Category Archives: television

“certainly no bimbo”

Did you know the current president of the University of Missouri — Michael Middleton, the man they chose to replace Tim Wolfe — testified about pubic hair and Coke?

This is relevant, I promise. Let’s back up a bit.

Last night, the film Confirmation aired on HBO. Kerry Washington played Anita Hill, a lawyer who worked under Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education. Clarence Thomas. You know, the Supreme Court justice who asked a question in court in February for the first time in ten years. 

When Thomas was going through his confirmation hearings to be on the Supreme Court, Hill testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her boss.

anita hill.jpg

Well, you know the ending to this story. He was confirmed anyway. And he’s not spoken much since.

I’m not going to write about the film, because I haven’t seen it. I am going to talk about the hearings, though.

I don’t remember the hearings. They were in 1991, the year I was born. In fact, the first time I’d heard of those hearings was two years ago on an episode of This American Life.  And then, back in December 2015, I found myself reading about the hearings again.

I was backgrounding the University of Missouri Pres. Middleton for a story when I found something that struck me.

Middleton was an aide to Thomas during the time when Hill and Thomas worked together. So, he was called to testify.

This is from a Wall Street Journal article:

One of the oddest of Ms. Hill’s allegations was that one day when she and Mr. Thomas were working in his office, he got up from the table where he had been sitting with her, went over to his desk to retrieve a can of Coca-Cola and, after staring at it, demanded to know, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

Thomas aide Michael Middleton also says that he heard the pubic hair story associated with Mr. Thomas before 1985, when he too left the EEOC. “I have this vision of Clarence at the EEOC picking up a Coke and saying, ` Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?”‘ says Mr. Middleton, now a professor of law at Missouri North Central University. Mr. Middleton adds that he told his wife about it at the time and that years later, during the confirmation hearings, he turned to her and asked if she remembered the story, and she did.

But the memory, Mr. Middleton says, is quite hazy. He says he isn’t sure whether he heard Mr. Thomas say it or just had it described to him back then. “It could have been a joke I heard him tell in the office,” Mr. Middleton says. “It’s vague. I just know that pubic hair in a Coke can was not new to me {during the hearings} with Clarence Thomas.”

anita hill 2

And this is from a Time Magazine story: 

“She was a real straight arrow,” says Michael Middleton, who worked with both Hill and Thomas at the Department of Education and later at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Very proper and straitlaced. She was certainly no bimbo.”

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Now, back to work.

don’t call america’s next top model a guilty pleasure (it’s a self esteem machine)

Note: This is a guest post written by my little sister Julia, a first-year student at Missouri State University. She doesn’t know what she wants to study, but we accept her as a member of our family anyway. Go visit her Twitter @yooliakovach.

20140113-201300.jpg

This is a photo of us from a wedding back in June. It is an incredibly strange photo because (1) both of us are bordering on tan and (2) we’re not making idiotic faces or trying to make the other one look awful. Très sophistiquées.

I am obsessed with America’s Next Top Model. I also received top scores on my International Baccalureate diploma, a high ACT score, and an I.Q. that my parents never officially told me because as a child I had a tendency to brag. This last sentence was not written with the intention of bragging, but of proving a point: I am an academic who eats up shallow reality television.

I also openly admit to loving pop music and being materialistic to an embarrassing extent. Although I understand the social implications and problems of a show like America’s Next Top Model, I still cannot get enough of Tyra Banks, the show’s host. Perhaps it is because I completely separate myself from the girls on the show because I could never live with myself if I chose to be a model, but perhaps I just love the show. I love seeing high fashion designers and model coaches like Mr. and Miss Jay interact with the girls. The show makes me laugh and cry, and it appeals to all of what some academics call “shallow emotions.”

Cycle 16 models. Proof that models look like delicate dolls, always.

Cycle 16 models. Proof that models look like delicate dolls, always.

