Monday, April 9, 2007

What Now: Preparing for Life after Graduation

As my time in college comes to an end I look back on the theatre training I’ve received, and notice that certain critical tools needed to survive as an actor are missing from USC’s theatre curriculum. Even basic knowledge related to the business end of becoming an entertainer is barely ever mentioned let alone material for a course. For instance, whenever an actor goes on a professional audition they must take with them a headshot and a resume, this much may be common knowledge, but there are a variety of headshot layouts and formats to choose from. A headshot that is appropriate for a commercial audition does not look nor cost the same as a headshot for film, stage, or modeling. And in a line of work as competitive and difficult to enter into as acting, one simply can’t afford to make such errors. Thus, I have decided to use this blog entry to propose my plan for the use of the funds awarded through the 2007 College Dean’s Prize.

For those who haven’t heard of the Dean’s Prize, it is a monetary award given to three students with the most feasible and useful proposals for bettering the education received at USC. The award was created in accordance with USC’s role and mission, to create an environment that will produce intelligent and fruitful thinkers, capable of contributing to society. Thus, the universities strategic plan lays out guidelines for achieving this goal. The guidelines, though roughly condensed are researching areas of importance in fields of study, learning the global concerns of these needs and teaching how these two aspects are necessary to success in the workforce.

Keeping these concepts in mind, there are many changes that could be made to the school of theatre that would greatly improve the program. The most important area of change is that of practical business knowledge. None of the courses cover aspects such as finding agents, mailing headshots to casting agents, what an appropriate audition piece is and perhaps most important the types of roles you as an individual should pursue. Considering that the majority of working actors, actors who have no other form of employment to supplement their income, earn between thirty-eight thousand and fifty-six thousand dollars a year according to After subtracting the necessary living expenses everyone must pay along with non-fixed monthly bills. Then deduct from that number basic acting expenses such as photographer fees, head shot and resume printing, envelopes and stamps for mailings, acting workshops and finally gas expenses for driving to and from auditions and one will note that most working actors are living close to the poverty line in America. People such as Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, who become superstars and are able to get millions of dollars per project, are the exception to the majority of working actors, Therefore, I think a course focused on the practicality of entering into the film, television and stage industry would be greatly beneficial for young aspiring artists, many of whom only learn of the difficulty of making ends meet after it’s too late to consider choosing a different major. Currently, no other undergraduate theatre program not part of a performing arts college, teaches such important, practical lessons which may account for the remarkably high number of hopefuls who quit the industry.

While the professors in school of performance are talented actors none of the performance based courses are taught by directors. While the lessons taught by a more seasoned performer are useful, nearly every professional acting job comes with a director shaping an actors performance. Some of the best theatre programs in America, like Julliard or the New Actor’s Studio, have directors as well as actors instructing theatre students. Even long time rival UCLA, hired Peter Sellars pictured on the right famous for his innovative work as a director, to teach young actors entering their theatre program. Having professional directors on staff to teach acting classes is crucial because it gives the actor the opportunity to learn what a director expects from them, and how to work in conjunction with them, lessons that become necessary after graduation when one begins seriously auditioning.

In order for USC’s theatre program to grow, more focus must be placed on the business side of acting. Hiring successful directors to teach acting is only one way in which to improve the department. Currently there are no resources for graduating students to go, in order to find an agent or audition for television or film parts. Granted this is an industry where ones success really depends on ones own determination, but considering that USC is located literally minutes from the largest film studios in the world, it would be simple to publish directories for students listing locations, names and numbers of genuine agents, photographers and performance workshops.

In utilizing the Dean’s prize to create contact lists and entertainment industry business classes, USC’s theatre school would be offering its students information that no other performing arts program in America offers, which would help to enhance the reputation of the theatre program. Additionally by hiring working directors as acting professors, SC will be advancing the theatre school to the level of more prestigious performance programs. More importantly they will be better preparing students for what awaits them in the professional world, thereby improving their chances for employment and in turn improving the reputation of the school of theatre.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

More than Studious: An Ideal Honorary Degree Candidate

As the spring quickly approaches bringing with it countless outdoor graduations, and even more graduation speeches this year I find myself amongst the multitude of confused graduates, finally receiving my bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from the University of Southern California. Of the distinguished presenters to the class of 2007, one honorary degree recipient will address the graduates with a speech meant to encourage and inspire through real life example. In light of the personal connection I feel to this year’s commencement, I have chosen a nominee whom I feel would be an ideal recipient for USC’s Fine Arts Honorary Degree.

According to the university’s website the degree is meant to, “elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” With this in mind I nominate actor, writer and director Tim Robbins pictured at the academy awards, for the honorary degree in fine arts.

While Robbins’s successful career in the entertainment industry fulfills the requirements for distinguishing him in the fine arts, he has thus far won an academy award for acting and was nominated as a director. He has produced and directed many successful films and plays. However, it is not merely this which prompts my nomination. In addition to being a provocative and intelligent artist, Robbins is an active philanthropist participating and supporting several charities whilst remaining an outspoken human rights advocate. Regardless of whether his opinions are socially acceptable or not, he has never allowed himself or other artists to be censored, and continues to exercise his freedom of expression in his work.

Raised in New York City, his father was a folk singer and his mother was a magazine publishing executive. Robbins was introduced to the stage performing protest songs along side his father at a young age. He joined the Theatre for the New City at twelve and remained an active member for the next seven years, as well as participating in high school productions. He briefly attended the State University of New York at Pattsburgh, before moving to California and enrolling at UCLA as a theatre student. While working to pay for college and attending class, he made time to co-establish and participate in a theatre troupe with some of his fellow students called The Actor’s Gang. Founded in 1981, the group is one of Los Angeles’s longest running theatre organizations best known for its provocative and controversial productions, including pieces by Bertolt Brecht as well as new works written by local authors.

While The Actor’s Gang is now considered a success, its early days were less certain, causing Robbins to begin taking work as a screen actor in order to fund the struggling theatre group. Within a short period of time Robbins film career began to take off, eventually earning him several accolades including an Academy Award and several Golden Globe nominations for his performances in The Shawshank Redemption and Mystic River. Aside from being a talented actor, Robbins has also received honors for his work as a writer and director, as in his film Dead Man Walking, which garnered several awards. Despite commercial success, Robbins remained loyal to his roots in the theatre and The Actor’s Gang, continuing to produce socially relevant plays.

But it is perhaps his philanthropic work, particularly in the area of America’s political involvement in foreign nations that has generated the majority of the media attention surrounding Robbins. His politics have even gotten him banned for one year from the Academy Awards. Ironically enough, Robbins and partner Susan Sarandon would only be invited back to the awards the following year because they were both nominated for their work in his film, Dead Man Walking. In recent memory, Robbins has come under fire for his dissent regarding the war in Iraq and the Bush administration. Causing him to once again go on the defensive regarding his personal politics, eventually inspiring his latest work entitled Embedded a theatrical piece based on true events that occurred during the US occupation of Iraq prior to and during the Iraq war, Tim is pictured performing in the piece on the left.

The President Emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth, James Freeman writes that, “In bestowing an honorary degree a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” I feel that in awarding Tim Robbins with an honorary degree in fine arts the University of Southern California would be telling the student body that what matters is not merely ones success in life, but remaining faithful to oneself and ones beliefs. Regardless of whether his views were popular or accepted by the majority, Tim Robbins has always followed his own moral compass, listening first to his own heart. Though his political views may not be mainstream, and his profession as an entertainer may not be widely respected by many attendees of the graduation ceremony. What possible message could be more important to new college graduates entering an uncertain future? What ideal is more important for a university to convey, than trusting in oneself? Especially given the influence a university has in creating the adult the young graduate has become? Bearing this concept in mind, I feel that Tim Robbins best embodies this idea, and is therefore deserving of the honorary degree in fine arts.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This I Believe: All You Are Is Always Enough

Recently while surfing the Internet, I came across the This I Believe website. For those not familiar with the site it is, "A national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives." Some essays are written by celebrities, but the majority are submitted by everyday people. After reading a few essays, I began to wonder what I believe in. What drives me to be the person I am, but more importantly what driving me to be the person I want to become? It is an important question to answer, thus I have decided to write about my own core belief this week.

