I kind of hate being known as someone who’s preoccupied with hating Myspace, which I’m not, I just don’t really like it for a number of reasons, and have enumerated them at points in the past. Whatever. So, with that out of the way, I point you to an interesting NY Times article about stealth(-ish) marketing on Myspace: Digital Kids: Myspace blurs line between friends and flacks. (You need a login on the Times website to read it, but it’s free, so if you don’t have one already, just suck it up and get one. You only need to pay if you want an upgraded subscription, to read columnists and do recent crosswords and stuff.)

In the defense of Myspace, social networking sites aren’t the only place that stealth marketing is going on; if you’re attached to a college campus at all, you see it all around you. “Real-life” (is there a better term for this) guerrilla marketing is, I’d say, even more unsettling than internet stealth marketing, because there’s more of a natural tendency to be suspicious of who’s on the other side of an interent-mediated communication (since there’s no face-to-face, nor even any voice-to-voice, through the computer).

When companies hire cool kids to provide word-of-mouth advertising, it creates a situation in which word-of-mouth — which you might consider the last “genuine” form of interaction — can’t be trusted anymore; you never know whether the person you’re talking to, who you might even know well, is speaking from experience or from a script that s/he may or may not actually believe. In essence, in stealth marketing, the message being communicated is being sent by the advertiser to the receiver through the medium of a person who the receiver is expected to respect. How do you feel about being a medium, cool kids?

Too good: Ted Stevens on the Internet as a series of tubes.

I know I’m late on the draw, but if you read my blog, it’s probably because you don’t realize there are much better things out there on the internet anyway, so I bet you haven’t seen it.

Regardless, the “series of tubes” thing is funny, but the thing that makes me uncontrollably laughy is when he explains: “I just the other day got – Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.”

I found myself spending last night in bed, reading, drinking Elephant Malt Liquor (I kid you not) and watching 20/20 (I kid you not once more). Any of these activities individually would be worth writing about, but it was 20/20 that set me off — not so much the show itself, which was completely inane, telling the sad stories of former Broadway “Annie” stars losing direction and the inspirational tale of the youngest African-American millionaire, but rather, seeing John Stossel’s face, and contemplating the awful effects these moral panic-driven newsmagazines have on us as viewers.

Since I’m pretty sure I’ve whined about Stossel on here before, I turn to another example, possibly the most important TV newsmagazine feature of today: Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” series. My mom, along with millions more across the land, is a big fan. Last time I was home I was reading Steven Levy’s Newsweek column, which dealt with the show, and poked fun at her citing his sensible analysis, but of course I didn’t get too up in arms because, hey, she’s Mom. But really: is a television series devoted to catching child predators with their pants quite literally down to anyone’s benefit, besides the network cashing in on all the viewers it attracts?

No one likes sexual predation, especially when it’s perpetrated on kids. I’m pretty sure that’s a social norm that would hold up without a nationally televised Candid Camera-type event to reassure everyone. But let’s be honest with ourselves: people who take part in this sort of activity have serious issues that they need to deal with. The way to deal with it isn’t to humiliate them in front of the global village (if you’ll allow me that term).

A couple years ago I led a workshop at the Warhol on the idea of moral panic and the media. It of course is the nature of any “news” outlet fueled by the profit motive to create and sustain a state of panic at any time possible; that’s what turns on TV sets and sells papers and magazines. Think about the shark attack summers of 2003 and 2004, or the more recent “rash” of young white woman abductions/murders/disappearances. When capital is at stake, the spectacle is key, at most any cost.

In the case of “To Catch a Predator:”

  • Parents are conditioned to believe the Internet is a real wild west, full of pervs popping out of nowhere, ready to molest. In reality, like Levy points out in the above article, it takes some work to wander into the path of an online predator at this point. The likelihood is doubtful to be any more than running into a sexual predator in real life. If parents can convince their kids to not talk to strangers on the street, they should be able to instill the same sort of caution in them when they’re online. It’s the same effect that media representations of violent crime tend to have: the risk of being injured or killed in the city by violent crime isn’t much greater in most cases than the risk of being injured or killed in one kind of accident or another in the suburbs or rural areas. There’s a moral component to violent crime, though, that calls for more outrage in the voices of reporters, and therefore makes the city seem a great deal scarier.
  • We revert back to public humiliation as a form of punishment. Note where it says in the article that public humiliation is generally considered to be cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. This is different from Scarlet Letter -type nonsense, wherein the entire town knows what you’ve done and won’t forgive you; this is humiliation on a national scale, in our living rooms and bedrooms in prime time. It’s bad for the perpetrators, whose chances for full rehabilitation are surely lessened a great deal by the reality of having been outed to the general citizenry as not only a felon but a deviant. It’s also bad for us as viewers, in that it generally appeals to our basest, most vindictive nature and makes it feel as if that’s a positive thing.
  • It glorifies and thus encourages vigilantism, like this, a case in which a couple losers were using the same tactics (finding potential Internet predators by posing as children in chat rooms, arranging to meet up) to find victims for robbery and extortion. I may not be a huge fan of cops, but I’m even less a fan of bounty hunters, and even less a fan of random folks who think they can make the world better by personally stopping do-badders.

If you’re REALLY CONCERNED about sexual predators online, there are much better ways of working to stifle the problem than broadcasting fodder for moral masturbation to the country. Educate kids on watching out for themselves, work on ways for websites to keep young ones from getting involved in creepy talk with creepy folks. I’ll warn you, though, you might not reach Stossel-style celebrity status doing something that actually helps.

dear post-gazette:

July 28, 2006

I read with some dismay this past Sunday’s “Family Circus” comic. The strip features little Billy expounding upon the geographical origin of each of his articles of clothing, indicating many developing nations in southeast Asia and Latin America, then explaining that he — along with most of his “favorite things” — was made right here in the USA.
He then proudly displays the “MADE IN THE USA” logo on his shirt, which he pointed out earlier was made in the South Pacific somewhere, and posits that his wardrobe is a “meetin’ of the United Nations!”

It’s okay for Bil Keane to subscribe to a culturally imperialist attitude about the production of goods and to believe that clothes should be made elsewhere but our “favorite things” should come from right here in the United States — hey, it’s a free country. But I resent that he’s using the paper pulpit of my Sunday comics to express it. The comics are a place for good innocent fun, not for politics. I say, if it’s funny, keep it in the funny pages. If it’s just a platform for Bil Keane to force his ideology on us and our children on an otherwise sunny and syrup-drenched Sunday morning, perhaps you should consider moving “The Family Circus” to the editorial page, where it would better fit in.

It seems at this point that they’re not running this, so I figured I’d put it up here. It would’ve been funnier in black and white; I even got the phrase “it’s a free country” in there! Ah well.

I wrote the letter to the editor urging the P-G to move “The Family Circus” to the editorial page. If they don’t have the COJONES to print it, I’ll post it here. Let’s just wait and see.

My band is playing a show in St. Clair Park in Greensburg, to benefit a skate park for Latrobe. A bunch of bands are playing, we’re next to last, Zao is last. Weird I know but cool!

I’m look look looking at grad programs to apply to and trying to decide where to export myself to.

My roommates won’t stop watching “Roswell” on DVD.

Man Man/Centipede/Harangue tomorrow night at Der Brillobaux. Be there, buy me drinks. Thanks!

So, this post on Jonathan Sterne’s blog got me thinking today about academics who blog and the issues they may or may not face as a result. The letter he cites (here) written by Juan Cole sums up pretty well one aspect of blogging as free expression amongst academics and in the sidebar you can find a history of Chronicle of Higher Education articles about professors and blogging.

The controversy being discussed deals mostly with the idea of the expression of controversial ideas in blogs and the effect that might have on the careers of the bloggers (in this case in higher education). While being dooced is obviously a big issue in blogging, there are other questions I’ve been thinking about specifcally in relation to blogging among educators and “public intellectuals” (since I might end up in the position of being an educator of some sort sooner or later). Most importantly — and I guess this opens up intellectual property issues as well: when your business is all about thinking and providing knowledge (in the most general sense; let’s not argue pedagogy here), how free do you feel to express what you’re thinking, and to impart knowledge, for free via a tool of mass communication? Is it a good idea?

Some professors and critics (Jonathan is a good example) tend to blog but not so much about their areas of expertise. Someone like Michael Berube or danah boyd might sometimes blog about mundane stuff, at other times about current affairs, and at other times about her/his specific area of research. Blogging can provide an exciting way for scholarly thought and argumentation to work itself out in an informal manner before going to the big leagues (i.e., journals and the such) (here I am cheerleading for . . . WEB 2.0!!). But if you have certain information or insight that is fairly novel, and perhaps important, is your blog a place to express that? How does one decide what’s discussed and what’s kept under wraps until an article/book/dissertation appears, to give it context and, yes, to an extent, commodify it?

Which brings me to my other big question — are more and more academics starting blogs (and/or myspace pages and/or the whole bit) just to plug their “real” (contextualized/commodified) publishing? Case in point: Henry Jenkins, who’s supremely well-respected in the field of media studies and is the head of the MIT Media Lab, and who I will admit is awesome (though he loses me when he goes off about gaming . . . that’s more my fault than his though), started his blog specifically in support of his newest book. Jenkins is an interesting case in that starting a blog for his book about “convergence culture” and the meeting of old and new media makes sense both on a publicity level and on a, er, meta-mediated(?)1 level (in that he’s carrying out the very tasks he studies and describes in the book) (from what I can gather, since I haven’t read it yet).

And if the answer is yes, people are starting blogs with the specific intent of using them to plug their books, how should I interpret their writing? As thought-provoking communication about important issues, coming from experts in their respective fields, with the interesting potential for feedback via comments, or as an extended and well-thought-out advertisement? And should you be interpreting my blog as silly comments about my life, interspersed with thoughts about stuff like this, or as an extended advertisement for my band (which, by the by, is playing its last show, for a good while at least, in September)?

1. I’m scrambling here for a/the word that can describe a communication the medium of which reflects directly the content of the message, in an intentional way rather than in a McLuhan sort of way. If you tell me what it is, I’ll append that nonsense, because, pretty clearly, that word does not do the job.

billy’s jeans

July 23, 2006

It’s hard for me to even begin to address what’s effed-up about today’s edition of The Family Circus:

7/23/06

Billy, you Thai-undies-wearing twerp, do me a favor and call me the day there’s a meeting of the United Nations that includes the poor underaged laborers who are getting pennies a day to make most of the clothes we wear. Jeff-and-Bil Keane, YOU bastards should know better. You know exactly WHY Billy’s togs are made elsewhere in the world; why the HELL are you glorifying it?

Also, the pronouncement (from the pure mouth of a 6-year-old no less) that clothes are made in other parts of the world but our “favorite stuff” is made RIGHT HERE IN THE USA is the basest culturally biased bullshit that can fit in a Sunday comic.

ALSO, for the sake of common sense, couldn’t you at least have made it so that his shirt that says “MADE IN THE USA” was actually MADE IN THE USA instead of somewhere in the South Pacific, as it appears to be based on the first panel?

Please add this to the “Campaign to Move ‘The Family Circus’ to the op-ed page” file.