Thursday, April 3, 2008

Back in Jack: Final Self Reflexive Posting

I figured the Fight Club theme was excellent in keeping with what I have come to learn this semester. It seems there are still the warring Tyler and Jack inside me, as well as inside all of us as media consumers, and thankfully I’ve become a bit more Tyler than Jack, yet Jack still remains as a representative of the impulsive mainstream.
Tyler on Rugby and Parody – Culture Jamming/Subvertising?
Yes, indeed we did learn about the wonders of culture jamming and subvertising. At the time of this posting I had not yet read the material assigned during our last weeks of class on subvertising, so I was unaware that what I posted also related to subvertising. If you look back to that post (titled, ‘For the Love of Rugby’) you see a variety of images endorsing image by bashing other teams (of course as an England supporter I also endorse this). By beating the competition to a bloody pulp in ridicule, the creators of these images have engaged in a form of subvertising. My inner Tyler was impressed that these images had a seemingly greater depth than the less creative French, Aussie and Kiwi supporters could imagine.
Jack on Pranking Rhetoric and Culture Jamming
For this you will need to turn to the post titled, ‘You Had Me at Kerouac’. The Jack in me gave in to clever naming of products, and the subvertising on topics such as smoking and how Hitler wore khaki’s weren’t enough to sway my impulse and easy sell. Hence, I am Jack’s utter disappointment, or rather, I am Jack’s full stomach; fed by clever fashion advertising.

I believe these two takes are the most important I have made since my first evaluation, and although I could go on at length about the other postings I have made since then, I feel it necessary to take a stance for Jack and discuss a sort of catharsis I had whi9lst reading/listening to some rap the other day on the bus. Tyler would not be impressed.
Remember this mug? Maybe not, a fresh talent from Harlem, talented basketballer turned rapper turned pastor and then back to rapper. Mase, perhaps one of the hottest East Coast names in the 1990’s. The thing I realized about Mase and the majority of rap for that matter is that it’s Jack’s ideals to the core. Why? Read the lyrics below and I will tell you.
Yo, what you know about goin' out
Head west, red Lex, TV's all up in the headrest
Try and live it up
Ride true, a bigger truck
Peeps all glittered up
Stick up can, they go what?
Jig wit it cuz ship crisp, split it all
- Mase, “Feel So Good”

Coming from very little, as an African American youth in predominantly poor, black Harlem, it’s no wonder Mase is proud of his accomplishments and the money that comes with it. Riding in a Red Lexus with TV’s in the head rest, the search for a bigger truck, your peeps all glittered up (referring to being ‘iced out’ or decked to the nines in diamonds) and dividing your wealth amongst your friends seems to be the message purveyed by rap. The reason I decided to discuss this is because it’s totally Jack. The constant search for more more more, having the nicest things and being up to date on fashion, trends, etc. is exactly what society encourages us to do through the advertising, etc. we have looked in depth at this semester.
In keeping with the theme of ‘rags to riches’ and the possibilities of having money, I turned to John Steinbeck. In his short novel, The Pearl, Steinbeck writes, “For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.” (Steinbeck 32)

It would be nice to revert to the animalistic revolution Tyler suggests and accomplishes in Fight Club; however Steinbeck seems to encapsulate the pure nature and drive of our species in this passage. Yet, we as human beings are constantly driven - as Mase quite obviously is in his songs – on a quest to complete ourselves and fill the void with the cars we drive, our khakis, our grande lattes, bank accounts, Swedish furniture and the rest.

As a result, I learned that although it would be nice to pull a Tyler and erase the credit history to zero, our species is condemned to always having a bit of Jack floating in the backs of our minds and I think this course has helped push me to make this discovery. A valuable thing I feel I have gained from this course is that I’ve become a bit more Tyler and hope to keep with this blog and posting new information so that other’s can gain the same knowledge I have, break away from the mainstream and learn to critically analyze the media we consume.

