Trans Media Gender Music Values

A bit of ironic synchronicity came together, directing my attention to how social trends can play out in different areas of Mass Media,  theatre and music. Technically live theatre can be considered a form of Mass Media and at one time was a dominant form. Music is an art medium that can be conveyed directly to the audience or transmitted by way of a variety mass media, either in a live broadcast or a recording.

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This past Sunday, my wife and I watched the live broadcast of the Tony Awards. The biggest story leading up to the show was Neil Patrick Harris performance in the revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Harris, as anticipated,  won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, for Hedwig and The Angry Inch. The play won for best revival of a musical.

Neil Patrick Harris -Theatrical

For those unfamiliar with the plays premise,  the protagonist, played by Harris, is Hedwig, a transgender glam rock performer whose botched  surgery leaves her between worlds.  It is a search for identity, love and creative expression.

The play is considered a revival, having played first as an off Broadway production in 1998.  As the original creators of the work noted, Broadway was not quite ready for the play 16 years ago; it was ready for it now.  The relatable TV star persona & marketing power, that Harris brought to the box office, marked it mainstream.

This brings me to some Media Principles in action.  Keep in mind that all Mass Media have business interests that depend on reaching the Target Audience with an appropriate message. Those placing commercials with the award show broadcast need to reach their audience.

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Those producing the shows need to attract enough attention to their shows to either get people to come to see the shows in New York or eagerly anticipate the touring productions & purchase the cast recordings.

When it comes to values, beliefs and ideologies, Mass Media  both conveys them and intentionally/unintentionally shapes/re-enforces them. The Tony broadcast illustrates this. Just as there was once a time when showing a cross racial relationship was  breaking through a wall of prejudices & social expectations and establishing a new norm of acceptance of society’s transgender citizens; we are now seeing that occur on the mainstream Broadway musical stage and having it broadcast live on a Sunday night on the CBS network. This is a long way from The Ed Sullivan Show.

In order for the Broadway musical theatre to thrive in competition with other forms of Mass Media it must go past nostalgia and embrace the diversity of 21st century America. There were two instances in this broadcast that speaks to this transition . First is the entertaining meeting of The Music Man and Rap Music when Hugh Jackman, LL Cool and T.I. rap the Music Man.

 

     

    The second instance was the emotional history making moment,  Tony Award winner  Audra McDonald’s sixth  Award

    Now with these examples , one would think that forward motion in diversity and acceptance had really begun to turn a corner, but not all areas of live musical performances & related Mass Media adjust at the same pace – there are always Target Audience expectations and Business Interests. This is where I bring the following to your attention, a life imitating art, ……. or was the art just truer than we imagined.  As I said at the opening of the post , it was all triggered by a ironic bit of synchronicity.  After viewing Tony Award show, I came upon this headline on the CBC news site,  Transgender pianist shunned in U.S., gets encore in Edmonton

     

    “Classical pianist Sara Davis Buechner played with some of the most prestigious orchestras in the United States, winning praise from presidents and capturing awards that pointed to a promising career as one of the best in the world”,……… until David came out in 1998 as a transgender woman.  Take note of the year. It was the year of an Off Broadway production and the year that the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony in Carnegie Hall closed its doors in Sara’s face.

    After facing  much emotional turmoil, and a botched surgical procedure that later needed correcting, Sara was able to find a way back to her career and life. Fortunately, Sara found a transition to Canada proved to be more accommodating. The conductors and fellow musicians were only familiar with her as Sara and judged the musicianship. She regained her 60 concert performances a year schedule. She became   teacher at the University of British Columbia in 2003.  “In 2012, she spoke before a standing committee on human rights in Ottawa. Last year, she wrote an essay about her life that ran in the New York Times.”

    She has been performing in America, but making inroads is slow. Perhaps after Neil Patrick  Harris’s performance and award on the Tony Awards Show, the world of classical music will re-discover Sara.  Who knows, she might be on  the Tonys next year.

     

     

     

    Pulp Covers & Movie Posters – The Age of Necro-media

    Necro-media is a concept that I have been exploring on my Dark Pines Photo blog. Necro-media refers to both the codes & conventions (forms) of mass media and media content that were dominant in the past. Necro-media is often rediscovered by a new generation.

