Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bridging the Generational Divide with Common Sense

In “The Miseducation of Hip-Hop – Discrimination in Education”, Jamilah Evelyn takes another swing at the lengthy debate over the lengths an education institute should go to reach the students. Here, Evelyn focuses on the unique perspectives of Jason Hinmon, a 22-year-old student, and that of Dr. Thomas Earl Midgette, a 50-year-old Director of the Institute for the Study of Minority Issues at NC Central University. Both offer the perspectives of two very different age groups that need to come to terms with the generational divide that is hindering the process of imparting upper level education from one generation. Though it is true Hinmon has a right to individuality, it is an unrealistic position to insist that society conform to your identity needs, claim racial bias through stereotype and cling to an entitlement mentality that fosters resentments on both sides of the issue.
Hinmon’s need for individuality is causing him to expect society to conform to better meet his needs. The information presented by Evelyn presents Hinmon as ‘Dark-hued, dreadlocked and, well, young’ (Evelyn, 2008, p. 559). This very well could be how Mr. Hinmon wishes to present himself to society, but it just isn’t realistic to expect society to get over the negative preconceptions associated with his look. The Hip-Hop genre seems to go to great lengths to promote a thug and gangster life-style, and has successfully marketed this mindset to the masses. This look presented by Hinmon is purposefully done, as he was not born looking that way and is no different than possible misconceptions directed toward a large white male in biker clothing and tattoos. If an individual wishes to project the look of a perceived criminal, then it is ridiculous to demand that the public think otherwise.
Hinmon alleges that racism is at work fueling the misconceptions that are holding him back. He stated ‘my professors didn’t know how to deal with me’ (Evelyn, 2008, p. 559) and was backed up by Evelyn’s statement referencing his ‘mostly white professors’ (Evelyn, 2008, p. 559). This is rebutted by Midgette, a black professor, who goes as far as relating the student’s dress to that of ‘hoochie mommas’ (Evelyn, 2008, p. 559). The problem is that dressing up in Hip-Hop fashion is neither acceptable for school or places of employment. There is no right to higher education, just as there is no right to a job. If Hinmon wishes to be taken seriously, he should focus on professional attire while either at a job or being groomed for professional life at college. This is not a race issue at all, as cultural constraints dictate appropriate dress patterns. There are negative vibes attached to clothing that is culturally significant to many different races, but that does not make it ok to wear these in a professional setting.
The entitlement mentality of the upcoming generation is fostering resentment for both the individual expressing their identity through clothing and those they wish to interact. Generally speaking, no one wishes for confrontation or to be seen in a negative light. It is actually a selfish position to expect special treatment for identity or any other reason. Hinmon states ‘They…thought that I was some hip-hop hoodlum’ (Evelyn, 2008, p.559), but doesn’t consider that while he is at school, he is interacting with these people at their jobs. Hinmon’s perception is that all are against him, but doesn’t consider the lack of respect he is showing these people that are simply trying to do their jobs. Couldn’t it be argued that Hinmon’s lack of reverence for the school actually cheapens every student’s degree? Midgette said it best when stating ‘I learned to dress a certain way if I was negotiating the higher education maze’ (Evelyn, 2008, p. 559). Midgette has direct experience relating to cultural and identity differences with what is established as professional and correct attire in certain situations.
Hinmon’s search for individuality does not imply the right to force an education system to adjust social standards to placate his perceived offense against his identity negating the claim of racial bias or resentments formed. Hinmon’s account of being conscientious about his looks reveals that he already knows what the solution to the problems he faces. There are no rules preventing Hinmon from dressing however he wishes, but in life there are consequences for every action taken. This is true for both positive and negative actions. Midgette has developed credibility by studying the cultural problems faced by individuals such as Hinmon, and relates that he too had very similar experiences. In the right setting, there is nothing wrong with how Hinmon presents himself, but there should be no expectation that everyone will accept that in every situation.


