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meyler.mass.media

Archive for Mass Communications

One Act at a Time

One Million Acts of Green is an activist project that I first got involved with because of Facebook (surprise, surprise). One of my friends sent me an invitation to join the Facebook group and it convinced me to take part. The project is an environmental movement spearheaded by CBC and Cisco that began October 21st of this year. The goal is to get Canadians to perform easy tasks to help the environment.

Green is the New Black

On the OMAG website, a list of acts are given, ranging from everyday habits like using a refillable coffee cup, to big home projects like insulating the attic. Every time you do an act, it adds to your total acts of green counter and the green calculator tells you how much greenhouse gas emissions were just reduced.

The project combines a number of different media to communicate their message. By having an interactive website, by garnering support through social networking sites like Facebook, by involving celebrity support like Alanis Morissette and David Suzuki, and by using television and radio, OMAG is able to promote and propagate their cause to larger groups of people.

An activist project like OMAG shows that a little change can add up to make a big difference. So far, there have been 379,036 acts of green across Canada, which have saved a total of 17,486,636 kg of GHG from going into our atmosphere.

Although as an individual, my contribution to the cause may be small, I know that it’s not insignificant. “Together we can make an impact. Together we can make our lives, our communities, and our environment greener. One million acts of green, one act a time.”

Go to the One Million Acts of Green website to start adding your acts to the cause.
Or, add yourself to the Facebook group and help spread the message.

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Den of Theives

Copyright laws make this into a crime.

Participatory culture recognizes it for what it is: art.

Participate, Broadcast Yourself

As I wrote in my second post, ‘Putting the “You” in “Tube,”’ the phenomenon of YouTube is an interesting one. The site describes itself as a place where “people can see first-hand accounts of current events, find videos about their hobbies and interests, and discover the quirky and unusual.” While all of these qualities are true, the significance of YouTube is that it enables people to participate. YouTube is part of a participatory culture.

In his blog, professor Henry Jenkins mentions how YouTube was used during the American election. For the candidates’ debate, citizens were given the opportunity to send in questions through YouTube. This allowed for people to ask questions that were particularly important to them that might otherwise go unasked by journalists. Subjects like gay marriage, Darfur and Iraq were brought up through a more personal light. YouTube being a part of the debates directly involved people in what was happening. It explicitly showed that they were part of the event, that they were part of their government, that they were part of their democracy.

Because YouTube lets anyone upload their videos and lets everyone watch those videos, it creates a space where people are encouraged to express themselves. The public can change from simply being consumers of a medium to being producers of that medium. Just like Walter Benjamin wrote, “an increasing number of readers and became writers … the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.” This melding of creator and consumer is what defines a participatory culture.

Sources:
Benjamin, Walter.  “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 23 Sept. 2008. http://grace.evergreen.edu/~arunc/texts/frankfurt/benjamin/benjamin.pdf.

Jenkins, Henry. “Manufacturing Dissent: An Interview with Stephen Duncombe.” 23 July 2007. Confessions of an Aca/Fan. <http://henryjenkins.org/2007/07/manufacturing_dissent_an_inter.html&gt;.

Throwing Clogs in the Machine

Society is highly structured. As I discussed in previous posts with the ideas like hegemony and cross media ownership, it can start to feel like everyday, something or someone else is telling me how to think and act. This is what makes up the mainstream: people thinking and acting in the same ways all the time. However, some would say that it’s best to steer clear of the main stream, to step off of the beaten path to experience new ideas and ways of thinking. Some would say that society is too structured, and that it needs to be shook up and rattled. Some would say that billboards need to be hijacked and advertisements need to parodied. Some would say that graffiti needs to go on every building and that important figures need to get pies in the face.

To others, these acts might sound like anarchy and creating deliberate chaos, but for the people who are doing these acts of activism, they are simply culture jamming.

Culture jamming is a rebellion against convention. It comes as a critique of the many orthodox that drive our culture, such as commercialism, consumerism and corporate ideologies. Although they can come in almost any form through art or pranks, their foundations are rooted in the same objective: to inspire a different way of thinking.

As semiotics has shown, any good advertisement uses sets of well-established symbols and concepts. They use them to sell their products, and as Roland Barthes would see it, to add their image into a socially understood and accepted myth. However, many culture jammers use this same tactic. They apply the same social myth and twist in another way.

“An Adbusters parody of Calvin Klein’s “heroin chic” ads of the mid-1990s, for example, features a female model hunched over a toilet, vomiting, presumably to maintain her waifish figure. The ad tells viewers that women are dissatisfied with their own bodies because “the beauty industry is the beast” …. 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).

As Christine Harold describes in her work on media activism, these acts all “introduce noise into the signal.” Like a game of broken telephone or Daniel Chandler’s discussion on encoding and decoding, culture jamming looks to skew the mainstream messages that people are bombarded with everyday.

However, not every act of culture jamming has to be nearly as rebellious and subversive. Some, like Newmindspace, just act as an opportunity for people to do what they wouldn’t normally do. Started in 2005 by Lori Kufner and Kevin Bracken, Newmindspace organizes large-scale transformations of cities. Past events have included subway parties in Montreal, pillow fights in New York City’s Time Square and games of capture the flag throughout the streets of Toronto. Everyone is invited and the only goal is to have a good time. Newmindspace turns cities into “urban playgrounds” as they look to replace “passive, non-social, branded consumption experiences like watching television,” resulting in “a global community of participants in a world where people are constantly organizing and attending these happenings in every major city in the world” (“Urban”).

Newmindspace and other culture jamming initiatives give people the chance to think and act in ways that aren’t shown everyday; to sabotage the ordinary.

Sources:
“The Urban Playground Movement.” Newmindspace. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://newmindspace.com/urbanplayground.php&gt;.

Chandler, Daniel. “Semiotics for Beginners: Encoding/Decoding.” 19 Feb. 2001. Aberystwyth University. 25 Sept. 2008 <http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem08c.html&gt;.

Harold, Christine. “Pranking rhetoric: ‘culture jamming’ as media activism” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21.3 (2004). 26 Nov. 2008 <http://www.informaworld.com&gt;.

Digital Renaissance

Technology changes quickly. So much so that it can be hard to keep up with innovation. But this should be seen in a positive light. With each new innovation, it highlights man’s capacity to progress. However, as with any new way of thinking or new way of doing things comes along, there will always be those who prefer the old methods because it acts in their favour.

Lawrence Lessig writes about this in relation to the copyright wars in his book Free Culture. He discusses how the entertainment industry is struggling to readjust to the electronic environment that it’s finding itself in. Instead of adapting to the new situation, groups like the RIAA and the MPAA are simply trying to keep things the way they were before the Internet made it possible to access and share all kinds of content. They are trying to arrest development.

Another example of this would be the position of net neutrality that I wrote about in the last post. It’s large governing bodies looking to deter advancements in order to hold onto and safeguard the disproportionate control that they enjoy. It’s the dominate looking to keep the dominated submissive. It’s hegemony.

But the times they are a-changing.

As we move farther into an electronic culture, more ways are becoming available to allow people to step out of their dominated position. Henry Jenkins names this time as the “digital renaissance,” and as with any renaissance or revolution, unease and discord can be expected. However, when both sides of the battle are able to find agreement, I’m sure that we’ll see that we’re better for it, and a new “cultural order will emerge” (Jenkins).

Sources:
Jenkins, Henry. “Convergence? I Diverge.” June 2001. Technology Review. 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.technologyreview.com/business/12434/page1/&gt;.

Lessing, Lawrence. Free Culture: the Nature and Future of Creativity. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

Regulate Everything!

I’ve come to the conclusion that everything in this world should be regulated. It would make things run a lot smoother. Control the way that people dress. Control the way that people pray. Control what people say. Control how people think. Do this and you won’t have any of those nasty radicals doing what they please all the time. It sure would make it easier to earn money. Because of course, this is of the highest importance.

At least it certainly seems like it is. It seems like the right to free speech is losing the battle against corporate principles. Especially in the case of network neutrality.

The problem comes from the large cable companies that supply cable for the Internet looking to gain a level of control over the Internet. Their argument stands that since they provide the service, they should have the right to some jurisdiction of that service. Companies like Rogers, AT&T, Tellus and Bell are lobbying the government to remove the state of net neutrality on the Internet. This would leave them free to be gatekeepers, “deciding which websites load fast or slow, and which won’t load at all. They have expressed interest in charging content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They also have the ability to discriminate in favour of their own search engines … while slowing down or blocking their competitors” (“F.A.Q”).

If this were to happen, it would completely change the Internet as a medium. It would change it from being one of the few media that is self-regulating that can act as a free space for ideas and information, to being just another instrument controlled by the interests of a company.

The elimination of net neutrality means that the public isn’t able to make their own decisions about their Internet.

Fighting to keep the Internet neutral in Canada are initiatives like saveournet.ca and neutrality.ca. They spread the word about the problem through petitions and letters to the CRTC, which is the commission responsible for telecommunications in the country. In one news release on saveournet.ca, it speaks about how the CRTC is reviewing a case against Bell who has been requested to cease and desist throttling Internet traffic. The site also mentions how the NDP and the Green party have worked the issue of net neutrality into their platforms.

I’m not ok with AT&T, Bell or any other ISP deciding which websites I can or cannot visit. They have no right to that kind of control over something that isn’t their property in the first place. The Internet is no one’s sole possession. As Sir Tim Berners-Lee said while discussing the problem of net neutrality, “When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.”

Decisions about safeguarding the neutrality of the Internet should be a concern for every person who uses the Internet. If corporations begin to have authority over the medium, it would mean a loss of a true open marketplace of ideas, it would be stifling to human progress, and it would bring us one step closer to a culture where everything is regulated.

Sources:
“F.A.Q.” saveournet.ca. 20 Nov. 2008. <http://saveournet.ca/content/faq&gt;.
Stokes, Jon. “Tim Berners-Lee on Net Neutrality: ‘This is Serious.’” 23 June 2006. Ars Technica. 23 Nov. 2008. < http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060623-7127.html&gt;.

It’s a Time Warner World

Time Warner is a media company. They describe their business as keeping people “informed, entertained and connected.” This task becomes easy to do with a company as large as theirs. The Time Warner net is cast wide with it covering a variety of different arenas. With its six brands that include AOL, Time Inc., Time Warner Cable, Home Box Office, Turner Broadcasting System and Warner Bros., the company has stakes in Internet, cable, film, television and publishing.

Time Warner is a multinational media corporation. It is the second largest media company after News Corp. Its net income is US$4.39 billion, it employs over 85 000 people, and its total assets are worth US$133.84 billion. Time Warner has managed to gain so much profit just from the simple fact that they own so much.

A list of their holdings is a long one. The AOL brand has Netscape, Moviefone and MapQuest. Time Warner cable owns various local news channels from around the States. HBO has Cinemax and E!. TBS ranges from the Cartoon Network to CNN. Warner Bros. distributes Telepictures and DC Comics. Time Inc. makes magazines like In Style, Outdoor Life and NME (“List of Assets”). This is just the tip of the ice burg, and it turns out that the Time Warner iceberg is a big one. They own a huge portion of the media that is produced and consumed.

The crazy thing is that most people aren’t aware of this. Because all of the companies have different names, it’s easy to assume that they are all different companies. But with the growth of multinationals like Time Warner, this isn’t the case. As Christopher Dixon describes, media has become a “global oligopoly,” where there’s limited competition because the market is shared by such a small number of producers.

Although not technically a true monopoly, the state of cross media ownership acts in favour of the corporations. “The global market strongly encourages corporations to establish equity joint ventures in which the media giants all own a part of an enterprise. This way, firms reduce competition and risk and increase the chance of profitability” (McChesney). With one company having close interests in another, prices are allowed to stay high.

While media corporations being in bed with each other is beneficial for them, it robs the public of their most influential power: the power of choice. Cross media ownership only gives the opportunity for a limited number of voices to be heard. You have one voice giving you your entertainment, you have one voice providing your Internet, you have one voice telling you your news. And they could all very well be the same voice, acting in their own interests.

When Time Warner owns a chunk of the media, it becomes easy for them to make sure that their image and concerns are maintained. Everything under Time Warner can be tinted in their bias.

Cross media ownership puts the access of information into the hands of few, letting corporations decide how it is distributed and accessed. The media is controlled in a wholly undemocratic system.

Sources

“List of Assets Owned by Time Warner.” Economic Expert. 17 Nov. 2008. <http://www.economicexpert.com/a/List:of:assets:owned:by:Time:Warner.htm&gt;.

“Time Warner: Our Company.” 9 July 2007. TimeWarner. <http://www.timewarner.com/corp/aboutus/our_company.html&gt;.

McChesney, Robert W. “It’s a Small World of Big Conglomerates.” 11 Nov. 1999. The Nation. 6 Nov. 2008. < http://www.thenation.com/doc/19991129/mcchesney&gt;.