Monday, February 25, 2013

Now...Live Tweets!

Chapter seven in Neil Postman’s book, “Now…This,” made me think of the short, fragmented type of discourse encouraged by the Internet. There’ve been a lot of times that I’ve participated in comments sections of news articles, and each time I’m struck by the ease that I pick-up and let go of the issue. Even when the article is about something that matters to me, once I’m done in the comments section, I typically stop thinking about it.
Similar to the news’ ability to move from issue to issue, I find that I’m increasingly jumping from comments section to comments section without a second thought. It didn’t bother me before, but now it does, because I fear that I’m becoming a part of Postman’s worry of a telegraphic society that uses little to no depth of thought.
Another instance of this, and possibly a more striking one, is the use of Twitter and live tweeting during the presidential debates. During each of the debates I kept an eye on the various hashtags used by news outlets, and sent my own tweets their way. I found that it was a lot like a comments section that updated extremely quickly. The tweets people sent in ranged from ad homonyms to serious questions, but either way, they were restricted to 140 characters, further emphasizing the inability to dive deep into the issues.
Here’s my question to others, have you ever live tweeted anything? If so, did you feel a similar lack of depth? If not, for what reason(s), and/or do you feel that live tweeting could add anything to a discussion?

Ending Women's Suffrage

What do you guys think about this form of public discourse?

You're the producer of a brand new television newscast. How would YOU set it up?

Postman talks about how newscasters have to be slim and attractive to be viewed as being credible. He also says, "As a producer of a television news show, you would be well aware of these matters and would be careful to choose your cast on the basis of criteria used by David Merrick and other successful impresarios. Like them, you would then turn your attention to staging the show on principles that maximize entertainment value." then Postman continues to write about the importance of music in our media with catchy themes to draw our attention to the screens. These are all aspects of shows that we've viewed as successful, but they are also aspects of the media that (some of us) have disagreed with.

I'm going to open this up to you as the reader to agree or disagree with Postman is suggesting. If YOU were the producer for a TV show or news program, would you follow the suggestions he presents? would you have attractive celebrity-tailored news cast and promote them as being famous? Would you have overly sexual masculine and feminine reporters? Would you spend more then fourty-five seconds reporting an article? Would you have a catchy theme?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Strong Women in the Media

**Beware, spoilers below for anyone who hasn't seen Avengers (and if you haven't you better go see it right this instant) and Hunger Games**

Ever since we watched Miss Representation in class, I have been paying closer attention to the roles of female characters in media. As I write this, I am watching The Avengers. In one scene, Black Widow confronts Loki in his cell on the air ship. If you know the part I'm talking about, you remember Loki's little speech to her about how she's trying to save Hawkeye because she's supposedly in love with him. We think he's gotten to her when she turns around and sounds like she's crying until Loki reveals his secret about the Hulk. Suddenly, she turns around, hearing that the Hulk is part of his plan, thanks Loki for his cooperation, and repeats this new information to Nick Fury. (click here to see clip)

My point here is: she uses his stereotype to her advantage. She's a major character in this film who can stand on her own and kick butt. This character was just as strong in the last Iron Man movie when she takes out several guys while Jon Faverau's character is still working on the first one. (click here to see clip)

Obviously, Hunger Games is another book/movie with a strong, independent female lead who ends up saving the guy and surviving the Games. Some TV shows are getting there, now, too. Last week, an episode of one of my favorite shows, Person of Interest, debuted the abilities of a new female character they are setting up to be an important part of the Reese/Finch team to save lives and prevent crime before it happens.

I'm just curious what other shows, movies, and/or books you guys have seen in which women are more than just a "damsel in distress." Has anyone else been paying attention to this subject since we saw the documentary?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar Pistorius

This goes back to the idea that the news can sometimes change a trial from a person being tried to a character that takes endless scrutiny when nothing has been set in stone. Also, this is half a world away. This has no bearing on the United States in any way, yet it's breaking news on USA today. Hang on. South African news on USA today. Let that sink in.

Now, a few excerpts for those who really don't want to read this.

"In a decision that took nearly two hours for him to explain, magistrate Desmond Nair said Pistorius is not a flight risk and does not show "a propensity for violence" or constitute a risk to the community."

"Bail was set at 1 million rand ($112,803) and a court date was set for June 4. Pistorius has been ordered to surrender his passport and refrain from contact with any witnesses for the prosecution. He is not allowed to use prohibited substances or alcohol and is subject to testing, the judge said."

"(Pistorius) is treating it as, 'Let me go, let me carry on my business as usual," prosecutor Gerrie Nel said. "But it can't be business as usual."

"Pistorius' case took a dramatic turn Thursday as police announced that its lead investigator has been replaced. Botha, who testified earlier in the week, faces attempted murder charges from a 2011 case. The charges stem from an incident in which Botha and two other police officers allegedly shot at a minibus they were trying to stop."
-This is turning into a soap opera.

"All his stories sound like lies," said Ryan George, 28, of Johannesburg, before the magistrate's ruling was announced.
-This is my favorite part of the story. Who is this joker?

"No doubt that he wanted to kill her," said Andre Van Biljoen, 54, of Johannesburg. "If you look at his attitude at the Paralympics, you can see this guy is a narcissist."
-Apparently, this lady is an expert psychologist.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

For those who missed class today--
"Independent Media in a Time of War"
WARNING: graphic images of war

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Attack on a Newscaster's Appearance

In Chapter 7 of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman brings up the idea of the news as entertainment and the idea that newscasters are basically actors.  He says that they have to appear “ likable” as well as “credible” and this is almost entirely based on their looks. This is not the first time I've thought about this idea really, but I think it is the first time I thought about it in this way.

Some of you might remember a news story that got a lot of attention last year of a Newscaster’s response to a letter calling her fat.

This video, the anchor’s response, only really addressed part of the problem. She talks about the damage to herself and to teens, but it takes much more of an anti-bullying stance.  When I first saw the video, I was outraged just like the many others that posted on various social media sites and wrote letters, but I didn't really think about the video as an example of public discourse or think about the function it serves.

The more I think about it the more I wonder if this isn't more of an attack on the letter writer than bullying. What was the purpose of the news story? Did it change anything? I know I didn't really think about bullying as much as I thought about her personal story. Could this newscast have changed the way people think about this issue? And did her appearance and the way she presented herself have any effect on how you thought about the story?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Negative Neil

One of the most annoying things about Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is his absolute negativity towards, well, everything it seems, except for the never at fault written world. He blasts the telegraph, photography, and television, without acknowledging any positive aspects of these technologies.

The telegraph did not only send trivial information, but also requests for medicine for towns stricken by illness. Once wireless telegraphy was invented, sinking ships were able to send pleas for help. Photography is art, and can illicit joy (or sorrow), and this is not inherently a bad thing.

And then, there is television. While Postman finds a long list of things wrong with TV, he never mentions what good it can do. Television can, and does, inspire. Postman writes that people cannot or will not act on what they see on television, but I, at least, have acted. As a young child I watched a lot of shows about archaeology and anthropology, from features about the Pyramids of Egypt, to mummies in the Andes, to the hominid fossil named Lucy. Now I am majoring in Anthropology. And I know I'm not alone. For example this Storycorps video details, among other things, how astronaut Ronald McNair was influenced by the TV show Star Trek.

So, do you agree that Postman is too harsh on modern media and culture, or did he have it right?

Are the movie versions of books creating discussion?

At the beginning of the semester we compared and contrasted several ideas and basics of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.

Being very interested in the movie industry I was struck by the familiarity of the elements in both titles within many films.  There was a new movie trailer I had recently seen that seemed to capture Brave New World's ideas.  So I decided for this blog post to research some other films that had similar themes.  Come to find out there are a lot that have either been strongly influenced by the two books or have at least subtle association.

Movies based on 1984 focus on a time in which the government has complete control, whether with surveillence or other means - virtually there is no freedom for individuals.  Works that convey this include Brazil, V for Vendetta, 12 Monkeys, and Minority Report.

Some would include movies like Blade Runner and Total Recall in this category as well, but there is less feeling that government is controlling, but rather that dystopia has fallen on society as a whole, instead of being inflicted upon the specific characters.

Another movie that seemed to surround the same topic was the 2002 film, Equilibrium, based on a nation in which people have to take a designer drug to stop emotional feeling and keep everyone's mood even.  War was eliminated by suppressing emotion - and books, art and music are prohibited. 

There are several sites discussing the possibility of a movie adaptation of Brave New World, with interest from director Ridley Scott and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.  News of the film began in 2011, so only time will tell if it will go into production.  In 1998 there was a television movie loosely based on the book, but like most adaptations much of the content and character details deviated from the original story.

I was somewhat surprised to find such extensive lists people had put together online of films documenting ideas from 1984, and far fewer about Brave New World.  Most of the films I discussed above are a bit older though, and newer films do seem to focus more on interpretations of Huxley's thoughts.

Do you think this represents a societal shift?  What kinds of discussion do you think these movies will bring to the forefront for audience members?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Forget Security Cameras, Drones are the New Means of National Surveillance

Recently Obama has pulled a page right out the Bush Administration and the Patriot Act by passing laws that now make it legal for the Federal government to use drones on U.S. citizens that are “imminent threats.” For those of you that do not know, drones are like large remote control airplanes that can take pictures, shoot video, and fire deadly missiles. The U.S. has been using drones on foreign nations for years and they have proven to be beneficial because they gather information about possible nuclear weapons in nations like Iran and North Korea without risking the lives of soldiers. However, the recent news about drones being used on U.S. citizens is a bit disconcerting because the phrase “imminent threat” is ambiguous. Imminent implies that something is about to happen, but according to political columnist Roger Simons the Justice Department claims imminent does not “require evidence that an ‘event will take place in the immediate future.’” Instead a U.S. official “merely has to determine that a bad guy has been planning violent activities against the United States and ‘there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.’”

I acknowledge that there are some good things about drones, especially in preventing risking the lives of soldiers, but this recent news opens up a new issue about national security and I’m curious to hear some of your thoughts?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Pirate's Life for [those who abide by copyright laws]

On Friday, a spokesperson from The Pirate Bay (TPB) has stated that they will be suing a website for copyright infringement—a website owned by Finnish anti-piracy group Copyright Information and Anti-Piracy Centre (CIAPC).

You read that correctly.

CIAPC copied TPB's website design and created a nearly identical webpage; only the main logo and title are different.
(image via Torrent Freak)

The site doesn't link users to torrents, rather it offers sources where users could obtain their search items legally. Despite the anti-piracy message CIAPC's website attempts to send, the organization copied TPB's CSS files without permission nor attribution. Furthermore, TPB's usage policy prohibits use of the site's material without permission.

In other words, CIAPC plagiarized design code from TPB.

As a result, TPB is taking legal action. In an interview with Torrent Freak, a TPB spokesman stated:
We are outraged by this behavior. People must understand what is right and wrong. Stealing material like this on the internet is a threat to economies worldwide. We feel that we must make a statement and therefore we will sue them for copyright infringement.
This statement was made tongue-in-cheek. These self-proclaimed pirates don't really believe that stealing design code "is a threat to economies worldwide." They're called The Pirate Bay, for goodness' sake. However, I do think TPB will sue to make a point.

Let's face it, there's a lot of piracy that occurs in the murky waters of TPB. The website normally wouldn't care if someone decides to steal their site design. However, if a well-known anti-piracy group is pirating material, then what exactly does this group stand for? TPB's spokesperson said,"If not even IFPI and their friends can respect copyright, perhaps it’s time to move on."

What do you think? What kind of message is TPB is trying to send? Is it okay for CIAPC to steal from a website that fosters piracy? Is TPB simply looking for some publicity?

Arr, a storm be brewin', me hearties.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Televised Trials

After reading chapter six, The Age of Show Business I find myself wondering more about televised trials. On page 94 Postman wrote, "In New Bedford, Massachusetts, a rape trial was televised, to the delight of audiences who could barely tell the difference between the trial and their favorite mid-day soap opera." Do these televised events only give more attention and media publicity to those who are undeserving of it? What is your opinion of televised trials?  

The Teeter Totter

Don't get me wrong.  I'd love it if we could all join hands and follow the celestial Katie Couric in her divine efforts to solve world issues with the flick of her magical wand, but I’m not buying in to any solution involving the morality of public discourse without considering the condition of our society.

For a split second after the film on Thursday, it sounded like we were concluding our conversation by asking what it was we could do to “free” our society from the evil clutches of mainstream media.  I kind of shudder at the argument that we are a free society, but that only select individuals are free and it’s up to us to even the playing field for anyone who isn’t considered part of the majority.

The theory I’ve been trying to keep in mind is the Teeter Totter Theory.  (I don’t know if I’m coining this or what.  Regardless, I’m sure someone else has thought of this long before me.)  It’s the belief that wherever human life exists, there too exists the purest action and belief, accompanied and evenly met by the cruelest.  As a society, we rally around our constitutional rights because they free us to pursue these beliefs to such an extent that no other system of government in the world can really compare.  What our society forgets though, is the natural balance that must exist to support life.   

Think of it as a real life Dark Knight predicament.  You have a particular system of beliefs or morals that I’m sure we would all deem as “good” acting in support of those beliefs because they have the freedom to pursue them.  Then, you have those individuals who support an opposite system of beliefs and morals that I’m sure we would all deems as “bad” because they too have the freedom to do so.  (This is what we may be referring to when we discuss media concerns, a system of moral beliefs that we don’t agree with.)  This is the Teeter Totter Theory.  In order to provide human beings the ability to grow to their full potential and exceed expectations, you must provide freedoms that also allow them to sink as low as they possibly can.

It’s a depressing outlook, I know, but it’s important to remember that there is balance in any society and we need to be careful when we decide that we are going to limit the morally misguided through laws and protests in an attempt to tip the scale in our favor.  In our attempt to “free” our country’s minorities, we may just limit our potential as a society.  It’s just something I think we should keep in mind before we start writing congressmen and making signs.

I’m sure there’s plenty who disagree.  I look forward to your thoughts for or against, but know that I’m all for women’s rights and improving public discourse.  I just don’t think blindly following our moral values is the way to go about fixing the problem.

Was Miss Representation Misrepresenting?

After reading Heather and John’s blog posts, I decided to give my two cents on Miss Representation as well.  I also found some flaws in Newsom’s documentary and the presentation she gave here at BSU.  Actually, too many to fully analyze in the span of a blog post because I’m lazy, but I’ll touch on a few.

First, I think she negated the responsibility we have as consumers.  It’s easy to point the finger at the media, but at what point does the media’s responsibility end and the consumer’s responsibility begin?  I would argue that consumer responsibility supersedes media responsibility.  As consumers, we can choose whether or not to tune into a program.  If a consumer deems a program to be particularly damaging, why not shut it off?  After all, if enough consumers follow suite, the program’s funding and rating would eventually tank, and it would be removed from the air.  And this all raises another question—who are the consumers?  Reports show that women generally consume more television than men, by as much as an average of 40 minutes a day (excluding video game time).  And this is just straight television time—I’d be curious to see the viewer demographics on tabloid shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  So while, according to Newsom’s documentary, men may generally have more say as media producers, women may generally have more say as media consumers.  And the persistence of programs like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo can only evince that consumers are allowing them to exist.

Second, Newsom made kind of an unwarranted jab at capitalism.  She characterized the media as these big capitalist exploiters—constantly selling us products without any sense of morality.  Assuming this is true, how can we be sure Newsom is not guilty of the exact same thing?  What is Miss Representation if not a money-making, capitalist machine?  Miss Representation is not a nonprofit piece of media.  In other words, the proceeds go to Newsom, not the cause she claims to support.  How are we to know that she is not exploiting the social-conscious youth that her documentary is directed towards?  If she truly wanted to establish credibility and solidify her position against the supposed exploits of capitalist media, why not make Miss Representation not-for-profit and donate its revenue to her supposed cause?  Newsom may be using the exact business model she criticizes by masking it as social justice.

Third, at one point during Miss Representation, Paul Haggis claims that the 20s, 40s, and 50s were a better time for women in the media.  He states that, back then, “we allowed women to really embody all of the contradictions that make up a human being,” and concluded that 50s media accepted women as “complex human beings.”  And yet later in the documentary, the same time period is criticized as being non-progressive.  Jane Fonda states, “This [gender inequality] is not new.”  She says that even in the 50s women were being exploited in the media, using the fact that her film executive asked her to “wear falsies” as evidence.  Why did Newsom choose to include two contradicting pieces of evidence in her documentary?  To me, this either shows a large executive oversight on Newsom’s part, or her willingness to utilize any unfiltered speck of evidence to sell her idea, self-contradictory or otherwise.  It makes me question other evidence she uses—where else does she (perhaps more subtly) contradict herself?

