Sunday, September 30, 2012

W.R Hearst and Robinson's Information Diffusion

John Robinson’s “Mass Communication and Information Diffusion” reminds me of Nasaw’s portrayal of William Randolph Hearst in “The Chief”. A particular quote that stuck out to me was on page 358, in which Robinson states that “the mass media tend to reinforce and accentuate existing conditions rather than promote egalitarianism or abrupt change, at least with regard to information diffusion”. 

In relation to W.R Hearst, he was a newspaper publisher of the Examiner and other important papers. The way he capitalized on profits was by constructing news out of nothing, similar to Ryan Holiday. Hearst would stage spectacles and have his reporters write about it, such as flying an airplane and having it crash or creating a fake war. This is because his papers’ formula for success would include having the front page be filled with articles about crime against the public by the police. News was not a phenomenon that existed in the real world that waited to be discovered because an event becomes news when journalists and editors decide to record it. What determines whether an event is newsworthy was the ease in which it can be written and narrated so that readers will want to read about it. Determining what was newsworthy were news that were violent, involved corrupt government, and crime, which is exactly what we see in the news today, in both print and broadcast media. This makes the public believe that crime rates are high or increasing when in reality, they’re going down or stable. When it comes to the type of news, mass media reinforces existing conditions because it is easily narrated and written by reporters for the mass public to read, watch, or hear while they increase viewership and profits.

Furthermore, Robinson states that it is “one’s interpersonal social contacts”, rather than education, that are “more pervasive than mass media appeals” when it comes to learning anything (358). Hearst is a great example in that he went to Harvard University, but ended up being expelled. But through his experience in Harvard, he was elected as the business manager at the Harvard Lampoon, the school’s magazine, where he gained the experience in successfully running a newspaper in the business world and becoming an influential politician through the mass public's consumption of his papers and the information within it. Robinson states that it is due to “greater credibility and understandability” that social contacts are more pervasive than mass media because mass media are for profit companies and most of the times, the public do not believe they serve their interests whereas social contacts are on the same level as them and share similar general interests. Hearst’s Harvard colleagues and the way they communicate with each other exemplifies Robinson’s claims that “it is the best educated segment of society that keeps itself informed about what is happening in the world and that it is exposure to print media (the favored media mode of the better educated) which is associated with the greater likelihood of being informed…” (356). Although Hearst was never a college graduate, a study described in the book links college seniors no more informed about public affairs than college freshmen, which helps prove that education is not a strong factor in describing the consequences of media usage.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How are we ever able to know what "real world" is?

