Monday, 19 August 2013

Star Studies: Debbie Allen, Part 2

Continued from page 1....

In 1988, she brought Carrie to the Royal Shakespere Company in Stratford Upon Avon, UK. The musical production of Carrie was based on the Stephen King horror movie and novel of the same name. The idea was strange: turning a horror film into a musical, with dance numbers thrown in and as adventurous as it sounded, Carrie the musical did poorly in terms of ticket sales, not forgetting it received scathing reviews throughout.

Promising as the concept was, it didn't translate well to audiences and alas, it didn't make it past the West End or Broadway.




Still, she finally got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, an accomplishment and one of the ultimate and life-long goals that Debbie fulfilled as a performer.

Back to Debbie the actress, as mentioned earlier, she played bit-part roles in sitcoms, but they were nothing of a grand scale to that of (Fame's) Lydia Grant.

Her first major acting role since Fame as a regular cast member, was on the NBC sitcom, In the House alongside rapper, LL Cool J in 1995. Playing Jackie Warren, she was the antithesis of Lydia Grant, but also in some ways she mirrored her sister, Phylicia Rashad. A divorced 40 -something legal secretary with 2 kids, Austin and Tiffany, shares a house in L.A with injured (American) football quarterback, Marion Hill (LL Cool J). Jackie was funny, sarcastic but more interestingly, Debbie demonstrated that not only can she be a good sitcom actress, but as Jackie Warren, she was more level-headed and normal than the other zany roles she has played in sitcoms.

In The House may not have been the runaway success Debbie anticipated and had hoped for (She was a regular cast member, up until season 3 when her character was written out of the series), but it was a good little show under Debbie Allen and her young co-star, Jeff Wood.

The following paragraphs will address 4 of Debbie Allen's works: The Special Look album (music), Fame (TV drama) and In The House (sitcom), as well as Amistad (movie) and through this, I will analyse what Debbie says about themselves in those works, as well as of her characters and their public personae and to draw up my own conclusions on each of them. Each of these 4 works represent a different genre: music, TV drama, situation comedy and movie, which I felt best exemplifies not just the diversity of the projects themselves, but also of the roles she undertook and of her versatility, both as a performer AND entertainer. 


Magazine article - In 1989, as well as hosting The Debbie Allen Special on NBC, she released her first and only major mainstream album, titled 'Special Look'. The album was the latest in the line of albums and LPs released by other TV actors and actresses, trying to make a name for themselves in popular music, and was a mixture of uptempo and mid-tempo, R'n'B songs with the odd ballad included. During the November issue of Jet Magazine that year, Debbie described being a recording artist as:

...another way of keeping in touch with what's going on in music today. And it is also a way to keep alive as a performing artist, which I am (Ebony, 1989). 

By this time, as a performing artist, though she is a highly accomplished actress, dancer, choreographer, producer, director, she was open to doing something different and be diverse as a entertainer, as well as a performer and turning to pop music as her creative outlet. The album 'Special Look' didn't set the charts on fire; nonetheless, given it was her first real stab at making a contemporary Pop & R'n'B record, Debbie's first & only attempt was pretty good.

Her line: '...another way of keeping in touch with what's going on in music today' alludes to the fact that her recording material and the sound of her album reflects the 80s New Jack Swing era of R'n'B music of that era.


interview  In 1988, Debbie appeared on The Wogan show for an interview in the UK to promote Carrie the musical. She mentions that in the original Fame, she only had 2 lines throughout the entire movie. Her character was supposed to be a love interest for Leeroy and a foil for Coco. But her part was edited out of the movie by director Alan Parker. When the idea of having a TV series based on the movie was brought up, the creators of the show wanted a real dance teacher to play Lydia Grant, so they casted Debbie for the role. Debbie says that Lydia is a little bit of Debbie Allen. Teacher used to hit you with a cane, was the idea behind Lydia Grant holding and using a cane to teach her dance students. She mentions teacher madame Tatiana Seminova of Ballet Roust hit her when she made a mistake. During the press article on Kids from Fame UK Tour, a journalist said to the kids that Debbie was a mean, bad person who did bad things to the young performers. She also had him thrown out of the theatre. Mentions she has 2 kids of her own, though she doesn't name them, it is presumed that she is referring to Vivian and Norm Nixon Jr, as well as 20 kids, the 20 kids being her dance students.

Debbie then teaches Terry Wogan how to dance.

They then discuss Carrie the Musical, which was based on a horror movie, based on the novel written by Stephen King. Debbie said she was attracted to the concept of making a horror-based musical and doesn't think the idea is as bad and strange as others consider it to be. She mentions  that the composers of Fame (TV show) made the score for Carrie. Again she says it's a great idea and as she puts it mildly, it's 'Fame with a macabre ending'. Calls it a dance show and that it is not any more of a horror story as William Shakespeare's  Romeo and Juliet. Terry Wogan questions why the production of Carrie is going to be in Stratford Upon Avon and not heading to the West End afterwards. Debbie responds by insisting that theatre is not something that is dedicated to just the West End but across the world.

In support of this point, in 2010, Debbie Allen created a new musical titled 'Twist'. Twist is inspired by the famous Charles Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist. The setting of Twist is 1920s New Orleans, Southern USA, as opposed to London, Great Britain. Like Carrie, Debbie took an original novel that later became a feature length film, and turned it into a musical by infusing elements of dance, music into the production. Twist premiered in Atlanta, Georgia before making the transition to Broadway, receiving high praise from audiences and critics alike. As opposed to premiering in Broadway, New York and heading to Los Angeles.

Unlike Carrie, Twist's concept worked and succeeded. It succeeded because the idea didn't sound outrageous and too over-the-top. It was just right. There was just enough balance between the musical elements and the dramatic scenes for it to work

Horror can work in a musical production but only if it is done well. Take The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors - both are examples of musicals where the Horror theme works well. But Carrie was a little too overly ambitious for the audience's liking, as well as the idea was just too weird.




Performance on Fame - Debbie was asked to choreograph the dance numbers for the TV show, Fame & teach the actors the choreography. Even with her success, she recognises the importance of Fame to her career (13).

None of this would have been possible without my being on Fame. The series has been good to me, and I hope we're gonna live forever'. actually, I think the series can go on forever. It's a good show, a realistic show, with good production values. I think it's been such an international success because it deals with young people. And that's universal, whatever language is spoken' - (The Cast of Fame, Official Fame Magazine et al ,14).


I think that when people look back on Debbie Allen's career, that no matter what role or project she undertakes, she will always be synonymous with Fame. Always. And of that line, 'If you want fame, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. In Sweat.' 

Fame was Debbie's golden ticket to later success in the entertainment business and TV industry, - and whereas a lot of people, especially the African-American community credit Debbie Allen for her work on A Different World and of her attempts at bringing positive representations of Blacks on TV, the truth for the rest of us is, that had it not been for Fame and the success of Fame, then arguably, I don't think that the success of shows such as A Different World would be realised, never mind doing very well, and be it through Debbie Allen's own vision.


Fame put her on the Hollywood and celebrity pedestal, but also Debbie's work on that show as a director, as well as an actress, as well as her experiences as a student at a Black college, was what attracted Bill Cosby in bringing Debbie Allen on board as a director for A Different World. 





Feature article on In The house - In an article with Jet Magazine in 1995, Debbie mentions that on the pilot episode, 'Getting to Know You', her character Jackie, who has been married for over 30 years, learns that her husband, Milton has left her for another-yet younger woman. She concludes, '& now I'm in the house (hence the name of the show) with an incredibly young hunk'.  (Debbie Allen and LL Cool J Win Laughs In New TV Show 'In The House', 56). 


This young hunk she refers to is her co-star, rapper and actor, LL Cool J, who plays Marion Hill.

On her character, Jackie and her current situation:
Jackie is trying to find her way because it's (the break-up of her marriage) so unexpected of her. It's a little scary....but if you're an adult & you have children, you have no choice but to be equal to the situation'' and not let it get the best of you (Jet Magazine, 58). 

Having endured a difficult marriage and a somewhat messy divorce, Jackie is starting afresh, has moved into a new neighbourhood with her kids into a new home and landed a new job at one of the top law firms in Los Angeles, California. Here, I think what it pertains to is the fact that she wants to look forward in life and to have a successful career. Not just for herself, but she also wants the very best for her children, Tiffany and Austin. Therefore, Jackie works hard at work to provide for them, financially by having enough money to put food on the table but also emotionally, as their mother and a single parent and being there for them when they need her .

It can be a little unnerving at first, but once she settled in at her new home, over time, things got easier for herself, and her kids were happy as well.

Her situation is even more interesting; given that she is sharing her home with her male tenant, who sleeps in either the garage or the other bedroom. One would think that with a single woman living with a single man in the same house, it is suggested that the 2 people could later have a or end up in a relationship with each other.

As the show progresses, what was before a somewhat difficult and testing love/hate relationship between Jackie and Marion at first, develops into a friendship that says a lot about the characters' eventual tolerance and like for one another. Jackie coming to terms with her life- post Milton, and Marion coming to terms with his life- post his NFL days with the Oakland Raiders. With the former becoming more kinder and thoughtful than she was before and the latter's purpose in life going beyond sports and American Football.


Her work as a director  -  In 1997, Debbie worked on the Steven Spielberg movie, Amistad as co-producer. The film had an all-star cast of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Dijimon Hounsou and Matthew McConaughey. In Chicago Tribune, she mentioned how being a dancer, helped her prepare for Amistad (Wiltz, 1997), exclaiming that the number of rehearsals, classes and rejections she'd underwent, gave her that dogged, determined attitude to undertake this particular project.


Coming out of the world of dance, which is so physically and intellectually demanding and gruelling, the discipline of that art form really can translate into anything else (Allen, 1997). 

Interestingly, back in 1984, after spending $250 for the rights to 1950s Amistad novel, Black Mutiny, Debbie tried to convince Hollywood executives and producers to turn it into a major feature film. But nobody was interested.


'I came across hard core rejection. No one saw it as commercially viable (Allen, 1997)

They said that no one wanted to see a movie about slaves. Cinque wasn't a slave Debbie told them,- and still they said 'no'. She was so infuriated that she wanted to 'knock some people out' (Wiltz, 1997). 

It's funny that the Hollywood producers showed absolutely no interest whatsoever in Amistad during 1984 and turning this project into a reality - and yet when 1997 came along, through Steven Spielberg, they decided to say yes. It's quite remarkable.



Her career as of today

As of today, Debbie is still making appearances on screen - she is the guest judge on the Fox reality dance show, 'So You Think You Can Dance?' & has a recurring role as Dr Catherine Avery in the medical drama, 'Grey's Anatomy'. All this whilst also running her own dance academy. Therefore, she is hardly one of those celebrities, who was famous and relevant during a particular decade, only to fade into obscurity later on.

& just recently, she formed her own pop group named Kids Krewe with members as young as 10 up to 12 years of age and with that, they have released a new record. It is the first time in 23 years since the release of 'Special Look' that Debbie Allen is actively involved in the music scene.


