Out with the old, in with the new

In numerous essays today about media, many begin with the predictable and trite “In today’s digital age…”.

Old VS New Media

Indeed, we are living in an age where the proliferation of new media is taking over traditional media like the good ol’ radio and television.  New media is easily distributed and allows greater control among its users, as compared to old media where distribution is limited to the usual printed and broadcast media.

What used to be eons of time spent in front of the television is now converted to time spent online. Even existing TV shows are being viewed via YouTube or other downloadable video sites. With the ubiquity of new media products, we are becomingly increasingly connected, getting the latest news updates without having to flip a TV or radio channel. As a technogically unsavvy individual, I am like a fish out of water, born in the wrong era where the advent of new technology is taking the world by storm. Although I own a Blackberry, I am still clueless about its functions. Smartphones aren’t smart if the user isn’t, sad to say.

Just a few days ago, I spotted an advertisement in the TODAY paper about iTODAY on Blackberry. Many other publications like The Straits Times also have its services as an iphone application. These forms of new media are able to overcome barriers of time and accessibility. In light of the recent earthquake in Japan, throngs of people update themselves on the latest situation via their handphones. Not to forget, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are also various sources of information, which are also accessible through handheld devices.

In just a few days, Apple’s iPad 2 will be launched in Singapore. That is barely a year after the launch of its first iPad. Co-founder and Chief Executive, Steve Jobs, tells you more.

The speed at which technology develops is so quick that before one can decide on whether to buy the iPad, a newer version pops up. Functions aside, the iPad 2 is yet another electronic gadget for individuals on the go.

According to Marshall McLuhan’s (1967)  Media Determinism theory, the medium is more important than the message. He argues that ‘What’ we say is not as important as ‘How’ we deliver it. New media, through new technology, is the medium through which messages are delivered. More than before, the internet has the ability to change our experiences and affect the way we live our lives.   The widespread distribution of new media and technologies today are important tools that determine the news we receive as consumers. As such, old media are becoming mediums of messages that are losing their significance as technology continue to advance at a rapid rate.

It will only be a matter of time before traditional media will lose its foothold in today’s digital era. What do you have to say to that?

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March 27, 2011. Uncategorized. 22 comments.

Insidious Imperialism

Take a look at the pictures below.Suppose you were shopping around for a pair of shoes. As you scan the interior of (lets say, World of Sports), you come across a few brands shown above. Would you make a beeline for Li Ning? Or would you go for the other more popular brands? If you chose Li Ning, you are probably an ardent supporter of the label. Most people would go for Nike or Adidas (I know I would) because of its popularity, brought about by the revolutionary Western culture that is taking the world by storm.

This hypothetical scenario is a classic example of how brands created by the West are able to influence the choices of millions worldwide. An article from The Straits Times published on 5 March 2011 inspired me to pen this entry.

The link to the article can be found here:

ST Article

To summarize the article, Chinese brands like Li Ning and Peak are attempting to globalize their brands into the overseas markets. In order to compete with global giants, particularly those in America, Li Ning has stepped up their game to increase their likability through famous sport starlets. Having signed on players from the American National Basketball Association (NBA), Li Ning edges ahead of other Chinese brands because of the boosted credibility from well known sports players.

At the end of the day, do you think it’s possible for Chinese brands to one day dominate the market? I doubt so. Western brands are seen as far more superior than Chinese ones. “After all, many Chinese still look up to the West”, says sports products analyst Ma Gang. Although it may be too extreme to conclude that China’s culture is facing a dilution in terms of brand positioning, it still remains a fact that the Western culture has diffused across China, seizing particularly the youth who deem Nike and Adidas as cooler brands than domestic ones.

The reason why foreign sports brands are able to dominate China’s market is largely due to marketing. With larger advertising budgets of close to $2 billion, global giants are able to market their brand through various media mediums such as television and the internet. Chinese brands, on the other hand, lack big budgets to advertise globally. Through various forms of advertising like television commercials, Nike is widely recognized not only in China, but everywhere in the world. Even though Li Ning and Peak are attempting to draw crowds through celebrity endorsements, the fact that they have to make use of stars from the American NBA is a sign that the US still reigns when it comes to cultural dominance. To add on to the global marketing of sports brands, the US mass media industry is simply dominating the global mass media industry. With television programmes, movies and commercials arriving in waves, the American culture has succeded in infiltrating the global media, possibly devaluing the receiving country’s cultural values and beliefs as a result of American ‘propaganda’.

Cultural Imperialism?

Two words can be used to sum up this entire post – Cultural Imperialism. The one-way flow of international messages or media products has injected the culture of one society into another. Countries like China have been indubitably influenced by the West; the article extracted from The Straits Times serves to support my view on America’s cultural dominance. Alongside other examples of cultural imperialism, it remains an indisputable fact that the West will continue to hold its reign in the global media industry.  

Food for thought:

– Do you agree that Western countries have exerted a large amount of influence in our society today?

March 13, 2011. Uncategorized. 16 comments.

The Naked Truth

What were you thinking of when you saw this photo?

If you judged these men based on mere visual perception, you were probably unaware of the reason behind their skimpy outfit.  These men were scantily clad for a significant purpose; it is for a festival known as Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival), a festival held once or twice annually in Japan.

The following is a short clip of the festival which took place on 15 February 2011 at Inazawa City, Japan.

Dressed in just a g-string lookalike piece of loincloth covering the bare minimum of their private areas (mind you, it is still winter over in Japan), the festival is traditionally participated only by men. Among the thousands of nearly naked men, there is one dressed only in his birthday suit, obscured among the rest. This man, known as the Shin-otokoa, is chosen to be the absorber of all bad luck and evil deeds. Everyone desired to touch this person because the local shinto tradition believes that all misfortune will be absorbed by this naked man. (For more information on Hadaka Matsuri, click here)

Outrageous, you might think?

In a relatively conservative society like Singapore, nudity is illegal. Go bare and you will be caught by law enforcers. An excessive display of skin is also frowned upon by many, therefore it is not surprising for us to raise an eyebrow when we witness unusual festivals like this happening in other parts of the world. Such events are beyond the norm of  Singaporean culture, and by measuring our culture against the norms of another makes us guilty of ethnocentrism.  Judging another’s culture acts as a  barrier to intercultural understanding, causing us to easily misunderstand those beyond our cultural beliefs.

Just imagine, if you, as a Singaporean, migrate to Japan without prior knowledge of their history and culture. You would experience culture shock when you witness these throngs of nearly naked men parading on the streets. Your experiences in your own country’s culture cannot be brought over to unfamiliar situations to help you make sense of what is going on.

Besides ethnocentrism, anxiety and tension, there are also other intercultural barriers that impede our understanding of members of another group. These are generalizations and stereotypes. I suppose it is very natural for us in general to form stereotypes about particular groups of people based on prior understandings regarding their culture. Don’t you think that the photo above has an uncanny resemblance to sumo wrestlers as we know them?

Sumo Wrestling

With sumo wrestling being a famous sport originating from Japan, there is a high tendency for us to link the participants of Hadaka Matsuri to sumo wrestlers simply based on their similar looking outfit. We generalize that Japan is particularly famous for this culture and may perhaps draw the conclusion that this country is a very liberal society with no strict rules regarding nudity like Singapore.  Subsequently, the danger of stereotyping the Japanese as people infamous for wearing loincloths may come into play. As a result of this stereotype, what is seen as significant to the Japanese may be watered down by our perceptions. Our understanding of Japanese culture is distorted if we draw conclusions haphazardly based on generalizations and stereotypes.

In intercultural communication, we often find ourselves possessing attitudes that diminish our understanding of another culture. These barriers prevent us from objectively processing the culture of another country before judging them based on what we perceive. To remove such barriers, we have to be open minded and embrace the beauty of cultures differing from our own.

Food for thought:

Have you been guilty of judging another culture based on what is seen as not the norm in Singapore?

March 6, 2011. Uncategorized. 15 comments.

They Make the Decisions

American Idol

Year after year, I never fail to catch the auditions of American Idol. From amazingly captivating auditions to the downright hilarious, every contestant hopes to hear the magical words, “You’re going to Hollywood!” But the fate of every single contestant is determined by one group of people – the judges.  

In virtually every competition, there are always a panel of judges. Have you ever seen a lone ranger do the judging before? Rarely. Having a group of expertise to critique the performance of contestants adds credibility to a programme, ensuring the quality of the contestants that make it. Each judge’s opinion is important in formulating certain decisions that make or break a contestant.  

The judges in American Idol are an example of a group, having a minimal size of three. In previous seasons, the panel comprised of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, as well as Kara DioGuardi, who joined the eighth and ninth season. But the departure of Abdul, Cowell and Dioguardi as judges in 2010 meant that new replacements had to fill up those empty slots. These new members came in the form of Aerosmith member Steve Tyler and the ever famous music icon, Jennifer Lopez. When the organizers were sourcing for potential judges, Tyler and Lopez were prospective members. Having strong credibility and background in the music industry, these individuals soon became new members in the judging group for the latest season. 

Original Judges. From left: Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell

Current judges. From left: Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steve Tyler and host Ryan Seacrest

As a group of judges, their specific roles in the initial stage of the competition are to give comments on an audition and decide individually whether he or she should “go to Hollywood”. Discussions are seldom involved between each judge. In subsequent stages of the competition, collective decisions have to be made and we see how the judges interact progressively with each other to determine the fate of each contestant.

Season 10 of American Idol revealed the top 24 this week. At the final stage of auditions, the judges have to agree together as a group who they want to stay or leave. The following clip is an example of a contestant, Jovany Barreto, receiving news from the judges regarding his fate.

Tying all these back to concepts relating to group communication, we identify firstly that the judges in American Idol are a group because of their task interaction, which is one of the two components in group interaction. Task interaction involves communication and behaviour around a task which is important to the group. In this context, their task as judges is simply to decide who’s in and who’s out. They have to effectively convey their opinions to one another and come to a conclusion pertaining to who they want to see in the top 24.

The next element that identifies them as a group is goal-orientation. These judges exist with the purpose of providing feedback to improve the quality of future contestants, apart from making important decisions as mentioned above. The group revolves around collective goals, and it is clear how the judges are structured for a particular purpose.

In our lives, every one of us belong to a group in some way or another. Your clique of friends in school, your project work group, your teammates and so on. We establish ourselves as belonging to a group based on the characteristics that defines one.

Food for thought:

How have particular groups in your life influence you and your behaviour?

Do share (:

February 26, 2011. Uncategorized. 14 comments.

Be My Valentine?

Love is in the air this week.

Simply observe the splendour of flowers and balloons around and we are able to conclude the onset of a special event – Valentine’s Day. A day where cupid strikes.

The whole notion about love inspired this particular entry.

Following last week’s discussion on verbal communication, this week’s entry will focus on the nonverbal aspect of communication. It is important to remember, however, that in reality, nonverbal cues interact with verbal cues; both are inseparable from the other.

In a social context, situations like dates involve both verbal and nonverbal behaviour and communication. But I shall focus on the latter. Amidst my hunt for interesting videos, I chanced upon an interactive web series on YouTube about dating. The videos, collectively titled 8 Dates , feature a socially awkward female, Ava, on a quest to find a boyfriend before Valentine’s Day. (Find out more about 8 Dates )

Each separate clip features the female lead going on a date with different individuals. As we follow her on her journey, we can observe and pick out the use of nonverbal communication in everyday lives. To assist in my analysis, I have selected the more recent one being posted on 5 February 2011.

5 Feb 2011. 8 Dates: HAUNTED By Your Ex.

Well, the above clip isn’t your typical date. But nonetheless, we are able to identify specific nonverbal cues based on their interaction with each other.

The first type of nonverbal communication that is most widely observed on a date is that of Kinesics, or body language. More specifically, a type of kinesics known as affect displays are prevalent as we notice an array of facial expressions in the clip by both parties. At the very beginning, the male lead’s facial expression communicates the message that he isn’t enjoying himself (He substantiates that via verbal communication by explaining the breakup with his ex girlfriend). Subsequently, throughout the date, his facial expression simply stuck at the stage of sorrow, because everything reminded him of his ex girlfriend. The female lead is similarly flustered when everything she said or did reminded her date of his ex, and this emotion was expressed through her facial expression.  

The inability to move on and get over the breakup can also be a nonverbal cue. Time conveys meaning, and in this context, focuses on the male lead’s association with time. Him being so wrapped up in past memories delivers the idea of Chronemics – the study of how time affects human behaviour.  In short, the sequence can be described like this: Stuck in the past – behaviour affected – date failed.

In dates, eye contact (Oculesics) is also a very important code of nonverbal communication. Meaning is associated with the eyes even though no words are spoken (Imagine a very much in love couple gazing into each other’s eyes. They love each other, no?). In the video, the male lead seldom makes eye contact with the focal of his attention – his date. Eye contact conveys meaning like interest and attraction. But the guy, obviously self absorbed in his past, constantly shifts his gaze, denoting his awkwardness and lack of attention towards this date.

Essentially, nonverbal communication is prevalent in many more ways than we can imagine in our lives. Dates require interpersonal communication, and this video is a bad example of a great date. But what we can draw from this is the use of nonverbal cues that if, understood thoroughly, signify a more successful date to come 🙂

Food for thought:

Are there other examples in our lives where nonverbal communication is used?

February 19, 2011. Uncategorized. 14 comments.

Homecoming

A plethora of local productions are being churned out this lunar new year, such as It’s a Great Great World and Homecoming. Companies are jumping on the bandwagon to produce local movies to exploit the festive period. Just last week, I noticed a surge in the number of families watching movies on the second day of the Chinese New Year. These family friendly productions successfully cater to the needs of people wanting to spend some time with their loved ones.

Homecoming 2011

It's a Great Great World 2011

 

I’m not sure how many people in our community support local films, but I admit that I’m not a local movie fan. The latest local production  I caught was “Money No Enough 2” way back in 2008. However, after watching the trailer for “Homecoming“, I felt the urge to catch it because of  a sense of renewed hope for the local movie industry. Based on the trailer and synopsis alone, I was able to draw out concepts covered in class this week. Under the umbrella term of Verbal Communication, I think it is only appropriate to focus on a number of concepts for deeper analysis. These concepts are namely the use and impact of language and the language-based barriers to communication.  

After a couple of female impersonations in the past that propelled him to fame, Jack Neo is back with a new character in the form of an immaculate lady by the name of Karen Neo in “Homecoming“. Names help to define the identity of the people we attach them to. Holding household names like Liang Po Po (1993) and Liang Si Mei (1995) gives Neo a distinct identity and differentiates one character from another. Despite being the same person, impersonations with different names allow the audience to recognize the characters that Neo is portraying.

See trailer below:

In the trailer, we see Mark Lee as an overbearing chef with an accent. Based on preconceived generalizations and stereotypes, it is fairly simple for the audience to conclude that Mark Lee hails from Hong Kong in the movie. His pronunciation and infusion of the Cantonese dialect in his speech led the audience to classify him as a Hong Konger. Similarly, we understand that Neo is not bred in Singapore due to his acccent. Singaporeans are easily identifiable because of our Singlish and occasional smatter of Hokkien. These generalizations brought about by society causes us to inevitably organize people into different categories based on the way they speak .

In verbal communication, there would be unavoidable challenges that pose as barriers to impede our communication with one another. We see many of such language-based barriers in the Homecoming trailer. A word that stood out while I was watching the trailer was the word “Fantabulous” used by Mark Lee in 1:22. As a slang, this word may not be familiar to many, hence resulting in a possibility of misunderstandings due to the lack of understanding. Slang is often a barrier to verbal communication because people who have never accountered the word will not understand what it means.

From the analysis above, we come to an understanding that language is a powerful tool that defines and helps us to organize the information regarding the things around us. In reel life, the roles that each character play affects the way they communicate. But in real life, verbal communication requires skill and tactics for it to be effective.

Food for thought:

– Are there instances in your life where you are lost in translation because people use language and terms which you dont understand?

Do give your comments and share with us your story (:

February 13, 2011. Uncategorized. 12 comments.

Thaipusam, Chinese New Year, what’s the difference?

What’s the next big and upcoming event happening in our local calendar?

You’re right – Chinese New Year.

Red packets and goodies aside, a very strong cultural aspect of Chinese New Year which, if missing, will diminish the spirit of the occasion, is music.

Lion dances and music add to the festivity and facilitate the unity of different individuals whose shared cultural traditions bring them together. Without such music and cultural customs, the festive mood would be severely dampened.

Lion Dance

Being a Chinese who was born and bred in Singapore, I am thankful for the liberality that we have, being able to express our culture and embrace our Chinese roots. But, sadly to say, not all can be said of festivals belonging to other ethnic or religious groups.

The latest uproar occured with regards to Thaipusam (Find out more about Thaipusam here) , an annual event held in honour of the Hindu Deity Lord Murugan. This is the next biggest event in the Hindu calendar after Deepavali.

The following clip shows part of the Thaipusam festival which took place in Singapore on 20 January this year. (With the new guidelines)

Loud music is traditionally played during this festival using drums and gongs. Such music, “often played at a deafening volume- is seen as encouragement for those who pierce their bodies as an act of faith,” according to an article in The Straits Times on 6 January 2011. However, new guidelines and regulations laid down by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) stated that playing recorded music or sounding drums and gongs are not permitted, so as to curb the noise level, among other reasons.

What I am attempting to illustrate here is how we (or more specifically, the HEB and other relevant organizations responsible for the new regulations) select information regarding issues that are not the cultural norm. In addition, how misunderstandings may occur without the same shared perspectives.

Perhaps the Hindus are misunderstood and misrepresented in their own culture, for what we perceive so literally as “noise” during Thaipusam is simply an outward expression of commemoration to their deity. We select salient information pertaining to a particular situation (In this case, perhaps the “noise” created and the perception of Thaipusam being a grotesque process) rather than the more significant underlying meaning of Thaipusam. We therefore are at risk of commiting a perceptual error by oversimplifying the meaning of an authentic Hindu culture right here in Singapore.

Based on the social constructionist perspective, which maintains that we construct our world through communication and that communication creates individuals, misunderstandings could be avoided if we interact with people, in this case, the Hindus. Through interaction, we derive a clearer perspective of what their culture entails because we now share collective representations of their tradition.

To sum it all up, indeed Thaipusam and Chinese New Year are different in terms of cultural traditions and practices. But it is pertinent to bridge this gap and share the common perspective that all races are equal. Hence we should not dismiss any part of another’s culture just because of its differences.  All ethnic and religous groups should be awarded liberal rights in cultural expression.

Food for thought:

-What are your views on cultural expression in Singapore? Liberal? Strict?

-Are there misunderstandings about particular cultures that ought to be cleared?

January 29, 2011. Uncategorized. 14 comments.

Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

January 24, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.