NPR: On the Media – Punishing Propagandists

Propaganda is best defined as media content, in particular ads, designed to support one group over another, usually political groups or philosophies.

This podcast treats the subject of new legislature on propaganda, particularly in political campaigns.

The main themes are new legislature on propaganda, some key propaganda practices, and the blatant inaccuracies featured in propaganda, usually based on faulty statistics that were not carefully verified.

Propaganda is often the stuff of political campaigns, and most people know how to recognize it and take it with a sizeable grain of salt, if it is even credible at all. Some propaganda takes on no burden of proof or efforts to be verified at all, often spouting off misinformation and falsehoods as if they were fact. This is now simply to be expected; when we hear political ads, there is not much expectation of honesty or integrity, and so when a piece of propaganda is accurate, there is no way to know for sure without extensive independent research.

Given the lack of predisposition that most have for doing said research, this practice has caused a sort of “boy crying wolf” effect, so that we now rarely believe the propaganda-laden media at all, at least fully. There are those who buy anything they hear, but I think as a people we are becoming skeptical of everything, even things that perhaps should be given a more serious ear.

Imagine if the nation’s propaganda were held to honesty. How would it affect you? Would it even be possible to verify?

I see a great potential for good in honesty. We would feel a greater trust for our leaders; whereas now their promises are all vain and empty, we would potentially feel that we could count on any promises made to be completed, so that rather than choosing the prettier words, we could choose the political package that most appealed to us.

Advertisements

The Smart Passive Income Podcast – Pat Flynn

This set of podcasts is really fascinating. Pat Flynn, who makes all of his now-considerable income from what he calls “passive income,” interviews different people and talks on subjects related to making your passive business model work. This is right up a marketer’s alley, because to make this work, you have to use the media at your disposal to market yourself.

Flynn speaks extensively on the value of blogging for generating passive income, talking about the different ways to market your blog and manipulate the different money-making systems available to create an appreciable income.

Some of his tips include how to get yourself featured on other blogs, how to use associate marketing to your advantage, and how to use featured ads on your site effectively.

As a mass medium, blogs are fascinating. I have seen successful blogs that feature not only content for readers, but also content-related merchandise (t-shirts, etc.) that both generate income and promote the blog further. Blogs are among the most flexible text-based media, and they are facilitated entirely by the Internet. Sites like WordPress and Blogger are the most commonly used, and there’s no real limit to what a blog can be used for.

Anyone who wants to can become a capable creator or content producer through effective blogging. That’s the beauty of it. You never run out of options to create more content, as long as you have a passion for what you’re writing about. Flynn’s first advice is to find a subject you are passionate about, and then to write concerning that. For me, for instance, it is easy to write about marketing, advertising, and the media, because those are things I feel strongly about and greatly enjoy.

What would you blog about? Do you think you could ever make money off of a blog of your own creation?

NPR: On the Media – Newspapers and Their Uncertain Future

I’ve previously spoken about newspapers and their possible extinction, and this NPR podcast tends to agree with me, but offers a few interesting insights into the trends or causes of the newspaper’s decline.

One point made is that while some newspapers have gone out of business, they typically did so only in places where they had competition. The real worries would be if there were areas that suddenly had no newspapers to speak of, but that is not the case.

Readership of newspapers, unlike printed sales, is not suffering, due mainly to online versions of the newspapers that allow everyone to read the content for only the cost of the advertising on the sites. In some cases, this is allowing the readership to soar to previously unseen levels, though monetarily the newspaper may still suffer.

The problem could very well be that for a long time, the newspaper industry thought that the newspaper industry was doing just fine as it was, and saw no need to change anything. That was apparently false, and dramatic changes are needed to help the newspaper survive the coming years of technological advancement.

