April 27, 2008

Using "The History of Jazz" in a classroom

I put together a brief history of Jazz music in two formats below. There is a PowerPoint presentation and a short "one-page" blog post. Although it's difficult to cover a topic as broad as the Jazz music genre in such a limited space, this topic is critical for students to get at least a minimal exposure to. Language Arts or Social Studies teachers could incorporate this presentation and blog post into a lesson on Jazz music (maybe during February - Black History month). The Jazz lesson could be as short as one or two days, or as long as a week. Actual jazz music should be incorporated as well (something I haven't done with this presentation or blog post, although there is a link to a "Salt Peanuts" performance in the blog post). After getting an initial introduction to Jazz music, students could do reseach on specific sub-genres of Jazz and present to the class. Students could also research and describe specific historical events and movements that influenced Jazz music and its popularity (i.e. the Civil Rights movement's influence on bebop, Rock and Roll's rise coinciding with Jazz's decline in popularity, why popular early Jazz musicians were often white but popular later Jazz musicians were mostly black, etc.).

A Brief History of Jazz: PowerPoint

Download file

April 19, 2008

The One-Page History of Jazz

For my musical “artifact?, I’ve decided to get ambitious and try to condense the history (and the significance) of the American Jazz genre into five paragraphs. This feels like trying to condense all of Shakespeare’s works onto a post-it note, but it also sounds like something fun to try. I have watched all 12 videos of Ken Burns Jazz and I’ll be using Wikipedia to help refresh my memory, but, but, but I am no jazz expert and I’m sorry if I offend anyone with my ignorance.

Since jazz has different historical significance based on the era and type of jazz music, I’ll go through a quick timeline of jazz and talk about historical significance along the way. The origins of jazz came from the American South and the African slaves. Slaves began learning to use European musical instruments in the early 19th century, and they integrated African music and rhythms. This integration led to jazz often being recognized as the first (and most important) musical genre created in the United States.

After emancipation, this new music (often called “Dixie?) gained in popularity in the South (especially New Orleans) and coincided with the rise of “Ragtime? music in the North. African-Americans at the time were not free to work where they wanted, and entertainment professions for blacks were restricted to vaudeville and other more “blue-collar? venues. Much of the mainstream “jazz? music of this time was performed by white musicians, reflecting the public’s wariness of enjoying music by black performers.

That began to change in the 1920s as prohibition led more Americans into the “speakeasies? and other venues where African-Americans performed. The popular style of jazz at this time was Swing and big bands were the most popular way to play Swing. Many of the jazz pioneers were gaining mainstream popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, including Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. These masterful performers impressed the average American with his or her skills, and also made many Americans more comfortable with the notion of a famous black person.

World War II and the growing Civil Rights movement led to new forms of jazz. Be-Bop gained popularity in the 1940s and 1950s as a counter movement to the popular swing songs. Musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis broke the mold from the standard jazz sound, reflecting growing African-American discontent with the American establishment that restricted equal rights for all races. This break with the establishment was reflected in the sharp staccato sounds of be-bop compared to the drawn-out swings sounds. The song “Salt Peanuts? is a good example. Unfortunately for jazz, this was also the period that rock and roll music started gaining popularity – popularity that would ultimately take jazz out of the mainstream music scene.

But jazz was still popular in the mainstream throughout the 1960s with the rise of “cool jazz.? Miles Davis expanded beyond his be-bop roots to innovate in many jazz sub-genres (cool jazz, jazz fusion, etc.), and had the biggest selling jazz album of all time with “Kind of Blue? (released in August 1959). Performers such as Ornette Coleman tested the limits of what could actually be considered jazz music with the “free jazz? movement. These “revolutionary? performers reflected the politics of the 1960s and 1970s where many mainstream standards were questioned. Jazz has not made much noise or news since the 1960s and 1970s though. It was watered-down by “shopping-mall-muzak? versions and now is a genre listened to by fewer and fewer Americans. I think it’s more popular and entertaining for most people to watch documentaries about jazz then to actually listen to the music itself.

