One epic moment after the other

Actor Emilia Clarke has hyped up the anticipation for the Game of Thrones season six, saying it will be “epic” and will have many “shocking” moments. “It’s really exciting. Next season, I’ve said this before, but there are a lot of seasons where you need to [rightly so] kind of need to set the scene. And… Continue reading

Proof Jon Snow Is Not Dead And Coming Back!

While the spoilers are all out, many fans refused to believe the painful ending of season 5. Viewers by now might expect their favorite characters to die at any minute, but there’s just something about Jon Snow that they’ve refused to let go. Some strongly believe he is ‘the chosen one’ therefore he will be brought… Continue reading

‘Empire,’ ‘Mad Men,’ Letterman vie for Emmy nominations

The 67th Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations:

Outstanding Drama Series
Game Of Thrones
Orange Is The New Black
House Of Cards
Mad Men
Better Call Saul
Homeland
Downton Abbey

Outstanding Comedy Series
Louie
Modern Family
Parks And Recreation
Silicon Valley
Transparent
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Veep

Outstanding Limited Series
American Crime
American Horror Story: Freak Show
Olive Kitteridge
The Honorable Woman
Wolf Hall

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House Of Cards

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Robin Wright, House Of Cards

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game Of Thrones
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Michael Kelly, House Of Cards

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game Of Thrones
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Uzo Aduba, Orange Is The New Black
Emilia Clarke, Game Of Thrones

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
Anthony Anderson, Black-Ish
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Don Cheadle, House Of Lies
Louis C.K., Louie
William H. Macy, Shameless
Will Forte, The Last Man On Earth
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Lily Tomlin, Grace And Frankie
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler, Parks And Recreation
Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Adam Driver, Girls
Keegan-Michael Key, Key & Peele
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tony Hale, Veep

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Niecy Nash, Getting On
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Gaby Hoffman, Transparent
Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie
Adrien Brody, Houdini
Ricky Gervais, Derek Special
Timothy Hutton, American Crime
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Queen Latifah, Bessie
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Emma Thompson, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street Live

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Limited Series Or Movie
Richard Cabral, American Crime
Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Finn Wittrock, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie
Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie
Regina King, American Crime
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Mo’Nique, Bessie
Zoe Kazan, Olive Kitteridge

Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series
Joshua Brand, The Americans (“Do Mail Robots Dream Of Electric Sheep?”)
Gordon Smith, Better Call Saul (“Five-O”)
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game Of Thrones (“Mother’s Mercy”)
Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (“Lost Horizon”)
Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (“Person To Person”)

Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series
David Crane and Jeffrey Klari, Episodes (“Episode 409”)
Will Forte, The Last Man On Earth (“Alive In Tucson”)
Louis C.K., Louie (“Bobby’s House”)
Alec Berg, Silicon Valley (“Two Days Of The Condor”)
Jill Soloway, Transparent (“Pilot”)
Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche, Veep (“Election Night”)

Outstanding Variety Talk Series
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Late Show With David Letterman
The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
Drunk History
Inside Amy Schumer
Key & Peele
Portlandia
Saturday Night Live

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race
Dancing With The Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance?
Top Chef

Outstanding TV Movie
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case
Bessie
Grace Of Monaco
Hello Ladies: The Movie
Killing Jesus
Nightingale

————————————————————————————————————–

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) – Six months after the Oscars featured an all-white cast of acting nominees, television’s Emmy Awards is poised to show its big-screen Hollywood sibling how diversity is achieved. The likely contenders for Thursday’s Emmy nominations include hit series “Empire” and “black-ish” and their wealth of critically acclaimed black actors, and “Jane the… Continue reading

Can public service announcements take a bite out of Shark Week?

Suzannah Evans, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Jessica Gall Myrick, Indiana University, Bloomington

This week, millions of Americans will tune into Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s popular annual tribute – now in its 28th year – to the ocean’s most infamous predators.

But how does watching Shark Week actually affect people’s beliefs and feelings about sharks?

That’s what we set out to discover in our recent study, which looked at the effects of watching video of sharks alongside public service announcements (PSAs) about the need for shark conservation.

