Thursday, March 18, 2010

what IS communications? and, teaching.

when i tell people what i'm studying in school, i mostly get blank looks in return. why is that? well, "communications" is pretty much the widest possible field, since by definition it underlies everything that we do in life (which, to me, makes it all the more important to study). it takes from sociology, history, philosophy, gender studies, cultural studies... pretty much anything you can think of can be studied under the communications umbrella, meaning that we are an interdisciplinary field. this can cause a lot of chaos and a lot of different ways of approaching research and studies, but it also means that we are not taught that there is ONE WAY of looking at things, as there is in many other fields, and it gives us a lot of freedom to try new ideas.

"communications" is also confusing because it can refer to things like marketing/PR, journalism, film/tv production, and other practical, commercial pursuits. i like to look at it this way: from one perspective, there are two branches of communications-- the creation of it and the deconstruction of it. by studying it theoretically, i've chosen the deconstruction side. for example, i want to know WHY advertisements are made and HOW they affect people and perpetuate stereotypes; i don't want to USE those tools to create effective advertisements. also, this is not meant to be a "good vs evil" black-and-white separation, because you can create media content that deconstructs media, etc.

my focus is in "media studies", which again sounds fairly broad. it means that in general, i focus on the theoretical stuff that i mentioned above. i literally study the media, both old and new, print and non: television, books, radio, films, and all of the new media on the Internet and in various new technologies. i am particularly interested in how we make choices about the media we consume, and how the media we consume affects us to varying degrees (whether we want to admit it or not).

this semester i am a TA (teaching assistant) for a 100-level class called "Intro to Media". i don't lecture, but i am there as a contact point for students who need help or have questions and i do most of the grading. the reason that i really like this class is that it exemplifies what is, to me, the most accessible part of our theoretical communications field: teaching people to be media literate, or in other words, to think critically about the media they consume. it is incredibly gratifying to watch students get so engaged when they learn about media and news bias, or that just a handful of corporations own almost all media outlets across genres. when i sit in this class, it makes me think that i could teach these kinds of subjects, because what is the point of doing all this research in academia if it doesn't affect or help the majority of people in society?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

stephenie meyer's writing is dangerous

maybe that title is a bit hyperbolic, but i really feel that way. ever since the twilight books started coming out, i've been reading review upon review talking about how horrible they are. interestingly, conservative religious types and liberal feminists both tend to be united on one front (even if sometimes for different reasons): edward and bella's relationship is boring at best, abusive at worst.

here's a review from a mega conservative catholic blog (we're talking birth control conspiracy theories, etc) about it. an excerpt:

the supposed “love” relationship DECIDEDLY UNHEALTHY. And, I don’t just mean that because Edward is, well, a vampire. If he were simply a normal guy, this would be a very unhealthy relationship for Bella to be in.
I really don’t get why teen girls (and their moms) are so eager to have Bella end up with Edward. Let’s look at the ways he’s bad for her:

-Edward spies on Bella. All.The.Time. While she’s sleeping, he sits next to her in her room — and she doesn’t even know it.
-Edward would like to read Bella’s mind, but he can’t. Bummer. So, he does the next best thing. He reads the minds of her friends. He’s got to know All.The.Time. what Bella’s saying and planning. He intrudes, not only on her privacy, but on that of her friends.

-In short, Edward is a control-freak.

and here's some of what a feminist blogger has to say (it's great and thorough; you should read all 7 points on her list):

Reason 4- Edward frequently dictates whom Bella may be friends with and encourages his family to spy on her and prevent her from disobeying his wishes.

Has anyone else ever read those terribly disheartening stories about girls with abusive boyfriends printed in every teen magazine ever created? They like to include lists of signs of potential abusive boyfriends to make sure we prevent these things.

One of the first things on the list? He tries to control every aspect of your life, including with whom you can be friends and with whom you can hang out.

these are just a couple of examples, but with some really simple google detective work you can find tons of scathing twilight reviews to read at your leisure. and i have. i was so disgusted with what i heard and read that i never got around to actually reading the books for myself.

recently, though, i decided that if i ever wanted to effectively argue WHY i hate these books, why i think they're so unhealthy for young women to be obsessed with, and why everyone else, even at fantasy/sci fi nerd conventions, avoids/scoffs at twilight fans like they're the plague, i would have to pick up the primary texts. so a couple of weeks ago, i picked the first book up at the library.

it's been a quick read so far; i'm a little more than halfway through it. i've been casually looking for red flags and i've already noticed more than i could keep count of, many of which are already catalogued in the abovementioned reviews. it honestly makes me sick to think that young women are reading this and thinking it's romantic and wonderful and magical and a model for relationships, even if subconsciously. shame on stephenie meyer for acting like this is a feminist book in interviews! "ohhhh, bella has CHOICES. it's totes feminist." okay, dude, if you say so.

the reason i'm talking about this is that i'm taking a class about rhetoric right now, and for my project i'm going to talk about the kind of rhetoric meyer uses in these books to normalize/perpetuate misogyny, sexism, abusive relationships, etc. i realize that tons of romance novels and what not have been heralding these ideals for years and years (and that in itself is an important issue), but the dangerous difference here to me is that these books are targeted at pre-teen women, and that they are so insanely successful to the point of obsession.

it's such a bummer, because YA novels have the potential to be amazingly engaging and complex, and still wildly sucessful (i.e. harry potter), and i can see the potential in the bare bones of the twilight series. meyer could have gone SO MANY other awesome ways with these books, but she didn't. now she has a bazillion spacebucks to donate to the sketchy mormon church, and we have a bazillion young women to deprogram. thx, jerk.

Monday, March 15, 2010

why are you... doing what you're doing?

i figured i needed a place to think out some of my school-related ideas in various stages of their development in a less formal environment, so hopefully this will serve that purpose.

the name of this blog comes from a paper i did in an introductory grad course from my first semester at UIC. i wrote my final paper about privacy on the internet, and why people make decisions to share particular information via various media which might be considered personal and private otherwise. (the hubub about penelope trunk's miscarriage twitter post is what started me down that path.)

my professor advised me to create a typology, because there are so many different types of content on the internet. so, first i had to figure out what a typology WAS. it turns out it's just a way to classify things based on a bunch of different characteristics. this is what i ended up with:

Generally, a discussion of ‘old’ media refers to analog forms such as radio and television, while ‘new’ media pertains to the impact of digital technologies and changes in the way we have traditionally understood media due to the Internet. The term ‘new media’ as it is used here will refer to the many different types of media using the Internet as a vehicle of delivery, particularly blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In order to examine them effectively, they must be broken down and categorized in some fashion. A helpful starting off point here is Guillory’s basic typology of media, shown in Table 1.1, which essentializes the formats into their crucial components (2009).

Table 1.1
CONTENT (opposed) TEMPORALITY (opposed)
Words (W) Visuals (V) Static (S) Moving (M)
Text, either written or spoken; includes music (either sheet or aural) Still or moving images in artistic, iconic, or photorealistic form Fixed in time/space; use of the media does not require it to change Motion through time/space is necessary for the understanding and usage of media
ITERATIONS (opposed) CUSTOMIZATION (continuum)
Live (L) Recorded (R) Interactive (I) Directed (D)
Media is created concurrent with its usage Recreation of previous event that can be re-used at a later time User may change the experience and customize it to suit own interests/paths/ choices User feedback is negligible or non-existent

Guillory posits oppositions in the content, temporality, and iterations of media, but this becomes problematic in that many types of media on the Internet are beginning to meld with each other, becoming complex, multilayered, and quite resistant to categorization within a dichotomy. For instance, a moving medium may be used to share static media, or content may involve a combination of both words and visuals, which is not allowed for in Guillory’s content opposition. A more interesting way to look at these in terms of new media would be to consider each category a continuum rather than a rigid dichotomy, and to explore what that might mean in each case.

This typology is certainly helpful in beginning to categorize the vast and varied amount of information available on the rapidly changing Internet; however, it lacks a few dimensions needed for this investigation. I have thus expanded his breakdown in order to enable a bit more specificity with the content portion of media in terms of privacy, as seen in table 1.2.

Table 1.2
TOPICS (continuum) AVAILABILITY (continuum)
Public (PU) Personal (PE) Open (O) Closed (C)
Subject matter focused outward to public sphere Subject matter focused on personal life, thoughts Content readily accessible to all Access to media must be granted by creator

Both of these areas are a continuum in new media, since public and personal topics are often mixed to varying degrees, and within some forms of new media there are levels of availability between being completely open and completely closed which are under the control of the content creator. Examples of a more public and open format would be a technology blog such as TechCrunch or the political blog DailyKos, while the blog of Penelope Trunk, while open, would fall closer to the personal end of the topics continuum since it contains discussions of personal experiences with work, life, and love. Most major blogging and social networking sites, such as Livejournal, Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, contain the capability for users to control who sees the information that they post. Some are more of a simple open versus closed dichotomy, where one can either lock the content with a required password or leave it entirely open to public view, but many allow fine control of privacy. For instance, on Livejournal and Facebook, one can create different groups of users who are then set to receive different levels of information from the creating user, such as photographs, videos, Internet site links, or blog entries. This is not meant to completely conflate the more short-form social networking sites, such as Twitter, with dedicated blog sites like Livejournal or profiled social networking such as Facebook, but merely to show that there are similarities in some of the information shared through them, as well as the fact that privacy controls are being made available by the sites’ developers.

so, somewhere within all that academic prose, you can start to see how this typology might come in handy. when we discussed it in class, ellen told me that my "typology was clutch," and i'm into that because
a) ellen is awesome
b) it's good to feel like you're smart enough to be in your program sometimes, and
c) combining academics ("typology") and accessibility ("clutch", although let's get real, i'm not really sure who actually says that) is pretty much my goal in general. (see also at some point later: media literacy, or why i love TAing for COMM 103 [intro to media] this semester.)

so there you have it. clutch typology: THE BLOG.