Thursday, January 26, 2012

White Boy Media Critics, Haute Mainstream Media, and Why We Won't Get Diverse Viewpoints Any TIme Soon

Last evening, Jay Rosen asked his friends on Facebook (of which I'm one) if he should comment on Shani Hilton's Where Are The Women And Non-White Media Critics? essay, where Jay's name and blog link (along with David Carr, Howard Kurtz, and a few others)appears. The first responses, from males, told Jay that the story was "link bait" and he shouldn't respond. I ventured in to say that Ms. Hilton made some very good points about the white male hegemony in "haute mainstream" media criticism, and that he might use any response as a way to open up a bit of dialogue on the subject...

That Jay hasn't left a comment yet doesn't really bother me--that's up to him to decide. What bothers me in the extreme is the outright dismissal by other white males that the essay was just link bait. Really? Would they have thought the same if it came from, say, David Carr, or perhaps Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm?

I doubt it. Because to most white males within the media industry, there is hardly any acknowledgement that there even needs to be any kind of different viewpoints other than those of the white males she mentions. After all, they are published in and appear on the haute mainstream media--those "newspapers of record" and high level television networks that everyone watches--because they are extremely accomplished.

As if there are women and minorities who aren't? As if someone like Elvis Mitchell or Xeni Jardin, the only two that come to mind, are the only two that on occasion make it into the haute mainstream (and then usually on PBS's News Hour or CBS's Sunday Morning.)

Many of the rebuttals of Ms. Hilton's column go on to mention women who are published at Poynter.or (I've been published at Poynter--google me to find my articles), or Columbia Journalism Review, or other academic journals. We might indeed receive *some* recognition for our criticism or analysis, but rarely do any of us go on to the haute mainstream.

And not for lack of trying or lack of intelligence either. Certainly not for lack of ambition either.

Why does the haute mainstream keep ignoring women and minorities? Well, let's take a peek at this interesting little roundtable discussion where Charlize Theron (condescendingly) tells Viola Davis that there's nothing wrong with her looks--when the point Viola Davis (and later George Clooney) is trying to make is that minorities are not adequately represented by Product Hollywood:

Theron's moronic comment is part of the problem: women oftentimes, with idiotic remarks that completely miss the point, end up working to bolster the white boy status quo. Theron certainly did not hear the exact point Davis made, and zoomed in on something that perhaps is her own issue--not feeling pretty enough at her age.

I applaud Davis's composure....

Clooney,goes further to point out the problems with Product Hollywood, which, IMO, are also part of the problems with Haute Mainstream Media: they are looking grab the eyeballs of the perceived Least Common Denominator, and for some reason feel that audiences simply won't be interested in viewpoints expressed by others who aren't White Boys.

When your purpose is to generate as much income (and let's face it, that's an issue for Haute Mainstream Media, too) from an attention-fractured audience, everything is going to be boiled down to the least offensive and the biggest demographic dollar. Which still seems to lie with males, 13 to 30 (or 18 to 34, depending on where one takes one's demographic info.)

Can anything be done to change this mess? Maybe. If some of the men featured in Haute Mainstream Media occasionally bring a woman or two forward at least for the occasional "guest appearance." Or perhaps some women should be a bit more crass and demanding of those in editorial positions in the Haute Mainstream....

I don't know. There is still much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the hallowed halls of Journalism Proper over loss of revenue and the decline of democracy that is occurring in Haute Mainstream Media for perhaps any significant changes to be made at this time. Maybe what we need is more dialogue to bring the fractured pieces together--but that sounds like a reactionary remedy and one not likely to make significant changes.

Perhaps at the moment there is no complete answer--just the incomplete one that comes when people like Shani Hilton notice that all's not well. When writers stop ringing those bells, we're definitely in big, big trouble.