I’ve been struggling for a while now to incorporate a meaningful, interesting segment on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing into one of my social media theory classes. So far, those efforts have resulted in middling explorations of Trinbagonian Kickstarter projects and reiteration of the “social media empowers audiences” theme. It’s a topic I was beginning to dread covering, but this semester, I have an opportunity to add a lot more substance to my illustrations.
The following is an example post for students of my introductory media theory courses:
A few years ago, while speaking to other students at a graduation, I jokingly remarked that due to my programme of choice, every movie I watched, every video game I played, and even every podcast I listened to could be considered research. I was only half joking, though. I had, after all, been studying mass communication.Time and time during my studies, I was able to illustrate concepts and deepen my discussion of theory by using examples of everyday media. I explained convergence and consolidation using Sony’s virtual monopoly of Spider-Man-related electronic media in the early 2000s. A page of Vladimir Putin memes sparked a discussion that I later referenced in an essay on public relations. Critical observation of media has always reaped rewards for me professionally, whether as a teacher, a former reporter, or a freelance writer. And media studies has remained a fresh and exciting field to me because it’s based on an ever-developing, ever-changing media landscape.
The following is an exemplar blog post for COMM 365 (Audience and Reception) students.
I’m conflicted about Finn.
Like most moviegoers, I was fooled by JJ Abrams’ mystery box marketing and went into Star Wars: The Force Awakens expecting to see the character established as the new Luke Skywalker of the series. As a black nerd, even an older, jaded one, the idea of a young man of colour becoming the central figure of that fabled universe was…exciting.
Finn is not that sort of hero.
Finn is not the gifted, hypercompetent Chosen One who is fated to vanquish the Great Evil in one-on-one combat. In a bit of a twist, that honour went to Rey, the female co-lead whose role in the story remained obscured in trailers and posters. So while we were teased by images of John Boyega wielding a lightsaber, it was Daisy Ridley who used it to devastating effect in the film’s climactic duel.
I have to admit: I was a little disappointed. And I wondered whether that made me a hypocrite. The film had, after all, delivered on its promise of a more diverse cast. But instead of appreciating the cultural shift that made a woman the center of the Star Wars universe, I sat there feeling deflated that Finn wasn’t the hero.
But Finn is still a hero.
And I’d argue he’s the most heroic figure in the movie. He’s a character who instinctively knows the right thing to do, who overcomes his own fear, even in the face of overwhelming odds. It makes him stand out as the most relatable character, the everyman, in a movie where most of the other characters seem almost superhumanly fearless. Played wonderfully by Boyega, the character brings energy, humor, and a sense of wonder to every scene, and, more importantly, brings out the best in his co-stars*. At least, that’s how I see him. Others, not unreasonably so, are less impressed, and see problematic aspects in the character. The debate rages on.
One of the problems with feeling underrepresented in film is the all-or-nothing attitude audiences often unwittingly adopt towards characters. A woman is either a badass or a damsel. A black character with a sense of humor is automatically a minstrel. Every character of colour carries the hopes and fears of an entire group on his or her shoulders, and it often prevents us from appreciating nuanced performances or portrayals. Every minority character needs to be “perfect”, whatever that might mean to the millions of different perspectives that make up minority audiences. But perfection is boring. And if the end goal is simply to be represented as “normal” people, sometimes we need to appreciate “normal” characters.
So Finn is not the unerring badass that Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu was in the prequel trilogy. He’s not that super-negro cliche, the
token minority character of immense power or skill, but little to no personality. Neither is he the magical variant, as his growth and change are, along with Rey’s, central to the movie. And he’s not (or not yet) the black jedi superhero I wanted to see. What he is, though, is a great character whose journey I’m still excited to witness.
*In this regard he reminds me a lot of Michael B Jordan’s character in the movie Chronicle, a portrayal that’s worthy of its own blog post in the future.
We spent most of the PR and Marketing session discussing the broader implications that social media has on advertising, marketing and public relations. We discussed two interesting cases that highlighted both the opportunities and the challenges that new media brings to those fields. Although I expect that most of you, hardworking and resourceful as you tend to be, have already done extensive research on those cases, here are a few follow-up reports on both of them:
Here’s a story and light analysis by the Globe and Mail on Samsung Canada’s highly successful use of social media…and childish drawings of imaginary animals. This CNET News report on the Nestle social media meltdown of 2010 gives a blow-by-blow account, while 1GoodReason delivers an in-depth analysis of what the corporation did wrong, and how they could have capitalised on the initially negative press.
In our first class, I told you that bloggers and vloggers should have a unique voice. There should be something special about what they share, or how they present it.
This is what I meant.
Let’s talk about what we can learn from Zach Anner’s YouTube channel.