Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Mako Mori test in Malayalam cinema

It’s the second most popular test for a film's portrayal of women after the Bechdel test. Invented by Tumblr user “Chaila”, it argues that a film passes this test if it has “one female character who gets her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story.” The test is more subjective than Bechdel’s, but so is the issue they both address. It’s a dicey test because along with being subjective, it’s also open to interpretations. For instance, in a film like Manichithrathazhu, one is tempted to be enamoured by Nagavalli, the beguiling Tamilian dancer trapped in the body of a docile Ganga who is diagnosed with multiple personality disorder. While Nagavalli stands tall, fighting her battle against oppression and patriarchy by manipulating her way to get what she wants, Ganga waits to get back her normal life – as someone’s loving wife.

The men are all running behind Ganga while as Nagavalli, she wages a battle on her own terms. Yet somehow the film doesn’t quite pass the test as in the end, it’s a man who tames this “mad woman in the attic.” So, with some trepidation, we have come up with a list that more or less passes the test in Malayalam cinema. Again, it’s open to reading and the readers might have a different verdict.

 1) Aranyakam: Ammini is that teenager we all relate to—the one who has her nose buried in books, writes long letters to Basheer and Madhavikutty and lives in her own parallel world of magic realism. The narrative travels in and around Ammini’s life, focusing on her interests, her profound conversations, strange encounters, love and dreams. And though two men enter her life, they don’t define her life.

2) Utharam: In this investigative thriller, the female character’s narrative is interpreted by a man (it can be any gender as he plays the role of an investigative journalist and is doing his job). But otherwise it studiously trails Selina’s life, beginning from her school days to her adult life, career and untimely death. It’s an intriguing narrative into a celebrated a woman poet’s life.

3) Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu: Two women really headline the narrative. While the older one battles solitude and bitterness, the younger one wants to grab what little is left in her life to make the most of it.  Girlie is the irrepressible, urban version of Ammini. She carries the film on her shoulders single-handedly (with a compelling backstory) with the man only bringing respite in a supporting role.

4) Thira: The film is driven forward through Nandini Pranab and her battle with the world of human trafficking. A social activist, she rescues girls trafficked for sex and rehabilitates them. She is on her own all the way down, yet aware of the constraints that come with her gender during such a mission.

5)  Artist: Braving family opposition, Michael and Gayathri start a life together until a tragedy takes them off track. It’s interesting how despite Michael’s constant rant about the unfairness of life, Gayathri holds on to hers with hope, running all around to make ends meet. And even when things don’t turn the way it should, we know she will figure it all out all by herself, once again.

6)  Deshadanakili Karayarilla: Between the two, Sally’s character arc is more complex and intriguing. Nimmi is the conventional girl, who falls for the first man she meets but Sally is more loyal, aggressive and stubborn, and knows her mind. A decade later, the film has opened to various interpretations about the lesbian angle in their friendship. So, in this relationship she is given the shades of a man, unwilling to let anyone take charge of her life or Nimmi’s. That description does sound borderline sexist but if you view it under the queer lens, Sally is empowering.

7)  Achuvinte Amma: She drives the narrative forward with her slightly mind-boggling  backstory. Vanaja is a self-made woman who seems to accept the upsetting changes and relationships in her life without flinching. As far as she is concerned, this is a battle she doesn’t mind fighting alone. And yet she carries all the accepted roles and traits of an ordinary woman. Her arc is nicely defined.

8) Rani Padmini: If one woman’s existence begins and ends with a man, the other is on her own, unwilling to be bullied by anyone, let alone random thugs. She is the “son” in her family, who gets annoyed when her mother talks about not having a son, smilingly goes through the various ups and downs and is ready for any adventure. Rani’s character makes up for the otherwise
conservative sketch of Padmini.

9) Ozhimuri: The film throws light on a family deep-rooted in a matrilineal tradition that later paves way to patriarchy. And the matriarch, Kali Pillai, is an intimidating proposition, practising bigamy, openly deriding her timid son and refusing to play up to the traditional roles required of women in a Nair Tharavadu. Though the empowerment is cut short in the end when she comes back to her son, tired, aged and lonely, we will still let it pass the test.

10) Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu: That she uses the men as mere pawns and comes out a winner in her game of vengeance; that she does it standing within the precincts of her gender stereotype makes Bhadra, the central character in this film, pass this test with flying colours.

11) Pakshe: A woman (Nandini) who doesn’t lose focus in life despite a painful heartbreak,  makes a success out of her career, stays single and even when she gets a chance to reunite with her former lover, decides to take a brave stand and lets him go the second time around.

12) Udaharanam Sujatha: The single mother (Sujatha) who slaves around kitchens just so that her daughter’s future is secured and rises above their socio-economic limitations to find an important place in the society. That Sujatha does it all by herself, grappling with her frugalities makes this an inspiring tale.

(Source: Full Picture)

Monday, 13 August 2018

Ozone hole mystery: China insulating chemical said to be source of rise

Cut-price Chinese home insulation is being blamed for a massive rise in emissions of a gas, highly damaging to the Earth's protective ozone layer.

The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) found widespread use of CFC-11 in China, even though the chemical was fully banned back in 2010.

Scientists have been extremely puzzled by the mysterious rise in emissions.

But this report suggests the key source is China's home construction industry.

Just two months ago, researchers published a study showing that the expected decline in the use of CFC-11 after it was completely banned eight years ago had slowed to a crawl.

The ozone hole over Antarctica in the year 2000
There were suspicions among researchers that new supplies were being made somewhere in East Asia.

Rumours were rife as to the source. There was a concern among some experts that the chemical was being used to secretly enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

The reality it seems is more about insulation than proliferation.

CFC-11 makes a very efficient "blowing agent" for polyurethane foam, helping it to expand into rigid thermal insulation that's used in houses to cut energy bills and reduce carbon emissions.

Researchers from the EIA, a green campaign group, contacted foam manufacturing factories in 10 different provinces across China. From their detailed discussions with executives in 18 companies, the investigators concluded that the chemical is used in the majority of the polyurethane insulation the firms produce.

One seller of CFC-11 estimated that 70% of China's domestic sales used the illegal gas. The reason is quite simple - CFC-11 is better quality and much cheaper than the alternatives.

Barrels of chemicals seen by investigators in China which contain CFC-11
The authorities have banned CFC-11 but enforcement of the regulation is poor.

"We were absolutely gobsmacked to find that companies very openly confirmed using CFC-11 while acknowledging it was illegal," Avipsa Mahapatra from EIA told BBC News.

"The fact that they were so blasé about it, the fact that they told us very openly how pervasive it is in the market, these were shocking findings for us."

The EIA says that its estimates of the amount of the gas being used in China are in the middle of the emissions range calculated by scientists in their report in May.

The scientist who first highlighted the problem with CFC-11 said the EIA findings seemed plausible, although it was difficult to be definitive.

Dr Stephen Montzka from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) told BBC News: "The pervasiveness of the use of CFC-11 that seems apparent in China based on their survey is quite amazing, although it is hard for me to assess the accuracy of the emission estimate they make to know if it is indeed likely that this activity can explain all or most of what we are observing in the global atmosphere."

So why is this important?
This is a big deal because of the amount of the dodgy chemical being used and its potential to reverse the healing that's starting to take place in the ozone layer.

China's polyurethane foam makes up about one-third of global production, so if they are predominantly using an ozone-depleting substance it will set back the closing of the ozone hole by a decade or more.

As well as the ozone layer, CFC-11 has a warming impact. Researchers estimate that if the use of the chemical continues, it would be the equivalent of CO₂ from 16 coal-fired power stations every year!

What can be done about this?
As China is a signatory of the Montreal Protocol that governs the use of ozone-depleting substances, it should be possible to put trade sanctions in place. However, since the protocol was signed in 1987, this weapon of last resort has never been used and it's not expected in this case.

A factory in China that told EIA that 99% of its products contained CFC-11
What's more likely is that China will be encouraged to crack down on the production of CFC-11s and to launch a full-scale investigation with the support of the Montreal Protocol secretariat.

"It is critical for the government of China not to treat these as isolated incidents," said Avipsa Mahapatra from the EIA.

"We want them to clamp down but it's supremely important for them to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the sector. It has to result in seizures, it has to result in arrests so that people know there are harsh penalties for the production of CFC-11."

Delegates to the Montreal Protocol are meeting this week in Vienna and they will try to come up with a plan to tackle the issue.

What is the ozone layer and why is it important?
Ozone is formed in the stratosphere some 15 to 30km above the surface of the Earth by the interaction of solar ultraviolet radiation with oxygen in the air. In this location, the newly formed ozone absorbs ultraviolet radiation, preventing most of it from reaching the ground. This is important because ultraviolet radiation can lead to skin cancer and eye damage in humans, can damage crops and marine life.

Remind me how the hole in ozone layer came about?
Scientists discovered in 1985, much to their surprise, that there was a 30% drop in ozone levels over Antarctica in October of that year. By 1992, the hole was as large as North America.

Researcher capturing air samples from the ozone layer above the Arctic
What was happening was that chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons contained in refrigeration, air conditioning, packaging, insulation, solvents, and aerosol propellants were releasing chlorine or bromine molecules when they were exposed to intense UV light in the stratosphere.

When chlorine and bromine atoms come into contact with ozone, they destroy the molecules. One chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it is removed from the stratosphere. Ozone can be destroyed more quickly than it is naturally created.

So what did the world do about this?
For once, the world acted speedily and to good effect. Most nations, including the chemical industry, signed up to the Montreal Protocol which quickly banned most of the worst-offending chemicals. Developing countries were given much longer to replace the gases. So while most of the richer countries got rid of CFC-11 in the mid-1990s, China and others were expected to completely get rid of it in 2010. That obviously hasn't happened just yet.

