Sunday, October 4, 2009

What is the difference then between a journalist and a hit man...

The quote from this article in the Atlantic is just spot-on. Of late, the prospects of a reporter seem on the dim side. Not just because the newspapers are being closed all over the nation, but also because in the democratization of the news gathering process there has been a dilution of the standards that come with Journalism.
"What’s most troubling is not that TV-news producers mistake their work for journalism, which is bad enough, but that young people drawn to journalism increasingly see no distinction between disinterested reporting and hit-jobbery. The very smart and capable young men (more on them in a moment) who actually dug up and initially posted the Sotomayor clips both originally described themselves to me as part-time, or aspiring, journalists."

I've no beef with Sotomayor, and I'm not worried (yet) about her politics and her new seat on the Supreme Court. Does it mean that I'm pleased that Fox had the rotisserie spit ready for her? Nope, I was hoping they would allow her voting record speak for her.

" What gave newspapers their value was the mission and promise of journalism—the hope that someone was getting paid to wade into the daily tide of manure, sort through its deliberate lies and cunning half-truths, and tell a story straight. There is a reason why newspaper reporters, despite polls that show consistently low public regard for journalists, are the heroes of so many films. The reporter of lore was not some blue blood or Ivy League egghead, beholden to society’s powerful interests, be they corporate, financial, or political. We liked our newsmen to be Everymen—shoe-leather intellectuals, cynical, suspicious, and streetwise like Humphrey Bogart in Deadline—U.S.A. or Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story or Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman inAll the President’s Men. The Internet is now replacing Everyman with every man. Anyone with a keyboard or cell phone can report, analyze, and pull a chair up to the national debate. If freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, today that is everyone."

The article goes on to tell how Morgen Richmond, a blogger that Googled Sotomayor's speeches, struck on one that became ammunition against her once Fox picked it up. I finished the article thinking that unless journalists switch gears and join PR firms in droves, they'll be out of a job...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Iran pipeline gets a kink...

It seems that the Russian Navy had a vested interest in keeping other navies from possibly finding the Arctic Sea freighter. A dark possibility was that the US Navy would run into it, and upon boarding, find a cargo hold brimming with weaponry of Russian manufacture. It would be a poison to a relationship with the White House, for sure. This article here has a good idea what was being sold and by whom. 
"According to reports, Mossad is said to have briefed the Russian government that the shipment had been sold by former military officers linked to the black market, and Russia then dispatched a naval rescue mission. Those who believe Mossad was involved point to a visit to Moscow by Shimon Peres, Israel's president, the day after the Arctic Sea was recovered."

The larger question is who else shops at that dealer...
Another paper also got an insider to explain what the cargo meant for Russia, and how to keep the dust-up to a minimum.
“Clearly the Israelis played a role in the whole Arctic Sea saga,” said a Russian military source. “Peres used the incident as a bargaining chip over the issue of arms sales to Arab states, while Israel allowed the Kremlin a way out with its claims to have successfully foiled a piracy incident.”

Obama's scary speech, c'mon people...

I saw this bit on CNN and I thought, is it possible that we (Utah or average Red state residents) are feeling insecure about what we've taught our kids, that we feel like keeping them home, lest the president might "turn them"? The very idea!? I'd like to think (albeit, really, whose kids listen to their parents, anyway) that my kids have heard me expound on the merits and failures of quite a few past and present administrations to so easily be duped. And that is, if indeed there is a political message in the address planned for Tuesday. If there isn't, and I'm going to bet the WH releases the text beforehand to vaccinate the airwaves against further distress, then why worry?. If indeed there is a political message in there, either overtly (join the Democratic Party, ye legions of soft -brained westerners!) or covertly (maybe a subliminal message every 23 frames, or maybe a rumble that decoded is the Real speech, backwards), then why oh why do we have to sound like a bunch of scared poultry seeing the airborne shadow of a hawk over our little yard! Can we not pick the message apart, explain why we think this or that part is idiotic and make sense? On the other hand, can we not explain to the kids that for the previous eight years we had a president that was anathema to roughly half of the population, yet few voiced widespread fear he would indoctrinate their young with the love of all things Republican?
I hope that our understanding of policy, issues and a sense of fair play brings us to where we can be somewhat assured they (the Other Party, whomever they are) can't hurt us. And come next election, we might just get the person we like in the White House.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First week of classes, new Fall semester

This semester I'll be learning Public Relations under Linda Walton, the class is setup as a PR firm and will involve the handling of multiple clients by the class, broken down into teams.
Scott Carrier started his class warning all present that we needed to prepare to deal with the fact that we might yell and have very strong disagreements in class, and asked some of us what we listened to and how we got our news. The answers given were towards the huh? range, meaning that some classmates were unsure that skimming media sources is related to our field of study. Scott is a modest man, and was uncomfortable (I thought) speaking of his accomplishments and experience. He has a lot to tell, and being his student is always a treat. Maybe I'm easily entertained by the stories, maybe this fellow could read the phonebook out loud and I'd still pay attention. Whatever it takes to be a competent and thoughtful reporter, this man has it and it shows.
My other class is with Dr. Scott, I stumbled thru my (cold turkey) recitation of the First Amendment, but I will dust it off and get sharp on it, praises be to him for keeping the old book, now I have one book less to buy. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Escapism? what? we don't do that around here...

I was reading a great column by Nicole Sperling, in the EW site where she describes how the thinking goes about the process of sorting thru hundreds of movie ideas and how it can make you, or break you bad.

"In the wake of high-profile dramas flopping at the box office -- including "Frost/Nixon," "Australia," "Revolutionary Road," and "State of Play" -- studios are increasingly gun-shy about making movies that don't offer pure escapism. Even the frothy, adult-oriented caper "Duplicity" struggled to find a wide audience.

I love the idea that a Hollywood type will have a migraine, racking his or her brains wondering if this is the right moment to stick their neck out and green-light a riky project. More so if they drive something large and german, or have a manse overlooking the Pacific.

