everyday articulations

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Final Project, Pt. 2 - The Research Data

Research Articles
http://colossus.net/movie-reviews/movies/s/shall_we.html James Beradinelli, “Shall we Dance?” 1997

http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/noir/np01intr.html, John Blaser, “No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir” 1994-1999

http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/index.html, Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D., and Tsuguo Shimazaki, “International Encyclopedia of Sexuality Volume I-IV 1997-2001,” Edited by Robert T. Francoeur

“Sex in Consumer Consumer Magazines,” Jacqueline Lambiase and Tom Reichert, “Sex in Consumer Culture,” 2006

“You just might want to leave this “Shall we Dance?” out,” Claudia Puig, USA Today, Oct. 14, 2004

I think the best thing is just to stop watching TV...

Before I wrote this I was going to talk about how impressed I was with the diversity shown in most children’s TV these days. (Hey, I’m with a 9-year old and a 7-year old for 12 hours a day… there’s not much else to do.) Then I started thinking about it. Sure, minorities are represented in Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and Strange Days at Blake Holsey High. But if you look past the surface, they aren’t main characters, and usually provide some type of comic relief. Both of the shows revolve around the classroom, but none of the teachers are of different races or ethnicities. Another show I’ve seen plenty of is Darcy’s Wild Life, which has no minority representation at all. How hard would it be to make a show with a Hispanic main character? Or an Asian? Or an African-American? Does Raven have to be the only one representing? I sure hope not.

Final Project, Pt. 1

In comparing two films, both of the same title, “Shall We Dance?” - one produced in 1996 by Masayuki Sao and the other, an American remake by Peter Chelsom in 2004 - I wanted to evaluate the way two distinct cultures treat what I have termed the ‘mystic female’ character. In this movie, the main female’s brooding, introspective attitude attracts the main male character to discover more about her and, in turn, himself. She is a key player in this film, and she generates most of the plot. In both films she has an impact in the outcome, but each film chooses to portray her in a different light. According to John Blaser in his paper, “No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir,” there are three typecast female roles in Film Noir – the Femme Fatale, the Good Woman and the Marrying Type. Although his categories are designed to explain women in a specific film genre, they still apply in some ways to all movies. The ‘mystic female’ has a lot of similarities with Blaser’s ‘Good Woman’, including “offer[ing] the hero a chance to escape…the good woman often proves to be a mirage that the hero cannot reach.” (John Blaser, No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir, 1994-1999)

The concept of the film is that of a middle-class, generally satisfied man with a loving family who suddenly starts looking for meaning in life beyond his everyday routine. He catches a glimpse of a woman in a dance school window and decides dancing lessons could be the thing his heart is searching for. It is at this point that the movies differ, and here I would like to discuss the very distinct cultures in which these two films were created.

Japanese Culture
The culture of Japan is rooted in traditional ideas, evidenced in home life, spousal interaction, and even religious beliefs. The family structure is revered and often three and four generations will live together under the same roof. There are two main religions in Japan; Shinto and Buddhism, and both place emphasis on family and traditions. According to the International Encyclopedia of Sexuality’s entry on Japan,
“The highly successful experience of fifty years of newly available pro-Western ways of life visible on the surface of Japanese culture today is definitely overpowered by the centuries-old value systems and views toward sex, human beings, religion and society at the conscious level and deep in the mind.” (Yoshiro Hatano, Ph.D., and Tsuguo Shimazaki, International Encyclopedia of Sexuality Volume I-IV, 1997-2001)
Hatano and Shimazaki speak on the dichotomy of Japanese society, how there has always been a separation of the common, coarser class and the elite, aloof class. One group was very upfront about their sexuality, and the authors go on to say that it was not uncommon for ordinary townspeople to have illegitimate children. That trend continues today. Although a large percentage of Japanese families fall into this traditional, withdrawn way of approaching romance which is carried out in the media, part of the Japanese media also reflects this so called ‘deviant’ behavior – namely, anime. Of course, anime is not the subject of this study, and will be left to its own devices for the time being.
Another interesting facet of traditional Japanese family life that Hatano and Shimazaki bring up in the encyclopedia is the historical gender roles. Japan has strong historical and cultural role models of what the male and female should look like – the sumo wrestler and the geisha, “the dainty living doll standing for femininity and the mountainous icon of macho flesh with the little porcupine eyes.” (Hatano and Shimazaki, International Encyclopedia of Sexuality) This very separated view of male and female continues in romance and married life, as evidenced by the opening lines of the Japanese version of “Shall we Dance?” “In Japan, ballroom dancing is regarded with much suspicion,” says Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho). “In a country where married couples don’t go arm in arm, much less to say ‘I love you’ out loud, intuitive understanding is everything. The idea that a husband and wife should embrace and dance in front of others is beyond embarrassing. However, to go out dancing with someone else would be misunderstood and prove more shameful. Nonetheless, even for Japanese people, there is a secret wonder about the joys that dance can bring.”
Within the movie, certain marital liberties American films have no problem taking seem to be barred by the traditional mindset of the Japanese. For instance, in one of the opening scenes, Sugiyama and his wife are in beds, separate beds, much akin to the bedroom set up on “I Love Lucy,” a TV sitcom from the 1950s. Seeing the difference in traditional Japanese values on romance and those expressed in what would be termed a ‘clean’ flick in America poses some very interesting questions.

