Nation State....what's next?

In "Google Earth and the Nation State: Sovereignty in the age of new media" Sangeet Kumar asks an extremely relevant and important question for modern nation states to consider, "What would sovereignty in this new global dispensation look like?" (the dispensation being the balance between post-national global order - which includes new media and blasting of time/space limits - and the modern nation state system).

When I read this question, I paused and thought about what our future may look like.  We've gone from clan to tribe to feudalism to monarchy to nation state....what will be the next chapter in the world history books of future high school students?  Will we be individuals connected to our alliances only by online networks? By, what Kumar describes as "associations and alliances that transcend geography and territory by forming loose, horizontal pan-global networks."  And actually, these already exist.  We can join online groups that share our religion, political views and interests.

In our very hectic, modern life we live in today, these alliances are often the only connections we have.  Many American's no longer live in small towns where everyone knows everyone else and offers support and scrutiny alike.  Now, we find the support and scrutiny in our online social networks with our contacts around the world. When (or will?) these alliances begin to become more important to us than our nation?  If we stop seeing ourselves in our nation states, if we stop feeling representing by the nation state, won't we just throw them off and turn to these growing young global online networks that are connecting people across nation state boarders, time zones, geography, language and culture?

Kumar does not believe that the Google Earth incident will knock out the nation state's power, but it has uncovered the powerlessness of the nation state in many aspects of today's global media world.  If nation states cannot keep up, people will begin to turn to other entities that can represent them and, most importantly, protect them.  Will we be "Google citizens" in the future? .....I just "googled" this and was happy to find there does not appear to be a group calling themselves by this name.....Ray Williamson said that the UN was a better platform to deal with the security issues raised with use Google Earth than the individual nation state government.  I believe this is true.  The very sovereignty of nation states around the world was challenged by a United States company.  It may be best that a supranational organization become involved to manage the affect of multinational corporations, that seem to have no allegiance to a single nation. 

Networks, what is the right balance?

Networks have always been a part of humanity.  Extended family networks were probably the first networks created, followed by trade networks.   Because I studied biological anthropology as an undergrad, I automatically begin to think of all the reasons humans have the tendency and ability to create social networks and all the reasons human begins exist as they do now because of the fact they have networks.  Human beings have small, helpless infants (unlike fish that are born knowing how to swim or horses that can run within minutes of birth) and these offspring would not be able to survive without a tight, close-knit network of support (usually in the form of extended family or very strict gender roles) ready to offer extensive care and education.  Without networks, humans would not have evolved the way they did.

It has been proven in Chimpanzees that the more charismatic the individual, the greater survival chances by making "friends" and acquaintances within the group.  Basically, the more pleasant and friendly you are, the more others wish to assist you or push you ahead in a group.  This is very true with humans today.  Some individuals are naturally endearing and have an innate ability to be charismatic.  These personality qualities can be seen as positive evolutionary characteristics, the more connections you make, the larger your support network.  And in an animal whose survival is often based on a strong, active network, these characteristics can be life-savings.

Today, the stronger your networks, the greater power, influence and opportunities you wield.  Networks take time and time is a very precious commodity in the modern world.  I wonder if people today spend too much time extending their social networks and not enough time cultivating the "nodes" within them.  With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, SoundCloud, Netflix etc. etc. people spend greater amounts of time refining, expanding, displaying and creating who they are.  But, is all this time worth it?  What is the ratio of time spent organizing and updating your social networks vs. the benefits received from it?  I think today the question is not whether or how to join a social network, but which ones will serve your goals and desires best and delve in more deeply.

Can I join your network?

There have been a couple of new changes to my life over the past few months. First major change was getting used to the crazy expensive DC lifestyle which was so different from what I was used to in Michigan. The second major change was getting used to the metro! I love this change. The transportation in Michigan sucked! But I think my biggest change has been that for some reason I haven't been on facebook.

I immediately thought, it had to be my masters program that is keeping me extremely busy. But then I realized that I had moved my attention to something else. Let my introduce my new love to you... Twitter! I know I must sound so old school for just getting serious with twitter. Like the Black Eyed Peas song maybe I'm so '2000-and-late'. But song lyrics aside, my twitter experience has been very meaningful because of the network I am gradually building.

I had a twitter account since 2010, but my twitter experience wasn't so meaningful until I took some time to build my network. From the readings this week I have been able to realize why knowing the opinion leaders and really understanding your network can be huge resource. Not only am I able to know what my friends are up to, but I am also able to get real time information on things that matter to me. So I've been tweeting (I don't really go all crazy with the tweets) but I enjoy the twitter space so much more. It is also less tedious than facebook.