On another note, the newspaper industry as a whole will likely require some heavy rebranding if they are to revolutionize their industry sufficiently to survive. There are changes to be made, potentially to the extremes of eliminating print completely and taking newspapers to totally electronic media, making the newspaper a luxury for the wealthy, the persistent, or maybe just the snobbish.  If these changes are to become effective, the whole industry needs to change the public’s view of it. If we still see newspapers as ugly pulp paper and cheap newsprint, we’ll likely not bite whatever new hooks they come up with. If we can start to see newspapers as interactive electronic medium that effectively and concisely informs us of the world from our mobile devices, at low cost to us, then the newspaper could take on a new life with its new and necessary form, having shown us its value once more.

How would you like to see newspapers change in the coming years?

NPR: On the Media – Video Games

This one is interesting: NPR covers video games and their effects on society.

There are a few key themes here: What kinds of games sell and why? How can games be regulated as a medium? How do gamers consider themselves, and who really considers themselves gamers? What do gamers learn, and how can their skillset be harvested and used?

The history of the video game is relatively short, but very eventful. From Winkydink, the most primitive, to Mario, to Call of Duty now, video games have gone from one revolution to another, whether they are graphic updates, new consoles, unique interfaces, or distinct gameplay mechanics.

This is so natural to us now, but going back just a short way, the Gameboy was a bizarre concept, unique, new, and incredible, only 15 years ago.

The First-Person Shooter was another revolution: immersive games were now possible, as a potential virtual reality. 3-D games became reality, and are now commonplace.

Strategy games, sports games, racing simulators, and simulators of various types are all other examples of innovations, and consoles and PC games all illustrate the varieties of games available.

MMORPGs are another of the greatest genres of videogames in the world now. What is the draw? The achievement systems in games that offer rewards for in-game accomplishment are extensive. The sense of adventure and comradery are dramatic and larger-than-life, allowing the player to feel like a hero or a villain, a competent soldier or a blundering fool. You get to maintain yourself in the world, and live a life apart from reality.

These elements of draw are being applied to all varieties of games now, with dramatic effects. It is commonplace for young men and women to invest a great deal of time in an activity that has little or questionable effects on reality around them.

Is there anything wrong or right with the massive videogaming trends now? What do you think?

NPR: On The Media – The Developing Music Industry

This podcast addresses the subject of the ways the Internet, with its file-sharing capability and ease of selling downloads, has completely altered the future of the music industry.

One of the main themes, on which I would like to place emphasis, is the reaction of the music industry to products like Napster and other music-sharing sites. Napster was the first major music-sharing Internet site that allowed users to share entire musical libraries with each other for free. Once the use of the site picked up, it resulted in a major loss of album and track sales for major music labels and artists.

One of the ideas discussed in the podcast is that, unbeknownst to the general public, there was in fact a great effort on the part of the music industry’s biggest players to adopt Napster with proper licensing laws in place, which could have become what iTunes is to us today. The industry was slow to adapt, however, preferring to pretend to some extent that the Internet would leave it alone.

It’s obvious now, however, that this is exactly the opposite of the truth. First Napster, then Limewire, Bittorrent and other sites allowed for easy, rapid file-sharing which, although it was not entirely safe, still beat having to buy a $15 CD when the single track you wanted was available online for free.

iTunes changed the game by making a legal, fully licensed service available for free to anyone, with a fair fee attached to individual songs or whole albums. Whereas other sites had been forced to close down due to legal complications, iTunes was ironclad and easy to use. It still is popular, but the newest face in town is growing even faster: streaming audio sites.

Streaming audio is music that a given site (Spotify, for instance) buffers and loads, plays once, and then leaves behind for the next song. The listener doesn’t own the music, but he or she doesn’t have to. They get to listen all the same, the only expense being the occasional ad.

What do you prefer? Owning your music, or streaming it? Why?

NPR: On the Media – The Internet’s Future

In this podcast, there are a number of themes included, all having to do with the way the Internet is changing the way we live and the way we perceive the world.

The themes are all based on one characteristic of the Internet: its sheer volume of potential content creation.