April 13, 2008

Whitney's "Greatest Love of All"

I think Whitney Houston’s song, “The Greatest Love of All?, is undervalued and underappreciated. I mean, what other song has the power of sticking in your brain so deeply that twenty years later a person is able to (out of the blue!) recite the first minute of lyrics word for word at 7:00am. And that person’s wife is also able to join in on that same crazy morning, word for word. And on top of this, both of these people mostly despise Whitney Houston and have not tried to listen to her music in over fifteen years. Clearly, this song has to be given serious “props? for its staying power.

Like Ann Powers discussed in her “Bread and Butter? article, this song (like many pop songs) somehow affected me deeply, even though on the surface I find the song overly simplistic and annoying. Powers describes how listeners are attracted to music that aligns with core parts of their identity. Maybe the message of this song connects with my same motivation for being a teacher. Whitney and teachers both “believe the children are our future.? I’m sure many teachers agree that we should “teach them well and let them lead the way.? I sure as hell want to show kids “all the beauty they possess inside?.

David Sanjek describes authenticity in his “All the Memories Money Can Buy? article. Sanjek describes the story behind the Bristol country/folk music sessions and how authenticity sometimes can be sacrificed. I think of a similar authenticity conflict when I hear the message of Whitney’s “Greatest Love of All? and then remember her trouble with drugs and Bobby Brown later in her own life. When Whitney tells us that she “decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadows? and then I remember her dependence on Bobby Brown even after he physically abused her – well, that’s a conflicting story. But then I remember her saying, “If I fail, if I succeed, at least I live as I believe? and I realized that we are all human and have faults. No matter what they took away from Whitney, they couldn’t take away her dignity.

These essential human truths are what really create the staying power of this song. Ultimately, “The Greatest Love of All? is a fight for independence. When viewed through a feminist critical approach (like the one described in our textbook), Whitney’s song is a message to all women to stand up for themselves – even in the face of domestic and drug abuse. But this song can be expanded to speak to both sexes, and I clearly feel Whitney’s message of hope and self-sufficiency ring through twenty years later (even if the lyrics are little cliché and the background music is dated and the video is cheesy). I don’t care what a music critic might say about this song; it is amazing in its power. It’s spooky to see the juxtaposition of this song’s lyrics with the knowledge of her later troubles with drugs and Bobby. Yet, this song also inspires both men and women to believe in themselves. When you set everything aside, all your preconceived biases against Whitney, and just sit and listen to this song and its lyrics, you can’t help but realize that Whitney was right all along. The greatest love of all is inside of you.

Do yourself a favor and just watch this, all the way through.

March 29, 2008

Viewing Log and Analysis of 10:00 news broadcast

You'll have to skim and scroll through this long viewing log to get to my analysis at the end...

Log of 10:00pm KSTP (Channel 5, ABC) news on Friday March 28, 2008
Anchors: John Mason, Leah McLean
Weather: Dave Dahl
Sports: Anne Hutchinson

10:00-10:08 – Local News

News starts with promos of news stories ahead: Thieves cashing in on valuable metal; a gun chase during the morning commute (15 seconds)

Breaking News: Two people hurt, possibly killed in a car crash in South Minneapolis (30 seconds)

Top Local News Story: Tuberculosis in Burnsville High School (1 minute, 30 seconds)
• Reporter Steve Shaw on the scene
• Student from BHS interviewed while sitting in his car
• Quick description of TB followed by quote by nurse: “People can die of TB, but it’s not common?
• Nurse cautions about Burnsville overreacting
• Reporter ends with “Live in Burnsville, Steve Shaw, 5 Eyewitness News?
• Anchor gives some quick TB tips

Local News: Car crash in Eden Prairie (30 seconds)
• “2 critically hurt, possibly taken by helicopter to the hospital?

Extended Local News Story: Bank robbery leads deadly high-speed chase (1 minute, 15 seconds)
• “Robber threw money out of the car window?
• “Police rammed into the car to stop him?
• Police shot and killed the suspect
• Officer is quoted saying, “Police are trained to respond with deadly force if there’s a threat.?

Extended Local News Story: Precious metal robbery (1 minute, 30 seconds)
• “A metal theft like no other…a story you’ll only see on 5 Eyewitness News…Robbing graves.?
• Reporter interviews woman: “This cemetery is a solitary place; it’s so surprising.?
• Woman asks, “Whose mind works this way??
• Officer states that “about 60 headstones were stolen.?
• Reporter ends with, “Reporting live for 5 Eyewitness News?
• Anchor says, “That story really makes you think?

