Lottery Is Never the Answer to Anyone’s Problems

U.S. sales of lotteries have amounted to about 70 billion dollars in fiscal year 2014. This is more than the sales of sports tickets, books, video games, movie box office, and music sales combined [1].

With the 1964 New Hampshire Lottery, the modern day lotteries have since spread nationwide (with the exception of Alabama, Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, Mississippi and Utah), primarily to fund the states. Indeed, state legislators once believed that this lucrative giant would one day save the states from debt. Frankly though, lotteries have turned out to create nothing but detrimental social and economical problems.

Far from sinful, lottery ticket purchases have instead become socially approved ways of supporting the state [2]. In 2014, of the 44 states that implement lotteries, $19.93 billion on average was allocated to state funding, which includes, but are not limited to: environmental preservation, welfare costs, and most importantly, education [3]. Numerous ads appeal to the idea that lottery actually benefits schoolchildren. Adverts from Florida Lottery use taglines such as “When you play, graduations apply,” and New York Lottery Everybody Wins advertising claim that a portion of a ticket goes into funding K-12 state schools.

While the numbers suggest a huge sum, in reality, many states fail to keep the promises, especially when it comes to education. In 2013, only a few states allocated more than 50% of their lottery revenues to their state funds: Delaware, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and West Virginia. The remaining 38 states transferred significantly less, with Arkansas and Massachusetts contributing the least: only 21% [4]. In North Carolina, fiscal years 2013 to 2014, former governor Mike Easley have announced that the state plans to invest half a billion dollars of proceeds from North Carolina Education Lottery in K-12 education. Despite the announcement, less per-pupil on education was spent, which was even less than the amount from the first year’s spending [5].

While California Lottery has proceeded $24 billion of its funds to public school donations since 1985, the state still fails to meet its education needs. Virginia Lottery has generated $450 million dollars annually, yet the money has been used by legislatures to cover for education “expenses,” and not for the extra contribution it was originally intended to be. In 2011, Maryland raised more than $519 million to contribute to the state, which was planned to be spent on various programs from education to public health and safety. Yet, the state government is considering raising taxes to maintain the state’s highly regarded public education system [6].

Not only that, while lotteries attract the poor, their funds are not returned to the lower income neighborhoods that actually generate most of the revenue. Lottery is commonly viewed as “a painless tax that raises public funds without coercion,” an effective way of redistributing wealth from the rich to poor, which ironically operates under “a business model that’s based on getting up to 70 to 80% of their revenue from 10% of the people that actually use the lottery” [7]. Multiple researches have been conducted to study socio-demographic correlations of lottery participation: according to Wolff, “Lotteries take huge sums from masses of middle-income and poor people who would otherwise have spent all that money on goods and services whose production would have provided jobs for others.” A study conducted by Barnes reveals that individuals from disadvantaged neighborhoods have the highest number of days participating in the lottery and the lowest three socioeconomic status groups had the highest rate of lottery gambling. Wiggins found that lottery outlets were often clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods with a large number of minorities [8].

Yet, it has become significantly easier to participate in lottery today. One can purchase it without having to go all the way to the nearest convenient store. Multiple states have introduced smartphone apps downloadable through Google App play and Apple App Store. Pennsylvania has a mobile application that even offers information on current jackpots, daily and past winning numbers, and even the latest instant games, such as “Scratch For Fun” [9]. Some states, including California, have implemented lotteries at gas pumps and even ATMs. Oregon, which currently licenses more than 12,000 video slot machines, encourages lottery retailers to embrace such machines. These machines can be found almost everywhere: bars, restaurants, taverns and bowling allies [10]. While easier access to lottery games may lead to more addictions, only a handful of states enforce strict regulations.

Another important factor that may lead to long, lifetime addiction is underage participation. According to Felsher et al., despite its legal prohibition, lottery tickets were easily accessible to minors. In fact, there are parents that routinely gift tickets to their underage children [11]. And while underage participants did not perceive themselves as gamblers or view lotteries as a form of gambling [12], a recent study conducted in Yale University showed that “the receipt of scratch lottery tickets as gifts during childhood and adolescence was associated with risky and problematic gambling and with gambling-related attitudes, behaviors, and views suggesting gambling acceptability” [13] In fact, the Alabama Policy Institute released a study on lottery gambling, concluding that “more gambling addictions are related to lottery than any other game” [14]. And while gambling critics point to lottery’s potential addictiveness as a major social issue, the scope of lottery has expanded to include a variety of new, exciting, and accessible games.

Aggressive marketing and advertising is another leading factor that not only motivates gambling, but also endorses the dream of quick wealth that drives gambling addiction.  For example, New York Lottery’s Yeah, that Kind of Rich campaign feature individuals with a built-in aquarium at home and a private jet (#goals). Indeed, “Our proclivity for fantasy makes us an easy target for advertising,” which often favor friendly, appealing themes of happier luxurious life [15].

Considering all these facts, a question emerges: are these investments (coming from most participants’ life savings) returned rightfully to the buyers, particularly those who are in desperate need of support? EdBuild’s 2014 comprehensive analysis answers no. Its research compares each of the low and high-income Los Angeles district schools: Inglewood and La Cañada, respectively. On an adjusted formula where the money is allocated proportionally to revenue from the two region’s lottery ticket sales, La Cañada Unified received approximately $105 more per-student. On the contrary, Inglewood, a neighborhood that has spent $28.4 million on lotteries, received $211 less. EdBuild concludes the following:

“Because poor communities pay so much more into the lottery than   wealthy ones, and because the current system of allocations does not take into account the neighborhoods’ levels of investment, low-income areas get shortchanged, while affluent ones are radically overpaid” [16].

But what efforts can be made to better address this problem? Due to the lotteries’ easy accessibility in spite of legal prohibitions and their addictiveness, it is critical that we acknowledge the problem and develop ethical policies and prevention programs accordingly. Communications must be designed to inform, rather than to induce citizens to participate. Indiana makes a clear and successful case in point: “no children will be used in advertising nor will advertising be directed toward them,” “odds of winning will be clearly stated in advertising where appropriate”, and “ads will be careful not to sell the dream of a way out of their current financial situation” [17]. Likewise, the state government should operate ethically and be as transparent as possible. A fairer distribution, for example, should be given to the schools based on how much lottery sales were made in these areas. If the government were to continue preying on the impoverished, they must then receive what they deserve.

What a Troll (lulz)

“Trolling is still not being taken seriously enough by police and technology companies who already have the tools to take against the Internet abusers.” Notes Stella Creasy, in her interview with the Guardian [1]. Indeed, harassment on the Internet is ubiquitous. And worst yet, it isn’t being controlled.

In a 2014 Pew Research survey, 60% of Internet users reported witnessing someone being called offensive names, 53% purposefully embarrassing someone, 25% witnessing someone being harassed for a sustained period of time, 24% seeing someone being physically threatened, 19% sexually harassed, and 18% stalked [2]. Too often though, we blatantly overlook its consequences and merely assume there’s nothing we can do about it. These online antisocial behaviors have become so prevalent that it’s now perceived as an inextricable part of our culture. But online anti-social behaviors cause real and lasting harms to the targets of abuse, a problem that must be carefully analyzed and seriously repudiated. Likewise, argument which this post presents is twofold: the tech companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook must first improve and enforce their community guidelines for free speech, and second, law enforcement must seriously address online anti-social behaviors as they would with offline violence.

