Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Asian Stereotypes

In Hall’s article “The Whites of Their Eyes” he talks about how African Americans are portrayed stereotypically in the media, and this is no different from the way Asian Americans are portrayed in the media. Asian Americans still do not have very substantial roles in movies and are often portrayed as smart, geeky, comical characters with terrible English accents. The Asians that are chosen for roles also often look stereotypically Asian and are short, petite and have very small eyes when in reality not all Asians embody these traits-not all Asians have small eyes and not all Asians speak bad English, especially assimilated Asians.

This stereotype is prevalent in movies dating back to the 1960s such as in Breakfast at Tiffanys, where Mickey Rooney is cast to play the role of an Asian. He is clearly not Asian but his skin has obviously been painted yellow and in this clip he stumbles about clumsily making silly incoherent noises and talks in terrible, grammatically incorrect English. He says, “You disturb-uh me” instead of “you’re disturbing me”, the “uh” is added after disturb to emphasize his bad accent. The clip of it is here: 

Almost fifty years later, this Asian stereotype is still being used in movies such as The Hangover, where the only Asian in this movie is once again short, comical, has small eyes and whose English is quite poor. Here is a promo pic for the movie, and the words “You mess with the wrong guy” already pokes fun at bad Asian accents. His stance, large sunglasses and leather jacket also make him look quite comical.

In this film Ken Jeong plays Mr. Chow (another typical Asian name. Asians in American movies are almost always given the name Wang, Chen, Chan, Lee or Chow)

I remember in class someone asked why minorities would want to play such demeaning roles, such as in the Sky Vodka advertisement where the Asian girl was clearly meant to portray a submissive character; and I wonder the same thing about the Asians who willingly play such demeaning roles in these films. Are they aware of it? Do they just think it's comical or are they that desperate to act in movies that they don't mind poking fun of their own race?

Furthermore, the fact that people have this ideological image of Asians embedded in their minds can be seen during the Beijing olympics when the Spanish basketball team imitated Asians by doing this: 


In this commercial, Starburst has distorted the asian stereotype that we've always been so used to seeing on TV and film, but at the same time, it has reinforced the Scottish stereotype. The commercial takes the audience by surprise at first because, I think it's safe to say, this is the first time a Korean Scot has been portrayed on the media, not to say that they don't exist (which this commercial is misleadingly doing) however, by portraying the Scottish side of the characters with kilted costumes and bagpipes, the Scottish stereotype is being strengthened. Along with giving us representations of the social world in general, media "construct for us a definition of what race is understood to be. They help to classify out the world in terms of the categories of race" (Hall, 20). By conveying that the entire asian race can't fall under the category of being Scottish, this commercial is reinforcing our previous assumptions and outlooks on how asians look and behave. Why couldn't Korean parents move to Scotland and have children and raise them there? This is an excellent example of how our unquestioned assumptions enable racist statemets to be formulated without ever bringing into awareness the racist predicates on which the statements are grounded" (20).

Ideology created by media

According to "The Whites Of Their Eyes" by Stuart Hall, the media is not the only source of the ideological idea of race, but it is here that "these ideas are articulated, worked on, transformed, and elaborated." (Hall, 20) Below is a clear example of how the media portrays different races (Mexicans and Americans) and their interaction which each other, which in turn creates an ideology that is accepted by the public as a realistic reality. (This commercial kind of illustrates the races to an extreme)
The product being sold is Burger King's Texican, which in itself is a product "brought together by destiny" that was criticized as something that "would never work."
Inferential racism can be directly inferred from the underlying concept which is much more then the merger of a hamburger. It is symbolic of the rocky history between Mexicans and Americans, and perhaps voices its hopes that they can put aside their differences.
The commercial stereotypes Mexicans by representing them with a small man in a Luchador costume. (The voice over also said that the burger has 'a little spicy Mexican' referring to the spiciness in the Texican burger, but indirectly refers to the actual Luchador) Where he lacks, in terms of the disadvantage he has because of his size when trying to reach the top shelf, the rugged Texan cowboy (very stereotypical, as well) is there to help, and vice versa. They are depicted as the perfect roommates, regardless of their cultural differences.
If not questioned, this commercial has the power to create a cultural ideology of Mexicans and Texans that is nothing than a stereotype.

Chris Tucker: The Black "Entertainer"

Stuart Hall suggested in his academic piece, “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,” that racism, in today’s culture, is natural or inferential. He explained that black actors are limited to specific roles in television and movies according to today’s ideologies. One of these roles, the “clown” or “entertainer,” is embodied in the character played by black actor, Chris Tucker, in the Rush Hour film series.

Throughout the movie, Chris Tucker’s character is goofy and entertaining so as to not be taken seriously at all. This is especially lucid as he is placed next to his asian partner, Jackie Chan, whose character is skilled, calm and smart. In fact, the writers exploited the contrast of these two characters and racial groups to compose sharp one-liners. A few examples from Rush Hour 3 include:

-Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker): Come on, Crouching Tiger! Don’t you hide that dragon!

-Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker): You can’t be black. There’s a height requirement.

-Master Yu: May I help you?

Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker): I’ll be asking the questions old man. Who are you?

Master Yu: Yu.

Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker): No, not me. You.

Master Yu: Yes, I’m Yu.

Detective James Carter (Tucker): Are you deaf?


Excerpts such as these show Tucker as an ignorant goofball who cannot be taken seriously, affirming Hall’s position that black actors are portrayed as “clowns” and “entertainers” to fit our ideological beliefs.

Pick your car, mate :)

OK.... so we are all aware of the fact that the commercials we see on TV are basically the same. How many of us are simply tired of seeing commercials that try to achieve exactly the same as the other commercials advertising a similar product? I know I am. The idea for this blog actually came to me when I was reading White's article. Mimi White said one very important thing that made me realize how deeply mesmerized by the commercials we as the audience really are. As one of the biggest assumptions regarding TV commercials, White describes the fact that even though many commercials advertise the same common merchandise, "they vary in (...) how they structure their appeal to potential consumers" (p.162). So... even though we've seen thousands of commercials trying to sell the best dish washing detergent for example, it greatly varies in their approach (while one shows the cute animals being cleaned out of the oil spill, another simply focuses on how great it makes the women's hand feel). But the most important aspect of this part of media is, however, the fact that we as consumers aren't fully aware of these differences between commercials, because they seem so natural to us, that we do not even realize when the same item is sold by simply placing a different brand name on the merchandise.

So I wanted to look at the car commercials that we've seen on TV. Car seems like the most common item there could be. But the way the producers advertise their cars is by putting a different brand (in this case, a make) name on the car, and trying to show the amazing qualities this specific car possesses that make it different, and thus better from the other cars.

So here are couple of different car ads that show how the same item (car) is advertised in different ways by presenting its distinct qualities.

Audi Commercial
(better than the Lexus that everybody seems to be getting; you get an Audi, and you're different and unique from the rest of car owners).

Mazda Commercial
(it is so much better than "any other car" that even the car races choose Mazda as their leading car that will bring them to victory).

Lexus Commercial
("The Pursuit of Perfection"- this car is simply perfect).

Toyota Commercial
(This new generation Prius is the greatest, because it is environmentally friendly, bringing the "harmony" between men and cars).

Dodge Commercial
(This Dodge is not a lot of things, and it doesn't have many 'valued' aspects, but it "scares the **** out of" Pinky, and that's why it is the best choice- it is simply unbelievable).

No deal, Howie!

Games shows, Mimi White says, "dramatize the consumerist ethic that underwrites so much of television by offering structured and formulaic arenas for competition, often with the goal of winning lavish prizes" (177). It's true; these days, game shows are all about having a contestant win up to a million dollars. There are shows like Who Jeopardy! or Cash Cab, where one needs to know trivia knowledge to win. Then there's Deal or No Deal that requires NO skill. You just have to have luck, have to be gutsy, and you need "serendipity" (178).

You should watch this ridiculous round:

See how tense you get, watching the game progress? The suspense and possibility of winning "sustains a viewer's pleasure while that person is... mentally participating in the play, or rooting for a particular contestant" (178). To add to the unreal amount of luck you need, you have to be quite desperate to think that $100,000 isn't good enough when you have a [teeny tiny] chance of winning ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Howie will convince you, if the cheering audience doesn't. The "ideological approach to game shows.. aims at an understanding of the underlying narrative logic and patterns that structure the games," where we wonder if how much skill it takes to win the reward(179). So we stay tuned to find out, even if that means watching one guy pick 26 numbers in a span of 60 minutes, not to mention the 26 models.

Racist Ideologies seen in Rush Hour

Ideologies produce different forms of social consciousness. White's reading introduces one of the most common ideologies about gender. He states, "little boys like playing rough games; little girls, however, are full of sugar and spice." This quote refers to gender ideology because it describes how masculinity and femininity have not only been historically and culturally constructed in our society, but also in Nature itself.
This is a distinct parallel to the ideologies of racism because, like gender, "racism is one of the most profoundly naturalized of existing ideologies" (Hall 19). Through the media, we have social constructions of what race is, what the meaning of the imagery of race carries, and what the "problem of race" is understood to be. This is what makes ideology so powerful- because sources like media get ahold of an ideology and just run with it. They constantly repeat it and they sell it the only way how: through advertisements, in print stories, and even in film.
Take the film, Rush Hour. This film has been constantly critiqued as being "racist." Many viewers think Chris Tucker's jokes and Jackie Chan's submissive attitude are pure social constructions of a black and asian man. Here's a clip from Rush Hour 2 of the two of them walking into an Asian club scene. Chan advises Tucker to "try to blend in" and Tucker comes back at him with "What do you mean blend in- I'm 2 ft taller than everyone in here!" This highlights the racial ideology that all Asians are short.

Alike in this Rush Hour 3 clip, Carter questions a French speaking Asian..and the Asian calls him a "n word" and Carter responds back by calling his mother the "h word," however Jackie Chan has to step in and remind Carter that whore is spelled with a "w," highlighing the racial ideology that Asians are much smarter than Blacks.

Cagney and Lacey

Cagney and Lacey, a show about two female police officers, aired from 1982-1988. In White's article about television and ideology, she claims that the show allows for a variety of feminist and domestic voices, but circumscribes them within acceptable images of women by using "conventional visual strategies of representing women."

The show isn't on Hulu, but I found this clip on YouTube:

In the clip, Mary Beth (woman in red) has been shot, and goes to psychological counseling to deal with it. Her partner, Christine (in suit with scarf) joins her so they can discuss their issues as a partnership. How does this clip reinforce traditional images of women? How does it resist it? How might this be interpreted by different audiences?

The Ideologies of (ABC) Family

In the article, "Ideological Analysis and Television" by Mimi White, White looks at television through the analytical eye of ideological criticism, exposing the intricacies in writing, producing, financing and even watching television. White states that when we sit down to watch television, we are sitting with the notion that we will be entertained (p 172.) The events that appear on the screen in front of us is not something we critically analyze (under usual circumstances), but rather something we just accept as "they way things are" in that particular situation. White reveals that while a "variety of perspectives and topics [are] expressed in a show, [they] are ultimately contained by dominant conventions and norms" (p 192). This can be seen in the relatively new ABC Family show, The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
The show revolves around the main character, a 15 year old girl, getting pregnant after having a one-night stand at summer camp. While you might think that even the mention of a teenager getting pregnant on television, much less a whole tv show centered around it, is fairly progressive for basic cable, the show is written and produced by Brenda Hampton (aka the woman who brought us the lovable god-fearing uber-family featured on 7th Heaven). So of course after this 15 year old girl gets pregnant, the subject of abortion is brought up for about 5 seconds before being completely ignored. The rest of the season revolves around her decision of whether she should keep the baby or put it up for adoption -- surprise, surprise, she keeps it. While Mimi White does speak of the ideological problematic and how it recognizes that there is not one specific ideology that permeates all of television/media, this specific outcome does seem to be more dominant than its alternatives. Other examples of television's (unwanted) pregnancies with little to no discussion of abortion include: Friends, Lost, Desperate Housewives, and 90210. In all of these series, different perspectives or solutions may be discussed but the solution is almost always the same. The woman who is faced with a pregnancy at a troublesome point in her life must birth the child and usually, keep it as her own. Thus, the dominant ideological view that abortion is not acceptable is naturalized by keeping the discussion to a minimum or writing it off completely.

Woogie Boogie

In "The Whites of Their Eyes…," Hall refers to ideology as: "images, concepts, and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand, and "make sense" of some aspect of social existence." Every individual has his or her own ideologies, however, they're all linked--one's ideologies interact with each other. Further, they're most effective when we're unaware of their interaction, as they "produce representations of the social world." A cable news network like Fox News includes a high percentage of conservative / pro-Republican stories, because it comes naturally to them--that's just following in the ideologies of everyone at the station. This ties into inferential racism, where "racist statements [are] formulated without ever bringing into awareness the racist predicates on which the statements are grounded." Few people (especially in our community) would openly admit to being racist, but it's also much easier to say that when you're the dominant race--everyone carries beliefs and biases about race. While everyone might not truly be racist, they certainly are racialist, and take it into consideration (even subconsciously).

Hegemony, where these ideologies are taken into account, and used to give a group dominance over another, can frequently be used in mass media. This may be in commercials or television shows, but hegemony frequently permeates the news as well. Investigative journalism shows like 60 Minutes and Dateline carry legitimacy, but also certainly suffer from bias, and occasionally, hegemony. Writers only want to deal with certain issues, and reporters of a certain race or gender are used to illicit different responses from the subjects (and audience).

In the early days of Chappelle's Show, Dave Chappelle produced a BRILLIANT look at race through the eyes of investigative journalism. This segment features Dave as a successful white supremacist author--the catch being that he's blind, and totally unaware of the fact that he's black.

Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled on this clip, but it can be seen at the following link:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hegemony and the Media

The media today mediates what we know and see as reality. Many may have the belief that the media is solely reflective of our society, but in my opinion it very much dictates and constructs our reality. It is through the representations in the media of our culture, our society that we see the concepts of age, gender, race and more. Within our reality exists ideology. This system of beliefs and values are showcased through the media and hegemony is greatly present for it is the way the dominant or those in power maintain the control over their influence. This maintanence is promoted through the media. James Lull reveals that "mass media are tools that ruling elites use to "perpetuate their power, wealth, and status [by popularizing] their own philosophy, culture and morality," (62). In reference to hegemony, he notes that those "owners and mangers of media industries can produce and reproduce the content, inflections and tones of ideas favorable to them far more easily than other social groups because they manage key socializing institutions, thereby guaranteeing that their points of view are constantly and attractively cast into the public area," (62). Some ideologies that are put into place by our media include the importance to be slim with beauty ads. However, today there are ads that are trying to counteract these ideologies and in the beauty example we have ads such as the Dove campaigns to show "real" and "average" woman and showcase their beauty.
The example that I have chosen to showcase ideologies and hegemony is a SONY PSP ad that was put up on a billboard in Amsterdam and on the Dutch SONY website back in 2006. These ads having heavy racial ideologies built in. Here, the image is supposed to represent the new, white PSP coming out. From the images we see that the "white PSP" is stronger, fiercer, and stylish. The slogan attached to the billboard is "White is coming." If this isn't racial implications, I don't know what is. It depicts the "black PSP" as being weak and inferior to the "new white" one. This presents the racial ideas that the white race is the superior race. There is a picture where we see the "black PSP" fighting back and it being on top of the "white PSP," but the representation is still mostly represented by the white "winning."

The images for the post were found at:

Textual Poaching through T-Shirts

I am going to be honest; I am not quite familiar with the current phenomenon of the Twilight movies. However, I am not blind to the amount of cultural products that were generated by this series. One thing that comes to mind is the whole “Team Edward” (the vampire) and “Team Jacob” (the werewolf) t-shirts. This reminds me of textual poaching as defined by Michel de Certeau, where “viewers of popular culture can ‘inhabit’ that text by negotiating meanings through it and creating new cultural products in response to it, making it their own” (76). Despite the frenzy created by Robert Patterson, each individual viewer can choice to identify with either the vampire or the werewolf. In doing so, they want to response to others that dislike their “team”—whether vampire or werewolf—and so they where these t-shirts, which are quite personal items. They make this fictional text their own by responding and declaring to the world which “team” they are on.

If I remember correctly, these t-shirts were first made popular by These t-shirts were generated out of the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie fallout. By wearing these t-shirts, viewers can response to the controversy as they take a personal stance for either team. That was a few years ago, but I think Perez is still selling these t-shirts with team names for other controversial stories in celebrity gossip.

T-Shirt for the Jon & Kate (for the show Jon & Kate Plus 8) controversy:

From the Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez controversy, where Miley Cyrus made fun of Selen Gomez on Youtube:

The beginning of the end of high and low culture

In the land of La Blogotheque, a Parisian-based music weblog, long gone are the days of glittery music videos with extensive dance numbers and special effects. The videos posted on La Blogotheque's website and Youtube channel are bits of raw footage of musicians performing in makeshift locations in Paris, such as a hallway, the sidewalk along the Seine River, or on a a random bench. The quality of these videos, also known as "Take Away Shows" are not much higher then that of my own digital camera. Some of the shots are shaky and the background is filled with noise from the daily bustle of the streets of Paris. Regardless of the quality, these videos deliver exactly what we want from musicians: talent. 
La Blogothque is a perfect example of Sturken and Cartwright's notion that "high and low culture have been rendered meaningless." (p. 87) In contrast to the expensive and much more "glamorous" music videos made today, the economic and non-cutting-edge technology used in these "Take away shows" are "previously a signifier of a counter cultural status" that are now becoming much more popular. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Junk Food Tees: A Representation of Kitsch

Donned by everyone from Britney Spears to Jennifer Aniston, Junk Food tees are a great example of the concept of kitsch. The tee shirt company made its break through roughly a few years ago by placing retro images of snack foods, cartoon characters and rock and roll bands. The company became wildly successful by charging as much as 50 dollars for a faded throwback t-shirt. The retro symbols and logos that were placed on the t-shirts were clearly “given new value over time precisely because they had become iconic artifacts of a past era,” (57) as Sturken and Cartwright explained.

As I sit here criticizing the concept of a poor quality t-shirt glorifying a Twinkie wrapper, I remember the Junk Food tee purchase that I made a few summers ago and realize that I’m no better than the rest of them. The light blue t-shirt with Cookie Monster’s face in the center and the phrase, “Me Want Cookies” on the back jumps in to my mind along with the $45.00 receipt showing my proof of purchase. It was so cool and I had to have it. The shirt acted as a salute to my past and a representation of how something that was once low brow can be desired by high taste.

Cultural production through Facebook Bumper Stickers

On Facebook, there is an application that allows people to create and send "bumper stickers" to friends. These bumper stickers can be displayed on your profile. On the surface, many people use the Bumper Sticker application to simply spice up their profiles and give their friends a laugh. However, it can be argued that this aspect of Facebook serves as an expression of cultural production through textual poaching, political criticism, and image sharing.

According to Sturken and Cartwright, textual poaching allows fans of TV shows, books, movies, bands, etc. to create their own interpretations: " that they "make do" with the original popular culture texts yet use them to make new kinds of scenarios that depend on original texts for their new meanings" (p. 84). The rise of the Internet only propelled this movement, as it became easier for fans to connect and to share their work. The Bumper Sticker application is a great example of this. For instance, the text in this image creates a new meaning from a scene featured in the Harry Potter series. Reworked, this now pays homage to the Twilight series.

Facebook's Bumper Sticker allows for "amateurs" to create and distribute images involving cultural and political commentary without having to have a professional background or spend lots of money.

Images can also be circulated and displayed by users in order to express themselves. "Users are increasingly deploying images to define their public profiles and construct their identities" (p. 85). The bumper sticker below is likely displayed by Facebook users that want their conservative values to be intertwined with their online lives.

Overall, the Internet has become a tool for lesser known artists to express their creativity. More specifically, social networking websites such as Facebook and YouTube make it easier for individuals to produce and share their own culture texts. People are able to create and recreate their own interpretations of images and other elements of popular culture, and display it for others to see. The Internet is continually shaping and changing cultural interaction. "...culture is not a set of obects that are valued in some way but a set of processes through which meaning is constantly made and remade throught the interactions of objects and peoples".

Postscript To Institutional Critique

In the 35 years since the introduction of the term "institutional critique" the inner workings of the art world have been examined and exploited to the point of redundancy. While this popular practice has not necessarily led to more transparent dealings it certainly represents a critical shift in the theoretical discourse that brought art history into the new millenia. But as evident by the waining proclivity towards that kind of introspective interrogation, the institutions governing art are no longer of interest as theoretical fodder for artists.

Though interest in the mechanisms of the art world has largely dissipated, the system of critical inquiry employed by so call "institutional critics" is still very much alive in this generation of artists and activists. However, the institutions of interest to artists working today are fundamentally different both in scope and application.

Largely indebted to activist (and hacktivist) art movements of the last 30 years, the new generation of artists working under the guise of institutional critique seek not, as there predecessors, to merely expose their oppressors but to engage in a dialogue with them; to subvert in a way that is not purely symbolic (and in this sense they fall in closer with neo-dadaist and situationist traditions of detournment) to use the logic of the system against itself.

Artists like Jill Magid (who tap into closed circuit television systems) and activist groups like The Center for Applied Autonomy (who create cellphone applications for mob communication) work not simply to inform but to defeat oppressive institutions.

Appropriation: Creating Filipino Humor

Question: What does a Filipino-American do when he/she visits their home country, where the dollar is equivalent to fifty pesos?
Answer: Shop! Oh, and reunite with loved ones.

The last time I was in the Philippines, I went to 34567876543 malls taking advantage of the dollar-peso rate exchange. While reading the appropriation section of Chapter 2, I immediately remembered the time when I was walking through one of the malls and seeing one of the stands that sold T-shirts with various worldwide logos recreated to make Filipino humor.

Below are just some of the examples that I remembered:

I remember thinking that, upon seeing these, the makers were so clever! My dad even got a kick out of it and his sense of humor is pretty weird.

I'm sure you all know about appropriation and what it means and I'm sure that I won't be the only one that is going to blog about it so I'm not going to bother quoting directly from the book.
Ugh, ok fine. The right column of Filipino humor images, according to Sturken and Cartwright, change "the meaning of cultural products, slogans, images, or elements of fashion," and in this case, familiar logos that are universally known (59).

Know that logo?

This week's reading of the "Practices of Looking" textbook, gave us a lot of insight into how do media try to incorporate the messages within their ads, as well as how are these messages perceived by the audiences.

In the most cases, "a viewer's direct and complete engagement with the image producers' intended messages may be the goal of the producer" (p.51). The producers try to create ads that appeal to either specific groups of people, who share common beliefs and ideals, and who will easily understand the hidden messages. Other times, the producers might simply try to be neutral, and try to reach as wide the range of viewers as possible.
But a lot of times, the producers try to create the ads in such a way as to create an effect of interpellation. "To be interpellated by an image, then, is to know that the image is meant for me to understand, even if I feel that my understanding is unique or goes against the grain of a meaning that seems to have been intended" (p.50). The Neutrogena ID commercial posted by one of our classmates is a perfect example of such an ad, because it directly addresses the viewer by constant repetition of the word "YOU."

But the most fascinating aspect of this week's reading, for me at least, was the section towards the end of the chapter, when we le
arned that the audience can also be a producer of meaning. It is important to understand, that "the viewer who makes meaning, does so not only through describing an experience with images, but also through reordering, redisplaying, and reusing images in a new and differently meaningful ways in the reordering of everyday life" (p.89). When I read this part, I immediately thought of those funny T-shirts that display the well0known logos, but reordered and reused in such a way as to convey a different message. Most of these remade logos use the same font as the original logo, thus making it so much easier for the audiences to recognize the play of words. Some of these remade logos are offensive, some are funny, and some simply stand as a commentary about the original logo. But in either situation, it is the primary audience member, the viewer, who takes the original logo, and remakes it in such a way as to create his/her own meaning of it, thus becoming the producer.

Here are couple of funny logos t
hat I pulled off of the Google Image Search engine.

The play on Coca-Cola ad:

The play on the Dell logo:

The play on the AIG logo:
The play on the got milk? campaign:

The play on the FedEx logo:
The play on the McDonald's logo:

Whatever the case, the audience becomes the producer of the new meaning. Whatever the meaning symbolizes for him- either a commentary on the original product, a funny remake of the original logo, or the use of a well-known logo for marketing purposes- the viewer becomes the producer, creating his own meaning that in turn, can also be interpreted in many different ways by the other viewers. And so, the cycle continues.

Most Wanted/Unwanted Songs

In Chapter 2, Sturken and Cartwright mention a project by Komar and Melamid to find the "most wanted" and "most unwanted" paintings in different regions, and I just wanted to alert everyone that they did the same thing with music! And the results are pretty amazing.

According to Komar and Melamid about 72% of the world is supposed to like the most wanted song, while only 200 people in the entire world would warm up to the most unwanted.

What is so interesting is that nothing in the "most wanted" song is anything close to the pop charts of when this was made. Sure, it has elements (synths, lyrics about love, a catchy melody) that make up a pop song, but it obviously didn't become popular. It seems outdated, and really cheesy to everyone I've shown it too. However, and this is discussed in the reading as well, I come from a pretty privileged background, and most of my friends have "high class" taste. The common taste is predominantly fueled by lower-class ideology who would hate most of the pretentious crap I listen to anyway. Does anyone here like it? If so, why? Is anyone one of the 200 who likes the most unwanted?! The discordant part with the orgain in the middle is pretty cool, eh?

Just for you

In this week's reading of Chapter 2 in Practices of Looking we read about interpellation and how advertisements and products try to speak to the viewer on a personal level. Well, Neutrogena seems to be doing just that with their new skin care line skin iD.
The website states that "skin iD is the first personalized acne solution clinically proven to stop 85% of emerging breakouts because it customized to specifically treat your skincare needs. Unlike other acne treatments, skin iD offers a comprehensive skin evaluation, and exclusive product line and an interactive Web site to treat acne needs on a individual basis. With more than 25 customized acne skincare regimens that cleanse, treat and protect for clear, beautiful skin" (
By advertising for personalized skin care Neutrogena is actively trying to reach out to the consumer and show they care specifically for you. The questionnaire/evaluation on the website is really nothing more than a few simple questions asking if your skin is dry or oily, and the personalized regimen and products they suggest are most likely randomly generated, but Neutrogena is still effectively marketing their new line as individualized by allowing the consumer to interact with the company, either over the phone or the computer. Below is one of the commercials for skin iD:

The commercial purposely emphasizes the words, not the same, you, different and personalized continuously throughout the ad. They've also chosen a non-threatening, girl next door/ everywoman type as their spokeswomen to make you feel even more connected to the product. Sturken and Cartwright wrote that "advertising seeks to interpellate viewer-consumers in constructing them within the "you of the ad" (p.50). Neutrogena take it one step farther by making not just the ads but the actual product all about "you".


Last night was the season 8 premiere of Family Guy, and the episode was called "Road to the Multiverse" where Stewie and Brian travel through alternate universes. It was hilarious and brilliant, so if you have time, you should watch it all, but there was one part that was my favorite..

Stewie and Brian in the Disney universe! It's very Disney.. the big eyes, the outlining/colors, their movements, and not to mention the song about having a pie..

The episode also references the Flintsons, Robot Chicken/Seth Green (also in the clip), the Sistine chapel, and a lot more... I thought it was appropriate to mention for the intertextual references in addition to Alice's post on the Simpsons.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flawed or Flawless?

If there's one thing I learned from Sturken & Cartwright this week it's thatimages generate meanings. However, “the meanings of a media image do not always lie in the hands of the people producing them, but rather how they are interpreted, or encoded, by the audience critiquing, or decoding them.” (Sturken & Cartwright). Social standards and context play a huge role on how the viewers interpret the image, which is why we have to pay careful attention to where and what exactly is placed in an ad.

Ideally, the goals of an advertising company wants its viewers to look at their image and understand the message they initially wanted to portray, however that’s not always the case. Take this Dove ad for example, this ad was pulled straight from an issue of Seventeen magazine, and it was placed there as a part of Dove’s new campaign for “real beauty.”

In this case, this ad is leaving the interpretation up to the audience. It specifically asks, “is beautiful skin only ever spotless?” Clearly, the ‘ideal woman’ according to social standards of society is a tall, white, tan, usually blonde, thin woman with perfectly clear skin. This woman, however, exhibits very opposite qualities. Most specifically, she has freckles covering her entire body. This is not the typical woman we see on the center of a beauty ad, however, Dove is doing this to make you think. Obviously, the intended message Dove’s ad is trying to get across is that women who are tall, thin, and blonde etc are not the only kind of women who are beautiful, and it wants to encourage all the other women who see this ad to think that way. However, I feel that the fact that is gives readers a CHOICE to agree that she looks “flawless,” instead of possibly “flawed” puts the idea into their head that she could look flawed, because she does not look like society’s typical beautiful woman. I feel like the ad would be more convincing if it only stated “Flawless.” with a period after the word and did not make it a question. This woman is confident, she is clearly comfortable in front of the camera because she is looking at it with pride in her eyes, her body is up straight with her shoulder’s back, and she is somewhat smiling/smirking, all connoting that she believes in what she stands for, and that is looking beautiful although she looks different. I think that the idea that she could possibly look “flawed” is a flaw in the meaning intended for this ad. Although, I do think it’s a great campaign and that Dove has every right to try to chance society’s beliefs that there is more to beauty than the ideal American woman.

All in all, “viewers have their own particular set of cultural associations with them, which will affect their individual interpretation of an image,” In this case, it's a great idea to change these cultural images society seems to be obsessed with. However, I think Dove should erase any feelings of "flaw" before introducing someone who they want to portray as "flawless." Given the choice, I hope society embraces this woman and jumps on the bandwagon to agree that she, too, is beautiful.

Different Values Make For a Richer World

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking back with Caroline from the Met, and along the way to our usual pit stop at Pinkberry, we passed by an HSBC bank with this poster advertisement on the bank's window.We got to talking about more HSBC ads that Caroline was familiar with which made me curious to look up some more and these are some good ones that I came across (thanks for the idea, Caroline!) The HSBC advertising campaign is skilled and effective at using the "negotiated reading" technique, in which they usually display an image, three times, all identical and completely unchanged except for the text that is written across or under it. Take this example for instance: 

Misfortune, Obligation, Temptation
To some, a homeless wallet, laying out in public is seen as someone's misfortune. For others, it is looked at as their obligation to return it to its owner, or (which is I think how most of us would feel) it is viewed as a temptation to steal it. Just by changing the text that accompanies an image, you can completely alter its meaning and how the audience interprets that image. Here's another one:

Fate, Fear, Fairy Tale

Style, Soldier, Survivor

So, the next two ads I posted, I came across on the internet and the source that I received it from claims that it is in fact an official HSBC poster ad, but for some reason, I have a hard time believing this. None the less, even if it is someone poking fun at their advertising technique, it still accurately displays what HSBC bank is trying to accomplish. I think this one is my favorite:

Fun, Modern, Small Woman

Nice, Mean, I am allergic to it

Sure, these are all very well done ads (maybe the cat one isn't at professional, but I still got a few laughs out of it) but what does it mean? Caroline and I tried to answer the question of "what is message is HSBC trying to send out to its audience through these advertisements?" and the best we could come up with is that they want to show their understanding that everyone carries a different outlook on life and that no matter what your ideologies or views are, HSBC will be there to help you with your finances, whether you want to save up money for a new car in order to drive all 5 of your children to soccer practice or because you want to win back your ex-girlfriend with that new hot rod of yours.

Crocs, Mary-Kate and Ashley

Like Doc Martens, ripped jeans and blue-collar work gear, Crocs managed to find its way onto the fashion scene despite it’s seemingly unlikely ability to. Thanks to youth subcultures who distinguish themselves from mainstream culture by piecing together various pieces of clothing that in turn cause its original meaning to be altered, Crocs managed to take off.  Crocs were originally created for boating and fishing, but became immensely popular with the “funky, laid-back, I-care-more-about-comfort-than-looks,” subculture. “Many young people assert their defiance of mainstream culture specifically by developing styles that do not conform to the ‘good taste’ of mainstream culture” (Practices of Looking, 79), and Crocs is definitely an example of this. These shoes definitely defy society’s standards of high fashion, as socially acceptable shoes are often beautiful, high heeled, narrow but highly uncomfortable giving your feet, ankles and back intense pain. Crocs, on the other hand, offer comfort but are bulky, wide, huge, flat.

Distinctions between subculture fashion and mainstream fashion are definitely becoming increasingly blurred; Crocs, which once started out as a niche market has now been appropriated by mainstream fashion. They have come up with various styles, including flats and heels and have even made shoe accessories, known as ibbitz, which are personalized pins that are meant to be stuck in the holes in the front of the shoes.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are examples of people who definitely have their own subculture. Even though Mary-Kate and Ashley are filthy rich celebrities perfectly capable of affording beautiful clothes, they defy society’s expectations and piece together grungy clothes in a way that actually makes them look almost homeless. “For participants in fashion subcultures, the remaking of style through appropriation of historical objects and images can be a political statement about class, ethnic, and cultural identity” (pg. 79). By creating this certain sense of style, Mary Kate and Ashley are not conforming to the “good taste” of mainstream culture even though they are perfectly able to, proving that celebrities do not have to always look a certain way and splurge on designer pieces. However, their style has attracted an exuberant amount of attention and they now actually have their own clothing line, again showing that subculture fashion is hard to distinguish from  mainstream fashion. 

Consumed for the Culture/Lifestyle or Simply Popularity?

As we have seen through the years in our culture, fashion has tended to reflect different subcultures such as hip-hop and latino. However, today brands in subcultures such as Sean Jean, Rocawear and more have reached incredible success, are becoming more and more competitive, but also have grown in popularity. I have to wonder if there is a slight part of the popularity factor due to the faces and the names associated with these brands. For example, Rocawear is owned by Jay-Z. Jay-Z is probably one of the most well known rappers/entertainer i
the music industry. Not only is he known for his musical talent, he is also known for his high profile relationship to music sensation Beyonce. His clothing line, Rocawear best known for its urban asthetic and hip-hop style, has grossed huge sales and is only growing among our culture. Recently, Ciara, a hip-hop, RnB singer has been the face of the line. Then you have P.Diddy as the face of Sean John. He goes above and beyond and is constantly marketing his clothing line, his musical ventures, his television shows, and more with any chance he can get. But I do believe a large part of the success is that his face is associated with the brand and that it does capture the culture well. So how much of the success is from their marketing and their promotion and how much of the success is the underlying knowledge of who owns the line, and who's the face of the line? Does this have a heavier impact/influence than we think? Do we take advantage of this and just acknowledge it as common sense? According to the reading, "Distinctions between subculture fashion and mainstream fashion have become increasingly blurred,"... "Many hip-hop stars have become fashion designers themselves, creating brands that market a range of styles that would otherwise be coded as upper-class fashion,"... "they form new kinds of negotiations over cultural forms and power," (82, Cartwright, Sturken). Clearly brands of subcultures such as Rocawear and Sean John have now become apart of mainstream fashion and in my opinion, I think it helps that the owner and much of the face of the label are the leaders of the hip-hop industry. I agree that this creates a new set of negotiations over cultural forms and power. This really demonstrates how influential culture can be and this incorporates all aspects of it: music, lifestyle, fashion, even the face of the brand etc. It all goes into a brand. It also gives meaning to the fact that class distinctions are being redefined everyday and what was once low class or a poorer class, has risen to new statuses.

(Pictures from Google Images)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Where's the WD40?

To Bourdieu, a habitus is a set of dispositions and preferences we share as social subjects that are related to class position, education, and social standing (60). It doesn't take a genius to figure out how and why ad agencies would want to play into such a theory--relating a product to a certain desired status can be incredibly effective. The consumer (ideally) will associate the product, and purchasing it, with whatever positive class, level of education, or social standing (s)he desires.

The recent Svedka vodka campaign has done an excellent job of playing into this theory. Setting the timeline in the future (2033), the "femme bot" Svedka girl is placed next to a series of controversial captions, like: "The Repornification Bill has restored Times Square to its old, sleazy self.", "the choice of the stem-cell baby boomer generation," and as pictured below, "make your next trophy wife 100% titanium."

Finally, in a futuristic font, we see the tagline: "Svedka, voted #1 vodka of 2033." It's not an incredibly highly regarded vodka at present--Svedka is classy booze to people with tiny budgets, but the ad suggests that it will be considered top shelf in the future. Further, the implication is that being a Svedka drinker now means that you're ahead of the times, and that in a number of years, others will join your level of intelligence for being ahead of the curve, and presumably you'll have a high social standing for being awesome before everyone else was merely a follower.

It's an interesting concept, and based on what I've casually observed at bars and parties in the past year, a successful one thus far.

Beauty ads

"My secret to beautiful skin? I swallow."

This is a Singapore-based skin care pill, Imedeen. The company actually withdrew the ad after controversy over the message which was trying to promote that their pill will "nourish your skin from within." When asked if she realized that the lines had a sexual innuendo, celebrity endorser Zoe Tay replied, "The concept was by the advertising agency, and I thought it was quite novel. I’m not sure why it is so unusual. It’s about tablets, and I swallow them."

Guys might get the message faster than women, but the product is targeted towards women and the creative team was actually two females. Interesting enough, compared to other countries, the US took the most offense to the ad. The Singapore audience found it provocative but not controversial. "People often see an image differently from how it is intended to be seen" because of the environment and culture which may have been the case in this ad (Sturken and Cartwright, 46).

This takes on a "negotiated reading" because the ads has several meanings to the viewer that might not line up with what was intended (57). The ad is sending all kinds of cultural meanings that differ according to the audience. Some people who like to tan might wonder who would want a skin-lightening solution. Some people whose minds are in the gutter might do a double-take and read it closer, wondering why the creators wanted to use a sexual innuendo. Some people might just see it as an ad for a good skin care pill, which to me is the obvious purpose. Does the point of view matter? Does it affect the potential consumers of their product?

I also wanted to share an ad created by appropriation which is "'borrowing' and changing the meaning of cultural products, slogans, images, or elements of fashion" (59). This is an ad from the Argentinian Head and Shoulders hair products.
While the painting itself may not have contained a symbolic message like The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa painting is famous for being itself. Using the Leonardo da Vinci painting, Head and Shoulders shows a clean scalp as a result of using their shampoos and conditioners. This creates a more amusing ad because it could have been any other model, showing her hair line, but instead we can quickly identify the artwork.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

OMG!! Hilarious!

I don't know if any of you have seen this video. It appeared on today, and I just cried when I watched it. This is beautiful and so funny! But it also shows that media definitely affects us since our earliest days. Enjoy!

Cinematic Truth and Curiously Strong Mints

For the last several years Altoids has been running highly-stylized print ads that draw on cinematic motifs of the 1950s and 1960s. Playing on the classic themes and situations of early films and television these retro-fit ads seem more absurd than nostalgic; a mode of production in which the denotations are alienated from their connotations, forcing them to negotiate the mechanisms of imagery. This is largely due to the lighting (which is cinematic) and the color (which is unnatural and clearly the result of post-production.)

The use of these "elements" not as subtle processes of design but as deliberate mechanisms of image production force us to consider the narrative "truth" of this image on several different levels and modes of reality. First there is the construction of a social myth (the tableau of a boy being caught masturbating by his mother), secondly there is the re-construction of a certain era or cultural sensibility (that being/ belonging to the 1950s and 60s) and lastly there is the appropriation of these two modes by the advertising industry for use in another context entirely.


One of last summer’s blockerbusters was Cloverfield. A reason why it was so popular is because of the unconventional way the film was shot. The movie was shot in each main characters’ first person point of view. The whole movie was suppose to mimic sequences of footage shot by a handheld recorder as the characters flee through Manhattan from the unknown creature that is attacking them. The movie was also edited for rhythm, each segment is pieced together, beginning and ending abruptly to mimic a footage of unedited, homemade video. Again, to make the film appear to have been recorded by characters experiencing madness and escaping from peril, most of the movie is shot in tilting movements to imitate the characters running while filming. The movie mostly takes place during the night, so for parts of the movie, the lighting and color (green in quality) mimic the “night vision” function of most handheld recorders. Furthermore, the movie is filled with many nonliteral sounds that are usually edited out in most movies. The scratchy sounds of the shuffling of the camera, the “ding” sound of pressing the “record” button and the whipping sound of wind as the characters run around all contribute to the unconventional effects of this movie.

Here is a trailer of the movie: