Congratulations- You are now an Informed Citizen!

Engaging one’s brain after an 18 month vacation seems like yet another hill to climb in the vast landscape of university. This assignment provided me with both a solid grounding in my media studies as well as a comprehensive lesson in conquering the ‘how to’s’ of a successful media student. How to research, write, edit, blog and even tweet!

As with any task, it is amazing to see the full circle one takes on their journey to understanding. Previously intangible notions surrounding the media were given substance through the exploration of examples in lectures, tutorials and my own investigations. A journey from being ignorant to informed, you could say. A number of key concepts struck a chord with me. I was astounded by how the media has become a scapegoat for incongruous human actions such as the Colorado Cinema Massacre, the media effects model refusing to accept that human nature may be at fault. Furthermore, a heightened awareness of the concentration of media ownership in Australia and the lines of bias each organisation follows, as displayed for example in Outfoxed, has caused me to scrutinise the media I digest in terms of its hidden agendas. My morning dose of Sunrise is now ingested with a pinch of salt- what have the editors chosen to include and why?

Finding your own path

Finding your own path to success

Aside from research, I have thoroughly enjoyed the writing process and devising catchy hooks to appeal to a potentially global audience. Additionally, compacting an argument into 300 words encouraged concise thought.

Finally, a broader perspective on the weekly topics was gained through engaging with the posts of fellow peers. It was fascinating to see how each student uniquely interpreted the same issue. This individuality shows that there are many ways to approach this subject, and no one path is more correct than another.

There is no defined ‘how to’ list for media students. It is only by developing a unique style and forging your own path that you will find your own success in this subject.

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A Family Just Like Yours

“I’m a cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud, OMG: oh my god, WTF: why the face” (Episode 1.1).

Phil Dunphy- the quintessential dad. We can all relate to the embarrassing puns, the cringe worthy attempts to connect with our generation. I will never forget one particular day when my dad collected me from school- the car pulled in, the window rolled down and a high pitched parody of Regina George’s line from Mean Girls was heard “Get in loser, we’re going shopping!”  A classic dad moment.

Modern Family. Fast becoming one of the most popular series of primetime television, the ‘mockumentary’ style comedy explores the stories of three unique ‘modern-day’ families.

The show humorously handles several significant issues including race, sexuality and gender roles. However, the stereotypical characters have caused debate within the public sphere (defined by A Mckee in The Public Sphere: An Introduction as the “virtual space where citizens exchange ideas and discuss issues”) due to their alleged misrepresentation. Michelle Haimhoff criticised the show in The Christian Science Monitor for being “sexist” and “unrealistic” in presenting women such as Claire as “stay at home” mums while their husbands are successful businessmen.

Rock on- The 'traditional family'- who are you?

Which character are you in the ‘modern family?’

Furthermore the lack of physical affection displayed by the gay couple, Cameron and Mitchell, in season one sparked a Facebook campaign demanding that the two be allowed to kiss, the ensuing episode “the Kiss” drawing praise from many critics.

Despite these criticisms, the key to the success of Modern Family may actually lie in the depiction of these stereotypical personas and family models, as EVERYONE can relate to a certain aspect of the show. Whether, like me, it’s Phil Dunphy as your dad or the sibling rivalry between Hayley and Alex, it is this sense of familiarity that causes most members of the public sphere to look past the criticisms and see the show for its true comedic value.

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Thirsty? Try Some Concentrated Media Ownership!

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator

Habitual breakfast connoisseurs generally greet a new day with a bowl of cereal, a coffee and a good newspaper to read. A metal spoon poised to enter the bowl of enticing cornflakes and a metaphorical spoon prepared to mentally ingest the daily bulletins.

Our taste in media, just like our taste in culinary delights, is subjective. In relation to the daily news, we engage with and ‘digest’ the edition whose perspective resonates most closely with our own. We are all aware that different news outlets can present alternative views on the same story. Certain media follow certain lines of bias in order to meet their political, social, or personal agendas.

This diversity of views is essential within a democratic society for consumers to make informed judgements on content. And this is why it matters who controls the media, or more pertinently- HOW MANY control it. As Elizabeth Hart outlined in her article Media Ownership “Whoever owns the media owns the message”. Increasingly it seems media ownership is becoming more concentrated. In Australia 11 out of 12 capital city daily papers are owned by either Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation of John Fairfax’s Holdings (E. Hart, 2008). The critical issue with this bottleneck trend of ownership is the limited perspective presented to consumers as the underlying message conveyed through media of the same owner is often the same.

The ‘bottleneck’ trend of media ownership in Australia

However an interesting platform has recently developed to combat the bias of this global phenomenon. The American website Allsides places stories from alternative newspapers side by side in order to expose bias and provide a “well-rounded view of complex stories.” This website cleverly alerts consumers to the issue of concentrated media ownership in news outlets by revealing their underlying agendas in a comparative environment.

Clearly in order to maintain a healthy democratic media environment, it is important to retain diversity of media ownership, to ensure a range of perspectives and a choice of opinions. I mean who wants to be eating cornflakes every day?

