CSE-612 Final Project: Net Neutrality Media Analysis

Introduction

This essay examines media that was produced to report or comment on the FCC’s vote to officially propose a change in rules governing internet service and mobile broadband providers, which took place on May 18th, 2017.

In my survey of media relating to this story, I looked at:

  • News/periodical/website articles
  • Late night news/talk shows
  • Tweets
  • YouTube videos
  • Official FCC statements and press releases
  • Cable and local TV news segments
  • Blog posts
  • Podcasts

I analyzed these media within the guiding framework of the Center for Media Literacy’s Five Key Concepts & Questions.

Net neutrality is quite complex. The May 17th FCC vote was just the most recent event in a story that has been developing for years and was passed into official regulatory policy in 2015 with broad public support. Existing regulations are widely expected to be reversed by the current FCC, whose chairman was appointed by President Trump.

Net neutrality in the Media

While net neutrality is widely considered to be an important story, it does not get as much attention as one might expect in the mainstream news. Net neutrality is often perceived as a complicated, boring, or “nerdy” topic that requires substantial technical and policy knowledge to understand. Further, much media time and attention is devoted to the unprecedented behavior of the Trump administration at the expense of other issues, including net neutrality. That said, considering the frequency of Google searches for the term “net neutrality” there is evidence that public interest in the issue spikes when attention is drawn to it by commentators or upon the reporting of events such as the FCC vote to approve a proposal of rule changes.

Figure 1 – Google Searches for Net Neutrality

Picture1

Moreover, there is vigorous debate at the fringes of mainstream attention from the communications, technology, and media industries, and from participants in “internet culture.”  Deep disagreement about the benefits and costs of net neutrality policy exists along political or ideological lines.

Pro Net Neutrality Sources

On one side is an alliance of pro-net neutrality sources, activists, and commentators. Net neutrality backers include large tech, e-commerce, entertainment media, and social media firms who rely on information networks to connect to their customers, media sources, websites, and blogs that cover the technology industry, anti-trust/pro-consumer corporate watchdogs, left-leaning academics and politicians, and centrist/left-leaning media outlets.

Anti-Regulation Sources

There are fewer sources opposing net neutrality, but they are backed by powerful institutions. Opposing net neutrality are internet service providers (ISPs), right-leaning and Libertarian media and academics, and the FCC itself, whose current chairman, Ajit Pai, cultivates a carefully constructed public persona using various forms of media.

Audience

Mainstream reporting on net neutrality is designed for a wide audience, and often includes basic primer information explaining the concept of net neutrality. Specialty technology or political sites speak to their audiences with more specificity and frame the issue in relevant terms for that audience, for example, as an issue of fairness and equity, of excessive government regulation, or of corporate malfeasance.

The FCC is legally required to solicit public comment on proposed changes, and will likely also be challenged to provide legal rationale in court. For this reason, opponents of the bill are very active in attempting to marshal public opposition to the FCC’s actions. Most notably, the comedian & political commentator John Oliver ran a lengthy pro-net neutrality segment on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight, and set up a website to make it easier for citizens to submit comments on the FCC’s proposed changes. Many media sources represent Oliver as the face of the pro-net neutrality position.

At the same time, Ajit Pai has made numerous appearances on cable news, given press conferences, and produced videos for social media platforms blasting current policy and advocating change, and ISP industry organizations have run advertisements and produced media with an anti-regulation agenda. This seems to be aimed at influencing public opinion and starting to build the legal case justifying the FCC’s rule changes.

Linguistics and Imagery

Different sources frame the concept of net neutrality very differently. A variety of styles, words, and imagery are used to communicate media messages about net neutrality and the FCC’s vote, adding subtexts to media messages.

headlines
A collection of headlines from media published May 18th-19th 2017

Pro-Net Neutrality, Anti-FCC Headlines

From the perspective of tech writers, the FCC’s formal vote took on an apocalyptic quality: Net neutrality rules all but doomed after FCC starts teardown reads a headline from consumer technology site CNet. This language gives the impression that the vote will cause violence and destruction. Tech site Ars Technica goes further, using evocative words to conjure up imagery of pain and suffering: “Net neutrality going down in flames as FCC votes to kill Title II rules.” (Emphasis added)

Similar sentiments are widely seen on YouTube and Twitter; social media is a hotbed of passionate net neutrality sentiment. Tweets from thought-leaders, politicians, technology companies, media companies, political advocacy groups, and more implore users to “save the internet” and oppose the FCC action. Twitter itself created a unique graphic that automatically accompanies each Tweet with the #netneutrality tag – a buffering symbol that is sure to resonate with any internet user who has ever been frustrated with slow loading times. The platform itself has pro-net neutrality messages embedded within it, such that a source critical of net neutrality may be discouraged from using the relevant hashtag.

https://twitter.com/mozilla/status/865239307052883969

Neutral Headlines

Mainstream news coverage took a measured tone. The FCC vote represents net neutrality being “rolled back” according to the Washington Post and NPR News, a term that evokes the back-and-forth of laws and policies being written only to be undone as the political headwinds shift. For a reader of these headlines, net neutrality may be lost in the shuffle of “politics as usual,” with little emphasis on relevance to the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. The NPR piece includes a straightforward account of the vote and a fairly neutral explanation of the issues at stake, including strongly worded quotes from both Ajit Pai and dissenting Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Some media pieces delved deeper; a video segment on CBS Money explored the topic and the key players in some detail. CBS correspondent Errol Barnett discussed his interview with Ajit Pai and concluded that “when this issue is spelled out for people, it really does scare them,” while noting that changes in net neutrality policy are de-emphasized “while the nation’s attention is fixated on the what’s happening with the President.”

Meanwhile, ISPs, both directly and through industry consortiums and lobbying groups, are putting out advertisements, Tweets, and videos that offer reassuring, friendly messages that paint telecommunications companies as good corporate citizens. These messages affirm ISPs’ commitment to a general ideal such as the “Open Internet” or “Internet Freedom” – implying that they should be trusted to follow the fairness principles that net neutrality laws legislate voluntarily, while they simultaneously oppose said laws and pour money into anti-regulation lobbying efforts. Needless to say, the pro-net neutrality internet is suspect of these messages.

Anti-Net Neutrality/Regulation, Pro-FCC Headlines

Fox Business uses the term “repeal” to describe the FCC’s intentions. Interestingly, controversial alt-right site Breitbart, in their article covering the FCC’s vote also uses the term “repeal.” Though the word repeal is innocuous, a reader of these sources may associate net neutrality with the unrelated but highly politicized Affordable Care Act, which is the subject of a “Repeal and Replace” effort by President Trump and Congress. The Breitbart article goes on to celebrate the FCC vote with unconcealed glee, calling it a “return to freedom” for the internet.

Conservative and Libertarian sources were active on social media, defending the FCC’s vote and focusing primarily on ideas about regulation and free markets. Conservative writer Ben Shapiro, responding to a Tweet from Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, posted a jab at net neutrality’s sometimes anti-corporate bent, pointing out that behemoths like Facebook and Google are staunch supporters.

https://twitter.com/SenWarren/status/864914637204148228

https://twitter.com/benshapiro/status/865069378831753217

The FCC itself uses language designed to present its own actions in a positive light. It has titled its Initiative “Restoring Internet Freedom,” a name that pro-net neutrality sources have dubbed “Orwellian.” In any case, the FCC certainly seems to be co-opting the language of net neutrality.

Attention-Grabbing Headlines

Some headlines act to grab attention, while not necessarily framing the issue in a strong negative or positive light. A CBS Money headline offers to explain “Why net neutrality could go the way of the floppy disk,” using humor to draw the viewer in. The text article and video segment linked to from the headline are measured and informative pieces that explore differing perspectives and don’t shy away from dealing with pertinent issues.

Other outlets used eye-catching headlines that are less humorous, and ultimately less informative. “The FCC did NOT vote to roll back net neutrality” reads a headline from the Libertarian news and culture site The Daily Caller. The article points out that the FCC vote does not in fact legally change policy, but rather marks the formal beginning of the FCC’s ostensibly exploratory “Notice of Proposed Rule Change” process in which public comment will be sought, and claims that competing sources are misreporting the facts. While it’s technically true that the FCC vote is the beginning of a lengthy process, Ajit Pai and the FCC have made their intentions to press for the elimination of net neutrality rules abundantly clear. One must ask if this headline is in the service of accuracy and fair-mindedness, or if it may, deliberately or not, obfuscate the FCC’s intentions, discredit legitimate assertions, and confuse the issue.

By far the worst, most shameful headline found in this survey was from an editorial published in Forbes: “The Shocking Thing About Net Neutrality That Few Are Reporting.” The title of this article is clickbait designed to sensationalize the issues in a potential reader’s mind. The main thrust of the article makes a dubious and logically unsound comparison between net neutrality rules and the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC rule related to broadcast news that was rolled back during the Reagan administration. All told, this author found no new information that wasn’t reported elsewhere, and certainly no shocking revelations.

Imagery

The imagery used by news sources in articles also tells us something about their worldview and how they expect the reader to emotionally and cognitively approach the issue of net neutrality. I noticed three main motifs in the imagery accompanying these articles: images of pro-net neutrality protests, images of the façade of the FCC building (neutral), and images of Ajit Pai (both positive and negative).

Images of protest are used to associate net neutrality with political struggle and civic action. The shot below appears in several pieces, including one from Ars Technica.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Speaks At American Enterprise Institute
An image of political protest used by Ars Technica

Pai himself has emerged as the face of the debate, and he is presented in positive or negative lights by different sources. Looking at two photographs of Mr. Pai below, one would get two very different impressions of his demeanor and personality, and perhaps experience different initial emotional reactions to the news pieces. Is Pai a nefarious schemer in the pocket of big businesses like Verizon and Comcast? Or a smiling champion of freedom and sound economic principles? The two photos below tell different stories.

ajit
Ajit Pai as seen in Consumer Reports (left) and Breitbart (right)

Pai plays an active role in cultivating an image in his public appearances. He is often seen drinking coffee out of a large, novelty-sized coffee cup in interviews and Tweeting references to the film Big Lebowski, disingenuously portraying himself as a “fun, down to earth nerd,” according to Jon Oliver. On the day of the FCC vote, Pai appeared in a YouTube video released by the Independent Journal Review, a conservative outlet that consciously attempts to produce viral content. In the video, Pai reads and responds to “mean Tweets” in the fashion of a series of short clips popularized by Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Informing the public or preaching to the choir?

Based on analysis of various articles and posts on social media, it’s clear that the issue of net neutrality is understood differently by individuals with differing ideologies and backgrounds. Mainstream sources often begin from the premise that net neutrality is ill-understood by the public at large and seek to educate the reader or viewer and to explore the issues surrounding net neutrality and related legislation. These stories are framed in simple terms, and metaphors (such as highways with fast lanes, slow lanes, and toll booths) are often used to illustrate the situation. One video produced by King 5 News in Seattle featured a reporter talking to citizens and asking the viewer to consider possible impacts of undoing net neutrality on ordinary people. Rather than highlighting concerns about the stifling of innovation from small companies or the growing consolidation of power in the hands of ISPs, the video segment’s focus is on the possible slowing down of Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix streams.

Current polling shows that net Neutrality in principle has high levels of public support, according to the non-profit Knight Foundation’s report on the Net Neutrality debate. With that in mind, most industry specific or politically-minded sources seem to be writing, Tweeting, or speaking to their audiences as if they already have an understood position on net neutrality. Indeed, rather than seeking to change the reader’s mind, the pieces often seem designed to spur the reader into an action or to equip the reader with rhetorical arguments that can be used on one side of the debate or the other.

dont-tread-on-net2
Pro Net Neutrality Graphic from TechCrunch

For liberal and technology focused sites, this call to action tends to take the form of attempts to mobilize the audience, to spur pro-net neutrality activism on social media, and to flood the FCC’s website with comments supporting net neutrality. John Oliver has been effective as a modern entertainer/newsman/organizer, garnering so many online comments that the FCC website crashed intermittently after his net neutrality segment was broadcast.

Conservative and Libertarian sources, who are most likely aware that net neutrality is broadly popular, do not present issues of equity and fairness through the same lens. Libertarian sources with a younger, center-right demographic tend to focus on the government’s role in regulating markets as harmful. It is presented as an economic issue. Fox News, with viewers averaging over 70 years old, obfuscated the issue by focusing on what was portrayed as hysterical or abusive pro-net neutrality voices and protests. Pai appeared on Fox Business’s Making Money With Charlie Payne to be interviewed about his “viral” video and was invited to “share again with us…the hypocrisy and the vitriolic anger aimed at you at such a personal level.” Rather than engaging with different ideological sides of the issue, viewers of this program were prompted to disdain people on the other side of the debate and presented with the notion that pro-net neutrality voices are unhinged, violent, or racist.

Both sides of the debate claim to seek measures that would result in positive impacts for the underdog or underserved populations — either by requiring ISPs to treat the internet as a public good with ensured equal access for all or by eliminating regulations that discourage investment in rural broadband infrastructure and innovative consumer products. That said, the voices in the conversation seem to be predominantly urban, male, and of a high socio-economic status.

Because net neutrality is often presented as a technology story and as a partisan political story, large swathes of the public who may be affected are not necessarily engaged with the relevant issues beyond how it may affect their Netflix fix.

Who Benefits?

The companies that own mainstream media outlets have good reason to worry about the creeping power of ISPs in an unregulated network marketplace, as companies like Verizon are acquiring media production capacity in deals for content companies AOL and Yahoo — owning both the content product and the content delivery system. At the same point, powerful technology companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google are changing the economic landscape. These companies have their own anti-trust issues and regularly oppose any regulations that might keep them from maximizing profits, just as the telecoms do. For them, net neutrality is good business. It minimizes a potential cost — a toll — on their side of the content delivery system they use to deliver content and reap ad revenue.

The Libertarian or conservative viewpoint, held by the current FCC chairman, and presented by outlets like the Daily Caller, is that relaxing regulation will result in fairness, and that the free market is best equipped to create and distribute wealth from a commodity such as internet access.

Missing from the debate is the perspective that basic internet access can or should become a true public good. ISPs have a long history of lobbying to restrict towns and municipalities from providing public internet access that would compete with their own offerings. No source that I looked at mentioned this history or suggested publicly funded internet access as an alternative.

Net neutrality is an important issue, but not always an easy one to explain or to understand. Regardless of the source, every media message about net neutrality is presented from a perspective; messages privilege some information and leave other facts out. Our perceptions are colored by word choices, the characteristics of images, and the context quotes are presented. I’ll end this piece with words from Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman:

“We have to be responsible. We really have to get at the truth. That takes investigation. It takes serious consideration of what you’re reading.”

Note: In lieu of citations for the essay, I invite you to review my Net Neutrality Outliner on Diigo, which contains links to all of the media referenced in this piece, and more.

Featured Image:

Protest at the White House for Net Neutrality by Joseph Gruber, via CC 2.0

 

 

New Literacies

This past Spring quarter, I took a class called Big Thinkers in Ed Tech in which we read texts from Neil Postman, Maggie Jackson, and Aldous Huxley. These books explored dark themes of dehumanization and the deleterious consequences that changing technology and information systems can have on society and individuals. When searching for resources to contribute for my final essay for that class I picked up Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, and found it to be an excellent resource to investigate the relationship between attention, distraction, empowerment, and how humans can “plug-in” to the internet in both beneficial and harmful ways.

When learning about media literacy, I found good cause to pick Net Smart back upas the final few chapters deal with questions about the delta of new media to the traditional media that we spent most of our time studying. As Rheingold puts it:

The critical uncertainty today is whether the radical democratization of access to the means of information production and distribution will change the vectors of influence. Can many-to-many media effectively counter the well-funded disinformation apparatuses of powerful political and economic interests?

In my opinion, the study of media literacy extends beyond “mass media” like television, movies, magazines, and commercials. We need to fold in the way participatory, social media networks have come into the mix – bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, trolls, “influencers” – we must turn a critical and interrogative eye towards these non-professionalized  sources of information and ask good questions about who they are, what they want, who if anyone is paying them to become a new, invisible part of the “disinformation apparatus.”

Featured Image

In the Fake News by Bosc D’Anjou on Flickr via CC 2.0

Sources

Rheingold, Howard; Weeks, Anthony. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (MIT Press) (p. 241). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Representation

 

It was a somewhat heavy day in Media Literacy class today as we spent several hours exploring the compositional nature of media messages. Representation of non-dominant groups, who are typically portrayed in ways that conform to easy-to-digest stereotypes, cause real harm to minorities.

I often see the phrase “Representation matters” regarding the media. In the past, I had thought about this mainly in terms of quantity – we see primarily white faces in movies & magazines; but as it turns out, quantity is only one aspect of the issue of representation.

Quantity

Here are quantity representation numbers for some of the top 700 grossing films of from 2007-2014 (excluding 2011) courtesy of PBS Newshour:

Comparing that with census data from Infoplease we can get a general idea of how well people are represented in movies:

table - race and media representation

There is a clear bias towards featuring more whites in mainstream films, and an even larger bias against Latinos, who are massively underrepresented. Some possible explanations for these numbers (in addition to the bias to feature whites as the “default” in any media presentation):

  • most media produced in Spanish would not be included in this analysis of top-grossing films
  • the media has not yet adapted to the increased diversity since 2000, which as a percentage of the whole population has seen whites decline by nearly 9% while Latinos increased by about 4% and those falling into the “Some other race” category by about 5%.

Quality

Much more disturbing to me is the “quality” aspect of representation in the media. As whiteness is dominant in our culture, we cast any non-whites as “the other.” When we see a non-white face, we understand that person as representing their ethnicity rather than as a unique person. In contrast, whites are freer to comprise a range of personalities, roles, and archetypes.

As US Berkley Professor put it in his hilarious, insightful, and pretty inappropriate Medium essay Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For:

am an individual. I can choose to not be offended, not to be affiliated with any group and rest assured in my sense of self.

Non-whites, in contrast, are often stuck in roles that signal cultural shortcuts. If we see a  black man in loose pants and a bandana, we understand that he’s a gangster. A young Asian woman? She must be a student, and a good one. If we see a Southeast Asian man (which seems unlikely, given the quantity data discussed above) he’s probably a taxi driver or an IT guy. And on and on and on. Seeing people represented in these narrow ways over and over again influences our subconscious thoughts and reinforces stereotypes.

I am hopeful that representation will continue to get better. One helping hand? Technology and the de-coupling of entertainment streaming media from direct demographic advertising of broadcast and cable TV. Programming featuring diverse casts can be produced and watched in new ways. One great example is Aziz Ansari’s show, Master of None, which has been a hit as an original Netflix program.

The show has addressed the problem of representation head on, particularly in the episode Indians on TV.

I’m hopeful for more remediation, conversation, and progress on this issue and will happily do my part by binge watching Master of None season 2 when my Summer term ends.

Featured Image

“Movies” by Terry on Flickr via Creative Commons License. Image digitally altered.

References

Santhanam, Laura, and Megan Crigger. “Out of 30,000 Hollywood Film Characters, Here’s How Many Weren’t White.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 06 July 2017.

Population of the United States by Race and Hispanic/Latino Origin, Census 2000 and 2010. Infoplease.
© 2000-2017 Sandbox Networks, Inc., publishing as Infoplease.
6 Jul. 2017.

Cohen, Michael Mark. “Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We’ve All Been Waiting For.”Medium. Secret History of America, 13 Oct. 2014. Web. 06 July 2017.

Who profits from your foodie blog?

Do you ever stop and appreciate how much effort goes into making food look and sound appealing in advertising? In class today, we watched videos of professionals who’s entire job is to prep food products for commercial shoots. We saw food as diverse as fast food burgers and salads poked, prodded, pinned, painted and coated with oil to achieve the perfect look.

The careful staging and preparation of fast food photography often lead to a striking disconnect when the actual food is contrasted with advertising:

Taco Bell tacos, ads vs reality via Bored Panda

Large companies in the restaurant and fast food business are now seeking to improve perception and capitalize on the army of Instagram food photographers: the parent company of Chili’s restaurants launched an initiative to improve the look of its food in amateur photos posted online, changing the way food is prepared and presented at an estimated cost of $750,000 USD per year. Starbucks developed a limited time drink – the Unicorn Frappucino – that experts suggest was created specifically to drive Instagram posts. (Roy, 2017) That sounds like a lot of money and effort catering to social media behavior, but by doing so, companies are reaping valuable advertising and engagement from the most coveted consumers: 18 to 34-year-olds with disposable income who spend time on social media sites.

So the next time you go to post your brunch on Instagram or use a corporate sanctioned hashtag, ask yourself: do you really want to become a part of a meta-advertisement?

References

Roy, Jessica. “Unicorn Frappuccinos Are Just the Latest Food Designed with Instagram in Mind.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 Apr. 2017. Web. 30 June 2017. <http://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-unicorn-frappuccino-instagram-food-trends-20170427-htmlstory.html>.

Featured Image

 “Tachos in the Boise Airport” by Ben Kahn

No one has ever said "I'm so glad I ate tatchos in the Boise airport"

A post shared by Ben Kahn (@ben_kahn) on

 

Pictures Don’t Lie

Today in Media Literacy we spent time looking at and thinking about multimedia. As with writing, maps, and other forms of communication, there is more than meets the eye (or ear) when consuming images, videos, music, and sound effects. Choices made by content authors, whether intentionally or not, alter perceptions of media. Making small changes to media can significantly distort the meaning of the message.

As an example, we looked at two magazine covers featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although both magazines are from the same year, they hardly seem to feature the same person. In each, Arnold is framed, lit, dressed, and posed differently, and he is surrounded by suggestive colors, fonts, and words. (I just want to know how those “20 INCH ARMS” fit into a nicely tailored, slim fitting suit.)

arnold.png

To explore and play with these ideas, we had a small assignment in which we partnered with a classmate and took two photos of our subject: one in which they appear “mean” and one in which they seem “nice.” I got these shots of my classmate Craig:

craig.png

I took the photos with my iPhone 7 Plus, which has a cool DLSR-like bokeh photo effect.(I’m trying not to gush about my Apple gadgets, but they don’t make it easy sometimes!)

I didn’t think it would be too difficult to get a “nice” photo of Craig (since he’s a nice guy), so I just had him stand in front of a clean-looking section of brick wall with good lighting and smile wide. He looks like a clean-cut, happy grad student to me!

For the “angry” version of the image, we scouted a bit more. I wanted to frame Craig through a chain-link fence, but we ended up finding a walkway with thick, menacing bars. This also put the position of the camera a bit below him so that the viewer is at a lower vantage point looking up. I focused on his clenched hand, so his face is just a bit out of focus and in shadow. To complete the effect, I adjusted the contrast and color temperature a bit to add shadows to Craig’s face and increase the amount of red in the photo.

Featured Image

“Woodsy Dream Lanterns” by me on Flickr. Available for others via CC license.

Draw Me a Map

Today in CSE-612 we explored maps as message transmitting tools. We often think of maps as literal, one-to-one artifacts that represent the real world without bias. But in fact, like any communications medium, maps are inherently a product of subjective humans with their own perceptions, and agendas, and they reflect a variety of decisions, compromises, or misconceptions of their creators.

*Image hosted on Wellington’s Map Blog on Tumblr

The same could be said of any artifact that is meant to convey a message or a lesson. When designing a course, creating an inforgraphic, composing a Tweet, or authoring a blog post, we all make decisions about what information we will acknowledge and address, and how we will choose to represent that message to our audience. In a way every time we communicate we are drawing a map for someone to follow; to arrive at an idea, concept, or point-of-view.

What it comes to maps, what features make the cut and the ways they are represented can say as much about the author as the terrain.

*Feature Image: World Map, 1689, Amsterdam. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Facing My Apple Addiction

As I dive into media literacy studies, I have been asked to critically engage with the marketing and advertising of a brand I consider myself loyal to. Now, I am the type of person that would prefer not to think of myself as loyal to any corporate brand. Aside from the desire to believe that I can maintain objectivity in my decision making, I also feel conflicted about the materialism and conspicuous consumption of rampant consumerism. However, realistically I know that I’m not any more immune from the persuasive powers of advertising than the next person, and while I don’t think of myself as a brand loyalist, I will “stick with what works” in many purchasing instances. Shoes, jeans, red wine, eyeglasses, comic book publishers – I have a favorite brand of each. I’m only human after all.
After considering what to write about for a few moments, I settled on what has easily been my most personal, complete, and expensive relationship to a specific brand in recent years. I am of course, talking about Apple.

Apple has a long and rich history of advertising and has been recognized for the innovation and cleverness of many of their campaigns. While watching a playlist of Apple’s most well known ads I saw three main aspirational themes (I am sure that others will identify different messages):

  • People who use Apple computers are different, special, and creative, cool
  • Apple products help you connect with what’s important (loved ones, passions)
  • Apple products are simple, easy to use, empowering

Think Different

There are many Apple ads that exemplify the first message – “you want to use Apple because you’re special or talented or creative.” I was most familiar with the “I’m a PC, and I’m a Mac” commercials starring John Hodgman and Justin Long and the “1984” Orwellian parody. Yet when reviewing several other examples this “Think Different” ad stuck out to me. It’s hard to imagine many companies getting away with hitching their brands to Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, and Martin Luther King Jr. (and that’s just in the first 10 seconds of this piece) but that’s exactly what they do here.

Once More With Emotion

In the post-Jobs era, Apple has introduced more emotional appeal into their advertising. People do get emotionally attached to their phones and laptops, but these ads focus on showing how these devices supposedly help to foster the human connections that sustain us. In my survey I saw videos focused on a young couple using the iPhone camera to create memories of a shared afternoon in the city, an energetic video of friends messaging stickers to each other, and romantic partners navigating their relationship with a little help from their Apple Watches. I chose this short video that has the most effect on me:

Keep It Simple, Stupid

The last theme I saw several times was one of simplicity and ease-of-use. Apple rarely features celebrities talking about how great their products are, but they often will provide brief demonstrations, mini-tutorials, or standout examples of photography, video, or other creative work created with their devices.

Although I personally became an Apple user after being exposed to Macs and iPads at work rather than by shopping around or from watching commercials , I acknowledge that their marketing is very effective and continuously works to sell me on the idea of entrenching myself further and further into a technology ecosystem that I would have a great deal of difficulty leaving at this point. For now, I will continue to use and enjoy my MacBook, iPhone, and other Apple gadgets. But I will strive to keep reminding myself of the following :

  • Gadgets don’t make you special or cool (that requires personality and authenticity)
  • Gadgets don’t make your loved ones love you more (that requires attention and communication)
  • Most technology is getting pretty user friendly and effective (Android phones and Windows computers can be as good, perhaps better for many people)

(Confession: this post was written on an iPad Pro)

First Day of Class

I’m excited to start this course on media literacy with Dr. Mary Bucy. Media has such a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. I get the sense that many people I know would like to understand and adjust their relationship to media, but don’t  know what where to start.

In our class, we started by watching a commercial ( video below) and applying our nascent critical media analysis skills to it.

I definitely picked up on strong themes in the commercial – it plays on stereotypes about gender and class on its nose – but I will be interested to see if my perspective changes or is deepened by the end of the course.

We also did some research into the corporate ownership of media giants like Disney, Newscorp, and Comcast. Some of the information we started out with in class was a few years old, and as Mary pointed out, the landscape had already shifted. The global media is in a steady state of flux as companies are acquired, spun off, sold, or shuttered, although the general trend is one of consolidation.  To be honest, this wasn’t new to me – I remember being an angry teenager and listening to this Fugazi song in the late 90s (warning: the song has a swear)

Fugazi – Five Corporations

Grows so smoothly
Moves so slowly
Takes completely
It’s as if they
Belong and they’ve
Been here all along

Buy them up and
Shut them down
Then repeat
In every town

Every town will
Be the same

This one’s ours
Lets take another

Full lyrics at Genius

I worry about the corporate takeover of the world. Slowly spreading, gaining influence, buying off politicians, and getting better and better at convincing us that this is all normal. The media plays a big part in that, from advertising to newspaper and TV coverage of politics and economics to embedding messages and products into entertainment.

Fugazi has a point!

* Featured Image: Fugazi live photo by Sumlin on Flickr via Creative Commons license