International Communication

Welcome to our blog, we hope that through our thoughts, opinions, and criticisms (constructive of course), you will come to love the field of international communications as much as we do!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Edutainment - does it work?

This past week's class featured two great presentations but I was particularly interested in the group that focused on edutainment, a strategy which harnesses media for educational purposes.  It seems like a great way to diffuse important information on health and pro-social behavior to those who may not be so responsive to traditional methods of health education, such as pamphlets.  Further, it does not discriminate based on education, and in some cases like Sesame Street can teach literacy in alternative ways.

However, after reading Silvio Waisboard’s Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication I definitely see where there can be particular issues with edutainment, especially Sesame Street which is distinctly Western in methodology.  Waisboard notes that edutainment, “subscribes to the Shannon-Weaver model of communication of sender-channel-message-receiver, a model that does not take culture and other environmental factors into account.”  In layman’s terms: how we perceive our message to translate does not always get interpreted the same way by the receiver.  Nigeria’s Sesame Street may have changed names, food groups and certain characteristics, yet the communication methodology is still the same therefore while on the surface Sesame Street is accommodating cultural norms, is it really digging deep enough to respect culture that is below the surface? 

Sesame Street in Nigeria has only been in place for less than a year, so its success is still undetermined.  I remain skeptical, especially considering that other forms of edutainment that are grassroots, such as Soul City in South Africa do not have an overwhelming amount of research that supports it as successful (per the group’s presentation).    

- Claire

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"If you see Muslims, say something."

The readings for this week talked about "social marketing," the concept of using the techniques of  commercial marketers to promote "pro-social" behavior.  No matter where we come from or what culture we belong to, there are probably a few things that all Americans agree are vaguely pro-social: driving responsibly, not littering, eating a healthy diet.  While most of us are likely to fall into these behaviors at least once in a while, there seems to be a general consensus that these are good things to work on.

The problem comes when we fail to look at the subtle agendas being promoted by the social marketers.  A recent example that stands out is the "If you see something-say something" campaign.

We've all heard this phrase or seen it in advertisements.  It's a trademarked phrase thought up by the Department of Homeland Security.  Just a friendly reminder to spy on your neighbors.  What could be more "pro-social" than fighting terrorism?

I'm surprised that more people aren't concerned about this campaign.  It's a brilliant strategy.  The government would catch a lot of flack if it said "If you see Muslims, say something."  As a string of recent articles have shown, this is the kind of language they reserve for their internal FBI training manuals (   It's what they want the public to think, but saying it is just so tacky. 

They have a much vaguer social hygiene message for public consumption.  The "something" that you see is left up to the viewer's discretion.  In the case of one guy I know, who is Indian and darker-skinned, someone reported him for timing the amount of time between each subway car.  Apparently this was all that it took to get him questioned by the police on his way to work.  But it's better to err on the side of caution and assume that everyone is a terrorist.  At least that's the message we're getting.  

As the recent shootings in Norway showed, there is simply no way for the public to gauge when these sorts of things might happen.  A blond-haired, blue-eyed police officer-the type most people would rush to and report a certain "something"-could turn out to be the real criminal we should be worried about.  This social marketing campaign should be called out for what it is. Rather than make us safer, it's there to give us a creeping sense of paranoia, until the only ones we feel we can trust are the friendly faces smiling at us from the other end of the surveillance camera.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Community Media as Counter Hegemony

Building from the Pandason Cooper’s Group Presentation, radio broadcasting and community media has an important role to penetrate message into society. Broadcasting has always been “the battle arena” for meaning of those who seek "power". It consists of two poles of interest, we/society/us-the-people vis-a-vis broadcasting media owner. This battle-meaning arena ideally should stand side by side with us-the-people. Thus, it serves as a tool to encourage people for being critically conscious. Such partisanship is essential in the “battle” against the hegemonic system of domination. Gramsci suggests that us-the-people should build a counter discourse. It is a way to counterbalance the hegemony and domination.

In the broadcasting world, this task actually do bestow upon the community broadcasters. Why is that? In philosophical standpoint, community broadcasters are very different from the private ones. It is an institution formed by the citizens' initiatives. It aims to meet the needs of citizens for information on economic, social, and cultural issues. These community institutions are formed to strengthening the citizens’ critical awareness to all potentially exploitative and dominative things. On that basis, it is a must that the community broadcasters should win consensus on the Habermas’ struggle for meaning. They—the community broadcasters—should be able to reverse the dominant culture, even in more ambitious goal; they should be able to force the capitalists to meet with the community needs.

Now our question is whether our community able and willing to be bestowed with such task? Which is serving as counter hegemony. Hegemony in this case, the one comes not only from foreign but also from state domination.

By the way, I really enjoy the Pandason Cooper 360 today! Maybe after this there will be a PNN, a Panda News Network as one of the community-based media. Hahaha...just saying! (L)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some concepts que me gustan

For this blog post, I would like to go back to some of the concepts we've previously discussed, simply because some nice discoveries compel me to do so. In the last few days, I've seen a few nice examples of (1) hybridity and (2) participatory culture.

The first one is a mix between Latin American culture and cyber culture, which is highly influenced by American culture. It's the “Me gusta” video, which uses the Venezuelan song “Me gustas” and pairs it with the “Me gusta” face from the Rage comics. For those of you who are not too into cyberculture, here's some examples of rage comics and some explanations about them.

Me gusta is a Spanish phrase, which English speakers on the net have appropriated and paired with that weird face. But these Rage Comics are widespread, and there are Spanish versions of them. For example, there's a Puerto Rican group on Facebook called Partido Trolinista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Trolling Party), which creates and shares a lot of these. In fact, their logo is a mix between the Me gusta face and Che Guevara. Underneath it says: “Che gusta?”. So Spanish speakers have retaking the phrase and appropriating the face. Yet, they're still able to share the joke with English speakers because they added subtitles that perfectly go with the song.

These are also an examples of participatory culture. In the case of the video, the creator took the images (which have no copyright and are freely available on the net) and a portion of the song, and made a creation of his own to share with other users. The Partido Trolinista also represents an example of this. It's the sort of satire that one of our papers was talking about in the context of China (though, obviously, we do not have the same censorship problem). Those who in other times would have been consumers of satire are now also producers. It's a great tool of empowerment and political speech.

My last example is this fan movie that was posted on MTV recently. Great example of participatory culture! Sailor Moon is a manga and anime that was popular in the 90s. With a $5000 budget, Elana A. Mugdan made a 20 minute film based on the manga that even has an IMDB page. According to the page, the money came from fans around the world and the producers' personal savings.

These are fascinating examples of how far consumers' imaginations can go with the aid of new technologies. They also show how the Internet is a meeting place for different cultures, but also a place where they converge, remixing and transforming some of their elements.

Learning our lessons?

Kristen Lord and Mark Lynch's report for the Center for New American Security details the issues hampering Barack Obama on foreign policy. Specifically, they mention what a great speaker he is, but that his actions have not delivered up to his talk. Their research mirrors what Joseph Nye states in his article on Soft Power, that public diplomacy only goes so far and that policy has to match public diplomacy, otherwise it loses credibility. This is a major issue for the US, and Obama, especially as we draw closer to elections.

One of the most important countries where the US is losing credibility today is in Pakistan. The US spends millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, while trying to win over the skeptical Pakistani public. However, when US drones kill twelve Pakistani soldiers (as we recently did) we can see that policy is not mirroring diplomacy efforts. The US has now been forced to close one of its drone bases in Pakistan as it trieds to appease the current government and avoid more international outrage.

This is just a recent example of the consequences that can happen when public diplomacy efforts don’t match policy; however it is an ongoing problem. The US cannot afford to maintain its short term memory of the importance of public diplomacy and that it is a compliment for policy. The fact that there are still debates about the importance of public diplomacy after the Cold War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is disheartening. Do we really need someone to tell us over and over again that diplomacy has tangible, worthy outcomes? 

The JET program and US Public Diplomacy

This week’s readings revolved around the discipline of Public Diplomacy. Most appropriately, Joseph Nye’s piece, Public Diplomacy and Soft Power was assigned.  In Nye’s work he first defines the purpose of Public Diplomacy and then its methodology, including his three dimensions of public diplomacy: daily communication, strategic communication, and development of lasting relationships.  Nye then evaluates various types of public diplomacy worldwide from all three dimensions and makes recommendations for the US’ future course of public diplomacy.  One of these recommendations is practicing isomorphism in regards to Japan’s JET program and others like it, where the Japanese government invites foreigners to spend a paid year in Japan teaching their language and culture.  Nye believes that the alumni of a similar program hosted in the US would create groups of informal US cultural ambassadors across the world, which could remain connected via the Internet. 
                  As the US receives harsh criticism and negative public opinion from around the world it seems an opportune time to engage in a US version of Japan’s JET program.  American’s foreign language abilities are well below world standards, and American’s exposure to world cultures and affairs are similarly low.  A teaching program bringing native speakers to the US for a long period of time in an immersed community could have a two-fold effect where US citizens are given a more dynamic educational opportunity, while foreigners are exposed to the US culture beyond that of their own media.  
                  With that said, there are many hurdles in putting a program like this together in a post 9/11 America, particularly in regards to visas.  One of the criticisms of the US is it’s expensive and arduous process of arriving here, first through obtaining a visa and then the probable search and question routine at the airport.  Many foreigners have reported that they feel unwelcome when they arrive in the US and that is from their first experience at the airport!  There must be other hurdles and issues as to why a US JET program has not been created in America, likely including funding.  Please write a comment if you know other educational exchange program issues or if a similar JET program is currently taking shape here in the US.

- Claire

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Public Diplomacy" is a strip club where propagandists give lap dances to their imperialist sugar daddies.

In the article "A 21st Century Model for Communication in the Global War of Ideas" the authors are fond of tossing around the terms "strategic communication" and "public diplomacy."  I find these terms offensive.  The fact that these terms are being used more and more often, and the fact that their use is rarely challenged, shows that we are living in the midst of a "Global War of Euphemisms," rather than ideas.

Back in the day propaganda was called "propaganda."  The Department of "Defense" was more accurately named the War Department.  "Biosolids" were known as toxic sludge.  "Extraordinary rendition" was known as torture.  You get the point.

The authors of this article are repeating a message that has been so fashionable that it has become a cliche in papers on communications theory.  The United States is failing to spread its message to the world.  If we could only come up with the right buzzwords, a better catch-phrase, or a more clever jingle the other 95% of the world's population that isn't American would rush to embrace us with open arms.

The article talks about how one Muslim cleric described "democracy" as a religion.  It's true.  Instead of being accompanied by Crusaders, witch trials, and the wrath of the Spanish Inquisition, "democracy" is followed up with cluster bombs, depleted uranium, waterboarding, drone attacks, and CIA-backed death squads.  People that fail to realize this will continue to be left scratching their heads and asking themselves, "I wonder why they don't get America's message?"

The authors of this article, and their fellow propagandists at the Consortium for Strategic Communication, are the shock troops in the latest mission to sugar-coat American imperialism.  We have a global war for resources, which we euphemistically refer to as a "war on terrorism."  But the "War on Terrorism" has gotten a lot of bad publicity, so now it's being spun as a "War of Ideas."

Given the successes of the "War on Drugs," the "War on Cancer," or the "War on Poverty" it should be obvious that declaring war on something is a surefire way to make it worse.  Now that a "War of Ideas" has been launched, we can sit back and watch as the free discussion of ideas atrophies and withers away.  If ideas are really "bulletproof" as the tag line from "V for Vendetta" says, then we need to take a few pot shots at our own ideas of American exceptionalism and see if they stand up to the test or not.