Saturday, August 1, 2015

7 things every self-respecting Latina should own*


* if she is over 50, a speculative fiction writer, the bilingual editor of AL DÍA News, and if Supercompressor's original post shows up on her twitter timeline on a lazy Saturday morning.

I am a sucker for beautifully styled photos with tyrannical (and status-y) lists of items and their rationales appended. Like this one:


Yeah, I'm not even the intended audience and I clicked on it and read the damn thing. It's like the writer's (or the online magazine's) id in a flash.

And I decided (since it was a lazy Saturday morning, like I already mentioned) to replicate it ... sort of. Kind of. Mostly. So here goes — my instant gratification photo components, in imitation of Supercompressor's.

The change-it up accessory 

Supercompressor's bow-tie (upper right) has nothing on the scarf I picked for my photo. Now, I could tell you this is on my indispensable list because pink is a good color for aging skin (that's what the fashion mavens say, and who am I to dispute their wisdom?), or because it distracts from my turkey wattle neck (don't tell me if it doesn't) ... but really it is because I wear a lot of black clothing and this adds a shock of color and also doubles as a shawl in hyper air-conditioned office buildings in the summer. Here I am wearing the scarf when the totally awesome Las Cafeteras came to visit AL DÍA News Media and gave us an impromtu performance



The kicks


Loafers? Not a chance. But you can never have too many boots, preferably cowboy boots. They're comfortable; they readily dress up or dress down; come in versions from flashy to basic, and they wear like iron.
I don't wear any other footwear. Really.


Really, really.

I am not alone in my appreciation of the western boot. Latina writers Ezzy Languzzi and Lorraine C. Ladish rock them too. Consignment shops and places like Buffalo Exchange make it possible to buy a whole wardrobe of them without having to offer your first-born in trade.

The sauce


In Supercompressor's world every well-appointed desk has an unopened bottle of scotch in the drawer, for "spontaneous celebration, or rapid consolation." In my world every well-appointed desk has a bottle of hot sauce for celebration and consolation too. 

The multi-purpose tool

If you actually go to the Supercompressor piece you'll see that the headline obscures a pocket knife. It is much cooler looking than my little Swiss Army knife — but I bet it doesn't have the hidden tweezers you scramble for when you spot one of those after-you-turn-50-crazy-hairs waving at you. 


The jewelry


They go old-school proposing a mechanical watch. I go old-school proposing some really big earrings. I get old-school bonus points for singling out the pair that references pre-Colombian huacas. Double old-school bonus points because my mother wore them before me. 

The books


Even where the two posts coincide, they don't really. Supercompressor suggests that not having books in your home is kind of creepy, I say it is inconceivable. Supercompressor recommends a moleskine for those thoughts not worthy of blogging, I say get yourself over to Katie's Paperie if you like beautifully bound blank books, but no matter what the surface looks like, write whatever the hell you want on it ... maybe particularly your next blog post or your first novel. 
Ink — my novel of immigration-based, near-future dystopia — was written variously in spiral bound notebooks, on a desktop computer, on a laptop, in bound blank books and on scraps of paper. 
The important thing is to write. 
And to read. 
I'm starting on Americanah next — a story about an African immigrant couple who unwillingly split, one living in the U.S., the other in London — but there are hundreds of equally intriguing choices. Here's a summer reading list I wrote showcasing Latino writers, and another focused on Young Adult offerings. Almost every media organization worth its salt has published a summer reading list, and honestly, there is something for every taste out there. Just get reading already.

The essential


In their photo: a hammer. In mine: a small-batch original perfume from Mountain Spring Herbals, crafted from a proprietary blend of scents in a jojoba oil and beeswax solid. Because really, who doesn't love a scent you can't spill? ;) 


The plant

I can't tell what the tidy little plant in the professional photo is, but mine is one of multiple aloes I own. The plant's mucilage is great for burns, but mostly I love my aloes because they're generous and unruly and grow like crazy, even in my kitchen window during bleak northeastern winters.