Definitions of Anti-Social Communication Practices

“Anti-social” behaviors are antagonistic, hostile, or unfriendly behaviors toward others that is, by definition, detrimental to social order and principles. These behaviors relate to a pattern of behavior in which social norms and the rights of others are persistently violated:

Flaming is hostile interaction between Internet users, often involving profanity. Griefing is deliberately irritating and harassing other players within the game by using game features in unintended ways. Doxxing involves researching personally identifiable information about an individual and publicizing the victim’s profiles. Swatting is the act of deceiving emergency services using false report of an ongoing critical incident and dispatching them to wrong locations. Trolling is saying and doing disruptive things online in order to garner an emotional response. The American Life’s “Ask not for whom the bell trolls; it trolls for thee” defines trolls as people “who post hate and abuse online. They use comments sections and social media to hound people and shriek at people” [3].

Targets of Anti-Social Internet users find themselves battling extreme levels of hostility. Even their most intimate information about themselves may be publicized and be directly used to assault them. And such online harassments are often accompanied by offline stalking and physical assaults.

Ethical and Legal Responsibilities

Indeed, it is not the Internet’s fault that such antisocial behaviors have come to existence. As a matter of fact, according to section 230 of the communication decency act, technology companies are not responsible for speech on their networks, and they have much discretion to decide what kind of speech exists on their platforms.

However, the online tech companies should still carry the responsibility for controlling such behaviors on their services. Stella Creasy, in her interview with the Guardian, even notes that “technology companies would kill their own business models if they did not take online harassment more seriously, as people being targeted would retreat to other more private platforms” [1]. But aside from such public relations concerns, private tech companies have ethical obligations to regulate speech on their platforms and to fight for creating an all-inclusive and speech-supporting community.

Indeed, Internet censorship should not be viewed as an infringement on our rights, rather, as a protection. “Don’t feed the trolls” phrase, is a clear case in point. When victims are faced with anti-social behaviors against them, they are advised to silence themselves. Stella Creasy also criticizes this, saying: “telling victims of harassment to stop feeding the trolls or remove their online presence was comparable to asking women to dress differently or stop going out at night” [1]. Likewise, allowing anti-social behaviors to persist on social platforms does not protect constitutional rights of the individuals. Instead, just as Rosen argues, “claims of offensiveness can be deployed as a tool of oppression,” thus limiting people’s freedom of speech [4].

Granted, the tech companies have been continuously finding ways to better enforce their community guidelines, but the quest for feasible screening system continues. And such improved system would be of no use if the government law enforcement agencies do not partake in the battle against anti-social behaviors. While laws aimed at combating harassment already exist, they are actually not enforced at all. And when they are enforced, they’re done unfairly and ineffectively. Law enforcement agencies often fail to understand the gravity of this issue, but online harassment does not always just stay online. It sometimes even leads to offline assaults and stalking. Stella Creasy argues that “the root of the problem could only be tackled by treating the online world the same as the offline world” [1]. Indeed, the law enforcement agencies must understand the potential threats and be motivated to regulate safety of the online sphere as vigilantly as they would with the offline world.

The Internet is now an integral part of our lives; it’s where we spend the majority of our day on, where we socialize, and where we build our reputations. (For more information on how influenced we are by social media, check out The Dinner Table’s “The Multiple Faces of Social Media“).

Sadly, online harassers misuse such platform to magnify their voices and to silence and intimidate others. While it is nearly impossible to craft policies that will combat this issue without involving corporate and government censorship, I believe such enforcement could ultimately empower the society.

Emotional Intelligence as a New Standard of Excellence

In the past, a numerical scale called the IQ, which refers to one’s cognitive intelligence, has singularly represented human intelligence. Until recently, many researchers have been ignoring a crucial component that drives one’s ability to understand and adapt to the given social environment: emotion. Indeed, emotionality is not the antithesis of rationality [1]. Instead, emotions and intelligence go hand-in-hand, hence the term Emotional Intelligence.

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who are the founding researchers on emotional intelligence, defined emotional intelligence as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” [2].

Low EQ may help detect reasons why some people react in a certain way that precipitates major interpersonal conflicts. It can also help explain why some individuals are not motivated to work on their given tasks when they are well capable of performing them.

Therefore, EI is key to improving performance in interpersonal relationship management, corporate leadership, salesmanship, and whatnot. Daniel Goleman, addressed in his book Emotional Intelligence, that EI is the most critical factor in creating a successful career and life. What is better is that emotional intelligence can be taught and be developed through training and emotive learning.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer proposed four branch model: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions [3]. Perceiving emotions is the ability to detect and decipher emotions in other people as well as in oneself. This is a foundational aspect of emotional intelligence because one must be aware of emotions first to use them. Using emotions is the ability to harness emotions to facilitate various cognitive activities, accepting responsibility for choosing your own emotional responses and reframing the emotions to respective situations. Understanding emotions is the ability to recognize even the slightest changes in emotions and to appreciate the relationships among the differences. Managing emotions is the ability to regulate emotions in both oneself and in others. Emotionally intelligent people are aware of, and can harness emotions and mange them to achieve intended goals and capitalize fully on their changing moods to best fit the task at hand [4].

On the other hand, Goleman further defines emotional intelligence as the following: self-awareness, impulse control, persistence, zeal and self-motivation, empathy and social deftness. His definition also includes one’s awareness of emotions as a main pillar [5]. The ability to identify and understand emotions can then help control and redirect disruptive impulses and moods. Persistence is a strong commitment to one’s motivations and aspirations that drives one to continue seeking. Zeal and self-motivation refers to passion that comes from oneself, not from external rewards. For instance, one may want to learn how to cook not for monetary reasons, but instead for pure enjoyment. Empathy is the ability to understand other people’s emotions and relate to them. People with strong empathy know how to treat other people according to their various emotional states. Empathy can also lead to strong social deftness, which is a skill of managing healthy interpersonal relationships.

Just like cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence is a crucial factor associated with one’s performance. Many research studies have been performed to test the validity of this claim:

  • 20% of emotional intelligence overlaps with other intelligences and over 80% of emotional intelligence exists as a form in its own. This is a critical finding that distinguishes emotional intelligence as a separate criterion of intelligence, which also implies that it is a distinct and critical influencer of an individual’s performance. While cognitive intelligence affects one’s productivity through the knowledge of facts and technical skills relevant to the task, emotional intelligence can help an individual achieve high performance through the ability to facilitate appropriate reactions that meet certain situations and to manage emotions for constant motivation. [6]
  • Employees with high Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test score (MSCEIT) had high peer evaluation grades; their colleagues and supervisors viewed them as more positive, and social people who displayed strong leadership (Lopes, Greweal, Kadis, Gall & Salovey). This finding implies that those who are respected and highly esteemed by others all have significant propensity to have high emotional intelligence. [7]
  • Found significant correlation among employees’ emotional intelligence, their manager’s emotional intelligence, and the employees’ task performance. Meaning, emotional intelligence plays a mutually influential role in both parties on each other’s job performance. These findings indicate that emotional intelligence is not merely a property of the individual, but instead a source of influence that has the potential to affect the performance of the entire organization. [8]
  • Discovered a relationship between school principal’s emotional intelligence and teacher’s relational trust. The teachers believed principals with high emotional intelligence to be more trustworthy. This positive and statistically significant relationship gives an insight to how such makeups of emotional intelligence can improve one’s performance by strengthening interpersonal relationships and trust. Indeed, having a strong sense of trust by one’s subordinates is a crucial element to leadership, a term strongly associated with a high achieving task performer. [9]
  • Leadership is also determined by the relationship between the individual’s “emotional aspect and decision making processes—links between emotional intelligence, decision biases and effectiveness of the governance mechanisms” The research has unveiled the complementary relationship between the two, demonstrating that emotional intelligence is a necessary skill for leaders to minimize behavioral biases such as the following: “bias of loss aversion, optimism, over-confidence and lack of cognitive flexibility.” Evidently, the aforementioned skill is a crucial element to effective leadership and successful teamwork. [10]