The Construction of The Star's Image 

Professor of Film Studies Richard Dyer argues the star's image such as their appearance, the way they talk, how they talk, the way they come across on TV and on camera, is used to construct the character in a movie. He suggests 3 ways the star's image is constructed: selective use, perfect fit, problematic fit (Screenpedia):

Selective use - the process of revealing certain aspects of a star's image & concealing others through the use of lighting, costume, scripting, make-up, dialogue (Laughey). 2 examples of this is when Debbie wore wigs as Dr Langhourne in an episode of 'A Different World' and as a cougar in BET's 'Let's Stay Together'. This exemplifies the contrasting personalities of those characters. One was a therapist who gave advice to people with problems, in spite of the fact she was a bit loopy and well, nuts! The other was a man-hungry, wealthy woman.

Perfect fit - the star's image and character become indistinguishable; alas, the aspects of the star's/celebrity's image fits in with or bears a resemblance to the character that they play or have played. Debbie Allen runs her own dance academy in Los Angeles, California for people of all ages, and in the Fame TV series she was Lydia Grant, who was a dance instructor teaching at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. 

Problematic fit - the star and their character contradict each other. In some cases, especially when the TV series or movie has become a box office flop, as opposed to a smash hit, the problem is due to miscasting. But otherwise, the star and the character contradict each other abruptly (Yoon Park,13). I'd cite Dr Catherine Avery; she's a professional doctor, who has a thing for Dr Weber in Grey's Anatomy, even though he is a married man. Debbie, in real life, has been married to former L.A Lakers basketball player, Norm Nixon for over 30 years.

Another way of understanding stars and celebrities is thinking about how they interact with the public and their fan base. In the essay Mass Communication and Para Social Interaction, theorists Donald Horton & R. Richard Wohl discuss the idea of 'personale' and para-social interaction. Personale is when celebrities build up intimate, para-social relations with their audiences and fans. The personale (celebrity) provide a continuing relationship for their fans and that their characters remain unchanged, in a real world of otherwise distressing change. This allows people to turn to celebrities to escape from whatever problems they are having in their lives but that personale HAS to work hard to earn respect, affection (Laughey, Celebrity and Fandom).

An example of this is when Debbie Allen appears on TV, taking part in interviews, discussions about her career and work as an actress and dancer, as well as her views on the arts. She mingles with the presenters, has a laugh and jokes around, maybe showing off a dance move as well, and thus in doing so, she is inviting the viewer, audience and form relationships with people that she, herself, knows as fans and not as friends that she has worked and known them as, personally. 

When she is on Facebook and Twitter, it allows for reciprocity. Additionally, it is a form of Para-social interaction; henceforth, when she posts a message or talks to us online, we can, through social media and networking, reply back by sending her messages that she will read herself. 


'Para-social interactions and activities' are the connections, either face-to-face in person or online- people get from celebrities & other people (Curiosity.com). Communicating with a celebrity through Facebook and Twitter, is an example of Para-social activity. 

Dyer's work on film star emphasises 3 important aspects of the meaning of stars, that are relevant to analysing the construction and deconstruction of the celebrity:


1) Audience and Institutions - Audience and Institutions are 2 different concepts that both intertwine with each other: Institution refers to 'who' has created or produced the text (TV show, movie) whilst Audience is a term meaning the people who consume that text (Audience and Institutions). But audience is not just about people watching TV shows, movies. It's the demographic of that audience, the consumers that play an important role as well.

Henceforth, are the consumers of that media product Black, White, Asian? Male or Female? Are they heterosexual or homosexual? What are their ages? What nationality are they? Stars are key to audiences and institutions because a) for audiences, they can establish their own fan base and b) for institutions, success in their careers means large turnover in profits for studios, agents, as well as gain further recognition & respect.

The celebrity is the epitome of him/her for identification and idealisation in society. Star's purpose is to make money; be it through singing, acting, presenting or whatever. The institution, i.e, TV, movie, music industry or Hollywood modifies and molds the star's image around the target audience. Hence, pop stars are constructed and their image is aimed & marketed towards teenagers, young girls (De Freitas). Institutions operate in 3 ways: production (making the film/TV show, record), distribution (studio has a licensing agreement with the distribution company & they negotiate deals to sell the lease to buyers) and exhibition (how the product reaches the audience/consumer; TV, movie theaters, online, DVDs) (Clack).

Debbie Allen's audience is mostly Black, of African-American origin and female. She is an example of a person who is a) a woman and b) Black: 2 social groups in society that are considered socially 'disadvantaged' in terms of  working opportunities and educational success. She is someone, who has overcome difficulties in her life & of whom has broken down social and racial barriers to achieve fame, success and mutual respect. In return for her efforts as a celebrity and dancer, she has given back to the arts community by means of running her dance academy & giving children the same creative opportunities that she had as a young child and as a teenager. I would argue she is constructed and marketed to appeal to people of all ages, races, around the world & is constructed as living proof of 'the American Dream' of working hard to get to where you want to be in life, is always achievable. No matter what colour you are or where you are from. 


Her institutions are mainly Hollywood and The Debbie Allen Dance Academy.  

2) Constructions - Celebrity is not wholly determined by the culture industries (i.e Hollywood, TV networks, movie production companies) but rather it is created and constructed by the audiences reading of dominant cultural representations. As opposed to negotiated and oppositional readings in Stuart Hall's Encoding/Decoding model of media texts. Dominant reading entails accepting the proposed reading of the text. That the events that took place on screen are correct and in which s/he agrees with. A star created for audiences is not the actual person, rather they are formed with a signature or talent that makes them stand out from other celebrities, stars (De Freitas). Likewise, Michael Jackson's signature is his dancing.


Debbie's signature, on the other hand is much more multifaceted, because she is an actress, dancer, choreographer, director, writer and producer. But if I were to state what her main signature is, it would be dancing, as dancing was her first love and first real interest at 3 years old, before she turned to acting, singing, directing, producing, choreographing. 

