Blog 4: Participatory culture

Blog 4: Participatory culture

Blog 4: Participatory culture

The rise of social media has allowed individuals with very little following to create and circulate their own cultural materials to millions of people. Whilst Rebecca Black had her moment, albeit an incredibly annoying one, others have also risen to ‘internet fame’ with their own cultural materials. A recent example of this Japanese comedian Kazuhito Kosak, and his incredibly annoying, yet oddly fascinating ‘Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen’ (PAPP) video which circulated on social media in late August of this year. Below is the original video link. *WARNING* ridiculously catchy. It will likely be stuck in your head for hours.

This song was originally uploaded to Kazuhito’s YouTube channel, as one of his ‘characters’ DJ Pico Taro, and quickly became viral. To date it has been viewed over 91 million times. What’s interesting about this is the video was barely discussed on Japanese social media channels, yet he became an internet sensation overnight internationally. I admit that I thought this video was brilliant, based solely on his dance moves and ridiculous lyrics. This video has allowed for hundreds of other user-generated tributes to begin to circulate as fans begin to remix the original content and circulate it amongst fans.

Video games – Enter the Prosumer

Prosumerism has given consumers the opportunity to be involved n the design, manufacture or overall development of a product or service. Whilst this has given users the opportunity to share in their fandom of a game with other users, it has also lead to game developers being a little lax in the creativity department. An example of prosumerism in gaming can be found in Little Big Planet.

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Little Big Planet (LBP) is a puzzle platform game series created by Media Molecule, in which players follow the adventures of Sackboy (see above image). Firstly this game allows players to interact socially by joining other players in each level, and being able to communicate with them directly to get assistance with completing levels. In this game, there is a large emphasis on user-generated content (the games tagline is Play, Create, Share). Players are able to customize their characters entirely, whilst also creating their own levels with a built-in level creator. Once levels are created, users have the ability to share these with the games community by uploading them to the Playstation Network (PSN). There are more than 8 million user-created levels available through the PS3 platform. The game further allows users to make non-gaming creations such as music and film (cut-scenes), and players are encouraged to share levels (their own and others that they have found) and review/comment on them, and share them through the LBP communities online and through social media. Author Sullivan mentions that all uses and gratifications based studies on video gaming point to the same conclusions. He states that “online game players are seeking to engage actively with the game, thereby transcending their role as passive consumers of media. Secondly, the ability to interact with other audiences and engage in social relationships is another strong draw to players”. This is aids in the understanding of the popularity of games like LBP, which allows for heavy interaction and engagement of social relationship through the LBP communities.

As Sullivan discusses, our ability to remix and rework popular culture to help us critically reflect on that exact culture has helped transform us from a read-only culture. This transformation into a read-write culture has allowed the public to produce, interact, change and influence our own culture. By remixing content, as shown in the above examples, consumers are now able to influence our own culture, instead of relying on groups of professionals to produce it for the masses.

The birth of the second screen

Television is no longer solitary experience. Some aspects of TV viewing have become an incredibly interactive experience thanks to the birth of a second screen helping us ‘engage’ with other people whilst we watch. Tim Highfield, Stephen Harrington & Axel Bruns discuss how Twitter is now being used to connect and support conversations between audience members for live entertainment. It has created a real-time space for relatively unmediated communal discussion regarding the shows users are watching.

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Twitter has become to the medium of choice for this type of engagement, as its fast paced environment lends itself better to TV. Twitter acts as a conversational way for viewers to give instantaneous feedback and commentaries live, as the show airs. This is an especially great tool for producers and advertisers, who get feedback in real-time.

Pretty Little Liars, a show that airs on ABC became the most tweeted/Facebooked about TV series of all time (on a single day). When airing, the show is sure to show the # they want viewers to use at the bottom of the screen, to ensure that they participate online. By #PLL or #prettylittleliars, fans of the show are instantly joined by a community of like-minded fans that they can have a live discussion with during the shows airing. It also allows these fans a place to communicate outside of live-airings, creating a fandom space. They also have actors from the show appear in a pre-show, where fans can tweet them specific questions and statements that they are able to answer in real-time.

Live television has also created a place for fans to join a real-time conversation of what is happening. An example of this can be seen with the X Factor UK. This singing show, much like American Idol, airs a live show every Saturday (until the winner is chosen). During this time, the show encourages users to tweet along with performances, and use the # of the contestants they like/dislike. One particular contestant this year, self-proclaimed rap legend Honey G, has essentially divided a nation (see video below as to why).

This show has implemented second-screen viewing by creating an app where you can vote for your favorite acts during the live shows and encouraging users to live-tweet their reactions to performances. As Honey G has become one of the most talked about contestants in the history of the show, the producers have utilized twitter to get viewers to engage with their account by creating weekly hastags for her alone. Each week they ask ‘fans’ of Honey G to tweet pictures of themselves looking like the contestant (the hat and sunglasses) in the theme of the weekly hashtag. These have included: #mummyG, #miniG, #grannyG, #spookyG, in which the show asked users to tweet pictures using the hashtag, of their mum/nan/kids dressed up as Honey G. This gave fans a place to share their content with other fans, and also gave them the opportunity for it to possibly be shown on live television on the next show. These hashtags give other uses a way of tracking these discussions, which is something I find myself doing with Honey G and the above hashtags. As I am unable to watch this live, the use of hastags allows me to connect with the content produced by fans, and view them outside the context of the show as well.

The use of twitter to heighten the live TV experience can be seen as a tool broadcaster’s are utilizing to combat audience fragmentation. However it has also created a backchannel for fan communities to discuss outside of being prompted by the broadcasters themselves. Fans have even gone so far as to create fake Twitter profiles of their favorite characters, and tweeting as their persona. Whilst all these avenues have created a more heightened experience for audiences, we should take a step back and see ask if we’re really the ones doing all the work for broadcasters?

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Blog 3: Signs & Ideologies – Mass Media Messages

Blog 3: Signs & Ideologies – Mass Media Messages

Blog 3: Signs & Ideologies – Mass Media Messages


Semiotics is considered the study of everything that can be used for communication. Author Sullivan discusses Ferdinand de Saussure, the primary figure in the study of semiotics, developed a two part model for explaining how communication takes place through all forms of linguistic communication. Saussure states that human communication is dependent on the creation of signs (words, images etc.), and that without them communication is impossible. Semiotics is made up of a sign, signifier and a signified (shown below).

An example of this is a stop sign.

The signifier is the physical image – in this case the actual stop sign in the street; the signified is the mental concept that comes from seeing the image. In this case we know that it means we have to physically come to a complete stop. This entire concept makes up the sign.

However, signs and signifieds are products of our society, therefore meaning of messages as we know it, may not have the same meaning in alternate cultures or languages. We also use the terms denotation to describe the literal meaning of a sign, and connotation to describe the socio-cultural and ‘personal’ associations (ideological, emotional etc.) of the sign.


Media often use semiotics and ideologies to promote ideas and thoughts that are shaped by our culture and beliefs. Advertising often makes use of ideologies and semiotics as a way to shape a message  to mean something other than its denotated  literal meaning. Lets look at some examples!

This controversial ad used semiotics, ideologies and socio-cultural associations with Roman catholic symbols to promote gelato.  The denotation is simple, it shows a pregnant nun, in a church eating Antonio Federici gelato. The text “immaculately conceived” is a commonly used term in Catholicism to discuss the conception of Jesus. However, the connotations from this image through its use of catholic imagery could be that the gelato is “heavenly” or, as the company tried to show “ice-cream is our religion”.


