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".

You Had Me At Kerouac: Response to Readings

I’ve been contemplating buying a pair of Nike Frees since they hit shelves. I don’t exactly know the dynamics of how they work, but since there is a relaxed sole the shoe helps build balance and leg muscle while walking – two vital things any athlete needs. The problem with them (being as I am fashion conscious) is that they’re a shoe predominantly for the gym. You’d look somewhat ridiculous wearing them to the bar, beach, or even on your friend’s patio in summer heat.In a recent ad I glanced at in Surfer magazine there were a pair of shoes boasting the same dynamics as the Free but in an ultra cool relaxed way that you could easily pull off wearing regardless of circumstance. They were aptly titled The Kerouac (after famous beat generation writer Jack Kerouac) and made by Sanuk Shoe Company.

I was immediately sold and have scoured skate/snowboard shops for them ever since with no success. When I read Christina Harold’s article “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism” I immediately realized how easily I was sold off on a pair of shoes with a clever name.

Harold writes, “The Gap's infamous appropriation of the likenesses of counter-culture heroes Jack Kerouac and James Dean to sell khaki pants inspired a similar response from the adbusting community. To the Gap's claim that "Kerouac wore khakis," a group of Australian subvertisers responded with the likeness of another 20th century icon who wore khakis as well - Adolf Hitler. As such, Gap khakis were recoded as a means not to rugged individuality but genocidal totalitarianism - the conformist impulse writ large.” (Harold)

Once again as a consumer I have sold myself short just because an admired writer has had a shoe named after him that has absolutely nothing to do with him. I’m not familiar with the ad campaign that Harold writes of, and I’ve always worn khakis, but I would probably be tempted to pick up another pair now knowing film legend James Dean and writer extraordinaire Jack Kerouac wore them. The sad thing about Harold’s article and the Aussie subvertising campaign launched to ridicule khaki wearers everywhere by stating Hitler wore them too is that I just don’t care. I’m sure 95% of consumers don’t care… in fact; when I read that Hitler famously wore khakis I thought to myself, “Hitler was responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, but at least he looked good doing it.” The same applies for the Kerouac shoe I’m so hard pressed to find. They’re probably manufactured in sweat shops in Thailand for all I know, but the fact remains for me and other consumers that they exist and are there to be bought.

The same applies to ad campaigns to counter smoking. I have smoked off and on since grade 8, and the first time I picked up a cigarette was because I wanted to be the rebel. I’d read a bit of Hemingway, everyone was always smoking, I’d seen a few James Dean movies, and I wanted to be a trailblazer just like them and become the first kid in class to smoke. You will also notice the Jack Kerouac picture at the top of the page depicts him smoking a cigarette as he contemplates something deep. As Harold states, “Smoking is what distinguishes you from the pack. It is what makes you a rebel.” (Harold) The desire to be the individual is what drives everyone in consumerism and that drive will always be there, there is no changing it. I’d seen antismoking ads prior to my first cigarette, I knew the risks, but I also knew while every other kid was eating their dunkaroos and salami sandwiches they’d say, “Guys check it out… Pritchard’s over behind the portables hacking down a dart. Whoa, he’s bad ass. I wanna be bad ass too. Let’s start smoking.”

In conclusion, while some may be swayed by pranking rhetoric and subvertising, the general public and consumer population is not so easily affected. I’ll still be buying my Kerouac’s regardless of how they’re made just because of a clever title. I still smoke from time to time no matter how many times I’ve visited or seen one of their ads. The desire for individuality just won’t be crushed by an ad campaign. Consumers are much more easily won over than anti campaigners may realize. Needless to say, if anti campaigners win over the few then good for them, some is better than none. I just hope I don’t get an anti-campaign launched against me when my Hemingway hiking boots with a lighter and bottle opener and corkscrew in the sole launch next fall.
Works Cited
Harold, Christine. "Pranking Rhetoric: 'Culture Jamming' as Media Activism." September 2004

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sex and Consumerism: Response to Readings

Heath and Potter’s article was quite informative to me and I really enjoyed Monday’s presentation on the article. I think it resonated so much with me because of the filmic referencing of Fight Club and American Beauty, and more importantly, because of the four tenets of capitalism/consumerism, particularly the third one.

