Constructing truths in the public sphere

With the growth of new media forms our mediascape has gradually shifted. We are no longer forced to rely on traditional journalistic mediums to tell us what is happening in the world around us. Indeed Dan Berkowitz in his article Journalism in the Broader Cultural Mediascape notes that ‘journalism no longer dominates the mediascape as the source for helping a society learn about itself. Instead, journalism has become part of a holistic mix of media elements that intentionally or unintentionally provide people with varied glimpses of the world around them’. (Berkowitz, 2009)

What is left is the ability for citizens to construct our own truths in the public sphere. How people choose to represent society in the media sphere, one that is not regulated or mediated in the traditional sense, can challenge who we think we are a nation, and the values that we uphold. Take for example the 2013 social media uproar surrounding a video posted on the internet of Jamie Jackson, an 18 year old partygoer, as he was assaulted by a NSW police officer at the Sydney Mardi Gras. Footage of the events revealed police handcuffing Jackson, gripping his neck in a lock-hold, slamming his head against the ground and stepping on his back, sparking a flood of outrage against NSW Police.In the footage, Mr Jackson is seen crying and repeating that he “didn’t do anything wrong”. Another woman is overheard: “They just slammed his head. There’s blood all over the ground.” The video, which went global after it was uploaded, has since been viewed almost 2 million times.

Why is it that this video shocked Australians so much? Presented to us without any context, the small clip affronts us as it subverts everything we are taught to know and respect of our police force, thus challenging social norms in the public sphere.

The dangers of this kind of citizen journalism is this lack of context and gatekeepers that, albeit sometimes bias, filter illegitimate stories in our traditional media forms. In a court hearing last September police alleged Jackson kicked a female partygoer before punching and kicking several officers, a arguably vital element of this story that was unavailable to viewers of the clip in the first instance.

The rational discussion in particular public spaces described as ‘characterising the public sphere’ is now being supplemented by a range of artistic, emotive and other ways of moving these ideas around in the media and in discussions which has important consequential effects on the way we effect change in our society.

References

Berkowitz, D. 2009, “Journalism in the broader cultural mediascape”, Journalism, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 290-292.

YouTube. 2014. SYDNEY MARDI GRAS 2013 | POLICE BRUTALITY. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxtFtVfAeeE&feature=player_embedded [Accessed: 26 Mar 2014].

The Art of Selfies

Image

Selfies have become the universal term for digital self-portraits supported by the explosion of smartphone cameras, photo-editing and social media platforms. Social media is overflowing with millions of them. Everyone from the pope to the Obama girls has been spotted taking a sneaky selfie. Who can forget Ellen Degeneres’ 2014 Oscars selfie (pictured above) that in fact became the most retweeted photo of all time with over 3.2 million shares.

Western civilization has a rich history of self-portraiture. Where once they were reserved for the elite, smart phones and Instagram have democratized self-portraiture, making them ‘less precious and more fun’. Indeed In Jerry Saltz’s article ‘Art at Arm’s Length: A History of the Selfie’ Saltz notes that selfies have in fact ‘become their own visual genre- a type of self portraiture formally distinct from all others in history. Selfies have their own structural autonomy’, to which he claims is ‘a very big deal for art’.

While the notion that your drunk best friends, duck face pout, uploaded to Instagram in a vodka haze is a form of art is somewhat unsettling, and mildly insulting to the world of creative arts as a whole, it cannot be denied that selfies are in fact a form of art. Albeit a product of our obsessive, narcissistic, participatory culture, Saltz describes selfies as  a powerful, instantaneous ironic interaction that has intensity, intimacy, and strangeness’.

Whether you view selfies as a side effect of digital culture or a sad form of exhibitionism, perhaps it’s better off seeing selfies for what they are at their best — a kind of visual diary, a way to mark our short existence and hold it up to others as proof that we were here.

Koche & Kiribati – how can we ignore climate change?

Koche Industries has been coined ‘the biggest company you’ve never heard of’ Rightly so – it has recently been revealed that the Koch brothers quietly funnelled $67 million to climate-denial front groups (Carkk, 2011)

Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch have a vested interest in delaying climate action: they’ve made billions from their ownership and control of Koch Industries, an oil corporation that is the second largest privately-held company in America (Greenpeace, 2013)

Its this kind of industry that works to create uncertainty in the media and therefore the general population. The Koch brothers undermine belief in climate change and prevent legislation that threatens their profits. By pouring money into bogus scientific studies and funding think tanks and front groups, the public is led to believe a genuine scientific debate is raging. In truth, these studies are just exaggerating the amount of climate change deniers – making the general public believe that the debate is raging at 50/50 – whereas in actual fact, climate change science is stronger than those of the deniers (Carkk, 2011). Simply by creating doubt in the mind of the general population, they are winning over in their fight to deny climate change for commercial and political gain. The media, in an attempt to maintain journalistic integrity and ethics attempt to present a balanced view of the debate – both sides fighting it out, but all this does is lead to misinformation and eventual disinterest as the public has heard it all before.

So where is the real evidence? Cue Kiribati.

So why, as Australians, aren’t we concerned? With cold hard facts like Kiribati, why isn’t the Australian media doing more to promote the cold hard facts and raise awareness of the realities of climate change? Perhaps it is because mainstream networks fear reporting a controversial issue? Or, like our earlier video suggests, big oil companies and large carbon emission producers contribute too much to our global economy to make them accountable for future catastrophe.

I think it would be fair to say that many Australians see climate change as a remote issue. Their perception of risk is limited by the fact that it is a global and long-term issue, and by the way the debate is framed in the media and who is delivering the message. As a society we are more likely to believe celebrity scientists like Al Gore, Karl Kruszelnicki and social commentators rather than actual, specialized climate scientists. As a collective it seems we have been desensitized from the issue – the effects are too remote for us to worry, or to change what we do today in order to set in motion changes for our future generations.

We’re better at dealing with problems that are concrete, close-at-hand, familiar and require skills and tools that we already possess. However climate change is invisible, unprecedented, drawn out, and caused by all of us. And so we feel paralyzed and believe that we are powerless. In a crisis that seems impossible to confront and but too scary to ignore, many people live in a state of willful ignorance. We both know and don’t know what is going on and the media is too afraid to steer us in the right direction.

References

billionairesteaparty. (2011). The Koch Brothers & Their Amazing Climate Change Denial Machine. [Online Video]. 13 June. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaKm89eVhoE. [Accessed: 18 September 2013].

Carrk, T. 2013. The Koch Brothers: What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right. [report] Washington DC: Center for American Progress Action Fund, pp. 1-8, 19-25.

WorldBank. (2011). Effects of climate change in Kiribati- Quick facts. [Online Video]. 26 October. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FH5m2PTp34M. [Accessed: 18 September 2013].

Greenpeace. 2013. Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine. [online] Available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/ [Accessed: 18 September 2013].

Turned On but Tuned Out: the omnipresence of media screens

Image

Lets face it, no matter where you go today, there will be no escaping television. TV’s are now at shops, pubs and waiting rooms. Screens are placed strategically throughout our university campus, and at our local train stations. It is not uncommon to see restaurants who have television screens dotting the room.  Woolworths has screens dangling from above, advertising to their customers. Even the emergency rooms and public toilets have joined in on the media mayhem. Screens are everywhere, but are we really watching them? Glaringly colourful and often obnoxiously loud, even if the TV’s aren’t being watched they remain on. Why? Why are we so desperate for background noise?

Nothing is more annoying than serious television viewers at the gym. Leaving the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, advertising corporate partners, displaying latest promotions and offers I can understand.  However TV, as in television shows with actual episodes and content, by its very nature is addictive and distracting and I believe misplaced in a public gym environment.

As a fitness center employee, day in and day out I watch as members plonk themselves on the equipment in front of a TV, plug in their headphones, put on their favorite show and walk at a 2.5 pace. After a half hour, they have not even broken a sweat and their cardio session is complete. They feel content because, according to present-day guidelines, they just added years to their life, warded off obesity and heart disease all while enjoying the latest episode of Masterchef. Their real intent is to pay attention to the show on TV and walk. To pay attention to the show, they need to walk at a reasonable pace that will not cause them focus on maintaining balance, endurance, and effort. The very things needed to generate power output to expend the most calories in the least amount of time, thus losing fat! I am not saying this is the majority of gym-goers, but it is what I witness and it is annoying – why do televisions need to exist in this public space? It makes a lot more sense for people to bring their own portable music device, where they have the freedom and choice to listen to what they want, how they want, without the need to crane their necks up to the communal televisions. Have ordinary Australians developed an attention deficit that disallows a 30 minute workout without consuming television?

To be fair, from a gym’s point of view it is arguable that TV screens keep us occupied and inside the center for longer periods of time, therefore as logic would have it,  members are exercising for longer stretches of time. But that is not the reality. There are times when you watch people wander in, jump on a bike, watch a rerun of Friends, followed by a rerun of King of Queens, followed by a rerun of How I Met Your Mother, and they don’t even break a sweat! Technically, they may have just exercised for an impressive 90 minutes, but during that time, they didn’t raise their heart rate at all.  When in the middle of cardio hour you should be a hot mess. You should be breathing hard, sweating hard, and just one incline level away from flying off my treadmill. And if you’re not, after 3 episodes of your favourite sitcom then you’re not working hard enough, and you should hand over your treadmill to someone who will – this is about mediating public space after all.

Having the televisions on around the gym filling the space with motivational music, I can understand. Having screens placed around the gym advertising corporate partners, I can understand. Having screens around the gym with latest promotions and offers, I can understand. Screens allowing people to get into the zone and actually work out, which is what they are there for simple make sense. However TV by its very nature is addictive and distracting. Using television as a technology to watch episodes of actual content is misplaced in a gym environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

News Values: Michael Jackson v Neda Agha-Soltan

In 2009, after protests began after the reelection of President Mahmous Ahmadinejad in what many claimed was a rigged vote, Iran held the worlds attention (Steinhauer, 2013). A graphic video of the death of a young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot by a member of the Basij militia, became an international focal point and symbol. However as time passed, the media moved on.  Saman Arbabi, an Iranian-American journalist producer of weekly Persian-lnaguage political satire show ‘On Ten’, explains how the loss of American and Western attention on Iran affected protesters in the country.

The movement died exactly at the time Michael Jackson died! Michael’s death took over US media and Iran was hardly ever mentioned ever again. That really sucked because the Iranian slogan at the time was ‘Where is my vote?’ They were holding those signs in English so foreign press would acknowledge and broadcast their struggle for freedom. Once our focus shifted to Michael Jackson … many protesters felt left out in front of a brutal regime and lost their appetite to fight.” (Arbabi, 2013) 

ImageImage

Why does this happen? Why do we care more about the death of a washed up old music star, over a revolutionary uprising affecting millions of people? This is all thanks to commonly accepted, thought generally innocuous to the public ‘news values’.

  • Cultural proximity: Culturally distant will be passed by more easily and not be noticed
  • Relevance: An event may happen in a culturally distant place but still be loaded with meaning in terms of what it
  • Rarity: The more unexpected the event, the higher its chances of being included in news
  • Continuity: Once something has hit the headlines and be defined as “news” , then it will continue to be defined as news for some time even if the amplitude is reduced for some time even if the amplitude is reduced
  • Elite References: both in terms of nations and in terms of people
  • Negativity: Negative news will more easily be consensual and unambiguous
  • Composition: The story will be selected and arranged according to the editors sense of the balance of the whole bulletin
  • Personalisation: Wherever possible, events are seen as the actions of people as individuals

It was not that Michael Jackson is more important than the thousands who lost their lives in the 2009 Iranian uprisings – it was because large news corporations dictate what the general public care and don’t care about. We are more likely to read stories from the news values identified and therefore buy more papers. How sad have we become?

References

 

Look at moi: Kath & Kim lost in translation

After almost a decade of filling Australian households with laughter 2008 saw Gina Riley and Jane Turner take the leap and serve as executive producers on the American version of Kath & Kim starring Selma Blair and Molly Shannon. Lets face it – it was a sad and sorry flop. The American version of Kath and Kim misses the mark so badly that it’s barely recognizable as a distant cousin to the original. A successful translation is one that adopts local culture/humour – something that the ill conceived American version did not.

The beauty of Kath and Kim is in the familiarity- it’s our national comedy, celebrating urban Australia. The storylines follow the characters’ day-to-day lives, and document their personal struggles and the banality of their achievements and aspirations. Kath and Kim satirises the mother-daughter relationship and the habits and values of modern suburban Australians, and emphasises the kitsch and superficial elements of contemporary society, particularly the traditional working class which has progressed to a level of affluence (or “effluence” as Kath would say) which previous generations had been unable to achieve.

They visit our local places Westfield Fountain Gate, IKEA, Target, and various local restaurants. The mock our favourite television shows  including Big Brother and Australian Idol. They make statements about the current state Australian politics and their gaudy, out-dated fashion sense satirizes everything that is bad in ordinary, every day Australian fashion – theres no Collette Dinnigan or Jen Hawkins costume designing/modeling, just bad fake tans, hideous perms and the occasional slip of a g-string above Kims pink velour tracksuit. They love our celebrities including Kylie Minogue and Shane Warne and grasp onto Australian traditions and events including Carols in the Domain.

The mis-pronunciations and malprosim of the regular characters have become a part of the average Australian vernacular, saying “Look at moi” or “It’s noice, its different and its unusual” will often receive a decent chuckle among any Australian. Because it’s us. It’s both embracing, and making fun of everything it is to be a regular Australian. Its not highly produced or highly dramatized – its familiar and relatable and that’s what we love about it.

Brace Yourselves: Piracy is Coming

The season-three finale of Game Of Thrones set new BitTorrent download records around the world, with 170,000 people sharing the file simultaneously at one stage. It’s estimated that the finale was downloaded over a million times within the first 24 hours and congratulations Australia –  with the smallest population out of our international illegal-downloading compatriots, we topped the ranks for the most prolific pirating nation.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich used UN World Book and Copyright Day in April of this year to make a plea on behalf of US creatives. In a Facebook post titled ‘Stop the Game of Clones‘ He asked Australian fans to stop illegally downloading Game of Thrones.

One episode was illegally downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, which is about equal to the number of that episode’s broadcast viewers. In other words, about half of that episode’s viewers stole the program from HBO. As the Ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world. While some people here used to claim that they used pirate sites only because of a delay in getting new episodes here, the show is now available from legitimate sources within hours of its broadcast in the United States.’

Despite the fast tracking of TV shows from the US, as Bleich mentions,  Australia is still behind the play. Without paid TV services like Foxtel, the show is often unavailable to the average fan. If you want to watch Game of Thrones in Australia, it turns out, you can’t just pay $33-odd per season any more, at least for Season 4 and beyond. You’ll need to pony up a cool $47 per month for Foxtel’s essentials package, plus another $25 a month for Foxtel’s Movies and Premium Drama offering. Lets be honest – who’s going to pay for a whole pay TV package just because they want to watch one series from HBO? You can see why people aren’t willing to do this.  If HBO and paid TV services allowed a pay as you go or an on demand service they would see the number of illegal downloads dropping significantly.

They seems to think that “fast-tracking” shows on to Australian screens will combat piracy, but really they’re missing the point. Australians don’t download TV shows simply because they’re impatient. They also download their favourite TV shows because they’re unwatchable on free-to-air television. Australians stealing Game of Thrones aren’t rebelling against free-to-air networks, instead they’re rebelling against the cost of a Foxtel subscription.

The issue of piracy could represent a massive opportunity in the TV industry to increase their audience and reach. The best example of this shift to a pay as you go service is in the music industry with companies like Spotify and other music streaming services enjoying success and gaining considerable market share. The question is if people are willing to pay for a music streaming service like Spotify rather than illegally downloading music, does this mean they would also buy television and movies in the same way? Two years ago I would download all of my music for free. Perhaps it would be a viable option for HBO to provide a live streaming service for a small fee so that Australian’s wouldn’t need to waste money on hundreds of unwatched Foxtel channels. Despite there being plenty of alternatives thrown out there as piracy is at the forefront of current political and social debate in Australia including fast tracked shows, cheaper alternatives and live streaming, the reality is that pirating will continue because ultimately, no business model in the world can compete with free.

References

Delimiter. 2012. Despite quick, cheap, legal option, Australia still top Games of Thrones pirating nation – Delimiter. [online] Available at: http://delimiter.com.au/2013/04/03/despite-quick-cheap-legal-option-australia-still-top-games-of-thrones-pirating-nation/ [Accessed: 10 Sep 2013].