powerful. Anyone with a good idea can find their audience online, whether or not there’s money to promote the idea or money to be made from it.

This is critical for Black communities and others that have had our voices compromised by corporate-controlled media. For the first time in history we can communicate with a broad audience, educate, politically organize, and create new businesses — without prohibitive costs or mediation by gatekeepers in government or industry. It’s the strength of your ideas, not the size of your budget, that largely determines your success. In television, radio, and print this can’t happen on a large scale because access is determined by big media corporations seeking to turn a profit.

This deal could take the Internet in a different direction. It could end the Internet’s level playing field by allowing rich corporations like Google to pay for faster-loading websites and services. It could destroy the potential for independent voices to compete with giant corporations for an audience — big corporations who can pay for preferential access to Internet users would drown out the smaller voices online. And it could mean that you’ll start getting less Internet service at a higher cost.

We expect the big telecommunications companies to try to stifle freedom and equality on the Internet — they’ve hired an army of lobbyists to do just that. But Google has always said it supports a free and open Internet. Google likes to portray itself as a corporation with principles that go beyond profit, and it would be disappointing to see Google abandon them.

Google has tried to downplay this story. They issued a short, carefully worded statement that says they’re still committed to an open Internet, but they haven’t denied that they are in talks with Verizon to cut a deal that would give corporations more control over Internet traffic.

By speaking out, you can pressure Google to walk away from this deal. But time is running out — please join me in signing ColorOfChange.org’s petition to Google today:

Sign Petition click here

Thanks.

Key Links:

1. “NYT: Google Just Killed Net Neutrality (UPDATING: Google and Verizon Deny Internet Traffic Deal),” Gizmodo, 8-5-2010
http://gizmodo.com/5605310/google-just-killed-net-neutrality

2. “Google and Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers,” The New York Times, 8-5-2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/05/technology/05secret.html

3. “Google, Verizon Try to Shape Net-Neutrality Law,” Wall Street Journal, 8-5-2010
http://bit.ly/bivjd6

4. “Google, Verizon Said to Strike Deal on Web Traffic Rules,” Bloomberg, 8-5-2009
http://bit.ly/diIrZP

Lady Gaga Take II

Despite the widely circulated petition mentioned in my previous post on race and queer issues, calls by major queer organizations, a twitter and facebook campaign, and personal phone calls from other musicians, Lady Gaga took to the stage at the end of July in AZ after two days of vacationing in the state prior. Regardless of what you think about her decision to hold the concert, it seems impossible to describe her two-days of vacation in AZ as an act of solidarity with immigrants.

Since the political firestorm surrounding Arizona has been in both national and international news for some time and most artists have officially or unofficially signed on to an artist boycott of the state, we have to assume that Lady Gaga understood that immigrants’ and brown people’s rights were on the table when she made these decisions. Though she has, as far as I know or am able to find, never spoken out about immigrant rights or SB 1070 prior, her concert in Arizona provided an opportunity for her to care about people whose basic human rights continue to be at stake.

When the petition to ask her to care went viral and major news media started to report on the controversy, Lady Gaga finally did the minimum necessary to retain her fan base. THE DAY OF THE CONCERT she met with immigrant rights  groups in Arizona. She did not schedule these meetings nor request them On the contrary, queer immigrant right’s activists working with the Dream Act had been trying to get a hold of her since it came out that she was neither going to speak about SB 1070 nor adhere to the artist boycott. Their meeting was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, the activists managed to eek out 10 more minutes to tell her a heart wrenching personal story about how the SB 1070 had already cost one of them their brother and safety in their own home after a police raid. In Gaga’s version of the story, she says

“I met a boy who is suffering … He told me his house was raided because of a parking ticket or something.”

The boy’s tragedy had such a lasting impact on her, she could not even remember the details of his story a few hours later. While most people have focused on her dedicating a song to him and saying immigration raids are evil, I hope the other half of that story is now sinking in.

A last minute meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after press starts to turn against you, a half remembered story, and a few choice words condemning ICE while on vacation and/or making concert related bank in Arizona by choice is hardly solidarity. When it is not backed up by any actual work for immigrant rights during the time spent in AZ, prior to it, or afterward, it is laughable.

