Research Submissions

Michael Agnello

Kavita Nayar

Social Media’s Role in Gender Inequity

Social media’s presence is becoming increasingly more prevalent in younger users. And while the larger market poses benefits for capitalist demands, it also presents problems for the population, which remains ideologically entrenched in oppressive positions. When children, ages thirteen or possibly earlier, are exposed to powerful media messages through social media sites it shapes their view of reality and persuades them to behave in a particular manner, a manner that unknowingly encourages the continuation of rigid dominant and subordinate gender roles. While it is obviously not an intentional consequence of social media, the sites nevertheless coerce young women into a strict classification of culturally constructed femininity, allowing patriarchal ideology to fertilize and root in their growing minds, incapacitating advancement towards autonomy. I will analyze how the medium of cell phones, the obscured lines of subordination, and less personal communication work in conjunction to perpetuate the quest for gender equity in American society.

A Medium of Messages  

To begin discussing the causes and effects of social media use for children, it is necessary to outline the medium and its role in the matter. Cell phones have become widespread among the world’s population and as Bryant notes, “mobile technology is the fastest growing communication medium of all time” (2013, 311). A critical aspect of mobile phones is the ability to stay in contact with others virtually everywhere, even though adolescence is typically a period of building self-reliance. “The rite of passage,” Turkle writes, “is now transformed by technology…and adolescents don’t face the same pressure to develop the independence we have associated with moving forward into young adulthood” (2011, 173). Autonomy is steadily compromised, thus causing children to grow dependent on others and susceptible to outside influence from the media, as they acclimate to rely on others for information. And because the media reflects cultural values, which are generally patriarchal in American society, this proves problematic, especially considering the most recent developments of mobile technology, the smart phone, functions nearly identically as a computer. Children with one are able to access a plethora of sites and apps previously unattainable, meaning more exposure to media messages. Advertisements bombard the banners of social media sites and fad games, reaching a much broader audience in comparison to specific television channels or magazine pages, while continuing to reflect the same message of social reality. A recent publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics even stated that “[banner ads] influence not only the buying tendencies of preadolescents and adolescents but also their views of what is normal” (2011). For younger users, who may not have been subjected to the realities portrayed in advertising because of their age, the messages essentially create a viewpoint rather than reinforce what is already known. Take for example the recent advertisement for the app “Games of War” featuring model Kate Upton. She is portrayed highly sexualized in order to attract male attention towards playing the game. And because the ad is seemingly ubiquitous, flooding social media sites and an array of other apps, the image becomes ingrained into the minds of young women, subtly causing them to believe that in order to win attention, one must communicate with the body and not words. If the medium were less pervasive, the ad would have less impact.

In such situations as the one mentioned, femininity and masculinity quickly become defined as subordinate and dominant through the representations of advertisements. In 1979, Erving Goffman published a book Gender Advertisements, which stated that women were repeatedly represented touching themselves, positioned defenselessly, gazing listlessly, and infantilized. Each depiction undermines the integrity of women by making them appear inferior and ultimately subordinate to men. Today, these same four postures Goffman noticed in advertising have extended into the world of social media, as young women willingly perform the poses and the models, in regard to their profession, become models in terms of figures to base behavior around. Social cognitive theory and its emphasis on the behavior reenactment model proposed by Albert Bandura in 1986 could be applied to demonstrate that after repeated exposure to the images found in banner ads, the young women of today are forced to pay attention to the models and how they’re positioned, causing them to internalize the image, then reproduce it themselves, motivated by the lure of gaining the same attention the models received. A woman who holds her index finger to the ridge of her mouth, while she lowers the angle of her head to look up at the camera is not seen as immature, rather playful, simply because advertising has made the pose fashionable, a crucial detriment to gender equity because it means the subordination has become internalized as standard behavior for women.

Social media undoubtedly remains most popular among pre-teens and teenagers, therefore the idea of strict gender roles being enforced becomes even more pertinent because, as Danah Boyd notes, teenagers, “struggle with their own sense of self, how they relate to others, and what it means to fit into the broader world. They face pressures to conform and they struggle to understand what’s acceptable and normative while listening to the messages that surround them” (2014, 141-142). Ergo, in such a critical period of cognitive learning, adolescents are being barraged with messages of deep-seeded power structures, in lieu of positive messages. Eventually, with more exposure due to the medium, they will begin to align with dominant and subordinate roles before they even have a chance to grapple with a sense of self.

The Pressures of Normality

The source of the subordinate structure discernibly stems from years of history and culture systematically passed down and not media content, however it is relevant to note that social media has allowed for the presence of power structures to be morphed into a less noticeable form. When the root becomes obscured, the consequences are equally blurred. Sandra Bartky, a professor of philosophy and gender studies at the University of Illinois, coined the term “psychic alienation” to describe when oppression penetrates internally and becomes self-imposed. Her belief is that women often unknowingly accept dominant ideology and in turn, suppress themselves to conform to an unequal system, prohibiting their ability to achieve true autonomy. In relation to this essay, social media provides a platform for women to adopt and enact dominant ideology because the tacit goal of the sites is to acquire attention. For women, in order to accomplish this goal one must obey the rules of subordination, often unknowingly, so that men will gaze amorously. If a woman breaks the script, she becomes less appealing and not worth connecting with, a severe loss for socially budding children, pressuring them to behave without true freedom of choice.

The idea of acquiring attention raises a key link as to why users comply with the standard: connections with others are visible. The structure of a social media site determines, even if one’s profile is private, that outsiders can view how many ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ a user has, which can be grounds for making inferences and judgments about the type of person the user must be. In response, teens feel an unnerving desire to amass connections, as a way to boost their own profile and also, their self-esteem. One teen from Texas commented on the idea during an interview with a TeenVogue reporter, saying, “There’s so much pressure to have the largest following on all my social media platforms, just last week, I made fun of my friend because I had one more follower than her on Vine.” The example demonstrates an existence of what Turkle referred to as “presentation anxiety,” as teens grow increasingly self-conscious about choices made online because of the pressure to display a positive, likeable image to others.

What remains interesting is the way in which the anxiety driven behavior relocates into actual interactions, as Turkle notes, “living

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out in public, sharing every mistake and false step” has become commonplace (2011, 186). A constant obsession with self-image can equate to unfortunate ramifications, particularly for women “it is well-documented that girls begin to show lower personal self-esteem than do boys beginning in adolescence” (Katz et. al, 2002, p 422). Can lower self-esteem be a result of the immense pressure women face to appear in a defined way? I think it’s plausible. For, when the interests of others control self-behavior, confidence is lost in self and dependence becomes something that is necessary. In turn, valuable thoughts of productive processes, such as critical thinking towards self-identification or emotional connectivity become shied away. And more often than not, the behavior children resort to is one that mirrors dominant ideology, as it is easiest to hide behind and blend into. Going against the standard would mean appearing abnormal, something a self-conscious teen would desperately try to avoid. It’s almost as if normal social media conduct for women is a euphemism for oppression.

A Future of Separation

            The social media platform enables children to communicate more frequently and less formally, which on the surface level appears positive, as a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics noted, saying the sites can help “foster one’s individual identity and unique social skills” (2011). However, not only is this debatable, considering users often distort their self image online, it is also ambiguous by what is meant by ‘unique social skills.’ Often times on social media sites cyber bullying and gossip spreading run rampant and are the byproducts of the increased communication methods children now possess. Perhaps that is the unique aspect of fostering unique social skills. With no time restraints for interaction, children and teens can discuss a gamut of topics, such as the personal matters of others, considering the “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop,” as psychotherapist Michael Hausauer wrote. While he was referring to the increase of texting in a 2009 New York Times article, today, the quote nevertheless seems more apt applied to social media, bearing in mind the newfound personal information available to children provided by other’s profiles on social media sites, satisfying the ‘interest’ he mentions. Ultimately, the combination of intrigue and self-consciousness about being out of the loop equates to cyber bullying and gossip spreading because without social cues, information can be spun to fit the imagination of the viewer.

A lack of social cues also promotes less emotional investment between parties, creating more justification to slander those outside of intimate friend groups and ensuring the likelihood of future instances. Both cyber bullying and gossip serve to separate children, specifically fellow in-group members, making unification for social justice purposes more difficult, elongating equity. Supporting this claim is the widely recorded figure that young women “are almost twice as likely as boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.” (NoBullying.com). The statistical divide seems startling due to the fact that women often attack each other. Sure, it might appear to be nothing new within middle and high school aged females, but covertly causing emotional harm to analogous group members could relate to social media and its encouragement of the same femininity portrayed in advertising. With the mindset that ‘As a female I must seek male attention for affirmation of gender,’ instances occur based around the notion that if one is able to successfully devalue the other, she will be able to garner more attention from the male. Social media instills a mentality into young women that pits them against each other, making the work of the dominator easier and cementing subordination.

Conclusion

New forms of communication drive changes in social interaction. The dominant and subordinate gender roles have existed in American society since its inception and while it appears outwardly that tide is changing, social media disguises the power structure and makes it more accessible and absorbable. The medium of cell phones gives children access to more content that reflects patriarchal values, causing young women to internalize their supposed role within society as sources of pleasure for voyeuristic males. This internalization becomes transferred into their social media profiles, as they voluntarily depict themselves in line with the same values represented in popular media, faced with the pressure of appearing normal and likeable. Lastly, as communication increasingly grows less personal, more instances of cyber bullying can arise, which disperse unification among group members, nearly guaranteeing a failure for equity. I do believe, amid the pages of negativity, that there can be ways to positively combat the issue. Media literacy holds true power and if it is able to spread throughout school systems, more children will be able to avoid falling victim to the cycle and the ideal of equity can potentially come to fruition.

 

Melissa Bowden

Teenage Motherhood, New Media, and the Selfcrafted Narrative  (In Progress:Excerpt)

Michael Morgan (Faculty Sponsor)

Department of Communication, UMass Amherst

ABSTRACT

Teenage motherhood is a divisive topic in the United States, with many studies pointing to its negative emotional and socioeconomic repercussions. Recent pop culture trends, however, have spurred a more cinematized series of glimpses into the narratives of teen mothers and their experiences. Shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and others have portrayed the lives of teen mothers in a reality show style, and multiple studies have examined the nature of these portrayals and their affects on teen viewers. With the rise of new media and self created content, however, teen mom narratives that are self created by the teen mothers themselves have appeared on popular new media sites.This project particularly examines blogs and videoblogs created by teen mothers and posted onto the websites Youtube and WordPress in particular. I use previously researched socioeconomic beliefs and expectations about teen mothers to compare the narratives expressed in the blogs and videoblogs toe existing expectations. Through the use of content analysis based on the expected and prevalent themes, I examine the similarities and differences between the self created content of teen mothers and the existing socioeconomic and emotional beliefs about them established by previous research. The study also compares vlogging and blogging to discern whether or not these two different platforms correlate with the expression of differing themes or emotions. My overarching desire is to probe the ways in which stereotyped or marginalized people can use new media to craft their own narratives, reject (or perhaps play into) existing media stereotypes, and find their place in the age of self created media.

OBJECTIVES

This study will investigate the narratives about teen motherhood crafted by teen mothers themselves in user created blogs and videoblogs. While multiple studies have examined the ways in which teen mom narratives on TV influence viewers, this study approaches “teen mom” narratives from a new media, self created content perspective. No known research has investigated the different ways in which people interact with blogs and vlogs, and whether different new media platforms result in vastly (or not) different content creation. Past research has also avoided conducting a content analysis of themes produced in “teen mom”focused media. Of particular importance, no prior research has delved into this hot button issue (teen motherhood in the media) from the approach of new media and self created images/content. This study will focus on the two most popular platforms for free blogging and vlogging: WordPress and YouTube respectively. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a blog is, “(shortened form of “weblog”): A frequently updated web site consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc., typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary.” A video blog is the recorded version of a [1] blog, usually with a single “narrator” holding the camera and documenting his or her experiences, and also commenting on them. Vlogs and blogs differ substantially in that blogs do not require the writer to show his/her face, but vlogs depend on audiovisual self representation.

[1 Oxford English Dictionary]

NEW MEDIA

In his book The†Language†of†New†Media†, new media theorist Lev Manovich gives the popular definition of new media as “ the use of a computer for distribution and exhibition, rather than…production.” Manovich also, however, questions the “new” elements of new media; he [2] says that digitally recorded cinema allow for the same sort of immediate access that online content does. Even the new media video platform YouTube compares itself to television in order to get the attention of marketers, saying on its statistics page that “YouTube overall, and even YouTube on mobile alone, reaches more 1834 and 1849 year olds than any cable network in the U.S.” 3

The mere association with “old technology”, however, does not account for the sort of wideopen availability that digital content provides: media uploaded onto popular internet platforms can be viewed, downloaded, and altered by any or all of the internet’s billions of users. This sort of open access, both in terms of magnitude and lack of time restraints, demonstrates new media’s branching off from older, more established media forms. New media is also unique in the sense that it makes content creation and distribution available to anyone and everyone. Not only can any of the internet’s billions of users view created media, they can also easily and quickly create and share their own media. The element of usercreation makes new media a compelling new avenue to examine in looking at the cultural themes being created (or recreated) from actual media consumers themselves. This is especially useful in pursuing the narratives of those who are often underrepresented or poorly represented in popular media.

2 p.433 https://www.youtube.com/yt/press/enGB/ statistics.html

A†note†on†truth†and†data†collection∫†One of the challenges in approaching the study of new media is the issue of authenticity: when analyzing new media content, it is impossible to verify the truth. Therefore, the goal is to analyze the themes of the content itself; “truth” is a creation of the author. (Sarah Benet Weisner, Branding†the†Authentic†) 4

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

This content analysis aims to answer many questions, both about teen motherhood and about new media. First, what are the thematic trends that self created media platforms express on the topic of teen motherhood? While past studies have indeed explored the themes manufactured in cable TV shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant, actual teen moms create their own narratives on blogging and vlogging sites. Investigating these trends may reveal what uses teen mothers have for self created media, and what messages they themselves want (or do not want) to convey about teenage motherhood.Second, is there a difference between what content producers reveal in the vlog platform vs. the blog platform? (i.e. Do thematic elements discuss differ, or are they similar?) Discovering the ways in which written vs. audiovisual self created media formats express narratives about teen motherhood might demonstrate the different possible ways users may use these media. This also may open the doors to other studies, which can analyze who may choose to blog vs. blog, and why.

4 Branding the Authentic, Sarah Benet Weisner

In a broader sense, I’m also interested in discovering how teen mothers portray themselves in relation to existing “teen mom” narratives, and also in relation to existing statistics about teen motherhood. Across platforms and in each individual one, are the messages expressed consistent with general trends and data on the socioeconomic status of teen mothers on the whole? Do they play into pop culture portrayals of teen mothers? Disparity might reveal the possible artificial nature of the blog or vlog formats.

HYPOTHESIS

While both blogging and vlogging share the same basic concepts and new media influence, the former is a written form of communication, and the latter is an audiovisual one. It seems logical to think that there would be differences in thematic expression between them due to their different communicative properties. Because of this, I expect different platforms to produce different recurring themes about teen motherhood, with blogs being more honest and “diary like” and vlogs being more glamorized, polished, and upbeat. Because writing is a more solitary and anonymous task, it seems that it would be easier for the author to separate herself from the reader, which would lead to a more “confessional” tone about her experience with motherhood. Since audiovisual representation in American culture is unavoidably more focused on appearance, identity, and awareness of one’s audience, I predict that videos will contain a more positive, perhaps crafted, portrayal of teen motherhood.

METHODS

Sample

The sample of my research will consist of 50 blog sites and 50 videoblog posts created and published by self reported teen mothers between the years of 20102015. In order to be included in the study, the vlogs or blogs must be created by mothers who are/were at the time of the creation of the content a teen mother. Content created by mothers who were once teens and recalled their experiences retroactively will not be included in the study.

In order to find blogs and vlogs for study, two websites will be used for the sake of popularity, consistency, and their use of search algorithms. In the case of vlogs, YouTube will be used for content acquisition as it is the most widely used platform for self produced video content. WordPress will be used to search for blogs, as it is the most popular free blogging platform. Both websites allow users to “tag” their content so that it can be searched for key terms, with results organized by “relevancy” to search terms. The YouTube search term “Day in the Life of a Teen Mom” will be used to determine vlog content. I affirmed that minute wording differences like those between “teen and teenage” or “mom and mother” are eliminated by Youtube’s search algorithms. For blogs I will use the search term “my teen mom blog”, as it yields the most results for posts by actual teen mothers. Wordpress’ algorithms do not search for individual blog posts but for bloggers in general. As such, I plan to study the 50 first usable searches that come up for bloggers. Within these bloggers’ posts, I will code their five most recent posts as some posts are short and/or do not directly relate to teen parenting. In this case, a group of five blog posts would be the unit of analysis. As the YouTube search “Day in the Life of a Teen Mom” gleans much more specific, single videos, each video will count as a single unit of analysis. I plan to avoid repeating YouTube vloggers and will instead analyze the content of the first 50 individual videos that come up which follow the criteria of being by a mother who was a teen during the video’s creation without repeating users. Since videos are longer and usually selfcontained,it seems they will contain more content than the brevity of blogs, and as such a single video from each YouTube creator used seems sufficient. (As this study depends upon the search engines of these two self publishing platforms, it is very much at the mercy of their respective search algorithms.)

Bibliography

Chandra, Anita ,DrPH, Steven C. Martino, PhD, Rebecca L. Collins, PhD, Marc N. Elliot, PhD, Sandra H. Berry, MA, David E. Kanouse, PhD, Angela Miu, MS, Does†Watching Sex†on†Television†Predict†Teen†Pregnancyø†Findings†From†a†National†Longitudinal†Survey†of Youth¨†PEDIATRICS, Vol. 122, issue 5, pp. 10471054. 2008. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/122/5/1047.short

Elise F. Jones, Jacqueline Darroch Forrest, Noreen Goldman, Stanley K. Henshaw, Richard Lincoln, Jeannie I. Rosoff, Charles F. Westoff, Deirdre Wulf. Teenage†Pregnancy†in Developed†Countries∫†Determinants†and†Policy†ImplicationsƆFamily Planning Perspectives, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 5363. 1985. Guttmacher Institute. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2135261

Hamilton, Brady E., and Stephanie J. Ventura. Birth†rates†for†US†teenagers†reach†historic lows†for†all†age†and†ethnic†groups†. Vol. 89. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2012. http://www.collaborationcouncil.org/BirthRate.pdf

Hotz, Joseph V., Susan Williams Mcelroy, and Seth G. Sanders. “The Impacts of Teenage Childbearing on the Mothers and the Consequences of Those Impacts for Government.”

Kids†Having†Kids∫†The†Economic†Costs†and†Social†Consequences†of†Teen†Pregnancy†(1997): 5694. Web. http://public.econ.duke.edu/~vjh3/e195S/readings/Hotz_McElroy_Sanders.pdf

J. Biel and D. GaticaPerez, The†Youtube†lens∫†Crowdsourced†personality†impression†and audiovisual†analysis†of†vlogs†. IEEE Trans. Multimedia, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 41–55, Jan. 2013.  http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/icp.jsp?arnumber=6331531

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence†culture∫†Where†old†and†new†media†collide†. NYU press, 2006.

John S. Santelli, Joyce Abma, Stephanie Ventura, Laura Lindberg, Brian Morrow, JohnE. Anderson, Sheryl Lyss, Brady E. Hamilton, Can†changes†in†sexual†behaviors†among†high school†students†explain†the†decline†in†teen†pregnancy†rates†in†the†1990sø†, Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 35, Issue 2, August 2004, Pages 8090 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2004.05.001 .

Kearney, Melissa S., Phillip B. Levine. Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing. 2014. https://moodle.umass.edu/pluginfile.php/971842/mod_label/intro/Kearney%20%20Levine%20%202014%20%2016%20%20Pregnant.pdf

Manovich, Lev. The†language†of†new†media†. MIT press, 2001.

Martins, Nicole, Robin E. Jensen. The Relationship between “Teen Mom” Reality Programming and Teenagers’ Beliefs about Teen Parenthood. Mass Communication and Society, Vol. 17, pp830852. Routledge.

https://moodle.umass.edu/pluginfile.php/971842/mod_label/intro/Martins%20%20Jensen%20%202014%20%20Teen%20Mom.pdf

Molyneaux, Heather, et al. “New visual media and gender: A content, visual and

audience analysis of youtube vlogs.” (2008). (PDF)

Teen†Pregnancy†in†the†United†States†. Division of Reproductive Health, National Center

for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. May 19, 2015.

http://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm

CODING KEY

*”Not mentioned” will always be denoted with a 0

FORMAT:

video=1

blog=2

MONEY:

Lack of=1

Enough=2

More than enough=3

EMPLOYMENT:

Unemployed=1

Employed Part Time=2

Employed Full Time=3

Employed unspecified=4

HIGH SCHOOL

Dropped out=1

Enrolled in=2

Graduated from=3

COLLEGE

Part time=1

Full time=2

Dropped out=3

College Unspecified=4

ROMANTIC

Dating=1

Not Dating=2

Married=3

No time for dating: binary

Dating father: binary

PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT

Uninvolved=1

Involved=2

PATERNAL PERFORMANCE

Bad=1

Neutral=2

Good=3

FAMILY INVOLVEMENT

Family uninvolved=1

Family involved=2

FAMILY MON. SUPPORT

Family does not monetarily support=1

Family monetarily supports=2

LIVING SITUATION

Living alone=1

Living with significant other=2

Living with significant other’s family=3

Living with own family=4

SOCIETAL BELIEFS ABOUT TEEN MOTHERHOOD

Criticizes=1

Defends=2

ENDORSES TEEN MOTHERHOOD

Endorses=1

Does not endorse=2

SOCIAL LIFE

1=Unable to see Friends

2=Sees Friends occasionally

3=Sees friends often

CHILD HEALTH

Unhealthy=1

Healthy=2

CHILD MEDICAL ISSUES

No medical issues=1

Minor medical issues=2

Major medical issues=3

FOOD

Not enough food=1

Enough food=2

MATERNAL MEDICAL ISSUES

No Medical issues=1

Minor Medical issues=2

Major medical issues=3

MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH

Negative=1

Positive=2

LONELINESS

Not lonely=1

Lonely=2

MATERNAL FATIGUE

1=Fatigued

2=Not fatigued

OVERALL UNIT TONE

Negative=1

Mixed=2

Positive=3

 

 

Kevin Castiglioni

Communicational Effects of Residential Life

Introduction

Miscommunication in Residential Life on college campuses is affecting student development. For my Junior Year Writing Project I will be exploring how Resident Assistants (RAs) and their residents mutually affect each other under the confines of the department of Residential Life. An analytic outlook onto residents, RAs, and Residential Life is important because all of these components are an intricate part of student development. For students living in residence halls on college campuses, they are residents and they have RAs. Both of these components are only in place because of the Residential Life system, and all of these components intertwine and relate to student success in college. One of the main problems with many Residential Life departments is the miscommunication that happens between the three entities. I am hoping my research for this class project will give a clearer perspective of how the communication breakdown between residents, RAs, and Residential Life affects what an RA’s duties are as well as their experiences and their residents’ experiences in college. To conduct my class research project, I will be looking at several academic books and articles regarding Residential Life around the U.S. from authors such as Gregory Blimling and Jessica Byrne. I will also conduct qualitative research in which I conduct interviews with Residential Life staff, and also residents of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Throughout all these processes I hope to gain more insight into how the communicational relations between residents, RAs, and Residential Life affect student development.

