Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Very First Grad Paper (please be kind)

And here is the finished product...I will keep you advised as to what grad I got on the paper and in the class:

How Something So Right Can Be So Wrong: How RightNetwork.com Uses Language to Construct its Identity

Identity is not easy to define. When people define their own identity it’s often with adjectives, their role in society, and through social constructs. Adjectives may or may not be reflective of whom they are. Roles can be chosen, but are often thrust upon the user, not everyone chooses to be part of a familial situation. Social constructs are often of the user’s choosing. While one might be born into a family that identifies as conservative, one can choose a different political ideology. But what defines these social constructs? Like every other aspect of identity it is not only reliant on how it identifies itself, but how others’ perceive it. This paper will provide a discourse for the website RightNetwork.com and how it uses language to define itself.

Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall define identity as, “the social positioning of the self and other” (586). This is made abundantly clear within a few clicks on the Right Network. The website welcomes all viewers with the R flag waving and the Right Anthem playing, without having to click anything. Americana, in all its ethnic diversities and geographical splendor is shown on the screen as images are interspersed with the following language:

there’s a new place for a new conversation and new opportunity for all that’s right a place for open minds big hearts and living out loud a place for new ideas and new voices inspired by the wisdom of past generations a place that tunes out cliché turns up the truth and breaks new ground because after all it’s a great big party and now we have a new place to play join (Right Anthem 00:00-01:42).

At this point the R logo is featured as the capital R in the word Right, which is static on the screen. The following words flash before our eyes starting slowly and getting faster and faster, repeating in some places:

Right place Right voice Right day Right crown Right ideas Right time Right fit Right people Right instance Right stories Right past Right drama Right humor Right conversation Right goosebumps Right brain Right history Right moment Right thought Right news Right interviews Right future Right journey Right now. (Right Anthem 01:43-01:58)

The term anthem is a positive one and speaks to patriotism. The fact that’s it’s an anthem, and not a mission statement or manifesto speaks to the kind of image that Right Network wants to portray. An anthem is a composition of celebration; it gives the Right Network an authentic voice, one of inclusion. To use the term “mission statement” would be one of cold, trite, public relation-speak and denote an authoritative tone. And while it would have been interesting (and new!) for the Right Network to reclaim the word manifesto, the term itself would have been enough to strike fear in the hearts of many who remember McCarthyism.

But the anthem claimed that it was about “new conversation and open minds” (Right Anthem 00:21, 00:39). The anthem didn’t use any of the “right” codes that are so often thrown around in the media. There was no talk of socialism, elitism, tea parties, big government, or family values. It used terms that anyone, conservative or liberal, would want to claim as their own. Who doesn’t hate cliché? Who doesn’t love the truth? Who doesn’t want to get inspired by the wisdom of the past?

Based on the anthem alone the Right Network wants to identify itself as the new place to party. However, when the anthem’s words are taken in combination with the images portrayed and the music playing, it’s a huge cliché. There is nothing “new” about viewing our country through idyllic landscapes or cityscapes. No urban ghettos were shown. No communities of color were portrayed. No homosexual couples were shown. The wisdom of past generations was limited to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronal Regan.

True to the Bucholtz and Hall definition of identity, the next video the Right Network features is Kelsey Grammer, the celebrity spokesperson for the Right Network, discussing not what the Right Network represents, but what it isn’t:

Things that just aren’t right; big government, more taxes, group hugs, cats on leashes (mmm...), running in place, flightless birds, grown man tickle fights (that’s definitely not right), grape flavored vodka, trillion dollar deficits, baby carrots, bureaucrats, left handed scissors, thousand dollar toilet seats [laughter] over spending, undercoating, bailouts for billionaires, pregnant...pauses, celebrity magicians, sham-wow, partisan politics, dogs named Steven [Grammer shrugs his shoulders and mumbles “I don’t know,”], government programs governing other government programs, silent lingers, debt, freezing government spending at the largest debts in history, Michael Moore in Speedos, oh dear god, Rush Limbaugh in Speedos, anybody in Speedos [laughter]. There’s wrong and there’s right. Right Network. All that’s Right with the World (Kelsey Grammer on Right 00:00-01:30).

We’re left with an image of Grammer waving the orange Right Network flag laughing. And while there is an element of humor, or supposed humor in this (the use of alliteration leads one to believe this is meant as a playful speech). The content itself isn’t so playful. While it rails against debt and deficits it also states that the Right Network doesn’t approve of freezing spending, which, theoretically, would only add to the deficit. His statements also speak nothing of the “new conversation, big hearts and open minds” that were promised in the anthem.

What is wrong with group hugs, tickle fights among consenting adults and/or Speedos? More specifically, why does the Right Network want to ensure that it’s disassociated with people who do embrace these things? They don’t fit in with the current hegemony as men (especially “right” men) don’t show sentimentality, can’t be engaged with the same sex in sexualized way, and they can’t be scantily clad. The Right Network is promoting the dominant gender ideology where (white) men are in charge and women are sexualized or diminished.