After reading Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw's "The Agenda Setting Function of Mass Media," I felt quite troubled because of news mediums' powerful effect that can influence peoples' attitudes about political issues. I understand that just because there exists a strong correlation between the actual content of the mass media during the campaign of 1968 and what the voters said were the main issues are not complete "proofs" that the mass media "is" steering peoples' opinions, yet there could not have been other ways that people actually took parts in the campaign (as McCombs and Shaw points out "...few directly participate in presidential election campaigns, and fewer still see presidential elections in person, the information flowing in interpersonal communications channels is primarily relayed from, and based upon, mass media news coverage," (1972:135)). I first doubted the study because I learned about modern amateur journalists and reporters working to bring the unbiased, as-close-to-the-truth-as-possible news could have an impact on our population to focus on many key issues rather than what the major newspapers, TV, and news magazines focus on. Yet as I viewed the slides presented during lecture, it seems our attitudes about what should be the key issues have been reported by the media and that we are still strongly influenced by it regardless if other venues of amateur journalism and hyper-local news exist. In this sense I wonder how we are to ever see the truth about what really matters, and what actually matters to individuals and society as a whole, and their actual political participation on issues that were not posed by the press, TV, radio, or magazines. It is understandable that journalism is limited, as Lippmann has suggested, like a spotlight on stage to shed light on one spot at a time although there are numerous amount of things happening all over the world. Further, the news medium mostly focus on negative events happening around the world such as natural disasters and crimes. This can impact the viewers to have a skewed view of reality as well, overestimating the amount of crimes or natural disasters around the world, while missing the news on disaster reliefs, recovery, and other positive news. I grew up in South Korea, and watching the news when I was little, I wondered why all the news stories were about horrors in the world. If my family and I wanted to view positive news, or more news about the world, we had to tune in during weekends to educational channels where reporters talked about refugees being rescued and people around the world coming together to learn about culture, about festivals, celebrations, and how there is progress and acceptance in the world. The evening and daily news were of politicians being uncovered from their cons, lies, and often, using physical violence during sessions where one politician gets up from their chair, and throws it at another politician. I am skeptical of any news that I watch on TV, and trust the newspapers (online) more because I can at least choose to read some and not read the others, and there are more content about the world events and articles. With TV news, I feel as if I am forced to face and listen to the contents of what are the truly most important based on the news company. My home town is very conservative and right-winged, and during high school I was often told to watch and trust FOX news by my high school political science teacher because he declared that it sets the right political agenda that so many people are ignorant about. Most parents, students, and teachers shared similar views, and I grew up not really exposed to other views because of what I was told to watch based on my environment yet people's attitudes swayed according to the news, such as the war in Iraq. McComb and Shaw's study found that "For major news items, correlations were more often higher between voter judgments of important issues and the issues reflected in all the news than were voter judgments of issues reflected in news only about their candidate/party", (1972: 132) and it relates to my experience and the statistics shown during lecture since the major issues posed by the mass media were in strong correlation to what people thought were the key issues. Although my community had very strong right winged, conservative views the overall statistics showed what people thought as a whole mattered differed, according to what all the mass media declared were important.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some useful links/further reading

A question we'll tackle soon, and others:

Does agenda-setting still hold in the age of social media?

Advertising as a Mechanism to Maintain Status Quo

Drawing from John Robinson's article, I chose to focus on the claim that "the mass media tend to reinforce and accentuate existing conditions rather than promote egalitarianism or abrupt change, at least with regard to information diffusion" (358).

This reminds me of advertisements and how they maintain the status quo. We are fed into these advertisements that reproduce the economic and social structures of current society. A prime example would is a luxury car company. Why is there so much advertising done for luxury cars even though a small fraction of the population can actually afford it? The advertisement would include the car wrapped in a huge bow but it doesn't necessarily get consumers to get up and buy one. The purpose of these commercials and advertisements is to have people buy their products but also to  instill desire for those who cannot afford. Those who can afford the car are then seen with a prestige and are perceived to be at a certain level of economic standing. Instead of promoting equality and having people question the set-up of society, advertisers exploit the existing system and reproduce it.

In regards to the entire article that focuses on information diffusion, advertisements have also taken over a large portion of a newspapers, radio, television, internet, and other media platforms. Advertisements are crowding the actual content physically but also through their financial reigns on content. Referring to Ryan Holiday's article, he says that a lot of journalism and information is influenced by getting advertisers and maintaining them in order to make a living. Taking into account my previous point on advertisements perpetuating the status quo, the reach of their influence does not stop at their own products but also wherever the advertisements are going so that the product and context around it is supportive of the existing conditions.

I have used advertisements as an example of how the mass media reinforce existing conditions. However, as Robinson studies, television and news also work the same way for viewers who watch programs (example, 2012 Presidential campaign) that support their cultural perceptions and beliefs.

Information Overload Equals Information Lost

Although McCombs's study did not prove the agenda-setting function of the mass media it did successfully show that the media are the major primary sources of national political information for the general population. Everything we hear regarding politics comes from a mass media. Be it television, radio, internet, newspaper, or magazines. As McComb said, we sometimes don't even seek it ourselves. It is there, and we consume it passively at times, creating for ourselves a general idea of what is going on in the political spectrum regardless of our political affiliations or specific interests. 