In regards to my previous posting regarding ‘A vision of students today’, I have decided to drop my second major in Sociology because it seems useless and redundant. I will be sticking with English though, because it is useful and interesting and provides me with different perspectives on the world through the eyes of other’s stories and narration. This course has helped inspire me to seek out valuable knowledge, not useless common knowledge.
I plan to use the summer reading list Ian offered in class for some more blogging material and with any luck I can keep up to date with prevalent media issues and topics. I’m quite glad I’ve become such an active participant and scholar of media, for I feel this is perhaps one of the most valuable assets students today can have.
Works Cited
Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter. Art Linson Productions, 1999.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1996.
Steinbeck, John. The Pearl. New York: Bantam Books, 1945.

My Vision of Universities Today

The video below seems to express the tensions felt by many students today. As we sit through classes we are constantly googling, wikipediaing, facebooking, instant messaging, texting on cell phones, catching up on readings we are behind in, listening to music and various other things taking away from our education.

Why is this? The answer is because we as students in the 21st Century live in an extremely hypermediated world. Research, as well as this video both voice this. Consider the fact that one female in this video writes 42 pages of text for class, contrasted with 500 pages of email. The email figure is skewed when you consider what context this is in. 500 pages for school related emailing only is what I am thinking. When you couple this with emails regarding weekending, instant messaging conversations, facebook postings and text messaging we as students write well over 5000 pages per year worth of material.

One girl states, ‘I am a multi-tasker, I have to be.’ This holds quite true for students in any program. Considering the amount of readings we are stockpiled with, the various assignments, trying to keep up with hobbies, athletics, music, fashion, film, as well as have a small social life, it’s a wonder there isn’t such a thing as a ‘mid 20’s crisis’.

One of the figures in this video is that we read 49% of the readings assigned to us. As a student this does not astonish me at all, but it should astonish many others not thoroughly involved in the education system. That is slightly less than half of what we are required to do, perhaps this is because 17% of what we read applies to our lives. Being that this course encourages us as consumers of media to engage with and critically analyze media, I think this makes up for at least 10% of what I’ve read this entire year. Being a double major in English and Sociology, half of what I read has nothing to do with my life (being the sociology part). The material seems redundant to me in the fact that I can no longer go on learning of job inequalities. I undertook a sociology degree because it was good job training for the labour market, however the material is such common knowledge I feel half the people at the university with common sense should be awarded a Sociology degree. An example of how redundant the material is would be exam questions asking you whether or not racial minorities have a harder time finding housing than white middle class, or whether there are gender inequalities in the labour market.

Do you now see how pointless some of what we are learning is? I didn’t have to open my text book the whole semester for exams like that, hence why I have 100 dollar texts I have never and will never read, I could have answered those questions at 14. Although I am proud of my good common sense, I find it pathetic that I pay $5,600 dollars a year in tuition, and can take a serial murder course I haven’t read any material for and score an 80 on the first midterm and 68 on the second. Perhaps if there were more courses like this media course at Guelph people would actually get a valuable degree instead of a piece of paper that seems to merely state they are not complete idiots.

My hope for future students is that there is a greater focus on media awareness and less focus on redundant pointless information that either goes in one ear and out the other or we already know.

A Vision of Students Today

Monday, March 31, 2008

Me the Citizen Reporter? Response to Readings

I found Danny Schechter’s The Death of Media quite interesting. What struck me as most interesting and relevant to this course was Schechter’s take on citizen reporting. As soon as I read this short passage I realized the effect of what we have strived to achieve all semester and the outcome we could have on the community.

Schechter writes, “Increasingly, news consumers want to participate in our media, not just be passive recipients of its output. Concepts like citizen journalism are now on the agenda. Blogging is more popular than ever. The idea of being the media, not just watching or listening to it, is finding many supporters. The by-products of this movement are more visible and influential than ever before” (Schechter 140)

One of the by-products of which Schechter speaks is this blog. Our entire class’s blogs. I find this astounding, and am quite glad and would like to congratulate Ian on engaging us more with what we consume as media consumers, and also what we are putting out there. The idea of citizen journalism is, to me, so fascinating because it allows us to throw our own two cents in. No more will we sit back and listen to the same old garbage. We may now draw upon someone else’s thoughts, research what we want to avidly participate in and voice our own opinions, because we, both as consumers and amateur journalists, know that somewhere out there we will strike a chord with someone else.

