Thursday, April 8, 2010

Television Catching Up

Television is often meant to echo real life experiences, and a CNN article reports that TV shows might finally be catching up on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representation. The article, "Is Hollywood Gay Enough," suggests that the number of LGBT characters on primetime television has doubled since 2005. In addition to writing characters to represent the lifestyle, more people in Hollywood are 'coming out of the closet' about their personal lives. The article points out that typically straight actors play LGBT characters, with LGBT actors rarely playing a straight character (Neil Patrick Harris on "How I Met Your Mother" being an exception). A producer suggests that LGBT actors might be nervous of the stigma 'coming out' could cause, especially because it places their sexuality in the spotlight.

From an editorial standpoint, I felt the article could have used a bit more balance. The main sources are a gay actor playing a gay character, two straight actors playing gay characters and a producer who is gay. It seems ironic that the article says "the "L" and the "T," of LGBT, are still waiting for their TV time," but then no sources or characters are discussed that do represent these lifestyles. I also thought it seemed slightly contradictory for the article to open by saying that the number of characters on television is slowly beginning to serve as a valid representation of real life- how is that possible when the article itself says lesbians and transgendered are rarely represented. However, the article also says that the main decision in representation is whether an audience will be comfortable.

From a 20 something standpoint, I thought this article was interesting, especially in light of a project I completed on the representation of women on TV shows (and whether their careers matched real life). I had never considered that more straight actors are cast as gay men than vice versa, and that bothered me slightly. I appreciated the quote from Sean Smith on the matter: "Whether they're gay, straight, from the South, British or from Mars, it doesn't matter. The best person who captures that character gets the job." While I agree that casting should be entirely based on abilities not sexual orientation, I struggled to believe Smith simply because if more people truly believe that then why is Neil Patrick Harris the only example anyone has of a gay man playing a straight character?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where There's Smoke There's Menthol?

Tobacco regulation is being reviewed within a Food and Drug Administration's (FDA advisory board, particularly the issue of menthol flavoring in cigarettes. The two sides of the issue that the New York Times presents in the article "F.D.A. to Examine Menthol Cigarettes" are that opponents claim the flavoring masks the "harsh taste of cigarettes" and thus makes cigarettes appealing to young smokers. However, proponents argue that "menthol does not pose any greater risk to public health than other types of cigarettes." The chairman of the advisory panel on tobacco regulation, Dr. Jonathan Samet, reported that the committee's first job is to review evidence before recommending changes of any kind regarding a ban on menthol.

From an editorial view, I thought the article did a nice job of being balanced. It included voices on both sides of the issue with a particular emphasis on the way menthol cigarettes are marketed to young smokers and African-American smokers. While the article did include anti-smoking moments, like "half of long-term smokers eventually die of smoking-related causes", they were cited to various 'reputable' organizations or other sources. My only comment would be that though balance existed in the content the arrangement of the piece should be reworked to highlight that. Currently, opponents of smoking appear in the fourth paragraph, while smoking supports don't appear until three paragraphs later; this pattern seems to repeat throughout the whole article- opponents first, and then supporters.

From a 20 something view, I found the idea of an underground cigarette market interesting. Though there are outspoken voices on both sides of the smoking issue, no one ever talks about what would happen if cigarettes are actually banned. Would the government provide assistance for those addicted to cigarettes? Or would they be expected to quit cold turkey? An industry analyst for Morgan Stanley, David Adelman, points out that no one can predict what a ban on specifically menthol cigarettes would do to commerce and retail, let alone consumers. While I believe that going 'smoke free' would benefit everyone's health, I can't help but wonder what, if any other, positives or negatives on either side of the issue.