The Impact of Media Activism

hrc-logo-remix-hed-2013

 

We live in a world where the internet and social media allows us to connect with almost anyone, and while the most common use of this power is to interact with an old friend or watch a funny cat be adorable, it’s easy to notice the true potential it holds. Over the last couple of years, that potential has slowly been coming together in the form of media activism. No matter what you’re view is, you now have the opportunity to get your message out to the public right at your fingertips. So, what impact can this have in our world?

A recent movement you might have noticed would be the Human Rights Campaign’s logo invasion of social media. Changing their traditional blue-and-yellow logo to red, the organization asked their followers to change their current avatars to the new logo and to encourage others to do so as well, in support of the on going battle for gay marriage. In a pleasant surprise, the campaign was more successful than the HRC could have anticipated, and now facebook pages and twitter feeds are full of customized versions of the logo. Among the many too show their support was Asian-American actor George Takei, a popular and well known activist for the awareness of both gay and Japanese rights, whose work has earned him awards from the American Humanist Association. Side note, his logo is on the bottom row, try to find it.

Actor/Activist George Takei

Actor/Activist George Takei

Openly gay and married, Takei has done his best to use social media to educate many on gay rights and to help in whatever way possible. In 2011, when Tennessee proposed a bill titled “Don’t say Gay”, prohibiting teachers to mention homosexuality in the classroom, Takei took action. Believing this was done to ignore the problem in hopes it goes away, he started his own campaign called “It’s okay to be Takei”, humorously offering his similar sounding name as an alternate word for those affected. Held as a child for four years in prison camps alongside his family, Takei also uses the media in attempts to raise awareness about the struggles Japanese Americans have endured here in the United States. He is currently considered a key and positive force in the relations of the two countries, and his efforts were even awarded by the Japanese national government back in 2004.

The big question with media activism is if it’s really capable of making an impact. Many believe this is just “Slacktivism”, a term used to describe those who support something to feel good, but don’t actually put in any effort when it matters. After all, the process of changing your avatar doesn’t exactly exemplify effort. The “Save Darfur Coalition” facebook page has over 1.2 million likes, yet only averages 9 cents in donations per “supporter”. Another problem is if the cause is even reaching the right people. In other words, how many Supreme Court Judges have you befriended on facebook recently? While these are all fair points, I think it’s important to take things in stride and enjoy the small victories. Maybe media activism doesn’t possess the ability to change the entire world just yet, but If posting a picture of an equal sign can make one person out there have a better day, it’s already a success.

GT activism: http://truth-out.org/news/item/15579-george-takeis-social-media-activism

Slacktivism article: http://dailyorange.com/2013/04/slack-social-media-campaign-for-equality-exemplifies-wrongful-replacement-of-true-activism/

Advertisements

Coldplay’s Princess of China Music Video

rihanna-princess-of-china

One of the biggest aspects of the music industry are the accompanying videos made for the music. Just like movies or television programming, these videos often offer representations of race and gender similar to those we have studied in class. One example which I’ll discuss in this blog is Coldplay’s Princess of China, which received some critical backlash for it’s representation of Asian culture.

A very successful alternative rock band hailing from England, Coldplay released their fifth studio album Mylo Xyloto in the year 2011 to mainly positive reviews. One of the more anticipated songs from the album was their collaboration piece with R&B singer Rihanna, Princess of China and  shortly after the album debuted, the two artists released the song’s official video. While the song itself has little to do with the country of China, the video came with a clear Asian theme to it, and received both praise for it’s design and originality and criticism for it’s stereotypical portrayals. 

Starting out with a intro card similar to old Kung-fu films, the video then portrays both singers, Rihanna and Coldplay’s Chris Martin as struggling lovers in an Asian setting. The two then portray Asian characteristics in several different manners, from their outfits to their actions. The female lead is dressed in a style that is reminiscent of the Dragon Lady stereotype, giving her a sultry and mysterious appearance right from the beginning. At different points in the video, she is even seen as a multi-armed being, similar to a Hindu goddess. The male lead on the other hand, is dressed as some kind of ninja for most of the video, fighting off several other ninjas. As the two characters come together, they engage in a sword fight that would make the creators of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon jealous. Okay, so the fights aren’t actually that good, but the similarities are definitely there.

Coldplay-Princess-of-China-Rihanna

The reason some people took offense to the video is because it enforces the Oriental like perceptions that the West seems to have of the East. Ninjas, martial arts, swords, and the dragon lady are all present, front and center. Another factor is that none of the people involved in creating the video are actually of Asian descent. One review even pointed out the fact that the Asian actors in the video, all minor roles, are usually just evil ninjas for the male lead to fight, creating both implicit and explicit representations of yellowface.

When I first saw this video, I honestly didn’t really think too much about how it’s representation of Asian culture could be seen as a negative. After months in this class, I can start to see the reasoning. Traditional stereotypes are played out from beginning to end, and with the lack or representation of Asians in today’s media, they’re regulated roles in a video supposedly set in Asia is disappointing. Still, I don’t think any offense was intended by this. The video was simply meant to be a tribute to old martial art style films, and while it could have been handled a bit better, It was still an enjoyable video that I feel succeeded in it’s primary goal.

