Saturday, December 13, 2008

The chicken came first.

On Race and YA Lit, by Neesha Meminger, Racialicious.

. . . years ago when I was submitting my first (admittedly awful) manuscript to agents, some of the nicest rejections I received were accompanied with, “Your novel has much to love, but regrettably, we already have an Asian author for our list.”

Now I understand The Brushoff – I’ve provided plenty of those in my life and do not resent or judge other providers of same. But to be satisfied with ONE author representing an entire continent that consists of countries as varied as Korea, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, and Nepal? Seriously?

All you have to do is stroll through the aisles of a bookstore to see that the fantasy, mystery, romance genres are stocked full. And not with fantasy, mystery, or romance by authors of Color. Those, if and when they exist, often get stocked in the African-American, Native-American, Asian-American, Latin-American, or Multicultural sections.

Given the choices that agents, publishers, and major bookstores make about what they acquire and how they promote it, does the market inform what gets published?

Or does what gets published actually inform the market?

It's the latter.

This week I had a related discussion with one of my male colleagues [Hello, and please leave a comment!] about women in television. It is the same argument I have with many male people about the representation of women in American media. Their side usually goes like this:

"I see women in television all the time. There's Lifetime, WE, Oxygen. Men only have Spike. Even though men comprise the leads on almost every scripted and nonscripted series on television, along with almost all the substantial secondary roles, that reflects the demand of the audience. If women demanded more TV shows about women, then networks would produce them. Studios and networks don't want to lose money. You shouldn't blame them for producing programming for men, by men and about men (specifically white, ostensibly heterosexual and Christian men) because that's what audiences want. Why do you hate capitalism?"

That was a compilation of sentiments, not direct quotes. During my last conversation like this, I wanted to start screaming and throwing things. It usually takes my Dirty Girls story to get the other person to accept that I have a valid, informed position about media representation, despite the fact that I've been writing about this for over two years and I have a degree in film production . But by that point in the discussion, the other person is irritated by a multitude of issues, mainly the fact that I won't back down because I know what I'm talking about.

Each time I have this conversation, I try to get better at it. Yet it still amazes me when people are oblivious to their own privilege and the effects that it has on everyone else. Which leads to the screaming inside my head.

Lack of demand does lead to certain shows getting canceled and certain books not flying off the shelves. However, if the people who control the supply of media don't believe that certain demographics exist (or would prefer that certain demographics didn't exist at all), the audience can never demand what they don't know about.



Peter said...

At least you have Joss Whedon representing. Right? Right?

When does Dollhouse come out again?

Bianca Reagan said...

You mean this Joss Whedon?

According to Wikipedia, Dollhouse comes out on February 13, 2009.

Peter said...

I was kidding mostly. Though I found this hilarious, "Her defining personality traits include doing laundry, volunteering at a homeless shelter and eating frozen yogurt."

That's like half the girls I met at Berkeley, of the ones that weren't there for school.

As for female leads, Fringe? Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles? There are probably some others, though those are genre shows. I think it's happening more.

Bianca Reagan said...

Though I'm just naturally hilarious, I do enjoy bringing the funny.

I can't comment on the women or the men of Berkeley, since I've never been there.

There are some female leads in new cable shows. However, they are still being outpaced by new shows with male leads.

You should have a blog!

Andrew W said...

"It is the same argument I have with many male people about the representation of women in American media."

I can't speak for any of the conversations you've had, obviously, but if you've got some statistics, or you could get/make some statistics, I think that would go a long way to proving your point. Without that you're in a situation where they're saying 'I see lots of women on tv in lead roles' and you're saying 'I don't see nearly enough'. Now depending on which of you is more qualified/more experienced, one of you is more likely to be right, but unless you can give them some hard evidence, I don't think it's surprising that they stick with their own opinion, rather than switching to yours, when what they've seen doesn't seem to indicate to them that you're right.

And I'm not saying you're wrong, but here's an example of why people could get the impression you're wrong - here are most the programs, I and people in my house watch regularly, nicely divided into ensemble/female led/male led:

Battlestar Galactica
Strictly Come Dancing

Female led:
Sarah Connor Chronicles
All those 'next top model' rubbish x3
Desperate Housewives
Sex and the City

Male led:
Daily Show
Colbert Report

I personally watch all of those, except Strictly Come Dancing, Next Top Model (UK, USA or Oz), and Scrubs (alas poor season 1 I loved you well)

So in what we watch, there is little domination by men, or male leads, (unless you're critiquing the storyline content of the programs), and none of us study 'television' as a whole, so it is not immediately apparent that there aren't enough women on tv. Even if that is most definitely the case. Which is certainly possible.

