Memes and the 2016 U.S Presidential Election

A recent example of the power of memes is an analysis of the 2016 U.S presidential election, particularly the fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The presidential campaign saw both parties creating or re-appropriating various memes and using them in their campaigns. According to an article listed by the Guardian in the U.S, memes are “These shareable, sometimes pithy and often puerile units of culture that have emerged as the lingua franca of the 2016 election, and have given the American people an entirely new way of articulating their beliefs…potentially ‘ruining democracy”. Although political memes have always existed, as have memes generally, the major difference between past political memes and the digital image and video memes we see today is that there is a difference in the regularity of the meme and the way in which it is created and shared as stated by Ross and Rivers (2017, p. 2) Whereas before the internet, memes would have been limited to carefully scripted and manicured public relations and marking campaigns, today’s meme is created and distributed from the bottom up. The great unwashed masses of the internet message boards and forums gather together to create, modify and share memes, often with a political or social goal in mind. This operation of creating, sharing and modifying politically charged memes can be called ‘meme warfare’. These terms have arisen from the fact that during the 2016 U.S presidential election, memes seemed to wield a great deal of power in shaping public perceptions and opinions

Although limited, my knowledge of pepe as an internet meme did not include anything related to white supremacy or racism so the controversy surprised me. My first experience with pepe was several years ago on the anonymous message board ‘4chan’. Although I do not contribute to memes or discussion on 4chan, elements of its subculture and various memes from 4chan spread to other areas of the online world. To me, pepe was simply a cartoon frog that was adapted by many online communities as a humorous meme. How did pepe transform from a seemingly harmless meme frog, to the mascot of an apparently racist and possibly even neo-nazi group of subscribers to the ‘alt-right’ political movement.

On September 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton was interviewed on an Israeli news media program, where she said that Trump supporters are in “two big baskets,” one of which contains “deplorables” who are made up of “racists” and “haters.” The next day, Hillary Clinton spoke of the same topic while she was at a private fundraiser, where she said “you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call ‘the basket of deplorables’.” On September 10th, Twitter user ‘Donald Trump Jr.’ posted a photoshopped movie poster on Instagram of the 2010 action film ‘The Expendables’, which featured various conservative politicians and media figures, media figures and Pepe the Frog with the title ‘The Deplorables’

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On September 12 of 2016 the Hillary Clinton website released an explainer article  titled ‘Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer’, with an equally terrifying subtitle ‘That cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize’.

The article then follows on with a comprehensive description of the ‘cartoon frog’ that appears behind and to the right of Donald Trump’s digitally emplaced head. The focus centered on Pepe the frog, which had been previously accepted by trump when he tweeted an image of pepe drawing in his likeness;

‘Pepe’ as the green and somewhat crudely drawn frog is known, was described by the Hillary website staff as a mascot of white supremacists. The Clinton website explainer links to a news article that suggests pepe the frog has been entirely ‘co-opted’ by a group of white supremacists that adhere to an ‘alt-right’ theory of politics.

This view was expressed directly by Hillary Clinton during a speech addressed to the public on August 25th of 2016.

 

 

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The ‘Internet Meme’

The meme in its most commonly recognized format is online media including images with text overlays, video media, audio, animated .gif images and other forms of media. Various elements within these memes or the surrounding culture can also become memes unto themselves which can lead to the creation of spin of or even very different memes. The process of creation and viral spread of memes that we experience online can be described as being slightly different to the scientific terminology coined by Dawkins.

The internet meme is typically deliberately altered by human ingenuity whereas the scientific meme involves random change and accurate copying. Internet memes can also be researched and tracked through their presence on internet media such as social media, scientific memes however have no physical form or signature. Although Dawkins has stated that the internet and scientific meme are obviously connected and related strongly to one another. Nissenbaum and Shifman (2015) describe the internet meme as a digital artifacts with similar themes or ideas that are then imitated or ‘reiterated’ throughout internet communities, message boards, forums or any other online media or social interaction. As Nissenbaum and Shifman (2015) describe, there have been prior studies that have analyzed memes as often being the product of a digital community, which requires ‘subcultural literacy’ and can be used as a gate-keeping practice. Nissenbaum and Shifman (2015) also describe prior works that associate internet memes with ‘cultural capital’, which describes the mastery of cultural knowledge as a way to achieve a superior, more knowledgeable or intelligent status within a social construct or group.