Literature Review

Effective communication through Residential Life down to residents is crucial to proper student development. When it comes to the student development of residents in residential halls resident assistants (RAs) have an immense influence on their residents. A study examined in Gregory Blimling’s book, The resident assistant: Applications and strategies for working with college students in residence halls, he examines Zirkle and Hudson’s research on RA’s effects on the maturity levels of freshmen males. Blimling (1999) writes, “Researchers also measured the effect of not having an RA and found that units with RAs… yielded significantly higher maturity levels than did units without an RA” (p. 69). For freshmen males coming into college right out of high school, not having an RA gives them less structure and guidance. For residents who do have an RA they have support at almost any time they need it, and that support and structure can have a lasting effect on the maturity levels on specifically freshmen male residents. Zirkle and Hudson concluded that “the behavior of the resident assistant has a significant effect upon student development. And this carries implications which are important to the role of… the resident assistant in the total university education program” (as cited in Blimling, 1999, p. 69). It is known that the behavior of an RA affects students as well as Residential Life. What is not known is what scholars mean by “behavior”. The behavior that affects residents’ student development is what the RA is communicating to them.

Communication plays a crucial part when it comes to RAs influencing their residents. If an RA does not communicate effectively with their residents then many opportunities for student development can be lost. However, RAs are trained to have effective communication skills. Jess Byrne (1998) addresses this training in her work, Outcomes of the resident advisor position: “RAs are trained to address facility issues by determining the extent of the problem and communicating that problem to facility managers” (p. 62). RAs are ideally trained to address community issues and find out the means to solve them through communicating with a wide variety of people. However, communication does not always work perfectly and in Residential Life there are systems put in place that can hinder effective communication.

The problem with proper communication in regards to Residential Life, is that it is not discussed nearly enough. There is very little written on the flaws in communication regarding the hierarchal system which is Residential Life. By hierarchal I mean that the Director of Residential Life communicates downward to Area Directors (AD), to Residence Directors (RD), to RAs, and then eventually residents. Obviously there is mixed communication around all parts of the ladder but what is key is that this is unaddressed miscommunication. Byrne (1998) touches on this briefly in her dissertation,

If RLPs [residence life practitioners] review the SLO [Student Leadership Outcomes], the RA experience, the RA job description, and RA training they may discover that some desired outcomes measured by the SLO are not being achieved to a high degree by RAs. (p. 62).

From the analysis of the Student Leadership Outcome survey as well as multiple components of the RA job it can be seen that some desired outcomes did not materialize. What can be concluded from this is that the root of the problem is miscommunication from all parts of Residential Life. Byrne (1998) writes, “If this is because the outcome is not addressed in training or the job description, some changes may be necessary” (p. 62). RAs cannot even begin to be expected to do their jobs decently if they are not given the proper training. Proper training is an expectation that Residential Life is required to fulfill, and if it does not it leads to a trickledown effect of RAs being uneducated about their job requirements, and residents not properly being cared for. Inefficient RA training is an example of miscommunication because the training in itself is communicating to the RAs about how they are supposed to perform their job. If RAs cannot perform their jobs correctly this will directly affect how those RA’s residents develop in college.

Residents are one of the most important aspects to Residential Life because there would be no need for a res-life system if there were no students. Focusing on just the bottom tier of the Residential Life ladder, residents affect other residents in counterproductive ways. Krogh (1997) writes in her master’s thesis, “Many students feel peer pressure to minimize their academic pursuits. Because of fear of competition or fear of unfamiliar intellectual activities, freshman students pressure each other to minimize their interest in academics” (p. 25-6). Krogh is specifically addressing that freshman students are influenced by their peers to not be overly engaged in academics. Fear stemming from all sorts of insecurities that freshmen have coming into college that RAs should be able to alleviate but are not required too. While RAs are required to deal with social issues on the floor they are not required to focus on academics, only if a particular RA chooses to deal with an academic situation. Byrne (1998) concludes in one of her SLO surveys that, “their results indicated that there is no significant difference in academic performance between resident students and those who are commuters” (p. 22). Since commuters do not have RAs, it can be concluded that since on and off campus students have no difference in academic performance, RAs do not have an effect on the academic performance of their residents. Since RAs are supposed to be responsible for the well-being of their residents, academic support should be included in that. This flaw in the residential system is a result of Residential Life being non-active when it comes to particular needs of their residents. A better communication system would allow Residential Life to know the needs of their residents, enhancing their student development.

The literature I have researched will help me support what I will learn throughout my interview processes and the research I conduct will act as an addition to what I have already found. I will be interviewing a Residential Director, a Resident Assistant, and a resident from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to get a well-rounded perspective of the different tiers of Residential Life. My interview questions will revolve around what their personal experiences are in respect to miscommunication in their Residential Life department and how they think it can be improved.

Case Study

To further explore how communication through Residential Life affects student development, I decided to interview individuals within the system to get a first-hand look at their experiences. For the interviews, I conducted all of them with the same questions regarding communication within Residential Life, highlighting both the negative and positive aspects.

I conducted an interview with a Resident Assistant from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a junior and has recently started this semester as an RA in a first-year residential hall. When asked about the communication system within Res-Life she talked about, “information get[ting] lost” and how there are “too many people on the Res-Life ladder”(E. Chrzanowski, personal communication, November 2, 2015). The RA is referring to speaking to an RD about information and that information not being brought to the right person because there are too many people in the system. The large sum of people, specifically in the Residential Life system at UMass Amherst, are being seen as a substantial problem with even the Director of Residential Life speaking about the large quantities of staff at UMass. The Director said during an RA Council meeting that “it is very hard to organize when there are five hundred RAs” (J. MacKimmie, personal communication, November 2, 2015). UMass Amherst has over 12,000 residents living on campus so it can be admitted that it is hard to communicate to all the RAs who have to communicate down to that large quantity of residents. The RA did make the distinction that the forms and documents that can be filled out do tend to go to the right places. As technology advances and more forms are being filled out online the more organized Res-Life can get in terms of their communication. However, student development is being affected due to the number of RAs on the UMass Amherst campus. This occurs because information that needs to be transferred to residents is not being transferred in a timely fashion to the RAs who then bring that information down to residents.

While the RA I interviewed told me that it is easier to communicate from RA to resident, it is not very easy to communicate upwards. She states, “it is easy to communicate day to day with residents as well as the RD but I have not gotten to speak with the AD yet probably because there are too many RAs” (E. Chrzanowski, personal communication, November 2, 2015). Again, the large quantities of student staff are making communication difficult when it comes to speaking with people who are higher up on the Residential Life ladder.

I conducted an interview with a resident from UMass Amherst. She is a junior and resides in a multi-year residence hall where she is on the Executive Board of her hall’s House Council. House councils “are leadership groups on campus that elect student officers and boards to represent and serve as the voice of all students living in the various residence halls” (House Council, 2015). House council members work closely with RAs as well as RDs and have a significant voice in their community. Most of the communication problems mentioned by the resident were relating to her involvement in house council. She states, “House council involvement varies from building to building. My RD does not know much about house council and this is reflected in the lack of effort by the house council members” (C. Glatt, personal communication, November 7, 2015). The RDs around campus all have different levels of knowledge about house council even though they all advise their own house councils. The RDs who know more about this leadership opportunity tend to have well-functioning house council members while RDs with less knowledge tend to have more dysfunctional house councils. RDs with more knowledge are going to be effecting the student development of their house council members in more positive ways than RDs who have less knowledge in this area. Residential Life should be training all RDs in the same manner so that they can all possess the same knowledge about house council.

The resident I interviewed also had many positive things to say about the communication in Residential Life. She started the interview off by stating, “the communication is very effective. I am aware of things going on in the building because RDs communicate to the RAs who communicate to the residents” (C. Glatt, personal communication, November 7, 2015). At a very basic level this is how some residents see the communication system in Residential Life. Her knowledge of the system is true but what is not noticed are the issues that prevent this communication because she is not high up enough on the Residential Life ladder to see it.

I conducted an interview with a Resident Director from UMass Amherst to further explore how communication within Residential Life affects student development. The RD is the head of a first year residential hall. The RD spoke a lot about the technical aspects of what he does in his job focusing heavily on RA’s duties in regards to crisis management. To avoid many miscommunication problems the RD states, “follow protocol, you can’t call the AD on call before you call the RD on call” (B. Kisang, personal communication, November 9, 2015). Confusion and miscommunication between RAs and residents can occur when RAs do not follow proper protocol; this impedes residents’ overall success. Misunderstandings in how to follow protocol could be a result of inefficient training as the RD states, “RAs not knowing who to call comes from lack of efficiency in training” (B. Kisang, personal communication, November 9, 2015). Training is of immense importance when it comes to RAs knowing how to do their job. Inefficient training can have all kinds of negative effects on RAs and residents. If a resident is in a state of crisis and the RA does not how to respond, the resident’s well-being is at risk.

Conclusion

Through the research I have collected throughout my interviews I have found several patterns of problems regarding communication in Residential Life that can affect student development. The large number of RAs in the system can sometimes be too much, making it difficult for upper administration to get important information out to all of the RAs on time. As I expected, residents are less aware of the communicational problems that are affecting them but they do understand that there is variation when it comes to all staff being trained equally. I found that upper level Residential Life staff members are very concerned when it comes to RAs understanding protocol and crisis management, and the effects that inefficient training can have on that. This is very important because following proper protocol can directly affect a resident’s life safety. Residential Life is very focused on striving for the maximization of student development for their residents but there is understanding in Residential Life that there are some glitches. In order to better serve the residents, the upper administration of Residential Life needs to re-evaluate their system.

 

 

Kevin Castiglioni

Benefits and Limitations of Academic Advising

Introduction

For this paper[1] I will be exploring the differences in styles of academic advising and how advising affects student development. An analysis into academic advising is important because students go to college ultimately to earn a degree, and advisors are in place to help mentor them through that process. It is important to note that students on many campuses are completely diverse in terms of identity, living situations, and what their needs are. Students’ needs are at the heart of this study because there would be no need for advisors without the need for student success. Students may try to advise themselves, but ultimately some guidance is more beneficial.

This paper draws on a survey tailored to a Communication Department in a large university in regards to how students perceive the different types of advising that has or is currently been offered. The study focuses strictly on peer advising, professional/academic advising, and faculty advising. I am also using a multitude of academic articles and books regarding the many benefits and restrictions of the different types of advising. I am hoping my research on peer advising, professional advising, and faculty advising in a large major-based department will clearly outline the various benefits and limitations of advising on student development.

In terms of advising, I am suspecting that students will find peer advising and professional advising beneficial but in different ways. I am expecting students to draw negative attention on faculty advising since it was eliminated by the department for lack of effectiveness and unity among faculty members. However, I am expecting positive remarks to be made on professional and peer advising due to the popularity of the program.

Literature Review

When advising, it is crucial that the actual advising taking place is effective and beneficial to the student’s development. When it comes to peer advising, professional advising, and faculty advising all of them have a variety of effectiveness. Faculty advisors are professors in a department that also get a set list of students that they are also supposed to advise regarding their university requirements. There is an interesting statistic to support the side of moving away from faculty advising according to a National Survey of Academic Advising. The survey question was “Approximately what percent of time are faculty advisors expected to commit to their advising responsibilities?” (Carstensen & Silberhorn, 1979, p. 8) Most faculty advisors spend less than 20 percent of their time advising, which is a substantial amount considering the other tasks that they have to do (Carstensen & Silberhom, 1979). That is not enough time for faculty advisors to properly advise all of their students. According to Carstensen and Silberhom (1979), 47 percent of faculty advisors in 4 Year Public University have between 20 and 29 students to advise. How are faculty supposed to handle all of their research, classes to teach, and meetings while also advising around 30 students? It appears that the main problem with faculty advising is that professors have too many other responsibilities that keep them from advising each of their students effectively.

More on the note of problems within the realm of advising, the report also concludes some fundamental issues with advising training. One of the conclusions of the report was particularly useful as it directly faults advising programs for the lack of training. The report concludes:

“Those responsible for the delivery of academic advising services see it as an event addressing the informational needs of students rather than an integral part of the students’ total development, interacting with career and life planning. This is reflected not only in the manner in which the service is delivered but also in the materials used and the training provided to those who deliver the service” (Carstensen, Silberhorn, 1979, p.15).

Some advisors see advising as a way to give students information rather than them being their academic mentor that is also there for them on a personal level. The fault cannot all be placed on the advisors; the trainers must also be faulted because the materials used to train do not fully equip the advisors with what they need to know.

In many universities, advising systems may not work efficiently because all parts of the department are not working together. Susan Frost has an idea of how to create a system in ways that will be beneficial for students. Frost writes, “When collaboration and shared responsibility are central to advising, an advising system can result” (Frost, 1991, p. 7) Colleges work in a variety of systems and when multiple work to support the department it can be very successful. If professional advisors, administrators, peer advisors, and the faculty within the department work together to support the advising program then a well working academic environment can be created. Frost states, “Institutions as well as individuals benefit from the efforts of administrators, coordinators, advisers, and support personnel who work together to construct an advising system” (Frost, 1991, p.7). The community as a whole as well as the students within the community can better from a more organized and systematically planned advising system.

There are many scholars in the world of academia that believe that professional academic advising is more beneficial than faculty advising. According to Lowenstein, “the individual course is the domain of the professor, the overall curriculum is most often the domain of the academic advisor, and the excellent coaches the student through the process of learning the curriculum.” (as cited in Gordon and Habley, 2008, pp.29-30). Professors are an effective resource for questions and concerns about a particular class. Academic advisors are more beneficial when it comes to knowing about the department curriculum as a whole. It is difficult to ask professors to have knowledge about an entire department’s curriculum without proper training or the amount of time needed to advise their students. Academic advisors are specifically trained to inform students about different facets of the entire department.

Peer advisors have also been shown to help improve the academic lives of students. According to Barman and Benson (1981), “Use of peer advisors to assist in academic, personal, and career advising of new freshman students has produced positive results and helped freshmen in their transition to the academic community” (p.34). It is easier for freshman to transition from high school to college if they have an academic mentor that has gone through the same process that they have gone though. The peer advisor can be used as a source of comfort as well as information to help freshmen. One of the most critical aspects of having peer advisors is so that they ease the burden of academic advisors and gives students more options in terms of advising. Barman and Benson (1981) write, “By using peer advisors, we can reduce the advisor/advisee ratio from that ratio involving faculty advisors, thus providing for a more overall personal and individual academic advising program” (p.38). Academic advisors get assigned a large number of students with not enough time for all of them to get the individualized attention that they need and deserve. Peer advisors serve as a resource available to students when they do not want to take the time out of their day to schedule an appointment with an academic advisor. Peer advisors are extremely beneficial and should be implemented in more advising departments on college campuses.

Methods

The survey used to gain information from Communication majors was created on Google Forms by me with the assistance of Lynn Phillips. It was administered to 865 undergraduate Communication majors and received 25 responses, 6 of which were from current peer advisors. The participants were largely female with 23 out of the 25 participants identifying as female with the other 2 being male. Most of my participants identified as white with 18 of them either stating that they were white or Caucasian. One participant indicated that they were Latina and white, one participant indicated that they were Indian, one participant indicated that they were Hispanic, one participant indicated that they were Asian and black, one participant indicated that they were African American and Caucasian, and one participant indicated that they were Chinese. The majority of my participants were junior level students in college making up 40 percent. Sophomores made up 24 percent of my participants, freshmen made up 20 percent, and seniors made up 16 percent. There was only one transfer student who participated in the study.

The survey was organized in linear format of 6 different sections. The first section was about the basic information I was looking to gather from my participants. This included their race, sex, their year in college, how many semesters they have been a communication major, and whether they were directly admitted into the program and if they are no longer a Communication major. The second section of the survey focused on peer advising within the department of Communication. The first two questions ask if the participant has ever visited a peer advisor and what have they sought them out for. The next set of questions had the participant rate their overall visit of the peer advisors on five different categories: approachability, how informative they were, how reassuring they were, clarity, and accessibility. The next two questions revolved around how the peer advisors were most helpful and if the participants thought anything during their visit could have been done differently. The next two sections are on academic advising and faculty advising and are almost identical to the peer advising section. The fifth section was on different advising topics and whether the participants would rather see a peer advisor for it, an academic advisor, either of them, both, or neither of them. The advising topics were: general advising questions, course selection and registration, exploring opportunities such as internships and study aboard, change of major, and transfer related questions. The last section of my survey was general wrap up questions. The first one asked about how many communication advising events have the participants been to and the effectiveness the event or events had on them. The next questions were about the participant’s overall impression of the communication advising program and what they think is missing in terms of the advising program. The last question revolves around a comparison between the communication advising department and any other department’s advising program.

Results

The survey yielded a multitude of results that were concluded from the survey. It is important to note that the data from the current peer advisors were used for the tabulation of results.

Out of all my participants, 71.3% of them have visited a Communication peer advisor before and all of them said that they either strongly agreed, agreed, or were neutral regarding the 5 categories stated above. None of the participants selected disagree of strongly disagree for any of the categories. It must be noted that through 4 of the categories, neutral was selected between 12.5% and 13% of the participants who have seen a peer advisor, but 20.8% of the participants selected neutral for the category of informative (see Figure 1.a). It can be concluded that individuals who see a peer advisor have positive experiences most of the time but a minor lacking maybe be in how informative they are. This may be a result of lack of training of the peer advisors compared to the professional advisors.

Figure 1.a

The majority of my participants, 80.8%, have seen an academic/professional advisor in the Communication department. In 4 out of the 5 categories 63.3% of the participants chose strongly agree, with their accessibility only 54.5% of the participants strongly agreeing (see Figure 2.a). Overall, the academic advisors were rated extremely positively in all aspects confirming that academic advisors are a valuable recourse to students, even more so than the peer advisors. The academic advisors had far fewer participants select neutral in all of the categories compared to the peer advisors. However, it is interesting that even though academic advisors get a lot more training than peer advisors their numbers for satisfaction are only marginally higher.

 

Figure 2.a

The results regarding faculty advising were drastically different compared to the results of peer or academic advisors. Only 30.8% of the participants who took the survey said that they have seen a faculty advisor. In all of the categories the participants’ answers were scattered on the scale, but with most of them either being agree or neutral (see figure 3.a). Since there was much discrepancy in all of the categories, nothing definite could be concluded. Since the answers were so sporadic, I can assume that participants responded based individualized circumstances that either the faculty advisor knew how to respond to or did not. Once again, I think lack of training in terms of departmental advising for faculty advisors is resulted in the mixed responses from the participants.

 

Figure 3.a

Figure 4.a is the percentages of participants who have attended events that were put on by the Comm Department. 85 percent of the participants indicated that they have been to at least one department event. This shows how involved many Communication majors are involved in the department and are utilizing the resources available to them.

Figure 4.a

Discussion

There were many limitations that restricted this study from developing further. Time was a huge factor in determining the quality and effectiveness of the research because the study was limited to three months. As a result of the time restriction, personal interviews conducted with students had to be eliminated because time did not permit to conduct all of the interviews and analyze them. A future improvement for this study would be to conduct fully functional and formal interviews. The study could also be improved by sending out the survey multiple times in order to get more students to complete the survey. The more students that take the survey will yield more accurate results because there will be a larger pool of opinion. The addition of an incentive to take the survey such as a small gift card may have also drawn out more participants to take the survey. Also, instead of looking specifically into a Communication Department, a future improvement may be to look at advising systems across multiple majors to see the what advising systems are already in place and the differences between them.

References

Barman, C. & Benson, P. (1981). Peer advising: A Working Model. NACADA Journal, 33-40.

Carstensen, D. & Silberhorn, C. (1979). A National Survey of Academic Advising: Final Report. Iowa City: American College Testing Program

Gordon, V. & Habley, W. (2008). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Frost, S. (1991). Academic advising for student success: A system of shared responsibility. Washington, D.C.: School of Education and Human Development, the George Washington University

[1] This paper is for my Honors Independent for the class Communication 394PI at the University of Massachusetts Amherst

 

Meghan Fish 

Student Identities and their Relative Power within a Student Government: How the duality of student identities enact power within meetings, which is reflected in the turn taking system of said meeting

[Note: The methods and conclusion were omitted from this submission, as well as two portions of data due to word limitations; minor removals and sentence structure adjustment were also taken due to word count; the abstract and introduction remain largely intact.] 

