NPR and Unspoken Assumptions

Fenster writes:

If you have a little over four minutes to spare, take a listen to the sound file below.  It is snipped from an NPR podcast entitled Pop Culture Happy Hour.  The full series is available for download for free on i Tunes.

By way of preface, I am interested in pop culture as much as the next person, which is another way of saying way, way more than I should be interested given what passes for culture in the pop realm.  So I thought to give PCHH a listen.  The show is hosted by Linda Holmes, an NPR editor, who has a rotating cast of other NPR editors and writers involved with books, music, comic books and the like.

Now I am not one to usually go on a tear about diversity, but this show could use a large dose of The Other.  I couldn’t really tell the correspondents apart.  It was like one person was having a conversation with other himselves and herselves.  OK, the voices coming at me were in two separate registers–male and female–but other than that I felt like I was listening to one person going on and on about how enlightened they/we/I were.

I am also not one to go on a tear about NPR liberal bias either.  I agree with Forbes that in terms of audience–the network of people that consumes the network’s content–NPR tilts left, but not by much and in a generally mainstream way.  But there is little doubt that the individuals who work for NPR tilt left, and further left than news content indicates.

Here’s Bob Garfield from NPR’s On the Media, quoted by Bernie Goldberg:

If you were to somehow poll the political orientation of everybody in the NPR news organization and all of the member stations, you would find an overwhelmingly progressive, liberal crowd.

OK so now maybe give a listen to this snip from PCHH.  In this segment, Holmes and her alter-egos were bemoaning the state of the casting for the new Star Wars movie.   It just wasn’t diverse enough for her/their liking(s).  You really have to listen to the whole thing to catch the clueless richness of the swirling, self-regarding opinion mash-up.

How is it that when doing a space opera set in a future time you “just get a better story” with a more diverse cast?  Is Samuel Jackson supposed to do his tough guy routine, a la Tarantino?  Or maybe bring on a hip-hopper to get real?

And note the smug collective snickers when Aronofsky’s Noah comes up.  The host acknowledges the film was not “made in Sweden”, implying that at least it is not overly biased in favor of a Nordic look.  Still, the cast is a white one, and that is what in the final analysis offends.

Spokesmen for the film argued–with merit, IMHO–that a cast comprised of a mixture of all races risked the Benetton effect.  Hey, these are local tribesman in the Caucasus, not in the upper reaches of the Nile, and ethnic homogeneity is to be expected in the name of verisimilitude .  Why would it make for a “better story” (in the words of one) to have a cast interspersed with minority actors that reflect our 20th Century obsessions?

But the assembled PCHH crowd can’t get enough of Aronofsky’s foolishness in thinking a racially homogenous cast would be most appropriate. Chuckles all around, with one correspondent slapping herself in the face as though to wake from a bad dream, remarking “is this coming across on mike?  This is me palming my face so hard you can hear it.”

Jeez, they do seem to follow an unforgiving god.

At one point Holmes (I think) says:

If I look at a bunch of people in a room and they are all white guys it stands out for me right away.  It’s not something like where I have to sit there and say “now I have to audit the case for diversity.”

OK and I don’t have to audit the cast of PCHH either.  I also have just to observe.  Here is a recent photo.


I think maybe I have a better idea now why folks like this are preoccuppied with diversity and white privilege.

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
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9 Responses to NPR and Unspoken Assumptions

  1. peterike says:

    NPR should just rename itself to “The Hive Mind” and be done with it. There hasn’t been an arrant, non-approved thought coming out of there in decades. It’s literally the SWPL mind turned into sound, as if you were plugging a microphone directly into the SWPL brain. The sad and obvious irony is that if you asked anyone there to rank themselves in terms of “intellectual openness” they’d all give themselves 11s out of 10.


  2. Gareth says:

    At NPR doctrine is a fine art, everything in life is political and politicized.


  3. And the diversity plea never extends to diversity of thought either


  4. plwinkler says:

    Star Wars posits a fictional universe full of various sentient aliens races.It is hardly much of a stretch then to ask for a few female and/or non-white homo sapien characters in these films.


  5. Faze says:

    I stopped listening to NPR not because of political assumptions (well, okay, that too), so much as the homogeneity of the speaking voices. Everybody on NPR DOES sound alike. Compare their bland mutterings with the clear and distinctive voices one hears in recordings of radio broadcasts from the 30s and 40s. Just hearing those old announcers lifts the spirits, even if all they were doing was selling Pepto Bismol or promoting war bonds. The dudes on NPR sound like they’ve been dragged away from their video games and forced to “say something”.


  6. I once had a job interview with NPR. Got a little tour of their NYC offices … and seldom have I seen such a smug, non-hard-working bunch of smug, set-in-their-ways-and-opinions bunch of old hippies (and old-hippies-in-training). I liked the guy who interviewed me — he was smart and friendly, and I think he was genuinely interested in bringing something snappier and a little discordant into the usual NPR mix, much to his credit. But it went nowhere.


  7. Days of Broken Arrows says:

    I’d listen, but I need to stay awake to do some stuff. When I need to sleep, I’ll play this clip — the best use for NPR in general.

    NPR is where liberals sit around and talk about the vibrancy of rap, but will unfriend you if you play them this:


  8. agnostic says:

    “It is hardly much of a stretch then to ask for a few female and/or non-white homo sapien characters in these films.”

    Thing is, when they show all those alien races — how do we know they’re not still being racist by only showing one skin color from each planet?

    That fish-head Admiral from Return of the Jedi had red skin — how do we know there weren’t blue-skinned and purple-skinned fish-heads from his planet? Maybe they were whining back on their home planet about those red-skinned fish-heads always hogging the spotlight in Hollywood movies.

    Ergo who cares if white folks are the only Earth race shown in Star Wars? Dang nerds never think through their half-baked “ideas,” especially when it’s just reflexive whining.


  9. Pingback: Diversity Du Jour | Uncouth Reflections

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