Pop Culture – Who Holds the Key?

Stemming from class discussions and the work of Castells, the growth of convergence culture and mass self-communication sites enables individuals (such as our class) to be an integral part of shaping the popular culture, seen on the television, online, and distributed across the globe.

As media has adapted from the radio and television to the Internet, an intermixing of platforms has occurred. Labeled as the process of convergence culture, media conglomerates give viewers the chance to interact with media content on multiple platforms, often times with an overlap of content. Enabling this “multitasking” through multimodal communication (Castells 132-134), media provide additional opportunities to consumers to express their preferences about the content. Giving viewers this ‘agency’ to produce user-content directed towards the media, viewers can share their interpretations of the decoded messages as well as interact with other viewers whom are decoding similar messages. Convergence culture, particularly through the integration of online participatory websites, sets up this “culture of sharing” (Castells 126). Engaged in this online ‘sharing environment’ viewers or audiences can exchange decoded messages and contend with the uni-directional messages spread by the media conglomerates. The result … “the rise of interactive production of meaning.” (Castells 132) Or as Castells labels it the creative audience, wherein all audiences participating in mass communication environment remix their cultures to synthesize a shared culture.

So … as audiences interact with one another, exchanging messages, contesting messages in the media, and so forth, the creative audience empowered by the convergence culture becomes an integral factor of determining the future culture. These environments media conglomerates open the doors to a “culture of co-production of content.”(Castells 126) The now ‘active’ audience whom provides responses, interpretations, and suggestions via online participatory sites, influence the production of media conglomerates. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and so forth allow audiences to express their preferences toward media content and influence the current production of culture. Although the media conglomerates still control the final product, the outgrowth of online participation sites through convergence culture allows audiences to dictate what it will do, be, and look like. Thanks to these technology, us, the students of SIS 640 could determine the next craze!


instagram Just like Instagram has made it’s mark on in our world!

Social Media and the SOCIAL MOVEMENT

In almost every class we have discussed some aspect of the Arab Spring and the role that both networks and social media have played. Recently, we mentioned an article in class that discusses how those outside of the Arab countries, rather than the activists inside were using social media more in order to heighten what came to be the Arab Spring. Now, it might be true that Egyptians and others used social media to strategically mobilize the masses, but it was the outsiders that truly brought attention to the issue.

The Lim article from this week, “Clicks, Cabs and Coffee Houses: Social Media and Oppositional Movements in Egypt, 2004-2011,” mentions how Social Media is used as a technology and a space for “expanding and sustaining networks” that these social movements depend on. I believe this parallels directly to the current crisis in Syria.

A Syrian activist, whose name will remain undisclosed, recently mentioned that if it weren’t for the citizen journalists on the ground and social media websites, the Syrian revolution would have ended a while ago. The citizen journalists give the “outsiders” something to talk about and things to re-post/publish based on what they see on their newsfeed. Without the citizen journalists, the outsiders would not have much to say to the world—the networks of networks (thanks, Castells).

Not only does this Social Media activism speak against Al Assad, but also motivates outside international powers to do what they are doing, whether they are doing something or not (social media used to inform policy makers).  Just like Lim mentions, we should clarify that social media may not have started these revolutions, but have nonetheless facilitated and empowered their message and ultimate goal.  The users from outside of Syria are using social media (i.s. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs) to “influence how activists form and shape the social movement[s],“ rather than just using social media as “neutral tools to be used or adopted by social movements.” However, it’s the intermodality that really gets ‘the show on the road.’ Lim defines intermodality as “the overlapping of networks of various media” and says that this is essential in order mobilize the masses beyond the Internet. In other words, it’s important to use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs and more in order to reach a larger audience to truly motivate a social movement (241). This was not the case for Egypt, who since 2009 gathered followers on a Facebook page, but it was the additional use of blogs and Twitter that truly helped mobilize the masses. On the other hand, Syrian activists admit that they have been using various forms of social media at once which has most definitely empowered the movement. In all, these networks and social media do in fact play an imperative role in the revolution, particularly in Syria as they continue using several social media mediums to better depict the crisis.  

¿Who’s the real Latina?

In recent weeks, Disney has received a wave of scathing criticism for the portrayal of its newest royal. The announcement of Princess Sophia as Disney’s first Latina princess by Jamie Mitchell, Disney’s executive producer, has caused an explosive stir in the Latino community. Intense criticism regarding the princess’ proposed identity, mainly expressed via social media networks, has caused Disney to recant its initial announcement of Sophia as the first Latina princess in favor of her being a “mixed-heritage” princess.

What caused an entertainment giant to change the identity of a fictional character? Short answer: People tweeted and Disney listened. Long version? Sophia doesn’t look like a typical Latina. But what does a “typical” Latina look like and if such a person exists, can she be packaged for an audience in a racially obsessive nation? (Let’s hold off on that one, we’ll come back to it). The Latino community’s frustration with the new princess is largely attributed to her fair complexion, blue eyes, and auburn hair. Individuals have used their tweets and statuses to express their rejection of Princess Sophia’s proposed Latina identity. Below are a few examples of popular tweets:

“Disappointment: Disney unveils first Latina princess who DOESN’T look like the vast majority of Latinas. #fail #latism”

“Is it me, or does Disney’s first Latina princess look… white?”

“She don’t look very Laaatinnnna. She look white.”

“She’s about as Latina as Mitt Romney is Mexican. #Fail”

“Most of us Latinas have tint our skin if you’re going to make a #Latina Disney Princess make her more relatable to our race”

In light of the growing frustration, a few questions come to mind. Did Disney miscalculate their packaging of the world’s first Latina princess? Is this an example of the opposition between globalization and identification as described by Manuel Castells? I submit that the backlash received by the company indicates a gross miscalculation in its packaging of Sophia. Although the world is moving into an era of cultural globalization, the power of individual cultural identity has not waned. Disney has received few—if any—praise for showcasing Sophia’s multicultural heritage. In fact, the lack of overt cultural identification, now identifying Sophia as a “mixed-heritage” princess rather than Latina, has also earned the company sharp criticism. If nothing else, this illustrates the aforementioned case made by Castells as it affirms the difficulty of packaging cultural products due to the opposition between globalization and identification. Whether it’s global or local, individual identity still matters which means packaging does too.

Now let’s go back to the first question: What does a “typical” Latina look like and if she exists, can her identity be packaged for an audience in a racially obsessive nation (yes, racially-obsessive)? It’s important to recognize that America is not a post-racial society and whether we like it or not, race still matters. It’s also crucial to acknowledge the racial and ethnic diversity of minority groups living in this nation (e.g., not all black people are African-Americans) rather than throwing them into one group for the sake of being politically correct.

Most scholars who study race and ethnicity in the Americas would affirm that 1) the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic”, as used by individuals living in the U.S, identify a cultural group rather than a racial or ethnic group, and 2) Latin America’s model of racial categorization is much more expansive than the United States’ binary model of race (i.e. you’re either black, white, or—depending on where you live—somewhere in the middle). With that said, I submit that there is no “typical” Latina. Latinos come in all beautiful shapes, sizes and colors. Given the huge racial and ethnic diversity of Latinos, someone will—unfortunately—get left out when the official Latina princess is presented. Why? Because some Latinas look like Sophia (especially in Argentina, Chile, or Uruguay) and others look like Disney’s Tiana (true in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, and even Puerto Rico) and believe it or not, a few even look like Mulan (e.g. the daughter of Peru’s former president, Señor Alberto Fujimori).

¿Entonces, who do you say the real Latina is?

Well which one are you talking about? Cosmopolitan or Cosmopolitanism

The subject heading may be a bit misleading, considering it’s the same word, with a different ending. Yet, this word Cosmopolitanism … takes on new meanings when applied to International Communications studies. As defined by Merriam – Webster online:

Cosmopolitan (adj): 1. having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing, 2. having wide international sophistication : worldly, 3. composed of person, constituents, or elements from all or many parts of the world.

Or if you follow Macmillan’s Definition:

Cosmopolitan (adj) : showing the influence of many different countries and cultures, a. used about a place where people from many different countries and cultures live, b. used about someone who has travelled a lot and know about different societies and cultures

In this light, cosmopolitan illustrates individuals or cities who are worldly, sophisticated, knowing a lot about the diverse cultures of the world or a center with individuals from around the globe. Cosmopolitan in this sense evokes the feelings of being a global citizen. (Just as one of my group members discusses in her blog post). Facilitated by the growth of the internet and social media, people can access information from around the globe and communicate with one another from different points on the globe. Furthermore, ease of travel makes it possible for individuals to pick up and move around the globe, setting up via points or new home bases. (Gaby discusses this issue more in terms of access and internet & social media proliferating cosmopolitan identities.)

Yet, cosmopolitanism as defined by Manuel Castells in Communication Power, explores a new configuration of global citizenry . As applied to the global media system, cosmopolitanism is “the project of sharing collective values on a planetary scale and thereby building a human community that transcends boundaries and specificity” (Castells 120). The aim of cosmopolitanism is to “construct a global public sphere around shared values of global citizenship” (Castells 123). While Castells incorporates these ideas of being a global citizen, cognizant of multiple cultures, he extends the definition to capture those individuals around the world sharing collective values. He further elaborates that the global media system, particularly news networks, brings cultures and countries together to disseminate shared values. In our team project we are currently looking at this as it applies to Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on The Travel Channel. Blog posts, forums, and Facebook help viewers from around the world to interact and shared their collective love (or hatred) of Anthony and the show.

So how can the same word (just with an added suffix) take on distinct applications? While cosmopolitan applies to cities and individuals with worldly populations or knowledge, respectively, cosmopolitanism speaks to the shared values among individuals around the globe. While it is possible to say cosmopolitans are part of cosmopolitanism, potentially sharing their worldly values; these words help us to understand the influences of globalization. Yes, the words evoke different meanings, yet they help to clarify the increasing global world we live in, encouraging us to connect with those that possess similar values and know more about the diverse cultures around the globe.


Ay, Dios Mio! Can’t We All Relate? Telenovelas & Canned Programming

“The mechanism at work here points to an understanding of the telenovela as a combination of universally-appealing elements (the rags-to-riches theme, and the melodramatic and humorous story lines) with customizable specifics (the characters, and physical, relational, and social settings). Waisbord, in explaining the growing global popularity of television formats as opposed to sales of canned original programming, classifies formats as “culturally specific, but nationally neutral.” In other words, the blank format contains cultural values at the broadest and most archetypal of levels, which are then customizable at the national level” (205-206). -Jade Miller, “Ugly Betty goes global: Global networks of localized content in the telenovela industry”

Jade Miller argues in her article that one of the main reasons that telenovelas are so globally popular is because of the universal archetypes. In other words, viewers can identify with the characters or the plots in the stories in “canned programming” (without remaking). For example, a Manila restaurant worker can identify with the troubles Marimar goes through, despite an obvious “cultural” difference (the Mexican telenovela Marimar is about a poor girl who falls in love with a wealthy young man who teaches her to read and write despite the disapproval of his parents). With that being said, Miller argues that “canned telenovelas” (those that are imported as original programs that are dubbed or with subtitles) compared to those that are remade to fit cultural formats can also achieve customizable specifics (the characters, physical, relational and social setting) without having to re-do the telenovela entirely.

Mexico often reformats telenovelas with localized content, La Fea Mas Bella, being a prime example of this. While Mexico always includes a rags-to-riches story, there are other standardized specifics that are possibly portrayed differently: Catholic religion/priest, working class family, wealthy family, deception, and sometimes even historical or colonial settings that cannot be imported. Of course, we should also mention that Mexico often reformats telenovelas because Televisa is one of the most well recognized and highly successful production companies. (Note: Something interesting about all telenovelas is that they reach and appeal to audiences of all social-economic classes. Telenovelas are one thing that all levels of Mexican society, for example, can talk about or relate to).

Another example of the telenovela phenomenon as canned exportation is that of the Venezuelan telenovela Kassandra. Exported to many countries, Kassandra was a particular hit in Syria. As the only Middle Eastern country to receive Kassandra (dubbed in the formal Arabic language), Syria embraced the 150-episode soap opera whole-heartedly. There were many reasons for its success, but one being that this was a new concept for Syria—it was exotic. At the same time, Kassandra is a compelling story about a Gypsy girl whose future in matrimony was promised at a young age. This soap opera brought the Syrian people together as many stopped during the day to watch the show. At the same time, products were branded and sold as Kassandra items (i.e. “Kassandra skirt” reflecting the gypsy skirt she wore. The same thing happened with jewelry, cars and more).

It’s apparent that while one may see telenovelas as exporting culture, the truth is that telenovelas often are prime examples of global networks of localized content.  


Armed with a Blog


On October 9th, the Taliban fired bullets into the skull and neck of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai.  Oppression and intolerance triggered their assault on Malala’s life. In 2009, she began writing a blog for BBC Urdu. Malala’s entries documented her daily struggles in a society that has obstructed her right to earn an education and live without fear of being harmed because of her gender. She advocated for girls’ education in the Swat Valley, which is in the northwest region of Pakistan. The Taliban has had control of this region since 2009 and have applied a strict interpretation of sharia law—the moral code and religious law of Islam—for all who live in the region.


Despite the Taliban’s rule, Malala was determined to shed light on the injustices that young girls endure in her town. As mentioned, her weapon of choice was a blog (i.e. social media).  With a couple of paragraphs per day, Malala welcomed the world into northwest Pakistan.

The following is an entry by Malala titled “I am afraid”:

“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.

 Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi with their families after this edict.

On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”

 By fighting back through her blog she gave the international community a glimpse into this reality. Her blog domestically challenged the Taliban’s legitimacy in the Swat Valley and has also encouraged others to resist their rule. For this reason, bullets were fired into her head and neck.  Their act of terror, however, has only spurred on Malala’s fight for freedom, gender equality, and education for all.  Her courage continues to bring awareness to the plight of young girls worldwide. Don’t doubt the impact that one brave girl, armed with a blog, can have. 



Fair use, who cares?!

Last week and also today we talked about copyrights, the fair(y) use of material and how copyrights are affecting the use of material other than your own.

In 2006, a new party was founded in Germany, named DIE PIRATEN (the Pirates). While they did not garner too much attention for years, things changed in late 2010. Suddenly, the party had found it’s voice (coinciding with the occupy movement) and demanded full transparency on the political process, the abolishment of intellectual property rights, and other before unheard of demands. The party organized itself online, opening its deliberations up for public online debate – everyone could participate and make suggestions or just be a silent reader.

2011 really was the year for the party. Membership skyrocketed and had there been country wide elections the party would have surpassed even well established parties. Surveys indicated that the Pirates most attracted young voters who wanted to see a change in the way secluded politics was run. However, with the soaring membership came problems. The volunteer party leadership had more than their hands full in organizing the crowds, setting agendas, planning campaigns, and discussing issues.

One ticket the party ran on was the abolishment of intellectual property rights. The party argued (though it is probably more correct to say individuals within the party argued as no formal party lines were established) that people download and used content anyways so why criminalize the massive amount of users? Artists and others creating the content in discussion argued vehemently for their rights to their ideas and their right to be paid for anyone using their creative results (songs, movies, books etc.).

In 2012 the party has seen a significant decline in membership and buzz around them. This is due to the lack of novelty (their transparency approach is now known, discussed, and “accepted as weird but normal”) but most importantly due to the inability of the party to organize itself in a meaningful and sustainable way. The Pirates still remain at that grassroot level democracy but cannot find a way to turn that democracy into one that is conducive to a productive political process.

On a side note, one of the very vocal advocates for no intellectual property rights has recently published a book. That book showed up as a copied version on several websites being available for free to the public (as intended by the party line). However, the author (and Pirate) sued the websites because she felt her copyright-rights were infringed and she does want others to pay for reading her work. It’s funny how the tables turn once you’re on the other side of things and realize that there is a (monetary) value that is attached to creative output.


Note: I tried to find some info on this in English. Once I have it, I will post the links in this article.