I believe that all you are is always enough. It is a concept that not only affects my personal life, but my professional life as well. It is the reason I am the person I have grown to be and the reason I want to be an actress. However, my brother was the first to give me this advice. Having grown up in a small suburb, my family was the only of Greek Orthodox descent in the entire county. It was not merely that we were different from the rest of suburbia, but that we stuck out. I think that most teenagers are already self-conscious and eager to fit in with their peers. Therefore when a cultural gap actually exists the problem is magnified.

For me this manifested itself through my attempts to look and be like everyone else. I joined clubs, played sports and even dyed my hair. Among teens and pre-teens it is becoming less acceptable to be an individual; those who do stand out often become targets for ridicule and bullying. Speaking from my own experience, I felt there was a “right way” and a “wrong way” to be and in order to be “right” I should follow the lead of my friends. With this idea in mind, I quit the local theatre I had performed at for many years despite the fact that I enjoyed my time there and loved performing. To my surprise, my brother was the one who came to me upset after hearing about my resignation. He is five years my senior and I had always looked up to him. As he had always been a bit of a jock, I assumed he viewed my interaction in the theatre the same way my friends had. Having witnessed the changes in my behavior and appearance, he decided he needed to speak with me. After gathering why I felt the need to change into someone different, he told me that as people, all we are is always enough. The things that make me different from others are not necessarily wrong, and I should never be ashamed of the person I am or the things that interest me. If everyone were meant to be identical, there would be no point to living. He sited my favorite musician, Davey Havok of AFI seen in concert above as an example. In comparison to other punk bands AFI sounds similar, but their live shows set them apart from any other band currently touring.

This lesson took many years for me to understand and embrace, but today it is the one core belief I take with me at all times. Never was this concept more important than when I decided to major in theatre arts at college. I found that many of my friends and neighbors viewed the theatre as not being a legitimate career or a worthy ambition, but the advice my brother had given remained with me. The reality of the entertainment world is that it is a business that encourages individuality. There are many examples of actors and musicians who have achieved success because they embraced their differences rather than stifle them. Actress, Nia Vardalos seen at the top right at the 2003 Academy Awards where she was nominated for her performance in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. A film she wrote based on her life growing up as a Greek American. The success of the film hinged on the experiences of a person outside of the "norm." Furthermore, as a fellow Greek American I personally can identify with the cultural gaps discussed in the film. In truth the reason the film did so well is because on some level everyone understands what it feels like to be the odd man out, only most hide it if possible. Fortunately for me I can't hide my cultural individuality, though I used to think it was unfortunate. We are what we are for a reason, and to fight is useless. Having embraced the person I am has taught me that all I am will always be enough.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Celebrities and Politics: Should They Mix?

According to a recent CBS News poll, President Bush, pictured giving the state of the union address, has seen an all time low approval rating. With only 28% of those polled finding satisfaction with the current administration, the race for the presidential office in 2008 has taken on new importance. With so many issues receiving attention in the news, the possibilities are seemingly endless for the candidates who have officially thrown their hats into the ring. With the nation at war, the environment in decline, health care reform, social security collapse, educational restructuring, religion, and abortion being just a few of the issues dividing the nation as well as the major political parties, one wonders what will become the leading hot button issue in the upcoming presidential race? However, much of this will depend upon the candidates chosen to represent their parties. Already political heavyweights are announcing their plans to run for election. With such announcements come the inevitable endorsements of celebrities, and campaign fundraisers. But is the majority of the voting public fed-up with celebrity involvement in politics; especially given the current political state of the nation?

One poll suggests just that, showing a reversal in public opinion. During the 2004 election the majority of the public supported celebrities becoming involved with political campaigns, some even giving speeches during the campaign trail. Now however, public opinion is that celebrities should not become involved in politics, particularly campaigns. And it’s not hard to understand voter’s frustration with celebrity activism; one need only examine the results of the last election, along with reaction to the current war with Iraq. During the 2004 presidential race, celebrity involvement caused more division along party lines among moderate voters, mostly due to comments concerning the War on Terror. But with the majority of Americans now disapproving of both the administration and the war, will celebrity involvement be as influential a factor as it was in the 2004 election?

