Thursday, April 3, 2008

Defining Media

What is media? Everything. The main lesson that I come away from this course with is the realization that media is anything that communicates a message. This concept contradicts my initial belief that media consists simply of mainstream radio, television and film. Messages are expressed through choice in tie pattern, lipstick shade and hair style. Thinking even more abstractly, when walking into a classroom a message is expressed in the way that the seats are arranged. In being made aware of such messages, I have grown to become a more active cultural participant. It is not the realization that these messages are being transmitted, but the meaning created by these messages that is most significant. I have grown to take notice of my surroundings and make connections to class concepts such as hegemony, cultural resistance and social change. I think that the term media is often misconstrued and in reality deserves a lot more credit than it is granted.

What is Social Change Anyway?

What is social change anyway? Throughout this semester, the class has centered on the possibility of social change. But what exactly is it that we have been referring to? I believe that the basis of social change is in making a positive difference. This difference can take place on various levels – personal, community, national or international. As each individual helps to form the society that we share, each positive difference initiated holds equal weight to that of a broader scale. For instance, I believe that an individual choosing to walk to work everyday in order to conserve oil and fossil fuels is creating social change equal to that of a nation spending an hour in which lights are turned off to conserve energy. In both instances, an entire people are being positively influenced. Emission of fossil fuels is no longer causing polluted air and the conserving of energy is taking place during an effective awareness strategy.

Social change is entirely possible; however, it is the movement to make a difference that can cause problems. If people are unable to find a way to channel their causes or are unwilling to change their set behaviour, then society remains at a constant. It is the responsibility of the media to not only capture the attention of the public when an individual is charged to make a change but to compel others to follow in those footsteps.

Communicating as One

The concept of reader-response theory discussed in class is emphasized in Jean Baudrillard’s Requim for the Media. Reader-response theory emphasizes the importance of an individual interpreting the text as a whole based on personal experiences, emotions and knowledge. As the life experience and cultural code varies between individuals, different meanings are derived from the text. In a sense, readers are completing the text by drawing from it one’s own significance. To reduce a work of art to one meaning is to kill it. Application of different interpretations is possible when viewing both mainstream and fake news.

In Requim for the Media, the communication theory process is formulated by Roman Jakobsen as transmitter (encoder), message, receiver (decoder). Baudrillard states, “Each communication process is thus vectorized into a single meaning, from the transmitter to the receiver: the latter can become transmitter in its turn, and the same schema is reproduced” (Baudrillard). Comparable is the theoretical approach of semiotics, the study of signs, in which some believe that a recipient of the sign is required, a chain-like reaction takes place. When a message or sign is communicated by the transmitter, then interpreted by the receiver, the recipient becomes the giver causing the process to remain constant. What happens if an individual fails to understand an intended message? When all individuals derive one’s own meaning from a message, is failing to understand an intended message possible?

Baudrillard, Jean. “Requiem for the Media.” 6 April 2008

Finding My Cause

Throughout the semester, I have been questioned, on more than one occasion, by “what is your cause?” And on more than one occasion, I have answered with a blank stare. To be honest, I am completely uncertain of my cause and that worries me. I expect an individual’s cause to answer the question I posed in my blog profile, what are we all doing here? An individual’s cause should bring a sense of meaning to one’s life. I am interested in many cultural aspects such as communication and ideology. It has been made more so as a result of taking this course, but I have not yet uncovered a passion. I expect that participating in my culture and responding to my community will help me find my cause or better yet allow my cause to find me.

My expectation was supported by a recent encounter with a friend. As I was watching CNN Politics with a group of friends, all of whom were males, we got into a heated discussion about who would be a more qualified President between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. As I defended Clinton, all others teamed up to support Obama. It was inevitable that the issue of gender came into play. During the debate, one of my girlfriends entered the room only to side with the boys. She suggested that since there has not yet been a female President, it was clear that no female had the skills to hold the position. I was shocked to find someone had such little faith in her own gender. Only if in the form of words, I was caused to react. I look to cause female empowerment on a wider scale.

