Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dazed and Confused About Representation

            Dazed and Confused, the classic film following high school students in the 1970s, although entertaining, fails to make an impact or cultural change and instead perpetuates racial and sexual stereotypes. After scoring the film based on the Representation Test criteria, I gave the film a grade of D, as it only scored 3 points on the test. This score was based on the lack of diversity among sexuality, gender, and race, as well as the perpetuation of stereotypes, especially gender stereotypes, throughout the film.
            One of the biggest issues with the film is the presentation of men and women. The film begins with the annual hazing of freshman, and as one can expect, this especially feeds into violent stereotypes of men. The male seniors drive around in their cars with paddles, searching for freshmen to beat with them. They use scare tactics and physical abuse to demonstrate power, which is precisely the stereotype the representation test hopes to avoid. Rather than presenting men in non-stereotypical positions, the men represented in the film for the most part are masculine and aggressive, valuing violence and revenge in order to create “relationships” with the freshmen. In fact, the only men in the film who act scared or “feminine” in the film are the freshman boys, and these are the men who are beaten. Clearly, the film only reiterates the false concept that men must be violent and powerful in order to be masculine. This scene can represent ethos, but in a very stereotypical way. According to Lunsford, “establishing a persuasive ethos requires not only simply seeming honest or likable but also affirming an identity” (Lunsford, 56). The scene successfully uses ethos because they’re affirming an identity; the macho, high school jock identity. We see this scene as credible because it presents men in a stereotypical role, but we don’t necessarily agree with this presentation, which is why it can also fail to represent ethos.
            The women in the film are also portrayed in a negative manner when we see them hazing freshman girls and ruining their self-esteem. In one particular scene, the senior girls put the freshman on leashes, pour ketchup, mustard, and flour on them, force them to propose to senior boys, all the while referring to them as “little freshman bitches.” This scene exclusively showcases the stereotype of the “mean girl,” shedding a negative light on the way women are presented in the film. Rather than being represented as strong, independent, intelligent, or otherwise, the women are reduced to superficial, power hungry bitches. The casting also does a lot to reinforce this presentation, as the girls are pretty, but a little snobby looking. As Giannetti writes, “’Casting is characterization,’” and the way in which the film was cast definitely impacted our view of the women characters (Giannetti, 282). This scene, in some ways, caters to logos and pathos; logos because of the girls fulfilling the high school mean girl role, and pathos because of the way in which they treat the freshman. Although the audience can understand the “mean girl” concept, I don’t think that it’s necessarily logical that girls are hazing other girls like they do in the movie. One does not typically think of girls being as physically and verbally abusive to one another as they are in the film.
            One thing that struck me was the lack of diversity in the film. I was unable to check any boxes about people of color, as when they were present they acted more like props than like characters. They failed to speak and seemed to only be there for diversity purposes. In some ways, this is even worse than if they had a speaking role and perpetuated stereotypes of people of color, since in that case they wouldn’t just be in the background. However, the characters still managed to perpetuate stereotypes, as the only black people in the film were boys on the football team. The film did not have any characters that were gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bi-sexual, and also failed to have any characters with disabilities. However, this does not surprise me, since the film was made in a time when homosexuality and physical disabilities were treated much differently and with less sympathy or respect.

            Overall, I think that this scoring system is fair. It represents race, gender, sex, and physical disabilities, which are all things that are constantly misrepresented or stereotyped. I think it’s important that we hold more films to a standard like this, so as to move away from presenting certain characters in a light that just perpetuates a stereotype that their demographic is trying to move away from. I believe that movies and media should work to advance the movement of minorities and the underappreciated.  Rather than tearing them down, our entertainment should build them up, so, as discussed in Miss Represented, we can imagine men, women, people of color, and people with disabilities in non-typical roles if we see them playing those roles in a film. I think it’s time to stop cheap humor at a certain demographics’ expense and begin producing fun movies that break gender, racial, and sexual stereotypes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jaws representation test for Blog 6

Gunnar Nystrom
Ms. Waggoner
Intermediate Composition
21 November 2014
The Great White Inequality