• • •

Okay, now show me your id in a flash. Post a photo of the things you would put on your "should own" list in the comments below. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reporting on diverse communities that are not our own


This tip sheet was prepared to accompany a panel presentation at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in Philadelphia, 2015.


Coverage

Advantages of multilingual, multicultural newsrooms

According to stats released by ASNE: for the past number of years only 13 percent of journalists in newsrooms across the nation are journos of color. The demographic composition of the majority of newsrooms doesn’t reflect the city or town they propose to cover, no less the nation. 
In Philadelphia, for example, by 2010 Census categories: 44 percent of the population is Black; 36 percent is white; 13 percent is Latino; 7 percent is Asian and Pacific Islander; 0.8 percent is American Indian and Alaska Native.12 percent is foreign-born, 21 percent speak a second language at home.
None of our newsrooms represent those percentages. 
At the moment, at AL DÍA, 63 percent of our staff is Latino; 26 percent white; 11 percent Black; and 0 percent are Asian and Native American. 47 percent of us are foreign-born; 84 percent of our staff is bilingual (the languages we speak are English, Spanish, Arabic, French).
Because of our relative demographic diversity we do pretty well covering stories across most of Philadelphia; because of our demographic shortcomings we’ve become very proactive about collaborating with our colleagues from community and ethnic media to ensure that our coverage isn’t plagued by erasure or flattening, and to enable us to interview in more languages than we speak.
An example of this was a collaboration between AL DÍA reporter Ana Gamboa and Metro Chinese Weekly editor Steve Yuan, focused on Chinese restaurant owners who hire Latino kitchen workers. Interviews were conducted in Cantonese and Spanish. Steve brought years of experience in covering the Chinese business community, Ana brought years of experience covering Mexican and Central American immigrants. Both brought a very nuanced understanding of what otherwise would generically be labeled Asian and Latino in our city, and were well-versed in specific distinctions in language, regional custom and more — all of which contributed to a story that could not have been written by either media organization alone. The resulting story was published on both websites in English and Spanish and English and Chinese, and published in print in Spanish and Chinese.
Protip: Hire bilingual or polyglot reporters, and reporters from the communities your media organization should be covering better. In the interim or in addition, work collaboratively with the ethnic media in ways that will inform and engage both readerships and benefit both media organizations.

Collegial collaboration 

Beware of thinking that just having work translated — or engaging a translator for interviews for a particular story —is enough. We’d like to assume that cultural literacy and an understanding of the history and complexity of the particular community being covered would be part of any translator’s bag of tricks, but it’s not necessarily so. Particularly if it is an academic translator who lives outside of the community and has little awareness of the dynamics of the community. Collaboration with an ethnic news organization that has a history of covering the community is a far better move. 
Collegiality is one of the sticking points in the relationship between mainstream media and ethnic media. We are often asked by our mainstream colleagues to share our sources, or to be sources, or to function as translators for what will be a single-byline, single-media organization story. 
Worse, our own investigative work of years is ruthlessly mined, without credit or even so much as a cursory hat tip to the reporter or media organization involved. Because ethnic media is, consciously or unconsciously, not viewed by mainstream media as a peer. 
An example of this happened for us a few years ago when we conducted an hour-long video conversation with then Governor Tom Corbett. We always ask public officials about the number of Latinos on their administrations, and Corbett responded that he couldn’t find any Latinos for his staff. We immediately put that segment of the interview on our website and someone at Think Progress found it. They used the video in a piece that pointed out Corbett’s cluelessness and his erasure of the growing Latino population of PA — which was fair. But despite the fact that Corbett and I (who conducted the interview) were seated in front of an AL DÍA News Media drop, the only mention of us in the Think Progress piece was to say that the video clip was part of a longer interview conducted by “a Spanish-language newspaper in Philadelphia.” Can you imagine the parallel attribution of “an English-language newspaper in Philadelphia” if the video had been pulled off the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News or even Philadelphia Magazine’s website? I can’t.
By the next day, Salon, Huffington Post, and a dozen other news media organizations had picked up Think Progress’ story and replicated the lack of attribution and lack of link. While Think Progress did — after prodding — change “a Spanish-language newspaper” to AL DÍA News Media and inserted a link, I’ll never forget the conversation I had with one of their editors. He told me I shouldn’t be annoyed by the lack of attribution but glad that they picked up the video since it garnered far more attention than we would have gotten otherwise. I had to point out that the very reason they picked it up is that no other news organization had, at that point, bothered to ask the governor about his Latino hires, and that their lack of attribution betrayed a fundamental disrespect for us as a journalistic entity, representing a parallel to Corbett’s erasure of Latinos —  which was, after all, what they were decrying and ridiculing.
Pro-tip: Attribute. With at least the same level of respect accorded to mainstream news organizations. Treat ethnic media journalists as your peers — because they are. If some ethnic media organization’s investigation prompted yours, a hat tip is in order. Don’t anticipate silence on our part when we see what you did — because, hey, we can call you out in at least two languages.