""With the economy being what it is, no one wants to get blamed for a failure," says one agent. "If you greenlight something that's [totally mainstream] and it fails, it's not your fault. If you greenlight an adult drama and it tanks, you lose your job."

Who's to blame for the sorry state of the adult drama?

Filmmakers fault studio marketers for not effectively selling serious fare. Producers blame the studios for making poor choices and spending too much money, setting dramas up for failure. Meanwhile, some executives say the films themselves simply aren't compelling enough."

While it's true, media executives do wade through knee-deep garbage trying to find gems here and there, scripts piled high on desks and such, people still cling to the notion that too much reality is not a good thing. We the audience like to think ourselves open minded, ready to be told a story with the complicated stuff that life's made of. But the numbers tell a different story.
For every Saving Private Ryan, there's ten movies about space this or pirate that.
You would have to do serious drilling in Wikipedia to find any semblance of a movie that could possibly be termed realist, or close to it.
There IS a market for movies that appeal to our sense of humanity. Gran Torino, Crash, Hustle & Flow and others are part of that group. They are modestly successful and form part of a niche. But a niche is not a trend. And to any moviegoer, it should be obvious that the movies isn't the place to see anything close to reality...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Amendment rights, indeed...

From time to time there's stuff that just makes me wince, and I wonder what is the possible rationale for law enforcement to want to treat the press as if they existed in separate worlds. Think about it, they share every area of work, and the press has a vested interest in the work of the police. The police should not conduct business in a hostile posture with us journalists. Which reminds me of another incident in El Paso that appeared recently, along the same vein but with the extra kicker that there's video of the incident. But the list grows, as there are many such incidents around our free land, and reporters have to pay fines to the courts, even be branded as felons in order to carry out their duties.
I guess that the possibility of arrest comes with the territory, and that the profession should have a footprint notation made in the press credentials stating: "Valid in most places, but don't think it will save you from being tossed around like a rag and shut up about the First Amendment unless you want the arresting officer to just club or tase you for the reminder".

Monday, May 18, 2009

Israel and self-preservation

I'm often left thinking about what will happen to Israel the day the USA turns its back on them and they are left to fend for themselves. I realize that the the last 60 years have been rather cozy, but If I put myself in the shoes of a conservative Israelite, could I say that the bond between Israel and the USA will always be there? Or worse, should I plan my nation's future around a kindly mother USA that should never abandon its child Israel? It would be idiotic to think that the USA will always stand behind anyone, be they Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom or Israel. The political landscape shifts too often, alliances too brief and the economies involved always take a turn in the direction of accommodating a trading partner, rather than an old friend. I read this article here that stated that point forcefully. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president reflected on Jewish history when he answered “If we have to make a mistake of overreaction or underreaction, I think I prefer the overreaction.”

"The mistrust has a long history. Arabs and Persians enjoy cordial enmity; the cultural rivalry between the Sunni and Shia universes dates back a mere 1.5 millennia or so, to the battle of Karbala in 680 and beyond.
But recent developments have envenomed things to the point that Arab diplomats troop daily into the State Department to warn that the U.S. quest for d├ętente with Tehran is dangerous."
Says a columnist in the New York Times "After all, when Israelis and Arabs make common cause, surely the danger is real".

Israel is under a very real threat of destruction. There's no shortage of Islamic nations that would erupt in celebration and would declare the day a cultural landmark if Israel were to fall. Iran has voiced such feelings in ways that Arabs have not vocalized. Yet some Arabs are loosely banding together with the Israeli lobby to argue that there is a Sunni element of stability that needs to be restored to the Middle east, where Shia Iraq has strayed and made friends with the Persian rival.
Alongside with this strategic friendship, comes the all-purpose tonic on the Shia hopes for the future in the form of Hezbollah, another thorn in Israel's side and to some degree, in Sunni strategic thinking also.
Pres. Obama now meets with all these parties and will have a taste of the giant gap that divides these nations

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sterotypes in the media, and what we expect to hear from them...

"Still, looks -- or more specifically, a disconnect over looks -- played a role in how people responded to Prejean. As much as people like to pretend that looks don't matter, there are archetypes ingrained in our subconscious about what certain kinds of people are supposed to look like. And we make assumptions all the time based on those archetypes. When they don't match up, sometimes the accompanying discombobulation can be a pleasant surprise. As when the boy in the baggy pants and bandana turns out to be smartest guy in the class. When the fashion victim announces she has a doctorate in physics. Or when the nerdy talent show contestant turns out to have the voice of a diva."

The above quote is from an article that is very pointedly appropriate. Carrie Prejean did, in speaking out, the unthinkable in terms of what we expect from beauty queens: to think on the spot, out loud. I agree that her words came out less than fully baked, but in that stumbled answer she broke a stereotype.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The death of free media

It seems everyday that I hear something dismal, or dire regarding the economy and such. Newspapers all over are in frantic hand-wringing mode wondering where the money is going to come from. Here is a cogent quote from our friend and invited guest, Rupert. Rupert Murdoch, I mean.

"We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning," the News Corp. Chairman and CEO said.

"We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders... The current days of the Internet will soon be over."

