5/27/2008 4:02:51 PM
When auditions were held at the Mall of America for season two of Survivor, I had lots of people telling me I should try out. Being the adventurous type, I gave it some semi-serious thought, but (thankfully) realized that I was not interested in having my foibles displayed on television. I had enough insight into how television is made to recognize that producers encourage participants to behave badly, and that what we see as viewers has been highly edited for the sole purpose of making people come off like jackasses. I, like millions of viewers worldwide, find it highly entertaining.
Fourteen seasons of Survivor later, reality TV shows are more popular than ever. Recently, another round of auditions were held in town, this time for the Style Network’s Split Ends, a show (that I’ve never seen) that uses the common formula of a “swap,” where one stylist trades places with another who is from a dramatically different type of salon, and major drama ensues as the two cultures clash. I know two owners of salons who were asked to audition (but were not chosen), so I got a bit of insight into the process. My salon sources tell me that the salon that was picked had to adhere to strict rules in order to participate. For instance, clients who had appointments for the day of the shoot could not be told in advance that their stylist had been swapped for another. Those who go along with it are not compensated for the inevitably disastrous results. As is usually the case on television, everyone involved signs a release that allows the network to use and reuse the images they shoot in any way they see fit. The clip below shows the woman whose salon was chosen from the local round of auditions. How is she portrayed? The same way every single person who’s ever been on reality TV has been: like a complete psycho jackass.
Now, what on earth did this poor salon owner think would happen? Hasn’t she watched the show? Why do people continue to audition for certain reality TV shows? I ask myself this question every time I find myself watching Wife Swap. Just how is it that participants think they will be portrayed? Do they say to themselves, “I am so special that I will be the first person ever portrayed as an awesome human being?” I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. And so, with little sympathy, I will continue to watch until people check their egos and realize how they are willingly letting themselves be used so that advertisers get the captive audience they want.
5/27/2008 3:08:56 PM
There’s no gloomier time in our library than when we peel open the pages of a new arrival eager to dig into dispatches from some obscure cultural front, only to find the equivalent of a death notice. Such was the case when Youth Truth—the “official zine” of Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions (ASFAR)—came in the mail last week.
This feisty publication has been a fierce defender of the rights of young people, routinely calling on government and society to afford youth the rights and responsibilities granted more aged citizens. In its pages, one could find disturbing chronicles of censorship in schools, news of “gulag” camps for troubled youth, and insightful breakdowns of health and education policies. That's just to name a few of the issues that, if they are covered by mainstream media at all, rarely include the perspective of those darned kids.
Youth Truth’s parent organization is taking a break from zine publishing to focus on its activism. Editor in chief Susan Wishnetsky announces in the latest issue (Winter 2007-2008): “Youth Truth may return, once ASFAR gets its house in order, but we do not expect to publish any more new issues in 2008.”
Here’s hoping 2009 brings better news.
5/27/2008 11:47:26 AM
The Russian media generally comes to Western attention when things are going badly—newspaper offices raided, television stations forcibly nationalized, journalists murdered. Observers wonder whether the Russian media is strong enough, or bold enough, to keep government and businesses accountable by publishing opposition voices and pursuing investigative journalism. But for now the media forecast, according to Eurozine, is tentatively optimistic. “It looks as if the authorities are focusing on fighting opposition activists, for the most part leaving the media be (at least for the time being).”
It’s also encouraging to note that regional papers do not always pander to the powers that be, even if the national media’s silence is what makes their coverage seem remarkable. “Across the country, even in small, remote towns, local journalists are addressing issues that national television channels stopped covering long ago, and which rarely appear in the national press,” reports Eurozine.
Image by Morten Oddvik, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/27/2008 10:41:04 AM
Hoyden About Town, an Australian blog of politics and feminism, recently announced the Top Ten FemmoStroppo Hits for 2007, a collection of what its bloggers have deemed the best feminist/womanist posts of the year. It’s pretty compelling reading—an excellent (and empowering) way to kick off your week. (For those unfamiliar with down-under vocab, the site defines a hoyden as a "woman of saucy, boisterous or carefree behavior.")