I thought the ozone hole was recovering?
Back in 2014 researchers reported the first signs of a thickening in the ozone layer. At that point they said it would take a decade for the hole to start to shrink but by September 2015 scientists found that the hole was approximately 4 million sq km smaller than it was in the year 2000 - that's an area the size of India.

All this was due to the global phase out of CFCs. So it was a major surprise to ozone experts to find that the expected decline in these elements in the air had stalled. And now, according to the EIA, the reason behind the slowdown has been discovered - and it's mainly down to Chinese builders!

(Source: BBC)

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The perils of perception 2017

Ipsos’ latest Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the online public across 38 countries are about key global issues and features of the population in their country.

Perceptions are not reality: things are NOT as bad as they seem
Ipsos’ latest Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the online public across 38 countries and districts are about key global issues and features of the population in their country.

On many subjects – murder rates, terrorist deaths, teenage pregnancy, diabetes and how healthy people feel – things are NOT as bad as they seem!

Some of the key patterns are:

Only 7% of people think the murder rate is lower in their country than it was in 2000 – but it is significantly down in most countries, and, across the countries overall, it’s down 29%.

Only 19% think deaths from terrorist attacks are lower in the last 15 years than they were in the 15 years before that – when they are significantly down across most of these countries, and overall they are around half the level they were.

People hugely overestimate the proportion of prisoners in their countries who are immigrants: the average guess is 28% when it’s actually only 15%.

Teenage pregnancy is overestimated across the world, often by a staggering amount.  Overall, the average guess is that 20% of teenage girls give birth each year when the reality is 2%.  And some countries guess that around half of teenage girls give birth each year, when the highest actual figure in any country is 6.7%.

Six in ten people across the countries are unsure or believe that there is a link between some vaccines and autism in healthy children, despite the claim being widely discredited – only 42% think it is false.
Russia is seen as the booziest nation in the world, when they actually only rank 7th. Very few correctly pick out Belgium as the highest alcohol drinking nation in the study.
But the USA is correctly seen as having the sweetest tooth, a clear winner, picked well ahead of any other country.

People generally overestimate how connected by technology we are, with the average guess across the countries that 75% have a Facebook account when only 46% actually do.
We get some things very wrong in Great Britain…

Murder rate: the large majority of people in Britain think the murder rate is higher now than in 2000, when it is actually around 29% lower.  A third (36%) think it’s higher, 39% think it’s about the same, and only 19% correctly guess that it is lower.

Terrorism: only 15% of Britons correctly say that deaths from terrorist attacks in Britain were lower between 2002-2016 than they were between 1985-2000.  Half (47%) think deaths from terrorism were higher over the last 15 years and 29% think they were about the same, when in fact they were significantly lower, down from over 300 to 62.

Foreign born prisoners: we think that immigrants make up a much greater proportion of the British prison population than they actually do. We guessed an average of 34% of all prisoners were born in a foreign country, but the actual figure is 11.8% (in line with immigrants’ share of the overall population).

Teenage pregnancy: we hugely overestimate the proportion of 15-19-year-old women and girls giving birth each year. We think it’s 19% (one in five) when the actual figure is only 1.4% (one in seventy).

Vaccines: 55% of Britons are unsure or believe that there is a link between some vaccines and autism in healthy children despite the claim being widely discredited: 20% believe the statement to be true and 35% say they don’t know, with 45% saying it is false.

Diabetes: we significantly overestimate the prevalence of diabetes - we think that 27% of people in Britain have diabetes, when the actual figure is around 5%.

Good health: more generally, we think other people report their health as worse than they actually do.  Our average guess is that 55% of people say their health is good or very good, but actually 74% say their health is good or very good.

Suicide: One of the few areas of relative accuracy for Britons was on the proportion of young deaths by suicide. We guess that 21% of deaths of women aged 15-24 were due to suicide, when the actual figure is 18.5%, and we guess that 25% of deaths of young men are due to suicide when the actual figure is 28.4%.

Smartphone ownership: we overestimate how many of us are connected by technology.  For example, we think that 81% of people in Britain own a smartphone, when only 69% actually do.
Facebook membership: and similarly, we overestimate Facebook membership, with an average guess that 74% of Britons aged 13+ have a Facebook account, when the actual figure is 58%.
We also asked some more “festive” questions, about our spiritual beliefs, as well as which countries have the sweetest tooth and greatest thirst for alcohol…

Alcohol: Britain has a global image as heavy drinkers: looking at the responses across all countries, we are the 4th most likely to be picked out as the highest consumers of alcohol from the 38 countries included, behind only Russia, the US and Germany.  And, to be fair, this is not very far out, as we actually rank 6th from the 38 countries.  But people in Britain overestimate our own booziness: 60% of Britons incorrectly say we’re one of the top 3 hardest-drinking nations in the list.

