Laugh about ESPN’s Robert Lee decision, but skip the outrage

Did you hear that ESPN has reassigned this weekend’s college football games because an announcer named Robert Lee was going to broadcast the University of Virginia game from Charlottesville, Va.?

Of course you have. It’s been reported everywhere. And ESPN has gotten plenty of internet grief for the decision today, ranging from mockery to outrage.

This is actually a pretty good decision by ESPN. Think about it: Would you want to walk through that town with the name Robert Lee right now? Nothing good can come of it.

And ESPN knows exactly what they would see on Saturday afternoon once Lee introduced himself on camera: Screenshots of the game announcers, their names highlighted on the chyron underneath, with snarky tweets and Instagram posts shared far and wide. Old pictures of General Robert E. Lee would be photoshopped into the announcers’ booth.

There would be another element, too: Instead of taking criticism for being overly cautious, they would catch hell for being insensitive.

Instead, ESPN moved him to another game. They apparently tried to do so quietly, though the decision was leaked – and the internet’s enthusiastic dog pile shows that yes, people will pay attention to announcing assignments. The current situation is the worst case scenario for the option ESPN chose. The alternative worst case scenario – Lee and the network being raked over the coals for latent racism and insensitivity – seems worse.

Given how horribly ESPN has whiffed on America’s move to streaming video so far, this represents a savvy understanding of modern media. (Way to make it to 2011, ESPN.)

But the outrage is unwarranted. ESPN probably didn’t hurt Lee in making this decision (and the current story out of Bristol is that the decision was mutual, anyway). It’s sort of funny, worth a little needling, maybe a late night monologue joke or two, and that’s it. ESPN shows its share of bias in its programming and reporting, but this is not an example.

Robert Lee becomes the big winner in this whole situation though: This weekend he goes to Pittsburgh (a great city with a real college football tradition) instead of being forced to watch three hours of a slap fight between Virginia and William and Mary over who gets to claim Thomas Jefferson for the next year. (Spoiler: No one cares.)

Come to think of it, this may be the first time someone named Robert Lee went to Pennsylvania and came out ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting out of the bubble

NBC’s 90th anniversary show last weekend featured a heavy dose of former and current stars sharing memories of how certain shows were so “important” or “ground-breaking.”

“Come on,” I found myself thinking at various times. “This is television. This is passive entertainment we watch because it’s easier than reading and we don’t feel like putting on pants and going out.”

On Medium, I wrote about NBC’s inflated perspective – and how such a mentality might bleed over into the news division. But it isn’t hard to see how this would happen – and it doesn’t come from a place of arrogance. Anyone who works in a field, or in a given place, runs the risk of an altered perspective. People who work at NBC for years, and develop an understanding of its history, could be excused for over-inflating its importance (especially on a program designed to showcase the network’s programming). Similarly, it’s understandable why someone in the news division might conflate any attack on a media outlet as a full-on assault on the First Amendment.

Cultural bubbles exist. And while they may not pop easily, you can at least see outside of them, if you’re looking. For reporters, that’s going to become even more important in the coming years.

That’s not to say that television shows have not had meaningful cultural impact, nor that criticisms of the press could devolve into the erosion of press freedoms. It just means that the occasional dose of bubble-popping perspective is healthy and necessary.

Disney princess study shows people have too much time on their hands

Linguistic researchers have logged hours upon hours of dialogue from Disney movies, and found that in the most recent ones, male characters speak three times as often than female characters:

And yet, in one respect, “The Little Mermaid” represented a backward step in the princess genre… The plot of “The Little Mermaid,” of course, involves Ariel literally losing her voice — but in the five Disney princess movies that followed, the women speak even less. On average in those films, men have three times as many lines as women.

The data come from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess franchise. Because so many young girls watch these movies — often on constant repeat — it’s worth examining what the films are teaching about gender roles.

