The Sandbox: Racial Profiling

The Sandbox: Racial Profiling (photo)

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Video games offer escapist fantasies in which we get to control, even virtually embody, an on-screen avatar. And most of the time, that avatar is a white guy. According to “The Virtual Census: Representations of Gender, Race and Age in Video Games,” a new study published in the journal New Media & Society by UCLA researcher Dmitri Williams, in the top-selling video games from 2005-2006, nearly 85% of primary characters were white, and 90% of them were male.

That’s way beyond the make-up of the U.S. population (which is 49% male and 75% white) and, for that matter, the gaming community (60% male). Women, African-Americans and Hispanics were all under-represented, while Asians — probably due to the immense influence of Japan’s game development industry — appear more frequently in games than in actual American society.

What this means is that if you’re a white male, your on-screen surrogate will likely resemble you in certain basic ways, making it easier for you to “enter” into the game’s fiction. And if you’re not a white male, you’re theoretically going to have to work a bit harder to achieve that same kind of connection. Such a situation isn’t exactly shocking — as Williams’ study notes, there have long been similar discrepancies in the world of television. And it’s not without its exceptions, the most revelatory of which was “Metroid”‘s bombshell that intergalactic explorer Samus Aran was, upon removing her helmet, female. But examples like that are rare, and considering that one of the central aims of video games is to create a bond between player and character, the current white male-dominant paradigm is a little perplexing, especially in light of the industry’s desire to become a mass media juggernaut, as well as the strong, loyal fanbases of games amongst minority groups.

10092009_Halo3.jpgThe gap between what people look like on screen in games, TV shows and (to a lesser extent) movies and how they look in real life has to have consequences on the sense of identity and self-worth of underrepresented demographics. Sure, actors and actresses have always been thinner, better groomed and more beautiful than the average man or woman on the street, but in gaming, where there’s the added freedom of characters being designed creations, the fact that they also tend to end up whiter is troubling.

Why, despite multiple platforms, myriad genres and an ever-expanding number of customers, do so many A-list game titles resort to the same old hero? Niche products like “LittleBigPlanet,” “Braid” and “Scribblenauts” (to name a few idiosyncratic gems) don’t hew to convention. And “Halo,” for all its clichés, wisely keeps Master Chief masked at all times, the better to let gamers of all shapes and sizes imagine that he resembles them. But, these exceptions aside, stock types are dominant: the macho commando (“Gears of War”‘s Marcus Fenix, “Call of Duty”‘s grunts); the rugged superspy or swashbuckler (“Metal Gear Solid”‘s Solid Snake, “Uncharted”‘s Nathan Drake); the thuggish underworld criminal (“Grand Theft Auto”‘s various hoods); and, for girls, the impossibly thin, buxom female badass (“Wet”‘s Rubi).


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.