Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Representation

I ask you do a simple exercise. Take a look at the world around you and do a count. Choose any one of these ways of categorization - gender, race/caste and count the number of people who are part of these categories in different places - workplace, media (television, radio, magazines, etc), neighbourhood, etc.
This simple number count would tell you something. Something that might be important. You would find that certain members of the society are vastly over-represented than others. Why is that? A simplistic answer that it is because that those certain sections of the society are smarter/better/more hardworking is alluring but is it true? Is it to do with the genes? Are some races indeed superior to others? If yes, in what ways?
There are differences amongst people. How much of those differences are due to how they were brought up and how they were taught? That is the oldest debate in the world. Is it nature or nurture? A question that has been asked for many a generation and for which there are no definitive answers. It would be foolish to ignore the influences of nurture in the making of a person and likewise, it would be foolish to ignore nature's eccentricity. But is there a pattern? For example, there are very few women who do well in the field of mathematics but does that mean that they are genetically incapable of doing well in that particular subject?
I take the example of women because it is the most visible of all (and yet somehow people fail to notice them). I once went to a birthday party of a one year old girl and I could not fail to notice how clearly the baby was marked as being of a particular gender. It was almost as if I was looking at a colour-coded resistor. There could be no doubt as to what _she_ was. She was dressed in clothes that were meant for girls, in colours that are considered girly and also had the definitive feminine feature - a ponytail. The gifts could be construed as more or less neutral, though tending towards feminine but there were certainly no He-Mans. At the age of one, when the child is not even aware of what s/he is and is just getting to make sense of its environment, they are already fitted into a category of appearances and behaviour. Their training starts that young and is it that hard to imagine that they grow into the moulds meant for them. If you are a woman and you are told a million times while you were growing up that women are supposed to be good at this and that and not so good at that from several different sources, is it possible that you are subconsciously do bad at things like maths and rationalise it with the popular opinion?
In the case of women, it is quite obvious that nurture plays a huge role in their development but one cannot attribute some things to nurture. For example, why is the world record for 100m sprint run for women is 10.49 while men have managed to set a record of 9.77 seconds? Yes, there are differences but how much are they important in today's world? Thousands of years ago, when human beings used to live with animals of the forest, physical strength would have been a very important attribute because without it you might get killed in a tussle with an animal. In today's world, strength is no longer required to survive or do a modern task. Secondly, these few women who set the world record for 100 m sprint would outrun the vast majority of men! Thirdly, women are generally discouraged from getting into sports because it is seen as unfeminine and they grow up to be slight as that is seen to be feminine. This is the reason why nature vs nurture debate is so complicated.
Some time ago, Jack wrote a post on representation of non-white people in media. He recounts a heated discussion with a media person.

I said that people of color make up almost half, if not more, of the population in the Bay Area and that they don't get covered that much in the news by local mainstream news stations. I then said alluded to her that why wouldn't an issue in Hunters Point be an important Bay Area issue.

A fellow female student of mine chimed in and voiced my concern pretty well when she said that issues effecting Bay View Hunters Point are more important to her than some University of California Berkeley elites getting upset about environmentalists camping out in their university trees (a semi-big story here in the Bay Area).

I than said how the way the news is going about presenting the news is basically wrong. She's talking about how they need to appeal to a mass audience and yet she seems to be saying she's appealing to a white audience, which is not the majority demographic in the Bay Area. I said how issues effecting people of color are almost never covered, and if they are, they are only covered because of issues of gang violence or shootings, and that's the only thing people see on TV associated with these certain communities.

What Jack points out in his post is how representation of non-white people in the media is so one-dimensional which stereotypes them as violent and criminals (because that is majorly the way they are depicted).
During my brief stay in the Bay Area, I got to meet Jack and he gave a tour of the city of San Francisco. He showed me areas that were predominantly Black or Latino and these areas were invariably poor. The area where I was put up was completely white and there were hardly any Blacks. The Asians are doing better than them because there were a lot of Chinese and Indians in the area. In a country that abolished segregation forty years ago, people are still segregated.
Out of all the non-white races, Black people are probably the most well represented in media (relatively). But even so, a cursory look at their 'representation' would reveal significant information. Ads can be quite informative because they always target their customers and when the target audience were Black, the ads would have Black representation and these ads were primarily that of fast food chains and some instant personal loan (but they dont call that a loan, the ad shows a Black man saying he has 'somebody' to pay the bills). When Jack showed me around, he mentioned how there were always more fast food joints in the poor areas (because they are cheap) and there are more of these money-lenders (I forgot what they were called) in those areas. These ads are targeted and Jack called it targeted racism. I tend to agree. I observed the way a Black man is represented and it seems weird to me that they are almost always bald (or have extremely short hair). The ones who are shown with their natural hair in movies or TV are usually intended to be silly or ridiculous ala Daffy Duck. For a Black character to be positive, he has to be bald or have insanely close cut hair. They just are not represented as positive with their natural hair. This is the kind of negative body image that leads to things like this or this. This is also the reason why people look at some people as 'unnatural' because their conventions have been set by the media representations.