For more on the sprawling feminist blogosphere, check out “Feminism 2.0,” from the March-April issue of Utne Reader.
5/27/2008 10:29:22 AM
Those with their fingers (cursors? browsers? aggregators?) on the pulse of the blogosphere, along with regular readers of the New York Times Magazine, are by now probably familiar with—if not already tired of—the online fracas surrounding Emily Gould’s 8,000-word cover story about her meteoric rise to celebrity as a blogger and the complete erasure of whatever boundaries might have once existed between her public and private lives. Whatever your opinion of Gould, her piece, or the entities (ex-boyfriends, former employers, herself) she alternately skewers and exonerates, the piece and resulting online meta-noise illuminate some interesting points about online culture, the current media landscape, and the millennial generation’s tendency to overshare. But if you’re one of those rare souls who have more important things to do than read blogs all day and just need a (relatively) quick gloss, the Huffington Post provides a comprehensive link dump regarding the whole sordid, incestuous affair, while the Columbia Journalism Review offers a concise and cogent analysis that might, if we're lucky, serve as the last word on the brouhaha.
5/27/2008 10:19:43 AM
is the latest zine in William P. Tandy’s excellent Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore! series. As befits a Baltimore-based outfit, Smile, Hon zines can lead to cringing or contemplation with themed issues on crime, vermin, and scars. Skin Deep is no exception: It treats tattoos in ink-inspired personal essays, poetry, and sidebars of tattooer interviews that are sometimes amusing, sometimes stomach-turning.
The zine is full of instructive tidbits about tattoo enthusiasts, including perspectives from a number of tattooed men and women who write about the spiritual significance of their designs. (I always took the Bible’s “your body is a temple” to mean no epidermal ink injections. Not a universal interpretation, apparently.) One tattooed gentleman sports angels and “iconic hands clasped in prayer.” Ian Andrew Erdman went for a bear tattoo, to remind him of strength and helpfulness. “Having been a part of several mission trips,” Erdman writes, “I have witnessed firsthand the good that people can do when they band together to help toward a common goal.”
Not everyone who gets a tattoo chooses a saintly image, of course. For those seeking a more controversial design, the right tattooer is key. Josh Griffin, a Baltimore Tattoo Museum employee, refuses to do certain designs, like “rebel flags. I don’t care if it’s for the Confederacy or whatever—I don’t mess with that.” Other tattooers are less rigid. “In the end, you have to meet three points,” says tattooer Bill Stevenson. “You have to be over 18, you have to have some money, and you have to want to get tattooed.”
Most of the tattooers want to be seen as craftsmen, not as moral enforcers or even as artists. “They’ll be like, ‘I’m a tattooer, not an artist,’” says Dave Drell of the Baltimore Tattoo Museum. “‘I don’t go home and listen to Vivaldi and drink wine and paint things,’ you know?”
5/16/2008 8:40:00 AM
Robert Fisk, the colorful and opinionated Middle East correspondent for the Independent, is not known for his reticence.
Attempting a short question-and-answer for altmuslim.com, Wajahat Ali gets more than he planned for.
5/14/2008 10:34:36 AM
News of suffering often overwhelms regular newspaper readers. Crime reporters, however, cannot plead compassion fatigue. Putting stories about murders, rapes, and robberies on the page day after day is tough, writes former Charlotte Observer crime reporter Melissa Manware in Quill, but she believes it's “the most important work a reporter can do.”
I also believe that a reporter who really cares about a story, who is emotionally touched by a story, will almost always do a better job of telling it.
The stories I wrote were worth the sad memories that sometimes keep me awake at night. They were worth the tears I shed after deadline, because they made a difference.
Telling these stories is worth the stress, Manware writes, because they can spur readers to help victims or to heal themselves.
In November, I wrote about 15-month-old Sarah Nafisha, who was stabbed nearly to death by her mother. A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from a reader. She said her family was forgoing gifts at Christmas and instead sending the money to Sarah’s father so he could stay out of work and care for her. . . .
That’s what made the work worth the heartache. And that’s what a reporter, especially a crime reporter, has to remember to stay positive when so many of the stories are negative.
5/13/2008 10:34:07 AM
New Internationalist’s May issue on Burma includes a first-person narrative detailing a day-in-the-life of a onetime Rangoon journalist. Her story (not available online) is striking for its simple chronicle of the banality of censorship.
Now it’s 2:00 p.m. – my boss calls me to go to the censorship office for a meeting.
As we arrive, journalists of all the journals and magazines are sitting in the meeting room, waiting to hear words of wisdom from the head of the censor board, Major Tint Swe.
The meeting has been called to discuss co-operation between journals and the censor board, particularly how to speed up our submission deadlines, because all journals sit one week in the hands of the board’s officials – meaning that when news reaches readers it’s outdated.
But to me it is a boring process and one-sided – whatever suggestions or advice we offer to Tint Swe, he won’t listen to us anyway.
Another piece in the package flips the scenario, tracking a Western journalist, Dinyar Godrej, as he poses as a tourist and quickly learns the ropes of self-censorship.
Every traveler to Burma is told never, ever to initiate a political conversation; let them do the talking. But politics is everywhere. The beaming staff at the reception desk of my guesthouse ask me why I am staying for such a short period. I say I would have loved to stay longer, but because there’s so little good news from Burma in the West I couldn’t persuade friends and family. Tight-lipped silence ensues and I scurry to my room with all the shame of someone who has farted in a lift.
New Internationalist’s multifaceted look at Burma was put together before the devastating cyclone that has left more than 60,000 people dead or missing. Strangely, though, this time lapse makes the stories seem even more relevant, not outdated. The package makes for an excellent backgrounder on the bureaucratic power dynamics playing out now as outside nations haggle with the junta to provide desperately needed aid.
5/12/2008 12:17:23 PM
The Toronto-based Ryerson Review of Journalism may be geared toward Canadian media wonks, but there's something in the new issue for media critics of all stripes. Four features focus on international reporting, including an essay on the macho culture of war zone reporters, who are often unwilling to admit the psychological toll of covering war; another is aptly titled “Why Canadian reporters sent to Moscow will never understand the country’s soul.” That doesn’t bode well for aspiring foreign correspondents, but the story is an interesting look at how Russia’s government and citizenry alike are increasingly close-lipped. A few Canada-specific stories have wider appeal as well. Those include a profile of the late art documentary filmmaker Harry Rasky and a discussion of women in top magazine editorial positions, which doubles as a quick overview for the uninitiated American (me) of the Canadian magazine landscape.
5/9/2008 5:36:32 PM
Marketing guru Seth Godin has a few suggestions on how to fix the New York Times (and newspapers in general). Rather than printing a sports section—which every paper has—or stories about Barbara Walters’ new book—which most people don’t really care about—Godin suggests creating 50 more best-seller lists. The best-seller lists are both true (e.g. vetted by experts) and important to people, which should be true for every article the Times publishes.
5/7/2008 9:52:49 AM
Herewith, the latest highlights from our alt-press library, as regularly featured in From the Stacks:
A beautifully written reverie for a lost city, from the New Orleans duet-zine Keep Loving, Keep Fighting / I Hate This Part of Texas. Feminisms in motion at make/shift, a new magazine that’s fresh, feisty, and stunningly diverse. A vivid, nostalgia-inducing tribute to “America’s greatest art form”—jazz—from Stop Smiling. The nude male form, in all its hairy variety, strutting on through the Amsterdam-based Butt. A special issue on translation from Poetry, featuring poems translated into English from 18 different languages. And it’s been a tough year for music magazines, so here’s a happy-tenth-anniversary shout-out to Paste!
5/6/2008 9:57:00 AM
Tired of inspecting female nudes in art museums, I happily retired to my host’s Paris apartment with a copy of Butt, an Amsterdam-based gay culture magazine we found in a nearby bookstore. Its Spring issue, number 22, includes a handful of amusing, if unfocused, interviews with a design duo, a hip-hop artist, and the creator of the portrait zine Shoot. The interviewers’ devotion is especially clear in a Q&A with deceased gay porn director Fred Halsted, whose posthumous “answers” the writer pieced together from archived articles. The editors’ appreciation of the male nude, in all its hairy variety, is evident throughout. Surprisingly, the candid nudity—men in their kitchens or standing in rumpled socks—seems more vulnerable than obscene; it’s even charming at times. Photos include a nude drummer feature, a six-page centerfold spread, and finally, the below-the-waist shots accompanying readers’ letters, some of the most succinct and hilarious writing in the mag.
5/2/2008 10:00:09 AM
At this point, it’s not even worth taking shots at the media over the Rev. Wright affair. It’s too easy. Too obvious. And, most disappointingly, too ineffectual. Put the country’s most uncomfortable topic on the agenda, mix in election season psychosis, and add a controversial black pastor who scorns the press, and reporters’ heads apparently explode. They end up asking questions like: “How do you feel about America and about being an American?” (National Press Club moderator Donna Leinwand to Wright) or “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” (George Stephanopoulos to Senator Barack Obama).
There’s intelligent reportage to be done on Wright (brilliant megalomaniacs make for rich profile subjects). But that’s not going to happen any time soon; the press—and the public, too—seem to require a certain amount of distance from racially charged moments in order to make any sense of them. That’s what was truly novel about Obama’s Philadelphia speech: He was able to articulate the present moment, not just rehash the past or rhapsodize about the future.
So, given the current media blackout on reason, I’d recommend checking out a pair of recent pieces that give me hope that once the dust settles, we might learn something from this ruckus.
The first is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s profile of Bill Cosby in the May issue of the Atlantic. The controversy surrounding Cosby’s campaign for black responsibility is well-known but not necessarily well-understood. Coates sifts through the fallout to trace the divergent liberal and conservative intellectual traditions of black America, from their origins to their manifestations today. Along the way, he offers one of the more nuanced and original pieces of analysis on race in America that I’ve seen in print of late.
Part of what drives Cosby’s activism, and reinforces his message, is the rage that lives in all African Americans, a collective feeling of disgrace that borders on self-hatred. As the comedian Chris Rock put it in one of his infamous routines, “Everything white people don’t like about black people, black people really don’t like about black people … It’s like a civil war going on with black people, and it’s two sides—there’s black people and there’s niggas, and niggas have got to go … Boy, I wish they’d let me join the Ku Klux Klan. Shit, I’d do a drive-by from here to Brooklyn.” (Rock stopped performing the routine when he noticed that his white fans were laughing a little too hard.) Liberalism, with its pat logic and focus on structural inequities, offers no balm for this sort of raw pain. Like the people he preaches to, Cosby has grown tired of hanging his head.
Cosby is fond of saying that sacrifices of the ’60s weren’t made so that rappers and young people could repeatedly use the word nigger. But that’s exactly why they were made. After all, chief among all individual rights awarded Americans is the right to be mediocre, crass, and juvenile—in other words, the right to be human. But Cosby is aiming for something superhuman—twice as good, as the elders used to say—and his homily to a hazy black past seems like an effort to redeem something more than the present.
The other article comes from the Chronicle Review and looks back at a controversy more distant: the 1968 Ocean Hill–Brownsville teacher strikes unleashed after white New York City school teachers were delivered pink slips by a newly empowered black school board. What’s interesting here is writer Richard D. Kahlenberg’s diagnosis of the embattled alliances involved and how those fault lines still pervade liberalism today. The Black Power activists on the school board, who were determined to have black teachers teaching black children in a school system dominated by whites, were bolstered by support from the city’s Anglo-Saxon patricians. Meanwhile, unionized teachers (many of them Jewish) drew support from pro-labor whites and a few of Martin Luther King’s black allies. The strikes eventually ended and the union prevailed, but the rift between working class blacks and whites—between civil rights and labor advocates—that was blasted open by the politics of racial preference continues to plague Democrats today, preventing what Dr. King and others saw as a natural and immensely powerful alliance.
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