At the forefront of the candidates is Illinois senator Barak Obama, scene giving a speech on the right. Recently, he has gained a significant amount of support with the help of some extremely powerful friends, namely Oprah Winfrey. Besides being Forbes Magazines third most powerful person in Hollywood, the media mogul possesses access to her television show, magazine, website, Production Company, and nearly 226 million dollars, not to mention countless business contacts. Obama is already taking advantage of Winfrey influential business partners, having just had a Hollywood fundraiser hosted by Steven Spielberg, tickets went for $2,300 dollars a head. But Obama isn’t the only candidate receiving support from Spielberg, Hillary Clinton is also hoping for some celebrity help in her bid for office. Help like that of Martha Stewart for instance, who announced at a luncheon that she would be supporting Clinton in 2008. David Beckham was also tapped by Clinton representatives for his endorsement, though as a British citizen he’ll be ineligible to vote in the election.

Despite a drop in public opinion, Republicans such as John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have also announced their intentions on running for presidency in 2008, though celebrity support for the GOP is less than A-List. In fact, during the 2004 election democrats boasted celebrity endorsements from the likes of Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lenny Kravitz, Bruce Springsteen and The Dixie Chicks. And yet, even with republicans being forced to rely on celebrities with far less star power, they managed to win the election. Which begs the question, just how much will celebrity involvement play a part in the upcoming presidential election?

With much of the public feeling disillusioned towards celebrity involvement in politics, mostly due to their lack of knowledge of the issues dividing the nation. Celebrity involvement reached its’ peak in the 2000 election between Gore and Bush, but the issues facing the nation then seem mild compared to the current issues. Thus, the majority of Americans have grown weary of celebrities speaking on the campaign trail, particularly during this time of war when speakers like Michael Moore, seen after delivering his infamous academy award acceptance speech, are more apt to anger voters than draw party support. So what will be the role celebrities play in this election? Funding; and when it comes to campaign funding both parties are on an equal footing. While democrats may lay claim to more A-Listers, republican generate nearly identical amounts of campaign funding through celebrity benefits. This means that potentially Hollywood may play the smallest role in the 2008 election, than it has since the Reagan administration.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Illegal Film Pirating: Who’s Really Getting Hurt?

As children, we learn that it is wrong to steal. Thus as adults we’re expected to respect the property of others and suffer the consequences when we do not. With little or no exceptions to this rule, the number of people who are illegally pirating music and movies over the internet is shocking. The success of the file sharing site, Napster, created a community in which multimedia files could be shared, saved and burned to disc without any royalties being paid to the artists or production companies. Though eventually Napster was forced to charge each visitor a small fee per song, irreparable damage was done. Today CD’s and movies are appearing on the internet and made available to the public, often times even before their official release date. In retaliation, many production companies and artists have filed lawsuits against downloader’s. But many people find this unfair, especially considering the inflated prices consumers are being asked to pay. With this in mind, I’ve again decided to look at two other blogs discussing this issue and comment on their thoughts. The first post I looked at, “Less Than 5% Download Movies Legal or Not” comes from The Movie Blog maintained by John Campea. The second post, “New Study Shows Extremely Low Percentage of Movie Downloading,” came from a blog by Monika Bartyzel called Cinematical.