Research Question
In light of the cultural approach to sexuality, how does each film portray the ‘mystic female’ character in the Japanese and American versions?

I believe that, in light of the family structures and the perceived modesty of the people of Japan, the American film will try much harder to present the ‘mystic female’ as more of a sexual object. Even the choice of actresses to portray the character underscores the perception of the movie being much more sexual in nature. Jennifer Lopez is known for her sexy, curvy figure and is often cast as a funny, sexy (if not dim-witted) female. Tamiyo Kusakari, on the other hand, is a professional ballet dancer in Japan, and has not acted in other films – as a seductress or otherwise.

Procedures for this Study
The mystic female character as treated by both Japanese and American modern-day conventions is analyzed according to two categories – dress and speech.

Dress is categorized by the variable method for clothing used in the case study “Sex and Contemporary Consumer Magazines,” by Jacqueline Lambiase and Tom Reichert, – demure, suggestive, partially clad and nude. Following the line of their definitions, demure was “everyday dress…suggestive dress was defined as clothing that partially exposed the upper body…subjects were considered partially clad if they were shown in underwear or swimsuits. If the suggestion of nudity was present…they were coded as nude.” (Jacqueline Lambiase and Tom Reichert, “Sex and Contemporary Consumer Magazines,” 2006, Sex in Consumer Culture, pp. 78)
According to these definitions, Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) is suggestively dressed throughout the entire movie. She is usually clothed in a tight fitting, low-cut, sometimes backless leotard and skirt. In one scene where she dances alone, her lycra leggings/pants cling tenaciously to her esteemed backside, and her cropped shirt reveals a large portion of her midriff. During Paulina’s going away party, she is clothed once again in a tight fitting, low-cut dress. This one also exposes the top of one breast and the bottom and side of the other.
One the other hand, Mai Kishikawa (Tamiyo Kusakari) is very demurely dressed for most of the Japanese version of ‘Shall we Dance?’ She often wears loose, high-necked tops and wide, flowing skirts during the dance scenes and is never depicted in a leotard. Often, the older owner of the dance studio is more suggestively dressed than Mai. Even in the scene where Mai and Shohei dance together, Mai’s dress just shows the faintest hint of décolletage. In fact, the only thing suggestive about the dress is the fact that it is red, a color that represents romance or love in American semiotics.

