Thursday, April 3, 2008

Internet Activism through Facebook

The idea of internet activism as presented by Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner in the essay “Oppositional Politics and the Internet: A Critical/Reconstructive Approach” unfortunately made me think about Facebook. Ah yes, the omnipresent Facebook. It is an online social networking “tool”. It seems like everyday that I get invited to a group protesting something or supporting something. It has become very easy for me to be able to appear to be a very socially conscious person. All I need to do is search for these types of groups and click “join”. There. Now I can attract all sorts of hot Greenpeace babes right? Right?
…Maybe not. Exactly how much does being part of a group is actually group work? Although this statement is completely assumed, it seems like people just can’t bear to click ‘ignore invitation’ when the group is about saving lives, or helping cute little animals. So instead they become part of a group designed to organize a large amount of people into taking action.
Does this benefit the cause or harm it?One could argue that either way more people become informed of the chosen issue and that’s what is important. Without public knowledge of an issue it would be impossible to create change. I must admit, I myself have become aware of social issues that I had not known of before being invited to join the group. This itself is a form of internet activism because there are many issues strategically not being publicized for fear of public outcry. I have recently been invited into a group called “Keep your censoring hands off Canadian film and TV! No to Bill C-10” protesting the hidden legislation within bill C-10 allowing the Heritage Minister to withhold tax credits to productions deemed against public policy.This is an example of a positive use of Facebook for internet activism because the few who noticed the hidden legislation made everybody aware of an issue that hadn’t even been discussed in the House of Commons.
But are these pleas falling on deaf ears? I wonder how many of the people who joined the previously mentioned group actually wrote letters to MPs voicing their discontent and how many just clicked ‘join’ and never visited the group again. It would be very unfortunate if the latter was the majority. Public image on Facebook can unfortunately be a reason for such apathy.
This is why I don’t mind clicking ‘ignore’ every once in a while. The word ignore makes it sound particularly bad when the group is for such things as peace, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what will happen. I might not be part of the group, but I now know the implications of things such as Bill C-10. But I also don’t feign to be an active protester, which is why if I know I won’t be doing something to aid the cause I won’t join the group.
For whoever’s reading this, this might not be what you feel, but then again you might not be part of Facebook and don’t even know what Bill C-10 is.

Is Culture Jamming Effective? What does that even mean?

I’ve always wondered how effective cultural jamming really is. Does a parodic advertisement truly make the viewers avoid the product the original ad intended to publicize? Although Christine Harold in her “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Cultural Jamming’ as Media Activism” provides an in depth look into the complexities of culture jamming as a form of activism, the first few paragraphs made me doubt the actual effectiveness of such practices. Harold begins her essay with the telling of an Adbusters campaign that was supposed to “revolutionize capitalism”, the Blackspot campaign against Nike. Harold also chooses to mention that The New York Times Magazine called it one of the “best ideas in 2003”.
Than how come I have never heard of this before?
For such a revolutionary idea, it is amazing that I have never heard seen or felt any repercussions from that campaign. Also, last time I checked Nike was still a worldwide corporation making ludicrous amounts money. This seems to me like an example of how culture jamming techniques work in theory but have yet to produce actual change in cultural practice. Ad parodies such as the iRaq posters presented to us in class lead me to question how we understand such parodies as “effective”. If it is to produce a shift in ideas or train of thought most “fake ads” are effective because it take a considerable amount of ignorance to view one of the aforementioned iRaq posters and believe that Apple is making a statement on the war in Iraq. But how many of the viewers of such advertisements actually did something about it once understanding the message? If agency is the goal, these ads are severely ineffective.
But is agency the goal of such jamming practices? I should hope so. What good can come of a shift in thought if there is no shift in societal practice?
Perhaps I am being pessimistic about the importance of cultural resistance, but apathy seems to be the most common trait in youth today. Most Canadians likely know about the HIV/Aids crisis going on in Africa and the rest of the world, but it is only a select few who actually do something to help the situation. Perhaps they read a “subvertisement” and developed that necessary sense of agency, and perhaps their motivation came from elsewhere. Either way only the future will tell whether culture jamming techniques can produce a significant change in society.

