UNIT: Media and Social Issues
Issue: Do Media Reflect Contemporary Family Relationships?
Yes: Leigh H. Edwards, from "Reality TV and the American Family," University Press of Kentucky (2010)
No: Sarah Boxer, from "Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?" The Atlantic (2014)
Associate Professor Leigh H. Edwards examines how families are portrayed in television and discusses how certain narrative tropes, trends, and genres present us with real family relationships representative of American society and culture. She raises the important point that reality television in particular presents viewers with real conflicts to which many families can relate, because the programs portray real cultural problems that have no easy answers. She concludes her argument with an assessment that public debates about family and marriage often frame the content of the families we see on television. Sarah Boxer examines the content of animated movies and questions why so many mothers in fairy tales and children’s films represent the absent mother. Since more American households are headed by married couples or single mothers, she questions the portrayals of mother figures, father figures, and step parents. Without mother figures, she claims, other characters have to step in to teach the lessons mothers often provide for their children, and audiences are left with questionable role models.
Issue: Have Media Representations of Minorities Improved?
Yes: Drew Chappell, from "‘Better Multiculturalism’ through Technology: Dora the Explorer and the Training of the Preschool Viewer(s)," Lexington Books (2013)
No: Elizabeth Monk-Turner, et al., from "The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenberg Study a Decade Later," Studies in Popular Culture (2010)
Professor Drew Chappell, in “Better Multiculturalism through Technology: Dora the Explorer and the Training of the Preschool Viewer(s),” juxtaposes facts about recent actions attempting to ban ethnic studies and restrict immigration in parts of the United States with the television show, Dora the Explorer’s portrayal of a bilingual (English/Spanish) speaking girl, and discusses how the show introduces children to bilingualism, border identities, and multicultural discourse. Chappell discusses how the performance of identity in Dora’s world can teach children about what brings all humans together. Elizabeth Monk-Turner, Mary Heiserman, Crystle Johnson, Vanity Cotton, and Manny Jackson, in “The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenberg Study a Decade Later,” revisit what has become a classic study in the portrayal of minorities in media and finds that even though how minorities are represented have changed within context, no serious changes to stereotypes have really occurred. In this study of prime-time television programming, little has changed within the 10-year time span between the classic Mastro and Greenberg study, and the analysis provided by the authors.
Issue: Have More Women Become Involved as Decision Makers in Media Industries?
Yes: Hannah McIlveen, from "Web Warriors: The Women of Web Series," Lydia Magazine (2014)
No: Martha M. Lauzen, from "Boxed In: Portrayals of Female Characters and Employment of Behind-the-Scenes Women in 2014-15 Prime Time Television," Center for the Study of Woman in Television & Film (2015)
Hannah McIlveen challenges the dominant male culture of decision makers in television to discuss how women have been making inroads in nontraditional programming on the Web. Working in low-budget situations does not stop their creativity, and even television network executives are paying attention to new content from women creators on the Web. Every year, Professor Martha M. Lauzen conducts a survey of the roles of women in prime-time television at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. In this report, she provides data for the 2014–2015 television season, and she states that women are still underrepresented in prime-time television.
Issue: Do Media Distort Representations of Islam and Arab Cultures?
Yes: Wajahat Ali, et al., from "Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America," Center for American Progress (2011)
No: Gal Beckerman, from "The New Arab Conversation," Columbia Journalism Review (2007)
Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, and Faiz Shakir discuss in Fear, Inc., a special report from the Center for American Progress, how the Muslim religion is among the most maligned stereotypes in popular culture, and how these images have fueled misperceptions about the Arab world. It explores how media have been an echo chamber for misinformation created by well-funded groups dedicated to spreading fear and misinformation. These images influence politicians and citizens and contribute to public opinion. In this issue, journalist Gal Beckerman discusses how Arab bloggers from the Middle East are challenging popular stereotypes of Arab and Middle Eastern culture. Because these bloggers are writing about their lives, the global public can read about their situations and understand them as individuals, rather than racial or ethnic group members.
UNIT: A Question of Content
Issue: Do Media Cause Individuals to Develop Negative Body Images?
Yes: June Deery, from "The Body Shop," Palgrave Macmillan (2012)
No: Michael P. Levine and Sarah K. Murnen, from " ‘Everybody Knows That Mass Media Are/Are Not [pick one] a Cause of Eating Disorders’: A Critical Review of Evidence for a Causal Link Between Media, Negative Body Image, and Disordered Eating in Females," Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (2009)
June Deery examines the role of reality television and body makeover programs and concludes that these types of programs normalize the idea that bodies can and should be improved by plastic surgery, weight loss, and control programs, and that women in particular should subject themselves to all measures to find “success” and “happiness.” She theorizes that these programs assume that women in particular do have negative body images, and that the real messages of these programs is that surgical steps can and should be taken to improve one’s poor body image. Michael Levine and Sarah Murnen also investigate magazine ads, but find the assumption that media cause eating disorders to be too limited. Instead, they cite a wide range of social, behavioral, and cultural issues over time to understand the complex conditions under which girls begin to adopt negative body issues that result in eating disorders.
Issue: Do Video Games Encourage Sexist Behavior?
Yes: Anita Sarkeesian, from "Ms. Male Character—Tropes vs Women," Feminist Frequency (2013)
No: Kaitlin Tremblay, from "Intro to Gender Criticism for Gamers: From Princess Peach, to Claire Redfield, to FemSheps," Gamasutra (2012)
Anita Sarkeesian is a video game critic who also started a website called Feminist Frequency. In 2010, Feminist Frequency and Bitch Media put out a six-part series called “Tropes vs Women” in which Sarkeesian analyzes different tropes found in pop culture and the negative female stereotypes they perpetuate. This selection focuses on one of the tropes, the “Damsel in Distress,” which Sarkeesian says is a theme that can be traced back to Greek mythology. Kaitlin Tremblay is an editor, a writer, and a video game maker who focuses primarily on topics that deal with horror, feminism, and mental illness. She says games are always a target for the best and the worst of gender criticism, and claims that when we play videogames you immerse yourself in the character, and therefore, you can overcome any negative victim-association that is so prevalent in many childhood games.
Issue: Is Product Placement an Effective Form of Advertising?
Yes: Kaylene Williams, et al., from "Product Placement Effectiveness: Revisited and Renewed," Journal of Management and Marketing Research (2011)
No: Ekaterina V. Karniouchina, Can Uslay, and Grigori Erenburg, from "Do Marketing Media Have Life Cycles? The Case of Product Placement in Movies,” Journal of Marketing (2011)
Professors Kaylene Williams, Alfred Petrosky, Edward Hernandez, and Robert Page chronicle the evolution of product placement and define the term as incorporating “commercial content into noncommercial settings.” They discuss the subtle differences between brand placement and product placement and raise the topic of how product placement is becoming more common in many media forms, including music and games. Professors Karniouchina, Uslay, and Erenburg analyzed 40 years of movies (1968–2007) to uncover the idea that product placement has become a tactic that no longer interests viewers of major motion pictures. As a result, they suggest that marketers should investigate other ways of trying to connect ideas and brand identities.
Issue: Is There Any Harm In Taking Selfies?
Yes: Elizabeth Day, from "How Selfies Became a Global Phenomenon," The Guardian (2013).
No: Jenna Wortham, from "My Selfie, Myself," The New York Times (2013)
British journalist Elizabeth Day thinks of selfies as modern-day self-portraits. Despite their popularity, she sides with critics who consider selfies to be narcissistic and expressions of our self-absorbed lifestyles. New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham claims that our predilection for responding to faces is just a part of a more technologized world, and that while we shouldn’t discount the selfie phenomenon, we should also keep in mind that selfies are a type of visual diary.
UNIT: News and Politics
Issue: Will the Rolling Stone "Rape on Campus" Story Change Journalism for the Better?
Yes: Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz, from "Rolling Stone’s Investigation: 'A Failure That Was Avoidable',” Columbia Journalism Review (2015)
No: Joe Strupp, from "How the Rolling Stone Rape Story Failure Has—And Hasn’t—Changed Media Coverage,” Media Matters (2015)
Coronel, Coll, and Kravitz of the Columbia School of Journalism conduct a painstakingly in-depth investigation of the process and decisions that led to the discredited story about rape and the University of Virginia. They re-create the reporter and editorial actions from first contact through retraction. Joe Strupp argues that the investigation encompassed failures in reporting, editing, editorial supervision, and fact-checking. He suggests that it is time for journalists to begin to define best practices when reporting about rape cases.
Issue: Should Corporations Be Allowed to Finance Political Campaigns?
Yes: Thomas R. Eddlem, from "Citizens United Is Breaking Up Corporate Dominance of Elections," The New American (2012)
No: David Earley and Ian Vandewalker, from "Transparency for Corporate Political Spending: A Federal Solution," Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law (2012)
Conservative author Thomas R. Eddlem makes the case that corporate media institutions influence the messages that the public sees and hears. As a result, the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which gives corporations the right to make political contributions and creates the possibility of the establishment of SuperPACs, also results in the exercise of freedom of speech. David Earley and Ian Vandewalker, two counsels at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, argue that the rise of political spending that resulted from the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has created a situation in which political elections can be “bought” by corporate donors. Because of the new law, they argue that the only way to ensure transparency is to create a situation in which all political donations are disclosed to the public.
Issue: Are Twitter and Other Social Media a Good Source of Political Information?
Yes: John H. Parmelee and Shannon L. Bichard, from Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public, Lexington Books (2012)
No: Clay Shirky, from "The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change," Foreign Affairs (2011)
In these sections of their longer study on the role of Twitter and politics, Professors Parmelee and Bichard examine how political leaders use Twitter to influence the public. While politicians establish personal relationships with followers, some tweets are intended to influence policy. The authors examine the potential for the one-way form of communication provided by Twitter to engage with the public. Shirky turns this issue around by asking about the use of social media to effect change within authoritarian regimes. He describes situations in which protests have been arranged by text. It is in the use of social media to coordinate actions and develop shared awareness that their power resides. But, he warns that these tools can be ineffective and cause as much harm as good.
Issue: Are Polls an Accurate Assessment of Public Opinion?
Yes: Sheldon R. Gawiser and G. Evans Witt, from "20 Questions a Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results," National Council on Public Polls (2012)
No: Herbert J. Gans, from "Public Opinion Polls Do Not Always Report Public Opinion," Nieman Journalism Lab (2013)
Sheldon R. Gawiser and G. Evans Witt have a vast experience in developing polls and analyzing the results of polls. Their belief in the accuracy of polls to reflect public opinion is grounded in decades of experience, and in the scientific accuracy of the poll. They provide advice to journalists on how to measure the worth of a poll in terms of its scientific rigor as opposed to its casual approach toward accuracy. Herbert J. Gans discusses how news media personnel often portray public opinion through polls inaccurately. He makes an important distinction between the way people answer polls and the definition of public opinion.
UNIT: Law and Policy
Issue: Does Technology Invade Our Privacy?
Yes: Daniel J. Solove, from "The All-or-Nothing Fallacy," Yale University Press (2011)
No: Stewart Baker, from "The Privacy Problem: What’s Wrong with Privacy," Tech Freedom (2010)
Daniel J. Solove, Professor of Law at George Washington University and authority on privacy issues, argues that privacy is too often sacrificed for security concerns. He argues that there are often solutions that do not involve such sacrifices, but that they are dismissed by an all-or-nothing attitude. Stewart Baker, former Assistant Secretary for Policy at Homeland Security, argues vigorously for better collection and use of technological information. Its importance in preventing acts of terrorism, in tracking potential criminals, and in protecting the interests of the country far outweighs privacy concerns of individuals.
Issue: Does the Internet Change the Way We Think of Copyright and Plagiarism?
Yes: Marc Fisher, from "Steal This Idea," Columbia Journalism Review (2015)
No: Louis Menand, from "Crooner in Rights Spat," The New Yorker (2014)
Marc Fisher is a senior editor at The Washington Post and recently held the position of Enterprise Editor for local news at the Post, where he led a team of writers who were experimenting with new forms of storytelling and journalism for both the print and online versions of the newspaper. Louis Menand is a Professor of History at Harvard University. He also is a past editor of The New Yorker, a contributing editor to The New York Review of Books, and a former associate editor at The New Republic. He was awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for history for his book The Metaphysical Club, for which he also won the Francis Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians.
Issue: Are Copyright Laws Effective in Curbing Piracy?