Sugar: and we have an even clearer image as being sweet-toothed.  We asked people to select the countries they believe consume the most sugar per person from our list - and Britain was the 2nd most mentioned across all participants in the study, behind a clear winner in the USA.  In fact, we’re actually the 6th highest consumer of sugar from the 35 countries included in this question – but again our self-image is that we have a sweeter tooth than we actually do: 73% of people in Britain think we’re in the top 3 biggest consumers of sugar.

Belief in Heaven, Hell and God: we think other Britons are more religious or spiritual than they actually are – and in particular, we think that twice as many people believe in Hell than actually do. We think that 45% of people believe in Heaven and 38% believe in Hell, but in representative surveys, only 32% say they believe in Heaven and only 21% say they believe in Hell. We are more accurate in our guesses at belief in God. Our average guess was 43% of people in Britain believe in God, when 39% say they actually do.

But Britain is far from the worst in identifying realities – in fact we are the 9th most accurate country in our “Misperceptions Index”.

Looking across all 38 countries included, many are much more wrong…
Murder rate: Only 7% of people think the murder rate is lower in their country, but it is significantly down in most countries – and across all countries as a whole, it’s down 29%.  For example, 85% in South Africa believe the murder rate is higher, when it’s actually down 29%.  And only 8% think it’s lower in Italy, when it’s actually down 39%

Terrorism: Only 19% across the countries as a whole think deaths from terrorist attacks are lower in the last 15 years than they were in the 15 years before that – when across most of these countries, they are significantly down, and overall the number of deaths from terrorism across all these countries has halved.  For example, 60% in Turkey think deaths from terrorism are higher in the last 15 years, when they are around half the level of the previous 15 years.  Some countries are correct, however, with 65% in France correctly believing that deaths from terror attacks are higher.

Foreign born prisoners: Most countries greatly overestimate the proportion of prisoners in their country that are immigrants, with the average guess at 28% when it’s actually only 15%.  And some countries are much more wrong.  For example, in the Netherlands the average guess is that 51% of prisoners are immigrants when it is actually 19%. There is a similar overestimation in South Africa, France and USA. However, in Saudi Arabia the proportion of foreign born prisoners is greatly underestimated. The average guess was 26%, but the actual figure is 72%.

Teenage pregnancy: All countries overestimate teenage births, some by a staggering amount. For example, in Brazil, the average guess is that 48% of 15-19-year-old women and girls give birth each year when it is actually 6.7%. The other Latin American countries were also massively out, particularly Colombia, Mexico and Peru. South Africa were similarly incorrect with an average guess of 44%, where the actual figure is 4.4%. Even those who are closest still overestimate the extent of the issue: for example, Denmark and Norway both guess 8% but the actual figures are 0.4% and 0.6% respectively.

Vaccines: Despite the claim being widely discredited, under half of the population in most countries correctly say that vaccines do NOT cause autism in healthy children. Some have very high levels of belief in the claim. For example, in Montenegro and India, 44% of people believed that the statement “some vaccines cause autism in healthy children” was true.

Diabetes: Every country in our study overestimates the extent of diabetes in their country. In India and Brazil, the average guess is 47%, but the actual diabetes figures are 9% and 10% respectively. The average guess for the prevalence of diabetes across all countries is 34%, whereas actual average figure is 8%.

Good health: Nearly all countries think people report their own health as much worse than they actually say in surveys. In South Korea, the average guess is that 39% of people rate their own health as good or very good, but when asked themselves, 80% of South Koreans report good or very good health. A similar pattern was found in New Zealand and Malaysia. The only country to greatly overestimate self-reported health was Japan whose average guess was 47%, but when asked themselves only 35% reported good or very good health.

Suicide: There is a real mix in overestimating and underestimating suicide among both women and men aged 15-24, with some guessing significantly over and some significantly under the actual share that suicides make up of deaths among these groups.  For example, the percentage of deaths by suicide among young women in Hong Kong is an incredibly high 50%, but in our study Hong Kong’s average guess was only 14%. At the other end of the spectrum, South Africa’s average guess for suicides among young men was 27%, whereas their actual official suicide figure is 1.1%. Looking across all countries, the average guess is that 20% of deaths of both young men and women are through suicide, when the actual figure is slightly higher for young men, at 20% compared with 17% for young women.

Smartphone ownership:  Every country overestimates smartphone ownership, with some incredibly high estimates in some countries. Topping the chart is Indonesia whose average guess at smartphone ownership is 85%, when the actual figure is only 21%. This may be because our study is conducted online, and in lower internet penetration countries these populations will be more middle class and connected, and therefore drawing from their personal experience, thinking the rest of the country is more like them than they really are.  But even in countries with high internet penetration, overestimation is still significant: for example, in Germany the average guess for smartphone ownership was 86% whilst the actual figure is 69%.

Facebook membership: similarly, every country overestimates the proportion of those with Facebook accounts, again, often by very large amounts. For example, our online sample in India think that 64% of all Indians aged 13+ have a Facebook account when actually only 8% do.  But even more developed nations such as Germany again are way out: they think that 72% of Germans aged 13+ have a Facebook account when actually only 34% do.

