Is This America?
By Alex Strouf, May 14, 2018
In today’s world, celebrities from athletes to actors and musicians are given a public forum where it is becoming normal and acceptable to address social issues. In previous articles, we’ve outlined NBA star LeBron James addressing public issues and then being told to, “Shut Up and Dribble,” by talk show hosts.
Most recently making headlines is actor and songwriter Donald Glover, better known under his musical persona, Childish Gambino.
Glover recently released a single titled, “This Is America,” which shattered YouTube records with it’s music video that’s creating a ton of discussion. We’ll get there soon. First, though, we must acknowledge what’s gone on since it’s release.
Gambino released the video and avoided the internet completely. Two days after it’s release and rise, Glover hosted Saturday Night Live, had appearances on late night shows, and has been named a cast member of the upcoming Star Wars movie. Most recently, This Is America topped the Billboard charts in it’s debut, knocking Drake from his virtually undefeated 2018 in the top spot with singles God’s Plan and Nice for What.
Yeah, it’s been a busy few weeks for the artist known as Childish Gambino.
That said, the conversation surrounding the video continues. With over 3.3 million likes and 185,000 dislikes on YouTube, everybody and their mother is taking part in the spectacle that is this single.
Is this how Donald Glover and his creative team sees America? Was this video created to begin a conversation around violence and marijuana use in America? Or is the point left open to personal interpretation, as it has yet to be explained by anybody behind the art?
It’s often we hear criticism toward artists for speaking on issues. Here, though, there’s little criticism and more praise, as Glover and Co. are leaving the interpretation over the video open to whomever views the video, which had over 114,000,000 views as of Monday.
This won’t be the end of the discussion regarding This Is America, and if we can assume one thing: mission accomplished for Childish Gambino.
PODCAST: What We Missed (Guest: Charles Collier)
By Alex Strouf, May 13, 2018
I am joined in this episode of What We Missed by the co-editor and lead journalist of The Denmark News, Charles Collier, to discuss life as an independent newspaper, the age of corporate newspapering, and having a niche in the local community, among much, much more. A great conversation from a unique perspective.
Social Media Dictates Social Life
By Alex Strouf, May 9, 2018
“[Insert Name] has sent you a link.”
“I can’t believe this! We should go!”
We’ve all received messages like this and know exactly what that link has attached: a local event that was just announced.
The internet, social media in particular, has become the centerpiece of where our society receives its’ news and updates. As we live in an instantaneous world, important releases are brought up on our newsfeeds and smartphones just moments after things happen.
In a world where sources for news are growing larger but the money market stays the same or shrinks, we all have the opportunity to become producers, creators, and reliable media sources, as mentioned in Devereaux’s chapter nine. “In this version of media production, audiences create, recreate, and recycle media content through their use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Wikipedia, and YouTube,” Devereaux writes. “So, as well as consuming media texts, audience members have the capacity or potential to produce circulate media texts.”
That said, as we discussed in Wednesday’s class, we, being every member of society, have the ability, potential, and tools to be reporters and watchdogs on local, statewide, and national stories and controversies. We all have a voice, whether it be the aforementioned Twitter, blogs, or even text messages or e-mails.
Our social life has changed extraordinarily as we’ve conformed and become used to up-to-the-second news, updates, and communication. Our knowledge, opinions, and plans can be changed in the blink of an eye.
On a personal note, I’m not one to necessarily pay as much attention to America’s politics as much as a registered voter probably should, but I have recently. I haven’t really changed any acts or patterns of my behavior when it comes to going to research specific things or even stay informed. All I did was click one button: Follow.
Our President uses Twitter for his messages, propaganda, and opinions unlike any other leader we’ve ever seen. For best or for worst, President Trump has the 19th most followers on Twitter of anybody in the world. He never shies away from spreading his message, again, for better or for worst. Imagine how different their legacies would be if Kennedy, Lincoln, or even Clinton had Twitter at their disposal during their respective times in office. It’s a fun thought, because our world has become so different in such a short time.