Intellectuals have surrounded me the last four years of my life. My high school was something of a private school within a public school. There were a few people who rolled their eyes at the academic value of the International Baccalureate program, but most people in the program took education very seriously. Even though I do read the classics and am a strong academic, I admit to loving media that my high school classmates would look at twice. Many classmates felt the pressure to impress one another with bits of knowledge or their reading lists, and this attitude persists among academic social circles.

Perhaps this is from where the term “guilty pleasure” emerges. I used to believe that I had to impress people with my intelligence, so I called many things that I truly liked my “guilty pleasures.” My guilty pleasure list was so long that it could wrap around the Earth twice. It wasn’t until I realized that it was okay to like “shallow” things that I learned to be more comfortable with myself. I dance to Ke$ha at parties and I have the most fun out of anyone there, because I’m not pretending to hate the music. I watch America’s Next Top Model, and I am able to simply be a girl and embrace what makes girls amazing. I do, however, still feel the need to defend my love of the show because of some of issues that arise around it.

I am a feminist, because if those who are living, breathing humans are not feminists, then they are also a living, breathing problem. Some might say it is not very empowering of me to watch ANTM, but I disagree. The women on the show are thin, but many of them choose to be this way because they yearn to be in the modeling industry, where they know this is how they must look. The show addresses eating disorders, with Tyra constantly making sure the girls’ eating habits are healthy. Tyra is very defensive of the “plus size” models that are, in actuality, perfectly healthy sized girls. Some judges are too engulfed by the modeling industry to accept the larger girls by constantly claiming that “they’re not high fashion,” but Tyra always retaliates aggressively.

This show may be saying to girls who are healthy sizes that they are “plus size,” but that is also what the media constantly bombards girls with in the first place. The viewer must separate herself from the show and say, “these girls are not reality, the modeling industry is not reality, and they are choosing the modeling industry.” I also love that Tyra promotes women of color on the show–by the third cycle the top two contestants were both African American women. There are Indian, Hispanic, and Asian women represented as well. I do not view the show as harmful to women, but actually more empowering to them, as long as they separate themselves from the women who are driving themselves for the prize. This is not to mention that the show is not just for girls, because this is another stereotype set by society: only girls can like shows about modeling, fashion, and makeup. My boyfriend watches the show with me and cannot get enough. He thinks the girls are hilarious and loves Tyra to pieces.

Tyra looking fierce on her Instagram selfie game.

Tyra looking fierce on her Instagram selfie game.

Perhaps my bias for the show comes from the confidence it has given me. I know I could never be a part of the modeling industry even if I lost weight, because I am 5’2” (although rumor has it that in upcoming cycles there are petite models – I’m only on cycle four) but the show has truly made me feel beautiful. Tyra picks girls with unique features, with faces in which you might not expect to see a top model. However, she teaches them to love the way they look. I learned from this show that beauty is not just high cheekbones and a cute button nose. In fact, the girls who are more stereotypically beautiful often get eliminated first. Living in the Midwest, I find this important to remember. I have a very unique face, and because of ANTM, I know it is beautiful. I stand out, and girls who stand out, who are unique, must realize that they truly are as beautiful as the supposedly “picture perfect” girls who the common public love. Unique girls have something to them, even beyond their faces–perhaps their past insecurities have helped them build character.

There is still a lot of criticism about ANTM (who just recently introduced male models to the running – I am dying of excitement) and the modeling industry in general. I do believe that the modeling industry should change completely; that girls of a healthy size should be used to represent females, and that many of the photos that are taken are extremely misogynistic. ANTM does not represent this side of the world of modeling, and is simply there for our entertainment. I also believe that Tyra teaches the girls on the show how to be strong and healthy women and to respect themselves. The moment I see a hint of misogyny on the show, I will stop watching. I have not yet and at this point I do not feel guilty for enjoying it.

welcome to america, al jazeera

Tuesday, Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera launched a 24-hour American news channel, the first since Fox News began in the mid-nineties. It replaced Current TV, a progressive media company founded by Al Gore that had been struggling with ratings, with promises to report substantive, in-depth news coverage as an alternative to the flashy but vacuous networks that currently dominate television news.