Madonna's Hard Candy

Madonna’s latest cover album, entitled Hard Candy, raises a number of controversial issues centering on gender roles. Sporting a champion belt and fighting tape, the image portrays Madonna’s most recent reinvention as victor of the music industry. She reemerges onto the scene ready to defend her title as music’s greatest. Are her constant reinventions of image truly a sign of greatness or merely a spectacle used to keep the attention of a public that is constantly in need of something new?

Sexual connotations can be observed from the chosen title, her clothes – or lack thereof – and the way in which she is presented taping her wrists. Madonna is marketed as being desirable and successful, traits that consumers can achieve in listening to her music.

It is evident through the comparison of marketing approaches of different generations that the roots of advertising remain similar. Women continue to be presented in a way that places the needs of others before their own. Presently, women are marketed as commodities of beauty. It is important for a man to carry a ‘winner’ on his arm in public. Half a century ago, women were marketed as commodities of the domestic role. This can be seen in the Coca-Cola advertisement discussed in class during my group presentation. It was important for men to select a woman for marriage who fit the traditional gender role.

Similar is the participatory culture, brought about by Madonna’s Vogue, in which consumers could be part of the revolution by buying the record. Consumers can now be considered beautiful and successful by buying Hard Candy, so says Madonna. Do we conform or resist to the dominant culture?

Click here for "Hard Candy" image:

Click here for "Coca-Cola" image:

Conformity of Consumption. Fight it?

My group presentation centered on Joseph Heath’s and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell article. As the article claims, “capitalism requires conformity to function correctly,” my presentation focused on conformity of consumption.

The theory that capitalism requires conformity to function properly centers on the idea of reducing costs by generating greater savings in the mass production of the product. This concept, known as economies of scale, is most successful when society is limited in its range of consumption, bringing the role of branding into play. With consumerism, driven by the force of advertising, companies that have greater access to the public can limit the alternatives of potential consumers. The brand name that consumers are most exposed to will determine the product that they will buy even if that product is not a necessity.

Heath and Potter describe how films such as Fight Club critique mass society. The character of Tyler Durden describes the influence of advertising on consumerism by stating, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy the shit we don’t need” (Heath and Potter). It is the power of advertising – the idea that your life is not complete without a certain product – that creates both conformity and status among buyers. For instance, the belief that through advertising this wrinkle cream or that perfume will produce a youthful image attracts consumers.

The idea of branding relates to the question do you control your media? Although society’s members are able to control the type of media that is favored in terms of television, radio and reading, society is limited in choice by the cultural defining shows, music and articles that are broadcast and published. Branding works similarly as consumers are given the opportunity to select the brand that they buy among the limited competition of each product. It is through such limitation that consumers are forced to conform.

Do brands have the ability to characterize consumers? What are the result of those who challenge the dominant culture and the workings of mass society?

Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. “The Rebel Sell.” 3 March 2008

Oprah: Empowering the People

Empowerment is a concept that I have never tried to define. It is like the idea of love – understandable, but not easily defined. As I have been given the opportunity to discover an academic side not previously explored, I have an interest in learning more about the concept. Although I was uncertain of what blogging was until this class, I find that aside from my initial hesitation it comes naturally. A parallel between blogging and journal writing, to which I am accustomed, is freedom in choice of topic. As a student, freedom in writing does not come often, and it gives me the ability to think on my own terms. I am also able to challenge classmates by the communication available through blogging.

In terms of mainstream media, I am rarely empowered. That is particularly true for television and all of the current reality-based series. However, I was recently channel surfing with my mom when we came across Oprah’s Big Give. Although I had never watched the show before, I was for some reason interested – possibly because of its name. During the episode, each contestant was given $100,000 and required to spend all of it within 24 hours by performing good deeds for people within the community. Easy enough, right? However, rules stipulated that contestants were limited to handing over a maximum of over of $500 per person and $10,000 per organization. Contestants resorted to filling people’s gasoline tanks, taking customers on shopping sprees, delivering household appliances and handing flowers out on the street. For those less fortunate, such experiences were beyond appreciation.

After watching the show, I sincerely felt empowered to help out around my own community. Aware that hard-work and a big heart are sometimes preferable to money, I will look to find my own cause.