Employers today understand the importance of emotional intelligence and how skills such as adaptability, management of oneself and the relationship with others, persistence in motivation, cooperativeness, conflict management, and leadership should be heavily weighed. In fact, the technical skills tend to be weighed less than one’s soft skills in many organizations. However, such desirability of the aforementioned qualities is not limited to the work environment. The concept of emotional intelligence is applicable in almost every aspect of our lives.

Likewise, training programs to help one to enhance emotional competency is strongly encouraged. Many training programs have been established to help those with low emotional intelligence understand and interact with others successfully. Bagsahw’s training program, for instance, focuses on five elements of emotional intelligence known as the acronym, CARES (creative tension, active choice, resilience under pressure, empathic relationship, self-awareness and self-control) to help develop strength in managing existing relationships, negotiation techniques and leadership skills [11]. Indeed, studies have been performed to test the validity and effectiveness of such training procedures. For instance, Essary found a significant correlation between EI training and “the resultant levels of emotional awareness and job satisfaction” [12]. The result substantiates that emotional intelligence skills can be taught, developed and enhanced by such training programs, and even strengthen one’s attachment to the environment, offering valuable insight into every individual’s level of emotional intelligence. EI training may lead to more promising results for both the individual and organizational success and help to employ positive perspectives of the situations at hand.

Today, many employers are no longer focusing solely on the technical skills, but instead are looking for the underlying emotional ability to adapt to the work environment and be able to learn through social competency [13]. People are now being measured not only on their academic qualifications but also on their soft skills: emotional expertise. This new form of judgment with an increasing emphasis on emotional expertise stems from the importance of emotional intelligence, which contributes to one’s way of communicating with others, managing conflicts, employing successful teamwork, and on. Indeed, how much you know can have little effect on how well you perform. An expert may not be able to show his full potential owing to feelings of anger that override his rational thoughts, and a manager with strong technical skills may not have the right charisma to lead his employees. On the other hand, individuals with low cognitive intelligence and high emotional intelligence may be able to alleviate their weakness by being a cooperative team worker who is willing to work and carry on the task to achieve the best quality work. Indeed, given its diverse advantages varying from professional, social, and even personal aspects of life, emotional intelligence is a skill that must be developed and enhanced by today’s generation.

Dump Trump You Dumb Dumb

Just like what Ben Carson said, Donald Trump is neither a politician nor a rational person.

And those who follow him probably don’t know much about politics or logic either (Shame on you Ben Carson), just like how many of them are the exact reflections of Trump (without the money). Just like Trump, they’re not afraid to express their racist, sexist, xenophobic, or politically incorrect views, all because they lack one very simple yet significant skill: fact-checking. So here’s a little reality-slap:

“He is fair,” Said Melania Trump. “When you attack him, he will punch back ten times harder,” also, said Melania Trump.

Besides the obvious contradiction in her two statements, punishing women for going through abortion is unfair, and reversing such statement when faced with major outcry isn’t much of a tough punch back either. Right. He is not fair or is he a vigorous fighter. Just when I wondered how one could be both, I now wonder how one could not be either or.

In fact, no matter how much his minions refuse to admit, he is nothing but a man full of contradictions. One day, he proposes to fight for American businesses and workers, and the other day he says: “I use both iPhone and Samsung. If Apple doesn’t give info to authorities on the terrorists, I’ll only be using Samsung.” He says he wants to cut corporate taxes to 10% and says he cares about middle income class. He calls journalists disgusting and dishonest human beings and yet his campaign is built around its free media coverage. But none of this bothers his supporters because they are persuaded by his attitude, not his agenda.

Indeed, it’s become safe and even ridiculously redundant to say that Trump’s candidacy has shown just how ignorance can bring about so much hate in the American people. And to further note, their refusal to admit any reality that deviates from their views.

I recently stumbled upon a comment thread on one of my good old friend’s Facebook account. I knew her back in high school which is located in the very conservative suburbs. Like many other Trump supporters, she is a white middle class conservative who never made it to college and doesn’t believe in the existence of white privilege. She loves posting pictures of herself holding the American flag in a very erotic manner with a caption that reads: Make America Great Again!

On her comment thread, there was a heated debate between college liberals and her hometown conservatives on Trump’s candidacy. I was naïve enough to think that it’d be worth a read, because by the end of the thread, it seemed to have a detrimental effect on my mental well-being. I mean, one of the Trump supporters wrote: “give me factual information sources to back up your point. Not from news articles, news castings, and any media.” And when he was asked where he gets his information from, he proudly answered: “my experiences.”

But he did make a very valid point for my own argument presented here. Trump supporters are in fact, the dispossessed, those who are quick to hate and blame others for what they don’t have. They are the ones who have suffered lost jobs and low wages, and the American Dream seem to not be working for them. So naturally, they are looking for something novel, someone to blame on, and some excuses to bring out the worst in themselves. They are the ones who express heavy mistrust of every institution in America: government, corporations, unions, media, and even their own political party. And these very angry people are what we call the middle-class unilingual Americans, who irk when asked to press 1 for English but do not know the difference between “your” and “you’re.”

At this point, “conservative” is an extravagant term to describe this particular group of people who often don’t even understand the ideologies their affiliated political party stands for. They merely think that life in this country used to be better for people like them. Perhaps they mean back in the days when communities were segregated, or even before, when they were able to call their African American slaves the n-word, or even before that, when a group of immigrants incorrectly labeled Native Americans as “Indians” and displaced them from their homes. They are pissed off and they just want their old country back without understanding how the “old” America is nothing but sad past for many, many other Americans. It is not surprising to see that more and more educated people of this country are becoming more liberal (for more information, check out Insights of Analysis’ “The US is becoming more liberal, why is this?”)

But it is only natural that Trump’s followers have such little understanding of American history and party ideologies. Their leader himself is unfamiliar with politics, diplomacy, and public policy. And people, including Carson, use such ignorance as an excuse to defend and make sense of his absurd public statements: “he hasn’t really learned that because he’s not a politician. But he has now had time to come back and think about it and come up with a more rational and informed type of answer.” And when all things fail, his answer will remain the same and his followers will continue to be left out, struggling to make sense of the nonexistent American Dream.

But will Trump? Never was, and never will.

 

 

 

 

Undocumented American

 

Realizing one day that you’re not what you always believed yourself to be is never an easy thing.

And that’s what it is like to grow up as an undocumented youth in America. You’re an American in every way, but others tell you you’re not really an American.

