I have spent the last few days in Vegas as part of an invited group of faculty at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention, an annual event that features the latest, greatest technologies for film, television and virtual spaces. NAB is held at the same time as the annual conference for the Broadcast Education Association (BEA). Faculty browse Sony or Panasonic equipment during breaks from panels about YouTube use in China or the large number of women playing online games now.
NAB is huge. 100,000 people from around the world — broadcasters, filmmakers, gamers — all converge in the ‘city of sin’ to sell their wares and discuss changes in the dynamic media field. James Cameron (director of Titantic, Avatar) opened one NAB session on 3-D technology, foreseeing a future in which all living rooms have 3-D television sets and a bowl of (recyclable) plastic glasses on the coffee table. Cameron described how children will receive “minor scoldings — not major…” if they destroy their parents' higher end ($100.00) 3-D glasses.
The amount of equipment and number of workshops connected to 3-D technology surprised me a bit. (Get ready for it…) But the gender gap at NAB shocked me even more. I was disappointed at how few women actually attended. The white, male ‘geek’ factor was extremely high at the convention (and I say this as someone who recognizes her own similarities with the category).
Not surprisingly, the number of exhibitors who hire attractive, busty females in tight clothing to hock technology is also high. I felt like I was back in the 1970’s — a time when the contradictions surrounding women’s rights were headline news, and people hit the streets to combat gender stereotypes. Of course, after last week’s budget debacle in Congress, when funding for Planned Parenthood was (insultingly) tied to budget restraints, it seemed appropriate for me to experience the retro-political moment that we’re going through in Vegas.
As an occasional filmmaker myself, I traveled the NAB exhibits and neighboring BEA panels searching for moments in which women are helping to produce their own culture. Fortunately, I found several compelling examples. Henry Jenkins’s panel on “Transmedia” included two influential female producers, Gale Ann Hurd and Kim Moses, discussing extended forms of storytelling across multiple media formats. Hurd is best known for producing the Aliens and Terminator series, connecting film with television, graphic novels, and many other formats. Moses produced the successful TV and webisode series, The Ghost Whisperer. But I was particularly impressed with BEA panelist Alison Bryant, a Phd from USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and now the Research Director of Brand and Consumer Insights for Nickelodeon/MTV Kids. Bryant has integrated her audience research skills with her Nickelodeon work, using statistics (many of which she helps to produce) that show “Moms” as primary consumers of dramatic television and numerous online gaming sites — played while the kids are napping, most likely.
Unfortunately, many women do not enter (or remain) in the film and television fields because of the hours. Working on sets is grueling and does not allow much time for family life during productions. (My children grin when I describe how they've held microphones for Ralph Nader interviews.) But I still left Vegas feeling encouraged. An abundance of mobile, lightweight production equipment exists and women are genuinely invited to join the film production crowd.
Las Vegas represents many of the United State’s worst contradictions — excessive consumption, gambling with limited finances, and sexist fantasies delivered via the latest technologies. But for those who can somehow manage the workload, there’s a world of storytelling opportunities out there and a big female audience to consume them.
We’ll need something to balance out the 3-D sports channels…