            In the summer of 1975, something incredible happened, but only those who witnessed it will understand it. A cultural revolution was created, it was a revolution that hit home for many people, one that encouraged fear and created what is known today as the summer blockbuster. After all, this was the year when the White Shark finally became known as “Great”. It was the year of Jaws.  
The movie Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, may have incited a global fear and a cultural transformation, but it was a change that resulted from a structural inequality. When looking at the film industry, the Representation Test is a way for Hollywood to determine a movie’s structural inequality. The Representation Test is a media tool used to score a movie’s overall diversity through a variety of different criteria. According to Andrea Lunsford in her book Everything’s an Argument, “authority can be conveyed through fairly small signals that readers may pick up almost subconsciously”(Lunsford 59). It should be noted that this test does provide a level of authority even though some of its points may be hard to recognize and comprehend.
The first category of the Representation Test concerns the issues and ideas associated with women in the movie. The first criterion associated with women asks if the protagonist is a woman and if so, is the protagonist a woman of color? The protagonist is in fact not a woman, but rather Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider. Chief Brody, the chief of the Amity police department is a typical American white male who is married with a family. In addition, there aren’t any women of color with speaking roles in the movie. However, Jaws does score one point in the women category because it portrays women as something more than “objects for the male gaze”. For example, in one of the first scenes of the movie, we see Chief Brody with his family sitting on a public beach. His wife and the other women in the scene are wearing sunglasses, a sunhat, and a one-piece swimsuit causing them to seem pretty covered up when realizing that they are at a public beach. The director seems to have wanted the audience to focus more on the beach environment and the mood of the scene. This allowed the movie creators to develop an emotional appeal as the blissful mood is instantly destroyed by the eruption of the shark into the scene.  
The second category for the Representation Test involves the determination of structural equality concerning men. According to the test, Jaws receives two of the four possible points because it avoids glorifying violent men, and it avoided perpetuating an extreme and unhealthy body ideal for me. Take Robert Shaw’s character, Quint for example. Quint is a master fisherman who is hired by the council of Amityville to hunt the shark, and he is probably the only violent character in the movie. Yet, his violence is not glorified because of the fact that he is killed in a rather vicious manner by the shark.  This also allows the movie to generate a slight feminist perspective since it is the so-called “best man for the job” that is devoured by the shark.  
The next two categories include whether or not the film avoids celebrating racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes, and if the protagonist or other characters are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Unsurprisingly, Jaws doesn’t really display any racial stereotypes, possibly because the director and producers did not want any racial stereotypes to take away from the storyline and cinematography in the film. But it is important to point out the fact that the movie is centered in a town dominated by Caucasians with the city council being made up of only white males. In addition, there are no lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters in the movie that would result in an overall increase in diversity. The film continues to show a decrease in equality as the last category for the Representation test is approached. 
The last section refers to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and when considering the circumstance that the protagonist is not a person with disabilities and that there are no characters with disabilities, no points are rewarded. The film also neglects to earn any bonus points when cogitating about the fact that the movie was written and directed by white males. By the end of the Representation Test the movie Jaws was able to score a 4, resulting in a C grade in terms of equality. This brings up a point of conflict, because it doesn’t make sense how such a critically acclaimed (8.1/10 on IMDb) and historically classic movie can be considered structurally unequal. Yet, American society continues to accept inequality in film as a socially tolerable ideal even if a movie is of sub-par achievement.
In the end, the results of the Representation Test do not seem that surprising because the film and production industry is a business engendered by white males. It’s also important to recognize that Jaws is a 29-year-old movie and while gender and racial inequality were an issue in 1975, they are nowhere near as big of an issue as they are today. Therefore, it’s understandable that an older movie would not score well on the test for fundamental equality. However, that’s not to say that the Representation Test isn’t a fair scoring system. At a first glance, the test definitely appeals to a more “feminist” type and genre of film, but on deeper investigation it is just checking to see if a movie portrays women as less intelligent, worthy, or sensible than men. After all, the test allows 24 possible chances to score a point when only 11 points (~46%) are required for an A grade.
The Representation test provides a movie with an incredible amount of opportunities and practically serves a passing score on a silver platter. So the fact that a large proportion of popular movies fail this test is absolutely shocking. In addition, Jaws should only be awarded 3 pickles for its average, passing grade. The argument can be made that we live in a world where the “screens are dominated by soulless movies full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”(Giannetti 35). As a result, directors and producers of various movies may place less importance on equality if the “sound and fury” is what is going to make the most money. This leads to the continuation of inequality as a problem in current film, because society will still gather at movie theaters to watch blockbuster hits like Jaws. Sometimes inequality is the price we must pay for invention and creativity.