Trusting the Government...

Throughout this semester, I have been given the opportunity to draw connections between course materials for different classes. Arguments made in Megan Boler’s article, The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11: “A New Form of Desperation”? are comparable to the recent films Why We Fight and Road to Guantanamo that were screened in my contemporary cinema class. These mediums center on the dishonest conduct of the American government regarding the coverage of news, the invasion of a country, and the treatment of prisoners of war, respectively. Both the article and the films go on to discuss the public’s reaction to those in command who have been labeled as untrustworthy. Boler writes,

What’s unique is that this insistence on the possibility of truthfulness is held in simultaneous contradiction with cynical distrust. The result is a paradoxical affective sentiment shared by many: the simultaneous belief that all truths are rhetorically constructed along with the shared certainty that we have been lied to, that this is wrong, and that there is a truthfulness that should be delivered. This demand is directed at the corrupted synergy created between media and politicians (Boler).

Those engaged in media must begin to question whether their longing for the truth is in relation to the behavior of the nation’s politicians or to the control of the media. Although I believe that both parties share some responsibility, it is the word of the nation’s politicians and not the way in which it is communicated that is most at fault. When evidence surfaces that George W. Bush’s reasons for attacking Iraq were primarily for economic purposes and that civilians were held at Guantanamo under inhumane circumstances, one must be wary of the people that shape the political system.

Boler, Megan. “ The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11: ‘A New Form of Desperation’?” 10 Feb. 2008

Do You Control Your Identity?

As suggested in class, the ideological state apparatus is the reproduction of values of the dominant culture. As cultural norms form and the public is made aware of expected social behaviour, socialization occurs. The values of the dominant culture are enhanced and, more significantly, a sense of identity is created. Not until the point was raised in class was I aware of how prevalent the values of the dominant culture are. Socialization appears within the household, the workplace, the educational system and the church. Each domain maintains a set of practices that conveys society’s members as subjects and encourages them to strive for an unattainable image of perfection. For example, when applying for a job, a potential employee must follow a standard format of handing in a résumé, going for an interview and attending training. Potential employees are subject to those in authority. While encountering each stage, subjects must aim to achieve specific requirements such as the proper layout of a résumé, responses during an interview and dress code. In addition, qualities such as confidence and initiative are expected. The subject’s ability in getting the job depends on how closely he comes to the socialized image of perfection.

Authoritative roles such as parents, teachers and police officers constantly induce other members of society, commonly those of lesser influence, into subject positions. Such contact creates a separation of identity. Is it possible that you don’t control the basis of your identity?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Reality Strikes Back

Can the fake ever become real? In response to this question from last class, I decided to write about what initially came to my mind. I believe that the answer is “yes.” To justify my response, I will relate back to the theme of fake news which we are currently studying. When viewers are using fake news sources such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” as their primary tools of learning, has this fake news not transitioned to real news? Viewers who are dependent upon these shows as sole news sources create a reality based on what they see on screen. For instance, the jokes of those such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert unconsciously sway their audiences into having an identical general point of view about a specific topic.

Furthermore, this reality credits such men with an identity much more prominent then that of a comedian. It is unprincipled to claim themselves strictly as comedians. They are, in fact, distributing news to the public. Therefore, I see them also as newscasters. Do you think that viewers are aware of this media transition? Most importantly, do you think that it would affect the type of news that they watch?

Get off the Couch and Find Your Cause.

Do political satirists have the ability to get viewers off the couch and raise public awareness? Does comedy have the ability to enact social change? These were a couple of the questions posed last class that really started me thinking. To be honest, I am not certain that there is an answer.

First, I think that it is important to classify shows such as “The Daily Show” as comedy, entertainment or news. I believe that the classification of such shows changes depending on the type of person you question. Whereas Jon Stewart has been quoted as saying, “I am a comedian” in order to maintain the image of his show, different viewers watch the show for varying reasons, taking away from it a number of interpretations. Whereas many look to the show as a source of laughter in order to become distracted from their structured lives, others rely on it as a supplier of the day’s top news stories.

Although fake news shows use comedy and the idea of hypermediacy as additional tools to interest and relate to viewers, I do not think that such shows can cause greater public awareness than mainstream media. A primary social fear is the arm-chair activist – one who becomes engaged in the political process while watching television and then fails to take action or plan to make a difference once the show is over. In class, it was argued that fake television can create such behaviour because viewers will be too absorbed in the comedic aspect of the show. I would like to add to this argument suggesting that identical behaviour takes place when watching mainstream news.

Viewers of mainstream news like the idea of becoming more knowledgeable about global issues to further their intellect, but they detach themselves from connecting on a personal level to any of the publicized issues. This is a reoccurring pattern involving the viewing of all news. After viewing the news, little action occurs to improve the global economy. Therefore, can it be believed that the comedic and hypermediac aspects of fake news are only used as superficial methods of engagement, particularly, in the likes of young viewers?

Decoding the Students of Today

After viewing “A Vision of Students Today,” I was motivated to write about my initial decoding of the clip. I found it very relatable in the sense that people my age both participated in creating the text on both sides of the camera. Furthermore, I related to the statements on the posters displayed in the video. The video focused on the voice of the student as the future of the technological world. The voice of the student was compared to both technology and the idea of the more prominent professor figure.

During the opening of the video, the camera pans across an auditorium blackboard with the words “The information is up here. Follow along.” The blackboard symbolizes the professor figure, who by social norms, is expected to convey all of their knowledge to their students. Interestingly, all of the information imparted in the video is by students sitting in auditorium seats across from the blackboard. Throughout the clip, everyday uses of media and technology in relation to the educational system and social realm are featured. The closing of the video touches on complex world issues such as economic inequality, debt, information rich vs. information poor and inflation, with the suggestion that “technology can save us.”

However, directly after these issues are recognized, technological advances such as the Internet and Facebook are acknowledged for inappropriate uses such as in-class surfing. The video demonstrates that the student voice understands issues that are contributing to the economic instability on a global scale but chooses to ignore them. As members of the up-and-coming generation, it is imperative that we begin to take action using the evolving technology exposed at our fingertips – as has been done with the creation of this


Click here for "A Vision of Students Today" clip:

Do You Control Your Media?

When the question, “Do you control your media?” was posed in class, my instinctive answer was “yes.” However, I was forced to reconsider my response as a result of class discussion and reading. I realized that my answer was an automatic “yes” because, not only am I perceived to think this way, but I have never taken the time to ask myself such a question. As I am given the opportunity to control what I access in terms of switching channels, radio stations and Internet links or the ability to simply remove myself from the media influence momentarily, I am made to believe that I have control of my media. However, an interesting concept of the illusion of democracy in the media was brought to my attention through a class presentation. The idea of popular music was raised. Who defines music as being popular? It is believed that the members of society control the popularity of music. Take a step back, and members of society – like me – realize that although we have control over changing the outlet that we use, we do not have control over the nature of the content broadcast by a particular outlet. For instance, although I am able to change the radio station to which I listen, I can not change the content that plays. Therefore, it is media distributors such as radio disc jockeys who control media by deciding what popular music is – that which will draw the greatest number of listeners. As members of society hear a song on a frequent basis due to the selection of a disc jockey, they begin to like it more and more. This notion will cause listeners to tune into radio stations that play the song, allowing them to believe that they hold media control.

The illusion of democracy is similar to the illusion of reality that Schechter refers to in “The Death of Media: And the Fight to Save Democracy.” Schechter describes the current trend of reality-based programming (Schechter 40). While there is an illusion of reality in regard to spontaneous scripting, staging and finales, such elements are configured by show creators and editors in order to create exciting television.

It seems as though with media’s widespread growth, members of society are too fascinated with the continuous evolution to recognize the manipulation that is occurring. Will those slowly becoming aware of it begin to take action? What measures will they take?

Schechter, Danny. The Death of Media: And the Fight to Save Democracy. New Jersey: Melville Publishing House, 2005.