Dangerous right? Let your dughters watch Disney movies at their peril. The researchers divide the Disney princesses into two “eras”; Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are classics, and the modern era is from The Little Mermaid on. In the classic era, female characters speak as much or more than males; outside of Tangled and Brave, no Disney princess movie from the past half-century has more than about 40% of its dialogue spoken by women.

At Acculturated, Carrie Lukas notes that many of the loquacious gents in these movies are side characters (“the modern-day Jiminy Crickets such as Sebastian inThe Little Mermaid or Olaf in Frozen”) who aren’t even human, and whose gender may not be super clear in the traditional sense.

But there’s something else afoot. Ask yourself, Who are the bad guys in these movies?

Snow White had her Evil Queen. Cinderella had her wicked stepmother and two moronic stepsisters. Aurora, which is apparently Sleeping Beauty’s given name, had Maleficent. Sure, Ariel had Ursula, but Ariel also didn’t have a voice for much of the movie. Since then, most of Disney’s big bads have been boys. After Ursula, the next major bad gal was Rapunzel’s stepmother in Tangled. And surprise: That would be the next movie where female dialogue eclipsed males. (The “bad guy” in Brave was a bear, I think, so it’s a different case.)

(Sidebar: though Jafar serves to underscore this theory, I’m throwing Aladdin out as a “princess movie.” Though Jasmine is marketed heavily as part of the pantheon of “Disney Princesses,” Aladdin is not a princess movie. You can tell because it is named after the male protagonist. This is a hint. You might as well kvetch about Nala not getting enough lines as the “princess” in The Lion King. Also, how much of the 90% of the male dialogue in Aladdin came from Robin Williams?)

Many of the non-protagonist male characters that hog the script serve as either the evil-doers or as buffoonish comic relief. Neither is a particularly favorable image. Would Frozen have been a better movie for women if the slow-witted Snowman had been voiced by Melissa McCarthy? (By the way that could have been hilarious.) That is the answer to the “problems” these researchers have found, and it isn’t clear that it improves the messages these movies send to young girls.

What is clear is that someone got paid to watch an awful lot of Disney movies.

The real reason Oregon isn’t the same

There are plenty of questions about the way police and the media are handling the wildlife refuge occupation in Oregon. Bernie Sanders drew an immediate comparison to police brutality issues,  and  he wasn’t the only one asking whether the militia would have been summarily executed had they been black or Muslim.

The reality is that this situation isn’t the same because, unlike terrorism or a Black Lives Matter protest gone awry, this is actually pretty funny.

There aren’t hostages. There weren’t any forest rangers beheaded on video. There’s only a rag tag bunch of rednecks with legal guns holed up in a building people rarely ever go to.

When faced with terrorism (real terrorism, that is) we tend to become resolute. When faced with injustice, we become outraged. There is nothing here to get outraged or resolute over. There are just a few Duck Dynasty wannabes, probably getting drunk off some homemade hooch in the middle of nowhere, and taking to Twitter and Facebook to beg for snacks.

Snacks! This is hilarious.

Illegal? Sure. Wrong? You bet. But this is “terrorism” like John Candy and Rhea Perlman’s invasion of Canada in 1995’s Canadian Bacon was terrorism. Opponents are mocking them as “Y’all Qaeda.”

 

Most serious observers understand that in an American West which still smarts from government overreach at Waco and Ruby Ridge, an armed standoff could go sideways right quick. Hopefully, they’ll get desperate enough to leave soon. In the meantime, we can share a chuckle at the folks who really think they’re sticking it to the man by squatting in a birdwatching shack.

 

Distrust and Trump

It’s funny to watch talking heads on television news ponder why Donald Trump enjoys apparent popular support, even while making controversial comments that draw criticism from across the political spectrum.

Victor Davis Hanson has as good an analysis as anyone:

The first reaction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch after the recent San Bernardino terrorist attack was to warn the country about Islamophobia. Her implicit message to the families of the dead was not that the government missed a terrorist cadre or let Islamic State sympathizers carry out a massacre. Instead, she worried more about Americans being angry at the inability of the tight-knit Muslim community to ferret out the extremists in its midst…

The government reports that a record 94.4 million Americans are not in the labor force. That is almost a third of the country. How can the same government declare that the official unemployment rate is only 5 percent?

Aside from a government so obviously unmoored from reality, most people watch a 24-hour cable news media where facts are equally alien. Consider that in the 16 hours after the San Bernardino shooting, early Twitter-fueled reports the attack on misguided anti-Planned Parenthood activists, white supremecists, and a workplace dispute, before the facts actually came out. The need for speed has surpassed the need for accuracy.

There’s also a willful tone-deafness to opposing views which creates distrust. Megan McArdle got it right in a column about the public discussion about Syrian refugees that sprang up right after the Paris attacks. McArdle, who supports taking in more refugees, had plenty of criticism for the holier-than-thou voices from her own side of the argument:

Perfectly reasonable people are worried that a small number of terrorists could pretend to be refugees in order to get into the U.S. for an attack. One response to these reasonable people has been: “How dare you say people fleeing terrorism are terrorists!” This is deeply silly. Obama administration officials have admitted that they can’t be sure of screening terrorists out from asylum seekers.

As a result, media and politicians wringing their hands over Trump lack any moral authority to do so. It’s no wonder negative news stories and condemnations from his oppoenents don’t affect this guy’s polling numbers.

(Sidebar: There’s also the whole question about whether the poll numbers translate into a viable campaign. Some media outles have started asking those questions now. Why now? Why wasn’t that considered relevant four months ago?)

 

Is a cold-weather Super Bowl the worst thing ever?

You’d think so, if you listen to sports media.  ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski hates it (and did even before it was cool), ESPN radio hosts like Colin Cowherd have weighed in against it as well.  Fox’s Terry Bradshaw isn’t a fan, either.

Why are the protests against a cold-weather Super Bowl so loud?  Despite what they may say about the weather affecting the game itself or the fans at MetLife Stadium, these folks have a personal reason: They’re covering the game, and spending a week in New Jersey in the winter sucks.  Of course they want the Super Bowl in a warm weather city; spending a week in Miami in January and getting paid for it is good work if you can get it.

But the audience that has made the Super Bowl a cultural event – and not just a game – is the Super Bowl Party audience, the people who treat the game as a reason to gorge on buffalo wings with friends while discussing the commercials.  The weather wouldn’t matter beyond possibly making the game entertaining.  The NFL knows where it’s bread is buttered.

Incidentally, Hampton Stevens of the Atlantic thinks it’s a great idea, evoking memories of the “Ice Bowl.”  Stevens probably won’t be at the game.

The weather media says it’s probably going to be nasty out there.

Let’s Make a Deal: MLB Edition

If Ryan Braun dominated the sports headlines on Tuesday morning, Alex Rodriguez dominated the sub-headlines.  News of Braun’s plea bargained 65-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs was followed near-universally with the question, “Now, what about ARod?”

It’s a relevant question: Not only is Rodriguez one of the most famous and hated players in any sport, but like Braun he’s a repeat visitor to the PED circus.  But just because it’s a relevant question doesn’t mean it’s the best one.

Soon after Braun’s suspension news broke, Buster Olney was on the phone with the broadcast team calling Monday night’s ESPN telecast of the Yankees and Rangers.  Olney offered this insight: while Rodriguez is the biggest name on the docket, the player most likely to pursue a deal with MLB is Texas’s Nelson Cruz.  As a free agent after this year, Cruz is best served serving his suspension now and entering the open market as an available yet questionable talent.  If he waits, and the suspension gets handed down over the winter or next spring, Cruz might find it hard to sign if teams are unsure of his availability.

The astute Olney cut through the flash and the clutter to identify the real story – and good for him.  Now, back to the coverage of the royal baby.