Gaga followed up this makeshift meeting by writing “Stop SB 1070” on her arm in black ink. As you can see from the picture below, her sharpie-activism was barely visible between her tattoos. Worse, it was likely not visible to the majority of concert goers except when captured on one of the overhead monitors.

AP/unattributed

In my mind, anyone can scribble anything on their body and call it a revolution, but without actual social justice work to back it up what does it really mean to the people whose cause you have inked in so un-permanent and un-prominent a way?

She also spoke out at the concert itself. First she called herself “brave” for crossing a civil rights picket line:

Thank you so much for buying a ticket to see my show Arizona. I didn’t used to be brave, I wasn’t a brave person at all, but you have made me brave. And now I’m gonna be brave for you.

Who is she being brave for? The immigrants for whom she showed no interest prior to the concert or even during the initial stages of the petition asking her to care? The immigrants who she finally decided to talk to for 10 whole minutes after it looked like media might turn against her? Or the politicians and business owners in Arizona that support an Apartheid like state in which any brown person is suspect? After all it is these politicians and business people who have condemned the boycott, called it unfair and an act of violence against “good Americans”,  and said that they will rely on other people “who support besieged Arizonans” to bring needed dollars to the state.

Not content to just condemn SB 1070 outright as was needed and called for, Gaga also took time out to disparage the civil rights related boycott saying:

I got a phone call from a couple really big rock and rollers, big pop stars, big rappers, and they said, we’d like you to boycott Arizona, we’d like you to boycott playing Arizona because of SB1070. And I said, you really think that us dumb fucking pop stars are gonna collapse the economy of Arizona?

. . .

I will yell and I will scream louder and I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.

Like many people from the current generation, Gaga seems both ignorant of the effect of both past boycotts and the present one in Arizona to impact lawmakers’, law enforcers’, and every day people’s perceptions of civil rights.  The money lost in Arizona from people canceling concerts, conferences, and other events have had a huge impact on Arizona so far. Despite her mocking description of it as an attempt to “collapse the economy” the boycott has increased conversations about non-violent protest, solidarity, and the power of both individual people and state’s to impact civil right’s decisions that fly in the face of whatwe  claim N. America is about. That has been essential in every civil rights action in this nation that has not had the official support of the government through national level legislation. It has also shifted the policing tactics and the businesses practices of those impacted in favor of repeal or none enforcement. And finally, it has increased the number of prominent people in Arizona willing to speak out publicly against SB 1070. Their voices are essential precisely because when good people say nothing, oppression always wins.

Even if she does not know what the impact of boycotts has been in Arizona, which would of course speak again to her lack of concern about immigrant rights there, history is on the side of boycotts effectiveness for gaining civil rights. The bus boycotts were instrumental in ensuring people like me had the right to sit in the front of the bus, ride the bus when it was crowded, and even sit down in a seat of our choosing even if a white person wanted to sit there instead. The walkouts, which was a form of boycott, were essential in ensuring people like me also had access to education that reflected us and were able to teach at and attend universities. Isn’t interesting that Arizona’s recent targeting of immigrants has also included an attempt to reverse the latter while also enacting racial profiling through transit that would likely force people on to the bus where they are easier to round up and harass?

Despite the implication of the last quoted line from Gaga above, the majority of people involved in boycotts were engaged in peacable protest. The philosophy surrounding boycotts is non-violent. Most importantly, boycotts have been a cornerstone of non-violent protest against both government and corporate oppression in the U.S. since before it was an independent nation.

It was the police who were not peaceful.

Police turned on the hoses, brought the dogs and the rifles, and used them all against marginalized people in this nation asking simply for basic human and civil rights. The police shoved, punched, bruised and even broke bones of protesters as a matter of course. In some cases they killed them or were at least believed to have done so, since most were not held accountable for deaths in custody or shortly after it. What the police did not do, “besieged citizens” carried out themselves with limited impunity. This is the picture of violence related to boycotts not peaceful protesters in search of equality.

One of the most disconcerting things for me, as a historian, has been watching middle class white activists argue that boycotts are “wrong”, “unhelpful”, or “useless” in the face of their import to equality in this nation. These liberals, many of whom have some activist credibility, not only continue to support businesses and economies that have actively excluded, ignored, erased, or even targeted people of color, immigrants, women, queer people, differently-abled people, etc but also actively mocked those wh0 do participate. In boycotts involving feminists or people who the feminist community have called feminist despite contradicting self-identification, they have even gone up and expressed solidarity with the people who are being boycotted for excluding or targeting marginalized people. Somehow the very fact of their whiteness combined with even the most minimal activism, like sharpie-activism, negates an entire national history and reframes equality seekers as the violent and oppressive minority.