And on our more “festive” questions, about our spiritual beliefs, sugar and alcohol consumption, there are many global misperceptions…

Alcohol:  Russia is seen as the booziest nation in the world – but they actually only rank 7th from the 38 countries.   Very few people pick out the correct answer of Belgium as the highest consumer of alcohol per person – including in Belgium: only 5% of Belgians rank themselves as the booziest country.  The USA on the other hand is seen as much more heavy drinking than it actually is: they are the second most likely country to be picked out as a top drinker, but are actually only 13th in our list of 38.

Sugar: but the USA is correctly seen as having the sweetest tooth, with 58% picking them out as the highest sugar consuming nation, way ahead of anyone else.  Other nations such as France and China are wrongly seen as high consumers of sugar. France came up as joint 3rd most mentioned across participants in our study, but their actual global ranking is 16th, and China came up in our top 5 mentions, but globally they are 24th. The USA are most likely to think of themselves as the most sugar consuming nation with 69% of people in the US putting themselves top.

Belief in Heaven, Hell and God: across the study as a whole, we’re not bad at guessing how many people believe in Heaven, Hell or God – but this hides some very wrong views in individual countries.  For example some countries significantly overestimate belief in Heaven: Japan guessed that 42% of people believe in Heaven when the actual figure is just 19%. In South Africa, the pattern is the opposite; their average guess is that 67% believe in Heaven, but actual survey results show belief in Heaven is 84%. Guesses on how many people believe in Hell follow a similar pattern of big errors in both directions. For example, people in Spain think that 43% of Spaniards believe in Hell, when actually only 19% say they do.  Belief in God was also split: for example, Swedes think nearly twice as many people believe in God than actually report they do (37% versus 22%).

Looking across the seven key questions where we get people to estimate factual realities, there are clear patterns in which countries have a more accurate view of their countries.  To capture this, we’ve calculated the Ipsos “Misperceptions Index”, as shown in the table below.

South Africa receive the dubious honour of being the most inaccurate in their perceptions on these issues, with Brazil and the Philippines also high up the list.

Sweden are the most accurate, followed by Norway, with Denmark in third.

1 South Africa Least accurate
2 Brazil
3 The Philippines
4 Peru
5 India
6 Indonesia
7 Colombia
8 Mexico
9 Turkey
10 Saudi Arabia
11 Argentina
12 Italy
13 Chile
14 Japan
15 Malaysia
16 France
17 South Korea
18 Hungary
19 New Zealand
20 Netherlands
21 Hong Kong
22 Poland
23 United States of America
24 Russia
25 Germany
26 Australia
27 China
28 Singapore
29 Israel
30 Great Britain
31 Belgium
32 Canada
33 Serbia
34 Montenegro
35 Spain
36 Denmark
37 Norway
38 Sweden Most accurate

Ipsos Perils of Perception 2017

Ipsos’s latest Perils of Perception survey highlights how wrong the online public across 38 countries are about key global issues and features of the population in their country.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, London, said:

Across all 38 countries in the study, each population gets a lot wrong. We are often most incorrect on factors that are widely discussed in the media, such as deaths from terrorism, murder rates, immigration and teenage pregnancy.

There are multiple reasons for these errors – from our struggle with maths and proportions, to media and political coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases.
But in particular, we know from previous studies that this is partly because we overestimate what we worry about: the more we see coverage of an issue, the more prevalent we think it is, especially if that coverage is frightening or threatening.  Our brains process negative information differently - it sticks with us and affects how we see realities. We’re more worried than we should be about how our countries are and how they’re changing.

Some of the patterns are also worrying for our own decisions: our uncertainty about the link between vaccines and autism in healthy children, despite this being widely discredited, can affect our behaviour and therefore health outcomes in nations.

We also have the wrong image of other countries in many instances: Russia and America’s image as hard drinkers probably come from cultural cues we see widely in entertainment - while Belgians get off lightly as they don’t feature so much!  But there is some truth in these national images: the USA is also correctly nailed for its sweet-tooth!

It is also clear from our “Misperceptions Index” that the countries who tend to do worst have relatively low internet penetrations: given this is an online survey, this will reflect the fact that this more middle-class and connected population think the rest of their countries are more like them than they really are.

Technical note
These are the findings of the Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception Survey 2017. 29,133 interviews were conducted between 28th September – 19th October 2017.

The survey is conducted in 38 countries and districts around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Great Britain, and the USA. The following countries used either online or face-to-face methodologies: Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway and Serbia.

Approximately 1000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Great Britain, and the USA. Approximately 2000 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Germany. Approximately 900 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Netherlands. Approximately 500 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Hungary, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey.

The “actual” data for each question is taken from a variety of verified sources. A full list of sources/links to the actual data can be found here.

Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.

Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

(Source: Ipsos MORI

Saturday, 11 August 2018

‘Not black enough’: The identity crisis that haunted Whitney Houston

The new documentary on the late star’s tragic life focuses on her conflicted public persona as a black star in a white pop world

“Sometimes it gets down to ‘You’re not black enough for them. You’re not R&B enough. You’re very pop. The white audience has taken you away from them.’” This was Whitney Houston, reflecting on the first significant setback of her career, when she was booed at the 1989 Soul Train Awards. By that stage, she had already won 11 American Music Awards, two Grammys, achieved the biggest-selling debut album by a female artist in history and a record-breaking seven consecutive US No 1 singles. But, despite all this success, some black radio stations refused to play her records, and opponents, including the Rev Al Sharpton, labelled her “Whitey” Houston. For some, she was simply Not Black Enough.

Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary, Whitney, doesn’t suggest insufficient blackness as a contributing factor in Houston’s tragic death in 2012. It points the finger more at her family, revealing her childhood sexual abuse (allegedly by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick) and scrolling through a gallery of money-grubbing, vicariously ambitious, gravy train-riding relatives. But Nick Broomfield’s earlier documentary, Whitney: Can I Be Me, does locate Houston’s demise specifically in her conflicted racial and sexual identity, starting with that hurtful night at the Soul Train Awards. “I don’t think she ever recovered from it,” says her saxophonist Kirk Whalum in Broomfield’s documentary. “It was one of those boxes that was checked, that when she ultimately perished it was because of those boxes.”

Looking at today’s landscape, where African-American music dominates the culture, it’s hard to believe Not Black Enough was ever a life-threatening condition. But where a white artist can “sell out” their fanbase at worst, it has always been different for black ones. As Ta-Nehisi Coates recently put it in The Atlantic, “the gift of black music, of black art, is unlike any other in America, because it is not simply a matter of singular talent, or even of tradition, or lineage, but something more grand and monstrous”. His point was that African-American musicians are expected to represent more than simply themselves; they must represent their culture and their history. “The gift can never wholly belong to a singular artist, free of expectation and scrutiny, because the gift is no more solely theirs than the suffering that produced it.”

Houston was pretty much engineered to be Not Black Enough from the start. She began with all the right credentials. She grew up in Newark, New Jersey, in the era of race riots, though she was hardly a child of the ghetto (she went to a private Catholic girls’ school). Her musical ancestry was very much rooted in the soul-gospel tradition, via mother Cissy Houston, cousin Dionne Warwick and honorary aunt Aretha Franklin. But when she signed to Arista Records, aged 19, CEO Clive Davis consciously moulded her into a white-friendly pop princess. “Anything that was too ‘black-sounding’ was sent back to the studio,” Arista’s head of promotion says in Whitney: Can I Be Me. “We didn’t want a female James Brown”.

Instead, it was syrupy ballads and perky dance-pop, complemented by innocuous music videos featuring as many white dancers as black ones, the better to appeal to MTV. In interviews, Houston’s persona could be described as colourless in every sense. Commercially it worked a treat, but “to the black ear, these records did not have a natural feel,” Arista promoter Doug Daniel tells Broomfield. “For the black audience, the perspective in the community was that Whitney had sold out.”

Houston in The Bodyguard, released in 1992. Photograph: Alamy
Houston began trying to put that right the very night of the Soul Train Awards. It was there she met future husband Bobby Brown – then the epitome of a virile, street-credible black man. She also broke out of her mould and began to record music more to her own tastes. For her third album, 1990’s I’m Your Baby Tonight, she worked with producers LA and Babyface and Stevie Wonder, and sounded funkier, sexier and altogether blacker. But throughout her career, Houston danced awkwardly around issues of race. She was firmly anti-apartheid South Africa and was the first major artist to perform there after Nelson Mandela’s election. She went stratospheric with The Bodyguard, but the movie barely acknowledged the interracial aspect of her romance with Kevin Costner, and scored her a huge hit with, of all things, a Dolly Parton cover (I Will Always Love You).

There was also Houston’s celebrated rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the 1991 Super Bowl, 10 days after the start of the first Gulf war. African Americans have traditionally viewed the national anthem with ambivalence. There was that problematic suppressed third verse for starters (“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”). The song has prompted black protests from the Black Power salutes of the 1968 Olympics to Colin Kaepernick in 2016, but Houston gave it her unironic all, backed by brass, flags and fighter jets. She captured the patriotic moment so well, her rendition was released as a charity single for the US military.

One observer in Macdonald’s Whitney film frames Houston’s race issues in terms of “double consciousness”. The notion, first coined by WEB Du Bois in 1897, refers to the dual mindset held by marginalised peoples such as African Americans in the US, who must both retain their own black identity and also see themselves through the eyes of their oppressors. “Two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder,” Du Bois wrote. Some would go even further and say Houston’s status as a woman counts as a triple consciousness. This “insider-outsider” mindset was regarded as an internal conflict but also a source of creative energy. Identify too much with one side, however, and you are Not Black Enough.

