Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seinfeld: "The Subway"


I chose to do this media portfolio on the episode of Seinfeld titled “The Subway”. In this episode, Elaine, George, and Jerry all have incidents in which they either encounter someone who is violating a social norm, or they themselves are violating a norm. Elaine is on her way to a friend’s wedding who is a lesbian. She has a gift in her hand and the lady next to her on the subway asks about the gift and what it is for. Elaine says that it is a wedding gift for a friend. The lady then asks about the groom and what he does. Elaine simply responds that there is no groom and that Elaine is the best man of the wedding. The lady then changes her tone and thinks that Elaine is a lesbian as well. Elaine tries hard to explain to the lady that she is not actually a lesbian.
George is seated next to a well-dressed woman in business attire. He also is dressed in a nice suit and is reading the newspaper. The woman asks him is he is looking for a job and he tells her no. She then tells him that he didn’t look like a man that was looking for a job because he was nicely dressed. George then continues to use the fact that he is dressed as a business man in his favor and tells the lady that he owns a bunch of stocks and is wealthy so that he can impress this lady.
Jerry runs into a naked man while on the subway. Jerry is the only one that is seated on the same side of the subway car as the naked man. Everyone else on the subway is shoved tightly together as far away from this man as possible. Jerry begins to ask the man why he is naked and why doesn’t he have any shame in his body. The naked man is a bit overweight. The man tells him he doesn’t need to have any shame.
These situations relate to Johnson’s Chapter 2, Privilege, Oppression, and Difference. All of these situations involve a category from the diversity wheel that was discussed in Johnson’s Chapter 2. Elaine’s situation with the women who looks at her differently once she finds out that she is attending a lesbian wedding goes along with the sexual/affectional orientation portion of the diversity wheel and the fact that homosexuals are not of privilege when it comes to sexual orientation. However, the fact that Elaine is heterosexual and the lady then accuses her of being a lesbian, takes away Elaine’s privilege and Elaine panics and tries to explain to the lady that she really is not a lesbian because that would be oppression.
George uses the fact that the attractive woman views him as a successful, white, businessman to his privilege. The woman stereotypes him by the way that he is dressing that he is successful and not someone who is actually looking for a job. This gives George privilege and prominence that he does not usually have and so he uses to his advantage to get the woman. So the fact that he was white male and nicely dressed he was able to be viewed as someone who is dominately privileged in our society. The part of the diversity wheel that this would fall under would be gender and race.
Finally, Jerry’s run-in with the naked man on the subway first of all shows someone who is violating a social norm. People don’t go out in public without clothes on. That is something that we have been socially taught not to do. The fact that this man was doing so even violates some laws that we have made in our society. Also, the fact that the man was overweight is something that is common in our society but looked down upon. Weight is something that our society is very cautious about and everyone wants to be skinny. However, this man was perfectly fine with his body and comfortable with being naked. This would fit under the physical abilities/qualities part of the diversity wheel because people looked down upon him that he was overweight and okay with it.
I found it rather interesting that all of these instances took place in one episode and the fact that it was funny. The audience was laughing about these instances and the only reason why they are funny is because it is something that we think should not typically happen on a subway ride. I felt like this episode showed how social norms are out there but we don’t really realize them until they are violated, just like privilege and power.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Capital Punishment


Capital punishment is a very controversial argument today and has been for many years. Whether it should be done at all, or when it is okay to perform the death penalty draws a very fine line. Also, whether or not it goes against our constitution and moral values is another unanswerable question. However, seventy percent of Americans support the death penalty. The death penalty has been around since 1890 when the electric chair was invented in Florida. And the U.S., which has a population of more than 200 million people, usually only inflicts 50 people a year with the death penalty. This raises the question as to whether or not this punishment is being applied fairly throughout the population.
There have been numerous Supreme Court cases held over the issue of capital punishment. One of the very first court cases, Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court said that the death penalty was “arbitrary” and capricious” and that it was administered in a random and unpredictable manner often based on race and luck. Another court case that was held was McClesky v. Kemp which declared that there has been a correlation with race as to who gets sentenced to the death penalty and who does not. It was proven that black defendants were eleven times more likely in white-victim cases to be sentenced to the death penalty than in black-victim cases.
So in this political cartoon it shows a picture of a white inmate stall and a black inmate stall. The white stall is just what you would expect a typical jail stall to look like while the black stall has an electric chair in it. This depicts the fact that blacks suffer from an unfair punishment when it comes to sentencing a defendant. This is obviously an example of race discrimination which we have read about in many of our articles in class. The one article that I am going to focus on is Johnson’s Chapter 2 which is titled Privilege, Oppression, and Difference.
Johnson starts off his chapter by stating, “The trouble that surrounds difference is really about privilege and power- the existence of privilege and the lopsided distribution of power that keeps it going” (12). This quote I feel goes right a long with what this cartoon is trying to show. It shows the white privilege of not being sentenced to death and the power of the judge and the Supreme Court to use their power to continue to practice white privilege by sentencing mostly blacks to the electric chair. The fact that the whites are less likely to get sentenced to the death penalty than blacks shows the existence of white privilege in our governing system which is very unfair.
Another quote from Johnson that goes along with this cartoon is “The trouble is produced by a world organized in ways that encourage people to use difference to include or exclude, reward or punish, credit or discredit, elevate or oppress, value or devalue, leave alone or harass” (16). This quote points out the fact that our society is organized in a way that makes us feel as though it is okay to use difference to treat people differently. So the fact that someone is black gives us the go ahead to treat them in ways that we would not treat someone who was white. This cartoon shows this idea in the fact that in the white stall there is no electric chair but in the black stall there is. So the fact that someone is white gives them an unearned advantage that they might not even know and take for granted.
My personal feeling about capital punishment is that I don’t feel that anyone deserves to have their life taken by another human being no matter what that person has done. I strongly believe that two wrongs do not make a right and by killing someone that has killed another person is not going to bring the other person back. It has been said that keeping someone in prison for life is not too much more expensive than giving them the death sentence, so I feel it is better that we just keep those people in jail. However, I feel that it is terrible that our Supreme Court system sends blacks to the death penalty more often than whites. I feel that race should play no factor as to what should be done to someone that has committed a crime. If our courts are going to continue to use the death penalty I believe that they should come up with better guidelines as to when they will give out the death sentence.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Howard Zinn and Christopher Columbus