Heath and Potter’s third tenet of capitalism/consumerism is as follows: “Capitalism requires sexual repression. In its drive to stamp out individuality, capitalism denies the full range of human expression, which includes sexual freedom. Because sexuality is erratic and unpredictable, it is a threat to the established order. This is why some people thought the sexual revolution would undermine capitalism.” (Heath & Potter) Although this statement is quite true in its analysis, I think that capitalism attempts to stamp out individuality by means of promoting individuality – which then sets a double standard. For example, consider the hundreds of ads for weight loss products, acne medications, axe deodorant spray, or anything else that has to do with making us as consumers most desirable in the bedroom. The good majority of these advertisements are aimed at the average Joe/Jane and promise to transform them into the few/the elite/ best in show by clearing up acne, shedding that belly fat, making you smell good, etc.

Heath and Potter also reference Naomi Klein’s No Logo and state: “Unfortunately for Klein, zoning changes in Toronto (changes that were part of a very enlightened and successful strategy to slow urban sprawl) allowed yuppies to buy their way into her neighbourhood. This led to an erosion of her social status.” (Heath and Potter) This illustrates my point brilliantly; due to the fact that the average people started buying into Klein’s neighbourhood, it abolished all interest in it because it became the norm instead of promoting Klein’s individuality.

This whole third tenet provides a bit of a double standard, consider the scene in Old School where Will Ferrell and his new wife talk about their sexual fears with a psychiatrist. Frank (Ferrell) says the other day he found himself looking at the waitress serving him and wondering what kind of panties she was wearing, “Chances are they’re just plain cotton panties. But maybe they’re silk. Maybe it’s a thong… maybe it’s something so cool I’ve never heard of it” (Old School) In the drive to stamp out individuality (the plain cotton panties), the consumer society has provided us with a wide range of alternatives: thongs, crotchless panties, g strings, etc. Does this not then mean more alternatives = more individuality? And does society not deem that individuality is sexy in modern society? By this example, it seems that Frank is more interested in the waitress if she is wearing something ‘so cool he hasn’t heard of it’, instead of the norm. Therefore we can conclude that in the drive to eliminate individuality and repress sexual desires, consumerism sets a double standard that reinforces both consumerism and individuality.

Works Cited

Heath and Potter - "The Rebel Sell"

Old School. Dir. Todd Phillips. Perf. Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughan.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Comics or Graphic Novels? Response to Class Discussion/ Readings

While listening to tonight’s class presentation on fake news and reading a graphic novel, “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, I was able to draw a pretty clear parallel between the world of fake news and the graphic novel.

Having grown up reading comics, I’ve always held them in high regard as a way to communicate with an audience. I also respect the fake news because being in the demographic that fake news is targeted to it goes without saying that I am a consumer.

The Jeffrey Jones article states, “I argue that even though The Daily Show is a fake news show, its faux journalistic style allows the show’s writers and host to question, dispel, and critique the manipulative language and symbolizations coming from the presidential campaign while simultaneously opening up deeper truths about politics than that offered by the “objective” reporting of mainstream journalism” (Jones). As a consumer of fake news, I feel that this analysis is bang on. There is something about the black ties, suits and mahogany desks that alienate our generation from coming away from a CNN newscast with the vital information. With fake news, since it entertains us and catches our attention quickly, we are more likely to engage with it.

I felt this relates to my opinion on the graphic novel. Since people today are in such a rush, reading a full length novel is a hassle to most. However, since graphic novels advance reading through cutting description because images are displayed, it is quite time efficient. My view is that with an increased stress on time, the next generation will grow up reading more and more graphic novels. It seems to me that comics may not be just a children’s vice anymore, but a much more concise and clearer way of conveying things to the audience.

My other point regarding the graphic novel is that it captures an audience’s attention immediately with its illustrations. The illustrations seem to make reading more enjoyable and give reader’s something to look at while they read so it isn’t just word after word with entirely mental pictures. “Persepolis” is a novel about the Iranian revolution and a young woman’s childhood and transition to adulthood. To some, this may be boring if they had to read dates and facts about the revolution, however the images entice me as a reader and draw me in. Take a look at the images above… would you rather read a historical text about the revolution? Or gain your knowledge about the Iranian revolution through Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel? I know where I stand – with fake news and graphic novels, a product of the next generation of infotainment, with a finger in the air to the bland and boring.
Works Cited
Jones, Jeffrey P. " 'Fake' News versus 'Real' News as Sources of Political Information: The Daily Show and Postmodern Political Reality"
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. Toronto: Pantheon, 2003.