This research was of great interest to me because it applies greatly to today's age of information overload that has been facilitated by the democratic public sphere that is the internet. Furthered by innovations in technology, this democratic platform is now an every-day part of our lives. We now get tweets, Facebook updates, blog posts, Youtube video, and the classic daily news on television and newspaper along with shows that satirize politics like the Daily Show with John Stewart or The Colbert Report. Because we are exposed to so much information, the real issues, the nitty gritty details that are of most importance, and are the very reason we elect such candidates for office are lost. Upon analysis of the major item emphasis on different topics and candidates during the 1968 campaign, McCombs found that “a considerable amount of campaign new was not devoted to discussion of major political issues but rather to analysis of the campaign itself.” This is upsetting. But as Retzinger discussed in lecture, this is exactly what is going on. If the media chooses to devote more information to the candidates, their personal lives, their mistakes, their families, their chances of making it, then they are setting the stage for us to mistake this information for being of great importance, for being about the issues, when it in fact is really not. As Walter Lippman famously concluded in his book Public Opinion“...public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound--not by the press as is the case today”(Lippmann, 1922). And his words still ring more true than ever before. We must be wary of what we hear and not accept the truth that we believe to be so. We cannot let the media think for us.

Reality in the World and Pictures in Our Mind

Professor Reztinger mentioned in Tuesday’s lecture the gap between the pictures in our mind and the “reality” in the outside world. Newspaper tries to serve the function as the bridge between the gap.

It reminds me of an article I recently read, Seeing Without Objects: Visual Indeterminacy and Art (by Robert Pepperell), the author of this article is an indeterminate image artist (see more:, he makes paintings and drawings that are contradictory - “both suggest and deny the presence of objects”, as he believes “there is compelling evidence to suggest that the world itself is quite different from the way we perceive it, and the existence of discrete objects may be attributable to the way we consciously apprehend reality rather than being an intrinsic property of reality itself.” (Pepperell) 

Fragrance (Robert Pepperell) 2005, Oil on canvas, 30cm x 40cm

Paradox 1 (Robert Pepperell) 2005, Oil on panel, 46cm x 60cm

He explains his idea by quoting Hermann von Helmholtz’s essay:

… the objects at hand in space seem to us clothed with the qualities of our sensations. They appear to us as red or green, cold or warm, to have smell or taste, etc., although these qualities of sensation belong to our nervous system alone and do not at all reach beyond into external space. Yet even when we know this, the appearance does not end, because this appearance is, in fact, the original truth...
What interests me in connecting this article with the agenda setting theory is that I think, the reason media cannot serve the “bridge” function well, is not just because Lippman says it messes up in its own understanding of reality, but maybe because the contradictions between human perception and reality (or “imagination and nature”, Pepperell) can only be expressed in art and literature.

Imagine newspapers make this announcement one day: The news we serve are what we (the newspaper) think important, and readers should NOT depend on them as what to think about. It is impossible! since the function of newspaper is to make us “see” and “believe”, instead of “guess” and “doubt”. However the reality in the outside world always requires us to think, question, and even imagine sometimes.

Is Media Coverage Shifting Our Opinions?

“The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media” by Maxwell E. McCombs explains a very interesting topic that has always and will always pertain to the society every year. In a short explanation, McComb illustrates how agenda-setting, an idea that the media influences the audience’s opinion on how important a topic is, is an important theory to think about. McComb explains that what people believe is the most important topic one year can change the next year depending on how much news coverage it gets. Agenda-setting is a great theory to examine, due to the fact that we are currently in a presidential campaign.

Much of the media coverage today is about the 2012 Presidential Campaign between Romney and Obama. Media outlets such as CNN, ABC, and The Huffington Post are presenting audiences with different topics about the candidates and what major political issues each party is emphasizing on. However, the opinions of what topics are most important for the country are always changing. Today, Professor Retzinger showed the class great examples on how every year the importance of certain topics change. In the CBS News/New York Times Poll of 2011, it showed that people believed that the most important problem that the country was facing was the economy/jobs. The second most important issue was budget deficit/national debt. However, this year in 2012, the poll showed that people now had a different opinion of what they believed was an important issue. Health care now took the spot of deficit/national debt in being the second most important issue of the country. Why is it that people now believe that health care is a more important issue than other topics?