All hosts of Right Network programs are white, middle aged and male. Right Network is using the most valuable, if not clichéd, symbolic capital available to them and plastering it all over its website. Kelsey Grammer, although known for playing nebbish intellectuals, is the authoritative voice of the network. He’s wealthy, famous and well spoken.

Chris Burgard, according to an NPR article is “a self-described ‘ex-ballet dancer, rodeo bull rider, Hollywood stuntman and film director’”. (Blair, Right Launches Network to Fill Political Laugh Gap) He is the host of Running, a show which features six “right” candidates challenging democratic incumbents for their seats in the House or the Senate. His role is clearly that of an American archetype, the cowboy. He’s always dressed in a cowboy hat, denim jeans, belt buckle, Carhartt coat and cowboy boots. His commentary isn’t to provide a new discourse on “right” politics, but to showcase the humanity of the candidates. The only political discourse that is offered is that the candidates love America and are willing to sacrifice their comfortable lifestyles for a chance to serve their country in office. A typical exchange between Burgard and the male candidates is one of camaraderie. The promos featured on the Right Network and on their YouTube channel show Burgard throwing the football around with numerous (male) candidates, playing fetch with one of the (male) candidate’s dogs and congratulating one (male) candidate’s virility during this exchange:

“You just had a newborn baby.
“Yes I did.
“How old are you?”
“Fifty.”
“Man, your boys can swim.” (Running Trailer 01:23-01:29)

Even though the female candidate has four daughters, her lack of virility is pointed out as all four of her daughters are adopted. And while the exchanges with the men are playful, we only see Burgard interacting with Dr. Donna as a patient, not as a peer. He introduces her as a “little lady” and she is referred to as a “spitfire” numerous times throughout the sneak peek featured on RightNetwork.com’s YouTube channel. (Running Sneak Peek—Dr. Donna Campbell for Congress 00:26-00:28) Although she is a smart, accomplished, successful woman, her size and gender are the first thing that is said about her. We only find out her profession after her size and gender are spoken to. We don’t see Burgard palling around with Dr. Chambers, as he does with the male candidates. We only see him allowing her to doctor him, i.e. be a caregiver (Running Sneak Peek--Dr. Donna Campbell for Congress 00:38-01:40). Any additional information about Dr. Chambers is taken from her speeches or from her constituents rather than from Burgard engaging her in a dialogue.

Tom Wilson hosts Politics & Poker. Best known for his quintessential alpha-male Biff Tannen in the Back to the Future franchise, Wilson is typecast here, playing a “big white guy” with a “wife that’s really hot and people are goin’ ‘What?!?’” (Politics & Poker Trailer 00:43-49) He plays exactly that on this show which “mixes entertainers, pundits, cards and politics.” (Politics & Poker Trailer 00:07-00:12) During the promo clip Wilson asks questions that don’t seem extraordinarily biased and refers to President Obama as such, not dropping his title and replacing it with his first name as an unidentified pundit does. Wilson asks questions that are predictable, but asks them in a way that isn’t presuming everyone at the table feels the same way. Rather than asking “What do you think of the tea party?” Wilson asks a more complex version, “This tea party movement, will it last? Does it have legs? Will it get a candidate?” (Politics & Poker Trailer 01:30-01:37) The Right Network posits Wilson as someone of no consequence. He’s not an authority figure, his celebrity isn’t as widely known as Grammer’s and he speaks in an authentic voice. He’s the guy that we watch on sitcoms every night. He’s the guy husbands and fathers are supposed to emulate. His lines don’t come across as planned or rehearsed, even if they are. Perhaps this speaks to his acting talent. However, Wilson has said some of the most provocative comments on the Right Network. Wilson is giving voice to the working class male; a figure the right lauds and claims to be for. Lest we forget, Wilson isn’t a working class male; he’s just playing one on TV, or the internet. The Right Network only appreciates the working class only in an imaginative setting.

While Politics and Poker may have some of the best potential for a new discourse thus far on the Right Network, its gender politics are the same as the rest of the website. Just like Dr. Donna Chambers is described by her appearance and gender, Wilson’s “fake TV wife, Julie,” is described in a similar fashion (Politics & Poker Trailer 00:34-00:37). Like Dr. Chambers, we don’t learn Julie’s name until we know that she is Wilson’s fake TV wife. Predictably she is there to look pretty or “hot” as Wilson describes her, and serve the players food. While one could say her role is that of kitsch, she is not elevating her role as subservient wife to any level other than below her fake husband. Her comments are limited to bad jokes when serving food, “The ones on the right are pigs in a blanket; the ones on the left are tofu in a sleeping bag” (Politics & Poker Trailer 00:37-00:44), or clearing the table, “Speaking of gay marriage, are we done with our wieners” (Politics & Poker Trailer 01:23-01:27).

The show is clearly playing into the widely accepted sitcom relationship dynamic, and at least it is aware that it is doing this. However, if it truly wanted to create new ideas, new conversation regarding “all that’s right with the world,” they could reverse these roles and/or let the fake TV wife play poker with her husband and engage in the discourse that he moderates.

