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Disney Plus

Disney Plus Adds Warning To Classic Films For “Outdated Cultural Depictions”

Disney has finally launched their much anticipated streaming service Disney Plus this week. The service includes a multitude of Disney originals, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic specials. Additionally, Disney is launching the service with a bunch of exclusive content such as a live action remake of “Lady And The Tramp,” a “High School Musical” TV Series, a reboot of beloved Disney Channel original “Lizzie McGuire”, and so much more. Along with all of these reboots, many classic Disney films from the 20th Century are also available, and with that comes some outdated references and allusions. 

Disney has placed a warning at the beginning of a lot of their classic animated features, giving the audience a heads up that many of the references within the films are outdated, offensive, and play off archaic stereotypes that, at the time, weren’t viewed as harshly as it would be today. Movies such as “Dumbo” (1941), the original “Lady and the Tramp” (1955), and “The Jungle Book (1967), are just a few examples of the films that contain the warning at the end of their descriptions. It’s a cautionary measure so Disney can ensure fans that they no longer agree with the portrayals, however, in true Disney fashion they wanted to upload the movies in their original and classic form to stay authentic. 

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“This program is presented as originally created, it may contain outdated cultural depictions,” the warning at the end of each description reads, according to IGN

The biggest concern from Disney is in regard to offensive racial depictions, as there are quite a few instances in old Disney movies where the characters either act, or perform musical numbers as hyper-exaggerated stereotypes of certain cultures. For example, in the movie “Dumbo” there are two crow characters, one of which is literally named Jim Crow, that speak in heavily stereotypical African accents, despite being voiced by white actors. Beyond that, “The Jungle Book” also contains similar African stereotypes within all of the monkey characters, which also is offensive in itself. “Lady and the Tramp” features the widely recognized “We Are Siamese” song performed in the movie by a group of Siamese Cats all singing in stereotypical Asian accents and animated with large buck teeth, need I say more?

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Disney has been a lot more careful in the newer films they’ve made within the past decades, however, the original films still hold a strong cultural value to many, so the warnings stand. It’s difficult to make the argument that these aspects of the film should simply be removed, when there’s multiple instances that these characters, songs, and scenes are crucial to certain plot points in the movies, and the removal of them would make the films confusing. Many are criticizing that the warning is too short and not apparent enough, however, it is on the viewer to know and understand how outdated some of these films really are. Dumbo was made in the 1940’s, which was before the Civil Rights Movement, it’s absolutely not an excuse for the stereotyping and offensive depictions within the film, but it does allow for some context. 

Disney is also known for their many remakes of their classic animated films, all of which don’t contain any of the old stereotypes or characterizations as their original predecessors. In the live action “Dumbo” released this year, the crows aren’t even present. In the live action “Lady and the Tramp” now streaming on the platform, the Siamese cats are replaced with another animal duo that perform a completely different song, this time without the racial stereotypes. 

Disney Plus has now launched and is available for $6.99 a month, or if you are a member of Verizon, you are eligible for a full year of streaming, completely free.

Doctor with Patient

Researchers Argue Sex and Gender Analysis Improves Science

It has long been understood in scientific circles that unconscious biases, particularly those relating to sex and gender, can have a negative impact on the objectivity of scientific findings. While the goal of science is to discover the truth in as objective a manner as possible, scientists are prone to the same unintentional, biased assumptions as anyone else, and the quality of scientific work can be affected. For instance, the appropriate dosage for a medicine may be devised with the assumption that the patient is male, leading to suboptimal dosage recommendations for women. As another example, safety equipment too can be designed with the physical concerns of men in mind, negatively affecting women who use the equipment. And as machine learning technologies advance, engineers are realizing that machine learning programs are capable of picking up on human beings’ unconscious biases and replicating them, perpetuating the problem.

In light of these realizations, much conversation has taken place regarding how best to correct for sex and gender bias in science. This concept is explored in an article posted in Nature entitled “Sex and gender analysis improves science and engineering.” The article’s authors argue that taking sex and gender into consideration while conducting science not only benefits less-advantaged individuals by recognizing the institutional challenges they face, but also improves the quality of science itself, as unconscious biases are identified and corrected. This approach, the authors claim, benefits multiple scientific fields, including medicine, artificial intelligence, and even climatology. 

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While many consider the terms synonyms, the researchers explain the difference between sex and gender, defining the former as including mainly biological attributes, whereas they define the latter as “psychological, social and cultural factors that shape attitudes, behaviours, stereotypes, technologies, and knowledge.” This distinction is important because sex and gender interact in complex ways; for instance, there exist physiological differences relating to the experience of pain between the sexes, and gender impacts how patients communicate pain with doctors and researchers. The researchers point out several improvements which have been made in this area over the past several decades; for instance, crash test dummies were originally based on a male physique, but now represent more diverse body shapes, allowing engineers to design vehicles that are safe for a larger number of people. However, they also point out areas for future improvement. 