Let’s talk about writing and editing

Code words, stereotypes and the political choice to break style

Protip: Language matters.
It will come as no surprise to any of you that AL DÍA doesn’t use the terms “illegal immigrant” or “illegal alien” which we believe are — at best — a wholly inaccurate representation of people who are out of status in our nation, and — at worse — an intentional criminalization and way to slur Latinos and Asians, regardless of documentation status. 
In 2013, AP changed its stylebook, and many news organizations changed usage with it. But not only are we now seeing a resurgence in the use of these terms by big media organizations, but there have always been organizations  and individual journalists who choose to use these terms. Sometimes, the editors or copyeditors at an otherwise AP-style news organizations are, by inattention or intention, complicit in this choice. 
We don’t have nearly enough time to argue the rationale behind the use of these terms, but many defend them as a description of an actual aspect of a group of people, and therefore not a slur. We don’t see it that way. For example, it is true that some people who speak English with a Spanish accent pronounce the word “speak” as “spic”. So that slur could be defended as a description of an actual aspect of a group of people. But of course we know it is not. 
In dealing with any ethnic community ignoring what those who are part of the community say about “code words”  or slurs is not a laudable defense — nor a wise long-term strategy for the news organization’s well-being.
Protip: Beware of adjectives
In the coverage of the recent mayoral primary in Philadelphia, I tracked a lot of stereotype plied in headlines and adjectives used to describe the one Latino candidate who made to primary day. He was described as “loud,” “outlandish” and headlines had him “flipping out.” He was also, with some frequency, left out of composite photos used to promote stories about the candidates as a whole. 
I know, beyond a doubt, that I irritated colleagues I esteem in the mainstream by pointing this out every time I noticed it. The thing is, it kept happening. The ethnic media doesn’t expect mainstream to be as attentive to the stereotypes of our communities as we are, but we do expect that, if we point them out, there will be care paid to keeping them from becoming the leit motif of coverage. 
Again, collaborations can be an effective way to dispel misunderstanding or misreading when certain terms are used. In the aforementioned collaboration between AL DÍA and Metro Chinese  Weekly, for example, the use of the word “Amigos” is key. Now, if we were working the story alone, the fact that Chinese restaurant owners used that word to refer to their Latino kitchen employees, would most likely be interpreted as a little iffy and paternalistic. After all, “amigo” is most frequently used by non-Latinos not for its actual meaning (friend) but as punctuation (to draw attention to our ethnicity and “otherness”) in sentences that often purport to tell us things “as they really are,” not as we imagine them to be. 
There is, of course, ethnicity and otherness pointed out in the use of the word amigo by the Chinese restaurateurs as well, but because we were collaborating with a Chinese journalist we were able to understand that there is no collective term for “Latinos” in the Chinese vernacular spoken in Philly’s Chinatown. And that in this case “Amigos” was the chosen collective term. It makes its use throughout the story quite a different thing, and something we would never had known had we not been working a collaborative story. 

Default audiences, single stories, and according credibility and authority

None of us, no matter how large or small our news media organization, can afford to write to whatever was once our default audience. Demographic changes in our cities and towns demand that we reexamine if we are speaking only — or even primarily — to one portion of the population. At AL DÍA, for example, after 20 years of publishing only in Spanish, we know have a website that is about 75 percent bilingual (we are working toward 100 percent). Many second- and third-generation Latinos prefer to read in English. Likewise, you don’t have to be Latino to be interested in a Latino perspective on what is happening in our city and nation, or to find stories about the Latino communities intriguing and engaging. 
Protip: Write for people who aren’t you.
I think it is fair to say most media organizations would like to reach millennials, even when we aren’t millennial ourselves. But ... what about Latino millennials?
Broadening the default means really broadening the default. 
Protip: Be aware of the specific heritage composition of the ethnic communities in your city. 
The Puerto Rican community has shared challenges with the Mexican immigrant community or the Dominican community in Philadelphia, but also many distinct ones. A journalist at a mainstream news organization here and I play this little game where we point out to each other the number of times Puerto Ricans are called immigrants in stories. Puerto Ricans aren’t immigrants, of course, but Americans no matter whether they were born on the mainland or on the island. 
Also remember that the asylum or refugee application outcomes are quite different for Cubans and Venezuelans than they are for Mexicans or Central Americans. Latinos with indigenous heritages may have access to quite different levels of services in your city — so a Mam speaker from Mexico cannot be served by the same interpreter a Mam speaker from Guatemala would be. 
Likewise the Asian community — some challenges are shared by the Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indian and Indonesian communities here, but many are specific to the particular neighborhood or community. 
Communities are complex, and deserve real legwork on your part before you think of filing your story.
Protip: Honor everybody. 
Too often the single story leads to stories without the particular community’s voice in them, or the same story written over and over (stories about police brutality in communities tend to be particularly bad about this). And way too often credibility and authority are assigned only to those outside of the community. 
Again, using the mayoral primary race here as an example, a story about low Latino voter turnout and the Latino candidate’s chances of getting any sort of vote count was trotted out early. With its fundamental flaw of not citing nor including any Latino voices, this piece felt — to a number of us in the community — as more anthropological treatise than journalism. 
No community wants to be the subject of an anthropological study. We have to move out of our own feelings of authority as journalists — even long-term and acclaimed journalists — to get a full story. For us, that has meant collaborating with Solomon Jones, a journalist from WURD (an independent African American radio station) to do stories about African American and Latino relations in North Philly, and upcoming (hopefully) in South Philly as well. 
Protip: Look at and revise your go-to list.
We need to acknowledge that our contact lists and sources are sometimes as segregated as our neighborhoods, and then we need to make sure we do something about it — with every story we file, not just the ones we understand to have an ethnic component.

Responding to criticism about coverage

None of us like to know we got it wrong. Or that we didn’t consider a hugely important aspect of a story. For us, that happened with the story about African American and Latino in North Philly, which I just mentioned. We were called out by Afro-Latinos — and rightfully so — for the very structure of our story which centered on two “separate” demographics and their interaction. We effected, without intending to, a further erasure of those who are already usually erased from Latino, and to lesser extent, African American, discourse in the city.  
It is incredibly important to hear this sort of criticism. Which is one of the reasons I don’t agree with removing comment sections on stories. While it is true that comments can become toxic very quickly, it is also that this section does away with intentional or unintentional gatekeeping. It is the comment section where these sort of omissions and erasures are most usually pointed out to us. 
Protip: Read the comments on your stories. Be willing to admit that your story may have flattened, done damage, reinforced stereotype in ways you had no idea it did. 

Protip: Cultivate a collegial enough relationship with your peers at ethnic community media that when you still don’t see it, they can help you understand it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Charleston and Dominican Republic — the confluence of racism



The AME church that was attacked in Charleston, in addition to being an important part of the 20th century civil rights movement, was established in the 19th century by an abolitionist who drew inspiration from the slave revolt which secured independence for Haiti, and planned a similar revolt to try to free the slaves in South Carolina.

