Media

The Help's Same Old Story

The film boasts Oscar-worthy performances but spotlights black exploitation in Hollywood.

(AP Photo/Dale Robinette)
Much has been written about The Help ’s whitewashing of American history in the Jim Crow South. The film’s revisionist plot follows the efforts of an altruistic white savior, played by Emma Stone, as she writes a book about the daily lives of maids in 1963 Mississippi. Certain realities of the time, including the death of prominent civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, are brushed aside, glossed over, or completely misinterpreted. Tulane political-science professor and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry has called the movie “ahistorical” and “deeply troubling.” With the Academy Awards two weeks away and The Help, which was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, poised to win big, what does the film’s success say about Hollywood’s unwillingness to properly tell black stories? James McBride, who co-wrote the upcoming film Red Hook Summer with Spike Lee, recently penned an open letter to Hollywood in which he noted the irony of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer receiving acting...

A Super Bowl for the People

Led by Madonna’s halftime act, this year’s telecast included something for everyone.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Somehow Madonna pulled off an amazing feat during the Super Bowl: bringing gay culture and aggressive female sexuality into the heart of masculinity’s holiest of days without anyone seeming to care. While the cheerleading segment was embarrassingly silly, I otherwise have to disagree with Tom Carson’s assessment that the Super Bowl’s narrative was Clint Eastwood versus Madonna, with Clint winning. I’m more in the camp of Tom’s friend who said, “It was Clint AND Madonna.” Madonna was hauled onto the field by an army of half-naked men in gladiator costumes and then sang “Vogue,” a song about a dance style invented and nourished in gay nightclubs. Madonna even rolled out “Like A Prayer”, a number that used to bait conservatives with its provocative blend of sexual and religious themes. Yet, the only offended response from the guardians of moral purity the Monday after the show was half-hearted complaining that hip-hop performer M.I.A., who joined Madonna and rapper Nicky Minaj onstage,...

... And Still More Marriage Equality

It might be February, but wedding bells sure are in the air this week. Yesterday, Washington's state legislature passed a marriage bill that Governor Chris Gregoire has said she will sign. It will probably be battled at the ballot box, but I told you this week what I think about that—and the marriage-equality forces think that they're ready to hold the victory among voters. So instead of celebrating that victory, I'm going to pass along a moment of sadness. Robin Tyler has been an out-and-proud lesbian activist for decades, making things happen around the country. She and her wife were the first to marry in Los Angeles, during the brief period when California allowed marriages. And so she's made a small splash with the announcement that she and her wife will be getting divorced after 18 years together. They weren't really the "poster girls for the cause" that the news media wanted them to be. Tyler explains her position well: We didn't want to get married to be perfect. We are human,...

Maybe We Should Stop Talking about Media "Bias"

The Pew Research Center is out with one of its big reports about news use and politics, and as usual there's a lot of interesting stuff there, if this happens to be your thing. I want to point to one result, about perceptions of "bias" in the news. On one level, it's about what you'd expect: Republicans see a lot of bias in the news, particularly with Tea Party Republicans. That's because they're the most intense partisans, and they've spent 30 years marinating in an ideology that puts their oppression at the hands of a vicious liberal media at its center. But when Pew asked whether respondents prefer "news sources that have no point of view" or sources that "share your point of view," everybody agreed: 65 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of independents said that they liked sources that "have no point of view." Of course, there is no such thing as a news source that has no point of view. But it's pretty clear that to most people, "bias" means little...

Has Komen Reversed Course?

Here's the statement that Komen for the Cure has released explaining its new position. I've bolded some parts: We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives. The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not. Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair. Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer . Amending our...

Because You Need To See Michelle Obama Dance With Ellen DeGeneres

Oh yes you do. 

It's just the first 40 seconds of the video. Check it: video platform video management video solutions video player

Woody Allen's Excellent Adventure

Midnight in Paris is nothing more than a dilettante's guide to the City of Lights.

AP Images
U p for four Academy Awards on February 26 and Woody Allen's biggest box-office hit ever, Midnight in Paris seems likely to overtake even 1977's Annie Hall as the man's most beloved movie. And I wish I could belove it myself, honest I do. In this case, it's no fun to disparage the core audience's genuine pleasure. It's not as if a marketing juggernaut turned the thing into a must-see. Nobody expected Allen's latest to do much business until old-fashioned word of mouth brought his longtime fans out of the woodwork while earning him more than a few new ones. Since I live for chances to fake being an endearing sort of fellow, it's just my lousy luck that I couldn't help abominating Midnight in Paris pretty much from lights down to closing credits. Presumably, you all know the premise by now. On vacation in the City of Light with his snot of a fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and his gargoyle-Republican future in-laws, discontented screenwriter Owen Wilson finds a portal in time that lets him zip...

Q&A: What to Make of Facebook's IPO

Flickr/Thos003
Not being particularly tech-savvy, I've found following the Facebook-going-public news to be a bit perplexing. Sure, I know that the Internet behemoth just filed its IPO registration yesterday , revealing for the first time that the company has been profitable for three years and brought in $3.7 billion in revenue in 2011. But what does that mean? And what does Facebook's entry into the public market mean for the Internet? For Google? For the hundreds of millions who use the site? To get some answers, I called up Nicco Mele . Mele—named one of the "best and brightest" in 2003 by Esquire—pioneered Internet fundraising as webmaster for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. He later founded EchoDitto, which consults on Internet strategy with both Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits, and also had a hand in several Internet start-ups. He's currently teaching at Harvard's Shorenstein Center for the Study of Press, Politics and Public Policy. According to Mele, the information raises...

