Three backlot settings I cannot forget

Vacationing in southern California a few years back, we decided to go on some tours of Hollywood studios. After doing these tours, I started looking more into the different backlots for different studios. Then it hit me: I have seen these settings at least dozens of times. In commercials, television shows, and films. Over and over again. Here are a few of these backlot settings I cannot forget:

1. Colonial Street on the Universal Studios lot. There are so many houses here that have been used. Plus it served as Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives. (And also an Ace Hardware advertisement.)

2. The city streets on the Warner Bros. lot, particularly the New York Street set. The street corner featuring a storefront with a subway entrance right in front that is used all the time.

3. Wall Street at the Universal Studios lot. The key is seeing the large building with columns at the end of a shot down a long street.

Once you know what these settings look like, it is easy to recognize them.

Filming the world around Hollywood and California

In working on some recent research, I ran into the classic 1927 map from Paramount Studios showing filming locations in California (reproduced in numerous works):

ParamountStudioMapCalifornia1927

Add this to the capabilities of shooting on backlots and the world may be relatively easy to access from Hollywood. There are likely other reasons the film and television industry chose to locate together in and around Hollywood but having such varied nearby locations likely helps.

One thing that is missing from this map: urban locations. This map certainly reflects an interest in more natural settings. Los Angeles in 1927 was still under development. Even later Los Angeles can be fairly distinctive – just look at all the car ads filmed in and around the city. San Francisco offers some spectacular scenery but its uniqueness means it could be hard for the location to double for other places.

New data on (a lack of) diversity in Hollywood and on TV

A new report on diversity in Hollywood and television was released yesterday:

The study, titled the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, examined the 109 films released by major studios (including art-house divisions) in 2014 and 305 scripted, first-run TV and digital series across 31 networks and streaming services that aired from September 2014 to August 2015. More than 11,000 speaking characters were analyzed for gender, racial and ethnic representation and LGBT status. Some 10,000 directors, writers and show creators were examined, as was the gender of more than 1,500 executives.

The portrait is one of pervasive underrepresentation, no matter the media platform, from CEOs to minor characters. “Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed,” the study concludes.

In the 414 studied films and series, only a third of speaking characters were female, and only 28.3 percent were from minority groups — about 10 percent less than the makeup of the U.S. population. Characters 40 years or older skew heavily male across film and TV: 74.3 percent male to 25.7 percent female.

Just 2 percent of speaking characters were LGBT-identified. Among the 11,306 speaking characters studied, only seven were transgendered (and four were from the same series).

These appear to be pretty consistent patterns. Given the racialized and gendered history of the United States, is it more surprising that white men still dominate in certain categories or that little has changed even with the discussions of recent decades?

One other thought: in No Logo, activist Naomi Klein recounts her own efforts to push for more diversity in advertisements. In a chapter titled “Patriarchy Gets Funky,” Klein says:

We thought we would find salvation in the reformation of MTV, CNN, and Calvin Klein. And why not? Since media seemed to be the source of so many of our problems, surely if we could only “subvert” them to better represent us, they could save us instead. With better collective mirrors, self-esteem would rise and prejudices would magically fall away, as society became suddenly inspired to live up to the beautiful and worthy reflection we had retouched in its image. (p.108-109)

And corporations bought into it:

That’s when we found out that our sworn enemies in the “mainstream” – to us a giant monolithic blob outside of our known university-affiliated enclaves – didn’t fear and loathe us but actually thought we were sort of interesting. Once we’d embarked on a search for new wells of cutting-edge imagery, our insistence on extreme sexual and racial identities made for great brand-content and niche-marketing strategies. If diversity is what we wanted, the brands seemed to be saying, then diversity was exactly what we would get. And with that, the marketers and media makers swooped down, airbrushes in hand, to touch up the colors and images in our culture. (p.111)

The real issue lay elsewhere:

But our criticism was focused on the representation of women and minorities within the structures of power, not on the economics behind those power structures…

The prospect of having to change a few pronouns and getting a handful of women and minorities on the board and on television posed no real threat to the guiding profit-making principles of Wall Street.

