It is not that hopeless, after all!

Once upon a time, there is a promised land where people could come and do whatever they want, or be whoever they wish to be. However, at the time that the rumor about this land was spreading, the access to it was very limited. Yet, in today world, this promised land could easily be entered and left as ease. The land name is The Internet. As more people get access to the Internet, many have found out that: maybe it’s not the promised land after all.

The Internet, when first invented, is thought of as a cyberspace where anonymity could help lift the person out of his/her offline life–and live a happily ever after online one. It is a space that promised equality, a space where offline identity could not be revealed if its owner chose to hide it. Yet, reality has proven that this promise could no longer sustain in today world.

As technology evolves, people have become far more connected than ever before. The distinction between an online and offline identity is getting blurred. Younger generations show an immersion between the two identities. As a result, the bad things, that we try to leave behind before getting to the promised land, are also carried on to this land. That means, now we have racism, homophobia, or bullying. Dr. Lisa Nakamura in the video below outlines a few types of online racism:

The promise of anonymity is no longer sustainable because online users rely on visual indicators (e.g. usernames, avatars, pictures) to tell them how to act online. Moreover, as more individuals have become tech-savvy. They have more knowledge of the web; thus, this knowledge enables them to actually find out people’s offline identities. Cases like the unmasking of Reddit’s Violentacrez or Alaxandra Wallace‘s Asians in the library show that online behaviors lead to real offline consequences.

However, it’s not all that bad. Besides all the negative things, there are good things. Many individuals and organizations are using online outlets to express, and try to spread awareness. For example, It Gets Better project aims to help LGBT individuals to know that they are not alone, and that they should not let themselves being bullied. One interest thing is that in Dr. Lisa Nakamura’s video above; she mentions people actively act out racisms online to bully other individuals. Yet, there are individuals that actually do that to achieve the opposite: spread awareness of the -isms, and voice their opinions on different social issues. An example of this is Canadian native Youtuber Peter Chao. Other famous Youtubers are famous for making social commentaries by acting out different stereotypical traits of their own races (E.g. KevJumba’s Girls are like M&M’s).

What should we do now that even the promised land, where we thought we could escape all the bad feelings for being us, couldn’t shelter us anymore? Well, like I have mentioned in my other blog posts. It all started with education. Teaching someone to read or write is not the hard part. Teaching that individual to love everyone equally without prejudices is the NOT easy one! I will leave my blog post with this:

Internet and Divides

At the beginning, Internet was thought of as a Utopian where all other social issues could be abolished. Everyone could be anyone online. The New Yorker’s Peter Steiner’s famous On The Internet, Nobody Knows You’re A Dog cartoon is an evident to this point.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f8/Internet_dog.jpg

The idea that one person could become anonymous, and detach him/herself from offline reality has been proven wrong by many researches. It’s harder to remain anonymous when everyone is online nowadays. People start to move their offline network online, and also expanding it. Not only that, author Eszter Hargittai wrote in Open Doors, Closed Spaces? Differentiated Adoption of Social Network Sites by User Background that “offline identities very much carry over to online behaviors” (224). That means one could hardly hide one’s identity such as race or gender online. Thus, the segregation one has suffered by one’s identity offline also moves online. So, instead of a promised land, the Internet is a very mean place. It is a place where all of the bad -isms (e.g. racism, sexism…) are existing and well.

In the article How Black People Use Twitter, columnist Farhad Manjoo tried to find out why a certain Tweet hashtags that initiated by black users gone viral. He explained that because black users have a more close knit network of followers than other races. They followed back everyone that followed them. The interaction was mutual, and reciprocal. Yet, the heat that this article had attracted wasn’t so much because of the content, but rather the picture of a Black Twitter bird.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Click image to expand.

Why did this particular picture of the bird ignite such a big discourse online? Is it because it depicted very visually a trait of a particular race? Or is it because it play along with racial stereotypes (that black people are usually seen wearing oversized baseball cap). There are different parody to this Twitter bird, and the majority of them come from black community.

If the Internet has set out to fix the problem with social segregation, then why is it people still stay in their particular community? Why is it content that has racial implications quick to go viral? I think the answer is that people online are still individuals offline. As an individual, one is subjected to different social and cultural forces. To go through life, an individual rely a lot on different social stereotypes to save them time and cognitive energy. In this way, racial stereotypes get reinforced generations to generations. For what we see becomes what we think, it would become habits, and eventually become us. This explains why Hargittai said that offline identities got carried over to online behaviors.

Technology is getting more advanced everyday. People are increasingly connected online. But can we abolish all of the hate online? Can the Internet be that Utopian like it was once thought of? I would like to see that happen despite how impossible it seems right now. Maybe it won’t happen in my life time, but the old teachings that created these divides in the first place will be forgotten one day. People in the 1800s wouldn’t even think about interracial dating. In the 21st century, it is nothing strange to see family that made up of two or more races. The Internet, with its speed and transparency, will, one day, help to bring the battle about race down to the grave. Until we can Avada Kadavra these divides, let just make them visible by talking about them!

More Complications of Life?

After reading Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black by Kenyon Farrow, I just can’t help but think that all social complications would never be stopped. Despite what a sad realization it is, I am certain I am not the only one to think so.

To summarize what Kenyon Farrow writes in his article: he doesn’t support gay marriage because he think there is a racial aspect to the whole thing that makes gay marriage pretty much anti-black. He goes through different historical and social examples to back up his argument. Even though I agree to a lot of his points, I just couldn’t help thinking “Why can’t you just get over it?” I am not saying this because I want to simplify the whole matter regarding sexuality and race, but I really believe holding on to past incidences is exactly what getting people nowhere in the racial and gender debate.

Kenyon Farrow is not the only person I have read of thinking the white gay community is using the black civil rights history for their own gains without cutting the black in. Racial struggle in America has gone through such a long and harsh journey throughout history, and yet, couldn’t seem to reach the finish line. To a lot of African American, being black today doesn’t seem much different than before–still being treated as second-class citizens. However, it is very funny that black is not the only group that is claiming this! Many different groups are claiming the same thing. The same claim could be heard in the gay community, the different racial communities. Everyone demands first-class citizen treatment. So what is the problem?

The problem is, if everyone thinks as social order as a pyramid, then demanding to be on the top would mean to kick down the one that is on top. The group that has been on top, of course, wouldn’t be so happy! What should be the solution then? To take down the whole pyramid, then everyone will be at the same level. It’s so easy to say, but so hard to do. Why can people do this? Because people are trapped in their own system. They can’t escape.

Media plays such an important role in imprisoning people within the system. It doesn’t matter whether it is a political or religious system, a system is a system. A system is in the hands of a few to keep the masses in control. To keep the social order the way it is, consistent messages need to get to the masses to ensure everyone is told the same thing. These messages could be found in religious teaching, school, TV programs… It was much easier to keep people listening to the system when there wasn’t Internet. The Internet helps people to find information, share information, and get support to fight an injustice system (e.g. the Arab Spring). However, the system also knows how to use the Internet for its own gains, too. Regulations and policies are something the system use to keep control of the Internet.

The system, instead of a system “of the people, by the people,” it is a system just for a selective few. Apparently, these selective few is usually rich, white, and heterosexual. And these traits are what called “normative” in mainstream society, thus, these selective few has to keep it that way. The privileges of being “normative” are not passed out to people who don’t fit all categories. You can be rich and heterosexual, but if you not white you still can’t enjoy the privileges. Referring to my last post, America is not a color-blind society. It is and always will be a color-conscious society. Racial theme is everywhere. For example, when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is appealed, race and sexuality once again play together.


When these two videos were viral on the Net, many become suspicious of the legitimacy of the videos.
Are they a set up by the system? Because these two gay couples just so lucky that they become the poster image of the appeal. Yet, they are pretty sure not representing the gay community. Because a lot of gay couples don’t look like them. Speculation is everywhere, but no official answer, yet.

So what should be my conclusion after all? That the system is what keeps people going around and around. People are blindsided by different issues that they can’t realize that in order to stop all these injustice about race or sexuality, they need to stop, too. They need to stop being extreme in their POV. They need to stop shut down other POVs. They need to stop thinking of themselves as second-class citizens. There is a lot of things they need to stop doing. But most importantly, they need to stop looking at the past and clinging on it. Past incidences can’t represent the future. These past incidences are used as political tool to keep the people going around in a vicious cycle. For example, a white person thinks a black person is hostile so want to keep a distance. A black person being hostile because he thinks the white treated black poorly in the past, and now being distance so must be racist. Why both think like this? Because of the media, of the stereotypes, of what the society is teaching. Learning history should be about being informed, not to be prejudice! Just an example, but all I want to say is it’s all in your head. Life doesn’t need more complications. Lets move on!

