Stop the Press: The Future of Journalism Is Not Post-Political

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Discussions of the future of journalism center on new economic models, digital modes of distribution, and how to attract young audiences. But what of how future journalism might represent, describe, and critique issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality? And what of the race, gender, class, and sexuality of future journalists themselves? Issues of industry survival take center stage in debates about journalism’s future. Issues of integrity, wisdom, and increased levels of equity in coverage and employment have less success finding the spotlight. Concern over how to deliver news in the coming decades generally trumps debate about who might deliver it and the character of what might be delivered. The importance of political economy analyses of new journalism, coupled with keeping gender, race, and sexuality identities front and center, is emphasized.

Read the full article in PDF form here.

No Girls Allowed: Television Boys’ Club as Resistance to Feminism

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This article analyzes the male-only spaces present in four television series, FX’s The Shield, Nip/Tuck , Rescue Me, and ABC’s Boston Legal, which each include a gendered territory as a recurring feature. I argue that these homosocially segregated environments enforce boundaries against women and shelter intense bromance relationships that foreclose romantic relationships of any kind, acting as physical incarnations of troubling retrograde sexual politics and ideologies. I also assert that the “boys’ clubs” in which these narratives take place, enabled and empowered by the aesthetic dimensions of architecture and design, help establish workplace patriarchy as commonplace, reasonable, and benign. This article reveals that in these television boys’ clubs, problematic gender ideologies are protected and celebrated, misogyny is naturalized, and patriarchal beliefs and behaviors legitimized.

Read the full paper in PDF form here.

Brave Sperm and Demure Eggs: Fallopian Gender Politics on YouTube

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ABSTRACT

A narrative analysis of videos of human conception from medical and non-medical sources aired in the democratic space of YouTube finds that stereotypical gender roles are consistently assigned to cellular behavior. Sperm are represented as little men and embodiments of hegemonic masculinity, with heroic sperm winning the egg prize after a competitive athletic contest fraught with peril. Eggs are represented as featureless planets floating in a murky voice and are without agency or action.Almost every video is about the “journey” or “adventure” of the sperm; the egg has no adventure. These videos represent a view of a persistent gendered narrative of human fertilization that does not coalesce with emerging scientific narratives that appear to attempt to be more gender-neutral in accounts of conception. The imposition of gendered social scripts onto biology—even pop culture biology—may work to obscure common understanding of the nature of gender and of humanity, and reveal vivid and enduring stereotypes.

 

This article will appear in November 2014 in Feminist Formations.

The illustration is from the YouTube video “Sperm: The Easter Musical.”

You can view the article as a PDF here.

Domestic Violence in Men’s and Women’s Magazines: Women Are Guilty of Choosing the Wrong Men, Men Are Not Guilty of Hitting Women

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ABSTRACT

Men’s and women’s magazine discourse on domestic violence

characterizes women as guilty of choosing the wrong men but

does not hold men responsible for hitting women. Using qualitative

narrative analysis on 10 leading titles over 10 years, I find an

ongoing tolerance for and celebration of domestic violence in

men’s magazines and an enduring expectation in women’s that

women bear responsibility for both genders. No magazines

discuss patriarchal cultural structures that enable violence against

women.

 

Women’s Studies in Communication, Vol. 34, No. 2, (2011), pp. 139-160.

DOI: 10.1080/07491409.2011.618240

Read it here.

Marquette University Comm Magazine Essay

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IT IS NOT A PASSIVE thing to sit in the audience. It is also not a safe thing.

We file in, avoiding eye contact and clutching tickets. We sort ourselves into aisles that are lettered and numbered in illogical fashion, we search for but cannot spell mezzanine, and we politely share the armrests as though nothing transformative is about to happen and as if we will emerge in two hours utterly unchanged.

But we are wrong.

