Saturday, November 22, 2008

Your mind, your choice - Book Banning Activist Project

If you want to read a book, you can just go to a local library and get it, right? Well sadly in some cases the answer to this is no, you can’t. For decades people have petitioned to get books removed from library shelves, and even bookstores. They say these books are too violent, to sexual, or contain satanic references. Many of the books most frequently banned in the late 20th and early 21st century are among such popular works of literature as the Catcher in the Rye, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn and the Harry Potter Series. All over the country, and in fact all over the world, many people, often concerned parents, try to limit everyone’s access to certain information. This includes whoever may be reading this blog.

This has become so prevalent that the last week of September is now Banned Books Week. The dates for this week in 2009 are September 26 to October 3, and the purpose of this week is to celebrate the freedom everyone has to not only have their own ideas, no matter how crazy, but also to have access to a wide variety of ideas, even those contradictory to their own. “One of the most cherished freedoms in a democracy is the right to freely participate in the “marketplace of ideas.” (Stauber and Rampton). This marketplace of ideas is not possible if people keep taking books off the shelves, denying people access to great works of literature simply because they deem them to be inappropriate. In many cases these challenged books are not banned because officials in charge of such decisions realize that we have the right to information. Many books, however, are banned, and some people have that right taken away from them.

Banned book week started in the states 27 years ago to remind Americans not to take for granted the fact that they have the freedoms to read whatever they want. It has spread into other democratic countries because they all take for granted how unique the enormous access to information they have actually is. There are very few places in the world where you can read books presenting such a variety of viewpoints. Yet in North America especially, we take that freedom for granted until someone tries to take it away in the form of book banning. “Granting archives and libraries a broad freedom to collect, claims of property notwithstanding, is a crucial part of guaranteeing the soul of a culture.” (Lessig, 185). One of the wonderful things about our culture is the large collection of information we have, and the fact that everyone can access it. When book banning starts to happen, that is no longer true.

So the important question is, how can we help? What can we do to stop book banning from happening? One good thing to do is to read frequently banned books yourself, or recommend them to your friends. The list of 100 most banned books of the 1990s is a good resource for this. Stay informed; make sure you know if a piece of literature is being challenged at your local library “The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom estimates they learn of only 20 to 25 percent of book challenges. Let us know if there is a challenge in your community. Find out what the policy is for reviewing challenged materials at your school or public library.”(American Library Association) There is also the Intellectual Freedom Action News (IFACTION) e-list, which is good to join if you want to show your support. The most important thing is to get the word out. Tell everyone you know how important the freedom to read what you’d like is. Write letters to the mayor or your MPP or MP telling them how important the freedom to read and asking them to proclaim “Banned Books Week – Celebrating the Freedom to Read.” This blog for me was the first step in doing my part; anyone who reads this blog will have gotten the message, and will hopefully pass it on.

"All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship."--George Bernard Shaw, Preface to Mrs. Warren's Profession

Works Cited

Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture. New York, USA: The Penguin Press, 2004.

Stauber, John, and Rampton, Sheldon. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lie and the Public Relations Industry. 1st ed. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.

"Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read." ALA - American Library Association. 2008. American Library Association. 22 Nov 2008 .

Prank? Advertisment? - Culture Jamming

Where do we find advertisements? Do we find them on TV, billboards, in magazines? The true answer is they’re everywhere. Every step you take when walking outside is a step bombarded with images telling you to buy something. It seems like every message we get is concerned with what product we have to get next. It seems issues that really cause suffering, such as homelessness, poverty, and human rights violations are pushed away by this rush to consume. “Many public issues and social voices are pushed to the margins of society by market values and commercial communication, making it difficult to get the attention of those living in the "walled gardens" of consumerism.” (CCCE, 1). Culture jamming was created as a kind of a way to remedy this problem. Those who participate in culture jamming say that since society is saturated with branded images or icons, they will use these same branded images as vehicles for their social messages.

Take the image above right for example.

Everyone is familiar with the logo for FedEx. It symbolizes a way to get packages quickly from one place to another. Anyone who sees this logo will automatically make this identification. One could argue that this logo constitutes a symbol which “are the images we use to represent concepts, ideas and philosophies.” (McCloud, 27) If that is the case, then what is the original FedEx logo really trying to represent? FedEx reinforces the consumer culture that culture jamming is trying to represent; it implies that what we need is lots and lots of stuff, and we need to get it fast. Culture jamming attempts to make this true ideology so transparent that someone viewing this image would question what FedEx is really about.

FedUp – With excess: a simple statement but it has much greater implications. Firstly it makes clear that FedEx is contributing to our culture of excess. No longer does great distance from the products we want to buy prevent us from buying them. FedEx allows us to buy anything from anywhere in the world, and get it quickly. “Many culture Jams are simply aimed at exposing questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture so that people can momentarily consider the branded environment in which they live. (CCCE, 1).” This is exactly what this culture jam will do. People who see it almost have no choice but to stop and think. They will ask themselves, what does this mean? Why is it written? Culture jamming requires people to actually think, and come to the realization that we live with excess everyday, and FedEx and other companies will contribute to its continuation unless we let it be known that we are fed up.

