My Take on Alternate Realities

When I say alternate realities, I’m not necessarily talking about Narnia, the Matrix, space-time travel or anything like that. I’m talking more about the realities within our minds that are constructed by our experiences and perspectives.

About a week ago, I made a post about how some of the things that Donald Trump says look good on paper, and that people do have reasons for wanting to support him. I’m going to extend that post a little further, thanks to a recent publication by the Wall Street Journal after they did a study on how social media news feeds can affect who people are more aligned to.

What Wall Street Journal’s Jon Keegan has done is set up two feeds which have real conversations and posts that individuals have posted on Facebook, and aligned them into a red ‘conservative’ feed and a blue ‘liberal’ feed. Users who posted all of these uploads, of which there were up to 10.1 million of them, were anonymised but had their political label analysed.

Based on the study’s findings, and the presentation of conservative vs liberal posts on Facebook, one can logically come to the conclusion that as long as you are receiving media texts from entirely one political standing, you are reinforcing your already existing beliefs. It seems fairly logical and simplistic, but at the same time it’s interesting to consider how different the political situation in the US would be if social media were different to how it currently is. It makes a little more sense in the world in terms of exactly how people align themselves to certain ideas or political figures. The reinforcement theory we learned in high school comes into play, as how we tailor what we prefer to see and choose to omit from our feeds reinforces reality as we perceive it.

My Take on the Panama Papers, Taxes and the 2016-17 Budget

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently leaked 11.5 million files, exposing politicians, public officials and international leaders across the globe as using offshore tax havens, from Mossack Fonseca, one of the globe’s biggest offshore law firms.

This controversy of wealthy tax evaders, and the release of the national 2016-17 budget barely 10 days ago, have been trending topics of discussion across journalism and social media, and I sought to understand what all of it meant.

I did a little research, and learnt that companies and private bodies such as public figures, officials and politicians have been using tax havens for around 40 years in Panama. According to ICIJ (through Mossack Fonseca’s database) up to 210,000 companies have used Panama as a base over the last 40 years, and include politicians, public figures and private owners from all across the globe.

Offshore tax havens are essentially shop fronts, or ‘shell companies’ as described by ICIJ, set up offshore of a company or private owner’s actual home country where taxes are cheaper.

This offshore site is legally set up in writing as their legally official base, and so this base in Panama pays marginally cheaper taxes while their actual set-up back home doesn’t have to pay more expensive taxes intended for healthcare, education, security and protection institutions, etc.

As a result, the economy of these countries have been immensely harmed by losing millions of dollars in taxes that haven’t been paid, as a result of offshore tax havens.

I think that the 2016-17 national Budget’s release is relevant and additionally important to discuss alongside the Panama Papers. To put it into terms that my mind gets, the budget aims to give tax cuts to high income earners; this is going to greatly affect low income earners in Australia over the next 3-4 years. I find it to be a cruel irony and tragedy of human nature to see that not only have wealthy politicians and figures been immorally avoiding taxes and thus gaining wealth while others have been making up for it, but the new budget favours the position of high income earners even further. It is as if human society has not changed in the last few thousand years.

Just think of the French Revolution; the nobility and clergy were grossly exempt from paying taxes and the rest of society bore the brunt of having to make up for them by giving away all that they had. It’s all too similar to the current situation in the US where 0.01% of the population owns as much wealth as 90% of the country. Essentially, what I am noticing in the current state of affairs concerning the Budget and the Panama Papers is that human society, ruled primarily by the rich, has catered for the rich.

As seen in the Q+A episode the other night, featuring Liberal Party members being faced with Duncan Storrar, those is power until the upcoming election are the Liberals dominated by a privileged, wealthy demographic that has absolutely positively no idea what it is like to live in a below average, let alone a low-income household. They see an opportunity to fill their purses some more, and have never even considered the idea that there are people who struggle just to make ends meet every day. What I see in the Panama Papers, the Budget and the recent Q+A episode are examples and evidences of the unending selfishness that is human nature. In this case, in a capitalist society, in reference to the lectorial on institutions, Power is power. Knowledge has yet to give way to a change in behaviour in society.


My Take on Timothy Treadwell

In Cinema, we watched Grizzly Man, a documentary about a man named Timothy Treadwell who was obsessed with bears and nature. Watching excerpts from his own videos through the documentary, I (and I believe many other members of the audience) was struck by his peculiar nature and deep obsession with the wilderness, particularly his apparent nonchalance when faced with enormous, unpredictable and powerful adult grizzly bears. For the most part, I think that Treadwell was a nutter, and kept thinking to myself, ‘he’s insane, he’s mad, maybe he is simply not well,’ and my mind was drawn back to yesterday’s lectorial on media institutions and Michel Foucault’s studies of how abnormal behaviour is perceived and treated in society.

Firstly, what made Timothy Treadwell ‘abnormal?’ I would say, from watching Grizzly Man, that it would be his unusual accent and mannerisms. At a first glance, he seemed effeminate which made his character distinctive and out of the ordinary, particularly in the wilds of Alaska.

Secondly, his unusualness came from his deep passionate confessions of love and admiration for bears. In a social context, most people may say they respect bears when brought up in conversation; but he publicly preached about them. Furthermore, his character implied that his love for the beasts made him naïve to their wild, powerful and deadly nature. He said so himself, without much concern, that he was at risk of bodily or fatal harm, and yet he persevered and stayed within the vicinity of bears. Why would a sane person risk their lives and safety for the sake of studying and ‘protecting’ such dangerous creatures? This, I believe, is what would help classify Treadwell in society as a ‘weirdo,’ a ‘nut,’ ‘delusional’ or ‘crazy.’

Treadwell was a fascinating character and is fascinating to observe, because he is a brilliant example of someone in contemporary society who is, in his own way, mentally unwell. He has a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and voluntarily stopped taking antidepressants without the clearance of a doctor and I believe these are grounds for someone who is troubled; not necessarily mentally ill, but confused and unwell. If we were to examine him through the lens of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation, we would engage in a sociological study of the relationship between Treadwell as an individual and society on a larger scale. In the documentary itself, his friends and acquaintances recounted him as unusual, troubled and, to some degree, worrying or even frightening in his obsession. Even Treadwell’s relationship with the audience while watching the documentary would be an interesting one to study. For one thing, how would we, as an audience of this somewhat biased a perception of a documentary, express our opinions of Treadwell in a social situation with friends or in a discussion in Cinema? That’s something that intrigues me, because I definitely have opinions of Treadwell that I want to clarify for myself.

My Take on Michel Foucalt’s Institutions

In today’s lectorial, we had a discussion about institutions and variations on them in society. Essentially, an institution is a man-made construct concerned with structures of society. This can be anything from ‘marriage’ or ‘divorce’ as social institutions, or media institutions such as the ABC News, HBO or community media channels.

What stuck with me most after the lectorial was philosopher, historian, social theorist and literary critic Michel Foulcalt’s ideas of relationships between society and individuals. In his 1961 book Madness and Civilisation, Foucalt explores the institution of mental asylums from the Renaissance (1500s AD) up to the contemporary society of his time in the late 1950s-early 60s.

In his book, he explored the societal implications of what constituted as ‘mad’ or ‘sane,’ and the way that society dealt with ‘mad’ people. His study became an exploration of what was considered ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ according to social values. In summary, he maintained that unlike inthe Renaissance, when those deemed ‘mad’ were believed to be on a cosmically higher level than others in society, in the Classical Age (17th to 18th/19th century), those considered mad were simply thrown into asylums out of the way with other undesirables for the protection of society.

Moving further on to his contemporary era, the modern era, he asserted in his findings that while there were attempts being made to ‘cure’ these people in institutions under the guidance of medical doctors, there was on one level a great contrast in power between patients and doctors and on another level an inherited social value from the Classical Age that those who were ‘mad’ were undesirables to be hidden away for society’s protection.

Foucalt’s study on mental asylums as institutions through history are important factors of my studies because it highlights the central significance that sociology, society and society’s values have in media and communications. What I got out of this lectorial revolving around institutions, elements of sociology and Michel Foucalt’s case studies was the sense that institutions are an immensely important construct and organisation of structures in society.

Basic Comms 101 by Me

In my New Media New Asia class, for a group assessment task, my group pitched an idea for an app that would incentify taking public transport in China to reduce congestion and air pollution.

Essentially, in big cities in China such as Beijing or Shanghai, public transport is not utilised the same way as somewhere like Melbourne, because there is a more prominent culture of hierarchy and status for the Chinese, and one way of showing off status is by owning a car. Thus, logically, it makes sense that people in China are more interested in showing off the fact that they have a car than waiting an hour for a bus.

The feedback that we got from our tutor for this pitch was that we should reconsider how to approach the issue. What we wanted ultimately from this app was to change the behaviour of people in China; and this, to me, has become a key factor in the philosophy and aims of media/communication practitioners.

Behavioural change through our app, as our tutor suggested, would be based around Acculturation (Merriam Webster definition: cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture). In a sense, this app would be aimed at 18-30 year olds in China, students and young professionals, in the hopes of normalising use of public transport for their generation and future generations.

Behavioural change in communications is vital to communications now that I think about it more closely. Raising awareness, as enlightened to me in my earlier classes, is not actually that important on its own. Raising awareness doesn’t do anything on its own. When David Attenborough released his documentary about the Great Barrier Reef in December 2015, sure he wanted awareness of the environment’s vulnerability to be raised. But what the producers, writers and Attenborough ultimately strived for in the making of the documentary was to change the behaviour of those who watched it in a way that would benefit the environment’s health.