Ready for this shocker? I’m a news junkie. I listen to NPR whenever I’m in my car, click on every link tweeted my way from the BBC and The Daily Beast, pick up the New York Times whenever I have a chance, and spend an embarrassing amount of time scrolling through news blogs. However, if you ever were looking for an effective way to torture me (shame on you), you could lock me in a room and surround me with FOX News or CNN or MSNBC and I would crack within one hour of listening to this staged banter between anchors and piffle masked as news. I’m precisely the type of viewer that Al Jazeera hopes to snag, except that I don’t own a tv. Still, the idea of a news network that spends more than 90 seconds on a story and reports and analyzes the news from an unbiased perspective–which should not be a revolutionary concept in any way–is pretty exciting.

However, Al Jazeera America (AJAM) was riding the wave of criticism before it even aired this week. To begin with, it is based in the Middle East, which, of course, isn’t a problem in and of itself. But many people have made the connection between Al Jazeera and their own Islamophobia–although the network seems fairly optimistic that it will play a role in revising Americans’ perceptions of the Middle East. In an interview with NPR’s On The Media, CNN transplant and current host of AJAM’s Real Money Ali Velshi compared the network to Japanese cars in the sixties and seventies.

“You were gonna get in a lot of trouble from your neighbors if you pulled up in a Toyota or a Honda,” Velshi said. “We were not that far removed from a very bitter war with Japan. These people were considered enemies to many Americans, so it was culturally a problem. So when you look at Al Jazeera today, it’s a lack of familiarity and a lot of Americans who think that we are culturally in a different place than a media organization based in the Middle East.”

I can easily dismiss the objections that are based solely on xenophobia, but the allegations against Al Jazeera actually might hold some weight. Consider this: during its much-criticized coverage of this summer’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, twenty-two staffers resigned. Many people blamed this on Al Jazeera’s intentional pro-Muslim brotherhood angle in its reporting.

Politico’s Blake Hounshell claims that there is editorial direction with Al Jazeera from the Qatari government, and that it comes from the top.

“It’s not gonna be, you know, people walking down to the newsroom and saying, okay, the Emir wants you to do this and not that. It works, I think, a lot more subtly than that,” Hounshell said, and then recalled Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring. “During the Libyan uprising, there was this kind of musical introduction to all of their Libya coverage, and it was extremely over the top, really just propaganda glorifying the Libyan rebels. There wasn’t a lot of critical coverage of, just who are these people really, and what’s gonna happen after Qaddafi?”

Kate O’Brian, another transplant (from ABC news) and current Al Jazeera president, disagrees.

“I frankly wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that this is an editorially independent media company and channel,” she said. “The formats, the talent, the producers will be American. That’s why Al Jazeera America is different from Al Jazeera English. That’s an international channel. This is an American channel.”

Furthermore, O’Brian adds that the Qatar base is actually an advantage.

“We will be able to tell stories from places that our competitors will not be able to… It’s a resource issue. It’s a lot easier for a cable channel to put up a trial that has essentially pool video rolling all day long. You don’t have to be spending money and resources doing other things. We are so lucky in that we have the resources to be able to tap into stories that are happening all over the world and all over the United States.”

I’m waiting until I can watch full stories on Al Jazeera’s website before I can provide any review on its news reporting, but I’m not the only one who doesn’t have full access to the network. In light of all of this controversy, AT&T U-Verse dropped Al Jazeera from its programming (although its official reason was “an inability to come to terms on a new agreement and due to certain breaches of the existing agreement”; I smell law-speak). This reduced the number of potential AJAM viewers from 48 million to 45 million, so now Al Jazeera is suing AT&T.* It hasn’t exactly been a smooth start.