Katniss Everdeen: The Face of Another Rebellion?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a film that follows Katniss Everdeen, a young girl who dared to defy the capital, unknowingly sparking the rebellion of the districts against the capital, grossed over 400 million dollars in the box office while it was in theaters in 2013 (Vary 1).  It has been praised for show casing a strong female lead (Jennifer Lawrence) and made history, becoming the first movie in over 30 years to both star a solo female lead and be rated as the #1 film of the year (Vary 3).  After all the praise that it has received for proving that a movie can be extremely successful without starring a male lead, it might be expected that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would pass a test grading on the film’s diversity with flying colors.  However, this was not the case.  The representation test is a tool used to grade movies on the representation of different diverse groups in the films, groups such as women, people of color, LGBT people, those with disabilities and diverse body types. Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire received only 7 points on the test, earning a B-. 
As a fan of the film and a supporter of Jennifer Lawrence and the break out success she has had a women lead, I was initially surprised by these findings.  However, after looking more closely at the film and the test, I began to see why it didn’t score as high.  To begin this discussion, I first want to look at the area of diversity most strongly represented in the film, women.  Out of 7 categories in the women section on the Representation Test, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned checks for 4 of them.  For one, the film passed the Bechdel test, meaning that it had two or more important female characters that talked about something besides me (Representation Project).  In the film, there is actually more than one scene that passes this test but I want to focus on a scene between Katniss (the main character) and her younger sister Prim.  They are out collecting snow for their injured friend who is male.  Rather than showing the two females discussing him, however, the directors used the scene to showcase the two strong female characters.  This scene defies Hollywood just as the districts are defying the capital in the film: it shows Hollywood that women can be more than oppressed, sexualized supporting actors obsessing over boys on screen, that they can also be strong lead characters who can fight against oppression and protect themselves.

Interestingly enough, this same scene from the movie can also be used in the counter argument that although the film showcased strong women leads, it didn’t stray far from the normal Hollywood lead role who is generally male, white, straight, strong, and attractive.  The scene shows Katniss and Prim, two white, attractive, straight, women who don’t have handicaps or even tattoos.  For the film to have received a higher rating on the Representation Test and to achieve it’s goal of adding diversity to the film world, it would have had to add more diversity to the screen.  As Natalie Hill said in her critic on the film Miss Representation, “If you want your film to start a revolution, be revolutionary; not just in your message, but in whom you get to speak it.”  A female role was simply a small step towards equality of representation of diverse groups whereas a gay or Asian female role would have been revolutionary.  Some may argue that it might have been too drastic of a step for the director and filmmaker to cast such a diverse character and that it will take time before we will see a successful movie with a starring actor that brings more diversity to the film.

            As I was critiquing the film based on the Representation Test, I found that I was disappointed in the apparent lack of representation for the groups listed on the test by the film.  However, I also realized that I don’t think that this test is a fair scale to use when judging a film on its overall diversity.  Although it only earned a low B on the test, I think that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made a very concise effort to show equality for different races, genders, and social groups in the film without being overly in your face about it.  Rather than cast a character from every race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, they used a subtler route to effectively increase the diversity in the film and how the audience views them based on the film.  I noticed this in a short scene in the film where the contestants for the upcoming hunger games are on stage at the talk show about the games.  They look to each other, grab hands, and raise them up in a united act of defiance.  Immediately, it was apparent to me that each of the contestants came from a different background (district), some were rich, some poor, some of color, some white, some where male, others were female, young, old, smart, ugly, pretty… the list could go on and on.  Although not all of the racial groups were present on the stage, the overwhelming diversity and the fact that they were all united, chosen for the hunger games based on random chance and their abilities to fight and win rather than socioeconomic status was HUGE.  This scene earned no checks on the Representation Test but I believe that it may have been the most effective scene in the film when it came to supporting, encouraging, and showcasing diversity on an equal playing field.  Because of this, I don’t believe that the Representation Test is a fair scoring system on judging diversity of a film.

            Katniss Everdeen is the face of the rebellion in the film and she is also the face of the movement in Hollywood to promote more diverse characters in film I believe that it contributed to change and although it wasn’t as in your face as the representation test would have liked, it was just as effective in my opinion.  Scenes such as the one between Katniss and Prime highlighted the main group represented in the film (women) and proved that woman do more than just sit around and gossip about men all day.  That in itself is a big success for diversity in films but to top it off, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire devoted an entire scene to showing that all races, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds are equal and if united, can fight back against oppression.  Overall, I give The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a 4 out of 5 because despite it’s low score on the Representation Test, it still effectively promoted change and had a strong cultural impact on it’s audience.

