Linkspam the First: Welcoming the New Season

I promised a linkspam awhile back, and then avoided doing it because the list of links I’ve been wanting to share is so long.  My solution: multiple, themed linkspams.  Today, a collection of links about television and TV shows.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but they are thought-provoking and/or informative.

First, some articles about how we watch:

Trends in TV and how to understand how decisions get made about TV shows:

Some suggestions for and commentary about women and men on TV (three more links relevant to this season in the bottom section):

A few about the real people behind the shows:

And, of course, interesting articles about the new fall season:

 

 

Whew.  I should not have started that this late at night.  More installments on the way when I recover.

Actually Reading Charts

One of the great benefits of a good education that you may only rarely realize you’ve received is a careful cynicism where new information is concerned. Not a knee-jerk, anti-whatever response but the measured withholding of judgment for those precious seconds it takes to double-check that the writer’s conclusions line up with what, in fact, the survey/experiment/analysis found out.

What brought this up is the new Experian survey of Republicans’ and Democrats’ favorite TV shows. Various stories are leading with this graphic:

… follow up with titles like “The Reign of Right-Wing Primetime“, and then proceed to say things like “viewers who vote Republican and identify themselves as conservative are more likely than Democrats to love the biggest hits on TV”. (That’s a typical article, by the way. I’m not trying to pick on it, I just figured it would be easier for all of us if there was only one link.)

So, holding judgment, we look at the list. And what is actually on there? First off, we don’t have any idea what the numbers mean. The list was apparently compiled based on the percentage of viewers who identify with each party, but Glenn Beck’s audience is not 238% Republican. Regardless, the numbers given suggest slim-to-non-existent differences by party in the Republicans’ list (with the exception of political pundit Glenn Beck’s show) and generally larger differences in the Democrats’ list. Additionally, the cutoff number for the Democrats’ list is 117, while the Republicans get 112. Finally, there is some cherry-picking going on here. The Good Wife‘s 124 (Democrat)/119 (Republican ranking should get it on both lists, but it only shows up on the Democrats’. The articles I’ve seen analyzing this study also discuss more shows that don’t show up on these top ten lists, which suggests even more, mmm… selectivity was involved in creating the lists.

Ultimately, what I get out of this list is that, outside of Glenn Beck’s show, Republicans watch popular TV shows. Democrats are likely to watch popular TV shows and also watch more niche programming. Because Democrats are also watching a fair amount of niche programming, it makes sense that they would be less likely to watch the popular shows at the rates Republicans do. From the 30 shows on the two lists, if we take the Republicans’ 112 rating as the low mark, both Democrats and Republicans are watching How I Met Your Mother (113R/112D), Desperate Housewives (116 even), Dancing with the Stars (117R/112D), The Mentalist (119R/116D) and The Good Wife (124D/119R). If I wanted to throw a gross generalization on top of that, I might add that since Democrats have a much lower median income than Republicans they probably have more familiarity with community colleges and therefore a community college-based comedy like Community might be more likely to appeal to them (122D/75R), but that qualified statement is about as far as I’d be willing to go based on the results as given. I kind of want to know how NCIS: Los Angeles did now…

H/T: News for TV Majors

Shout-outs

I was watching the newest episode of one of my current favorite series – NCIS: Los Angeles – Tuesday when I noticed a shout out. Or at least, that’s how I think of them. I’ve also heard of them called in jokes, though I wonder whether it might be possible to separate the two terms.

“Chinatown”, the episode I was watching, is about Chinese spies. At one point, a Chinese spy uses a Chinese man who the police call a member of the Asian gang Hiragana. Throughout the show, the makers do a pretty good job (as far as I can tell) regarding Chinese things, meaning accents and such. Moreover, the Chinese tong has figured in many American TV shows and movies over the years, so the terminology associated with it should be easy to grasp for a group that clearly spent some time on getting fluent Chinese speakers and translating dialogue. Yet Hiragana is clearly a reference to the Japanese syllabary. I can only guess that that is an intentional shout out to those with some knowledge of Asia, Japan in particular. Does one of the writers have a little Japan in her past? Who knows?