Local News: Pit-bull under quarantine after attacking 70-year-old woman and her dog (45 seconds)
• Woman describes punching and rolling around with the pit-bull on the ground after the pit-bull attacked and locked onto her dog

Local News: 911 Hang-ups (45 seconds)

Anchors promote what’s on next with clips of each future segment (30 seconds)
• Raging car fires; Warm weather on the way; Next time you fly, pack lighter; When good turkeys go bad

Promotional advertisements for Channel 5 News (30 seconds)
• “When you see news, contact 5 Eyewitness News?
• “5 Eyewitness News has the most informative political coverage?

10:09-10:11 – Advertisements
• Toyota
• Syngenta (farm products)
• Becker Home Center (furniture)
• Pro-Norm Coleman political ad (discussing his efforts to get funding for 35W bridge)
• Carlson Toyota (local car dealership)

10:12-10:16 – More Local and National News

Breaking News: Car crash at 24th and Park Avenue in South Minneapolis; two people may have been killed (15 seconds)

Local News “Exclusive? Investigation: Airport car fires (1 minute, 15 seconds)
• Follow-up from last night’s news investigation about firefighters at airport watching cars burn in the parking lot for 33 minutes before intervening
• “Look what we found today – now there are fire extinguishers on the site?
• “Still no comment from the airport?

Local/National News Story: Contractor remains identified in Iraq (1 minute)
• Fresh pain for the mother of Johnson Rubin…?
• Reporter cites sources who say “there were several chances to save these men?
• “Families must decide what to do next?
• ‘No comment from the FBI?

Local Political News Story: Attorney General investigation (30 seconds)
• “Charges of AG pressuring lawyers to falsify timesheets…?

Local/National Business News: NWA/Delta talks back on (15 seconds)

Local Business News: NWA raising baggage fees (30 seconds)
• Woman at the airport quoted as saying, “The families will be the ones who pay?

National Political News: 2008 presidential campaign (45 seconds)
• Key political endorsement (Bob Casey) for Obama
• Senator Leahy calls on Clinton to quit race
• McCain launches TV ads

Local News: Minnesota brigade heading to Iraq in May (30 seconds)

Local News: Marine veteran injured in Iraq War presented with a new home (30 seconds)

Local News: Barge traffic soon to start on Mississippi River (30 seconds)
• “Signs of spring?

10:17-10:20 – Weather
• Wind pushing warmer air our way; Sat/Sun forecast; Radar; Temperatures (today, tomorrow); Radar forecast; Overnight/tomorrow/extended forecasts
• Laughter and chatter after the weather
• Promos for what’s next: Wild hockey, State HS boys basketball

10:21-10:23 – Advertisements
• Roundup weed killer
• Twin Cities Honda dealers
• Education Minnesota teachers’ union
• Batteries Plus
• Target
• Minnesota Twins
• Ashley Furniture Home Store

10:24-10:27 – Sports
* Wild beat Vancouver; Liriano opens Twins season in minors; Twins opening day roster; Boys HS basketball highlights; Promo for HS Sports Wrap; T’Wolves lose to Spurs
• Chatter and anchors show national women’s sports award for Anne Hutchinson
• “Up next: Attack of the birds?

10:28-10:30 – Advertisements
• Promo: “5 Eyewitness News is presented by Qwest?
• Qwest
• Warner’s Stellian (appliances)
• Honda
• Minnesota state lottery
• U of M’s children hospital
• Schneiderman’s Furniture
• TAXact.com
• Nissan
• Warner’s Stellian (second ad)

10:31-10:32 – Local Funny News
• “A group of aggressive turkeys have taken over a White Bear Lake apartment complex?
• Anchor says, “The turkeys are in heat. (laughter) I’ll take their word for it.?
• Man at complex quoted as saying, “I’d rather eat a turkey than kill one.?
• Chatter and laughter at the end of the segment
• Dave Dahl: “Open up the oven.?