3) Hegemony- Hegemony/Cultural Hegemony implies the social, cultural, ideological, economic influence, rules or ideas being exerted by the dominant group towards other social groups (Merriam-Webster, Wisegeek). Telling other groups how to behave, conduct themselves economically and politically. Take the music industry: they are the dominant group, who exert rules over artists telling them which songs to release as singles, how they should dress and look, what to say and what not to say in the press, interviews. This is considered 'hegemonic'. Debbie Allen's Hegemony is her mission statement that can be found on the Debbie Allen Dance Academy website. The mission statement reads: 

The Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA) is a non- profit organisation committed to expanding the reach of dance and theater arts for young people in the greater Los Angeles area, and the world, enriching, inspiring and transforming lives. 


The princicples of DADA are simple and clear: Arts education empowers and defines self-esteem, discipline, creativity, and self-confidence. This refers to character education, a by- product of training in the arts. These principles will become a part of each student, whether they pursue a professional career or not. This is for LIFE (Debbie Allen Dance Academy Mission Statement) 



The commodity


In business or economic terms, a commodity is a 'product that can be traded or exchanged' using money or oil'. So when you buy a product or item in a store, you then pay for it at the checkout using either money, debit card, credit card or another form of payment. In return for that payment, you receive or take away the product or item of value that you have paid for. 

In Marxism, the use- value of a commodity is to satisfy the human needs and wants and is conditioned by the physical properities of the commodity (10, R Young). Karl Marx 'believed the existence of a commodity is as a result of the transformation of a good's use value into exchange value'. By this, we mean when something of value- be it an item, celebrity, object has value attached to it, or exists to gain money, it uses that 'value' in order to make money, get paid. In the case of the celebrity, their value would be their talent. This value would be either their acting, singing, dancing or presenting skills. And this is used to sell records, DVDs  TV shows, movie and theatre tickets, merchandise. In turn, they make and bring in money for themselves and the industry. 

The celebrity is a commodity: Debbie Allen is not just a person, someone who entertains the public by acting and dancing - she is also a 'product' and as a product has economic, & I would add cultural capital, that is marketed to the public by the entertainment industry & exists to satisfy the wants and needs of that person or fan. By cultural capital, this refers to non-financial and economic assets that promote social mobility other than for economic reasons (Cultural Capital - Wikipedia). I would cite the Debbie Allen Dance Academy as another example of cultural capital. It is a non-profit organisation that is committed to expanding dance and performing arts opportunities for young people in Los Angeles and beyond. It promotes social mobility through dance, & using dance as a tool (alas, dance is a form of cultural capital) to help empower and enrich young people's lives. 

Debbie Allen the commodity, expresses a form of assigning a 'value' to the person & personality - i.e the consumer, fan, audience that is coherent of capitalism and consumer culture (David Marshall, 19). The celebrity, which was a commodity, expresses that value to us and for this, we purchase their DVDs, listen to their music, watch their TV shows, movies, follow them on social media. We relate to stars we look up to and are a fan of, because they have a feature or talent that we admire or we can relate to. This in turn becomes idolisation. Some people or fans may go on to aspire to become a dancer, singer or actor later on in life (De Freitas).

To a large degree, celebrities are given space and time for which the audience can see and hear them on TV, the theatre, cinema. Yet in addition, they are also present to our eyes and ears. This in part, explains our feelings when we come face to face with a celebrity, even if we see them on screen, and not just in person. We become adulated, ecstatic and elated all at the same time. We feel a sense of connection to them, even if that connection is not as an actor, performer; and hearing and seeing them speak, when they speak, the things they say that we agree with, it enforces our feelings, views, perception of him/her and that they are just as how we expected them to be.

During a 2012 CNN interview, Debbie mentioned there are 3 keys to greatness: discipline, creativity and dedication. Discipline is rising to the challenge. confronting the task, staying focused. When you have the task, you need to undergo it; creativity, ideas, think of things, connected to things about the world and people. Dedicationdedication as in family, friends dedicated and supportive of her decisions and actions. family embraces, supports her, understands who she is and understands what she does and why she does it. acts as a motivator (Debbie Allen's 3 Keys to Greatness, CNN).

I'd concur that my definition of these 3 terms are slightly different; discipline, for me, is discipline as in being mature-yet ready to undergo training for a particular skill or craft, or learning a particular skill or craft. If you are disciplined, it means not misbehaving, but also that you learn your skills or craft in a serious manner. You are focused and eager, so your skills reflect how important you take your work seriously, but also it demonstrates how much effort you put in; creativity is expressing your creative side. Creative means being practical in dance, music, art or whichever outlet. Creativity is channeling that creativeness, practicality into work. Therefore, if you take painting as a means of creativity, artistic expression and use painting- the art form- to paint the Mona Lisa, then that is channeling or utilizing the skill of art, painting to create the Mona Lisa. Dedication means self-commitment, being passionate and driven about what you do and turning that passion into something that you will be compelled to do in the long run. This means practicing and honing your skills to become better, and perhaps end up becoming an artist, dancer, actor, TV host or musician.

In a New York Times article in 1992, she remarked that she doesn't want people to see her as someone, who produces and directs African-American movies and TV shows for African- American audiences, but as someone that has contributed so much to the entertainment industry and arts world and in sharing her ideas, experiences with the wider community and the world.

Certainly my blackness has shaped my experience, my passion, my pain. But I'm an artist, and I would like to be looked at as an artist....I'm not a Black director directing Black people. I'm a director finding a story & telling it (Dunning, 1992). 

Her past experiences, struggles, hurdles she had to overcome as a Black woman attribute towards her own ideas, direction and angle of the work she undertakes as a director, producer and performer. Though one can understand why Debbie Allen doesn't want to be labelled as a Black director, who wants their work to by accepted and understood by the Black community only.