Another important aspect of the internet meme is the element of ‘going viral’. This is a somewhat confusing point as there is likely some confusion as to whether the reiteration of an internet meme is the same as something going viral. As described by Shifman (2014) the primary difference between internet memes and viral items or phenomenon relates to variability. Shifmman (2014) states “Whereas the viral comprises a single cultural unit (such as a video, photo, or joke) that propagates in many copies, an internet meme is always a collection of texts”.

Therefore the main difference is that if a digital item such as a video or image is to go viral, it can normally be identified and understood by itself without any surrounding knowledge or experience. The meme on the other hand can be understood as a collection or collective base of knowledge which gives rise to various elements that contribute to the meme. Therefore an individual image or video could help form or contribute to an internet meme but the reiteration of spread of a meme is not necessarily the same as a digital item going viral.

 

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The Concept of the Meme

Richard Dawkins first popularized the idea of the ‘meme’, as an “idea, behaviour or style that spreads from one person to another within a culture”. Dawkins described the memetics as the study of cultural information and the way in which it evolves and described this process as being similar in function to biological genes in natural selection. According to Dawkins, when one person imitates another, a meme is passed on to an ‘imitator’, which he thought of in the same light as the way eye colour or other features are passed from parents to children through genes. A meme can be considered as a unit of cultural expression or practices that transmits from the mind of one person to another. Examples of this could be written works, certain aspects of an artistic work including music or film, spoken phrases and ideas, rituals or any other replicating phenomena. Dawkins originally described the meme as being similar to human genes because they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective external forces as described by Dawkins (2006, p. 192)

Expanding on this Cannizzaro (2016, p. 568), Dawkins also wondered if any related processes could give a reason as to why some ideas or memes proliferate from person to person even when believing in or acting upon a cultural idea or meme is disadvantageous to that person or group. For example, a person’s devotion to creating art, religious martyrdom or selfless charity to others does not represent an idea or cultural norm that is necessarily beneficial to the individual or their ability to further their genes. Dawkins explained that the answer to this was that these behaviours persist because ideas are in competition with each other, which promotes a process like natural selection in biology, where some ideas spread and others die out. Therefore, to emphasize the parallel between the process of the creation and adoption of ideas and natural selection Dawkins created the term ‘meme’. Meme comes from the name of an ancient Greek root, the ‘mimeme’, meaning ‘imitated thing’. The meme can also be thought of in the same light as a virus, which infects and then uses its host to propagate to the next host. The meme can be thought of as a ‘mind virus’. Another commonly known description of the meme as a unit of cultural expression is the ‘spoked wheel’ meme, created by philosopher Daniel C. Dennet. The idea being that the first wooden wheeled cart would have imprinted the idea of itself upon an increasing number of people as it was used. As the cart moves from place to place, the idea of a wooden spoked wheel cart is absorbed by those who see it who will then continue the meme by making their own cart and thus the process continues exponentially until the wooden wheel is a universally known concept.

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Memes and Politics

Richard Dawkins first popularized the idea of the ‘meme’, as an “idea, behaviour or style that spreads from one person to another within a culture”. Dawkins described the memetics as the study of cultural information and the way in which it evolves and described this process as being similar in function to biological genes in natural selection. According to Dawkins, when one person imitates another, a meme is passed on to an ‘imitator’, which he thought of in the same light as the way eye colour or other features are passed from parents to children through genes. A meme can be considered as a unit of cultural expression or practices that transmits from the mind of one person to another. Examples of this could be written works, certain aspects of an artistic work including music or film, spoken phrases and ideas, rituals or any other replicating phenomena. Dawkins originally described the meme as being similar to human genes because they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective external forces as described by Dawkins (2006, p. 192)