What has struck me more than anything, however, is Al Jazeera’s claims to report serious, straightforward news without bias, but there is very strong evidence that they are guilty of bias and, moreover, that it was politically motivated. The well-known post-modernist argument contends that nothing exists without subjectivity and thus objectivity in news is impossible. But is it not necessary to have nonpartisan reporting of fact to make informed, conscientious judgments about the world in which we live? I’m both a journalist and surrounded by the news, and I have yet to decide my stance on these questions. What are your thoughts?

*I had AT&T’s wireless service for a week before my connection went out at my new place–and now I’ve been waiting for another week to get it back. Need any help suing U-Verse, AJAM?

gimli does shark week

I generally have nothing against not owning a television, but every time Shark Week rolls around, I feel a bit left out. I want watch Tara Reed go all Ishmael over a tornado loaded with sharks too! Or maybe Sharknado is different from Shark Week. I wouldn’t know. I don’t have a tv. You see the problem?

Great news, though, Discovery Channel. Instead of playing the role as passive consumer of your programming, I’m doing some work for you. Here’s some content you should feel free to create into a documentary: today’s conversation with a student, who I’ll call Gimli*:

I walked to our table, ready to greet Gimli, a ten-year-old boy who’s been on vacation for the past two weeks. As soon as he saw me, he buried his face in his hands.

“Gimli! Oh my gosh, you are clearly so excited to see me!” I said, and watched as he groaned and shook his head. “How was your vacation to San Diego?”

“It was terrible and boring.”

“You must be confused. San Diego is such a fun city,” I said.

“Well I didn’t even get to go anywhere. There was a shark attack at the beach where I stayed, so we weren’t allowed to go swimming.”

“No way, that’s so cool!”

Gimli stared at me with an expression I’ve seen several times before, which is one that asks, “Are you an idiot?”

“What I mean is that it’s Shark Week. And you got a better experience than everyone else, because you had to deal with a real shark,” I clarified, and then thought for a moment. “Not directly, of course. But shark attacks are so rare, you know? Who got attacked?”

“Some surfer guy, I guess.”

“I don’t believe that you didn’t have any fun. You look super tan.”

The Miss-Kasia-You-Are-An-Idiot face returned. Finally, he responded, “Yeah, my grandma made me to go the beach. But I wasn’t gonna go in the water. I ain’t getting eaten by a shark! My brother’s real dumb though. He wanted to go into the ocean and swim with the sharks, and I told him, ‘kid, you’re gonna die.'”

“Hey now, we don’t call people dumb. How old is your brother?”

“He’s three. So I duct taped him together.”

“Come again?”

“I duct taped his arms to his body.”

“You…?”

“So he couldn’t swim. But then he still tried to run into the water, ‘cuz he’s dumb”– “Gimli!”– “Fine, he’s little, so I duct taped him to a pole instead.”

“You’re joking.”

“That’s when my dad decided to hunt for the shark.”

“The shark that bit the surfer?”

“Yeah, and Dad caught ‘im. Shot the in the mouth with a spear.”

“Sure.”

“My dad picked him up and put ‘im on the boat. Then he brought the shark home and put him in a tank. We sold all his teeth for $5000 bucks each. And after that, we ate the shark for dinner.”

“Well, Gimli, that sounds like a totally real story that you didn’t make up at all.”

Gimli sat up straight for the first time since the session had started. “Yup,” he said, proud of himself for fooling me.

“Sounds like you actually had a pretty exciting vacation. All right, let’s get started on this story,” I said, handing him the passage he was to read aloud. The first sentence began with a topic altogether less exciting than sharks; it read “Owls are well-named, and as they are also known as howlers.”

Gimli sighed in normal fashion, slumping over once more. “Owls are well-named, as they are also known as whores.”

“Oh… why don’t we try sounding out that last word?”

…And that’s a normal day in my life. Do with it what you will, Discovery Channel.

*Disclaimer: Since I will never post the name of my workplace, nor the names of my students, I’ve decided to give each kid his or her own pseudonym on my blog, based on which character from Middle Earth they best resemble. Please respect my privacy just as I respect theirs.

doctor who, sexual subtext, and gender fluidity

Yesterday, the actor to play the twelfth regeneration for the Doctor was announced. He’s Scottish, 55 years old, and his name is Peter Capaldi.

5609568837_2944aa9bb6

Whilst scrolling through Facebook, I made mental note of a status: “Oh look, another white dude got cast as the Doctor.” Gender, race, and Doctor Who? Well if that ain’t just my favorite type of conversation!

For those who don’t know: Doctor Who is a British television program that has run for the past 50 years. It’s about an alien who looks suspiciously like a human, and he can travel through time and space in his spaceship, the TARDIS, which looks suspiciously like a blue police box. The show has been able to last since the 1960s because the Doctor has the ability to regenerate instead of die. (Alien, remember? By now, he’s over 1,000 years old.)

Since Doctor Who‘s beginnings, the Doctor has never regenerated as a woman. However, even the possibility of a woman Doctor opens up the character and the show to a multitude of play in gender fluidity and sexuality. The dialogue is already bubbling over with jokes involving sexual subtext. My personal favorites are the references to Queen Elizabeth, known in history as The Virgin Queen (The Tenth Doctor’s recapping of adventures not shown on screen: “Got married! That was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. And let me tell you, her nickname is no longer… anyway.” Did I mention that this program is supposedly for children?) Moreover, the Doctor’s relationship with a number of his companions has been hinted at as, at the very least, romantic. Keeping in mind the Doctor’s marriage to Professor River Song and his current flirtation with Clara Oswald, the writers of the show would not only be making a significant social statement by stepping in the direction of normalizing non-heterosexual orientations, but they could create entire story arcs based on wordplay. Can you imagine?

That being said, I’m not upset with the choice of Peter Capaldi. I’ve seen a few clips of his acting on Youtube, and watched his somewhat small roles as Sid’s dad on Skins and news director Randall Brown on The Hour. He’s a brilliant actor, and I am dying to see a foul-mouthed Doctor. It won’t happen, of course, thanks to those children (constantly ruining good tv).

So I like him, and I like his language, but I don’t like the way he was chosen. Showrunner Steven Moffat essentially refused to consider a woman Doctor, and said, “Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. [They were] saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman!’”

I wonder if Moffat knows why it’s completely logical for him to get into trouble for mentioning that (glad his interaction with a few women represent the entire half of our population!), particularly when everyone from Helen Mirren to current Doctor Matt Smith have expressed interest in a female Doctor. I’m tired of the excuse that the viewers simply wouldn’t be ready for a woman and the gender and sexual implications involved in the switch, particularly since societal norms are largely shaped (or perhaps more–or less–optimistically, largely influenced) by television and other forms of popular culture. Despite Moffat’s seeming hopes, it’s impossible not to make a political statement on a program that is so widespread and influential.

I’d love to discuss race as well tonight, but I’m still living without Internet and thus at the mercy of McDonald’s opening hours. Eleven o’clock is quickly approaching, which means that I need to get the eff out (not unlike the way that Steven Moffat needs to get the eff out of the BBC).

Until tomorrow, all. Happy Shark Week.

Link

phoebe lettice thompson

behind-the-pyramid-stage-before-the-stones-shot

Fashion assistant and photographer Phoebe Lettice Thompson is my favorite from guilty pleasure*British structured reality television show (whatever that means) Made in Chelsea. Her blog is here and it’s been the inspiration for my summer wardrobe and all-around post-grad vibe.

*Who am I kidding? Not-guilty pleasure. Totally-unapologetic-favorite-pastime. No use denying my non-ironic love of watching rich, beautiful people who are my age in posh Chelsea, London trading insults.

Note: Do you know how difficult it is to blog every day in August when you move into your new apartment August 1-3 and your wireless Internet won’t be set up in your apartment until August 10? I’ll let you speculate.

I plan on spending next week has a free wifi opportunist at whatever coffeeshop or McDonald’s will have me, but the next few days are 2 busy 2 write. I’ll be providing quick reads until I find the time and tools to write.