As an artist, you want your work to be seen by as many people as possible, - and by Blacks, Whites, Asians, gays, lesbians, different nationalities and ages. Everyone. 

When you are from a minority community or from a social group and trying to succeed and do well in a predominately male (heterosexual) and White profession such as the arts and media, it seems that it is implied you have to work TWICE as hard, not to just get noticed. But also, to earn respect from & appreciation by the masses and to be taken seriously as an artist or creative person. Yet this is how it is and how it works. Your work doesn't just attract the attentions of people of the same ethnicity as yourself, but every single person, every fan who isn't Black, African-American.


Summary: 

Through the study of Debbie Allen, we have learnt a number of things about her, particularly with regards to her racial identity but also how she turned her negative experiences into positives and still ending up as a famous star and celebrity. Her audience is mostly Black, of African-American origin and female and is a prime example of someone who hails from 2 demographics that are seen as being socially disadvantaged: a) women and b) Black - yet in spite of her gender and ethnicity, Debbie has overcome barriers that had prevented her social accessibility from things, such as work and education. This is exemplified by her own experience of rejection by the Houston Ballet as a teenager to study dance.

In conclusion Debbie Allen, is not just the real person, but Debbie Allen, the actress, choreographer, dancer, director, the role model.... and her achievements are socially constructed as proof of the so-called American Dream of working hard, in order to make your dreams come true. And in return through creating the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, she is and has literately given back to the community, in addition to kids in the United States and around the world, arts-related opportunities that were made available to her that she took advantage of, as a young girl. 


For that, we salute her. 





Fame via NBC, 1982


Credit: Dance Australia



Sources: 

  • Barry Mauer - Richard Dyer's Theory of Movie Stars, 2006
  • Dan Laughey - Media Studies: Theories and Approaches, 2010
  • Suzie De Freitas - Star Theory - Richard Dyer, 2013
  • Eoin Deveaux - Media Studies: Key Issues and Debates, 2007
  • Jae Yoon Park - Female Film Stars and Female Audiences in Post- Colonial Korea, 2008
  • Jane Stokes - How To Do Media and Cultural Studies, 2nd Edition, 2012
  • Jeffrery R. Young - An Investigation of Commodity Theory and its Application to Critical Media, 1997
  • Jennifer Dunning - Television: Debbie Allen Chips Away At The Glass Ceiling, NY Times, 1992 
  • Jeremy G. Butler ed - Star Texts: Image & Performance in Film and Television, 1991
  • Karina Wilson - Richard Dyer's Star Theory Applied to Pop Stars, 2000-2011
  • P. David Marshall - Celebrity & Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture, 1997
  • Paisley Livingstone, Carl Patinga ed. The Routledge Companion To Philosophy and Film
  • Richard Dyer - Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, 2013
  • Riley Brooks - The Cast of Fame, 2009
  • Robert Clack Media - Media AS: Institutions and Audiences, 2012
  • Teresa Waltz - Debbie Allen's 20- Year Voyage with Amistad, Chicago Tribune, Dec 7 1997
  • Concept of Star - Screenpedia.org
  • Debbie Allen Biography - Biography.com
  • Debbie Allen's 3 Keys to Greatness, 12 Feb 2012
  • Ebony Magazine, March 1983
  • Ebony Magazine, November 1989
  • Jet Magazine, April 24, 1995
  • What is Cultural Hegemony?- Wise Geek

Friday, 16 August 2013

8 Steps In Salvaging The Boomerang Channel



It's hard to believe but over the past 3, 4 years, the Boomerang Channel has gone downhill - fast, much like Cartoon Network. Which I find surprising but also disappointing. Disappointing, because rather than have a channel dedicated to nothing but cartoons and cartoons of the 60s-90s, they have included less classic cartoons in their schedules & more of the other shows, which either a) aren't cartoons, such as live-action programmes or b) are cartoons but have been on air since the early or mid-00s, which given as this is supposed to be a classic cartoons channel, is quite preposterous.

Unlike Cartoon Network, which has jumped the shark completely since the 2000s and has never been the same again, there is still time to rescue Boomerang, give it a makeover it truly deserves and a line-up that reflects the positive essence of what Boomerang as a network stands for, and that's quality classic cartoons and animation.

It made me think what I would do if I was president at Turner, or the person in charge of Boomerang. What things, ideas, would I introduce and implement, in order to make it a better channel.

Here is my 8 - point plan on fixing and perhaps saving the Boomerang Channel: 





1. Cartoons are for everybody - cartoons aren't just for kids, but for adults and adults, who used to be kids and who grew up on shows like The Flintstones, Top Cat, Jetsons, He-Man, Thundercats. This whole idea that just because kids today may not care for classic cartoons and that their audience who are now in their 30s -50s, have no interest in retro cartoons anymore, is just plain garbage because that is not true.

Okay so kids may not have a ounce of interest in Looney Tunes, Flintstones, Muppet Babies and so forth. Yet there are plenty of adults, who still do and who want to revisit their childhood and watch shows from the 80s, 90s, 50s, 60s, 70s. Grown- ups today are not young any more, but it's clearly a mistake to insinuate that every adult doesn't care for cartoons and never has a favourite cartoon from their childhood. And besides, not every adult is into South Park, The Cleveland Show, Bob's Burgers, The Simpsons and Family Guy. Adult-orientated cartoons, which are a completely separate thing.

So therefore, if it was down to me, I'd retool, remodel this whole channel around adults and have cartoons that people can remember fondly from their childhood. Because the current model is not working. They need to take some inspiration from Adult Swim. Or better still, it could be like a Cartoon equivalent to TCM - a channel that airs classic movies, which ironically enough is also owned by Turner broadcasting.