America and Race- the never ending relationship

Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s “Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960s to the 1990s” is a dense reading on their research for race and ethnicity in America. Omi and Winant explains the racial formation process in America through different theories (e.g. ethnicity theory, class and nation-based theories, etc.). In their research, they mentions about the “color-blind” society from 1960s to 1980s:

“It was a period of racial upsurge, failed consolidation, and reaction which, we believe, demonstrated the centrality of race in shaping American politics and culture” (Omi and Winant, 1994: 5)

Throughout different illustrative examples in the book, both authors point out that as much desirable as it sounds, a “color-blind” society is not possible. Indeed, they suggest that America should not ignore race but notice it. By noticing race, it is then given the amount of recognition it deserves (159). Because of some races are seen to be more privilege than others, the old-fashioned racism still exists. But, the authors point out that by recognizing race, people can start to challenge racism. In my opinion, this sounds possible, but not always plausible.

It is important to distinguish between Race and Ethnicity. A main difference is that race cannot be altered but ethnicity can. Ethnicity is culturally influenced, and could be geographically based. For instance, a Vietnamese child that was born and raised in a Western country may or may not speak or believe the same things his friend, who was born and raised in Vietnam, does. Race is a about the biological features like skin tone, eyes colors, etc.. So the kid that was born and raised in a country different from his motherland might be regarded as more Westernized, but in those Western country, the kid is still regarded as Asian.

Because racial features cannot be changed, the difference in biological features set apart the different races. America is a melting pot with different racial groups and ethnicities living together. However, it is not hard to see the separation between the races. This map shows how people prefer to live with people who look like them. It is not hard to find an exclusive African-American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, or Caucasian neighborhoods. The video below also shows that racial separation brings forth different issues:

And this video shows how racist behaviors are wired into the daily life:

Racist behaviors might or might not be intended. Nowadays, with so much information to process, people rely on stereotypes to get them through different life scenarios. This is the reason why recognizing race to confront racism is possible but plausible. Because racial stereotypes are very difficult to overcome. As much as people would like to think as themselves as rational individuals, they act irrationally anyways. Moreover, more and more American have mix-racial children. Could this be the end for racism? Far from it. The legal system as illustrated in the book does not always make the process easy. This article also points out how authority census on race is very restricted.

In conclusion, unless there is a breakthrough in the legal structure to accommodate the racial diversity of America, racial segregation, racist behaviors, or different racial issues will pertain every aspect of life for America. Once again, Omi and Winant are right to highlight that, “race will always be at the center of the American experience” (5).

Memes

There is an understanding among the media scholars that viral media such as meme has similar ideas to the human biology. The ideas are that it can self-replicate, spread/transmit, and become viral.

In reading If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead by Henry Jenkins, he proposed the Spreadable model for viral media—to put an emphasis on the activity of the consumers! The consumers are also seen as the multipliers of those viral media objects. He also proposed a grass-root circulation of the content instead of the centralized one that is put in the hands of media producers.

In today’s blog post, I will be talking about meme. This is how Google defined “Meme.”

Image

What I see in this definition are two common denominators: human and culture. Personally, I see the Internet as a culture itself; yet, it is not difficult to hear the other side of this argument: it is just a tool. However, we won’t be getting into this argument. We will take it as a culture in this blog post.

Nowadays, when one talks about meme; everyone would first instantly refer to those viral funny images/GIFs that travelling around from sites to sites. For examples, the troll faces. According to Memes: The New Replicators by Richard Dawkins, some memes stay alive longer in the meme pool because they have won the attention (brain space) and time usage of the viewers than their rival memes. In today world, it’s easy to say that memes have become common cultural references for people. The Internet has facilitates a faster rate for information to travel through different locations.  Hence, it has inevitably creates a mutual culture across continents. For instance, a troll face reference can be understood not just in the USA but also in other countries that English is not their native tongue. To Dawkins, a meme spreads due to its acceptance to the population that understood it. Yet, a notion that something spreads, and something survives might not be the same notion. Both Dawkins and Jenkins believed that for an idea to survive longer, it needs to get referenced even long after it spreads. An example of this could be found on knowyoumeme.com. In the popular meme section, we could find many memes that were very viral, but no longer popular (E.g. Brown Twitter Bird). Some of them are originated from a special event at the time it appeared (e.g. Inception). Yet, we still could find many memes that are continuously getting referenced (E.g. Like a Boss). Thus, it is understandable why meme could be compared to genes. They multiply, repurposed, and adapt to the environment. The one that survives is the one that easiest to modify for different communities’ references (e.g. troll memes).

Coming back to the notion of time that Dawkins mentioned. With a faster rate of transmission, we have a much larger amount of information to digest. Therefore, a meme needs to be even more particular and creative to catch our attention. An example for this is: I remember when I was an IB student back in high school. An Internet meme called: “You know you are in IB when…” got popular among the IB schools. It was a very long meme. Yet, most IB students I know sat through the whole things, and shared it around to other IB students. We still reference that meme now. Yet, the people that are not in IB program would have no idea what we talk about because this meme was so particular to only IB students. However, these days, there is another meme called “What people think I do/ What I really do…” and it is a different story. People pass it around even though the meme might not particularly be about them. They pass it around because of someone they know of, or just feel like it’s true. These people are the connectors of those bow-tie networks. It is how meme makes it across different communities. What is the difference between these two memes? There is no visual in the first one. The second one has visual, which captures the attention better. Moreover, the second is short, only 6 frames of picture and short descriptions. Because of information overload, people start to only skim through what they read; thus, that’s why the second meme has become extremely viral.

So what is the point? We know that the human factor in the culture is what really decide whether the object gets spread around. Thus, like Jenkins suggested, if a company wants to get its message across to different flatforms, it needs to put the emphasis on the activity of consumers. There are several things it needs to remember: not only its message need to be strikingly different from its rival, it also need to focus on those connectors in the bowtie networks. They are the one that would facilitate the message to different network communities.

Is the Hunger Games just another movie, again?

To those who are looking for a review of the movie, the Hunger Games, will be disappointed because this blog is about something else entirely. In this post, I will be discussing about what so called Art in the age of mechanical reproduction.

In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin Walter talks about the evolution of art from hieroglyphs, paintings, lithography, photography, to film. He also discusses about the loss of aura in these work of art. To him, the loss of aura happens because the work of art has lost its authority. “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (Benjamin). The reception toward an original piece of painting is (to Benjamin) more highly valued than the one toward films. In film, “individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about the produce” (Benjamin). Therefore, according to Benjamin, a painting is contemplated by an individual, but an individual is contemplated by the film they watch.

For that reason, the mechanical reproduction of art, thus, is meant for the capitalistic gain of a few instead of the enjoyment of the masses. In today culture, this idea is well represented by the release of numerous movies every week. Not to mention, every summer is a race for blockbuster movies by big entertainment companies. Everything is calculated for the maximum gain. Those big companies make full use of the existing media ecology to test, create awareness, get attention, and create hype to their movies. Some has done a better job than others. For example, the movie Avatar is an example of how 20th Century Fox use various media outlets to promote the film. Different photos from the movie were “leaked” before the official trailer came out. This generated discussions from online communities. The movie producers released different versions for the trailer to add in the discussion. They even allowed the press to see 16 minutes from the movie before the official release date. Today press is no long just print. News, reviews, and anticipations are over the Internet from blogs, social networking sites, to online discussion pages. Not stopping there, 20th Century Fox also partnered with Coca Cola to have marketing campaign to promote the movie. Thus, people who do not have Internet connection and/or do not read newspaper now could see the presence of the about-to-be-released movie everywhere. The extensive use of every possible media outlet together with an actually good movie brought back $2 billion to its producers. Avatar is a movie that did satisfy the hype its producers created. However, not all movies could achieve the same thing. A few examples could be: The Green Lantern or Sucker Punch. Both were hyped up very well but the undeniable disappointment from the moviegoers tells a better story than all the flattering critics.

Even though Avatar was such a big success, people have already moved on to other big blockbusters. They always anticipate for a “better” one, a “bigger” one. I think this is the point Benjamin tries to say: would people anticipate or compare The Starry Night by Picasso to another painting? The feeling one individual developed for an original art piece is more valuable because its aura cannot be reproduced.

So, what can we do? Many people suggest supporting independent moviemakers. But why is it so hard? Why is hard for many artists to stay true to the art they love? Or is it possible for them to be big? I think there are possibilities for an art piece to reserve its aura even in this mechanical reproduction age. Many artists have already used the advanced technologies to their gain: videos on Youtube, blogs on different flat forms. The question after reading Benjamin Walter is how to reflect back on art when it has become “unoriginal?” This question could be answered through these youtube videos; viral blog posts etc. where people release their full imagination and frustration from the existing system. They do unorthodox things. The fact they have gained followers and subscribers mean that maybe the system is changing. It won’t go away, but there will be more room for both the “authenticity” and “unauthencity” to co-exist. Yet, for now, the Hunger Games will soon be just another big office movie.

Transmission – Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru’s Transmission is, in my opinion, a very entertaining book to read although that it has touched upon different subject matters such as effects of technology on society or cultural clashes between Eastern and Western countries (e.g. India vs. America). If you have not read it, then you can find the summary of the book here. For those that have read the book, I would like to focus this blog on only one aspect: how technology has made an impact on society.

The story began with Arjun Mehta found himself a “dream” job in America: being able to work in Silicon Valley. Arjun is a guy that is very good with computer. In fact, he is a well-known figure for the underground hackers world. Through the book, you can see that Arjun, and many like him (e.g. people that working with computers like guys in the anti-virus team), seems to be very distancing in relationships with people around them. They feel themselves being rewired differently from others in the society. They have their own “codes.” They tried hard to not make face-to-face contact with each other. They cannot feel themselves at ease with the world around them, as it is not as orderly organized than the one inside their computers. Karl Marx predicted this problem of social alienation in the 19th century as a result of capitalism. As people are distanced themselves from the end products, they become autonomous. They are controlled by the ones in power. Arjun Mehta left his country to pursue the “American dream.” However, in America, he realized that despite of having a great talent for the computer, he was still cheap labor to the capitalistic world. Although he was not living the life he had imagined, the “American poverty” to him was still a better idea than coming back to become a disgrace to his family in India.

Through the events in the book, you could see Thomas Friedman’s flat world notion plays around. With a better communication system, information travels with a faster rate. Arjun called home whenever he needed support. But toward the end after releasing virus  Leela, he blamed this communication system for being to readily as it would mean his family could know of what he did in instant. As the world is flat, the economic is also more globalized. The markets are inter-linked. They are connected in a way that if one country has a problem, many others would be affected. After being released, Leela the virus traveled faster than the speed of light to deteriorates many computer systems around the world just in a short period of time. This created chaos and uncertainties (or could be preferred to as “noises”) as people lost control in their daily activities. Moreover, with the advance of technology and the readiness of the information infrastructure, they have taken away Arjun’s control over the situation. He could not anticipate the consequences that virus Leela would bring. He could not predict that virus Leela would shut down businesses, systems, and bring him legal problems (not to mention problems to his beloved Indian starlet Leela Zahir—the one he named the virus after). Moreover, he could not also predict the metamorphosis rate of the virus. In this book, to me, virus Leela is not an accident nor a byproduct of the system as suggested in Parikka’s Digital Contagions. But, Parikka  was right that the virus has become more dangerous, more malicious as it gets out of its writer’s control.

Although the ending was not what I expected; yet, Transmission has showed how technology has become a big role in everyone’s life nowadays. It changes the way we see, think, or feel the world. It connects the people in society through an interconnected system but it also alienates people from keeping touch with their real world. As a biological virus that would kill people in a physical way, a computer virus (or a digital virus in general) would “kill” people in a mental way. Guy suffered from losing his identity because of the system being shuffled and damaged by virus Leela. Arjun disappeared after being associated as a cyber terrorist. For technology to be part of our lives, the threat of cyber terrorism is real and threatening to many. Unlike a biological virus that we could develop vaccinations for, we might not be able to have “vaccinations” for computer viruses. Computer viruses cannot be eradicated forever for different reasons. For it to be a system or a human reason, the fear of losing your own personal data (or even identity since we are all a number in the system) has also become a part of life like the technology that brought this fear to life.

Computer Stress