Tallk's Blog: A discussion of IC

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Product placement: the root of all evil or the most neutral ad you’ll ever see December 3, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 3:54 pm

Throughout the presentations on Thursday, we discussed (thoroughly) adapting media products to a new host culture. We also talked (less thoroughly) about product placement, advertisements, etc. So the focus of this final bit is going to be about product placement.

Though in the US, we often think of product placement as the long-form, 20 second or more, “shameless plug” for a product, place, or company. And many of us, as media scholars, find that particular type of product placement to be insulting and obnoxious. But we also assume that not everyone is aware enough to realize the product placement is occurring. Well, let’s be realistic. The US is not full of idiots (though there are some), and I actually think most people realize when they’re being sold Yoplait on the Biggest Loser or Cover Girl on America’s Next Top Model. Is it really any different from the “regular” commercials? They are just as obnoxious, they’re probably shorter, and they’re just as obvious. More importantly, that type of product placement harkens back to the old days of early television, where programs were almost entirely sponsored by one company or product, thus the item made frequent appearances (see Lucky Strikes for Fibber McGee and Molly). Again, I’m sure these “subliminal” product placements are not as well hidden as we might assume.

It is, instead, the ‘less obnoxious’ type of placement that we should be more interested in. We tend to gloss over the fact that ET was being handed Reeses’ Pieces, that Simon has a Coke cup, and that the cast of Real World just happens to be dropping by Subway for some dinner. These placements are less disconcerting on a surface level, easier to tune out while simultaneously easier to absorb in a non-critical way. We’re overwhelmed with brands, and it becomes difficult for any company to hide them from you – think of MythBusters, and how they tape over brand names. You can still see the rest of the container, and you still know they’re freezing cans of Gilette Shaving Cream.

But more importantly, the idea was mentioned that other countries shouldn’t be concerned about product placement because the practice will just never take. Well, back in the early days of radio (prior to the FRC – later FCC – assigning stations), people were broadcasting without any commercials or sponsors at all. People paid a small amount to have access to equipment and would have their own variety shows, regardless of commercial help. I’m sure they’d never thought that programs would be sponsored solely by one company, that television programs would ever have intensive product placement and shameless plugs (let alone have televisions at all), etc. So to assume that this “American only” idea won’t spread elsewhere – simply because it hasn’t yet – is foolish. First and foremost, assuming it won’t spread to China (as was the specific example in class) because China is less consumeristic is foolish – the real reason is that they don’t need intensive sponsors because the government runs their media outlets. Similarly, you aren’t likely to see product placement on Al Manar because it is largely controlled by Hezbollah.

However, as we see developing countries with liberalizing, privatizing media outlets, you may start to see product placement arise. As outlets are privatized, they need better, faster ways to make their dollars from advertisers, and they might immediately skip to product placement (just as we immediately skipped to one-company sponsorship).

All cross culturalism and cultural sensitivities aside, product placement is likely not going away. And it is likely not just going to be an American phenomenon.

 

Public Diplomacy – Turning Al Hurra into Al Jazeera November 19, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 12:54 pm

I personally am having a difficult time discussing the subject of public diplomacy in a way that hasn’t been touched upon either during class yesterday or by my fellow bloggers. But I’ve decided I’ll talk about a practical comparison and how our public diplomacy media outlets could emulate popular media to become more successful.

Television Al Hurra is the US’ public diplomacy channel in the Middle East and, for several reasons, is rather unliked in the region. The primary reason for this is that the intended viewers see the channel as serving US interests alone (as discussed in Philip Seib’s New Media and the New Middle East).  Conversely, there are several reasons why Al Jazeera is so overwhelmingly popular – while the majority of this preference relates to it being a “home-grown” product with counterflow views to major Western outlets, another aspect is how Al Jazeera features participation in many of its programs.

By holding large segments of call-in or live audience A&A, Al Jazeera has created a public sphere for the region’s otherwise voiceless people. It is my firm belief that this one aspect of Al Jazeera is one of it’s most positive, and also something that the people in the area appreciate and love. As such, it becomes clear that any outlet trying to compete with Al Jazeera should also feature this type of participation. If Al Hurra were to have discussions, debates, Q&A, and call-in segments, it might increase their popularity because audiences in the region have a proven interest in that.

Furthermore, this would alleviate the problems discussed by Tretheway, Corman, et al – of focusing too much on the message rather than the act of communicating and sharing dialogue. If public diplomacy outlets launched by the United States focused on promoting dialogue between themselves and the residents, some positive outcome would be more likely.

As I examine this concept more, the main block to this process is that, in order to engage in a mutual dialogue, both sides have to be open to discuss and possibly change their viewpoint. I sincerely doubt that foreign policy practitioners, as well as the United States as a country, are seriously interested in changing any aspect or even in learning from the exchange. This brings to light another facet implied by the theorists we discussed – public diplomacy as a shared learning experience. That is what we’re really lacking, and also what we really desperately need to strive for to have a successful, positive relationship.

 

The Power of Kronkite November 12, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 12:28 pm

After reading the Hafez and Powers/el Nawawy texts, I’m really interested in the possibility of someone taking over Kronkite’s long vacant throne as the most powerful man in news. It’s clear enough to say that the circumstances behind Kronkite’s center of power will never be duplicated – being on one of only a few networks, being in an era without the internet, being in an era of trouble and an era where some families only had one television with one channel.

Is it possible then that our analysis of the [unlikelihood] of the next Kronkite is not accounting for all of these factors? Could we actually have a successor if we compensate for these factors?

First and foremost, data for most watched networks isn’t necessarily adequate because many of these networks have non-news programs which bring in audiences – see House, MD on Fox (which, if it didn’t exist, would keep me from ever turning on the channel). Once you use data from just news programs, again you’re facing some issues in number crunching – first and foremost, the most common methods for measuring ratings are somewhat inaccurate or unrepresentative to begin with. They don’t account for those who, like me, can put on a station and walk away to make dinner for a period of time and never actually watch the station (and other comparable examples). Similarly, how do you compare viewership of news between channels who have different time blocks (say CNN which is 24 hours versus Fox, which offers other programming)? Can you really match those numbers?

In order to determine who the next Walter Kronkite is, you’d have to account for all of these statistical issues and THEN determine if any of the existing news casters are actually trustworthy. After all, Kronkite’s claim to fame is predominantly based on the credibility he possesses. But I think it’s fair to say that in the US, few people have a credibility that extends past their polarized base. Even Jon Stewart, with his overwhelming popularity, has a base which does orient one way and has very few members of the “opposite” side.

But I can’t help but identify Al Jazeera as a potential candidate for hosting the next Walter Kronkite (at least for it’s region). Will the next Walter Kronkite be America’s, or will it be someone elses’? Remember that Kronkite’s following wasn’t anywhere else but here. So perhaps the next Kronkite will be an announcer for Al Jazeera – and once you see their viewership numbers, it’s easy to see the possibilities.

So will Ahmed Mansour be the most trusted man in the Middle East? Oddly enough, his colleague Faisal al-Qassem is probably already working on the title without even trying.

 

ICT’s – Signs of the Modern Age or Tools as Old as Time? November 4, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 3:17 pm

While discussing ICT’s in terms of Hanson, Castells, and Bennett’s work, ICT’s are described as a new method or tool for encouraging activism. I personally feel that these studies ignore ICT’s which preadate modern times (aka pre-internet).

But by sheer definition, ICT’s – like all mass media – existed prior to the internet and still aided activism. One needs to look no further than the founding of the United States to see activism through ICT’s.

Our founders used print technology to gain popular support and spread information regarding independence from Britain. We can also see the key factors identified by Padovani for the basis of and necessary items for success: shared identity, spacial proximity, trust and relationships. The founders used these factors to target their materials, distribute them and appeal to average people to become active for the sake of the fledgeling nation. I think it’s worth nothing that they did this before we really ever talked about ICT’s, and well before the founding of the internet (or even the radio, for that matter). Activism via ICT is not as new as we might think.

With that in mind, I suppose that we could pinpoint the start of ICT’s back to the inception of writing. The sheer “technology” of paper and “pen” (or equivalent writing utensil) then gaines a renewed power in modern times in terms of what it has enabled and what it is still capable of (maybe without the paper). The written word is still one of the most powerful ICT’s we have, just merely moved across platforms. This then leads me to wonder if we could ever consider items predating writing as ICT’s? What could we consider the predecessor of writing as ICT’s, if anything?

I hate to end with a pile of questions (as I’ve noticed that I have a habit of doing so), but I am seriously pondering the origins of ICT’s and their history of enabling activism. And I am also beginning to think that activism is an inherent part of ICT’s, just as backlash to this activism (and thus the ICT itself) is an inevitable effect of ICT’s.

 

Public Diplomacy and Noopolitik October 29, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 12:59 pm

The idea of noopolitik, as described by Ronfeldt and Arquilla, relies heavily on the need for our government (specifically foreign policy practitioners) to change in response to the network age. It is interesting to note their stress on public diplomacy, particularly when it is often carried out by realpolitik-based practitioners.

My main point is that many attempts at successful public diplomacy have failed. Miserably. Radio Sawa and Television Al Hurra (both public diplomacy stations in the Middle East run by the United States) are largely unpopular because residents see them as a thinly veiled attempt to advance U.S. interests rather than reach out. Again, this is the result of realpolitikers running public diplomacy initiatives.

In order for public diplomacy to be effective, the practitioners must be noopolitikers already. In other words, public diplomacy is not in of itself noopolitiks, which I think Ronfeldt and Arquilla implied.

Then the next question is, would a noopolitik public diplomacy initiative (one that stresses building cultural bridges and relies on exchange rather than relaying information) technically be considered public diplomacy? With so many realpolitikers around, the intention of public diplomacy is not quite the same. They might view the noopolitik version as entirely useless, as it may not advance national interest the way they’d intended. The mission of a noopolitik version, in order to differentiate itself, must be to promote dialogue rather than monologues.

In sum, now that I’ve finished rambling about public diplomacy, I don’t think that the presence of public diplomacy attempts is actually a sign of noopolitik. In order to truly be a noopolitik attempt, the people spearheading it must be noopolitikers and be more interested in dialogue than spreading their cultural will.

 

Standards and Cultural Imperialism October 21, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 3:28 pm

In David Grewal’s piece, he discusses how standards and norms are established. He claims that it is a process of consensual, non-coercive cooperation which, once completed, is difficult to overturn or replace.  We can see this with the use of English as the business or engineering language. Others aren’t “forced,” in Grewal’s view, to speak English – or at least, they weren’t until it became a norm.

Joseph Nye’s ideas of soft power also can be tied to Grewal’s concept of standards. Those ideas which become normative possess soft power and can impart soft power to those who make use of it.

With this in mind, we could also posit that Grewal’s ideas connect to cultural imperialism. Though he claims the process in consensual, combining it with Nye’s ideas on power, it is safe to assume that some countries’ ideas for future norms carry more clout. This could be for soft power, qualitative reasons, as Grewal implies. But there are some quantifiable, hard power pressures on accepting one standard over another. If the U.N., for example, needed the US for survival purposes in its early years (which it did to avoid a League of Nations-esque fate), it could have unduly pushed for English as the official language to appease the U.S.  Similarly, business professionals could push for English as the standard for fear of losing American business contacts (as Americans are generally less inclined to learn foreign languages).

So are these decisions technically consensual and based on soft power clout? Or are they subversively coerced by powerful states and the fear of upsetting them? More importantly, do we decide on standards because cultural imperialism (or perhaps actual imperialism from the past) have had such a deep effect on us? Do people choose English because America and Britain mass produce material, spread it around, and gain notoriety for it?

Those are a lot of big questions, but I want to ask one more. Is a source of soft power, in fact, successful cultural imperialism, which in turn allows the imperialist’s culture to dictate norms and standards?