I never thought about this before, but on Facebook I’ve subscribed to an England Rugby Fan club. In order to upgrade and progress through the ranks you must send invites, start fake brawls with rival fans, cheer your team on and post news. The beauty of posting news is that you choose what is important and others rank it and bump the story if it is important. Perhaps the most useful gimmick, though, is the fact that when you post a story you can add a summary or abstract of what is being said in the news article. I pull these articles mostly off or and get to voice my opinion on them. Being that I was quite angered over Jonny Wilkinson being benched during the final 6 Nations match of the tournament vs. Ireland and promising young star Danny Cipriani was handed his position, I raved on and on about how bad a decision this was. Yes, they won the Ireland game with Cipriani standing in, but just because the icon and golden boy of English Rugby screws up a game that results in a loss to the Scottish doesn’t mean he’s lost his thunder.The rapid progress of citizen journalism allowed me to voice my opinion to fellow fans who also shared the same belief despite an excellent debut start from Cipriani, and it is because of this I hold citizen journalism in such high regard. If the article is still kicking about on the fan page, add me to Facebook and scope it if you are interested. It’s Andrew Pritchard, U of G class of 2010, BA Honours English and Sociology.

Later in the passage about citizen journalism, Schechter writes, “The ‘Blogosphere’ gained new prominence and wider acceptance as a new breed of citizen Web publishers supplemented, and sometimes surpassed, mainstream print and broadcast news outlets in a variety of contexts” (Schechter 142) I find this quite easy to believe in all actuality. Considering how bland some find most news stories, its no wonder people would rather read citizen news than that handed down to us for media corporations. This was there is no advertising besides whatever is chosen to be advertised on our blog pages, no ulterior motive behind our writings. There is also no need to beat around the bush, to be politically correct. Not that I am in any way endorsing religious, gender or race based discrimination, but sometimes things sound a bit more emphatic coming from someone who doesn’t repeatedly edit their work as not to offend. I see great potential for news in this aspect, free flowing news, uncensored by corporations.

However, the last quote does pose problems. As I read in one of the course’s later required readings, blogger’s are able to overrun Google to have their opinions voiced, such as the example of petitioning against fast food chains, ‘McGrease’ and ‘Fourbucks’. I commend these bloggers for their organization and activity, but what would happen if organizations like the KKK or neo-nazis got hold of this and flooded the internet with their racist propaganda? It would be absolute mayhem! Needless to say, I have faith that the masses would wisely choose to ignore this garbage, however, some people have weak minds and a need for a sense of belonging to a cause, and I’m sure they could sway at least a few people with their ludicrous and disgusting ideals.

Works Cited

Schechter, Danny. "The Death of Media and the Fight to Save Democracy". Hoboken: Melville House, 2005.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I Recommend Thinking Before Buying: Response to Class Discussion

Following our group presentation on January 21st lots of class discussion was generated. I believe it was Felicia who touched on the topic of ‘Chapter’s Recommends’. As I don’t do a good deal of shopping on and tend to buy my books in store, I figured I would build on this using Amazon and HMV’s online websites.

I once bought a Frank Miller graphic novel on Amazon (300, it still has my purchase history after all), so now every time I visit the site it has recommendations for me to purchase other Frank Miller titles as well as other comics in and around the same genre. I find this gimmick both amazing and annoying.

On one hand, for people that are time starved it is great. With a lot less effort you’re able to find products that suit your interests. If you purchase Christmas or Birthday gifts from these sites it works to your advantage because it provides you with things that may also be in your loved ones interests. Just for kicks I purchased the box set of the television show ‘Dexter’ season one. With no surprise I was recommended to buy the books (which I already have borrowed from a friend). Also, I had a recommendation for the box set of the television show ‘Weeds’. I found this kind of strange… a person who buys a serial killer TV show is then recommended to buy a TV show about a pot dealing mom? However, I was more than creeped out by this because I’ve also seen that show several times and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Is it that Amazon is grouping these titles in the same category and recommending them? I don’t think so. I think the answer lies in social statistics. Amazon, Chapters, whoever must be paying a social stats company to keep tabs on interests in mass media. My only rational explanation to the results I got from my Dexter purchase was that social stats most likely reveal fans of Dexter are in an age cohort somewhere between 16 and 30. This age cohort also tends to encompass a wide variety of people who smoke pot, or possess a sense of humour that would suit those watching Weeds as well as Dexter. When you think about it, these conglomerates have really done their homework on who’s buying what.