Paulina is very soft-spoken and reserved in most of her speech, except when she is explaining various dances. In one scene she explains a Latin dance with such passion and emotion (and a visual interpretation of that passion on one of the other female dancers) which would certainly be out of character for Mai. The differences in speech are plainly seen in a key scene between the ‘mystic female’ and the lead male character. In both scripts, the female tells the male to stop coming to class to woo her. In the Japanese version, Mai is quiet and polite, and even seems apologetic for what she has to say. It is very illustrative of the geisha mentioned earlier. Paulina, on the other hand, is very passionate, almost livid, as she tells the man to stop coming to class if she’s what he’s after. A review from Claudia Puig puts it plainly, “Jennifer Lopez plays the mysterious beauty…rather than projecting an aura of melancholy, she comes across as sullen…Her exhibitionist character is a far cry from the graceful dancer portrayed in the Japanese original,” (Cladia Puig, “You just might want to leave this ‘Shall we Dance?’ out,” USA Today, Oct. 14, 2004)

It is fairly obvious that what was created to be an eye-opening, honest look at the interaction and issues between men and women in Japanese culture was recreated as more of a shallow, sexual film in America. James Berardinelli said of the original film, “One of the most interesting aspects of the film for a Western viewer is that we’re offered the opportunity to peer through an open window into Japanese society, especially as it addresses issues of intimacy. For those of us who are used to the idea that dancing is an integral part of the cultural fabric, understanding how the Japanese view this activity can cause a shift in perspective.” (James Beradinelli, “Shall we Dance?” 1997) I think the shift that needs to be caused is to see women as more than sexual objects, and to see that sex doesn’t always have to make a movie sell. Perhaps a balance can be struck somewhere between a geisha and a Femme Fatale.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I heard it through the grapevine...

I guess they're calling the radio 'the grapevine' these days. :)

While driving to work I was listening to the morning show on one of the stations, and the female DJ was commenting on Katie Couric being the FIRST WOMAN solo anchor for CBS. What I thought most interesting is who NBC has chosen to replace Couric - Meredith Viera. The last time I saw her she was hosting "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," and if I remember correctly, has some of the same features as Couric. Apparently, when it comes to co-hosts, blonde is best.

No use crying over lost files...

Wow. I just spent about an hour typing up a long post about equal representation in media and in everyday life, with some stories about my summer last year living in the ghetto in Houston and not having running water some days, and contrasting that to what I'm doing this summer (working as a nanny in Coppell) and how there were probably less than a dozen kids who were minorities there and how we have to teach the next generation to be aware of all the things we took as truth when it wasn't so (stereotypes) but that the main thing is not to focus on someone's race or gender, to recognize them as legitimate differences, but to ultimately be more concerned and respect them because they're a human and because we all deserve it, no matter who we are. It was eloquent, it was freakishly long, it was the one post I didn't save before publishing, and now its gone.

This is why you always listen to the teacher.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Marvel Comics almost get it right...

I will be the first to not pass up an opportunity to credit my “X-Men: The Last Stand” viewing as educational and useful and therefore necessary to my well-being. I am a fan of the first two films and both my comic book-reading roommate and I anticipated the third installment with much excitement. But I was unaware how my newly gleaned knowledge would affect the way I processed this film.
I knew that men and women were fairly equally cast as mutants, both good and bad, although females were more likely to be secondary characters or objects of desire. A few stand out on their own, namely Storm (Halle Barry) and Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who sacrificed all to save the others at the end of X2. Unlike most male heroes, however, Dr. Grey’s sacrifice cost her her life. The Last Stand wasn’t much different in terms of male and female roles. The two mutant heads are both males, who keep beautiful yet intelligent and helpful women by their sides for most of the movie. After the death of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Storm steps up and takes charge of the peaceful mutants. She does so mainly out of necessity, since the original successor met an ill-fated death at the hands of his recently risen wife. Even though Magneto claims to be the head of the militant mutants, his power is most certainly overshadowed by that of the late Dr. Grey, who Magneto has persuaded to join his ranks. In key battle scenes, Magneto does defer to his female counterparts, as his powers are insufficient.
As far as diversity within the cast, it is probably more true to life than most superhero comics-turned-films have been. That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be more diverse. The two main mutant heads are both white, and all but two of the presidential cabinet members are as well. One is an African-American, and the other is the Beast (Kelsey Grammer). On second thought, I guess there’s just one non-white in the presidential cabinet, because when the Beast loses his mutant quality, his hand is most certainly Caucasian. In fact, it seems that most characters whose mutant qualities contort their skin color are played by white actors (X2, Nightcrawler – played by Alan Cumming, Mystique – played by Rebecca Romijn). Halle Barry is African-American, but she is often not associated with that ethnicity. The other five of the ‘good guys’ are all white. Interestingly enough, three of Magneto’s closest group members are of different racial groups – two of the women are African-American and one man is Asian. I wonder if that unconsciously reinforces an idea that people who aren’t white are ‘bad.’
Another thing that I hadn’t seen or taken notice of in the two previous movies were cast members who were androgynous. Arclight (Omahyra) was somewhat confusing with her Mohawk and tough look. It wasn’t until the last battle scene where a close-up revealed her tight-fitting clothing that my roommate and I were assured she wasn’t a male mutant.
Overall, I would say that The Last Stand does a fair job of offering a diverse cast in terms of gender and race, and steers clear of most stereotypes. It certainly does a better job of providing diversity than films such as Batman Begins, Spiderman, and Daredevil (if you can call that a film).