Stop the Damsel in Distress Act

Parks and Recreation's once-funny and subversive lead character turns into an anti-feminist cliché.

AP Images/Chris Haston
If you’re looking to get into the pants of a feminist, wonkish liberal, make sure to work Parks and Recreation into your sweet nothings. The hit NBC show's main character, Leslie Knope—a hyper-competent assistant parks director played by Saturday Night Live -alumna Amy Poehler—is one of those rare female comic characters who is allowed dignity along with competence. The sitcom is a love letter to the hard-working government bureaucrats who keep our streets clean and our communities safe only to find their work repeatedly bashed by pandering Republicans looking to score points against so-called big government. Unfortunately, everything that has made the show a winner with the smart set hasn’t resulted in ratings high enough to justify keeping it on the air. Watching the fourth season, I’ve come to fear that, in a last-ditch attempt to save the show, the writers are selling out their vision of a sweet-but-subversive sitcom and saddling Leslie with romantic story lines that buy into the...

Balancing Faith and Contraceptives

Criticisms of President Obama's new birth control policy skip over the benefits for women's health.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues against the Obama administration's laudable decision to require employer-provided health-insurance packages to cover contraception. The new rule, according to Dionne, is a "breach of faith" that the "administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here." Dionne's argument is, however, extremely unconvincing. As an alternative to the Obama administration’s decision, Dionne touts what he calls a compromise. Under Dionne’s proposal, to get coverage for contraceptives, employees would have to pay more for a separate plan to obtain it, but "religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact." The requirement that employers provide written notice before denying people their federally guaranteed statutory rights is, to put it mildly, not an acceptable compromise if you place significant weight on the rights of women at all. Dionne mentions a...

Cynthia Nixon Clears It All Up

Poor Cynthia Nixon ! I can only imagine what kind of re-education camp she's been sent to since a week and a half ago, when she declared that she chooses to be gay. Yesterday, she issued a clarifying statement saying that: to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify: While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship. As I said in the Times and will say again here, I do, however, believe that most members of our community—as well as the majority of heterosexuals—cannot and do not choose the gender of the persons with whom they seek to have intimate relationships because, unlike me, they are only attracted to one sex. It's worth reading the full statement. It struck me as slightly cranky in tone, as if written with some resentment that she would have to repeat what she said in...

Frank Bruni on Whether We're "Born This Way"

Over the weekend, Frank Bruni at The New York Times weighed in on the internal LGBT community scuffle that Cynthia Nixon set off last week. Why are people gay? Nature, nurture, culture, choice, or some fluid combination thereof? I laid out my point of view here last week: Given that researchers have found women's sexuality to be more fluid than men's and that sexuality is defined and organized differently in different times and places, I wondered whether, in our time, men's appears more fixed because they face the fierce cultural pressure of the masculinity patrol . Bruni writes : Born this way. That has long been one of the rallying cries of a movement, and sometimes the gist of its argument. Across decades of widespread ostracism, followed by years of patchwork acceptance and, most recently, moments of heady triumph, gay people invoked that phrase to explain why homophobia was unwarranted and discrimination senseless.... But is it the right mantra to cling to? The best tack to take...

I Fought PBS and PBS Won

Downton Abbey gives the network a bona fide guilty pleasure.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Maybe I should have heeded Joe Strummer's obscene warning back in 1980. "He who fucks nuns/Will later join the church," the Clash's front man sang biliously on London Calling— and here I am 32 years later, watching Downton Abbey. I guess Joe had my number all along. No doubt, this betrayal of my Jacobin youth won't seem excessively poignant to too many of you. That's not least because you're probably hooked on Downton Abbey yourself, but indulge me. When I was starting out as a TV reviewer—lured, like so many bright-eyed naifs, by the promise of groupies, big bucks, and high living— Village Voice readers soon got used to my heartlessness about PBS: "Off with those three little heads!" I once merrily wrote. More than anything else, public broadcasting's wan mania for importing high-toned Brit taradiddle got my goat, a prejudice dating back to my restless puberty. The original Forsyte Saga, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Brideshead Revisited —the PBS versions of the Rosetta Stone, in...

The Winner Is...Romney's Debate Coach

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
We learned so many things during Thursday night’s GOP debate in Jacksonville. Callista Gingrich would be a swell first lady because she plays the French horn and loves the arts. If you’re a Palestinian-American, don’t bother asking a Republican candidate in Florida to acknowledge your humanity, or even your existence. Immigration policy is really all about undocumented grandmothers. Rick Santorum used to go to church with the governor of Puerto Rico. And Ron Paul is itching to take on the other candidates in a 25-mile bike ride in the heat of Texas. The last debate before the Florida primary was, even by the standards of the 18 debates that preceded it, a stunningly vapid event—thanks largely to the preponderance of The View -level questions that moderator Wolf Blitzer and Jacksonville audience members asked. (Let’s not bother with Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, poverty or income inequality; we must know why the candidates think their spouses would make the best first ladies!) But the...

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

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