2. No current cartoons or cartoons from 2, 3 years showing on Boomerang. - Boomerang channel should not be airing cartoons from the past 5 or 6 years, rather from the 1930s - late 1990s. That's 7 decades. This is not what this station is supposed to be about. Boomerang is about retrospection, nostalgia, reminiscing on the good old days, not recent ones. Therefore, anything before 2000 and onwards, is considered retro or classic in my personal opinion. The inclusion of say Ben 10 is baffling and is not a show that should be on Boomerang, rather only CN.

3. More variation in shows - currently on Boomerang UK, it is mostly consisting of Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo. they have also Dexter's Lab, Flintstones, Wacky Races and Looney Tunes. That is it. US- wise, they have Tom & Jerry, Scooby Doo. Pretty much the same line-up as the UK Boomerang, apart from it has Teen Titans, Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, The Jetsons, Cow & Chicken and Popeye. The current line-up is not good enough, at all.

As it is a classic cartoons channel, it needs to include the old Disney animated series: Duck Tales, Talespin, Darkwing Duck, Mighty Ducks, Goof Troop to name and WB shows like Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, Freakazoid. and may I add the Filmation cartoons too like Fat Albert, Thundarr The Barberian, Bravestarr, He-Man, She-Ra & Rankin Bass's Thundercats, Silverhawks.

4. More cartoons, make it a 24 - hour station - hands up if you want a Boomerang channel that airs reruns of classic shows with fewer adverts and it runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year? I bet many of you would say yes to all that. Why 24 hours? Why not? In addition, given there have been so many cartoons released during the 1930s to late 1990s, it would be the perfect opportunity for Boomerang to go back to doing what they originally set out to do with this channel, when it launched in 2000.

Time Warner has the biggest library of animated shows -yet instead of expanding on and diversifying their programme line-up with it, they choose to show only a selected few of them, over and over again. If you continuously rely on that, people will get bored quickly and switch off.

So therefore, more cartoons equals more choice, more variety and more quality available improves the station's reputation.

I know some will think a 24- hour Boomerang channel can't work, but if you think about how many Hanna Barbera, Warner Bros Shows, MGM, Disney shows, including animated series and shorts there are in total, as well as Anime cartoons in English, super hero cartoons, Filmation, Rankin Bass, Nickelodeon there are from the 1930s onwards, that is literately a lot of cartoons.

Having a 24-hour retro cartoon channel is a good idea, because there will be nothing but cartoons around the clock.

Additionally, airing old cartoons is not that big of a deal, and shouldn't be. The idea that nostalgic shows only have a limited shelf life, isn't entirely true. Cartoons are timeless. It doesn't matter if they are 60, 80 years old, these shows make us smile and have fun. Whereas Cartoon Network has gotten progressively worse due to the diminishing quality of the shows, Boomerang's problem is not so much the shows themselves, but the network/channel's scheduling of those cartoons. They air the same cartoons practically over and over every day, and very often, they don't bring back cartoons that haven't been shown in years.




5. More and more Boomerang blocks - Ideas I have include:

Revamping Boomeraction - Ben 10? No, that is too recent of a show to belong on Boomerang. Keep the name Bommeraction and keep Thundarr the Barberian, SWAT Kats, The Pirates of Dark Water, Jonny Quest, and add He-Man, Thundercats, She-Ra, Bravestarr, X-MEN: The Animated Series, Super Friends, C.O.Ps, Silverhawks, Pole Position, Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Justice League of America, Batman & Robin and other Action cartoons.

Boomerang viewers choice 1 hour block - the concept behind this is that on weekends, viewers are given 3 choices as to which cartoon they'd like to see from the choices available for an hour. For instance, He-Man, Thundercats, She-Ra. Viewers have 1 hour to vote on which show they want to see. And instead of phoning up & wasting valuable mins of your money, each show has a number 1, 2 or 3 allocated. These choices will run at the bottom of the screen on the show you are watching, so you'll have time to cast your vote. You click on the number corresponding to that cartoon using your digital TV remote and it automatically registers your vote. The show with the most votes wins and gets shown during the next hour of the schedule. So say the voting begins at 1pm, by 2pm, the winning cartoon is on air.

Boomergaming Block - Boomergaming is a block that airs from 9am - 12am throughout on either a Saturday or Sunday, consisting of selected episodes from animated cartoons based on popular video games. From The Super Mario Bros Super Show and Captain N to F-Zero GP, Sonic The Hedgehog, Pokemon, Inazuma Eleven, Kirby Right Back At' Cha, Legend of Zelda & Mega Man to name. The episodes will be shown randomly and in no particular order.

The Hanna Barbera Block - dedicated to cartoons produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera

The Superchunk Block - The Superchunk Block was a regular stable during the early days of Cartoon Network in the 1990s. A weekend mini - marathon of shows featuring or dedicated to a particular cartoon character, it has since been put on hiatus as of July 2013. I would bring this back.

The Warner Bros Block & Disney Block - similar to Hanna Barbera

The Boomerang Theater/Cinema - airs animated movies based on cartoons

The Anime Block - I know most of these are shown on CN, G4 and Adult Swim, as well as some dedicated Anime channels, but the Anime Block will have more family- orientated shows like Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Doraemon and all are in English.

The Superheroes Block - airs cartoons based on Comic book superheroes from the Marvel & DC universes, as well as WildC.A.T.S and Ultraforce.


6. Boomerang channel becomes a Free-to-Watch, subscription - free channel - that's right, a commercial broadcaster, as opposed to being made available only to Cable viewers. This is probably one of the reasons why Boomerang is not attracting more viewers, besides the current line-up, which leaves a lot to be desired. The channel is only available on Cable TV in the US through Comcast and CableOne and on Sky TV, Talktalk Plus TV, as well as Virgin Media as a pay TV/subscription channel. Meaning unlike some of the lesser known free kids channels, you have to pay to get Boomerang. Which is rather a bad move in itself. I do not care for Pop, Kix, Tiny Pop. Boomerang should be made free- to- access. I'd personally make Boomerang a free-to-watch channel for everyone, irrespective of what digital TV package you have: Sky, Virgin, Free Sat, Free View, Free-To-Air in the UK, Cable or no-Cable. And anyhow, not all households in the United States has Cable TV. That way, people can enjoy watching classics for virtually nothing.