Representation is not about putting more Black (or Latino or Asian) faces on the cover of a magazine (though that is connected) but is concerned with how conventions are set. If conventions are set on the basis of one community and 'good' is defined on the basis of that community, we have a representation problem. The case of media is perhaps more straighforward but this idea can be extended to others too. Representation is not just about numbers but far more than that.

PS. This is a retrieved post. Means that I wrote part of it a long time ago and shelved it to continue later. Finally managed to piece it together.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Honesty?

The last few days, an opinion page from CNN-IBN is making the rounds. People have expressed such opinions as nauseating and disgusting.
Shivam calls it "quite extraordinary and laudatory for a yuppie to admit his distance from the political rise of the 'low-class, neo-literate, village-bred, government school-raised, middle aged'".
I was surprised by this article. Not because it expressed something new or unknown, but because it said it like it was. It bared the soul of the writer who speaks for the 'non vote-bank' and their disgust over 'unsophisticated' Mayawatis and Mulayams who 'do not speak his (and his group's) language'. The great disconnect between the Youth of India who ostensibly stand for Equality and those they do not consider to be their equals has never been expressed in more clearer terms than this statement - "I am aware that were a Lalu or a Mayawati were ever to become PM, I would have to choose to leave the country". He wants his leader (whoever that may be, maybe Rahul 'foot-in-mouth-syndrome' Gandhi?) to lead the country and mould it in his vision because somehow his sophisticated 'education' that enables him to love 'british poetry' is more important.
The opinion that the article expresses is disgusting, elitist, stupid and absolutely undemocratic but more Youth would agree with it than see the crass classism and inequality it exhibits and they will yet, in their delusion, assert that they stand for equality. I believe the country would be better off without them. I call for them to leave the country and go after those opportunites abroad. Bugger off and leave us in peace.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My pick for the next US president.

This guy -



LOL. Think of the fun we would have. Methinks he would be a better entertainer than Bush jr ever was! :D
John McCain... wait.. why does the name sound so familiar? John McCain. John McCain. John McClane. Oh!

I know they are releasing a new Die Hard movie but if this guy becomes the president, Osama better watch out! He will kick his ass. Reminds me of a classic scene from the movie...


Makes me want to watch Die Hard again. Live Free or D'oh!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Does God exist?

The original:


The description of this video is self-explanatory!


And the responses:




And we have an article in Slate that argues that most of us peel the banana the wrong way! Wait till I tell my pet monkey that he was right all along...

You make your own decision!

Link thanks to: Feministe

You don't see this everyday...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

USA or India?

On the contrary, we should not try to look for reasons beyond us - like mouthing 'the vegetable markets in India are horrible' - instead, we should actually look for reasons *within* ourselves. If we are comfortable with our environs either alien or native - why do we even need to crib? On the contrary, if we crib, shouldn't we at least try do something about this?? [Emphasis mine]

I got this through email from my brother-in-law. I do not agree with a lot of what this guy says. He falls into the same trap of stereotyping that he accuses others of doing and his analysis is simplistic and leaves a lot to be desired. But he does make some nice points, like the one above, from time to time. Suggested reading to all people considering coming back to India from the US.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Class and Language

Today, I went with a friend to see a play performed by a theatre group from Chennai in Chowdiah Hall. The proceeds of this event would go to a school called Round Table 44. This is a school for underprivileged kids and I am sure that this money would be put to a great cause, that of educating kids who otherwise would not get educated.
Before the play started, they showed us a video about the school and the people behind it. It started with a message "we have a dream". But I noticed something interesting in the video. The founder and some other people who looked to be members of the board (they were mostly businessmen) spoke to the camera in English but the testimonials of the kids were in Kannada with English subtitles! Now why is that? Is it because the kids' english is not that good? Clearly that could be the reason as one of the members had difficulty stringing together a proper english sentence. I wondered whether not even one of those kids (one of whom said that she is studying in a college and had 76% in her 10th exams and a distinction in her 7th standard exams) could speak english, even as bad as the member I mentioned in the previous sentence? Could it be possible that the school is a kannada medium one? I checked their website and this picture seems to tell a different story -

I should probably check with the school but their contact form gives me a HTTP 500 error (Internal Server Error) everytime I try posting my query. For some reason, they do not have an email id I could mail to and the 'Zip' code field accepts just 5 digits!
So, I wonder whether this video and website is mainly targeted to western (read, US) audience and this would explain the reason why the children (and their parents) spoke in Kannnada - to give the primitive, destitute, 'native' feel to the children.
If my suspicion is right and the language in which the testimonials were given were indeed intentionally so, I am mad. I am mad not because the school is a fraud and not doing a public service but I am mad at this classist nature of this video and the message it gave me was one of strong repulsion to the organisation.

The video also reveals how language is being used to demarcate and signify class. The elite, the rich and the upper class are the ones who have access to good english education and the lower class can converse only in the local language. Balraj Sahni was right. English is the new Sanskrit.

Update: I found that they do have a page with email addresses after all. My mistake.

QOTD

"You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company."

If Digg wins this round, it would mean a giant victory for web 2.0 and the internet, in general. Kudo to Kevin for taking such a brave stand.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Stiff upper lip



AC/DC. Nope. It's the firebrand reporter from Tehelka.

Cross posted at PixSurf

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