Frighteningly, Lady Gaga’s own actions and the desire to excuse her are only one reflection of this larger trend. Both feminist and mainstream liberal blogs, some written by Latin@s (see comment section for real issues), have proclaimed her solidarity with immigrants on the basis of a few choice words couched in a series of economic actions and even more telling longstanding social justice inactions that show how very little she actually cares about immigrant rights. In fact, before the end of her speech, she reframed the immigration debate into one of universal rights that does not even reference immigration:

Tonight I want you to free yourself, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities, I want you to reject any person or any thing or any law that have ever made you feel like you don’t belong.

I’ll tell you what we have to do about SB1070. We have to be active, we have to actively protest, and the nature of the monster ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and the bullshit that is put on our society because you’re a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

While I applaud those who understand that all oppressions are interconnected and that everyone suffers from them whether targeted or not, the tactic of taking a specific issue in which one’s actions are implicated and enlarging it into a general discussion of humanism is one that is often used by liberals and Republicans alike to mask their inaction or benefit from specific oppressions. When we talk about how everyone is oppressed and everyone can shine, we stop talking about how Lady Gaga spent two days vacationing in Arizona and 20 minutes talking to activists to cover it up and instead get to pat ourselves on the backs for supporting such a freeing artists who cares about everyone and everything.

Like the apology from Mel Gibson for his misogynist and antisemitic comments several years ago that had absolutely no reflection in his continued antisemitism, misogyny, and racism I find very little lasting credibility in Gaga’s inked arm and statement. I find even less in the activists willing to embrace her as a supporter of immigrant rights.

Let me close by saying that if we really live in a world where boycotts are seen as stupid and violent and scribbling something on your arm with a sharpie and saying “[insert oppression here] is bad” while doing nothing to change it is revolutionary, then we might as well pack it in. There is no social justice here.

—–

images

  • AP/unattributed
  • AP/unattributed
  • AZ Press/unattributed
  • Freedom Bus burned by anti-civil rights people only held accountable in the last 5 years
  • Birmingham Desegregation Campaign/Amistad Resources/unattributed
  • “The Power of Inaction”/J Dilworth

WordPress Wednesday Aug. 4

brittanica.com

As promised, this marks week two of the raw data on the identities and subjects of bloggers highlighted by wordpress as the best bloggers on wordpress have to offer. While this week avoided outright racist posts about people of color the trend toward highlighting mostly white male authors and white heterosexual authors on Freshly Pressed continues. Among the things we found most interesting this week was that in order to give the appearance of diversity, wordpress staff used captured images from videos on several posts whose photographic images were all of white people; the videos were done by black artists. In another case, they used a captured image from a black artist’s video on a post that had several images relating to its actual subject matter, including a photo of children of color. In both cases, the captured images did not reflect the focus of the posts in question. In all cases, including one where the post was actually about a black artist and wordpress staff decided to use a more stereotypical looking captured image than the much clearer photos available in the post, the posts were written by white people so that the visual diversity they created on the Freshly Pressed page was dually misleading.

Also interesting was that in at least one case, a video capture of a black artist was used on the Freshly Pressed page for a post that focused primarily on Asians. At the same time the overwhelming majority of authors of color highlighted were either Asians (as in, APIs in Asia) or API Americans. Like last week, there were several days in which no authors of color were highlighted including today.

Another interesting trend that seems to be emerging is the fact that many authors addressing issues of language or race highlighted on the page are writing from outside of the U.S. The majority of these authors have been Australian but not all. Further their discussions of race are largely about imperialistic interplays rather than racial contentions and almost all are written from a white perspective. In some cases, this perspective has coincided with the desire to deconstruct colonial gazes while in others it has embraced them.

On the positive side, while women were seldom pictured this week, at least two images included “plus size” women. Both of these women were white.