Abstract:

The overall purpose of the proposed research is to examine how members of a student organization use power to have a successful meeting. A successful meeting is one where the committee is able to complete the agenda as well as have a discussion on the current project/issue that results in a common understanding amongst all participants, so that the committee can then figure out the next goal. Specifically, the research will focus on the use of turn taking amongst members of the group, how their usage in institutional talk reflects the users’ position of power, and how these positions are negotiated by all participants within their respective roles. Turn taking is a conversational tool in which speakers distribute speech amongst participants of said conversation through either self allocation of a turn, or other allocation of a turn—a turn is either taken, or given, which is formally labeled the Turn-Allocation component. Turn taking is marked by several conversational features such as change in speaker, turn-allocation component, continuous or discontinuous speech, and transitions (Sacks 1974). Furthermore, institutional talk, the focus of this research, is characterized by three main elements: 1. the interaction involves the participants in a certain goal orientation that is related to their institutional identity (Senators giving reports), 2. the interaction involves special constraints on what will be treated as allowable contributions to the business at hand and 3. the interaction is associated with inferential frameworks and procedures that are particular to specific institutional contexts (Heritage 1997). The data used was acquired by recording two, approximately 70 minute long, meetings of a Senate committee (the Undergraduate Experience Committee) within the Student Government Association (SGA) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Here, the research will show how a student within the SGA uses their institutional role, and the power that is allocated to them within that role, to move forward through a set agenda successfully.

Introduction

Identity work is a continuous process that is being done through talk. Tracy and Robles (2009) describe identity work as “the process through which talk makes available to participants and observers who the people doing the talk must be”. They further identify ways in which identities are created by understanding that “through a person’s choices about how to talk, identity-work is accomplished…people’s ways of talking construct pictures of who people must be”. There is also truth in the opposite—identities also shape talk; people are rooted in various factions which influence how they talk (Tracy and Robles 2009). These ways of understanding identities can be appropriated within institutional talk where one can explore an identity/identities that occur within members of an institutional meeting, where institutional talk is abundant. How the members within an institutional organization speak reflect the identity they are enacting, which reflects how they choose to speak.

Institutional and everyday talk are also marked by how the conversation is structured in terms of turn taking allocations. There are two ways in which turn taking is structured; either locally managed, in which the participants of the conversation dictate their own rules of conversational turn taking, versus a preallocated turn structure where a certain format is followed in accordance to the institutional rules. Turn taking in regular conversations is most often dictated by self allocation. Tracy and Robles further blend the two types of talk in stating that “In business meetings, for instance, there is often an agenda that orders topics of talk, and the meeting chair gets to decide when to close down one topic and start the next topic, as well as whether a member’s comment is on or off topic. However…discussion may resemble that of ordinary conversation…” (T&R 2009). Here, institutional settings and encounters can be structured under an institutional hierarchy or agenda, yet still contain characteristics that may be identifiable as everyday or institutional talk. These blended types of talk are recognizable within my data that highlights the identities as well as the power structure of those within an SGA meeting.

I argue that students within the SGA engage in conversation that is a mixed interaction of locally managed and preallocated turns, which reflect the duality of identities that a student in a powerful position can enact within a meeting consisting of other equally powerful students choosing to enact different roles at different points in the meeting. This change of identity, or footing, as researched by Erving Goffman, is defined as a conversational participant’s alignment or stance in a given span of talk. In this institution, how one aligns oneself in a certain span of talk can be highlighted through institutional means or through the turn allocation component. The turn allocation component, in regards to Harvey Sacks, is the way in which a turn is either taken or given. Turn taking also reflects the identities of those within the conversation. I further argue that the identity enacted, reflected in turn taking, positions the speaker within a certain position of power in the meeting and/or span of talk. The amount of power the speaker either is given or takes is negotiated by all members of the meeting through features of the turn taking system, such as interruptions. Interruptions are highlighted as being influential in understanding one’s identity. Here, the identities one can assume differ in terms of the power allocated to them. Furthermore, Tracy and Robles state that “The sheer number of turns one takes and the talk content of the turns also shape identities. By and large, people who take more turns and longer ones will be judged as being more expert, influential, or assertive and, in institutional situations, will be assumed to be higher in status than less frequently speaking parties” and that “introducing a new topic for talk is usually regarded as a more assertive act than responding to an ongoing topic”.

Data

The data below occurs within a specific boundary of talk, operating on multiple levels. The first is that all the participants of the conversation are first and foremost, undergraduate students at the University. Secondly, we all were elected by portions of the student body to be their representatives: we all hold some amount of power that ordinary students do not have. I argue that all members occupy roles in respect to their status as a student senator and our respective roles as normal students of the university. These two identities working with each other are enacted at certain times throughout the meeting. The decision to change footing in a certain span of talk then either establishes or destroys a hierarchy that is built within the institution itself.

Preallocated Turns

This section addresses segments of the meeting where the topics and discussions are highly institutionalized according to the agenda set by the chair. These more structured areas are characterized by other allocation of turns, explicit adherence to the hierarchy, and chair facilitation of the meeting; Tracy and Robles describe the turn taking systems of meetings to be more formalized. Power is more apparent in these spans of talk between chair and senators, and the structure allows for the meeting to push forward through the first two thirds of the agenda.

The following transcript shows seven different turns between the chair of the committee, R, and a Senator, G. After the chair gives her report, the agenda is structured so that the liaisons then give their own updated reports. Here, institutional power is exhibited and negotiated by participants who are operating within their institutional identities during a more formalized segment of the meeting.

1

2

3

R: Who did academic stuff? I think that was me. No it was Alexa so now it’s me, (.) nothing new on academics. Advising (career) and internship was Alexa too <I’m gonna put that for you. That’s your new job!>
4 G: Okay
5 R: Advising, career, and internship services, you can totally skew that to what you wanna do=
6 G: =Oh I know the lady=
7 R: =Oh you do?=
8 G: =I met her before=
9 R: =That’s cool! Okay tell everybody your new idea, yours and Maggie’s, cause I like it.
10

11

G: Oh, we want to work on admissions. Uh::: like when UMass deals with accepted students, we don’t think they do a good job.

First, it is of importance to note that there are no interruptions. In R’s first span of talk, she references ‘academic stuff’ and ‘advising (career) and internships’; she is discussing the liaison reports of Senators, which she refers to as our ‘jobs’ in line 3. The entire conversation transcribed is operating under institutional talk because it can be characterized by Heritage’s definition of institutional talk: it operates under a particular procedure specific to a certain institutional context. Here, the procedure is following the set agenda and discussing liaison reports. G and R engage in an interaction that is constrained under the title of ‘Advising, Career, and Internships’ Liaison, which is shown by R telling G that he can work his Senator project to fit under this specific title in line 5. G accepts this title and adds that he knows the woman who is in charge of Advising, shown in lines 6 and 8 where he says he ‘knows the lady’ and that he has ‘met her before’.

R is enacting her role as a more powerful chair of the meeting in line 9 where she not only self allocates her own turn, and also other allocates G’s turn by initiating him to tell everybody his new idea. Also, R’s power is reflected in the same line where she shifts the topic from the ‘lady’ (discussed in lines 6-8) to G’s own idea. This control of topics in turn taking and it’s relation to power is addressed by Tracy and Robles when they state that “introducing a new topic for talk is usually regarded as a more assertive act than responding to an ongoing topic”. G, by accepting his turn in line 10, recognizes this powerful move by the chair as acceptable, establishing a hierarchy between himself, a senator, and the chair. The identity enacted by G here is one of a senator, not only because he is recognizing and accepting the hierarchy that is inherent in the institution, but also because the conversation is dictated by the institutional format of a liaison report. G in his own identity is also wielding the power he is given as a senator, because no one attempts to interrupt him and he has several turns in one span of talk.

Locally Managed Turns

This next section highlights segments of the institution in which discussion pertaining to committee projects on the whole are addressed. Committee projects entail full-fledged discussions on issues or projects at hand, where the floor is essentially open for any to self allocate themselves to address their own opinions. Following Tracy and Robles understanding that institutional talk can overlap between locally managed versus preallocated turn taking systems, I argue that this period of discussion allows for members of the organization to participate in conversation that is locally managed as opposed to preallocated, as in the previous section above.

The next transcript is a brief conversation mainly between Senator B and a student, N, who has presented a motion to be passed by UEC before it may move to be presented (and voted upon) by the whole of Senate. While student N does not speak, I (also a Senator) interrupt Senator B on two occasions where I (M) agree with her. The majority of Senator B’s span of talk is an agreement with student N—Senator B also believes that the student’s should decide for themselves whether or not to implement a new fee.

1

2

3

4

B: I don’t want to be paying the extra—well making my parents and me work to pay the extra 80 dollars cause you know everyone has different family situations but uhm (.2) my opinion and my situation isn’t the entirety of the student body and that’s not what I stand °for, I’m not here to benefit myself in SGA I’m here to benefit the students (.1) so//=
5 M:                                                                                                                //I think we
6 B: =I almost think we // gotta leave it up to the people. I think that he’s right, yanno
7 M:                              // leave it to themselves

 

Even though student N does not speak during senator B’s first span on talk, it should be understood that he was present as this time. Because student N is not a Senator, he does not have authority (or the power) to interrupt senator B’s turn based on the institutional hierarchy of the meeting (Student lower than Senator, who is lower than Chair). I, on the other hand, do in fact interrupt her on line 5 and again on line 7. All turns I take are self-allocated, which according to Tracy and Robles is a pattern that is highly common to everyday talk. The turns here are locally managed between B and myself, even though we are operating within institutional talk. In institutional talk, there are certain constraints that dictate what is allowed and what is not. Here, I am allowed to interrupt, while N is not, because I am a senator, and therefore hold more power. Because I interrupt B twice, I am attempting to negotiate power between the two of us. B, though, also holds the same amount of power that I do because she does not give me a full turn, nor does she acknowledge what I say and completes her own train of thought on line 6, a continuation of her speech on line 4. I am neither scolded nor put down after my interruptions, showing that I have the ability (or power) to interject my own opinions at any moment as a senator in this portion of the meeting.

Here, the two of us are both acting as senators, while B enacts her student identity as well. B is explicitly addressing her role as senator in lines 3 and 4 where she separates her student identity from her senator identity by stating that she is a part of this organization to help benefit the students, and not herself. Her footing changes halfway through her first span of talk where she is positioned previously as a student at the university, disapproving of an $80 fee that will make ‘her parents and herself work to pay the extra $80’ but then switches her stance to the situation as a senator, who believes the students should decide for themselves whether this fee should be implemented or not (line 6). I then agree on her stance to this motion as a senator, by interjecting similar opinions as a senator myself (line 7).

Works Cited

Goffman, E. (1979). Footing, Semiotica. 25 (1-2), 124-159. Retrieved March 25, 2015, fromhttp://www.degruyter.com/view/j/semi.1979.25.issue-1-2/semi.1979.25.1- 2.1/semi.1979.25.1-2.1.xml

Heritage, J. (1997). Conversation Analysis and Institutional Talk. In K. Fitch (Ed.), Handbook of language and social interaction (2005, pp. 103-149). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Tracy, K. & Robles, J. (2009). Interaction Structures, Turn Taking. In Everyday Talk. Building  and Reflecting Identities (2nd ed., pp. 135-138). New York, New York: The Guilford Press.

A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation. Harvey Sacks, Emanuel A. Schegloff and Gail Jefferson. Language. Vol. 50, No. 4, Part 1 (Dec., 1974), pp. 696-735. Linguistic Society of America

 

Stephanie George

DARE To Educate: Problems with D.A.R.E. and Its Effectiveness

In the past 30 years over 200 million students worldwide have received training from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. D.A.R.E. is the most widely used school-based drug education program. It was founded in 1983 amid growing fears about drug use by ex-LAPD chief Daryl Gates and the Los Angeles Unified School District (D.A.R.E. , 2016). However, D.A.R.E. has proved to be ineffective and misinformed. In addition, it is incredibly expensive. D.A.R.E. costs $1-$1.3 billion annually, a portion of which comes from federal funds (Shepard, 2001-2002). Despite its popularity, D.A.R.E. is a program that should be terminated. Considering that substance abuse is responsible for an estimated 25% of all U.S. deaths (Rosenbaum, 2007), the need for drug education is apparent, but D.A.R.E. is not working. There are programs available that are inexpensive, effective, and comprehensive. We should be turning our attention towards such programs.

D.A.R.E. touts itself as a successful program that steers adolescents away from drugs and helps them make good decisions. Research, however, says otherwise. A study that spanned over five years, found no success in D.A.R.E.’s methods, citing them as based in misinformation about drugs and teaching practices that have been discredited. (Zagumny & Thompson, 1997). Another study that tracked students over a ten year period found no difference in drug use between students who went through the D.A.R.E. program and those who did not (Lynam DR, 1999). Other issues that D.A.R.E. claims to tackle, such as self-esteem and drug literacy, also saw no difference between the two groups. There have also been reports that show an increase in drug use among students who received trainings from D.A.R.E. In a six-year, multilevel study into the effectiveness of D.A.R.E., those who went through the program were 3-5% more likely to use drugs, consume alcohol, and smoke cigarettes both during adolescence and into their adult lives (Rosenbaum PhD & Hanson PhD, 1998). Other credible platforms that have dismissed D.A.R.E. as a reliable program include The U.S. Surgeon General, the U.S. General Accounting Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institute of Health. With such a mass of discrediting evidence, one has to wonder why D.A.R.E. remains so popular.

D.A.R.E. relies heavily on the authority of the police to support the legitimacy of their program. D.A.R.E. boasts that their program promotes relationships between students and law enforcement. Police officers are the ones who go into classrooms to talk to students about resisting drugs, as opposed to trained educators. D.A.R.E. claims that by building relationships with authorities such as police officers, adolescents are better off and safer. Police and other authorities, however, are perhaps the biggest safety threat to adolescents, especially people of color and those who live in low income communities. Black teenagers in the U.S., despite being less likely than their white counterparts to use marijuana, are far more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana (Levin, Gettman Jon B., & Siegal, 2010). It may be tempting to believe that more involvement with law enforcement increases safety, but it can also cause dangerous, unexpected outcomes.

D.A.R.E. teaches students to tell law enforcement if they see anyone, even their parents, doing drugs. In a New Republic piece, the story of a 10-year-old boy is recounted. He had gone through D.A.R.E., and after seeing what he thought was cocaine on his mother’s bureau, called 911. When the police came and arrested both of his parents on charges of possession, the boy was mortified, quoted in saying: “I thought the police would come get the drugs and tell them that drugs are wrong. They never said they would arrest them. It didn’t say that in the video” (Glass, 1997). I can recall a personal experience from my childhood where a family friend, who was still in grade school at the time, began crying when she saw that our parents were drinking wine with dinner. She had just gone through the D.A.R.E. program and through her sobs told our parents that they were becoming alcoholics. These are just two scenarios, albeit of differing severity, that highlight the negative real life effects that D.A.R.E. has on the children who go through the program.

Another reason D.A.R.E. should be suspended is that it is based on myths and misinformation about drugs and drug use. The curriculum accepts the theory of “gateway drugs” –marijuana, alcohol, and inhalants- that allegedly lead to the use of harder drugs such as stimulants, barbiturates, hallucinogens, and opiates. The gateway drug theory has been losing credibility in scientific and medical communities for years. Numerous studies have found only a small, casual link between soft drugs like marijuana and hard drugs. Other factors such as sense of community, peer support, and early use of tobacco more accurately predict future substance abuse (Kleinig, 2015). D.A.R.E. also endorses a “zero tolerance” message about drugs and alcohol. Proponents of D.A.R.E. will say that that promoting total abstinence is the only way to prevent drug abuse, but in reality, it simply does not work (Posnick-Goodwin, 1997). Such a message does not allow students to make informed decisions; it only teaches them to say no.

Despite the mounting research evidence, DARE continues to deny its failure. Yet there is over thirty years of research supporting that D.A.R.E. is ineffective. Some research has even found D.A.R.E. to exert a negative impact on students. Its zero tolerance, “just say no” message about drugs, misinformation, scare tactics, untrained educators, and costly budget are grounds for its retirement. With rising rates or drug abuse and the prevalence of drug abuse related deaths, the need for drug education is clear. So what is effective?

Studies have found that time-intensive programs that are delivered during the middle school years are most effective. The most effective programs were also highly interactive, meaning that students, teachers, and peers interacted together with program materials and partook in open discussion (Soole, 2008). In addition, programs with comprehensive, scientific information about drugs that focus on harm reduction rather than total abstinence have also shown positive results (Einbinder, 2008). Programs that are found ineffective are non-interactive and mainly distribute educational material about the harmful effects of drugs. D.A.R.E. meets the above two criteria.

D.A.R.E. does not work, and the updated programs that D.A.R.E. has promoted, such as the “Keepin’ it REAL” campaign do not work either (D.A.R.E. , 2016). It is an expensive program based on drug myths and ineffective methods. With all this in mind, and considering that there are a handful of more effective, less expensive options, there is little evidence to support an argument for D.A.R.E. to continue as the most widely used school-based drug prevention program in the world. We should be educating our children and equipping them with the knowledge to make informed decisions in their lives, and D.A.R.E. is just not a program that can achieve that.

Works Cited

D.A.R.E. . (2016). Retrieved from D.A.R.E. America- Empowering Children to Lead Safe and Healthy Lives: http://www.dare.org/

Einbinder, E. (2008). How to Have Fun and Not Die. As Of Now Productions LLC.

Glass, S. (1997). Don’t You D.A.R.E. The New Republic.

Hanson, D. J. (2002-2014). Drug Abuse Resistance Education: The Effectiveness of DARE. Retrieved from http://www.alcoholfacts.org: http://www.alcoholfacts.org/DARE.html

Kleinig, J. (2015). Ready for Retirement: The Gateway Drug Hypothesis . Substance Use & Misuse , 971-975.

Levin, H. G., Gettman Jon B., P., & Siegal, L. L. (2010). Arresting Blacks for Marijuana in California: Possession Arrests in 25 Cities, 2006-08. Drug Policy Alliance; California State Conference of the NAACP.

Lynam DR, M. R. (1999). Project DARE: No Effects at 10-Year Follow Up. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , 590-593.

Lynskey, M. T. (2003). Escalation of Drug Use in Early-Onset Cannabis Users vs Co-Twin Controls. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 427-433.

Posnick-Goodwin, S. (1997). Researchers Question the Value of DARE’s Scare Tactics. California Educator .

Rosenbaum PhD, D., & Hanson PhD, G. (1998). Assessing the Effects of School-Based Drug Education: A 6-Year Multilevel Analysis of Project D.A.R.E. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency , 381-412.

Rosenbaum, D. P. (2007). Just Say No To D.A.R.E. Criminology and Public Policy, 815-824.

Shepard, E. M. (2001-2002, Winter). A New Study Finds… We Wasted Billions on D.A.R.E. . ReconsiDer Quarterly.

Soole, D. W. (2008). School-Based Drug Prevention Programs: A Review of What Works. Austrailian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 259-286.

Zagumny, M. J., & Thompson, M. K. (1997). Does D.A.R.E. Work? An Evaluation in Rural Tennessee. Journal of Alocohol and Drug Education, 32-41.

 

 

Kasey Greenbaum

AMERICAN BEAUTY MAKES US AMERICANS PYSCHO:ADVERTISING AND THE PERPETUATION OF BEAUTY STANDARDS
Communication 375: Junior Year Writing
November 30, 2015

Abstract

This paper addresses the problems of women suffering from low self-esteem due to corporations pushing beauty products onto society’s awareness in the form of television advertisements. More than half of the American population is being directly targeted to and manipulated to feed the vehicle that is consumerism. This is a social issue that deserves to receive more attention because all women regardless of age, race, sexuality, gender, religion, and culture are meant to feel dissatisfied with their appearance in one way or another and are lead to believe the answer to that issue is to buy a product to feel better about themselves. If treated with care, there can be a solution to this issue. For example: governmental regulation of commercials, investigations of the psychology of advertising, campaigning to promote the well being of young girls, and limiting exposure to television can be used.

Introduction

From the dawn of our consumerist society, it is accepted and expected that corporations will do whatever means necessary to convince people to buy particular products. Living without the influence of advertising is as impossible as living without the air we breathe. It surrounds us all and helps form our culture. One effective means of advertising is the use of television commercials. Through those commercials, consumers are given the vague promises of happiness and completeness.

If a product can be sold, it can be advertised in one form or another. This includes products targeted towards women to make them more “appealing” or “beautiful.” It is not commonly discussed or analyzed what effects this brings on women. Anything portrayed in the media will have an effect on not only the way we view products, but also the way we view ourselves, and this is no exception. The main question is, what effect does advertising these “beauty products” have on American women in terms of self-esteem? I believe that there is a correlation between negative self-esteem in American women and the commercialization of the “beauty industry.”

The goal of advertising is not just to make a consumer choose between two products such as Clinique or Urban Decay brand makeup. The goal of advertising is to willingly manipulate consumers by convincing them that they need a very specific product from a very particular store Perhaps that need will benefit our capitalist society in terms of economics, but not necessarily in terms for treating women as anything more than blank slates that need to be given makeovers in brand name materials and wallets that need to be emptied.

 Methods

I approached the subject of women and advertising through the lens of an intersectional feminist, but also as an upper-middle class, college-aged, white woman. In other words, I looked at advertising as a person who fits the target demographic of advertisers. As it is impossible to be oblivious of media and advertising, it is impossible to be an impartial scholar. However, because I am not an impartial scholar, it was easier for me to determine what was important information and what was not. For example, I considered specific advertising campaigns that promoted “feminism” and “female empowerment” to be significant to research because I wished to discover if those advertisements were hurting women subconsciously rather than helping women. I did not focus on print and radio advertisements because I wanted to narrow my research to only one medium. I also did not focus on the treatment of individual races, classes, sexualities, or ethnicities because that is entirely separate matter all together. Textual analysis is used throughout my paper. I watched television advertisements aimed at women, read scholarly articles, and watched lectures about the effects of advertising on all citizens of the world.

Literature Review

“A Not-So-Beautiful Campaign: A Feminist Analysis of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty” used social science and women’s studies to discuss Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty.” It began as a social experiment that showed how the typical person perceived something as subjective as “beauty.” The goal of the article was to show other social scientists along with women in general how the campaign became a phenomenon that changed how women were targeted in the media. The topic was very informative of how influential Dove’s campaign truly was and is and how that fits into our society. Commercials showed woman of various backgrounds and appearances standing in Dove brand lingerie and feeling empowered and beautiful. It also argued the notion of manipulation and the idea of making women gain fulfillment by buying Dove products. It is important to keep note going forward that because a product seems to be very positive towards women and sending out a wholesome message, corporations do not care about the well being of women.

The article “Extending The Negative Consequences Of Media Internalization And Self-Objectification To Dissociation And Self-Harm” used women’s studies and social science to discuss the effects of media on the American female body image. Mean, median, and mode are used in a sample size of women between the ages of eighteen to thirty-five. The aim of the article was to prove that the media is harmful to the American consciousness and that there is a connection between severely negative body image and advertising. A few extra examples on what types of media (TV shows, advertisements, brands, etc…) would have helped my topic of the effects of the American beauty standard in the media. Even still, the article was useful in giving statistics to show just how many women suffer from low self-esteem.

The article “Beauty… and the Beast of Advertising” used women’s studies, history, and social sciences to convey the effects of media on the American female in terms of sexuality and gender roles throughout history. The goal of the article is to show how women are limited and pigeonholed to fitting into how the media portrays them such as being the perfect housewife or the perfect sex object. The article is very helpful in terms of describing the effects of the American beauty standard in media. This can be attributed to how it forces awareness on the human consciousness to the dangers of advertising and portraying as commodities and objects.

“Advertising Professionals’ Perceptions of the Impact of Gender Portrayals on Men and Women: A Question of Ethics” accomplished it’s aim of depicting women’s susceptibility to the negative consequences of advertising. These consequences include inflating and producing stereotypes and creating unattainable beauty standards. It was crucial to research the idea that the American beauty standard is fictitious because it creates an unattainable dream all women are expected to have and dutifully.

Professor Sut Jhally’s class, Communication 287 Advertising as Social Communication, addresses the ramifications of advertising on our modern society. He focused on why people are compelled to become consumers and the social, economic, and political drawbacks of that. Women are not meant to be happy as consumers. Over the years, spending has increased exponentially in the United States. The level of overall happiness, however, has not risen. Advertisers know that women value the idea of being desirable and confident so instead of selling a product, they sell that idea back to women.

The four articles and lecture series illuminate data on the American beauty standards women must face in the form of television advertisements. The manipulation, exploitation, objectification, and commoditization of women need to be tackled or else women will continue to be treated as dollar signs rather than human individuals. If women are treated as dollar signs, the odds are stacked against achieving self-esteem.

Analysis        

There is a significant correlation between the American female consciousness and the media in terms of dissociation, self-objectification, depression, and self-harm. There has been a steady rise in women suffering from those symptoms as the use of television advertisements have also increased in popularity and multitude. An online study of one hundred and sixty women, all ranging between the ages of eighteen to thirty-five was performed to determine how and why that is. According to the study, where women had to describe their level of self-esteem and media intake, those who are more exposed to television advertisements are traumatized into thinking they need to fit a certain beauty standard. “On average, participants had moderate levels of dissociation and depression (Erchull, 2013).” Women see themselves as objects or blank canvases that need to be dressed and made-up to look “presentable” rather than human beings. That dissociation from self leads to a sense of hopelessness and intense sadness.

Professor of Communication Sut Jhally had stated, “Men in commercials always seem to look very normal. However the women… The women always look ‘super hot’ (Jhally, 2011).” Advertisers want to create beautiful women through the use of Photoshop, makeup, camera angles, and lighting because they want the typical viewer to desire to be her. They want women to watch an advertisement for Clinique and think, “The actress in that ad was so beautiful and happy. I want to be beautiful and happy. I want to be beautiful and happy like her. I’m going to buy that lipstick now.” The actress in the ad is always alluring and smiling seductively, as if promising that if a woman were to buy the product, they would be buying the idea of becoming glamorous and desirable. This creates a hole, however. When the lipstick doesn’t make women feel beautiful or fulfilled, they move onto the next ad. “Wow. That woman has beautiful hair thanks to L’Oreal. All of those people desire her and envy her.” The cycle starts at birth and ends at death. It never ends and no one is ever truly fulfilled.

Corporations will do whatever it takes to sell their products. That includes using an idea that is meant to empower and protect women: feminism. Dove has done just that by telling women to love themselves and their bodies. They are promising empowerment and self-respect. “While the campaign professes a desire to increase confidence and self-esteem for women and girls around the globe, it promotes a post-feminist, consumerist agenda that actually reinforces what Naomi Wolf titled “the beauty myth” (McCleary, 2014).” Despite the seemingly positive message, there are several flaws. If women are so powerful and beautiful, why bother selling a product at all? If a woman is confident and flawless in her own body, why promote a product designed to “improve” upon a woman’s appearance? Needless to say, the message is mixed at best. No matter how much body positivity they preach, Dove will be a corporation first with the goal of telling women they need their products. “However, the recognition that some gender portrayals may be problematic was largely due to strategic considerations rather than ethical concern or a sense of empathy for consumers (Tuncay Zayer, 2015).” Companies do not care about the well-being or the empowerment of women; they only care about consumers spending money on their products in particular. There is a push for Dove television ads to show women of color, older women, and overweight women. While that is inherently good, they are also manipulating people into thinking that Dove is a progressive company and for convincing women of color, older women, and overweight women to buy their products because they see themselves represented on television.

Despite Dove’s attempts at ‘feminism,’ beauty products are typically sold while treating women as housewives or sexual objects. Women in television advertisements tend to be hyper-sexualized with sultry expressions and revealing clothing. Or, women are not sexualized but are conforming to a beauty ideal to please a man or fit better into society. “Women are constantly exhorted to emulate this ideal, to feel ashamed and guilty if they fail, and to feel that their desirability and lovability are contingent upon physical perfection (Killbourne, 1990).” The beauty standard that corporations are trying to sell and advertisers are trying to promote does not exist. There is so much pressure put upon women to try and uphold an idea that is imaginary and only created to sell them products that are not conductive to human life.

 

Conclusion

            Human beings are worth more than their ability to buy goods. Women are convinced every time they turn on their television and watch and advertisement that they are not enough. The only way to ever become enough, is to spend money on an item that will one day break, run out, or become unfashionable. Makeup, clothing, and accessories are not essential in the long run for emotional health and positive self-worth. There may be a sense of comfort found in shopping, but it is short-lived until the next product comes along. Enough women, especially young women and girls, are suffering from low self-esteem due to the way the advertisers treat them. The advertising industry is harmful and will not relent anytime soon. If the topic of media influence on women becomes more exposed, as a community, perhaps we can agree upon a way to protect women from this harm.

Bibliography

 Killbourne, Jean. “Beauty…and the Beast of Advertising.” Media and Values, no. 49, 1990.

Zayer, Tuncay and Coleman, Catherine. “Advertising Professionals’ Perceptions of the Impact of            Gender Portrayals on Men and Women: A Question of Ethics?” Journal of Advertising 44, no. 3, 1-12, 2015.

McCleary, Caitlin. “A Not-So-Beautiful Campaign: A Feminist Analysis of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.” University of Tennessee Honors Thesis Projects, 2014.

“Why Study Advertising.” Lecture, 2011.

Erchull, Mindy “Extending the Negative Consequences of Media Internalization and Self- Objectification to Dissociation and Self-Harm.” Sex Roles A Journal of Research 60,          no. 11, 583-93, 2013.

 

 

 

Robert Hunt

“No Girls Allowed”: Women as Creators in Hollywood

Comm. 375: Junior Year Writing as Communication

October 4th, 2015

Abstract

            This paper examines the lack of women existing as authors of film and television: the world’s most prevalent mediums. If women have provided such a key role on screen since the dawn of film, why is it that so few women are recognized as writers, directors, and producers? What societal forces have created this problem? Comprehending this topic is vital to gauging a larger understanding about gender roles. Media both reflects and creates culture. An important question to ask when looking at any piece of media is who is telling this story? And, perhaps more importantly, whose story is NOT being told and why? By applying these questions to film and TV, we learn more about a previously unexamined industry and how their content affects our development as citizens. Using a combination of discourse analysis and ethnography, this paper reveals industry insights into this issue. The paper includes several firsthand testimonies from women working in film and TV, and also analyzes articles which discus the progression of this issue throughout the history of motion pictures. As a result of these findings, it was revealed that a gendered Hollywood system and reinforced misogynistic notions have created this culture of exclusion in Hollywood. Once Hollywood was established in the patriarchal society of the 1910’s, women were immediately and systematically marginalized in the realm of production. Understanding this piece of history is key to gaining a greater understanding of how cultural production and gender roles work. We are given a glance into the struggles of women, both historically and in a modern context, and learn more about the importance of diverse representation in media.

Introduction

When speaking about the creative forces that drive the American entertainment industry, film producer Lucy Fisher once quipped “I used to assume that Hollywood would let anyone who could make them money get behind the wheel… but now I think there is some deep-seated aversion to letting women drive.” In a sense, this statement surmises the prevailing attitude towards women as cultural producers in media since the birth of motion pictures at the turn of the 20th century. Historically women have been and continue to be marginalized in various aspects of American life, and the tragic element of this is that often the conscious public fails to recognize the ways in which this happens. This is due largely in part to the fact that these types of gendered inequalities are both historically and systematically engrained in our minds as humans, and thus we perpetually fail to recognize their impact on daily life. Notably, the struggles of women to achieve equality in the United States primarily throughout the 20th century onward have been well documented; from the strives for voting rights in the suffrage movement of the late 1910’s, to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, to the efforts of women today to protect and sustain reproductive rights on a national scale.

However, while these instances of hard-fought progress have received their just publicity, the labors of females to achieve equality and recognition in other areas of professional life have been severely overlooked. A keen example of this comes when analyzing the history of women as cultural producers (e.g writers, directors, executives) in the two most prevalent visual mediums, television and film. Women have worked for years to gain depth and diversity in their representation on screen, both as performers and in the types of screen roles they portray. In addition to these advancements amidst a lack of equal compensation, women have also historically not been recognized justly for their work behind the scenes. While some female producers have worked tirelessly against the gendered system of Hollywood to break through, countless others have not had such success in defying the structure of Hollywood. In short, for every Penny Marshall, Sophia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow there are thousands of women whose names and production work go unnoticed, or who are simply never given the chance to attempt to explore these opportunities. Understanding how this culture of exclusion towards women was formed in Hollywood gives way to a greater comprehension of how gender roles are constructed and reinforced, as well as how the nature of representation in media is carefully controlled. From an authorship perspective, taking a deeper look at how this issue has manifested itself in media and the work place is imperative to shedding light on the situation further and starting a discussion in this country about these types of inequalities. This gap in conversation on our part as citizens has only allowed for the perpetuation of this systematic exclusion, and the only hope we have to resolve this reoccurrence is by recognizing the impact of societal forces in our everyday lives. And by recognizing the coercing influence of these societal forces, we may make more progress in countering their impact and allowing for more equal creative expression in this country.

Methods

Our research takes its form in a combination of ethnography, through firsthand testimonies of women working within the film and TV industries, and discourse analysis, through close examination of language used in texts discussing the issue of female representation in production. To establish an accurate context for this issue, it is crucial to first grasp the historical roots of the topic in general. In doing so, we must trace the arc of female representation in film production back to the silent era of the 1910’s. An excellent source for this information comes from historian Hillary Hallet’s book Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood, a chronicling of female participation, success, and early exclusion in filmmaking during this critical era of the medium’s history. The piece details how by the 1910’s the newly created film industry had attracted flocks of European immigrants seeking economic opportunity and prosperity into California, paralleling the similar human migration to the region that took place in the previous century’s gold rush. Reviewer Peter Catapano summarized the book’s contents and emphasized how in this Cultural Revolution it was not the “grizzled mountain man or the hardscrabble prospector of the 19th century” (Catapano 1, 2013) who sought a claim of this wealth, but the new woman of the 20th century. Hallet’s writing is divided into two sections that trace the rise of female involvement, first focusing on how screen depictions of women helped construct this idealized version of the “new woman”. As theatrical melodramas rose in prominence and popularity during this time, the perceived “feminization of American culture” (Catapano 1, 2013) led to what many historians consider a challenging of male-dominated space in media. Women were framed mainly as on-screen talent, appearing in a limited range of character tropes that included humble wives, saucy mistresses, damsels in distress, and villainess figures. However, the majority of these screen appearances were entirely written, constructed, and directed by men. Hallett highlights perhaps the first woman to break through this glass ceiling as Mary Pickford, the famed actress who took control of her career by acting as her own manager, writer, and producer. She was one the first women to establish herself as an independent creative force in Hollywood, being one of the original four Hollywood to establish the United Artists Studio which remains to this day as one of the industry’s most important bodies. Pickford, along with several of her contemporaries like Lois Weber, Maria P. Williams, Guy Blanche, and Cleo Madison ushered in the first cinematic wave of female cinematic producers and opened the doors for future women to express their own creative control. But their efforts were not without struggle, as dominant patriarchal ideologies of the time were constantly attempting to rebuke the progress being made. It is important to recognize the time frame of these events, which coincided directly with the suffrage movement of the turn of the century up until 1920 when the 19th amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. Corporate powers, unhappy with the strives being made by these women, did little to promote their activities and Catapano even highlights an instance of industry reporters writing scathing articles regarding mothers and daughters entering Hollywood seeking fame. As a result of these actions, the most widely known authors of media from this era into the mid twentieth century remained male. In a sense, the earliest section of film history can also be regarded as the golden era of female participation.

Critic Robin Blaetz continues this recounting of female film history by analyzing the essay Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood by Karen Mahar, focusing specifically on what she refers to as the “gendering nature of Hollywood” (Blaetz 258 2006) as a response to the changing social roles of women in America. Blaetz details this secret history, again touching upon the parallels between the development of the theater and film industry in structure and content which emphasized female involvement heavily. Blaetz points to one specific instance in the history as significant for giving female directors their first opportunities. Hollywood’s tendency to promote what is described as “salacious material” involving women to attract audiences early on also attracted the threat of government intervention and censorship in the medium. To counteract this, studio executives began employing more women as writers and directors so as to appear not as sexist and crude, and in an attempt to come across as offering equal opportunity. Pioneer Lois Weber is cited as one of the first women given such an opportunity. Weber immediately began writing and producing films that doggedly portrayed relevant feminist social issues of the time. This is a key example of how the authorship of a text impacts its content, showing how one woman was given an opportunity and chose to avoid played-out stereotypical stories and instead project a unique, and specifically feminine portrait of modern life. The image of the socially-aware Weber is contrasted with her more popular male contemporary, Cecil B. Demille. Demille’s image of a commander shouting orders on a film set embodied the hegemonic masculine figure of the time, and gained more notoriety than perhaps any filmmaker of his time. The article concludes by noting the fact that majority of producers from the start of filmmaking until roughly 1922, when American financial prosperity was pouring more investments into the film industry, were actually female. These female producers worked within the constraints of this male-dominated society and created films that “explored the modern lifestyles of interest to just the kind of women who attended movies in this era.” (Blaetz 260, 2006). In a sense, the silent era not only marked the height of female expression in storytelling but also in participation in production, as the subsequent years saw significantly less female inclusion in the realm of writing and directing.

Continuing where the silent film era left off, author Martha M. Lauzen describes the under-representation of women as filmmakers after the 1920’s, which was considered the heyday for female directors and producers, in her article “Where Are the Film Directors (Who Happen to be Women)?”. In similar fashion to Hallett and Mahar, Lauzen the vast number of women working in Hollywood as leaders in the industry from the mid 1910’s to approximately 1927, where Lauzen claims women were “removed from the industry entirely”(Lauzen 1, 2012). Following this claim, Lauzen analyzes the reasons for women’s lack of participation from the late 1920’s onward and points to two key factors as explanations. First the human capital theory: which commodified women and limited the number of women informally allowed by studio executives to be working in the industry at one time. Second, and perhaps more easy to understand, the discrimination theory: the reinforcement of misogynistic, sexist notions that women were not suited to be authors of such a craft and should instead be displaced to fill “traditional feminine roles” of wives, mothers, and caregivers. These insights add more historical context into the framework of why female participation in production dropped off so sharply following the golden age of the 1920’s.

Shifting now to an ethnography, another article published by Lauzen updates the story of female underrepresentation to a modern context, adding a firsthand 21st century perspective of the type of micro-aggressive discrimination that women suffer from in the public eye as media-makers. The article, entitled “Framing Women Film Directors: The Cases of Sam Taylor-Johnson and Lynne Ramsay” follows how two specific female directors, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Lynne Ramsay, view their place as women in Hollywood and describe the type of unequal treatment they receive in their occupations as a result of the industry’s gendered system. The article begins by quoting one studio executive who remarked that the entire system of media in America was “geared for women to fail” (Lauzen 1, 2013), which set the tone for the accounts given by Taylor-Johnson and Ramsay. Both women contend that their careers and public personas have been framed in a more negative and misogynistic manner than that of their male counterparts in the industry. Taylor-Johnson, who was appointed as the director of the high profile erotic thriller Fifty Shades of Grey, was immediately placed under fire by media journalists who questioned her credentials and harshly criticized her early work once she received the job. The article contrasts this media handling to that of Marc Webb, the young filmmaker who after only having one film under his belt was appointed as director of The Amazing Spiderman franchise. Studios justified their hiring of the equally unexperienced Webb by citing his early work in music videos and praising him for getting the job at such a young age. When Lynne Ramsay was contractually unable to participate in a film she previously signed on to direct, media outlets blasted her personal ethics and lack of actual filmmaking talent. This of course contrasts directly with the countless male directors who drop out of film projects every year and receive no such criticism. Lauzen attributes this difference in framing to an effort, whether intentional or subconscious, to attach stereotypically negative “female traits” to female directors, in order to discredit them and stop them from getting future work. The article is insightful in that it echoes the efforts of patriarchal control exhibited in the silent film era, although in this case done more discretely.

In order to conceptualize the full scope of female involvement in this day and age of film, it was vital to analyze some of the stand-out female filmmakers who have enjoyed commercial success in Hollywood over the years. This list includes to name a few Penny Marshall, Penelope Spheeris, Lynne Shelton, Michelle McLaren, and Kathryn Bigelow, who in 2009 became the first woman in the eighty-plus year history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive a Best Director award. Glancing over this list of names, it may be easy for some people at a base level to assess that enough progress has been made and that women do not for the most part continue to suffer from disadvantages placed upon them by creators by the system of the film and TV industry. This would false, as evidenced by the personal accounts of many of the industry’s leading female forces. One may take for example Shonda Rhimes, the award-winning creator of some of television’s biggest dramas including Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder. Rhimes has been celebrated for her individual achievement not only due to the merit of her work but the circumstances of her presence in the industry; as both a minority and a woman. The representation of someone like Rhimes may serve in many people’s minds to essentially serve as proof of a newfound level playing field in media in the 21st century, but Rhimes herself would argue otherwise. In a recent speech, she stated bluntly that she did not feel she had metaphorically “broken a glass ceiling” of representation, and was merely following in the footsteps of thousands of women working in media throughout history who contributed to her receiving this opportunity and platform. In this sense, we can conclude that attributing a large sea change of equality to one person’s accomplishments is not only misleading but degrading to that person’s status as not a member of any certain group, but as a filmmaker. An instance where it does benefit to highlight the individual is when one is gaining firsthand accounts of the industry, so that we may see how each person individually deals with the stigma presented to them.

By focusing on one specific woman working in film, we are able to get a better grasp of how these gendered challenges play a role in the work environment. Belinda Small’s article “Sofia Coppola: Reading the Director” provides an intimate portrayal of the psyche of Coppola, the famed writer/director and daughter of cinematic legend Francis Ford Coppola. The article describes Coppola’s relationship with her father, her role in Hollywood as a young filmmaker, the reception of her two most recent and most controversial films, and finally the challenges she faces as a woman attempting to be treated as an equal in the gendered system of Hollywood. Small cites specific instances of Coppola’s films coming under criticism for being aesthetically pleasing but lacking heft, and all of these criticisms coming back to questioning her status as the most prominent working female director. Coppola is distinguished from previous female filmmakers in her nature of work. For example her lack of overt feminist themes or appeal to feminist studies with her film’s content and her refusal to work within the “paradigm of traditional genre cinema” (Small 153, 2013) which gives her less direct appeal to mainstream audiences. Because of these factors, as well as Coppola’s own perceived image of ineptitude and privilege, Hollywood has largely discredited much of her life’s work despite her commercial success. This, again, is an obvious example of women being repressed as authors of craft. Instead of simply posing Coppola as an independent director with her own individualistic style and voice, she is posed first and foremost as a woman, and this labeling only serves to disparage and distract from her actual craft and ability. Seeing this example, especially in regards to someone considered as powerful a female filmmaker as Coppola, it is understandable to see why less women are acknowledged as filmmakers.

Analysis

After taking a moment to absorb the information put forth in these sources, it is imperative to first remind one’s self of the questions posed at the beginning of this paper. Those questions being: why are so few women recognized as filmmakers? What forces have created this trend? And why have these forces done so?

First of all, it is abundantly clear that the lack of recognition for female filmmakers has absolutely nothing to do with the actual talent of said filmmakers. As documented in sources, women have not only been involved but have played a key role in the progression and development of film since the birth of the medium. Women dominated the industry in the silent film era, and more eager females flocked to Hollywood to try their hand at pursuing the dream of filmmaking. In addition to this, the lack of female representation also is not a result of a lack of opportunity. Film was the dominant American form of mass media from the 1920’s onward, rivaled only by the television industry when it came to prominence in the early 1950’s. These two industries made billions of dollars in revenue, attracted investors, and captivated the attention of a still-developing nation. It is beyond the realm of belief to say that at no point in this avalanche of activity could more women be allowed to direct, write, produce, or merely have a voice to tell their own stories. Knowing this, it is clear that the primary reason for female underrepresentation is and continues to be a calculated effort by men to preserve the patriarchal grip on traditional gendered society.

Men will never openly admit to being directly misogynistic or to wanting to keep women in a specific “place” in society, but analyzing this specific industry indicates that they have intentionally attempted to do just that. The first wave of female exclusion in the late 1920’s was seen as a direct response to the changing role women were playing in society as a result of their participation in industries like filmmaking. A generation of men who were raised with women that were housewives, mothers, teachers, nurses and, above everything else, obedient, were not content with the changing of the guard of the 20th century. As women were gradually entering the work force in greater numbers, there were concerned efforts to keep them down where it was perceived that they naturally belonged. And it is no coincidence that women were specifically excluded from a medium like film, a visual art form. Media both reflects and creates culture. It has the power to change our perception of what is real and what is constructed, and can entirely alter our idea of what is normal in society. In other words, the power to create in this art form is the power to change people’s minds, to not just tell them but show them stories that reflect how life can be. This power, as indicated by the efforts of men time and again, was seen as too dangerous and influential to be put into the hands of women, and thus we see the constant efforts against their progression in the industry. As the 20th century pushed forward and women continued taking further steps towards equality, the efforts of men to preserve control over their hegemonic society still persisted but were conflicted with the changing tide of public opinion. Today, we live in a culture where women are still threatened, objectified, paid less than men, and have to fight for their rights but the progress that has been made is still undeniable. More female executives exist now than ever before, but their names and titles are still largely unknown to the public.

Conclusion

Communication professor Sut Jhally once stressed in a lecture that when examining what he referred to as the “hidden abode of production”, it is vital to understand who is creating any given image, whose story was being told, and whose was not. Authorship over a cultural text reveals more than just what went into making the text, it can expose the political and social climate of a given time period. In regards to underrepresentation of female filmmakers we can see the plight of these women, the lack of opportunity and recognition given to them, as reflective of prevailing traditional gender roles that society is attempting to reinforce. If we do not have women, and many women at that, writing, directing, and producing their own stories we will not only have a lack of diverse perspectives in the realm of storytelling, but we will be contributing to the subjugation of an entire gender. The problem here is that many people, as has been mentioned previously in this paper, are not fully aware that this problem exists. It is seen as the norm that men are the filmmakers and that men continue to tell the stories that make up our understanding of the world. Until we as a society choose to rectify this notion, women will continue to lack access to their voice of expression and young girls will grow up without dreams of telling their own stories. It is vital that a change be made.

Bibliography

Blaetz, Robin, “Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio &Television. Jun2009, Vol. 29 Issue 2, p258-260. 3p., accessed 10/4/15, doi:

10.1080/01439680902890845

Catapano, Peter. “Go West Young Women Review.” Film & History 45, no. 1 (2015): 60-61.

doi:0360-3695.

Hallett, Hilary A. “Entire Book.” In Go West, Young Women! The Rise of Early Hollywood, 1-

  1. 1st ed. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2013

Lauzen, Martha M. “Framing Women Film Directors: The Cases of Sam Taylor-Johnson and

Lynne Ramsay”, Media Report to Women. Summer2013, Vol. 41 Issue 3, p24-23. 3p.

accessed 10/4/15

Lauzen, Martha M. “Where Are the Film Directors (Who Happen to be Women)?” (2012),

Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 29:4, 310-319, doiI:10.1080/10509201003601167

Small, Belinda. “Sofia Coppola: Reading the Director.” Feminist Media Studies 13, no. 1 (2013): 148-62. doi:10.1080/14680777.2011.595425.

 

 

Jonathan Kupperman

Abstract of a Larger Study 

There has been tremendous growth in the video game industry over the last few years with violent video games becoming the most popular form. With this increasing popularity, politicians and others have raised concern as to whether violent video games engenders violence in game players. A number of research studies have analyzed whether violent video games increase hostility and aggression in players. In general, these studies have found that video game play increases hostility and aggression in video game players immediately after play. These studies have not looked at whether increased levels of hostility and aggression translate into actual violent conduct. Nor have these studies surveyed those who most frequently come in contact with violence: law enforcement personnel. This study attempts to expand the field of inquiry by looking at whether there is a perception that playing violent video game results in actual violence. The focus was to question three disparate groups that have had exposure to video games and to possible violence resulting from violent video game play: university campus police officers, college residence assistants, and college students. They were asked in separate questionnaires whether they believe that violent video games results in actual violence. The responses of the majority of each group were the same: they did not believe that playing violent video games causes violent conduct. 

Introduction and Rationale 

Violent video games are now the most popular video games. Recent figures show that around 72% of American households have one or more video game consoles (ESA, 2011). According to the Children Now Organization (2001), a majority of video games being produced, including the most popular games on the market, are violent in nature. Over 68% of the most popular games include violence (Smith, Lachlan, & Tamborini, 2003). Not only are video games becoming more violent, video games are increasingly becoming more realistic and graphic (Weber, Ritterfeld, Mathiak 2006).

With the increasing popularity of video games, and realistic violence being portrayed in some of these games, researchers, parents, politicians, and other organizations are concerned as to the effects of violent video games on adolescents and, in particular, whether these violent games result in violent behavior. For instance, after the Newtown massacre, Vice President Biden met with representative of video game manufacturers to discuss whether violent video increases violence (New York Times Jan 11, 2013).

A large segment of video game players are college students. In fact many of the research studies in this area have used college students. Even if a student has not played violent video games, they will know people (roommates, friends) who play such games. The perspective of these students as to whether they believe violent video games cause actual violent conduct is important to understand. Moreover, understanding whether this belief is based on actual incidents or just suspicion is an important corollary.

Another important group are police officers. As the professionals who deal directly with violent conduct, their views and experiences in this area are critical to understanding this subject, although there does not appear to have been research conducted involving this group. Consequently, the police officers on a university campus should provide valuable insight as to whether they believe and have witnessed violent conduct resulting from the play of violent video games, particularly with regard to college students.

In addition, dorm residence assistants (RAs), who are also college students, are responsible for supervising dorm students and thus have the potential to observe students playing violent video games and whether in turn those students become violent.

Comparing the results of the questionnaires from college students, RAs, and law enforcement as to their perceptions should help advance an understanding as to whether video games cause violent conduct.

Hypothesis 

Research on violent video games has focused on the immediate effect on player’s hostility and aggression. As noted above, little, if any, research has been performed on whether violent video games have long term effects on players that results in actual violent conduct. This study seeks to expand the knowledge in this area by addressing these questions. Respondents were queried as to their perception as to the effects of violent game play over time, as opposed to immediately after play. Although this study queried college students (like many of the prior studies), it is unique in that it will also made inquiry of college residence assistants and of law enforcement officers, the group most likely to face violent conduct caused by those who play violent video games.

Method 

This study is a qualitative analysis survey that asks college male and female students, RAs, and campus police officers about violent video games and whether based on their experiences over time they believe these games result in actual violent conduct. In order to get a broader range of perceptions in the survey, the author decided to sample these three different groups of respondents. The author surveyed 16 students from one university in New England (University of Massachusetts – Amherst), 13 UMass Resident Assistants (RAs), and 12 members of the UMass Campus Police Department. The author selected RAs and police officers to get the perspective of individuals who are most likely to witness or encounter violent incidents. In particular, the author selected RAs because they must deal with the conduct of students in their dormitories. The author selected police officers because they deal with all kinds of instances of violent conduct. In addition, as trained professionals, the police officers provide a unique perspective to the research. Moreover, most of the prior studies used only college students or college-aged participants. The use of police officers and RAs in the study provides additional insight into the topic.

The research was conducted over a two-week period. The author provided a questionnaire to law enforcement, college students, and resident assistants (who are also college students) who supervise dormitories. In all three cases, the respondents were asked to fill out the questionnaire and return it to the author. All responses were submitted anonymously. Each study consisted of seven questions on one page (the actual questions are listed in the Appendix to this study). The study was designed to be brief in order to make it easy for respondents to participate and thereby increase the number of responses. This was particularly important for the police officers who had to respond to the questionnaire while on duty and to ensure that their duties do not deter them from responding.

Results 

Results show that approximately half of the students and RAs play video games. Only 17 percent of police officers play video games. It appears that of those respondents who play video games, they are playing mostly violent games. Results also found that most students and RAs know someone who plays video games. About half the police officers know someone who plays video games. It appears that most of these people play violent video games.

Results found that 7% of students believe violent video games cause violent behavior. About 23% of RAs believe violent video games cause violent conduct. Around 33% of police officers believe violent video games cause violent behavior. In total, only 20% of all groups surveyed believed that violent video games cause violent conduct. However, when asked if this belief is based on witnessing actual violent conduct, only one student could identify such an act, no RAs could identify such an act, and only one police officer could identify such an act. Thus, out of 41 respondents, only two (5%) could articulate actual incidents where violent conduct resulted from playing violent video games. This suggests that this belief is not based on actual incidents, but speculation.

Discussion 

The research was different than previous studies with the selection of the study participants. This study included three different perspectives. Like many studies, respondents included college students, who are a majority of players in the gaming industry. The current research also included RAs who supervise the college students and are sometimes exposed to violent conduct in the dormitories, perhaps more so than regular students. In their position, RAs supervise students in their residential life and thus are more involved in disputes, discussions, and outbursts that may occur in the student residences. It is important to note, RAs are also college students.

Significantly, the research also included police officers as participants. The campus police officers are probably the one group most exposed to violent conduct. While RAs deal with students on a more informal basis and as a supervisor, the police deal with violent student acts on a professional level, which includes acts outside of the dorms. They are also trained professionally to investigate acts of violent and determine the motives of violent individuals that break the law. Also, the campus police have another distinguishing factor in that they are generally older in age than students and RAs. Consequently, their views on this subject are important to consider to give greater perspective to the topic.

The focus of research was on the perceptions of the respondents as to whether they believe that playing violent video games results in violent conduct. The results from the questionnaire suggest that the majority of respondents across the three groups (80%) believe that violent video games do not result in violent conduct. There was some consistency among the three groups tested (college students, RAs, and police officers). The majority of all three groups believed that playing violent video games did not cause violent conduct. Nevertheless, the percentage that believed this varied by group: 94% (college students), 77% (RAs), 67% (police officers).

The differences between the three groups provides for some interesting analysis. As a group, students are probably less likely to experience violence than RAs or police officers. In turn, RAs, who are tasked with assisting in the supervision of dorms are probably more likely to experience violence than students. Police officers, by the nature of their professional duties, are even more likely to witness violent conduct. Consequently, each group’s perceptions are likely influenced by their daily situation, which suggests that police officers would be the most likely to witness violence.

One facet to the study was to analyze the basis for those who believed that violent video game play causes violent conduct. Specifically, was this belief based on witnessing actual acts of violence resulting from game play or was it based on supposition? Of the total responses that believe violent video game play causes violent conduct (8), only two could identify specific incidents. This suggests that those who believe violent video game play causes violent conduct are basing their perception on supposition and not actual experiences. Because of the relatively small response pool, additional research in this area is suggested.

In addition, perceptions of each group may have been influenced by the fact that students and RAs were more likely to play video games or have friends or family that do. Of the students surveyed, 63% played video games and 75 % had friends or family that did. Similarly, 62% of RAs played and 85% had friends or family that did. In contrast, only 17% of police officers played video games and only 42% have friends or family that did. In addition, the students surveyed identified 33 violent games they or friends or family played as compared with 21 for RAs, and 12 for police officers. This suggests that those police officers with negative perceptions may be due in part to a lack of familiarity/experience with games, particularly violent ones, as compared with students and RAs who have more familiarity/experience with such games.

Even with the differences in perceptions in each group, a clear majority believe that violent video games do not result in violent conduct. Most significantly, these perception results raise questions as to whether one can conclude at this time that increased levels of hostility and aggression (due to violent video game play) will lead to violent conduct. The results from this study are distinguishable from the results of previous studies by Farrar, Hollingdale, Lichtblau, et al. In those studies, the focus was on whether playing violent video games increased levels of hostility and aggression; this study was different in that instead of focusing on hostility and aggression levels, the study focused on violent conduct. This survey intentionally did not ask about hostility and aggression; the focus was on perceptions as to violent conduct. The study suggests that one cannot presume that increased hostility and aggression will result in violent conduct. Consequently, future studies should examine the link (or lack thereof) between hostility, aggression, and violence.

In addition, this study identified another issue: do the feelings created by violent video game play dissipate over time? In many of the prior studies, game players’ feelings were analyzed right after play. That does not mean that increased levels of hostility and aggression last over time or result in violent conduct. In the current study, respondents were asked their perceptions over time, not immediately after play and the results were not consistent with the prior studies that found increased hostility and aggression. Here, only 20% of respondents found a correlation between violence and video game play. Consequently, even if there is a link between hostility, aggression, and violence, prior studies do not appear to consider whether feelings of hostility and aggression dissipate over time and thus diminish actual violent conduct.

The focus of this study was on the perception of the respondents, which has been the basis for many studies in this field. While the results between the groups were consistent overall, this study is not designed to be a predictor of violence (or nonviolence). Rather it is meant to expand the field of study and recognize that there are many aspects that need to be considered and explored. Perception is but one aspect.

This study is not meant to be dispositive on the subject of the causal relationship, if any, between violent video game play and violent conduct, but to help expand the field of analysis and inquiry. Much more research needs to be performed. Due to time and scope limitations of this study that limited the pool of respondents, the surveys used here should be supplied to a far greater pool, nationally and internationally, to confirm the results of this study. In addition, the results of this study suggest that even if there are increased levels of hostility and aggression, at least from the views of our respondents, this may not lead to violent conduct. This is particularly interesting from the perspective of the police respondents, a group that probably has the most professional experience with violence and that prior studies appear to have ignored. Future research needs to examine and explain the difference in results between the studies of hostility/aggression and the perception as to violent conduct found here. In addition, as noted above, even if hostility/aggression levels may lead to violent conduct, can time dissipate those feelings? Moreover, there needs to be study of actual incidents of violent conduct to see if there is any correlation with violent video game play.

 

Madison Lewis

Talking as a Cultural term for Romantic Relationships in Some American Discourse

Introduction

Talking is a cultural term that denotes an emergent form of a romantic relationship in modern day society among mainstream American youth. These relationships are fragile and can fall apart easily, resulting in some form of emotional distress. In this paper, I analyze the cultural meanings and social norms of talking while comparing and contrasting them to other types of romantic relationships, signified by cultural terms such as dating, seeing someone, and relationship. Additionally I will discuss the larger social motivations of contemporary American youth to engage in a talking relationship. Major questions I ask are who uses talking mostly in regards to age? What constitutes talking as a relationship and how is this different from dating or other forms of romantic relationships? How long do these forms last typically, and are there rules to each?

Literature Review

My approach to the study of talking as a cultural term for talk is anchored in the agenda of the ethnography of communication as discussed by Katriel and Philipsen (1981). In this study, the authors analyzed “communication” as a cultural term to facilitate interpersonal bonding through an ethnographic approach. They made the distinction between communication and talk. The article first analyzed communication through an ethnographic narrative perspective (based on in-depth interview) of whom they referred to as “M.” This part presented us with what “M” thought communication meant by giving us examples of problems and obstacles in her daily life. Katriel and Philipsen then broke down the interview and analyzed how “M” used the term communication and talk in that certain context. At the end of “M”’s narrative and the sequential analyses, they summarized those analyses, which provided us with a comprehensive idea of communication through “M”’s perspective. The authors then did the same thing with a woman referred to as “K”, using her narrative to compare and contrast to “M’s.”

The section titled “The Semantic Dimensions of Communication” analyzed “open communication”, “really talking”, and “real communication” as substitutions for the word talk in their narratives. Substitutions of the word communication were seen as “mere talk” and “normal chit-chat.” The authors then categorized those synonyms into broader dimensions (close/distant, supportive/neutral, flexible/rigid) and explained each. communication was seen as interpersonal “work” and an examination of their “self.”

Lastly, communication was analyzed as a ritual, encompassing themes such as topic, purpose, participants, act sequence, setting, and norm of interaction. A talk show (The Phil Donahue show) was then analyzed to support their findings of how people use communication to solve problems in their life and how talking about communication could help them to communicate with others. The conclusion summarized how the two narratives and talk show worked together to describe the function, definition, and applicability of communication in American speech and people’s lives.

The framework presented in this paper provides me with a comprehensive cultural approach to the analysis of the emergent term talking. Talking in this instance can be used to refer to a romantic relationship in which communication can help to hinder of facilitates it’s growth. In what follows, I use the general form of how communication was broken down in their article to accurately depict the cultural meanings of talking as a term of talk and a specific type of romantic relationship. Additionally, I use the theoretical insights about the term communication to see how they fit into and can inform the new uses of talking. Drawing on few ethnographic observations of the romantic relationship of an American collegiate subject and an interview of “D”, I conduct an in-depth ethnographic narrative analysis of the cultural term talking.

Data Analysis

“D” is a senior American collegian who uses the term talking to describe some of his romantic relations. Through an interview he explained what talking means to him and discussed his current romantic relations with multiple girls, the girls are referred to as “B”, “M”, and “O.” When asked what talking was “D” described it as “ when you guys are kind of feeling each other out,” then added “I probably think they’re cute, they probably think I’m cute” and “you definitely express interest in each other.” The first characteristic of talking then is mutual attraction between two people and can be thought of as getting to know someone better through increased communication. When first asked what talking was he added that it was “obtaining a new friend” which implies that the two individuals who engage in talking do not know each other well, are not friends, and have most likely just met or have met each other a few times. When asked if talking could then categorize two individuals as just friends he corrected me in saying that they are not just friends but more then that, implying there is a romantic characteristic in the newfound relationship. “You definitely want to be more then friends…there’s that potential…potential to be exclusive, but it’s the very first step.” The term friend used by “D” is thought of as someone close to you whom you like to talk to on a regular basis. You share your thoughts and daily news with them and want to hear about theirs. This type of friend is more than just an acquaintance, and more then just a social media friend. The style of conversation between the two in talking is very flirtatious. Talking without flirting would categorize them as strictly friends. If this sounds confusing, it is. This is one situation in which discrepancies can come into play. One party may think they are talking, but the other does not. It is considered “friend-zoning.” “Friend-zoning” is when a guy and girl are friends but one of them feels more strongly towards the other or misinterprets the others style of talk for flirting. One person then tries to take the relationship further, perhaps tries to engage in talking or take them out on a date. However the other person does not feel the same way about them and would like to remain friends e.g. “friend-zoning.” This can make relationships between friends awkward or ruin the friendship altogether.

Talking is therefor categorized as a step in what we’ll call the flow of a romantic relationship. To define talking as a romantic relationship the terms dating and committed relationship came up. These terms are used to show the steps or flow of romantic relationships. The first step according to “D” is talking; the next step is dating, and then committed relationship, followed by marriage as the last step. Dating according to “D” is going on dates; the guy and girl go out to get dinner or lunch or whatever they choose. Dating for “D” is nonexclusive, if he is dating one girl he can also be dating or talking to another girl. He referred to dating as “the real test.” Implying talking is a test to see whether the guy and girl like one another to take it to the next level (or step). Dating then is the “real test” to see if the two like each other enough to go above dating and engage in a committed relationship. A committed relationship is when the identifiers “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” come into play. This type of relationship is for the most part an exclusive relationship where the girl or guy should only be romantically involved in each other. These steps are meant to be going forward, there is no going backwards. For instance if a relationship progresses past talking and the two are now dating, they can’t go back to talking, or from a committed relationship back to dating or talking. However if you were talking or dating you could go back to being “just friends” with no romantic attachment if both parties decide they would not make a good couple. If one person decides they don’t want to be romantically involved any longer “D” said “hopefully, if you’re not me, you should tell them hey I’m kind of not feeling it anymore, I think we’re better off just being friends because I don’t see you like that.” He then used the term fizzling to describe another way to stop talking or dating someone. “Fizzling is dying down, talking to someone less and less until you’re just friends again.” To jump steps is not seen as correct either. “You can’t know for a fact that you want to be exclusive with someone just after talking, you definitely should be dating them and getting to know them a little more.” Talking then is scratching the surface, getting to know them better but when you date someone you are really getting to know them. Therefore you cannot jump from talking to being exclusive since you don’t really know the person well enough. However you can skip talking and go straight to dating. You can do so because talking and dating are for the most part nonexclusive and don’t have a real commitment. Both are styles to learn more about the other person romantically, so they are for the most part interchangeable so to speak. It is acceptable to start off with either one as a valid way to start romantic relations with a partner.

While explaining the flow of a relationship “D” gave a time frame of how long each step should be. He said talking should last about a week, and then dating should last about a month. When two people are talking or dating for longer then these time frames “D” suggested that one person doesn’t “appreciate” it. “D” gave an example of a girl he is dating named “B”, he said, “it’s been way too long, she probably doesn’t appreciate it.” However “D” doesn’t want to take the next step of being in a committed relationship with her because he is still dating other girls or talking to other girls and is not ready to take that final exclusive plunge. After two people have been talking or dating for longer then the given time frames it creates discrepancies between the two. One of them could want to take the next step but the other is not ready or does not want to be exclusive. That leads into the next aspect of talking, the motivation to talk instead of being exclusive.

“D” separated talking into two styles, one reserved for younger people in high school and the other for people his age in college. He said that talking for younger people is longer then older people. Kids in high school don’t date either according to him. They talk to each other and then are in an exclusive relationship. Here then it is acceptable to jump steps. “You talk and then you’re like ‘I like you!’, ‘I like you too’ and then you’re exclusive and everybody knows. But as you get older, now that I’m in college I wanna like feel them out, go on a few dates and kind of see what they’re about outside of just texting, cause just texting you can’t really see how they are.” Texting can be seen as another way to refer to talking. One person could say “oh yeah we’re texting” and that is meant as they are talking, they are “getting to know each other” more and “feeling them out” (the phrase “feeling them out” is an expression like “testing the waters”, it’s taking it slow in order to have a grasp or “feel” on who the other person is e.g. their personality type) by increasing their levels of communication. The act of texting serves to enhance communication between the two. “D” states “you’re definitely texting every day, all day. You’re not on your phone every second of the day, but you’re definitely texting through the entire day. If you stopped for a day the other person might think oh he’s not that interested in me anymore.” When two people are talking then there is a feeling of constant communication between them and lack of communication could be seen as disinterest. Less communication is seen as disinterest because of fizzling. With lack of conversation the interest between the two is lost and they become just friends.

People who are more likely to be in a talking relationship according to “D” are younger people, people in high school and college. He said that high school kids want to talk more then college aged kids. As for gender he said, “I feel like girls always wanna talk a little more, or are more into the talking phase because they want to know who you are, they want to know you more on an emotional level. Guys, they just want to get straight to the good stuff.” “D” presents talking as having two different meanings to guys and girls. “I feel like for girls it’s getting to know them more emotionally, it’s not necessarily saying ‘who are you,’ they’d be like ‘oh where are you from?’ like ‘what kind of shows do you like?’ that versus guys where they’ll go along with it but they want to be more physical. That’s not necessarily sex but like just hanging out with them, going to the movies or do something.” According to “D” then talking is more for the girl, she wants to explore who the guy is while the guy wants to just hang out with her and be in her company. Sexual Relations is not present in a talking relationship. “D” states, “talking is definitely just…it is what it is…it’s literally just talking.” However when asked about what people refer to as friends with benefits, he reversed this and said there are sexual relations between the two. Motivations for the friends with benefits type of talking are then more sexual and more favorable for the guy. “D” stated that he thinks the longer you talk to someone in this form then you are more bound to “catch feelings” for them because “sex is such a powerful thing.” Once these feelings are caught then the two people would start dating, following the flow of a romantic relationship. There is a time frame for this too, however this one initial startup of this romance tends to be a little longer. Talking easily defined is getting to know a person better before you date. There are two types of talking, the physical kind where the guy and girl have regulated sex which lasts for a long time, and the emotional type of talking which lasts a short amount of time and leads to dating and then a committed relationship. People who talk then typically talk every day and if not it is seen as disinterest. Talking can be broken down further by age. People in college tend to talk for a shorter amount of time than high school kids, given that they go on dates to speed the process along.

 

Bibliography

Katriel, Tamar, and Gerry Philipsen. ““What We Need Is Communication”:

“Communication” as a Cultural Category in Some American Speech.” Communication

Monographs 48.4 (1981): 301-17. Web.

 

 

Noelle Mattessich 

Perceptions of Cigarette Smoking Amongst Young People on UMass Amherst Campus

Comm 375

Final Draft

Abstract:

The aim of this research study is to develop understanding of the social perceptions of cigarette smoking amongst young people. A quantitative approach was taken, distributing surveys to 25 UMass Amherst students. Students were male and female, smokers and nonsmokers, ages 20-24 years old. Surveys questioned participants’ accounts of smoking, perceptions of smoking, and perceptions of what their peers thought of smoking. The data were analyzed statistically. Years ago cigarette smoking was viewed as being sophisticated and cool. Results from the study showed participants are increasingly more knowledgeable than young adults in the past. Majority of participants did not believe smoking was cool, yet more than half said their peers did, and while they said popular kids do not smoke, they did claim that it made you look older.

Introduction:

Over the decades, research has noted that cigarette smoking and tobacco use is seen as “cool” in the eyes of preteens and adolescents. We cannot simply blame teens for thinking this way. The media have had a significant impact in creating the social phenomenon of cigarette smoking. As the study “Filthy or fashionable? Young perceptions of smoking in the media (Watson, Clarkson, and Donovan, 2001)” points out, media have an enormous impact on our society today and our adolescent years are the years we are most easily influenced. As the study entitled “Filthy or fashionable? Young people’s perceptions of smoking in the media (2001)”, points out, media has an enormous impact on society today and our adolescent years are the years we are most easily influenced. “Research has shown that the media overestimate smoking rates and often associate smoking with favorable attributes or situations (Watson et al, 2001, p. 554).”

Smoking is a significant problem worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarettes are responsible for 5 million deaths worldwide annually, and more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States alone. It is the leading cause of preventable death. Each day in the US about 2,100 young adults who were previously occasional smokers become daily habitual users. These alarming statistics show us that smoking is a problem we need to bring more attention to. Once smokers become habitual and addicted, it is extremely tough for them to quit. About nine out of every 10 smokers began smoking by age 18, and 99% have begun their habit by age 26. According to the CDC Fact Sheet, “If smoking persists at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 years of age are projected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness” (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/). If we could lower the number of young adults testing out cigarettes, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives. In order to find the root of the smoking epidemic, it is essential that we study and research young adults and adolescents who are consciously making the choice to begin the habit as opposed to adults who are already addicted.

Literature Review:

Cigarette smoking is a significant problem worldwide, killing about 5 million people annually. The CDC Fact sheet states that nine out of every ten smokers begin the habit by age 18, and 99% of all smokers begin by age 26 (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/youth_data/tobacco_use/). These statistics show that in order to find the root of why people smoke, we must examine young adults and their perceptions of cigarette smoking. This study will examine the following questions: 1. What are young peoples’ current perceptions on smoking? 2. Is smoking still considered “cool”? 3. How do adolescents justify ignoring the health risks of smoking?

Watson, Clarkson, Donovan, and Giles-Corti (2003), examined the role media have on young adults’ perceptions of smoking. The study included 16 focus groups totaling 117 school students in Australia. The participants looked at smoking images in TV, movies, newspapers, and magazines, and gave their opinions on them. The researchers noted the language the students used when discussing smoking incidents in media, as well as explored their thoughts and reactions to these images. The researchers placed the participants opinions into four main themes: physical health, mood effects, social acceptability, and appearance/body image effects. Overall 64% of media images were viewed as positively. The most regular comments for social acceptability were success, sociability, coolness, popularity, and reward. The participants explained that the people in the images looked cool because they were successful, popular, etc., and that it wasn’t necessarily the smoking itself that made the people cool. This study is connected to the current study because it looks into the “cool” factor of smoking as well as examines why young adults may perceive smoking as cool.

Jane Scheffels (2009) conducted a study that included 21 interviews with young adults ages 18-23 from Norway – all were smokers. The interviews examined three main themes: individual smoking history; smoking as a symbol; and the emotional side of smoking. Scheffels placed her results into three groups: the performative smoker; the defensive smoker; and the negotiating smoker. Most participants fit into all three of these groups. The performative smoker was labeled this way because a large amount of the participants discussed how smoking was many times a “performance” for others to see, giving them a special status amongst their peers. Scheffels explains, “Many of the accounts of smoking performances revolved around transformation of identity” (2009, p. 475). Many participants said that beginning smoking made them feel more adult-like; a transformation from childhood to adulthood. Some expressed how smoking made them cool or part of a group. The defensive smoker described others’ perceptions about the participants when they smoked. Many depicted a noted stigmatization when they smoked in public. They explained looks they received from others, the labels, and the shaking of the heads. This study is relevant to my study because it looks into the “coolness” factor and stigma, and gives accounts of perceptions from both smokers and non-smokers.

Jones, Cohen, McIlvain, Siahpush, Scott, Moorehead, and Okafor (2013) examined smoking in young adult African Americans. The researchers conducted 22 in-depth interviews with 19-25 year old African Americans. The study asked questions concerning how the participants identified themselves as smokers, why they smoked, and what they thought of those who smoked. Researchers found that many of the respondents did not know all of the health risks. Many participants said that they smoked to be socially acceptable or to influence relationships. Many women said they started smoking to change their image; becoming risk takers who didn’t follow all the rules as their families thought. Smoking being a transition into adulthood was a common response as well. This study is important to my study because it researches near the same age group as my study. The study questions how much participants know about health risks and discovers perceptions on smoking.

Ioannou (2003) conducted a study of 25 teens aged 15-17 in Greece, a place where bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. surround the teens. The study looked at the importance of health in the teens’ lives, specifically questioning their smoking, exercising, drinking, and eating habits. The participants were asked which of these activities they took part in and why. Ioannou specifically asked if the participants thought it made them look cool or gave them a certain image. When discussing their lifestyle of smoking and drinking, many teens used words like ‘great’, ‘attractive’, or ‘stylish’ (Ioannou, 2003, p. 363). The participants said they did not necessarily know why they started smoking at such a young age, but explained that it was cool. One participant explained, “There are many who might pay attention to someone who is smoking even if next to her there is someone who is not smoking and who may be even more beautiful … it is a matter of style. (female, 16)” (Ioannou, 2003, p. 363). This study includes research helpful to my study because it examines young adults’ ignorance towards health risks, as well as touches on why they choose to smoke (coolness factor, create a certain image, etc.).

Rugkasa, Knox, Sittlington, Kennedy, Treacy, and Abaunza (2001) studied younger children’s views on smoking and addiction. The researchers conducted 85 in-depth interviews with children 10-11 years old in Northern Ireland. One quarter of the children responded that they had previously tried smoking, three of them being regular smokers. The children explained that they believed nicotine and smoking addiction belonged to adults. The participants believed that children and teens regarded smoking as an activity, whereas adults experience it on an everyday basis. The children expressed ideas that smoking at such a young age would stunt their growth, would get gum disease, or just didn’t know how to inhale it. Most participants had negative opinions on smoking and believed adults smoked because they were addicted, stressed, or upset (Rugkasa, 2001, p. 596). The researchers concluded that the children were getting these ideas based on things their parents had said or done. However, even though the children had negative opinions on smoking’s health risks, they noted that smoking was perceived as cool and could help them fit into a certain group. This study is essential research for my study because these children are the age group I study, just eight years prior. The study looks at the idea of being cool and fitting in. These children grow up to be the age group I am studying, so their opinions are just as important. These five studies are similar in that they all look into the perception of smoking amongst young people. Whether the participants were 10-11 or 19-25, all researchers examined what their perceptions on cigarettes were. Most studies were done in the early 2000s, but Scheffels’ 2009 study and Jones’ study on African American young adults in 2013 help create a historical timeline on smoking perceptions.

My project extends past the research in these studies for many reasons. First off, all of these studies were done outside of the United States, so none examined my particular population- American young adults. Three of these studies are from the early 2000s, one is from 2009, and one is from 2013. My study will be updated with new data- perceptions change over time and perceptions from 2001, 2003, etc. will be outdated. Many of these studies look solely at smokers or solely at non-smokers. My study will examine regular smokers, occasional smokers, and non-smokers. The studies find out participants’ perceptions on smoking but show little research on why these opinions form. They solely look into the participants’ perceptions, whereas my study looks into the perceptions of participants, as well as participants’ friends and peers. Finally, these studies acknowledge that the participants were ignoring the health risks but did not discover why young adults do this. My study will test participants on their knowledge of cigarettes and then discover why it is they are ignoring these risks.

Data & Methods:

Aiming to get a better understanding of the perceptions of smoking among young people, and using a quantitative approach in research, surveys were conducted. I created an anonymous survey that contained the following questions:

1. What is your age?

2. Are you a smoker? Regular/Occasional/No

3. Is there an excitement in smoking?

4. Do you have friends that smoke?

5. Do popular kids smoke?

6. Do you believe smoking is cool?

7. Do others at school think smoking is cool?

8. Does smoking make you look older?

9. Does smoking make you look more sophisticated?

10. Does smoking make you look cooler?

11. Are those who smoke at your school viewed differently socially than those who don’t

smoke?

12. Cigarettes are responsible for 5 million deaths worldwide annually. True/False

13. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. True/False

14. Are those who smoke aware of the health risks of smoking?

15. Why do those who smoke continue to smoke?

A) Addiction

B) Stress-related

C) To be cool

D) Other (please fill in) ________________

Surveys were distributed anonymously to 25 UMass Amherst students, male and female, ages 20-24. The students took the surveys in-person before their journalism class started, in a quiet, classroom setting. They did not know who the researcher was, and their opinions were not affected by knowing the researcher. Surveys were given to students outside of the communication major because I did not want participants to have experience with these types of studies. If they were communications students and had knowledge of these surveys, answers may have been skewed. The students were in an upper level journalism class. I chose to implement an anonymous survey as opposed to interviews because I felt people would be more honest with their answers this way. Interviews on a touchy subject could be uncomfortable and lead to untruthful answers, skewing the research. I chose to analyze this data specifically because the responses to these questions would help answer my research questions being that they dig deeper into the perceptions and minds of young adults. The sample is representative of the population the study is trying to reach. The research was intended to be done on adolescents and young adults because these are the ages in which smoking habits begin. The students being ages 20-24 were representative of the target population because they are the age group that is consciously making the decision to begin the habit and would be aware of perceptions of smoking. It was important that the participants were students because some survey questions asked about school situations and these participants would be more aware of perceptions and activities around campus as opposed to having participants who were not students.

Analysis:

After surveys were collected and data was recorded, results were broken down into three main groups: use, positive associations, and awareness of risks.

1. Use

Of the 25 students surveyed, six identified as being regular smokers and two as occasional smokers. 88% of participants said they have friends who smoke. Almost all participants are surrounded by a smoker or at least know a smoker. Only 30% of students believed that popular kids smoke. This indicates that young adults do not associate cigarette smoking with fitting in or being included in a group of high acceptance.

2. Positive Associations

While participants said they themselves did not find smoking cool, this was not also the case with how they thought others perceived smoking. 87% of participants said they did not believe smoking was cool, yet when asked if others thought it was cool, 52% said yes. This suggests that young adults think that perceptions of smoking affect their peers more than it affects them. They believe that the coolness factor of smoking has more influence on others’ actions, but won’t make any impact on their own actions.

 

More than half of participants said smoking made you look older. However, only 13% believe that is makes you appear more sophisticated. This implies that participants believe cigarettes make you look physically older. Although you make more look more adult-like, they do not associate it with acting more maturely or classy. In fact, three participants went as far as writing in that they think smoking actually has the opposite affect, making you look less sophisticated.

Do you believe smoking is cool?

Yes No

Do others at school think smoking is cool?

Yes No 12

3. Awareness of Risks

Participants showed knowledge of the dangers of smoking. This suggests that participants are aware of the negative effects, and because of this did not want to admit that they had any positive feelings of smoking. However, still acknowledged that coolness is a perception amongst young people on campus. Between the two true/false questions looking at the participants’ knowledge of smoking, 92% and 96% of the time they were correct. This shows that young adults age 20-24 have knowledge of the risks of smoking, and majority of  the time aware of what they are doing to their bodies by smoking. 96% of participants said

Does smoking make you look older?

Yes No

Does smoking make you look more sophisticated?

Yes No 13

they believe that those who smoke are aware of the health risks. When asked why young adults who smoke continue to smoke, the majority of participants opted to say that it was for addiction and stress relief, rather than coolness. This implies that young adults don’t look for cigarettes to fit in or to be popular, rather than to deal with pressure and for reasons that seem beyond their control.

Conclusion:

Through these results we can conclude that young adults’ perceptions of smoking are changing. 87% of participants said that they do not believe smoking is cool. In Rugkasa’s interviews, most of the children believed that young adults smoked to “get attention”, “to look big”, and to “keep up with their friends” (Rugkasa et al., 2001, p. 596-597). Based off of the results of this study, Rugkasa’s study conducted in 2001 seems to be outdated. Rugkasa concluded that, “Child smokers are seen as motivated to smoke by social factors in the endeavour to achieve prestigious status among their peers, which for many includes the qualities of ‘hard’ and ‘cool’ (Rugkasa et al., 2001, p. 600).” Based off of the results of my study, these perceptions have changed. 70% of participants said they do not believe smoking makes you look cooler, and 70% also said they do not see an excitement in smoking.

One limitation of this study was not being able to ask participants to elaborate on their answers because of the written survey. I believe I could have gotten more information if I had included a few interviews, which would have been interesting and may have made my analysis more substantial. Another limitation was that as a researcher you are unable to tell if people are being 100% honest with their answers. The social desirability effect is when survey respondents give certain answers that they believe will make them be viewed more favorably. This could have swayed participants’ answers. Some would probably believe it is not socially desirable to say that you think smoking is cool. Based off of the negative perceptions of smoking, especially in the last decade, some may have even lied about their smoking experience. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell for sure who is lying and who is not, which is a limitation we must take into account with survey experiments.

 

References

Ioannou, S. (2003). Young people’s accounts of smoking, exercising, eating and drinking

alcohol: Being cool or being unhealthy? Critical Public Health, 13(4), 357-371.

Jones, P., Cohen, M., McIlvain, H., Siahpush, M., Scott, A., Moorehead, K., & Okafor, K.

(2013). Smoking in young adult African Americans. Journal of Advanced Nursing,

70(5), 1117-1127.

Rugkasa, J., Knox, B., Sittlington, J., Kennedy, O., Treacy, M., & Abaunza, P. (2001).

Anxious adults vs. cool children: Children’s views on smoking and addiction. Social

Science & Medicine, 53, 593-602.

Scheffels, J. (2009). Stigma, or sort of cool: Young adults’ accounts of smoking and identity.

European Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(4), 469-486.

Watson, N., Clarkson, J., Donovan, R., & Giles-Corti, B. (2003). Filthy or fashionable?

Young people’s perceptions on smoking in the media. Health Education Research,

18(5), 554-567.

 

 

Megan McGrath

Effects of Instagram Use on Perceptions of Mental Wellbeing

Abstract

Instagram has become an increasingly popular social media app that allows its users to edit and post photos, and to follow, like and comment on the photos of friends, celebrities and strangers. In the past, researchers have studied the potential negative effects of social media on users, however most of these studies focus on Facebook and overall general technology usage. The current study asks questions about Instagram specifically, as it is under-analyzed and rather new territory, to look at the ways in which posting and engaging with the app affects users self-perceptions of their stress and anxiety. The results show that the majority of users report sometimes feeling stressed out or anxious when posting photos, and participate in stress indicating behaviors on Instagram. Males partake in these behaviors just as much as females; users report on feeling moments of stress but do not perceive it as a long term serious issue, and other negative effects of Instagram use are revealed in the analysis of this study.

Introduction

It is obvious the extent to which technology and social media pervade the lives of so many Americans this day in age. What is not obvious however, is the way in which these technologies and media impact their users. It is absolutely vital to research and analyze the potential negative effects on Americans, particularly young adults, as our world becomes more and more dependent on these media, or otherwise we continue to be blind towards the dangers they pose. It is ignorant of society to allow social media use to become so habitual and constant in everyone’s lives without considering what it could be doing to them subconsciously. While it is true that there are many great aspects of social media that are well known, including the ability to maintain connections near and far, the less positive aspects seem to be under-analyzed or recognized. As a consistent user of social media, it is in my interest to explore such aspects as a media effects case study.

Because the topic of media effects is incredibly broad and overarching, I will be focusing on the effects of Instagram specifically on young adults’ mental health and self-esteem. Instagram is a photo-sharing social media in which users can follow friends, celebrities, even people they do not know and view the photos they post. It is a running feed of photos with captions, location tags, and people tags. Because researching its effects on mental health and levels of stress is a rather impractical process, I will be exploring how users perceive its effects on their own aspects of psychology. Rating mental health will be based upon perceptions of stress and anxiety as users engage in the common behaviors of Instagram, which indicate underlying compulsive and stress-induced activity.

Being a young adult in my 20’s and having grown up with social media by my side, I will be forming hypotheses, rather than questions about the mental effects of Instagram on users. These hypotheses will be as follows:

H1: Instagram use does increase user’s personal perceptions of anxiety and stress.

H2: With increased media/Instagram use comes increased perception of anxiety.

H3: One’s perception of his/her confidence while posting on Instagram is in relation to the amount of likes they receive on a posted photo.

H4: One’s overall perception of self-esteem is boosted with more likes and followers as a whole.

These hypotheses are drawn from the idea that social media calls for an invasion of users’ privacy: their thoughts, actions, events, travels, appearance, family, friends, etc. This invasion of privacy is then followed by scrutiny of individuals’ lives by their followers/friends online in a very concentrated manner, thus users may feel subconscious or in competition with others, along with feeling the need to portray themselves ‘perfectly’. This sense of striving to portray their best selves online and to appear popular and perfect will then translate into stress and anxiety wherein I draw my conclusions.

Methods

The research for this study was completed through online surveys posted to Facebook and Twitter. It was required that those who took the survey were 18 years of age or older, and have an Instagram account or have had one in the past. Responses from the age group of 18-26 were most relevant.

The survey consisted of 16 questions. The majority of them asked about Instagram behaviors, including: how often one posts a photo; if they send photos to their friends for approval first; if they have ever deleted a photo after posting; if they spend a lot of time editing a photo before posting; if they check Instagram several times immediately after posting; if they worry about likes and followers, etc. Some questions were asked on a scale of agreement with a statement from 1-5, some were asked with “Always, Sometimes, Never” choice responses, and some were available to choose responses under a question prompting to “Pick all that apply to your experience”. Most questions inquire about what is referred to in this report as, “stress indicating behaviors”, as they are common and seemingly compulsive behaviors done out of sources of stress and anxiety when posting. Some questions came right out and asked about perceived anxiety when posting, whether users feel stressed out when posting, whether they feel they would have less stress if they did not own an Instagram account, whether they have considered deleting their account before and why, etc.

There was also a final, optional open-response question at the end of the survey that invited respondents to offer any opinions/beliefs about Instagram as a social media, social media as a dominant force in society, or social medias effects on perceived mental wellbeing. This allowed for respondents to speak their mind out of the context of multiple-choice questions about their media opinions, if so desired.

There is a reason for all of these online behaviors, which is encapsulated in the desire for people to present their best selves on Instagram for self-esteem and confidence purposes. Not receiving a user’s perception of ‘enough likes’ or comparing one’s profile to other’s is also common, and would have seemingly negative effects in regards to levels of stress and anxiety. Not all stress-indicating behaviors were incorporated in this survey. 

Discussion

From the data, we can see that it is incredibly common for Instagram users to behave in ways that indicate underlying stress or feelings of anxiety in regards to posting photos and representing oneself online. When 66% of respondents say they sometimes or always feel stressed out or anxious when posting photos, it can no longer be questioned whether or not Instagram use impacts the mental wellbeing of its users. Not only this, but too large a percentage of total respondents chose responses that start with, “I worry about…”, “I feel I care too much…”, and “I feel the need to…” when describing their Instagram experiences. These self-proclaimed statements offer insight into what really goes on behind the scenes and in the mind and psyche of your average user’s Instagram account. Things are not always as they appear to be.

Male Counterparts

            One might presume that social media does not have the same effect on boys as it does on girls. The idea is that girls are more self-conscious, sensitive creatures and therefore would perceive experiencing more stress and anxiety while using social media sites. However, this idea does not hold true within the results of this survey. Even though the majority of males only post on Instagram on a monthly basis or hardly ever, they still admit to taking actions that reflect a sense of stress and anxiety. 53% of males say they sometimes or always feel stressed out when posting a photo on Instagram. Over one third of males said they have deleted a photo hours after posting, either because of not receiving enough likes, fear of being judged, or feeling regret. 63% report sometimes or always spending considerable amounts of time editing photos before posting. Almost half of the male respondents scored a 6 or above on the test of Instagram stress behaviors, many scoring 10s, 11s, and 12s. However, no males answered the optional open response question with negative feedback about Instagram or social media, but more indifferent or even positive reviews.

Clearly males are not exempt from partaking in the compulsive Instagram behaviors that indicate underlying stress and anxiety with usage. This finding is rather unique compared to those in the past, as researchers often focus strictly on females and the effects media usage has on them. Yet, these findings suggest we cannot limit our attention to the assumed victims of media use, as we see males are just as likely (if not more) to perceive being influenced by it.

Short Term Impacts Only

While vast amounts of respondents report on engaging in the stress indicating behaviors on Instagram, a common theme is that the majority of them do not see this being a long-term or substantial threat to their overall stress and anxiety. We see this theme within the results of how much subjects agreed with the two statements, “If I deleted my Instagram account, there would be considerably less stress in my every day life”, to which the majority somewhat or strongly disagreed, and “I feel Instagram is an accurate representation of who I really am” to which the majority somewhat or strongly agreed. These results offer the idea that people do perceive to have stress and anxiety around the times of posting photos, but it is a momentary and fleeting feeling that does not impact stress levels long term, and therefore deleting their account would not positively affect their wellbeing.

In addition to this, even though respondents often feel the need to portray their best selves online (seen through actions like taking time to edit photos and sending photos to friends for approval first), they still feel that their Instagram accounts accurately represent who they really are. This finding is quite paradoxical, because if a user often edits their photos and only chooses the best pictures of themselves to post, in what ways is that their true selves, and not just their BEST selves online? This question is an appealing one for future studies.

We also see this short-term, long-term comparison within the results of two others questions. One asked if users ever feel stressed out and anxious while posting a photo, to which 66% responded they sometimes or always feel this way (as stated earlier). However, when asked if Instagram affects their stress and anxiety levels in general, only 17% felt it did.

So while users feel stress when posting, and hope to show their best selves on Instagram, they do not believe that deleting their account would reduce their long-term stress or that it is a serious issue to their overall stress levels, and that it truly is an accurate representation of who they really are.

Addiction as Another Problem

While this study hoped to focus strictly on Instagram use and its impacts on mental wellbeing, another theme arose within the findings: that Instagram is an addictive and time-consuming media. We see this theme in a few questions, one of which asked respondents who had once owned an account but deleted it, why they had done so. The majority of responses said that it was too time-consuming or a waste of time, and addicting. These were open-ended questions that allowed individual responses, and one subject even said, “I felt obligated to view it frequently”. When asked if subjects had ever considered deleting their account, respondents that answered yes also said it was because they were on it all the time, it was a waste of time, time-consuming, addicting, and distracting.

These findings suggest users feel Instagram is the cause of their ‘lost time’ rather than their own personal use of it. The app does not require that you open it, scroll through it, and ‘waste time’ on it. These are all things users do on their own; opening and engaging with the app can be as short or as long an experience as they please. Henceforth, this indicates that there is something deeper going on than just a time-consuming social media app, but perhaps another negative mental situation that it creates also in relation to stress and anxiety levels. Users feel the need to check it often, scroll through all new photos, spend time editing their own, spend time worrying and stressing. These subconscious attachments, addictions and ‘needs’ found within users is just another tack on the list of Instagram’s potential negative impacts on mental wellbeing.

 

 

 

Louise Monroe

The†Effect†of†Advertising†on†Social†Networks

Comm 375

Case Study with Abstract

November 23, 2015

 

Introduction

As our society relies more and more on technology, we can begin to see the different ways in which it can be utilized for business purposes. As social media has become such an integrated part of our modern lives, it is logical that advertising within social media would consequently follow, as we are a culture greatly impacted and affected by material consumption. Social media provides a network of connectivity, a development of consumers poised to discuss and potentially buy products. As a larger number of people are connected, so are their opinions and connections to products. Within our social networks we continuously see our “friends” and “followers” posting about products or “liking” a brand. This web of individuals creates a massive interconnectivity of brands and products with almost unlimited consumers. We are automatically linked to reviews and opinions of people we have at least some understanding of an association with. In relation to this, we must also consider the perspective of the corporation in this equation. Brands must now consider the ways in which to utilize this network, positioning themselves in a way to be positively received by online consumers. Specifically, I am looking at corporations’ social†media†presence, rather than their more general online†presence. While online marketing continues to develop and affect the dynamic between businesses and individuals, social media has been established more recently. What ways do brands interact with users on social media in order to produce positive results? Has the personalized aspect of such marketing allowed for greater connections to be made? Social media’s connects us to the world of consumerism: we see ads, we have the purchasing access right at our fingertips, we could right then and there purchase a product. However, it calls into question how receptive were are to this as consumers. Overall, I am looking at the relationship between the role of the consumer and the role of the corporation. Particularly, I will focus on advertising campaigns on Facebook and how consumers respond to their targeting. Do these attempts induce customers’ desire to purchase or actual spending habits? Is it clear to all Facebook users that the advertisements are, in fact, a marketing tactic?

The question which I am seeking an answer to is the following:

Q∫†How†successful†are†advertising†campaigns†on†social†media¨†specifically†Facebook¨†at targeting†and†influencing†consumersø

My goal is to look at advertising presented on social media websites, in particular Facebook, to understand how it differs from traditional forms of advertising, as well as how successfully it functions. I am taking on the role of the consumer for this case study, looking directly at how the advertisements affect those who they are targeted at.

Literature†Review

Allan J. Kimmel and Philip J. Kitchen (2014) address the idea of word of mouth (WOM) marketing and its relationship to social media. When people talk to their social connections about products, similar purchasing behavior is indicated. WOM shows how successful social connections are in generating a greater number of consumer activity. Social networks represent electronic word of mouth (eWOM), an extension of this established relationship between people and products. Associations between individuals are now much more widespread through the extensive use of social media within our culture. EWOM functions at an increased level, as social networks don’t necessarily confirm that an individual personally knows their “friends” or “followers.” While many people are linked by common experience, many more are also linked through common interests.

The divisions between corporation and individual are also relaxed, as companies can directly interact with a greater number of customers through social networks: a twoway communication model is created. Things such as comment feeds, question and answer sections, and other crowdsourcing projects connect the brand to the customer in ways unavailable outside of the technological realm. In order for this to be successful, however, companies must create and maintain an online presence. Their presence will only be triumphant if their fan base continuously interacts with them and feels as if they can connect with them at any time. Social media marketing is an investment, but when successful, can gain a wider consumer base and overall greater profits. This article relates to my research because it focuses on the ability of social networks to function as an electronic word of mouth resource. Brands and corporations use individual user profiles to create more connections in order to gain more customers.

In “Social Media, Social Me: A Content Analysis of Beauty Companies’ Use of Facebook in Marketing and Branding,” researchers Bin Shen and Kimberly Bissell (2013) analyze the interrelation between social media and branding. “93% of businesses use social networking for marketing and branding” (Qualman, as cited in Shen & Bissell, 632), indicating that social media can have a profound impact on a company’s marketing strategies. This study looks at one specific industry, the beauty industry, and their experiences with social media in relation to brand awareness and brand loyalty. Social media advertising is increasingly tailored to an individual’s personal interests. Thus if they are interested in beauty products, they are more likely to see and interact with such advertisements while using social networks. Social networking websites, such as Facebook, frequently portray ads tailored to an individual’s preferences, which is why this article benefits my personal research. A user’s susceptibility to a product will be most likely increased if the products displayed on their profiles connect with their personal interests and consumer desires. Individuals are able to directly interact with brands on Facebook, providing them with immediate feedback. Most brands in the study focused on engaging with their customers and creating a sense of community, rather than constantly referencing promotions and sales. The benefit of social media for the beauty brands has largely been the interconnectivity each can have with their customers, allowing them to interact with content and representatives at ideally any time. Arguably, the most important thing a brand can provide for a consumer is trust (Powers, T., Advincula, D., Austin, M. S., Graiko, S., & Snyder, J. (2012)). Since social media and the internet have allowed for customers to discuss brands and interact with them quickly and extensively, it is important for companies to gain leverage in this system. In order to do so, brands utilizing social media marketing are gaining an upper hand over those who are not.

Social network interactivity allows brands to create connections with consumers and strengthen a relationship based on loyalty. In order to create these connections, the public must trust the corporations, either through creating an online relationship or viewing endorsements of the products from people they trust online. Visibility and flexibility of a company are important for its success as they connect with consumers through online forums. Making themselves readily available and their information easy to understand, brands can easily integrate into a person’s already existing media presence. For my research, I can examine this nearly seamless integration through the visual aspects of a Facebook newsfeed. For the Facebook user, difficulty arises in determining whether a post is something their “friends” have posted, or whether it is actually an advertisement. Brands become almost like another “friend” on a user’s profile, creating an illusion of trust.

Methods

Originally I wanted to have a focus group or group discussion in order to gather information. However, with scheduling conflicts and other logistical issues, I was unable to do this at the level I had hoped to. Instead, I decided to survey Facebook users about the advertisements they see on Facebook, and then gather conclusions from the information they have provided me with. Furthermore, the amount of data I was able to collect depended heavily on how many people responded to my survey and the information they provided. In order to study this relationship, I looked directly at Facebook, posting the survey to my own personal Facebook account. In this way, I ensured that I had reached individuals who had Facebook accounts, and therefore people eligible to be studied. In addition, the survey was made available to my Communication 375 classmates if they were interested in participating.

On Facebook there are multiple ways ads are presented and integrated into the flow of the website. On the right hand side of the layout there are multiple “sponsored” posts, therefore clearly marked advertisements. These ads differ for users, and also change quite frequently, allowing for greater exposure to more companies. You may exit out of the ads, but it is required that you indicate why you are choosing to do so, and ways to improve your ad experience. This process can be a bit annoying and laborious; it may be easier to just allow the advertisements to remain. Furthermore, advertisements are integrated into the main scrolling portion of a user’s “news feed,” in a similar format to a post they would see from their “friends.” These examples indicate their “friends” which have liked this brand, already associating individuals and your associations with them with the products. In addition, often links are available with phrases such as “shop now,” directly connecting the user with more information. These are seamless ways to spark a consumer’s interest, since they are already actively using their social media account. The connection to advertising is already part of their experience, readily available if an individual wishes to delve deeper into a particular product or brand. Due to the fact that they are numerous types of advertising on social media, and different brands frequent each person’s account, the information collected contains a range of variability.

These firsthand accounts and user perspective offered me information in regards to personal experience, rather than the thought process of the corporation. I investigated which products the user is presented with, and if there are repetitions. Is there ever any confusion whether or not information displayed is part of an advertising campaign or not? Are the products or companies shown things they are interested in, or does it seem overall a more randomized process? Do people buy, or at least consider buying, products because they have seen them on their social media accounts? How relevant are the products or companies to a user’s life? In the past, have users remembered particular ads on Facebook that seemed specifically important or personally targeted? By looking at what kind of ads are displayed, how they are integrated into the website, and if they actually influence the consumer, I found conclusions regarding the persuasive power and success of advertising campaigns on Facebook.

In order to gather this information, I presented a survey with openended questions, leaving room for personal anecdotes and explanations. I asked seven questions within the survey. 1. What kinds of advertisements do you see on your Facebook page (what brands, corporations, etc.)? 2. Do you see ads from the same companies? If so, which ones? 3. Are the ads you see products or services which interest you? 4. Do you see advertisements from companies which you have previously purchased products or whose websites you have recently visited? 5. Do you find advertisements successful? In other words, do you want to buy the products offered? 6. What about the ads (text, photos, style, etc.) makes them successful or unsuccessful? 7. Do you ever get confused about whether a post is from one of your “friends” or an advertiser? If so, what causes this confusion? Eleven people responded to my survey, with varying answers, answer lengths, and opinions in regards to the questions presented.

Results†¶†Analysis

Question†1∫†Three of those surveyed indicated they rarely pay attention to the advertisements on their screen, tending to block them out. The other eight responders all stated that clothing brands were frequently displayed in their Facebook newsfeed, such as Forever 21, American Eagle, Old Navy, Victoria’s Secret, Hollister Co., PacSun, Chanel, Dior, and Burberry. Furthermore, websites such as Amazon and eBay were often found to have advertisements on Facebook (two users indicated). Additionally, one user stated that “ I see ads that are similar if not the exact item I was just looking at. Items like clothing or even just everyday use products.”

Question†2∫†Only ten users answered question two, nine indicating that they did, in fact, see repeated advertisements. The remaining user indicated that he or she does not pay enough attention to the advertisements to have noticed a pattern. Companies and websites did not really overlap in this section but specific mentions include Etsy, Serengetee, Asos, Tobi, ModLiLy, Zulily, One Kings Lane, Forever 21, Hollister Co. Amazon, eBay, and Origins. Pinterest was also mentioned as an advertisement which a user frequently saw. However, Pinterest is technically another social networking website so it does not explicitly fall into this category. One user responded saying “ I usually see multiple ads from the same companies if I have something in my cart on an online shopping page. The items that are in my cart will sometimes pop up as an ad on my Facebook page.”

Question†3∫†Five users indicated that they were interested in the products displayed in the advertisements, four denied interest in the advertisements, and two had mixed reactions. The two with mixed reactions commented that either some of them were enticing, or that they would click on the advertisement if they saw a familiar company with whom they have shopped before having a sale. One user who thought of Facebook advertising as interesting believes the“production [is] really attractive…make[s] me really want to go to [a] shopping mall to buy.”

Question†4∫†Nine of the survey participants view advertisements on their Facebook pages from companies whose products they have purchased, or websites they have visited. Two did not have such experiences. Users responded with statements such as “t hey make up the majority of my ads on Facebook,” “these ads tend to haunt me for months to come,” and “it seems like the only advertisements I see are the ones I was just on or use frequently like Amazon.”

Question†5∫†Seven of those surveyed did not believe the ads were successful, and therefore did not want to purchase any of the advertised products. Three thought the ads could be successful, depending on the accountability of the brand or whether or not they need a certain product shown. One user indicated he or she did not usually purchase anything after seeing an advertisement on Facebook, but he or she may still “click” on the advertisement to browse the products. One participant even stated: “ I find it invasive that Facebook is keeping track of what I google so they can post an ad so I can purchase it.”

Question†6∫†According to those who completed the survey, some reasons for an ad being unsuccessful were “ uninterested in the products they are trying to sell,” “not applicable to me,” “not anything that I need,” or “try not to look at them.” Trust of a company factored in, as two individuals indicated. One said that the ads “often show[ed] false advertisements and sales,” while another believed they were “not mainstream enough, not from a company that I trust.” A user believed Facebook advertising was unsuccessful as “It goes to show that Facebook is kind of like ‘Big Brother’ and is watching our every move online.” One successful tactic was the photos of the products, according to two users, as they were enticing to the user’s consumer desires. Another considered the use of “‘clean lines,’ simplicity, [and] straightforward[ness]” to be more attractive. The physical intrusiveness of the ads was also indicated, pointing out that “they’re in the middle of your newsfeed so you are forced to look at them.” Another example of success was found “initially if an ad displays a sale it will get a lot of people’s attention.”

Question†7∫†Nine people did not think there was any confusion on Facebook whether or not a post was an advertisement or something that their “friend” had published. One who did notice confusion said, “ it says your friend’s name above the ad so it looks like they’ve shared an article when really they’ve liked the company’s Facebook page.” Another thought, “I have gotten confused between a friend’s post (page I like) and an ad’s post in the past. It’s usually an ad that links to a news story, I get these confused because I follow a lot of puff news stories and am used to these pages sharing similar news links.” Individual companies did not appear to have dominated Facebook advertising as a whole, but users frequently experienced repetition throughout their individual account. Many saw advertisements from the same companies on a regular basis. In addition, this repetition was not randomized, as the advertisements overall targeted products which they believed the user would be interested in due to their demographic (age, gender, hobbies, and so forth). In addition to that, these products were found numerous times to be ones that users had directly looked at or  interacted with in some way on the internet, such as visiting the website or having the products in their online “shopping cart.” We can theorize that Facebook attempts to use the information that a user has provided on their personal page to find advertisers which may interest them, since many users felt that the products were similar to things they liked or companies they frequently purchase from.

Another theme found throughout my research was that Facebook users found advertising on the site to be widely intrusive and unwelcome. As it seems that a user’s information and likes/dislikes must be accessed in order to determine what advertising should be presented; many felt this sharing of personal information to be somewhat invasive. Facebook users became irritated that advertisements were chosen by their digital footprint, a person’s online trail or trace.

It seems that Facebook uses what a person does online as a way to single them out for certain companies to profit off of, which in general, users were not receptive of. Even though the advertisements seemed personally targeted, users generally did not view the ads or purchase the products displayed by clicking on the promotion. The majority of those surveyed did not believe they were successful, or thought they were successful only some of the time. While this could be indicative of only my particular survey responders, they still represent a sample of overall Facebook users. What we can conclude is that although advertisements on Facebook focus on particular user’s interests and previous product searches, that does not mean that said user will purchase through Facebook advertising. It seems likely that this ineffectiveness stems out of a distrust for companies and advertisers investigating their personal preferences. Although users may be interested in the products, it is unlikely that they will utilize Facebook as a trustworthy source for which to buy through. Advertising on social networking websites appears to not be as viable an option as one may have originally thought.

Conclusion

This is just the beginning of what could be done for research, especially because I have not addressed any other social networking sites, focusing solely on Facebook. Since each social networking website varies on how the information is provided and how users interact with the medium, other social networks could be more successful in linking users to advertisements they are willing to purchase through. If I had the opportunity to continue my research on this topic or redo my current study, I would want to gather a larger sample of unique Facebook users. This would have been beneficial to my research as I would have been able to gather a more concrete understanding of Facebook users’ reactions to advertising. However, I believe my survey, although small scale, yielded interesting and worthwhile results. I recognize that posting the survey on my own personal Facebook page and in my own Communication class represented a limited demographic. While there is some variability, the majority of my Facebook “friends” are people from the midcoast Maine area, students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and my family members, due to my individual experiences.

What I found through my research were three overarching themes: repetition, intrusiveness, and lack of success. Individual Facebook users frequently saw advertisements from the same companies on their account. They also disliked what felt like an invasion of privacy from Facebook and its collaborative advertisers, because it felt as if they were being tracked or watched. Generally, the advertising efforts were found to be unsuccessful, as users did not want to purchase the products displayed to them. I believe this was due particularly in response to my other two themes: the users were annoyed at always seeing the same companies’ ads, and they felt that their privacy was disrespected as products they had previously browsed were the products they now viewed on their Facebook account.

My contribution to the overall analysis of the relationship between the social networking website Facebook and its advertising practices was found through the consumer perspective. I attempted to understand the user’s reactions and emotional responses to the advertisements rather than the advertiser’s publicized motives. While social networking sites are technically not supposed to be about profit, advertising has transformed social media users into consumers. What can be concluded from my study is that users do not like this development, and are habitually resisting it. Social networking websites have come to be about making a profit, taking away from their original purpose.

Works†Cited

Kimmel, A. J., & Kitchen, P. J. (2014). WOM and social media: Presaging future directions for

research and practice. Journal†Of†Marketing†Communications†, 20†(1/2), 520.

Powers, T., Advincula, D., Austin, M. S., Graiko, S., & Snyder, J. (2012). Digital and Social

Media In the Purchase Decision Process: A Special Report from the Advertising

Research Foundation. Journal†Of†Advertising†Research†, 52†(4), 479489.

Shen, B., & Bissell, K. (2013). Social Media, Social Me: A Content Analysis of Beauty

Companies’ Use of Facebook in Marketing and Branding. Journal†Of†Promotion

Management†, 19†(5), 629651.

 

Marina Qutab

What Prevents College Consumers From Buying Conscious Soap Products?

A Case Study

Abstract 

This case study addresses a gap in the research on consumer culture as it examines the relationship between college consumer buying behavior and ecofriendly, health friendly, sustainable, otherwise referred to as “conscious” soap products. This case study examines this relationship through an investigation built around the organic soap company Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. Not many consumers know about this company’s organic, biodegradable, health conscious products, and my question is, why? As affordable, safer soap alternatives to conventional soap products, why aren’t consumers adopting them? Is it accessibility issues? Are consumers hesitant to try something new because they think the soap products won’t be effective? Are consumers just being loyal to their usual brands? Would consumers adopt the soap products after knowing more about this company’s conscious beneficial products compared to conventional ones?

After interviewing four college consumers from The University of Massachusetts Amherst, I found that the reason why many college consumers do not know about this company is because it is not available in chain convenience stores. Chain convenience stores such as CVS or Walgreens are where all of the interviewed college consumers purchase their soap products. In addition, these college consumers have not seen any advertising online, in print, or on TV for Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. Most college consumers expressed their hesitation to buying new organic products as not brand loyalty or product ineffectiveness concerns, but affordability. The health and environmental benefits were great incentives for college consumers to buy this company’s products; however, college consumers were more likely to switch to Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve’s organic products, or any organic products, if the soap products were the same price or a price less than their current conventional product. [3]

Introduction 

My purpose in conducting this investigation is to add to the conversation on consumer behavior and help us learn more about why sustainable, affordable, health conscious soap products are not being adopted by consumers. After learning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the term “soap” and thus allows companies to incorporate any environmentally toxic or a health toxic ingredients in their soap formulations, I began to wonder what the consumer perspective was on this issue. Just from being a college student, I was able to observe in college living spaces what types of soap products college consumers purchased: Herbal Essences, Aussie, Dove, Axe Men’s Shampoo, Head and Shoulders, and more conventional, unsustainable products. However, none of these college consumers purchased conscious, safe, sustainable products.

After deciding I would switch from conventional to conscious soap products, I called my local Whole Foods Market. I inquired if they knew of any affordable, organic shampoos. They told me that a popular, affordable organic shampoo was a bar soap developed by the company Just Soap. I asked them to put one aside for me, and I drove to the store. After using it the first day, I was hooked. When I ran out of the soap, I wanted to try a different scent. Unfortunately, Just Soap only made one scent, so I googled “organic bar shampoo.” I then stumbled upon an affordable, organic, health friendly soap company called Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. Soap products that are environmentally conscious and health conscious are wonderful, but they have to actually work, right? Luckily, Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve’s products worked. They even had an option on their website for consumers to specify their skin type and/or hair type, making the consumer experience personalized and practical. I was very impressed. The effectiveness of this company’s products is really what inspired me to ask the very questions I strived to answer in [4] my case study. I wanted to start a conversation with college consumers and discover what they are thinking, how they purchase their items, and investigate the walls that separate them from better, often cheaper, sustainable soap products.

Literature Review 

Consumer behavior: why do consumers behave (or better yet, shop) the way they do? Is there something specific about a product that lures a consumer in? How powerful of an effect does advertising and product design have on consumer behavior? While reading academic articles from the consumer buying culture field, I came across a common theme: consumer buying behavior is a measurable, observable action that is influenced by external forces including advertising, product design, greenwashing and branding.

In a study conducted by Beattie and McGuire (2015), the psychological prominence of eco-labeling, and in this case, “carbon footprint labeling” is examined. They do something entirely different from other researchers in the field such as Parguel, Benoit-Moreau, and Russell and Xue and Muralidharan. Beattie and McGuire take a step back from the physical labels, and instead examine the consumers themselves. Beattie and McGuire drew conclusions from eye-tracking data, and derive the theme that product implications via advertising do affect consumer choices.

On the other hand, Xue and Muralidharan (2015) illustrated a similar theme, proposing advertising, textual environmental claims, green visuals and branding impacts consumer behavior and buying choices. Their research takes a different approach than Beattie and McGuire to studying consumer relationships with products. They aren’t studying the adoption rate of products, but instead are studying various advertising techniques to lure a consumer in. They present the idea that luring techniques are what drives consumer behavior. Consumer behavior [5] and interactions with products thus are strongly influenced by the textual information or visuals provided on the physical products.

Parguel, Benoit-Moreau, and Russell (2015) further add to this consumer behavior conversation by examining the “executional greenwashing” effect, defined as a form of spin in which green PR utilizes nature-evoking elements in advertisements to artificially enhance a brand’s sustainable, ecological image. In the previous article by Xue and Muralidharan, these researchers did not examine specifically the executional greenwashing effect. They examined general environmental claims in advertising, green visuals, and branding and the effects these claims had on consumer decision making. Parguel, Benoit-Moreau, and Russell narrowed their research to specifically studying the executional greenwashing effect to add to the conversation about consumer choices and decisions. They derived the theme that greenwashing is effective in some cases, and does indeed affect consumer choices.

Although I’ve derived a common theme from these academic articles, there are still gaps in the research. College consumers don’t know about affordable, conscious soap companies like Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, and my question is, why? Another gap in the research involves the lack of investigation around the walls that separate college consumers from conscious soap products. To add to the conversation on consumer culture and fill in these gaps, I choose to investigate one specific organic soap company, Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve. Brand loyalty, affordability, accessibility, fear of ineffectiveness– are these walls that separate consumers from organic soap products? There is also the question of what if a reliable company that isn’t greenwashing like Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve exists, but consumers still don’t buy their products? According to Parguel, Benoit-Moreau, and Russell (2015), greenwashing is established as a technique that influences consumer behavior; however, there is a lack of [6] investigation around companies that are honest, truly “green” and are still not being adopted by consumers.

Methods 

I systematically interviewed four students of the UMass Amherst Community. Two students were juniors, and two students were seniors. My goal was to learn about their consumer behaviors and attitudes towards organic, sustainable, conscious soap products. I audio recorded each interview. The questions I asked were designed to be open ended and conversational, so that I didn’t just receive “yes” or “no” answers. The first question however is a startup question, where I expected “yes” or “no” answers.

I asked the interviewees:

1. Did you know that there are thousands of harmful ingredients that negatively affect the environment and consumer health in conventional soap products because the FDA does not regulate the term “soap”?

2. What is your opinion on organic, conscious soap products vs. non-organic, conventional soap products? Do you know the difference?

3. Have you heard of the company Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve? Why do you think many consumers don’t know about this organic soap company?

4. Do you think consumers are hesitant to adopt organic conscious soap products? If so, why?

5. After scanning your current shampoo into the “Think Dirty” App, and learning about the product you currently use, would you be interested in switching over to organic, sustainable, conscious soap products that are safer for the environment and your health? Why or why not?

After audio recording each interview, I transcribed the interviews to better analyze the data and draw conclusions from them.

Qualitative Data Analysis 

One major theme I found after completing my investigation is college consumers are unaware that the FDA does not regulate the term “soap” and that there are potentially many toxic ingredients lurking in conventional soap products. Consequently, most college consumers are unable to differentiate between conscious, organic soap products and conventional soap products. This illustrates the non-transparency in the soap industry, and the lack of consumer education around environmental and health safety of soap product ingredients. Student 1, a 21 year old male UMass Amherst senior, Student 3, a 20 year old male UMass Amherst junior, and Student 4, a 20 year old male UMass Amherst junior, could not differentiate between conscious, organic soap products and conventional soap products. Student 1, claimed, “To be honest, I don’t really know the difference. Organic to me just seems like it would be more expensive.” In contrast, Student 2, a 22 year old female UMass Amherst senior, said she vaguely knew the difference between them. She claimed, “Organic products are natural and I think they’re designed for a group of wealthier individuals that can afford them.”

Another major theme I found after completing my investigation is many college consumers don’t know about the company Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve because of the lack of accessibility in chain convenience stores such a CVS and Walgreens. Student 1 claimed, “I’ve never seen or heard of these products before because they aren’t sold at the convenience store I shop at for shampoo.” If a company has a lot of money to advertise their products, this comes off to the consumer as a “better product”, adds Student 1. Student 1’s input has led me to develop a sub-theme, which illustrates the power of advertising and its ability to persuade consumers into [8] not buying conscious soap products through. Student 1 went on to argue that, “The huge barrier that separates the consumer from the organic products is lack of advertising and lack of outreach.” Another interviewee, Student 3, explained that not knowing about Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve is due to the company’s, “…inaccessibility in stores and lack of marketing outreach.” Student 3 argued, “When a soap product has been taught over and over as being effective through advertising, it almost just scares consumers to make the effort to change their products.” Student 3’s input also fits into the sub-theme that advertising has the ability to persuade consumers into not buying conscious soap products. Similar to Student 1, Student 2 explained the reason she has never heard of Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve products is because she’s, “…never seen it in Walgreens”, the place she buys her shampoo. In addition, she never came across the company’s name on social media, which is where she commonly sees advertisements for different soap and beauty products. Student 4, another interviewee, had a similar response to Student 1, Student 2, and Student 3, and explained that his unknowingness of the company is due to, “…lack of advertising on social media and inaccessibility in convenience stores.”

All interviewees illustrated the fact that chain convenience stores such as CVS and Walgreens function as “gatekeepers” for soap products, as they play a large role in determining what products succeed by only choosing particular products to sell. A company like Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve that offers certified organic, non-greenwashed, ecofriendly, and health conscious soap products does not stand a chance against big companies like Aussie or Herbal Essences because their soap products are not placed on the shelves of readily visited chain convenience stores. In addition, Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve cannot afford to place expensive advertisements, work on marketing outreach, and build a well-known brand on social media [9] platforms such as Facebook, because of their small company budget. This leads to college consumer’s unknowingness of their effective, affordable, conscious soap products.

An additional theme I found after completing my investigation is affordability is a major influential component in college consumer buying behavior. College consumers are more likely to switch soap products from conventional to conscious if the conscious soap product is as affordable as or more affordable than the conventional soap product.

I had each of the interviewees scan his or her current conventional shampoo product into the “Think Dirty” App, an app that assesses the ingredients in soap products. Every interviewee was shocked by the list of health and environmental harming ingredients. Student 1 admitted laughing, “Yeah, I would make the switch to organic now. That’s actually scary that products are sold with those kinds of harmful ingredients.” Student 1 did however mention that if the conscious soap products were more expensive than conventional products, he would be hesitant to buy them because he does not have a lot of money. After Student 2 scanned her shampoo into the “Think Dirty” app, she said, “I guess I never thought to look at the label before… Didn’t think companies would actually put our health at risk like this.” In relation to switching to safer, organic soap products, Student 2 claimed, “Yes. Definitely. Hands down I would switch to conscious products.” Student 2 admitted that if the conscious soap products were more affordable than conventional soap products, she would be more likely to permanently switch. Another interviewee, Student 3, scanned his shampoo into the “Think Dirty” app and was in disbelief. Though he recognized the benefits of conscious shampoo, he claimed, “If I am being honest with myself, I’d only buy the safer, more ecofriendly product if it was the same price or cheaper than the one I use now.” Similar to Student 3, Student 4 only felt motivated to switch [10] from conventional to conscious soap products if they were the same price or cheaper than the one he currently used because he is “on a budget.”

Conclusions 

In this case study, I explored the relationship between college consumer buying behavior and ecofriendly, sustainable, health conscious soap products. By concentrating my investigation on college consumers and their relationship to one specific organic soap company, Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, I gained a comprehensive understanding about the college consumer perspective.

Having learned that some college consumers are unaware of the FDA’s lack of regulation on soap products, there is still work that needs to be done around revealing the non-transparency of the conventional soap industry. As our global community strives to build a sustainable planet, spreading ideas on how to live conscious, sustainable lifestyles is necessary and pertinent for allowing this to happen.

Additionally, having learned from my investigation that the lack of accessibility in chain convenience stores, lack of advertising, and lack of marketing outreach are all strong barriers between college consumers and conscious soap products, investigations still need to be done around economic sustainability to uncover solutions and break down these barriers.

Lastly, my investigation illustrated product price as a large decision making factor for college consumers when buying soap products. Moving forward, further investigations can be done to discover ways small companies like Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve can effectively communicate messages to large audiences about affordable conscious soap products.

The conclusions I have come to in my investigation are steps towards understanding consumerism and the role we play (or do not play) as consumers in contributing to sustainability [11] efforts. Learning from these conclusions and investigating further will open doors to finding sustainable solutions that are conducive to a healthy, just and thriving planet. [12]

Works Cited 

Beattie, G., & McGuire, L. (2015). Harnessing the unconscious mind of the consumer: How

implicit attitudes predict pre-conscious visual attention to carbon footprint information on products. Semiotica, 2015(204), 253-290.

Foulke, J. (1992). Cosmetic ingredients: Understanding the puffery. FDA Consumer, 26(4), 10.

Parguel, B., Benoit-Moreau, F., & Russell, C. A. (2015). Can evoking nature in advertising

mislead consumers? The power of ‘executional greenwashing’. International Journal Of Advertising, 34(1), 107-134.

Xue, F., & Muralidharan, S. (2015). A Green Picture is Worth A Thousand Words?: Effects of

Visual and Textual Environmental Appeals in Advertising and the Moderating Role of Product Involvement. Journal Of Promotion Management, 21(1), 82-106.

 

Bala Sivaraman

COMM 375: Writing As Communication

Junior Writing Case Study

11/22/15

Abstract: This case study examines the portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in Indian mainstream media, in an attempt to discover how such representation, or lack thereof, impacts lgbt Indians’ sense of identity, pride, and safety. Analyzing several news articles, referencing scholarly texts, and speaking to lgbt Indian individuals about this subject, the predominant answer is that though there has not been much positive representation of gays in the mainstream media in the past, the 2010’s have seen a steady surge in such portrayals. Western progressive ideologies have served as a model for Indians for many decades, and this has continued in lieu of the advances made by the gay rights movement starting in the late twentieth century.

The Changing Face of Bollywood: Homosexuality in Indian Media

I have chosen to analyze the representation of homosexuality in Indian film, television, news articles and magazines, highlighting the underlying ideologies and indirect messages in these productions that are associated with how homosexuality is regarded. Being of Indian descent while having been born in the United States, I have strong emotional connections with two distinct cultures. The heavy influence of my elder Indian relatives on my upbringing was ever present in shaping my self-perception; I was to not to speak about romantic feelings, sexual urges, or anything of the sort. At the same time, my American peers at school and the barrage of media messages flooded me with relationship drama and owning one’s sexuality. While these cultures share many values, this contrast exemplifies that they differ significantly over sexual freedoms. In India, sexuality is a taboo subject, the hinted at only in the context of marriage and raising children. The concept of dating to find one’s romantic partner is a relatively new, Western-born practice in Indian society, as opposed to arranged marriages coordinated by one’s parents. This repression of heterosexual freedoms further restricts homosexual ones, which, along with going against arranged partnerships, is stigmatized as unnatural and wrong according to Indian legislature. As a result of such a stigma, lgbt Indians are victims of hate crimes, discriminatory policies in professional settings, familial rejection, and self-harm.

The media has an integral role in shaping contemporary ideology, and as a result of increased representation of gay, lesbian and transgender characters in Indian cinema, the negative connotation with this community has diminished. Through my case study, I have examined how lgbt representation in Indian magazines, newspapers, films, and television shows has impacted the way in which gay Indians are regarded in contemporary society. Essential to this discussion are the challenges faced by film producers of all genres who wish to incorporate gay characters, storylines, and relevant issues that affect the lgbt community within their productions. Also central is the role of religion in shaping homophobia, and the significance of media representation of marginalized identities.

Literature Review

The principal sources I have utilized to gain a more in-depth perspective on the state of homosexuality in Indian film have provided me with insight from numerous areas of focus, specifically the intersection of religion and civil liberties in shaping how homosexuality is regarded throughout the country. I have drawn upon secondary source scholarly articles that investigate the changing view of homosexuality in India and how this transition is reflected in Indian cinema.

Film critic Vivek Maheshwary provides a detailed analysis on the subject in his work titled Homosexuality in Popular Hindi Cinema. Maheshwary explains that there has been a tradition in Hindi films to constantly depict controversial topics, such as “child marriage, polygamy, dowry system, casteism and terrorism” (3), yet homosexuality has historically been depicted as a deviant or ridiculed practice. However, as the gay and lesbian movement has gained tremendous support globally since the 1970’s, there has been a significant shift in the way in which gay characters are portrayed in Indian cinema. Referencing examples of highly successful films such as Girlfriend, Fire, and My Brother Nikhil, Maheshwary highlights the emerging kind of romance film that revolves around gay characters and their struggles to maintain healthy relationships, all the while dealing with homophobic opposition from family and society in general.

The Hindu American Foundation has written a policy brief investigating the relationship between Hinduism’s stance on homosexuality. The brief provides insight into the two main ideological branches of Hinduism: Sruti, which means eternal truth, and Smriti, which are socio-religious laws and societal values that are subject to specific times and circumstances. The eternal truths simply revolve around the intrinsic equality of all human beings, with the ultimate goal of life being to reach moshka, or an escape from the cycle of reincarnation. The policy brief states that there is no mention of homosexuality in the Sruti, fostering a vague sense of which stance gays and lesbians are given. However, the Smriti is filled with archaic laws which mandate the criminalization of lgbt people, under a statute which denounces them as “acting against nature”. This article sheds light on the malleability of the Smriti, since societal laws are under constant change and adaptation. Raising the argument about who is allowed to determine what actions are “natural” and what are not, this policy brief challenges the bigoted policy makers for their religiously-based facade of lawmakers.

I have supplemented this research with my own experiences being raised by a Hindu family, who despite living in the United States, remained emotionally connected to the traditional values of Indian culture and thus had preconceived judgements towards homosexuality. My perspective as well as those of the Indian college students that I interview have provided contemporary, first hand experiences about the impact that lgbt representation in Indian media has had on our self perception and acceptance of our queer identity.

Methods

My research approach was primarily through textual analysis, autoethnography, interviews and video testimonials. Identifying as a gay Indian American myself, I incorporated my upbringing and the values and beliefs that were taught to me as a child from my family members. These values are pivotal in shaping my sense of self, as they provided a mental understanding of which attributes were desirable and which ones were not. I spoke with two other college-aged lgbt Indians to gain a better understanding of the societal pressures that they faced growing up and currently still face identifying as gay. Using this as a baseline of understanding, I  asked them how significant of a role that media representation of lgbt people and issues has on their self perception, internalized homophobia, and acceptance. In addition, I planned on speaking with Allison Butler, Professor of Communication and Advisor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Butler’s work revolves around media literacy in public education, as well as the effect of media exposure on the self perceptions of viewers. I was hoping to ask her to provide insight into the impact that representation in media has on shaping societal beliefs, though I was unable to do so.

Carrying out my research unearthed a wide variety of insight that I was previously unaware of. The first step that I took was to talk with two college-aged lgbt Indian Americans to get a sense of the role that lgbt representation (or lack thereof) in Indian media has on how they regard their sexuality. The first subject was a 21 year old female, who was born in the US but is the child of first generation immigrants from Gujarat, India. She identifies as bisexual, having only recently came out. She told me that she didn’t know of any Indian television shows or films which addressed any homosexual narrative or used any characters that were not straight, fostering the notion that there is still much growth needed in this genre. I asked her about how those in her family regarded gays and lesbians, and she explained that though her parents had gay friends, she felt that she would not be accepted if she were to come out to them, due to their attachment to heteronormative societal traditions such as arranged marriages. However, her tune changed when speaking about her family members who lived in India that were of her generation, as they were much more accepting about lgbt identities and wished to learn more. She brought up how in India today, shows such as Modern Family and Glee, which had positive depictions of gay people, were very popular especially among young viewers, emphasizing the effect that representation in the media has on shaping audiences’ open mindedness.

The second subject that I spoke to was a 22 year old male who identifies as gay. His family lives in New Delhi and he is studying at UMass as an international student. He told me that he has not come out to his parents out of fear that they will stop supporting him both emotionally and financially. The reason for this lack of support, he says, stems from the patriarchal government’s influence in dictating how gay people are represented in newspapers, nightly news, network dramas and films. As the gay rights movement has gained tremendous support throughout the past forty years, the way in which gays are portrayed in Indian media has slowly progressed from deviance and shame, to neutral and humanizing.  I looked into several major Indian news outlets’ websites (The Times of India, India West, and NDTV) to see how stories surrounding lgbt people have progressed throughout the past several decades to find an explanation for the generational divide that would explain the growing support of lgbt issues by young people as opposed to the homophobic standpoint of their parents.

Several stories as recent as 2013 on all three news outlets refer to gays only as “homosexuals”, while one story referred to a group marching in an AIDS awareness rally as “those celebrating unnatural behavior” (NDTV). However, the vast majority of stories posted after 2010 have a very supportive subtext, focusing on the love between gay couples that is the very same as those who are straight. One specific story was titled “LGBT Community walk at Connaught Place in Delhi”, where a non-government organization called Harmless Hugs organized a large parade of young gay men and women, who adorned themselves in flowers and rainbow flags and walked the streets of New Delhi while asking strangers for hugs. They carried signs that said, “I’m gay. I don’t bite” and “All love is equal”, and they were met with predominantly supportive passersby. The author provided numerous examples of these supportive people, such as a quote from one woman who said “If we cannot make a straight man have sex with another man, then how can we force homosexuals to behave like straight people?”  This research provided me with a much more in-depth understanding of the media’s role in shaping lgbt people’s’ sense of safety, pride, and understanding.

Results and Analysis

My research elucidated several core themes regarding the role of Indian media in the progression of the lgbt Indian population.  There is much to be drawn from the fact that the relatives of one of the students expressed support for lgbt people by mentioning American television shows and not Indian ones. Such an observation implies that while Indian television networks may air American television content with gay characters, Indian producers still find opposition when attempting to create such programs with Indian actors. There seems to exist a double standard with Indian audiences, where they will tolerate homosexuality and other alternate lifestyles when they are portrayed by White people, yet they consider the same portrayals by Indian actors as deviant and immoral. Fortunately, this has begun to change with the increasing emergence of gay storylines in film.

Film scholar Vivek Maheshwary highlights several high profile, critically acclaimed gay themed films produced by Indian filmmakers in an article posted to his website. One of these films, titled My Brother…Nikhil, follows the trials of a young gay man trying to find acceptance from those around him after he announced that he has HIV. Initially rejected by his parents, Nikhil relies on the support from his sister, boyfriend, and the larger lgbt rights movement to work for their acceptance. This film received tremendous support, despite the Executive Producer having to add a disclaimer prior to the film that it was a work of fiction, in order for the Indian government to allow production to take place. As Rituparna Chatterjee writes in his text 100 Years of Indian Cinema, the sexual liberation movement throughout the 1960’s and 70’s of Western nations such as the US and UK was reflected in the mainstream media such as films like Some Like It Hot, which, thanks to globalization, were shown in India. Government officials were initially apprehensive of such forward and open sexual themes being brought to Indian audiences, however it was allowed because of the conception that western values were simply different and thus did not pose a threat (Chatterjee, 3). This transfer of western media into Indian popular culture continued throughout the next few decades, fostering a significant influence over Indian producers, who began to incorporate the societal conventions of Western content into Indian productions. Though there are still subjects that are considered taboo for Indian producers to incorporate, Western media still serves as a progressive model of which to emulate.

Another principal difference I noticed through my research was the language that people from various backgrounds used to refer to lgbt people. In the articles in the mainstream Indian press that took an anti-gay stance, lgbt individuals were addressed only as “homosexuals” and “eunuchs”  instead of “gays”. Such a use of words serves to create a clear dichotomy between gay people and the rest of the population, dehumanizing them in a way that defines them solely by their difference. However, in other articles that have a pro-gay stance, such as many within The Times of India and NDTV, gays are referred to in a number of positive ways such as simply “men and women”, “young lovers”, and “committed couples”. These words are very important in shaping the public’s perception of the gay population, because straight audiences resonate with themes like love, romance, and monogamy. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of lgbt-related portrayals within the mainstream Indian media have been from a tolerant, if not entirely accepting, viewpoint.

Conclusion

My case study has incorporated a variety of sources to foster an understanding about how the portrayal of lgbt people in Indian media has affected this population’s sense of identity, pride, and safety. Overall, the findings that I have reached reflect that the media has an integral, vital role in protecting this community and helping it grow, through honest representation of out and proud gay people. Though there is much work to be done in order to advance this representation on Indian television, the film industry, internet, and magazines have made tremendous strides in providing accurate lgbt representation. By producing content that highlights the highs and lows of romantic relationships, strained familial relations, and mundane struggles that gay people experience everyday, the stigmas associated with this population will dissipate and lgbt people in India will feel more comfortable and proud to live openly.

 

 

 

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