Representation of gays in ABC’s Happy Endings

tumblr_ltouiji6ff1r4gyxxo1_400

ABC’s Happy Endings in one of the few shows I’m still compelled to follow on a regular basis. Despite following a traditional and somewhat predictable sitcom theme of six best friends, the show’s cast of characters always manage to keep it fun. Among them is the popular character Max, the sarcastic and unapologetic gay friend of the group. As you might expect from this, the show often enforces some of the stereotypes we as a society come to expect from the gay community. Yet Max is almost never the character to do this, usually serving as a force that rejects these ideas.

More than anything, Max is your average guy. He likes sports, beer, and doesn’t always bother to keep himself in the most presentable shape. Someone tuning into the show for the first time might even struggle to pick up on his sexual orientation. As his friend Penny describes him, he’s a “straight dude who likes dudes”. Fighting against the image of overly-flamboyant gay men, one of the few things that offends him, allows the viewers to connect a lot more with the character. In fact, when I searched for an image of Max online, the one above was the first thing to pop up. With most gay or lesbian characters in the media today being used to enforce the traditional “sex and the city” gay, as Max describes them, this character allows us to break from the image we receive from our own cultivation analysis. Actor Adam Pally, who is not gay himself, deserves a lot of credit for this.

shot in the face

Adam Pally as Max Blum

Despite Max’s initial resistance, the show does find ways to use gay ideals for comedy. For example, Max himself will act up on gay stereotypes and enforce them if it’s for his own benefit, somewhat resembling an implicit representation of his own culture within the show itself. Penny also enforces gay stereotypes by trying to force those ideas upon Max, and quickly realizes she’s the closest thing the group has to an overly-flamboyant gay character. Then there’s his friend Brad, a straight and happily married man whose actions lead even Max to question his sexuality, as he enjoys things like pedicures and pilates. Upon learning that Max doesn’t know a famous designer, he asks if he’s sure he is gay, only to quickly be asked in return if he’s sure he’s not. Finally there’s Derek, a flamboyant gay man Max introduces to Penny after she decides he’s not gay enough. Derek is fashionable, loud, and uses the word “slut” to describe most of his friends. In other words, if Max is the rejection of gay stereotypes, Derek is the enforcer.

It took several minutes of my first episode of the show to even realize Max was gay, mainly until he dropped this gem of a line, “I like tough girls. Real tough. Men”. This is because Happy Endings does such a great job of balancing out the somewhat mocking frame of someone like Derek, with the more normal image of Max. This is something I applaud, because I’ve had the opportunity to meet some gay people in my life, and they behave a lot more like Max than the more played out image of gays in television today. What the writers and Pally have created is a character that everyone, gay or straight, can relate to.

These are clips from the show that exemplify the above statements. Very Funny, but some crude language, so I placed them here instead. Enjoy.

Fun with stereotypes: http://youtu.be/FBk1nq_HgDM

Max and Brad: http://youtu.be/arUTsl1Hj6E

At the gym: http://youtu.be/4kSauvp_0YE

Ferrell’s Casa de mi Padre

casa_de_mi_padre

Recently I sat down to watch Will Ferrell’s spoof of spanish soap operas and spaghetti westerns, Casa de mi Padre, for no other reason than the simple fact that I enjoy Mr. Ferrell’s work. Still, as I sat there, various aspects of our class began to run through my head. Mainly, the use of explicit and implicit brownface, and how it relates not only to the movie, but to Latin culture as a whole.

The movie tells the story of Armando Alvarez, a simple farmer who has spent his entire life in his father’s ranch in Mexico, working hard to get his family through tough times. Played by Ferrell, this character shows massive use of explicit brownface right from the start. From his outfits, which include ascots and cowboy hats, to his actions, such as going to the middle of the desert with fellow farmers to sing a mariachi style song about their lack of knowledge. Surprisingly enough, his language and dialogue showed little use of this, as it’s pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Ferrell didn’t want this to be his character’s comedic trademark, and hoped to blend in with the other actors, something he accomplishes as it’s easy to forget that he doesn’t actually speak spanish. Ironically, his only use of brownface while speaking is when he speaks in english, doing so with an accent.

The film also reunites long time friends and Mexican actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, as two clear examples of implicit brownface. The characters constantly curse, drink, and enforce the negative connection between Mexico and drugs many Americans feel, as they play rival druglords. Actors Efren Ramirez and Adrian Martinez also use implicit brownface, playing Armando’s farmer friends, who also like to sing about their simple lives in Mexico (“I’m friends with the cows”) and have names such as “Esteban De Los Santos Escobar Chavez”. Lastly, Manuel Urrego plays a corrupted Mexican police chief, who works with the drug cartels, a very real and serious problem in modern day Mexico.