In retrospect, you have to wonder why Whitney was singled out. Many African-American artists have crossed over into more mainstream, traditionally “white” success without similar consequences – often because of where they’ve come from. In Houston’s era, crossover artists such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Tina Turner had paid their dues, starting at the bottom. Prince could stray into rock ballads such as Purple Rain on the back of deep funk credentials. By contrast, apart from her famous relatives, Houston was discouraged from mentioning her past by Arista. Even Michael Jackson – Houston’s only real equivalent – had evolved from a solidly black Motown tradition before the public’s eyes, although his physical transformations spoke of his own internal battles with his identity, racial and otherwise.

Houston with Dionne Warwick and Bobbi Kristina Brown. Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty
The ground was already starting shift back in 1989, albeit too late for Whitney. While she was being hounded at the Soul Train Awards, writer Trey Ellis wrote an influential essay on what he called the New Black Aesthetic. Ellis identified himself as a “cultural mulatto”: educated, liberated by the civil rights gains of his parents’ generation, and operating freely in a multiracial mix of cultures.

“We no longer need to deny or suppress any part of our complicated and sometimes contradictory cultural baggage to please either white people or black,” he wrote. It was OK to like Jim Morrison as well as Toni Morrison. Ellis pointed out black culture’s growing cultural dominance, from Spike Lee and Eddie Murphy in the movies, to Prince and hip-hop in music – all of whom were universally popular but true to themselves, “true to the black”. By contrast, he singled out Whitney Houston and Lionel Richie as “cultural-mulatto, assimilationist nightmares; neutered mutations instead of thriving hybrids. Trying to please both worlds instead of themselves they end up truly pleasing neither.”

Today’s black artists operate with the freedom Houston dreamed of, but they are never immune from scrutiny. Witness Beyoncé, whose stance in the early 2000s was seen as carefully apolitical by critics, but who suddenly rediscovered her blackness in the Black Lives Matter era and came out celebrating hot sauce and “Jackson 5 nostrils” in 2016’s Formation. Beyoncé had sung her own, Houston-influenced Star-Spangled Banner to the Super Bowl audience in 2004; when she returned for the 2016 half-time show, she practically gave them a Black Power military drill.

The extent of the jolt was registered by Saturday Night Live’s brilliant sketch The Day Beyoncé Turned Black, in which white America’s realisation of the singer’s race triggers panic in the streets. As Jeff Guo put it in the Washington Post, “Beyoncé waited until black politics was so undeniably commercial that she could make a market out of it.” But Beyoncé and Jay-Z have continued to push the line. Their recent video for their joint track APES**T, filmed in the Louvre, turns it around and accuses European cultural history of being Not Black Enough.

And look how far Kanye West has pushed that line recently: all the way to claiming that slavery was “a choice” and brandishing his signed MAGA hat with pride. If that’s how far you have to go – to the edges of white nationalism - to earn a Not Black Enough charge these days, perhaps that’s a sign of progress. As Ta Nehisi Coates scathingly observed, “West calls his struggle the right to be a ‘free thinker’, and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom – a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next.”

However that freedom is used, Whitney Houston is undoubtedly one of those who helped earn it, and she undoubtedly paid the price for it.

Whitney is out now

(Source: The Guardian)

Friday, 10 August 2018

First woman wins the Strega Prize in 15 years

For the first time in fifteen years, a woman has won the Strega Prize, Italy’s top literary honor, writes Francesco Pacifico, the author of The Story of My Purity and Class, which was named a New York Times book of the year, in The Paris Review. Read on: 

Helena Janeczek won the Strega Prize, Italy’s biggest literary prize, on Thursday night. The last time a woman won was in 2003, fifteen years ago. Janeczek, who was born and raised in Germany by a Polish family, writes passionately about history and how hard it is to pin down the truth. The book that won the prize, La ragazza con la Leica, is a work of nonfiction about Gerda Taro, the young woman photographer who died in the Spanish Civil War just before her twenty-seventh birthday.

Women were well represented on this year’s long list and short list, and excitement brewed that a woman might win. Before the award ceremony, the feminist intellectual and author Loredana Lipperini wrote that voters shouldn’t treat this as a token #MeToo win. The day before the ceremony, I got on the phone with Janeczek, who was my favorite in the short list, and asked her if she felt that this year was going to be different.

She had already noticed some change last year, she told me, before the prize’s gender-imbalance problem became part of the mainstream conversation. “Last year [the major publisher] Mondadori brought Teresa Ciabatti’s book to the prize,”she pointed out. Ciabatti came in second place and her weird, prickly memoir, La più amata, was a success. “I could feel that the committee sensed the importance of the issue,” Janeczek said, adding that a female journalist had recently complained to her about the public conversation on the number of women in the running for the prize, saying, “Oh, we don’t want quote rosa … ” “Pink quotas” is the traditional, sexist way we refer to quotas for women. The fight for equal representation of Italian women is still dismissed by many as a way to demand undeserved recognition. Many women feel like that journalist. Prestige and success are perceived as a hard science, not as a fluid changing matter of discourse. Hence Janeczek’s baffled reaction: “I don’t know what she means. It’s not as if publishing were a traditionally male field! It’s not the military aviation, where you’ll have a hard time finding women! We have plenty of women here. They are editors and readers. We only need to pay a little more attention.”