Responding to Texts

As this course has required studying from a number of different sources such as novels, on-line pieces and videos, it is evident that I am forced to adjust my study habits depending on the types of texts that I am observing. The way technology charges one’s senses to work the brain and react differs among situations. This is apparent in the way that light reflects differently off the page compared to off the screen into the reader’s retina. (Lipton, Sept 17 07) I expose my senses to different situations by viewing my favorite news show, “60 Minutes,” onscreen and reading literature as part of class lectures and notes. I enjoy gathering with my family after dinner for an informative hour of innovative stories. The stories publicized on the show cause me to want to think.

I prefer feeling connected to the work that I am reading in a physical sense. For this reason, I favor reading novels over material on the computer to improve my understanding of the information. I often end up printing out information in order to have the convenience of marking up the paper, as I would a novel. In order to absorb the material in its entirety, I highlight important points, make notes in the margin and circle key terms.

Continuous advances in technology bring about changes in today’s reading styles. The best example I have seen of this is in Bolter and Grusin’s “Remediation” which promotes the idea of Internet exploration. Direct allusion to the Internet is made by use of links in place of brackets to demonstrate page references, and footnotes are located on the side of the page creating the appearance of scrolling with a mouse. This creative idea merges the two worlds of past and future – literature and Internet – to establish a higher interest in reading.

Lipton, M. Lecture Notes. THST 1200 The Languages of Media. University of Guelph. 17 Sept. 2007.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Remediation for One, Remediation for All

While discussing remediation in this week’s class, the opinion was expressed that not everyone has the privilege to remediate. I disagree. While economic structure does play a role in the extent of one’s ability to remediate, I don’t believe it is the sole factor. Although the conditions may vary, both information rich and information poor countries are given the opportunity to remediate. As stated in one of my earlier posts, remediation is defined as, “…the representation of one medium in another…” (Bolter and Grusin 45). A medium can be anything that expresses a message or creates a specific environment, such as a tie or the structure of a room. Although economic struggle may prevent some from engaging in technological remediation, I believe that they remediate in other ways. For example, those living in information poor countries take part in the process of remediation through sewing torn clothes together to make new garments.

As a result of Nicholas Negroponte, an MIT professor, children in Cambodia and Brazil are currently being exposed to technological remediation. Negroponte’s goal is to distribute a laptop to every child in order to enhance educational success. His team’s creation of a $100 laptop, capable of withstanding third world conditions, features access to the Web, a camera and a program for composing music. For children who live in places with no running water or electricity, this laptop will change their perspective on life. Negroponte claims of his computer, “…families loved it because it was the brightest light source in the house.” Further distribution of this laptop will help to narrow the division between the information rich and information poor in terms of technological remediation. The media of light and power illuminate from the laptop screen where a wealth of knowledge awaits.

Click here for the 60 Minutes interview with Nicholas Negroponte:

The Truth Behind "Plugging In"

Only since beginning this media course have I realized how much I depend on technology and how quickly it is evolving. As a consumer who expresses only the most fundamental technological knowledge, I never thought of myself as being dependent on things that are incapable of conversing and emoting feeling. My ideas began to shift when the way I use my iPod was brought to my attention. I am rarely found without headphones in my ears. It’s a funny afterthought, but I even depend on my music to walk to class. I like being connected on my way across campus as it relieves stress, gives me energy or just puts me in a good mood. For those few minutes, I become immersed in my own world. Such dependency on technology can influence the way we behave and interact with others. By constantly being “plugged in,” I am withdrawing myself from my surroundings and ceasing all communication with others. Where I may once have taken the opportunity to meet and talk with someone new, I am now content to remain connected to my music.

The same type of dependency and influence is seen with such advances as the cell phone or the blackberry. Ironically, these devices, meant to enhance communication, may actually inhibit it by causing users to remove themselves from the actions of others. This class is already forcing me to analyze the terms by which I live each day. Now that I am aware of my technological dependence, am I required to make a change?

Let the Battle Continue: Independent vs. Mainstream Media

In a previous post, I wrote about the conflicting feeling of immediacy that director, Michael Winterbottom, creates relative to his filming and advertising methods. As a result of this week’s class discussion on the credibility of independent media, I became aware of ways in which I could link the film, In This World, to other developments across the media landscape. The ongoing battle surrounding the credibility of independent media compared to that of mainstream culture can be identified from this film. The popularity of documentaries such as In This World exemplifies how audiences are currently looking to documentaries rather than traditional news sources get their hard news.