It seems that in a reverse of the trend towards free content, we will soon see a shift (or are we in one already?) to paid media, subscriber-funded. I recently noticed banners in some websites trumpeting the billionth (with a b) download of iphone apps. Someone out there (I don't have one, ahem...) surely is using their phone for a lot of browsing, a lot of something! but it's doubtless that some of those downloads are for apps meant to individualize and target content, paid content that we, using our laptops or desktop aren't flocking to.
Whether the Kindle 2 and later iterations, Iphone and others will change our reading habits remains to be seen. It could well be that this is just another quasi-prophetic statement from a media owner that becomes fodder for late night jokes.
Or it could be the real thing, and we should all get in on the action before we get left out. Foxnews has another illuminating bit on this.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

First Amendment in the classroom

I was reading the news, came across this case that directly impacts my current workplace. In Farnan v. Corbett, I found out the tale of a history teacher at a high school in California, that made several possibly disparaging statements towards those that believe in creationism. One of his students felt offended, and that his First Amendment rights had been infringed upon (the establishment clause, specifically) and brought suit for relief in District court. This case interests me on many levels, primarily because the 1st Am is something that doesn't get a lot of news, and in the context of the classroom, where students seem to have less rights, it would seem the coverage is even more lacking.
So on with the case. Bear in mind that the full decision is here, for your perusal, thanks to the OC Register.
The legal standard that is going to be used in this case is the Lemon test, after the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, 403 U.S. 602(1971)

"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its
principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor
inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive
government entanglement with religion. Permissible conduct must satisfy all three requirements."

Dr Corbett made many statements that are brought up as exhibits, some of which I quote from the ruling:

*- "What do you think of somebody who thinks it’s necessary to lie in
order to make a religious point? . . . And um, this kid is in the class,
and, as I say, a Christian fundamentalist kid who wanted to be a
minister. . . . And, um, he was actually set on going – I mean, if your
parents go there, please, you know, don’t be too insulted. But he
wanted to go to Biola, which is the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and
truly, as far as colleges go, it’s the – it is the college which George
Bush is being assigned to (inaudible), and it is the college that has no
academic integrity whatsoever. And it is a fundamentalist Christian
school. I think, a college that has basically one book."

*- "Now, the Boy Scouts have said, unless you’re willing to love God,
and unless you’re willing to – unless you’re not gay, um – they are
saying, being gay excludes you. Not believing God or not professing
a belief in God also excludes you . . . But you see, until they started
these rules, Boy Scouts used to – or Boy Scout troops usually met at
schools, and places like that, parks, government buildings. They can’t
do that anymore. They can’t do that anymore, because now they are,
in their own mind, a homophobic and a racist organization. It’s that
simple. . . . It’s call[ed] separation of church and state. The Boy
Scouts can’t have it both ways. If they want to be an exclusive,
Christian organization or an exclusive, God-fearing organization, then
they can’t receive any more support from the state, and shouldn't."

*- “What was it that Mark Twain said? ‘Religion was invented when the first
con man met the first fool.’”

*- “when you put on your
Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.”

*- "Here’s another interesting thing that just kind of – I’m not implying
causality. I’m just using correlation. People in Europe who are least
likely to go to church . . . are the Swedes. The people in the
industrialized world most likely to go to church are the Americans.
America has the highest crime rate of all industrialized nations, and
Sweden has the lowest. The next time somebody tells you religion is
connected with morality, you might want to ask them about that."

*- "[C]onservatives don’t want women to avoid pregnancies. That’s
interfering with God’s work. You got to stay pregnant, barefoot, and
in the kitchen and have babies until your body collapses. All over the
world, doesn’t matter where you go, the conservatives want control
over women’s reproductive capacity. Everywhere in the world. From
conservative Christians in this country to, um, Muslim
fundamentalists in Afghanistan. It’s the same. It’s stunning how
vitally interested they are in controlling women."

*-"So we know what rehabilitation works and that punishment doesn’t,
and yet we go on punishing. It really has a lot to do with these same
culture wars we’re talking about. This whole Biblical notion: Sinners
need to be punished. And so you get massively more Draconian
punishment in the South where religion is much more central to
society than you do anyplace else. And, of course, the Southerners get
really upset, as what they see as lenient behavior in the North. You
know, we’re going to solve this problem. Except, guess what? What
part of the country has the highest murder rate? The South. What part
of the country has the highest rape rate? The South. What part of the
country has the highest (inaudible) church attendance? The South.
Oh, wait a minute. You mean there is not a correlation between these
things? No, there isn’t. Um, in fact, there is an inverse correlation.
In those places where people go to church the least, the crime was the
most. And that’s not just Sweden and the United States. That’s
Pennsylvania and Georgia."

As anybody can read, the good Dr. has a rather cynical and unsympathetic view towards the established religions. He was actually vindicated on all but one of these statements, however, and the District was found not liable.

"Corbett explained to his class that Peloza, a teacher, “was not
telling the kids [Peloza’s students] the scientific truth about evolution.” (Id.)
Corbett also told his students that, in response to a request to give Peloza space in
the newspaper to present his point of view, Corbett stated, “I will not leave John
Peloza alone to propagandize kids with this religious, superstitious nonsense.”
(Id.) One could argue that Corbett meant that Peloza should not be presenting his
religious ideas to students or that Peloza was presenting faulty science to the
students. But there is more to the statement: Corbett states an unequivocal belief
that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” The Court cannot discern a legitimate
secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement
therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the
Establishment Clause."

So the Court found that one statement out of the whole, the one about Peloza, as being beyond the safe zone delineated by the Lemon test.

It seems remarkable that one, maybe two parents had ever complained about this teacher. He certainly has a right to teach as the school district will allow, as far as academic freedom is concerned. But from the perspective of the students, his captive audience has a right to not have their religious beliefs undermined. I hope he curbs his comments, or makes room in that position for a teacher that will offer an unbiased perspective of history.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Errin's class final