“Less Than 5% Download Movies Legal or Not”
Upon reading your post, I can certainly understand your frustration with the entertainment industry. Why do production companies feel it is necessary to force consumers who are trying to abide by copyright laws to pay extra fees, just so they can play their purchases on their device of choice? It seems logical that if someone is going to illegally download, they’re not going to attempt to transfer it over to another device such as an IPod pictured on the right. I support copyright laws, and I sympathize with the concept of giving an artist credit for his or her work. Unfortunately, rather than discovering new ways to stop illegal movie and music downloading, companies seems to be passing the added cost onto legitimate consumers. This IPod scandal is simply more proof of that. If someone legally purchases both an IPod and a DVD, why in the world should they have to spend any more money to get said DVD onto said IPod? And what is particularly frustrating is taking into consideration that while the law-abiding faction of society is shelling out more and more money, there are illegal downloader’s out there; and they probably have to cope with less red tape than the rest of us. That being said, I can also understand the point view of production companies. While it may be a pain and completely unfair, the reason for the added burden on consumers is owing to the few illegal downloader’s out there, who aren’t willing to abide by the same laws that the rest of the world are. It is the few who are ruining it for the many!

New Study Shows Extremely Low Percentage of Movie Downloading
After reading your post, there are certainly a number of valid points in your argument. The most important of which being the misrepresentation of how widespread illegal pirating is. Considering the amount of public service announcements, such as the one on the left, and federal warnings consumers are bombarded with every time they purchase a DVD or go to a movie, one would expect huge percentages of illegal downloader’s, but certainly not a mere 5%. However, upon viewing the ABI research study using the link provided on your post, I noted that researchers only questioned people eighteen years and older. This is somewhat misleading considering that a large majority of illegal downloader are eighteen years old or younger. Thus, the controversy of some parents being sued by production companies, for the actions of their children. While there is no doubt the extent of this problem is over exaggerated, how exactly should the film and music industries respond? If they take no action, the problem will only increase, and while the precautions may not have eliminated the existing pirated material they certainly have stopped the production of any new footage.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Violence in the Media: Over-Exaggeration or Are We Becoming Desensitized?

With Oscar season quickly approaching, once again the question as to whether violence in the media has become too extreme is being asked. Though gratuitous violence isn’t a new debate within the entertainment industry, this year in particular has seen a number of very violent films, such as Blood Diamond, The Departed, Babel and Letters from Iwo Jima up for academy award nominations. And though two of the films, Letters from Iwo Jima and Blood Diamond are based on actual events, the violent contents of the films are still questioned. Has violence in films, television, or even video games become too graphic?

Undoubtedly, since the early days of television and film, the content of the television program has drastically changed. From the scheming Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy seen on the left in the classic chocolate factory episode, to M.A.S.H, these shows were broadcast in an era where television sensors had to approve each episode before it was publicly aired. Films released during this time faced the same standard's. In fact, Clark Gable'sGone with the Wind almost didn’t make the final cut, because of the “foul” language used. Needless to say, a lot has changed since those days. One need only turn on the TV to notice the difference. The popular NBC drama ER shows doctors performing surgery on patients, all of which looks as though it is completely legitimate. But the 1970’s TV show famous line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” in
MASH, pictured on the right, set during the Korean War never showed gruesome images of wounds or surgery.

Within the past few years the topic of gratuitous violence in the media has come to a head with such incidences like that of Janet Jackson bearing her breast, to the extraordinary violence in video games have caused parents and lawmakers to rethink broadcast standard laws. However, this is more complicated than one would think because studies based on television violence fail to conclusively agree. As the Media Awareness Network reports,
"media violence is notoriously hard to define and measure. Some experts who track violence in television programming, such as George Gerbner of Temple University, define violence as the act (or threat) of injuring or killing someone, independent of the method used or the surrounding context. Accordingly, Gerber includes cartoon violence in his data-set. But others, such as University of Laval professors Guy Paquette and Jacques de Guise, specifically exclude cartoon violence from their research because of its comical and unrealistic presentation." Furthermore, looking at a comparison of crime statistics from the 1950s and today is misleading because society has evolved so much, additionally a large majority of the crimes committed in the US are drug related and popular drugs like crystal meth, weren’t available in the 50s.

