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