In Response to Cammaert's "Jamming the Political: Beyond Counter hegemonic Practices"

I found this essay difficult to read due to the immense amount of theory discussed in comparison to actual concrete examples. Despite this, a quotation by Deleuze and Guattari caught my interest:
“ the metaphor of the rhizome, 'establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles' (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 7).” (Cammaerts)
Upon reading this I thought about how cultural jamming does in fact create connections between symbols and larger organizations or concepts. Specifically I thought about false billboards like the ones discussed in class. When I see something like an advertisement for Apple, I constantly relate the symbols I see to other issues in life. Currently there is a Mac advertising campaign portraying a young adult as representative of a Mac and an older 40-something year old, slightly overweight, and simply uncool-looking man as a PC. Upon viewing there is a connection made between youth and the mac, which leads me to believe that not only is owning a Mac is representative of my age, but also that Apple as a company is “younger” than those companies making pc’s. The genius behind this idea is that it should work for all ages because older people would want a mac to look or feel younger, and the youth would want a Mac because Mac is more representative of their age and generation. Although this ad campaign is not an example of cultural jamming, Apple’s previous ad campaign with the slogan “Think Different” has been reworked many times with the same mode attack but for a different means. For example, a picture with a man wearing a sombrero and downing a bottle of tequila next to the same slogan made me think: “Well after that he will most certainly be thinking different.” This visual symbol of drunkenness made a connection between “think different” and the altering of one’s mind. This lead to wonder how many people got drunk or consumed mind-altering drugs in order to think different, an idea Apple assumingly did not attempt to communicate. This altered advertisement not only made the connection Apple as a corporation, but also the government and the war on drugs. This has always been a social struggle and my thoughts were drawn to this issue simply because of creative reuse of popular advertising. Cultural jamming does, like “The rhizome 'connects any point to any point' (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 19)” (Cammaerts).
This is the Think Different advertisement I referred to