When the curtain rises or the dancer enters or the baton drops or the singer exhales—if it is good art, and, heck, sometimes even if it is bad art—the cacophony of the disparate lives of 200 or 400 or 1200 people in the audience is stilled. Some common human ground is found and tilled and made fertile and our hearts are laid bare to each other and to ourselves.

We can know nothing about a people, yet when we listen to the rise and fall of their music, some visceral place in them touches a visceral place in us. Without living another life, we come to know another life. We believe that we are unique, that we are the first generation to be outraged by injustice or feel true passion, but art reveals the artifice in that sort of thinking. We learn that we share the ages, we share the planet, and we are not the only ones who have suffered great loss or who love to tap dance.

It would be rude to look a stranger in the eye and ask to see his soul. But from the audience, we can clearly see it.

Art engenders empathy. In its beauty and its ugliness, art reveals what it is to be humane. Art bypasses small talk and inserts us into the hearts and minds of those who we might otherwise overlook. Art reveals the us in the other. Art has the profound power to show us we are not alone.

I teach a course in writing about the arts. I bring students to galleries, the ballet, the symphony, the theater, and the opera. Even if their early education has been excellent, this is often their first Vivaldi and Shepard and Balanchine and Pollock. First, we read good critical writing about the art form of the week. Then, we go backstage, to rehearsal or to the studio, to learn that art is made with effort and deliberation, that a ballerina’s feet are covered in calluses, and that a good cello costs as much as a small house. Finally, they dress in carefully pressed dresses and badly chosen ties, attend the performance, and write a critical review, à la Roger Ebert.

They learn that “I didn’t like it” does not constitute insight. They learn that claims should be backed up with logic. They learn to look up rather than guess how to spell Tchaikovsky, to actually read the program notes, and to stop dangling their participles. They learn that “good” is not a precise adjective and that the word “relatable” sets my teeth on edge. And, as valuable as it is to learn how to write a coherent sentence that communicates a clear idea, they learn a life lesson that is not at all about writing. They tell me about it in their final essay of the course.

“Art takes us out of our comfort zones into a world we didn’t even know existed.”

“While the media is telling what to think, artists guide us to think in a different way.”

“This was my first symphony. It will not be my last.”

“Covering art is not just letting people know when some art gallery opens, but letting people know that gallery is a glimpse into the world around us as well as our own identities.”

“Here I was, a sports writer in the land of violas and pirouettes…It was my growth mentally as a person that was tested here, wrapping my brain around the arts, beautiful creations that I had never been exposed to, and making my own sense out of them. I believe that I not only survived, but learned to thrive and embrace a world, once thought to be another dimension by me, as my own.”

The formation of the mind and heart of students is one of five themes that shape the new University strategic plan—a plan that envisions Marquette as a place where students examine the purpose of their lives in the context of a world larger than their own backyard.

Yet how can students come to understand what is beyond their own experience? A student cannot be lectured into becoming a socially conscious and humane professional. A compassionate heart and soul cannot be formed on command.

But students can make and witness art. They can stand on the stage and sit in the audience. Even if they don’t speak the language, they can see the canvas and hear the music, and there, souls and hearts speak to each other without boundaries.

It can be a brave thing to sit in an audience. It requires nothing less than being fully human. We already know how to understand each other. From the audience, we can clearly see it.

 

This appeared in the Fall semester issue of the Marquette University Diederich College of Communication COMM magazine.

Helen Frankenthaler’s “Flirt”

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I LIKE PINK.

Helen Frankenthaler’s work has been criticized for using colors that are too sweet. For being too poetic. For being too soft. For being, in other words, too female.

Yet “right out of the gate, Frankenthaler was making history,” writes Ted Loos in Sotheby’s. Frankenthaler, who refined a technique of Jackson Pollock’s, launched the Color Field method of painting in washes of thinned pigment poured directly onto untreated canvas, and influenced Washington Color School founders Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, was simultaneously guilty of being a woman in an aggressively macho art world.

Frankenthaler wanted no quarter for her gender. “For me,” she said, “being a ‘lady painter’ was never an issue. I don’t resent being a female painter. I don’t exploit it. I paint.”

And viewers look, from their individual perspectives of lives lived either in the privileged center of cultural identity or out on the margins. Those in the center are often ignorant of those who are not, and can find it easy to overlook, dismiss, or minimize the relevance and accuracy of marginalized viewpoints and wisdoms. Those dwelling in the margins, however, tend to see the center clearly. Uncomfortably so. What feels unfamiliar to the center is sometimes then classified as being too much of something—too closely identified with some other race, gender, sexuality, or class. The center might benefit from the occasional application of rose-colored glasses.

It is easy to be blind to the power in pink. To miss the courage present in sweetness. To overlook what is tough and tenacious about beauty. To ignore the fierce, death-defying nature of things that are lyrical.

Unmasking what is hidden and daring to question common assumptions are the tenets of critical thinking, an essential skill for an examined and conscious life and a learning objective for Marquette students. Art teaches this, over and over again, if we look from perspectives not our own and if we remember the world is larger than our own experience. And when we are taught with joy and color and beauty, it is no less profound than angrier, darker lessons.

It’s pink.

Deal with it.

This article appeared in the “Viewer’s Voice” exhibit at the Haggerty Art Museum on the campus of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was published in the museum exhibit catalog in 2013.

For a review in OnMilwaukee.com, click here.

 

Sources

Ted Loos in Sotheby’s (April 1, 2013, http://www.sothebys.com/en/inside/BlogHome/Access/on-the-loos/2013/04/making_their_markf.html).

Gruen, John (1972). The Party’s Over Now: Reminiscences of the fifties—New York’s artists, writers, musicians, and their friends. Viking Press. ISBN 0-916366-54-5.

Helen Frankenthaler, December 12, 1928-December 27, 2011. “Flirt,” 1995, 2003 color screenprint

 

 

The Hero Within: How the Events of September 11 Changed Our Ideas About Heroes and Masculinity

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We all remember where we were that day.

Ten years ago, I was editor of a Minneapolis magazine. At the first news bulletin, my staff gathered in my office around a television with bad reception, where we sat for hours watching grainy images and tried to comprehend how we should react as journalists, as Americans, and as human beings.

The cultural and personal devastation of the events of 9/11 became etched in the minds and hearts of all of us—not just firefighters, not just New Yorkers, not just Americans. The entire world was affected and bore witness. Suddenly one Tuesday morning, the way we thought of ourselves and each other shifted and there was a new order of things.

We struggled then to comprehend the incomprehensible and to make sense of senseless tragedy. We struggle still. The events of 9/11 put into motion thousands of cultural ripples and waves, evolutions and fractures, forces and reactions—all rich resources for understanding ourselves and the world we live in more completely and compassionately. Exploring what happened and how we and others reacted to it may help us decipher who we are as people, what we can expect of ourselves in times of trauma and great stress, and what we might become for ourselves and each other.

The lost labor of women rescuers of 9/11: “Let’s boil!” v. “Let’s roll!”

After the initial shock of 9/11, media scholars began to sift through coverage and note how newspapers, magazines, and television depicted the events: men were represented as heroes and women were represented as passive observers or were entirely absent. I wondered if photos of women actively involved in heroic labor existed and went in search of other, less public images of 9/11.

Working with graduate student Brittany Husted, I first surveyed images of 9/11 in major national magazines and newspapers. We found images of men digging through rubble, raising the flag, directing rescue efforts. We found images of women mourning at vigils or hugging each other. Then, we looked for images of 9/11 that were not presented in mainstream media. Our sources were an art gallery that collected images taken by survivors and witnesses, as well as two collections of photographs taken by New York police officers. We found that many of these images were quite different from the ones we all remember seeing in mainstream media. We found images of male and female rescuers working side-by-side, women helping each other breath through the dust, women administrators giving orders, and women firefighters digging through the debris with their search-and-rescue dogs.