I can’t help noting (as have others) the confluence of Wednesday night’s horrific attack in Charleston (which left 9 dead) and the fact that today, the Dominican Republic is repatriating to Haiti more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. It has stripped them of citizenship (retroactive to 1929, before the DR’s historic “Parsley” massacre of Haitians) thereby rendering them stateless and highlighting a long-entrenched anti-Blackness that is pervasive in many Latin American countries.

I am heartbroken at the way we repeat our history — here and there — changing one detail or another but always with the same foundation: racism.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Revolutionaries in box braids, stilettos & layers of grunge: Older women in AHSCoven and the Walking Dead





Warning: Lots of spoilers


I write fiction of monsters and dystopias; of the darkly fantastical just a couple of shades removed from horror. So it will surprise no one that in my television viewing, I gravitate to shows that juggle the same elements. While I’ve long been a Walking Dead fan, I only recently started watching American Horror Story, specifically season three — Coven — which revolves around witches and includes a good number of women in its ensemble cast.

Even before I watched Coven, I had heard about Jessica Lange’s tour de force performances during AHS’s previous seasons, and understood I would be seeing a mighty unusual thing — a middle-aged woman at the center of a television horror narrative. To my delight, the 65-year-old Lange was soon joined by Angela Bassett (56), and together they were sexy, powerful, complicated and compelling. And scary. Damn scary.

In oddly appropriate timing, I watched the last episode of Coven on Netflix last Sunday, mere hours before that evening’s episode of The Walking Dead (TWD) which focused some attention on the character, Carol (Melissa McBride, 49), the only middle-aged woman in the large ensemble cast and one of my favorites. The resilient character has worked her way from mousy to powerful during her story arc, and is often described as a “badass” by the fandom. But Sunday’s episode tipped her deep into scary for most fans, and soon enough the nickname “Scarol” was trending on Twitter.

I’ll get into specifics about each narrative a little later, but let me start by saying that all three portrayals are headily transgressive. These middle-aged women are not primarily mothers or grandmothers. They are sexually assertive. They are brazen enough to take on whole towns and corporations. And powerful enough to bring them down.

Watch it, kid


In a brilliant move on TWD writers’ part, Carol, in the past couple of episodes, has overtly referenced the default invisibility of middle-aged women. Regardless of who she is out in the wilds, as soon as she reenters “society” (Alexandria), she becomes insignificant, and formulates her strategy predicated on that. She wears fussy flowered sweater-sets, mom-jeans and allows herself to be notable only for her cookie recipe. Even her crop of grey hair — edgy and sexy when she is herself — becomes an insignia of the practical (and practically asexual) older woman who is a threat to no one. McBride brings a fierce intelligence and self-awareness to this re-submersion into the norm.

I recently read that TWD writers had determined to kill off the Carol character several seasons ago (in the comic book she commits suicide fairly early, I am told) but that McBride convinced them the character had unexplored depths. I’m deeply grateful that they listened, not only because I enjoy watching the unfolding characterization but because of who this particular actor is and who she represents — vividly and uncompromisingly — week after week.

The moment that scared the pants off TWD fandom this past week, involved Carol deliberately terrifying a child. In our society, this is perhaps the most transgressive action a woman of any age can take. But more so if it is a woman who has given birth, been a mother, cared for other children ... that woman in particular should put the well-being of a child before any other consideration.

Not so fast, says Carol, who even before this last episode aired, had shot a child to death. Yes, she did it regretfully. Yes, she did it because the child was so wholly deranged she seemed a threat to herself and anyone younger or smaller than herself. Yes, she did it because no one else was willing to do so. But the fact the character has killed a child in the past gives the recent episode’s threat of harming another child real teeth.

Both Bassett’s character (Marie Laveau) and Lange’s (Fiona Goode) in Coven, are transgressive in this same way. There are certainly inklings of maternal feeling in each, but neither shies away from threatening (or handing into harm, or killing) their own daughters and the young people society expects them to protect.

In fact, they team up to kill one of the series’ more sympathetic characters, the developmentally challenged young witch Nan (Jamie Brewer). Yes, Marie does it so she doesn’t have to hand over an infant she’s kidnapped to Papa Legba (her yearly tithe in a deal she struck for immortality). Yes, Fiona does it because she thinks Nan might be the new Supreme leader of the coven and therefore responsible for her rapidly declining health and power. But no rationale obscures the fact it is a death, deliberately and cooly dealt.

Let’s be clear that in both series, younger women also display moments of ruthlessness, and are also deadly. But it is the older ones, the ones who society insists should be self-sacrificing mothers or grandmothers, in whom we note those qualities with especial horror and disgust. We want them to be selfless, and they’re having none of it.

Are you seeing through me? 


The certainty of self is at the heart of another transgressive aspect of all three of these incredible middle-aged characters: they are unrepentantly sexual. Goode has a steamy affair with an axe murderer; Laveau puts the moves on her partner, minotaur head be damned; Carol propositions her pal (and fan favorite) Daryl — half in jest, half in earnest.

Even when married or partnered, television doesn’t much like (or even allow) middle-aged women to act sexual ... and turns it into a full-on joke when women get to be Betty White’s age. The usual distaste is mitigated in these shows, somewhat, because Lange and Bassett are gorgeous, and McBride, while less stunning, has a sinewy, tough sexiness about her.

The writers of each show allow their middle-aged women to think of themselves as sexual and to act on that, but they also smack them down to remind them that the rest of society doesn’t agree with them.

For Lange’s Fiona character, it happens most evidently when she is at a bar and feeling very alone. A man at the bar starts, she thinks, flirting with her. Then, poignantly, she realizes that she is invisible to him and he is flirting through her, directing his attention to the younger woman beside her. When the camera cuts away from Fiona, we understand that even this undeniably self-aware woman is devastated by this.

As I said, the moment is poignant, but it is also annoying. It arrogantly pities its older woman in a way that betrays the youth of its writer. To the young, these moments of realization are imagined as flat tragedy — oh, my lost youth! — while for those of us who’ve actually lived them, they are a far more interesting mix of recollection, chagrin and amusement. For a character like Fiona, the sting of rejection should have been no more than a momentary blip, followed by a far more lengthy settling back to observe the incipient bar hook-up — for its entertainment value, its 50/50 chance of publicly enacted fiasco. Pro tip: If an older woman is crying, don’t assume it isn’t with laughter.

It remains to be seen whether the writers of TWD allow Carol to find physical expression for her sexuality, but you can bet that if it is with Daryl, half the fandom will be tweeting their protests. It is in the twitterverse where an adversarial sort of competition for Daryl’s affections has been contrived between Carol and the much younger and sweeter Beth (who has since died), and some of the battle lines were drawn on the basis of Carol’s age.

Revolutionaries in box braids, stilettos and layers of grunge


If these transgressive women love anything it is their communities (as they define them), and they go out of their way to protect and avenge them.

The best moments of Coven are those in which Marie and Fiona team up to do a working to drive the corporation of witch-hunters (who have killed all of Marie’s magical community and threatened Fiona’s) into bankruptcy. And subsequently, the scene where the two middle-aged women walk into the corporate boardroom where the witch-hunters want to negotiate a truce.

The two of them face down some 10 or 12 men who are plotting to trick and then kill them because of who they are and what they (and their communities) represent — the ungovernable, the peskily resilient resistance to hegemony.

In that horrifically satisfying scene, the witches cooly sip their drinks at the conference table as their best-defense-is-a-strong-offense plan unfolds before them and their adversaries are reduced to blood spatter. Fiona deals the killing blow to the head honcho herself — at least in part for the sin of so grievously underestimating her and Marie.

TWD’s Carol doesn’t take down a corporation but a town full of cannibals where her fellow survivors are being held as livestock. She, like Marie and Fiona, has a plan. She, like them as well, fights for the survival of her community by ruthlessly and methodically annihilating the greater community that holds power over hers.

They are fearsome women. Revolutionaries in box braids, stilettos and layers of grunge.

But revolutions almost always prove puritan, and once the fighting part is over, those who are transgressive are perceived as dangerous for the new order as they were for the old. In fiction as in history, they don’t fare well.

I hold out hope that TWD writers will chose to let Carol’s story arc conclude in something other than moralistic punishment, but it is unlikely. Coven’s writers did not. The show ultimately betrayed all of its ungovernable women characters, reserving the ugliest of punishments for the older and most transgressive. So, lusty and power-hungry Fiona is condemned for all eternity to a hell where she’ll be sexually subjugated and have no power to block the fists of the man spoiling to govern her.

Hell is the writers’ prescriptive for those who would think to answer power with power, but the “reap what you sow” moralism is reserved only for women. Fiona’s hell is the Axeman’s heaven, even though they’ve each done equally despicable things.

Marie ends up condemned to the same hell as the virulently cruel and racist Madame LaLaurie (played by 66-year-old Kathy Bates), and is given no choice but to turn eternal torturer — not of LaLaurie but of her callow but innocent daughter who is also stuck there. In an especially telling detail for the middle-aged viewer, Papa Legba lets Marie know she is in hell because she has outlived her usefulness to him ... she can no longer provide a yearly tithe of children. Nothing subtle about that, eh?

Not even the endearingly goofy witch, Myrtle Snow (portrayed by 61-year-old Francis Conroy), who feels normatively maternal toward Fiona’s daughter Cordelia and is grandmotherly enough to advise one of the younger witches to eschew power for love, escapes the punishment wielded so heavy-handedly at the end of this show. If she is not also condemned to hell for the effrontery of being both too old and too powerful, it is because — unlike her transgressive counterparts — Myrtle is self-sacrificing and offers herself up to be burnt at the stake.

After the fail


For all its fails, Coven had four, formidable middle-aged women actors in central roles, and that is remarkable. Neither show is free from criticism about representation along other axes either. I expected more African-American cast members in central roles for this show set in New Orleans, and I craved a magic more specifically tied to the locale. As for TWD, it is impossible to ignore that every African-American male cast member in the core group has either been killed off or disappeared (Seth Gilliam must be counting his days), and that the one Latina cast member in the core group is a cardboard cut-out every bit as generic as her name.

Along all axes of representation, I wish television shows like these — fantasy and horror set in real world locales — better reflected the demographic composition of our nation. 16.4 percent of us are Latino; 12.2 percent of us are Black; 4.7 percent of us are Asian. There are 158.6 million women in the U.S., more of us in the 45-49 and 50-54 age groups than any other.

It is interesting to note that the audience for both TWD and AHS is solidly in the 18-49 age group (TWD viewer’s average age is 33). Both are ratings juggernauts. The season that AHS Coven aired, TWD was the highest rated show on TV and Coven was the fifth. Which suggests that casting middle-aged women in shows that mostly appeal to millennials isn’t quite as risky a proposition as it might seem at first blush.

The fourth season of AHS, Freakshow (which I have not watched yet) had the best ratings yet for the horror anthology show, and once more Lange and Bates were primary characters, and Bassett and Conroy secondary ones. TWD has introduced middle-aged actor Tovah Feldshuh as a secondary character, and although it remains to be seen whether they get rid of her as quickly as they did Denise Crosby’s Terminus Mary, this too is promising for those of us who like to see women of our age represented on screen in our favorite shows.

Next up: Game of Thrones. God help us. ;)


Photos: 
• "Melissa McBride 2014 San Diego Comic Con International" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
• "Jessica Lange at PaleyFest 2013" by iDominick - http://www.flickr.com/photos/82924988@N05/15962262150/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 
• "Angela Bassett at PaleyFest 2014 - 13491748704" by iDominick - http://www.flickr.com/photos/82924988@N05/13491748704/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons