Twerking into Hegemony

136635_600Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 3.49.10 PM

It’s the newest fad. 

But where does it come from?

And why should we care?

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Cartoon by: Daryl Cagle

Origins of Twerking

Many people don’t realize that twerking has a long history as a part of traditional African dance. The traditional Mapouka dance from the Ivory Coast has been attributed to the origins of twerking. In the 1990s, a newer, raunchier version of the Mapouka became popular in the Ivory Coast prompting the government to ban it. Shortly thereafter, a version of the dance became popularized in New Orleans and became known as Bounce. So, this style of dance has been around for a long time. Even in it’s current reincarnation, it has been in the states for 20 years- it’s a lot older than people realize!

Enter Miley

When Miley Cyrus brought twerking onto the scene, however, everything changed. It became a craze, and it shot straight into the mainstream. This has created an interesting cultural space for twerking to live in. Its popular influence moved from traditional African culture, to 90s black subculture, to white mainstream pop culture. Twerking has become hegemonic.

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Twerking into Hegemony

Let me explain. Miley Cyrus is a pop star who has influence, and because of her fame, people care what she does. When she twerked in the limelight of the VMAs, twerking made its way into the dominant ideology. Stories of her performance were reported on all over TV, the Internet, and social media. It jettisoned hundreds of self made twerking videos as well as reaction commentary videos. In fact, twerking has gone so far into the norm, that there are now websites cropping up that beg us to pay attention to important news items or cultural icons by putting a twerking Miley on them. It’s an amusing anti-hegemonic tactic to think that maybe people will look at the Mona Lisa if Miley is twerking on her, or people will care about the problems of minimum wage if her butt is front and center across the story.

One of the spinoffs that emerged was a video of a girl, Caitlin, who was making a twerking video for her boyfriend but inadvertently set herself on fire. The video went viral, and within a few months it boasted nine million views. On September 9, 2013, Jimmy Kimmel brought Caitlin on his show and revealed to the world that the video was a hoax.

Jimmy Kimmel’s prank is ingenious in that he simultaneously created a piece that was hegemonic while publicly ridiculing hegemony. Obviously, he was making fun of all the news outlets that picked up the story and reported it as true. He alleged that hundreds of news outlets covered the story, and included coverage clips from Fox, MSNBC, CNN LiveKTLA (a Los Angeles news station), HLN, The Talk, The View, and Inside Edition. However, the video is hegemonic because by withholding valuable information from the video, he is forcing us to think and feel a certain way about the content of the message. Kimmel loves a practical joke, and we were all foolish to believe the ideas that were fed us, yet the media still managed to come out on top economically. What he meant as a slander to twerking ended up making sellable news for a lot of networks. In fact, the phenomenon is perfectly described in an article about Miley Cyrus at the VMAs by the online satire magazine, The Onion. You can read it here.

Culture Jam!

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On the other hand, Kimmel created a spectacular culture jam. He makes it clear that it’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the media’s ideas of what is important includes twerking. The purpose of culture jamming is to attempt to bring the spectacle of our contemporary society into sharp focus, so that we can see it for what it is. The ‘spectacle’ of our society is the show put on by corporations, and by recognizing it, we can break out. Kalle Lasn (2000) draws an interesting verbal comparison when he states that the immediacy of life is gone, and now we have only ‘mediacy,’ a word to describe the mediated life that has been prescribed for us (p.146). Hypercommercialism and extreme commodofication have weaved such a spectacle of life for our society that we live in what Chris Hedges (2010) calls “a country entranced by illusions.” This is illustrated in the clip when, after airing the news coverage, Kimmel can be heard saying,  “Good thing nothing is happening in Syria right now.” Hedges more aptly states Kimmel’s sentiments when he writes, “[our country] spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd…. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears [or Miley Cyrus], enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.” (Read the whole article here). In this light, Kimmel’s prank as a culture jam did all the things that it was supposed to. He starkly revealed how we live in a society where a war gets less coverage than an awards performance gone bad. It jarred people out of their spectacle long enough to have a genuine laugh, and it left the news industry red-faced in embarrassment for not doing their jobs.

Hedges, C. (2010, June 17). American psychosis: What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?. Adbusters, Retrieved from https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/90/hedges-american-psychosis.html

Lasn, K. (2000). Culture jamming. In J. Schor & D. Holt (Eds.), The Consumer Society ReaderNY: The New Press.

Lucasfilm and Its Franchise Managment

by Jia Hao

  • Introduction to Lucasfilm Ltd.

1. Overview

Lucasfilm Overview Excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm Overview
Excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucasfilm

Lucasfilm Ltd., a film production company founded by George Lucas in 1971, is well-known for its creation of blockbusters and leadership in the visual and sound effects industry. The Star Wars series and the Indiana Jones series are its best-known films. George Lucas is the current chairman of Lucasfilm, and in July 2012, Kathleen Kennedy was announced as the Co-Chair of Lucasfilm, in preparation for George Lucas’s retirement (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Micheline Chau, the former President and Chief Operating Officer, retired in September 5, 2012 (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). On December 21, 2012 Lucasfilm was officially acquired by The Walt Disney Company for $4.05 billion (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.).

2. Divisions of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Lucasfilm Ltd. is made up of seven divisions: Lucasfilm, Lucas Digital (comprised with Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound), LucasArts, Luscas Licensing (comprised of Lucas Learning and LucasBooks), and Lucas Online (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucasfilm specializes in film and television production and promotion (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Their famous features include American Graffiti, the Star Wars film series, Indiana Jones series, the Star Wars TV series, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (TV), etc. (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is the leader in motion picture visual effects industry. It was established in 1975, aiming to serve the production of the first Star Wars film, and ended up producing visual effects for the entire entertainment industry (Industrial Light & Magic, n.d.). ILM “has been awarded 15 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, received 23 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards and was the recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 2004” (Industrial Light & Magic, n.d.). Skywalker Sound, on the other hand, focuses on sound effects and editing for the entertainment industry (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucas Licensing, formed in 1979, aims to license and merchandise for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other Lucasfilm projects (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.), and it became “one of the most successful film-based licensing programs in history” (Company History, para. 10). LucasArt, founded by George Lucas in 1982 as Lucasfilm Games, was a video game developer and publisher (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.), which has created Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Monkey Island games, etc. After Lucasfilm Ltd. was acquired by Disney, LucasArt was altered to be solely a game licensing company (Terdiman, 2013). Lucas Online, established in 1997, is responsible for the management of Lucasfilm’s online content and business (Lucas Online, n.d.).