Heath and Potter's "The Rebel Sell", Thoughts for my Seminar presentation

I am going to start off with a passage from Rebel Sell in which Heath and Potter are describing Lester from American Beauty:
Apart from the new car, he develops a taste for very expensive marijuana—$2,000 an ounce, we are told, and very good. “This is all I ever smoke,” his teenaged dealer assures him. Welcome to the club, where admission is restricted to clients with the most discriminating taste. How is this any different from Frasier and Niles at their wine club? (Heath and Potter)
Heath and Potter are in effect saying that by buying extremely expensive marijuana Lester is still victim to consumerism, taking pride in the status that is received through this extravagancy.
In my opinion, Lester is not doing that and is significantly different than Frasier and Niles. Just like he was defying mass society by smoking pot in the afternoon, he is doing so by spending this amount of money on it. This is because it is illegal. Not only does its illegality itself defy convention, but lack of taxation on the money spent on it does too. In typical consumerism, one is always giving part of the money one spends on an item to the government through general and provincial sales taxes. This is one thing EVERYONE has in common. Even if ones attitude in style is essentially “F the government” , everyone is partially contributing to that government by buying anything. This is where Lester differs from Niles and Frasier. He is spending incredible amounts of money and the government has no take. Lester is not contributing to the society he lives in by paying tax.
Now what does all this have to do with Thomas Franks second thesis?
2. Capitalism requires conformity of education. Training these corporate drones begins in the schools, where their independence and creativity is beaten out of them—literally and figuratively. Call this the Pink Floyd theory of education. (Heath and Potter)
Well, what does education teach us that makes us conform? In accordance to what I had been saying about Lester, we can look at how schools teach about drugs in school. Good or Bad, Anti-drug messages attempt to streamline the conscious of a mass society. All children are being brought up on an anti-drug lifestyle and thus adding to the conformity in society. Lester is defying this conformity by using drugs and in particular by donning a sort of connoisseur like attitude towards it, in essential, mocking that Frasier-and-Niles-at-their-wine-tasting sense of prestige.
In what ways do you see conformation through education and how does this lead to capitalism? Well Capitalism requires conformity and repression. The Rebel Sell is all about how a mass society makes for a consumerist society, and that is because with a unified idea of earning status, it is possible to sell ridiculous items for ridiculous costs because the knowledge is there that people will want to express their status through money or style.
Education these days is often taught with the goal of having a proper high paying job in the future. Nobody is being trained to be the garbage men/women of this society. Importance and thus Envy are placed on that high level society from a young age. This in effect is the conformity of education needed to achieve capitalism. The simple idea that by buying this over that, you can have this enviable lifestyle.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Television is an interesting thing. It is a medium that enables viewers to absorb whatever is presented to them. A program I will discuss is Spike TV's Manswers. The name clearly identifies the intended audience and intended humour. The show is narrated by a youthful adult male who constantly yells out, spurting almost sarcastically comments on the male condition. The show runs in a similar way magazines such as maxim would, showing some general information on random things like how to remove a bullet from yourself, how shapes of women's breast's can define their personality, how to receive a "happy ending" at a legitimate massage parlour and how to fool a drug test. Amidst these sensible instructions, women pose in all sorts of flattering outfits to contrast the gritty man-ness of the subject matter.
I found interesting what these characteristics mean about our society and how it is presented to us. The mere presence of the show displays how popular interests geared towards one sex are still appreciated in a world of intended equality between men and women. The constant yelling at the viewer adds to the intensity of the experience and is a form of rhetoric that convinces the viewer of not only the extremity of the activity but the truthfulness of it as well. The program uses actual evidence from physicians and professionals to explain the truth about serious guy issues and still tells the viewer certain opinions that seem out of place, like calling a pothead an idiot- even though they have just glorified his actual defeat of the drug test and earning a respectable career. This almost represents what the show is trying to say: These are the things we all wish we could do but won't because they're bad. This is why it is a form of entertainment, it is making spectacle the object of our desires. There is no need to mention why women would be considered "beneficial" to the program.
This is a typical segment on Manswers. The Humour is often geared toward the value of sex and objection of women. But more importantly the way this clip is filmed is interesting because it is filmed on a home video camera pointing at a TV in a room wiht the lights off and you are able to hear the viewers few comments and reactions. This adds a whole new media space within the clip, as there are now two voices: that of the narrator and that of the viewer. There are also now two screens- the television set in the room and the computer screen you are seeing it on. Whether purposfefully or not, the user who filmed and posted this clip brought the viewer into two settings at once, a feat which is not often accomplished in media today.
Early on in Stephen Duncobe's Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics In an Age of Fantasy, one of the ideas presented is that "Spectacle is our way of making sense of the world. Truth and power belong to those who tell the better story." Spectacle is defined in the Oxford dictionary as: "A visually impressive performance or display" and is derived from the latin word spectaculum which means "public show". Stephen Duncombe imagines the News as a spectacle, being the public show that it is, and is saying that it holds the Truth in world because it gives the public a more better viewing, reading, or listening experience. To describe this act of receiving information from mediums of all kind, I would like to use the term 'media absorption', because no matter how the information is physically received the information and type of reception (listening, seeing) leaves a significant amount of influence and thus giving the user a piece of the medium's essence or message.
In a world where media absorption is a regular occurence, there is a certain degree of choice when it comes to where the Truth is believed to be coming from. We can believe whole-heartedly that Stephen Colbert's Comedy is a literal view of the truth in the world, or we can put the same overwhelming amount of faith in our Government's take on life. These media both present their information in a way that is either too grim and plain like the Goverment or too much the exact opposite as with the intense political satire by Colbert. Though being entertained in some way or another, people cannot always completely trust one or the other since they both have an extreme bias toward their own side. Thus, media absorption shifts towards the News as a source of Truth because it can be watched as entertainment and information at the same time without any apparent bias. The News provides viewers with live, up to date information on anything from deaths to celebrity child-births in a way that flashily presents multiple headlines at a time. One could essentially have the News as most of their daily media absorption and still get the same amount of advertising, music, real and non-real stories, seriousness and comedy as someone who watches everything but the News. Despite this, Truth is still placed in what news the News is giving us solely because it does so in a style that pleases our senses (not just physical sense, but emotional senses as well). With so much faith of masses, The News becomes a source of power in society because it becomes an authority. When considering that "author" is the root word of "authority" it is easy to see how what they create gives them power to create, and therefore govern the masses.
In the economic world of today power often translates to money. The more power you have, the more money you earn to represent that power, most evident in the case of major corporations such as news broadcasting companies. These news companies earn enough to money to influence politics through endorsement and henceforth have influence on the government. A huge bulk of news content is government proceedings and legislations and based on what they believe politically the news companies themselves can choose what Truth to tell. This is in the sense of Dream, what is meant by creation of reality.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Quick Idea About Tom Cruise

Recently I was was thinking about the relevance of the three clips presented to us during our last class together and how they had to do with the idea of "fake" news. At first I didn't understand how the clip of Tom Cruise acting crazy on Oprah demonstrated this. After a short while of pndering I came up with an idea. Tom Cruise is a huge superstar, and people like his agents know that superstars get in the news for almost anything. It seems to me that Tom Cruise's actions were dictated by his agent or a PR group to make news. See, after this incident, Tom Cruise was in the news constantly. Whether good or bad everyone was talking about how "Craaaaaazy" he was. And of course, his new movie Mission Impossible: 3 was on its way to theatres so the huge publicity of the main actor of the movie was a generous boost towards ticket sales I'm sure.
This is fake news because there are other people creating it for the sake of the buzz. They are deciding what we should be seeing for the next two weeks by simply making a superstar do ridiculous things. Tom Cruise isn't really news, it's advertising in disguise, similar to the so called "newscasts" that we watched which simply take an ad from a company and twist it into a story that is supposed to sound important to us as viewers.
So yes, that video of Tom Cruise is fake news. I mean, he didn't even say anything intellectually stimulating, he just smiled and jumped around.