As I got done with my readings, I thought to myself, would people want to be a part of my network? What am I contributing? What do I want to contribute? With the right answers to this question, the question that would rightfully follow would be "Can I join your network?"

There's a network for that.

I was a little girl the first time my grandfather told me, "In life, its 10% what you know, 90% who you know." This was easy for me to accept, because I lived in the same small town where my parents had grown up and gone to school together (along with each of their five siblings, and well over 50 first cousins- apiece). They grew up in the same town where my grandfathers were born, and were raised, quite literally down the street from each other. The result? I am related to an unusual amount of people, all within the same 20 mile radius. I was always aware that when I went out in public, there were always relatives I wouldn't recognize, or friends of relatives who would know me. In class the other day, Professor Hayden asked if we act differently when we think people are watching us. The answer is ABSOLUTELY. When I was in middle school, I went to a coffee shop one day after school without asking my parents. My cousin, who owns a garage down the street from the coffee shop called my mom from work to tell her how exciting it was that I was finally allowed to go places with my friends. Yes, it was exciting, the next time I got to do that. Three years later. I was forced to resign myself to the fact that I simply couldn't guarantee that I wouldn't be recognized while out doing something my friends could get away with. Some of my friends could buy alcohol in high school. Not me. My parents had spied everywhere. Eventually, my friends caught onto this and stopped inviting me to partake in their "extracurricular activities." It was tragic.

The point is, for better or worse, networks are all around us. What seemed to me to be an impenetrable web that I never seemed to be able to escape as a high school student now feels like a reassuring safety net, and I have become a part of it. It no longer is as important what the relationships between the people in this town are, but rather what they have turned them into. It is a network of families and friends and some people that nobody likes but we can't seem to get rid of (don't judge me, you know you know somebody like this). My mother's family network may have just as many people as my father's family network, but the way they interact and build contacts makes them look like very different structures indeed. It is indeed not what is within the nodes that shapes the network, but the nature of the association between. What I considered a curse (and sometimes still do) as a child now seems to be a dream come true. Its like the saying, "there's an app for that!" I have a family member or friend for almost all situations in most places.

Networks come in all shapes and sizes. Everything belongs to one, and they can vary from kindergarten students on the playground to multinational corporations. With this degree of variety, I felt a little last week as though it was too broad of a concept for me to get my head around it. I realize though that the key is to keep everything in perspective, and when I feel myself starting to get overwhelmed with all the talk of the ANTS and the  network societies, that it all boils back down to that most basic of structures that exists between people. Nodes and links. People, or groups of people, and the ways in which they associate and interact. That's not so scary.

Speaking of scary.... Happy Halloween everyone!!

Social Media, the "Public Persona" and the Surveillance Society

"Facebook, or any social media, really, has erased [the] difference between the public and the private. You tell your story through... bits of digital information that you voluntarily leave on a social-media site. But the real twist to it is: You are not always in control." So says Anandra Mitra, professor of communication at Wake Forest University, in this article by Kerry Lengel on the website of my hometown paper, the Arizona Republic.

It's a frightening notion. In our discussion of network power this week, we touched on Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon—the "perfect  prison," which allows guards to keep watch over prisoners who have no idea when they are actually being surveilled. As we discussed, if you know you're being watched, you're bound to act differently—you'll act as you believe you're expected to, not as you would unobserved. Social media outlets, led by Facebook, seem to act under the presumption that "privacy" is passé and that we all just need to be pushed into sharing every last detail. Each successive iteration of Facebook pushes us to share just a little more—the new Timeline feature, for example, asks us to reach into our pre-Facebook pasts for baby pictures and more. But when you know your potential "audience" could be just about anyone, will the things you share be authentic? Or will you just be putting on a show?

I believe the notion of the "public persona" that Lengel's article explores is an important human instinct—one of promotion and protection, a way of controlling how and what people think of us. As we keep piling on surveillance, will we lose the ability to control our own personas? Do we risk, in a sense, losing control of our "selves?" Photos, for instance, used to stay framed on side tables or glued inside photo albums. Now, they're "in the cloud," for an indeterminate time period and an unknown audience. Breakups were something you told your friends and family about on your own time; now they're something your boss or professor sees every time he checks his News Feed.