My analysis of this news broadcast

I think this was a typical 10:00 network news broadcast. The maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads? was definitely in use for this broadcast. Almost all the news before the first commercial break was about crime and/or death. Car accidents, deadly car chases, thieves stealing gravestones, tuberculosis in a high school, a pit-bull attacking an old woman (actually the woman attacked the pit-bull after the pit-bull attacked her dog). All of these opening stories were meant to hold onto the viewers. Like our textbook states, most viewers change news broadcasts in the first five or ten minutes of the broadcast.

The advertisement time selection also shows how Channel 5 tries to keep their viewers. Commercials don’t start until nine minutes into the broadcast. Then they follow weather eight minutes after that, and they follow sports just four minutes after that. Once the viewer is locked into the news broadcast for the first nine minutes, Channel 5 correctly assumes that most viewers won’t change the channel after the ads get more frequent later in the broadcast.

The pace of the news stories is also very fast at the beginning of the news broadcast. The stories never go past one minute and 30 seconds, and many stories are only 30 seconds long. Breadth is valued much more than depth on the 10:00 network news. The weather segment is slower-paced, but everything else moves very quickly. Like a student study in our textbook shows, it is very difficult to remember most of what you see, let alone understand any of the context of the issues.

The lack of national news was very apparent. Only 45 seconds were used during the segment to report on national political news. This flatly contradicts Channel 5’s promotional claim during the broadcast to have “the most informative political coverage.? The few stories that related to the Iraq War focused mainly on family reactions to events. Channel 5 seemed to be trying to “pull at the heartstrings? of its viewers when they weren’t focusing on “blood and guts.?

Our textbook stated how network news broadcasts will focus on “Breaking News? more than in-depth analysis. This couldn’t be more apparent in this news broadcast. Twice the news anchors flashed to the scene of a car crash in south Minneapolis under the banner of “Breaking News.? I question how important a common scene such as this is on a news broadcast. Couldn’t the station be more responsible and use this time to analyze an issue more fully? Likely this analysis would come at the expense of ratings.

I listen to National Public Radio to get most of my news. For their afternoon All Things Considered hour-long broadcasts, they start with 5 minutes of news headlines that take place every half hour. Then, NPR averages about 5 minutes per news story with in-depth analysis and multiple perspectives. Some stories get close to ten minutes long. NPR covers more national and international news stories and also covers issues that don’t translate easy to immediate visuals (global warming, AIDS, international elections). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NPR is publicly-funded and has no commercials, and that NPR is able to provide this in-depth national/international/local news coverage.

One last little thing I noticed about the Channel 5 news broadcast. Car companies and furniture/appliance stores made up the majority of the commercials. I think this points to a demographic of middle-age viewers who likely own homes. This older “more domestic? viewership contrasts with advertisements on online news sites and Comedy Central’s Daily Show. Younger viewers are turning to the Internet and “fake? news broadcasts more often than the 10:00 news. And since most companies want to appeal to a younger audience (I think the theory is to lock in those customers for the long haul, although long-term brand loyalty is becoming more rare), I think more of the advertising dollars are going away from the 10:00 network news. Also, our textbook was right on another thing. The advertisements for local political candidates (Norm Coleman) outweighed the news coverage of local candidates…in this case, 30 seconds to none.

March 13, 2008

More on Today's Athlete: This time a YouTube analysis!

The difference in public perceptions of male and female athletes couldn't be more evident after viewing a selection of YouTube clips. I looked at clips about the media bias of female athletes. I saw "user-generated-content" in the form of a montage of the ESPN awards show about male (and some female) athletes: the ESPYs. And I also analyzed a clip of one of the most famous female athletes at that same awards show.

In this first clip, college professors discuss the media's bias of the female athlete. It's called "Playing Unfair: The Media Image of the Female Athlete." This video was created by "MEF: Challenging Media"...whatever that means.

A UMN professor starts the analysis, and other professors chime in. Clips of female athletes in sport are intermingled throughout this segment. The video also shows pictures of sexualized images of female athletes. This 5-minute segment seems like a "cut-and-paste" from a larger documentary on this subject or else maybe this segment was put together for a specific web site. I thought the video was a little "too academic" for the standard YouTube viewer.

