Sunday, January 29, 2012

CPB failing the mandate for diversity (Ava and C.I.)

One thing our CPB friends -- as well as the people at Undercurrents -- can be thankful for is that we waited until today to write about them -- meaning the program finished its fundraiser yesterday. What is Undcurrents? Not a good program for women, not a good program for equality or diversity.

The Association of Independents In Radio noted in the summer of 2006, "Conceived in response to Native Radio's request to diversify and add programming, the most striking aspect of UnderCurrents is the way it challenges conceptions of Native music and Native tastes." Your first tip off that all was not as it appeared was when the brief write-up featured five artists: Beck, Bjork, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson and Bob Marley. Native Radio, for those who don't know, is Native American radio. The closest to a Native American on that list is the half-Jewish (his father's side) Canadian Robbie Robertson (his mother's Mohawk). He's about as Native American as Cher but you'll never hear her on Undercurrents.

Among the many reasons for that is that you don't hear many women period on the program.

A 'good' broadcast of the daily program might feature eleven women and some might argue that sounds like a solid number. Hopefully, those making the argument would be unaware that Undercurrents is a five hour, commercial free, radio broadcast.

On Saturday's program (playlist here), you'll find 14 women featured if you're as generous as we were. Generous? If it's not a solo female, our rule is they had to be a vocalist. Not 'a harmony vocalist.' They had to be in the group as an equal member, the way Stevie Nicks is with Fleetwood Mac. They may not always sing lead vocals, but they do sing lead vocals. Backup singers? They're backup singers.

Our guidelines ended up eliminating, for example, the "Native Radio" classic "Respect Yourself" covered by "Native Radio" artist Huey Lewis & the News -- with female backup singers. Our guidelines did allow groups with female members who sing but didn't sing on the song played to be included in our 14.

'Some may argue, that's not fair to some women, just counting vocalists!' Yes, it is true that our system will overlook, for example, the 10-member band with a sole female flugelhorn player. We're okay with that. Bands with female "dancers" also didn't make our 14. And for those who argue that's not fair, we'll point out that host Gregg McVicar doesn't do much more than tell the name of the artist and song. Expansive for him on Saturday night's program, for example, included dubbing solo artist Tchiya Amet "a soccer mom." Amet describes herself on her MySpace pages as "basically a buppy" which, for those unaware, "a young, upwardly mobile black professional."

1 undercurrents

14 different females. But again, we've been generous. Even being generous doesn't change the fact that 16 songs (Wanda Jackson and the group Pamyua have two songs each played) out of 79 doesn't begin to approach equality.

What is it? It's 17.7% of the playlist. 17.7% of the playlist featured women (there were four bands -- only one, The Be Good Tanyas -- was an all female band).

Why does it matter?

It should matter because, in 2012, you wouldn't catch that on most commercial radio stations. (Certainly not country or popular music.) We've thankfully moved beyond that and beyond the fears of 80s "Hits Radio" about playing two female artists in a row.

And this isn't commercial radio, this is public radio meaning the American public is paying for it with pledges and with tax dollars. Their money is being used to continue and promote sexism.

It's appalling that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would give money to a program for diversity without imposing guidelines on what qualifies for diversity.

As we noted earlier, the only reason the program exists is, let's be honest, to shut up Native Radio by offering a 'diverse' program. It should be standard for any grant for diversity that diversity is defined.

17% of the performers featured are women? That doesn't qualify as diversity.

It doesn't qualify as half (50%), it doesn't qualify as a third (33%), it doesn't qualify as a quarter (25%), it doesn't even qualify as a fifth (20%).

Nor do Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, the aforementioned Huey Lewis, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, the Rolling Stones, the Cars, etc. (all featured on last night's broadcast) qualify as "Native Radio" music.

What's going on is that Undercurrents is using tax dollars and pledges to reinforce the all male canon of music greatness. It's crumbled elsewhere but a White man has managed to take tax pay dollars under the promise of creating "diversity" on air and all he's doing is playing the same White man he grew up listening to.