In fact, in writing this, I've become suddenly very interested in knowing what the breakdown of lead roles is like, overall, in different genres etc on tv. Can anyone point me in the direction of any good and comprehensive/scientific analysis of these factors?

Bianca Reagan said...

Welcome, Andrew W! How did you find my blog?

I don't have any statistics because, as far as I know, that research is not being conducted. If it

is being conducted, I haven't seen it. I will continue to look, though.

Neighbours? Are you in Australia?

To get a small sample of what's on TV, we can look at the Fall 2008 broadcast network

primetime schedule here at TV Guide. It includes the shows on Monday through Sunday

from 8:00 pm to 11:00 pm on ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX and NBC.

I counted 96 separate series, including my favorites, Football Night in America and

The Moment of Truth.

Shows constructed around a female lead/duo/group:

Samantha Who?
Private Practice
America's Next Top Model
Lipstick Jungle
Ugly Betty
Kath & Kim
30 Rock
Wife Swap
Ghost Whisperer
The Ex-List
The Game
Desperate Housewives

Shows constructed around a male lead/duo/group:

How I Met Your Mother
Two and a Half Men
Worst Week
Prison Break
America's Toughest Jobs
My Own Worst Enemy
Eli Stone
The Mentalist
Gary Unmarried
Knight Rider
Life on Mars
Kitchen Nightmares
My Name is Earl
Everybody Hates Chris
Saturday Night College Football
Dateline NBC
The OT
King of the Hill
Family Guy
American Dad
Football Night in America
NBC Sunday Night Football
Eleventh Hour

Game shows with a female host:

Game shows with a male host:
Deal or No Deal
The Moment of Truth
Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?
Don't Forget the Lyrics!

That's 15 female to 34 male in network broadcast primetime.

In addition, there are shows like Big Bang

, Law & Order: SVU, The Office, Heroes and Saturday Night

that at first glance have women in the cast. But the quality, and quantity, of those

women's roles often do not equal those of their male counterparts. The disparity becomes more apparent when considering the roles of nonwhite women on primetime television; I think 25% of them are on Ugly Betty.

Bianca Reagan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bianca Reagan said...

Oh well, that response came out weird. But the meaning still remains.

Peter said...

An interesting note on that is genre. Most of the stuff listed that's female led I have no interest in. That could be simple numbers, but I really have no desire to watch Ugly Betty.

Though, I suppose you could compare why Smallville stuck around so long and Birds of Prey bombed hard.

I have to protest L&O. The improbably attractive ADA contingent is pretty much the only reason to watch it anymore. Although Sisto was good.

Bianca Reagan said...

Peter, you don't like Ugly Betty? Have you no heart?

I haven't seen a full episode of Smallville or Birds of Prey. I did watch Grosse Pointe and Off Centre, and those left the WB too soon. Though The Bedford Diaries couldn't leave soon enough.

Law & Order is still good! Lupo and that other guy aren't exactly Briscoe and Green, i.e., the best Law & Order duo ever. But surprisingly, I heart Jeremy Sisto and his ambition to become a lawyer through night school. And Anthony Anderson is round and lovable, like me. :)

Peter said...

I tried watching an episode of Ugly Betty. It was just jarring and annoying.

And I don't know about Lupo trying to become a lawyer. He ain't pretty enough to be an ADA in the L&O universe.

Bianca Reagan said...

That is blasphemy, Peter. Ugly Betty is fast-paced and quirky.

Lupo could be one of those lawyers who don't do homicide cases. Then he could get his own spinoff, like Lupo and the Man or Private Practice.

Andrew W said...

Hi. I'm not sure how I found your blog, to be honest. I read a lot of feminist and skeptic blogs, so perhaps it was a link from one of those. Have you been featured in any Carnivals of late? That could well be how.

Neighbours is on in the UK too, though I overstated myself when I said I watched it, I've catch the occasional few minutes, but I haven't actually watched it properly in years.

That's an impressive list, I was about to compile a UK one from, but it was a slow and boring process so I gave up.
That's exactly the kind of figures that I was talking about - though personally created rather than as part of a study, so the generalisability won't be perfect, but it seems pretty damn good.

Overall I think that makes your point very well - though I would dispute that Family Guy and American Dad are male-led - the title of both clearly indicates that they led with the father of the family in both cases - much like the Simpsons once led with Bart - but I think the result has been a show based around the family ensemble.
I would have instantly put the Big Bang Theory in the male led section - since it's really about a group of male nerds who happen to know a single woman, but I think Heroes is definitely an ensemble piece - a racist ensemble piece, but there's plenty of female characters who do plenty of stuff in it.