I believe that the topic of health care is currently perceived to be an important issue due to the fact that we are in the midst of an election, and it is a huge topic that President Obama is emphasizing on in his campaign. Since media outlets such as TV, newspapers, and newsmagazines are the primary source of covering national political information, the media can easily influence what topic they want us to look at most. This way the media is telling us what to think about, the idea of agenda-setting.

Ultimately, I could not agree more with McComb’s theory of agenda-setting. Media outlets do play a huge role in influencing our opinions. It feels like yesterday when it seemed like all the media was covering was news about Britney Spears and how she shaved her head. That is all the audience turned their attention to, and with no surprise, it was the topic of conversation when I went to school the next day. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Correlation is not Causation?

In math class, we learn that correlation is not causation, but for this topic, I think it definitely could be. Berkowitz's "Film Violence and Subsequent Aggressive Tendencies" was a really interesting read. I had read about possible correlation between observing violent acts or habits and its possible effects but had never considered it from Feshbach's symbolic catharsis perspective. It certainly is a more optimistic point of view in my opinion. Even though the reading focused on watching violent films, for this blog post, I'm going to extend that media source to video games. Video games are fairly similar to films but I feel like their interactive qualities creates a stronger correlation between observing/participating in play violence to actually displaying characteristics of violence.

This reading reminded me of a project I was doing for a statistics class in high school (way back when). My project focused on the possible correlation between watching/playing violent video games and displaying aggressive behavior, which was for the most part influenced by the  recent Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 where they found the shooter to be an avid video game player. If you don't remember the incident, here's an article explaining what happened and then the MSNBC report on the possible correlation between violent video games and violent behavior. At the time, there were speculations that it could be due to his participation in these violent video games but there was no set correlation and I was interested to see what other people thought about it. Unfortunately,I wasn't able to carry out my project because my teacher felt that it was too sensitive of a topic. The whole story around the Virginia Tech Shooting is somewhat evident in the Berkowitz reading. After all, to go from watching something violent to play-fighting in a violent scenario through a video game to actually performing violent acts seem like baby steps towards a more violent society in my opinion.

The Berkowitz study did have many limitations but I think for the most part it was a good foundation to studies of violence through media sources. Though focusing on primarily on film, I think there is a distinct correlation between these two factors. We learn from our observation and so when we see violence occurring in a situation where it seems okay, *ahem: Hollywood movies, we come to accept it as being okay a bit more than we did before.

Quasi-Ramblings on Film+Violence Studies

The reading for Thursday - Berkowitz & co.'s "Film Violence and Subsequent Aggressive Tendencies"  - was definitely an interesting one. First of all, quick recap of the reading: the authors carried out an experiment on university college males which involved showing them violent movie clips and then surveying them to see if watching violent films affected their own propensity for violence. One group was deliberately provoked (by a deliberately rude and insulting experimenter) so that their emotional state in watching the film would be angry, while the other group experienced neutral treatment at the hands of the experimenter. Within each group there were three smaller groups, as follows: one-third of subjects in both angered and non-angered groups were shown a neutral film about canal boats; another third was shown a violent film clip whose protagonist they were told was a good guy who did not deserve the violence inflicted upon him; the final group was shown the same violent film clip, but was told that the protagonist did deserve the violent treatment.

The results showed that those who watched violent films in an angered condition and who were told that the character did not "deserve" the violent treatment were the most likely to incline toward aggressive tendencies immediately afterwards. Their explanation for this? That they had been provoked but since the film they had watched apparently presented a guy who did not deserve to be beaten up - i.e. the violence was not justified - they were not able to experience a vicarious release of their anger through violence.