Which species should be afraid?

Shark Week is famous for portraying sharks as deadly predators that threaten our status as the world’s top species. But in fact, sharks should fear us a lot more.

Up to 100 million sharks are killed every year, whether it’s for the popular Chinese dish shark fin soup or as accidental bycatch. Meanwhile, fewer than five people are killed by sharks every year. Based on these statistics, you’re far more likely to die from a bee sting or the flu than you are to be killed by a shark.

This fact puts scientists and marine conservationists in a bind when it comes to Shark Week.

On the one hand, the series draws a vast audience of people who are interested in sharks. On the other hand, Shark Week then plies that audience with violent imagery of sharks that paints them as, well, less than sympathetic (to put it mildly), and not exactly worthy of protection.

Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland got a makeover for Shark Week in 2006.
Farragutful/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Healthy shark populations are important for the oceans because they keep the systems of interdependent food chains in balance, which protects both the seafood species that we like to eat and the marine mammals that we find a bit more cuddly.

We wanted to find out if PSAs from marine conservation organizations stating the facts about sharks would mitigate people’s emotional reactions to the violent imagery often shown on Shark Week.

So we paired clips from Shark Week that contained varying levels of violence with conservation-focused PSAs. We used highly violent Shark Week clips showing a shark tearing into a person, causing serious injury; moderately violent ones in which a shark bites a person who sustained no injuries; and nonviolent clips that showed sharks simply swimming.

We used actual shark conservation PSAs in our study, which participants watched after they saw a clip from Shark Week – one from Pew and one from Oceana. (Oceana’s “Scared for Sharks” PSA featuring actress January Jones actually did run during Shark Week in past years.) Both PSAs informed viewers that their actual risk of being attacked was quite low but that sharks are killed in high numbers by humans.


A 2012 PSA on sharks from Pew.

‘Mean ocean syndrome’ for some; new ocean advocacy for others

More than 500 people watched the clips and reported their reactions, and it turns out that violent Shark Week content, whether paired with a PSA or not, caused a fearful reaction in people.

No matter what, sharks are scary – especially in high definition.

Watching a PSA didn’t mitigate people’s fearful reactions, and people continued to overestimate their own risk of being attacked by a shark, even when presented with the facts.

We call this “mean ocean syndrome,” a variant of mean world syndrome: the idea that people who watch a lot of violent crime drama on television tend to overstate their likelihood of being a victim of a crime.

Likewise, television programming that depicts the ocean as a violent place will cause people to overestimate the danger to themselves when they go in the water.

People continue to overestimate the danger sharks pose.
‘Kayak’ via www.shutterstock.com

But here’s what the PSAs did do.

For many viewers, especially younger women, the PSAs prompted an increased interest in shark conservation and an intent to do things like donate to a conservation organization or support legislation that protects sharks.

That’s major. It means that Shark Week has the opportunity to turn at least some of its viewers into ocean advocates. Given that some shark species are already headed toward extinction, Shark Week could end up being an unlikely savior for sharks – that is, if the Discovery Channel wants to use its vast reach to protect the creatures that have earned the network millions of dollars.

The Conversation

Suzannah Evans is PhD candidate in Journalism & Mass Communication at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
Jessica Gall Myrick is Assistant Professor of Media at Indiana University, Bloomington .

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

From Daenerys Targaryen to Sarah Connor

She ruled the hearts of Game of Thrones fans with her impeccable and meticulous portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen and now, with the upcoming release of her latest action film Terminator Genisys, Emilia Clarke says she takes her time before choosing a role. The 28-year-old actor is embodying Sarah Connor in the forthcoming film and will be… Continue reading

‘Game Of Thrones’ Jon Snow And Stannis Baratheon Have Kicked The Bucket, But Maybe Not Forever

The Game Of Thrones season 5 finale as aired at last and many rumors have been confirmed or denied. The deaths of Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon and other important plot events clearly lay out what to expect from the Game Of Thrones season 6 premiere. In the show, we see Brienne of Tarth sentence Stannis Baratheon… Continue reading

Weathermen of Westeros: does the climate in Game of Thrones make sense?