Expanding on this (Cannizzaro 2016, p. 568), Dawkins also wondered if any related processes could give a reason as to why some ideas or memes proliferate from person to person even when believing in or acting upon a cultural idea or meme is disadvantageous to that person or group. For example, a person’s devotion to creating art, religious martyrdom or selfless charity to others does not represent an idea or cultural norm that is necessarily beneficial to the individual or their ability to further their genes. Dawkins explained that the answer to this was that these behaviours persist because ideas are in competition with each other, which promotes a process like natural selection in biology, where some ideas spread and others die out. Therefore, to emphasize the parallel between the process of the creation and adoption of ideas and natural selection Dawkins created the term ‘meme’. Meme comes from the name of an ancient Greek root, the ‘mimeme’, meaning ‘imitated thing’. The meme can also be thought of in the same light as a virus, which infects and then uses its host to propagate to the next host. The meme can be thought of as a ‘mind virus’. Another commonly known description of the meme as a unit of cultural expression is the ‘spoked wheel’ meme, created by philosopher Daniel C. Dennet. The idea being that the first wooden wheeled cart would have imprinted the idea of itself upon an increasing number of people as it was used. As the cart moves from place to place, the idea of a wooden spoked wheel cart is absorbed by those who see it who will then continue the meme by making their own cart and thus the process continues exponentially until the wooden wheel is a universally known concept.

This brings me to the focus point of my research project which is the internet meme, being slightly different to the scientific terminology coined by Dawkins. The internet meme is typically deliberately altered by human ingenuity whereas the scientific meme involves random change and accurate copying. Internet memes can also be researched and tracked through their presence on internet media such as social media, scientific memes however have no physical form or signature. Although Dawkins has stated that the internet and scientific meme are obviously connected and related strongly to one another.

A recent example of the power of memes is an analysis of the 2016 U.S presidential election, particularly the fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The presidential campaign saw both parties creating or re-appropriating various memes and using them in their campaigns. According to an article listed by the Guardian in the U.S, memes are “These shareable, sometimes pithy and often puerile units of culture that have emerged as the lingua franca of the 2016 election, and have given the American people an entirely new way of articulating their beliefs…potentially ‘ruining democracy”. Although political memes have always existed, as have memes generally, the major difference between past political memes and the digital image and video memes we see today is that there is a difference in the regularity of the meme and the way in which it is created and shared (Ross & Rivers 2017, p. 2) Whereas before the internet memes would have been limited to carefully scripted and manicured public relations and marking campaigns, today’s meme is created and distributed from the bottom up. The great unwashed masses of the internet message boards and forums gather together to create, modify and share memes, often with a political or social goal in mind. This operation of creating, sharing and modifying politically charged memes can be called ‘meme warfare’. These terms have arisen from the fact that during the 2016 U.S presidential election, memes seemed to wield a great deal of power in shaping public perceptions and opinions.

With the research I have conducted so far along with further examples of the use of memes in recent political efforts, I will continue creating a series of blog posts describing specific examples and case studies. This collection of blog posts, further supported by academic research, will be the final form of my digital artifact for DIGC335.

Reference list:

Cannizzaro, S 2016, ‘Internet memes as internet signs: A semiotic view of digital culture’, Sign System Studies, vol. 44, no 4, p. 568

Ross, AS & Rivers, DJ 2017, ‘Digital cultures of political participation: Internet memes and the discursive delegitimization of the 2016 U.S Presidential candidates’, Discourse, Context & Media, vol. 16, p. 2.

Dawkins, R 2006, The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

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Political Memes

 

 

Richard Dawkins first named and described the ‘meme’ in 1976 in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. In his book, Dawkins describes the meme as a compacted piece of culture acting as a unit for the transfer of cultural symbols and ideas or a ‘unit of imitation’. The idea of the meme suggests that cultural ideas and symbols can be transmitted from person to person through various means. This could be almost anything but simple examples include writing, rituals, pictures or any phenomena that moves through the cultural and popular sphere of influence. Another important aspect of the meme is the notion that a meme ‘mutates’ and self replicates in the same way that a virus spreads through a population.