Tammy Totally Reps

               Tammy tells the hilarious story of a woman who has hit rock bottom is trying to find her out. Uncommonly, the solution to Tammy’s problems is not a man, but finding herself and saving her grandmother from herself. This idea seems almost radical considering its lack of feature on the big screen.  A mix of this idea and untraditional and non-stereotypical characters, Tammy passes the Representation Test with flying colors scoring a high A (13 points), which measures a film’s societal impact or commitment to change.

               Tammy checks off most of the boxes on the Representation Test, but gains most of its points from the Woman section. In reality, the film is very woman oriented with all main characters being female. Tammy, the protagonist of Tammy, is a female protagonist. She is not a woman of extreme beauty, fitness, or shape; in all honesty, not only is Tammy a non-stereotypical lead but she is also a very unfamiliar body type for the big screen especially for a woman.  Gaetti, from Understanding Movies agrees with the typical mold asserting, “good looks and sex appeal have always been the conspicuous traits of most film stars”. The idea of Tammy breaking all the common molds for women in film goes along with what the theme the storyline portrays: Tammy teaches that a women’s way out should not be a man and that in order to make something of yourself or to make your way up in life, your only option is solely to work hard. The film’s emphasis on this idea also helps Tammy check off the rep-test that a woman is not presented as solely an “object for male gazers.” Tammy is not bursting with sex appeal, but she is also funny and strong. The film also checks off “passing the Bechtel test” which mostly comes from the conversations of Tammy and her grandmother as they are learning about each other and helping each other to grow.

               In terms of men, Tammy does not check off as many. Tammy does avoid “glorifying violent men” and “perpetuating an extreme and unhealthy body ideal for mean”. However there is a general lack of men having conversation without a woman. Tammy has mostly main characters being female with the male holding supporting smaller roles. These supporting roles are rather untraditional making it able to mark off another rep-test. The man Tammy ends up with, Billy is an example of this. Billy takes after his parents including his father, who drinks too much, and his mother, who is very sick, even though they are both separated. He is an uncommon nice guy who is not extremely attractive or even remotely smooth. When trying to compliment her says “It’s not that you’re a catch, not that your not a catch, but my life is boring, and you’re not boring.” This exemplifies how Billy very much breaks the mold of what most men in film want from woman. Billy wants her for her personality not her looks. Tammy is also very representative for the LGBT People as the film features many lesbians, whom are very diverse, and whom are not reduced to stereotypes. An example of this is Lenore, the cousin of Tammy’s grandmother, whom the film gets to know very well. She not only is a main character but she also is a strong woman, who has made a life for herself, and teaches Tammy that ‘life isn’t fair” and that the only way to make it is to work hard. This promotes a very positive message for the lesbian community, as a lesbian is made to be hard working, intelligent, and in touch with the world which is not a typical role for lesbians in film. Tammy also checks off in Race, Ethnicity, and Culture as there are no celebrated offensive racial, ethnic, or cultural stereotypes but there are also not too many races featured in the movie. Lastly, the film does feature a person with diabetes whose “storyline [is] not limited to [her] disability.

          The Representation Test is supposed to measure a film’s contribution to change or cultural impact. In terms of Tammy the representation test is accurate in that it is very successful in representing most groups and presenting a positive image of those groups. This shows how in order to pass the test with a high score; a film must be very successful in representing many groups and elements very well. The more groups presented to a certain level, the higher the score. Essentially, the rep test asserts that if all films could include all the test’s diverse elements then a change in society would result. However, it is also possible that a film could be very successful in representing one group or category, and could change for that group.If each group were represented solely by a film, then all together they would also have cultural impact. This goes with the idea of “separate we fall, united we stand.” With many films specialized for change in different areas, all together they would successfully represent. But with the reptest if a film is very strong in presenting woman as equal to a man but lacks in many races, alternate sexuality, and disabilities, it will not score well. How can the test not grade a film that’s emphasis is on a commitment to change for woman in society well in cultural impact because it lacks in showing other groups? How could a film that represents gay men as being athletic not be graded high for its contribution to change because it does not feature females? Though the rep test grades well for movie with overall different groups, it disincentives producing a film that’s focus for change is society is centered only on one group. In evaluating films, it must be noted that society views many a year: not all films must contribute to change for all films, but all the films together must cause change for all groups.