• After reading NoLogo what are your thoughts on the relationship between consumerism and the media?
My first thought is that the media pours fuel on consumerism, people ask for clues from the media, and get them and consumerism is one of the ensuing consequences. Why does the public crave to be told what to buy, what to desire? The answer may come from the boredom that sets in once the novelty of a purchase wears off. The boredom turns into lust for more, or something new, and the lust smolders waiting for a triggering event. Advertising is part of that triggering event, as is the coverage by other forms of the media. Consumerism sounds like a dirty word, but it really is an appetite. It is the triggering of an appetite that doesn’t get filled with a single purchase.
In a way, the media wants to seduce you, but not only you personally, the seduction needs to happen in massive proportions in which entire segments of society fall for it, creating a new demographic, if possible. That seduction is consummated when you and a hundred-thousand others buy the item. However, the act of buying is only the beginning of a relationship that constantly changes the face of what triggers a person’s wants. Looked at from a different angle, if the media were to suspend advertising and return to public service functions only, the appetite may remain latent in people’s heads but the pace of the world’s economy would come to a crashing halt.
Fads were present from times remote and were triggered by the monarch (or concubine) and what was ‘in style’ or by the shocking effect of conspicuous consumption. The lust was latent nonetheless. What was different in remote times, or at present time in remote, media-less places is, the pace of consumption. The pace of consumption is driven, ironically, by the masses of poor young people that want to be unique in some fashion, that earn money and insist on displaying purchased items both as clues to their identity and as synonyms of their upward mobility. The media exploits this insecurity by creating narratives and experiences that, taken alongside the public’s craving for belonging to a group, make for a very convenient marriage of delusion and fantasy.
Some of these narration-campaigns have been off the air for a while, but their echoes still remain. Philip Morris’ “Marlboro Country” was such a legend, insisting for decades on the association of its cigarettes with depictions of both square-jawed men and landscapes featuring cowboys, horses and cattle. The Marlboro legend proposed a mythical lifestyle that audiences found appealing and drove sales of cigarettes far above the level of consumption that the demographics would suggest.
The remarkable trick the media brings to bear is the justification for specific, targeted consumption. Tobacco could be used in many ways, not just cigarettes, after all. But the cowboys don’t smoke a pipe, nor do they inhale it from a tin, or chew it (actually, they do chew it, in real life, but not in the ads). The magic that an item needs is what the media makes; the media is your trusted friend (Klein 7) that brings you what is cool, attractive, and desirable. Then, it follows that tobacco consumption, without the media, would (perhaps) revert to a strata of society, instead of whole-fabric appeal. This, of course, is the goal of the current ban on tobacco advertising, part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.
The impact of the media on consumerism would seem to be that of an accelerant, a factor that stretches and deepens consumption.
• In what ways do media contribute to things like “branding” and the “co-opting of cool”?
Branding, or brand creation, needs exposure; the media reveals and propels the concept. The media takes the ethereal cool and pimps it for eyeballs (Klein 74). Branding is the process by which a commercial entity intends to create a metaphor for itself. Branding is the transcendence that begins when an artificial, but significant, difference is imprinted into the public’s mind about an item, in the midst of many similar items. The media steps in as a vehicle for the branding, a way to repeat and imprint that difference, until the public stops considering such differences as artificial and treats them as rock-hewn fact.
Levi’s (and all other brands) are just trousers made out of a coarse cotton fabric, dyed a cheap indigo blue copied from what was worn by sailors originally. But, among all the then and now available trousers, Levi’s remain and have become an integral part of the American narrative, be it in the last century or the one before. So then the question is, how does an icon become such? The answer is not intuitive, since a single criterion is not associated with such a status.
Ubiquitousness alone won’t result in legend, but exposure at key moments will make it possible. Milk, potting soil, wood are articles that have resisted branding attempts until the present time. Drinking water, fertilizer and glue have conversely been co-opted into a category that set them apart from their non-branded shelf mates. Try finding plain tap water alongside Perrier, Evian, Aquafina. Or find on the shelf plain fertilizer, and not Miracle-Gro. Good luck finding plain glue, and not Elmer’s glue. It was the media through advertising that turned the idea behind these products into a reality in the public consciousness.
The process of brand manufacture follows a typical pattern. The item is adopted by media creators in an ad agency, where the image is to be shaped and defined. The language is agreed upon and the product hits the store shelves with ads that integrate it into people’s lives. Examples of late are the iPod/iPhone sub-brands within Apple Computer, products that transcend a fixed physical appearance and now could be associated with just about anything. By portraying the iPod as an integral part of everyday life, using hip young people dancing and beat-driven music, Apple co-opted coolness and made history.
Without the media, the convergence of video and print ads as well as movie placement, Apple would have nothing more than another gadget, among many like it. The media then enhances, stylizes, transfers coolness and helps hungry corporations to hawk their wares, much like the old time traveling salesman or carnival barker (of snake oil fame).