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A Thousand Words and a Window to the Soul

It could be said that one controversial photograph changed the fate of the Vietnam War.

Kim Phuc, nicknamed the ‘Napalm Girl’, became a universal icon for suffering and the human capacity for atrocity when she was photographed, by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, running burned, naked and screaming from her home. The picture denotes the aftermath of an aerial napalm strike in 1972, as South Vietnamese planes mistook their own fleeing civilians for Vietcong near the small village of Trang Bang.

Vietnam Napalm Girl

What meaning lies behind this controversial photograph?

As the image was globally disseminated, public outcry grew. While the denotation of the picture may be blatant enough, a study of the connotations and semiotics behind the text reveal a different perspective relating to our cultural ideologies.

The response to the image of a child, a socially accepted incarnation of innocence, with arms outstretched and an expression of pain and fear eternally etched on her face, demonstrates the power of a picture to drive a political action. The image signified to many the disposable nature of civilians in the war, they were simply collateral damage.  Kim’s story tugged at the heartstrings of the global audience, united in their moral conviction of justice and the protection of the innocent. She inspired global condemnation of the war and may have indirectly influenced America’s ultimate decision to withdraw troops.

Here we see a strong example of how a representation can generate a united response based on the core values and beliefs it connotes.

However, in the evolving media landscape, these cultural ideologies may be losing their power and conviction. Images of violence and suffering have become commonplace as news outlets release daily reports on the most recent car bombing in Baghdad, or the latest conflict in Afghanistan. Dominating our media landscape, these pictures can be seen to desensitise us to the individual’s suffering. So a question to leave you with- is overexposure in the media undermining our values?

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An Insight Into Human Nature

The Blame Game

Human beings need answers. What is the meaning of life? Is there life after death? We are never satisfied with the unknown, the uncertain and the inexplicable. Which brings us to the fundamental question this week- who is to blame? The media has become a scapegoat for incongruous human actions. We refuse to attribute destructive actions to human nature. And so we search for a logical answer. The media effects model perpetuates the myth that media has direct effects on audiences and causes certain behaviours. However this model contains multiple inconsistencies.

Let’s use violence as an example. During a midnight screening of the Dark Knight in Colorado in July last year, a gunman fired multiple shots into the audience, killing 12 people and injuring 58.  An article published in USA today (1), stated “saturation coverage” caused by “24-7 media exposure” of similar incidents was to blame for encouraging the crime. Already we see an inherent flaw in the system. As David Gauntlet points out in his article 10 things wrong with the effects model “the media effects approach is backwards…starting with the media and then trying to lasso connections from there…”

By accrediting the massacre to a fault of the media, commentators are jumping the gun (excuse the pun). The media effects model is one of assumption and generalisation in relation to causality. Violence on TV leads to violent acts in everyday life. Commentators neglect to ‘dig deeper’. If we analyse the social background of the killer, we may find an alternate explanation e.g. poverty, neglect, bullying. But we refuse to accept a glitch in human nature so we point the finger elsewhere.

An interesting thought to leave you with– it may be true that as we increasingly immerse ourselves in media, our fates seem intrinsically bound.  Yet to an extent we are still in control of what the media presents. Does this not mean that a fault in the media will translate to a fault in human nature?


A Short Pro(b)logue

The moment Hamish Blake leant forward to touch my knee on the set of Hamish and Andy’s EuroGap Year in London decided it for me. Hands down.

I was one of 16 lucky people randomly chosen by to be filmed as part of the pub crowd in episode twos ‘Gap Byear Ad’ ad. As fate had it- I was on my gap year too! Although eager to highlight this coincidence- when it came to it, I was star struck. Who cares if the casual brush of Hamish’s hand was in jest of my incomprehension of one his brilliant moments of impromptu hilarity, or that the rest of the crowd were laughing AT me? There in the dishevelled Lord Stanley Pub, strewn with lighting cables, microphones and one solitary camera set up in improvised disarray consistent with Hamish and Andy’s shows, my passion for a career in media ignited.  And like a wildfire through scrubland it has gained momentum ever since.

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My gap year reinforced my career direction in many other ways. Born and raised in country Bowral, a sleepy town known only as the birthplace of Don Bradman where gossip travels faster than the gaggle of grandmas on their electronic scooters, I was suddenly faced with a world of opportunities that stem from independence. For a year my life followed the travel junkie’s motto-If it’s Monday, I must be in Switzerland’. I relished the opportunity to immerse myself in the unique melange of sights, sounds, smells and customs each country presented.

So here I am- 17 countries and one year later – ready for my next adventure, ready to follow a career driven by my passions. And whether this ends up being in broadcasting, reporting, hosting a children’s TV show or working as a foreign correspondent in France, my outlook on this indecision is expressed perfectly in the well-known quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Life is a journey, not the destination” (1). Take time to smell the roses and to have some fun.

(1) Ralph Waldo Emerson was a 19th century American poet and philosopher