A better way to look at this issue would be to explore the changes that have occurred over the last few years that may offer an explanation for this violence. According to, in 1950, only one in three women held a job, compared to 1998’s figure of three in five women working outside the home. The direct implication of this data is that the lack of parental involvement in their children’s lives is to blame for increased crime misbehavior in younger generations. Take for instance the massacre at Columbine High School in April of 1999, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold seen in their high school year book photos, plotted and carried out a shooting rampage, ultimately killing thirteen and injuring many more before taking their own lives. In the months following the tragedy, everything from movies, violent video games and heavy metal music were blamed for the incident. What ever actually triggered the boys to commit these acts will never be known. Interestingly, the boys built pipe bombs, stock piled guns and ammunition, wrote a “hit list”, and even picked out matching outfits, all from the basement of Eric Harris’s home, leading one to believe that lack of parental involvement is more to blame than the media.

It is undeniable that violence has become more prevalent in the media, but to lay all the blame on the media alone is over simplifying. It would be impossible for a child to be shielded from the realities of everyday life, but parents must take responsibility by explaining to their children what they are seeing, as well as censoring the vastly inappropriate. Seeing gruesome incidences on TV has become part of the everyday, and with parents being forced to work in order to maintain their lifestyle, no one is around to stop children from viewing inappropriate content. Precisely why networks need to adjust program to be less graphic, especially during time periods where children are more likely to be watching without parental supervision.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Celebrity Paparazzi: Fulfilling a Market Niche or Crossing a Line?

Lately in the news, you may have noticed an increase in celebrity gossip stories. And with potential million dollar paydays for exclusive pictures, celebrities are becoming more vocal about their loss of privacy. One need only visit official fan websites, to read posts complaining of the daily intrusions into celebrities personal lives. But just how much of that complaining is justified, and how much is over-exaggerated? The reality of the entertainment business is that it is a business, and while media coverage surrounding celebrities may be intrusive, it is a necessary evil. Heightened interest in a celebrity boosts sales-be it movie and concert tickets, record albums or merchandise. Mass-media marketing isn’t cheap, often costing millions, but paparazzi photos and tabloid magazine articles are free, and the privacy that’s sacrificed is well worth the financial benefit. However, with the recent entrance of several celebrities battling drugs and alcohol into rehab, as well as many stars facing personal tragedy, it appears that some stories have crossed the line with personal attacks. Therefore, this week I’ve decided to explore this issue further by venturing out to other blogs devoted to the entertainment industry and commenting on them, all in an effort to determine if all this media scrutiny is warranted. Have the paparazzi and entertainment news outlets crossed the line? Below are my thoughts on my findings, as well as permanent links to the blogs where my comments were made.

On January 27, Angelina Jolie’s mother Marcheline Bertrand, pictured left with her daughter, lost her battle with breast cancer. The 56 year-old Bertrand died surrounded by her children at Cedars-Sinai Medial Center. While most people are afforded the luxury of privacy while coping with the death of a parent, Jolie and partner Brad Pitt, found themselves amid a mob of paparazzi and media coverage. Throughout her mother’s treatment, the media chose to focus on Jolie’s infamous affair and pregnancy with one-time co-star Brad Pitt, having never been questioned about her mother’s illness until her recent Larry King Live Interview. But now that tragedy has struck the young star, the media has decided to take an interest. The attention was so intense as to force Pitt to get a police escort while leaving his office. Later that week, Pitt went so far as to personally plead with photographers camping on the couples’ front lawn to leave. Anyone who has ever lost someone whom they loved understands how ignorant the comments posted on The Superficial blog are. How can anyone honestly suggest that during her final moments on Earth, Bertrand’s last thoughts were romantic allusions to the father of her daughter’s children? Before writing such ridiculous statements, one should consider how they would feel if they were in Jolie’s position? If it were your mother, and your grief, how would you feel about such postings? Obviously, this posting is exploiting the misfortune of this celebrity, and unfortunately, it is merely one of many media outlets that have crossed the line with its coverage of this sad story. Shame on you, and others like you!