Alex Farnsworth, University of Bristol and Emma Stone, University of Bristol

The climate has been a persistent theme of Game of Thrones ever since Ned Stark (remember him?) told us “winter is coming” back at the start of season one. The Warden of the North was referring, of course, to the anticipated shift in Westerosi weather from a long summer to a brutal winter that can last for many years.

An unusual or changing climate is a big deal. George R R Martin’s world bears many similarities to Medieval Europe, where changes to the climate influenced social and economic developments through impacts on water resources, crop development and the potential for famine.

We’re interested in whether Westeros’s climate science adds up, given what we’ve learned about how these things work here on Earth.

It’s not easy to understand the mechanisms driving the climate system given we can’t climb into the Game of Thrones universe and take measurements ourselves. It’s hard enough to get an accurate picture of what’s driving the world’s climate even with many thousands of thermometers, buoys and satellite readings all plugging data into modern supercomputers – a few old maesters communicating by raven are bound to struggle.

The fundamental difference between our world and that of Westeros is of course the presence of seasons. Here on Earth, seasons are caused by the planet orbiting around the sun, which constantly bombards us with sunlight. However the amount of sunlight received is not the same throughout the year.

You won’t see this in Westeros.
Rhcastilhos

If you imagine the Earth with a long pole through its centre (with the top and bottom of the pole essentially the North and South Pole) and then tilt that by 23.5 degrees, the amount of sunlight received in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will change throughout the year as the Earth orbits the Sun.

Clearly the unnamed planet on which Game of Thrones is set is missing this axis tilt – or some other crucial part of Earth’s climate system.

How longer seasons might work

The simplest explanation could be linked to spatial fluctuations in solar radiation (sunlight) received at the surface. A reduction in incoming solar radiation would mean more snow and ice likely remaining on the ground during the summer in Westeros’s far north. Compared to the more absorbent soil or rock, snow reflects more of the Sun’s energy back out to space where in effect it cannot warm the Earth‘s surface. So more snow leads to a cooler planet, which means more snow cover on previously snow-free regions, and so on. This process is known as the snow albedo feedback.

The collapse of large ice sheets north of the Wall could also rapidly destabilise ocean circulation, reducing northward heat transport and leading to the encroachment of snow and ice southwards towards King’s Landing.

What if all this ice suddenly melted?
HBO

To descend into glacial conditions would require a large decrease in solar radiation received at certain locations on the Earth’s surface and likewise an increase would be needed to return to warmer conditions.

This is roughly what happened during the switches between “glacial” and “interglacial” (milder) conditions throughout the past million years on Earth. This is controlled primarily by different orbital configurations known as “Milankovitch cycles”, which affect the seasonality and location of sunlight received on Earth.

However, these cycles are on the order of 23,000 to 100,000 years, whereas Game of Thrones seemingly has much shorter cycles of a decade or less.

When winter came back

Around 12,900 years ago there was a much more abrupt climate shift, known as the Younger Dryas, when a spell of near-glacial conditions interrupted a period of gradual rewarming after the last ice age peaked 21,000 years ago. The sudden thawing at the end of this cold spell happened in a matter of decades – a blink of an eye in geological terms – and led to the warm, interglacial conditions we still have today.

A particularly long and brutal winter? Younger Dryas cooling is visible in Greenland ice core records.
NOAA

Various different theories have tried to explain why this spike occurred, including the sudden injection of freshwater into the North Atlantic from the outburst of North American glacial lakes, in response to the deglaciation, which destabilised ocean circulation by freshening the water and reducing ocean heat transport to the North Atlantic Ocean, cooling the regional climate.

Less likely explanations include shifts in the jet stream, volcanic eruptions blocking out the sun, or even an asteroid impact.

The shift from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age that began around 1300 AD represents a more recent, and more subtle, example of a “quick” climate change. Although the overall temperature change wasn’t too severe – a Northern Hemisphere decrease of around 1˚C compared with today – it was enough to cause much harsher winters in Northern Europe.

