A Transparent view into Transition.


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Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman is a new kind of television heroine for a new era of television. Playing a grandfather who comes out to his family as a transgender in Transparent. Tambor is embracing a part that is close to his heart, and extremely personal for show creator Jill Soloway. But beyond that, Maura is also a potent symbol for a television landscape that is itself in the middle of a dramatic transition. As Soloway put it ‘I feel like I’m a part of this creative revolution’. And for the 68th Primetime Emmy awards, the challenge was to reflect that revolution.

In 2013, Netflix won the first-ever Emmy for a streaming service; the following year’s Transparent put Amazon Studios on the awards map by taking home surprise Golden Globe statutes for the show and for Tambor. It barely matters where television comes from anymore, or the size of the screen on which it’s viewed. Broadcast, public television, basic cable, premium cable, subscription, streaming, web-based, who cares? The Emmys cast a wide net, and the competition is bursting with shoes from avenues that would have been unimaginable only eight years ago.

Eight years ago Mad Men premiered and won the first program Emmy that ever went to a basic-cable series, against a field heavily weighted toward broadcast networks. And now Matthew Weiner’s show is in its final season, competing one last time in an era which no broadcast network has ever been nominated in the top drama category in four years. This is a television landscape we couldn’t have imagined any more than Don Draper could have imagined the Internet and President Hillary Clinton.

Emmy voters are famously creatures of habit, which means that old timers like Don Draper may still have the edge over newcomers like Maura Pfefferman. Or do they? Are the Netflix wins last year a sign that things are cracking? Or was the fourth straight comedy series victory for Modern Family just as reliable an indicator that those cracks don’t run too deep?

In the comedy-series categories, common sense says that Modern Family’s winning streak (five years and counting) has to eventually come to an end. But last year’s seemingly strongest challenger, Orange is the new black, has been pushed to the drama categories by new Emmy rules, perhaps opening the door for HBO’s Veep or Silicon Valley, for FX’s Louie, for NBC’s Parks and Recreation or CBS’s The Big Bang Theory or just as likely for Transparent or Netflix’s The Unbreakable skinny Schmidt to steal the biggest ever for  streaming show.

On the drama side, meanwhile, the juggernaut that was Breaking Bad is gone, which could allow the final seasons of Mad Men to claim the prize that was eluded it since 2011, when it scored the last of its four consecutive wins. But voters seem to have cooled on the show, so unless Weiner sticks the landing the way Vince Gillian did with Breaking Bad, there could be a real opportunity here for Netflix and House of Cards, for HBO and Game of Thrones, for PBS and Downtown Abbey or just maybe, for the broadcast networks to reclaim the territory they once owned by scoring a victory for Fox’s Empire or CBS’s The Good Wife.

That’s the great beauty of this Emmy season: for once, almost anything seems possible. In this state of transition, great TV can come from anywhere. Maybe voters will care where they came from and maybe they won’t, we will find out in a few days.

Culture appropriation; do you get it?

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Cultural appropriation has been a great deal lately, unfortunately it is not something that is fully understood by all. Most recently, 16-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg called-out 17-year-old reality-star Kylie Jenner for appropriating black culture without expressing any true interest in black issues.  The issue here isn’t simply about white girls wearing cornrows. Cultural appropriation is deeper than that.

Stenberg’s message is not about excluding non-black girls from braids. It is about acknowledging the existence of the people behind the culture. To understand the issue with cultural appropriation is to understand our reality. Eurocentric beauty standards dominate fashion, media and beauty industries on a global level. In the US alone, there is a clear disparity between whites and non-whites on screen. This means, most Americans are shown only a limited perspective of our world. According to a recent survey from American Society of News Editors, “more than 38,000 journalists work at 1,400 US newspapers, but only 4,700 are minorities. That is an average of three non-white journalists per newsroom.” (Via Aljazeera) Influence is infinite and can be found anywhere, but when the messengers and gatekeepers of our news, trends and pop culture are majorly from one group, the authenticity gets watered down or just washed away all together.

The Instagram photo on Jenner’s page that caught Stenberg’s attention features the reality star sporting a basic cornrow hairdo with the caption, “I woke up like disss.” Ebonics be so fun, ya’ll. Black culture is just so fun…except when it comes to the real and uncomfortable aspects like police brutality, racism, and intersectionality.

While writing this blog post, Sandra Bland’s tragic loss wouldn’t leave my mind. With all the power that Kylie Jenner has, could she not have bought some awareness to the racial and police brutality that has been constantly happening in the US right now?