On a different note and on what I briefly mentioned earlier in this article, media companies are having to find ways to adapt and evolve in order to not fail. Huge media conglomerates like CNN, FOX, and NBC have easily found their niches online through revenue and followers. However, for small independent newspapers, adapting to the 21st century is not an easy task.
While the positive effects of constant connectivity and up-to-date news are overwhelming, the negative aspects are also strong. As mentioned briefly in Croteau & Hoynes, “history suggests that wisdom, insight, and perspective are gained from being disconnected, by creating time and space for solitude and contemplative thought” (318).
Another issue that has been brought up a number of times over the years is the fact that once news is published, it cannot be taken back. For example, if you release a short story about a shooting on 4th street with little to no information, and then it turns out a gun was fired in a basement while it was being cleaned, that hurts your reputation as a reliable source. Some media outlets focus more on getting content out the fastest, rather than having the most complete report. Something like this happened late last year with the tragic shooting in Las Vegas. Initially, most outlets reported there were multiple shooters, which proved untrue. Although the event that unfolded is terribly tragic and uncomfortable to discuss, misreporting an event of such is seen as incredibly disrespectful to those involved.
In conclusion, connectivity is a centerpiece of today’s society. While the positives and negatives each exist in having your news and social world in your pocket, one thing is for sure: there is NO turning back now.
Problems Surrounding the Filter Bubble
By Alex Strouf, April 28, 2018
Living within a government based on fairness, independence for citizens, and freedom of speech, expectations for authenticity are not out-of-line. A large part of authenticity revolves around a citizen, whether a college student, a broadcast journalist, or the President of the United States, authenticity mainly includes somebody stating facts surrounding a situation. If you begin to form a reputation for not stating all of the facts regarding a situation or anything in general, others will begin to notice and discuss that. We’ve seen that media organizations are often referred to as publishing “fake news,” becoming a popular term in late 2016 during that year’s presidential election.
In fact, it’s used so often, our President uses the term “fake” (polls, news, media, etc.) nearly every day.
As has been proven throughout the past few years, when something does not benefit a supporter or investor into a certain medium, those mediums tend to stay away from criticizing those individuals or groups on their platform. This tends to even come all the way down to local television stations. As stated in Devereaux’s chapter four, “As a results of mergers, take-overs, deregulation, privatization, globalization, and technological change, a substantial amount of mainstream media ownership increasingly rests in fewer hands.”
A recent example that had people of the United States frightened was when every television station owned by Synclair Broadcasting Group (includes three stations in Green Bay/Appleton area, two in Madison area, one in Milwaukee) broadcasting the same script in their local newscasts, reading a corporately constructed script that is pushing a message against fake news. So, basically, 193 stations were forced to read identical scripts that reflected somebody else’s views… basically contradicting the message by promoting a slight example of fake news, or what is seen as a form of propaganda. This created protests and backlash against Synclair and their affiliates, which includes FOX11 out of Green Bay.
As mentioned in chapter nine of Devereaux, blogging and creating our own way of delivering and receiving news (Twitter, YouTube, etc.) It’s often for us not to rely on what are seen as credible and larger news stations, such as local television and bigger stations such as CNN, and dashing to our Twitter feeds or text messages to receive the latest scoop. This allows us to see a lot of opinions and bias involved in our reception as fact.
In other facets, media conglomerates will push messages against specific people whothey feel could hurt their organization or the country as a whole. The top example of this is the 2016 presidential election, where now-President Donald J. Trump felt as if his treatment within the media was unfair and Hillary Clinton was being given passes on several topics that could be seen as controversial. Along with that, President Trump’s coverage in the media has been incredibly negative in comparison to past President’s. In fact, negative reports involving President Trump in media happen more often than former President Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky scandal) and former President George W. Bush (September 11 attacks, wars) combined. This just about proves that corporately owned publication usually predetermine the type of coverage they’ll give certain individuals due to personal feelings and objectives, which creates what’s known as, “fake news.”
All in all, corporately owned media only hurt us by hiding some news, promoting things that aren’t completely truthful, and pushing personal objectives and propaganda rather than relevant news. Afterall, don’t we want an informed and authentic public to shine our views on the state of our country? That’s what our country promotes, but doesn’t reflect with the push of a corporately created and monitored middle-man.