It remains to be seen whether society will become more forgiving—everyone drank in college!—or if "embarrassing" photos will remain embarrassing. I, for one, fear they'll remain fodder for political and personal attacks far longer than we had ever hoped.

Hackers: To Help or to Hurt?

While reading the Benkler’s article on the networks of power and degrees of freedom, his reference to Wikileaks made me instantly think of other hackers that have used networking power to circumvent powerful authorities. This past summer, the computer hacker group known as Lulz Security or LulzSec, gained notoriety as the information hacking group with nodes all over the world and a number of large profile cyber attack cases. Two of these include Sony Playstation and a claim to taking the CIA offline, amongst other attacks by their affiliate groups Operation AntiSec and Anonymous. Their main aim was not purely financial, but rather to wreck mayhem and inflict anti security on a number of private and public institutions, proving that information is now the new power.

Their efforts illustrate that information and communication have come to play large role establishing who has power differentials and reorganized the role of the nation state. The question that always occurred to me when I read articles about how a group or individual can rage “netwars” is how our digitized information as consumers can remain protected, while maintaining our freedom of speech. Private companies have come to rely on the demographics and personal information that they collect through browsers as we bounce from website to website, so what is not to stay those same organizations would not be able to have access to our bank accounts, medical information, etc? If hackers can access our government databases, what is not to say that those same hackers can be hired to hack into other accounts of people who do not have those same security measures? Oh wait, they have.

It may seem that the fully integrated “mesh networks” that Delanty and Turner refer to, are challenging the hierarchy of power and making government more accountable and transparent because information has gone digital. On the other half of the coin, how can the FTC (er, people) react to blatant acts of thievery, when the digital thieves themselves are the only people who know how to help find the perpetrators?

Is hybridity worth discussing?

In Kraidy's article on hybridity as a concept and a theory, he mentions briefly that some scholars, notably Werbner, indicate that "all cultures are always hybrid...hybridity is meaningless as a description of 'culture,' because this 'museumizes' culture as a 'thing.'... Culture as an analytic concept is always hybrid." I have to say, this is the only sentence in the entire article that I completely agreed with.

Culture can be many things, but the one thing it cannot be is static. Cultures change, they evolve, they influence others, and are influenced. To speak of hybridity in this way is to assume that cultures were at one point pure, complete entities, and that they are somehow now being blended together. Scholars of anything international should be aware by now that cultures have been influencing each other for centuries. When Marco Polo made his journey, he didn't visit and return with postcards. The old trade routes, bringing fruits, silk, and spices from the East to the West, influenced culture. The end of the era of the Samurai in Japan. The culture that the slaves brought with them from Africa to the Americas. The effects of hybridity have been with us for so long (I would argue for as long as man kind has encountered other men)that I don't see how you can study culture without it. Hybridity is assumed. Even the English language is composed of thousands of words taken directly from the French language after it became fashionable at court in England. I think that hybridity is an interesting concept if we approach it from this point. I struggled recently in my Cross Cultural class to describe how student could be taught similarities when learning about other cultures, not just differences. This just might be the key. Instead of pointing out obvious similarities, like school hours and favorite sports to play, why not focus on how the cultures have converged and diverged over the centuries.

I don't mean to say that Kraidy's article has no merit, he certainly raises some interesting point about corporate multiculturism and the way in which what he refers to as hybridity being expressed in the Washington Post articles about American cultural globalization, mostly through media. I feel however, that the point of his article being about hybridization makes this focus a little moot. There are so many articles written every day about this sort of thing, in fact its hard to open the paper and not see something related to globalization- but both ways. What about the influences that other cultures are having here?

I remember that I saw a tv show when I was a kid in which a girl doesn't understand why her mom and her mother's friends were making such a big deal about "feminism." The girl doesn't understand why the women keep insisting that they are equal, because she had been raised to believe it already, so why wasn't it a self-evident truth? At the same time, the mother is upset because the daughter is embarrassed by their activist antics. At the end of the show, the mother says, "I guess its a sign of our success that our daughters don't have to consider whether or not they are equals, they already feel they are so." I feel the same could be said about hybridity- maybe we've reached the point where people no longer realize their cultures are being blended. Then again, maybe we never have.

Bollywood Taking Over

Iwobuchi argues that media is adaptable to local contexts but there are Western cultural norms within the cultural media. The localized context reflects how consumers want to relate to what they are consuming, but that there are generalized Western values that are “universally” appealing. Although Miller discusses in her article some of the global appeasing plotlines that are featured in telenovelas—such as the “rags to riches ” stories, there are similarly recognizable qualities in Bollywood films that have led to its worldwide success.

Although Bollywood films are distinctively characterized as Indian films, they have Westernized themes that intertwined in their story. They frequently utilize elements such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, love triangles, family ties, sacrifice, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, and convincing villians. However, these films are mostly known for their musical attributes. In that sense, since Bollywood films erupted in early 2000 in the United States, it led to a revival of the musical genre in American movies. This is interesting because this is a form of hybridity where the local context of Indian cultural has become transnational context and the idea has merged with the Hollywood's notion of entertainment. Since then, American films have incorporated not only the musical aspects of Bollywood, but also many of the film’s many other localized norms—a gritty feel with vibrant colors, authentic cultural plots, and a feel-good musical dance ending.

Hybridity is not only a one way flow from the West to the East, but increasingly attributes that are representative of one region’s culture are being borrowed and integrated as the contraflow. Now, that is some powerful globalization at work.

Iwobuchi, Freud and MTV

In our discussion of Iwobuchi's theories on what makes media popular across cultural contexts—how they're "transculturated"—we touched briefly on the idea of "cultural proximity," or "cultural affinity." These terms describe the theory that consumers prefer to consume—whether visually or aurally—things that are "like" them. In other words, consumers want to identify in some way with the media they're consuming.

We can take this concept one step further. While we, as consumers of media products, seek out media in which we can see ourselves reflected, we also use media to fulfill a number of other psychological needs. As Deuze suggested, as consumers internalize narratives and become more and more emotionally invested in TV shows, movies or other forms of media, they find meaning therein. In this way, media is aspirational. I would argue that media consumption can also be more perverse—we watch certain types of television, for example, to vicariously fulfill desires that we are ashamed of. Reality TV, in particular, can serve the same type of "wish fulfillment" as Freud proposed our dreams do during sleep.

While media that provide scenarios we can see ourselves in can certainly be fulfilling, don't we also consume certain types media to differentiate ourselves explicitly from others?

And now for something completely different:

The rise of the telenovela in Nigeria

As I read Kraidy's piece on hybridity and Miller's piece on the 'telenovelas', as well as the discussion on telenovelas from class, I couldn't help but reflect on my first introduction to telenovelas. I was in the 7th or the 8th grade when "Cuando Seas Mia" or "When you are Mine" came on air in Nigeria. The show came on at 10pm right after the evening network news. Because the electricity is unstable in Nigeria, most homes functioned on generators. Some families would save the fuel for their generators so they could watch 'When you are Mine.' From 10pm to 10:30pm, a deadness hit the streets in most cities in Nigeria. People were in their homes watching their new favorite show. Every night, five days a week, millions watched 'When you are mine'.

Even students in school came up with ways to keep up with the show. I was in boarding school and we were not allowed to watch TV while we were in school (good old school rules). We would team up with some of the staff or workers to help us go to the closest cyber cafes to print out the daily posts online of the last night's episode. More telenovelas were introduced to Nigeria. People really got into the shows that some of the stars of some of the telenovelas were invited to Nigeria.

It is evidently clear that the telenovelas succeeded in Nigeria. Despite its success, there was not a drastic shift or desire to embrace the cultures portrayed in the telenovela, contrary to what some theorists would think. But, the Nigerian media industry did take on the format from these telenovelas. Since the introduction of telenovellas in Nigeria, the most successful shows continue to be the shows that come on every single night. The ratings stay up and viewers keep watching. I know for a fact that I would be sick of 'Glee' if it came on every single night. I wouldn't even have the time to watch it.

The case of the rise of telenovellas in Nigeria is not necessarily a case of hybridity but shows how countries are able to adopt different styles of media from different parts of the world.

Global Culture

In her article, Ugly Betty goes Global, Jade Miller discusses the phenomenon of the hit telenovela "going global" and discusses what it means for the flow of media and communication around the globe.  Miller states that 'Ugly Betty' is a tale easily transferable to many different contexts and cultures because of its universal theme of 'rags to riches' and its general melodramatic storyline. 

On the surface, the success of Ugly Betty seems to be a triumph of South-to-North contra-flow - the south feeding the west its own version of reality and culture, for once. But, Miller draws and interesting conclusion that is critical the field of International Communication take time to consider.  She states that, "the show appears more a product of global networks of culture and capital, rather than a product of the global South or a clear example of South-to-North contra-flow."  The show has been created, recreated, imported, exported, adapted and manipulated by so many global corporations that it has ceased to be from any specific cultural origin, but rather a product of many global networks and conglomerates who seek capital. One way they find it is by resting their bets on the growing interest in telenovelas and universally appealing themes and storylines.  She ends stating that Ugly Betty is an example of "culturally-specific content with both local and global appeal."