It was also illuminating to read the posts of the YouTube viewers listed below this video. One person said that "If women are so good at sports, why don't they play men? It's proven that men are stronger than women." Another person posting said that "athletes have bodies that are sexy...they probably show more skin in clubs or on the beach...get over it." Another person writes that "it is interesting that no female athletes were interviewed for this segment...this video only shows one side of the issue." I agree that only one side of the issue is shown in this video, but I think it's naive to think that female athletes are okay with how they are represented as sexual objects. I think female athletes who come out against these media representations are viewed as "prudish" or ignored by the media entirely.

I found a second video that clearly illustrates the biased representations of female athletes compared to male athletes. It's a "user-generated" montage of the 2007 ESPYs created by a 28-year-old with the screen name "lynacruz".

In this video, winners from ESPN's awards shows, the ESPYs, are shown in still frames. Male athletes are most often shown in pictures from the sporting event they play in. For example, Tiger Woods is shown in a picture from the golf course. Roger Federer is shown on the tennis court. Tony Dungy is shown on the football field. In contrast, the two female athletes in this segment, Tarnye Mowatt and Maria Sharapova, are shown in their evening gowns. This is a clear example of female athletes being shown for their looks and not for their performance in sports.

On the side of this second clip's YouTube page, I saw a link to a montage of Maria Sharapova at this ESPY awards show. This third video segment, posted by the user "tabientennis", is a selection of edited clips of Sharapova at the ESPYs.

This video is seriously disturbing in my opinion. First of all, the scenes are pieced together in a way that does not make any "creative" sense...it seems like this video was solely created for men to view Sharapova in different poses in her evening gown. I also find it disturbing how the ESPN "red carpet reporter" seems more concerned about what outfit that Sharapova will wear to this year's US Open than anything else. That's the tennis US Open, but by the sheer neglect of any mention of Sharapova's sport, a viewer of this video would be hard-pressed to discover what sport she actually plays. And you only need to look at the discussion board posts to see that most YouTube viewers are more interested in Sharapova's looks, as opposed to her tennis playing ability.

I wonder if this is the media's (including YouTube's) fault for this portrayal of the female athlete. Maybe the media is just showing the public what they want to see. Maybe the public doesn't want to see serious portrayals of female athletes. If you read the discussion board postings beneath the "Playing Unfair" video, one would think that the Youtube viewer / general American is uninterested in female athletes for their skills. But a more critical analysis of this problem makes me disagree.

I think people posting their comments on YouTube do not reflect the general public. These are usually the outspoken Internet users...people who often have very polarizing viewpoints that do not reflect the majority of American opinions. And often these arguments posted are not well thought out. They often take the form of childish, surface-level criticisms.

I do think the media influences how we view the female athlete. I think women's athletics viewed in a more amateur (high school / college) setting are taken more seriously, and these are events often not covered by the national media. I think if there is a more concerted effort (maybe a federal government-led effort) that these stereotypes can be more properly addressed, and gradually, gradually, the public perceptions of the female athlete will change to something more positive and appropriate.

March 6, 2008

Discourse Analysis of Facebook (specifically the St. Thomas School of Law "Class of 2008" group)

I am a total rookie to Facebook. I heard of it, but never visited the site. In terms of social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace), I honestly don’t see the appeal. I think that makes me an unbiased, but oblivious, observer. Specifically, I decided to study my wife’s St. Thomas Law School “Class of 2008? group – which she (Angie) is a part of. She was my one interviewee and my only assistance at navigating through the site that is called Facebook.

Let’s set up the basics:

1) Setting: Facebook, St. Thomas Law “Class of 2008? private group
2) Tasks: To understand the appeal and uses of Facebook, specifically to St. Thomas third-year law students
3) Methods of Analysis: Observation of individual Facebook pages and direct interviews with one “Class of 2008? member (Angie Streit). This is basically an “immersion? research study based on mainly one person’s (mine) viewpoint.

Some of the specific practices I observed:

First, I clicked to see all 63 of the group members and their “introductory? pictures. Most of the pictures were quite flattering. Some wore formal attire in their picture, many men wore sunglasses, and many women flashed large smiles. Others went for the “goofy? introductory picture showing alcohol, baby pictures, gang signs, or some combination of all three. These did not seem to be the mature law students I was expecting. Didn’t they know that prospective employers check these sites?

