Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Advertisement & Consumption: Modern Day Ritual?

As time has passed, our focus has shifted from religion to consumption. Towns used to be centered around churches as the largest building-- now churches are centered around us, and massive office buildings dominate cityscapes. Religion has become more centered to our convenience than in the past and plays a lesser role. Is consumption/advertisement in some ways like a modern day secular ritual for Americans?

The purpose of religious rituals from an evolutionary standpoint was to help hold members of a group together. According to costly signaling theory, a ritual requires a set of costly behaviors that demonstrate the person has, essentially, genuinely bought in to the religion. The act of an individual performing ritual actions sends signals to other members about their adherence to the group, and their following of societal values. Rituals also re-enact a religion's mythologies, reinforcing the strength of the shared myth on the whole of the group.

How similar do you think consumption might be to ritual from this perspective?

Child-targeted ads build the foundation for consumption early in life, enforcing consumption as a set behavior and societal value. Not necessarily unlike religious instruction that would raise a person to live their lives in a socially-cohesive way. Also, buying a brand is like buying in to a set of mythology, as what may be what makes one product different from another (ex: Coke vs. Pepsi). Additionally, the costs of purchasing one type of product sends signals about themselves compared to others, as well.

While it appears advertisement/consumption has many similarities to religion, what do you think might be the comparison's limits? Do you think the difference between advertisement/consumption and religion might be degree, or is there something fundamentally different? Is religion especially distinct, or are all things just ideas?

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Americans See: the Biggest, Fastest, and Shiniest

Mr. O'Connor recently mentioned how the first images we see shape how we see the rest of the world. I read a really interesting article somewhat related to that, which talked about the differences between the way people perceive things/think in different parts of the world.

An experiment was done in which people in America and Japan were shown an animated underwater scene, much like a desktop screensaver (example), which featured one large fish that swam around among other, smaller fish, and other wildlife. They were then asked to describe the scene.

The Japanese subjects were way more likely to begin their description with the background, while Americans tended to comment on the largest fish first, and focus their attention on the biggest, fastest, or shiniest objects. In general, the Japanese subjects' ways of seeing things were more contextualized:

"Japanese subjects in the study made 70
percent more statements about aspects of
the background environment than Americans,
and twice as many statements about the relationships
between animate and inanimate objects"

Another difference between American and East Asian (Japanese & Korean) subjects was how they responded to contradiction.

"[When] presented with weaker arguments running
contrary to their own, Americans were likely to solidify their
opinions... clobbering the weaker arguments, and resolving
the threatened contradiction in their own minds. Asians,
however, were more likely to modify their own
position, acknowledging that even the weaker
arguments had some merit."

Overall, the studies suggested that while Americans tend to think in a more linear fashion and have a lower tolerance for contradictions, East Asians tend to have more ease seeing things in a more contextualized/holistic manner. It also shows that ways of perceiving images and thinking logically change from culture to culture. (There are some better explanations and more examples in the article.)

Where do you see these sorts of characteristics reflected in American culture?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fox News & The Stimulus

I wasn't originally going to blog about this, but I was flipping channels and became rather annoyed when I came upon Fox News to see they were doing a special on how the money from the stimulus is being wasted, in the form of a 102-item countdown.

While I can't say much with confidence about the stimulus, the news station clearly misrepresents what is funded by it. Sure, it's perfectly reasonable to suspect that funding to some areas is done out of political interests rather than need, as demonstrated by our reading about the construction of the Winnetka tracks. Analyzing funding in that way would be valuable for a popular news station to do. But I could probably present a more Fair & Balanced™ look at the stimulus package than Fox has tried to by just doing a google search.

In seconds, the viewer's attention is brought from one stimulus item to the next, and it all whirls together, giving them little time to think or ask questions about what's just been presented as "waste."

What is considered waste, exactly?

One of the items Fox host Hannity whizzes through is 1.7 million dollars towards researching pig odor.

What Hannity essentially says: Pig odor? Silly scientists, that sure sounds weird and useless, and it probably won't create jobs. Moving on...

Another thing Hannity criticizes is funds going towards raising a railroad track 18 inches, as it is not level with the main road, creating the need for drivers to take a detour around it.

Hannity basically says: How wasteful. Can't those drivers just drive around? Instead we're spending our tax payer dollars on this, *appeal to Americans' personal responsibility*.

Another complaint was that 25,000 dollars went to a puppet theater that produces socially-conscious shows.

Hannity: The theater is named after Che Guevara, so it must be bad.

For the first example, pig odor creates problems with air quality, which can lead to lawsuits by locals against farms. If this problem is solved by scientific research, farms and locals could coexist, and living conditions in small towns would improve. It might not be the most appropriate thing to have in the stimulus, which might be a valid point to make, but clearly it's not "waste," as it has a long-term payoffs for science, business, and peoples' quality of life.

The second example sounds wasteful, but raising the track will actually "create access to property where a developer wants to build a hotel and shopping center," which would create 100-200 jobs.

As for the third example, regardless of how the stimulus money may help the puppet theater, Hannity makes sure to imply that investment in the public arts is almost the equivalent of paying homage to socialism. He also considers art in general to be "waste," considering another criticism of his for a park spending money on putting in new sculptures.

Overall, it's really unclear what Hannity considers to be waste. Things that don't create jobs are waste, even when they're funding scientific research, education, improvement in the environment, improvement of infrastructure, or art. Meanwhile, things that do create jobs are wasteful, too. This leads me to believe that Hannity doesn't care what is or isn't wasteful spending, so long as it makes Obama look bad.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Are all voices heard?

"Language is... the means through which people make sense of their own experience, produce meaning, and act on the world... to ignore the role of language as a major force in shaping human identity is to... deny the life histories and experiences of the people who use it" (119).

In class it was mentioned that schools tend to value only what is quantified, and as a result quantifiable subjects are prioritized while other school programs, like art, get the boot. Another subject that can be victim to this is language education in general.

On standardized tests, the only language that is measured is Standard English, and pressure for schools to be "accountable" and do well on such tests has resulted in multicultural/bilingual education being pushed aside for exclusive emphasis on English. Other languages have no quantitative value, so there is less incentive for schools to focus on them in addition to English classes.

This causes problems for children who speak another language in the home. Language has strong ties to one's cultural identity and individual expression, and bilingual students often feel losses of self-worth, frustration, and anxiety when they are put under pressure to assimilate to English, as they are given what seems to be a choice between connection to their community and success in school. Like comparing appreciation for science to the arts, English is shown as more than a road to success-- it is instead portrayed as a more important language.

How importance is having linguistic diversity? On one hand, the loss of bilingual programs is hard for bilingual students. However, does multiculturalism, in some respects, just make it harder for Americans to communicate, as some would argue? Is it better to assimilate? What amount of assimilation should people from different ethnic backgrounds have to go through? How should English be portrayed in relation to other languages?