Maybe the issue is less one of representation on the screen and more about who controls the industry and resources.

Do conservatives only praise sociology when it fits their arguments?

Conservatives may generally dislike sociology but you can find cases where they are more than willing to accept the imprimatur of sociology if it fits their perspectives. Two recent examples:

1. Discussing a MSNBC exchange about Paul Ryan’s comments about the inner-city where one commentator suggested Ryan was echoing the arguments of Charles Murray, a Daily Caller writer defends Murray:

Murray is a prominent and widely-respected sociologist who penned the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which in one chapter posits certain racial differences in intelligence and suggests some of this may be due to genetics.

The book’s measured and well-researched take on a highly controversial issue failed to halt an immediate left-wing backlash. Murray was branded a racist pseudo-scientist, with the Southern Poverty Law Center filing his name under “White Nationalist” and falsely suggesting he maintains ties with neo-Nazi groups.

David Weigel, a left-leaning libertarian journalist writing for Slate, wrote that even after reams of well-received research since 1994, “[‘The Bell Curve’] wrecked Murray’s reputation with some people, and it won’t get un-wrecked.”

“But the conservatives of 2014 don’t cite Murray for his race work,” Weigel continued, noting that the fascinating work Murray presented in his later works “Losing Ground” and “Coming Apart” are much more likely to be referenced by opponents of the welfare state.

As I asked in February 2012, is Murray really a sociologist and how many sociologists would claim he is doing good sociological research?

2. Here is an interesting example from the Family Research Council of combining a temporarily favorable view of Hollywood actresses and sociology:

I know virtually nothing about contemporary stars and starlets, other than having consistently to turn away from the images of the substantially disrobed young “entertainers” displayed on the jumbotron across from my office in advertisements for their latest performances. Pornography, by any other name, ain’t art…

Now, however, Ms. Dunst is much in the news for having the audacity to say what she thinks of gender roles, to wit:

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work”.

Wow – how revolutionary! The idea that gender is not a social construct but actually has to do with biology, neurology, morphology, physiology, etc. is an affront to the received orthodoxy of the feminist left, many of whom have piled-on with a predictable combination of derision, illogic, non-sequitur reasoning, and obscenity…

So, men and women are different, and being a stay-at-home mother who cares for her children is something to be honored, not scorned: For affirming these self-evident truths, Ms. Dunst is being labeled “dumb” and ‘insufferable,” among the more printable adjectives.

Kirsten Dunst is now the good sociologist for agreeing with the organization’s perspectives on gender roles. No research required.

Conservatives aren’t alone in this behavior in cherry-picking studies and data they think supports their ideologies. Many groups are on the lookout for prominent studies and research to support their cause, sometimes leading to odd battles of “my three studies say this” and “your two studies say this.” But, given the complaints conservatives typically make about liberal ideas and research in sociology, how helpful is it to sometimes suggest conservatives should take sociology seriously?

Infographic: “Gender Inequality in [Hollywood] Film”

Check out this infographic from the New York Film Academy on gender inequality in American films. A few of the facts involved:

-“Women purchase half of the movie tickets sold in the U.S.” but “28.8% of women wore sexually revealing clothes as opposed to 7.0% of men” in the top 500 films from 2007 to 20012 and the “average ratio of male actors to females is 2.25:1” in these same films.

-The number of men and women working behind the scene in major roles of the top 250 films of 2012 is pretty unequal: women are 9% of directors, 15% of writers, 17% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 20% of editors, and 2% of cinematographers.

-“Forbes 2013 list of the top ten highest paid actresses made a collective $181 million versus $465 million made by the top ten male actors” and “In 2013 the highest paid female actor, Angelina Jolie, made $33 million, roughly the same amount as the two lowest-ranked men. Furthermore, age appears to be a dominant factor in an actress’s monetary success compared to men.”

So much for progressive Hollywood? The infographic also suggests the depth of the inequality goes beyond just star actors and actresses; it applies to numerous important roles and how characters are regularly portrayed.

