Thursday, June 27, 2013

Geography Of Hate

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

How do we measure racism and homophobia across the United States? Humboldt State's Dr. Monica Stephens teamed up with Floating Sheep, the same group that mapped post-election Twitter hate speech to broaden the scope of the study and give a more panoramic view of America's bigotry. The Geography Of Hate map was created by geo-coding 150,000 hate tweets between June 2012 and April 2013, dividing the tweets in three categories--racist, homophobic, and disability-hating, including the words "chink," "gook," "nigger," "wetback," "spick," "cripple," "dyke," "fag," "homo," or "queer," amongst others. You might argue, however, that context is everything when it comes to these words so how did the research control for that variable? They used humans (probably woefully underpaid or even unpaid Ph.D. students, natch) to analyze and code the 150,000 tweets, eschewing machine inability to read tone and coding the usage as negative, neutral, or positive.
To add more rigor to the study, the researchers accounted for tweet density by creating a scale, essentially measuring something akin to per capita hate, accounting for population density.
So, what can we conclude from all this? On a micro level, there are some rather surprising results--click on the n word, for example, and you will see for yourself...the Deep South is not the hotbed of racism it is often stereotypically cast as. On a more macro level, hate speech is clearly alive and well-spread across America. In addition, the study demonstrates that Twitter has become a really vibrant (and vociferous) platform for the spreading of hateful ideas and even recruiting people with that sort of rhetoric. Now you might argue that 150,000 tweets is not a wide enough sample to make conclusions on, but this is a prime example that Twitter *can* have scholarly utility (don't worry, consider me as shocked as you are).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I Am A Walking Contradiction: Deconstructing The Concept of Personality

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

In his 2013 Wesleyan commencement address, Joss Whedon talked about the inherent contradictions of being human--"the contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have." The notion of our "self" or "personality" as something established and fairly long-lasting is being replaced by a new, much more apt paradigm--as something malleable and negotiated, and more importantly, through a process that requires work as opposed to something one is born with. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key – not only to consciousness, but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pandora's Promise--A Movie Review

Pandora's Promise Review

Pandora’s Promise is an exposé on the past and future of nuclear energy that readjusts a lot of public assumptions in a rather explosive way. By featuring a coterie of respected, world-renowned environmentalists who have had a change of heart on the issue, the film, although clearly on the pro side of the debate, shines light on a paradigm shift afoot. The crux of its argument is “to be anti-nuclear is to be in favor of using fossil fuel.” In other words, despite all the strides made towards renewable energy sources, we remain mired in the climate-destroying reality of oil and coal usage for energy production and this state of affairs is not tenable from any perspective. The film astutely observes that nuclear power has been forever imprinted into the public’s psyche as a “weapon we feel badly about” and seeks to destigmatize it, remove it from its Armageddon-esque milieu, and put it in a different and less malevolent context.

Crossfade Roulette--My Weekly Music Column

Crossfade Roulette

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Less Than Cheery--The Cheerios Ad Serves Up Some Unanticipated Indigestion

My post for the Ministers Of Design blog

It's an ad like any other Cheerios ad--heart-warming (and heart-healthy) and family-oriented so why the hoopla? The interracial-family-featuring ad elicited a veritable maelstrom of responses emblematic of the darkly vitriolic racist underbelly of Internet trolldom and prompting Cheerios to disable YouTube commenting. Camille Gibson, Cheerios' Vice President of Marketing, explained: "The [YouTube] comments that were made were, in our view, not family friendly. And that was really the trigger for us to pull them off. Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family. And there are lots of multicultural families in America today." Noteworthy is that the tagline of this ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, is "Love," while previous ones were "Smile," and "Happy Mother's Day."
The commercial has also received an equally vocal positive response for doing its part in "normalizing" biracial families by making them more visible in the media zeitgeist. The response from the multicultural community has been, overwhelmingly, "I finally get to see a representation of me on TV." As Ad Week points out, however, TV ads have been notoriously behind the curve in "envelope pushing" in comparison to shows or movies, as brands are very fearful of making political statements in their casting choices. Arguably, multicultural families are a far cry from the shocking and subversive category, considering that 1 in 10 families would fit that definition, a 28% jump from 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, race representation concerns are starting to become much more prominent of a consideration in brand strategy, considering the multicultural ad market spending is rising in a serious way.
So was Cheerios being socially progressive or were they attempting (rather successfully, in this case) to divert public attention away from the GMO-labeling scandal which roiled their Facebook page less than several months ago? Clever brand repositioning notwithstanding, it seems like the ad did earn the company some "love" back.