Showing posts with label TED talk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TED talk. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Enough With The Hero's Journey Already

Shaula Evans at The Black Board came up with a much better title than I did for my second TED talk, though she was using it in reaction to my first one. I thank her for that, and I'm considering that an excuse to share it again.
I have been thinking more about the myth of the White Male Hero and what the stories say he is destined for, in light of current events (read Amanda Hess and Soraya Chemaly and Margot Magowan and Ta-Nahisi Coates, now and always).

When this talk was recorded in the fall of 2013, the Oscar race was heating up and 12 Years A Slave was already predicted to win its important victory. Frozen had just come out, totally fulfilling my request in my first talk for a story about female leaders inspiring people to come together and be their best selves. (Thanks!)

Since then, the fall season ended up bringing more fresh heroes. From the non-white-males who carried Catching Fire and Gravity and Frozen to global domination to the interesting white males of Dallas Buyers Club to the interesting white supporting females of Skyfall to the interesting white quartet of American Hustle, the year ended up bringing a cadre of movies I enjoyed.

(I didn't care too much for the white males of Her or Despicable Me 2, and I didn't go see the white males of Captain Phillips or Nebraska or Inside Llewyn Davis or The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Sadly, some of the smaller films anchored by African-American heroes had faded from memory by the time the Oscars nodded their gold heads. (Oprah was robbed.)

But the good news is that the summer superhero spectacles I was reacting to in the talk have been forgotten as well. (It's like Oz the Great and Powerful never happened. Right?)

And 2014 is off to a strong start. The LEGO Movie may be one of the best movies of the decade...totally fulfilling my request in this talk for a deconstructed Hero's Journey. (Thanks!)

And this summer's crazy smart Marvel movies are making comic books seem like Joseph-Campbell-worthy myths after all.

Though, as intelligent as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, it's still a movie about how the world is redeemed by an omnipotent, innocent, universally adored white man whose name is "America."

So, yeah.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hero's Journey Led Me Astray: Further Reading

Here are some of the things I read about before, and refer to in, my TEDxBeaconStreet talk on the Hero's Journey. You should definitely read them and follow these writers.

The Hero's Journey

Joseph Campbell's work is beloved by most. It certainly has become the blueprint for screenwriting, through teachers like Robert McKee and Christopher Vogler. I found a few compelling counterpoints, though, ranging from the hilarious to the academic to the provocative:

"Hulk Explains Why We Should Just Stop It With The Hero Journey Shit" by Film Crit Hulk
"The Problem of Woman As Hero In The Work of Joseph Campbell" by Sarah Nicholson
"The Heroine With A Thousand Friends" by Elizabeth Lyon
"Forget the Hero's Journey. Women Want An Antagonist's Tale" by Robin Childs
"The Heroine's Journey: How Campbell's Model Doesn't Fit" by B. J. Priester

2013 movies about race

I'm not the first to notice the unusual abundance, prominence, and success (both artistic and commercial) of movies featuring African Americans in 2013. Much more will be said as the Oscar race proceeds.

"In Hollywood, Black Is The New Black" by Bilge Ebiri
"How Did Racism Get To Be So Popular?" by Stephen Marche

White people's relationship to movies about race

Like boys watching movies about female characters, white people supposedly won't go see movies featuring mostly Black casts. This is a curious by-product, or way of expressing, privilege: marginal groups are expected to enjoy stories of the dominant group--they do it every day! But the dominant group does not need to empathize with the marginal group. Unless they have an "audience surrogate."

"The White-Savior Industrial Complex" by Teju Cole
"Why White People Don't Like Black Movies" by Andre Seewood
"Oscar Loves A White Savior" by David Sirota

What about those statistics, huh?

It wouldn't be a TED talk without some numbers and studies. I got mine from these sources:

TV-watching and self-esteem "Racial and Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Children's Television Use and Self-Esteem" by Nicole Martins & Kristen Harrison

Racial make-up of 2012 movies and movie-goers MPAA Theatrical Market Statistics 2012, p. 13
"Race/Ethnicity In 500 Popular Films" by Dr. Stacy Smith, Marc Choueiti, & Dr. Katherine Pieper

Heroes of color in all time top 100 Top 100 Worldwide:
Independence Day (39)
Hancock (72)
Men In Black 3 (73)
Life of Pi (79) (Not Will Smith.)
Men In Black (84)
I Am Legend (88)
Puss In Boots (96) (I was generous.)
Plus, to be even more generous, I counted Beverly Hills Cop, which is #41 on the Top 100 Domestic Adjusted for Inflation.

