Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Let me rant dammit!

So normally I don't post much other than art, but today in class I got myself into an argument that left me frustrated, angry, and sad.

Before I switched from M.F.A. to M.A. I was planning on writing a thesis paper and producing a film that focused on minorities in media. This is an issue that I am growing more aware of every night I sit down to watch my favorite TV programs, or go to the theater to watch a new film. And quite honestly it's something that doesn't necessarily effect me. I'm a straight, white, American male. Admittedly I have it pretty easy. But that doesn't mean that I should simply overlook the blatant bias. American media is overwhelmingly full of men like me. I think that it is up to every generation to build upon the last and fix the things that are truly problematic. Is it so much to ask to see an African American actor that is not a hip hop artist or gang banger? Or an Asian women who isn't a prostitute/foreign exchange student/love interest...or hell how about some Asian men on television? And I don't mean shown in the background. I'm talking a developed lead character that reflects the diversity of this country. You see in class today there was a disturbing example of how this thinking of white male default has been indoctrinated through media and culture to be the only characters that deserve our attention.

The film my class will be working on is about an old male magician that lives alone and performs small magic shows that no one really cares about or pays attention to anymore. I brought up that this plot line is extremely close to L'Illusionniste. I suggested that one way to avoid such a close comparison is to make the lead a female. Keep the EXACT same storyline but switch the gender. I was told that by doing so, sympathy would be lost with our character. WHAT?! Really! So the exact same story line, nothing changed except the gender and BAM, the emotional pathos of this story is no longer valid, the character now cannot connect with the audience. The weirdest part of this whole conflict was that the person I argued with, who proposed this story in the first place, was a woman. She felt that a female lead would not connect with the audience. Her further explanation was that a single old man living by himself was alone and deserves our sympathy, while a single old woman living by herself was, and I quote, a "crazy cat lady".

This is only the tip of the iceberg and I don't want to rant longer than I already have. But for those of you who follow me and work in entertainment, think about the characters you create, think about how they represent the REAL world, and think about how they may lend themselves to gender and racial bias. I'm not saying you shouldn't design white male characters, I'm just saying look at your body of work, and see if you have subconsciously done so in a disproportionate amount. Then, make an effort to change and create media that is more multifaceted.

Thanks for reading.


Anna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anna said...

Trying to get this comment to repost, ahh..


It sounds like she has image in her head, but I find it to be an incredibly ignorant one. Either way, I think any individual can be portrayed as lonely, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age. We as individuals all have the potential to feel acute loneliness and that i snot something anyone can argue with. If your classmate is not willing to explore that aspect of her work, than that is a case of maturity and a need to play it safe.

In America we all live in cliches.

We communicate to one another in cliches. It is acceptable with what we see in pop culture, the internet, television programs etc. to do so.

The Asian woman will always be the love interest, object of attention, intellectual and cute, typically well put together etc.

Asian men are geeks and suits.

Black men are hoodlums and gangsters while black women are either hard working nurses or the equivalent to street walkers but typically ignorant in some fashion and from the lower class.

These are all stereotypes that we experience in our books, online browsing, and by far, our movies. Again, Cliches!

We almost expect to see these things, whether we expect it on a conscious or unconscious level, it's irrelevant. The fact still stands.

Unfortunately however, unless we gain enough people who want to see this image change? Nothing is going to happen.

I have family from the South which is typically viewed with its own prejudice. Since I'm from the North East, I have friends who couldn't imagine traveling anywhere South of the mason dixon line. Why? Because the south has its own stereotypes, same as the north.

But I think what you are experiencing in your class is an odd mixture of misconceptions, stereotypes and the overall promo for White Anglo-Saxon Males.

We as people use these "tools" to brand one another. Obviously an elderly man would be just as lonely as an elderly woman. The idea of dying or being forgotten is something that we can all empathize with. Whether you relate to the gender or otherwise, no one wants to die alone. We take the position of communicators when we become designers - of whatever field we choose.

We want to show people something.
We want to illustrate it, we want them to get an idea, to feel something, and we need to find the best way to do that without ripping off other people's ideas.

While your classmate is sold on this idea that her piece will only gain sympathy with her audience if she uses a white man, maybe that's where she's stuck. Maybe she thinks she can only communicate her message through use of a man. Or maybe she only feels sympathy when she watches male characters and views women as crazy cat ladies.

Alone, single women are not all crazy cat ladies.

Alone, single men are not all collecting stamps and tinkering.

We all reminisce and think of fonder days when we had more, and when we could do more. Thinking and promoting the idea that the audience can and should only feel sympathy with a man shown is beyond foolish. Any individual can be shown as lonely in the proper light. Any individual can go about their day to day life without anyone noticing them. It holds no gender bias.

Anna said...

Jeff, I Think you have a lot of good ideas in regards to your work that you should stick with. Try not to let the ridiculous notions of the industry or classmates get in the way of what you are trying to communicate with your audience. Not that I think you would, hah, but I can see where this would be incredibly discouraging for you.

While America has its problems? It's a beautiful country that shows such a wide range of diversity, and it should be celebrated in the work we present! People talk about things in a very flippant way, keeping everything "PC" friendly so no one is offended as if it is an obligation, but why would you exclude anyone? We're never going to grow if we can't let go of what our parent's parent's parent's were taught to be right etc.

There was no reason for racism aside from "they're just different."

There was no reason to keep women uneducated aside from "who will take care of the kids and home?"

There was no reason to keep women from voting aside from "they're not educated."

And the list goes on and on.

These are all things we need to let go of in our country. And while one classroom dispute as to whether or not a single, solitary man can be seen as lonelier than a woman is probably just that in your classmates mind? There is a much larger issue at hand.

jeff macdonald said...

@Anna Hey Anna thanks for sharing your thoughts :) I think you've touched down on some really great points there. I especially like the one about not all old women/men follow the social expectations of who they should be. The good news is that free of my influence the rest of the class saw the sad but true unexpectedness of a female magician and it was a nearly unanimous decision to switch the gender of the protagonist! Also my Professor allowed for a class discussion and I was basically given the floor to explain exactly what my concern with my classmates remarks where. I discussed how this is actually less about whether the character is male or female but really more about analyzing the exchange the other student and I had to better understand some subconscious bias and expectations of characters in media. Sadly she did remain to stand her ground even bringing up "cat lady" again. But in the end the class was already on my side, chose the character and receive a wonderful lecture on media theory from the Professor and I!

Anna said...

Well you know how some people can get me all wound up ;)

I enjoyed reading your post though and am happy to hear that the gender was switched and you were able to make your argument to the class along with your professor. Sounds like you're doing astounding.

As for your classmate remaining with her beliefs, there is nothing, in essence, wrong with that I suppose. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. We're not obligated to accept peoples beliefs after all, only to acknowledge them and reserve the right to respectfully disagree. However, I do believe that you and the class have made a good call on switching the gender.

I hope the project turns out good :) Look forward to reading on updates.