Jose Antonio Vargas’ experience is emblematic of the struggles faced by the 11million undocumented immigrants in America. As a well respected Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Vargas publicly “comes out” as “undocumented” on a national scale, despite the fact that doing so may jeopardize his stay in the States. And he does so with one clear purpose: to advocate for immigration reform that would enable Americans to be accepted as Americans.

What I found particularly compelling is the fact that he was “sent by his mother to live with his U.S. citizen grandparents in California when he was twelve years old” and that he “grew up without any knowledge that he was in fact here illegally,” as according to the Hollywood Reporter article. Likewise, many illegal immigrants residing in the United States were sent here, without having been informed of the process. Just like Vargas, they grow up, unable to embrace their identity while simultaneously being forced to keep their status secret from others, all in fear of negative perceptions and potential danger of deportation.

Despite such fear, Vargas boldly comes out and addresses the issues revolving illegal immigration, showing how strong his convictions are to raise awareness and make impact. And his need to take such risks demonstrates just how problematic and volatile the issue of immigration is:

  • There are 4.5 million citizens with unauthorized parents
  • 1.5 million undocumented young people
  • They face critical psychological ramifications such as: issues of fear, anxiety, depressions, and the feeling of being left out
  • They face social barriers such as: racial profiling, discrimination. What’s really mind-boggling is the biases and preconceived notions revolving what it is to be an immigrant. While 1.2mil of the 11 mil undocumented immigrants are asian (1 out 5 Koreans and 1 out 6 Filipinos), people use the term illegal and Mexican interchangeably. This puts Mexican Americans at risk for constant discrimination and humiliation
  • Many of them are forcibly separated from their families
  • They may be placed in detention camps or even be deported at any time
  • Many of them are not allowed to integrate into the society, which encourages them to resort to illegal activities or even be exposed to gangs

People come to this country to pursue the American Dream. Most of the time, parents just want to provide a better opportunity for their children. But the U.S. immigration system makes it very difficult for them to attain a legal status. In fact, about 40% of the undocumented immigrants initially came to the states legally and stayed after their statuses expired. The hardships faced by undocumented immigrants are similar to that of American homeless people. People think that they are faced with such problems because of their own life choices. But are we going to continue criticizing them and ignore their desperate cry for help? (For more on homelessness and poverty in the U.S., check out Geneveive Fox’s “The Nationwide Cost of Alleviating a Free-Rider Problem: Homelessness and the Death of the American Ethos“)

The law is made by humans and are therefore not perfect. When the reality exceeds the law, we then must change them to better accommodate the needs of the society. Immigration laws have obviously turned out to be a failure, stripping away the rights of the individuals. We must understand that ethics and laws are not the same. Just because it is a law, doesn’t mean it’s always ethical. And just because undocumented immigrants are not here legally, it also does not mean they are unethical.

But today, we hear many potential leaders of this country villainizing the immigrants as a whole. How easily do we forget the fact that our country is in fact, founded by illegal immigrants?

The first generation American immigrants have pushed the Native citizens to the other side of the border, and yet they are unwelcoming to the new immigrants. Because of this, many end up growing up in the shadows of undocumented status. But behind the doors they hide in, there are people who have the potential to make substantial contributions to the society, and who have every right to be an American.

 

 

 

 

 

2013 Asiana Plane Crash: Sum Ting Wong with News Media Transparency

On July 12th, 2013, the Bay area news station KTVU erroneously announced the names of the Asiana Flight 214 pilots, and reported live on the news the following statement: “KTVU has just learned the names of four pilots who were on board the flight, they are captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, Bang Ding Ow, and the NTSB has confirmed these are the names of pilots on board the flight when it crashed” [1].

This absurd gaffe of broadcasting phony names with racist connotations resulted in harsh global criticisms and ridicules. Sadly, these obvious on-air mistakes are not the only examples of media failure we face today. News media itself has become a failure since the quality of reporting is not as perceptive, objective, accurate, or factual as it is intended to be.

This incident has ultimately shown the news media’s role as a means to sensationalize opinions that favor the media’s personal affiliations and to frame stories in ways that sell to the target market.

On July 6th, 2013, Asiana Airline’s Boeing 777 crash-landed onto the United States San Francisco International Airport with 291 passengers, resulting in three deaths and 181 injuries. The plane appeared to be flying too low at a speed way below its ideal level. Neither the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the U.S. nor the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board of South Korea was sure then, of what caused the accident, and estimated that it would take about a year to come to an accurate conclusion. Though the investigation was only at its preliminary stage back then, news media of both the United States and South Korea were jumping too quickly to conclusions, trying to avoid taking responsibility [2].

News media should objectively report factual information, but it made unproven accusations in order to favor the position of the United States. These assumptions, disguised as factual information, ultimately convinced the viewers to perceive the plane crash mostly as a human error. For example, Stuart Varney on Fox Business News made a bold assertion claiming, “it is a pilot error.” Even though it was only a few days after the accident, he was prematurely concluding that the pilots are at fault. Fox again, in its interview with FBN’s Tom Sullivan, assessed all the possible mistakes the pilot could have made, dismissing any other problems that may have precipitated the accident. He also made his assumption sound dangerously like a fact, saying, “pilot made some serious mistakes here…there was no sign of mechanical defects. Everything seemed to have worked fine. Boeing 777 is one of the safest aircraft ever built as well” [3]. Again, back when such allegations were made, NTSB announced that they were still undergoing investigations, including one on possible aircraft malfunction. He was merely making a speculation based on such light, insufficient, and presumptive evidences with no direct proofs. Likewise, the American news media focused too heavily on the accusation of the crash being the pilot’s incompetency, dismissing the possibility of it being any other problem which could offend the nation’s viewers.

Moreover, the media coverage also used false, and even out-of-context information at times to stimulate, and to ultimately sell to the public. MSNBC’s “Korean Culture May Offer Clues to Asiana Crash,” for example, argues that “South Korea’s aviation industry has faced skepticism about its safety and pilot habits since a few deadly crashes beginning in the 1980’s” [4]. In fact, Delta Airline, one of the American carriers, had more crashes than did Asiana since the 1980’s, while Korea possesses one of the most reputable aviation industries in the world with Asiana being the second best [5]. Wee also claimed that there must have been a delay in communication among the pilots because “in the Korean language, you speak to superiors and elders in an honorific form that requires more words and can be more oblique than in English”. Clearly, news media often provides groundless and unfounded justifications as such and fails to objectively address and analyze problems with accurate information; instead, it succeeds in entertaining and sensationalizing the public.

Respectively, the Korean news media shares a similar sentiment: it focused on the mechanical problem, trying to appeal to its national viewers. “A joint investigation on the crash landing of a passenger jet in San Francisco is now focusing on the possible failure of the plane’s cruise control-like system, a government official here said Wednesday,” reported the Yonhap news of South Korea [6]. Korean Herald’s article also read that “Chicago-based Ribbeck Law said initial reports indicate it could have been caused by a mechanical malfunction of the auto-throttle” and that Boeing could be responsible of designing the sliding ramps that ended up “further injuring passengers and blocking their exit to safety” [7]. In order to maximize the possibility of mechanical defect, Chosun News even claimed, “the aircraft had undergone engine repair for more than twenty hours on June 2nd, after an oil leak was discovered in part of its engine at San Francisco International Airport.” [8]. The Korean media, by addressing this issue, convinced the public that the aircraft malfunction could have been the main cause, all in order to appeal to the public.

These biased reports on the Asiana plane crash by both countries have resulted in rampant speculations about the cause of the event. In America, the public perception has grown into thinking that the crash was most likely due to the pilot’s fault, and public mockery of Asian stereotypes spread all across social media. People were making jokes such as: “Asians cannot pilot an aircraft just like how they cannot drive”, “it had to be an Asian pilot, they cannot drive anything”, and so on [9]. The Korean public reaction was similar to that of America. They were resenting America for falsely and prematurely accusing their pilots, while believing that it was most likely to be an aircraft malfunction. Top news article comments were as follows: “It is obviously the manufacturer’s fault since the pilot knew there was something wrong and called for aid way before landing. He must have noticed that there was something wrong with the craft” [10]. “If the pilot did not realize it that early and have not called for aid as soon as he did, it would have ended up with more casualties.” [11]. Likewise, people were made certain that the crash occurred due to mechanical errors. Indeed, public perception of an event is shaped by how the media portrays it, but news media of both America and South Korea fail to be objective at delivering the information; they merely feed into the biased perceptions of the public.

Indeed, news media in both the United States and South Korea reported buck-passing speculations by undermining the opposing nation’s integrity at the time of the incident. But when the actual NTSB evaluation was released, people no longer cared about it. Exactly one year after, the NTSB concluded that it was caused by the pilot error. Due to the new complex automated aircraft controls system, the pilot over-relied on the system while not fully understanding its complexities, but this fact did not receive enough spotlight in neither country [12]. After all, who actually cares about the result, one year after the incident? It simply would not “sell.”

Likewise, news media is a powerful and influential manipulator that molds public perception in dismissal of accuracy. News media should ethically consider the way they portray the information: it should be, neutral and factual, so that the general public can respond in a more logical, not in a biased manner. People would also be encouraged to analyze facts and arrive at their own conclusions, rather than blindly listening to the stories provided by news media. However, it is unlikely that the media will change for the better; a society that continues to believe and rely on media will only naturally become more vulnerable to conforming to its subtle, and sometimes blatant biases.

Free Education for Freedom

 

Bernie is right. It is time to make public college free in America.

College debt has now passed the $1.2 trillion mark, and thousands and millions of young adults pursuing after quality education are left with debt that burdens them for decades. Many give up their dreams because they know they can’t afford to receive such education. Most who do go to college are left with thousands to even millions of dollars of debt, shackling them to creditors and even limiting their career options. But why is it that these young, bright individuals are forced to pay beyond their means? And worst yet, why would anyone be encouraged to risk their lives for it?

That is why seeing this meme pisses me off every time:

imageedit_3176_7011613544

(And it’s also ironic how the same people who make this argument also blames immigrants for “taking” their jobs. There is also a way to earn jobs, you see, and free education could probably help. And for more information on how free education can benefit businesses and the economy, check out Genevive Fox’s “Public Higher Education State Budget Cuts: What Kind of ROI Could You Possibly Expect??“)

As much as I respect those serving the country by willingly putting their dear lives at risk, I don’t find it appropriate to encourage others to do the same, all for the sake of free education. Some bright, young individuals end up leaving their family forever, without ever having had a chance to learn, or experience what their privileged peers do. It simply does not make sense to ask anyone to sacrifice their rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, simply because the government wouldn’t let them receive quality education that they deserve.

With persistently growing inflation and competition in the job market, something has to be done. The global economy is becoming more and more competitive, where only the best-educated and the most skilled are recruited. But hundreds and thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and those who do go leave their schools with a mountain of debt that enslaves them for decades. Indeed, financial burden is one of the greatest reasons to why otherwise-fit students to choose to drop out or to not even choose to attend in the first place. This is absurd to say the least.

My mom calls me a “walking house” as the cost for my college education was equivalent to that of buying a house. When I received my college acceptance letters in high school, I couldn’t be happy as I wasn’t qualified to receive federal or state grant. Thankfully, I was blessed to have parents who willingly sacrificed themselves to fund my education at the most expensive university in the nation. And I don’t want to imagine my life without the precious memories I made in college, and I don’t want anyone to miss out on such opportunities. And when qualified students receive acceptance letters to their dream schools, I don’t want any of them to start thinking about financial burdens before anything.

Oh My Gosh, Look at Her Butt

She is not at all concerned with her public reputation, and she does not care about what is expected of her as a woman. She is not someone known to play the conventional roles assigned to women in her industry or elsewhere. But she certainly is something. She is a self-made star who epitomizes what it is to be independent and a boundary breaker. She is open to rap about revealing her dark side and expressing her wild sexual taste and lust, showing disregard for authority and resistance to cultural hegemony. And she has yet introduced another powerful song paying special tribute to:

my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club.

anaconda3.gif

In 2014, Nicki Minaj released this hotly debated and widely criticized single “Anaconda,” a song critics rail against for sexualizing female body type that is deviant from western standard of beauty. Unlike most modern pop music in which female bodies are the subject of the male gaze and sexual exploitation, Minaj’s “Anaconda” is an imagined world of female dominance, communicating resistance to subjectivities and status quo. Although it received criticism for being obscene and for objectifying women’s body parts, it implies fundamental feminist ideals that undermine and even mock female body image issues and normalized subordination to patriarchal power.

Contrary to popular belief, Minja’s song is ultimately a bold attempt made in order to champion women’s physical self-esteem and sexual agency. Through examinations of modern standards of femininity and feminism, this paper will explore the ways in which Minaj’s song could be a source of female empowerment, and indeed a powerful example that ought to be followed by other female artists.

Message of Female Empowerment

“Anaconda” refuses to play the common narrative of a man conquering the female body and instead explores Minaj’s own unapologetic confidence over her body figure, sexual dominance and her wild sexcapades, all through which Minaj communicates messages of counter-hegemony and empowerment.

Sandra Barky, in her essay “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power,” notes that “massiveness, power, or abundance in a woman’s body is met with distaste” in modern standards of female figures (1998). But Minaj’s lyrics such as “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hun” completely suggest otherwise. Indeed, unlike how the current body of fashion is “taut, small-breasted, narrow-hipped, and of a slimness bordering on emaciation,” women in her music video are full-breasted with wide hips and large buttocks, all of which are the polar opposites of the previously mentioned “feminine” characteristics (1998). In fact, the entire song is about how Minaj is able to get men to buy her expensive designer clothes because they are seduced by her beautiful large body figure, particularly her big buttocks.

She even talks about how “he can tell I ain’t missing no meals,” which is an intriguing commentary undermining women’s popular dieting habits made in attempt to achieve modern day silhouette. In fact, problems with eating disorders have been one of the nation’s greatest concerns, with statistics that suggest “3 out of every 4 American women have disordered eating habits” and “75% of American women have distorted behaviors, thoughts, and feelings when it comes to food and their bodies” (Epigee). But Minaj derides such societal demand for thin body figures and instead expresses her pride in eating what she wants and having a large body. She further explicitly mocks and expresses hostility toward the standard body figure, singing, “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun,” and even shouting, “fuck the skinny bitches! Fuck the skinny bitches in the club!” all of which embodies her outright refusal to succumb to conformity and hegemonic standard of beauty.