Bias studies "Everyone Is Biased: Harvard professor's work reveals we barely know our own minds" by Carolyn Y. Johnson
Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students" by Corinne Moss-Racusin, John Dovidio, Victoria Brescoll, Mark Graham & Jo Handelsman
"Lack of Female Sources in NY Times Front-Page Stories" by Alexi Layton and Alicia Chepard

What other articles, talks, and research have you found about these topics?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A More Nutritious Netflix Queue

Thanks to Kate Torgivnick and the TED editors for the kind endorsement at My audience more than doubled in 24 hours! The community seems to be  enjoying my talk and I appreciate all of the sharing and commenting you're doing.

I even appreciate the YouTube trolls who helpfully reveal their misogyny (behind the cover of a username, of course)--thus proving my point. These guys (?) feel so threatened by female equality that they puff up their chests and denounce it in any public forum. Evidently they feel their status in their circles will be enhanced by ridiculing and insulting ideas that critique their assumptions.

You've seen what happens next, right? Foolhardy defenders attempt to engage in dialogue with the name-callers. But they're just feeding the fire; bullies aren't interested in persuasion, only in dominance. They are like Darth Vader in the face of calm Princess Leia--interrupting her with a booming voice and a wagging finger, telling her who he believes her to be and sending her off.

Anyway, for the TED blog, Kate gave me the fun assignment of thinking of a few more movies to compare along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. I thought of three common formulas that have been treated in typical ways in high-quality movies, and offered films that I encourage parents and filmmakers to promote because of the unusual way they include teamwork and respect:
Movie formula: The Quest
  • Typical Version: A boy’s world is threatened by an evil male force. He must train and mobilize other boys to defeat the enemy in a violent conflict. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: Star Wars, The Hobbit, The Lion King
  • Enlightened version: A boy or girl (or team) seeks to heal an injustice in the world. They must make friends who share their goal to change the culture of an older generation, by modeling a better way. Examples: The Wizard of Oz, The Muppet Movie, The Dark Crystal, Castle in the Sky (Japan), Spy Kids 1 & 2, , Tangled
Movie formula: Finding a Purpose
  • Typical Version: A boy finds his place among men through mastery of a skill, understanding of competition and teamwork, and/or moving up in the male hierarchy. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: A Bug’s Life, Cars, Ratatouille
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl finds his or her place in a diverse society through self-knowledge and the application of skills to communal goals. Examples: Kiki’s Delivery Service (Japan), Babe, Stuart Little 1 & 2
Movie formula: The Secret Alien
  • Typical Version: A young boy comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by the adult male world, and moves up in the male hierarchy by using the being against shared enemies. Examples: Iron Giant, How To Train Your Dragon
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by diverse adult world, and re-orders the world’s assumptions in the act of stewarding it to safety. Examples: E.T., Lilo & Stitch, Monsters Inc., Secret World of Arrietty (Japan)
One additional plug: A number of you have jumped up and down to spread the word about the children's films of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, sometimes called Japan's Disney. He and the studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli, demonstrate in film after film that adventure and magic and spectacle do not require male-dominated, violence-driven heroism.

Every film he's made is worth seeing; most are classics. The littlest kids can go for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Ponyo, and The Secret World of Arrietty. When they're a little older, Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky will transport them. The Hunger Games set will devour Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. The thinking parent will be challenged by them all as well.

FriedChicken365 on DeviantArt
Okay, what did I miss? Are there other films you think work as great stories without resorting to excluding girls or holding up violence as the best means to resolution?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Geena Davis Is Doing The Real Work

Just after I gave my TEDx talk, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media released a report on their most recent findings. Mother Jones pulled a few I could have used:

I chose to focus my talk on kids' movies (and on gender) because they allow me to make a simpler argument than I could get away with on the subject of all popular culture or all aspects of privilege. We don't expect kids to have learned critical thinking skills yet, so filmmakers ought to take more responsibility for the subtext their stories embed. (I believe all filmmakers, and all artists, ought to be conscious of the unspoken messages of their work, but whether an adult work promotes a message by exposing it is much more complicated.) And while market forces are plausibly linked to a majority population being overrepresented in popular culture, the fact than men are not the majority of potential moviegoers makes their dominance in representation more obviously out of proportion.

But I think gender in kids movies is one of a large number of intersecting ways that a dominant culture encodes its rules of who gets what. And if you're one of the people that the dominant culture wants to exclude--or you're a member of the dominant culture who doesn't want to perpetuate the exclusion--you should wake up to as many unspoken messages as you can.

Read the Mother Jones post and the full report for more statistics that show the continuum from family films to our mainstream adult entertainment.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Who Is Watching My TED Talk?

I'm absolutely thrilled at the success of my talk online in its first two-plus weeks online. With a lot of organic sharing and a little help from Reddit, more than 40,000 views were logged in 17 days. These are Sally Field "You really like me" numbers.

As a marketer, I've learned to be very curious about both sides of communication--not only how to say what you want to say, but how it lands on what audiences. This post is a short geek-out with Google Analytics and a plunge into a world new to me (Tumblr, i.e. "kids today").

Who's Watching?

The makeup of the audience as it began to grow is considerably more female than the overall demographic of TEDx videos in 2012. This talk's viewers are 55% female, while the TEDx audience overall is 60% male.

Viewers of this talk are also younger than the overall TEDx audience, with the curve peaking with 30-somethings versus 40- and 50-year-olds. But the age bell curve for women viewers is not a bell--it's a kind of sock, with a bulging toe on the left representing women between the ages of 13 to 24. 

Meanwhile, women between 35 and 44 are missing--taking up a disproportionately low percentage of the audience. As this represents the demographic of the speaker's wife, I have to wonder what's going on. I hoped that mentioning "kids' movies" in the title would make it relevant to professional moms like her, but maybe the "hidden meanings" bit reads as jokey? Or conspiratorial?

How Are You Finding Out About It? 

I see clues to this phenomenon in the source analytics. The talk appeared on Reddit early but sputtered out. The post-New-Years growth has been on YouTube, Facebook and Tumblr. It's hard to know much about the Facebook spread, but on Tumblr, which is public, it looks to me like the talk is moving largely among middle-school and high-school aged women who are responding to its sympathetic feminist message and its references to the movies they still actively watch. I imagine them discovering an adult who seems to understand something about their experience, and collecting it alongside other images and ideas from culture that help them sort out their place in it.

What Do You Think About It?

Many of the ways people react to other people's creativity are performative--we represent or distort our genuine reactions in order to position ourselves in a favorable light for them or our peers. But YouTube will tell you something unfaked: how long viewers watch before they click away. The retention graph on YouTube is a brutally honest assessment of how engaging your video is. It's like an airport bathroom mirror--making your flaws stand out in all-too-vivid detail.

I've got a very promising curve at the moment, especially for a video this long. It slopes down, of course, but pretty gently, with no big dip that would mark a digression into something uninteresting. The retention number is comparable to several of the top 10 TEDx videos, including the extraordinary talk by Anita Sarkeesian, which is also about women's representation in popular culture.

Sarkeesian's talk at TEDxWomen this year focused attention on commenters and trolls, and I can smell whiffs of these marauders below my talk. (Though it's nothing at all like the systematic harassment she encounters as a female public figure.) 

There are essentially four types of things being said about my talk so far: 
  1. "Thanks"
  2. "Feminism is anti-men so shut up"
  3. "Actually, you are misinformed about feminism"
  4. "No, you are"
The last three then repeat. 

On YouTube and Reddit, which are public and performative spaces, the commenters on the second and fourth position enact the troll's M.O: Their comments don't engage with very much in the talk, but rather recite several unsupported generalizations, expecting them to enflame other commenters. 

Comment #3 comes from people duly enflamed, falling for the troll methodology by asking for evidence, or respectfully disagreeing. (Adorable!) The troll then gets to escalate the rhetoric and pretend to be offended by the whole conversation in comment #4. Repeat. (You'll have to rinse after.)

YouTube's space is heterogeneous--anyone can see and comment, whether they share your values or not. Theoretically, this means the comment threads represent the meeting of the most diverse group possible. Chauvinists and feminists, sit down and hash out your differences! But of course in practice these conversations are rarely productive and almost always enraging. Small numbers of reactionaries can change the tone to bullying or worse, driving away thoughtful participants and drawing in more bullies. 

I encourage you to ignore the trolls. If you'd like a dialogue about the talk based on civil discourse and genuine mutual curiosity, feel free to post on your own blog or here. I will moderate!

Safer Spaces

My best audience--those who listen carefully, think about the content and react with their own knowledge and experience--are taking their dialogue from the lecture hall to the dorm room by embedding the talk on their Tumblrs. Now, I have not spent much time on Tumblr before, and following the reblogs of this talk among dozens of these profiles leaves me feeling a little like a parent snooping around a teenager's bedroom. Oh, the GIFs. 

I must say, though, that the commenters on these microblogs, most of which will only be seen by the user's circle of friends, are funnier and more thoughtful than any of those I've read on YouTube and Reddit. 
Frankly Alexandra: Of course, Leia reclaims a strong female voice by rescuing her beau and fighting and strategizing a war, yet is that the course we must always take to win recognition of strength?
Mrs. Which and Meg: I asked my 4 year old son if girls can save the world too and he said no, only boys can. SIIIIGGGHHHHH. So already he has picked that up from the (harmless, so I thought) media that I’ve let him watch. It’s frustrating that he picked that up so quickly.
Fandom and Fun: I have to say that I liked “The Princess and the Frog” more than “Tangled” because I thought the women were better (Technically, most of the inter-women discussions were about men, but Tiana talked with her mom about her dad a lot and I think that could be considered more a discussion of what he represented than his manliness; Rapunzel talked with her mom more about how she is absolutely not allowed to meet anyone, especially men, which, in my opinion, is closer to not passing the Bechdel test)
Corazon del Leon: Good, but not even close to the depth women and women of color have already laid out this talk. And colorism nor racism is mentioned even once so, yes, good for cracking some shells but overall just getting credit for 1/4 of the work?

I would guess that comments on Facebook would tend to be similarly civil and substantive. After all, the commenter knows that they're being read by people with shared core values, and that if they violate the norms set by that circle they will be held accountable (by being blocked). 

Do you have anything you'd like to say about the talk? Have you seen a reaction you thought was interesting? Comment here--you are the reason I wanted to stand up on the stage.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hidden Meanings of Kids' Movies


Being a part of TEDxBeaconStreet was extraordinary. I particularly loved how the organizers tried to capture the multigenerational energy of Brookline and Cambridge. Talks and activities designed for young people during part of the day, and the other part packed with the intellect and research and creativity that overflow in this corner of the Boston area.

There are going to be a ton of amazing field trips called Adventures throughout the year--access to parts of the city you won't get anywhere else. If you're a Boston buff, definitely register or like them on Facebook to get more information.

You can read my little profile at their site. Lots more talks to come. Also a duet with cello and beatbox.

TED Talk Bibliography

I'm no scholar, but I played one at TEDxBeaconStreet

I shaped my talk from the work of many people whose research and ideas I have read and absorbed and perhaps distorted. You should not take my word for anything. Someone told me at the talk that she'd always hated The Wizard of Oz because she saw Dorothy as a victim. So maybe I'm wrong even about that. 

Start here to fact-check me:
  • The illustrator Denis Medri created the Star Wars/Wizard of Oz mashup.
  • Clear your favorite movies with the Bechdel Test, or write your own reviews.
  • The analysis of 2011's top 100 movies, and the number of female protagonists and speaking roles, is summarized in this report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
  • The study in which one out of five American women reported having been sexually assaulted was reported on here.
  • You've seen the Disney princesses and the boys of Pixar. Now watch everything Hayao Miyazaki has ever made and see what Japan has been teaching its children.

And of course many others have written about the role of men in feminism:

I'd love to keep learning. Tell me where I blew it, or fudged, or need to hit the books.