Though I’d like to think our country and its western brethren aren’t that diabolical, it is hard to buy into Grewal’s watered-down explanation for how norms are established. Benign growth and consensual acceptance via attractive soft power and sound reasoning seem too idealistic and optimistic. I fear that Grewal has failed to account for other, more negative factors which could have a larger impact on establishing standards.

 

Protect your copyright booty, the pirates are coming! October 7, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Kristin,Uncategorized — Kristin R @ 3:11 pm

Ah hoy mateys! Let’s talk about piracy. Inspired by Mattelart’s literature on some of the more negative effects of globalization, I’d like to expand upon the idea that media piracy is a direct response to current regulations and law.

In the United States, certain regulations have gotten grossly out of hand regarding copyrights. Their original purpose was to allow and encourage new works made in a legitimate fashion with respect to (yet building off of) existing work. But as industries pushed for more stringent copyright laws and less freedom under fair use, legitimate production of new work becomes less common and, in fact, less do-able. This rigid control has, in the name of protecting someone’s intellectual property (though that’s a completely separate can of worms or pandora’s box), lashed out at innovative works which used (often in an acceptable way) older works.

This has created a range of responses, from fear of production to intentional misuse of material and everything in between. This “misuse” is arguably not always actual misuse, but is often construed that way by companies who are chomping at their bits. Some of this “misuse” is fueled by piracy. These so called pirates can be as obvious as bootleggers selling counterfeit dvd’s or as unassuming as a remixer. The latter is of particular interest to me.

I myself have participated in remix culture. I enjoy watching it, and I enjoy creating it. I have had videos pulled down for copyright violations. But I continue to remix. I am not doing this as an explicit act of rebellion. I do this because I have the right to fairly use an item to create something transformative and new. Clearly, some corporations disagree with me about this right.

An excellent example of this is the Grey Album, a product that was created by a remixing DJ as a combination of the Beatles’ White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album. This item was rapidly targeted by corporations citing unfair use and is now, as a result, very difficult to access legally. You can listen to it on youtube, but in order to own it, you have to download it from an external source. What is interesting about the Grey Album is that the creator was not selling it or making a profit from it, nor was he presenting the works as his own. Instead, he combined them in such a way that it was difficult to ever assume it was similar or harmful to the originals. In other words, I wouldn’t buy his version rather than the Beatles album. But it may actually spark me to buy the Jay Z album, which I was previously uninterested in.

So back to pirates like Dj DangerMouse and myself. Perhaps our labeling as such connects to how we obtain the material. I will neither confirm nor deny where the material I’ve used has come from. I can tell you I own more CDs than most people in the IPod age and have 2 bookshelves of legally purchased DVD’s. But hypothetically speaking, am I and other pirates not encouraging material to be of higher quality by selecting what I will and will not pay for? And furthermore, am I actually causing some kind of harm to giant company X because I used a 5 second clip of this interview, that movie, or that song?

On that note, I believe that I’ve hit the crux of the piracy and regulation issue. Like McChesney, I do believe that corporations are not interested in bettering themselves and their products (and thus other people, like their consumers) via competition. They appreciate capitalism in so much as it opens up markets to them. But from there, they want to close that market to competitors and hold control over it. Thus regulation and the tact of venue changing is used to not to encourage new ideas, innovations, and products (and thus a better society and public sphere), but to put a halt to competition.

But let’s be realistic here. Is my video competing with media conglomerates? Are people really going to stop watching the Food Network because I remixed Bobby Flay to Hendrix’s “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire?” Are people going to stop watching interviews with famous baseball players because I remixed them to confess to steroid use? I don’t mean to insult my own work, but I highly doubt it.

Instead, I firmly believe that by remixing or committing “small scale piracy” of the non-bootlegging nature, I am asking these conglomerates to compete for me and the market, to earn their position of power by producing items of quality. I am also asking that they allow me to exert my fair use rights, as they were originally intended and NOT as they’ve been interpreted by trigger happy monsters, to add something to our society as well (FOR FREE – sans economic competition and with the added bonus of attributing work). Then I can put my eyepatch and pegleg away.

Until then, I’ll keep my cannons trained on anyone that dares to go after my fair use.