Gael-Garcia-Bernal-and-Diego-Luna-in-Casa-de-mi-Padre

Garcia Bernal and Luna

As a parody, the film also picks out several Latin stereotypes and themes, mainly from their media. The stable of talented actors, featuring Luna, Garcia Bernal, Ferrell, and the late Pedro Armendariz all terribly overact, as is thought of from Mexican soap operas, or Novelas. The movie is filled with cheap sets and props, badly edited cuts, and unnecessary zoom ins on the characters faces as they stare at each other. Even the Film’s villains are easily recognized by their constant smoking, like the villains in the novelas. Still, the movie does a good job of making sure this is a joke, and it’s hard not to laugh when Garcia’s character smokes two cigarettes at the same time to one-up his rival, or Luna trying to drink his whiskey as he is shot down. 

As Ferrell put it, “We wanted the movie, while being outlandish, to be satirical, and comment on our cliched view of Mexico”. He also understands that the cultural problem is a “two way street”, and the movie comments on this several times, mainly Mexico’s production of drugs and the United State’s consumption of those drugs. Even the final lines in the movie explore this as a DEA agent attempting to make up for his racist partner tells Alvarez “Not all Americans are bad”, to which Alvarez replies, “Not all Mexicans are drug dealers”.  Ferrell’s main objective was to make a movie that people from both cultures could enjoy. As someone born and raised in Mexico, I feel he succeeded and personally enjoyed the small connections to Novelas and the Latin culture. Yes, the stereotypes are there (and plenty of them), but are presented in a way that allows the comedy to shine.

Will Ferrell interview: http://www.dailycal.org/2012/03/14/will-ferrell-speaks-about-new-film-ethnic-stereotypes/

Examining the UFC’s asian advertisement

ben_henderson_joe_rogan

 

UFC president Dana White has said time and time again that Asia is a huge target for his company, and frankly, why shouldn’t it be? Asia is considered by many to be the birthplace of martial arts, and ethically correct or not, shares a connection with the sport in most people’s minds. So when the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion announced they’re long awaited return to Japan would take place on February of 2012, with more events to follow in other Asian territories, reaction was mainly positive. Back in the present, the UFC has held two events in Asia, UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan and UFC Macao in Macao, China and with these events have come plenty of advertisements that seem to push various Asian stereotypes. In this blog, I’ll explore a couple of examples and try to break them down.

As UFC 144 neared, the UFC released a commercial to be aired only in Asian airwaves, though made open to the public here stateside. The commercial follows the setting of classic monster movies, mainly popular Japanese figure Godzilla, with various residents enjoying a nice and normal day outside. As a strange and large shadow begins to loom, the citizens of Japan take notice and begin to look up to the sky and the shadow is revealed to be the promotion’s famous octagon symbol. When UFC Macao was announced, the promotion released it’s official event poster, which also seemed to to take advantage of Chinese stereotypes and ideals. It came complete with dragons on the corner of the poster, and a glowing god-like picture of Bruce Lee in the middle of it all with the quote “Bruce Lee is the father of mixed martial arts”. Keep in mind Mr. Lee’s only connection to the company is that he was a martial artist (pretty good one too) and died almost 20 years before MMA’s official creation. Even if various fighters list him as a inspiration (welterweight Dan Hardy documented his trip to Lee’s grave in order to pay his respects), many felt the UFC was simply cashing in on his popularity in China to help sell the event

220_UFC-on-Fuel-TV-6

The most controversial piece of advertisement was actually a fan made trailer (pictured at the top of the article) which portrayed some of UFC 144’s more famous fighters as anime characters. Featuring fighters with big eyes and surrounding auras like in popular animes (and even featuring south park’s “let’s fighting love” anime song), the trailer would have been nothing more that fan made humor if not for UFC president Dana White tweeting it out to his followers along with the quote “This is pretty cool. Tweet me back and let me know what it says”. While most company presidents or league commissioners would stay away from something that paints their business using these stereotypes, White pushed it out and the trailer became widely popular among MMA’s fan base. So much so in fact, that then Lightweight Champion and the night’s main eventer Frankie Edgar performed his “character’s” dance from the trailer during pre-fight interviews (interesting side note, Edgar shows an event flyer also featuring him as an anime character during the interview).

While it might seem fair to bash the UFC for seemingly promoting these stereotypes, It’s clear that the promotion was never trying to do so in a negative manner. After all it wouldn’t make sense for them alienate potential viewers. They are not in any way the first to parody a monster’s arrival, and dragons have long been considered a historical symbol of China. Even Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon gave the promotion permission to use her father’s image and considered it an “honor”.  Finally, the anime trailer, even if promoted by Mr. White and the media, was still fan made. While some may be offended by these examples, many others including myself (though as a non Asian, it’s hard for me to connect), see it as light humor or a small tribute to the country and their connection to martial arts.

Fan made trailer: http://youtu.be/WsJihB3Qyl0

Edgar interview: http://youtu.be/Ur2FR2rIYlM

Shannon Lee interview: http://www.mmafighting.com/2012/11/7/3614856/shannon-lee-thrilled-father-bruce-lees-legacy-continues-to-be-honored