This local and global appeal that programs must meet is a relatively new phenomenon, as satellites, cables, and the internet connect our globe, under cutting the control national governments once had over the content of programming.  Now, huge conglomerates, like Time Warner, seek to find programming that works in a local area or region and capitalize on it world wide (why re-invent the wheel, eh?).  This will be an interesting trend to watch unfold in the near future as telenovelas, movies, sports, news become more similar in their programming and storytelling regimes.  We are beginning to see a "global culture" led by the goal these huge communication corporations have to seek global capital, first and foremost.  Even with that very stark catalyst, the world sharing stories, sharing culture and sharing news and entertainment in an increasingly varied and easy flow, will provide provide an interesting, and perhaps in ways, positive global culture.

Passing it on

In the Bias of Communications & Monopolies of Power, Innis discusses a few basic and very interesting facts about the history of International Communication.  The mediums through which humanity has communicated have constantly changed through time and a switching of mediums can have a profound affect on a civilization or culture.  For example, Innis points out that the Christian Catholic Church that held a monopoly over Europe was pushed out by secular vernaculars written on paper.  Paper was cheaper to make and therefore more available than the traditional and expensive parchment, made of animal hide. Suddenly, everyone had an idea and opinion that they could brandish in front of the public eye.  This also when the Catholic Church had to deal with the Protestant revolution.  Today, a similar situation is occurring with the use of the internet.  Suddenly, anyone, not just the government or religious institutions or the military have the ability to reach out to millions of people at once through websites, blogs, email list serves, Facebook, etc.  

Marc Raboy discusses a consequence of this new readily available commutative style of today's world through his discussion of the growing and increasingly legitimized global civil sphere.  Organizations like the UN are beginning to stand up and take notice of the blogs, the websites and online groups that are making themselves known.  Just like the pamphlet and vernacular bible makers of the 1500's that threatened the power of the Catholic Church, this global civil society is threatening and changing the power of the traditional 'government'.  It makes me wonder how humanity will look back on this age 500 years from now.

Of course, Innis also discusses how the history of past empires come largely from time-based documents that have survived.  Of course there will be the buildings with inscriptions etc. But, an increasing amount of our culture and knowledge is wrapped up electronically.  What if there is nothing to plug our laptops into 500 years from now?  How will future generations learn from their ancestors if it is all lost in decaying mother boards?  Are we doing them a disservice?  

Chinese Netizens Voice Dissent

In Hanson’s reading this week, she describes how China’s authoritarian government is containing the access to the Web in China. It is very interesting how despite the, “nine state-controlled backbone networks” (p 185), Chinese “netizens” use non-restricted sites to partially circumvent the censorship that the Chinese government tries to impose. One such incident is occurred this past summer during the high-speed rail train wreck. The July 23 collision of two passenger trains near the eastern city of Wenzhou killed 40 people, left 191 injured and was proving to be an ailing political problem for Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda office instructed the media to play down coverage of the accident and emphasize positive news in their weekend reports but did not cite a cause to the crash. So, Chinese citizens turned to Weibo, Twitter’s Chinese counterpart, as the primary channel to inquire how the tragic high-speed train accident occurred. Chinese public opinion and doubts about the accident were filled with anger and doubt, especially since people on the train communicated how the crash occurred. Survivor Yangjuan Quanyang’s Weibo account broke the news by posting a plea for help at 8:47 pm local time, where she wrote,“Our train bumped into something. Our carriage has fallen onto its side. Children are screaming . . . Come to help us please! Come fast!” In ten hours, her plea was reposted more than 100,000 times and the criticism continue to grow. Hundred of thousands of votes were casted in online polls where netizens illustrate that are wholeheartedly dissatisfied with how the government handled the crash. This type of communication technology holds the government accountable to respond, despite the Party wanting to impose silence about the incident from the onset.