Most would argue that the lack of direct relation to black issues is the reason behind the silence of many white celebrities who adopt elements of black culture. However, if one’s lack of relevance to something so essential to black culture (such as protect hairstyles) does not prevent them from participating in the more fun side blackness, why should one feel limited when it comes to real issues? Embracing a culture includes celebrating, appreciating, and advocating.

Of course, everyone has the right to wear whatever hairstyle they please. The problem is the erasure of identity, roots and culture. The general preference and acceptance of black culture without black people. So how do we navigate what’s cultural appropriation if we all have the freedom to partake in any and every culture outside of our own? One word: representation.

We typically rely on the media to share our narratives and to learn the narratives of others. When a beauty blog highlights bantu knots as a hot new style called “mini-buns,” or when a white celebrity is celebrated for a style that is shamed on their black counterparts, or when a fashion magazine praises typical black features or styles on only white bodies, or when a white pop star is identified as the creator of anything traditional to black culture, or even when a step team is misidentified as a black sorority, blackness is erased. The careless inaccuracies show me that culture is fun to play with, but not worth actual research. It isn’t a matter of isolating black things to only be done by black people. It is a matter of social responsibility among influencers, including celebrities and journalists.

The moment mainstream media respectfully recognizes, acknowledges and represents the source, purpose, and most importantly the people behind different cultures, rather than reduce it to just costumes or hot trends, is the moment we can begin to define “cultural exchange.”

All the different channels of life

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Upon sitting down with my note pad on my lap, a cup of tea in one hand and my phone in the other, it was time to call my nan and take a journey down her memory lane.

As I began explaining my task to nan, my mum wondering by caught some interest and sat beside me with her own cup of tea. I put the phone on speaker and our little three generation conference began.

Mum began to describe the old farm house she lived in with nan, she remembers running around outside, brushing her cheeks on the coffee plant leaves, trying to guess the name of each bird that sang in the morning and milking cows for breakfast but being too grossed out about it to drink any milk afterwards.

Nan described the beauty and the horror of raising five kids in the country, where freedom was great but danger was greater, freedom of letting the children climb trees, ride horses, chase ducks and learn a lot from the land themselves, but the horror of having one of them break an arm or a fever in the middle of the night and be hours from the nearest doctor.

As I sat in silence, writing away and furiously swapping between my pen and my cup of tea, I painted a beautiful picture of everything they told me inside my head. Their words and perhaps the power of having all of us together, remembering, sharing and laughing, transported me back in time. I began to suddenly appreciate how far we had all come, much like technology.

‘I remember a huge black box on top of a little table, looked heavy, there was nothing ever around it, no one could touch it or go near it, it was like a precious painting at a museum’, – Mum.

‘I remember your dad (my pop), bringing that thing in, took every man in town to carry it because God forbid someone dropped it, it was huge, all I remember thinking was, not another surface to clean!’, – Nan.

I used to think that televisions started off black and white and as technology progressed you would buy new TVs that would incorporate colour into the moving pictures, but mum remembers clearly when they did start to show colour, it was due to a see through piece of plastic that you attached to the screen of your TV and it turned parts of it blue or green. It was the first time they had ever seen coloured television.

‘I never liked television, we would gather around the living room, squished, all seven of us, in occasions the neighbours would come too and no one could talk’, – Mum.

‘You didn’t like it because you could never stay quiet for more than a minute at a time, we had to, there was barely any sound so we had to pay attention in order to understand what was going on, besides, having five kids and a whining husband, anything that could make you all sit down in silence, to me, was a miracle’, – Nan.

I’m unsure of how things worked over here in Australia, but when the TV was fuzzy or didn’t work we would put those cleaning sponges made out of steel wool called ‘bombril’ in Portuguese, on the end of the TV cable so the picture would get better, and it did!

Back then TV was good to keep everyone quiet and give me some rest, it was good to see the family gathering around and not complaining or fighting, to tell you the truth I liked watching them watch the TV more than I liked watching the TV itself, but now at 85 years of age, TV is a huge part of my life, I wish it wasn’t so much, but It’s just me and your grandad and it gets awfully lonely you know? I miss other peoples voices, other peoples stories, I love him don’t get me wrong, but we’ve been married for 65 years, there is nothing he could tell me that I didn’t already know, that’s why we watch TV all the time, makes me feel connected to something bigger than just this house, I don’t care about the pictures moving faster or in colour, it’s the sound that I like to sleep to, lets me know that I’m not alone.’ – Terezina Marcucci, 85 year old grandmother and best woman I know.