As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that it doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

In their paper, the scientists focus on the surprising and complicated ways sex and gender manifest across a variety of disciplines, with the most focus placed on marine science, biomedicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The authors discuss how sex impacts science even in non-humans, as male and female marine life react differently to the effects of changing ocean temperatures, an observation which has generated insights about more accurately modelling the effects of climate change. In human beings, sex differences account for disparities in responses to various medicines, such as vasopressin and cancer immunotherapy, for biological reasons including differences in amounts of testosterone and estrogen and overall body composition.

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Perhaps more surprisingly, artificial intelligence is a field in which unconscious biases can make their way into technologies, unintentionally perpetuating cultural biases and stereotypes. For instance, advertising algorithms are more likely to automatically serve ads for high-paying jobs to men than to women, and automatic image captioning algorithms tend to misidentify pictures of men in kitchens as women. As advanced technology continues to influence society, ensuring that artificial intelligence doesn’t perpetuate harmful stereotypes takes on additional importance.

The authors conclude by proposing solutions to many of the problems with sex and gender biases in science they identify. One suggestion is to foster greater interactions between the scientific community and the humanities, including social scientists. Allowing for interdepartmental conversations in this way helps scientists to learn about how biases emerge and affect human reasoning, and can incorporate this knowledge into their work. Additionally, the researchers advocate for greater transparency in scientists’ reporting by including variables relating to sex and gender in their data analyses. 

Stereotypes

Andrew Yang Draws Controversy for his Handling of Asian Stereotypes

A number of people may have the unwarranted impression that positive stereotypes about a minority community can be beneficial to that community, as they think that portraying an entire group of people in a positive, if narrow, light can help that community to succeed. However, this impression is far from the truth, as even stereotypes of communities as being hard-working and intelligent can lead to negative consequences not just for members of the community in question, but for other communities to which so-called “model minorities” can be compared. Though it may not be obvious to people not well-educated about the history of racism in the United States, positive minority stereotypes have long been used as a tool to disenfranchise and alienate minority races in a number of ways.

The question of how positive stereotypes can cause offense and harm has been brought to the forefront recently as a result of democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s casual invocation of Asian stereotypes on the campaign trail. One of Yang’s catchphrases, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” invokes a well-worn Asian stereotype, and during the third Democratic debate he quipped “I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.” While supporters of Yang and Yang himself view these comments about his race as playful in-group references, others have seen these remarks as inappropriate and demonstrating ignorance of the harm Asian stereotypes have caused historically.

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Yang has also drawn controversy lately for his reaction to being referred to with a racist slur by comedian and former SNL writer Shane Gillis who on a podcast called Yang a “Jew c—-k.” Gillis was fired for this and other racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks, prompting Yang to comment that while he found the insult hurtful, he did not think Gillis should lose his job and invited Gillis to have a conversation with him about the controversy, which Gillis accepted. Yang further commented that he had experienced a lot of anti-Asian sentiment over the course of his life and felt that discrimination against Asians was not taken as seriously as discrimination against other groups in America, but that in 2019 people have grown excessively sensitive about issues of race in some circumstances. Gillis did not apologize for this and other remarks, instead arguing that it is his job as a comedian to push boundaries, but commented that he respected NBC’s decision to remove him from the cast of SNL.

While Yang has fared better than other presidential contenders when it comes to discussing the issue of race, his repeated invocations of his own race on the campaign trail may come back to haunt him as the primary progresses.

Despite Yang’s willingness to open up a dialogue with Gillis about race, the candidate has drawn criticism for how we went about handling the controversy. Li Zhou, for instance, thinks that Yang’s frequent references to math and other stereotypical aspects of his Asian identity “[set] the tone for how many people may see Asian Americans and [perpetuate] a damaging caricature in the process.” Zhou points out that while stereotypes of Asian Americans tend to focus on intelligence and propensity for success in professional and academic environments, these characterizations have caused harm not only for Asian Americans but for other communities as well. According to Zhou, these stereotypes obscure diversity in the community, leading people to believe that all Asians have the same talents and interests, and Yang’s use of them panders to a white electorate which may be inclined to racist judgments. 

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Zhou also alludes to the history of the immigration of Asians to America and how their integration into American life led to the development of harmful stereotypes. In a 1966 op-ed piece published in the New York Times, sociologist William Petersen hailed Japanese-Americans as being the “model minority,” arguing that despite being the object of discrimination, this group of people has achieved a great degree of success relative to other “problem minorities,” a thinly-veiled attack on African Americans. This analysis, Zhou points out, fails to take into consideration the structural racism experienced by black people throughout American history as well as the fact that there were strict restrictions on immigrants from Asia to the United States, as only immigrants with a certain degree of educational or professional achievement were allowed to enter. The myth of the model minority, Zhou argues, is used to pit minorities against each other and further disenfranchise the individuals affected most by racism.

Yang’s comparison of society’s treatment of racist slurs targeting Asians versus those targeting other minorities also ignited criticism, as Yang observed that slurs like the n-word are treated more seriously than those against people like him. For this comment, Yang was accused of taking advantage of racism against black people for his own political ends and unfairly comparing the type of racism he experiences to the type of racism others experience, falsely implying an equivalency. While Yang has fared better than other presidential contenders when it comes to discussing the issue of race, his repeated invocations of his own race on the campaign trail may come back to haunt him as the primary progresses.