None of these events indicate the abrupt transitions from long summers to long winters as described in Game of Thrones – and they still all happen on a much longer timescale than a Westeros winter. However they do demonstrate how extreme climate shifts are possible even on geologically short timescales.

Regardless of the causes of the long and erratic seasons, winter in Westeros won’t be much fun. It may even make the struggle for the Iron Throne between the various factions seem irrelevant.

Indeed the House of Stark’s motto: “winter is coming” may have a lesson for us here on Earth. Anthropogenic climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humankind today and if left unmitigated the potential environmental impact on society may be far greater than any global recession. Stop worrying about the Iron Throne, everyone, winter is coming.

The Conversation

Alex Farnsworth is Postdoctoral Research Assistant in Climatology at University of Bristol.
Emma Stone is Research Associate in Climate History at University of Bristol.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

What Greyscale on Game of Thrones has in common with leprosy

Philip Alcabes, Adelphi University

In the neighborhood where I lived as a graduate student in the mid-1970s, there was a man whose face was remarkably disfigured. Half of it seemed melted, as if it had been fashioned of candle wax. You would spot him after dark on the streets near my university, holding one hand in front of the burned part of his face while he walked. Seeing him filled me with pity, but also horror. And then shame at my own horror.

I thought of my long-ago reactions to the burned man when I heard about Greyscale, the fearsome disease that afflicts some of the characters on Game of Thrones (and also in the series of books the TV shows is based on). Characters with Greyscale are sometimes sent into lifelong quarantine – or exile, depending on how you look at it – in a ruined city.

There’s been considerable discussion about what to make of Greyscale, and which modern diseases it might imitate, and why it is only sometimes curable. Evidently, Greyscale resonates.

The world Game of Thrones takes place in is ostensibly based on the medieval and early modern eras. To readers and viewers of the series, Greyscale and its disruptive terror might be a reminder of the Black Death or those mysterious poxes and fluxes that chroniclers wrote about in the era before medical advances allowed physicians to make specific diagnoses. But I wonder if Greyscale’s allure for contemporary audiences has to do with disfigurement.

We have always been fascinated (and repulsed) by disfiguring diseases. And disfigurement has long been burdened with presumptions about permanent moral taint. The capacity of this fantasy disease to grab so many people’s attention is an extension of a long historical line: the tension between loathing of the unsightly and shame over our own repulsion. It goes back at least to medieval Europeans’ dealings with lepers.

A biblical mistranslation shaped how the medieval world understood leprosy

As with leprosy, Greyscale can leave survivors alive, but disfigured – bearing a permanent mark of the disease. In the books, one character describes a girl who survived Greyscale saying that “the child is not clean.” And like leprosy in the medieval era, Greyscale disfigures, but how it is transmitted is not well understood.

The disease called leprosy in the Bible probably didn’t exist in the Near East at the time. St Anthony with a leper.
Hans von Gersdorff via Images from the History of Medicine (NLM)

A mistranslation in the Bible lead to leprosy’s infamy. Chapter 13 of Leviticus concerns people whose spiritual impurity is reflected in a set of skin afflictions known collectively as tzara’at. The thrust of Leviticus, at this point, concerns the dramatic tension between polluting forces in the natural world and humans’ marshaling of nature’s pure, or purifying, forces (cedar, hyssop, clean water and so forth) in opposition. Indeed, Leviticus makes clear that tzara’at could be seen on cloth and the walls of houses, too. The crucial passage on tzara’at of human skin orders the spiritually impure person to dwell “outside the camp” for eight days. Reflection, along with priestly ministration, will restore the sufferer’s wholeness and allow him to be return to society.

When the text of the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint in the third century BC, tzara’at was ambiguously rendered as lepra, from the Greek leprei, already in use by Hippocrates to describe a collection of scaly patches. The word lepra carried over into the commonly used Latin translation of the bible, called the Vulgate.

Thus, while medieval Christians’ banishment of lepers was supposed to be based on the Bible, the disease medieval Europeans called leprosy (and that we now know as Hansen’s disease) is the result of infection with Mycobacterium leprae. Yet, that bacterium almost certainly had not existed in the Near East at the time the relevant biblical text was being handed down, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Biblical “leprosy” was not medieval leprosy.