Sunday, May 28, 2006

One of these things is not like the other...

With the extended weekend, NBA playoffs and the fact that I haven't had to work these past few weeks, I've definitely been watching more than my fair share of TV. And after reading Sex in Consumer Culture, my eyes have most certainly been opened to just how much sex and stereotypes are used in most mass media these days. It's gotten to the point that my roommate and I either mute the TV when commercials come on, or we keep a running commentary on how rediculous and absurd ad campaigns are. Take, for instance, the latest Bridgestone tire commercials. One features two couples (I believe both of which are white/light-skinned) tangoing amidst rotating tires. What do latin dances have to do with road grip, you may wonder? So do I. The other is even better, with one dark-skinned guy surrounded by several scantily-clad, wet, dancing women. Are they trying to say that the better tires you have, the more successful you'll be with the ladies? My friend also thought the commercial was a bit far-fetched. He responded by saying he would probably avoid Bridgestone since they didn't seem to care too much about the product, and would by his tires from Michelin, because the Michelin man was made of tires, obviously proving their superiority. And since things were better in my day (as they always are) I've provided you with a few of my favorite clips from yesteryear (not commercials, mind you). I was pleasantly surprised by the cast diversity...of course I always knew the Hanson puppets came from a variety of ethnic groups.





Thursday, May 25, 2006

A bit about the ball...

I have never really liked women sportscasters. Actually, I’ve never liked sportscasters in general. I’m not an idiot, I can usually tell what’s going on in a game and I’d rather do that without someone interrupting every so often to provide some useless facts that don’t matter. Not that I don’t love sports trivia, or any type of trivia, for that matter. When I had no life and watched the Mavs all the time, I was a walking trivia machine. I could spit out how many times Raef LaFrentz fouled out in the regular season, how many pick-and-rolls Nash and Nowitzki had set up the night before, and how many times Najera had sat out because of injuries. But I still didn’t like women sportscasters. They seemed so unknowledgeable, just there to be flirtatious eye candy without serving any tangible purpose other than selling sex. After reading about women sportscasters in “Sex in Consumer Culture: The Erotic Content of Media and Marketing,” I decided to give women sportscasters another try. Perhaps I had misjudged them, fallen prey to the horrible stereotypes the media constantly bombarded me with. And, surprisingly enough, I was quite impressed with Cheryl Miller. She certainly sounded more intelligent than the TNT sportscasters…I really do hate them. Even though the Mavs lost, I think my new-found perspective was worth it. Don’t worry, we’ll clinch it in five.

I want my, I want my, I want my MTV stereotypes!

Music videos have a large-scale impact on their (often) young viewer’s lives in terms of reinforcing traditional sex role stereotypes. Videos depict men as powerful aggressors, and women as subservient sex objects.

The previous study by R. Sommers-Flanagan, J. Sommers-Flanagan and B. Davis (“What’s happening on Music Television? A gender role content analysis,” Sex Roles, 1993) explored just how music videos worked to engrain stereotypes in viewers’ minds. In 313 30-second video segments, coders found that men appeared much more frequently than women (58.7% to 32%). The research also found that men are portrayed more explicitly aggressive and dominant, while women are seen more as implicitly sexual and subservient. The study also showed that MTV’s music videos often show women more frequently portrayed as objects of sexual advances.