Evelyn, J. & Gray-Rosendale, L (2008). “The Bias of Language, The Bias of Pictures” Pop Perspectives: Readings to Contemporary Culture E. Barrose (Ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When Did News Become Theater?

In the genre of news reporting and journalism, ratings are the lifeblood of any organization that strives to be relevant and viable. A news organization must first attract an audience, and then retain them in order to survive. Organizations dealing with the reporting of news have to play to their strengths and mitigate weaknesses to effectively relay world events in a format that will keep an audience engaged. The world is constantly becoming a smaller place with the introduction of new technologies that allows viewers instant access to developing news stories.  Increasingly, news outlets are relying on sensationalism and other similar tactics to attract audiences. It is becoming more imperative that the audience no longer takes reported news at face value, but rather considers what is being offered with a more critical eye. In the essay “The Bias of Language, The Bias of Pictures”, Neil Postman and Steve Powers collaborated to highlight the difference between language, stationary pictures and moving pictures and how they affect the delivery of news to an audience.

The use of language in the reporting of news can be both informative, and yet misleading at the same time. In today’s fast paced world, instant news is thought of equally as a source of information and entertainment. The need for access to better information has millions to scouring multiple sources for information about events locally and around the world. The volume of news stories available has increased along with the amount of sources reporting them. Audiences are increasingly relying on the words of others to seek, find and interpret these stories. The increasing problem is to find accuracy in the reporting. According to Postman and Powers, language is used for description, judgments and inferences, but the audience is at the mercy of the presenter’s interpretation.  Postman and Powers put it this way, ‘we use language itself to convert the image to idea’ (Postman and Powers, 2008, p. 485). In other words, an event is visualized and converted to a descriptive meaning as it applies to the individual witnessing the event.  Using these, it is possible to relate events from one individual’s perspective. The downside is that this can lead to multiple interpretations and different descriptions of the same event as people interpret things differently. Though news reporting should be objective, the use of inflection, words and tone can reveal bias in the reporter. Postman and Powers correctly point out that it is only natural for some bias to be in any information being related from another person. It is only natural.

Stationary pictures are excellent for capturing the physical representation of an area at a single moment in time. The drawback is that they cannot relate the underlying story or emotion well outside what is immediately visible in the picture. Postman and Powers stated ‘a picture does not present to us an idea or concept about the world’ (Postman and Powers, 2008, p.485). This is an important distinction, as it is possible to see how things are at the moment the pictures is taken, but without language it is impossible to know why. Legions of photographers are employed to cover world events and take pictures of the news worthy events. How often has a dramatic image captivated an audience, but failed to fully describe what is going on.  Just as scenarios are difficult to describe in words, it is equally difficult to cover the same situation with just a picture. Perhaps this is why so much credit is given to the gifted photographer that can capture a telling moment or mood in a still photograph.

Moving pictures offer a good combination of the benefits of language and stationary pictures. The problem with this medium is that it is possible to have too much information at once. It was stated ‘Moving pictures favor images that change’ (Postman and Powers, 2008, p. 486). This explains why dramatic video, and anything showing rapid destruction and movement are very popular on TV.   Postman and Powers further suggest that this mentality leads a broadcast to only show quick clips and dramatic video. In today’s newscasts, the entire broadcast is set up like a production, complete with musical themes and producers choosing the best angle for a camera. It is compared to the theater, and at some level seeks to equally entertain as well as inform. The disturbing trend is to seek out dramatic and negative video for the impact, but this tends to lean heavily towards the negative side of the news. If all that is relayed to the public is negative, what impacts will that have on the psyche of the audience? More consideration should be given to what is reported and shown to the public. News stories now get reported before the cost of releasing that information is known, and that has direct impacts on many issues from national security to the desensitizing of our children.

Postman and Powers seek to inform the audience on how to interpret and relate to the various news sources the audience will encounter. They want the audience to understand the difference between important details and hype when learning of world events. With critical thinking, the viewer can weigh the content and purpose of language, stationary pictures and moving pictures. The canny news producer will play on the strengths and minimize the weaknesses to attract and keep the audience, which is the life blood of the news industry. Postman and Powers are trying to educate the audience of these news outlets to view the news objectively and with a critical mind. With the theater being involved in news production, it is now more important than ever that the audience weigh all information and symbolism before accepting anything as fact.

Postman, N., Powers, S. & Gray-Rosendale, L (2008). “The Bias of Language, The Bias of Pictures” Pop Perspectives: Readings to Contemporary Culture E. Barrose (Ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Cool Dad Owns a VW

In February 2011, Volkswagen of America released a cunning advertisement on the major video sharing service You Tube. Volkswagen is pushing for a larger market share in 2011, which can be difficult for a foreign automaker. Through the use of technology, humor and product placement, Volkswagen has created a buzz worthy advertisement that has remained relevant to the intended audience. This advertisement is successful because it merges technology, American Icons and positive subliminal reinforcement to market the 2012 VW Passat.

You Tube is a technological wonder that has transformed video file sharing into a cultural phenomenon. It did not take long for the savvy marketing teams of major corporations to take note of the appeal this medium has on a broad audience that seems to have an insatiable appetite for the next visual curiosity. Marketing teams have taken note of this trend, and set about tailoring their advertisements more to entertain than inform. This form of entertainment is centered on product placement in a skit format rather than building the spot around the product. This format has been wildly successful as demonstrated by the popularity of similarly styled ads that air during the Super Bowl. The only downfall is that placement of these have become quite expensive. Volkswagen found a creative solution by creating buzz for their product, and then releasing it at relatively no charge on You Tube, which has become the Wild West of public opinion. This turned out to be an excellent venue for the advertisement release of the 2012 VW Passat as it has enjoyed over 39 million views.

The main purpose of the video is to connect with Americans by utilizing iconic music and a character that resonates throughout the world as the embodiment of American Cinematography. The spot begins with rhythmic, dark overtones of the evil Empire theme music from Star Wars, which is considered one of the most successful franchises in movie history. Short of the theme from the movie ‘Jaws’ or ‘Indiana Jones’, few orchestrated themes can instantly bring to mind the sense of American nostalgia than that of Star Wars.

Since the 1970’s, Star Wars has remained main stream with six films, multiple video games, toys, books and even a few cartoons. A quick search on-line will reveal a dizzying amount of sites with ongoing Star Wars projects keeping this money generating juggernaut relevant. There are few in America who do not know the Darth Vader character, and what genre is being represented. The Star Wars story and profile are engrained into our culture to the point where no identification or explanation is necessary to understand what is being represented.

The parody of a child playing Darth Vader enables the comedy aspect of the video. The camera continually is pointing up at the actor, in what could be representation of how the child views himself in character. The humor builds as the actor moves about the house and tries to ‘force’ move objects, which is essentially moving things with the mind. The actor takes on a treadmill, a washing machine and a large dog. At one point, the actor attempts to move a sandwich and is dismayed to be assisted by what is assumed to be his mother. These scenes are funny, but clearly diminish the fantasy for the child.

Throughout the video, excellent use of body language and mood development completely negate the necessity of written or spoken narration. This speaks directly to an audience that can easily associate with the story and personal fantasy. This is accomplished so well, that the gender of the child is irrelevant to the overall story now engrossing the audience. It is desired to see this child continue with the fantasy, which is consummated through the help of the father. The dream was kept alive. Volkswagen helps dreams come true. This is masterful use of attaching positive emotion to a product.

A few subluminal messages are prevalent throughout the advertisement spot. The location portrayed in the video appears to be an upper middle class suburb. The actors playing the part of the playful parents are well dressed. The father is coming back from a job, as evidenced by the briefcase when stepping out of the car. The furniture is fashionable, and the décor is modern. Nice, front-end loading washing machines and exercise equipment point to a financially successful family. The actor’s chosen are Caucasian, but this appears to be a bow to the largest American race demographic and not suggestive of anything more. This ad is targeting upper middle income families. The suggestion is that the Passat is not an econo-car, but rather the choice of a cool, successful family. This is reinforced, by the father playing along and aiding the child’s fantasy. Volkswagen wants the Passat to be seen as a part of the happy family. This tactic also acts as a tease. What does the inside of the car look like? What are the engine specifications? The audience is left wanting more, and the ability to share with friends. Again, the benefit of utilizing You Tube as a tool presents itself. It is easily disseminated across many social and electronic platforms with a click of a button, or in this case 39 million clicks and counting.

This commercial is very effective in its appeal, style and execution. The use of humor, suggestion and cultural appeal lead to the success that has generated so much buzz about this product. The goal of presenting anticipation for the product, and a positive image of not only the manufacturer, but also of the potential customers was attained. There is no opening for criticism of the product, as no technological details about the product are revealed other than an auto-start feature. This is a good glimpse of where marketing could be taking us in the future. The message is: Don’t worry about the details; it will make you feel good! Childlike fantasy is a kind respite from the very serious world. This is a great example of how emotion works well with marketing. Who doesn’t want to be the cool dad that owns the 2012 Passat?


Volkswagen, (2011). The Force [Web]. Available from

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Breaking Down Bieber's 'Baby'

Justin Bieber is a Canadian singer who was discovered and signed to Usher’s music label, Raymond Braun Media Group in 2008. Since that time, Bieber has had a heavy Urban and R&B influence which shows strongly in the January 2010 release of the hit single, ‘Baby’, from his first full studio release ‘My World 2.0’. The song ‘Baby’ is a result of R&B and Hip-Hop heavy weights Christopher ‘Tricky’ Stewart, Terius ‘The Dream’ Nash and Christina Milian who collaborated with Justin to develop the lyrics and help establish credibility to Justin in the industry.

Bieber’s rise in the industry is noteworthy because he has transcended many barriers in an industry that is not known for being tolerant or forgiving. It is culturally significant that a Canadian white male was discovered in 2008 by Scooter Braun off of a You Tube video and then signed after meeting with Usher a short time later that year. Usher, who is a R&B powerhouse and holder of many awards in his genre, recognized Justin’s talent and referred to him as ‘a prodigy’.  Generally speaking, few white males have been accepted into this genre. Bieber did and was able to blend the style into a unique sound under Usher’s guidance.

‘Baby’ contains within it many different elements that come together functionally regardless of the glaring discrepancies between the beat, lyrics and video. The song is a mixture of contradictions, yet has become very successful. The lyrics describe a painful time where a young man found love, only to have it scorned. Regardless of repeated attempts to reason and win the girl back, our protagonist is unsuccessful. Due to the constraints of the medium, the assumption is made that this is based on a real life situation. To mix things up, the song is set to a positive beat that directly contradicts the somber tone of what Justin is singing. Perhaps this is why the lyrics had a subtle change from ‘Baby, Baby, noooo’, to ‘Baby, baby, oooh’.

It is equally interesting to note the combination of singing styles represented in the song. There is a mixture of Hip-Hop, R&B and Doo-Wop, which reminisces to the 1950’s Blues genre.  Much as Elvis acted as a cultural and racial bridge for Blues, Bieber may be having a similar impact on today’s music social and racial boundaries. This idea is underscored by the inclusion of Ludacris, who is given a verse to bring the addition of rap to the song. The introduction of a Rap star into a pre-teen song adds yet another layer to the music that is already pushing multiple boundaries. The spot does flows well with the music, and Ludacris does reference ‘when I was 13’ to keep things relative in the song. However, this does raise a question, as Rap stars are known to intensely protect their reputation and ‘street credibility’. What would motivate an established star such as Ludicris with hits such as ‘Act a Fool’, ‘Pimpin’ All over the World’ and ‘One More Drink’ to have a cameo in a 15 year-old’s song? Perhaps this is homage to the rising generation that is not tethered down as much by racial bias and the motivation is to celebrate and encourage this movement. It could also be another benefit of Justin working with giants in the industry.

Norwegian Ray Kay directed the video that was released shortly after the song in 2010.  By June 2010 it had become the most viewed video in history on You Tube. How appropriate that the medium that directly led to Justin being discovered, later had its own records smashed by his success. To date, there have been over 500 million views on You Tube alone. You Tube and Bieber were not the only success stories here. Ray Kay has now become the most sought after Video Director, to which he directs his meteoric rise to the ‘Baby’ Video. Here he directed the video to stay in line with the beat of the song, keeping away from the angst of love lost found in the words of the song. There is a definite lack of objectification towards women that gives it a feel of being produced by the Disney Channel. In fact, there is no sexual innuendo is observable throughout the entire video, which is rare. The only observable contact is a fleeting embrace during the dance-off scene and a quick shot of holding hands at the conclusion of the video. It is a bit unrealistic that all participants of the video are modestly, yet fashionably dressed. This is not indicative of teens today. It is equally out of place to see Ludacris dressed in this manner with form fitting jeans and very little ‘bling’. He is wearing a hoodie, which seems to be a nod to his status as a rapper, but it is worn in a manner that bring the image of a sweater vest to mind. The look was in harmony with the dress theme of the video, but was less than one would expect of an established rapper. Could this be a hint for cleaning up the image of the industry? This will definitely play well with pre-teens. Another reason for bringing in Ludacris could be to up the appeal to an older and broader audience. Oddly, this song did much better in the European Market than in the United States.

The dancing is choreographed well, matches the tempo and entertaining to watch. Though it does not match the lyrics, it still works. The dancing choreography is very effective enough that the words are not needed to understand the story the video is trying to tell. During the initial advancement of Justin on the girl, the moves are especially raw. Two sides of dancers face off according to gender and form the classic boy vs. girl scenario. This ultimately results in a group dance-off, complete with standout dancers performing various forms of break dancing. The director does an excellent job easing the dancing styles in a way that mirrors calming emotions as the girl begins to accept and enjoy the interaction with Justin. This works very well until the lyrics are added back in.

The photography is commendable. The camera was effectively used to spin around Justin symbolizing his spinning emotions over the girl. Towards the end of the video, there were quick shots of Justin standing or dancing alone. Perhaps to reinforce him as a standout in the story they were trying to create against the lyrics. It was a nice touch to show glimpses of Hard Rock Café and City Walk which is known for having blended themes of both modern and classic genre. Could this be another bow towards recreating what was old onto a new platform? It is possible that this is the musical equivalent of remaking the Chevy Camaro with styling throwbacks to the 1960’s. This is supported with the wardrobe throwbacks that invoke the 1980’s. Many of the actors appear to be wearing what appear to be versions of Van shoes or Converses. The selection of a bowling alley as a meeting one was sensible as there has been a resurgence of popularity in popularity of bowling alleys with young teens. Short of a skate rink, there are no other venues that could be used that would conceivably have loud music and teens dancing.

Overall, this is an effective video and song if taken independently. The success of both will attest to this. The music and video direction are edgy for what it leaves out as well as the boundaries that are pushed. Even though it was the most played video on You Tube, it should also be mentioned that it had the second highest amount of dislikes. The ‘teens’ in this video were presented in a manner that is more akin to the popular 1990’s TV Sitcom, ‘Saved By the Bell’ taking away much of the realism. The approach to life is good entertainment, but hardly grounded in reality. Director Kay chose well to fundamentally change the song to mirror the beat. The public has forgiven very weak lyrics in the past for a good beat. The video told the more satisfying tell and wrapped up with a win for Bieber. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009