So, interesting study with some interesting results. Some thoughts I had while reading it though: 1. I agree with the post made below which talked about the limitations/biases of the study, which included only college age males. It would have been interesting to see the results had it included females and younger/older people as well, as well as people of varying educational backgrounds. 2. The bigger question I had - how much can we really apply this to "real life"? Life outside of the experimenting room, life in which most people don't go to watch movies with their friends when they're feeling angry, life in which most people do not necessarily learn (consciously or unconsciously) life lessons from films. And this is my main issue with the study, which does make sure to include the disclaimer that these effects only applied to people immediately after the film: how direct of a link can we really draw between the way people think and behave and the films/TV shows they watch? I think it's safe to say that most people didn't watch the film Pretty Woman and decide prostitution was a respectable/laudable occupation to go into (extreme, I know, but I'm trying to make a point). I think people are able to be more detached from the media they consume than this kind of study/article gives them credit for. And the article even makes the point itself in the conclusion that these effects applied "at least during the time immediately following the movie," not claiming that they really have any longer-lasting impact. So for the moment, people coming out of a violent film might have slight inclinations to be more tolerant/condoning of violence themselves, but I don't think that we need to be as worried as some people might have us believe.

Having said all of that, I still wouldn't let my future children play violent video games. At least not while they're still innocent and impressionable young kids/middle schoolers. But that's another discussion.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Does Mass Media Control What We Think About?

"The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media" discusses the role of mass media in controlling what information the reader receives and what issues the reader should focus on. The authors conducted a study that focused on examining political campaign coverage in television, newspapers, news magazines, and editorial page coverages of newspapers and magazines. Among their findings, I found one particularly interesting: "a considerable amount of campaign news was not devoted to discussion of the major political issues but rather to analysis of the campaign itself" (McCombs 129). How does this affect what the reader thinks is important when watching campaign news? According to McCombs and Shaw's argument, the agenda-setting function of mass media will lead the reader to focus more on the elements of the campaign itself rather than on the issues being discussed in a political campaign. This goes to show how powerful the mass media can be in controlling what the audience has in their mind when evaluating a political candidate.

Recently, I have been browsing over headlines in Google News, and I couldn't but notice the disproportionate negativity in the news titles concerning presidential candidate Mitt Romney. As a person who is more or less apathetic towards politics in general, and very rarely follows information on the presidential candidates during election season, I find these headlines always have some influence over my perceptions of the presidential candidates. Moreover, as I read more deeply into the articles and find that they are largely about the candidates' actions and the characteristics of their campaigns, I realize how little I know about their perspectives on certain political issues. Is this healthy for the mass public? But then again, how much information a person consumes about these political candidates can vary, and is completely up to the person. I believe the mass media has a big role in agenda-setting for the audience; however, if one were truly concerned about the qualifications of these two candidates for president, s/he always has the option of looking more into the candidates' personal websites and more objective reports on their discussion of the issues.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Monsters Calling Home

(Alenda, this is a free post, not assigned. Just wanted to share. tehe.)

Hey classmates,
Hope you guys are a lot less stressed out now that the paper is out of the way. 
So this past Tuesday, my friend's band, Monsters Calling Home, had their first television performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! (Just a fun fact, they describe their music sound as: gangster folk Oriental Jesus. They started up a little over a year ago doing small local performances and competitions, uploading their videos on YouTube and now they're backed up by Honda and even performing on a well-known late night show. Although they are not signed with any label, they home record all of their music and sell EPs after performances.

I wanted to point out how interesting performers and people are being discovered and famous through the Internet, particularly YouTube. A guy named Justin Bieber first started up on YouTube and now is selling over 100,000 copies per album. Maybe you've heard of him. Also, the dynamic duo Karmin who now is signed with Epic Records got famous by her cover of Chris Brown's "Look at me now" cover. It is easier to find stars-to-be just by typing a few words on YouTube or Google now compared to listening to Top 40s on the radio and that only.

Sidenote: I personally am proud to see Korean Americans on mainstream TV (: just some thoughts I wanted to share with you guys.

Here's a link of Monsters Calling Home performing on JKL

Meet Monsters Calling Home

Film Violence and Agressive Tendencies

I found the article on film violence somewhat interesting, but I also felt like I was put through an experiment of my own by reading through their report.  Anyhow, from what I gathered is people will be more likely to exert aggressive tendencies soon after a violent film, and if they see a villain punished it might be more justification towards exerting justice on real life villains.  I guess I would expect angered responses to violent movies like in the study, but I think the experiment could have gone further. 

I would of liked to see them preform the experiment on multiple groups of people, age ranges, and social settings.  A more elaborate experiment would of been harder to obtain, but I think it would of provided a better general conscious.  I think its hard to compare how someone feels after watching a clip of a movie in a empty room compared to someone who chooses to go to the movie theater and watch the whole movie.  Plus, does the time of day have any effect on what the subjects feel?  I just wish the experiment would of included some of this.

I would miss the newspaper because...

In the "What 'Missing the Newspaper' Means" article, Berelson demonstrates the different reasons for people missing the newspaper in their lives. Berelson's survey demonstrates that there are many intellectual reasons and entertainment reasons for missing the newspaper. He concludes that the newspaper an essential media text, is a source of security for people, and has become a habitual activity in their daily lives.
Personally, if I were to be part of this survey experiment, I would be in a mix of "for social prestige" and "for social contact"category. Currently, I read the New York Times online and receive CNN news blasts on my smartphone. I agree that the newspaper has "conversational value." When I was interviewing for the UC Berkeley Model United Nations club, I had to discuss a contemporary  international affairs topic and I decided to read up on the civil war in Syria and the extradition of Julian Assange. I learned so much from reading the New York Times articles and the online summary and chronology about the two issues. At the interview, I was able to comment on my thoughts on Julian Assange's asylum position in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.K and how it is shaking the relations between the U.K, U.S and Ecuador. However, at the interview, I was questioned about the issues between Japan and Korea and my interviewer asked how I would defend Japan's position about the island 'Dok Do' if i were the Japanese ambassador. Because I had not read Japan's arguments in the newspaper, I was unable to answer that question in an articulate and intelligent way. This was the moment when I realized the influence of the newspaper in my life. It could make me look incredibly ignorant or intelligent.
As for the social contract category, I enjoy reading local human interests stories, especially in the Daily Cal, the UC Berkeley newspaper. It is an opportunity for me to learn what my peers are doing and I find it very motivational to read about my peers working towards their aspirations or advocating for their beliefs.
As a result, I find that the newspaper can be an extremely useful tool in our daily lives. Although I do not completely believe that Berelson's conclusions apply to me as well, I agree that the newspaper is an important part of my life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Effects of Mass Media Violence

With technological advancement, the ages of mass media audiences are getting smaller and smaller.  Young children are now widely exposed to mass media through the forms of not only television shows, but also video games, iPad, and maybe even cell phones.  While I was taking Media Studies 10, I read a few articles regarding how violence in media, and especially in video games have severe effects on children. Some effects include desensitization and habituation, and the mean world syndrome.

Desensitization and Habituation
People become less affected with violence after repeated exposure to displays of violence.  Generally, heavy viewers of television and violent video game players respond with less emotion to violence than do light viewers and players. According to research results, video games can alter physiological responses typically aroused by real violence, and that people becomes indifferent to it.  It is only reasonable to conclude that among the games purchased and played by children, a majority contains violence.  After repeated exposure, and performing violence actions, kids become desensitized to violence, and are more habitually aggressive. Unlike television viewers, video players are more actively involved with the process. Also, television viewers are not directly rewarded for aggressive behaviors observed in violent TV, however video game players are.  They are immediately rewarded, and are repeatedly asked to perform the action.

Mean World syndrome
This happens when heavy exposure to violence alters how people view the world – they become less trustful of the real society.  Most people, through the course of their lives, have direct contact with only a small section of the world. They are only exposed to the physical and social environment that is involved with their daily routines.  As a result, people can only form impression about the part of society that they have no contact with through external sources.  Most of that impression is formed through mass media, from the news stories that we have read, or the television shows that we watch. When what is presented about the world is full of violence and malicious people trying to hurt you, it can distort knowledge about the real world.  People who indulge themselves with violent video games perceive the world as dangerous and are less trustful of others. 

Violent games becomes popular.

The external world's effect on children.

News Media and the Climate of Fear

In addition to the development of uses and gratifications research and its' psychology, I felt the investigation that Berelson summarizes in What "Missing the Newspaper" Means also posed an underlying question regarding newspaper content and stories. The sections of the paper that people routinely read and missed during the two-week strike varied from gossip columns to death announcements but of the few respondents who admitted to being relieved to not have a newspaper, three out of the four talked of violent stories: "murders, rape, divorce, and the war" (p. 127). Berelson calls these stories (with the exception of war) "non-serious" news stories (p. 115).

This made me think of Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine and the "climate of fear" that the media has constructed in American society. Moore criticizes news media for populating daily life with stories of violence, tragedy, and fear that leads to an illusion of danger and need for self-defensive methods that ultimately allow more weapon access and more crime. At first glance, Berelson seems to say that these news stories are "non-serious" as in, they're not important or worth reporting on. Taking Moore's perspective, it could also be that they're not AS serious as they're made out to be and are flooding the reader attention for news that may be bigger than a single murder: genocide, tyranny, torture, etc. There are issues that need people to take part in and rise to action to change circumstances that would other worsen - action and attention is useless to small-time murder cases.

From what I gathered in this investigation, it's almost as if the newspaper is not the "source of information on political affairs" that people has permanently defined it in their heads. Rather, it's more of an entertainment source with comics and gossip columns and violent, action-filled, and emotion-driving stories with useful tools like movie guides and weather forecasts. Are journalists really reporting on what's important?

To lighten the mood a bit, here's a really beautiful song by one of my favorite bands - Boyce Avenue - that's a direct response to this "climate of fear". The beginning of the music video is even a montage of these types of news clips.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pop Culture and Art: Game On

Leo Lowenthal's piece, Historical Perspectives of Popular Culture, was written to cover "aspects of the historical and theoretical frame of reference which seem... to be a basic requirement for the study of mass communications, and yet a blind spot in contemporary social science" (3). The chapter goes on to do this by gathering these aspects into five groups and discussing them both individually, and each as a segment of the general "historical perspective" umbrella. In Section #2, which is devoted to fixing the "historical locus of popular culture today," Lowenthal delves into one of my favorite debate/discussion topics that can be summed up in three tiny (yet oh-so-thought-provoking) words: What is art? (4).

Citing Horkheimer, Adorno, Aristotle, and De Tocqueville, throughout the section, Lowenthal begs us to think of "the differences between popular culture and art, between spurious gratification and a genuine experience as a step to greater individual fulfillment" (9). Lowenthal clearly thinks lowly of pop culture-spawned art pieces, installations, and performances, stating that "a product of popular culture has none of the features of genuine art"(14). He even goes so far as to declare artistic products that have been "replaced by the phenomena of popular culture, [...] nothing but a manipulated reproduction of reality as it is" (7). Ouch.

Personally, I abide by the saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." While a census of the general public might not akin a piece of Banksy's (street) art to a piece of Michelangelo's (ceiling) art, the meaning, message, importance, and beauty that one gleans from any given piece is deeply personal and, I believe, should not be dictated by anyone but yourself.

What do you think about the relationship between popular culture and art? Are there any modern, pop culture-driven artists you find just as inspiring and imaginative as the historical greats?

Media's Influence

In his article “Mass Communication, Popular Taste, and Organized Social Action,” Leo Lazarsfeld explains that, “The mass media bestow prestige and enhance the authority of individuals and groups by legitimizing their status.”  This is a valid point in the sense that topics are covered in the media because newpapers, magazines, and television think it will bring in the most views.  If there is a particular individual that is covered in the media millions of people will have access to that information.  However, media covers only a small part of what goes on in the world.  There are many times when things go unnoticed.
On the other hand, in addition to giving people “prestige and authority”, media can also cast a negative light on people.  For example, there are sound bites that are played over and over again to turn people against politicians.  They might “summarize” their opinions and be misleading.  This is seen in the recent debate of the current political election.  Like Professor Retzinger discussed in class, the media and the Republicans took an aspect of President Obama’s speech and spread it amongst the population.  “You didn’t build that.”  As much as media can spread the authority of individuals and legitimize their popularity and status, media can also destroy targeted people. 

