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Not a Cord Cutter

7 Apr

I’ve definitely threatened Comcast with cancellation in the past: it was always a great way to get them to back down from a proposed fee increase- once, it even got me a month of free HBO. But for me, going completely cable-less was just that, a threat. My TV viewing habits have never been to methodically watch series after series. I like watching television, but as a means of relaxing. It is the ambient white noise that I like to have playing in the background as I do the dishes or lie in bed before I go to sleep.

Yes, I like to watch TV before I go to sleep. Is it a bad habit? I don’t think so. Maybe it means that falling asleep under the stars would be tougher for me. But I go to sleep easily, drifting off as the last sounds and images seep into my unconscious. Perhaps it’s a Law and Order rerun. Most likely it’s Conan, my once and future King of Late Night. There is an element of surrender in laying back at the end of a long day and allowing the lords of programming, whether their command posts are at TNT, PBS, or Bravo, to decide what’s on the tube for the night. When using a smart TV, as many cord cutters have transitioned, one chooses which series he or she will see. If we saw Season 1 of The Mindy Project last week, then this week we watch Season 2 and begin watching Season 1 of something else. I’m experimenting with a smart TV setup now, and it seems to me that our options are rather finite. What happens when, after a few bingeing sessions, all those new series have been viewed? That’s when I would yearn for a live TV feed where I could watch an NBA game, the latest breaking news from CNN, or any content that is new and current. Not something designed for bingeing.

As ESPN and other mainstays of cable flirt with offering stand-alone subscription options to viewers, I admit that my habits are increasingly old-fashioned. Cord cutting is not abating any time soon. Consumers crave the freedom to choose what they want to watch, and when, and how. The days of flipping from channel to channel to channel may be limited. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to watch gems like this in bed while I can.



Who Gets to be an American?

16 Sep
Miss America

Miss America

Today is sandwiched between Sunday September 15th, when Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, and Tuesday September 17th, when PBS airs its three part series, “Latino Americans”. So the PBS special will illustrate the long-standing, vital contributions of Latinos in the United States, but on Sunday, a handful of pig-headed racists unleashed their vitriol on Twitter and voiced their displeasure at Miss America being non-white. These knuckle-draggers clearly equate American-ness with whiteness. The PBS series will show us Latinos the history of our involvement in the Unites States and its evolution, but perhaps this is a documentary that should be viewed by all Americans, latino and non-Latino. There are many people out there who still hold a very narrow view of who is and isn’t American.

I am always surprised at the way that certain white folks view America- they see it as the land where they can trace the history of their family for generations. The sense of ownership in the land gives them a view of America as unchanging, a palce where one can draw a straight line from white colonist to white suburban homeowner. Yet for those of us who see America through the eyes of relative newcomers- my Mom came as a kid- we see this country as a place of opportunity, where our families got to start over. We don’t freak out at the prospect of a multiracial America, because we are multiracial America. This country is great precisely because it is based on an idea- that you can pursue happiness and remake yourself. It is a dream open to all, from the descendents of slaves to Cuban emigrés to the parents of beautiful Nina Davaluri.

This country is so great that Indians have noted that a dark-skinned beauty such as Davaluri would never be given this platform on the Indian subcontinent. In Huffington Post, Riddhi Shah writes, “the world’s most influential country is showing my people that a deep velvet brown complexion is nothing to be ashamed of.” So yes, a few racists have found a very loud mouthpiece, but at the end of the day, Nina Davaluri’s selection as Miss America is something to be proud of.  America is made up of much more than a few blowhards with Twitter accounts.

What if Walter White were Black?

21 Aug
Walter White

Walter White

To the horror and astonishment of people I know who have followed the show since it began, I have just now begun to watch Breaking Bad. Everyone says to watch the prior 5 seasons before jumping right in- one friend pleaded, “You wouldn’t start a novel towards the end, would you?”. Well, I figured I have a life to live and didn’t have hours and hours to devote to the series before watching, so I have started. I now think there is some value in beginning a series towards the end. I’m following the show, and enjoying it.

But what I am intrigued by is the thought I keep having, would this show- about a humble man who turns to drug dealing to support his family- be such a success if the protagonist, Walter White, were African-American? I have posed this question in a slightly different form, as in my previous post, Deconstructing Adele. Voices as powerful and moving as Adele’s sing in black churches every Sunday, and yet Adele skyrockets to fame. And in the case of Breaking Bad, we empathize with a man who turns to making and selling drugs to support his family, ruining lives in the process as well as his soul. Would this story have found the audience it did if it were about a black man who had made the same choice? Or would the New Yorker/Slate-reading crowd have turned the other way, loathe to follow the exploits of an African-American druglord?

I’m sure HBO subscribers would point to the critical success of The Wire as a show with complicated African-American protagonists (full disclosure: haven’t seen this one). But whereas The Wire gives us the portrait of what plagues the American inner city- an environment the average HBO subscriber can watch from a safe remove- Breaking Bad shows the story of a meek, suburban, middle-class, white family man driven to incredible lengths to do what every family man claims to do, namely, put his family above all else. There, but for the grace of God, goes I. The horror of Walter White’s transformation is that it shows how easily the average man could become a monster for the sake of his family. Being identifiable as the average American guy is key to this.

