Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Again, Which Victims Count, Which Count Less

The occasion here is the 14 July 2017 edition of the WBUR-Radio show On Point, "Debate Over the Media’s Duty to Vulnerable Viewers," itself occasioned by the debate over the Netflix movie TO THE BONE (2017). I had several comments as someone who taught many years, including controversial films, and who has an associate producers credit on a film where the male lead lost and gained 40 pounds for his role as a drug addict (MOST HIGH, 2004).

I missed hearing the phrase in the discussion, "per 100,000" and some statistics on just how serious a public health problem eating disorders are, among various populations. And how eating disorders are perceived. Other numbers that are important respond to the challenge, "Well you can't measure the value of a human life!" You can come up with numbers for insurance issues and tort cases at law, and "you" can get approximations as to how much various lives are valued by measuring newspaper column-inches, minutes of TV and other electronic media coverage, and other coverage devoted to various deaths, kidnappings, disappearances etc. There isn't a competition going for what the comedian Mort Sahl called "The Grimmy Award" for Worst. Problem. Ever. — but, per 100,000 relevant populations, we should hear the stats on "morbidity and mortality" for various eating disorders. Also: what kind of coverage across a number of media do you get for, say, anorexia among young white women and older girls compared with that of obesity among Black or Hispanic women and girls? 

For the actress losing weight for TO THE BONE: There's also a bit of actorly macho/macha in the background here. Real men and Real women working as actors are (in the macho/a theory) willing to lose and gain a lot of weight, and the more weight gained and/or lost the more impressive for their dedication to really get into a role. The value system here can get a little silly and sometimes dangerous.

In movies, we can look at how the camera (so to speak) treats death and pain of various victims, and we can get ideas about how audiences react. Feminists were correct to stress how "the male gaze" sometimes luxuriates in the suffering and death of women. The flip side of that is what we called "The Law of Todd," named for a Miami University film student, on the casualness of the handling of the deaths of healthy young men — and the rule with no exceptions I can think of that The Camera never handles casually the deaths of children. It's a sight gag in HOT SHOTS PART DEUX (1993) when Iraqi soldiers are artfully mowed down with a running total at the bottom of the screen, and the final announcement (quoting from memory), BLOODIEST MOVIE EVER! There's a serious point here: If some "red-shirt/Corporal Deadmeat" unnamed character has a gun *he* (almost always until recently) can be shot down casually. Indeed, violence against nasty young men — Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) is the example I studied — will not be recalled strongly, nor, often, will it be seen as violence. And memory can get interesting even with more neutral characters. "The Rape Scene" in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is called "The Rape Scene," and a number of my students only vaguely recalled that the scene also shows, graphically, the beating and as it turns out crippling of an older man. 

So "Attention must be paid" to the suffering of victims perceived in mass culture as generally young, thin, and mostly pretty White girls. If the statistics indicate there are larger health issues elsewhere, it would also be nice to get coverage and works of art on the issues confronting older and/or fat and/or average-looking and/or non-White people.   

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