Sunday, July 6, 2008


I didn't watch any TV on the Fourth of July -- martial music, pretend artillery, and crowds reeling with xenophobic patriotism are not my idea of a holiday.

However, I did notice PBS's promotion for their own offering that evening, "A Capitol Fourth". After turning off the TV, I wondered if my impression of what I'd just seen was accurate. I went to their website and checked. Here's the complete list of performers: (after the fold)

Jimmy Smits
Huey Lewis and the News
Taylor Hicks
Jerry Lee Lewis
Brian Stokes Mitchell
Hayley Westenra
Scott Hamilton
Harolyn Blackwell
Erich Kunzel
The National Symphony Orchestra
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Military District of Washington
U.S. Army Herald Trumpets
United States Army Presidential Salute Battery
"The Commandant's Own" U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps

There's an obvious attempt to represent a sampling of multiple American musical genres (plus the Celtic Woman fembot goop), but no rap or hip-hop, and a heavy emphasis on classical, orchestral, and operatic styles, in addition to the mandatory army band crap. In terms of racial diversity, there's two black folks and one Hispanic, aside from the large musical groups which are likely somewhat mixed, though likely not proportionately. No Asians or Native Americans. And the white are "non-ethnic" whites.

What really drew my attention, though, was probably a result of my spending the last several days researching the herstory of Women's Music in the 1970s, when my generation said "Fuck this crap" to the exclusion of female faces or voices except for a limited few and NO women allowed in the technical end of music production: Out of nine individual performers above, seven were men. And in the military groups, females were also a profound minority.

Honest to g*d, we did better than this kind of representation before our rebellion 30 years ago.

This is the Religious Right's version of America, their idea of a "national" line-up. Grown men who bigamously marry their 13-year-old cousins, that's just fine. But keep the women down to a ratio of one per four or five men.

I notice Pixar has another movie coming out -- about a robot who, of course, has to be male. Can't have a gender-neutral or (heaven forfend) female robot, the boys wouldn't watch it. This is what we mean when we feminists tell you we've LOST GROUND since Reagan entered the scene.

So here's some questions for ya'll:
Do you notice when a group performance doesn't have equal numbers of male and female performers? If you don't, why don't you?
Do you register racial make-up in the same situation?
Do you bring it up at work/among your friends/on your blog? What kind of arguments and defensive reactions are you having to deal with?

And, regarding the photo at the top of this post: Joss Whedon gets "feminist" cred because he has (gasp!) four women out of nine characters. But notice, in the photo, which figures loom large, take up the foreground, and which subside into near profile.


Liza Cowan said...

to answer your questions: yes, yes, yes, rolling eyes. that is, yes I notice gender, race, class, ethnicity etc. In films, in ads, in music, in life. Yes I bring it up wherever. Nobody cares much.

And yes, those darned cute little robots were highly gendered. Everything is gendered. And only the lonely few seem to care.

kat said...

Strictly speaking, Wall-E does have a female robot. She looks like an pod, he looks like an early eighties boom-box that's been run over by a tractor.
Yes, it does bother me that Pixar doesn't create female main characters. In this movie, though, if you had to have a "woman" as 2nd fiddle, she's pretty righteous. Blows stuff up, kicks other robots' butts, is efficient about succeeding in her mission (to find plant life on earth)....Wall-E, the main robot, is clumsy, gets everything wrong and nearly destroys the universe....

...for what it's worth...

but yes, you're totally right. as usual.

kat said...

ps, is martial music ok when squawked and quacked by the muppets? Cuz up at my place, I've got some of that. I think this particular case is hysterical.

Jesse Wendel said...

Eve is the true hero of the movie. One could argue, she saves the world.

She's cool, she's hip, she's a leader.

Wall*E is, well, a doofus. He falls in love, but whatever... Eve is the real hero of the piece, and that's very clear to everyone. (Her name isn't Eve by accident.)

Jesse Wendel said...

As for everything else you said, yes, I agree completely.

And yes, is would be nice if Eve were the LEAD in the fracking movie. So she were FEATURED in the one-sheets. (The posters.)

As it is, Eve will simply live in the hearts of every woman (and man who appreciates women) who has seen the movie. *sighs* (I can't believe I'm mooning over an animated robot from the future. Gah!)

kat said...

You said:
"aside from the large musical groups which are likely somewhat mixed, though likely not proportionately. No asians..."

Here are the stats for the National Symphony Orchestra:

93 musicians, of which 42% are women. What's interesting here is that the sections (1st violins, 2nds, cellos, etc) that are mixed are either equal parts or mostly women.

There are several sections, though, double basses, trombones, percussion, etc, that have no women at all.
Those proportions match what you see in music schools. Its really rare for women to study those instruments listed, and at my conservatory, I remember there being 1 woman in each of those departments.....The problem is not hiring practices, but lower on the ladder...

18% of the musicians are either from other countries or have parents who are. Israel, Russia, Iran, Japan, Korea, Middle-East by way of Canada are among the countries represented as well as Latin America.

And, I'm glad to say, 2 musicians are graduates of the San Francisco Conservatory. Gotta cheer for my old school!

Maggie Jochild said...

I really appreciate ya'll jumping on here with corrected information about Wall-E (which I have not seen) and the make-up of music groups -- research I think I would ordinarily have done but I was computer-impaired at the time. Collective wisdom RULES! can we get Right Wing paws off PBS?

kat said...

Well, I was curious about the orchestra make up. I know that in general, orchestras tend to be very diverse in terms of national origin. Lots of foreign students come to American conservatories, and then, logically, apply to orchestra jobs. But when it comes to racial diversity.....not so much. Usually lots of white folks, a fair number of asians, and then some eastern europeans....

So when you ranted, it made me wonder. Would the NSO be different? What I noticed was that it was a little less diverse than, say, the San Francisco symphony. Is that because the Bay Area is generally more diverse? or because we're on the Pacific Rim, so there's more connection with Asia? Or because NSO likes to hire white dudes?

I'm going to guess that it's all of the above...

You're totally right about Pixar, though. Have they ever had a female lead character?
Lately, the secondary female characters have been pretty good....But...

It's one of many things that pisses me off about Pixar. Their studio is in Emeryville, now, right across from where my dad's business used to be. They've been terrible neighbors, and everyone in that neightborhood hates them. I've had fantasies about throwing water balloons filled with "Round-Up" or some other toxic herbicide over the fence onto their perfectly manicured lawns....

Anonymous said...

Don't throw weed killer onto their lawn.

Take the time and do it right. Send someone -- not you -- into the city office and get how their plumbing lines are laid out under the lines.

Then (make certain you follow basic Monkey-Wrenching rules; DON'T be identifiable, DON'T let your face be id'd or skin color, DON'T leave ANY dna behind, not hair, not skin, not any fucking thing...) take your can or three of weed killer and TRACE the plumbing/sewer lines (or even better, the underground electric lines) from the street to their building wall.

Get it good and dead.

They will have to dig up the whole damn thing, all the way down to the pipe and replace it entirely, just on the off chance the pipe is leaking something toxic.

I submit this, not because I encourage you to do any such thing; I do not. But 'cause I think it's funny.

Maggie Jochild said...

WOW, Anonymous. Some serious information there.

Not that I'd encourage such lawbreaking, either -- but when I was young and into such action on corporate and fancy-folks lawns, we outlined large-letter obscenities with weedkiller. Driving by every day see the slow emergence, and the frantic response when the term dawned on on the powers-that-be...

kat said...

Anonymous--good plan!
not that, you know, I ever plan to break however many laws to do it....but you never know!