Every so often I catch one of these, and they never fail to amuse me. Some of them – the ones that I would be more likely to call in jokes – reference something that only a person who follows a specific person’s works or has seen all of a series (or all of the bonus materials available online/on DVD) will know. Hiragana feels more like a shout out to me; anyone with passing knowledge of Japanese will get it, regardless of how much they know about NCIS or the actors/directors/screenwriters/et cetera. Do you recall an in joke or shout out that you particularly liked? What was it?

By the way, NCIS: Los Angeles rocks (as does its predecessor, NCIS). You can watch recent episodes here, should you be so inclined.

Academics and fans: never the twain shall meet?

One of my perpetual irritations as a scholar of anime and manga is the disdain that some academics hold for fans. I’m not talking about those scholars who just think all popular culture is trash. No, I’m talking about a subtler form of disrespect. I’ve been reading some old issues of the Journal of Asian Studies – going through the book reviews for things I ought to have read – and came across a review of Japan Pop! that brought it to mind. I should note that the author of the review isn’t blatantly disdainful, it’s just that the introduction to the review brought it to mind. She tries to briefly summarize the reason why Japan Pop! was put together (to bring together fans and academics) by casting fans as pleasure-seeking consumers and academics as critical analysts. This is a false dichotomy.

This particular dichotomy pops up a lot, so I’ll unpack it a bit. The review’s author does note that some academics are fans, but says that even so they want to analyze. The problem is that “analysis” is a very vague term that suggests intelligent/thoughtful action. If you sit down and think for a second, you can probably remember sitting down with someone at some point and going over a character’s motivations; that’s analysis! People do it every day. Pop culture fans in particular are known for incessantly going over what character did what in what series, why, what things in the real world might have nudged an artist toward making this, that or the other creative decision… Given the zounds of hard-core fans (to say nothing of casual movie-goers) out there and the relative paucity of culture-focused academics, fans analyze popular culture far more than academics.

Well, hey, now, how many fans reference Foucault, you might be thinking. I will grant not a ton, but more than you might think. How many students try to write papers on their favorite movie or TV show for their Intro Whatever course? In my experience, rather a lot. (And that’s not even counting all the other aspects of pop culture.) However, let’s leave aside how often – and critically – fans think about series. What about the academics?

This is where the disdain issue bugs me. Okay, irritates the heck out of me. One of the earliest academic books about anime is often favorably mentioned to me by academics who don’t really know their popular culture. (I won’t mention it, but if you know anime you most likely know the one I’m talking about.) Now, this book has gotten rather good reviews from various academics, and is looked down on by fans. Some of these academics know that fans look down on the book and take that to mean that the fans are silly widgins who just don’t care about critical thinking.

The book in question is full of factual inaccuracies. I’m talking everything from getting references wrong to getting plot/character details wrong. Admittedly, messing up a reference happens to everyone at some point, but this book is a particularly egregious example. The plot issue, however, undermines the whole book for me. A lot of the author’s arguments are based on the plots and characters of a handful of main anime – and s/he gets them wrong! Throughout the book!

I’ve heard academics who purport to study anime and manga argue that getting those plot details wrong doesn’t really matter. Really? Getting the facts that you’re basing your argument on wrong doesn’t undermine your argument? Seriously?

Let’s be honest: if I wrote a book about women in the Tale of Genji and I confused all of Genji’s paramours I would get jumped on faster than lightning. I would probably never get a job in academia again.

I’m not writing this to say that ye random anime of the week is of equal quality and academic interest to the first novel ever written. The thing is, anyone who is seriously trying to study popular culture needs to treat it with the same respect that other academics treat whatever they focus on.