Mel-O-Toons: Christopher Columbus

In class we learned the truth about Christopher Columbus’ journey to find America through our reading of Howard Zinn’s book titled A People’s History of the United States. We learned that what we were taught in school wasn’t exactly the truth. So for my first media portfolio paper I found a cartoon that is much like something we would have watched in grade school about Columbus’ voyage. The reason why I chose to do this reading from class and compare it to what we were taught in school was because there is a striking difference. Also, from reading Zinn’s article I learned something new that was completely different from what I thought was the truth for my whole life. Therefore, I thought it would be very interesting to compare what I have learned in grade school and what Zinn shares in his book.
First of all, in the cartoon, it starts off by describing the Indians as having reddish-brown skin and also points out that the Europeans had white skin. This struck me as something you wouldn’t point out or verbally say in such a video. I feel as though we are teaching young children to classify people based on their skin tone. This is racism in every aspect of the word I feel like and I don’t think it should have been pointed out in the video. I think it would have been fine to have the Indians with reddish-brown skin and the Europeans with white skin, but I did not find it necessary to point it out in the video.
In the video they play upbeat music and Columbus sings about his journey. They talk about Columbus believing that the world is round and asking for the king and queen of Spain to help pay for his trip. The video talks about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, which was a big important part of what we learned in grade school. The video shows that the crews on the ships were happy and excited at first and then once the trip continued to drag on, they wanted to take matters into their own hands. None of this was mentioned in Zinn’s article. However, they mention that one of the men saw a branch with fresh berries on it floating in the water which was a sign of land. This was also mentioned in Zinn’s article and then Zinn continues to say that the first man to see land was suppose to get a yearly pension of ten thousand maravedis for life, and a sailor named Rodrigo spotted land but Columbus claimed that he saw in the night before. Being that this is something negative that Columbus did, it is not mentioned in the video or in our grade school classes.
Next in the video, they talk about Columbus and his crew meeting the Indians and saying how they were so nice and gave them a lot of gifts. This too is mentioned in Zinn’s article however, Zinn further explains that this lead to enormous consequences. Columbus took advantage of the Indians by taking some of them as prisoners aboard his ship because he insisted that they help him find the source of gold that he was looking for. These Indians were not treated well aboard these ships and many of them ended up dying. However, in the video and in grade school we were not made aware of any of this. We were led to believe that the Indians and Columbus were close friends.
The video also talks about Columbus’ other trips that he took after he returned back to Spain and got more ships and more people to help him continue to find gold and land. The video however does not mention the other motive that Columbus was looking for on this trip which was slaves. Zinn states that Columbus went from island to island taking Indians captive. Columbus rounded up fifteen hundred slaves and from those fifteen hundred he picked the best five hundred men and loaded them onto his ships to head back to Spain. However, due to the terrible living conditions on the ships only two hundred slaves made it back to Spain alive.
The video then ends with by portraying Columbus as a hero and that we celebrate Columbus Day every year because of the great things he did. There is no mention in the video of about all of the people he killed in the process of looking for gold and land.
I think it is sad that we portray Columbus as a hero without knowing what he had to do to accomplish what he did. I think that if we are going to celebrate Columbus Day every year, we should know the truth about what he did. I don’t, however, think that we should teach all of the gruesome details to children in grade school, but I do think that it needs to be taught in junior high and high school. When I found out what really happened I felt betrayed because I was not taught the truth so I think it is important that the truth be taught.