Analyzing Your Commodity Self
By Alex Strouf, April 6, 2018
For the most part, as humans, our surroundings define who we are. Whether or not we have a choice or command over our surroundings and the commodities we employ, they equal out to what is our social identity. Each of us has a slightly or significantly different social identity, depending on the subject, but the way in which we reach that identity is relatively similar throughout each human process.
To dive into social construction, we must first acknowledge our social life. We purposely surround ourselves with people who share our interests, hobbies, and lifestyle. However, we don’t choose how our interests, hobbies, and lifestyle is developed; that’s usually developed during your upbringing. As you continue to live, you continue to develop and construct an identity, how you see yourself and how others see you. What you use, things you do, things you believe, and things you like help shape what’s known as your ‘identity.’
Amid the technology age, we’re constantly changing the way in which we decipher, digest, and see news, updates, and personal interests throughout the world. As stated in Sturken and Cartwright chapter six, the hypothetical normal day begins, “having been awaken by the alarm on your cell phone… the first thing you look at is the digital time display… Over coffee, you check your email and the news on your iPhone or laptop, maybe listening to the news on TV or radio,” (223). This example displays how our life is just about always instantaneously affected by media. In this era, we are allowed to pick and choose our preferences and interests and how, when, and why they are delivered to us. It’s drastically easier to pick up a new interest, friend group, or news outlet these days, which shapes views, opinions, and our social identity.
With so many prominent news outlets, different publications take different angles on stories. If the user is only receiving a single angle, that potentially includes bias, the user’s opinion of that specific situation is going to sway other ways than other people. We see this often in politics, as different TV channels push different narratives. Your political affiliation is a big fraction of how your identity is socially constructed, because that usually determines your surroundings (friends, etc.).
Social media has become a huge factor in determining our identity, where we carefully choose and filter what we see. On Facebook, we physically ‘like’ our favorite shows, people, topics, news sources, and sports teams to develop this crazy news smoothie. The more we sip that smoothie, the more we begin to think, act, and live what we constant see, changing and continuing the construction of our social identity. As stated in a Northwestern University blog in 2016, “Having an online presence may impact how the self is understood, even more for younger users who grow up with and are forging their identities while interacting with peers on sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.” Northwestern has been a pioneer to digging into the impact social media has on the youngest generations, and it’s shown a quick creation of identity and opinions.
The media as a whole sometimes share narratives to help impact our behavior in a positive manner. As mentioned in Stokes chapter 6, “Anti-smoking campaigns, drunk-driving campaigns and other public safety and health messages are purposefully designed with the goal of changing the attitudes and behaviors of the people who see them,” (175).
When looking in a mirror at your own identity and commodity lifestyle, it becomes more complicated to dissect. As a medium, a responsibility to give your viewer information clear and concise is expected, but you never know how your viewer will take it. As written in Sturken and Cartwright’s chapter two, “In focusing on the viewer, we are concerned with the activity of the individual as a category that emerges through practices of looking [at the media].”
As a viewer, you have the responsibility of questioning and negotiating what you’re presented. You must analyze content and try to poke holes so you are comprehending and digesting the absolute most factual content that you can. As written in Devereaux chapter seven, “Content analysis is typically used to identify the intentions and other characteristics of communicators, detect the existence of latent propaganda or ideology, reflect cultural patterns of groups, reveal the foci of organizations and describe trends in communication content,” (193).
The commodities I use consist of a television, a cell phone, podcasts, and a laptop. The internet, mainly social media, is my main source of news. I choose to stay away from politics, because I truthfully do not give a damn about politics. Unlike most Americans, I know very little about our government. Mainly, I surround myself with an escape from the real issues of the world by making most of my commodity intake sports related. Although it’s not always appreciated, I remain a very opinionated person because I find fun in forming my own opinions out of what I see.