This is described first as details of Internet profiling, wherein businesses can gather information on an individual due to their searches, purchases, health and insurance interactions, and other categories of Internet use.

This transitions to the common practice of libel and slander on the Internet, and the total lack of recourse that exists due to the brash anonymity the Internet affords. The podcast names several cases of libel against individuals that sought recourse for their wrongs, but were unable to receive it because they simply could not find the people they needed to sue for damages.

This begs the question of how much we could potentially suffer from falsehoods about ourselves posted online. They don’t go away; they’ll never stop causing damages, especially if they ever go viral. They’ll never stop causing us to lose job opportunities, friends, and reputation. Our social life will always bear the stigma if the libel becomes famous.

The scariest part about this is that once something hits a popular message board or blog, then it is nearly impossible to eradicate as people bookmark, copy, save, and share the indemnifying content. Certain memes, featuring individuals in a particularly negative light, began years ago and are still commonplace on Google. Examples of this are Star Wars Kid, a young man who decided he would tape some ungraceful lightsaber moves for a class project. His friends found the video, put it online, and it hit everywhere.

News reports that feature glaring errors are the same way. Another instance, from the advertising sector, is the Shamwow ad campaign. It was so embarrassing, but so memorable, that once it hit the Internet it could not die, at least for some time.

Is Internet notoriety something we have to worry about, or is it just more a question of behaving ourselves in public so as to avoid public ridicule?

NPR: Pop Culture Happy Hour – ‘Frozen’ and the Death of Beloved Characters

In this podcast, many of the societal messages and norms within the movie “Frozen” are explored. There is extensive comparison to other Disney movies, and quite a bit of jocularity concerning some of the main points of the film.

“Frozen” sets very few precedents on its own, according to the commentators, but innovates several key repeating Disney themes well: princess personalities, real love vs. infatuation, and self-expression.

Movies as a mass medium often contain similar thematic elements as a necessity; their goal is usually to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and there are only so many universal values that we have as humans that can be readily applied to movie scripts. Love (both romantic and familial), friendship, success, failure, conflict, hatred; all these and more make up a list of constant, repeating thematic elements in the movies we see.

The reason for this is the need for the content to connect with us on an emotional level. We need to feel something relevant and valuable to us as a result of having viewed the content, or we will forget or disregard it as having little worth.

“Frozen” in particular explores many of these themes, particularly those of sisterhood (familial love) in the relation between Elsa and her sister, reality-based romantic love in place of infatuation in the “You can’t marry someone you just met,” idea, and self-expression and liberation in Elsa’s “Let It Go.” The latter is a terrifyingly effective example of branding through musical motif and theme, the movie’s soundtrack now recognized worldwide.

This podcast also speaks of the practice many authors and screenwriters have of killing off main characters. The general consensus reached in it is that there are good ways to kill of a character and less-desirable ways to do so. The good ways discussed were usually when a character’s death has a purpose to advance or develop the plot in some meaningful way, and not just to try to add value to the end of the book or movie through the motif of death.

What do you think, not just of Frozen, but also of the practice of death in works of fiction? Can it be constructive? How, or under what circumstances?

NPR On The Media – Covering a Missing Airplane, and Copyright in Outer Space

NPR’s On The Media chose to talk in depth about the media coverage of missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370, and they spoke about one thing I found fascinating in particular: accuracy in reporting.

The theme of the broadcast was somewhat congratulatory, surprisingly. There was a great deal of reporting on this missing flight, and the NPR commentators said they found the major news sources’ coverage exemplary in abstaining from faulty reporting.

This was fascinating in itself to me, as I found a great deal of faulty reporting based on fallacies of speculation. Things as far-fetched and ridiculous as black holes were named as possible options, and this on national television.

In fact, because there was no information, but the story was compelling, many news and media outlets came out with nothing but speculation, leaving behind the meager facts to simply write content that people would consume.

If there was content on this compelling, interesting, heart-wrenching human interest story, people would read it if it were factual or not. It didn’t have to be true, it just had to allow people to think about the right theme. It was sometimes embarrassing to the writers or reporters of the content, but it was basically just good business. There was little to say, but news sources have to say something or they run out of business.

This showed through particularly with CNN’s Black Hole theory, as produced by Don Lemon, who, in all sincerity, asked a panel of experts, live on the air, if a small black hole were a potential theory for the plane’s disappearance.

And the experts agreed. It was ridiculous.

So what do we learn from this? It doesn’t matter if the story has well fleshed-out details or not. It only really matters that the story exists, and has the potential to be compelling and meaningful to the general public. If it is, then the public will put up with ridiculous speculations.

The Internet and Its Memes

Having long been among the ranks of this century’s new household words, the Internet meme has been a long-lasting trend in the digitally connected world around us.

What is a Meme?

The Internet, however, did not birth memes at all. It simply provided a medium for them. The first record of the use of the word “meme” was in 1976, according to Merriam-Webster. The word stems from the Greek “mimema” or “that which is imitated.” Also according to Merriam-Webster, the word can be defined as, “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”

This definition of what a meme is gives a clear picture of how the Internet could allow them to flourish. The Internet is arguably the strongest connecting force between all members of humanity at this time, and as such, the content created and propagated through its use allows for one individual to create or record something, and have it be imitated by hundreds, thousands, or millions of people more. If a meme is defined as something that can be imitated by others, then we start to see why Internet memes in particular have thrived in the modern technological world.

Why do memes exist? There are a variety of reasons. Strange or unique occurrences serendipitously recorded on video; coincidences that lined up on film; juxtaposition of something the general public feels passionate about and the reaction to it they’ve all wanted to see; memes come in many forms.

Actually, memes take so many shapes and sizes that it can be difficult, outside of a dictionary at least, to define exactly what they are. There are still-images, videos, and lines of text that all take on the title of “meme,” having come to the point where the general public usually knows about them and imitates them frequently.

Let’s look at some examples:

Lolcats (does anyone not know about these?)

Force Field images

Lolcats began to make their major debut in 2007. The idea is so simple and easy to copy that it quickly caught on: find a quirky cat photo, add poorly-grammared text, and publish. Also, the audience is nearly endless. For every person that gets tired of the same old cat memes, there are two more to fill in the ranks. This has given rise to the quip, “The Internet was made for cat photos.”

Cats aren’t the only one. Courage Wolf, Advice Duck, Confession Bear, and others have since joined the animal lolspeak meme community, and more come to take their place every day.

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Ghosts Netflix

Imaginative ad campaigns often lead to less-imaginative memes. Dos Equis Beer debuted their “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign in 2007. It was intentionally over the top, and the main character, who goes without name, is shown doing all kinds of adventurous, sophisticated, manly things. The tagline of the ads was always, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, it’s Dos Equis.” The populations of the Internet decided that was worth their attention, and parodies started to appear almost immediately, taking the same image template and adding different text within the same structure as the original tagline.

This has occurred with many advertising campaigns, more notably Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, and Billy Mays’ many similar television ads.

Antoine Dodson

antoine_dodson

Kooky behavior, complete with quotable lines and distinct characters, will also often make its way into memedom. Antoine Dodson is an example of this, becoming famous overnight when the local news covered an alleged attempt at rape aimed at his sister.

Dodson became very…articulate…in his description of what had happened. The news chose to air his remarks. Within hours, and the following days, his popularity spread across social media and blog sites dedicated to creating this kind of meme.

Dodson is not the only one who has achieved fame in this way. Videos such as “Double Rainbow” and the “Trololololol” singer have become increasingly common in recent years.

There are too many specific memes to explore every genre of them, but these three provide a very general overview of the different classes of memes circulating in the Internet currently. Most Internet memes are based in humor at this point, although it was not always so.