Not only does she refuse to follow physical standards, she also rejects carriages, poises, movements, postures, and body languages expected of ideal women. While femininity entails “constriction” and grace with “certain eroticism restrained by modesty,” women in the music video make excessively sexual moves and gestures, such as crawling, twerking, and even touching each other’s bodies in erotic manner (1998). Furthermore, the music video shows Minaj and other women exploring their sexuality free from the male gaze, unlike how most modern pop music videos showcase female bodies simply for the purpose of sexual exploitation by men.

Indeed, the only man that appears in the music video is Drake, and all he does is to sit still the entire time while Nicki gives him a wild lap dance. While “woman’s space is not a field in which her bodily intentionality can be freely realized but an enclosure in which she feels herself positioned and by which she is confined,” Drake is the one positioned and confined as he sits on the chair and Minaj is the one to freely utilize the entire space as she seduces him (1998). Indeed, such visual representation holds powerful implications. Most modern pop music videos show men as the main role and women as merely subs in the back, whose role is to solely support their male counterparts. But Minaj completely turns the table around.

Bartky also notes how economy of touching is out of balance in current day standards. “Men touch women more often and on more parts of the body than women touch men: female secretaries, factory workers, and waitresses report that such liberties are taken routinely with their bodies” (1998). Likewise, it is normal for men to touch women both on media and also in real life, but Drake in Nicki’s world of “Anaconda” is not permitted to touch her at all and instead is confined to his seat, looking completely helpless while Nicki dances and touches all over him. When he does try to touch her, she slaps his hand away, and Drake is then unable to hide his look of desperation and even devastation, realizing that he is not permitted to lay his hands on her body.

Featuring Drake in her music video and portraying him in such light also suggest a satirical play, since male rappers—including Drake himself—often times dominate helpless women in their own videos. Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” music video, for example, show how he is became successful and now throws expensive parties with beautiful, hypersexualized women. In one scene, Drake looks down the city skyline from his private jet, with a woman lying down beside him with face down, looking completely helpless (Drake, 2013).

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 8.15.20 PM

But in Minaj’s music video, Drake is no longer the “pimp” as he is usually portrayed to be. He is, quite ironically, nothing but Minaj’s subordinate.

tumblr_nalx1f6k4i1qkllneo2_500.gif

Likewise, women are no longer portrayed as helpless, but powerful. Almost every scene and lyric of “Anaconda” suggest nothing but empowerment. Granted, there are some portrayals of conformity, such as how the casts in her video appear to be perfectly groomed in ways described by Barky: “skin must be soft, supple, hairless, and smooth; ideally, it should betray no sign of wear, experience, age, or deep thought,” but there also are traits that significantly deviate them from the norm (1998). Their hair styles for instance, are either pulled back into a tight ponytail or shaved, contrary to how feminine hairstyle is generally known to be long, silky, with beautiful curls. Even such subtle details symbolize asexuality and androgyny.

f1d8130a09497bc247452b4230bb0213

And even though Minaj received global hate for the video’s sexual content, the nudity in the video also suggest a counter-hegemonic attempt. In fact, their appearances resemble warriors in the jungle: fierce, raw, and powerful. But unfortunately, such imagery of women resonates in the majority as obscene. This conservative view of women is deemed problematic to many feminists.

main-nipple

Free the Nipple campaign for example, an equality movement aimed to empower women by fighting against female censorship, argue that while it is socially acceptable for men to be completely shirtless in public, women are constantly shamed when they show skin (What is Free). Bartky also notes, “the precise nature of the criteria by which women are judged, not only the inescapability of judgment itself, reflects gross imbalances in the social power of the sexes that do not mark the relationship of artists and their audiences” (1998). Indeed, the society is able to tolerate men’s openness to sexuality, nudity and lust because our culture has made it normal. But when women do the same, it is unfortunately considered degrading and obscene. Such criticisms therefore suggest counter-feminist views.

Likewise, Minaj’s “Anaconda” music video is a form of counter-hegemonic resistance through potential inversion of gender and sex hierarchies. She challenges subjectivities and status quo in the kitchen scene of her music video. In it, she tries to look “girly” and “cute” but soon lets her wild side out by pouring whipped cream all over her chest and moving the kitchen island around in an obnoxious manner. She then grabs a banana and begins to chop it off. Not only does this scene have disturbing sexual implications, but it also suggests her resistance to the female status quo. She shows refusal to the idea that women should “stay in the kitchen” by destructing the kitchen and chopping a phallic symbol into pieces. Such phallic symbol appears constantly throughout the video as well, further implying its “consumability.”

nicki-minaj-banana

This idea is also prevalent in her lyrics. She refers to two men in her song: Troy and Michael, both of whom she objectifies as subjects of sexual exploitation. For instance, she refers to Troy as “a boy toy,” commodifying his body and once again validating her role as a dominant figure. She also describes Michael’s genitalia saying “dick bigger than a tower” and further notes that he let her “play” with it, to the point where her “pussy put his ass to sleep,” showing her dominance over his hypersexualized body. Moreover, she notes that all of this is happening in “her” automobile, further suggesting independence, dominance, and deviance from norm.

Negative Consequences

Her attempts to invert the gender roles and hierarchies are prevalent throughout her song and video. However, whether she had any intent to initiate social change or not remains unclear. That is why this song, regardless of its many features that embody powerful potential to female empowerment, is categorized as “trash” to many. Even feminists, quite ironically, find this song to be influencing our culture in a detrimental manner.

Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” shares a similar sentiment. Even though Meghan’s song had potential to empower girls and help them find confidence in their body shapes, she received criticisms saying that she was skinny-shaming women who happen to have smaller figures. Her song also reads: “boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” suggesting their body types are acceptable simply because guys find it acceptable, ultimately yielding to commodification of women’s bodies.

Likewise, Nicki’s “Anaconda” has its own holes that suggest her submission to practices of modern standard of femininity and patriarchy. For instance, while she mocks the traditional White normative standards, she ultimately promotes a new hypersexualized ideal of her own body type, specifically by skinny-shaming others just like Meghan Trainor did in her “All About that Bass.” Case in point, Bartky argues in her essay that women engage in minimal work-outs simply “in obedience to the requirements of femininity.” Respectively, women in Nicki’s fitness scene also perform minimal work-out routines, all of which are, in fact, known to specifically lift and enlarge the women’s buttocks area, further demonstrating the new “epitome” of beauty as imposed by Nicki herself (1998).  It is therefore understandable that the viewers feel uncomfortable watching Minaj’s “Anaconda.” And the aforementioned aspects warrant such criticisms and debate.

 Conclusion

Indeed, Nicki’s social commentary on female identity has faced more negative repercussions than positive. Regardless its unique individualistic expressions and masculine rhetoric, it is viewed more as damaging than it is empowering. “Anaconda” ultimately empowers women and grants them independence, but its shortcomings warrant such criticisms as it being obscene and hypersexualized. However, women being shamed for publicly displaying their sexuality and lust is, in fact, a discrimination in itself. A more elaborate view of feminism, therefore, should signify the pursuit of breaking social barriers and triumphing preconceived identities about women, as Nicki Minaj has clearly exemplified in her career.


 

References

Bartky, S. (1998). Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power. New York, NY: Oxford UP.

DrakeVEVO. (2013). Started From the Bottom (Explicit) [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RubBzkZzpUA

Eating Disorders: An Equal Opportunity Phenomenon. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2016, from http://www.epigee.org/eating-disorders-equal-opportunity.html

MehganTrainorVEVO. (2014). All About That Bass [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PCkvCPvDXk

NickiMinajAtVEVO. (2014). Anaconda [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDZX4ooRsWs

What is Free the Nipple? (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2016, from http://freethenipple.com/what-is-free-the-nipple/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Brother is Watching You: How Sovereign is our Fundamental Right to Privacy?

On February 16, 2016, Apple released “A Message to Our Customers,” which (briefly) reads as follows:

“The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

-Tim Cook of Apple [1]

Quite different from Google’s response:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

-Eric Schmidt of Google [2]

after having been accused of and ultimately admitting to sharing consumer data with government authorities back in 2009.

Now, if anyone were to ask me whose answer I favor, it would undoubtedly be that of Apple (how can it not be?). But sadly as it turns out, not everyone agrees with me (or, appreciates their 4th amendment rights):

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 9.57.26 PM

“Boycott Apple until such time as they give that information, Apple ought to give the security for that phone, OK. What I think you ought to do is boycott Apple until such a time as they give that security number. How do you like that? I just thought of it. Boycott Apple”

-Donald Trump [3]

But whether you agree or disagree with Apple’s brave decision is, quite frankly, not so relevant, as we already live in a surveillance society. Indeed. Big Brother is watching you.

Edward-Snowden

“We constantly hear the phrase “national security” but when the state begins … broadly intercepting the communications, seizing the communications by themselves, without any warrant, without any suspicion, without any judicial involvement, without any demonstration of probable cause, are they really protecting national security or are they protecting state security?”

-Edward Snowden [4]

As Edward Snowden’s reveal on secret NSA programs and capabilities indicate, our personal communications data have been mined by the government and the intelligence agencies such as the NSA and CIA [4]. Such unwarranted surveillance far exceeded what is considered acceptable for espionage practices for counterterrorism purposes. But what is even more troubling is the fact the Silicon Valley tech companies have long been their data spies, joining forces to exploit our privacy, and to erode one of our most fundamental rights as human beings.

Modern communications technology is indeed a double-edged sword. While it can be our most trusted friend, it can also be the worst, back-stabbing, two-faced, bit.., I mean, ex-best friend. Do you remember all the good times, when that friend was so close to you and was eager to know everything about you?

 

And how many times have we blindly “OK-ed” the request, without pondering the potential consequences?

Likewise, privacy has now become more of a choice, and less of a given right: we are asked to decide, for each time it tries to violate our privacy, if such information is worth enough to rather not share. But the society no longer feels violated when asked to provide personal profiles, current locations, and even card information on online-shopping sites. We have grown accustomed to sacrificing our privacy simply for the sake of convenience, and we do so out of our own will. We bask in the illusion that such trade is harmless. But contrary to popular belief, surveillance and freedom are not compatible.

While Internet gives us the platform to freely express ourselves and to be ourselves (or, to not be ourselves), it also puts the aforementioned practices in a petri dish under the microscope for the government to carefully observe and analyze. And it is with no doubt, this digital era of surveillance poses much existential threat to our constitutional liberties. (for more information on the illegitimacy of FBI’s demand, check out The Dinner Table’s “An Apple a Day Keeps the FBI Away“)

And such rights, which took centuries of rigorous effort to develop, were not meant to be so easily violated. Even antiterrorist or anticrime efforts cannot justify this ongoing expansion of power of the state.

Patriot Act, for example, was passed after 9/11 in order to strengthen national security. It allowed the government to spy on ordinary American by monitoring their communications data. Even this well-intended attempt ultimately turned every regular, law-abiding citizens of America into potential suspects–also one of the reasons why I support Tim Cook’s decision to not allow the FBI to access the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters: it will only create a precedent to even greater surveillance attempts.

Government surveillance through our everyday communications technology undoubtedly represents detrimental threat to our human liberty, and such attempts need to be powerfully repudiated. And this very fight against espionage needs to start from the tech companies. They ought to no longer succumb to the government’s demands, and start advocating for the rights of their consumers who entrusted them with their every intimate detail of their lives. They should, indeed, be afraid that government’s surveillance demand would ultimately “undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.”

 

 

Gender Progress in Media: Stacy Smith as a Public Intellectual

World sex ratio as reported in 2015 show that for every 101.7 male, there is 100 female [1]. Indeed, this set of numbers clearly shows the fact that nearly half of the population in the United States is comprised of those with XX chromosomes. Respectively, half of moviegoers are also female according to the MPAA statistics [2]. Quite a startling fact, isn’t it, considering that male roles in film outnumber those of their female counterparts, not just by a few, but by double. And we would think, that after all the activist movements (i.e., #FreeTheNipple, #loveyourlines #notbuyingit, and so on), documentaries (i.e., Missrepresentation, The Punk Singer, and so on), and even rallies for the nation’s potential female president, there must have been a change in this debate. But sadly, there is still a significant disparity between the number of women in the theater seats and the number of women actors on their brightly lit up screens displayed ahead. And those that do appear, are often times hypersexualized and objectified by their male counterparts.

We think of ourselves as rational creatures, and often like to bask in the belief that we do not base our thoughts, opinions, or behaviors on contents made for “entertainment” purposes. Simply put, when we think of the term “entertainment,” it is natural to believe that whatever it is communicating is not meant to be taken seriously. I mean, we would not be sprinting to the nearest drugstores to supply our entire kitchen storages with canned foods and survival kits after watching Steven Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds (or, we might, if we were to listen to Orson Wells’ radio drama version of the script), right?

The Lord is not so nice to let our naïve imaginations be anywhere near reality. “Entertainment” is, quite ironically, a source of education as it is of entertainment itself. As much as the majority of us would like to deny, we often times are educated and influenced by the contents delivered by media platforms created specifically for “entertainment” purposes. In fact, researches show that violent, sexual, and racially stereotyping media contents all exert moderate but significant impact on our cognition, affect, and behavior [3]. Media researchers have also found critical correlations between how women are portrayed in media and how women around the world see themselves—the reasons why the aforementioned statistics are such pertinent issues to be addressed.

But actual factors that cause such wide disparity of representations and deviance from reality still remain unknown. Perhaps, the reasons could be that “entrenched industry perceptions and beliefs about market forces and male audiences contribute to perpetuating the status quo,” or that “unconscious cultural or traditional stereotypes about occupations and sex roles might unwittingly seep into characterizations and fictional, even fantastical, realms,” as speculated by Dr. Stacy Smith [4].  But whatever other possible reasons may be, Smith strongly believes that putting more women behind the camera as writers and directors is a good start to combat the issue of not only gender underrepresentation, but also misrepresentation. Indeed, her contributions to gender portrayal research has proven that representation does matter, and that the absence of women behind the scenes is possibly one of its critical reasons to why such deviance exists.

Dr. Stacy Smith is the arbiter of gender representation studies and one of today’s rising public intellectuals. Perhaps, the term “rising” may not be appropriate, as she has been studying gender disparities in Hollywood for over a decade. But her most renowned journey and revelation began with the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack that took place on November 24, 2014 [5]. This incident revealed data that showed that actresses made significantly less than their male counterparts, including The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, who was compensated less than her male co-stars as shown in the following numbers: “O’Ruseel: 9%; Cooper: 9%; Bale: 9%; Renner: 9%; Lawrence: 7%; Adams: 7%” [6]. This is quite absurd to say the least, considering that Lawrence played the main lead with workload that far surpassed those of her co-leads. Soon after the incident, Patricia Arquette even demanded gender and wage equality at the Oscars ceremony, saying:

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It is time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America” [7].

