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Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for March, 2010

Global Warming’s PR Problem

Posted by prof e on March 31, 2010

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but global warming (aka climate change) is a divisive issue. Amongst scientific theories it ranks right up there with the origin of human life as a topic on which scientists, and non-scientists, hold strongly to contrasting positions. Global warming evangelists, think Al Gore, have made a career espousing the dire consequences of ignoring the obvious fact that the earth is getting warmer. Melting polar ice caps and the resulting inundation of coastal regions, increasingly violent weather, and the inability of the world to feed itself are just a few of the consequences of standing by while the earth as we know it self-destructs.

One the other side are a few climatologists who are skeptical not so much of the gradual warming of the earth but of the causes of the warming. They also question the apocalyptic tone of those who are leading the charge to do something now to change our course.

But the bigger problem (in the eyes of Al Gore and friends) may be the growing skepticism of the American public about the claims of global warming. Why are American’s so skeptical about something that is very complex and difficult to understand? Perhaps it is the perception that those advocating for programs to address global warming are motivated by political concerns. Recent cap and trade legislation has been pushed by democratic members of congress but appears to be stalled by a lack of Republican support in the Senate.

Skepticism can also be tied to recent revelations of cover-ups, manipulation of data, and other unethical behavior on the part of global warming advocates. The release of incriminating emails and other documents suggests that even climatologists can be compromised when they commit to a position before all the evidence is in.

A recent article in the NY Times suggests yet another reason for a skeptical public. Meteorologists, aka weather forecasters, are frequently speaking out in opposition to the climate scientists’ dire predictions of global warming. According to the Times,

A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weather-casters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.”More than a quarter of the weather-casters in the survey agreed with the statement “Global warming is a scam,” the researchers found.

Since local news weather forecasters are often seen as a credible source of information about weather-related issues, this difference between climate scientists and meteorologists poses a serious PR problem for those who want to convince the public that not only is global warming real, but that steps need to be taken now to avert disaster in the future.


Posted in media effects, politics, research | 18 Comments »

What Have We Become?

Posted by prof e on March 24, 2010

Sociologists, psychologists and others who study popular culture have been lamenting the decline of civil discourse for decades. Recent events have brought to light disturbing behavior that will, once again, become fodder for those of us who wonder about the role that media plays in the coarsening of communication.

First up, a text message exchange that led to the brutal beating of a 15-year-old female middle school student in Florida. According to the Washington Post, a 15-year-old male is being charged with premeditated attempted murder of his 15-year-old victim after repeatedly punching and stomping her with steel-toed boots. The boy’s 13-year-old girlfriend is being charged as an accomplice for pointing out the victim. This was necessary because the accused had never met his victim before the assault. But they HAD exchanged text messages in which the victim voiced disapproval of the relationship between the two accused teens. According to reports, the text exchange may have also included a reference to the fact that the boy’s older brother had recently committed suicide.

This past week has also seen passage of historic domestic legislation that will have enormous consequence for future generations. As Vice President Joe Biden exclaimed on live TV,  it’s a “big f***ing deal.” The Health Care Reform Bill passed by congress and signed into law by President Obama has been hotly debated and continues to generate strong passions on the part of supporters and those who oppose the bill. Some of those who oppose the bill have been accused of yelling racial epitaphs at members of congress and spitting on one member. ABC News has reported that the name calling on twitter has degenerated into calls for Obama’s assassination. According to ABC,

Another Twitter user who called himself THHEE_JAY and was identified as Jay Martin, tweeted “You Should be Assassinated!! @Barack Obama.”

Martin, who is black, followed his tweet, writing “If I lived in DC. I’d shoot him myself. Dead f***ing serious.”

Both of these instances offer sad commentary on the current state of human nature. But they also highlight the somewhat frightening tendency for online communication to quickly degenerate into exchanges that cross the line of what is acceptable in other contexts. If and when online conversations spill over into real-life actions we reap the tragic consequences.

Posted in 1st amendment, media effects, politics, regulation | 15 Comments »

Reality TV Heroes and Villains

Posted by prof e on March 18, 2010

The MCCNM faculty have been attending and presenting at an academic conference each year for the past several years. The conference is an annual meeting of the Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, or SISSI for short. Each year the conference organizers select a theme, and people from across the country and around the world travel to Colorado to present and discuss topics related to the theme. This year the theme was the Image of the Hero in Society, and as a department we decided to write papers about the image of the hero in the mass media. The title of my presentation, Reality TV Pseudo-Heroes and Villains: Moral Compromise and the Quest for Infamy, is a play on the name of the 20th season of the reality TV show Survivor: Heroes and Villains. The Cliff Notes version of my presentation is as follows.

  • Reality TV is a trends that is not going away. According to Nielsen, four of the top five regularly scheduled TV programs in 2009 were reality TV shows and according to TV Guide, the trend is continuing in 2010.
  • America’s obsession with reality TV programming has spawned a fascination with reality TV as a path to fame and fortune, at any cost. Problems arise when we, as a society, fail to differentiate between heroism and celebrity. We diminish the value of heroic acts and we place celebrity on a pedestal where it becomes the ultimate goal but has no correlation to achievement. Many years before reality TV burst on the scene, Daniel Boorstin understood the problem. He wrote, “…the electronic hero is famous simply for appearing on or in the media, not for any intrinsic qualities.”
  • Recent events in the news suggest that the lure of instant celebrity offered by reality TV leads to some pretty despicable behavior. For example, the Heenes (parents of Balloon Boy) and the Salahis (Whitehouse party crashers).
  • Those who become reality TV “stars” demonstrate similar failure to possess anything remotely resembling heroic character. Take Jon Gosselin, Octomom Nadya Suleman, disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blogojevich (on this season’s Celebrity Apprentice), and the entire cast of Jersey Shore. Seriously, take them, take them all…please!

In the presentation I spoke of research that a colleague and I had conducted. We surveyed approximately 530 students from five colleges and universities in the US and Canada We found that the number one reason for college students’ choosing to watch reality TV is perceived “personal identification with real characters”…the sense that the people on the small screen were just like them. From there it becomes pretty easy to image yourself in their shoes, with all the fame and fortune that accompanies the role. Pretty soon you’re trying out for American Idol or thinking about how great it would be if you could be a contestant on the next installment of Real World.

In conclusion, the very same qualities that help us identify with reality TV stars is what makes them so appealing to us. The fact that we can see ourselves in their shoes, if only for that one lucky break, is what keeps us coming back for more. The capitalist myth that anyone can be successful, famous, and wealthy has run its course and is now made evident by celebrity heroes who, through luck and discovery (being in the right place at the right time) have made it to the big time. Reality TV stars are precisely appealing because we all believe that we could be just as famous/rich/happy/etc. as that person on the screen because they  really are no different than us. Think about it…who doesn’t know somebody, who knows somebody, who tried out for American Idol. Unlike the Hollywood stars of yesteryear, today’s reality TV stars did not fall to earth from some celestial orbit…they came from just down the street.

Posted in research, tv | 11 Comments »

Why Don’t Millennials Read?

Posted by prof e on March 10, 2010

The publishing industry is facing some daunting facts about the reading habits of Millennials–i.e., people born during the decades of the 1980s and 90s. The fact is, they don’t care much for reading. While reading books and other literature has been steadily dropping for all age groups, the drop has been most pronounced for this particular demographic. My colleagues at CSU-Pueblo and at other colleges and universities are worried that text books and academic journals will no longer hold the importance that they once held for the transmission of information and knowledge from one generation to the next. An anonymous survey of students in my Media & Society class, midway through the semester, indicated that students had read, on average, about 34% of the assigned reading. Is this cause for alarm, or is it just the new reality that we must simply accept and move on?

Before you answer, consider the perspective offered by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University. In the book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, Bauerlein argues that the distractions of the internet age make it especially difficult for teens and young adults to focus on the kind of knowledge that is critical to the sustenance of democratic society. Without foundational understanding of history and the arts and a working knowledge of the world of politics, economics, and science, young people will be unable to participate in, and contribute to, the advance of civilization. And how is most of this knowledge and understanding acquired?…by reading books and other documents that wrestle with these weighty issues. This is not the kind of information that one gains by perusing Wikipedia or by skimming the Cliff Notes versions of classic texts. And it is certainly not the type of conversation that happens in MySpace or on Facebook.

Okay, I’m sure that I’ve pushed more than a few of your buttons. Tell me what you think and why I shouldn’t join Bauerlein in his pessimistic assessment of the next generation.

Posted in media effects, new media, print | 36 Comments »