Media Studies

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Abstract

While propaganda in the form of unintentional influence and the language of sexism has been independently researched, a review of literature reveals no such studies that link these two topics.   In this paper, I link these two subjects to study the hypothesis that the language of sexism, embedded within media, unintentionally influences individuals and small groups.  Through participatory action research methodology, participants will take part in a series of focus groups analyzing sexist language within media contexts. Findings will indicate how media sexism influences individuals and small groups, what that influence means to the health of their local community, and what action should be taken to alleviate negative consequences.

 

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I wonder what Eddie Bernays would say if he were here to see it?

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is spot on once again

 

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calvin new

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This is an observation from the main page of my Facebook feed.

This is an observation from the main page of my Facebook feed.

While I completed this observation on 18 and 19 February, I observe this phenomenon daily on the Internet and in the external world.  I have observed all varieties of propaganda in the everyday for far longer than Facebook has been around, Facebook exemplifies what is most fascinating about this phenomenon:  the example of unintentional propaganda of an artist’s performance at a Renaissance Faire and the unintentional propaganda “like” of a large music information web site on the top right. Both are examples of small group propaganda in the social network sphere.  They appear on the pages of the companies in question, and they appear on the artists’ pages themselves.

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Changing Modes 8 June 2011, Atlanta, GA

Changing Modes 8 June 2011, Atlanta, GA

My driving research interests are more like lifelong passions, as any glance into one of several bookshelves of my library will reveal.  However, those interests are usually distilled into a few topics that contain a myriad of additional subjects.  I am fascinated by sociology in general, but I am especially fascinated by how people react and act in various contexts towards other people whether they are individuals or small groups and vice versa.  This fascination predates my knowledge of Erving Goffman, though Goffman and a handful of others have codified this interest into the myriad of interests that encompass small group propaganda.  That driving research interest has been and will be the subject of several papers, a thesis, and several conference presentations.

Previously, I stated that my driving interests contain a myriad of additional subjects as well. This is especially true of my interest in music, local, independent, and unsigned musical artists.  Here, my two lifelong interests in propaganda and music converged in New York when I attempted to be a big-picture propagandist, what is commonly called a publicist, for a few bands and one open mic night at a New York bar on the Lower East Side.  I succeeded in achieving some publicity in a few local newspapers (which I am pretty proud of), but I realized shortly that I was always mediocre as a publicity propagandist at best.  I have always understood the whys of propaganda better than those who practice it, but the how was always elusive.  When I decided to return to school for a master’s degree, I toyed with the idea of an MBA in Marketing for a quick minute until I looked into the propaganda bookcase and saw nothing but sociologists or practitioners influenced by sociologists. Marketing would have also bored me to tears.

And so I arrived at sociology and I arrive at Music and Propaganda as driving research interest.  I suspect that this driving research interest will be fine-tuned in the near future, but I would like to dig a little deeper into how musical artists, independent of labels (or signed to a label so small there is no advertising propaganda budget), use propaganda to promote themselves to sell “merch,” promote themselves as artists, and promote a series of shows, whether local, regional, national, or international.  It is independent artists that I am interested in,  and so it is small group propaganda that is still the most applicable.

Baby Baby at Atlanta’s Drunken Unicorn, October 2011

Baby Baby at Atlanta’s Drunken Unicorn, October 2011

Who I am as a sociologist is, by turns, a complex question, as well as one that will never be fully defined as I continue to evolve year by year, learning and researching people and their environments from the simple to the complex.  How and why I arrived at this present destination is also complex, but it is also may be a little simpler to answer.

People and their environments have always fascinated me.  History was a favorite subject in public school as I studied what was assigned and attempted to study what school didn’t teach from its unbalanced perspective of the United States as a victor in a series of national conquests where I looked for connections to my family’s history in the founding of California.  My grandmother filled me with stories of her life and the lives of my grandfather and their children, and the stories were always colourful, which may be why I love telling stories myself.  It was always easy to ask why and receive an answer receive and intelligent answer from my grandmother.  It is still a habit, and it fuels my love of research and inquiry.

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And there is still more, some popular and some early seminal punk.  We begin with Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry. As always, if you find or write any worthy of consideration, send them my way, and we may get to a few more additions and editions of these.

 

Don Henley:  Dirty Laundry

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While Erving Goffman expanded the scope and study of sociology to face-to-face interactions between individuals and small group gatherings, little has been said of the application of those ideas to propaganda on a personal level.  I will argue that Goffman’s study of frame analysis and impression management apply to propaganda of various types that he may not have considered, including the propaganda that occurs in public relations, advertising, marketing (terms that are used to avoid any negative connotation described below), “traditional” political propaganda, and “pure” personal propaganda (that is, not related to or influenced by any of the above, though this rarely happens today), that influence the personal propaganda that takes place in face-to-face networking groups, collectives and cliques, and Internet social networks, bulletin boards, and forums..

In this analysis, the application of expectation states theory is particularly relevant where external status characteristics, including age, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, education, race, and ethnicity are the externally created status differences that “determine the power-prestige order of the group whether or not the initial status differences are relevant to the group’s task.”  (Berger, et al:  149).  In every group or gathering, large, small, or Internet-based, these unspoken hierarchies exist, hierarchies that are based upon the above characteristics fueled and fed by culture, environment, and the reinforcement of generalities that allow us to distinguish ourselves from others, to separate ourselves from those that are different.  David Hume calls this general rules, the source of prejudice.

An Irishman cannot have with, and a Frenchman cannot have solidity, for which reason, tho’ the conversation of the former be visibly very agreeable, and of the latter very judicious, we have entertain’d such a prejudice against them, that they must be dunces or fops.  Human nature is very subject to errors of this kind. (Hume 2000:  99-100).

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Masculinities can be defined from a myriad of perspectives, and so I reaffirm here what has been an obvious fact of life all along and should probably be a truism, that there are as many definitions of masculinity as there are people populating the planet.  When the traditional cultural definition of masculinity contradicts what someone is, the way someone wants to be in their skin, and the way he or she feels most comfortable, there is a crisis of identity, and there is a crisis of culture.  The two will clash and the result will be either a compromise or a loss.

In the face of a wave of research and writing that I have come to call “the new theories of sexualities,” we can now see that men change (just like women) across time, space, and contexts.  Sexualities are never simple, biological facts, however much some people protest that they are.  Indeed for some commentators, “Sexuality is so diverse, confusing, and culturally informed that perhaps it is beyond any real understanding. (Kimmel, et al 2004:  180).

It is precisely at the point where multifaceted aspects of masculinity contradict the varied aspects of a culture or, truly, multiple cultures within a society that the contrast becomes intriguing.  This is no more evident than in the following films:  Y Tu Mama Tambien (directed by Alfonso Cuoron), Boy A (directed by John Crowley), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (directed by Tommy Lee Jones), and The Namesake (directed by Mira Nair).

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Neil LaBute’s In The Company of Men is described as black comedy.  In some twisted universe, perhaps this is a comedy of a sort, but I see something else, perhaps several things.  This is an exploration of masculinity, yes, but it is also an exploration of stereotypical locker-room, hate-filled testosterone-filled masculinity, one that describes men as animals, perhaps lions, that exist only to kill or be killed whether it is to take advantage of other men in a corporate jungle that they consider weak or vulnerable or to take advantage of women whom they consider vulnerable, weak, and easily impressionable.  It is the manifestation of the worst kind of social Darwinism become all too real.

In this pack, Chad is the dominant leader and Howard is the follower. Howard is actually the one who may have some justification for feeling wronged by an ex-girlfriend. However, this does not excuse him for failing to think for himself and following the party line that all women are interested in taking advantage of men to make men look like fools.  But Chad has no perceivable excuse for such behavior except his adherence to the code of kill or be killed.  This is something that he learned from home, from school, or his environment.  Given his “god-like” physical appearance, this may even be something he learned that he was expected to do as he was growing up from others around him.

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Ma Vie En Rose, directed by Alain Berliner, is a Belgium film produced in France.  While this film is obviously in French, the surrounding set design embodies an “American” look and feel for most of the film.  The characters also appear to be atypically “American” in their extreme negative reactions to Ludovic’s realization that he is not a boy but a girl, in effect a transgendered female. While this would appear to be a stereotypical suburb in the United States as well as a reaction to a family member’s transgendered dilemma that could be considered stereotypical, the obverse is also stereotypically true of French culture as it is considered to be more open, sexually.  This is not necessarily the social landscape everywhere in each country, I just note that this is what immediately stood out against Ludovic’s innocent dilemma and realization of being in the wrong body.

Much of the film’s characters spend their time reacting violently, at least emotionally, to Ludovic’s matter of fact realization that he is not a boy but a girl.  Ludovic spends most of the film acting out his life as if it was perfectly natural to be a girl.  When his family, the school authorities, and the neighbors interfere in his attempts to prove his femininity, he is naturally hurt.  Though rather quiet to most people, he expresses his innermost desires to his older sister and Jerome, though neither seems to really understand that he is a girl in a boy’s body.

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Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee, is a simple and complex love story between two people.   It is simple because it has also been called a straightforward gay love story as well as a bisexual love story.  While those points of view are valid on some level, this is a complex love story, because labeling it as something other than an intense love story between two people torn by the complexities of their personal lives, their commitments, and their sometimes conflicted sexuality cheapens that story for voyeuristic mass consumption.  Yes, the sex is an important part of their romantic relationship, as it is to any romantic relationship, but it is only a part of that romantic relationship.

Jack and Ennis meet innocently enough, herding sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain.  It is a beautiful place filled with sweeping, lonely, rolling feminine hills inviting both into her warmth, even in the cold of the winter. Loneliness is something that they also bring to the mountain and while they seem to fight themselves to stay one step ahead of this loneliness, it and their emotions overtake them one night and they find themselves together entangled in a physical embrace that quickly turns to sexual intercourse that Ennis at first devalues as,  “This is a one shot thing we got goin’ on here,” implying that their relationship only serves a physical and sexual need but not a romantic one.  To reinforce that fact, Ennis does not kiss Jack during this first encounter.

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The documentary Murderball, directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, is raw, visceral, violent, and beautiful.  It is a story of a multi-dimensional masculinity and humanity told from several points of view.  It embodies the expression, “in your face,” in that neither the filmmakers nor the subjects feel inclined to leave most topics related to their masculine sexuality or disability unspoken.  In that sense, Murderball is like an unrepentant New Yorker who will tell you what s/he thinks whether you like it or not.

Some of the apparent masculinity on screen is seemingly quiet, peaceable, and not typical masculinity as it is defined in the context of Western stereotypes where masculinity is define as exhibiting tendencies towards violence and domination. (Connell 1995: 67).  Granted, most of the masculinity on screen is aggression-driven as an outlet for lives that one would not ordinarily associate with aggression: the disabled.   And this in itself may be another form of masculinity that defies the stereotyped prejudice for disabled individuals, especially disabled men.

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Tommy Lee Jones’ The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada begins as a story of honour between close friends and quickly devolves into multiple perspectives of an archetypal quest for masculine redemption and second chances.  For Pete Perkins, the rancher and Melquiades’ best friend, Belmont, the local sheriff, and Norton, the border patrolman, each quest is slightly different.  And in some ways each character and quest could be viewed as different facets of the same personality.

For Belmont, this is a quest for his version of manhood, one that doesn’t question his authority, one that allows him to be his whining himself, slightly feminine.  He would rather keep that femininity and his authoritative role unchallenged and unquestioned.  Instead, his role in his questioned at every turn, especially when he defiantlyburies Melquiades the second time against the rules of Pete’s quest to honour the last wishes of his close friend and to exact revenge on the man that murdered him.  Belmont’s impotence manifests his frustration with his role as a challenged authority.  Rachel, in this instance, acts as the sheltering and comforting masculine figure that he can whine to without reprisal, with complete understanding, however ironic her position as the wife of the local diner owner or her apparent apathy.

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John Crowley’s Boy A tests our perceptions of social acceptance of a boy/young man  (Eric/Jack) in arrested masculine development who has had few opportunities to properly mature outside of a prison/youth detention culture for fifteen years.  Crowley contrasts this vis a vis Jack’s male co-workers and the masculinity of his girlfriend Michelle’s romantic advances as well as that of Philip, Eric’s young friend.  And while the character of a culture is not as obvious as it is in a culture that is seemingly “foreign” to us individually, each story has a self-enclosed culture that must be studied in context to determine the cues that indicate its masculine and feminine norms.

Until Philip arrives, Eric really has no role models to emulate, given that his parents are not emotionally present and he seems extremely shy, exhibiting a side that seems at once awkward, confused and sensitive which could be read as feminine to some of the bigger bullies in the advanced grades. When Philip arrives to defend him, he is at once grateful and proceeds to mimic those actions, actions that eventually get him into trouble.  Still, he seems passive about what will happen to him once he is locked up.

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From the outset, director Alfonso Cuaron tests and questions collective sexual mores and taboos in Y Tu Mama Tamabien, forcing us to question, forcing us to think, forcing us to reevaluate.  Full frontal nudity confronts us almost before the opening credits have finished.  And given that graphic violence in U.S. media is an accepted norm but full frontal nudity for anyone, especially male genitalia, is not, gives us pause to consider which is the more harmful or hypcritical.

From a cultural standpoint, the camaraderie is similar to the European and Italian of my childhood and heritage where hugging, touching, and kissing on both cheeks between family and friends, male or female, is accepted and expected while certain men still exhibit what is stereotypically referred to as a macho mask separate from this social and very public affection.

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At the point I wrote this passage, I was convinced that the subject of propaganda was one which I might be unable to introduce to my academic general public.  While I believe that academia is better suited to accept the word on its own terms, I still observe more than subtle indications that the word is looked upon as a negative, at least a virulent in the United States.  I will continue to use it in my studies but I will remain very aware of this general bias in the term that overtly and covertly influence. (Note 1 January 2013).

 

“It is illusory to think that a well propagated ‘clear idea’ enters diverse consciousnesses with the same ‘organizing’ effects of widespread clarity.  It is an ‘enlightenment’ error.  The ability of the professional intellectual skillfully to combine induction and deduction, to generalize, to infer, to transport, from one sphere to another a criterion of discrimination, adapting it to new conditions, etc. is a ‘specialty’ not endowed by ‘common sense.'”

–Antonio Gramsci (1992, p. 128)1

 

Most people have an immediate aversion  to oppositional politics and other discourse they do not agree with.  This view simplistically presupposes that *Bad People* use lies to persuade/influence/indoctrinate *Good People* that those lies are in fact the truth.  But what is this exactly?  It is cultural conditioning by any another name.  We see this in:

  • Propaganda and it’s children:
  • Public Relations
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Promotions
  • Politics/Government
  • Other Influencers

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At the point I wrote this passage, I was convinced that the subject of propaganda was one which I might be unable to introduce to my academic general public.  While I believe that academia is better suited to accept the word on its own terms, I still observe more than subtle indications that the word is looked upon as a negative, at least in the United States.  I will continue to use it in my studies but I will remain very aware of this general bias in the term that overtly and covertly influence. (Note 1 January 2013).

Look around you.  Everything you see and hear, feel and maybe fear is cultural conditioning.  But it is relative like everything else, and we all don’t see it the same way. Cultural conditioning has a different meaning for each of us.  To properly explain our direction, a few common definitions are necessary.

Cultural Conditioning, also known as enculturation, is “the process by which a person learns the requirements of the culture by which he or she is surrounded, and acquires values and behaviours that are appropriate or necessary in that culture. As part of this process, the influences, which limit, direct, or shape the individual (whether deliberately or not), include parents, other adults, and peers. If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.”1

It is the values and behaviours that we are primarily concerned with here.  However, I would add “and other influencers,” because these other influencers influence us more than the above personal and localized influences.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb, condition, is defined as, “to teach or accustom (a person or animal) to adopt certain habits, attitudes, standards, etc.; to establish a conditioned reflex or response in.”2

Cultural conditioning and conditioning in general are so commonplace and common, yet so misunderstood, that they are unseen or unnoticed by the general public bombarded by conditioning stimuli on a daily basis.  Our analysis will include the following subject matter:

  • A brief discussion of cultural conditioning versus truth.
  • The conditioning formula and how it is applied generally.
  • The general principles of conditioning.
  • Those principles as they relate to public opinion.
  • Those principles as they relate to Symbols, Colours, and Music.
  • Propaganda as it relates to all of the above

I encourage you to freely and constructively question and reply to any statements or questions raised herein because cultural conditioning will not be exhausted with any “complete” tome I ever attempt to write. Your observations and questions will contribute to the overall refining of the subject into an analysis of one specific aspect.

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1. (Anonymous (nd). Encluturation. Wikipedia.  Retrieved 30 May 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enculturation).

2. (Condition. 1997.  The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed. [CD-ROM].  Oxford: Oxford University Press.)