Next, I clicked on a few of the profiles and dug a little deeper. The primary Facebook profile page has a plethora of information on it. I would assume that most people immediately check out the “Friend? information on the side. A listing of Mutual Friends is first listed, but then a Total Friends amount is given. My wife Angie told me that certain law school students are very competitive about having more “Facebook friends? than other students. I remember back in my wife’s first year of law school how she talked about constant “Friend requests? from her classmates so that they could bump up their totals.

The right column of individual profiles can get quite long, especially for the die-hard Facebook user. Favorite movies & TV shows, relationship status, favorite quotes, gifts (you can send cupcakes to each other!)…good grief, why do people spend so much time on this site? Actually, it can be quite addicting. Everything is linked. I started clicking through the links and ended up from one page to the next, and slowly realized that it seems like everyone has a Facebook page and I’m the one left out. OK, back to more “critical analysis?.

Some shared social agendas:

First, there’s the “Wall.? This is the super-long discussion board with posts from “friends.? I think the agenda of the Wall is just as much to show off the person who’s doing the posting as it is for communication. The replies seem more staged and restricted than an individual one-to-one email. Angie Streit says that she is also careful what she says on the Wall. For example, gossip is usually out of the question on the Facebook Wall. Some things are saved for actual face-to-face communication still.

Another shared social agenda that likely shows up more with the law students is the publicizing of oneself. It seems like these law students are treading a fine line between displaying themselves as “party-people? and “prime candidates for employment based on the number of groups they belong to.? There may be a “work hard, play hard? mentality among law students and law careers.

There was not much of a shared social stance when it came to religion. Although all of the members attend a Catholic school, some were Catholic, some were “developing Christians?, but most listed no religious views on their profile page at all. More political views were listed, but these were just general “liberal?, “moderate?, or “conservative? labels. In-depth political and religious discussion was virtually nonexistent. I think law students, even more than the general public, do not want to be constrained by a label. Not so much because they want a strong non-conformist identity, but more likely because they are concerned about fitting in with future employers and friends. I am making a hypothesis with this statement, and Angie partially backs up my idea, but she has her doubts.

The last critical analysis piece I’ll focus on is how this specific Class of 2008 St. Thomas Law group creates a “space of difference.? The “About Me? section of the profiles was especially reflective in this regard. Many law students described their upcoming graduation and current/future jobs in this section. The members portray themselves as humble in many ways (by not taking themselves too seriously, etc.), but they also want to advertise the fact (especially to their non-law-school-friends) that they have almost completed a difficult achievement (law school), and possibly communicate that they are about to make much more money than most of their non-law-school-friends. Angie Streit had no comment about my last hypothesis.

Overall, I thought Facebook wasn’t so bad. It does serve a role of communication that wasn’t possible ten years ago. The integration of photos, discussion, and links to other friends/sites does create a different picture of a person than the one you see in real life. I was a little disturbed how Facebook makes it seem that one’s entire essence can be distilled into a few photos and lists of “favorites?. But I may end up just swallowing my pride, set up an account, and send a Cupcake to a few of my friends.

March 1, 2008

Today's Professional Athletes: A Collage

Athlete collage.png

Word Document of Athlete Collage

Download file

Today's Athlete (both parts of this week's assignment on media representations)

Part One of our Weekly Assignment:

Today’s athletes are often more popular than movie stars. With non-stop sports TV channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, Fox Sports, The Golf Channel, etc.) and sports magazines, today’s athletes have many different ways to receive coverage in today’s media. What is striking is how many sports stars have infiltrated other media mediums traditionally relegated to movie stars and politicians. Tom Brady is interviewed in GQ; Tiger Woods is covered by Newsweek; Anna Kournikova has a spread in Maxim. Sports is “covered to death? by so many parts of the media today. Unfortunately, media biases are especially evident in how female athletes are portrayed compared to male athletes.