Another aspect of this is to think about using infographics for social activism. In one big graphic, this group has presented a lot of data regarding gender in American films. Is it more effective to present the data in (1) a splashy way – infographics are hot these days and (2) to overwhelm people with data?

Housing facades hide subway infrastructure

Not all the necessary equipment for subways fits underground. Here are a few examples of how cities use facades to hide the subway:

On a street in Brooklyn that takes you towards the river, where the cobblestones begin paving the road, there is a townhouse that deserves a second look. Despite its impeccable brickwork, number 58 Joralemon Street is not like the other houses. Behind its blacked out windows, no one is at home; no one has been at home for more than 100 years. In fact, number 58 is not a home at all, but a secret subway exit and ventilation point disguised as a Greek Revival brownstone.

If you think about it, this could happen a lot in cities and not too many people would know. It is a clever way to not let necessary infrastructure mar what otherwise are pleasant streets.

It reminds me of seeing Hollywood sets where the exterior looks like a city or neighborhood but then you walk inside and there is nothing there. Here is an example of the interior of a city street scene on a Hollywood lot:

HollywoodFacadeInterior

This could be an interesting premise for a science fiction story: the city looks real but there is nothing behind the facades…

The houses of the James Bond actors differ from what the character Bond would own

I argued earlier this week James Bond is an international figure who doesn’t fit the sentimental idea of home. But here is a look at the homes of the actors who have played James Bond – and they seem to be more of the conventional movie star type of home. In other words, big Hollywood mansions. So it appears the actors who play Bond tend to have the kinds of homes that Bond himself would not want to be tied down to as he worked missions around the globe.

Sociologist: Oscars are “insiders rewarding insiders”

As people watching the Oscars last night might have wondered what some some of the winning films were about (Best Picture winner, The Artist, has taken in just over $31 million at the box office), a sociologist argues that the Oscars represent “insiders rewarding insiders”:

“The annual Oscars are a vital component of our cultural machinery, not only reflecting taste but producing it – and thereby creating profit for moviemakers,” says Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory in the University of Texas at Arlington’s sociology department, in an e-mail. “The voters are insiders rewarding insiders.”…

A Los Angeles Times report found that 94 percent of Academy members are white and 77 percent are male, with blacks making up only 2 percent and Latinos less than that. The median age of Oscar voters is 62, with just 14 percent under 50 years old.

This has led to accusations of gender and race bias. But Charles Bernstein, who for 10 years was chairman of the Academy Award rules committee, is a bit tired of the yearly accusations that come AMPAS’s way.

“The Academy is not a democracy but a meritocracy,” he says.

The job of the Academy is not to reflect but to lead, he adds. These are great professionals who have achieved distinction in motion picture-making, and they are merely saying, “Here is what we most respect.’”

This is a classic culture question: does culture reflect society (perhaps the organizations and social conditions or the demands of consumers)? Or put another way, should cultural products be rewarded for being popular or being the best or outside of the box?

This could be viewed as a gatekeeper issue: who gets to decide the merits of a cultural product? I suspect the battle between “mass culture” and “high culture” will not be settled anytime soon. At this point, what would Hollywood gain by changing the current system? The Oscars are popular television and there still are enough blockbusters for Hollywood to keep moving forward. At the Oscar gathering I attended, another attendee and I were thinking through an award titled “the movie American movie-goers loved the most,” perhaps marked by the box office winner or some votes from people who actually attended the movies (perhaps like the older system of doing all-star balloting at sporting events). I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscars found a way to include some voting input from the public, even if it was more symbolic than anything else. Perhaps their solution right now is to include enough popular films (like Bridesmaids) and celebrities (like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez) in the show to keep people happy even though the popular people aren’t going to win.

If we truly are headed toward a more individualistic, more culturally diffuse world, we might expect that the Oscars and Grammys and all sorts of cultural gatekeepers (officials reviewers, critics, etc.) will face more trouble. This would not only be an issue of whether a majority of a culture actually experiences significant works (an interesting question in itself) but whether the public actually cares about what the gatekeepers think (why watch the Oscars if they don’t even talk about movies that most people see?). I don’t think we are close to the end of the gatekeepers but this is going to continue to be a fault line to watch.