Now, commodities do shape my identity by mainly providing me up-to-the-minute information on my passions and deepest interests. With a cell phone, I can interact with anybody within seconds. It allows me keep in touch with people who are hundreds of miles away, instead of only interacting once in a blue moon. I own a 2007 Saturn Ion (that’s a car) that I can use to travel long distances for social, professional, or personal reasons. Instead of walking everywhere I go, I am fortunate enough to live in a time with these unbelievable means of transportation. These social engagements shape the way I talk, think, and live, because everybody subconsciously picks things up through social meetings.
That said, not only do cell phones provide social and news interaction, it also serves as a pocket meteorologist. As mentioned in class, media influences humans, including myself, to dress for weather, buy something because of an advertisement, and go to films mentioned on websites. If our visuals are influencing us to act or feel some way, that would in fact say something about our identity and about the effect the media has on its viewer. The case could be made that media use their platform to capitalize on its viewers by promoting advertisements and narratives.
A commodity that doesn’t have a clear definition but may also be the most widespread and seen is advertisements themselves. Advertisements have goals, but no rules. The goal is to make you dish out money to the company that’s advertising. As seen in the American Apparel advertisement earlier this week, advertisements should grab your attention in some fashion. As written in Sturken and Cartwright chapter seven, “Advertisements speak the language of transformation. They promise consumers, rather explicitly or implicitly, that their lives will change for the better if they buy a particular product or brand,” (275). In American Apparel’s case, it kind of seems like they’re promoting the message that you’ll get laid if you wear thigh- high socks.
There’s many ideas and strategic formats to present advertisers to consumers, and depending on a person’s identity, their attention may get caught. In my case, when I’m reading a newspaper or watch television and I see something advertised about a sporting event, movie, memorabilia piece, or documentary, I get excited. Appealing to your audience is the overall goal of an advertiser, but there are certain ways to do that effectively, whether you spectacle is what you’re selling or the advertisement itself.
For many women, whenever makeup or clothing is advertised at a discount price, light bulbs light up and wallets open. When Victoria’s Secret advertises a panties sale, they make a lot more money and sell a lot more product versus normal priced products.
Advertising has a unique niche within media. Advertisers are the reason media exists (financial reasons), therefore they are paying for viewers time. Advertisers usually want to give a great first impression, but how advertisers advertise themselves isn’t always that great first impression. Between sexualization, comedy, or emotion, most commercials try to win you over by using those appeals. Advertisements try to advertise their company or product as the best thing since sliced bread, therefore you should have it in your life, as written in Sturken and Cartwright.
The fastest growing form of media and one of the newest digital commodity is podcasts. The archived radio-type talk shows come in all types, topics, personalities, and sizes. It gives individuals a public voice if they have a microphone. The content ranges from serious to comedy to realistic to news to rumors to fantasy to sports to scientific experiments to rubber duckies in the bathtub.
I personally listen to pro wrestling and professional sports podcasts at least four hours a day. I listen to rumors, news, and predictions from the sports world. It gives you entertainment in a new, creative, and attention-grabbing way. Many top podcasts are produced by not well-known people. Everything you listen to needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it also gets the wheels in your head turning and allows you to create a conversation. Hypotheticals and theories are one of the most popular uses of podcasts, because what else would humans do but speculate?
Podcasts have turned into the blogs of the late 2010’s, because it’s so easy to put out a professional sounding broadcast that’s enjoyable to listen to. If you have entertaining things to say, odds are, people will listen.
I’m an opinionated, yet informed person. That’s thanks to commodities. Through reflection, you find that, although cliché, media truthfully controls your life: from what you think to what you wear to what you do day-to-day, the recent rise in technology has shaken most people directly to the core.
Or their identity.
Fortnite For Life
By Alex Strouf, March 14, 2018
It’s been a long, long time since a video game took the gaming world by storm the way Fortnite, a free survival game, has since late November of 2017.
Fortnite continues to shatter its own records of downloads (most recently at 45 million) and player playing at once (most recently at 3.7 million).
The goal of the game is to be the last one standing of 100 total characters in a free-for-all type survival game.
As you can imagine, this game consumes hours on end of young college students nationwide, craving to be the last one standing, even though it’s a known fact the odds are stacked against you.