From dawn til dusk

 In the 1999 Annual Report for Murdoch's News Corporation they write that "Virtually every minute of the day, in every time zone on the planet people are watching, reading and interacting with our products.  We're reaching people from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep."  This declaration made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  The report goes on to say that they are with people from the moment they get out of bed, while they eat breakfast, at work, after work, for news, entertainment, stock information and as they crawl in to bed at night with one of News Corp. novels.  It is relatively well known that most of the information out there is controlled by a few large conglomerates that decide what we see and hear and what we don't, yet this boastful declaration of the intimate relationship News Corp. has with human beings all over the world was very frightening.  And this statement was made over 12 years ago!  A similar statement being made today what have to include all the internet sites and channels, satellite radio, cell phones, smart phones and applications that now provide us access to News Corp. products even more minutes out of the day, as we make very personal decisions.  

What offends me most about this reality is that the democracies around the world rest on the information the public receives.  Thussu points out that, "Murdoch made skillful use of liberalization of cross-media ownership regulations in Britain and the USA during the 1990's and the entry of private satellite operators into the arena of telecommunications and broadcasting."  When governments began de-regulating these industries, they allowed them a bit too much power over the knowledge base of the public. Governments have allowed their public to be preyed on by and educated by unelected representatives Now government representatives have to fight to get their information out or work with these huge conglomerates on the conglomerate's terms.  Governments handed power over on a silver platter. 

The push for liberalization of media came under the guise that it would provide more people opportunity but, as Thussu points out, and anyone can see in numerous reports, that the liberalization of service products has increased the economy of the world, but only for a few.  It has led to a GREATER disparity between the rich and poor of the world.  I think it is necessary to have a close look at the de-regulation of the media and what role governments should have in protecting smaller voices, opinions and ideas of the world.

The Buffy Effect

For many people, the idea that media shapes who we are both as individuals and as a society might be a little frightening. Especially people like me, who grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (don't judge me).  Siochru and Girard say, "Mass media and electronic media in today's highly differentiated and compartmentalized world are becoming the primary means through which people interact with each other, beyond their immediate everyday contacts... They provide us with the raw material, often even the tools, to comprehend what our society is beyond our immediate experience, and ultimately to participate in that society and perhaps even to change it.'" I think in many ways this idea is not actually that much of a shock to the older generations, who have always seemed to nail down exactly which parts of mainstream culture are currently corrupting and destroying the current generation of miscreant youths. The idea that somehow the tv shows, movies and music that we consume can affect our thoughts, beliefs and even our actions is not new, but I believe that in today's digital world it is something to be considered more carefully than in generations past.

I suppose the key debate that rises from this is to what degree should the media be regulated? It is easy for most American-minded thinkers to jump straight to, "not at all! free speech rules supreme here." But is free speech really free if there is nobody watching to see that all of the voices get to give a speech? I can't help but think that this really ties directly into Livingston's article on the CNN effect (reconsidered). I think the main idea in both articles is that the way in which we consider how media affects society (and how governance/policies are affected by this) has to be re-evaluated. With new consideration for things such as smartphones, tablets, and the fact that people are very rarely awake and away from the media. What are the effects of this, if there are only a few companies who get to put the information out there? Are we being bombarded with information, seeming different on the surface, but actually all spewed out by the same 5 or 6 giant conglomerations with obvious vested self-interest?

I guess the problem for me as I try to sort out these issues is that I don't know where to begin to think  because I don't know how to separate the truth from the fiction in the media. Where should we turn? Who has the willpower to try to tackle these issues? Especially when the vast majority of the public seems ok with just grumbling about Jersey Shore (but then still watches it). What about reality tv? What about these news programs that are so blatantly biased without ever suggesting that there might be another opinion that might be considered. I can't help but think that were a particular group were ever to petition for more regulation of media, that the media itself would never allow it to happen. How can one raise awareness about something without gaining popular support? How does one gain popular support without media? Facebook? I just don't think it'll cut it. I guess for now we'll just have to settle for the FCC freaking out over "accidentally" exposed body parts during sporting events.

Who's watching 'The Playboy Club' (new NBC fall series)? No one!

A few weeks back, I blogged about the new TV shows for the Fall Season. In that post I talked about the possibility that some shows might only be able to last for one season. I was right! This week, the new NBC series 'The Playboy Club' (TPC) got canceled only after 3 episodes. Hmm... I wonder why?

This past week, the readings in class and the discussion we had about the importance of regulation and/or the deregulation of our media, really made me think a little bit more the different factors that led to the cancellation of the show.

The reports from the International Business Times said:

" The Playboy Club" premiered on Sept. 20, in association with Hugh Hefner's Playboy Enterprises. However, it opened to an underwhelming response - only 5 million people watched the first episode and only a few million tuned in for the third."