In my digital artefact I am hoping to explore the idea of an internet meme and the ‘viral’ spread that a meme can create. I would also like to discover if there are any instances of a meme created in cyberspace, having a real world effect on political discourse and mainstream media. For the purpose of my digital artefact I am planning on researching certain aspects of the 2016 presidential campaign. I will attempt to find an example of a popular meme having a real effect on the political discourse of the U.S election and any relevant news media. I would also like to explore the idea that memes can generate public engagement with politics and geopolitical issues.

On September 12 of 2016 the Hillary Clinton website released an explainer article  titled Donald Trump, Pepe the frog, and white supremacists: an explainer, with an equally terrifying subtitle That cartoon frog is more sinister than you might realize. After only a few sentences the following image appears:

 

The article then follows on with a comprehensive description of the ‘cartoon frog’ that appears behind and to the right of Donald Trump’s digitally emplaced head. The focus centered on Pepe the frog, which had been previously accepted by trump when he tweeted an image of pepe drawing in his likeness…[Trumppepetweet.jpeg]…Pepe’ as the green and somewhat crudely drawn frog is known, was described by the Hillary website staff as a mascot of white supremacists. The Clinton website explainer links to a news article that suggests pepe the frog has been entirely ‘co-opted’ by a group of white supremacists that adhere to an ‘alt-right’ theory of politics.

This view was expressed directly by Hillary Clinton during a speech addressed to the public on August 25th of 2016.

Although limited, my knowledge of pepe as an internet meme did not include anything related to white supremacy or racism so the controversy surprised me. My first experience with pepe was several years ago on the somewhat infamous anonymous message board ‘4chan’. To me, pepe was just a fun cartoon frog that was adapted by many online communities as a humorous meme. How did pepe transform from a seemingly harmless meme frog, to the mascot of an apparently racist and possibly even neo-nazi group of subscribers to the ‘alt-right’ political movement. As a result of this I would like to explore the concept of the internet meme, what the meme actually is and how it works. From this I would also like to analyze the relationship between an internet meme like pepe the frog and real world political discourse. To do this, I will find the origins of pepe and attempt to find how and when pepe became a ‘viral’ meme. I also wish to explore the creation and use of memes on 4chan /pol/ and reddit subreddits including ‘The_Donald’ had an affect on real world politics and the campaign. I will then attempt to discover and present with my digital artefact the reason for the perceived usefulness (during the 2016 U.S presidential election), of the pepe meme to Donald Trump, the republican party and the alt-right movement. Another important aspect that I will consider will be the public reaction given by the Hillary Clinton campaign with regards to the alt-right and pepe.

The format of my digital artefact will include at least a prezi presentation. I am still deciding exactly what the finished form of my digital artefact will include. Currently I think the best approach could be a collection of blog posts covering the various aspects of my digital artefact in smaller, more easily digestible sections of information. Each blog post could include my explanation along with various image and video media that would give the viewer an intuitive understanding of the pepe meme and its relation to the U.S presidential election. This could even be further supported by a graphical presentation which condenses the topic even further.

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Animals are people too

Many justify their treatment of animals by arguing that there is a morally significant difference between the interests of human and non-human animals. However many non-human animals can also be considered as persons. Normally the word ‘person,’ refers to an adult human being, but in reality the term refers to a life form with certain psychological traits including rationality, self-conscious, moral sense, and the ability to communicate with language. Therefore many non-human animals qualify as being persons and the way they are treated cannot be justified.

