December 20, 2008

College Papers: Social Responsibility of the Mass Media

This is a paper I wrote in October 1998 for the class Journalism 201 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

In the wake of the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, the mass media have been under extreme scrutiny for their role in influencing audiences. Supporters of the Social Responsibility Theory have called for government or self-regulation of the media by rating, blocking, or editing objectionable material from television and movies. On the other hand, groups in favor of the Libertarian Theory have declared any regulatory action on media to be unconstitutional by violating First Amendment rights to freedom of press. The local television station should follow the practices of Social Responsibility Theory because the audience is irrational, as indicated by numerous copycat incidents and extensive cultivation research.

The Libertarian Theory of mass media focuses on the press’ right to broadcast any opinion, either right or wrong, in an uncensored fashion. Libertarian Theory advocates argue that the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents any law from being passed that blocks the freedom of the press. By doing this, mass media can promote a wide variety of opinions without government intervention through regulation or other censorship.

Another Libertarian Theory belief is that the audience is a group of rational thinkers. The audience is able to distinguish right from wrong, and they are able to comprehend the difference between fact and opinion. Knowing that the audience is rational, mass media are then able to present a diverse number of ideas to everyone. These ideas can then be evaluated and tested by the rational audience.

In contrast, the Social Responsibility Theory criticizes many of the views of Libertarian Theory. The Social Responsibility Theory stresses that the audience is not as rational as the Libertarian Theory suggests. They argue that many consumers have a distorted view of the world based on television viewing.

Social Responsibility Theory also states that government intervention in media is acceptable in certain circumstances. When media are harmful or offensive, Social Responsibility Theory supporters approve of the government stepping in to regulate the media. This regulation is done through television ratings, movie ratings, or the electronic V-Chip, among other things. By regulating the media, supporters hope to curb the violent and other objectionable material seen by children and others.

In the case of the local television station, the audience, on the whole, is so impressionable that it is reasonable to take away some First Amendment rights in order to protect everyone. As seen in the following examples, without any regulation, the audience is greatly affected, often unknowingly.

In 1967, the University of Pennsylvania’s George Gerbner created cultivation analysis, embracing the idea that television viewing “cultivates” people’s views of the real world over a long period of time. Since then, numerous other studies have been done using cultivation analysis. The majority of these studies proved that heavy consumers of mass media, especially television, had a distorted view of the outside world. Many believed that the heavily violent television world mirrored reality, with heavy viewers being more inclined to purchase a gun than light viewers. Other studies have shown heavy television viewers to have a more skewed view of normal sexual behaviors when compared to light television viewers.

Along the same lines, the 1993 movie The Program depicted numerous football players lying down in the middle of a road to prove their courage. After the release of the movie, reports of car accidents involving teenagers performing similar stunts appeared across the United States. As was the case with other copycat incidents, the media clearly impacted the actions of the teenagers greatly.

Finally, the audience contains an increasingly large amount of young children. With the rise in working parent families, many children turn to television as their role model. Without parental supervision, some children are unable to make the distinction between right and wrong shown on television. In the 1960’s, Alfred Bandura ran several experiments containing videos of adults beating up a clown doll. When children saw the video, they mimicked the aggressive behavior seen in the video. As seen in Bandura’s experiment, children often mimic the violence seen on television, unaware that their actions are unacceptable in society.

Undoubtedly, some sort of restriction or regulation is needed in order to keep objectionable material away from children and the older, yet still impressionable, adults. TV ratings, similar to the ratings given to movies, help parents quickly and easily see if the content of a television show is acceptable for their children to watch. Additionally, warnings displayed in between commercials of violent television shows can also aid parents in finding acceptable viewing for their children. Unfortunately, these methods are only effective if the parent is watching the programs with their children, something that does not occur often.

A different, more radical approach to curbing the effects of television violence would be for the local television station to broadcast public service shows on successful parenting. Often, many children are not brought up knowing the difference between what is acceptable and unacceptable because their parents never taught them. With these parenting shows, more children could be brought up successfully and eventually become more responsible in consuming mass media.

The issue of violence in the media is a difficult topic to tackle. Many people believe that freedom of the press should be preserved at all costs, while others contest that regulation is needed with such a large, susceptible audience. In the end, media outlets like local television stations should take the initiative and educate their audience on the importance of being a well-rounded consumer of mass media.

December 13, 2008

How to Clean a Pizza Stone

My circa-1999 Pampered Chef Pizza Stone was starting to show its age recently. It had really dark grease and residue built up on it and was getting fairly sticky when handling.

I was running into a bit of trouble cleaning it. Because the stone's surface is pourous you never want to put soap on it. And hot water and scraping wasn't doing the trick.