• Is your identity shaped by the media? Why do you think so, or why not?
My identity may be shaped by the media more than I care to look. I see a lot of media-pimped images that hit their target and create the right feelings of craving and lust. I’m a kid from the media age, I see things as spun by the TV and have to consciously disengage and deconstruct. Whether we are ready to recognize it, or not, the media shapes us, much as we shape language, or think we do. The shaping takes place right out of the cradle, as soon as we start to notice our surroundings and compare our playthings with others’. We want what others have.
I remember clearly the Matchbox toy car commercials, and how I burned to have a few more for my collection. Likewise, my kids now pine for whatever comes on the TV, my sons don’t do it anymore, but if it’s pink, or has fairy wings, I’m in trouble. They have taken to shouting in unison “I want thaaa-aaat!” whenever the commercials come on. Is the commercial shaping them? I don’t know, but I can only suspect that it has become part of the narrative of their childhood. What parent can turn a deaf ear to a child’s plea for a new toy?
Along the same vein, comes the exposure to music, something that I thought was an important part of my teen years, only to realize that I didn’t need it, or crave it if there was no radio around, or Walkman. For my kids, it is much the same, they have music that gives them something to sing along to, and that they rock out to. I get a thrill out of our shared experience of Rockband, especially the songs from the eighties that they sing so well.
If we add TV shows and layer the exposure, there is no question about it, our cultural GPS in America only works by means of these shared experiences. They all seem to have a common thread running through them, and that is one form of media or another.
• What benefit/detriments come from a society whose ideals are shaped by popular media?
Society will blow around like a leaf in the wind, with no anchors possible. Anchors like tradition and religion become meaningless if society instead chases a hedonistic reflection of itself. In some aspects, it could be argued that the media presents to society an anti religion. Where religion seeks to harmonize the common individual with God, or a state of enlightenment, the media would suggest to the same common man that the hedonistic pursuit and chaotic state of being is a far more organic and natural course to take.
This argument can only move forward if you can, for a moment, think that God is down one path at the fork, and on the other an anti-god. As such, cultures that have persisted through time have built themselves upon an order that was somewhat theocentric (Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.) and most decidedly not reliant on the media for propagation, at least not commercial media. Likewise, traditions (of the not-exactly religious kind) that have persisted to current times (folklore, celtic tradition, norsk, African) are based on codes that establish safe practices and unsafe or forbidden practices.
The current state of popular media for the westernized world, taken as a whole, is one that eschews self control, rules and responsibility. It can be argued that it stands in opposition to orderly society. In that sense, the USA has the enviable position of being at once, a cradle for religious fervor across the world (evidenced by the rise in the new century of power for a class of political activists that called themselves Christian conservatives) and a major source for the hedonistic and media-centric entertainment world, as evidenced by the proliferation, influence and dominance of western music, technology and culture.
Not surprisingly, many cultures and peoples are much affronted by the immense footprint of American media. There are also dire warnings that our American culture is really the tool of the devil, and as such, they feel they need to strike back with whatever they have at their disposal. Take, for example, the middle east. There is a wide perception that American media is tantalizing and titillating, but ultimately destructive to their way of life. Their traditions, their way of life and their religion could very well be erased by a society like ours. With the modern media being a strong agent for change and disturbance, and our country shaped by it, the fear that we will assimilate them and remake them into our image is well founded.
• What is the effect on democracy?
Consumerism feeds the globalized-corporation model. Democracy aspires to at least not exploit the labor force and not cheat them of union wages and such. Globalized corporations aim for the lowest possible production costs, specifically avoiding unions and jockeying for whatever country will agree to its terms. In economies other than democratic, the masses of fit, hungry, and teachable workers will leap at the chance of employment, even if in the process they exchange human rights for a day’s pay. Democracy is incompatible as an ideal with the modern globalized marketplace.
Authoritarian-type governments are well suited to the modern marketplace however, with few people to answer to, corporations (or more properly speaking, contractors) are free to damage the environment, behave unethically towards their workers and do whatever they need to do to compete and make the product at maximum profit and lowest cost. The media makes consumerism appear appealing, even the norm. The proposition comes full circle when the exploited worker wants to work even harder at the sweatshop to afford the goods that will give him the status that the media bombards him with.
Democracy is subverted in a consumerist state (Klein 441), its people numbed to the abuses perpetrated against faceless cuasi-slaves in equally faceless contractor dungeons. Democratic ideals require people with knowledge of this oppression to behave ethically and vote with their wallets for those in the marketplace trying to make a change, and like Klein advises “…build a resistance…” (Klein 446).

Works Cited
Klein, Naomi. No logo taking aim at the brand bullies. New York: Picador, 2000

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Culture Jamming, Sexploitation, & other sundry topics of this week...

It would be dishonest, I think, to say I've never felt like putting a mustache on a face on a billboard, if conveniently located. I thought about ads like these, that are just fabulous examples of co opting an advertising campaign to awaken the masses. Other times, people will take their anger out on signs, leaving their commentary on the content displayed.
The attempts to 'fight back' are puny, but they have an effect.

Sex sells very well. And images like this one are a little misleading. On its face, the ad uses sex to push a product. But of all the companies that do use this approach to advertising, American Apparel uses unretouched photographs, puts workers ahead of pure profits and cares about the immigration status of said workers. I don't think they have a conscience. But what if they did, would it matter that they are only partially ethical in their practices?, I mean, the girl in the pic doesn't look too terribly exploited, does she?
Checking out the site in question, the photography used throughout is on a realist vibe, clearly meant to make the viewer feel like it's pictures of their friends, facebook-solo style. I totally didn't know that disco pants were back, and I challenge my fashion forward classmates (cough-Trisha-cough) to get a pair...
So the mistery lies right there. What to do about those retailers that have what looks like a conscience, but exploit women. Yet they pay their workers more, and hire and keep their manufacturing in Los Angeles, CA not Armpit, Vietnam. Read here about them

Monday, April 6, 2009

Title IX recap...

So my group presented on Friday and our topic was women in the media. My part, presented in tandem with Andrew, was Title IX, a cryptically named piece of legislation that has lots of applications in everyday life.
For some of us that are involved in the field of education, I am through my wife, who is a HS teacher, some of you are employees at the school, others just students, we all have a specific relationship to Title IX in that it provides redress when other legal recourses are not able to do so. For example a student raped by a football player, told that there'd be no school punishment for the rapist, found that Title IX applied to her case and that the school was liable by "exacerbating the damage". The decision, S.S. v. Alexander is intended to send the message that a school needs to treat sex abuse complaints with utmost due diligence, certainly not put it below image considerations. The case is not exactly a no-brainer either. But the female involved found that the local police would not prosecute, making her treatment by the school more egregious.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Big boxes, how they censor, et al...

The week that ends today was centered around our class discussion of ch.8 of No Logo, by Naomi Klein. The topic of said chapter is the existence of a movement to censor, perhaps normalize, the output of artists of mostly the recording media in retailers of a certain heft. Corporate entities like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart, to name a few exercise their influence upon corporate parents to recording artists like Nirvana, Marilyn Manson to have their content restyled until it passes muster or is removed or never placed in shelves.
This practice effectively creates censorship boards at the corporate level, in an otherwise freely expressive society. Censorship per se is not unheard of. The consumer exercises such power on a daily basis. On a community basis, we live among people that share some common belief with us, and we effectively censor our surroundings.
This ability to move into a neighborhood of people of similar income, religion, number of children, etc. is not really practical in other places, like Manhattan. You don't know what kind of freak lives next door there and you tell yourself that you don't care in any case. But you do. The fear is there. You hope it'll be a nice freak, one that won't put you through the ordeal of finding another place to live.

