Last Minute Links Before the New Year

by Latoya Peterson

Alright people, we are officially on vacation, starting now. Comment moderation will be spotty until January 4th, when we resume regular schedule. Until then, a couple things to mull over.

Nisha over at Politicoholic mentioned the Twitter based campaign to remember Gaza on December 27th.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the 22-day Israeli military raid on Gaza. Gaza, one of the two Palestinian territories currently under Israeli occupation.

I know Gaza is not a topic of polite cocktail party or happy hour conversation for most people. Most people probably aren’t quite aware of where Gaza is (here is a map for that), especially since it’s a tiny territory that’s only about 139 square miles on the coast of the Mediterranean.

So it is probably not widely known that one year ago, Israeli military forces killed 1,400 Palestinians, of which over 900 were civilians and over 300 were children. And considerable damage was done to Gazan roads, houses, and infrastructure — most of which has still not been repaired. [...]

Buoyed by the success of the Iran election activists, who tweeted their observations about the controversial Iranian election and subsequent protests using the hashtag #iranelection, and capured the world’s attention — now Palestinian activists are hoping to start a movement of their own using Twitter as their primary tool of communication.

Their hashtag is #gaza, and today, December 27, from 3 pm – 7 pm GMT, they are encouraging everyone they know to tweet using the hashtag #gaza in the hopes of making Gaza the #1 trending topic on Twitter — which is no easy feat, given the millions of people using Twitter everyday.

But that didn’t quite happen. Last night, Global Voices posted a report by Anton Issa, explaining how the campaign did not go as planned:

Twitter has been accused of attempting to silence tributes to Gaza one-year after an Israeli onslaught devastated the Palestinian enclave.

Pro-Palestinian and human rights activists used the influential Twitter portal to mark the one-year anniversary of the Gaza War, and express support for the besieged territory.

Tweets using the hashtag #Gaza flooded in on December 27th, peaking at number 3 on Twitter’s top ten Trending Topics list.

However, complaints emerged of users being briefly blocked from tweeting #Gaza, with the trend being forced downwards and off the Trending Topics.

Bloggers all over the world speculated about why this happened. According to Issa, some thought that it was Twitter editors suppressing the topic, others thought that pro-Zionist activists were reporting the tweets as spam, others thought it was due to Twitter’s algorithms balancing the discussions differently. However, it does shed some light on the issues with using New Media to organize – I’ll expand on this a little more in the New Year.

Some other reading.

Erica Gonazles points us to this opinion piece in the NY Daily News that argues that MTV isn’t to blame for Jersey Shoreit’s the self-proclaimed guidos and guidettes:

[O]n Monday, the Borough of Seaside Heights felt compelled to announce that it “did not solicit, promote or participate in the filming” of the trash-tastic reality show.

It’s the latest bit of silly handwringing in the name of Italian-American pride. But we Italians shouldn’t be mad at MTV over “Jersey Shore.” We should be grateful for the network for performing a public service. [...]

Somebody needs to explain to me how it’s MTV’s fault that the subjects of its reality show behave like stereotypical idiots. In fact, “Jersey Shore” is proof that some stereotypes, while not representative, are in some cases real.

That’s an important lesson in a politically correct world.

No one scripted Pauly D’s now-famous line, “I was born and raised a guido. It’s just a lifestyle. It’s being Italian, it’s representing, family, friends, tanning, gel, everything.”

Who could write such poetry?

And the rest of the cast seems genuinely to share his world-view. Anyone who’s been to certain parts of the New York metropolitan area knows it probably wasn’t too hard to find these kids.

This isn’t “The Sopranos,” where a screenwriter and a director sat down and decided they wanted to portray Italian-Americans as marauding morons who pray to the holy trinity of spaghetti, strippers and silencers.

In fact, by focusing all their ire on MTV, the show’s detractors are actually insulting their Italian-American brethren – by suggesting that they’re having fun pretending to be stereotypes. Let’s get this straight: Snooki can barely work a landline phone, and Pauly D thinks you light charcoal in a gas grill, but producers have persuaded them to “act” like boobs?

We Italian-Americans ought to be thanking the network for shining a spotlight on a small but real subset of the culture. One that we should recoil from – and raise our kids to be nothing like.

We’ve heard variations of this argument before: if people stopped acting like stereotypes, we wouldn’t be subject to them. If only that were the case…

Finally, Time magazine published the findings of a study that measured how racial bias is upheld through images on television:

In a series of intricately designed experiments, psychologists at Tufts University demonstrate that subtle racial biases are often expressed by characters on popular television shows, and that viewers not only pick up these attitudes but allow them to shape their own outlooks on race. The most insidious part of this cultural traffic, the researchers found, is that the transmission of race bias appears to occur subconsciously, unbeknownst to the viewer. [...]

The psychologists wondered how such biases could persist in a society in which racism is socially unacceptable and indeed publicly denounced.

So the group decided to examine the medium of television, which connects the vast majority of Americans, and through which many people predominantly receive their social and cultural cues. The study looked at 11 popular prime-time TV shows, such as Heroes, Scrubs, House, CSI: Miami and Grey’s Anatomy, whose casts include both white and black recurring characters of equal status.

In the first of a series of four studies, researchers showed participants TV clips in which a white character and black character interact — but the segments were stripped of sound and the black character was digitally deleted. The idea was to ensure that neither race nor dialogue would color viewers’ analysis. The exercise was repeated with the white character deleted. Researchers then asked the viewers, white college students, to evaluate in each circumstance, whether the unseen character appeared to be treated positively or negatively by the seen character, and how well liked he or she appeared to be. In the end, across the majority of TV shows, viewers consistently said that the white characters had received more positive treatment and were better liked than their black counterparts.

What fascinated Weisbuch was that the viewers’ judgment of the characters was based purely on nonverbal cues, from facial expressions to body language. In fact, when participants were given transcripts of the verbal content of the clips, they saw no difference in the way black or white target characters were treated by speaking characters. These expressions may have been scripted into the show by writers, or by productions editors or the director, but nevertheless, researchers say they demonstrate unfavorably biased attitudes toward black characters. [...]

The findings suggest that despite the progress that has been made in addressing racism in the America, we may still be perpetuating prejudice in subtle ways — and, if Weisbuch’s findings are validated, in ways that we may not even realize. “Human beings are thinking, cognizant, conscious beings who can be strategic and intentional,” says John Dovidio, a professor of psychology at Yale University who wrote an editorial accompanying Weisbuch’s study, published Thursday in Science. “But we are also kind of emotional and we do a lot of things without full conscious awareness. What this research suggests is that although our minds are in the right places, and we may truly believe we are not prejudiced, our hearts aren’t quite there yet.”

Catch you in 2010.

(Image credit: BlackIris.com)