Arquette asked, and Smith answered. She has since been devoting her studies to revolutionize the lives of women, specifically by combating inequalities both on and off the screens. But what makes Smith the quintessential public intellectual is not only her passion or even her expertise in the field, but also her ability to exert significant influence on subjects that actually matter to the lives of the public.

stacy-smith

Upon joining the USC Annenberg faculty in the fall of 2003, Smith has been researching content patterns pertaining to gender and race both on and off the screens. Indeed, she found that decoding the number of female speaking characters is not enough to satisfy her thirst for intellectual challenge. She also gathered data and analyzed employment patterns behind-the-scenes in the entertainment industry; opportunities as well as barriers women employees face in the studio settings; and children’s responses to the products of the aforementioned factors.

In 2005, Smith began working with a team of both undergraduate and graduate studies at USC to assess gender portrayals in popular media. Through this, she performed over two-dozens of projects analyzing top films (500+ top-grossing movies from 1990 to 2009, 180 Academy Award Best Picture nominations from 1977-2010), TV shows (1,034 children’s programs, two weeks of prime time shows), video games (60 best selling), and even advertisements (DVD jacket covers), and came upon the following startling facts [8]:

  • Examination of 5,839 characters in 129 top grossing G, PG and Pg-12 films show that less than 30% of all on screen speaking characters are girls or women. The ratio of males to female on the silver screen is 2.53 to 1.
  • Females are also more likely than males to be depicted in a stereotypical way. For example, they were more likely to be presented in relational roles (e.g., mother, wife, caregivers) than occupational roles.
  • They were in fact, portrayed to lack employment more than their male counterparts, and were less likely to be shown as holding clout and powerful positions in political, financial, or legal arenas. They were also hypersexualized, most of the times appearing in sexy attire, or even in complete nudity.
  • Only 4.4% of directors are female across 1,100 top-grossing films between 2002 and 2012. They also examined the total number of unique directors after removing individuals that helmed more than one film.
  • In comparison to the 625 unique male directors, only 41 unique females emerged across the 11-year sample, meaning, the gender ratio of directors equates to 15.24 males to every 1 female. Indeed, gender imbalance does not occur only on the screens; it is in fact much more prevalent in the working environment behind-the-scenes.

But her research was not merely about finding numbers to prove that such discrepancies occur in the entertainment world. In 2012, she was commissioned by the Sundane Institute/Women in Film and found major barriers female directors and producers face in the independent studios, discovering possible reasons to why such phenomenon has been taking place in the entertainment sphere. This qualitative research suggested that women face:

  • gendered financial impediments
  • male dominated environment
  • difficulties in balancing work-family relationships outside of work

All of which are significant issues to be addressed in the gender equality debate.

Not only that, after analyzing female involvement behind-the-scenes between 2002 and 2012, Smith found that 16.9% of all directors, 20.6% of all writers, and 29.4% of all producers of U.S. narratives are female in the independent studios, a set of numbers that far exceed the results of her previous research on top grossing studio films and Academy Award Best Picture Nominated Films. This finding ultimately suggested that women would have more opportunities and higher chances of being represented in independent studios than elsewhere [9].

As many of her research data show, women are not portrayed or treated as equally as the world would expect them to be in this modern day society. And Smith has devoted her research to suggest not only that media portrayals exemplify such phenomenon, but also that such misrepresentations and imbalance on and behind the scenes could have been the major factors prolonging the fight.

Stephen Mack, in his essay “The ‘Decline’ of the Public Intellectual,” argues:

“if public intellectuals have any role to play in a democracy—and they do—it’s simply to keep the pot boiling.” Indeed, one of Smith’s many qualifications as a public intellectual is her sense of calling to “prod, poke, and pester the powerful institutions that would shape our lives” [10].

By calling out major entertainment institutions, such as Hollywood, on its unethical and misleading representations of gender, and finding ways to combat the problem, Smith continues to keep the pot boiling.

Currently, Smith serves as the director of a research-driven initiative at USC’s Annenberg on Media, Diversity, and Social Change, to encourage other intellectuals to also “prod, poke, and pester” the world around them. This initiative is comprised of 20-30 undergraduate and graduate students, and they work to produce cutting-edge, theory-driven empirical research on different minority groups in the entertainment sphere.

As a director of the initiative, and also as an undergraduate professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication, Smith finds passion in both research and teaching. Mack also touches the prevalence of teaching in his essay, as he debunks the notion of America’s anti-intellectualism:

“One, the fact that academic institutions wield enormous financial, technological, and cultural power—and the fact that, more generally, education continues to be the centerpiece of some of our most cherished social myths (i.e., “the American Dream”)—are both powerful reasons to doubt that Americans suffer from some instinctive hostility to intellectuals. Two, what is sometimes identified as anti-intellectualism is in fact intellectual—that is, a well articulated family of ideas and arguments that privilege the practical, active side of life (e.g., work) over the passive and purely reflective operations of the mind in a vacuum” [11].

Likewise, her intellectual talent does not leave room for any “instinctive hostility.” Smith actively goes out her ways to collect data and presents her research findings to the audience not limited only to those in the academia, but also including the film industry as well as the advocacy groups, all in order to help create sustainable industry change on screens and behind-the-cameras. And for over a decade, Smith has written more than 70 reports, journal articles, as well as book chapters, to spread her knowledge on media content patterns and effects thereof. Indeed, by educating the public of her findings, she ultimately empowers them and deeply engages them into this socially and culturally sensitive debate [12].

The public’s appreciation for her work is another clear case in point. Smith has been recognized for her outstanding teaching, receiving multiple awards from different constituencies on campus. In fact, she has received:

  • Three Outstanding Professor Awards from the Annenberg Students Communication Association
  • The Greek Professor of the Semester Award
  • Two Golden Apple Awards from Kappa Alpha Theta
  • The Professor of the Year Award from Gamma Alpha Sigma
  • Honorary Member of Lambda Pi Eta
  • USC Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award from the Parents’ Council
  • Trojan League of Southern California 2012 Outstanding Service Award

All just to name a few [13].

Smith has also received multiple “top paper” awards for her research from the instructional Developmental Division of the International Communication Association, and has had her research findings be showcased on popular presses such as: The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Slate.com, Salon.com, The Boston Glove, the USA Today, and so on. Her co-edited essay was also featured in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. She has also been featured on LA Times as one of the top 10 most influential people in Los Angeles in 2015 [14].

But Mack makes a powerful caution:

“our notions of the public intellectual need to focus less on who or what a public intellectual is—and by extension, the qualifications for getting and keeping the title. Instead, we need to be more concerned with the work public intellectuals must do, irrespective of who happens to be doing it” [15].

So, enough on Smith and her accomplishments. On an end note, here’s a quick glimpse into “the work of public intellectual”:

“As researchers, we often spend our time looking backward—at trends and patterns that illuminate how far we have or haven’t traveled toward equality on screen. Looking forward, there are a few things that might make the next five years look different than the previous five. Putting more women behind the camera as directors and writers is a start. Thinking about female audiences as something other than part of the four-quadrant or niche is another. Lastly, the simplest solution is to populate mediated worlds to match the world we live in—a world where half the people on the street, in the hospital, at the coffee shop, and in the theater are females” [16].