The fix? I put the stone in the oven during a 4 hour self cleaning cycle. Turn off the stove and let the stone cool down with the rest of the oven. Take it out and the pizza stone looks brand new! The color returned to the original light brown and it is completely smooth. I was impressed.

Some things to note:
  • Some pizza stones are made of a different synthetic material so this method may not work on those
  • Since the stone has been returned to the "original" state, you will probably need to use it a couple of times to reseason it. I've read some say to spray the stone with cooking spray the first couple uses.

December 12, 2008

Rod Blagojevich: The Cabbage Patch Kid

I knew there was something creepy about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Rod Blagojevich looks like a Cabbage Patch Kid doll.

And he wears black shoes with a blue suit! And the palm of his hand is insanely fat!

December 7, 2008

College Papers: The Narrative Function of Mise-en-scene in Blade Runner

This is a paper I wrote in April 2000 for the class Communication Arts 350 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Ridley Scott’s 1982 futuristic science-fiction film Blade Runner tackles numerous issues concerning human behavior and emotions. In the film, the viewers follow the life of Rick Deckard, a detective in 2019 whose main job is to track down illegal replicants on earth. These replicants are nearly identical to humans in genetic makeup and appearance, yet differ from real humans due to their apparent lack of emotions and limited life span. Throughout the movie, the viewers are challenged by the overall question: Who is truly human? Is it the sometimes-heartless detective Deckard, hunting down the replicants? Or is it Roy Batty and the other replicants, whose main objective is to increase their longevity? In this paper, I will argue that the film’s usage of mise-en-scene helps the viewer understand Rick Deckard’s personal journey from a cold, emotionless detective into a complex and cunning individual. Therefore, mise-en-scene, as a narrative function, serves to help the audience understand Deckard’s character and the changes he endures throughout the film.

First, the settings in which Deckard interacts with transform drastically from the beginning of the film to the end. In the beginning of the film, Deckard is shown working mainly indoors, inside manmade buildings with sharp angles and dark, bare walls. This is most evident when Deckard is brought into the Police Station to see if he’ll come back as a Blade Runner. The Police Station is shown as a place of work, a place where protecting the city and its streets are the only tasks at hand. Deckard’s character acts similar to his environment around him in the beginning. He is very business-like in his approach to work. An example of this would be when he administers the Vought-Kampf test to Rachel at the Tyrell Corporation. Deckard answers Rachel’s questions with short answers and abrupt responses. Deckard seems to have very little emotional ties to his job and seems almost indifferent to finding the replicants.

As the film moves on, Deckard’s interactions with the environment around him start to change. Rather than working inside manmade buildings, he takes to the streets of Los Angeles to find the replicants. The streets of Los Angeles are lined with thousands of shops, bars, clubs, and hangouts, all packed with an enormous amount of people. Deckard must interact with the public in ways that he didn’t have to at the start of the movie. A prime illustration of this would be when Deckard is searching for the creator of the artificial snake in order to find Zhora. Rather than sticking to business-like answers and responses, Deckard must use his creativity and acting ability to ultimately find the replicant. This involved pretending he was from a department of “moral abuses” in order to enter into Zhora’s dressing room. Deckard changed his mode of operation to fit his environment and it ultimately paid off when he later killed Zhora on the streets.

At the end of the movie, Deckard changes his ways once again due to his surroundings. During the chase scene between Deckard and Roy Batty in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building, Deckard must adapt to being the one sought after, rather than the one doing the seeking. He must rely on his animal instincts and physical ability when running and hiding from Roy, rather than depending on his experience and charm like earlier in the film. He can no longer rely on high tech gadgetry like the picture magnifying device or Vought-Kampf test to accomplish his goals. And unlike the cold Police Station of the beginning, Deckard must endure the harsh elements outside in order to retire Roy. Ultimately, we see Deckard triumph in the end, adapting to the different settings throughout in order to accomplish his mission of retiring the rogue replicants.

Just as the setting helped the viewer realize the change in Deckard’s character, figure expression and movement also add to Deckard’s personal transformation throughout the film. At the start of the film, Deckard is summoned to the Police Station while having dinner in an oriental restaurant. After receiving the news from Gaff, Deckard seems uninterested, concentrating on the plate of noodles and sushi in front of him. He is crouched over his plate and only makes occasional impolite eye contact with Gaff. This behavior gives the viewer some key character traits of Deckard in the beginning. He seems self-absorbed and only does things that will benefit him overall in the long run. Deckard obviously holds some knowledge of replicants, otherwise the police would not be asking for his assistance. Despite his stubbornness, he eventually goes into the Police Station and agrees to help them with their cause. Yet, through Deckard’s body language, you can see that he is neither overly enthusiastic nor excited about retiring the replicants.

As the film progresses, the figure behavior of Deckard changes as well. Once Deckard begins his search for the replicants, his overall demeanor is more positive then when he was approached in the beginning in the restaurant. Deckard, like any normal person, became engulfed in his work once he realized he could accomplish his goals. For example, when Deckard was examining the picture in the magnifying device, his behavior changed quite drastically when he began to find clues. He started giving quicker, more intense verbal instructions to the device and he also got up on the edge of his seat in anticipation of the final result. From Deckard’s body language, the viewer can see that he is now truly dedicated to finding and retiring the replicants and he is not simply going through the motions.

Similarly, Deckard has an obvious attitude change when the character of Rachel is introduced. Initially, when Rachel comes to Deckard’s house to ask if she’s a replicant, Deckard tries to play it cool by telling her a story. His body language is very relaxed as he lounges in his chair and tells Rachel her imprinted memories from Dr. Tyrell. Yet, when Rachel becomes disturbed over the news that she is indeed a replicant, Deckard quickly tries to console her by telling her it was a joke. Obviously, he is interested in Rachel, either sexually or in a non-sexual manner. If he were not interested, he would not have cared about harming her with the truth and went on with his life as usual. This type of behavior from Deckard clashes with his personality from the beginning, when he cared only about himself and only watched out for himself.

Towards the end of the film, Deckard’s figure behavior once again helps the viewer understand his overall transformation. As Roy is chasing Deckard around J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building, the viewer can visually see that Deckard is distressed. Unlike other parts of the movie, Deckard is breathing hard and his eyes are tense with fear. This is especially evident, rightfully so, when Deckard is hanging from the side of the building with only a couple of fingers. The cockiness and smooth behavior of the earlier Deckard is replaced with the scared Deckard of the present.

As Deckard is hanging from the building, a wide range of emotions are displayed when Roy suddenly grabs on to the slipping Deckard to pull him up to safety. The smooth and cocky Blade Runner had been rescued by the supposedly emotionless replicant. Deckard’s figure behavior was one of shock and disbelief, wondering how a replicant could save a human life. As Roy spoke his final speech on the apartment rooftop, Deckard sat still and motionless in the rain, unable to comprehend the interaction that had just occurred between Roy and him. The silence was only broken when Gaff came and spoke. This type of outpouring of emotions is almost unfathomable when you look at the figure behavior of the cocky Deckard in the beginning of the film. Yet, this display of emotions shows the true changes that Deckard’s character goes through in the film.

Obviously, through the usage of mise-en-scene, viewers of Blade Runner can see the true transformation of Rick Deckard’s character. In the beginning, Deckard is portrayed as an apathetic, listless detective who doesn’t care about anything but getting his job done. Yet, through different settings and figure behaviors, the viewers can see that the beginning assumption of Deckard’s personality was indeed incorrect. Deckard, while not being the most lovable person, goes through a major character transformation that in the end shows off his true versatility. Without the film’s usage of mise-en-scene, this versatility would have been lost, leaving Deckard as cold and lethargic as when we first met him in the oriental restaurant on the streets of Los Angeles.

December 1, 2008

Under Armour Basketball?

There's a new trend in NCAA college basketball uniforms this year. And I'm not a big fan.

Skin tight undershirts.

With the prevalence of Under Armour clothing worn by collegiate athletes, this is not a surprise. But the look on the basketball court is not good. It reminds me of a grade school player who forgot his "regular" shirt to wear underneath his uniform so he had to put on his dress undershirt.

The phenomena is not limited to short sleeved shirts.

Ug. I blame Reggie Miller for that look. Let's hope the extra sweat created by wearing long sleeves is wicked away by the magic microfibers. (And, yes, I'm aware Oklahoma is a Nike school and Crocker is most likely wearing a Dri-FIT shirt).

Sidebar: While we are on NCAA Basketball fashion, can we get rid of the headbands (I'm looking at you Tennessee)?

November 30, 2008

Presidential Pardons

Every year around Thanksgiving, the President pardons a turkey or two. As President Bush's second term comes to a close, requests for legitimate human - citizen presidential pardons are coming in from all directions. These requests need to be weighed out in accordance with the U.S. Constitution which states:

[The President] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

Who was one of the most recent people to be pardoned by President Bush? Former Fugees music producer John Forté who was in trouble with the law after being caught with $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine at an airport.

Somehow, I don't think this was the type of person that the Founding Fathers had in mind when dreaming up the power of presidential pardons. Even if he didn't receive a fair trial, shouldn't this type of case be taken care of via the court of appeals system?

Related Links:
  • The song We Trying to Stay Alive by Wyclef Jean mentions the producer on a pretty consistent basis

  • The website Free John Forté is still under construction with a non-functioning countdown clock to his release.