Like many other shows, because of the poor ratings, TPC was axed. However, there have been controversies around the show even before it hit the air on Sept 20th. The Parents Television Council (PTC), a non-partisan education organization advocating rsponsible entertainment had been against the airing of the show on TV and had committed to discourging sponsors of the show like Chrysler/Dodge and Unilever from sponsoring the show. They believed that the show was trying to bring the 'Playboy brand' into the home which the believe 'degrades and exploits women'. It seems like the PTC understands that we don't only 'consume' media products, these products have the ability to 'produce' us, as Siochru and Girard [4] explain.

So, why didn't PTC take their fight to the writers of this show which they believe promotes a brand that 'degrades and exploits women'? Instead they went after the advertisers, they went after the people whose 'money' controls the ability to keep the show on the air. Why did NBC pull the plug on the show? Few people were watching it, which meant the high possibility to loose their sponsors which therefore meant the network would lose money.

It's all about the money! I figured that a few years ago when I interned at a TV station (I might tell that story later). Unfortunately, the media is a huge business. It is true, we do have some form of regulation, but at the end of the day it seems to me that when a network is signing on new shows, they are first looking at how to make the most money (or get the most sponsors) then they take to see the show meets the 'regulations' in place.

I believe that if we want to put on our TV sets and get really good stuff, we (members of civil society) can do it! It's not too late. But we need to get to the money source. If these networks begin to loose money for pumping shows like 'The Playboy Club' or the endless reality TV shows that honestly are beginning to make my head hurt, progress might be made.

But then, I guess the next question is how do we get to the people in charge of the money? I guess its high time civil society got a little bit more active. Join organizations like the PTC or form your own organization, research other organizations. It's a slow process, but effective measures do not always happen overnight.

"Fair and Balanced"

According to Siochrú and Girard, “… the essence of the public sphere is that it is where people openly and transparently debate on the basis that they can be convinced by reason, by the rationality of argumentation, and not by appeals to amusements or desires…”

If only. That may once have been the case, but those days seem long forgotten in the era of media sensationalism and the 24-hour news cycle. The news media no longer serve as a forum for reasoned debate; they are the very peddlers of amusement and appeals to desire that Siochrú and Girard denigrate. While we bemoan our three “broken” branches of government, it makes tragic sense that our “fourth branch” has broken, too.

The news media used to be one of the pillars of a functioning public sphere. A properly functioning democracy depends on a well-educated, informed populace. Somewhere along the way, though, our public sphere began to crumble. Which came first? Did the public sphere begin to fall apart, and the media follow suit, or do the media deserve some of the blame for the sorry state of our civic space?

I would argue that the media were responsible, in part. Siochrú and Girard write, “The issue [of media regulation] is not one of ‘objectivity’ or ‘balance,’ although such ideas are important in certain contexts. It is about the intent of communication and ensuring the conditions in which distortions of various kinds are minimized.” For decades, the media had generally been successful at self-regulation—avoiding distortions—but that self-regulation began to break down. These days, things have swung to two detrimental extremes.

First, we see thinly veiled partisan mouthpieces masquerading as legitimate news organizations. Second, we see media outlets treating opposing opinions as necessarily factual in a misguided attempt at “balance.” This second extreme is the most insidious, as it is harder to spot. We witnessed such “balance” during the debate over President Obama’s healthcare bill. The media treated the claim that it would create “death panels”—an outright falsehood—as just another legitimate argument.

This sort of “objectivity” helps erode our public sphere by lending legitimacy to assertions that are simply untrue. When the public depends on the media to stay informed, and the media presents it with falsehoods under the guise of “balanced” coverage, how is it supposed to come to reasoned, democratic decisions?

The Role of Media in Political Agendas

There are huge implications in the relationship between the role of the media and its involvement in cultivating a favorable public opinion on political leaderships. Raboy’s statement that, “It is not a question of building a more equitable information society, but developing a communication society, reviewing structures of power and domination that are expressed and sustained through information and media structures”(p 353). Since the media forms a deep impression on the public opinion of the political parties on various levels (i.e. voter’s perceptions, agenda development, campaign strategies, electoral outcomes, assessments of candidates, etc.) they hold a huge burden of responsibility in either supporting or lambasting either party. Moreover, the political party whose policies promise to collaborate with a large media conglomerate’s corporate agenda will most likely be favored in the public light. Though policymakers argue that they make policies based on global trends, this is almost uniformly for economic gain, rather than policies made for societal interest. Instead of formulating policies that benefit increased diversity and accountability of both political parties, the media instead acts in the interest of its stakeholders to maximize their profitability. This video of Rupert Murdoch in 2007, seems to explicitly address this issue of how news organizations can shape the public’s perception on particular issues.

Those Global Nomads

In John Sinclair's chapter on "Globalization, Supranational Institutions, and Media" there is strong discussion on how globalization affects culture, nationalism and self-identity (and the growing choices of self-identity people have to choose from and how they go about making that choice).  Who quotes Nederveen Pieterese who discusses "'Culture' now seems more about people on th emove, a form of adaption to displacement and changing circumstances, and always, 'hybrid' rather than 'pure.'"  Self-identity is naturally wrapped up in a persons culture.  Today, a person's culture may be a hybrid of many different backgrounds and experiences, what Pieterse discribes as the "Thai boxing by Moraccan girls in Amsterdam" syndrome.  As populations become more mobile (as evidenced by the rapidly increasing individuals who complete their higher education degrees in a country other than the one of their birth) their self-identity becomes more complex, fluid and interchangeable.  At AU, I work with international students and what we deem "US Global Nomads" or US citizens living outside the US by assisting them in the admissions process.  These students' self-identities and cultures can rotate at a drop of a hat.  Within the work of a moment they are a Ugandan daughter with their mother, a German daughter with their father, a French school girl with their friend and a US student with me, all in the span of 30 seconds.  This young woman, as Sinclaire states, has "a melange of cultural and consumption choices" in her life based on her many identities.  And in the globalized world, companies (and institutions such as AU) are taking notice and advantage of the market possibilities.  She could go to school in Germany or France or the US and be fully prepared.  In the world of International Education, governments around the world are scrambling to brand their nation's higher education sector to make it more appealing to this growing market base of students who are choosing to study "abroad."  So that when this young woman is ready to make a choice about where to pay tuition, live and education herself, she is sure to choose their country and not somewhere else.

This is a relatively new market.  Nations did not used to have to work so hard to brand their education systems - the students in a country tended to stay there and students abroad generally did not join.  Now, with millions of people studying in a country not of their birth, the market is huge and competition is fierce.  In 2009/2010, nearly 700,000 international students studied in the US, a 3% increase from the year before.  This represents a billion dollar industry in the economy and a huge cultural transmission and 'brain gain' for the US.  The US is up against the UK, Canada, the EU countries, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and large regional educational cities and complexes popping up in places like the middle east, Malaysia and China when competing for international students.  This is no joke, attracting highly qualified and educated people to the US higher education industry has huge impacts on diplomacy, innovation, security and leadership in fields such as banking, engineering, art, entertainment, medicene and science. 

The nation that understands the mobile population of today and their varied, fluid self-identities, will be able to attract them and utilize them in the industries and diplomacy of tomorrow. 

Globalized Society in 140 Characters or Less

While this past week’s readings aimed to define globalization, I recently read an article about one communication tool that combines all of the –scapes theorized by Appadurai and “space of flows of the global network society” of Castells: in 140 characters or less. In this article by the Wall Street Journal, researchers following the flow of popular hashtags have found that Twitter is a viable, timely source for obtaining information about disasters, public events, politics or other information that garners opinions. When they are taken together Tweets form a pattern of movement that can serve as a record of social history.
“When Virginia's magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit last August, the first Twitter reports sent from people at the epicenter began almost instantly at 1:51 p.m.—and reached New York about 40 seconds ahead of the quake's first shock waves, according to calculations by the social media company SocialFlow. The flood of messages peaked at 5,500 tweets a second.”

When I used to write for a blog on innovation and information and communication technologies for development, I found that Twitter was one of my best sources to find people who I would not have been able to connect with any other way. The interconnectedness and virtual pockets of community, or deterritorialization, allowed me to contact Nigerians and Kenyans who were heads of innovation hubs in their respective countries and interview them online as primary sources for stories. Twitter can be used to connect people who may not have shared nationalism but may have the same identities, ideas, beliefs, practices, and even those rituals that we say only exist within our own individual culture practices. It allows us to weave a social fabric that transcends boundaries constricted by our nation-state.

However, as the article cautions, Twitter is just like all other social media websites that bring people together based on similar interests, it can gauge those interests to take advantage of people. Targeted campaigns, fake users, and “Twitterbots” can be used to trick people who are part of the global networked society into believing mistruths.