Society has come to realize that everything in the news is not truthful. Reporters often search to make a story, leading to the twisting of facts. As a result, many viewers turn to documentaries that spend an extended time looking at a topic in a more connectable way. However, if the mainstream media is capable of falsification, can’t the same be true of independent media? Audiences viewing a documentary, no matter the content, should remember that it is not necessarily the right facts being shown. Rather, it is those facts that the director wishes to emphasize.

In terms of which type of media is more credible, let the battle continue. Although both forms of media convey factual information and demonstrable advantages, personal interpretations of the media creator influence the stories being reported. In turn, it is my opinion that neither type of media is fully credible. It is the responsibility of the viewer to question what he absorbs, fully investigate the facts and reach his own conclusions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Taking a Look at "In This World"

When the topic of transparency came up this week in class I thought instantly of the film In This World I had recently seen to help with my understanding of the concept. Although discussed in class, I thought it was an interesting point raised and one that I shared similar feelings for. By merging fact and fiction, director, Michael Winterbottom’s television docudrama caused me to lose recognition of the medium at hand. In This World, which follows the journey of two refugees traveling to the United Kingdom in search of a better life, forces viewers to contemplate whether the story is indeed fact or fiction. Winterbottom’s dynamic stylistic approach and unconventional techniques such as location shooting, employment of non-professional actors, symbolic use of environmental space and incorporation of limitations of reality all make viewers question the authenticity of the film (Salmon 15 Jan. 2008). In using such techniques he creates a feeling of immediacy for the audience. Not until being told after seeing the film was I aware that actors appeared on screen.

After observing both the trailer for In This World and the film, I found Winterbottom’s methods of audience engagement to be conflicting. Winterbottom remained conventional in that his trailer created an emotional suspense using tactics of hypermediacy leaving audience members wanting to learn more. His trailer features gripping music, attention-grabbing phrases and magnified font to captivate viewers, yet re-enforcing the film experience. Contrarily, a different reaction is fostered when watching the film. A more immediate approach is seen, whereby viewers feel as though they are actually involved in the scene on screen. Such a sense of immediacy is achieved by actors failing to look at the camera, frequent close-up shots and the race against time perceived in the film. I question Winterbottom’s motives in departing from the immediate style of the film when putting together the trailer. I believe that by pursuing a more mainstream method of advertisement, in which Winterbottom neglected to portray the level of immediacy of In This World, he aimed to target a wider audience. This instance demonstrates the significance of advertising and the affect that it can have on the success of a film.

Salmon, W. Paul. Lecture Notes. THST*2500 Contemporary Cinema. University of Guelph. 15 Jan. 2008.

Click here for "In This World" trailer and clip:,2981310-100-wmv-s.5094199-114368,2981310-300-wmv-s.5094201-114368,2981310-56-rnv-s.5094155-114368,2981310-100-rnv-s.5094156-114368,2981310-300-rnv-s.5094157-114368

Click here for a profile on Michael Winterbottom:

Monday, January 21, 2008

Remediation in Everyday Life

As I passed the local McDonald’s on my way home this weekend, the concept of remediation came to mind. Bolter and Grusin characterize remediation as, “…the representation of one medium in another…” (45). Examples include the written word into print and film into television. Although by definition remediation consists of an evolving technological transformation, I wondered if the term also rings true when one medium – such as a McDonald’s restaurant – is torn down and then another superior medium of a similar nature is rebuilt in the same spot. The new medium is a McDonald’s in which large screen televisions, gas fireplaces and upscale paintings are present. To be honest, I don’t know why.

Although remediation consists of a technological growth in which two mediums are involved, I believe that this transformation is evidence of remediation from an atypical perspective. As both elements of hypermediacy and immediacy from the initial restaurant continue to be in effect through the menus displayed, Happy Meal toys served and the accessibility of the drive-thru, I believe that remediation exists under such circumstances.

Boulter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2000.