Culture jamming is one of the most effective ways to get the message out there on social issues. Sure, whoever is responsible for this culture jam could have written a page about how FedEx contributes to over consumption and how that is so. The problem with doing things in writing is that it doesn’t catch peoples’ attentions. People are more likely to pay attention and be affected by things that are visual, as opposed to written. “Pictures, to be sure, are more imperative than writing; they impose meaning at one stroke, without analyzing or diluting it.” (Barthes, 110) In using this familiar logo to get the message across it is even more effective. People already have context when it comes to the FedEx logo. There are already particular associations produced so that one viewing this message in the form of a culture jam would be more likely to understand it.

I leave you with this comic about culture jamming, which will hopefully remind you that viewing culture jams is only the first step. The next step must be doing something, even something small, to spread awareness about social issues. It is also important to remember that culture jamming isn’t about going against corporations, but about bringing to light their issues.

Works Cited

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

"Culture Jamming and Meme Based Communication." Culture Jamming. Centre for Communication and Civic Engagement. 22 Nov 2008


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Your Internet? No, it's MY Internet! No there's net neutrality!

Nobody really owns the Internet, right? I mean, how is it possible to own something so vast that contains such a large quantity of information?

Well the answer, for now, is that nobody owns the Internet. Anyone can put anything they want (and I do mean ANYTHING) online for little or no cost. There is a free flow of information, with the people producing the content no different than the people consuming it. If you wanted to video tape yourself talking about issues your passionate about while playing Sum 41 (totally random example), then put it on YouTube for millions of people to possibly see, then more power to you.

Such a thing would be impossible in the "traditional" media of television or newspaper. If you wanted to start a TV station, you'd need billions of dollars and a lot of help. All you need to post whatever you want on the Internet is a computer and an Internet connection. Big companies that used to be in charge of what media texts you consume, such as cable companies, saw that the Internet could give you for free much more than they could, and it scared the hell out of them. They saw that they were losing their control over the media, and they saw the Internet as an opportunity to regain that.

In essence, that is what net neutrality is. It makes you and me equals in terms of what we can access on the Internet, and what we can contribute. supplies a very practical definition. "Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination." Basically it's the principle that allows everyone equal access to the Internet.

After reading all this you might be thinking, as Ian Reilly often puts it:


Well don't worry, hopefully after my blog post, everything will be clear. Firstly, the Internet has tremendous possibilities to aid in democratic processes. In a democracy, anyone is allowed to think anything. With the Internet, these thoughts can be heard by the masses. The Internet makes it easier to get your message out there, but it also does something more. The Internet creates a participatory culture, a two way culture where the consumer, after consuming content, goes on to contribute. "the technologies of communication will serve to enlarge human freedom everywhere, to create inevitably a counsel of the people." (Stauber and Rampton, 195) With the technology available to us the common phrase 'by the people, for the people' takes on a whole new meaning. When there is net neutrality, the Internet becomes a platform for ideas in which truly anyone can participate.

There is, however, a darker side to this new realm of possibility. Corporations who fear losing their control over what kinds of content you see in the media are thinking of charging to post certain things online, or accessing certain websites. They want the Internet to function more like television in that what you get is very controlled and costs you money, and only a very elite group can have their voices heard. People who use the material that others have the copyright too are already being called "pirates" and "thieves". "My fear is that unless we come to see
this change, the war to rid the world of Internet “pirates” will also rid our culture of values that have been integral to our tradition from the start." (Lessig, 26) Here Lessig is referring to the right to free speech, and the fact that the government can't sensor any speech. He is, of course, against people blatantly using the copyrighted work of others. His fear, however, is the collapse of net neutrality. If you put restrictions on what one can or cannot do online, eventually no one will be able to do anything.

The biggest problem with the fact that net neutrality is threatened is that nobody knows about it. The fact that I'm posting this online, right now, for free, wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for net neutrality. Hopefully this blog entry at least gets the word out. Although I wouldn't say I'm IN love with the Internet, I do love it. I love it just the way it is, and I don't want it to change. If this keeps being an invisible issue the floodgates of information opened by the Internet will be closed forever.

Works Cited

"Frequently Asked Questions." Save the Internet: Fighting for Internet Freedom. Free Press Action Fund. 12 Nov 2008

Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture. New York, USA: The Penguin Press, 2004.

Stauber, John, and Rampton, Sheldon. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lie and the Public Relations Industry. 1st ed. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Unleash your Imagination with Participatory Culture

This is what it says under the website title of Fanfiction is the writing of fictional stories based on the fictional world created in movies, TV shows, and books. I joined this website about 5 years ago when I decided to combine my love of writing with my love for the TV show Charmed. I always wanted certain things to happen next, or I had certain theories about what had happened, so I would write stories based on this. Fanfiction is also a great way to expand upon the world created by their favorite mediums.

In one of the largest categories of, the Harry Potter category, there are 377, 767 stories. It's possible to find many stories based on any fictional work in a variety of mediums. Some of these stories are horribly written, others can be considered masterpieces. Some stories are written by 13 year old middle schoolers, which is what I was when I started, and others are written by adults with full time jobs. The great thing about fanfiction is that it allows you to do more than passively enjoy a television show or a book. You can contribute, and participate to this medium that you love.

Fanfictions have been called by critics mere copying of an original work. Those who write fanfiction have been told they have no creativity, and they are merely stealing ideas from another writer. "The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated." (Benjamin, 3) In many cases, fanfiction has little to do with the actual stories being presented, and only borrow a certain element, always giving credit to the original author. Since fanfiction by definition comes from another work, it's usually not appreciated for its own merit. Fanfiction can be considered artwork all its own, but it is always tainted with its association with the original

When I write fanfiction, I often take advantage of the ambiguous and unknown factors that are always left in television shows. If a show starts with the characters being in their 20s, I use fanfiction to explore what they may have been like as teens. If the characters speak about going somewhere, but their journey isn't actually shown, I like to use fanfiction to explore their possible journey. "This phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole has a name. It's called closure" (McCloud, 63) We perform closure when watching television for example, because certain events are left out, but we are supposed to assume that they happened. "Nothing is seen between the two panels, but experiences tells you something must be there." (McCloud, 67). That thing that must be there but is never seen is what is hinted at by fanfiction.

Audiences rarely watch or read anything passively. There is always a thought process going on. It's common to theorize what might happen next week, or to try to make sense of what had happened. Fanfiction takes that one step further. You take all the what ifs and form them into your own creative stories. Fanfiction has also formed a kind of community. It's very easy to read other peoples' stories, give them feedback in the form of reviews, and for them to in return read your feedback and make changes. It is a way to both get your writing out there, and to actively engage in your favorite fiction universe.

Fanfiction would not exist if people just watched television or movies and accepted what they see. Everyone has questions or ideas about their favorite shows, because everyone creates their own meaning from media texts. "This current theory on audience reception in media studies takes into account the individual members of the audience. It realises there is a preferred meaning in the text, but also places emphasis on the audience in the process of constructing a meaning." (Hanes) Writing stories based on media texts is just yet another way to create meaning from texts. once said "Unleash your Imagination, and Free Your Soul." This is the perfect definition for the purpose of participatory culture. Fanfiction is more than something based on an original work; it's a way to let lose all of your creativity.

Works Cited

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

Walter, Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Hanes, Philip J. "The Advantages and Limitations of a Focus on Audience in Media Studies." April 2000. 5 Nov 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

We are (more than) what we Buy

I want, I need, I get.

That's the focus of society today. Without the latest "thing" we are effectively left behind in the societal race. We are never satisfied with the "stuff" that we have, so that's what we want: More stuff. I doubt I could go more than one day without buying something, and even that one day is a little hard. Buying nothing means no coffee, no fast food, no bus tokens. Difficult, but it can be done. In fact, on Friday, November 28, 2008, it is Buy Nothing Day.

This is the day after American Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Many argue that one day of not buying anything won't make a difference to the alarming over consumption practiced routinely in North America today. They're right, it doesn't make much of a difference. However, adbusters, who started the day said ""isn't just about changing your habits for one day" but "about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste."

But what makes a change in consuming habits really necessary? I mean, what makes our consumerism so bad? Well maybe you'll see the necessity for a day to buy nothing by watching this youtube video.

We are told to buy things all the time, whether from commercials by companies wanting to make money, or by politicians who tell us it will help the economy. In fact, it is the over consumption practiced in North America that leads to an excess of waste, and a lack of focus on the things that really matter.

Firstly, if there is such a dependence on money and what one can buy in society, there is a class division that increases between the haves and have nots. Suddenly people who can afford to buy all the latest products is somehow better than those who cannot. It is almost impossible to break out of this cycle, because the majority of people will only listen to those with power, and in a society of consumption, those who have the power also have the money.

"they come from a small section of the bourgeoisie itself, from a minority group of artists and intellectuals, without public other than the class which they contest, and who remain dependent on its money in order to express themselves." (Barthes, 139)

The only way to fight against our tendency to buy much more than we need for no good reason is to recognize our dependence on our possessions, and make a constant effort to buy less. So next time you're really tempted to buy that latest cell phone even though you have one that works perfectly fine, or that new iPod just because everyone else has one, it's important to ask yourself one simple question. Do I really need that? Why do I need that. If you realize that you have no good reason, maybe it's better not to buy.

Those who often have the most need for such basic things such as food, shelter, and medication, are often those who consume the least. "those who most need the mass produced goods- and this includes food, medicine, and clothing - do not have the means to purchase the very items they often make." (Franklin, 162) It is very telling that the places that have the most need for necessities, such as India, South America, and Africa, consume the least. While here, in North America, we need the least, yet we consume the most

So no, you do not need whatever that latest thing you saw on TV is. In fact, if you think of it, very little of what you have you actually need. Would anybody actually die without their laptop? They wouldn't die, they just might be a little upset. Buy nothing day is to give us some perspective about the amount of consumerism that we do, and how damaging it could be. If we go for a day without relying on our dependence consuming, maybe we could go two or three, or even cut down on our consumption on a daily basis. We are more than what we buy.

You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy. ~Eric Hoffer

Works Cited

"Buy Nothing Day." Wikipedia. 24 Oct 2008

"Buy Nothing Day." Adbusters. Adbusters. 24 Oct 2008

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anansi Press, 1990.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Just a Spoon Full of Interpellation Helps the Hegemony go Down

What do you think of when you see this symbol? Well, if you’re like me, having grown up loving Disney movies, and not afraid of admitting to still watching them, you think of magic and wonder. This Disney logo has come to symbolize a childhood innocence. This sign has a hegemonic meaning; no one would mistake it for symbolizing evil, and it brings us back to an innocent age where animals could talk and there was always a prince charming.

In many ways, we were all interpellated by Disney. In simply seeing this symbol, everyone makes an instantaneous identification, perhaps of their favourite Disney movie or their best childhood memory, but always a positive one. Disney has called to us, and we have responded with a sense of joy. Because of this, we are now a subject to their ideology, and the beliefs of Disney become our own. If there beliefs are that everyone can be a kid again and the world can be magical, then why is that something to be concerned about?

The answer lies in the fact that few people perceive of Disney as a very powerful corporation. Disney holds a lot of power, both in its influence, and in the vast amount they own. The way that they hold on to this power is through their illusion that they don’t have any; that they are there to create joy in children. This association with their symbol as something positive is intentional on the part of Disney. “The mythical signification, on the other had, is never arbitrary; it is always in part motivated and unavoidably contains some analogy.” (Barthes, 126)

Disney doesn’t want the public to fear them so the fact that they’re a multi billion dollar corporation who owns a lot of things is pretty much hidden. What does Disney actually own? I had no idea, so I used my newly developed Internet research skills (HOLLA Internet Survey and Research Class) to find out.

“ABC, ABC Family, ABC Kids, Walt Disney Distribution, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, Disney Channel, ESPN, Jetix, Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Walt Disney Television Animation, Walt Disney Records, Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, ABC Studios, Playhouse Disney, Disney Consumer Products, Pixar, Soapnet, Disney Interactive Studios, Muppets Holding Company, Disney Store, Toon Disney, New Horizon Interactive, and Hollywood Records also owns Disney Cruise which they have their own a private island called castaway cay. They also have their own radio station network called radio Disney which is distributed in Canada, Nicaragua, Mexico, Argentina and of course United States” (WikiAnswers)

That’s a very long and impressive list, and it’s definitely not finished. This definitely isn’t the first thing anyone thinks of when thinking of Disney or looking at their logo. Media conglomerations such as these put the power for a lot of different organizations into very few hands. If conglomerations such as these keep existing, eventually everything we see or hear will be controlled and moderated by one group. Those small groups will, in effect, control public opinion, and more importantly, have the largest influence on consumer habits, generating a large profit.

“As the media conglomerates spread their tentacles, there is reason to believe they will encourage popular tastes to become more uniform in at least some forms of media. Based on conversations with Hollywood executives, Variety editor Peter Bart concluded that "the world filmgoing audience is fast becoming more homogeneous." (McChesney, 3)

I’m pretty sure we’re not all going to become robots, but the possibility of tastes becoming more uniform is so very real. With all of these media companies interconnected, they will be telling us we’re supposed to like the same thing. With all of the messages the same it creates an enormous hegemony in media ideas that is virtually invisible. Different symbols, such as the Disney logo, make this conglomeration appear to not have the power that it does. No technology is neutral, and with conglomerations, their influence is magnified until it reaches many more people.

“with a few notable exceptions, the journalism reserved for the masses tends to be the sort of drivel provided by the media giants on their US television stations. This slant is often quite subtle.” (McChesney, 3)

Disney and other corporations like it with media hegemony use this subtlety in their slant to hide their power. This relatively meaningless information reaches a large number of people, and it holds little evidence of any censorship. Disney isn’t some evil corporation and it truly makes people happy; but it has a certain aspect of control over the media that can’t be ignored. It may be a small world after all, but it’s a world full of big conglomerates with lots of power.

Works Cited

McChesney , Robert. "The New Global Media - It's a Small World of Big Conglomerates." The Nation 11 Nov 1999 1-3. 17 Oct 2008 .

"WikiAnswers." What does Disney Own? 17 Oct 2008 .

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Propaganda - Not Worth the Risk

As Ursula M. Franklin said, "Let me begin now, like any good academic, with definitions." (Franklin, 5)

So first, let me attempt to define what propaganda is, with help from

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

This is the most general definition I could find. I find it interesting that rumors are included. That means that although propaganda can be factual, that isn't always the case. It is also interesting that it says help or harm, because for me propaganda has always had a negative connotation. In fact, when thinking of propaganda, slander is one of the other words that come to mind. Even before I knew about complex words and ideas, somehow I knew, or was taught, that propaganda was a bad thing. So if everyone knows propaganda=wrong, then what makes it so powerful?

I think its power lies in its ambiguity, and its difficulty to identify. Propaganda isn't a commercial that blatantly says "See those other people? They totally suck, and therefore we don't!" Even though that is in essence what propaganda does, it's a little subtler, which is the only way people would ever listen to it. If you thought that propaganda was a fair and balanced representation of the facts, you'd be more likely to listen to it.

Another power that propaganda has is to take advantage of the medium in which it is presented. Remember how you're not supposed to believe everything you see/hear/watch on TV? Well, propaganda is part of the reason for that. Despite this common warning, we are much more likely to believe something because it has been in such a powerful medium as the television. We think, not anything can be on TV, right? So if this thing was on TV, it just has to be true.

Any message that tells us how to live or what to do can be considered propaganda. More than ever, we are likely to accept what we are told through the media without question, which makes propaganda more dangerous. "...we live in a culture of compliance, that we are ever more conditioned to accept orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only one way of doing "it"." (Franklin, 17) We are used to accepting what the media says without question, but we are even more used to accepting what people in power say without question. If the Prime Minister told you something was true, depending on your opinion of politics, you might be more likely to believe him than some average person. This is why political propaganda is the most commonly used, and successful. Take this message sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada for example, that ran several times a day on most television stations.

All this video is basically saying is Stephane Dion sucks. Not that I think that, but that's what this video wants me to think. It lists all of the apparent bad things about Stephane Dion, but it isn't that it offers no proof that bothers me. What bothers me is though it was sponsored by the Conservative Party, it doesn't mention them once. It doesn't say why they would be any better. This "everybody sucks but me" attitude falls under the "deliberately harm" part of the definition of propaganda. I'm sure everyone who ever watches TV, even a little, has seen this by now. We all know that all parties engage in attack campaigns such as these, but this is the most widespread and blatant one in the current election

"To what extent does a medium contribute to the development of democratic processes?" (Postman)

In this case, commercials, such as this one, can greatly harm democratic process. It causes the focus to shift from what politicians will do (or at least, say they will do) to what is little more than slander of their opponent. Propaganda has taken the amazing power of many media, such as television, to reach a large number of people who will believe the message, and twisted it into something only about gain.

I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for yet. I'll probably decide what to do when I get there. Personally, minimal attacking of the opponent is one of my many criteria. This post isn't to say I'm against any one candidate. I just don't care what other people haven't done. When I attempt to be an informed voter, all I care about is what the candidates say they will do.

Propaganda in Canadian politics? - Definitely not worth the risk.

Works Cited

Neil Postman, "The Humanism of Media Ecology"

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anansi Press, 1990.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Days of our Internet Lives

How many hours a day do I spend connected to the Internet? Honestly, I don't want to know. If I had to guess, it would be roughly 8, which is about as much as I sleep. Of course, I am an amazing multi-tasker, so I rarely let it interfere, and I am, in fact, on the Internet right now but still doing school work! That seems like a good thing, right? I definitely see no reason to stop, so why do I feel the urge to cut down a little? Let's attempt a little breakdown of my Internet day and see.

Wake up (roughly 10) until lunch (roughly 12): check my e-mail, visit my favorite cites, do a lot of Internet reading, and the occasional homework.

12-1 - Travelling to school on the bus, eating and listening to my MP3 player. Still terribly mediated, but no Internet involved.

1-3: Get to school way to early. Go online, check my email again, talk to a few friends on MSN. Possibly check facebook, but I don't do it much.

3(ish) - 6(ish) - I'm in class, but unlike most people I know, I'm rarely online.

6-7 - On the bus again, listening to my MP3. Occasionally attempt to read, but it makes me nauseous. I spend too long on buses.

7 - 7:30: Eat dinner

7:30-9:00 - Online again. I don't know exactly what I do on the world wide web anymore.

9:00-11:00 - Prime time TV. Watch a variety of shows. Again mediated, but most shows I watch with my family. Family night watching Heroes together is kind of nice in a strange way.

1100 - 12:00 - Online again, but this time mainly talking to my friends. They live all over the place now, and I'm too cheap for long distance bills, so MSN is really awesome.

12:00 - 1:00 - Read whatever book I'm reading for fun at the time.

1:00-10:00 - Sleep

I honestly don't know what to think of that breakdown I just created. It's an average weekday, so there are days that are different, but that's the general idea. You'll notice I didn't put any school work on their. I do most of it today (Sunday). Occasionally I multi task. You'll notice that I, like every other person in my generation, spend a possibly unhealthy amount of time on the Internet. But I don't think most people know why they're doing it, even I'm not sure.

I think, for me, there is one main reason. I structure my life around the Internet, from having to check my e-mail at least once a day, to using it for virtually all my school work, to needing at least an hour a day to IM my friends.

As Marshall McLuhan said , "The electric media are the telegraph, radio, films, telephone, computer and television, all of which have not only extended a single sense or function as the old mechanical media did--i.e., the wheel as an extension of the foot, clothing as an extension of the skin, the phonetic alphabet as an extension of the eye--but have enhanced and externalized our entire central nervous systems, thus transforming all aspects of our social and psychic existence." He wrote this before the Internet was even conceivable, and yet in that quote, he captured the essence of it. You can do everything on the Internet. As sad as it sounds, it is possible to live your entire life online. The extension of every single one of your senses is possible, but therein lies the danger of structuring your life around the world wide web. It can be depended upon so much that your physical self is no longer necessary.

It is important that the Internet remains simply a useful tool, and it doesn't become life. The fact that it can basically replace every other medium is exciting and frightening at once. As McLuhan also said, "The medium is the message." The medium of the Internet sends the message of inclusion, of connection, and most of all, of overwhelming possibility. The Internet has gone from total obscurity, to an important place in everyone's lives in a very short amount of time.

"When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web.... Now even my cat has its own page." ~Bill Clinton, 1996

Works Cited

Playboy, "The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan." Playboy Magazine March 1969. 28 Sep 2008 . <>.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Antropological introduction to YouTube

Everyone knows what YouTube is. I for one, spend a lot of time of it, searching for random videos. They do have a lot of videos on every imaginable subject. YouTube is a new medium that is easy to access, that almost everyone can use. Before I found this video (on YouTube!) I didn't really think of what a unique medium it is. YouTube allows everyone to be connected, it allows responses to the views of other people, and it reaches more people in more places than any medium. So here is a link to a video from YouTube called "An Anthropological introduction to YouTube"

(I can't figure out how to attach the actual video.) This was presented at the Library of Congress June 23, 2008. So check it out! See what you think. It's pretty long (about 55 minutes) but it's given me at least something to think about when it comes to the overlooked amazingness of YouTube.

Until Next Time,


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hegemony and Harry Potter

It may seem that writer's of some texts want their meaning to be obvious. Why would anyone want their reader to stare at their work for hours without getting what we wanted them to get? Writing is always done with a purpose (my purpose today is to share my thoughts on this particular topic.) Though I believe all writers have a message to get across, writers want their reader to think. Even if a writer had a singular message in mind, the reader cannot read a text in a hegemonic way. This means that whatever code that exists within a text cannot be interpreted in a way that seems 'natural' or 'transparent'. (Chandler). A piece of advice that I take from Ian Reilly for this case is if it seems obvious, take it out. As opposed to a hegemonic reading, it is most often a 'negotiated' reading (Chandler). We shape our understanding of a text on our own understanding and experiences.

Let's take Harry Potter for example. Some people might say Harry Potter is a masterpiece of literature. Others might say Harry Potter is a stupid children's book that is a waste of time. For me, Harry Potter was a character I grew up with; as the books came out I was roughly the characters' ages, so as I read of them experiencing familiar pangs of adolescence against a magical backdrop I felt somewhat comforted. For yet others, it is the first book they ever read, and inspired in them a love of reading. This is the same text, but with many interpretations. "But there always remains, around the final meaning, a halo of virtualities where other possible meanings are floating: the meaning can almost always be interpreted." (Barthes, 133)

But why do I like Harry Potter so much? More importantly, why has Harry Potter become, in my opinion, the biggest phenomenon of literature in a generation? There is one important reason that I believe texts like Harry Potter can't be read where "the reader fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading." (Chandler) This is because everyone can identify with something. When reading Harry Potter, despite all its magical impossibilities, there is a degree of realism that allow you to see yourself in the story. As closure is possible in images because we observe the parts but perceive the whole (McCloud, 63), it is also possible through literature. The characters and events are described in such a way that you aren't excluded from the story, but you can see yourself in it.

Another thing Harry Potter has done is inspire a generation of creators. Ian scratched the surface of the surface of this phenomenon of creation when he mentioned 13 year old girls creating Harry Potter stories. There are at least 500 000 Harry Potter stories in existence on the world wide web (and that's my own conservative estimate), and these stories were written by many different kinds of people. I have even written a couple, (not when I was a 13 year old girl), and from these stories, everyone has gotten something different from this one text. There are also websites dedicated to Harry Potter inspired art, and bands such as Harry and the Potters or Draco and the Malfoys who create Harry Potter themed music.

The fact that the line between reader and writer, creator and consumer, has all but disappeared leads me to believe that hegemony when reading a text is nearly impossible. You just need to look at the variety of works available, and you can see how vastly differently people read the codes within any given text. As someone who is both a creator and consumer of texts, this interpretation is the best part.

All meanings, we know, depend on the key of interpretation.” - George Eliot

Works Cited

Chandler, Daniel. "Semiotics for Beginners : Encoding/Decoding." 19 Feb 2001 02 Oct 2008 .

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 1st. New York, USA: HarperPerennial, 1994

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've got the urge...for advertising

Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need.” – Will Rogers

Advertisements need to pop up on you when you have no choice but to pay attention. Their message can’t be obvious. When someone’s obviously trying to sell me something, I will ignore them. However, I find myself buying things I don’t need, and don’t even desperately want even though I often am monetarily challenged. When I see an ad and think that’s cool, or that’s funny, I forget that they’re trying to sell me something. Sometimes ads seem to have nothing to do with the products they’re selling. The add above is a perfect example.