As long as you have a digital set- top box that receives multi-channels, even if all the channels are free-to-watch, then that should be good enough.

7. Rotate and change the schedules and line-up, every 6 months - that way it feels fresh and not bland. It'll keep viewers tuning in continuously as well.

8. Having fewer ads or commercials - let's face it, most adverts on TV are not only annoying, but they interrupt our viewing of the show we watch. Boomerang Channel itself does not rely on or base the success of their shows on Nielson ratings. & neither does it make money through showing adverts or product placements. From what I've read, the only source of financial income that they do make, is through subscription fees,. I.E Cable broadcasting, but I would change this rule slightly. So therefore, because I decided to make it a free-to-air, subscription-free, I'd have fewer adverts, say 1 -3 with most of these related to toys, video games.

As well as having Cable and commercial broadcasters pay a fee to Time Warner/ Boomerang for them to run and air the shows.



Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Room 101: My Choices


What is Room 101? 

Room 101 is a TV programme on the BBC in the UK, where celebrities take part and share their pet hates with the host and audience & through persuasion offer reasons as to why they should be consigned into Room 101 (Hence the title).

Its previous hosts were Nick Hancock (1994- 1997) and Paul Merton (1999- 2007). The show recently made a comeback but this time on BBC One with new presenter, comedian Frank Skinner. Since 2012, Room 101 underwent a bit of a revamp by having 3 celebrity guests on the show, instead of 1. In addition, there were different rounds with different categories, as opposed to selecting whatever you wanted. So therefore, if the theme was 'Holidays', s/he has to pick something that represents that category that they loathe or can't stand. There was also a 'wildcard' round, where s/he can choose/nominate whatever they wanted.

Examples of items, things & people that celebrities have mentioned during the series include: maths teachers, U2 singer Bono, Elvis, QVC, rats, slugs, Okra and mobile/cell phones to name but many. 


My choices:

(Goodness, This was hard!) 




*Image from BBC news - at least this one is clean

Public Toilets/Restrooms - Dirty, filthy, disgusting. Yet many of these are around in the U.K, particularly in central London. I try to avoid using them, unless it gets to a point where I have to go as an emergency. Loo paper on the floor, toilets that are left un -flushed with urine and faeces. I even went into a toilet and there was urine around it and it smelled nasty. Urgh. It's just as disgusting that people don't flush the toilets after using them. You would never do that in your own home, so why do it in public? Total lack of courtesy and it shows a disregard to other people, who use the toilets really. One should always flush after taking a crap.


Chinese Buffets - Chinese buffets are at the lower-tier end for Chinese food. I love Chinese food - and I'm not saying this as I am Chinese, Asian. The food they serve and prepare is not Chinese or Hong Kong Chinese cuisine, it is more Westernised Chinese food that is pre-cooked, processed, contains MSG and is then reheated. It's like the Asian food equivalent of Mcdonalds. The vegetables or the use of vegetables is either as a side dish or mixed in with some Sweet and Sour sauce. The main problem I have with them is rather than it is Chinese food, it is not authentic Chinese food.

I'm not saying people should eat frogs legs, dogs or whatever live animal comes to mind, but truly, if you want to order Chinese food, then go to a restaurant or place, ideally in Chinatown that serves good quality, authentic Chinese cuisine. Sure it's more expensive, but it's worth it.

I once had a meal at a Chinese buffet in Central London - the food wasn't too my taste. It was salty, too sweet & made me feel bloated. I'd prefer ordering Chinese food from Chinatown that wasn't from a buffet, but a dish of say seafood fried noodles (Chow Mein), or rice with braised Chicken, Chinese Mushrooms. That's more my type of Chinese cuisine.

Charities, organisations asking for money for African countries to end poverty such as Red Nose Day- Poverty ends through education, awareness, common sense, not money. It really gets to me how they assume that money is the answer to all their problems. It is NOT. There are other ways to eliminate, eradicate poverty. Over the years, over £200 million has been raised through Red Nose Day Comic Relief, since its inception during the early 1980s. And still, to this day, there are people still homeless, with little food and water, dying of Aids and other preventable diseases.Why? Because even though we have donated all this money, nothing has changed, their situation has not improved for the better. 

We, in the West, have plenty of money - probably not as much as China, but a reasonable amount and though we have our share of homeless people, the situation is not as dire as it is in Africa. For many of us, money is not the be-all, end- all solution, money doesn't bring happiness. Happiness comes from within yourself, the experiences and situations you have and the people you surround yourself with.

It is really sad that people mention money, being the heart of the solution. Sure, it helps organisations and people get by, but if you have money yet don't put it into good use or you just throw it away by not having it end up in the right places, then you have a problem. Which is why many non-western countries have dictatorships and or are still living below the poverty line.

Charities really need to address their line of support towards Africa and other disadvantaged communities and countries, because quite frankly, money is just not it. & speaking of which, I'd also include those operating on the streets such as Chuggers.



Nintendo trolls - These people have no respect for a company that has done a lot for video games. Some have said they grew up with them when they were younger, and when Nintendo released the Wii, they stopped being a Nintendo fan. Well, if that is your reason for not liking Nintendo anymore, then I don't give a toss, because there are plenty of fans that still do. You may not like Nintendo or the decisions they choose to make, but to hate them, to hate a company that has saved an industry that was about to collapse, to hate a company that tries to bring joy to millions of people and children, happiness and innovation through video games, is horrible.