As one can see based on the collage I made, sexiness is a common denominator in almost all portrayals of female athletes today. During my Google searches, I had no trouble finding swimsuit pictures of today’s famous female athletes (even the WNBA stars). A spread in a male magazine is almost a pre-requisite before a female athlete becomes really popular. Even more “serious? female athletes like Annika Sorenstam (a female golfer who’s played on the male PGA tour) and Serena Williams (a female tennis player with such powerful shots that she could easily compete against most professional male tennis players) – even these female stars dial up the sexiness on their web sites and magazine interviews.

Male athletes are usually covered by the media in a way that focuses on their competitiveness and athletic skills, and less on their looks. Male sports stars such as Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant are interviewed constantly on ESPN about their athletic prowess in ways that would never happen with a female athlete. I have to mention that some male athletes also dial up their sexiness in the media. Derek Jeter, Roger Federer, and Tom Brady are great examples of the media mixing a male athletes’ competiveness with his sex appeal. It is interesting that most of the “sexy? male athletes portrayed by the media are disproportionately white or are African-Americans that look “whiter? (i.e. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriquez, etc.). I could write a whole other critique on the media’s representations of black athletes, but I will stick to the male/female discrepancies.

I think the media is only partially at fault for these stereotypical representations of the female and male athlete. Ultimately, it is the American consumer who decides what the media covers. For example, the WNBA prided itself on female athleticism and has always had trouble staying afloat financially. The WNBA tried “sexing up? its image in recent years, but these efforts have mostly failed as well. Women’s tennis is usually the most popular female sport – in part because of the high-level of play compared to their male counterparts – but I would argue it is more popular because of the “traditional good looks? of its athletes. Women’s golf, softball, and soccer are beginning to see more popularity and coverage in sports media, partly because of some new female athletes who “look great? in a swimsuit (Jennie Finch is a prime example).

I do think the media is responsible for much of these stereotypes and should ultimately be more responsible in what it shows, but we consumers have to realize that the choices we make in our media viewing and spending play just as large if not a larger role in perpetuating these representations.

Part Two of This Assignment:

I also found some journal articles from psychology journals and other sources that describe today’s athlete and the media representations of them.

The University of Minnesota is doing a project on the media’s portrayal of highly-competitive female athletes. They found that media representations of female athletes can have a great effect on female sports involvement. They are specifically working with media guides and the effect they have on recruiting female athletes to universities. This media study project takes a more rational approach to the problems of stereotyping the female athlete, compared with the "popular media" that rarely analyzes its own biases.

The Journal of Psychology in May 1999 compared differences in “maladaptive behaviors? (alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, etc.) between athletes and non-athletes. They found that superior athletes are more susceptible to these “problem? behaviors than non-athletes. This could partially explain why athletes seem to have a disproportionate amount of media coverage devoted to their problems with the law.

A 2004 article in Behavioral Science found that women’s sports are often covered in a way by the media that focuses on the athlete’s attractiveness, and often excludes their athletic ability. I think Anna Kournikova is a prime example of this phenomenon. She hardly won any tennis events and never was that good of a tennis player (compared to other female professionals), but she became the most popular female sports star in the last ten years based solely on her looks. The number of references to her on ESPN and ESPN.com (compared to other female athletes) was staggering. Thankfully, her popularity has died down recently.

The Online Journal of Sports Psychology analyzed biases in portraying sex and race in undergraduate sports psychology texts. I find it funny that even academic textbooks fall prey to the same biases that our popular media does.

February 17, 2008

Semiotic and Psychoanalytic approaches for critically analyzing media

I put a lot of work into this discussion board post, so I thought I'd post it on my blog, too.

I agree with Lisa that many of these critical approaches overlap. And I would have like to have seen more of a discussion of “high-quality? media versus “low-quality? media in Chapter 4. In know this is a “binary? distinction (and binary distinctions were often ridiculed in Chapter 4…especially in the Poststructuralist Approach), but there has to be a continuum between “high-quality/good? and “low-quality/bad? media. For example, “The Sopranos? TV show and “The Economist? magazine would be closer to the high-quality end of the spectrum, and “Two and a Half Men? and “US Weekly? would be closer to the low-quality end.

OK…let’s get to the actual assignment. I chose the Semiotic Analysis and the Psychoanalytic Theories. I’ll give a quick summary of the key points of each, and then include an example from the course website. I’ll also include some ideas about incorporating these two approaches into a classroom.

Semiotic Analysis focuses on cultural symbols and codes. For example, scenes of nature can associate a product with freshness and simplicity, and scenes of beautiful women can associate a product with helping increase the male viewer’s chance of attracting these beautiful women. One interesting part of Semiotic Analysis is that the meaning of the symbols/codes have a lot to do with who is doing the interpretation (i.e., who is viewing). For example, a feminist scholar working at a university would likely interpret beer commercials with swimsuit models differently than a high school boy watching the same commercial with his friends.

A great example of Semiotic Analysis on the Course Web Site is a paper about magazine ads for men’s fragrances (click here). The paper analyzes photos and symbols in ads for male fragrances appearing in male magazines like Sky, FHM, and Esquire. The ads often show good-looking men in their twenties by themselves in remote locations. The symbol of a good-looking male being associated with the product is more obvious, but I was surprised to read about how solitary men in the ads associate the product with freedom. Dior’s ad’s tagline was blatant in this regard: “Essence of Freedom.? And yes, there were a few ads that showed men “getting it on? with good-looking women. I couldn’t help but think of the Axe commercials as “over-the-top? examples of a male fragrance’s ability to attract beautiful women. Here’s a selection of them from YouTube:
Example 1
Example 2
Example 3

Some ideas I had about including Semiotic Analysis into a classroom:
* A classroom could analyze some fantasy video game commercials. The students could analyze them to find symbols of gender and values (such as freedom and power). Students could discuss what meanings companies want teens to get out of such advertisements, and possibly meanings that parents would find in the ads as well.
* Would it be right to show beer commercials in a classroom to show how companies encourage teens to drink? I think this could run into more trouble than its worth among parents and administrators, although doing this in a Health classroom may be possible.

Psychoanalytic Theories are actually an umbrella of approaches, encompassing Feminist Analysis, Postmodern Analysis, and Postcolonial Analysis. These theories deal with subconscious desires and how they shape the viewer’s experience with media. These theories overlap with Semiotic Analysis, because many of the same cues/codes associate media images with preconceived notions of the general American public. For example, strong women (e.g. Hillary Clinton) are often demonized by certain media because they break with the standard ideas of strength being associated with maleness. Most commercials targeted towards men portray women as sexual objects to be gazed at. Many movies also show strong women “getting their just desserts? at the end.

An interesting example of Psychoanalysis on the Course Web page was a discussion about Citizen Kane and Rosebud (click here). Most interpretations of Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sled deal with Rosebud being a symbol of unfulfilled childhood promise, but Collen in this post associates Rosebud more with Kane’s desire for public praise and importance. Long after Rosebud, Kane tried to fill his life with other objects that made him “feel important? and in-touch with the public world. This post shows some slight differences between Semiotic and Psychoanalytic approaches, but I still feel Psychoanalysis can be overdone and over-interpreted.

Some ideas I had about Psychoanalytic Theories into my classroom:
* I think Postcolonial Analysis would fit great into a language arts or social studies classroom. For example, students could read parts Huckleberry Finn or Uncle Tom’s Cabin and compare the representation of African-Americans back then to a more current media selection (e.g. Malcolm X, The Color Purple, even To Kill a Mockingbird). It would be interesting to show how some things changed over time, but how many stayed the same. Comparisons to current black stereotypes (e.g., rap stars) could also be made.
* Would it be possible to do a “queer theory? analysis of the heterosexual standard in our media? This is another lightning-rod issue that would need to be covered carefully to make sure a parental uproar did not ensue. Analysis of the heterosexual standard is an area I see becoming more and more important in future classrooms, after the political uproar dies down and the general American public becomes more comfortable with homosexuality.

February 10, 2008

Analysis of Audi/Godfather Super Bowl commercial

The CI 5472 weekly schedule tells us to analyze a film scene, but many of my classmates analyzed a TV commerical. So I compromised...I analyzed a TV commercial that was a spoof of a film scene.

Click on the link below to download my Word document:
Download file

For those of you who don't want to download the Word document, I've also pasted images of the analysis in the entries below. I hope you have good eyes...

1st third of Audi ad analysis

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2nd third of Audi ad analysis

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3rd third of Audi ad analysis

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