Yes: Brian R. Day, from "In Defense of Copyright: Creativity, Record Labels, and the Future of Music," Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law (2011)
No: Alex Sayf Cummings, from Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press (2013)
Attorney Brian R. Day addresses the size of the recorded music industry which manufactures and distributes 85 percent of the recorded music in the United States today‚ and discusses the need for copyright protection and the different business models used by the music industry today. He argues that copyright is essential to the music industry and other media industries because it constitutionally protects the work of artists and their ability to profit from their talents. Alex Sayf Cummings writes from the perspective of the impact of piracy‚ bootlegging‚ and counterfeiting on the music industry and concludes that contemporary copyright legislation is just not adequate to circumvent the ease with which people can download unauthorized copies of musical performances. He warns that copyright is no longer adequate to meet the challenge of digital music today, and warns that the recorded music industry is in danger of becoming obsolete.
UNIT: Media Business
Issue: Is Streaming the Future of the Music Industry?
Yes: Joan E. Solsman, from "Attention, Artists: Streaming Music Is the Inescapable Future. Embrace It." CNET News (2014)
No: Charles Arthur, from "Streaming: The Future of the Music Industry, Or It’s Nightmare?" The Guardian (2015)
Journalist Joan E. Solsman discusses the rise of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, and identifies three business models that are emerging from the number of streaming services. Her article shows how divergent the forms of distribution for music have become, and the impact on artist revenue for some of those new services. Journalist Charles Arthur discusses some of the same streaming services, but identifies how little profit many of them are making because consumer tendency to download free music cuts into the revenue of many of the emerging services.
Issue: Should We Oppose Media Consolidation?
Yes: Mark Cooper, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights," U.S. Senate (2010)
No: Brian L. Roberts and Jeff Zucker, from "Testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights," U.S. Senate (2010)
Mark Cooper, Director of the Consumer Federation of American Research, argues that allowing the merger of the largest cable network and the nation’s premiere video content producers and distribution outlets will alter the structure of the video marketplace, resulting in higher prices and fewer choices for the consumer. Such consolidation of the marketplace is not in the best interests of the American public. Brian L. Roberts and Jeff Zucker, then Presidents of Comcast and NBC, respectively, argue that the merged firms will benefit consumers through the investment in innovation of both content and delivery mechanisms. Such a merger will allow this merged unit to compete more effectively in the increasingly global video market.
UNIT: Life in the Digital Age
Issue: Do Social Media Enhance Real Relationships?
Yes: Zeynep Tufekci, from "Social Media’s Small, Positive Role in Human Relationships," The Atlantic (2012)
No: Sherry Turkle, from "The Flight from Conversation," The New York Times (2012)
Tufekci argues that social media is a counterweight to the many factors that separate people and a testament to peoples’ ongoing desire to connect with each other. Rather than displacing connections, social media is enhancing it in more ways than were ever possible. With social media some become even more social; some have felt awkward but more free online; others find communities of interest that go far beyond the limitations of their current environment. Social media adds, rather than subtracts, from connections. Turkle argues that social media provide the illusion of connection. Her perspective comes from hundreds of interviews that often describe a lonely environment in which technology trumps authentic communication. People can become confused about whether technology brings them closer together or further apart. Her question is straightforward: Is technology offering us the lives we want to lead?
Issue: Can Digital Libraries Replace Traditional Libraries?
Yes: Robert Darnton, from "A World Digital Library Is Coming True!" The New York Review of Books (2014)
No: Jill Lepore, from "The Cobweb: Can the Internet Be Archived?" The New Yorker (2015)
Harvard University Library Director Robert Darnton suggests that a new model of publishing scholarly work may need to be created to preserve ideas in electronic form. The traditional library, he says, relies on a financial model that is no longer sustainable. The result, he suggests, is to continue to convert scholarly research to digital data and for libraries to specialize and cooperate in their lending processes. Historian and Harvard University Professor Jill Lepore examines the efforts to collect digital information—particularly websites—through the Internet Archive, but provides frightening data on how incomplete the archive of digital data is, why that happens, and what consequences occur because of incomplete records of digital data.
Issue: Will the Benefit Be Worth the Cost for the Internet of Things?
Yes: Shawn Dubravac, from Digital Destiny: How the New Age of Data Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Communicate, Regency Publishing (2015)
No: Federal Trade Commission, from "Internet of Things: Privacy and Security in a Connected World," FTC Staff Report (2015)
Dubravac sees a new era in which digital devices and services transform our lives. They will transform our individual lives, solve some major problems for humankind, and improve our access to products and services. “The Internet of Things: Privacy and Security in a Connected World” contains reports of staff members who participated in an FTC workshop that discussed the potential security risks to personal safety inherent in the Internet of Things.