Saturday, December 12, 2009

Post 10: Tiger Woods Media Coverage

So ever since the end of November, Tiger Woods has been in the news not for his amazing golf game, but for personal and private issues he sought to keep under wraps for years. With headlines on the New York Times and CNN home pages for the past few days, Tiger Woods is definitely getting more continuous exposure than he ever has during his entire athletic career. But this time, it's not for good reasons.

Some people will say that the coverage of the Tiger Woods incident is excessive and just plain ridiculous, almost similar to the Balloon Boy story I mentioned in a previous post. Americans are obsessed with scandals, though. I think we've always had a soft spot for controversies, especially when it comes to the rich and famous. And when one of the people we least expected ends up in the limelight for doing something bad, we're even more intrigued.

So why are we obsessed with celebrities? Maybe we just want to hear about how much different their lives are from our own. With all that money and fame and power, it's easy to fantasize about what they do with all of that. Maybe because most celebrities are extremely concerned with maintaining a popular image, we assume that they cover up flaws in their personal lives with skilled publicists. When those flaws surface, though, the public is all over it thanks to the media.

Even though a lot of people say that Tiger deserves his privacy as he goes through this tough time with his family, it's only a half-true thought. In all honesty, I think the general public wants to know EVERYTHING that happened that night: what the fight between him and his wife was exactly about, what made him leave his house that night, the emotions he felt as he left the house and crashed the car, etc. If it could all play out in a blockbuster movie, I think that even the people who wanted to grant Tiger privacy would want to watch every frame.
Even a Taiwanese television station created a 3D simulation of what might have happened the night of the crash.

So is this obsession with celebrity lives a bad thing? Not only does this obsession manifest itself in the news coverage we see currently, but it can also be seen in the types of television shows that are on air. Again, this phenomenon might be related to the reason why we see lots of extensive coverage on stories that are fluffy and somewhat eccentric and unexpected. It's easier for people to grasp flaws in a personal life than a war on terror or health care.
Regardless of whether or not examining the lives of celebrities is right or wrong, it has been a staple in the media and will probably continue to be.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Post 9: Are We a Better-Informed Society Today?

In class, we discussed whether or not today's society is better informed than the society of the past because of the current surplus in news. Now, we can get news stories anywhere and everywhere. There's TV, print, the Internet. We can easily get instant updates on breaking stories and real-time data on the scene. In addition, there are a wide range of perspectives that we can read in blog form that are literally available at your fingertips. All this news, all these opinions ... does this mean that we are well-informed? Well, yes and no.

Having all of this data around us can be exciting and scary. Once we want to know something, we can immediately Google it, click on a couple results, and find what we're looking for. Some people feel encouraged and enticed to explore all of the information available to them, weed through all of the articles, and establish their own opinions. Others might feel appalled or intimated by the amount of information around them because there's just too much and it's hard to tell what is true and what is false. It can be dangerous to be swimming in information. If you pick up only certain information and it all turns out to be wrong, you can formulate an opinion based on fault information.

In today's fragmented media era, there are so many different sources of news, including sources that people like Pulitzer or Hearst would definitely not approve of because of their "lack of professionalism" and training. Does this mean that these sources are not reputable? Not necessarily. Look at TMZ and their Michael Jackson coverage. TMZ was the first celebrity gossip news source to break the news of The King of Pop's death. Where was everyone else? The major networks were definitely not on top of it. NBC, ABC, and CBS probably knew of TMZ's claims, but couldn't move forward with making any public comments because they needed to check up on their sources to confirm that what they would be reporting is true.

(TMZ's homepage when the first reported Jackson's death this summer.)

It's getting harder and harder to know what's true or not out there, especially with the amount of sources there are now thanks to the Internet and blogs. So who's to blame if you pick up the wrong information and form an opinion around it: you or the media? It's hard to say. In my opinion, today's range of information is dependent on people's education to help them weed through the junk and excess and to get to the main and true points. Education, I believe, has become even more important in today's Internet age because with our ability to access virtually any piece of information, we need to be able to discern what is important and what is not.

Education, not necessarily the availability of information, is what can make a society better informed. Since today's media age requires people to be knowledgeable in what is right and wrong, it's necessary to ensure that as many people as possible are educated enough to distinguish between what's important and what's not.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post 8: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert = Legit News?

People have varying opinions on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They're two Comedy Central "political correspondents" who have the power to make us laugh about the news. Does this mean that they are credible news sources? The major networks can try to discredit them all they want, but Stewart and Colbert definitely strike a chord in America's hearts, especially in the young demographic.

I can tell you from first-hand perspective that very few of my classmates watch news on TV. Sure, most of my friends have the New York Times as their homepage and read it every morning during breakfast or before (or during) class and tune into CNN as they sit at the Ratty eating lunch or dinner, but ABC? NBC? CBS? Nope. Most people my age couldn't care less about the news anchors on those channels and what's being reported. Instead, lots of us go straight to watch a channel that's not known for news: Comedy Central.
Comedy Central's line-up includes, of course, comedy shows, but for the news, a lot of my friends (myself included) love to tune into The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. When we recall the rise of today's Fragmented Media era, it becomes evident that these two news shows exemplify what the era is all about. They add a comedic twist to the news with a political left and right slant. However, are these shows credible news sources? Should we trust what comes out of Stewart's and Colbert's mouths?
Although both Stewart and Colbert are educated, neither of them received formal journalism training, something that Hearst and Pulitzer would certainly look down upon, especially if they knew the large following and fans that both funnymen have. Both comedians have one thirty-minute show that airs multiple times throughout the work week, which pales in comparison to the amount of news coverage that the major networks and alternative such as CNN and MSNBC can devote. So in essence, those of us who solely turn to Stewart and Colbert are definitely missing out on a majority of the happenings in the country and the world that are covered by major networks actually known for reporting news.

Does this mean that we're doing ourselves a disservice by only tuning into these Comedy Central "news" shows? No, I don't believe so. I personally believe that Colbert and Stewart are news catalysts. That is, they incite the young demographic, a group that might appear disinterested in current events, to explore the news learn more about the goings on in the world. Because of the Internet giving us the ability to access news virtually whenever and wherever, people like Colbert and Stewart don't have to give us all of the information we need to know; we can easily access what we want to know ourselves in our own time. They are credible news sources, but they're well aware that they are not full-time reporters that have all of the facts. That, they leave, up to us.

Post 7: More Research Paper Progress - Nancy Pelosi's "List"

When I found out that Nancy Pelosi has a list of politicians that she favors and disfavors, I was really surprised that 1. this information was released to the public and 2. this list exists in the first place. I find it potentially damaging (not severely, though) that she has delineated her friends and foes this way. Sure, it sounds as if these lists aren't set in stone, but still. Doesn't it sound kind of .... high school .... to you? It's also a really girly thing to do; I remember my female classmates who had lists for lots of different things (even South Park has an episode that talks about this girl tendency).

This list business does not add help the fact that she is a woman in politics. Because of her gender, she is already in a position to be criticized for her ability to handle political situations with good sense because this has been the trend for the longest time in the country. Sure, one of her close associates explained that this list wasn't like a hit list or anything and that Nancy believes that those that have "done bad" to her will be "punished" anyone (not necessarily by her), it doesn't help that this list exists to begin with.

This is prime fodder for Republicans and any anti-Pelosi people out there to criticize her and believe less in her as a leader in our government. By releasing that a list like this exists gives many of her opponents the right to question whether or not she makes decisions based on the political situation or based on her personal preferences for a specific politician.

Knowledge of this list also doesn't help the case Pelosi is naturally trying to prove that women are just as able government leaders as men. There is already a lot of sexism and gender stereotyping in politics that women in the political world have to deal with. Since it's considered very "feminine" to be emotional and let emotions cloud judgments, certain female politicians like Hillary Clinton make a significant effort to balance these feminine qualities with "masculine" ones of assertiveness and competitiveness. For instance, Hillary maintains a very masculine or gender-neutral appearance, wearing staid colors and keeping her hair very short. Also, she almost never shows emotions that could be considered "weak" in public, except for the time her presidential campaign came to an end in 2008.

Nancy Pelosi also does a fairly good job at balancing the masculine and feminine qualities in her behavior, but this list business? I'm not sure if that was a smart move at all.

I'm really surprised that Nancy Pelosi would make have lists like this. She should've known that the public would find out about it eventually. Something like this definitely affects the opinions people have about her leadership effectiveness. She's helping her opponents discredit her ability to become a good leader by associating herself with something that makes her seem very petty and almost childish.

Post 6: Research Paper Progress

Research on my Nancy Pelosi paper is going well. I realized that many comments made on Nancy Pelosi that have nothing to do with her political agenda have something to do with her clothing and appearance. As mentioned in my previous blog post, an image of Pelosi on MSNBC had a caption that explained who designed the pantsuit she was wearing in the image. I found that really odd, especially since we don't see the same treatment for other male politicians' images.

Pelosi does have a reputation of dressing well, a quality that isn't often attributed to other female politicians like Hillary Clinton. She's even been called a "babe" by Elle Magazine. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Does it hurt Pelosi's credibility as competition politician?

A lot of the comments made on Pelosi's appearance are randomly scattered in articles pertaining to her, but when the focus is on her looks rather than her agenda, this coverage tends to remain in the style sections of the newspaper or fashion segments of television shows. The amount of time spent on covering Pelosi's suit designers or jewelry does not seem to overshadow her job as House Speaker.

Most reporters do not focus solely on her fashion sense, but do like to highlight it. Why? Maybe it's because they know that certain members of the public are interested in stories like these. There is probably a significant portion of the public that would like to know who designs Pelosi's pantsuits and dresses and created her jewelry. This brings up the question of who controls news content: the media or the public? Logically, the media controls the news they release, but I do believe that a significant portion of the news is released because the media knows that the public wants to hear stories like that.

So generally so far, it seems that the portrayal of Nancy Pelosi by the media, in regard to her appearance, is sexist, yet does not detract from her job. We still hear about her political stances and the issues at hand. We aren't overwhelmed with talk about her Armani suits or jewelry designers. However, I do think that media coverage of Nancy Pelosi that criticizes her tone of voice and emotional state DO detract from her authority and competency in government. But that explanation is for another blog post.

Post 5: China's Female Rock Musicians and their Media Reception

For my East Asian Studies independent research senior capstone, I'm investigating the development of music throughout 20th century China and focusing on female rock musicians that emerged in the 1980s and 90s. Within that focus, I'll be investigating media reception of these female rockers and I figured that here is a good place to put down some of my preliminary thoughts.

The development of the "female rocker" in China was an extremely radical event in the 1980s and 90s. First off, China had recently emerged from a tightly controlled Communist government care of Mao Zedong. After Deng Xiaoping rose to power after Mao's death, the loosening of the restrictions on the Chinese people manifested itself in many different ways, one of which was the emergence of rock music.

Chinese musicians were influenced by Western rock and thus arose Chinese rock music. In a genre known for its rebelliousness and masculinity, the style came to naturally be dominated by men. Cui Jian, China's "grandfather of rock," was lauded and applauded for his musical talents and politically-charged lessons embedded in his lyrics. Many critics embraced his messages and in turn, the public listened. Women were slow to enter the rock genre, if they ever did. Traditionally, if women were singers, they were expected to belong in the pop music genre, singing sweet songs of love and happiness. Compared to rock music's characteristic angst-ridden, controversial lyrical content, pop music content seemed somewhat superficial and fluffy.

(Chinese rocker, Cui Jian)

When some female singers, such as Ai Jing, did enter the rock realm, though, this was their chance to voice their own opinions and, similar to Cui Jian, express their political views hidden within their song lyrics. This was also their opportunity to air their disagreement with the general gender inequality throughout China.

How did the media respond to this? Well, if the media even acknowledged their music to begin with? Unfortunately, many news outlets either ignored the presence of female rock musicians or analyzed their music purely on an instrumental level. No notice was paid to these singers' lyrical content. Because the many controllers of the media refused to accept the fact that women were able to participate in rock music, these women, initially believing that this was their chance to have a say and voice in the political atmosphere at the time, were being silenced because of their gender.

It goes to show you how much power the media has over what information and knowledge the public has and can access. Do we notice something similar in American media? If we do, it's definitely to a lesser degree. Perhaps in the 80s and 90s, rock was considered a very masculine genre, but these days, I feel like women have gained somewhat stable footing in the rock realm.

Post 4: My Official Final Research Paper Topic

After thinking more and more about my initial three potential paper topics from earlier in the semester, I realized that those topics weren't very politically driven. The gender equality issue from the New York Times op-ed still resonated with my mind, so after brainstorming with Nick, my topic evolved into focusing on Nancy Pelosi and how the media portrays her. Do politicians and the media treat her "fairly"? Or does the fact that she is a woman affect the way people describe and respond to her? There are definitely tons of questions that I want to address before I have done any research on her.

Coincidentally, right after I determined that this would be my topic, I was browsing the magazines at the Rock and saw that New York Magazine's cover had a smiling headshot of her on it as well as a fill-in-the-blank sentence running across her forehead: THE MOST _____ WOMAN IN THE UNITED STATES.* The asterisk led my eyes to the bottom of the cover, where I had the options to fill in the blank with the following adjectives: powerful, reviled, effective, oblivious, sincere, plastic, misunderstood.

This magazine cover pretty much sums up my current goals for the research paper. How has/does Nancy Pelosi's gender affect her political career? If a male House Speaker were on the same New York Magazine cover, would there be a fill-in-the-blank sentence running across his forehead or would his descriptive adjective already be known and agreed upon by the general public? Would the Nancy Pelosi's "oblivious" option on the bottom of the cover be changed to "ignorant" for the male Speaker?

I definitely want to investigate how Nancy Pelosi is supported/denounced by specific groups. Do male Democrats openly support her? Are female Democrats her biggest fans? Also, how do Republican female politicians acknowledge her? Do they rally with the party first or their gender?

If space permits, I might even want to compare and contrast Nancy Pelosi to Hillary Clinton. Both women are female politicians in high places, but both (as far as my knowledge goes so far) choose to represent themselves extremely differently. Nancy Pelosi, to me, seems to embrace the fact that she is a woman and is openly feminine; she wears dresses, bright colors, wears her hair in a bob. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, seems to present herself in a more androgynous way; she's infamous for her pantsuits, wears her hair extremely short.

I remember in class one day, we discussed the "Hillary Clinton crying incident." It was most likely stage (an example of polioptics), but it definitely had an impact on people's perceptions on Hillary's personality and mentality.

Females in politics tend to face greater discrimination and scrutiny for their behavior and apperance than do their male counterparts. Why? It's hard to pinpoint where this all began. This double standard occurs not only in politics, but in many realms where women are either not expected to be major players or where they are not expected to belong whatsoever.

Even though it's the 21st century already and women have been "breaking through the glass ceiling" in areas such as business, this phenomenon is still just simply that: a phenomenon. It hasn't become "the norm" yet for women to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or political leaders at a state and national level. If it was the norm, then I wouldn't feel appropriate calling it a phenomenon.

(The caption that appears underneath this image on MSNBC: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dressed in an Armani acqua blue-grey pantsuit, is one of 2006's biggest winners.")

I've noticed that female politicians are often criticized on things that male politicians would never be criticized about. For example, clothing seems to be a really big concern for the media when it comes to women politicians. In captions underneath pictures of Nancy Pelosi, sometimes the designer of her outfits are noted. Do they ever make a caption explaining who Obama's suit designers are? Men get it way easier when it comes to judging on appearance, except for maybe Senator John Edwards and his expensive haircut. Then again, look at where he is now.

Why do women get this "special treatment" from the media? Is it really due to their gender and is it fair? These are definitely potential questions I hope to answer in my final research paper.