Your final point about the nonwhite women is far more obviously a problem. I can barely think of any shows led by non-white women. In fact, off the top of my head, none.
Though I'm not sure here how many shows I think need to be lead by nonwhite women. (Apart from clearly more than there are now) I'm happy enough with 50% +/- 15% shows lead by women, given that women are 51% or so of the population - but what percentage of shows need nonwhite leads? Should it match population breakdowns in the country as a whole? Should it match population breakdowns near where the programs are made? What if 80% of Indians and Pakistanis etc (Asians to us in the UK) go into professional jobs, not media jobs? Does this mean we must make sure the numbers still balance? If it turns out that the exact right percentage of Rwandans, but theres far to many Hutus and not enough Tutsis, does that mean the system is racist?

Andrew W said...

Actually my tongue was slightly in my cheek when I said Heroes was racist. I'm not sure, I just can't make up my mind.

On the one hand, Monica was dropped, and had her scenes from season 3 cut. DL was killed, then brought back, only to be killed again in the same damn episode. We haven't seen much of his kid for ages. Baron Samedi died recently as did Knox. Alejandro's dead too. (Thankfully)

On the other hand, they've also killed Charlene, Meredith, Linderman, Eden, Arthur Petrelli, Jesse Murphy, Niki, Daniel Pine, Trevor Zeitlan, and loads of others, who are all white.
Among the main characters left alive are Hiro and Ando, Micah, Mohinder and the Haitian.

On reflection actually, I'm not conflicted any more. I don't think it's racist, I just got that impression when they resurrected DL (who I liked) only to kill him in the same damn episode, just after I read a bunch of people complaining that the series is racist.
What do you think?

Peter said...

I don't necessarily think that Heroes is racist. The writers are just incompetent. That one of the most popular characters was Hiro says something, even if his character ended up getting screwed.

UPN used to have minority female led shows. Girlfriends for instance.

Bianca Reagan said...

Andrew, I don't think I have actively participated in any Carnivals, but someone else could have posted a link to my blog somewhere.

Though I'm not sure here how many shows I think need to be lead by nonwhite women.

I'm not sure how many shows (or companies or government organizations) need to be led by white men, but most of them are, even though white men don't make up 50% of any population. Media should at the very least attempt to reflect the population of the country it is being created in.

The system is indeed racist; I've said that in many words many times. I don't know how many Hutus and Tutsis we have here in the US. However, I do know that we have Indian and Pakistani populations. But aside from the "Diwali" episode of The Office, I have yet to see those populations covered elsewhere accurately, if at all.

I haven't watched Heroes, but from what I can tell from the promos, the two women featured in the series are young, white, blond and thin, which describe most of the women allowed in American media.

Peter, UPN is dearly departed. Though I do like to watch reruns of Eve on TV One. It's funny. Who knew? Most of the other hit shows from UPN are now syndicated on TV One, BET, WE or The N.

Peter said...

The two young female "leads" from Heroes weren't so much. The first season revolved around the cheerleader as a MacGuffin, and she generally stayed around, but Ali Larter's character wasn't all that great. Hiro was also one of the main characters, and he wasn't white. Although Peter Petrelli was.

Which reminds me, The Wire had a lot of minority characters. And considering how people ended up, it's debatable if the white characters were given special treatment.

As for The Office, what's the racial breakdown for Scranton?

Bianca Reagan said...

MacGuffin? Someone's using fancy Scottish words.

I don't watch The Wire, but apparently it's the cat's pajamas.

According to Wikipedia:

"The racial makeup of the city was 93.54% White, 3.02% African American, 0.11% Native American, 1.08% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.16% from other races, and 1.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race make up 2.62% of the population."

I think most of the nonwhite population of Scranton works at Dunder-Mifflin. I would also like to note that many TV shows conveniently choose places like Scranton to explain why most of the characters are glaringly white. But that argument doesn't hold up for shows like My Boys set in Chicago, or for Top Chef, which--despite moving from metropolitan Miami to Chicago to New York-- tends to have one black person, three white gay people, and one disgruntled man of some Asian descent.

Peter said...

Well, you should be happy. Another show about women is in development. It's about 4 women living in NY. Yeah, it's like Sex and the City, only they're werewolves too.

It's currently titled...wait for it... BITCHES.

I remember when CHARMED was on and it was set in San Francisco with a real lack of Asians. Although John Cho was in the first season, and as a "potential" love interest for one of the main characters to boot. Of course, he was dead and they were trying to bring the murderer to justice.