The massive downside to this type of shopping and recommending is when you get ‘shopaholics’ who want it all. My Dexter purchase came to roughly 35 dollars after shipping. But say my friend didn’t lend me the novels and I also wasn’t able to borrow Weeds. My inner consumerist kicks in and I hear a little voice on my right shoulder whispering, ‘you have a visa for a reason… impulse!’ I added the other recommended items to my cart, 3 books and 2 other fairly inexpensive boxed sets. Now my total is 121.09 (before shipping), roughly 4 times the amount I originally intended to spend. And it doesn’t end here. Now because I’ve added the other items I’m recommended Entourage season boxed sets, Kevin Smith books, a 250 dollar boxed set of the TV drama Six Feet Under, a couple of horror and comedy films, and the Riches season 1 boxed set. You set out to spend 35 bucks and here you could be about 1000 dollars later.

I find this whole concept interesting and convenient, however it’s awful for those that don’t know how to budget and/or act on impulse. Considering how much many the supposed social stats companies probably make off these corporations, I think they should be upping the ante when you think about how much these people are robbing consumers of their will to keep a fat wallet.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Nines and Invisible Interface: Response to Class Discussion

I dug a little deeper into the notes I had from earlier in the semester to give myself more of a push and more material for my blog. I encountered a little scribble I had relating a recently released movie, The Nines, starring Ryan Reynolds and it’s relation to transparency and invisible interface.

The film encompasses 3 short films that ultimately lead to an astonishing and profound revelation in the character’s life. Though there are different names used in each different story, and occupation and relationship to Ryan Reynolds changes, the other characters are ultimately catalysts for this sudden catharsis at the film’s conclusion.The first film centers around a hot shot celebrity actor who gets high on crack and accidentally burns down his Beverly Hills Mansion following a bitter breakup with his girlfriend. The second revolves around Reynolds as the writer of a popular TV drama and how he must cut his long time friend and the main character in the show and replace her with a slimmer better looking actress when told to do so by producers. The final film is Reynolds as ‘the god of video game developing’ who is on a hiking trip with his wife and daughter when he loses his cell phone signal and his car breaks down. He then encounters a strange woman walking along a country road that knocks him out and seduces him and then convinces him that he is actually God, the creator of all life on Earth. Unfortunately for Reynolds, he has spent the last eternity creating his paradise and filling it with life (the human race and all animals, plants, etc.) and has lost himself in the process. He has become addicted to creating and forgot that he was God.

I thought that this film was excellent in illustrating transparency and is actually the ultimate invisible interface. What other interfaces do you know of that allow the creator himself to lose himself for thousands of years at a time only to be rescued by one of his angelic counterparts? I know of one you can lose yourself for a few hours in which I will elaborate on later.

Quite ironically Reynolds is a video game developer in the last film. I think this is a ploy to make it easier for audiences to understand the deep concept of invisible interface. It also lead me to ask myself an odd question, ‘if God were human, would he create video games?’ The answer is yes. Video games are the closest thing we have to being God right now. Consider Harmonix’s Rock Band. You might not be God, but you have the talent to play the drums, sing, and play bass or guitar. You can also dress your rocker, cut and dye his/her hair, buy new equipment, download new songs not originally released with the game, etc. When you originally 'create a rocker' you are given options to change the physical appearance, style of your rocker (punk, metal, rock, alternative, etc.), his place of birth (London, Uk; Stockholm, Sweden; Boston, MA, etc.). This allows you to play God and recreate yourself, or someone entirely different as a rocker.