That's why you won't get Carly Simon, that's why you won't get Stevie Nicks, Erykah Badu, Tori Amos and assorted other women. Who will you get? The Beatles, solo Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Lindsey Buckingham, R.E.M., Duncan Sheik, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Nick Lowe, Coldplay, pre-Stevie Nicks Fleetwood Mac*, T. Rex, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, John Hiatt, etc.

Those aren't 'random' men. Those are staples, men played repeatedly in the month of January, over and over, in multiple shows.

They sprinkle in a Native American artist every now and then. Maybe one every hour and a half. They're not living up to diversity via Native American artist (unless Belgian-Australian Goyte is your idea of Native American) and they're not managing diversity in any other way.

If you're not getting how the canon is created and furthered, let's take a minute to explain. You choose a series of men to program over and over, you play them nearly daily. That's usually a series of American (US and Canada) men and British men, all are White. You include Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley to cut down on charges that the canon is all White. You include Joni Mitchell because if you think you're going to be accused of being a sexist for your numbers, just wait what happens when you exclude the performer whose artistic level is critically rated on the same level as the Beatles and Bob Dylan.

There's another woman they play semi-regularly: Buffy Sainte-Marie. Last week, on the road, we heard her played twice. Buffy is played because she's a Native American -- one of the few Native Americans Undercurrents plays.

And how they play her goes to how the canon works. You choose a number of men, put them in steady and regular rotation. You play their 'classics' -- songs you help make 'classics' by making them well known by repeatedly spinning them over the airwaves. You choose minor songs by women, often sexist songs (there were several this week on Undercurrents -- remember gals, make yourself a stereotype and unimportant and you will be played!) by minor female artists. You avoid any woman who projects confidence in a recording. So you have strutting males up against weak and passive girls thereby perpetuating the myth that women can't make music. (Or rock.)

Remember Buffy? She does have a collection of well known songs. So much so that her first label, Vanguard, released a collection of her sixties recordings in The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie in 1970 and, the following year, released The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie Vol. 2. Her well known songs include "Now That The Buffalo's Gone," "Universal Soldier," "Until It's Time For You To Go," "Cod'ine," "My Country 'Tis of They People You're Dying," "Little Wheel Spin and Spin," "Cripple Creek," "He's a Keeper of the Fire," "Gonna Feel Much Better When You're Gone," "The Carousel" and "God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot" (all songs written by Buffy except the last one which she wrote with Leonard Cohen). You won't hear those songs. That's how the canon works.

What you'll hear are tracks from her -- synth heavy -- 2008 Running for the Drum. You'll hear these fast synth numbers and slow ballad synth numbers up against Neil Young live performing one of his classics from the 70s -- performing it acoustic. Or Paul Simon, or any number of men. It's a way to undercut her. Ignore her strongest work, put synth work up against canon males not using synths to make her come off "sugary."

It's how the canon's always worked. It protects the males, it popularizes their songs and it works to make an argument against women. You won't, for example, hear any of Steve Winwood's embarrasing eighties synth songs -- even those are the biggest hits of his career and even though you will hear Winwood repeatedly on Uncurrents. That's supposed to compete with live recordings of Eric Clapton?

No, it's not supposed to and that's the entire point. The women they include today (excepting Joni and Native American Buffy) we'll be gone in a few years (quicker if they find success) and replaced with a new underwhelming crop and a heavy sigh of, "We play women, but the audience just doesn't seem to want those songs."

That the CPB is wasting tax payer money to preserve sexism is disgusting and should stop immediately. That we're once again the ones providing the oversight needed is even sadder. As they dole out grants, does the CPB ever bother to monitor how the money is actually spent or would that be too much workers for these employees paid with tax payer dollars?

*Christine McVie plays keyboards and is a lead singer in Fleetwood Mac prior to Stevie joining. However, the songs played are not ones Chris has a lead vocal on. It's the usual male jerk off of Freeform Music (FM radio) of the late 60s and early 70s.
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