Anna Nicole Smith is no stranger to tabloid articles; in fact,
the former model seems to have gone out of her way in recent memory to receive media attention. But the September 10th death of her 20 year old son, seen with his mother on the right, brought an abundance of unwanted media attention. The star’s devastation warranted doctors placing her under sedation just days after having given birth to her daughter. The interviews given by Smith following the death, show her to be heavily sedated and clearly grief stricken. However, interviews with Smith’s family members, questioned the stars parenting ability and even her involvement in her son’s drug overdosed death. The relentless media attention continued, making any sort of healing impossible. After months of being hounded by the media, the star was found dead in her Florida hotel room, Thursday. One would think that now the celebrity would be able to escape the unwanted attention. But the MollyGood Posting attempts to take one final pot shot, by claiming to have a picture of Smith refrigerator, as seen on the left, complete with Methadone (the drug which killed her son) and Slim Fast, taking the opportunity to poke fun at Smith’s weight battle. What ever happened to respecting the memory of those who are no longer with us? As if it weren’t enough that the woman’s last days were marked with tragedy, now media outlets are going to take cheap shots at someone who isn’t even able to defend herself? At the very least, have the decency to let this clearly troubled soul rest in peace.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Fit to Fat: Tyra Bank’s Model Behavior

After fourteen years of being a model, Tyra Banks was used to seeing herself on the cover of magazines and on TV. But last week when airbrushed photos like the one seen on the right, were published on the Internet and in tabloid magazines declaring the former super-model fat, her reaction was anything but ordinary. The 5 foot 10 inch star was furious, publicly speaking out on both Larry King Live, where the 160 pound model stated,"...When [the media] say that my body is 'ugly' and 'disgusting,' what does that make those girls [who look up to me] feel like?", as well as addressing the issue on her daytime talk show by wearing the same bathing she donned in the doctored photos. Admittedly, since her official retirement from the modeling world in 2005 Tyra has gained some weight, but she is by no means fat.

All this attention comes after a firestorm of controversy shook the entertainment world. It seems there has always been pressure on women in show business to be young, beautiful and most importantly thin. But what had once been an unrealistic expectation has since become a dangerous obsession as millions of women develop deadly eating disorders in an attempt to mimic the waifish frames of high fashion models. Beginning with the success of Twiggy in the 1960's, the image of women’s figures in the media has progressively shrunk. Interestingly when Twiggy began modeling her slim frame made her unique and separated her from other models. Today however, thin is the status-quo among fashion models. In recent history celebrities such as Mary Kate Olsen, Jamie Lynn Siegler, Nicole Ritchie, Portia DeRossi, Calista Flockhart, and Lindsay Lohan have all admitted to battling eating disorders. Fueled by the controversy, the world of high fashion has been blamed for imposing such strict standards on runway models. In November of 2006, Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, pictured in a runway show on the right, died from complications due to anorexia. At the time of her death, the 5’8” model weighed a mere 88 pounds, and had a body mass index of 13.4. For an adult anything under 18.5 is considered underweight.

As tragic as the model's death is, she is by no means an exception.
In fact, the frail frames of runway models during the annual Fashion Week were so dangerously skinny as to draw the attention of the world. As a result, fashion designers in Spain insisted that models maintain a BMI of 18 in order to appear in the show. Those that did not meet the weight requirement were banned. Nevertheless, young starlets remain dangerously underweight, influencing an entire generation of young teens who are developing life-threatening illnesses. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the number of women suffering from anorexia nervosa has reached an all-time high affecting between .5% and 1% of the female population in America, roughly every 1 in 100 women. More shocking still is that anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of those affected will die from it. On the Internet, chat rooms and blogs claiming to be pro-ana and pro-mia, short for anorexia and bulimia, have cropped up offering tips on how to sustain and hide the disorder from friends and family.

With all the controversy recently being brought to this deadly phenomenon, one would expect that a super-model such as Tyra Banks, who has described herself as fuller-figured, would have received support from American media outlets. Especially considering the young age and increased likelihood of death for those who suffer from eating disorders. Instead, however, the former Victoria’s Secret model was forced to defend her ten - pound weight gain, using the cover of People Magazine to pose the question to an increasingly superficial society, “You Call This Fat?” Is it any wonder that so many young girls are made to feel sickly thin is beautiful? And that while it may be tragic for so many young starlets to waste away to nothing, but it's an even worse fate for them to gain weight. Why can there not be an happy medium? Why is there no room for more than one conception of beauty in America? Isn't there room for more than one ideal in our psyche so that so many don't feel ugly.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Academy Awards: Who Really Should Win?