Lastly, Newsom chose to conclude her documentary with these final words spoken by Dianne Feinstein, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as a man to be thought of as half as good; luckily that’s not too difficult.  I thought this was an extremely poor conclusion.  While Newsom persistently stated in her BSU presentation that gender inequality should not be viewed in terms of “males vs. females,” I feel that Feinstein’s words do just that.  They encourage a rift between males and females by placing them at odds with each other, and the fact that this is the very last message imparted by Miss Representation speaks volumes.  Why not instead conclude the documentary with words of unity?

So while I fully agree and support what (I hope) is Newsom’s ultimate goal, gender equality, I disagree with a lot of the methods she is using to achieve it.  And don’t get me wrong, I agree with some of the methods she uses as well.  For instance, I found some of the empirical data Newsom cites to be astounding and some to be, better yet, verifiable, but ultimately I think that the utter fallaciousness of a few methods really undermines her cause as a whole.

But as I said, this is just my two cents.  What do you guys think?

P.S.  I really didn’t intend for this post to be so lengthy when I began writing it, so kudos if you were able get through it.  As I’m sure you must be visually stunted by now, please indulge in amusing yourself back to health.  Here, have a LOLCAT.

Miss Representation and Female Protagonists

After watching Miss Representation last week in class, the one thing that stayed with me was the idea of a female protagonist. Now the documentary wasn't telling me something new about women in men dominated work fields like politics or news. But the idea of the lack of fictional female main characters did make me think more about their presents in films and television shows. And they are lacking. So why would I bring up that small detail from the documentary? Growing up (and still to this day) I read tons of books—in the Young Adult genre—with many strong female protagonists. These characters embodied the type of person I wish I could be in real life. Their experiences engrossed me outside of the real world, and it is this feeling that I now always seek when reading a piece.  So the idea that female protagonists out there in some form of medium are lacking has never been in my mind before.

This brings me to my next point about female main characters from YA literature. In Miss Representation the success of Twilight, the YA romance novel by Stephanie Meyers, was mentioned from the director, Catherine Hardwicke. That same day I found this article talking about the upcoming YA novels-turned-movies coming to theaters thanks to the success of Twilight. The main reason I thought this short article was a great mention was because it mentions the disregard of the teenage girl demographic that Twilight tapped into when it came to studios. I felt like this goes along with what some of the women were mentioning in the documentary. I remember Rosario Dawson talked about getting stories written down by women out there. And that is exactly what is happening with movies nowadays. Many of the adaptations of YA books that I know of are written by females with female protagonists (and the same is said for teenage boys) and the authors usually have some involvement in the production of the adaptation.

This is a still of the female protagonist Clary Fray from the upcoming Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones movie adapted from the novel City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.
This is another YA series by Lauren Oliver that has been offered a pilot on Fox's network that showcases a strong plot line and a strong female character.

So for me much of what the women were saying about there being a lack of in the film industry I was finding elsewhere. That is my main point: it’s out there; it’s just harder to find. And now it’s even melting into the films and shows we are exposed to. Is this a good thing that the YA genre is getting filmed more now? Can any bad come from this? Are these adaptations tapping into what the ladies were talking about in Miss Representation, about the lack of female protagonist or even an age group like teens and children? Or am I just focusing too much on one tiny detail that this documentary made me think about (and am I even making sense)?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Has Media Gone Too Far?

In the documentary our class recently watched, Jennifer Newsom’s Missrepresentation, a lot of time was devoted to revealing the ways media influences us through television.  But now it seems the media’s ploy for world domination / mind control may be spanning a little further.  According to a report issued by Econsultancy (that they welcome you buy in its entirety for the mere price of $400), 71% of businesses plan to spend more on digital marketing this year than last.  In contrast, only 20% of companies plan to increase their offline marketing budgets for this year.  Indeed, it seems the media is in the process of making the big shift to a computer screen near you.  Which really could mean only one thing:  more popup ads.

Yep, that’s more birds given beefy arm transplants in the name of science:
(Honestly, what benefit could come from doing this to a seagull?)

And more hot singles looking to hook up at a place near you:
(Why do these women always ignore my smooth, flirty replies?)

Or, even worse, this could mean more of the media gaining a foothold in the one true safe haven that is the Internet.  Where then will Americans allow their children to seek supervision-free entertainment?  Toys?  Books?  Outside?!  NEVER!

But what do you guys think?  Is it discouraging to know that the media will be continuing to push its marketing agenda on us?  What effects do you think it could have?  Is there any way we can combat this?