Being a leper didn’t always mean you had leprosy

Leprosy came to denote not only those disfigured by Hansen’s disease – which was by then present in Europe – but people with all manner of skin conditions, or people who simply looked like they shouldn’t be allowed to circulate freely.

Rationalizing ostracism in biblical terms gave the shunning of lepers the force of moral imperative. And as time went on, the postulate in Leviticus that the leper, once cleansed, could return to normal society was lost. In its place came a sensibility about leprosy as fearsome. Although Hansen’s disease is not easily transmitted, the medieval Europeans sought ways to cleanse society of its disfigurement.

Shunned.
Richard Tennant Cooper via Wellcome Library, London

In the eighth century, for instance, Pope Gregory II said that lepers should not mix with healthy Christians at sacred events. By 1179, a papal council decreed that lepers be provided with their own churches, cemeteries and priests. On that basis, thousands of leprosaria were built in Europe to house the people deemed unfit.

Not only was leprosy itself disfiguring, but it carried moral taint through rumors that it was associated with sexual impropriety or resulted from a superabundance of melancholic (black) bile.

By this thinking, disfigurement of Hansen’s disease was inextricably linked with moral condemnation. Consider a statement by a 12th-century monk from the Abbey of St Victor, near Paris:

“fornicators, concubines, the incestuous, adulterers, the avaricious, userers, false witnesses, perjurers … all are judged to be leprous by the priests.”

We still associate disfigurement with moral failings

And perhaps disfigurement is even more terrifying today than in the Middle Ages. Certainly, when AIDS appeared in America in the early 1980s, the dark blotches of Kaposi’s sarcoma, the pallor, and the cachexia (wasting) that it often conferred made it both fascinating and repulsive.

Susan Sontag noted AIDS disfigurement’s “esthetic” aspects: that it made grotesque exactly those who were young and beautiful, in the prime of their erotic appeal, was one of the ways AIDS acquired cultural baggage. And indeed, the disfigurement AIDS produced was never far from the moral disapprobation heaped, in those days, on its sufferers, who were usually gay men or drug injectors.

As late as the 1990s, a survey showed that one in six Americans still admitted to feeling “disgust” at people with AIDS.

We are more tolerant of homosexuality today (and, to a lesser extent, drug injectors). And leprosy no longer bears the stigma it once did. But our culture is more than ever oriented to image. And there are more ways to do something about undesired aspects of physiognomy: orthodonture, cosmetics, smoothing and lifting, surgeries of all kinds, and so on.

Not surprisingly, we find other ways to layer moral disapproval on disfigurement. Isn’t this why obesity lends itself to narratives of gross (literally!) distortion of nature – eating too much, moving too little? We are so accustomed to looking at obesity as symptomic of a failure of sociability that a popular strain of research can claim that obesity “spreads” through social networks. The overlarge are the lepers of today.

I don’t know why so many people think that nature is always pretty, and that unpretty people must be, somehow, incontinent – why so many of us still make assumptions not too far from those about lepers in medieval Europe. But it’s not surprising that, in our culture, a disfiguring and incurable condition like Greyscale has an arch sort of allure.

The Conversation

Philip Alcabes is Professor of Public Health at Adelphi University .

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Will True Detective find depth in flat central California?

Susana Ramirez, University of California, Merced

In the first season of the HBO’s hit anthology series True Detective, the Gulf Coast setting was almost a character unto itself.

The locale was woven into the story, which took its characters deep into the Louisiana wetlands while exploring the depths of human depravity. Even the satanic ritualism in the first season had real-life roots in the region’s past.

When the second season premieres later this month, viewers will find themselves transported to California – not in sunny Los Angeles, not in vibrant San Francisco, but in the 400 miles between.

Little is known of the plot; it will star Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell, who will play a couple of cops and a criminal roving throughout California’s “scorched landscapes.” As creator Nic Pizzolatto explained, it will take place in “the places that don’t get much press and where you wouldn’t normally set a television show.”