Ideology is a set of shared beliefs within a group (such as a nation or social class). This body of beliefs influence the way individuals think, act, and view the world. An example of this would be gender ideology, which is concerned with the attitudes of men and women on their place in society, including rights and responsibilities. Ideologies are presented to audiences through media constantly, oftentimes with us passively accepting what’s being portrayed to us through advertising, or our favorite TV shows. Below are some examples:

This example shown in an episode of South Park, discusses a form of gender ideology. As Kyle tells the officers that a teacher has been having relations with a student, they are outraged. However, when they find out the teacher is female, and that she’s “not ugly”, and then their attitude changes to celebrate the child’s “luck”.

Another ideology  common in media, especially in the 1950s, was male superiority. This was the notion that men held positions of power, went work, and made all the decisions within the household. In this clip, from Parks and Recreation, they are discussing how the garbage removal company refuse to hire women because they wouldn’t be able to handle the job. During the discussion of inequality, April mocks the situation by stating the gender ideologies that were forced upon audiences many years ago. She comments that men are better than women, and that we must obey men because they are our masters. She further continues to tell Leslie that she’ll never get a man with that kind of domineering tone.

This advertising for Van Heusen ties from the 1950s, also shows gender ideologies. It depicts men in a position of power, as his wife waits on him, on her knees to serve him his dinner. It further plays on the notion that women should cook and clean, and play the dutiful housewives.

One of the main ideologies used by advertisers is the ideology of consumerism/materialism. Advertisers often try to convey to audiences that  “buying  product X will make you happy”.

Volkswagen tried this with their #gethappy campaign – Get in. Get happy. The ideology of materialism is shown by them stating that if we purchase this car, we will achieve happiness, and that all other problems will cease to exist. Now the average consumer is obviously not as easily persuaded, especially with something as expensive as a car, but this is still an ideology that marketers try to push. These types of media messages are often seen in advertising, as a advertisers often try to portray the fact that without their product or service, we’re essentially missing out on a large chunk of the world.

The concept of materialism was also used in Dodge’s 2003 campaign. It depicts a woman, who appears to have just married a much older man. It creates the picture that he is wealthy, and her happiness is due entirely to the fact that she is now rich (soon to be richer once he kicks the bucket). This takes on the ideology that is often pushed through a capitalist society that money = happiness.

Patriotism is another ideology that is still strongly used in media today, specifically in the US. This is the notion to love, support and protect ones country and its people, and the notion of freedom and all things American. Chrysler used an emotional, US themed commercial during a Superbowl spot, to try to connect with its audience by playing on its American roots, and all things past and present that make America great. Through using American legend Bob Dylan, he poses the question.. “is there anything more American, than America.”. It continues to show many American “staples” and icons, to discuss the brands roots in Detroit, and the importance it had on American culture. It creates the notion that the American lifestyle is considered superior to other countries, stating Let Germany make your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone, WE will build your car”.

This clip, from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, sort of parodies the notion of patriotism as an American ideology. During this clip, Charlie sings about all things American, such as rising up and flying on an eagle, freedom, and “driving a big truck”. These types of things are what outsiders from the US tend to use as ideologies of American culture and patriotism.

As audiences of mass media messages, we are constantly being shown different signs, and ideologies that the media want us to see. Whilst we as consumers of media are not necessarily the brainwashed mush-brained passive mediums that some theories have stated, we do still allow these messages subconsciously into our minds.These ideologies are still fairly dominant in our culture, regardless of how “dated” some of them may appear.

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Blog 2: Public Opinion & Media Bias

Blog 2: Public Opinion & Media Bias

Blog 2: Public Opinion & Media Bias

In the 1920s Walter Lippman posed the argument that individuals lack the time and resources required to develop complex and reasoned responses to national/international events (Sullivan, pg. 107). He essentially argued that because we rely on news media to gather this information and provide it to us in a number of ways, public opinion is almost artificial. We are more concerned with our own lives than national/international affairs, and in turn, we consume the information the media provides us with, with little to no fight.

Agenda-Setting Theory

This describes the abilities of the media to influence the importance of topics on the public agenda. This states that news that is covered more frequently and prominently will be regarded with a higher level importance by its audience. Agenda-setting theory was developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw as a study on the 1968 presidential election campaign. This study found a direct correlation between the issues that voters believed were important and the issues that the media covered as “important”.

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Essentially they argued that the media cannot tell us what to think, but they can tell us what to think about.

“If It doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”- The OJ Simpson example

An example of this can be seen in the O.J Simpson trials. This case morphed mass media into the way it is today. It set a sort of precedent as to how the media could sensationalize certain stories, and form public opinion on its importance. As cameras were allowed in the courtroom during trials, thousands of journalists camped out in an attempt to use this as their story. This saw mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post, and the New York Times, fighting for space with the likes of National Enquirer.

During this trial the media were ever-present, and this was front page news for several years. Below we see how two different media outlets chose to alter O.J’s mug shot in order to create a different perception of the trial. News Week kept the mug shot mostly the same, however enlarged his prisoner ID across the bottom. Whereas Time Magazine, chose to darken the image to almost create a more sinister looking being.

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OJ was a prime example of the two underlying basic assumptions that agenda setting theory follows: (1) that the press and the media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it; and (2) media concentration on a few issues and subjects leads the public to perceive those issues as more important than other issues.

The Clump Circus – a modern day example

The media may not effectively be able to tell America who to vote for, but they can ensure that particular questions/issues are raised, or show specific interest in a particular candidate, therefore leading the discussion toward or away from issues important to them.

*Enter the Clump Circus*

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This year’s campaign has been especially scandalous for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with especially bias results from many news outlets across the US. Throughout the presidential race, both Trump and Clinton have been shown as major news for the last few months – for some good reasons, other bad (mostly for Trump).

Whilst media outlets are supposed to generally unbiased, some of them (coughFOXNEWScough) definitely present news that seems to benefit their more..Republican stakeholders – in other words: Clinton can do very little right, and Trump is the hero we all need).

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It is also interesting to note how Donald Trump has essentially set the GOP agenda.  His campaign has caused so much controversy with his mixed messages that even the rest of the Republican Party are somewhat confused as to what their “brand” really is. His stance on immigration has moved the party to take a more “right-winged” stance, and a “left-winged” stance on free-trade.

As discussed by John L. Sullivan, “Framing occurs when journalists or media producers “select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (Sullivan, pg. 111). Throughout the election campaigns, this has been showcased depending on the media outlets. Trump has regularly said that he considers the media to be “more corrupt than Hilary” due to their portrayal of him through his racist, misogynistic, tax-dodging scandals, and the presses lack of reporting on Hilary’s WikiLeaks scandal. Media Research Center has shown that ABC, NBC and CBS spent a total of 4 hours and 13 minutes reporting on Trumps scandals between the Oct 7-13 coverage, and only 36 minutes covering Hilary. This can show that the media is spending more time promoting all issues related (to basically everything) Trump says, and framing it under a moral evaluation. The media are influencing the choices people make about how to process that information through the use of horse-race coverage. By providing continual information over who is leading the newest polls, voters become uncertain and start to follow the majority.

Polling results after the final debate

Opinion Polling

Agenda-setting and framing research demonstrates that media can affect public perception of political issues. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s theory, the Spiral of Silence, states that “individuals naturally fear social isolation, and will therefore monitor the political views expressed in the media and repress their own opinions if they are in the minority” (Sullivan, pg.113). Whilst this is something that has not received much support within the US, I feel that his is likely something that has come out of the 2016 presidential election. Some of Trump’s views are considered fairly taboo for a man running for president to say, but there are likely supporters that may agree with his stances, yet tell people they are likely to vote against him.