               In closing, Tammy rocks because it shows a strong woman, teaches that a man is not the end goal, that you shouldn’t rob a fast food joint, no matter how desperate you are, and keeps you laughing the whole way through. And on top of all that, it asks for gender equality and acceptance of all people while passing the impossible rep test. Therefor I am giving Tammy 5 pickles.
Ashley Smith

Failing to Be a Test

Failing to Be a Test

            A movie that not only brings up racial issues, but also focuses on them the entire movie seems like it would easily pass the Representation Test, but putting the film through the test is no easy task. The test starts out with straightforward questions like “Is the protagonist a woman? 2 points” and “Is the protagonist a woman of color.” All simple questions that are black and white, but then the questions start to get a little tougher to answer. “Does the film avoid celebrating offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural  stereotypes?” Now how in the world do you answer that? But the hardest question to answer has to be “Does the film include men in non-stereotypical roles? (i.e. caregiver, competent involved parent, etc.)” This question is extremely hard to answer for 12 Years a Slave because the protagonist has many different roles. At first, he is an average businessman, living in the north where he is a free man. He takes care of his children and I would go as far as to call him a “competent involved parent.” He later then becomes enslaved when he is kidnapped and sold off to a plantation. Here, he falls into a stereotypical slave surrounded by many stereotypical white men who abuse him and the other slaves. But the question makes it hard to answer because it is not specific enough. At the beginning of the film, it seemed as if he did not fit the stereotypical black man of the time period. So because of this, does it get the checkmark for this question? I said no because of the vagueness. There were no characters that really broke the stereotypes of the time period. The next question up is “Does the film avoid celebrating offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes?” Another tough question to answer for such a movie. The film seems to show how bad these racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes were in the time period. It doesn’t celebrate it, but rather embraces it and does a fantastic job of showing just how bad society was at one point. Through incredible amounts of ethos, pathos and logos, 12 Years a Slave breaks boundaries that bring up tough subjects like racism. The movie looked so real and the audience felt the frustration and pain Solomon Northup, the protagonist, went through. In Reading Arguments, it states people “create ethos in at least two ways- through the reputation they bring to the table and through the language, evidence, and images the use (Reading Arguments, p.52).” 12 Years a Slave uses the fact that it is a true story to build a ton of credibility and the audience judges the film knowing that these are real events that happened. All of this makes the film hit home and show how bad slavery really was. Because of all of this, there is no way to say the film celebrates “offensive racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes,” but it is also hard to say it avoids it either. Again,  I could not check the box next to this question because of how vaguely written it is.

            After some serious debate over some controversial  questions, scoring the film was complete. The grading chart goes as follows: F = zero points, D = one to three, C = four to six, B = seven to ten, A = anything above ten. A film that shows how awful racism and slavery is scored a seven. That’s a very weak B. Before actually going through the grading process, I expected 12 Years a Slave to easily score a high A, but did not see it going this low. On the test’s website, the Representation Project, they state the goal of the test to show how well a film “challenges the status quo.” They admit that it is not a perfect method, but a good guideline for people to use when deciding which Hollywood movies to support (The Representation Project). From that description, 12 Years a Slave seems like it did a fantastic job of challenging the status quo of today’s movie culture. Instead of selling sex and action, it presents a darker and harsher picture of humanity that was once a huge part of America. Not too many movies are pushing these boundaries at all. The website claims graded 12 Years a Slave and gave it a “high B” while stating that no Oscar nominee last year would have scored an A. I do recognize there is a lack of diversity when it comes to Hollywood, but this test is not the best way to show it. There are large flaws in the test, mainly the vagueness of the questions that make it hard to use, and it seems too small of a test. It’s hard to rate a movie’s diversity based off of sixteen short questions and four “bonus points” given based off of the diversity behind the camera. A large part of the making of the test was to show the lack of diversity that also occurs off screen with the directors and writers. If it is trying to show that, don’t make it four questions at the end and call it bonus. That right there takes away a lot of their argument. All in all, the test is a poor judgment for diversity in the film industry. I give it two pickles because it does get its point across of the misrepresentation of the real world.