Month in Review: February 2013

 A note to readers: the weekly reviews that I started posting in January were probably the most polarizing things I’ve written. Some of you loved them, some of you preferred the traditional narrative. In order to have fun with the format but not overdo it, I’ve decided to continue it as a monthly.

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American banks announced that 2012 was their second most profitable year ever. The Eurozone slid further into recession. Apple was denied the right the sell anything called “iPhone” in Brazil because a local company was already given the right to do so in 2008. Hillary Clinton stepped down as John Kerry became the new US Secretary of State. The Pope resigned.

A radical leftist group in Turkey bombed the US Embassy in Ankara resulting in the death of the bomber and a guard. A radical leftist group in Turkey apologized for injuring a journalist during its bombing of the US Embassy in Ankara.

At least two dozen people were killed when a truck carrying fireworks exploded on an elevated highway in China. Dozens of people died in a stampede at a railway station near the site of the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the world. The Government of India secretly executed a man. The rest of the world continued to be fascinated by the weather in New York City.

A meteor exploded in the atmosphere above the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. The rest of the world discovered why so many Russians have dashboard cameras in their cars. Millionaire Dennis Tito is looking for a married couple to train as astronauts in order to study sex in space. Continue reading “Month in Review: February 2013”

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Hollywood’s White Savior Complex

“it’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them…Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.”

This from an article by Kate Masur in the NY Times. I’m not entirely sure the movie was devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery. It was called “Lincoln” after all, not “Emancipation”.

I have a difficult time saying that any particular film is a “white savior” film. No single film should bear the burden of collective problem in the industry. The white savior complex is meaningful only when seen as a pattern.

White saviors can be found in many places but thrive in the following environments:

  • inner city schools
  • American courtrooms
  • anywhere in Africa
  • sporting grounds
  • battlefields

By themselves, these movies do not portend any significant ideas on the depiction of race in movies. Seen together, the pattern is undeniable.

The settings may change but invariably, Hollywood is in love with stories of white people going out of their way to save the “others”. You will notice that many of the themes repeat over the years.

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You would be correct in noticing that several of these movies are based on historical events. Is it the film maker’s fault that it was a white lawyer who defended the captured slaves in Amistad? That a white man was actually the head of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as depicted in Glory? While these may be based on actual events, it’s no coincidence that Hollywood chooses to make such heroic movies, only if the savior is white.

There are of course some who go out of their way to insert white saviors and deserve ridicule. Continue reading “Hollywood’s White Savior Complex”

Clash of Civilizations in Norway

A country is torn apart and the rest of the world, confused, can do nothing but stand aside and wonder how it will all play out.

Can the menace be contained to just one country?
Can the menace be contained to just Norway?

If you are Norwegian, you may as well stop reading now. I have learned how sensitive this topic is to your people and how it can result in uncontrollable fits of rage directed at the opposition. I would hate to rehash a topic already covered by the NY Times about which you have undoubtedly formed a zealous opinion.

While Americans continue to debate the fundamental role of government, god and guns in our lives, Norwegians are divided by the nuances of stacking and burning wood. Yes, firewood. The most recent outbreak of discourse is rooted in the publication of Lars Mytting’s book Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning.

The book, which is currently atop the best seller list in Norway, inspired a television show watched by some 20 percent of the country. Considering that two-thirds of the program’s twelve hours consists of footage of a log being burned, the show stands as a testament to the dedication and emotional commitment on the part of Norwegians to their wood chopping, stacking and burning heritage. Continue reading “Clash of Civilizations in Norway”

Minimum Wage and its Discontents

What you get for an hour
What you get for an hour

President Obama recently said in his State of the Union that Congress should do whatever it takes to increase the federal minimum wage to $9/hour. This caught a lot of folks on both sides of the aisle off guard because the stated priority of both parties is currently job creation. And the conventional economic wisdom states that if you increase the wage that employers have to pay their workers, they will simply hire fewer workers. Increasing the minimum wage leads to an increase in unemployment.

The counterargument to this is that increasing the minimum wage would give low-income workers more purchasing power, serving as an indirect economic stimulus without government spending. The increases in unemployment take effect only if the minimum wage is drastically increased – modest increases have little if any effect on employment.

As Paul Krugman pointed out last Sunday in the NY Times, setting minimum wage at “$20 an hour would create a lot of problems. But that’s not what’s on the table. And there are strong reasons to believe that the kind of minimum wage increase the president is proposing would have overwhelmingly positive effects.”

Employment is not the only factor at play. Continue reading “Minimum Wage and its Discontents”

Nuances of the State of the Union

Every political circus has its rules. Here are some of ours.

Obama SOTU

I must be a fool because every time I watch the State of the Union, I am surprised by the amount of clapping there is. Watching the speech in another country makes it feel all the more ridiculous and choreographed. I imagine that Brits feel similarly about the shouts and sneers that erupt in the House of Commons. Continue reading “Nuances of the State of the Union”

So God Made a (White) Farmer

Relax white people – we should respect farmers, but no need to steal thunder from marginalized and underappreciated Latinos.

First thing’s first – hats off to the Richards Group and Chrysler for putting together a gem of an ad. It is masterfully crafted and manages to be simultaneously understated and in your face. And Paul Harvey’s words really are remarkable. Unfortunately, the ad is a warped distortion of the country we currently live in.

There are 35 photographs used in the commercial. Twenty one of them have people in them, of which 16 have some visual indication suggesting race/ethnicity (the rest are either zoomed out or show pictures of hands only). Of the 16, there is one black guy, and anywhere between one and three with Latinos. Now normally, a commercial with a bunch of white people doesn’t bother me. In many ways, white is still the “normal” and it’s not surprising that companies want to take the safest route in terms of marketing. But I draw the line at farming. Nearly 80% of farmers in the US are of Hispanic/Latino heritage. When it comes to crop workers, the figure is 83%. It’s like making a commercial about basketball in America and showing only white players.

If this commercial was your introduction to farming in America, you’d get the impression that most of it is carried out by white people. Continue reading “So God Made a (White) Farmer”

Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads

Every year, there’s one Super Bowl commercial that seem larger than the rest. Amidst the foolishness associated with selling beer and chips, there’s usually one ad that is unapologetically dramatic and downright cinematic. They cost tens of millions of dollars and will likely air just once. They’re not commercials – they’re short films. And that’s exactly how the companies want us to perceive them.

Given the pomp and spectacle that is the Super Bowl, it’s remarkable that these ads manage to captivate us at all – and yet they do, sometimes for an entire two minutes. They do so by being the opposite of the event that they interrupt. They are eerie, powerful and almost impossible to ignore – like a calm during a storm.

In 1984, Apple put out what is perhaps the greatest television ad ever.

This is the ad that changed it all and made the Super Bowl the event to showcase your brand to the country (fun fact: the commercial was directed by Ridley Scott). Continue reading “Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads”