Camille Reyes

There is No Wage Gap? Think Again, Ms. Summers.

In Culture, Policy on February 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm
My friend Deirdre Dougherty wrote a wicked (side note: when did I move to Boston?) response to a shameful article in the Daily Beast.  In fact, it was such a skilled (and sarcastic) take down of the author’s argument that I asked if she would like to guest post it here at gorditamedia.  She said no.  Kidding.  Feel free to comment; I’m sure Dee will appreciate any engagement on the subject.


(Guest Post by Deirdre Dougherty)

I have many things to say about this piece of shit article and apologize in advance to my family for swearing. I rarely ever post comments this long or this political.


1. While I can buy that the “77 cents” rhetoric might be an exaggerated way of simplifying and drawing attention the issue of pay inequity, there is a wage gap. Apparently, people believe that this is the result of a choice, or of a difference in hard wiring. The post says: “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.” Choices? Really? Interesting. At first glance, “choice” seems like it’s a great leveler and strikingly allows us to avoid a discussion of more complex structural issues. Choices are tricky things though; depending on the different kinds of privilege one might happen to have, choices have different effects and are made within different constraints. Way to individualize responsibility and thus leave sexism unquestioned. Thanks.


2. The author’s conversation about the “10 most remunerative majors” as a basis for her argument is sickening. Instead of looking at college majors and seeing which majors attract women and which attract men and linking that to a larger bullshit idea of women “choosing” to pick majors that result in lower-paying jobs, why don’t we question why certain professions are accorded respect and compensation in the first place? Isn’t it interesting that the professions that men tend to be drawn to are the most well-paid? Could this not be symptomatic of a larger, historically constituted structural inequality where occupations are gendered and historically “feminine” occupations are undervalued in a world that has (arbitrarily) accepted western ideas of science and progress and empiricism above all else?


3. “Have these groups noticed that American women are now among the most educated, autonomous, opportunity-rich women in history?” Interesting. “American” women, you say? While the author wanted to disaggregate the fuck out of the statistics about “77 cents,” claiming that the wage gap statistics were unfair because they compared women’s and men’s salaries across all occupations, it’s super interesting that “American” women emerge as a monolithic category. Do poor women enjoy the same “autonomous, opportunity-rich” experience as the author does?


4. “To say that these women remain helplessly in thrall to sexist stereotypes, and manipulated into life choices by forces beyond their control, is divorced from reality—and demeaning to boot. If a woman wants to be a teacher rather than a miner, or a veterinarian rather than a petroleum engineer, more power to her.” Clearly, you’ve not read anything about the k-12 education system and how tracking, microgressions, and other subtle systemic phenomena direct women in certain ways. Again, I guess it’s all about “choice.” I guess this is “America” and we can do anything we really “choose” to do.


5. But wait: “The White House should stop using women’s choices to construct a false claim about social inequality that is poisoning our gender debates.” Yes. Choices are totally made outside of structures of inequality. Thanks, author. I forgot that.


Spin me, Babushka.

In media on September 13, 2013 at 10:52 am

The New York Times (NYT) publishes an opinion piece by Russian president Vladimir Putin.  The NYT then publishes a “behind-the-scenes” story revealing that Ketchum Public Relations pitched the editorial to the paper.  First, pitching ideas to editorial boards is standard PR practice.  Second, it is very likely that Ketchum also wrote the editorial because that is also standard practice.  What is unusual here is the small degree of transparency offered by the Times.  It seems a “nothing to see here; these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” maneuver.  Journalists typically do not like to talk about the role of PR in their business despite the long tradition of collaboration (some might say manipulation; I say it depends) between the two professions.  As early as the 1920s, according to sociologist Michael Schudson (2003), “Figures circulated among journalists that 50 or 60 percent of stories, even in the venerable New York Times, were inspired by press agents” (p. 83).

So why did the NYT choose to show a little ankle here?  Perhaps we have reached the point where the U.S. people are so jaded about consumerism that the NYT knows there will not be much outrage.  Only the academics who study media might rant, or those pesky Occupy types who still recognize the military industrial complex through the numbing haze of swooshes, sound bites, and underemployment.  That’s my hunch.

The decision to publish the editorial in the first place is clearer to me.  I read an interesting article this week with a quote from former head cheese Bill Keller as to why he decided to publish the locations of secret prisons throughout the world during the George W. Bush phase of the never-ending war on terror.  Was it Keller’s commitment to a watch-dog press, that kind of First Amendment as bazooka so celebrated in Hollywood movies?  Nope.  Keller said it was because the Bush presidency was already weak.  Politics, pure and complicated.  This implies that had the existence of the prisons been revealed at a stage near the height of Bush’s popularity, the NYT might not have published.  Look no further than the mainstream media’s complicity in selling the Iraq war for the government and you find support for this argument.  So if I’m right, perhaps the NYT views Obama as a now weak president.  Perhaps the powerful are already looking forward to the next puppet?

Which brings me back to a point that keeps getting lost in the story-behind-a-story.  The leader of Russia employs an American PR firm.  Let that sink in for a moment.  I am not suggesting that we return to some form of Cold War propaganda.  I do not find Ketchum to be any more un-American than any other global business.  Instead, we should look closely at this new period of propaganda.  Late capitalism has largely dispensed with tactics like Red baiting, hauling out the enmity when it serves, as we see in Putin’s (Ketchum’s)  bashing of American exceptionalism.  They are right in their characterization of the American government, but the barbs are meant to incite comments from eagle T-shirt wearing gun toters (hey, Dad, love you) and longer page views, not to inspire some kind of deep reflection.  It’s also correct that Putin (Ketchum) taking the moral high ground is absurd; just ask the gays.  Ditto too for the irony of Putin (Ketchum) exercising a right to free speech in a way he/they would not allow in his own country.

Putin Kukli

Perhaps “right to free speech” is the wrong phrase.  After all, the NYT would not accept my editorial on Syria.  Our national paper of record is an extremely powerful platform for the extremely powerful few.  Letters to the editor are a subatomic opening for grass roots organizers.  Comments online are even worse.  For example, it is common practice for PR people to post comments to articles with views in support of their clients.  It is a handy, if completely unethical way to justify the existence of PR firms.

The process behind this editorial, and numerous other “news” and “opinion” articles casts light on the machinations of power.  The continuing fiction of U.S. vs. Russia (the band formerly known as The Soviet Union) makes for good business, Syria be damned.  In the fog of our diplomatic war games, the Syrian civilians are the ones who pay the real price.  I would love to see the PR firms behind relief organizations pen more editorials in favor of transferring the budget for bombs to the budget for humanitarian aid to Syria and to bordering countries now grappling with an influx of refugees.  I’m afraid, however, that the NYT would not find this “newsworthy.”


Schudson, M. (2003).  The sociology of news. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

So this French Guy Writes a Book…

In Culture, Film, media, Music on December 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

Les Misérables (2012), the musical, in a movie theater—I was skeptical.  The signs of hope were there, however.  For one, I’d seen that the director made the actors wear earpieces, piping in live music for each take from an accompanist just off camera.  As a singer, and a one-time (terrible) actor, I instantly recognized the treasure of this method; Hugh Jackman did not need to explain it.  Basically, you get the benefits of two media in one.  You get the enormous temporal flexibility of film—doing shots in any order, taking bits from here and there, multiple takes, etc. without losing as much of the improvisation of live performance, of feeling the song.

Although the movie is far from perfect (paging Russell Crowe, please stop singing, yesterday), it moved me repeatedly.  The “Heart Full of Love” trio with Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks was so beautiful musically that the movie aspect—the editing in particular—diminished the romance.  (Wait, I take that back, a little.  I could look at Amanda Seyfried without diminishing anything, especially my pulse.)  I dare say that these three actors were classically trained in voice.  It’s no accident this was my favorite moment in the film.  My ears might be biased.

Amanda Seyfried

Speaking of these biased ears, I had forgotten that the musical was sung-through, meaning there is little-to-no spoken dialogue.  The film preserves this, another wonderful choice from director Tom Hooper.  Les Mis, more than any other piece of musical theater, always makes me wonder about the medium.  Why is Les Mis widely considered musical theater and not opera?  It seems to me that the location for its original exhibition, the Broadway/West End-equivalent stage, is the source of the puzzling definition.  Of course, from a marketing perspective, musical theater is an easier sell.  If by easier, one means making the world’s most risky media investment (a Broadway show), a little more bankable.  This movie will do much good for the art form, and for this reason, I really do not care what we call it.

I do care about the experience of media though, what it means to change the form of something in myriad ways.  In the packed little Western PA movie theater where we watched Les Mis, my mother and I were jarred by the people clapping after the big numbers.  It took me out of the moment so I was annoyed.  At the same time, I liked that people were preserving a little slice of the original medium—the live-stage.  One could argue that the clapping added to more of a shared experience.  I’m usually all about those, unless, it turns out, I’m watching a blasted movie.  Shut up!  I don’t have to suspend my disbelief here, unless you clap, you rube.

How odd that I’m the first to yell, “Bravisima!” at the opera.  Corny, I confess.  I even prefer my opera singers to be better actors than singers.  Witness my devotion to Domingo over Pavarotti.  While the latter might be technically superior, the former wrenches more emotion per note than anyone.  When Domingo sings Puccini’s ballad about the stars as he longs for his lover Tosca in prison, I weep at the exact. same. bar. every. time.  Keep in mind I’m speaking of a recording; I’ve never seen him do it live, and I guess I never will now that his voice has aged out of the range.  Again, I’m back to the medium.  The recording does not diminish my experience, although I’m certain the live version would’ve found me bawling from the Met chandelier, straining through tears for a better view of my tenor hero.

So yeah, Les Mis.  It’s an opera, dressed as musical theater, trying to convince big sister to take it to the movies.  I highly recommend the experience, whatever yours might be, but if you’re not down with people singing non-stop for over two hours, don’t—wait, go anyway, what am I saying?  You might enjoy making fun of the nerds in the audience, the sniveling weenies who sing every part in the shower, especially when the tigers come at night.