  • Lucasfilm’s Film Productions

Lucasfilm excels at producing science fiction and action genre films (e.g., Star Wars and Indiana Jones), and incorporating advanced visual effect technology into their films. Their famous piece Star Wars I: New Hope, released in 1977, was a gigantic hit among the entertainment industry and was the highest-grossing movie at the time it was released. The entire Star Wars series is the biggest and most phenomenal franchise ever accomplished by Lucasfilm, and the success of Star Wars makes it possible for Lucasfilm to work on other features and develop other divisions. Also, the groundbreaking technologies created by Lucasfilm was also aimed to serve the Star Wars’ world of fantasy, which had later become the icon of modern film technologies.

Analysis of Star Wars:

Original trilogy, Excerpt from http://www.imdb.com/

Original trilogy,
Excerpt from http://www.imdb.com/

Prequel Trilogy, Excerpt from http://www.imdb.com

Prequel Trilogy,
Excerpt from http://www.imdb.com

Star Wars is an epic space opera franchise. The entire series consists of two parts: the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. The original trilogy depicts the war between the Galaxy Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Luke Skywalker, belonging to the Rebel Alliance, is the main hero of the movies. His adventure of how he is called, trained, and honed in various wars runs through the original trilogy. The prequel trilogy tells the story of Anakin Skywalker, the father of Luke Skywalker, and how he was chosen to be a Jedi Knight and finally falls to the dark side, becoming an evil villain.

Additional resources:
Star Wars Video Clips
Online Fan Community

As a prominent piece of American popular culture, Star Wars has influenced an entire generation. The universe it depicts and the ideas it sells has inspired fierce discussions among viewers. It triggered thoughts about free market and government corruption, being counter hegemonic in the sense of challenging neoliberalism (Ward, 2013). Neoliberlism, according to David Harvey (2005), is “a theory of political economic practices that propose that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Ward, 2013, para. 7). This sounds so natural to us because the idea of free market has already embedded in our society and culture. However, George Lucas sees the existing inequality and potential dangers generated by neoliberalism, and he uses Star Wars to convey his critiques and concerns about such ideas (Ward, 2003). He believes that “free market infringes upon representative democracy” (Ward, 2013, para. 20). In Star Wars, imperialism defeats democracy, taking over the universe. People suffer from government corruptions and social inequalities. What privatization has brought to the society, whose interests it sacrifices and whose interests it serves to are clearly represented in the Star Wars world. As put by Ward (2013), “Lucasfilm is illustrating the ways free market ideology is poisonous to representative democracy” (para. 14).
(See more about this topic at: http://makingstarwars.tumblr.com/post/56366431753/star-wars-neoliberalism-lucasfilms-critique-of-free)

Although it is true that the Star Wars series holds many political implications and critiques of our human world, encouraging thoughts about wars, free trade, government corruption, etc. (Thornton, 1999), the film is still an oversimplification of reality, and is ideological in many ways. As a science fiction and war movie, the Star Wars series has a background of a far-away galaxy, which is far from the reality of human society like most of the science fiction movies are. The major conflict that exists in this fictional society is simplified as conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance or the Galaxy Republic and the separatist force. To solve the conflict, war is the only way, since negotiation will never work, just as Wright (2013) indicates that “Genre films address these conflicts and resolve them in a simplistic and reactionary way” (p.41). Advocating militancy is always the ideology in such films, and Star Wars is not an exception. Violence is a must, since the logic is that “if you’re not with me, then you are my enemy,” and you must be exterminated, suggested by Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

Heroism and individualism permeate in the films, too. Luke, the main character in the films, is full of power and potential. He is always super smart, brave, attractive and lucky, etc., possessing ubiquitous power and qualities needed for triumph over all tough situations. He is doomed to assume the responsibility of saving the galaxy.

Another ideology conveyed in the film that sounds ridiculous to me is the emphasis of detachment (Brin, 2002). A qualified Jedi Knight, according to the film, is supposed to be independent of feelings. They should not fall in love or “get attached to things,” because one becomes vulnerable to temptation from dark power if he or she cannot “let things go” (Brin, 2002, para. 14). Such things are presented in the films as mom, girlfriend and wife, etc. It is understandable that a hero should stay rational, but is it necessary to advocate detachment? Is the movie trying to tell people that to be a hero they should not care about their families and love (Brin, 2002)?

It is also surprising to see that some of the good Jedi Knights use the Force power to control some of the “weak-minded,” pushing them to “believe or act in a desired way,” thus to gain convenience to get through some approaching troubles (Akin, n.d., “Jedi mind tricks,” para. 1). Despite the fact that mind-controlling is impossible, even if it is possible, is it morally acceptable? Is it the hidden message that if you are powerful enough you can control those who are not, and such behavior is justified if you have a seemingly just reason? Such a hegemonic ideology is dangerous if it is embedded in people’s minds.
(Definition: HegemonyIdeology)

How much impact the spirits and values in films pose on the audiences is always a popular topic in the realm of media studies. An interesting thing is that Star Wars has actually inspired a religion to be built called Jediism. The followers are not just fans that merely dress like Jedi, presenting a Comic-Con. They are actually very serious and dedicated. They believe in the power of the Force, adhere to Jedi codes, do meditation exercises and other practices, etc. This should be a great manifestation of how the world depicted in popular media can affect the society at large.

Additional resources:
The Church of the Jedi, by Benjamin Svetkey:
The Jedi Church

  • Production, Marketing and Management Strategies

Lucasfilm has been so successful in producing high-grossing movies and cultivating their movie fans of generations. Rather than creating movies, they actually have created an entire universe of fantasy. The operation of the company and the strategies they have employed all serve to build their virtual universe.

1. Developing Cutting Edge Technologies

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Lucasfilm has revolutionized the entire film business. 3-D computer animations are first developed by Lucasfilm in 80s when Pixar was still its computer graphic department at that time. EditDroid, an editing program enables movies to be edited on a computer instead of via manually cutting and splicing actual films was also developed by Lucasfilm, which is the cornerstone of modern nonlinear editing. When George Lucas was not satisfied with how his movies sound, he let his company to develop THX movie and theater sound system which later became widely used in movie theaters. Not to mention visual effects, of which Lucasfilm has set the industry standard. The technology and techniques initiated by ILM were the foundations of modern film visual effects industry. Lucasfilm has always been standing on the most cutting-edge media technologies, providing audiences with experience that exceeds their expectations.
Check out works of ILM:

