As part of my BSN program I’m taking a Sociology course. Each week we have to answer questions from each chapter and post them to our online discussion board. I’m reposting some of my answers here if I find them to be insightful or conducive to conversation. Our textbook is You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley.


CHAPTER 3: Culture and Media

In the last 20 years there have been major changes in the media: Facebook, blogs, and You Tube are just a few examples. How do you think these media have changed our culture – both material and non-material parts of our culture?

Even having lived through the changes, it’s sometimes hard to remember what the world was like before online mass media. I’m actually willing to say that online social media has been the biggest and most influential change in media in the last hundred years, which is saying a lot when that span also includes radio and television. From the oldest books to the latest tweet, mass media, or media—period, has made this huge planet small. Cultures separated by thousands of miles have affected each other due to media passing on their cultural messages onward. The wisdom, lessons, mistakes, entertainment, triumphs, follies, etc of cultures around the world have been exported via media like pollen in the wind, which has then mixed with other, recipient, cultures to create mixtures never known before. Non-materially, media has merged cultures by sharing values, struggles, recipes, literature; by creating awareness of what happens half a world away as if it was a local event. Materially, media has changed culture by the creation of the very gadgets used to transmit media, be it a radio, or a TV console, or a smartphone, artifacts created by companies worldwide, marketed across the globe, connecting people more and more each day.

Explain if you think various social media forms have made people more connected or less connected?

It’s a dichotomy, for social media has both connected and disconnected people. As an example of disconnection, Facebook has given everyone and their mother a platform to air their opinions as if they were truth handed down from the mountain, which is all well and fine if you (and I) can remember that they are opinions and can only affect if you let them. Sadly that’s not what happens most of the time. I am willing to bet money that everyone reading this has a story about someone in their timeline saying something utterly stupid as if it was fact (anti-vaccers, I’m looking your way), and there ensuing as a result an animated argument, which leads to hurt feelings and sometimes ostracism. I for one have a cousin that I actively have to avoid talking to too much lest we end up on the topic of vaccinations and she says something stupid that makes me lose my cool.

As an example of connection, however, the very same Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with family members I barely ever see any more due to distance (yes, even my cousin referenced above), and connect with friends I have made online, people that have become real and important parts of my live, yet live scattered around the world. Heck, social media helped create one of the most important social upheavals of history, the Arab Spring! As noted by Howard and Hussein (2011), “Digital media helped to turn individualized, localized, and community-specific dissent into structured movements with a collective consciousness about both shared grievances and opportunities for action.”

Can you identify some intended consequences of such social media on our lives?

San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) just wrapped up in San Diego, California. Although a gazillion fans of pop geek stuff were there, most of us were not. Instead we used social media to keep track of what was going on in SDCC. Exhibitors at the show know this, and they use social media to release glimpses of what’s going on at the show, both to entice people to perhaps make it in person in the future, and to whip fans into a frenzy and get them talking about their new projects, creating more buzz that they could create by themselves alone. Example: the new Star Wars movie crew showed a 3-minute behind-the-scenes video to a hall of about 6000 attendees. Before it could be pirated online, it was uploaded to various websites for fans to share, whipping the online Star Wars fandom into a frenzy that made Star Wars the most-talked about topic at SDCC and led popular webzine io9 to declare that Star Wars was “Basically, the ultimate winner of Comic Con. They just crushed it (Anders, 2015).”

What about unintended consequences?

To stick with the geek theme and to see the flip side of how to handle things, at the very same show, Warner Bros showed a trailer for their upcoming 2016 movie Suicide Squad, featuring a number of villains from the DC comics universe. It’s being hyped up directly by the studio (along with their other DC comics movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), so they wanted to use SDCC to create fan buzz. They showed the trailer, but unlike the example above, they did not upload it to social media at all. The trailer still got pirated online, recorded with a smartphone. Two days later, “Warner Bros. was […] “forced” to upload the trailer officially in hi-res glory, and it did it with its arms crossed and lips pouted [along with a ] super passive-aggressive note (Francisco, 2015).” (Full note from WB here.) The unintended consequences here wasn’t so much the release of the trailer, but the PR hit Warner Bros took as a result of not being proactive with their fandom, and then being all passive-aggressive when they finally did (do read the note, it is high-school-worthy passive-aggressiveness!).

Why do you think some countries limit or ban some of these media?

Quite simply, to control the thought process, to create hegemony. Communism has led the way in this during the modern era, banning books, jailing dissenting philosophers and activists, deciding what people are exposed to in order to control what they think and believe. China has had a most draconian control of internet access in the country via its government agencies, squashing and persecuting dissent found online. Forces in Egypt and Iran during the uprisings of the Arab Spring tried to control, or eliminate, access to social media in the country to disrupt the manifestations. Information is power, and social media allows info to travel across the world from person to person, and where one seed remains, a forest may yet grow.

REFERENCES

Adair, T. (2015). SDCC ’15: And the winner of Comic-Con is…. Retrieved from http://www.comicsbeat.com/sdcc-15-and-the-winner-of-comic-con-is/

Anders, C. (2015). The biggest winners and losers of Comic-Con 2015! Retrieved from http://io9.com/the-biggest-winners-and-losers-of-comic-con-2015-1717547126

Conley, D. (2011). You may ask yourself: An introduction to thinking like a sociologist (2nd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Francisco, E. (2015). Does Warner Bros. know how to use the internet? Retrieved from https://www.inverse.com/article/4525-does-warner-bros-know-how-to-use-the-internet

Howard, P., & Hussain, M. (2011). The role of digital media [Abstract]. Journal of Democracy, 22(3). doi:10.1353/jod.2011.0041

Ng, J. (2014). How Chinese internet censorship works, sometimes. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/17/china-internet-censorship_n_4981389.html

Warner Bros. (2015). Suicide Squad trailer. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/SuicideSquad/videos/1613593225587979/

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