Friday, December 11, 2009

Open Source, Open Culture

While I mentioned specific media reform groups in class, and in the previous post, I wanted to emphasize some other aspects of media reform and media activism that don't focus so much on policy, but on cultures which have grown up in the past few decades which put counter-hegemonic ideas about media ownership into practice. In these cultures, which are nurtured by the richness and potential of new media, the emphasis is on sharing, collaboration and the relinquishment of the ownership of ideas in order to produce the best technology and media possible. This is very different from the for-profit, market model of media which characterizes much of the media landscape, but proponents of Open Source and other alternative media cultures, are fierce believers that media monoliths, who are constantly working to protect their copyrights, stifle not only free expression, but the creation of better, more interesting and more diverse media products.

The idea of Open Source comes from the design of computer technology and hacker culture, where "source code" is the actual computer code behind a product. Rather than fiercely guarding the nuts and bolts of a technology you create, so only you can profit from it, the practice of Open Source means that anyone can look at the code, play with it, change it and improve it. The Free Software movement is an offshoot of Open Source, which takes a more activist stance towards ownership of technology copyrights in general. The more dependent we all become on Microsoft Office, for example, the more control Microsoft has over how many of use (and have to buy) their products; the more they can structure our experience of technology. For instance, they can create types of document files that can only be opened on their software, thus forcing everyone to use their software. Open Office, on the other hand, is completely free (and highly functional, thanks to a dedicated community). By challenging the idea that only a big, closed company can create good software, and by presenting a product that works across all formats, such endeavours are both products and political projects.

Another interesting aspect of Open Source Culture relates to media content, and the backlash against corporate ownership of ideas, especially when so much of our shared culture today comes from corporately owned media. In some instances, as in the article we read by Henry Jenkins, this can mean appropriation of copyrighted images and media by fans, either to the consternation of, or supported by the owners. Jenkins draw our attention to the doctrine of Fair Use, which has long protected the limited use of copyrighted material- for commentary, parody, criticism, etc. More than ever, as corporations seek to intimidate around the use of their products, it is important for all of us to know we do have the right to use media to a certain extent. Check out this clever video which explains Fair Use, by "fairly using" clips only from Disney movies!

With increasingly restrictive intellectual property laws in place, which allow companies to restrict how people use their products, open source culture has arisen to encourage the creative use, sharing, and collabortion of media.

Another way to do this, is to NOT use media from big companies, but to share your own creations and borrow from others who want to share with you!

The Creative Commons is a great place to check out. It is a clearinghouse of websites where people upload material, the majority of which is free for anybody to use, legally- to remix music, make videos, create art. (There are various licenses which ask you to do different things- whether you can modify it, whether you need to cite the artist, etc.)

As McChesney says, a corporate media system is not a given- there are other ways to conceive of how to create media, who can "own" ideas, what makes the best, most healthy media system. These cultures are places where these other ideas are being put into practice and being nurtured.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Final Blog Posts

As mentioned in class, all blog posts are due this Sunday, December 13 at midnight.

The areas of race, class, gender and sexuality in media are incredibly broad and rich, and you could do multiple blog posts exploring different areas of this section of the course. I also encourage you to think of other marginalized groups/identities in society, who are subjected to limited inclusion or stereotypical portrayals in the media. Race, class, gender and sexuality are certainly not the only ways people identify themselves, and are not the only identities that face challenges within the media system- they're just some of the big ones we tend to introduce in sociology survey courses.

Possible blog ideas:
• While middle and upper class gay people are gaining visibility on TV, working class gays and lesbians are still absent. How does being gay complicate being a working-class person? Consider the film Boys Don’t Cry, or the documentary it is based on, The Brandon Teena Story, or the essay by Amber Hollibaugh “The Price of Love” in the journal New Labor Forum, Fall 2005, which gives a first person account of what it means to be gay and working-class. Use any of these pieces, or any other example from the media, that examines the experience of being gay and working class. Discuss why creative work like documentary film can bring taboo subjects into public discourse, which may not be possible otherwise. What are some other media spaces where sympathetic representation is possible—for instance, blogs or video diaries? (From the Class Dismissed Study Guide)

• What occupations or positions do women and men hold in the TV shows you are familiar with? Discuss how these representations relate to Butsch's analysis of working class sitcoms or Massoni's analysis of gender and occupational aspirations.

• Why do you think we are seeing a proliferation of "reality" shows? How do they tie into the American Dream? How do they perpetuate or combat stereotypical representations of various groups, such as the working class?

• Sketch out a premise for a television show or movie that you think would represent a view of an experience or identity that is typically not seen on television. Would this be successful?

The readings this week are about the state of the media reform movement and some perspectives on what the issues are when it comes to changing what we don't like about the current media system. Some blog topics here:

• So what are your thoughts now on the media system? Do you think it could/should change? How? What are the most important issues to watch?

• Which independent media did you visit? What did you think of them? How important are alternative/independent media sources today?

• Visit some of the media reform organizations listed below (or find some others targeting issues you are especially interested in). What sorts of projects/efforts are they undertaking? How important do you think such organizations are? Who are they trying to involve and what actions do they urge followers to take?

FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
Free Press:
Center for Digital Democracy:
Independent Media Center:

Finally, as mentioned in class, you may also write a blog about your blogging experience in this course. How did you feel about putting yourself out there? Did it change your mind about blogging, cause you to form an opinion about blogging that you didn’t have before? Most of your blogs were probably seen by just us, but not all of them. How might you have exposed your blogs to a broader audience? Did you grow more or less comfortable with the technical and practical aspects of it as you went along?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Links for this week

Here are quick links to the links listed in the syllabus for this week, as we wrap up the course and take the temperature of the current environment of mass media.

First, I ask you to check out a few alternative and independent media sources:

Second, please watch this video: Save the Internet!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Toys and Socialization

In light of the holiday season, in which our usual consumer culture gets pumped up into a frenzy of consumerism, and the focus is largely on children receiving toys, it's fascinating to take a look at toys and toy advertising: how they play a role in socializing children into gender roles, and how toys present certain ideals and limited representations to children.

I want to present a curious development in the advertising of children's toys: the increasing gender segmentation of toys. Take these ads from the 80s:

The toys are not presented as gendered (i.e. as a boys' toy or a girls' toy). The girl in the Lego ad is not styled as stereotypically feminine- she is just wearing denim overalls and a t-shirt. It looks like she's wearing the clothes she might be playing in, rather than being presented as particularly fashionable. In the Fisher Price ads, boys and girls are presented as playing together, with the same toy. A red sports car is not presented as a boys' toy. Girls are not the only ones interested in cooking (or, I suppose, working at a fast food restaurant).

However, it doesn't seem like this trend has continued and grown. In fact, we are more likely to see toys presented as girls' toys and boys' toys, with the same toy even coming in different colors and marketed as (or assumed to be) the boys' and girls' version.

We even have previously gender neutral toys/games suddenly being split up into the "original" and the "designer" version, with the "designer" version in pink and purple ostensibly being equated to the "feminine" version.

Does this mean that the original is now the "masculine" version? This doesn't do much to combat the normalization of hegemonic masculinity, if girls are encouraged to use special version of previously gender neutral products. It also serves to separate boys' and girls' play, to segregate them.

Why is this increasing gender differentiation in toys happening? One reason I would suggest is that there is simply more money to be made in creating more versions of products which are tied to more aspects of an identity which is shaped through advertising. If boys and girls aren't going to play with the same toys anymore, then someone needs to buy them their own unique, personal versions of each toy.

Also, take a look at these Nintendo DS titles. Who do you think they are for?

This goes really well with the Massoni article- what kinds of occupations are being presented as viable/desirable for girls? How realistic is it? How limiting for how we encourage girls to approach the world of work?

Finally, I also recommend this column on Jezebel today about the problem with Black Barbies- how inclusion doesn't include everyone.

I would really love to hear from you guys in your blogs. What kinds of critical readings of race, class and gender can you do of some contemporary media?

(Images from various posts on Sociological Images.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In media conslidation news...

I wanted to call your attention to the newest potential big media merger making news. It looks like Comcast will be buying NBC. The Free Press is urging people to oppose the merger, with the argument that the merger will further hurt the public interest by severely limiting competition in the online video market by combining a major internet and cable provider with a major content provider. There is concern that this partnership will squeeze out entrants into the online video sphere, where it seems a lot of viewers are moving towards.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Palin on the cover of Newsweek

This week Newsweek is receiving a lot of criticism (from Sarah Palin and Fox News, mostly) for their use of this image of Sarah Palin on their cover:

Palin originally posed for this photo for a feature in Runner's World magazine, where it would seem more in context, though it still features some not-so-innocent ideological associations, from Palin's cheerleader-y stance, to the American flag next to her. On the cover of Newsweek, however, the choice of photo, critics say, is "sexist" and "demeaning." When presented alongside a critical story about her as "bad" for America, this presentation of her in short shorts, pigtails and with a smile seems intended to disempower her, make her out to be a joke.

In conjunction with the Walsh article, this would seem to be another example of how the mainstream media is able to make powerful statement through images- statements which often rely on stereotypical understandings of race, class and gender, as they relate to power. Palin is presented as having less power by being presented in a sexualized manner (despite what you think of Palin herself, and the fact that she posed for this photo in the first place). Just as Hillary Clinton was pushed (and perhaps shaped herself) as having masculine characteristics in order to be taken seriously as a contender, in order to make sense of her as a female candidate, so too did the characterization of Palin as sexualized (maybe even as a "super-mom" who could nurture a nation?) seek to make sense of her as a female candidate.

The main point of the Walsh article is that even supposedly objective mainstream media representations of race, class and gender often serve to reinforce the primacy of white male hegemony. We rely on commonsense understandings of race and gender, which generally aren't that complicated or nuanced. This is true across news and entertainment media.

The general point should be made that it is not that one image is likely to have that much of an impact, but that we can better understand how our society talks about these issues through their representation in the media. How powerful do you think media representations are?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Current Potential Blog Topics

Current blog topics on the table, and some potential ideas to explore:

Globalization and Social Movements (from last week)
• How do you think America relates to the rest of the world in terms of media and globalization? What is your experience with global media products?
• Overall, do you see globalization as a positive or negative trend? Why?
• How do local populations interact with globalization in active and unique ways? What are some strategies transnational media corporations might adopt to recognize this?
• What are some examples of hybridization of culture?

Violence in media, Media effects
• Can you think of other "folk devils," or examples where the effect of media is used to express our concern over other, more complex social issues?
• Can you find other examples of media coverage that blames other media for a social issue? Do you see any problems with the account?

Game Over

Active Audiences and Polysemy
• Think of a current media text, and try to explore how different audiences might interpret it differently. What is it about social context that influences different interpretations?
• Has you interpretation of a media text ever changed over time? What changed?