Once again the time has come for the Academy Awards to be handed out to this years “best” films and performances. Without a doubt, the Oscars are the best-known and most watched awards ceremony within the entertainment industry. Each year millions of viewers tune in to watch their favorite celebrities dress up walk the red carpet. In recent years, the pre-show coverage has been beefed up, spawning hour-long shows devoted to what the celebrities are wearing, and where the biggest after party will be. With all the glitz and glamour, is the original idea behind the Academy Awards being lost? Are the films and performers receiving accolades really deserving of them? Have the Academy Awards become so influenced by large production companies that the “best” man, is no longer winning? Furthermore, are the awards being used as a marketing tool to increase the ticket sales of certain films?
During the first Academy Awards Ceremony, held in May of 1929, the winners were announced well ahead of time The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Rather than an unbearably long broadcast hosted by a congenial celebrity, the ceremony was a simple luncheon in which the trophies were handed out by the President of the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences, and the speeches were short and concise. In 1953, the awards were first broadcast nation wide, and since that time categories have been added and coverage increased. Last years awards ceremony lasted nearly four hours and handed out awards for twenty five different categories. While this may seem like enough, there is also a private ceremony in which Oscar’s are given for technical achievements in filmmaking. Additionally the academy retains the right to present, “…the regular annual awards conferred by vote of the membership, [and] the Board of Governors is empowered to vote Scientific and Technical Awards, Honorary Awards, Special Achievement Awards and other honors. Among these is the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, a bronze bust of the legendary producer, which is given to ‘a creative producer who has been responsible for a consistently high quality of motion picture production’” .

When is enough, enough? How much praise does one really need in order to feel validated? Or are there perhaps other motivations behind all these awards ceremonies? Art is such a subjective topic as it is, so how exactly can one film out of all the films produced in a year, be singled out as the best? In short, why are the Oscars such a sought after award?

Martin Scorsese is one of the most famous and talented film directors of our time, having created such classics as Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Color of Money, Cape Fear, Goodfellas, and most recently The Departed. While he is widely regarded as one of the greatest director’s of all time and though many of his films have become classics, he has yet to win an academy award. If the awards are meant to merit those who create interesting and meaningful pieces of art, why are those who are so deserving snubbed?

While the original meaning behind the Academy Awards was to bring attention to those who were so deserving, their meaning has since changed. In today’s society films that are nominated for academy awards see immediate financial benefit. Often movies that are still out in theatres will see increased ticket sales, and films that are out on video or available for purchase will see increased profit. Occasionally production companies will re-release movies back into theatres to gain ticket sales, or they will increase the number of screens the film is being shown on. Take for instance the film Million Dollar Baby, after being nominated and winning best picture at the 2005 Oscars, its ticket sales saw an increase from 1.66 million to 12.3 million, the weekend after the nominations. Some studies suggest that an Oscar nomination can generate up to 11 million dollars in ticket sales CNNMoney. With such financial motivations it’s easy to understand why studios promote their films with such vigor.

This year’s nominees are no exception. Dream Girl’s, the film adaptation of the Broadway Musical has seen increased ticket sales since its Golden Globe and Oscar nominations as well as Babel. Martin Scorsese will once again be vying for best director, consequently his film The Departed has been re-released across the nation in order to gain more revenue.

So do the Academy Awards maintain the prestige with which they were intended, or have they sold out?

The answer varies with the viewer. Many of the films nominated are worth seeing. They are by no means bad, but to place a label on them as the best isn’t accurate either. What the majority of people forget is that the entertainment business is still a business, and profit is the bottom line to every business. Without the revenue gained from tickets sales new films can’t be made. While many new filmmakers are creating obscure cutting edge films that receive nearly no notice, they are only able to do so because of the funding from larger studios. Funding generated from the profits of the more mainstream. In conclusion, while the Academy Awards have become more of a marketing tool than an awards show, the films nominated aren’t necessarily unworthy.