How Does the Internet Make Memes Possible?

Before the Internet, for a meme to start to be propagated among the general populace, it had to be televised or incredibly common in the advertising of the day. One example of this is Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” sketch, which remains a meme today.

The Internet hasn’t created memes so much as it has given anyone and everyone the ability to distribute and multiply them over a larger audience. The connection the Internet provides means that a new meme can not only be distributed to and imitated by much of the human race, but it can also be modified on.

Another way the Internet has given rise to meme culture is in the occurrence known as “going viral.” Actually, a meme is defined by Internet For Beginners as “A virally transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. A meme (rhymes with ‘team’) behaves like a flu or a cold virus, traveling from person to person quickly, but transmitting an idea instead of a lifeform.”

Memes typically go viral by being published in a public forum, notable examples of which being 4-chan, Tumblr, Imgur, and other image boards for image or text-based memes, and Youtube and Vimeo for video-based memes. These sites have front pages and featured works that are either featured because of their viral nature or featured to help them go viral.

How Do Memes Affect Us?

The effects of these memes on modern society as a whole is surprising. How could pictures of a cat with text influence the way humans communicate? The answer is simple: by causing us to reference the memes frequently.

This is the essence of a meme: we imitate them. Those familiar with memes often quote or act out a meme in the presence of friends who have also seen it. In my own family, first my brother and I, and now my parents as well, can and often do communicate extensively by quoting memes which convey a specific message, nuance, or emotion.

This makes sense when considered in the light that Clay Shirky, an American writer specializing in Internet communication theories, shines on Internet memes, classifying them generally as “communal,” or social creations, meant to build comradery and friendship between individuals or groups through collective humor and entertainment.

In closing, memes are a daily part of life, and often reflect  the general tastes and attitudes of our society. What we want as a society will likely determine the memes of tomorrow, just as with any other trend. Understanding the memes that Internet culture celebrates will be an important part of understanding our society’s culture in the years to come.

On the Media: The Myth of ‘Blue Monday,’ The Campaign for Creationism, and a Lying Cyborg Telemarketer

This particular podcast seemed to deal with the general lack of integrity in the media today, specifically in news and journalism.

We see new studies and formulas, with questionably subjective material within, every day. Ben Goldacre, author of badscience.net, describes the process by which many of these things come about. A company wants to say that one day is the *insert superlative.* They want to say that their thing is the most “something.” They want to say something ridiculous.

The funny thing is, they also want their ridiculous thing to sound credible. To achieve this, many companies will hire cheap mathematicians to put together incredible equations to back their claim up; the most attractive celebrity; suicide rates in a given season or time of year, influenced by whatever variables tickle the equationist’s fancy; the best, the worst, the funniest, the saddest, the happiest, or in other words, the most subjective.

Goldacre describes his own personal experience in this field, wherein a group approached him asking for an equation to determine the most attractive walk– the catch being that they already knew who they wanted to feature as the #1 best walker (in this case, Beyonce) and the #10 worst (pale, skinny legged celebrities).

The way these groups rationalize the blatantly dishonest and manipulative nature of these false equations is that “people wouldn’t really take these seriously anyway.” Unfortunately, this is a great overestimation of the American public’s capacity for critical thought.

People do believe these things. They even cite them, sometimes casually, and sometimes not. There is a great problem when we manipulate reality to whatever is convenient for us. We learn to lie to ourselves that way. The problem is compounded when we manipulate reality to make our subjective opinion appear to be objective truth.

What would you rather see? The facts, or the opinions made to sound like them? Would you like to see both for color? Or have them separated to enjoy separately?

Another subject of conversation in the podcast was the use of prerecorded telemarketers pretending to be live humans in their calls. The problem was discovered when certain targeted clients called the number of the telemarketer back and found that she repeated exactly the same phrases to them over and over again, dozens of times, with equal results.