    Click image to read Doc WordPress adventures

    Click image to read Doc WordPress adventures


    This generation may embrace it in its original form, (lovers of Old Time Radio, silent films, or original pulp/fictional detectives) or they re-purpose the medium, such as those who take up Alternative Photographic processes or attempt to emulate them using digital darkroom methods.

     

     

    Necro-media grows out of the seventh Mass Media Principle (full list of principles here):

     

    A new mass media technology will initially borrow the content and imitate the conventions of the mass medium that is currently dominant in a society.

     

     

    Shakespeare borrowed ideas for plot & characters from earlier folk tales, historical accounts, and early prose narratives. Early photography of the 19th century used the codes and conventions of portraiture & landscape painting. In the 20th century, early cinema & radio broadcasts borrowed from the theatre, popular novels and the then growing popular ( North American Pulps ) magazines.

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    Around the 1970s a change occurred. Mass Media hit a period of steady state. Movies, television, radio and print achieved an uneasy balance of power. Each had carved out a segment of the target audience’s attention. Each medium, based on their particular codes & conventions, played to their strengths to hold on to the audience, create sufficient demand, and generate revenue. Contemporary content, both escapist & serious, became more dominant.

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    If movies or television borrowed from print, it was more likely to be based on the current best-selling work of fiction or none fiction.

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    As the cost of producing movies & television shows with historical settings became more and more prohibitive, the past retreated further into print & memory.

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    Ironically, there was a subtle shift towards the creation of future realities and fantasy realms that seemed to be as much a re-interpretation of the past as visions of the future.

    Fantasy SciFi movie posters

    The saturation of cinema & television content that was grounded in contemporary & futuristic settings combined with the gradual drift away from print. It catered to a youthful audience and their shared mass media experience built up a set of values, belief and ideologies. This target audience was centred on present day concerns & anticipation of a potentially bright future. As a consequence, the passage of time & social change was disconnecting them from the past. The past, when it was presented, became either a romantic fantasy escape or a commentary on the present. Even the Detective of the 1930s became a means of exploring contemporary issues.

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    With the arrival of information age and the pervasiveness of social media in the 21st century, cinema, television and print media are now on the verge of being fully integrated into the internet . This is more than a change of delivery system. Just as photography is both a medium and media content, so now have cinema, television and print been consumed/incorporated into new media.

    The old approach of borrowing the content & codes and conventions of previous media no longer applies when the previous media becomes the content of the new. What we now see is media consuming media. Scrambling for revenue through new content, the snake is swallowing its tail. In an effort to produce more content, creativity becomes a process of cannibalizing the past. No longer just a snake, mass media becomes the hydra , chomping at its many heads to grow more of the same.

     

     

    Fantasy SciFi 2 movie posters

    Movies, like novels and series televisions, must have sequels. When the sequels run out of steam, reboot the whole series and start again. Not satisfied with print media as its source, cinema will repeat past cinema success or even more telling, turn old television shows into movies in the hopes of catching a ready-made audience and insuring profitable sequels. With television also revisiting its past, the once “humble” comic book & graphic novel has become a potential ready-made source for huge profits, as the two media compete for content.

     

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    The comic book now looks to extending the life of old television series and capture the attention of the related target audience.

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    The theatrical stage, which is another form of mass media, is not immune. Broadway versions of movies are becoming more common, while cinema & television are dipping their toes into the musical form.

    It is difficult to tell where the trend of Necro-media will go. When it is used effectively and creatively it can produce a theatrical production such as Avenue Q, which played with the tropes of Sesame Street or innovative pieces of digital art or online video. Unfortunately, the business demands of the mass media industry have had a difficult time adapting to new forms of media and mass  media technology. The old models are not working and creative new content is limited. In all likelihood, new content and forms will not originate within the traditional industries, but will appear in the hinterland of self-production. A tweet drama or a hyper-texted musical ? A multimedia online narrative or a serialized flash mob mystery novel ? The possibilities are there. It may be happening now.