Further research has shown evidence for bandwagon effects. This happens when individuals hear news report of opinions polls that differ from their own opinion, causing them to shift their outlook to match the majority opinion. This could be apparent for both candidates, as Trump has been portrayed as a womanizer, and Clinton has been deemed “corrupt” by different aspects of the media outlets. This was also the case with Bernie Sanders. Whilst many people were on board with his policies, he bowed out to make way for Clinton, causing many people who were against her views; to switch their opinions when he was no longer a candidate.

This election has shown that the media have their own agenda regarding the presidential candidates. The coverage of Trump has been majority negative, yet he still has fairly impressive polling numbers. Coverage of Hilary’s “scandals” has been portrayed as “less important” in the eyes of the media, though this may just be because Trump seems to put his foot in it more often than not. Either way, I’m thankful to be Canadian right now.

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Blog 1:                                                           Media Messages – Armed & Dangerous

Blog 1: Media Messages – Armed & Dangerous

Author John L. Sullivan illustrates a potential threat that stretches back more than a century, stating “that media messages carry potentially damaging information for the public, and that these messages need to be carefully monitored and potentially restricted” (Sullivan, pg. 48). But how? Extensive research has been conducted over the past decade that alters the perspective of the media message effect on the audience.

Harvard psychologist Hugh Munsterberg was one of the first sociologists to consider how our sense of reality could be altered, specifically through the introduction of film as a medium (Sullivan, pg.51). His research further suggested that this experienced cognitive and emotional state could leave individuals open to vulnerabilities such as psychological suggestions (Sullivan, pg. 52). This created the notion that audience researchers, including the government could be driven by moral panics and general public concern for issues presented. Stanley Cohen uses the term moral panics to describe “very strong negative public reaction to the spreads of a new social behavior” (Sullivan, pg. 54).

Backmasking – a Moral Panic Example

An example of this appeared in the 1980’s, when a number of Christian evangelists came together to allege the unthinkable: certain rock music songs contained hidden messages that could be heard when played backwards. This was termed as ‘backmasking’ and these messages were alleged to contain themes of Satanism, drug use and the occult (Demain, 2011). They stated that not only were these messages of Satanism buried in backmasking, but that the brain could distinguish these messages subliminally.  Below is a video of one of the main offenders, according to Jacob Aranza, a youth minister that started this moral panic among the evangelists (Demain, 2011):

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling ready to sacrifice! A similar theory was parodied in The Simpsons, with a pop song that attempted to subliminally recruit kids to the navy.

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The Payne Fund Studies

Noted as “one of the most ambitious early audiences research projects in the history of the field” (Sullivan, pg. 556), The Payne Fund studies were motivated by the suspicion that movies could implant ideas into the minds of an audiences.  This research project would go on to explore the effects movies had on audiences, including physical and emotional, and also racial beliefs, retention and self-identity (Sullivan, pg. 56).  One of the experiments, measuring retention of factual information, saw researchers present children a fact quiz 6 weeks and 3 months after the viewing. This specific experiment yielded interesting results, finding that 60% of children could recall the specific details they were asked about in the movies they viewed (Sullivan pg. 56). They further found that this retention increased when shown movies that involved both exciting action sequences, and/or themes outside the ordinary experiences of children (Sullivan, pg.56). Further experiments on these children involved monitoring heart rates, blood pressure and sweaty palms to indicate levels of fear, excitement and arousal to the movies they were shown. They found that themes of danger and tragedy had a more intense reaction from children aged 9 and under, essentially decreasing in emotional reaction with age. However, themes of romance and eroticism bared almost no reaction from children under the age of 10, but increased levels of arousal were found in adolescents and adults (Sullivan, pg. 58).

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Photo from the experiment in which children were monitored whilst viewing a movie

Media Propaganda

“We are told about the world before we see it. We imagine most things before we experience them”
Walt Lippmann

Walt Lippmann discusses the notion of propaganda and its more modern, negative connotation. That it is used to describe “a deliberate attempt of one party to control or manage the information environment of another (or group) through manipulation of symbols and psychology (Sullivan, pg. 62).

World War II remains one of the strongest arguments in regards to media propaganda shaping the beliefs and opinions of the masses.  Propaganda became a crucial instrument for the German Nazi party to gain and maintain power and implement Nazi policies.

Adolf Hitler describes the importance of the media propaganda, something which he states the British failed miserably at during World War I. In his book, Mein Kampf, he refers to propaganda as an art, which wakes up the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, and appeal to the hearts of the national masses (Hitler, 1939). He also discusses that the most propaganda must be presented in a popular form, with a fixed intellectual level, that is, that it can be understood by the least intellectual  (Hitler, 1939). Hitler states that propaganda must only present the aspect of truth that is favorable to its own side.  Finally he states “all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.” (Hitler, 1939).

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“Be true to the Führer” – an example of Nazi propaganda

Violence in the Media

Postwar communication research shifted from the concern of children’s vulnerabilities to violent media via motion pictures, being transferred to the newest forms of media – television and video games. Whilst the material of the research may have changed, the objective remained the same – “the audience exists in a naturally occurring state that can be interrupted and dramatically changed thanks to specific media messages” (Sullivan, pg. 79). During this time, the notion that the audience was a powerless mass seemed to dwindle in research, however it is a collective that may require protection from dangerous influences (Sullivan, pg. 79). As we progress as individuals, more technology is readily available to reach audiences anywhere, anytime. As technology progresses, more of our time is spent dedicated to devices such as television and video games, which has created the concern that violent media messages are changing individual perception. This has long been an argument in the United States, especially in light of incidents such as Virginia Tech. Much research has been conducted as to the impact of the media messages portrayed through violent video games on both children and adults. Anderson & Dill surveyed college students regarding their use of various types of video games (Sullivan, pg. 78). Their research found that students who stated they played video games for 13+ hours per week, often showed delinquent behavior (Sullivan, pg. 78). They further implemented a laboratory experiment, in which individuals played violent or non-violent video games. These findings suggested that those playing the violent video games showed signed of more aggressive behavior among peers (Sullivan pg. 78).

Manhunt – a Modern Day Example

In today’s society, video games have become increasingly more violent. In 2003, a game was released for PlayStation 2 that I could not wait to play – I was just 14 at the time. The game, titled Manhunt, followed a death row prisoner, who was sedated and released into bad part of the city, and promised his freedom if he follows the direction of ‘The Director’. During this game, the goal is to essentially kill as many people in as many ways as possible, the more violent the kill, the more points you receive.Interestingly, Rockstar North (the developers) actually call it a “psychological experience”, not a game.

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However, not long after its release (it was actually banned entirely in New Zealand and other countries because of its level of violence), the game was blamed for a murder. In 2004, in England, a 17-year-old boy lured his 14-year-old friend to a park and beat him to death with a claw hammer, and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife (BBC, 2004). Many of his friends claimed he was obsessed with the game, playing for many hours at a time. Whilst the game in question was classified as 18 (must be at least 18 years of age to play), it could obviously still end up in the hands of minors. Rockstar employees even stated that many people were uncomfortable with the level of violence portrayed in this particular game (BBC, 2004).  Should games with such a high level of violence, one that is called a “psychological experience” be available at all? Whilst there may not be an impact on the average individual, those who develop an unhealthy obsession may become blinded as to the notions of right and wrong. In this instance, the media message could have manipulated the beliefs of an already troubled boy, and altered his reality.

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Thanks for tuning in!

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Works Cited

BBC NEWS | UK | England | Leicestershire | Game blamed for hammer murder. (2004, July 29). Retrieved October 01, 2016, from

Demain, B. (2011, August 18). The Devil Wears Headphones: A Brief History of Backmasking. Retrieved October 01, 2016, from

Hitler, A. (1939). Chapter VI. In Mein Kampf. Retrieved October 1, 2016, from

Sullivan, J. L. (2013). Media audiences: Effects, users, institutions, and power. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.