Kristy Swanson, although not named in the promo, is best known for her role in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which, interestingly, spun off into a wildly popular series, heralded by many third wave feminists (Swanson did not star in the series). Her role within this show seems to bring in a sexual angle. She’s an attractive celebrity, who presumably identifies with the right, and the viewer sees her chastise Wilson for cheating and then states “Look at me when I’m...effing you.” The men at the table laugh and she states (or rather the editing makes it appear her next comment is), “It just makes it more fun for me.” (Politics & Poker Trailer 1:10-1:15). This show not only features the wife as a sexualized object, literally serving phallic symbols to her husband and friends, and posing for the camera, but it also features the one lone female poker player as being hyper-sexual as well, further showcased by the fact that none of the men are speaking of sex, only the women. The promo indicates that she says nothing political, and her voice isn’t heard, as it would be easily decipherable among the men’s voices, except in laughter, during the discussion of any politicized topic. She only gets to comment on the possible rule breaking that’s going on (a “mother” role), a sexualized comment (the “whore” role) and that the fake TV wife is “hilarious,” commenting on Julie’s wiener/gay marriage comment (a “sister” role). Her language indicates a desire to be “one of the boys,” which the boys seem to accept as she’s not making any real contribution to the discussion.

Evan Sayet’s Right 2 Laugh is comedy show on the Right Network, which is to feature “comedy from both sides of the aisle,” (Right 2 Laugh Trailer 00:06-00:13) as Sayet states that “comedy today is dominated by left-wingers.” (Blair, Right Launches Network to Fill Political Laugh Gap) However, every comic featured is featured saying something anti-Obama or his policies or, interestingly enough polarizing white and black people. This is clearly a showcase of right-wing comics. And while the promo visually shows female comics performing, including one woman of color, the women aren’t allowed to speak, or showcase their comedic talent. Again, mostly white males are cast in this role. However, Right 2 Laugh’s promo does feature an African-American (identified in a different promo as Kivi Rogers) comic who isn’t making a political joke, but rather a racial one:

I like white people cuz you like stuff simple. My people love making things more complicated than needs to be, like answering machines. Call a white guy and get his answering machine and “BRRIING! Hi, this is Phil, not in, leave a message. BOOOP! [Looks at watch] Done. Call any black person up: BRRIING! [Beatboxing] By the time it finished you forgot why the hell you called. (Right 2 Laugh Trailer 01:10-01:30)

Being the first African American the Right Network has allowed to speak, he qualifies himself by saying he likes white people. He’s not one of those angry African Americans; he’s a friend of the dominant culture. He then says “my people,” making it okay for him to make fun of his people and for the white audience to laugh along with him. However within the joke it’s clear that he doesn’t identify with African American’s as he doesn’t say call “one of my people up.” He says, “Call any black person up,” not just a black person but any black person. While this joke isn’t purely political, it does follow the dominant culture ideologies that have thus been witnessed on the Right Network. This African American is now “safe” for the Right Network’s audience to engage in.

He’s also featured in a promo on the Right Network’s YouTube channel meant to speak to the Right Network’s supposed diversity. The promo is called Things Arent [sic] Always What They Seem, and features Chris Burgard, the cowboy, trying to learn how to beatbox from Kivi Rogers. The words “Three Hours Later” appear on the screen and we say Burgard beatboxing and dancing, albeit poorly, and Rogers singing a country song. They both stop and Burgard says, “Right Network” to which Rogers replies “Because things aren’t always what they seem.” (Things Arent [sic] Always What They Seem 00:00-01:17)

Except this clip is showing us that things are exactly what they seem; which is what the Right Network has been doing all along. Saying one thing via their anthem and showcasing the exact opposite with their programming and promo editing. White men are sustained at their elevated status, women are kept below men and African American men get to talk only if it’s for entertainment purposes. Sorry women of color, you only get to be seen and not heard, so much for new voices.

While the Right Network tries to identify itself as a new place for conservative politics, a closer read indicates that all it’s doing is presenting the same rhetoric that not only the right has been promoting, but mainstream America in general; one of gendered hegemony, culturally normative values and racial stereotyping, American values if ever there were. But this time it’s wrapped in an orange flag rather than the red, white and blue.









Works Cited
Blair, Elizabeth, “Right Launches Network to Fill Political Laugh Gap.” NPR.org. 06 July 2010. NPR. 6 July 2010.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128340527
Bucholtz, Mary and Kira Hall. “Identity and Interaction: A Sociocultural Linguistic Approach.” Discourse Studies 7 (4-5). October 2005. 585-614. Stanford University. Web. 06 July 2010.
Rightnetwork.com. Rightnetwork. n.d. Web. 06 July 2010. http://www.rightnetwork.com/
RightNetwork Channel. YouTube.com. YouTube. 18 March 2010. Web. 6 July 2010. http://www.youtube.com/user/RightNetwork

1 comment:

  1. U ;) really need to write a new blog!

    ReplyDelete