Our third step was to look for stories of female heroes. We found them. Three women rescue workers were killed that day. Six women first responders earned the National Liberty Museum Police and Firefighters Award of Valor. And then there was Sandra Bradshaw and the other women of United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Much media coverage focused on the group of passengers—repeatedly referred to as “tall, athletic men”—who apparently rushed the cockpit to take back control of the plane. The story of passenger Todd Beamer who said “Let’s roll!” is well-known. But what is less known is the story of Bradshaw, who phoned in identification of three hijackers and boiled water at the back of the plane to use on the captors.

Not seeing the women who were heroes in 9/11 is an important absence for all of us. Such images show us that sometimes men need saving and sometimes women are rescuers. And, they give women something men have long had: heroes to look up to.

The new television heroes: Changes in television masculinity since 9/11

Not so many years ago, television heroes—The Rifleman, Dragnet, Ben Casey, Adam-12, Marcus Welby, M.D.—were nearly perfect. They knew right from wrong, caught the bad guys, said wise things to their children, and saved the world without a single self-doubt. But it seemed to me that a distinctive new television hero seemed to be emerging from the ashes of 9/11. He appears in male-centered television dramas such as The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Rescue Me, Boston Legal, Dexter, and Mad Men.

Post 9/11 television heroes are not lone drifters on the Western frontier, as were the cowboy heroes in 1950s and 1960s television. They are not surgically altered with bionics to be six million dollar men or dwell in fantasy space ships, as did the sci-fi heroes of 1970s and 1980s television. Although they save people from fires, solve crimes, and make brilliant diagnoses in the nick of time, they are not superheroes. They struggle to pay the rent and buy the groceries. They have money woes, wives who annoy them, and children who misbehave. They are disappointing husbands, straying lovers, fumbling parents, and struggling addicts.

Why did this new type of new hero appear when it did, and what might this mean? The events of 9/11 and how America has redrawn its ideas of heroism since then may have something to do with it.

Although many heroic moments no doubt occurred during 9/11 and were likely performed by professional rescuers and office workers alike, in truth, very few people were actually rescued that day. The Towers fell too fast, the firefighters died too quickly. Most survivors rescued themselves by walking out on their own two feet. Faulty radio equipment, bad communication between rescue organizations, and the improbable nature of the disaster combined to doom rescue workers to death before they could do their work. In fact, it was the rescuers themselves who required rescue—and did not receive it.

The enemy on 9/11 could not be identified or repelled; U.S. soil could not be effectively defended. The uniformed force on the ground standing in for the military—firefighters, police, port authority officers—were killed along with civilians. In this environment, the nation made space for flawed and uncertain heroes, heroes who are imperfect, heroes who do not always succeed, and venerated the attempts at greatness made by mere mortals.

The characters in post-9/11 male-centered television dramas openly acknowledge the instability and uneven terrain of both masculinity and national security. The perfect, infallible hero is gone. In the post-9/11 world, he cannot save anyone. The new, flawed heroes need liberation and salvation as much as they promise to deliver it.

The legacy of 9/11

Of course there are many legacies of 9/11. My work is about just one legacy that I see reflected in certain media representations. The images we see on television and the images we do not see in media, such as photographs of female rescuers, have something to tell us. They reveal our assumptions about who and what is heroic. We can challenge those assumptions. Of course women can be feisty and brave. Of course flawed humans can be compassionate and tender and contribute something of value that the rest of us need. The classic Greek hero was an imperfect human who achieved moments—but not a complete lifetime—of greatness. Being a hero may not be as much a full-time occupation as a full-time awareness of our potential to be, at any given moment, someone’s rescuer, in ways large and small. Living an ordinary life with grace and insight can be a hero’s work, too.

 

This article first appeared in Marquette magazine in November 2011. See the article here.