Online Misogyny & Trolling

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Gender identity and representation online is a topic that many may not have studied, but one that most of us are aware of as a result of our on online activity, whether it be playing ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ (2009) on Xbox live, watching music videos on YouTube or scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.

‘Gender order’ is defined as “the ways in which societies shape notions of masculinity and femininity into power relationships” (Macionis & Plummer, 2012: pp 390) and ‘gender roles’ as “learning and performing the socially accepted characteristics for a given sex” (Macionis & Plummer, 2012: pp 393). In this context, we can think of women operating in an online culture of misogyny and gendered abuse as victims of the ‘gender order’ and ‘gender roles’ that this overly masculine and ‘troll’-filled culture (Adams, 2011: pp 1) unjustifiably forces upon them – this role being a group of emotional, sensitive, unintelligent, subordinate and submissive women in an online world dominated by men who supposedly exert the traits of the intelligent, superior alpha male.

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The results of this culture is often seen through the “crude insults, aggressive threats and unstinting ridicule” (Thorpe & Rogers, 2011: pp 1), and in particular the signature “modus operandi of the attackers… the rape threat” (Thorpe & Rogers, 2011: pp 1), that many males in the online community use in order to establish dominance over women and their views. Many experts and online discussions cite that the psychological causes, motives and pleasures involved in a troll’s online behaviour include:
– “Attention and recognition, even if negative
– The emotional release of venting
– Power (the power to disrupt)
– Vandalism
– The thrill of breaking social conventions
– Sabotaging groups the troll dislikes
– Immaturity” (Fosdick, 2012: pp 1)

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to censor or prevent this kind of online gendered abuse against women whilst maintaining the level of freedom of expression that fuels the online success of a website or other media platform. Personally though, I love CollegeHumor’s satirical approach to squashing online misogyny and the abuse of women, which whilst being hilarious, also explicitly illustrates the truly horrific nature of the abuse of women online through its reversal of stereotypical online gender roles. However, in terms of finding effective short- and long-term strategies to addressing this issue, I highly doubt that feminists anywhere will be calling for this kind of ‘fight fire with fire’ stance. (Language warning, this video contains a tonne of explicit content!)

Reference List:
* Adams, T (2011), How the internet created an age of rage, The Guardian, London, pp 1
* Fosdick, H (2012), Why People Troll and How to Stop Them, Os News, osnews.com, pp 1
* Macionis, J.J, Plummer, K (2012), Sociology: A Global Introduction, 5th edition, Pearson, Harlow, pp 390, 393
* Thorpe, V & Rogers, R (2011), Women bloggers call for a stop to ‘hateful’ trolling by misogynistic men, The Guardian, London, pp 1
* West, J (2009), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Activision


Mash-Ups 101, Lesson 1: Learn the Four Chords

A ‘mash-up’ is defined as “… a musical track comprising the vocals of one recording placed over the instrumental backing of another” (Apple Dictionary, 2014). In recent decades remix culture and the art of creating popular mash-ups has burst up through the ranks and evolved into its own popular art form. This “explosion of mashup-style practices [brought about] by modern computing technologies” (Bruns A, 2010) has resulted in many interesting and varyingly successful mash-ups. One of the most popular and widely recognisable (and one of my personal favourites) of these is the The Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords’ (2009), which was first performed live at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2009 and in its five years on Youtube has racked up over 30 million views (random804, 2009).

However, whilst comical, entertaining and incredibly clever, mash-up works such as this raise very serious questions about copyright and intellectual property. Presently, the copyright principle of ‘Fair Use’ states that an artist is allowed to use small sections of copyrighted work without the permission of its original creators, who are still allowed the right to sue the creator of a mash-up if they interpret it as damaging or having too much of their copyrighted work in it (Stim, 2013: pp 1).

This copyright law then raises a rather interesting and complicated question: if the option to sue is there, why have none of the 67 artists whose works have been incorporated into various live and recorded versions of The Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords’ (2009) ever attempted to sue this band for using lyrics and/or melodies from their songs? Is it the popularity of this mash-up, the small nature of the segments that are included, the possibility that they’re scared to label this comedy band as ‘musical thieves’ and themselves as ‘victims of copyright abuse’, something entirely different or maybe a combination of them all? I guess thats something that we’ll probably never fully know, but for the sake of The Axis of Awesome and the popular music industry as a whole lets just hope that no one ever smacks a copyright label over the E major, B major, C# minor, A major chord progression! (The Axis of Awesome, 2009)

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Reference List:
* Apple Dictionary (2014), Mash-up
* The Axis of Awesome (2009), ‘Four Chords’, in Animal Vehicle, Axis of Awesome
* Bruns, A (2010), Distributed Creativity: Filesharing and Produsage, Springer, Wien, pp 1
* random804 (2009), Axis of Awesome: Four Chord Song, Youtube.com
* Stim, R (2013), Fair Use, Stanford University Press, pp 1


Pandora & Transmedia Narratives

“Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.” – Henry Jenkins (2007)

Today, technology is as critical as it has ever been in offering distribution channels for transmedia narratives. However, not every individual media technology is able to offer all, or even multiple platforms for which each of these narratives can be made available and experienced. In a cinema you can watch the movie, on the Xbox game you can play the game and sometimes view comic extracts, and through the figurine toys you can re-enact scenes yourself and sometimes hear the character’s most iconic phrases and quotes.

Following suit in this trend is Pandora Internet Radio, which offers the soundtracks to many of the most renowned transmedia narratives of the 21st century, including The MatrixThe Lord Of The Rings/The HobbitHarry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Furthermore, Pandora also offers comedic videos where comedians often critique, parody or simply allude to elements of a transmedia narrative such as one of the characters in the Avengers or Harry Potter (Pandora, 2012).

However, Pandora does not allow the user to experience the film, the game, the comics or the figurines. Those components of a transmedia narrative require the user to seek out alternative channels through which they can be accessed. And this is where it is demonstrated that whilst some broader media platforms, such as the iOS system or the Web, supply distribution channels through which multiple elements of a transmedia narrative can be accessed, more specialised media technologies such as Pandora often only allow the experience of one or two elements of a transmedia narrative, such as this acoustic soundtrack to the superb 2013 film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, by Ed Sheeran.

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Reference List:
* Jenkins, H (2007), Transmedia Storytelling 101, henryjenkins.org, pp 1
* Pandora Media, Inc. (2012), About Pandora, Oakland


Pandora & Produsage

‘Produsage’ is a portmanteau of the words “production” and “usage”, popularised by Australian media scholar Axel Bruns (2007: pp 99). This term refers to the user-led content creation that takes place in a variety of online environments, blurring the boundaries between passive consumption, active production, consumers and producers (Bruns, 2007: pp 99). Brun’s four key characteristics of produsage are essential when observing its effect on a media technology such as Pandora Internet Radio. These include:
– Organisational shift
– Fluid movement
– Unfinished
– Permissive (Brun, 2007: pp 99)

Organisational Shift
Pandora Internet Radio was founded by three men, Will Glaser, Jon Kraft and Tim Westergren, and launched in 2000 (Pandora, 2012), however, many teams, groups and communities have since contributed to this internet radio. This is evident in the continuously repeating process of Pandora’s music analysts categorising songs and then users around the world creating their own personal stations and providing feedback on each song that is selected for them, further increasing the efficiency and precision of the Music Genome Project’s musical analysis (Pandora, 2012).

Fluid Movement
The fluid movement of content in Pandora Internet Radio is continuously changing as users pursue their attempts to ‘jailbreak’ Pandora’s security system and download its music and Pandora reply by strengthening their security. While listening, users are offered the ability to buy music at various online retailers, however, this rigid structure isn’t always enough. And so the cycle of the audience attempting to create a more fluid movement in Pandora’s content and Pandora’s attempts to strengthen its rigid structure continue on.

Unfinished
There are over 400 different ‘musical attributes’ that are considered by the Music Genome Project when selecting each song for each individual user, which are combined into larger groups called ‘focus traits’. There are 2,000 focus traits, including rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, and displayed instrumental proficiency. The scope of songs that include each musical attribute and focus trait is continuously growing as more and more music is released (Pandora, 2012).

Permissive
Pandora Internet Radio is only open to users in the USA, Australia and New Zealand (Pandora, 2012). However, with Pandora available on desktop computers, laptops, iPhones, Androids, iPods, iPads, and in the radio systems of various car models, this media technology is becoming increasingly accessible for its users (Levy, 2014. AP, 2013). The problem for this internet radio is that copyright, licensing and royalty issues are constantly haunting its attempts to increase its accessibility and revenue (Fixmer, 2012: pp 1-2).

Reference List:
* AP (2013), Pandora Quadruples In-Car Listeners, AdvertisingAge.com
* Bruns, Axel (2007) Produsage: Towards a broader framework for user-led content creation, in ‘Creativity and Cognition: Proceedings’, 6th edition, ACM Publishers, Washington D.C, pp 99
* Fixmer, A (2012), Pandora Is Boxed In by High Royalty Fees, Bloomberg Business Week, Bloomberg, Sydney, pp 1-2
* Levy, A (2014), iTunes Radio is Pandora Media Inc’s Biggest Threat, But It’s Not the Only One, The Motley Fool, Alexandria
* Pandora Media, Inc. (2012), About Pandora, Oakland
* Wittke, V and Hanekop, H (2011), New Forms of Collaborative Innovation and Production on the Internet, Georg-August University Press, Göttingen, pp 158


R.I.P Blogger Tom (4th March – 14th April, 2014)

Thank you all for gathering here today, I’m sure Blogger Tom would have really appreciated you being here. I have wondered for the last 5mins or so how I might approach this daunting task, you see, I’ve never done anything like this before, a eulogy I mean. But then it hit me, why not just say it how he would have liked it: exactly how it is, and then dramatised tenfold. So here we go.

Blogger Tom may have only been with us for 6 weeks, but wasn’t it an action-packed 6 week! When he was born into this cyber world his first words may have been a bit forced and artificial, “My name is Thomas Fogarty. I am 18 years old”, but he would quickly learn to embrace this place and make the most of the short time that he would have here. And so soon he was dancing around the web, jumping from site to site and source to source in search of all kinds of weird and wonderful treasures. The dehumanisation of asylum seekers in Australia, the media effects model, the rise of neo-Nazism in the USA, semiotics and the different denotations and connotations in images and texts, the power of those who own and control media, moral panic in the media, the horrific popularity of online snuff films, the sexualisation of children, the influence of the media on children and the supposed cuteness of little, fluffy rabbit dicks were just some of the jewels that he discovered and learned about on this exploration into the deep and dark world of BCM 110.

However, it wasn’t all Nazi-decorated sunsets and treasure troves of overly political questions and debates on this expedition. No, Blogger Tom did face his fair share of adversity on his voyage into the belly of the media beast. There was the feared Writer’s Block that haunted his path along the way, the brooding Political Tom, a sort of Mr Hyde to the Dr Jekyll, who persevered in his attempt to steer the journey in his own hideous and tangental direction, and there was the puzzling Mediated Public Sphere, an opponent more ambiguous and perplexing than any other faced on this journey. But none of these even compared to Blogger Tom’s greatest enemy, the tyrannical Word Limit. With an absurdly small size of only 500 words, this monster would loom before Blogger Tom on each of his adventures, bleeding him of his freedom to romp in the content of BCM 110 like a glaucoma slowly diminishing the beautiful world before him and leaving him stranded in darkness.

But Blogger Tom always managed to overcome each of these enemies throughout his great quest for wealths of knowledge, and in doing so learned much more than he ever could have guessed about the media, its influence on him and all of its effects and impacts on society. And that leads me to how I am going to end this eulogy. Despite the fatal nature of this digital odyssey that Blogger Tom embarked on and despite the rocky and sceptical first steps of this journey, if he were here with us today I am certain that he would say for himself how much he enjoyed and learned from this experience and that if possible he would do it all over again. Thank you.


Youth and the Media: Is it really just child’s play?

The portrayal of children in the media and its impact upon young people has been a hot debate in the mediated public sphere for as long as it has been occurring. Whether its a book, film, tv show or video game, any text in the media that portrays young people or is watched and enjoyed by youth can have a profound impact on their ‘looking-glass self’ (Cooley, 1902: pp 152), their behaviour and their understanding of what is ethically right and wrong.

To begin, there is the oh so infamous case of Ms Miley Cyrus. Teenage Disney star turned whatever you’d prefer to call her now, Miley may have lost a lot in the way of respect and dignity but there is no denying her all-time high level of influence on her youthful audience because of the music video for her most recent single, Wrecking Ball (2013). As comical as it may seem, the effects of this music video on young people is far spread and indisputable. One simply has to look at Michigan’s Grand Valley State University in Michigan, USA for proof, where the 40 year old sculpture of a wrecking ball created by artist Dale Eldred (1973) was removed in 2013 for safety purposes following over 200 incidents of university students parodying the music video by stripping naked and mounting the statue whilst being filmed by peers (McKay, 2013).

The second case study I’m going to look at is that of the Chucky horror series, and in particular Child’s Play 3: Look Who’s Stalking, which has been plagued by accusations of inciting violence in children and as the direct “inspiration” for two murders, that of Suzanne Capper in December 1992 and James Bulger in February 1993. In the Suzanne Capper case, the 16-year-old was held prisoner for a week, brutally tortured and then set on fire and left to die by teenager Bernadette McNeilly. Throughout this time McNeilly “assumed the character of Chucky” by mimicking certain violent scenes from the film and continuously repeating the phrase “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” whilst torturing Capper. After McNeilly admitted in court to having repetitively watched several films from the Chucky series as a young child, one lawyer from the prosecution stated in an interview, “if you asked me whether this material in these minds had some effect on what happened, I would have to say yes” (Foster, 1993).

Despite the fact that it is impossible to ethically prove the link between the media and its effects on young people, the evidence is all there. No, watching a film or music video is not going to make every kid re-enact the scenes in those texts. But it would be heedless to say that the chances of a young person committing these acts before watching these texts were not lower than they were after watching them. I’m not suggesting that children should be completely protected from these subjects, because most kids know about these subjects from quite young ages and turn out just fine (myself included). But I do believe that the media should take this issue seriously because children’s over-exposure to certain subjects can have very real consequences and not every young person who views this content is going to turn out ‘just fine’. Take this video as another example, do you think what these children are doing is ok?

(On a quick side note, these effects can also be hilarious!)

Reference List:
1. Cooley, C.H. (1902), Human Nature and the Social Order, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, pp 152
2. Cyrus, M (2013), ‘Wrecking Ball’, in Bangerz, RCA, New York City
3. Eldred, D (1973), Untitled, Spencer Gallery of Art, Michigan
4. McKay, H (2013), GVSU forced to remove campus wrecking ball sculpture due to Miley Cyrus parodies, Fox News, New York City
5. Foster, J (1993), Horror fiction became reality, The Independent, London
6. Torres, A (2012), I’m Sexy & I Know It: Kid Parody, Youtube.com
7. Kardnyal, S (2013), Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball (Chatroulette Version), Youtube.com


Pandora: The People’s Radio

In the 21st century, the success of products and ideas is largely determined by the ability or inability of an audience to connect with a product. Consequentially, there has been a significant change in how the more successful radio stations have designed their audience’s experience. If we look at mildly successful local radio stations such as i98 FM or Wave FM we can see how they exhibit the traits of what we would call a ‘traditional radio’ with minimal opportunity for real audience engagement and participation.

If we then examine the traits of a successful domestic radio station such as Triple J, we can see that the ability of the audience to connect is heightened through avenues such as the annual Triple J’s Hottest 100, where audience members around Australia can vote on what they believe to be the ‘hottest’ hits of the previous year, and Triple J Unearthed, where amateur bands around the country can upload their music online where they can be heard, given feedback, ranked and even broadcasted on the Triple J radio station. It is through these distinct channels that this radio station allows itself to be a significantly more open technology to its audience.

Finally, if we investigate the characteristics of the highly successful international radio, Pandora Internet Radio, we can clearly see that this radio allows significantly more connectivity and personalisation as a result of the Music Genome Project (Pandora, 2012). This technology allows the audience to personalise their radio experience by creating up to 100 of their own stations based on genre, artist or temporal preference, which Pandora then uses to select an array of free songs to play. The user then has the opportunity to give feedback on each song to further narrow down Pandora’s selection to a very specific musical formula. The user can also share on Facebook/Twitter any songs they especially enjoy (Pandora, 2012). This ability that Pandora has given its audience “to archive, annotate, appropriate and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (Jenkins, 2004) has been significant in attributing to its huge success.

Despite there being a number of issues for the audience of Pandora, such as the still ever-present ads, limited skips and inability to download, this media technology has been very successful in engaging and maintaining connections with its audience through the combination of its uniquely modern strategies. Besides, if you ever want rid of the ads and limited skips you can just follow one of these step by step guides to hacking your Pandora app:

Reference List:
* AP (2013), Pandora Quadruples In-Car Listeners, AdvertisingAge.com
* Levy, A (2014), iTunes Radio is Pandora Media Inc’s Biggest Threat, But It’s Not the Only One, The Motely Fool, Alexandria
* Jenkins, H (2004), The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence, in ‘International Journal of Cultural Studies’, Volume 7(1), pp. 33-42
* Pandora Media, Inc. (2012), About Pandora, Oakland