This ad can be flipped past in any magazine without a second thought. But when I look at it I think, what is it really trying to sell me? The first thought that comes to mind is it’s trying to sell perfection. The woman’s face is flawless. She is perfectly made up, and her hair is lustrous and shiny. This is unlikely natural; I recently discovered how easy it is to create perfection on photoshop. I also notice the woman’s expression. She looks she is experiencing pure bliss. Isn’t that a little much for shampoo?

The line “Until now you’ve only fantasized about it being this intense” also struck me as strange for a shampoo add. I don’t generally dream about shampoo, nor do I consider it particularly intense. What it seems to be trying to sell is a lifestyle. They seem to be saying that if you buy herbal essences they will be flawlessly beautiful, happy, and have your fantasies come true. Normally I wouldn’t think about all of this when seeing such an ad. I would just see it and say, of course this is a good way to advertise Herbal Essences.

This is because ads are meant to be hegemonic or dominant readings. “the reader fully shares the text's code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading (a reading which may not have been the result of any conscious intention on the part of the author(s)) - in such a stance the code seems 'natural' and 'transparent'” (Chandler)

Most of the time we don’t think about ads. We just accept them for the way we are, and often buy what they are selling. I usually buy things when I have seen them in some form of media. I don’t think that this or any other advertisement will be a preferred reading for everybody, though this is I believe an advertiser’s goal. There are many possible interpretations for advertisements, but they are not meant be advertisers to be analyzed that way. I usually just ignore advertisments, or I don’t take them seriously. That may just mean I am brainwashed into equating extreme flawless beauty with a shampoo.

So do I fell an urge to buy a truckload of herbal essences now? It does smell good and all, but I don’t think I have an urge for herbal.

Until next time,


Works Cited

Chandler, Daniel. "Semiotics for Beginners : Encoding/Decoding." 19 Feb 2001 26 Sep 2008 .

"Advertising quotes." 26 Sep 2008 .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Part of the masses

For the third required blog post, we were told to explain our understanding of the term mass media. I pondered over this question for nearly over a week, ever since I made my second post, and of the many ideas I came up with, none were totally satisfying. So after going through this thought process, I will try to grasp what I do or don't understand about this complex topic.

Firstly, I consulted; always a great starting point. It said:
–noun, plural mass media.
any of the means of communication, as television or newspapers, that reach very large numbers of people.

Well according to this definition, most forms of media we have now are forms of mass media. Through the Internet, especially, it's possible to reach billions of people in every corner of the globe in mere seconds. Communication has never been easier, and all the information of the world is literally at our finger tips. Reaching out to the masses brings great power, and unavoidably great responsibility.

When I think of mass media, I generally think of governmental speeches or natural disasters. Those take up every television station, so you are forced to watch it whether you like it or not. Mass media in those cases has the power to influence decisions, but rarely relies on the content, and usually relies on the medium used.

In reading the beginning of Mythologies by Roland Barthes, I came across this quote that I believe demonstrates the type of persona that makes mass media so powerful. "...they succeed in imposing an immediate reading of their inner nature: Armand Mazaud, a wrestler of an arrogant and ridiculous character (as one says Harpagon is a character)." (Barthes, 19)

As I have read L'Avare by Moliere, and am familiar with Harpagon, this struck me as an apt description of the kind of characters created by mass media. When someone is murdered there is immediately a villain cast, and regardless of whether they are guilty, they will be treated as a one dimensional insane person who is totally evil. When a prime minister gives a speech on television, he attempts to portray a magnetic and charismatic individual that people can relate to. When being presented to the masses through mass media, one character trait is often exaggerated until it overshadows everything else. Like Harpagon, whose overwhelming characteristic of greed becomes his only characteristic, people portrayed in mass media have one aspect of themselves focused on, forgetting everything else.

After exploring how people are portrayed in mass media, I attempted to understand exactly what is portrayed. I listed all the forms of media I consider mass media; television, Internet, magazines, radio and newspaper. There are so many ways to deliver information to the masses, and they all deliver information to hundreds of thousands of people everyday. With all of this information available, and all of the different views out there, it's amazing people don't get confused.

The reason this confusion isn't more evident is that is that people don't generally think much about the media. "the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator." (Benjamin, 13) Mass media isn't generally thought about, or discussed. It is something accepted as truth, which gives mass media the opportunity to stretch the truth. The mass media is similar to a spectator sport. We watch what is given, and we accept what we see. There lies the great power of mass media; it has power to influence a change in a great number of people, though that power is sometimes used in a negative sense.

So what is mass media? I'm not sure if I answered the question, though I made the attempt. I am a part of the masses that this media is trying to reach, so even the fact that I'm aware of such a thing is positive. Regardless of what each individual gets from the mass media, it gets the same thing to millions, or even billions of people. Mass media have the power to affect the lives of millions of people, and it's important to know that they can do it in both a positive and negative way. It is important to keep that healthy skepticism of what we see, but also to keep that hopeful optimism.

Media is any channel of communication, and mass media is opening those channels to the masses. It's important to be prepared for the flood of information to come.


Walter, Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wonders of the World Wide Web

Right now, I am posting on a blog on the Internet. After I'm finished, I will continue to be connected to the world wide web (I like saying/typing it too), checking my favorite sites at least once. I don't generally keep track, but the hours a day I spend online is quite possibly mind boggling. This isn't merely something I do a lot. Without the Internet for a prolonged length of time, and without something else to do, I am noticeably upset. It's not like that happens much, save for the occasional technological malfunction. On a summer camping trip I was overjoyed to find that they offered free wireless Internet.

So why am I so attached to this all powerful invisible entity we simply call "the Net"? I suppose there are several reasons. One is the instantaneous knowledge about anything and everything that is apparently at my fingertips. A simple search and everything I ever wanted to know about anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to complex nuclear physics is right there. The information out there is so extensive that it often takes hours to sift through the most innocent of google searches. As someone who is constantly in search of more information, this can be appealing. But does more mean better? Does fast access mean credible?

As Neil Postman says, " it does not help us, neither does television or any other 19th- or 20th-century medium (except perhaps the telephone), to solve the problem of what is significant information. " (Postman)

So while I know exactly how to find enough information to possibly fill several libraries, the Net doesn't help me to decide if any of it is worthwhile. The fact that anyone can publish anything on the Internet makes this seemingly impossible task slightly more problematic. If I were to say right now that the sky was purple, it would forever exists on the Internet without the warning that it is simply an interesting fabrication. In my search for information, I learned to be cautious, and that more isn't better.

I must also remember that just because I know more, doesn't mean I can feel better about the news of the "greater world", wherever that is. I like to always know what's happening, in terms of natural disasters. crime, war, or what is in other words "the news". But knowing all this doesn't fix anything. Knowing all this means that these problems will still exists, especially when knowledge is a passive process.

As Neil Postman also says, " we are deluded into thinking that the serious social problems of our time would be solved if only we had more information, and still more information. " (Postman)

So why else do I have an obsession with the world wide web (it is fun to type)?

I think my obsession and slight dependence come from the connections. When my best friend was in China for 2 months, I could speak to her every day as I normally did. When all my friends went to different cities hours away for university, I could talk to them as much as ever through instant messaging. Other forms of technology allow this, but the world wide web allows in instantly, and at no cost. When the Internet replaces human connections, it becomes a problem. Although through social networking cites such as Facebook, you get the illusion of being connected, in the end, you are alone at your computer. However, when great distances prevent physically seeing important people, the Internet gives many options of keeping in touch.

I'm off to explore more of the online world now, but I will always exercise caution. After this post, I realize that limiting Internet time might be a good thing, so that this doesn't become a dependence that interferes with daily life. Cutting off the Internet entirely isn't really necessary, and being slightly addicted I might not be able to handle it. It's not as though I'm a slave to the Internet. It just influences most aspects of my daily life...that's all!

On a side note, you will notice I have changed the title of my blog. I might do it a few times. This one is the title of a great song by Superchick.

Until next time,


Postman, Neil. "The Humanism of Media Ecology." 16jun2000 13 Sep 2008 <>.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why blogger?

This is my third foray, I believe, into the world of blogging. My other blogs, however, have been a bit different. They have been a bit more personal, and entirely un-edited. This time I will attempt to make my posts a little more intelligible. I found setting up this blog really easy, probably because I have blogged many times before. Perhaps in the future I will attempt to learn all of the neat ways blogger has designed so I can make my blog interesting. The phrase "academic blogging" seems a little intimidating at first. After some thought, however, I have come to realize that it is simply a place to discuss my thoughts on more academic issues as opposed to talking about what I ate for breakfast or my trip on the bus.

Choosing which blogging service to use took me longer than setting up this blog. I was tempted to use livejournal, a service I have used before, but decided against it. It would be doing what I attempt to avoid; going with something safe and familiar in spite of its faults, and not exploring what else is out there. Many people, myself included, often choose brands that they grew up with, brands from their childhood that they know well. It makes me think of the reason many people eat at McDonalds. As I child, I would get McDonalds as a special treat, mostly for the wonderful Happy Meal. Those golden arches came to represent that childhood excitement that I'd want to keep going back to. Livejournal was my McDonalds of blogging; I knew exactly what to expect and exactly what I had to do.

That is exactly the reason why I chose blogger. During my extremely memorable first mass communications lecture, blogger was among the recommended services, and I was completely unfamiliar with it. I saw it as an excellent opportunity to learn how to use a new service, and expand my blogging horizons. I like to try new things, because regardless of whether or not I like them, I will have gained knowledge. I hope that in the future this blog will be both a place to post my thoughts on certain issues, and also a place to gain a new perspective. has this to say about blogs, "What the best individual blogs tend to have in common is voice -- they are clearly written by human beings with genuine human passion." While this is an exercise for a class, I hope this blog will also become a place to develop and share my passion for certain topics.

Until next time,

Laura Fixman