For non-human animals to be considered as persons, they must have some degree of conscious thought and moral sense. However philosophers have argued that language is required to think, and thus if they don’t have a language, they aren’t as morally significant as humans. This view is seriously flawed as there is strong evidence that animals can think and are self-conscious. Two American scientists, Allen and Beatrice Gardner realized that the previous failure of teaching chimpanzees’ to talk, wasn’t due to a lack of intelligence but a lack of vocal equipment to reproduce the sounds of human language. Some non-human animals can comprehend English and communicate with humans via sign language. The chimpanzee, Washoe was taught sign language by the Gardner’s and can understand approximately 350 different signs, and can use 150 of them correctly. Washoe also shows that chimpanzees have self-consciousness, as she demonstrates the ability to recognise herself in a mirror. Koko, the gorilla, is also able to communicate using American Sign Language. Peter Singer mentions that “Koko now has a working vocabulary of over 500 signs and has used about 1000 signs correctly on one or more occasions. She understands an even larger number of spoken English.” DeGrazia’s discussion of Patterson and Gordon reveals that Koko has also displayed evidence of morals, such as, apologizing for having bitten a companion the day before (“sorry, bite, scratch”) and explaining the act by saying she was angry.

Apes also appear to have a sense of time. The chimpanzee Tatu, remembered a Christmas tree covered in ornaments, that appeared after Thanksgiving; she signed “Candy Tree?” when snow began to fall just after Thanksgiving before the Christmas tree was up. This reveals that Tatu not only remembered that there was a Christmas tree but she also knew the season for which the tree would appear. This evidence proves that non-human animals can in fact communicate via language and that these signing apes are self-conscious beings. It’s also plausible to think that other apes who cannot sign would still have the same characteristics as a signing ape.

The interests of non-human animals should be considered as being equal to that of human beings. One would say that it’s morally wrong to harm a person, and as many animals show they have the traits of a person, it is unethical for them to be treated the way that they are. This is proven by the way apes and many other animals show rational and moral thinking and the ability to communicate with humans. The views that humans have a superior moral status over animals because of our perceived higher intelligence and communication skills are both flawed, and therefore cannot be used as justification for the current treatment of animals. Our treatment of animals should be governed by a moral requirement to respect their interests, which should be considered as equal to the interests of human beings.

 

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Empathy and Conflict

On 22 March 2017 a man mounted the footpath of westminster bridge in London England in a deliberate attack on innocent civilians, injuring 50 and killing 3. There was an immediate outcry from media outlets in the UK and across media outlets throughout the western world. Many people in Britain and west reacted with disgust, fear and confusion as to why such an attack would take place, with the immediate cause being blamed on terrorism. However, there is a consistent failure amongst many media outlets to acknowledge current events worldwide that correlate directly with such an attack. This includes the war in Syria and current and previous conflicts in the greater middle-east such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The war in Syria is not a civil war. Independent researchers and journalists like Vanessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett, who (unlike MSM journalists) have spent time in Syria talking to Syrian people, agree that the majority of Syrian civilians didn’t want President Assad removed from power. The Syrian people continue to say they don’t want Assad removed, especially since his removal will place terrorists and U.S backed puppets in power, which would create a much, much worse situation for them than what it was under Assad.

Commonly reported incidents in western mainstream media like President Assad attacking his own people and hospitals with chemical weapons, barrel bombs and air strikes aren’t true either. Independent researcher Seymour Hersh did a report on chemical weapons used in a well-known gas attack in Syria and he found that it was simply a propaganda operation. Syrian Assad military forces did not fire any rockets containing poison gas because the launchers that were reported to have been used could only have been in ‘moderate rebel’ held areas and the gas itself was possessed by ISIS and/or other terrorist groups.

This is also true of a ‘UN convoy air strike’ that was heavily reported on by western media in 2016. Western mediaoutlets framed the incident as being carried out by either Russia and/or president Assad, but there is evidence to suggest that the incident was either fabricated or framed to demonize Assad and Russia’s involvement in Syria.

Another interesting aspect of war propaganda entering western media from Syria is that of the ‘White Helmets’ which is a source of much of the accusations of chemical attacks on civilians and Assad forces attacking hospitals and schools. The white helmets have been discredited as a western funded and created propaganda operation, again to demonize Assad and Russia. The strikes against hospitals, school, markets, UN convoys was again largely terrorist groups and NATO air assets.

The U.S and its allies including Australia should not be involved militarily in Syria, they are in Syria against the wishes of the legitimate government of a sovereign nation and it violates international law and its unconstitutional. Syria has not invited them in because they’re aware of the U.S foreign policy of supporting terrorists to destabilize, create power vacuums and control the entire region. The Situation in Syria continues because the U.S and Saudi Arabia etc are still supplying groups like ISIS and other terrorists with weapons, training and intelligence.

The media blasts propaganda so we in the west will support the U.S led regime change war and the so-called ‘moderate rebels’ which don’t exist as there is no such thing as a moderate rebel in Syria, only terrorists. This is why Tulsi Gabbard is trying to introduce a ‘stop arming terrorists’ bill in the U.S senate.

Perhaps this failure of people to acknowledge the obvious reasons for a ‘terror’ attack in the west is the result of our skewed empathetic reaction to the ‘other’, that is, those who aren’t white or a citizen of a ‘democratic’ western nation like the U.S.A, Britain, Australia, France, Germany are apparently seen as less important. Perhaps our access to technology and instant 24 hour news coverage is creating a situation where reality is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from fantasy or simulation. The ‘echo chamber’ that social media use can create for its consumers, can lead to situations where people only view and thus express opinions that agree with their position. This facet of social media use and the algorithms that drive its interaction with the user could be having a negative effect on the awareness and empathy felt for those outside in positions or with opinions ‘outside’ the echo chamber of our social media platforms and digital communications.

A recent example of the effects of media and social media in 2017 is the reaction people in the west have had generally to the Westminster bridge attack. As with other terrorist attacks in the west, in countries like Great Britain, Germany, France and the U.S.A, there is usually a short but great outpouring of empathetic emotions like sympathy and despair. This is often enforced by mainstream media reactions that blame the incident on ‘terrorism‘. What I find most interesting about this type of reaction, is a comparison to the general reaction people have when confronted with the facts of civilian casualties of ‘terrorism’ in middle-eastern countries. For example the rise of ISIS in Syria has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties. Similarly, U.S airstrikes alone have also killed hundreds in March of 2017. This could indicate that our empathy is suffering from our reliance on social media and technology to govern our access to media and information.

 

 

 

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Selfies

Once a primitive, brick like object that was used for making extremely expensive phone calls to people you really needed to contact for things like important business and emergencies, the mobile phone has transformed into an extremely popular electronic tool with a seemingly never-ending list of uses, the ‘smart phone’. Smart phones are ubiquitous, and to many they are seen an essential electronic tool, allowing people to work almost anywhere, socialize whenever and wherever they like and access a huge range of media forms. As suggested by Elaine Yuan in 2010 this decentralization of media sources allows people a much greater choice in what media they consume and where they get it.

This shift in media delivery has resulted in consumers becoming less passive in their consumption of media and more active in searching for the things they are interested in an expressing their views about them to the public via the world-wide web. One aspect of the power of this technology is the way in which the ‘selfie’ and the various aspects of popular culture have shaped the way in which we interact. Although selfies could appear to some as a simple fad, like many new technologies before it, the popularity has had a strong effect on a wide range of areas regarding popular and contemporary human culture. Why do so many people enjoy taking selfies and sharing them with not only people they know, but the internet in general? There are implications arising from the selfie that include areas such as communications, photography, advertising and the phycology behind why so many people take selfies. To better understand the selfie, I think we must first learn about why humans take selfies. To do this I will briefly examine the psychology behind the human desire to capture and share selfies.

Selfies have often been thought of as being a view in to the life of someone with a ‘narcissistic’ or self-centered personality. There is or has been a consistent idea that the selfie is a symptom of a millennial generation that is drowning itself in technology and forgetting the real world and the ways in which humans have historically connected to each other, ‘face-to-face’. However, the selfie is also often used a way to connect with others and to share important, exciting or otherwise stimulating events with close friends, acquaintances and even a whole network of people connected world-wide. The idea that people should record their experiences with photographs or other media has been around since the invention of photographic cameras. This means that the use of selfies is not necessarily a negative thing. For example, most young people are exploring an unknown world and are trying to form an identity for themselves to present to the world. The selfie can only help in this experimental exploration of the self and can serve to provide a means to improve the self-esteem and confidence of a person in an increasingly digital world. I believe also that the selfie is an entry into the world of digital networking and communication.

The future could bring with it new power and meaning to what we now know as the ‘selfie’. There is a view currently that selfies are not a fad but a continuously and currently evolving form of media. The next generation or evolution of selfies will take advantage of developing technologies such as augmented reality and the Internet of Things, among other technologies. According to Dr James Canton developing technologies like augmented reality and the Internet of Things will give rise to a ‘selfie economy’, which will communicate with digital networks that will eventually connect most objects and services to the internet.

 

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‘HSC4ESL’ Critique

For the duration of this semester at the University of Wollongong, I have followed Charmaine Morrison-Mills blog based project ‘HSC4ESL (English as a Second Language)’ for a communication and media subject that we are both studying. Charmaine developed HSC4ESL based on her experience, tutoring refugee students from Year 7 – Year 12 with a non-profit organization. The project aims to provide a resource for high school students, particularly those that are studying their higher school certificate in year 12, to prepare for the highly stressful HSC exams.

The primary aims of Charmaine’s HSC4ESL project include; preparing for the HSC and after the HSC, access to textbooks and tutors, a breakdown of the Board of Studies criteria and how to understand it, information regarding access to support networks, general study tips and guides for referencing, writing resumes, finding and filling out applications and more. With over three years of experience tutoring refugee students, Charmaine realized that there is a need for this kind of resource for students that do not have English as their primary language. Studying and preparing for the HSC in Australia is considered by most people to be highly stressful and difficult, many students struggle with the anxiety of what is sometimes viewed as a watershed moment in their life. Therefore one can easily assume that the process would be far more difficult for someone that struggles with or is learning how to read, write and speak the English language. For these reasons, Charmaine decided that an online resource that was engaging, entertaining and easily understood could provide students learning the English language an easier pathway through their HSC studies.

The first step for Charmaine in her project was to brainstorm ideas regarding the exact format, layout and content that would make up and host the learning material for ‘HSC4ESL’. There were two primary options that Charmaine considered with regards to the service she would use to host the HSC4ESL content, the online blog hosting service ‘WordPress’ and the website creation and hosting service ‘ Wix’. WordPress was considered because it is free, easy to use and features access to layout templates that allow the user the ability to quickly create an aesthetically pleasing and neatly arranged source of study material. On the other hand, Wix is a cloud based website creation tool which has an advantage in terms of freedom to personalize that style and layout of the information for HSC4ESL. Charmaine decided to that would use WordPress for her project as it is very easy to produce a blog page that both looks good with a neat and intuitive layout with and highly organized set of activates and information. This was important for the project because there was an obvious need for the material to be easily navigated and absorbed by students that are presumably learning English as they study their HSC.

hsc4esl

An example of study information on ‘HSC4ESL’

During her beta pitch, Charmaine provided the class with an outline of the trajectory of her project, why she chose to create HSC4ESL, an explanation of how she would complete the project and what she wanted from the finished project. Charmaine showcased the features of her WordPress blog in a clear and concise manner. This included a discussion of the clear and well-ordered structure of information which is critical in making the page easy to understand. Charmaine also discussed some of the most useful features of her blog, including study resources, advice on making applications and writing resumes, access to an online translation service and a section covering resources for students who are feeling anxious or depressed about issues commonly encountered by students in high school.

The overall presentation of resources and material showcased by Charmaine in her project beta was impressive. Along with the layout being simple, clean and easy to understand, the material covered a diverse array of topics that would definitely be of great use to a student with English as their second language who is studying the HSC. However there were two improvements that I thought Charmaine could consider in relation to the appearance and content of her blog. The first was the appearance of the blog itself, I thought that it could be possible to stimulate students using the resource with a more colourful or ‘fun’ appearance. Similarly I also thought the introduction of entertaining learning materials such as videos, memes and other media such as videos (Ted Talks, Documentaries etc.).

Overall I believe Charmaine’s project is an excellent idea that could serve as an extremely useful resource to those that need as much help as possible. All of the material on her blog is highly interesting and educational and the written content is very well thought out and structured. I also thought her project has been well executed and has real and current potential to serve as a useful resource for students in Australia.

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Battle Royale Pt. 2

Since my first viewing of Battle Royale, I have looked more closely at the meaning of the film itself and the contextual realities that influence the story of Battle Royal. Although Battle Royal appears on its surface, to be a simply a thrilling horror movie that relies on ‘blood and guts’ to have an effect on the viewer, this is not the case. Battle Royal takes inspiration and influence from certain and specific areas of Japanese society in the years leading up to and after the release of Battle Royale. Prominently, there is a distinct connection between the themes seen in Battle Royale and public attitudes and anxieties surrounding younger generations as well as a criticism of the highly competitive education system in Japan. In the near-future Battle Royal universe, the teenagers pitted against each other in mortal combat are doing so ultimately as a result of a dividing generation gap in a society that is under economic and social stress.

Conducting an autoethnographic study of a slice of culture, which is seemingly very different to what I have experienced in my lifetime is definitely a challenge. I decided that I would take a deeper look at Japanese society in the years leading up to the time that Battle Royale was released (2000), in an attempt to understand the motive behind the film’s creation. An obvious point of interest in the film for me was the extreme and graphic violence. I did not understand at first, why such a popular and well received film would feature such graphic violence being committed by 15 year old school children. This seemed especially strange for me given that my very limited understanding of Japanese society suggested a more conservative attitude generally. I wondered if there was a link between the young students fighting for their lives in the Battle Royale universe and that same generation in reality.

In Japan during the years following WWII, there were unprecedented levels of economic success due to the build-up and successes of huge corporate manufacturing and technological corporations. The economic success of Japan reached its heights during the 1970’s and 80’s with Japan becoming a world leader in the design and manufacturer of high technology, including electronics, microchips and automobiles.   Following on from this period of success, the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in Japan saw a sudden decline in the Japanese economy and Japanese exports. A very basic description of this would be that overconfidence in the economy led to an economic ‘bubble’ which collapsed in the early 1990’s. These economic tensions created a feeling of uncertainty in Japanese society following a long period of success. These economic successes brought a great deal of prosperity for Japan in general and supported a general cultural ethic of hard work ‘for the good of the nation’, with many middle class ‘salarymen’ in Japan providing loyalty and devotion to the company in return for a great deal of job security and a sense of ‘corporate identity’. The sudden economic downturn damaged this social structure and created a period of uncertainty during in the years between 1990 and 2000, this is known as the ‘lost decade’.

As I noted in part one of my autoethnographic account of Battle Royale, one of my earliest thoughts was that the plot of Battle Royale reminded me of a few other texts that I had watched in the past. The most obvious was the film ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012), which features forced mortal combat between adolescents along with other similarities in the way the constants are forced to carry out their battle with each other. The similarities were so striking that I thought that The Hunger Games could have been almost a direct copy of Battle Royale.  However I also realized that there were other texts that featured a similar premise to both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. A much older example of a similar story is the 1987 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger which is set in a futuristic U.S.A. worldwide economic collapse has led to the creation of a totalitarian police state that seeks to pacify the populace by broadcasting a deadly, gladiator-style game show. I was also reminded of the 1954 book by William Golding, ‘Lord of the Flies’, where a group of young plane crash survivors return to their primal savage instincts and fight each other mercilessly. Although Battle Royale could have provided inspiration for The Hunger Games, there are other texts that feature similar narratives.

The fact that the majority of the material I have encountered in my life, cultural and otherwise, is the product of the ‘western’ sphere of influence significantly impacted my interpretation of Battle Royale. One of my first reactions was to compare Battle Royale to a product of the Hollywood film business, but although there are similarities on the surface, Battle Royale draws on very different, Japanese influence. However, this is just the beginning of my exploration of the autoethnographic technique and has helped me prepare for further autoethnographic study of digital Asian media.

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