Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Archetype of American Radio

Chenjerai Kumanyika must make a "code switch" to fit with America's radio standards.

When you listen to the radio, what kind of voice does the speaker have? Does the speaker have a certain cadence? Does the speaker by chance, sound... white? African American author Chenjerai Kumanyika thinks so. In an interview posted on NPR, he bluntly said that on the radio he "hear[s] middle aged white dudes, who sound like they just sipped a cup of hot coffee". Simply put, I think he meant that the radio speakers speak with a certain, distinguished and articulate voice, a voice that has become an archetype of American radio. I completely agree with his argument, however, let it be clear that I am not judging the moral ramifications of this archetype, I am only saying that the archetype is accurate.

Kumanyika chose the words "middle aged", "white", and "coffee" in that quote. Generally speaking, when you think of people who drink coffee, you think of a mildly (at the minimum) intelligent person grabbing a cup of coffee before going to work (or school). Someone who grabs coffee might have the luxury to do so, which might connote higher class; the coffee drinker might not be a "working class" person. When the words "white", "coffee", and "middle aged" are combined, you think of someone who is well educated. Middle aged might mean 30-50, so that's past schooling, which means that middle-aged can be associated with being educated. And "white", well... I'm walking a fine line here, but I think to Kumanyika, "white" is associated with being educated. What I am trying to articulate is that author Kumanyika is pointing out the fact that radio speakers tend to sound very educated, and that particular cadence is a must-have in the radio business.

Kumanyika then explained that this is a problem because when he goes on the radio, he must make a "code switch". A code switch is when someone changes their language and speech patterns in a given context. For example, "Yo, 'sup?" vs. "Hi, how are you doing?" is a common code switch. Kumanyika spoke about how it was necessary to make such a switch because "[his] way of speaking is not professional". The colloquial slang he uses among his black friends does not meet American Radio's unexpressed traits of a radio speaker; only proper English is appropriate. Kumanyika can't use his colloquial way of speaking because it does not sound educated.

So what are the results of this? Some of his black friends refuse to listen to his radio shows because of the way he speaks; it sounds too "white", or educated. As you can see, American Radio has a primarily "white" culture, both in the administration and audience; they are an educated group. Kumanyika brazenly admitted that he imagined that the typical radio podcast was recorded in "the back of a Barnes and Nobles". If that doesn't scream "educated" to you, I don't know what education is.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cable Bias and Marijuana

Wooooooh! The rapper 2 Chainz made an appearance on the Nancy Grace show on the Cable News Network (CNN) and killed it! Now here's the video, first and foremost, because I think this is the perfect example of Network Bias and you should watch it. Nancy Grace invited rapper 2 Chainz on the show to talk about the legalization of marijuana. And let me tell you, 2 Chainz dismantled Nancy Grace's argument on national television.

Nancy Grace knew what she was doing when she invited 2 Chainz. The fact is the Cable News Network is still quite conservative in that they don't approve of the legalization of marijuana. So they hosted a debate and thought that it would be easy to persuade the viewers if the debate was against a rapper. The network thought that 2 Chainz would be easy to debate against because they stereotype all rappers as being ignorant. They also picked a rapper to be on the show for better ratings.

So it was supposed to be an ambush, but luckily for us, 2 Chainz kept his composure and gave very thoughtful and intelligent answers. In my opinion he destroyed the belligerent Nancy Grace in the debate. She kept asking him, "what about the children? There are parents making children smoke pot". 2 Chainz kept his composure even when Nancy Grace incessantly showed him clips of children smoking pot.

He even had an amazingly reasonable answer to why he wanted pot to be legalized. He said that everyone already has the capability of getting their hands on marijuana right now, and legalizing it would solve some problems such as the "overcrowding of prisons". He then gave an anecdote of how he was arrested for having something with 0.1 grams of residue, and then when the police found out he was a rapper, they let him go and wanted to ask "how is Nicky Minaj". That really shows how firstly black people are targeted by the police, and it shows how ridiculous marijuana arrests really are, I mean 0.1 grams!  I totally agree with 2 Chainz about the fact that legalization can solve the prison overcrowding problems. According to the website NORML, whose motto is "working to reform marijuana laws", about 700,000 people are being arrested for marijuana related offenses annually in the United states. This is a huge rate of incarceration and if marijuana is legalized the prison population would decrease greatly. The final verdict, 2 Chainz 1 hundred million points, and Nancy Grace, suspended and forced to watch that interview for 2 hours straight on a loop. My question to you guys  is, does 2 Chainz= 2 Brains?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

America's Social Security Under Attack

The annual State of the Union Address is due next Tuesday. The President will tell Congress his plans on specific topics for the course of the year. One huge topic for America is Social Security. In our American Studies class, we have already established that Social Security is a big American theme. We talked about how politicians are reluctant to aim to get rid of Social Security because of the potential voters that support it, specifically senior citizens.

Now, with the Republican takeover of The House of Representatives, the Social Security Act is in danger. Republicans want to get rid of Social Security, and with a majority in The House, that seems very likely. The question here is, will Obama defend Social Security?
Graphic showing the scale of the Republican takeover in The House.

An article in Huffpost states that Obama is likely to put up resistance against the Republicans, saying that "the president has taken a firmer stance against the Republicans in recent months". I think that while this is true that Obama has taken a firmer stance, it does not mean he will resist the Republican move against Social Security. Obama used an executive order to pass a law on immigration reform late last year. That was considered a very "firm stance" by the President. On the other hand,Obama might decide to show little resistance in an effort to  "forgo the opportunity to draw a sharp distinction between the parties". The reason Obama does not want to draw a "sharp distinction between the parties" is that the immigration law he passed might have been too strong and brought his approval rating down, and he might not want to drag down the Democratic party's approval in the future. A firm stance in recent months does not mean he will continue down that path because it may be costing his political party voters in the future.
Obama might not want his legacy to end with the demise of Social Security, but he also might not want to his legacy as president to end as the President that caused Democrats to lose out to Republicans on a National Scale. As we near the State of the Union, I'd like to think that Obama will "play it safe" and not resist too strongly to the attack on Social Security.

Race on the Big Screen

The new movie Selma
Selma, the critically acclaimed film cataloging the Voting Rights marches in 1965, has received some odd criticisms. A critic on NPR says that the film shows an "unsympathetic portrayal of [the former president Lyndon B. Johnson] [that] suggests a president who was an antagonist rather than a supporter of voting rights". There was also criticism that there was a "lack of white protagonists in major roles".

These criticisms are only judging the white actors. But why is the focus even on the white actors? This movie is about the struggle of black people fighting for freedom. It should be focused on African American's process of organizing these protests, and not so much concerned with giving the white characters a positive image. The whole problem in America was that White America was prejudiced against Black America. Of course, there are many exceptions and sympathizers, but up until the 1960s, White America was much more homogenous in their views on Civil Rights. White America did not support the Voting Rights Act back then, so one might conclude that the movie "Selma" is justified in their portrayal of white people including President Johnson. I think that any denial of this fact really shows that America is not past racism if we can't admit past errors involving race.

NPR says that "The real problem many critics have with this film is that it's too black and too strong." I think that this quote is very true. Critics (presumably white) don't like the idea of a White America with so much prejudice, and they would rather imagine a Civil Rights movement with more white characters assisting. When the true presence of Black leadership in the Civil Rights movement is portrayed on screen, critics aren't too pleased.
What can we take away from this? Well, firstly, that America is certainly not past racism. Secondly, we are definitely progressing if we keep talking about race as a nation, especially through such an effective medium as television.