Back to the fans=fun-loving lack of thought, academics=Serious Inquiry dichotomy, when a fan reads an academic book on their topic, they may not know the obscure scholar whose works are briefly mentioned on page 13 (and yes, most of the scholars referenced in academic work are obscure). They will know the series under discussion, and possibly have extensive knowledge of production details, including things like whether the studio pushed for sex scenes that the director never wanted, whether the series had to be ended early because the magazine it was published in was folding, assertions of plagiarism and so on. All of this affects the final product, and fans know it. Academics writing on popular culture are talking to a well informed audience – that happens not to know as much about critical theory as we do. Sloppy research will be caught quickly, and why would fans respect an academic who proves, on every page, that s/he does not know what s/he is talking about?

I’ll give another, similar example. Japan Pop! is a bit different than the unnamed book above. It’s meant to bring together academics and fans, and it came from a conference aimed at the same. It ends up being a bit uneven as some of the authors focus more on fans or more on academics, but that’s to be expected. Still, I remember wondering why a Canadian girl’s Sailor Moon doujinshi was included. Fans already know about doujinshi, and if the idea was to show academics who didn’t know anything about Japanese popular culture about the vibrancy of the doujinshi industry, why not include a Japanese one? Another article in the book argued that a shoujo manga showed great gender equality in Japanese culture – but looked at that one manga alone, without comparing to a sea of cookie-cutter manga that all show female characters being almost – but not quite – as smart as the boys. Taken as a group, the issues become clear, but the author missed the larger themes.

When I write, I try to assume what I’ll call a high level of uninformed intelligence. My imaginary reader may not have seen the movie or book in question and may not have learned the theories I’m using, but she has the ability to understand all of the above. That approach has, generally, worked for me. Even if an author assumes that I know five series and seventeen theories that I’ve never heard of, though, it’s fine with me so long as it’s clear that they know what they’re talking about. When you are blatantly uninformed about the topic that you chose to write about, however, I will have little interest in your work.

Kings and a quote

I just watched the first episode of Kings, the new television show that reimagines America as a group of warring kingdoms.  Very interesting, overall.  For one thing, I normally hate it when people start trying to work God (i.e. the Christian God) into pop culture, but here it works.  In keeping with my recent discussion of genres, here are the ones that I see in Kings so far:

  • fantasy
  • politics
  • action
  • romance (really, who doesn’t put romance into their show anymore?)
  • espionage
  • family dynamics

Note fantasy right up at the top – it seems like that’s where God comes in here.  Basically, the show is trying to get a knights-and-the-round-table feeling in the 21st century, and uses God to do it.  God in Kings chooses the king (and shows it via a crown of living butterflies), but God is also a political player.  Here we get into the politics genre, which I like to think of as chess, only with more options.  Each player gets his/her own set of chess pieces, and God is just another player here.  He can protect David, his pawn, from harm to some (as yet unknown) extent, and he can do things like send butterflies to crown him.  However King Silus knows what God is up to, and will be watching.

This seems to me like a good series to follow Battlestar Galactica.  It isn’t science fiction, but the blend of the real and unreal, the political and personal seems similar.  At the same time that we see war we also see King Silus confronting his gay son.  Which brings me to one of the more interesting moments of the series.  Silus told his son that he wouldn’t mind him being gay except that he was the first-born.  As such (the implication is) he needs to marry and make babies.  The twist for me was the way that they had Silus argue.  Silus more or less tells his kid that yes, it totally sucks that he has to fake interest in a woman, but that problems come with power, and that’s one of them.  The Silus character admits (or assumes, depending on how you look at it) that his son was born liking men and simply cannot change that, and says flat out that it will take immense strength to get past that.  I can’t imagine anyone on TV acting like that – as though homosexuality is unchangeable, and that even in the direst circumstances the best that one ccan do is fake otherwise –  even ten years ago.  Sounds like progress 🙂

And now, for the promised quote.  In my modern Japanese historiography class our professor had praised Burning and Building: Schooling and State Formation in Japan, 1750-1890 by Brian Platt because Platt had avoided the (very common) mistake of making all roads – however minor and unrelated – lead to World War II.  Our class quickly disabused him of the notion, pointing out that the very end of the book clearly went to WWII, to which he finally replied:

“Yeah, this is, uh, an unfortunate two pages here.” – Professor Dickinson