The Internet as the Modern Newspaper: More Than a "Tool," More Like a "Crutch"?

Berelson’s piece examining why people “[missed] the newspaper” during those two weeks in 1945 caught me hook, line, and sinker. It proved fascinating; my mind constantly compared newspapers to an equivalent medium most of us use: you guessed it! The Internet! The points he presented resonated with my daily experience, and I think those of you reading this as well.

First, the article mentioned study results of people highly praising newspapers for their value as a “channel of ‘serious’ information” (241). What was so ironic was that the majority of them were discovered not keeping up with the news they appreciated, simultaneously enjoying the social prestige that came from reading and appreciating newspapers (115).  It’s intriguing that the Internet faces many more detractors than newspaper appears to have had, and yet its presence seems so much more potent. However, people have less or no shame for not indulging in the same “news” or activity section of the Internet. The modern medium is so full of options that to expect everyone to use the same applications and visit the same websites is laughable. It is curious as to whether people back then would have admitted different reasons for valuing the newspaper if the newspaper’s options were many times expanded.

Also, participants reported using newspaper as a “tool for daily living”: financial information, shopping advertisements, obituary notices, even the weather (118). And yet as I read this, I could not help feeling like the Internet embodies this “tool” idea Berelson introduces so well that one could go further and call it a “crutch” for daily living. Furthermore, his mentioning that newspapers allayed feelings of insecurity and isolation is clearly seen in the Internet as well. Facebook, e-mail, and sites like YouTube connect us to enormous communities! This in itself is truly fascinating because the Internet can also be conducive to enhancing isolation, but is hailed as such a marvelous technological advancement.

Finally, the piece bid me adieu me with a far-fetched wish. I want to (please humor me) conduct an experiment where the Internet would go down for a period of two weeks. Perhaps just one week. Maybe a few days. What is the optimal “‘shock’ period” for most people, especially concerning this source of constant and seemingly infinite distractions information (112)? Because of the globalization of business, of technology, and of cultures, observing the mass effects (or lack thereof) of the event could provide so much meaningful study. What would change? Would businesses shut down? How would people communicate – texting, snail mail, calling, maybe even seeing each other face to face? What would constitute “missing the Internet”? Have we grown so much in love with this technology that our very lives would be bent out of shape without its presence?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mass Media and Social Change

Common belief is that mass media is a giant social influencer. It can manipulate what the audience believes of the world through its words and propaganda. However, Lazarsfeld does not seem to believe so. He says that mass media simply “operate[s] toward the maintenance of the going social and cultural structure rather than toward its change” (234). This article brought out a new perspective on mass media that I never saw. Mass media always struck me as a means for these social influencers to advocate for social change, and to affirm or even alter the way the audience thinks about certain issues and current events. Yet Lazarsfeld claims that mass media pushes for no social change and simply affirms what already exists, it basically reflects reality back to the audience. This may be true in certain media such as television shows and other purely entertainment-focused content. Yet I would argue otherwise for media such as news broadcasting or the rising social media networks.

Voice of America is the U.S. federally owned broadcasting organization. Since it is federally owned and it’s a broadcasting organization, I’m sure you can guess what the intentions are behind this structure—to spread American ideology to the rest of the world. It wittily puts on the facade of trying to educate other countries, especially ones with communist or socialist structures, new ideologies and thoughts that are usually not spread or encouraged within that nation. However at its inner core, the intentions are to spread American ideology and democratic philosophies in order to instill American dominance on the rest of the world. By broadcasting information, Voice of America may not be able to directly cause social change, but the act of spreading that news is the first step in creating that change. The broadcasting agency is able to spark social action if not carry it out completely. Moreover, the rise of social networking media in recent years has brought about significant change to the way society interacts. Facebook has become the dominant means through which friends communicate other than phone or email. Networks such as LinkedIn has made visible the power of connections in the professional field and has become a tool for many to develop their careers more easily than before. I don't completely agree with Lazarsfeld that mass media merely affirms the status quo and does nothing to cause social change. In many ways, mass media is the first step to social change, and the largest driver of action if not the implementer of action itself.