One life, two worlds; Self-formation.

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When I was only but eleven years old, my mum decided she needed change. New country, new people, new culture, but did this imply she also needed a new identity?

Transitioning from Brazil to Australia at such a young age, gave me the best of both worlds, and it still does. But it wasn’t easy. Apart from being thrown at the deep end, a whole new school, with uniforms, with two breaks, at weird hours of the day, not a single person who spoke anything remotely close to Portuguese. I struggled.

I was torn between growing up with a Brazilian culture or an Aussie one, it felt as if I was judged or frowned upon if I had both. I had to be careful and separate both of these worlds apart and live them singly one at a time. But, why? Where was my multiculturalism? Did multiculturalism simply mean leaving your country and learning how to live in a host country, their way and letting your old values and traditions fall behind? Did it mean leaving my country behind but forcing my values and traditions upon my new host country? Why was there nothing in between these two drastic solutions.

Another eleven years on and I consider myself both very Australian and very Brazilian.  I eat vegemite while I watch football (real football), and this is how I’ve learnt to deal with both  of my nationalities, combing them to fit me. I will never be real Australian in the eyes of my Aussie mates, but I will also never be real Brazilian in the eyes of my Brazilian family, because I will never be 100% just like them.

It wasn’t until I read International education as self-formation as part of one of my readings that I began to understand what has happened to me as an international student and where the education system has gone wrong.

He explains how international students make themselves. We do so under conditions that we do not fully control, and within a web of different social relations that affects us.

We must learn to do so in a world of plural identities in which more than one self is possible and this is where we can mix and match who we want to be. We choose who we become. We have chosen to have this choice. Interviews suggest that many international students cross borders to become different. They want to change themselves in the country of education, which is what my mother did by leaving Brazil, she wanted to grow and re-invent herself and give me the chance to create who I wanted to be.

Unfortunately in a cross-country world of education, international education is mostly understood as a process of ‘adjustment’ or ‘acculturation’ to the requirements and habits of the host country.

In this case we as international students are made to have an orderly progression from home identity to host country identity. The host country culture is normalized without question. And culture becomes seen my us and society as a barrier that must be broken.

We move because we want to change, but does mean we wish to forget what we were taught or where we come from.

Through this reading I’ve realized that we are constantly changing and defining ourselves, we should be opened to new values and ways of life to choose from and not be discriminated for it.

The education system should embrace the opportunity to learn from us as international students, we have so much unique knowledge that can be beneficial to others, we do not want to change the culture of the host country, we would simple like to add our unique identity to it.

‘We keep what we  have, by giving it away’. – The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography 

Technological life

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Just like everything in this world, my media space started off very, very small and then it exploded. I remember waking up to my nan turning on her dusty radio every morning. Listening to old country music and oddly enough, the only form of media and communication we had at home, helped her create her own alone space in time. Singing and dancing to herself, she refused to be interrupted until her radio was off.

Growing up in a farm and having to transition between countries (Brazil – Australia), I sometimes feel I might have a very different sense of media than other twenty-something year olds would have. It was quite a shock having to relocate from a small country town in Brazil, where we (the entire town), would all gather around the one television on Sunday afternoons to watch the soccer, to having my own desk, with my own computer in Australia.

I think the fact of being a nine year old migrant, who was unable to speak a word in English, who had no friends and due to visa issues was also unable to attend school, the computer became a huge part of my life. I began to search for sites, programs and games that would implement my sense of belonging. Coming across online chat-rooms, blogs, orkut, MSM-messenger and ICQ, I discovered that even an ocean away, I could still maintain contact with my family and friends.

This opened a huge window and addiction in my life. I created my first blog when I turned ten, making sure I included every detail of my life so my friends and family across the world could feel included, I remember scanning photos I had taken earlier in the month just to post them on my blog. Receiving likes and comments on my posts were as good as presents to me.

Now, twelve years later, currently a student of Communication and Media studies, I must admit media still takes over a majority of my life. I’m a lot more careful on what I post, what programs I use and what groups I join. But I still cherish the fact that I am, one way or another connected to the people I left behind, that they are just one click away from me. I don’t use media to share every single detail about my life anymore, I’ve learned to be more selective, to use media for other purposes like sharing my opinion, my writing and my work. But I often find myself on my phone for hours recreating the memories and feelings I’ve once had, simply by looking through old blogs, posts and pictures. The thing about media is it can be incredibly rewarding if you know how to use it.