Some Data Issues

The data on images in general is misleading this week because wordpress highlighted a post on India that was a photo essay so that people of color appear over represented in the sample this week when in fact they were only pictured in a few posts this week. Again, the author of that post was white and equally interesting, he had chosen a header image of a boy of color walking for his blog design.

The focus on animal and plant blogging also decreased the overall number of human images further inflating the number of people of color depicted this week beyond the actual reflection of representations chosen.

Also as implied by the beginning of this post, in order to cross-check this information you need to look at the posts since simply scanning the Freshly Pressed page can give the wrong impression about who and what is highlighted. Interestingly, wordpress is aware that I do these stats on Wednesday’s and today’s Freshly Pressed page is particularly misleading with regards to supposed diversity of highlighted posts.

News of the Odd

One of the outlined criteria for Freshly Pressed is that the posts be interesting, entertaining, or otherwise inform. While we ruled out counting posts we found “boring” because that was entirely too subjective, we did find it interesting that wordpress chose to highlight a flickr page and several magazines that are presumably hosted by wordpress rather than actual bloggers on the site. They also highlighted a blog post that seemed to imply it had been plagiarized, and one that, while fascinating, claimed that upper middle class students are more oppressed than anyone else. They also continued to highlight posts that had copyright infringements despite their express policy against doing so, and in one case the post amounted to one giant uncited photo and a paragraph of text.

The Raw Data

Here are the numbers for the week in their raw form. We are collecting more information than I have highlighted here but I want to focus on the identity issues that started this project.

There were roughly 278,000 bloggers and between 285,000 and 346,000 blog posts per day from which they chose 11 to highlight each day. This weekend no new posts were highlighted. We only counted actual photos of people not videos of people even when wordpress staff chose to ignore images in favor of video screen captures for the Freshly Pressed page. The reason for this was that we noticed how the video images they chose did not reflect the post & videos are rarely highlighted on Freshly Pressed posts which makes them less important to us as an overarching indicator.

Identity

  • pictures of men of color: 11
  • pictures of women of color: 3
  • TOTAL IMAGES OF PEOPLE OF COLOR: 14
  • pictures of white men: 19
  • pictures of white women: 12
  • pictures of white people where gender was unknown (feet, hands, arms, etc.):5
  • TOTAL IMAGES OF WHITE PEOPLE: 36
  • Images of white people in the header: 9
  • Images with people of color in the header: 1
  • men of color authors: 2
  • women of color authors: 5
  • person of color author where gender was not given: 1
  • TOTAL AUTHORS OF COLOR: 8
  • white male authors: 26
  • white female authors: 20
  • white author where gender was not given: 3
  • TOTAL WHITE AUTHORS: 49
  • authors who mention spouse or parenting: 14
  • authors who mention queer identity: 0
  • white identified or eurocentric posts: 3

You will note in this section that white people vastly outnumber people of color in both the images used for highlighted blogs and the people authoring them even with the issues of over-representation of images of poc this week.  You will also note that both with regards to authors and images, men outnumbered women overall while female authors of color outnumbered male authors of color. As implied there were no images or authors that identified as transgender and no mention of queer identity or couples. Images of older people in this week’s Freshly Pressed were also down, and those depicted were all men of color down on their luck in a photo essay in which everyone else appeared to be working class or higher reinforcing a eurocentric view of poc.

WordPress Criteria Stats

These stats include the things that wordpress has expressly said they would not highlight, like posts with grammatical errors or un-cited images or other copyright infringement.

  • Grammatical Errors: 7
  • Copyright Infringement: 17 (not counting youtube videos)

While this represents a small fraction of the highlighted posts, it stands to reason that in the 300,000+ posts each day that wordpress staff had to choose from, they could have found posts written by people of color and/or queer people that neither violated copyright or had grammatical errors to replace this posts.

Conclusions

Despite what one wordpress staff person said about the Freshly Pressed page striving to reflect the diversity of the bloggers who use their format, the reality seems indisputable. In the last two weeks alone the majority of blog posts highlighted have been written by and illustrated using images of white, heterosexual, cis people primarily from the middle or upper class. They have also assumed a white audience in many cases and in some recreated both sexist and eurocentric narratives.

If you are concerned about the lack of representation not only on the Freshly Pressed page but the way wordpress is ultimately crafting its image through that page, please link to this post using some of the data in your post and considering asking wordpress to be more inclusive.