Here in Happy valley, we can be sure that the person next door is actually more wholesome than you, listens to less weird music than you, and we hope they won't judge you as harshly as you do others.
Censorship is at the heart of community building. By common accord a community can ban a set of elements that it determines are hostile to its survival. Similarly, corporate agents can and do select for us those things that they decide are suitable for us, the buying public. We the public have a critical element available to us, and that is the ability to directly research and bypass the retailers by finding online sellers of whatever is banned or unavailable locally.

That democratic freedom, unnamed in the Bill of Rights, of finding whatever you can imagine online is not altogether defended, exactly. Yearly it seems there is an attempt or another to put in place censors to web content.
Let's get real for a moment. The United States won't turn into China anytime soon. But China already leads the world in one thing, and that is the ability to censor content in large scale and in real time. The day may come soon when the people of China will be free to surf the web at will and without fear of plainclothes police visiting them at their homes. For now though, it's our turn to enjoy a pretty close to wide-open society.

In page 169 of No Logo, Klein writes about the personality conflicts of Disney, Inc. and their attempts to distance themselves from one of their holdings that ended up acquiring the exhibition rights for a movie, Kids by Larry Clarke. In her analysis, Klein points out that "On the one hand, [the Disney label] Miramax now has deep resources...; on the other when the company decides whether or not to carry a politically controversial[like Kids], it cannot avoid how that decision will reflect on Disney and ABC's...reputations as family programmers..." This means that the censorship not only happens in corporate identity layers (at one point, said movie was released by a corporate facade, to further put it away from the parent) but also because, interestingly in this example, censorship was shielding a reality.

I won't defend the movie in question, but I will say that airbrushing, as it were of reality and turning it into an ideal was a topic of discussion in several lectures in Errin's class in the past. In Susan Douglas's book we accepted censorship because it was meant to portray our ideals, not our deeds as a society necessarily. When there was a couple talking about 'going all the way', it really meant that they were in a way, turning the heated moment of passion between teens into something ritualized, debated and full of hand-wringing, like kabuki theater. Reality, um, ain't like that. You know who you are, and what you did. But the point is, we as a society accepted the subterfuge and took it to mean, yes it's reality. A version of it.
In bell hooks' perspective there is censorship that affected her directly, and our american perspective as well. Someone dutifully exercised censorship over the cultural output so that the black footprint was adroitly blended and co-opted to appear as invisible as possible.
Censorship in Klein's book shows that there is a great deal of content that could possibly change our common perspective, but it gets shut down and goes unseen. In war time, we want to cheer for the soldiers, but those that have seen war up close know that the one thing 'people back home' don't get is the harsh images they carry in their scarred minds. Someone censors what the people should view from the battlefield, someone that calls it either kosher for back home or documentary-only footage. Or how about coverage of crime in New Orleans post-Katrina. Do we really know what is going on there, or do we Want to know?. Someone is censoring the feed from those TV stations and making sure the American public doesn't fixate on the 'violent black city' stereotype. Someone is always going to censor content.
I propose we recommit ourselves to always finding the truth, no matter how unsavory it may be...

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Future of of them, anyway

There's a sea change under way. We've always relied on newspapers to deliver the news for cheap and reliably. Now it turns out the papers are slowly but surely dying out. Denver paper in the link above, Seattle paper here, Chicago paper here, (but referencing LA paper), ditto for Missouri papers, and the story is the same everywhere you look. There's nothing that points to a return of readers to the print media. Where, then, are those readers? funny you should ask. See, the consensus is that readers won't pay for content, or rather, that if you squeeze them out of your website, they'll just migrate to another site that won't charge. And there's plenty evidence that making people go away from your site is a bad deal. The New York Times had a subscription service for a time, then last year, they decided to stop charging and go almost all-free content in order to increase growth predictions. The idea is that you want to show through your server stats that your site has not only volume of hits, but the growth will be there in the future. Then you can pitch your business plan to your prospective advertisers and once more you can be a profitable paper. So the question is, let's suppose that you can make the web site portion of your newspaper profitable, what does it say about your printed on paper side of the business, if the ads space goes unsold? It says it's going to die. It says, let's keep it for the die-hards, but let's make it a luxury item and give it away just for the asking. Do it bundled with fat stacks of ads, though. It's funny, but in the future I see that you'll be able to print on demand, for a fee from a kiosk. Or squint and read the news in your iPhone. I'm not talking about pie in the sky either. There are outlets already that act as portals for multiple news feeds in real time, and there are print-on-demand kiosks like this one that when located at, say, a town library, can give you all the glory of printed paper if you really like it that much. Then there's kindle, that for many will do just nicely, minus the page folding. I like the feel of paper, though...
Since I wrote this, the picture has turned much bleaker. Today I read that a major Chicago Paper, the Sun-Times is under Ch.11. Read it here.

Merchants of Cool commentary...

I commented on Trisha's blog about an iconic girl that has to have a certain combo of brands to feel 'right' about herself, and to be seen in her 'true light'. My point was that like Rushkoff observed, teens and others flock to the perception of 'cool', they surf the perception-wave of cool and dabble in brands they identify with trend-setting or trend-following. The impetus behind the marketing push is the attraction to that slice of the $150 billion pie of money spent by and for teens. The market craves the attention paid to it by the media, and the million ways that they inbreed go largely unnoticed. Read this story at the NYTimes that puts it SO well.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Some thoughts on the freedom of the press...

In today's lecture, we saw the video interview of Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, both reporters at the Fox affiliate in Tampa, WTVT. It was a little like watching a re imagining of the movie The Firm, The Pelican Brief, or maybe Erin Brockovich, going back, maybe even The China Syndrome. A common thread through all these is that there is a group of people operating out of view with the unambiguous goal of silencing those that would tell an inconvenient truth. In one movie it might be a lawyer, in another a journalist but the fact remains that when someone researches the truth, they have an imperative duty to tell it and let the chips fall where they may.
In the rBST or BGH case that we learned about, there were two individuals that were eventually fired from their jobs for reporting their findings and refusing to have their research watered down to not embarrass a wealthy corporation, Monsanto is a large corporation, with revenues in 2008 in excess of 11 billion dollars, employs 18,000 people and is a jealous guardian of its products.
They have sued farmers for a number of reasons, including breeding pigs in a way that Monsanto patented, also for selling grain that was mixed with Monsanto-patented grain in neighboring fields (stuff that the wind blew over, basically) and not least, because farmers had “hormone-free” printed in the carton of milk. They have a number of products that are nominally for human consumption, but have associated with them either questionable performance in animal-trials, or like the Terminator seed technology, that causes plants to die at harvest time, (making the farmer to have to buy more seed every year) that are of a disturbing nature to the consumer.
The rBST controversy has made the public to stampede to organic labels. Only time will tell if these labels mean anything, or similar statements made, like “rBST-free” in fact mean it. Monsanto has been sued for polluting waterways with grievous amounts of PCBs, and lest we think that it was better in the past, it has been associated with a number of industrial accidents, some of them quite spectacular. This makes the Posilac case, as rBST is trademarked by Monsanto, a memorable one. The hormone in question is alleged to be already present in the animal, but if a synthetic version is injected, then another hormone triggers a 15-20% increase in output, albeit at the risk of a number of health problems for the cow.
The marketplace seems to have shied away from the controversy, and Monsanto responded by forming a lobbying group to refute and dilute the criticism. It doesn’t help the public perception when it becomes known that FDA, EPA top-tier people, even a sitting Supreme Court Justice have been in their payroll.
The question one must ask as a consumer is, do I want to be complicit with such a bully of a corporation? You may find that its tentacles reach too deeply into our American lifestyle. Their products dominate the corn and soybean crops in the US, and perhaps in another post we can explore that issue. Suffice it to say, unless you grow your own food (and I mean using your own imported seed, or killing wild animals) you can’t avoid eating products that are directly linked to this corporation.
What I admire in Akre and Wilson is that they took a stand on principle and they did not back down, even if it meant that they’d be fired or ruined. Of late, following the reversal of their win at the lower levels, Fox is suing them for lawyer’s fees, more than a million dollars’ worth. They represent the ethics I admire.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Here's one for the group project...

My group is studying the disparity between men's and women's sports, the size of their footprint, for example, also the fact that few women appear in TV broadcasts as reporters, and the like. Here's a good example of where some of the money goes in college sports. This is UConn Huskies coach Calhoun, he makes over million and a half, just watch the clip linked. Oh, and bear in mind that this is a state-supported university, directly affected by the state's finances. As a follow up read here what coach said when told the legislature and the governor were catching flak related to coach's salary.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Douglas and the Narcissists

Reading the chapters for this week continues to be fun and informative. I actually feel a lot of empathy for Douglas' perspective, mostly because I can picture in my mind the achy feel of inadequacy she portrays for her generation. She writes as a baby boomer that exiting the decade that brought us the failed attempt to pass the ERA, gets tossed right into the years of narcissism disguised as 'I'm worth it, so I'm getting this' consumerism. This was the beginning of the bombardment that continues to this day, where mostly women, are told in ad after ad by a fawning media that they are worth every penny spent in looking like the models in the commercials. The pitch is not new. Pretty models are ubiquitous. But the subtext, the motivation behind the purchase is not 'get this item, it'll make you feel good', but rather, 'get this, because you deserve it'. Lots of examples come to mind, this is a new one if you believe the hype, it makes pores disappear. Never mind that these compounds are all predicated on the manic pursuit of perfection, flawless, gorgeous, whatever those adjectives mean in their quoted contexts. They nonetheless exist as absolutes in the mind of the consumer today, and in the time frame that Douglas writes about (the 80s and 90s). Here's the Cybill Shepard one.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gender roles? what gender roles?

I was reading Brittany's blog and her post about her little brother, I'm sure that most kids in his place would've turned out about the same. That is, spoiled by the older and wiser sisters, and perhaps less in touch with their father. Much more likely to be forgiving and introspective, perhaps. I know a little how he feels, in part because I've four girls. My daughters look to me to shop for matching outfits and have developed their tastes in shoes springboarding from my own. Unlikely as it may appear, I fix my girls hair, and I mean curl, wave & straighten, am picky about product on their manes (all wear their hair long), shop for their clothes and pick their shoes. Oh, and for my wife too. I admit to this only because marriage and fatherhood have a way of blunting the sharp edges I once sported with such pride. I remember my wife asking me all sort of details about our wedding reception and I repeating in a monotone "I don't care". Well, a few years later, I had to care. All because of continued exposure to people MUCH more honest with their feelings than I am with my own. I doubt that being able to apply makeup on my girls, or get an outfit together, or being able to answer the pleading "how do I look, daddy" with honesty instead of an automated "fine, dear, you look fine" makes me less of a man.
Incidentally I do own a couple of pink shirts, and I wear them regularly. Oh, and I started having kids never having changed an infant, I'm a regular diaper changing robot now, capable of heroic and stomach churning efficiency...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dreamworlds, by Sut Jhally

Dreamworlds 3 deals with more of the same vibe we saw in the previous lecture, Tough Guise. Here's another angle to the tail wagging the dog metaphor that the media dangles for our consumption. Disclaimer here, I don't watch this stuff, mostly because I'm not into music, as a result I don't find a lot of appeal in videos. My entire iTunes library across 15 years' worth of collected hard drives is right around 10 or 11 gigs. I know, pathetic. My mother in law has more music in her ipod. I don't own an ipod, just my kids and wife. Sad, huh.
But still, and back to the point the media shapes our culture, much like language speaks us, and we not it, necessarily. Particularly effective is the visual forms of media, like these music videos that are glimpsed in Sut Jhally's piece.

