Television Reality: The Discourse of Today’s Mass Culture

Link to “Television Reality: The Discourse of Today’s Mass Culture” – a video essay by Luke Loftin and Andrea Poapst:

References:

Abrego, C. (Writer), Cronin, M. (Writer), & Kozek, Z. (Director). (January 1, 2006). Fifteen Beds and a Bucket of Puke [season 1, episode 1]. In Abrego, C. (Producer) & Cronin, M. (Producer), Flavor of Love. New York City, NY: VH1. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiZZQYoYLyg

Abrego, C. (Writer), Cronin, M. (Writer), & Kozek, Z. (Director). (October 1, 2006). Family Flavors [season 1, episode 8]. In Abrego, C. (Producer) & Cronin, M. (Producer). Flavor of Love. New York City, NY: VH1. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8wSYDHrvro

Adorno, T., and Horkheimer, M. (1993). The culture industry: Enlightenment as mass deception. In S. During (Ed.), The cultural studies reader (pp. 31-41). London: Rutledge.

Burnett, M. (Producer). (2014). Survivor: Worlds Apart [Television series]. Hollywood, CA: CBS. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_zG6iYdCMU

De Mol, J. (Producer). (2015). Big Brother 17 [Television series]. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Endemol. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b41CnBPUmCg

Golnick, B. (Director) & LaFleur, M. (Director). (July 17, 2013). Mo’ Butter, Mo’ Better [season 2, episode 1]. In Lexton, L. (Producer), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Silver Spring, MD: TLC. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7N8MPMrseE

Hall, S. (2001). “Foucault: Power, Knowledge, and Discourse”. in Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader, ed. M. Weherell, S. Taylor, & S.J. Yates (London: Sage Publications), 72-81.

Peters, M. (Writer), Stockert, A. (Writer), & LaFleur, M. (Director). (January 6, 2013). A Very Boo Halloween [season 1, episode 11]. In Lexton, L. (Producer), Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Silver Spring, MD: TLC. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHvJSc5QpCo

Ridenhour, C., Shocklee, H., Sadler, E., & Drayton, W. (1988). Don’t Believe the Hype [Recorded by Public Enemy]. On It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back [12” vinyl]. New York City, NY: Def Jam. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vQaVIoEjOM

Salsano, S. (Producer). (2009). Jersey Shore [Television series]. Hollywood, CA: MTV. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19NZyiqKras

Cultural appropriation as it relates to Iggy Azaleas “The New Classic”

Cover art for Iggy Azalea's album, "The New Classic"
Cover art for Iggy Azalea’s album, “The New Classic”

In the introduction of Richard A. Rogers’ 2006 article, “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation,” the author defines the concept cultural appropriation as, “the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture” (p.474). This interpretation of cultural appropriation may appear similar to the concept of “cultural exchange”, but upon closer examination, these two phenomena are quite different from one another. The main difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is their varying degrees of cultural reciprocity. That is to say, in the case of cultural exchange, the cultural groups in question exhibit a give-and-take of cultural elements. This process stands in stark contrast to that of cultural appropriation, in which one cultural group extracts certain elements of another group’s culture without reciprocation.

Rogers expounds on his definition of cultural appropriation by citing Merriam-Webster’s definition of “appropriation” as, “’to take or make use of without authority or right’ (p.61)” (Rogers, 2006, p.475). Rogers is asserting that cultural appropriation is an act that is performed without permission. It is within this context of cultural appropriation that we will examine the recent success of Caucasian hip-hop artist, Iggy Azalea. Is Iggy Azalea’s chart-topping album, The New Classic, a blatant appropriation of Black culture on her part, or is Azalea simply an artist and entertainer, trying to provide consumers with what they demand?

In the 2015 article, “White echoes: Rap, race and Iggy Azalea,” written by Chris Richards for The Washington Post, Richards opines that Iggy Azalea’s music is “an empty white echo,” merely imitating the style of Southern Black hip-hop artists (Richards, 2015). He goes on to say that the popularity of Azalea’s single, “Fancy,” begs the question: “Who does hip-hop belong to now?” Richards is suggesting that the recognition of Azalea’s work by the consumer public, as well as potentially the Grammy awards, signifies an appropriation of Black hip-hop culture on the part of Azalea. Richards points out that the Grammy awards, considered the gold standard for success in the American music industry, tend to correspond to sales trends (Richards, 2015). Richards argues that the commercial success of Azalea’s music goes beyond monetary value; it threatens to challenge the value of authentic hip-hop culture by celebrating an obvious and shameless imitation.

Some attribute the rise of Iggy Azalea to forces beyond her control, arguing that her ascent to stardom is not the product of a conscious cultural appropriation on Azalea’s part, but rather larger cultural forces have led to her success. The Guardian writer, Stephanie Convery, in her 2014 piece entitled, “In defense of Iggy Azalea: on racism, naivety and a twisted cluster of exploitation,” claims that “Iggy Azalea is the inevitable product of neoliberal capitalism” (Convery, 2014). Convery cites Azalea’s involvement with notable hip-hop star, T.I., an African-American male from Atlanta, as evidence that Azalea considers herself within the bounds of traditional hip-hop culture. As Convery puts it, “Azalea thinks she is making art,” while T.I. and the other producers behind the scenes of Azalea’s music “know they’re making money” (Convery, 2014). It’s not that Iggy Azalea is appropriating Black culture for her own benefit; rather, Azalea is being used and promoted (albeit willingly) to fill a particular demand, and therefore generate capital.

Personally, I find it hard to separate Iggy Azalea and her music from the idea of cultural appropriation. Hip-hop as an art form is firmly rooted in the Black American experience. Yes, it is true that certain white individuals have had life experiences that cause them to relate more to Black American culture than to their own, but the fact remains that Iggy Azalea is not one of those people. There is no reason why Iggy Azalea, or someone like her, cannot enjoy hip-hop music and appreciate its message, but there is a line between appreciation and appropriation. Iggy Azalea, while her intentions I believe are not malicious, is doing more harm than good to the art of hip-hop. All I know is, I’d hate to be sitting next to Kanye West when Iggy wins her first Grammy.

References

Rogers, R.A. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16, 474-503.

Richards, C. (February 4, 2015). White echoes: Rap, race and Iggy Azalea. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/white-echoes-rap-race-and-iggy-azalea/2015/02/04/992a93d2-abe9-11e4-abe8-e1ef60ca26de_story.html

Convery, S. (October 3, 2014). In defense of Iggy Azalea: on racism, naivety and a twisted cluster of exploitation. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/03/-sp-in-defence-of-iggy-azalea-on-racism-naivety-and-a-twisted-cluster-of-exploitation

What Benjamin Might Say About Youtube

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In Benjamin’s essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production,” he raises two main points.  He starts by arguing that all works of art can be reproduced.  Benjamin goes on to say that “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in its production in time and space” (p.29).  In other words, Benjamin is stating that reproduction of art causes the original work to lose its aura.

But a reproduction platform like Youtube is something that Benjamin could not foresee. In his time, films were made exclusively by large studios, but today, individuals have the technology to create videos of their own, outside corporate control.  By our estimation, Benjamin would agree that there are two fundamental types of videos on Youtube: Spontaneous (authentic) and Reproduced (inauthentic).  The first, spontaneous category would include things like: Video bloggers, candid events, on-site reporting, UFO sightings, and reaction videos.  For example, reaction videos filmed for the purpose of self-expression would be considered authentic, original works.  These “authentic” videos capture a specific moment or event that would not have been accessible to the public without YouTube.  The second, inauthentic category would include: Films uploaded to Youtube, clips of TV shows, and music videos – all examples of artistic works that have been previously exhibited in other forms.  That is to say, these “inauthentic” YouTube videos are not original creations, rather they are the type of mechanical reproduction Benjamin warns against.

Overall, Benjamin would likely have negative views on Youtube.

He would suggest that Youtube encourages the kind of capitalistic mechanical reproduction by his definition. While all videos are reproducible–and reproduced and consumed with views, Youtube further encourages reproducibility with view counts and thumbs-up systems. Also, according to his second major point, anything and everything that has been copied and uploaded to YouTube, even the original has depreciated in authenticity.  He also argues that stats like view count shrink auras.  We disagree. We think that in today’s time, the original still retains some authenticity because the content is unchanged and the quality of the original is still better. When you watch a reaction video on youtube, you’re still experiencing that same story, the same content. This is a form of reproduction that also qualifies as original content, something that Benjamin could not possibly have foreseen.

References

Benjamin, W. (1986). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In J. Handhart (Ed.), Video culture: A critical investigation (pp. 27-51). Rochester: Visual Workshop Press.

News Framing of Freddy Gray’s Death

On April 12, 2015, 25-year-old African-American man Freddie Gray, was detained by police, allegedly for resisting arrest and possession of an illegal weapon.  During custody, he was transported in a police van, in which he sustained injuries that would prove fatal.  After Gray’s death a week later, the police officers involved in his arrest were charged with homicide, and protests broke out in the city of Baltimore and throughout the nation.  In the wake of the controversy, the story of Freddie Gray’s death garnered a significant amount of attention, specifically from major news networks like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

On CNN’s website, there are 335 combined results for videos and written stories relating to Freddie Gray.  The stories posted on CNN’s website conspicuously do not mention race or civil rights a majority of the time.  Most of the articles are about the legality of the case, who is responsible, and whether or not the knife Gray was carrying at the time of his arrest was legal or illegal. CNN is more concerned with who is right and who is wrong, rather than using the case as an opportunity to address the larger issue of black-white race relation, law enforcement policy, and the judicial system in America.  One of the only stories that mentions possibility of police corruption is a statement from Freddie Gray’s lawyer. The only other mention of race, was in discussing the death of Michael Brown a black man shot and killed by a white officer in Missouri. However, they don’t make a comparison or discuss a possible correlation between the two cases.  Even when broaching the larger issue of police brutality in America, CNN frames the story strictly within the legal sphere.  CNN focuses on the minutia, the details about Gray’s injury and the events of the day he was arrested.

Fox News reported over 400 articles on the death of Freddie Gray. Contrary to CNN, Fox news focused slightly more on the issue of race, calling Freddie Gray a “symbol of police brutality against blacks,” and showing clips of the mayor of Baltimore and mentioning how she is comfortable addressing “urban issues.” They also shared a perspective mainly from the police commissioner, the mayor of Baltimore, as well as multiple different white male and female reporters. Unlike CNN, Fox shares less from the perspective of the police officers, and includes an interview by a former driver of a police van who describes Freddie Grays injury as one that could have occurred in a “Rough Ride,” meaning a when the driver of a van purposefully stops and starts very abruptly, and makes sharp turns in order to injure the passenger. Someone who watches Fox News would immediately see the issues with the police officers actions, and can see that this is a civil rights issue.

There are 441 stories and media clips on MSNBC related to Freddie Gray. Most of them are focused on telling stories of the people surrounding this event. We read about and hear from the family members of Gray and the perspectives of each the six police officers that were charged in connection with his death. Like CNN, not much emphasis was placed on the issue of Gray’s death being a product of racial bias, although at the end of long overview articles, the authors would briefly mention–for a few sentences–the tension between Baltimore police and their local African-American citizens. In general, the MSNBC focuses on framing the story as a spine injury leading to his death. The articles repeatedly describe the scene in the police car that led up to the spinal injury, giving us something to pay attention to and think about. MSNBC is less about the imagery but more about the commentary from people. The most effective image is probably a picture of the six police that got charged because it finally revealed that some of the officers were black, which can radically shift a person’s view on this subject. MSNBC makes it clear that this is more than just about racial tension, but about how brutal the police force has become and its impact on victim’s families.

Depending on where one first encountered this story, one might view it as a strictly legal debate.  Watching CNN or MSNBC, the core issue is who is at fault for the individual death of Freddie Gray.  Barely at all does CNN take the time to juxtapose the story against countless other similar events that have happened recently.  By contrast, perhaps surprisingly, Fox News addresses the story of Freddie Gray as a singular part of the larger issue of police brutality in America.  Certainly, each news network chose to frame the story in a specific way to benefit their desired message.