Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheap Shot

I finally got my giant flat-screen LCD HD TV hung up on the pivoting bracket. Switching TVs necessitated a new cable box and I decided to spend the $5/month extra fee to get the DVR capability. Now, like TiVo, I can record shows and watch them later, while fast forwarding through the boring bits. I've found that I'm more willing to try unknown shows if I can record them and check them out later. (Latest excuse for not blogging...)

In such a manner, I recorded the second episode of "Top Shot", which pits sharpshooters against each other (but not on opposite sides of the barrel) in various shooting contests: sharpshooting, speed shooting, varied weaponry, etc... It looked like an interesting way to see some entertaining "Old West Exhibition" style shooting and get an overview of modern weaponry. It turned out to be not only a lot of bullshit, but a lot of sexist bullshit. You want an example of how women are drummed out of boys-club experiences? Watch Top Shot. Scratch that; I can't recommend it.

Admittedly, I didn't see the first episode, I just know that it ended with one of the two women going home. I caught the second episode that ended with the second of the two women going home. If pressed, the producers could hardly have picked an elimination exercise more likely to get women kicked off. Apparently in the first episode, they did individual shooting and the top 8 got on "team blue" and the bottom 8 got on "team red". Then they pitted the teams against each other. The loosing team, individually votes in front of everyone who they want to kick off. The top two vote getters are pitted against each other in a shoot off. On the surface, it's fair. In practice? Anything but.

When you have 7 guys against 1 woman who are asked to pick their team, and BOTH teams give the lame "I don't think she's strong enough" excuse, that's blatant sexist bullshit. The lady I saw was deadly accurate when she shot, and was no faster or slower than any of the guys when doing the paltry obstacle course. You're not carrying 100 pounds through miles of quicksand folks, you're running 20 yards through dirt. Anyone, man, woman, girl, boy, in any reasonable shape would be "strong enough" to be competitive in these challenges.

I also have to admit I don't like elimination challenges that start by joining competitors into "teams", forcing a false dependence and comraderie that will have to be shattered as soon as the bonds are formed. I find it cruel rather than entertaining. I find that the people perceived as strangest are kicked off first independent of talent, then the strongest are drummed off when their threat level starts getting up, then the winner is the most conniving of those with the mediocre skills. I can tolerate the pair challenges in Project Runway or Design Star because the pairings only last one challenge and part of what they're screening for is the ability to work with difficult divas. Here, they're just looking for ways to torture the contestants and get off easy in setting up challenges.

Back to my complaints about Top Shot specifically. Admittedly, I didn't listen to most of the bullshit blather when the "team" discussed who they were going to kick off. But from watching the team interaction during the practices and challenges, I wouldn't have picked either of the ones they chose to drum off. For one, the woman was a SWAT instructor, current police sargeant, and former deployed Army. She has shot things, things that matter. They kept playing up how one of the guys was a former SEAL, but had she been a man, she'd have been ranked second. But being a woman, they majority good ol boys voted her off from the first shot. Frankly, I was stunned. Although, I could kind of see why they picked the guy - he was self taught and had no official shooting credentials, has awkward form and isn't particularly precise. He's an enthusiastic puppy who likes to shoot shit in the yard.

Now for the single and only reason that she's a woman, they've picked off as "weakest link" someone who would have been *celebrated* as among the most valuable had she been a man. And it was allowed. Because they didn't need to give good reasons, logical reasons, or fair reasons, they just had to have enough boys that thought women couldn't hack it and it only took 3. Not even a majority.

I wish I could say she blew through the competition and came out victorious but she did muck up the elimination challenge. In practice, she was at or near every bullseye, and clearly excelled in accuracy. She was informed that it would be a speed competition and given some pointers for being speedier. When it came down to it, she didn't take to the pointers and she didn't shoot fast enough. But looking into that specific challenge, I can see why. The challenge was a "friend/foe" shooting gallery, and she's spent the last 15+ years of her life learning that it's better not to shoot a foe than to shoot a friend. The point calculus due to her background is between "shoot any friend and you lose" and "a friend shot is 10X as bad as a foe shot". Given a choice between a bad shot and no shot, she won't shoot.

The shooting setup was blue and red lightbulbs on a rotating rack. There was 10 seconds for each of 6 rows of bulbs, and the contestants had to shoot as many red bulbs as possible, and they probably put in around 30. The scoring, however, was red=+1, blue= -1. I'm almost certain that her training made her so reluctant to shoot foes that she undershot significantly for fear of the -1, which wasn't that big a deal. To call in another TV analogy, in the charming "Suits", an excellent test taker is counseling a testing-phobic co-worker on test taking strategy. "You're so worried about the trick questions that you overthink the easy questions. Even if you miss all the trick questions, there aren't so many that losing them would cause you to do worse than you're doing now by overthinking the easy ones." It was exactly the same situation here. She was so concerned about not hitting the blue lights that she didn't hit the red ones either because she didn't shoot fast enough. It was painful. The only reason I think the contest in itself was fair is because the light bulbs were small enough to demand accuracy, and they were really at the limit of what quick-draw-boy was capable of, based on his practice sessions. But he was more flexible, focused on speed, and didn't let the fact that he hit "friend" targets slow him down.

It makes me wonder what the score would have been if "friend" targets were -10? With the scores from above, he still would have won. But if he had known that blue lights were -10 instead of -1, would have have made the same number of red shots? If she had had more time to digest the fact that "-1 for foe", the last instruction given before starting, is not a flat out lose, would she have shot faster? In the end, she choked and got eliminated, but by damn, she didn't hit any friendly blue lights. But had she been a man with the same qualifications, she never would have been in that elimination round to begin with.

Now how would this contest be less sexist? First, until women have about 30% representation, they're seen as "generic woman representing all women" rather than as individuals. I don't expect male dominated endeavors to solicit 50/50 men/women for shows like this, but I do expect them to make more than a token effort at recruiting enough women that they'll get a good selection for the final cut. They needed 5-6 women, at least, for the 16 final numbers to reduce the chance that all the women will be cut before they can make themselves known. Because the guys who voted the ladies off? Did not distinguish themselves in any way. Just by virtue of being a boy they were "proven" and not subjected to excess, skewed, unwarranted scrutiny and bullshit assumptions. Having at least 5-6 women means that at least one woman will make it to the top 50% - because all these shooters are good enough that the wins and loses are nothing more than a weighted random number generator and therefore mostly probabilistic - and by the third show, some guys are going to piss off some other guys sufficiently to overcome the "she doesn't have a dick" factor.

Were I to do this show, I would, as stated, do better recruiting of women so that the final field had enough women to be representative. Then, I would change how the eliminations were handled. Even keeping the team situation, I would make sure that no woman wound up alone against 7 guy "teammates". Further, the first 2-4 elimination challenges would be random draw - only the team could vote for one person with immunity to the draw. That way, the top vote getter would *not* be eliminated rather than the reverse. Either that, or have some way of scoring individuals within the team events and taking the lowest two scorers, and make sure those scores can be fairly obtained by both sexes. (Holding a rifle at arms length for several minutes, for instance, would not be a fair screen. Using a gun too small for one's hand might be...) After those first couple of eliminations, then they could switch to some other method, like voting for who goes, but not until they have a chance to assess the other people through enough actual challenges so that there's a chance that the /voters will be assessing skill and risk to themselves rather than on surface differences. I would make the first two challenges less physical, more about mental and shooting acuity, so that the assumption that women "won't be strong enough for the team" doesn't get a foothold in the thinking. Lastly, I'd spend a lot more time talking about guns, targets, ammo, and shots, and spend a lot less time on all the bullshit playground/MTV "reality" show bullying and pop psychology. These people are there to shoot, let them shoot. If I hadn't DVR'd this show, I'd never have even made it to the competition, it was that awful.

Interestingly, there weren't that many men of color, and one was the former Navy SEAL (now football coach) installed himself as "leader" of the blue "team". It pissed me off that he voted to shuffle off the woman, but he's a man's man all the way, so it's not surprising. I do kind of wonder how the black men will fare now that the women are gone. The excuse to get rid of this guy will be that he's an overbearing ass, which will be true, but he's game, into winning, and as good a shot as the rest, and I think he'll either be ousted because he's good and therefore a threat or because he's black and therefore different, but the underlying reason won't be deconfoundable. If one of the black guys makes it to the top 4, I'll be convinced that their color wasn't a factor. But since I'm never watching the show again, I'll never know.

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