Echoes of Cultural Indicators at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and the Media

screentimeThese days George Gerbner must be smiling down in the direction of  Mount Saint Mary’s University, home of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and the Media which, since 2008, has built up a lot of research on gender prevalence in family entertainment.  To boost their mission of tracking gender and minority inequality on the screen (with financial assistance from Google.org) they are turning to cutting edge software, the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient (or GD-IQ), comprised of video- and audio-recognition technology matched with algorithms “to identify gender, speaking time and additional details about characters presented in films, television shows and other media.” Automating this kind of data collection really changes the playing field from back in the day, i.e. the 1970s and 1980s when this sort of pioneering media research relied on video tape and manual coding.

Long before anyone was thinking about casting inequities, before celebrities were making speeches about such at award ceremonies, Gerbner was documenting the disconnect between populations inside and outside of the television set.  He noticed, and then systematically tracked, how the race, age, and gender of characters did not match the reality in the “real” world. To study this dynamic, he built an ongoing landmark research project called Cultural Indicators (1972-1996), amassing a cumulative database describing many thousands of characters and programs by key features, many of them demographic.

Check out a good summary of a 10-year study of TV demographics (based on the analysis of 19,642 speaking parts appearing in 1,371 major network prime time and Saturday morning children’s programs) as revealed by the Cultural Indicators Project in this 1982 piece written for American Demographics, The World According to Television” (Gerbner, Signorelli, October, 1982). 

Over 10 years later Gerbner observed, in a chapter called “Casting and Fate: Women and Minorities on Television Drama, Game Shows, and News” that appeared in Communication, Culture, Community (edited by Ed Hollander, Paul Rutten and Coen van der Linden, 1995):  subpage

“A general demographic overview finds that women comprise one-third or less of characters in all samples except daytime serials where they are 45 percent and in game shows where they are 55 percent. The smallest percentage of women is in the news (28%) and in children’s programs (23%). Even that shrinks to 18 percent as the importance of the role rises to ‘major character’.

While all seniors are greatly underrepresented, visibly old people, roughly 65 and above, are hardest to find on television. Their representation ranges from none on the youth-oriented Fox network and about 1% on network daytime series to less than 3 percent in the other samples. In real life, their proportion is 12% and growing. African-Americans are most visible on Fox and in game shows. On major network prime-time programs they are 11% and on daytime serials 9% of all characters. They are least visible on Saturday morning children’s programs. (Many cartoon characters cannot be reliably coded for race.)

Latino/Hispanic characters are rarely seen. Only in game shows do they rise significantly above 1 percent representation. Americans of Asian/Pacific origin and Native Americans (‘Indians’) are even more conspicuous by their absence. Less then 1 percent (in the case of Native Americans 0.3 percent) is their general representation.

Almost as invisible are members of the ‘lower class’ (judged by a three-way classification of the socio-economic status of major characters). Although the U.S. census classifies more than 14 percent of the general population, 29 percent of Latino/Hispanics, and 33 percent of African Americans as ‘poor,’ and many more as low-income wage-earners, on network television they make up only 1.3 percent of characters in prime time, 1.2 percent in daytime, half that (0.6 percent) in children’s programs, and 0.2 percent in the news.” p.126-127

Fast forward to the Geena Davis Institute and the GD-IQ, and we have, as reported in The New York Times, How Long Is an Actress Onscreen? A New Tool Finds the Answer Faster (Melena Ryzik, Sept. 14, 2016), Dr. Shri Narayanan, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California, studying the 200 top-grossing, non-animated films of 2014 and 2015 to find that “overall, in 2015, male characters were both seen and heard about twice as much as female characters. Parity on paper does not help: In films with male and female leads, the men nonetheless appear and speak more often than the women. Even in films with female leads, the men still get nearly equal screen and speaking time.”  

This new, emboldened-by-technology research is asking the very same questions Gerbner and his team of researchers here at the Annenberg School first posed so many decades ago.  There is even talk, once the software gets more fine-tuned, to look at STEM fields—how characters who play scientists and engineers are cast in screen roles,  how much speaking do they get to do, etc.  Sound familiar?  See Scientists on the TV Screen (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorelli) in Society May/June 1981).

Let’s hope today’s research on screen diversity can be the change-agent in the 21st century that George Gerbner hoped his would be in the previous one.

 

October CommQuote

Our selection for October  (in just under the wire) comes from George W.S. Trow’s screed on American culture, WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF NO CONTEXT Originally appearing in 1980 as a long, even by New Yorker standards, essay in a special issue of the magazine, it was subsequently published as a book, and in 1997 reprinted with an additional introduction by the author.  

The essay is an indictment of American culture in general, specifically television and, to a lesser extent, magazines. I think the essay holds up pretty well applied to today’s culture.  Where it falls short, in the sense of feeling a little dated, is in the vitriol’s television-centeredness, given how television has become so varied and, as argued by many recent critics, out-performs the movies in storytelling innovation and nuance. But I find his idea of demographics as the “new history” chilling and even more spot-on in the internet age which finds us awash in puerile preferences that are not judged, but merely counted.  More on demographics in two excepts below that position the reader to think about the role of the hit (tv show). 

For 21st century context, you might want to check out Emily Nussbaum’s piece in the October 12 The New Yorker, The Price Is Right: What Advertising Does to TV, which touches on the Trow essay (and got me reading it). 

The New History

The New History was the record of the record of the expression of demographically significant preferences: the lunge of demography here as opposed to there...  (p.63)

False History

For a while, certain voice continued.  Booming.  As though history were still a thing done by certain men in a certain place.  It was embarrassing.  To a person growing up in the power of demography, this voice was foolish.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

To a person growing up in the power of demography, it was clear that history had to do not with the powerful actions of certain men but with the processes of choice and preference.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

The power shifted.  In the phrase “I Like Ike,” the power shifted.  It shifted from General Eisenhower to someone called Ike, who embodied certain aspects of General Eisenhower and certain aspects of affection for General Eisenhower.  Then it shifted again.  From “Ike,” you could see certain aspects of General Eisenhower.  From “Like,” all you could see was other Americans engaged in the process of intimacy.  This was a comfort.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

The comfort was in agreement, the easy exercise of the modes of choice and preference.  It was attractive and, as it was presented, not difficult.  But, once interfered with, the processes of choice and preferences began to take on an uncomfortable aspect.  Choice in respect to important matters became more and more difficult; people had found it troublesome to settle on a mode of work, for instance, or a partner.  Choice in respect to trivial matters, on the other hand, assumed an importance that no one could have thought to predict.  So what happened then was that important forces that had not been used, because they fell outside the new scale of national life (which was the life of television), began to find a home in the exercise of preference concerning trivial matters, so that attention, aspiration, even affection came to adhere to shimmers thrown up by the demography in trivial matters.  The attraction of inappropriate attention, aspiration, and affection to a shimmer spins out, in its operation, a little mist of energy which is rather like a sense of love, but trivial, rather like a sense of home, but apt to disappear.  In this mist exists the Aesthetic of the Hit.  (p.64)

–From: Within the Context of No-Context by George WS Trow, The New Yorker, November 17, 1980

 

Introducing Kulture

Kulture Asian American Media Watchdog (PRNewsFoto/Kulture Media)

There’s a new watchdog on the block called Kulture, a website devoted to tracking offensive representations of Asian Americans in the media. Explains Kulture’s founder Tim Gupta in the September 28 press release: “Many Asians know TV shows represent them in a bad light. But they may think they’re alone in that view. Kulture spotlights how Hollywood mocks and excludes Asian men while fetishizing Asian women. Kulture helps Asians and those concerned about media racism stay abreast of how Asians are depicted, and we will eventually serve as a platform for them to take action against Hollywood offenders.”

The site is easy to navigate and as it builds up more data it will be interesting to track offenders by media outlets, media types (TV shows, TV ads, movies, magazine ads), most recent offenses, and worst offenses. Offense categories include Denigration (Asians are weak), Denigration (Mockery of Asians), Gender (Asian Woman as plaything to White Male), Gender (White Male gets girl over Asian male), and Self-Aggrandizement (Whites as central), among others.  The site welcomes visitor input–anyone who spots an offense is encouraged to file out an Offense Report for refereed inclusion on site. To “join the bleeding-edge of Asian American activism,” simply sign up to receive bimonthly offense reports.

If you read Kulture’s manifesto of sorts–I’m referring to the About Us section–see if you don’t feel the ghost of George Gerbner and Cultivation Theory.  A convincing case is built for their enterprise. Television is 1) a storytelling medium, 2) the average person invests five hours a day watching it, and 3) these message (story-delivering) systems, movies included, harbor deleterious effects over time. The effects are most damaging to minorities since identities are by and large socially constructed. Though some research is cited in tandem with a couple of these points, this is classic Gerbner, going back to the early 70s.  It’s safe to say he would approve of this project. 

 

 

Camera Obscura Themed Issue on Reality TV

1_88.coverCamera Obscura’s latest issue (Volume 30, Number 1, 2015) is a handsome offering on reality TV titled: PROJECT REALITY TV.  The Introduction by the issue’s editors, Lynne Joyrich, Misha Kavka, and Brenda R. Weber, offers a playful preshow to the rest of the issue.

“[Project Reality TV: Preshow Special]…interrogates, while also playing with, some of TV’s forms and conventions, particularly those of the “preshow special” and the interview format. Borrowing from this format, it explores key issues around the appeal of reality television and the reasons for approaching it from a scholarly perspective, particularly that of feminist media studies. This version of the studio Q&A format, honed into a sub-genre by reality TV itself, is designed to elicit not only interest but knowledge—in this case, regarding what we see as some of the most significant questions facing studies of reality television, especially the specific studies dealing with health, housewives, “hot bodies,” and “hoochie mamas” that are included in “Project Reality TV.”  –Abstract of Introduction

In that Introduction  Kavka observes: “This demand to ‘be yourself’ for the camera seems contradictory, and yet it is increasingly naturalized in our media-saturated age. Well before  the spread of social media, selfies, and the Twitterverse, the reality TV camera revealed the mediated subject to be positioned somewhere between personal agency and the public gaze, between the  neoliberal hetoric of choice and the sociocultural norms and expectations that constrain such choices at every turn. In a sense, the study of reality television measures this ‘inbetween.’ No matter how formulaic the format is, no matter how cognizant of the camera the participants are, a reality show is ultimatela negoiation between producers and participants, scripted arcs and ad-libbed lines, social norms and individual resistances—all of which makes for very rich viewing experiences of these texts.” (pp. 2-3)

Lineup of articles:

    Reality Moms, Real Monsters: Transmediated Continuity, Reality Celebrity, and the Female Grotesque / Jennifer Lynn Jones and Brenda R. Weber

    Making Television Live: Mediating Biopolitics in Obesity Programming /  Michael Litwack

    (TV) Junkies in Need of an Intervention: On Addictive Spectatorship and Recovery Television / Hunter Hargraves

    Sex on the Shore: Care and the Ethics of License in Jersey Shore /  Misha Kavka

    They Gon’ Think You Loud Regardless: Ratchetness, Reality Television, and Black Womanhood /  Kristen J. Warner

    “I’m Very Rich, Bitch!”: The Melodramatic Money Shot and the Excess of Racialized Gendered Affect in the Real Housewives Docusoaps / Pier Dominguez

     “Quality” Reality and the Bravo Media Reality Series / Jane Feuer

 

Associated Press and British Movietone Newsreels Come to YouTube

Tmovietonewo world famous newsreel archives, The Associated Press and British Movietone, have just announced they are making their footage available on YouTube, making it “the largest upload of historical news content on the video-sharing platform to date,” more than 550,000 video stories dating from 1895 to the present day, according to the July 22 press release.

Stephen Nuttall, director of YouTube in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, observed: “Making this content available on YouTube is a wonderful initiative from AP and British Movietone that will breathe new life into their footage and no doubt delight our global community–from students researching history projects to curious culture-vultures and the billions in between. It’s an historical treasure trove that will give YouTube users around the world a moving window into the past and I can’t wait to explore it.”

imagesX4U92P2FThe AP portion of these archives is not finite either; it will be continually refreshed with contemporary footage.

Once in YouTube, you can browse the The AP Archive and British Movietone separately or do event or topic searches with the general YouTube content and see what newsreels come up.

 

 

 

 

Update on Film and Television Databases

Penn Libraries has recently re-subscribed to two important current film and television databases, the Film & Television Literature Index and The FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals, complimenting ongoing subscriptions to Film Index International (British Film Institute) and the AFI (American Film Institute) Catalog.  The title similarities makes it all a bit confusing so here’s a little rundown. poptv

The most centrally situated database is Film & Television Literature Index, which is now, conveniently, an EBSCO product.  On the EBSCO platform users are met with a familiar interface and can search related files at the same time, namely (but not only) Communication Source insuring very solid interdisciplinary coverage of their topic. The file includes over 400 scholarly journals as well as non-peer reviewed glossy film magazines. Subjects covered are wide-ranging–film and television theory, preservation and restoration, screenwriting, production, cinematography, technical aspects of film and television, entertainment law, and film and television reviews. While our subscription is for the index and abstracts only, full text for a lion’s share of results will be just a click away via PennText which connects to hundreds of source files (Sage, Wiley, etc.).  While the bulk of material in F&TLI comes from the 70s to the present, articles from as far back as 1913 may surface.

The FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals brings together contributions from experts around the world dedicated to film preservation, cataloging and documentation. The main database contains citations from more than 345 periodicals, offering  in-depth coverage of the worlds foremost academic and popular film journals. In addition to indexing film periodicals, this resource also contains several other databases: the International Index to Television Periodicals (1979-1998), Treasures from the Film Archives, the FIAF Affiliates’ Publications, the Documentation Collections, which describe the holdings of film archives and libraries around the world, as well as and FIAFs Reference Works, which includes keyword-searchable access to 5 works: Critical Ideas in Television Studies, Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, Film Analysis: A Norton Reader, Oxford History of World Cinema, and Routledge Companion to Film Studies. A strength of FIAF is its coverage of animation journals and European film magazines.

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Then there is BFI’s Film Index International which provides unmatched coverage of literature on international film and film personalities. Its Summary of Film and Television (SIFT) database is collated by the BFI and reaches back 70 years. It includes bibliographies that, unlike freely available resources such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), point to scholarly and academic work in the field of Cinema Studies. Entries include full cast and crew lists, searchable plot synopses, filmographies, biographical details, important dates, awards and prizes, and thorough bibliographies, with citations for original reviews from the time of a film’s release as well as interviews, historical surveys and obituaries. Includes works of films from blockbusters to art house films from the present day back to early cinema and the first silent movies. This, more than any other comparable index, is the place for world cinema (and television)–European, Asian, Latin American, and African.

If your interest is feature-length films produced in America or financed by American production companies the AFI Catalog of Feature Films is a great database for authoritative information on cast, crew, plot summaries, subjects, genres and historical notes. So far it includes nearly 60,000 American feature-length films and 17,000 short films produced from 1893-2011.

You will often find overlap in these files but they are varied enough that it’s usually worth checking into more than one.  And we have many more film and television resources to recommend than these four databases!  Check out these Research Guides if you want to get an even fuller picture.

Cinema Studies 

Historic Film Archives Online

Online film archives

Introduction to Film History (Pre-1945)

Hollywood Film Industry

Television Studies

Wrapping up with a human resource is in order. Meet Penn Libraries’ very own Cinema Studies Librarian, Charles Cobine. You can reach him at:

cobine@pobox.upenn.edu or @cobine

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209 Van Pelt