The most important foundational literature for Sommers-Flanagan, Sommers-Flanagan and Davis was the information they used to come up with their coding definitions. Five pieces “served as guides” in establishing sex role categories, including works by authors Hillary Lipps (1988), James Doyle (1989), Janet Shibley Hyde (1986), Margaret Matlin (1987) and a video by Jean Kilbourne (1979). The literature helped establish seven terms for describing sexual stereotypes propitiated by the music videos, including dominance/subservience, implicit aggression, explicit aggression, aggression with sexuality, objectification, implicit sexuality and explicit sexuality.

My corpus is comprised of the top five music videos on http://www.mtv.com for the week of May 21, 2006. The information is quantitative, and codes males and females according to the 7 terms defined by Sommers-Flanagan, Sommers-Flanagan and Davis in their 1993 study. Each video was stopped and evaluated every 30 seconds, and coded according to scenes of dominance/subservience, implicit and explicit aggression, aggression with sexuality, objectification, and implicit and explicit sexuality. The ratio of men to women as key players in the videos was 25 to 12, in agreement with earlier research that men are twice as likely to be main characters in videos than women. For men, there was one count of implicit aggression, one count of explicit aggression (a man blew up a house his wife was running out of) and one count of objectification. For women, there were three counts of implicit aggression and one count of explicit aggression, and four counts of objectification.

Most of the results match the previous study, further proving that stereotypes are fed by music videos. It was disappointing to see that in 13 years, females are still much less featured than males in the videos, and are more often recipients of objectification. One thing that didn’t seem to quite fit in with the previous research is the amount of implicit sexuality. In the study, it occurred in almost 90% of the videos. In the small shadow sample used for this project, it didn’t occur once. Perhaps MTV has shifted focus somewhat in the past few years, although it would be interesting to see what a larger sample would reveal.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

All I can think of is the lyrics to 'Where is the Love?'

I wish there were some sort of solution to the problems that the media is uncovering/perpetuating. Take, for instance, the video we watched in class today. The narrator made a good point about the cyclical nature of reporting. The media (or marketers or whoever) report on what they see society or a specific culture doing, which in turn fuels that society to continue because that is the reported norm. So when advertisers use women's bodies to sell products, everyone buys into it because that's what they see. [Cultivation Theory, anyone?] What they see becomes what they do, then media see society copy ads and report that that's the way the world works. The same thing with racism/stereotyping in society. Is it better to report on it and make a big deal about it without offering steps to a solution or really providing a catalyst for change or should we make a point to ignore the bad and solely focus on the good in the hopes that that's what society will pick up on and rework themselves to portray?
Where is the love...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why can't everyone have their own Web site?

Does racism earn ratings? Do we like to see people being judged for their outside appearances without ever finding out what's going on in the inside? Are we really using news for entertainment alone? Has it lost all of its educational value in such a short time? Can I ask any more questions at the beginning of this post? I don't know, but I sure hope not.

Last semester my Sociology teacher was convinced that if there was one thing we should know, it was that we would never learn anything. I think that she wasn't entirely right, but sometimes it seems people look at the past and totally forget it to commit the same type of offenses today. Take, for instance, the media coverage of two female PoWs (I feel like I'm typing on MySpace with the capital/lowercase letter transitions there), one by the name of Jessica Lynch (who happens to have a Web site and a Newsweek cover bearing her image) and the other named Shoshana Johnson. Johnson doesn't have a Web site, but she did make it on an Urban Legends page. Apparently, she's going to get $700 less than Lynch's disability pension.

Here's a fun little NPR interview with Johnson, two years after she was taken as a PoW

I like the fact that many media bigwigs (and smallwigs too, I guess) claim that they don't make the news, they just report it. Yet, at the same time, they're the ones who focus on a certain type of person or maintain certain stereotypes through their reporting, THEN report on the racism in place being perpetuated through their reporting. It's times like these when I wonder what sort of crazy profession I've chosen for myself.

Edit: How sad is it that I, who strives to be a professional journalist, must admit that I have not looked at the primary sources but have looked only at secondary research? And this is where the problem lies - that we as a society, but more specifically journalists, are unwilling to really look at the facts and proclaim the truth like we are supposed to!