The only ways to progressively get a better place in games is by, well, practicing. You can upgrade minimal things like your outfit and the ability to play different game modes by paying different amounts of money. Despite being free, the most played game in the world is still receiving payments from players worldwide.
I both interviewed and observed one of my friends, ‘Q’, who has clocked over 70 hours in gameplay since December, play a few rounds of the much talked about, ‘Fortnite.’
After a brief conversation, it was clear that this game had already capitalized on his borderline ‘addiction’ (class notes) of the game. ‘Q’ mentioned that he bought a ‘battle pack,’ for $10 to upgrade his armor and everyday challenges within the game.
During my observation of him playing a few rounds, I allowed myself to make it seem like I wasn’t in the room (it was hard, by the way). As mentioned in Stokes’ chapter six, “To conduct good ethnography, you must be detached and removed from the situation, and you observe others without letting your presence intervene” (191).
I did as such, and it was quite interesting to witness reactions and both the in-depth focus and precision used by ‘Q’ while playing a round of Fortnite.
He placed 12th in the first game, which he said was a pretty good finish but not rare for him.
Without hesitation, he exited the game, and immediately joined another.
This is what Epic Games, developer of Fortnite, obviously aims for. After studying their initial audience from what we can assume was an audience-centered goal, they understood to implement certain things within the game that will keep players coming back (class notes).
As Nightingale proposed in 2003, the audience as audition typology, including participatory audience experience, is what creates almost an addiction or a passion for the given medium. It’s why radio contests have so many callers because the caller wants to win a prize or because March Madness is so heavily watched, because millions of people fill out a bracket.
In conclusion, media create an addiction in multiple different facets, while also changing one’s behavior while participating in an interactive experience. As mentioned in Stokes, “This awareness [or lack of it] inevitably leads us to ask about the influences and impacts of the communication revolution of our lives” (171). It clearly makes you question why we’re so fascinated with a video game that takes nearly three full days of our time in just three months. Clearly, Epic Games is taking an approach that capitalizes on vulnerable video gamers like my friend ‘Q’.
“Shut Up And Dribble”
By Alex Strouf, February 28, 2018
Basketball player and social influencer.
And he’s really, really good at both of those.
I’m summarizing the value of National Basketball Association (NBA) player and four-time NBA most valuable player LeBron James.
James voiced his opinion on President Trump almost a month ago, which triggered FOX News host Laura Ingraham.
Ingraham, on her show, told James to, “shut up and dribble,” also noting she doesn’t trust the political opinion of somebody who “gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.”
As you can imagine, this created quite a snowball effect of conversation throughout the NBA community, being picked up by news outlets.
For many news outlets, it was hard to give an unbiased approach to what was popularly perceived as a naïve comment by Ingraham. It’s well-known that James, along with many other professional athletes, are looked upon to make social statements and are seen as role models.
In my specific selections, I have chosen an article that gives a good explanation of both sides and a tweet by NBA star Dwyane Wade.
As discussed in chapter two of Sturken and Cartwright (Page 49), that meaning is taken in the way of “the viewers and how they interpret or experience” the media.
Media has a job to present things so that only the correct meaning can be digested by the audience, especially when it comes to controversy and conflict.
In the chosen article by National Public Radio, it is presented in a very unbiased manner, breaking down Ingraham’s side and then doing the same for James’.
For a reader that was unfamiliar on the situation, it may be to take away that Ingraham’s words were rather harsh, while James’ intentions were good. For a non-sports fan conservative, it may be easy to blow off James’ rational reasoning and side with Ingraham’s criticism. However, as an individual that understands the severity of James’ position as a public figure, it’s easy to side against Ingraham. NPR does a great job of allowing the reader to form their own opinion, while multiple articles published by other mediums did not achieve that. The only point of persuasion the article hinted was giving James the final word.
This article was clearly important serving as a summary of the conflict between Ingraham and NBA players, allowing the audience to catch up on what most would consider a conversation of social issues.
My other piece of material stays with the, “Shut up and dribble,” message told by Ingraham.
A victim in the Parkland, Fla., shooting, Joaquin Oliver, was buried in Miami Heat player and LeBron James’ best friend Dwyane Wade’s jersey. The night that Oliver was buried, Wade wrote his name on his shoes. Wade tweet the attached photo and caption, ending it with, “This is why we will not just SHUT up and dribble!”
This example proves media is important in that it provided Wade a platform to show how much this meant to him, along with allowed him to respond to Ingraham’s disrespect.
Wade then hit a game-winner with five seconds left in the game he honored Oliver, and tweeted that night, “South Florida need this!”
This allowed Wade to connect with the public, especially the residents of South Florida, and show that he was there to help with their grieving and had their backs.
Overall, a quote from Sturken and Cartwright chapter two (Page 57) best summarizes the importance of truthfully passing forward a message.
“A viewer’s direct and complete engagement with the image producers’ intended messages may be the goal, but such an engagement is not possible.”
It is important for media to lay down as many facts as they can gather and allow the reader/viewer to draw their own conclusions.
After all, we do live in an opinionated world.
The Top (Under) Dogs
By Alex Strouf, February 14, 2018
Images set a certain tone when used in news. When used in the field of media, photographs usually highlight some sort of journalistic story. Tragic, happy, groundbreaking, or outrageous, there are many ways an image can originally be deciphered and digested by the reader. Media are given an expectation to present a realistic and honest image to show their audience to match with a story.
The image I chose is an alternate angle of the photo that was used on the front page of The Philadelphia Daily News at the end of January after the Philadelphia Eagles knocked off the Minnesota Vikings to advance to Super Bowl LII.
The image features Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills wearing a dog mask shortly before the game ended. As the scoreboard shows, the score is 38-7 with little time remaining.
Going back to the aforementioned original digestion you likely had the minute you saw this image, you probably thought to yourself, “Why the hell is a football player wearing a dog mask?”
“Throughout its history, photography has been associated with realism.” (Sturken/Cartwright, 16).
The front page of The Philadelphia Daily News serves the job of presenting an image that portrays a mood, a story, and a feeling all combined into one.
Following what some considered an upset, Eagles players were seen wearing a variety of dog masks, noting they felt like “underdogs.” The dog mask is accompanied with a pair of peace signs, showing a bit of swagger from an Eagles star.
Clearly the mood around the Eagles organization was that they were overlooked. As noted, “A photograph is often perceived to be an unmediated copy of the real world, a trace of reality skimmed off very surface of life,” (Sturken/Cartwright, 17). Eagles players and fans alike felt as if nobody gave them a chance in what turned out to be a blowout. Although a picture doesn’t show you more than just its focus or doesn’t allow you to hear any noise, you can grasp a decent understanding of the mood within the area of the photograph.
Another interesting breakdown that can be argued within the journal is, “The photograph is imagined to have, depending on its context, a power that is primarily affective or a power that is primarily informative.” (Sturken/Cartwright, 19). It can be argued that there is not a primary mythical truth-value within the photograph, rather they both exist equally. It’s informative with the scoreboard feature and the clear celebration, or swagger, by Mills. However, it’s also affective with the underdog stunt. Media gave the Eagles the stage to present the multiple dog masks. Clearly, the message was delivered that Philadelphia was okay with being the underdogs—in fact, they were embracing it.
If we use a semiotic lens, if you will, we can dive even deeper to the dog masks. The Eagles, who were the top seed in the NFC, were also betting underdogs in both playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. After embracing the role of underdogs in the NFL Playoffs, the Eagles were then referred to as, ‘dogs.’ The phrase ‘dogs,’ in sports, a 21st century term, is usually compared to as a team with a lot of fight. Like a Pitbull, the Philadelphia Eagles were mean on the field and would not go down without a fight. The title of the story in The Philadelphia Daily News was, “Best in Show: Next Stop for Philly’s Wonderdogs? Super Bowl LII.” As we mentioned in class, we’re constantly creating new words and meanings. In the case of the Eagles, these dogs created a new meaning.
In conclusion, it’s not secret media are given a tough job when it comes to displaying the perfect image to wrap-up an event. That includes the events results, mood, feelings, and reality. In the case of The Philadelphia Daily News, they chose a great image to get a point across about the ‘Wonderdogs’.