What should viewers expect of this “scorched” landscape? What’s the economic engine of the area? And what types of people might the main characters encounter? As someone who studies public health in the region, I can offer some relevant background for fans of the show.

Peeling back the dusty surface

There’s at least one instantly obvious reason that a TV show would think twice about plopping itself down in the Central Valley. Anyone who has driven up and down Interstate 5 or Highway 99 can tell you it is almost incessantly flat, brown and – where water can still be found – occasionally green. To be sure, it can be beautiful, but it can also grow tedious.

Two major highways – I-5 and Highway 99 – connect the population outposts of the Central Valley.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Yet while the Central Valley might be bereft of topographic undulations, it contains an astounding depth of humanity.

The region is among the most diverse areas in the country, and over 50% of the people are Mexican-origin Latino. Within that population, there’s considerable diversity: 25% are foreign-born, and many are indigenous Mexicans. The region also includes substantial numbers of Hmong (Southeast Asia), Sikh (India) and Filipino populations, whose colorful and vibrant cultures add richness to the Central Valley’s tapestry.

Some midsized cities – Bakersfield in the south, Fresno in the middle and Modesto up top – dot the landscape. But the area is largely rural and produces nearly two-thirds of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables.

Yet the region’s fertility is also the source of its vulnerability: the agricultural sector, which is low-paying for everyone but the owners, dominates industry. Agricultural workers are among the lowest paid and easiest to exploit, since many have minimal education, literacy and English language ability.

The Appalachia of the West

Outside of agriculture, there are few job opportunities, and Central Valley counties have among the highest levels of unemployment in the country: currently hovering between 10%-13%, these are down from rates over 20% at the peak of the Great Recession. Still, it’s substantially higher than the rest of the state and country. In some Central Valley counties, close to one in three residents lives in poverty – a rate 50% higher than California’s already-high poverty levels.

For this reason, a federal report has dubbed California’s Central Valley the “Appalachia of the West,” a reference to the significant health, economic and occupational disparities felt by its residents.

Immigrant laborers plant crops in the Central Valley.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The lack of well-paying job opportunities for the most vulnerable populations has led to high levels of crime. During the Great Recession, Breaking Bad’s Walter White would have fit right in: meth production was a top illicit industry.

As the housing bubble expanded, optimistic developers started building sparkling, 3,000+-square-foot houses in developments across the valley. When the bubble popped, building stopped, leaving agricultural land razed and zoned for dwellings, but empty save for pipes and wires snaking out of the ground. In the San Joaquin Valley, drug dealers used houses lost to foreclosure as labs to concoct drugs (the area had the highest rates of default as home values plunged over 50%).

Evidence of the bubble’s burst is only now starting to be erased, as new signs advertising homes for sale slowly go up in these half-built, planned communities.

Stifling smog

Also important to understanding the valley is how the combination of topography and pollution interact to affect daily life.

The region suffers from bad topographical luck: pollution from the Bay Area and Los Angeles drifts in and remains trapped by the surrounding mountains. Combined with the region’s own contributions to pollution from agriculture – not to mention the truck traffic up and down the region’s two main arteries – Central Valley cities rank among the most polluted areas in the country.

Smog from California’s major cities gets trapped in the Central Valley.
dangerismycat/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The smog visibly masks the great mountain ranges on either side, but it’s also an invisible killer: residents, especially children, suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases. The agricultural landscape – along with the drought that’s going on its fourth year – means there are even places in this region where clean, safe drinking water isn’t available.

Ultimately, the Central Valley might simply provide the gritty canvas for another Pizzolatto tale of murder and corruption. For thousands of middle-class families, the region is just that — a backdrop for otherwise normal lives, complete with the typical American joys and struggles.

But something clearly drew Pizzolatto to the Central Valley. Its vibrant cultures and genuine hardships provide a palate as diverse as the people who live here, and True Detective has the chance to illustrate this fascinating place for the world.

It would be a shame if all it showed was flatness.


The trailer for season 2 of True Detective.

The Conversation

Susana Ramirez is Assistant Professor of Public Health Communication at University of California, Merced.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.