Before Janeczek won the prize, her fellow short-list nominee Lia Levi had won the Strega Giovani, the prize awarded by young voters. “She looked stunned when she heard she’d won. That’s beautiful. The result contradicts every sort of idea of a ‘winner.’ An eighty-six-year-old lady who wins with a book on 1938 and the fascist Race Laws and has a female protagonist who’s an utterly inadequate mother … I love that she won. I love that such a book and such an author can find an audience.”

The Strega Prize is a unique spectacle whose biggest night takes place in a villa on the outskirts of Rome’s Villa Borghese. The bickering over the buffet and the whispers of gossip are peerless and the scene gives off vibes straight from Paolo Sorrentino’s hit La grande bellezza. This prize’s tradition is steeped in the literary dolce vita: conceived as World War II ended to reunite intellectuals in the capital, it is the product of a culture of salons. The jury comprises four hundred publishing people called the Amici della Domenica, Sunday Friends—and it has brought to light great books and great intrigue. The prize is so controversial that its founder, Maria Bellonci, herself a distinguished author of historical novels, called the prize La polveriera, the “powder keg,” and its current director, Stefano Petrocchi, wrote a novel about the prize under the same title. Its enemies consider it a place where big publishers play dirty, bluntly asking the Amici for their votes to make a book a best seller.

The prize has been awarded to some of our best authors—Primo Levi, Goffredo Parise, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Ennio Flaiano, Umberto Eco. And it keeps doing it now, with recent awards going to Walter Siti, Edoardo Albinati, and, among the Italian writers U.S. readers might know, Domenico Starnone, Edoardo Nesi, Nicola Lagioia (who won over Elena Ferrante), and the English PEN Translators Award winner Paolo Cognetti.

After this year’s Strega long list came out in mid-April, the national paper La Repubblica published an op-ed pointing out a surreal lesser-known fact about the prize. The feminist activist and writer Maddalena Vianello wrote that “since its inception, the Strega Prize has only had ten women winners” in seventy-one editions. “We shouldn’t forget that it was invented by a woman.”

Although it awarded greats like Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Anna Maria Ortese, the last woman to win was Melania Mazzucco, in 2003. The facts in the article were drawn from research by Fondazione inGenere, which monitors the gender imbalance of the prize. InGenere found that the Strega Prize “works as a multiplier of copies sold (by up to 5 times) and guarantees a long stay on the bestseller lists … Only the winners get this big a benefit.” Since the feminist wave in the seventies, long lists and short lists have increasingly featured women, and yet there’s been no increase in the rate of women winners. “In climbing the ladder, women hit the so called ‘glass ceiling.’ They are pulled back by cultural and positional resistance. These invisible barriers are apparently unbreakable and independent on the actual qualities of women.” This data-based take on the matter is refreshingly clear and helps question the Italian male intellectual’s mindset.

Stefano Petrocchi, the current director of the Strega, told me it was the first time in twenty-plus years that women outnumbered men on the short list. “The long list with six women and six men simply happened. It fell in our laps. We saw the number and felt it was good.”

I asked if he felt the new feminist wave and the #MeToo tide had influenced the result. His reply surprised me: “We changed the format to have a more open process.” Usually a committee of fewer than fifteen people select from a list of books that are brought in by the Amici della Domenica. Up until last year, you needed two Amici to present a book to the committee, which then formed the twelve-book long list. “Beginning this year, all it takes to present a book is one single Amico della Domenica. We wanted the Committee to get a better, wider look at what was being published. In the past years, we’ve come to empirically discover that less obvious books might not get in because they can’t find a second Amico to vote for them.” This year, forty-one books were presented to the committee by the Amici. It used to be less than thirty on average. “I feel that having more choice has helped women get in the long list.”

So maybe the cold approach—numbers and rules—can have very human consequences. InGenere published a study on the 2018 Turin Book Fair (with whom they partner), while it was taking place this past May. Apparently the biggest room at the fair (600 people) only hosted 20 percent of women panelists. That rose to 28 percent for rooms in the range of 200 to 350 seats. For 60 to 150 rooms, 35 percent. A healthier 40 percent for rooms with less than 50 seats. The disparities are so evident, when shown numerically, that there is exhilaration simply to writing them down. I need to add that, as a part of the editorial committee, I was hosting more than ten events and I only ever introduced one author: incidentally, that’s Helena Janeczek, and that was in one of the small rooms.

The fair’s editorial committee took it in stride and announced a more careful balance in next year’s fair. But the struggle continues. The author Michela Murgia is playing with the notion with her popular Twitter hashtag #solomaschi, meaning “only males.” She’s been posting page one of La Repubblica and Il Corriere della Sera regularly, circling the bylines. Page ones are often men only, and men’s bylines are the overall astounding, embarrassing majority.

Some people simply hadn’t noticed, of course—but now they might.