And yet I return to my original question- would viewers tune in if Walter White were a chemistry teacher on the South Side of Chicago- or East Los Angeles- instead of Albuquerque, New Mexico? I will leave it up to you, devoted viewer of Breaking Bad, The Wire, or any other show I am missing here in the conversation, to educate this new follower of the show. Is it unusual to be weirded out by the whiteness of a show about a drug kingpin in the American Southwest?

P.S. Reddit seems to get it. Thanks Giancarlo Esposito.

Lowe’s Pulls Ads from All-American Muslim, Backlash Results

13 Dec
All American Muslim

All American Muslim

Newt Gingrich, much to my dismay, is in the running for the Republican nomination, and is currently pandering his way through the Iowa cornfields. One notable recent pander was his claim that the Palestinians are an invented people. What saddened me about the claim was realizing that, while it was offensive to me, it confirms the beliefs of people who believe that all Palestinians are, as Newt later put it, terrorists with no claim to nationhood. The idea that you could make such a statement with no expectation of blowback. Who could object? Well, it turns out, actual Palestinians. The Guardian reports that Palestinian leaders, from lead negotiator Saeb Erekat to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have condemned Gingrich’s remarks. Even a former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. admitted that “Their aspiration to a national unity and self-governance is the fact we should be dealing with.”

In other Fear and Loathing of Arabs in the News, TLC, which began by airing programs that allowed the home viewer to learn something but has since devolved into midget and sextuplet reality programming, has returned to its educational roots with a new reality show, “All-American Muslim”. I haven’t yet seen the program, but my parents watch and said it is quite interesting. The show follows five Arab Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the National Arab American Museum as well as the biggest concentration of Arab Americans in the U.S. My paternal great grandparents immigrated to Western Pennsylvania; somehow our people decided to leave the cool climate of the Mediterranean for more frozen landscapes. In any case, the bad news is that Lowe’s, the home supply big box store, decided to pull its advertising from the show after receiving pressure from the previously little known Florida Family Association. The good news is that Lowe’s has suffered bad publicity since pulling ads from the show. The even better news is that CNN reports that ad time on All-American Muslim is all sold out. 

I take an optimist’s view of the two recent news items. A pessimistic view is that there is a sizable portion of Americans that only sees Arabs as crazed, wild-eyed savages, who don’t like having that view challenged. Yet what I see in both of these cases is that the tide is turning. A small “family” organization objected to the reality show on TLC, but their petition may have drawn more viewers to the show than ever, and more importantly, the negative reaction to Lowe’s decision to pull from the show may cause other advertisers to think twice before heeding the petitions of small-minded organizations with an agenda that favors hate more than family. And with regards to Newt Gingrich’s comments, yes, they do resonate with people who don’t know much about history in the region. But how will Newt and his incendiary, to-hell-with-diplomacy style fare in the Republican primaries, or perhaps the general election? My gut says Newt and his shit-eating grin will be fading away soon.


Truth in Stereotypes

6 Nov
Latino Stereotypes

Latino Stereotypes

A friend who enjoys Project Runway as much as I do, with whom I enjoy discussing the show, recently posted on Facebook about the dearth of gays in the media who don’t conform to the stereotype of being effeminate and delicate and work in fields like hairdressing and fashion design. Though perhaps I should have stayed away from the fray, I, along with other friends, offered up the best examples we could think of to illustrate that not all famous gays conform to the stereotype. As my friend informed us all that the examples we were giving were not good enough- Mitchell from ‘Modern Family’ and all past Project Runway contestants were too gay, apparently- I thought to myself, maybe this effort is futile. Maybe most gay men ARE effeminate, and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe that’s the reason most portrayals of gay men on television- including reality TV- depict the same kind of gay man, because he is out there. Is this the case with all minorities, ethnic as well as sexual? Are we yearning for the depiction of some minority within a minority?

I’ve previously written (and tweeted) about the preponderance of Latino boxers on TV and film (think “Price of Glory”, “Mi Familia”, and Showtime’s Resurrection Boulevard). While there’s no way to know the prevalence of boxers in each Latino family, it is true that the sport is widely followed and watched, although it seems that many young Latinos are abandoning the sport for MMA fighting. There is a stereotype that Latino families are large, and statistics bear this out. The U.S. Census shows that:  In 2000, 30.6 percent of family households in which a Hispanic person was the householder consisted of five or more people. In contrast, only 11.8 percent of non-Hispanic White family households were this large. So if you are Hispanic and grew up in a small family, yes, you are a minority within a minority.

Why do members of minority groups want to see the rarities- the manly gay men, the Latino cranberry farmers, the Jewish NBA players– represented? It is okay to admit that there is some truth in stereotypes. I also think that what matters is not the representation itself, but who is creating these representations. As long as minorities have a voice at the table, then I think stereotypical images will fade. I don’t care if a Latino boxer is shown on TV or in film, just as long as he (or she- don’t forget “Girlfight”) is drawn as a three-dimensional character. And if our hypothetical Latino cranberry farmer should come to life, I hope that he is also treated as a real person and not some novelty item. Look at the way gays have been portrayed on TV recently. There is Mitchell on “Modern Family”, a tightly -wound lawyer who is married to a former college football linebacker from rural Missouri. And as for Jewish NBA players? Amare Stoudamire claims to be of Jewish descent, and has even traveled to Israel and adopted a Kosher diet. Now THAT’s breaking a stereotype.