An even better example of the user as God is Halo 3. The ability to create maps allows you to create your own world. You can input gun pickups, grenade upgrades, turrets, vehicles, etc. where you see fit. Therefore, since you are the creator (God) you better hope no one knows your map better than you. This leads me to believe that the final film casts Reynolds as a video game developer because it helps viewers to better comprehend the concept of living and interacting in your own creation.

In conclusion, I highly recommend The Nines to anybody interested in these concepts. Due to the fact that Reynolds seems to be cast as God, I can say with confidence that creating and manipulating video game worlds such as in Rock Band and Halo 3 allows us as users to ‘play God’. Also, playing God with video game technology has allowed us to come ever closer to achieving complete invisible interface and transparency in media.
Works Cited
The Nines. Director John August. Performers Ryan Reynolds. Destination Films: 2007.

Wikipedia: Academic Source or Social Software? Response to Readings is probably one of the internet’s most informing sites in my personal opinion. Want to learn more about that new band you started downloading on your limewire? Perhaps they’re from the 80’s and don’t have a website. Or perhaps they’re website is useless and doesn’t feature information on how the band met, where they’re from. Maybe you want to learn about the myth of Atlantis. Just heard the name of a writer dropped in class and you’re wondering exactly what he/she has to offer? would be the website to check.

In their essay, ‘Oppostitional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/Reconstructive Approach’, Kahn and Kellner drop the wiki bomb by stating, “Beginning on January 15, 2001, the Wikipedia has quickly grown to include approximately 162,000 always-evolving articles in English (with over 138,000 in other languages) and the database grows with each passing day. With over 5,000 vigilant contributors worldwide creating, updating, and deleting information in the archive daily, the charge against wikis is that such unmoderated and asynchronous archives must descend into chaos and not information. However, as required by the growth of the project, so-called Wikipedians have gathered together and developed their own loose norms regarding what constitutes helpful and contributive actions on the site. Disagreements, which do occur, are settled online by Wikipedians as a whole in what resembles a form of virtualized Athenian democracy wherein all contributors have both a voice and vote.” (Kahn and Kellner)

As it is made clear, this is a highly valuable source of information. This is why I am somewhat shocked that the University has a policy (I’m unsure which departments it applies to) that this is not a reputable academic source. Who is to say that academics aren’t contributing to this online encyclopedia? With over 162,000 (ever growing) articles published and available to be cited, there is bound to be an academic in the mix. I believe the problem with this being used as an academic source may lie in misinformation. The fact that there are disagreements over information posted leads to it not being allowed for citation.However, consider the fact that information is always changing. To use a work of literature as an example, just imagine a user posts that (hypothetically) that Jean Paul Sartre’s work was influenced by Nietzsche. Elsewhere (in an academic journal we as students are allowed to cite) it may state this as well. But in a newer work (another academic journal for instance) it states he was influenced by Aristotle. Who’s to say both aren’t correct? Then wikipedia working with its ‘virtualized Athenian democracy’ works this out. My point here is that nobody is actually in the wrong here, both are right, or both are wrong. Yet, we are allowed to cite both these other sources but not wikipedia? That seems unrealistic to me as a student.

The academic problem with wikipedia seems to lie in the fact that it is more of a social source of information as Kahn and Kellner state, “Blogs and wikis are both emerging examples of the trend in Internet development towards “social software” that networks people around similar interests or other semantic connections.” (Kahn and Kellner)

Even in this academic article that seems very pro-wiki, the fact that blogs and wikis are called ‘social software’ is what works against wikipedia as a valuable source of information. Facebook and msn are also social softwares, and of course, universities aren’t going to allow you to cite wall posts and instant messages as reputable academic sources, no matter what their content. In conclusion, I find it unnerving that we as students cannot use this website as a source to cite from in coursework; however the website works against itself in defense of my argument. I would be all for petitioning to have added as an academic source, but due to the fact that it is grouped in the same software category as facebook, msn, ICQ, etc. it seems to have brought about its own downfall.

Works Cited

Kahn, Richard and Kellner, Douglas M. "Oppostitional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/Reconstructive Approach".