And analysts such as Michael Pachter, who don't even work in the video games industry, thinking they know everything about video games and dissing Nintendo as he has done, are some of the biggest trolls & who has proven to be wrong countless times.


People who draw Manga, Anime - yet make fun of people who do realism - Anime, Manga, as an art form I have my own views on this, but that does not mean that people should stop drawing Manga. If you want to draw Manga, fine. However, for Anime artists, especially the young ones, who bash, attack people who choose to do a different form of art, and calling it 'boring', 'crap' or lame, it is insulting to the person. Just because they want to develop their art skills for the better and become better at drawing, you think they should be mocked for that? Please. 

I enjoy watching Anime cartoons as such, but the art form is becoming of something that is losing its credibility and people are latching onto it, for the sake of proving they are indeed an artist and that they possess skills that is of a high level of that of the realism artist. But drawing a simple looking face is going to take less than 5, 10 mins. Art takes time and a lot of effort, and unfortunately, a lot of Anime is not that.

But the amount of snobbery towards realism by young Anime artists these days is horrendous, & demonstrates how ignorant they are of art and design.



Phone networks, who advertise unlimited texts & internet for phones but impose data limits  - You have unlimited texts and internet and can use your phone as much as you want. but when you hit a limit, the company either cuts off your internet or charges you extra. That to me is ridiculous. It's like you're giving with one hand and taking it away with the other. And the term 'unlimited' is misleading and should therefore, be removed.


Reality TV - In America, it has killed the U.S sitcom genre, as well as that quality cartoons for children are not made any more, because Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel are mostly showing either live-action or reality shows. Black sitcoms have ceased to exist on the major networks these days. It is partly because of reality TV that there is virtually no variety in TV programming any more. Reality TV has taken over, alongside dramas that the fun and enjoyment has been eroded.

Star Studies: Debbie Allen, Part 1



By Waiching Liu 

Stars, celebrities, famous people, whatever you decide to call them, they are bombarded everywhere. On TV, in movies, on the radio, print media and social media. From pop stars to TV and movie actors and actresses, from Eddie Murphy to Drake, from Dame Helen Mirren, Robert Pattinson to Vanessa Williams and Oprah Winfrey, they have a talent or skill to share with the rest of the world. And with that talent & skill, it is used to make money profit, not just for themselves but for their agents, managers, record labels, TV stations etc.


All we know of stars is what we see and hear before us. Yet the whole media construction of stars encourages us to think in terms of 'really' - what is Brad Pitt really like? which moment during their career discloses him as the person as he is? The phenomenon of stars and celebrities consists of everything publicly available to us. A film/TV star, celebrity's image is not just their movies, TV shows, but their interviews and coverage on TV, the press. Furthermore, a star's image is what people say or write about him/her, the way the image they convey or project is used in other media contexts such as adverts, books, magazines, records (Dyer, 1934).

Therefore, 'A star is an image - not a real person that is constructed (as any other aspect of fiction is) out of a range of materials (eg advertising, magazines etc, as well as films (music)' (Media Knowall: Popular Music).

The 'star' is not definitive of what s/he is; rather it is the media or Hollywood's own conception or idea of what s/he is, based on what have said in interviews for print and screen media. The Tom Cruise, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson as people you read and see in magazines, movies, is not what is relevant in the study and analysis of the 'star'. However, the work and filmography of Tom Cruise, Kate Winslet and Samuel L. Jackson AND using and associating it to help decipher and deconstruct their national, gender and cultural identities, is relevant. 

About Star Studies: 


Star Study/Studies includes the discussion of performances that comprise the main work of the person involved. It is not concerned with the real Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Scarlett Johansson - rather it involves deciphering, analysing the image of those actors as salable commodities (Stokes, 163). 

Sometimes, when you read their filmography and the list of movies, TV shows they have starred and appeared in, often you sense a pattern or connection, & how the roles they play, might explain who they are as individuals, and that is partly what the study of stars mainly entails.


For Ellis, a star is both a) a normal and ordinary person, who is present to the fan's own world, which is one of glamour and b) someone, who exists in a separate realm and live their own lives, away from the dangers, risks, problems posed by being in the public eye, such as getting death threats, abuse, criticism and being mocked for who they are or their efforts (Butler et al, 301).

In the book, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, Dyer once said:
Stars represent typical ways of behaving, feeling and thinking in contemporary society, ways that have been socially, culturally, historically constructed (David Marshall, 17). 
How they behave, what they say and do in public and through their performances, interviews, promotions of their texts, are all as a result of social, cultural, historical constructs. It is through media like TV, movies, press that their image and persona is displayed through society, media's own idealisation of that particular star or celebrity.

He concludes that :

Stars are also an embodiment of the social categories in which people are placed and through which they have to make sense of their lives, and indeed through which we make our lives -categories of class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and so on (David Marshall, 17).

In other words, the audience, as in us, is constantly seeking for the star persona that is real and authentic. Stars exist, they are here, but the media's version of that actor/actress make us think there is more to it than that. We ask questions like 'what is Nicole Kidman really like? Is Bill Cosby similar in many respects to Cliff Huxtable?'. The types of questions interviewees and media reporters ask the stars themselves on TV and for magazines and during interviews. For Dyer, the star is the representation of the potential of the individual.

Devereaux states that the star is not just the cultural texts produced by the star (by cultural texts, we mean the TV shows, movies they star and appear in), but his/her personal life is examined as well (Deveraux, 336). Where and when they were born, their upbringing, family, their career. These are all raised and discussed in star studies.

Star studies is the study of a star persona which may be advanced through texts in which the star features or extra -textual discourses, such as fan sites, TV chat shows or magazine interviews, features (Stokes, pg 120).

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