Is “Hollywood” hypocritical?

Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing comments on

the hypocrisy of the way that [the entertainment industry has] painted Kim Dotcom and MegaUpload

by pointing to a blog post by Alan Parker over at the Toronto Sun.  Parker’s argument for hypocrisy is historical, based on the founding of Hollywood in the face of Thomas Edison’s assertions of monopoly control (via patents) over motion picture technology.  He concludes:

The film corporations that were spawned by the very pirates and outlaws who created a hole-in-the-wall getaway hideout in Hollywood are now leading the charge to eradicate uncontrolled Internet access to works and technology they say they hold copyright and patent title to.

And they even use much of the same hypocritical, moralistic language that the Edison Trust used to claim the high ground over the shabby, nasty little rats, weasels, thieves and cheats stealing from them.

If Carl Laemmle, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Sam Goldfish/Goldwyn, Jesse Lansky, Adolph Zuker, Marcus Loew, or “the Warner boys”–all cited by Alan as independent producers who resisted Edison’s monopoly–had personally tried to assert their own monopolies and cut off subsequent producers, that would undoubtedly be hypocrisy.  But that is not what Alan is arguing:  he is accusing corporations of hypocrisy because their contemporary trade organization (the MPAA) is taking a position (roughly, that “pirates” should be “shut down”) that is contrary to the position (roughly, that the “market should flourish”) taken by natural persons (particular independent producers whose associated corporations continue in some form to this day) about a hundred years ago.

Can corporations be hypocritical in this fashion?  At its core, hypocrisy is falseness, saying one thing yet doing another.  When the “saying” and the “doing” are separated by 100 years–and involve none of the same actual people–it’s hard for “hypocrisy” to have any real meaning.

Movie stars: the political comments you make before your movie releases will affect who will see the film

Last November, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Republicans and Democrats like different primetime television shows. A new survey now shows that political affiliation of the viewer affects how much the political views of major movie actors influences movie-going behavior:

With Dolphin Tale opening with a strong $19.2 million that first weekend and finishing No. 1 with $13.9 million in its second, the financial impact of Freeman’s comments is hard to quantify. But they did have an effect. In a far-ranging poll Penn Schoen Berland conducted for The Hollywood Reporter of 1,000 registered voters to gauge moviegoing tendencies of Democrats vs. Republicans, it’s clear political allegiances have shifted entertainment viewing habits. Jon Penn, the firm’s president of media and entertainment research, says that before Freeman’s words, interest in Dolphin Tale was considerably higher among conservatives and religious moviegoers than among liberals. After the remarks, 34 percent of the conservatives who were aware of them, and 37 percent of Tea Partiers, said they were less likely to see the film — but 42 percent of liberals said they were more likely. (Five days after Freeman’s remarks, 24 percent of all moviegoers were aware of them.)

In fact, overall, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Tea Partiers consider a celebrity’s political position before paying to see their films, compared with 20 percent of Democrats.

Many exhibitors say privately that they cringe when a star waxes politically just before one of their movies opens — like when, seven weeks before Contagion, Matt Damon attended a Save Our Schools march where some attendees compared Republicans to “terrorists.” Videos of Damon mocking conservatives for their fiscal policies spread like wildfire on the Internet.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at this information since we hear all the time about our overly partisan public sphere.

If this is true, should movie actors muzzle themselves and avoid sharing their political opinions? Why do movie actors often share this information while sports stars are more demure about this topic?

It would be interesting to know exactly why Republicans let these political actions and views affect them. Has this always been the case? Is this due to the commonly heard idea that Hollywood is a liberal place pushing liberal ideas? Do most Republicans think Hollywood puts out “enough” family-friendly or conservative-friendly films – do they really want to go to the movies more and the content is simply lacking? What are the movies most loved by Republicans and Democrats? (The article suggests people of both parties “say comedy is their favorite genre, popcorn is their favorite theater snack, Forrest Gump is their preferred blockbuster and Indiana Jones is their favorite action hero.” Now that’s bi-partisanship!)