2. Conglomeration, Integration and Commercialization

Side Products Excerpt from starwars.com

Side Products
Excerpt from starwars.com

Started as a film production company in 1971, Lucasfilm has expanded tremendously since its success in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. As mentioned above, its division, Industrial Light & Magic, the biggest name of current visual effects industry, creates visual effects for a large number of Hollywood blockbusters. Its sound effects company, Skywalker Sound is also on the same track (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). Lucasfilm has also stepped into other lucrative media fields for larger profit. The huge success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones leads the corporation to dig into the television industry, producing Star Wars and Indiana Jones TV shows, which has gained great popularity as well. They also established LucasArts (used to be named as Lucasfilm Games) to produce Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, as well as other popular elements like Monkey Island Series (Lucasfilm Ltd., n.d.). The ancillary products of the films like Star Wars toys and books have brought Lucasfilm overwhelming benefits. Lucasfilm is also well-known for its strict control over its licensing business, and hanging onto the licensing rights has successfully keep their franchises their own for potential future merchandising profits. Lucasfilm surely has noticed the synergy effect of integration, making every effort to exploit the potential value of their successful products and to cross-promote their various business. However, it seems that Lucasfilm is sort of lingering on their existing brands, being more interested in exploiting their remaining value instead of moving forward to create a different one. They focus primarily on their Star Wars series, producing sequel and prequel, games, toys, etc., while they actually possess the ability to generate a new brand. Also, Lucasfilm seems to favor producing commercial films with fantastic visual effects and distinct characters. Such a phenomenon may correspond to Croteau’s (2003) idea that “integrated media conglomerates seeking the benefits of what industry insiders refer to as ‘synergy’ are likely to favor products that can best be exploited by other components of the conglomerate” (p. 44). From such an insight we can reasonably predict that Lucasfilm will keep focusing on producing blockbusters, especially after it was acquired by Disney.

3. Acquisition by Disney

Lucasfilm Ltd. was acquired by Disney in December, 2012, under a 4 billion dollar purchase. There are great opportunities for both parties associated with this acquisition. Lucasfilm will serve as a great resource for Disney, since its Star Wars series has an extensive audience and carries numerous ancillary products (Yu, n.d.). Disney, as the biggest media conglomeration, excels at media business marketing and branding (Yu, n.d.). Therefore, Disney will surely further expand the market of Lucasfilm’s products. As suggested by Nachman (2012), “Disney can further integrate the characters from Lucas’ worlds into their productions, parks, and merchandise. Lucasfilm can continue to leverage these brands down new avenues” (para. 6). Also according to Nachman (2012), “Though the Star Wars franchise constantly reinvents itself by utilizing new platforms (Lego video games, animated television series, conventions) to breathe new life, Disney’s ownership will help ensure we never see a ‘dry spell’ in Star Wars-related entertainment” (para. 11).
It is reasonable to believe that the acquisition will enable Lucasfilm to move further, but there is also a great likelihood that Lucasfilm’s products would become even more commercialized under its media giant parent, Mickey Mouse. The enduring production formula of conglomeration cross-promotion, big budget and super stars has been remodeling film culture into a slothful and fickle one (Yu, n.d.). In order to reach maximum profit and most extensive audiences, production companies prefer imitation rather than creation. They shift their eyes to every possible profit instead of story itself. A conservative and commercialization ideology is dominating film production, which may finally alter film into advertising (Yu, n.d.). Under such a circumstance, it is a real hardship for Lucasfilm not to follow such an ill trend. We are looking forward to see how Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise is moving on when new talents are taking over the universe.

                                                       References

Akin, J. (n.d.). The Star Wars films: Moral and spiritual issues. Retrieved from http://www.decentfilms.com/articles/starwarsissues

Brin, D. (2002). Commentary on Attack of the Clones: The Star Wars debate continues. Retrieved from http://www.davidbrin.com/starwars2.html

Company History. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lucasfilm.com/inside/history/

Croteau, D. (2003). Media society: Industries, images, and audiences. Thousand Oaks,Calif: Pine Forge Press.

Industrial Light & Magic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.lucasfilm.com/divisions/ilm/

Lucasfilm Ltd.. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lucasfilm_Ltd

Lucas Online. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lucas_Online

Nachman, B. (2012). Disney in depth: Disney to acquire Lucasfilm, an analysis from the Disney fan perspective. Retrieve from http://www.geeksofdoom.com/2012/11/01/disney-in-depth-disney-to-acquire-lucasfilm-an-analysis-from-the-disney-fan-perspective

Terdiman, D. (2013). Disney shuttering LucasArts, moving to licensed games model. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-10797_3-57577786-235/disney-shuttering-lucasarts-moving-to-licensed-games-model/

Thornton, M. (1999). Star Wars revisited. Retrieved from http://mises.org/daily/277

Ward, J. (2003). Star Wars & neoliberalism: Lucasfilm’s critique of free market capitalism. Retrieved from http://makingstarwars.tumblr.com/post/56366431753/star-wars-neoliberalism-lucasfilms-critique-of-free

Wright, J. H. (2003). Genre films and the status quo. In B. K. Grant (Ed.), Film genre reader III (pp. 42-50). Austin, Tex: University of Texas Press.

Yu, S. (n.d.). “Big brand and role-based authorization,” the significance of acquisition. Retrieved from http://news.mtime.com/2012/10/31/1500359.html

Legs are content: Fox News and female representation

 Although feminist theorists have long opposed to point of view that gender is biological inherited within sexuality, they contended that it is socially constructed through stylization of body and mind (Butler, 1988, p.270). Our family, schools, public organizations and other social groups work as fundamental institutions for the socialization of human beings. Nevertheless, media institutions have been increasingly integrated into our lives, shaping our perceptions of our society and regulating our personal activities. Media owners and managers also utilize media channel as a socializing institutions that can easily dispense their ideas constantly and attractively towards a mass audience (Lull, 1995, p.62). This interaction via media institutions can be able to develop our social norms and values, or even forming ideologies and hegemonies.

In this essay, I will look at how the media conglomerate Fox Inc. depicts female in news channel, examine the representation of female, and analyze the sociological meanings behind the screen. I will focus on how media conglomeration reinforce the ideology of female in the U.S culture, and how female represent themselves in the news which follow or challenge the hegemony. I will use the example of Fox News channel, which is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate 21 Century Fox, and analyze female representation Fox News with a feminist critique.

In 2010, Allure, one of the most popular beauty magazines in the U.S. with a circulation over 1 million, published a poem that portrays  Fox News reporters as hot, sexy, with long legs, and blonde hair (Denicolo, 2010). It proposed that the network should be called the Foxy News Channel with its “bevy babes” (Denicolo, 2010). The poem, written in an ironic tone, is more likely to refer to the reporters as entertainment stars or fashion leaders rather than a serious news hosts reporting the tide of international economy or politics. It is hard to imagine those Fox reporters to serious natural disasters that involve tens of thousands of homeless victims, or to the political dialogues between developed countries and developing countries about climate change rescuing regime. In YouTube, when you type in “Fox reporters,” the most related pop-ins will be “legs.”  Video clips go viral about Fox News reporters’ short shirts and long legs; even the uncrossed legs would be a heated highlight. Female reporters in Fox News Channel are emphasized more with body rather than what they are reporting. It is undeniable that American culture is seriously objectized female character, and what Fox News presents here is only a piece of the iceberg.

images   

Media conglomeration has overwhelmingly affected the role and character of news workers. In the late 1990s, media industries in the United States have endured a trend of consolidation and concentration, turning out the big five majors which are Disney, Time Warner, Comcast, Viacom and Seagram (McChesney, 2000, p.19). The media industry has concentrated their ownership into fewer corporations as well as conglomerated into larger non-media corporations which operates highly diverse types of business (Croteau & Hoynes, 2003, p.40). On one hand, the merge of media industry enables media companies to cut costs and adapt to the existed competitive media industry. On the other hand, the huge debts that the buyout and mergers require media conglomerates to continue to reduce budget and conduct more multi-tiers promotions for advertisers and investors (McChesney, 2000, p.27). In this sense, journalists are no more objective critics or news reporters; rather, they are in a position to attract more audiences that investors and advertisers demand (McChesney, 2000, p.31). They also face more competitions as media conglomerate are cutting off their employees. Sine 1990s, the increasing competition in overall media sector has led to need to the media laid-off and a shrinking newsroom (Crotuea & Hoynes, 2003, p.63). For example, Fox Inc. laid of 81 full-time employees due to the selling of Fox Sports Net to Rainbow Media Group in 2003 (JournalismJobs.com). The Daily News, an iPad news publication owned by the News Corp., which has owned Fox News before its split-up, laid off approximately 120 journalists due to the business shut down (Shapiro, 2012). As News Corp.’s CEO Murdoch claimed, “it could not find a large enough audience… to convince us the business model was sustainable in the long-term” (Shapiro, 2012). In today’s business oriented model of news media, the news reporters are more in the sense of insecurity of their job, which might make them more likely to suit the needs of media giants. It is almost impossible for news journalists to criticize their parent company.

One way to attract eyeballs with the lowest costs is sex. As McChesney (2000) pointed out, media content tends to appear more sexy and violent scenes in channels of media giants (p.34). Fox News female reporters haven’t escaped from this. They unitedly dress in short skirts and wear thick cosmetics. This doesn’t requires more costs than the individually dressing up in an attractive skirt. In the 2011 documentary film, Miss Representation, Fox reporters is criticized by representing themselves sexy model (Newsom, 2011). As Katie Couric in the film pointed out, the news reporter often consists of a young lady with an old man, seemly as a grandfather and his second wife (Newsom, 2011). Media industries push their responsibility of casting sexy scenes in media towards mass audience, claiming that sex is a kind of popular taste. However, McChesney (2000) states that the effects of media system upon media content is hardly to be isolated from the nature of media structure: “the overall pursuit of profit, […], the influence of advertising, the special interests of media owners and managers” (p.31). The burden of media content should not merely be placed upon the audience; rather, it is mainly the media industries to be blamed. According to Caroline Heldman (2013), advertisers are selling sex to both man and women that when men find they are surrounded by sex objects, they feel empowered, and while women objectify themselves, they find the value for themselves. Thus, it is no wonder how Fox News female reporters presented on the screen.

Retrieved from YouTube, The sexy lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMS4VJKekW8.  

Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how those female reporters represent themselves. Butler (1988) views both muscularity and femininity as performance conducted by constituting acts to achieve an imaginative as well as compelling “self” (p.271). It is the actors that perform a show, as it is female that represent themselves in a perceived ideal sex role. They think and feel are in what Hall (2003) referred “a system of representation” (p.4). Their emotions, concepts, and images represent the settled culture and values, which could be able to exchange communicate meanings to other social members in the same culture code (Hall, 2003, p.4). The representation of those female themselves is permeated in a society that gender is strongly socially constructed and demanded by social value. The corporate norms are not simply shaped by the values within media industries; rather, it is a reflection of social values. According to McChesney (2000), media in the United States is a shadow of “the interests of corporate America” (p.29). The leaders on media conglomerate’s board are also the directors of other industries (McChesney, 2000, p.28). All these interlocking companies shape a culture code for the common interest, which reinforce the ideologies in every aspect of American culture (Lull, 1995, p.62). The media ideologies also influence people’s perceptions to social roles and personal activities (p.62). On the other hand, they also depends on the willingness people accept those principles, rules and laws in dominant ideologies (Lull, 1995, p.63). It depends on the belief those principles, rules and law can best serve their interest, regardless of the fact that it might not work (Lull, 1995, p.63).

In this sense, I argue that the sexy representation of Fox female representation reinforce the ideology of American culture, which has a gender bias on female. The fox female reporters act as appealing sex roles to attract more male audiences, especially certain class of male that advertisers cater to. They are a representation of what male depict and expect for them, and of their desires to be an ideal female. They not only come from the common cultural code, but also convey to other social members through mediated communication, which help shape and reinforce the cultural norm. According to Caroline Heldman (2013), the society of the U.S is much subjected to a culture of sexual objectification. Sexual objectification is defined as “the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure” (Heldman, 2013). For example, the discussion about the sexual appealing of Fox News reporters is a phenomenon of sexual objectification as “sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person” (Heldman, 2013).  The self-objectification culture is influential to women as women are feeling less empowered, less self-esteemed, and less politically active (Heldman, 2013). The film Miss Representation (Newsom, 2011) also points out that young teenage tend to imitate mediated females and learn to view themselves as object (Newsom, 2011). A self-objectified female has lower confidence and is less likely to vote or perform as a leader (Newsom, 2011). In this film, the Secretary of State Senior Fellow Dr. Condoleezza Rice argued that it is less likely to have more rights for women if there is no female candidate: “we need to have female candidates” (Newsom, 2011). The social influence of representation of female reporters should not be overlooked, that it is not a problem in personal level; rather, it is about the equality of gender, and about the whole society.

Reference:

Butler, J. (1988). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531.

Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2003). Media society: Industries, images, and audiences (3rd ed.) (PP. 31-76). Thousand Oacks, CA: Pine Forge Press.   

Denicolo, D. (2010, June 15). Fox News Anchors: Hot or Not? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from  http://www.allure.com/beauty-trends/2010/hot_news_anchors#intro.

Hall, S. (2003). Introduction. In S. Hall (Eds.), Representation: Cultural representations and signifying practices (pp. 1-12). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (First published by The Open University in 1997).

Heldman, C. (2013, Jan 20). The sexy lie: Caroline Heldman at TEDxYouth@SanDiego, Retrived from YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMS4VJKekW8.  

Lull, J. (1995). Hegemony. In Media, communication, culture: A global approach (pp.61-66). New York, NY: Columbia University.

McChesney, R. W. (2000). U.S. media at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times (pp. 15-77). University of Illinois Press.

Newsom, J. S. (producer & director). (2011). Miss Representation [Motion Picture].  The United States: Girls Club Entertainment.

Shapiro, R. (2012, December 3). The Daily Shutting Down: News Corp. to end Daily iPad Publication. Retrieved from Huff Post Media, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/03/the-daily-shutting-down-news-corp-cease-ipad-publication_n_2230842.html

Al Jazeera: A New Media Force

Al Jazeera is the first 24 hour, all-news network in the Arab world (Sharp, 2003, p. 1). It was founded in 1996 by the Emir of Qatar who purchased the Arabic TV division of BBC News Service and funded it in the hope that modernized Arab media would make contributions to political liberalization in the Persian Gulf region, which was under the pressure of the U. S. policy (Sharp, 2003, p. 1).

The origin of Al Jazeera, which is intertwined with the government of Qatar, has sparked considerable controversies over its role in political  propaganda. This paper aims to analyze the role Al Jazeera plays in the Arab world and its contributions to positive changes in the global media landscape. My argument is that in spite of its relationship with the Qatar government, Al Jazeera is counterhegemonic in many aspects, representing a new media force that is different from the mainstream media in the world. I opt to save the crucial question of whether Al Jazeera is under the political influences of the Qatar government for later discussion, and instead, look first at how a new media force has developed in a difficult situation.

The advent of Al Jazeera has changed the landscape of news media in the Arab world. Before Al Jazeera, news that was available to Arab audiences came from either state-owned media or Arab satellite channels, both of which were, to some extent, government-censored and government-controlled (Sharp, 2003, p. 1). However, Al Jazeera claimed to be free to report whatever has news worthiness (Miles, 2006, p. 23). Committed to its motto “The opinion and the other opinion,” Al Jazeera offered Arab people comprehensive views by reporting controversial events and figures. It was the first Arab television that let Israelis’ voice be heard (Miles, 2005, p. 37). In Al Jazeera’s most popular talk show The Opposite Direction, guests with different political opinions were invited, debating sensitive topics such as religion and terrorism, which were regarded as taboos before (Miles, 2005, p. 38). The program provided valuable opportunities for Arab people to be exposed to divergent political viewpoints and engaged in public discussions. Al Jazeera also gave airtime to controversial political figures for speeches, including Saddam Hussein, who was engaged in rebuilding the Iraqi regime and menaced neighboring countries, and Osama bin Laden, who at the time was already a wanted man in Libya (Miles, 2005, p. 51). From this perspective, Al Jazeera provided a public platform for opposite views regardless of accusations from Arab states.

Al Jazeera is counterhegemonic in terms of its efforts of breaking long-term social norms in the Arab world. The essence of hegemony, is the “relationships between and among the major information-diffusing, socializing agencies of a society and the interacting, cumulative, socially accepted ideological orientation they create and sustain” (Lull, 1995, p. 63). One of the “information-diffusing, socializing agencies” is media. Media plays a vital role in disseminating social ideology. The ideology of media permeates the society by means of “normalizing specific social relations” (Croteau & Hoynes, 2002, p. 163). Traditional Arab media was the mouthpiece of governments in Arab states (Rushing & Elder, 2007, p. 121), which implied that media served its governments as a tool for permeating ideologies in favor of  governments. Thus, traditional media avoided negative news that would impair its government. The absence and exclusions of news is also considered as the ideological impact of media (Croteau & Hoynes, 2002, p. 163). Al Jazeera, different from traditional Arab media, has been striving to unfold a comprehensive perspective of what is happening in the Arab world. One example is that it criticized policies of Arab governments (Sharp, 2003, p. 2). Instead of marginalizing and excluding social taboos so as to strengthen social norms, Al Jazeera broke through mainstream media, bringing about new norms of broadcasting news in the Arab world. That is, whatever is newsworthy will be broadcast. Due to its consistent efforts, it has become a mainstream channel itself in the Arab world (Sharp, 2003).

News coverage of two events earned Al Jazeera a worldwide reputation. Al Jazeera’s access to Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and its broadcast of Bin Laden’s speech surprised the world, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (Sharp, 2003, p. 8). Western media had to heavily rely on Al Jazeera to get Bin Laden’s videotaped speech (Sharp, 2003, p. 8). Al Jazeera’s coverage of the 2003 Iraq War also earned its celebrity. Al Jazeera was the only major news network describing the Iraq War as invasion, expressing its denial of the legitimacy of the war (Miles, 2005, p. 241). While Western media was sensitive to air images and footage of the dead in the tricky period of wartime, Al Jazeera broadcast daily frightening pictures of corpses, with emotional statements on the background (Miles, 2005, p. 252). It was obvious that the majority of Western mainstream media supported the Iraq War, at least not openly objected the war. Whereas Al Jazeera strongly condemned the illegitimacy of the war and expressed its sympathy for Iraqi people.

Control Room by Jehane Noujaim, 2004. Control Room is a documentary film about Al Jazeera covering the Iraq War.

Comparing Al Jazeera with Western media in terms of coverage of the Iraq War, it can be concluded that Al Jazeera is counterhegemonic. Hegemony generates a broader implication in the transnational context, referring to the unbalanced political-economic-cultural relations between and among nations (Lull, 1995, p. 61). During the Iraq War, news media in Western countries was manipulated to vilify Iraqis, arouse patriotism and justify the war. One study demonstrated that in the United States nearly 55% of the evaluations of Iraqis in reports were negative (Kolmer & Semetko, 2009, p. 649). Western media was expert in selling its persuasive ideas to the rest of the world. If Al Jazeera did not provide first-hand information of the war from the perspective of Arabs, people would only get a glimpse of part of the war described by Western media.

Throughout the development of Al Jazeera, its objectivity has been questioned by both Arab people and Western countries since it was launched. Every controversial news issue Al Jazeera covered was suspected to serve some political power, be it the interview with Saddam Hussein, the speech of Osama bin Laden, or the Iraq War. Western media, especially the U.S. media, accused Al Jazeera of being the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden in the war of terrorists or Saddam Hussein in the Iraq War. One of the assumptions was that the influence of Qatar government contributed to Al Jazeera’s biased news coverage. Whether Al Jazeera’s editorial policy was dependent on Qatar government was unclear. However, it is unwise to totally negate Al Jazeera by only focusing on its shortcomings and neglecting its values. The objectivity of news is quite ambiguous. Objectivity is “a doctrine that perceives the separation of ‘fact’ and ‘value’” (Croteau & Hoynes, 2002, p. 132). In effect, objectivity can never be achieved because perceived newsworthiness is socially constructed and news is a social product made by people engaged in social activities (Croteau &Hoynes, 2002, p. 135). Al Jazeera was indeed biased in the coverage of the Iraq War because it took a side in the war, condemning the invasion and showing sympathy for the death of Iraqis. There was no doubt that Western media which criticized Al Jazeera for not being politically neutral was also biased itself. Although objectivity is unobtainable, it is of necessity to provide the voices of different sides. Western mainstream media only represented the perspectives of Western countries. Choosing to take the side of the underrepresented Iraqi people offers a different perspective of the war.

In conclusion, Al Jazeera is a new media force that has great influences inside and outside the Arab world. It has achieved the goal of breaking social taboos in the Arab world. Its global impact has increased in its confrontation with Western media. Overall, Al Jazeera is counterhegemonic.

 

References

Croteau, D., & Hoynes, W. (2002). Media Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Lull, J. (1995). Media, communication, culture: A global approach. New York and Chichester, UK: Columbia University Press.

Miles, H. (2005). Al-Jazeera: The inside story of the Arab news channel that is challenging the West. New York: Grove Press.

Miles, H. (2006). Al Jazeera. Foreign Policy, 155 (155), 20-24. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25462058

Rushing, J., & Elder, S. (2007). Mission Al Jazeera: build a bridge, seek the truth, change the world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sharp, J. M. (2003). Al-Jazeera news network: Opportunity or challenge for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East? Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division (CRS). Retrieved from http://congressional.proquest.com.libproxy.temple.edu/congressional/docview/t21.d22.crs-2003-fdt-0049?accountid=14270

Kolmer, C., & Semetko, H. A. (2009). Framing the Iraq War: Perspectives from American, U.K., Czech, German, South African, and Al-Jazeera News. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(5), 643-656. doi: 10.1177/0002764208326513

Among Giants: The Agency Offered By Independent Video Game Production

By Andrew Meloney

Video games have had a meteoric rise in popularity and recognition as a media industry. This growth can be trace to the corporate structure that has formed within the video games industry. Large corporate produces have the resources to produce large scale video games as well as market and distribute these games to wide audiences. The video game industry was not always dominated by large corporations, during its inception there were small companies made of small teams that produced many of the early games. In recent years, as corporately produced games are still growing in success, there is an independent sector of the video games industry that recaptures the small team spirit of the early video game industry. Independent video games give both the creator and audience more agency in the creative process then both traditional media and corporately produced video games.

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American Heroism and Pixar’s Animation feature films.

American Heroism and Pixar’s Animation feature films.

In 1776, the founding fathers of the US wrote the definition of the “American Dream” in the United States Declaration of Independence: liberty, equality and democracy (Wikipedia, 2013). With hundreds years of efforts, American people made the American Dream come true. Within these hundreds of years, American people created another definition of the American Dream. It is that everyone has the chance to fight for a better life. Together with other core American world views, the American Dream values the importance of independence. It is also the root of the American Heroism. The American Heroism reminds me of the nameless boxer in one of Jack London’s novels. In that novel, the boxer plays hundreds of underground boxing matches to earn money for the revolution that could bring freedom to his home. Freedom finally came true because there were thousands of nameless people fighting for it, just like him.

 

In this article, I mainly talked about two characteristics in American Heroism: (1) everyday people as a hero and (2) individualism in American Heroism.

Everyday people as a hero.

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Image from the film The Incredibles by Pixar.

In almost every Pixar’s film, there is an everyday people that finally saved the world. In Pixar’s films, those everyday people explained the core meaning of the American Dream and the American Spirit with their heroism themed stories. People would not expect Wall-E (in the movie Wall-E) to be a high-end and fully functional super robot. Instead, Wall-E is just a small, rusty and obsolete robot designed to collect grotesque objects. Yeah Bob Parr (in the film The Incredibles) is a super hero. But in his normal life, he is just a fat small staff who has to endure traffic jam and the censure from his boss every day in his life. Those are all normal characters that live in every class of this society. However, in Pixar’s films, they have the ability to go through adventures and save the world. When conducting scripts, Pixar combined the American Dream with normal people’s lives and portrayed the encouraging stories with a theme of heroism.

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Image from the film Prometheus directed by Ridley Schott.

In European’s medieval fairy tales, most of the heroes are “gods”. Such heroes have supernatural abilities and they were always the leader of people. Those stories were made because of people’s religious worships. Most of the European countries have long histories of feudal societies. In their histories, religion is one of the most important factors that rule the society. Not until the Renaissance took place did people begin to realize the value of individuals. That’s why most of their early heroes are “thousands miles away from normal people”. However, the US was founded by immigrants, in other words, the US was founded by “normal people” (but not gods). The US did not have a history of clericalism. Instead, it has a long history of capitalism. Capitalism encourages people to explore, to build and to make profits. People are no longer a member of the society controlled by a king or a god. American people believe that as individuals, they have the abilities to “make things happen”.

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Image from the film The Incredibles by Pixar.

In the film The incredibles, Bob Parr has three children, a lovely wife, a big house and a car. As a normal people, he is a normal staff working for a company. All of Bob Parr’s characters indicate that he represents the general American middle class, which is also the majority of American people. But when things go south, he will come out as a hero to save the day. In Bob Parr’s house, there is a room filled with Bob Parr’s history as a superhero. In this room, audiences can find things such as his uniform and newspapers reporting his heroic stories. Basically, Bob Parr’s story is a praise to the American middle class and the room can be considered as Pixar’s praise to the fight of the American middle class. In the history of the US, the American middle class is one of the most important forces that developed this country. With the story of Bob Parr, Pixar tried to tell people that people who belong to the American middle class are all normal people you can find every day in your life. They built this country and they are the writers of the American history. When bad things happen to this country, the American middle class will stand out and take the lead. With the American middle class, this country is able to walk through whatever difficulties it faces. So people who belong to the American middle class are the heroes who created the glory of this country. The ideology in Pixar’s films matched the hegemony of the American culture. In a culture like this, the heroes are all from people’s everyday lives. People who built this country, in other words, the “normal people”, should be remembered as heroes.

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Image from the film Ratatouille by Pixar.

Also, the American culture encourage normal people to fight for their lives. It claims that every person in this society, no matter he is nobody or he is famous, has the right to pursue their happiness and achieve their goals. In the film Ratatouille, Alfredo Linguini’s story is basically an abstract of the American Dream. In this film, Alfredo Linguini is yet another nobody that finally became a hero. With the help of his friend Remy, he fought so hard for his life. Finally his dishes were approved by the famous gourmet. I still remember the warm and touching scene that the famous gourmet finally found out those delicious dishes were all made by a nameless cook and a mouse. In the end of this scene, the gourmet said that this world is unkind to new creations and new things. But the world needs new creations and it is worth for people to discover and defend new things. Not everyone can become a great artist but a great artist can come from anywhere (Bird, 2007). By reading the famous gourmet’s lines, it is easy to find out that what he said is generally a summary of the American Dream: this country needs people to create new things. Even if you are a nobody you can still achieve your goals with your hard works. People like Alfredo Linguini are the heroes who were once a nobody. With his story, Pixar praised normal people’s fights and encouraged normal people to fight for their happiness.

 

In the ideology of American Heroism, individualism is also an important notion that valued by American culture. In the movie The Incredibles, when facing a huge challenge, the super hero Bob Parr always said “I have to do this alone.” Besides, as a super hero, the first thing he has to do is protect his family. This is perhaps the most obvious difference between American Heroism and Asian Heroism. Also, the concept “family” is an interesting concept within the comparison between American Heroism and Eastern Heroism. In this comparison, there are “small family” and “big family”. The “small family” refers to the family constituted by family members and the “big family” refers to the society or the country. In American heroic films such as The Incredibles, Bob Parr would do everything to protect his “small family”. However, in eastern heroic films, the first thing the hero need to protect is the “big family”. Sometimes they even sacrifice their “small families” in order to protect the “big family”.

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Image from the Film Hero directed by Yimou Zhang

In Asian cultures, instead of individualism, collectivism is the dominating world view. Asian countries, such as China, had been in dictatorial social forms for a long time. Religious ideologies in China such as the Confucianism and the Daoism were all aimed to solid the authorities’ rulings. Thus, they encouraged people to contribute to the society, obey the rules and advocate the collective interests. So in the ideology of Asian Heroism, the most important thing the heroes have to consider about is not their own wonderful lives but the interest of the whole society. The film Hero which directed by famous Chinese director Yimou Zhang talked about a story happened in the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476BC). The Broken Sword and the Flying Snow are knight couples. They planned to assassinate the King of Qin because he was a cold-blooded dictator that killed thousands of people. They spent decades to improve their Kung Fu to ensure that they can kill the King of Qin once there is a chance. However when the chance came, the Broken Sword changed his mind and he made a willful failure when assassinating the King of Qin. Finally he was killed by the King of Qin. At the last moment of his life, the Flying Snow asked him why he did that. He told the Flying Snow that He knew the King of Qin is a talented politician. He believed that the King of Qin can end the war lasted for hundreds of years in China and build a united and strong country. For the greater good, the hero gave up his own life (Yimou, 2002).

Unlike the American Heroes, the Asian heroes are born with a special mission and they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the collective interests. In Asian cultures, people who will sacrifice themselves for the greater good will be considered as a hero and will be praised by the whole society. It is true that American heroes will also contribute to the society’s interest. But in Pixar’s films, the heroes are not born with such a heavy “sense of mission”. Also, the ideology of American Heroism disseminated by Pixar’s films has a different focus comparing to Asian Heroism. Instead of disseminating the “sense of mission” and the “spirit of sacrifice”, Pixar’s films tend to pay more attention to heroes’ personal struggles and the courage, love among families and friends in their stories. By highlighting these factors, the main aim of Pixar’s films, just like other American heroic stories’, is to inspire people, to motivate people and to encourage people to face their challenges in their lives and to fight for better lives.

To sum up, the ideology of heroism in Pixar’s films focus on individualism and “everyday lives”. Because Pixar makes animated feature films for adolescents, in order to attract the audiences, there should be fantasy factors in those films. But overall, the heroes in Pixar’s films are all from everyday lives and they achieved their goals with their efforts. These two characteristics comply with the core spirit of the American Dream. In Pixar’s films, as a mass mediated ideology, the American Dream is deeply rooted in the audiences’ minds, in other words, it “corroborated and strengthened by an interlocking system of efficacious information-distributing agencies and taken-for-granted social practices that permeate every aspect social and cultural reality” (Lull, 2000).

 

 

References

Bird, B. (Director & screenwriter). (2007). Ratatouille [Film]. Burbank, CA: The Walt Disney Company.

 

Lull, J. (2000). Hegemony. Media, communication, culture: A global approach (2nd ed., pp. 61). New York: Columbia University Press.

 

Yimou, Z. (Director). (2002). Hero [Film]. Beijing: Beijing New Pictures Co.,Ltd.

 

Wikipedia. (2013). United States Declaration of Independence. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

Black Waves, Purple Strategies: PR and the 2010 BP Oil Disaster

Cleaning Up the Mess

On April 20, 2010, almost five years after Hurricane Katrina, the BP-operated ultra-deepwater rig called the Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast. The explosion killed eleven people and started an oil volcano that gushed over 5,000 barrels a day until the well was capped three months later on July 15th.  As oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, BP hired corporate communication firm, Purple Strategies, to clean up the resulting public relations mess. Examination of this well-positioned firm can offer insight into how the oil giant that caused what is widely regarded as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history can not only preserve its oil drilling operations in the region but continue to make huge profits and remain one of the largest oil companies in the world. Moreover, this blog post explores the means by which hegemonic notions of natural and environmental disaster that de-emphasize human causes and risk, remain so prevalent in spite of over thirty years of disaster research that highlights the inextricable links between disastrous events and their social context, which include dominant social trends, such as risky deepwater oil extraction off the Gulf Coast, and deep social problems of a society, like flawed government oversight of the oil industry.

Purple Strategies

Purple Strategies is one of the most well-connected public relation firms in the United States. The company was formed in 2009 out of a merger between Issue and Image Company and National Media. These two companies were led by two of the most respected political campaign strategists in DC. The CEO of Issue and Image Company was Steve McMahon, an attorney and political consultant, who worked on the campaigns of many Democratic mayoral, gubernatorial, and presidential campaigns, including most recently the 2008 Barack Obama Presidential campaign. The head of National Media was Alex Castellanos. Castellanos has worked as a political and corporate consultant for many of the most powerful figures of the last twenty years including George H.W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. According to his personal biography on Purple Strategies website he is often credited as the “Father of the Attack Ad.” There are three other founding partners of Purple Strategies: Bruce Haynes, John Donovan, and Mark Squier. Each of them has held senior positions in charge of media relations, public image, and advertising for the GOP or Democratic National Committees. Recently, Purple Strategies expanded their Chicago office by hiring people from Rahm Emanuel’s staff. Purple Strategies staff of sixty-three is stacked with people who are politically connected at multiple levels of government.

In addition to the political connections, Purple Strategies boasts some incredibly powerful corporate clients. In addition to BP, Purple Strategies does crisis management and PR work for Times Warner and some of the most important business associations in the world including PhRMA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All the founding partners and many of the other employees have served important roles in some of the very biggest Fortune 500 companies and Forbes top 100 companies. In addition to allowing the company to remain competitive within the world of PR, these important relationships constitute an overlapping social network of the some of the most powerful organizations on the planet.

PR and a Changing Mediascape

Public relations firms have a unique position in an increasingly conglomerated and commercialized media landscape. In his chapter, “U.S. Media at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century,” Robert McChesney explains how media ownership is increasingly consolidated under the control of few very large corporations (1999, 28). Furthermore, the biggest media companies are conglomerates of smaller subsidiaries that operate different media and material culture, which work in concert to increase profits from advertising. McChesney explains that this drive to increase advertising revenues in new ways has compromised the editorial content of media (35). This is especially the case for journalism, where newsrooms are shrinking, and news is seen through the lens of commercialization and profit rather than as a public service (51). Purple Strategies and other PR firms have access to media in ways that news and investigative journalists do not, because they do not face the same structural constraints. Their work relies on the funding of their incredibly wealthy clients, which leaves them with more investment capital than newsrooms. This also gives them airtime. Frequently, Purple Strategies’ analysts are guests on the popular nationally syndicated news programming of Fox and NBC. BP also invested heavily in television, radio, and the internet following the 2010 BP Oil Disaster. Additionally, the firm worked alongside other PR giants to influence public opinion using new media. PR firms have the ability to manipulate opensource and social media in the same ways that individuals can to express the worldviews of their clients. Their investment capital also gives them access to other tools, such as sponsored links. After the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was criticized for spending an estimated $10,000 per day to have their ads be the first to show when searching Google, Bing, and Yahoo and other search engines for terms like Oil Spill, Gulf Disaster, and BP. As Croteau et al. 2012, 44-45) explain, conglomeration has been a burden for smaller and midsized print media, television, and radio companies. This is less so for PR firms like Purple Strategies, who have gained incredible power as information brokers who have established a deep marriage with corporate elite. New media is often touted as a democratizing technology that offers anyone (with access) an equal voice in the public sphere. However, in its use for public relations, the internet is often a resource for giant companies, like BP to reproduce their worldviews.

Over the past thirty years, petro-chemical companies increasingly use of media and science to limit their culpability and downplay the catastrophes they create (Button 2010, 149-167). Purple Strategies went to great lengths to control scientific information after the 2010 BP Oil Disaster. Foytlin (2013) exposes ChemRisk, a for-profit scientific research firm that published questionable science on the hazards Gulf Coast residents face due to the spill. During Foytin’s interview with the authors of the study, Dick Kiel, a Purple Strategies employee (who introduced himself as a ChemRisk scientist) was there to monitor and limit the conversation. According to Button, as newsrooms shrink and the PR industry expands, companies are more easily able to reproduce uncertainty following industrial spills by promoting bad science (167). Purple Strategies promoted false scientific claims and exerting control over journalists’ interviews in order to influence the public discourse about the spill.

Booming Local Voices

As BP coordinated a haphazard cleanup on the gulf coast using various techniques of containing the oil including toxic dispersants, fire, and oil boom. Meanwhile, as discussed above, they devoted incredible resources to booming, or constraining, critical responses as well. These clandestine strategies for spreading BP’s messages are attempts at creating a reality without acknowledging that they are creating the reality that BP desires. According to Bishara (2013, 52), “Contemporary journalism can be seen as part of a modernist textual tradition in which the processes of textual production tend to be erased.” PR firms like Purple Strategies are the newer and more well equipped masters of this tradition. In fact, this obfuscation is a primary function of their services in winning the hearts and minds of the public on behalf of their clients. The position of Purple Strategies in the world of PR, media, and politics alongside their success at hiding the means of their knowledge production helps them maintain hegemonic frames for communicating information about the BP Spill. They do so by promoting messages that frame a single narrative that explains the disaster simply as an accident, deemphasizing trauma, long-term suffering, and diverse experiences of the oil industry’s very presence in the region. Drawing on media scholar, George Gerbner in her gender analysis of advertising, Tuchman (1978b) refers to this kind of media marginalization as “symbolic annihilation.”

The symbolic annihilation of local voices after the BP Oil Disaster, however, is an incomplete project, and powerful local voices seep through. For example, as the oil continued to flow, community members, activists, and local journalists created a community-based new media project, Bridge the Gulf. To counter the oversimplifying PR language and oversaturation of non-local voices that ignore the daily struggles of diverse residents, Bridge the Gulf expresses a deep commitment to storytelling. The site hosts a blog where local journalists and community leaders can post news and prose promoting community and ecological health in the region. Similarly, Stephen (2012) shows how important storytelling was in Oaxaca, after police attacked a teacher’s protest in 2006. According to Stephen, the testimonies and social interactions that community radio allowed was crucial for expanding the political discourse and publicizing the human rights violations there (125). As Stephen explains, “In Oaxaca, as elsewhere, the right to speak begins with actually speaking, with thinking of yourself as someone who can speak about experiences of injustices. It depends on a sense of membership within a larger community of people of similar speakers with similar rights” (126). Participatory media projects, like Bridge the Gulf, amplify the voices of those most directly affected by the oil industry.

Works Cited

Bishara, Amahl. 2013. Back Stories: U.S. News Production and Palestinian Politics. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Button, Gregory. 2010. Disaster Culture: Knowledge and Uncertainty in the Wake of Human and Environmental Catastrophe. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Coleman, Zack. “BP argues it’s being bilked in spill claims” The Hill. September 23, 2013. http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/318375-bp-pushes-back-at-gulf-oil-spill-settlement (accessed September 20, 2013).

Croteau, David, William Hoynes, and Stefania Milan. 2012. Media/Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences 4th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

Franke-Ruta, Garance. “Washington PR firms cashing in on BP spill” Washington Post. June 4, 2010. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2010/06/washington-cashe. (accessed September 20, 2013).

Friedman, Emily. “BP Buys ‘Oil’ Search Terms to Redirect Users to Official Company Website” ABC News. June 20, 2010. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Broadcast/bp-buys-search-engine-phrases-redirecting-users/story?id=10835618 (accessed September 20, 2013).

Morgan, Gareth. “BP buys ‘oil spill’ sponsored links for Search engines” Short Sharp Science. June 7, 2010. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Broadcast/bp-buys-search-engine-phrases-redirecting-users/story?id=10835618 (accessed September 20, 2013).

O’Leary, Noreen. “Purple Strategies Hires From Burnett, Emmanuel Team Chicago Office Expands” AdWeek.com. May 9, 2013. http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/purple-strategies-hires-burnett-emanuel-team-149311 (accessed September 20, 2013).

Tuchman, Gaye. 1978b. The Symbolic Annihilation of Women by the Mass Media. In Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media. Eds. Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet. New York: Oxford University Press. 169-185.

Wright, Judith Hess. 2003. Genre Films and the Status Quo. In Film Genre Reader II. Eds. Barry Keith Grant. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 41-50.