Tough Guise linked

Just stumbled upon this bit here
The part that stayed with me after that screening was the repeated use of the words independent, tough, muscular, physical which seemed, dunno, aspirational perhaps, coming from the survey subjects. I remember my time in basic training in the military, it was loaded with that stuff. My drill instructor used all manner of put downs to shame the trainees into compliance. This was effective to some degree, and created an atmosphere of artificial toughness, posturing, really. I sure remember the crying that went on after the lights went out, and the cycle reset for the next training day. The message that most of us kids got was that to succeed, you had to let the weak people drown in their distress, and that if you could learn to keep yourself cool and detached from the drama around you, you could make it.
Be tough. be muscular, be physical. Now lets clarify here. This was the enlisted perspective. But still. My nephew in the Timpview HS football team was in pretty much the same environment. He was under pressure to bulk up, to be respected and to let others know that he was a big kid now.
To some degree we live insulated from this "tough guy" mind set in Utah County. But it can be seen here and there. I've a daughter that plays HS basketball in a league that includes not only her charter HS, but other, um, 'independent' high schools. The girls she plays against use abusive language because it demoralizes the opponent. They are physical, because it intimidates the other girls. They fall and get hurt and don't cry, because they're tough. See the pattern here?
Socioeconomic factors play into this. Poor kids may have on the average a rougher environment, than nice, smiley mormon kids with perfect families and more money. So in that context maybe appearing extra-intimidating may compensate for the insecurity felt. There was one girl that face-grabbed my daughter and threw her to the ground. Foul was called, two points for my girl's team.
What is toughness then, a posture? or is it what damage you can inflict to others?. My girl was, I think the tougher one. She didn't take it personally and played focused and didn't take revenge. So was the other girl manly in fouling her, or was my daughter manlier in taking it and keeping her game focused?.
What is that anyway, manly. I want my boys to be manly, for sure. But does it mean they should pummel others to be respected, or tease/harass girls? Does it mean to not show emotions like hurt, joy, fear and compassion? Am I manly?. How about my daughters, then. I've one that is somewhat empathetic to others, another one that wants to change into a princess costume from her dress-up chest all the time. One that's not into math, but very much into animals. Another that wants to tease others at all costs. Which ones are womanly, do you think. The one that reads the New York Times? the little princess? the tease? the future vet?.
My point is that the rigid structuring of what makes a man and a woman distinguishable also takes away from the subtle shading of attributes that makes men and women complex, textured individuals. The idea that men could be afraid of their own traits that humanize them, and from this fear to try to shape an identity is laughable and perhaps too true.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I just read this, the #1 most read article in today's New York Times and I don't know what it means. But I feel disturbed.

Susan Douglas ch.3: Sex

For 1961 I thought "Splendor In The Grass" would be tame and sappy. Ok, so it is. The thing I instantly thought of is the Douglas vibe that movies like these, viewed by everyone in the age bracket, created the kind of preachy atmosphere that we, at present are unfamiliar with. Nobody that goes to the theater will mistake "Juno" ( a likeable teen grows-up movie) for preachy, or as a morality tale. For that matter, at the dollar movies the sampling runs pretty low on anything other that action flicks. The landscape has shifted from junk like Splendor (which got an Oscar, btw) to The Dark Knight, in the process dropping the morality tutorial and picking up, well, whatever you're able to glean from Batman (the proxy for goodness) and the Joker (the proxy for a devil) as icons of behavior.
Another one is " A Summer Place" that has a similarly repressive theme towards sex.
Now, before someone asks "what the h@#$ do we Mormons know about repression and sex? let me tell you. Mormons walk the razor's edge right into the Temple, and feel free to correct me if that is not the case.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Susan Douglas, part deux

The reading of the "Where The Girls Are" book for today is on Ch. 3, Sex and the Single Teenager. One observation that Douglas makes is especially astute:

"The other culprit in promoting the Sexual Revolution was, according to the magazines, the mass media", which emphasized the "gratification of sexual drives as natural and glamorous." What's so rich about this is that publishers and editors were hardly above using sex whenever possible to sell magazines, yet they acted as if they were above and apart from the media system they decried."

I chuckled instantly as I read that, thinking, this is exactly what any writer needs to point out, the lack of candor of others, when (in this case, a magazine editor) launches a pontificating diatribe on a subject such as this. Obviously the context of the above quote was a not so distant point in the past, when editorials routinely ran that decried the moral ruin of the nation.

But then again, there is the current state of things, when the very notion of holding a moral ethic based on religious beliefs triggers derision, knowing looks and chuckles as if it were a hopeless, simplistic and idiotic set of principles. Speak of reason and clinical research and you stand on solid ground. Shift into a statement of belief, such as the subject of a recent funding cut proposal and you tread soft and dangerous ground, instantly becoming a dart-magnet for those that see that stance as dated and lacking in common sense.

Insight into Susan Douglas' mind, and a perspective revealed

I started reading "Where the girls are" without any prior knowledge to Douglas and her work. I was pleasantly surprised with the fluidity of her prose, and how many of the arguments she makes resonate and mirror my own practices. In the reading for Jan 21, one passage was very effective and I must quote to give some context: "No one more powerfully or more regularly reaffirmed the importance of the doormat as a role model for little girls than Walt Disney." The preceding paragraph had gone in great detail as to the bipolar persona women had to adopt to harmonize the expectations of society (as far as the media portrayed it) of "...simultaneously, a narcissist and a masochist." (p27). This dichotomy is the subject of discussion in my family, as I have four daughters between the ages of three and fourteen. The constant struggle to help them define their own personalities, their perception of the world and how they in turn are perceived is like containing a radioactive spill!. There's a lot of undoing that goes on as soon as Enchanted, Cinderella, even Shrek or Peter Pan, even Pride and Prejudice finishes playing. The role of women in society, their expectations, are poisoned, I feel when these stereotypes go unchallenged and unexplained.