So now, after this enlightening class, I intend to go forth in my media career with a better understanding of what my intentions are: do I want to tell a story, show off some pretty pictures, or do I want to encourage a change in behaviour?

My Take on Broadcast and the Post-Broadcast Paradigm

The second half of our lectorial today was about the role and nature of audience in media. Key terms that were discussed were broadcast and post-broadcast.

  • Broadcasting refers to how media is/was distributed to ‘mass audiences,’ mostly via television or radio. Broadcast media included things like the news or generic television shows catering to general demographics i.e. Families
  • Post-Broadcast refers to this idea more specific, niched audiences becoming consumers of media, rather than just simply mass audiences

I was interested in how the change in communication technologies have contributed to the change in how media is received. Distribution of media evolved from from TV broadcasts to online content, changing how audiences could access this content. When this occurred, media creators and practitioners altered their approach to getting audience attention by going online. Now there are platforms like Netflix, Apple TV, Spotify and TIDAL all encouraging the individual nature of consumers.

For instance, in the last decade, the cable network Adult Swim has become increasingly popularised as audiences are able to access their shows (including Rick and Morty, Aqua Hunger Teen Force, Robot Chicken and Family Guy).  The network has further developed itself by producing video games and music. Adult Swim’s penchant for creating mature, adult-oriented content in the form of animations and cartoons has attracted an incredibly tightly niched audience.

Without the formation of online streaming and downloading of media content, the kind of TV, films, music and content being produced would seem more generalised in the hopes of ‘entertaining the masses’ huddled together around the TV in the living room.

My Take on Copyright

Discussing copyright in our lectorial today was like a trip down memory lane back to VCE Studio Art. I’m grateful for having listened in those few Studio Theory classes on copyright, because a lot of what I knew came flooding right back: moral rights and obligations, duration of copyright and fair dealings.

We really only scratched the surface in VCE, and my first impression of the lectorial was a fleeting sense of panic: I immediately thought of any original artistic content, whether it was a drawing when I was 12, a photo series or a film that I’d posted online, and its vulnerability in cyberspace. Even further, what about things I had uploaded with copyrighted content? On YouTube, for instance, I tried to upload videos with a song from the 2007 film Hairspray, and about a week later the sound was muted because I wasn’t allowed to use the song. That, I think, was a fairly decisive but relatively appropriate manner in which to deal with the issue of copyrighted music being unlawfully used; I went on with my business, and forgot about the whole thing until now. In other areas of the internet, lack of understanding and the living, breathing environment of cyberspace makes enforcement of copyright laws nigh impossible except for in rare circumstances. But that is a post for another day.

Until this class, I always thought of copyright laws as being arbitrary. I still believe that to some degree, but now I feel I can respect those laws a little more since I have a better understanding of what is and isn’t allowed. For instance:

  • Ideas are not copyrighted, but content is

An idea can be recycled in anyway shape or form. If someone comes up with an idea for a film, and someone else wants to use that idea in their own ways. They may write different scripts or draw up different storyboards; as long as the actual material content of the films contains certain dissimilarities, everything is cool. It’s only if one of these products either takes content from the original, or replicates it until it is substantially similar, does this become an infringement of copyright. The only instance in which substantial similarities stop being grounds for infringement are when the product is made on the grounds of parody, satire, criticism and review or for educational purposes i.e. for an assignment.

  • Duration of Copyright

This got me a little confused. I remembered from VCE and had my thoughts confirmed that generally, copyright lasts for the remainder of the creator’s life plus 70 years afterward. However, the whole shimozzle regarding how to deal with works created before copyright was created in 1968 got me puzzled. The system of how copyrighted works are classified before 1st May 1969, to me, seems complicated and unusual. Then again, I was only able to see the slide for a brief moment before we moved on.

Copyright was a friendly little blast from the past in today’s lectorial, and I felt pleasantly as though I was eased into it having done Studio Art last year.

Should we Prioritise Psychology in Media Studies?

In 2015, the subject Psychology was the most popular subject among VCE students; at the school I attended, there were two full classes out of our 80 student cohort studying the subject. However, only a handful of these students studied Media as well, or went on to study a Media based subject after high school. I did not study it with an ill-informed prejudice against science subjects, and now I wish I did.

In my New Media New Asia class, our current assessment is to pitch an idea for a mobile app that informs its users of how they can be more sustainable citizens. One group came up with the idea of getting users to donate to charities, however the idea would have some flaws if put into action.

Firstly, human beings, as put by my tutor, tend to be selfish. By understanding this inherent selfishness that is evident in human nature, the designer of an app like this could give incentive for the user to donate, and also feel as though they have been personally fulfilled in some way.

Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge for example; the campaign to  raised over $100 million in donations, and was immensely succesfully. My understanding is that the challenge, while allowing all sorts of people globally to raise awareness and donate money, also gratified some subconscious selfish desires to be noticed or admired.

What the Ice Bucket Challenge did was that it had people showing off that they had been nominated, indicating that they had popularity. Secondly, it involved people showing off that they were ‘generous’. In fact, many people who did the challenge did not necessarily donate, but rather they wanted to simply show everyone they knew, and the whole world, that they had done an uncomfortable and amusing challenge.

In summation, the brains behind the challenge knew that they could make a campaign successful by creating a rewarding incentive for anyone who joined. The challenge placed ordinary people on the same level as celebrities and movie stars, becoming one of the most successful social media campaigns in the last few years. Understanding psychology was key to making the Ice Bucket Challenge go viral.

My Take on Casey Neistat

Modern media and communication technologies has given way to a whole plethora of talented people able to present themselves to a mass audience online. The majority of these talents and figures that become known worldwide are YouTube ‘vloggers,’ who blog regularly on a video based platform. And today, I want to discuss the interesting personality that is Casey Neistat.

Neistat is a filmmaker, producer, vlogger, co-founder of his own social media app (Beme), and also a very adventurous man. He has travelled so far that he has essentially gone around the globe several times, and thus has had an incredibly fulfilled life so far and he is only 34. His films, including his vlogs, are visually and technically stunning. While sometimes he prefers a point and shoot Canon Powershot to his marvellous EOS 5D Mark III DSLR, his films and videos maintain an elegantly edited and smooth finish. He is a respected media practitioner and producer, and working as a freelance commercial director has allowed his reputation to skyrocket and he has landed countless projects with companies such as Nike, Mercedes-Benz, Google and J Crew.

I just have one issue: the guy can’t keep a camera intact for more than about 30 seconds. Consistently, he has had mishaps involving dropping, breaking and damaging his cameras and having to buy new ones. If all heroes have a fatal flaw, his is that despite his incredible talent and inspiring productions, his technologies can barely withstand his active lifestyle.

The first time I became really aware of this fact, and also when I questioned my respect for him, was when I watched his 78th vlog, ‘Quitter.’ In it, he ranted for a few moments about the inadequacy of SD cards in his Canon EOS 70D DSLR, and then proceeded to gratuitously axe the camera before immediately buying a brand new 5D Mark III. It was in this moment that I, a broke university first year, saw Neistat in a much less favourable light. To myself I thought, How dare he destroy the camera I can only dream of having and then calling its superior a ‘piece of crap’?

At the same time however, I still respect Neistat. If I saw him in the street, I would lose my cool and make an enormous embarrassment of myself trying to say hi to him. The thing is, this one big part that I dislike about him does something that I don’t see alot from other YouTube personalities; it humanises him and reminds me that even though he is an extraordinary human being, he’s still just a human being. That’s what I think that I admire most in Casey Neistat, being able to get a better sense of his personality. As my own films and photography are greatly inspired by his style of visual media, it is refreshing to get an understanding of how other creative minds think, work and act.

My Take on Text Analysing in Culture

One of our more recent readings in Media 1 explored textual analysis from a media practitioner’s perspective. I have to say, it blew my mind a little bit; What made sense to me is that every cultural product made by humans is a text, and every text can be analysed.

These texts are analysed through semiotics; Semiotics and media are intertwined and depend on one another, allowing to make connotations, suggestions and representations that are communicated to audiences.

What I think caught my interest however is the notion that the language of signs differs among cultures; every ethnicity, religion, nationality and culture has their own language of signs and symbols that correlate with their social rituals and cultural beliefs. For example, in Western cultures such as Australia or the United Kingdom, the colour white is used as a symbol or connotation of purity, chastity, hope, etc. However in Eastern cultures, such as China or Japan, the colour white is a symbol of sickness and death, and is used to represent negative ideas. While an English woman may wear a white wedding dress for purity and happiness, in China white is worn to funerals.

This language-barrier, or perhaps a ‘semiotic barrier,’ is something I want to investigate and understand further in my studies. An example that I can think of surrounding how different cultures are represented by eachother comes from the 2013 fantasy-drama epic 47 Ronin, directed by Carl Rinsch. In the climactic battle scene that takes place during the wedding of Mika (Ko Shibasaki and Kira(Tadanobu Asano), the bride Mika is shown in a white wedding dress. On one level, this contradicts the source material’s Japanese heritage; a Japanese bride would wear red, as white is a colour of misfortune and illness. On another level, however, the film may have been written in this manner to connote a sense of Mika’s despair at an enforced marriage.

This is what I love about text analysis; any number of ideas and theories can be unpacked from a text, and it’s not wrong or right. It’s just another theory, which can be agreed or disagreed with, but cannot be negated outright.