Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pushing Popular Music

In chapter 27 of our text, Duncan MacDougald Jr. said the music system in the 1940's was all aimed at one end: "The enforcement of material on the customer." He likened the distribution of pop music to that of non-essential consumer goods.

MacDougald also opined that Americans are interested in both being the best and flavoring the best when it comes to music. Much of his entry centered on plugging new music which became a method of creating a small subset of popular music which everyone was familiar with. In other words, those who had the power of promotion and those with a voice in the popular media were the ones deciding what was popular on the radio.

Has it changed today? This is an area I have argued with professors, co-workers and students a lot in recent months.

There has been a shift in the last 20 years from the purely singles-as-albums top 40, to today's song-as-single-file charts using new technologies. For example, in 1985 music on a top 40 radio station was furnished by record companies sending singles to a station and a small amount of call-in requests. For the most part, it was determined by someone else what you would listen to. Billboard magazine (also has been charting music hits since 1936 and it still does today. It uses requests and number of times played to determine its rankings. It is generally accepted as the most accurate radio chart available.

Flash forward to today and you have new technologies such as iTunes and Spotify. These two programs are free to use. Spotify allows free listening from your desktop to any song in their library while iTunes charges around a dollar per song to add to a personal library. These two services have the ability to literally track and post actual top songs played and/or purchased by its customers. These lists should be more representative of the tastes of the public (or at least those seeking out music). Or that is what you would think. Check out the latest lists:

Billboard's top six songs (as of Jan 31)
1. "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
2. "Locked out of Heaven" by Bruno Mars
3. "Ho Hey" by the Lumineers
4. "I Knew You Were Trouble" by Taylor Swift
5. "Scream and Shout" by and Brittney Spears
6. "Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia

iTunes' top five singles purchased
1. "Thrift Shop"
2. "Scream and Shout"
3. "I Knew You Were Trouble"
4. "Ho Hey"
5. "Nothing Like Us" by Justin Bieber

Spotify's top five tracks played
1. "Thrift Shop"
2. "Ho Hey"
3. "Scream and Shout"
4. "Don't You Worry Child"
5. "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons

Maybe Americans gravitate towards certain songs. Maybe songs are better if we can listen to them together. Maybe the original plugging techniques still reign supreme and we haven't shaken loose from that format. Make your own interpretation of why these are so similar.

Lastly, here is an extreme modern example of plugging a song based on almost nothing. Pop star Justin Timberlake has not made an album of his own since 2006. Before the release of his new song, "Suit and Tie" a few weeks ago, he released this on his website and YouTube:

This video went viral, especially to fans of pop music, fans of Timberlake and most importantly, radio DJs around the country. It is not surprising, that within two weeks of this video, I have yet to hear this song on the radio without an above-and-beyond introduction of the song by a radio DJ. Between Lincoln's KFRX and Omaha's Channel 94.1 and KISS FM, this song has been the receiver of the plugging described by MacDougald.

In case you are wondering, Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" featuring Jay Z was released on Jan. 14 and is already #13 on Billboard, #12 on iTunes and #32 on Spotify.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Life of Fads

An interesting exploration into the study of fads and fashions came to us in “Notes on a Natural History of Fads,” from a 1957 issue of American Journal of Sociology, by Rolf Meyersohn and Elihu Katz. In their analysis of fads, they point to the birth of such elements in subcultures or minority groups. Once adopted by members of the majority, a fad begins a flow through the majority and remains a fad until the next fad comes along. It is impossible to boil down an entire article into two sentences, but that was my feeble attempt. The remainder of this post is my own response and examination.

Democracy and Mass Media

“Radio is no respecter of boundaries. Inherently it is a foe of Fascism and of cultural nationalism.”

“The Influence of Radio upon Mental and Social Life” is an argument for mass media as an element in the spread of democracy. The argument is that the instant dissemination of information increases awareness of the standards of other cultures and the expectation of those same standards at home.  This argument was put into exercise by the US government seven years after Cantril and Allport laid out the thesis. Voice of America began in 1942 and was used "to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas."  VOA sent American radio into is hostile lands throughout the Cold War successfully spreading US soft power.
But what you had was essentially two diametrically opposed propaganda machines using radio to shape public opinion.  That is a more easily controlled situation that we find ourselves in today. The internet breaks this down.  Yes there are still agencies trying to controlling access to the information - Google, Baidu.  But the originator of the information is more fractured and because of this the strength of a broadcast like Radio Moscow is lessened.  Additionally, the authors’ contention that the radio voice creates the impression of natural equality among men is missing in the new media.
President Truman said, “propaganda can be overcome by truth—plain, simple, unvarnished—presented by newspapers, radio, newsreels, and other sources that people trust…” I don’t think the internet ever duplicates the level of trust the radio achieves. The interpersonal connection is lost and with it, power of influence. There is room for the argument of personal connection through social media sites but I don’t think it reaches the level of radio. That’s why we’re still waiting for the 20 year promise of the internet’s democratization of China to come true.  The Chinese government is better prepared to combat the internet as a form of democratic reform that the conventional mass media like radio in the bygone era.

Fads! (57 - Meyersohn & Katz)

Rolf Meyersohn and Elihu Katz present an excellent glimpse of fashion, music and a look at fads in the 1950's. From the famous sociology department of Chicago University, these two scratch the surface into subculture research with this piece, "Notes on a History of Fads", which was published in American Journal of Sociology in 1957.  Katz and Meyersohn suggest that most fads are recycled or rediscovered rather than actually something brand new, which I think still holds true today. In addition, the authors use examples of big breeding and the worlds of fashion to show how "tastemakers", who ultimately dictate fads and trends, are influenced by the general public. Finally, they assert that music trends and fads in general are targeted at the teenage demographic and small niche subcultures, which also remains true today.  Test markets, essentially, are the hipsters and bohemians who gobble up the music, fashion and now all the digital media to go along with it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Advertising and the editor-reader relationship

In “The Business Nobody Knows” from “Our Master’s Voice,” James Rorty evaluates the relationship between advertising and commercialism as it was in 1934. As an ad-man during the 1920s, he was a successful copywriter and then became a critic of the communication business. Described as a radical, Rorty went so far as to say that “mass advertising perverts the integrity of the editor-reader relationship essential to the concept of democracy,” pointing to the period of rapid change after the Depression for this distortion.

Rorty’s comments remind me of my experiences as a journalist at a newspaper for seven years. While I feel the use of the verb “perverts” is a strong word to choose by Rorty, I do agree that the typical newspaper reader does not have a true understanding of the difference between editorial content and advertising space. From past conversations I’ve had with family and friends outside of the journalism industry, normal readers see the entire newspaper page as one entity – their eyes do not really distinguish between stories and ads. Journalists, however, see a distinct difference between where editorial content ends and ads begin.

In the modern days of pagination, the advertising department of the newspaper first lays out the ads on the pages, and then the pages are sent to designers on the editorial side. In almost all cases, the ads themselves are not visible to the designers – they just appear as numbered gray boxes with company names on them. Once the completed pages are printed, editors must then check to make sure the stories and headlines running next to the ads do not conflict or, on the other hand, complement in a way that doesn’t appear objective. One recent example of a conflict between ads and editorial content was with the Sandy Hook shooting. A newspaper in SouthCarolina ran an ad for a gun sale next to the story about Sandy Hook.  As the editor stated in his apology, multiple editors worked on the page and no one noticed – probably because the ad itself was not visible on the computers, and it’s possible the newspaper didn’t list company names on the ads but instead just numbered them.

It is true even today that for the role of the newspaper publisher, the business is the “advertising business,” as Rorty stated. While a publisher’s “necessary concern is to make a maximum of profit,” the modern newspaper editor is more focused on the editorial content. Rorty believed the advertising doctrine is “always remembering that the separation of the editorial and advertising contents of a modern publication is for the most part formal rather than actual.” To me, even though today's advertising and editorial departments of a newspaper have very little interaction, I think Rorty would say that in today’s journalism industry, both departments’ leaders must work together with a common goal to sell newspapers and not offend readers, as observed with the Sandy Hook mistake.

Again using terms of the dramatic, Rorty also says that some ad men become “gray-faced cynics and are burned out at forty.” From my experience, cynical is definitely a true description of not only advertising professionals but also newspaper journalists. Rorty said this is from dealing with “half-truths” on a daily basis. I would say it’s more of a personality type for a journalist, to be curious and always investigating claims and wanting proof of them. At the same time, as Rorty brings up in his critiques, the publishers making the final decisions at the newspaper are the people with the vested interest in making a profit and may choose not to investigate stories they otherwise would if not in a position of power. As we’ve discussed in class, the gatekeeper theory does give one pause as to whether news organizations are really being as objective as they should be.

Is Real Time Always Better?

I wonder what Lew Mumford would think of today's instant response time among twitter and other social media technology. In his selection from "Technics and Civilization" Mumford explores that mixed meaning of new communication technologies. He states that, "With the invention of the telegraph a series of inventions began to bridge the gap in time between communication and response despite the handicaps of space."  Mumford also reminds us of Plato's thoughts that the size of a city depended on the number of people that could hear the voice of the orator. That is definitely not the case today.

Through the inventions of telegraph, radio, television and now the internet, mass communication had taken on a whole new meaning. No longer is it a one sided conversation (the elite talking down to the commons as we spoke about in class) but now it's this exchange of data, real time, all over the world. What Mumford is interested in is the gap of time between the message and the response. For example, in the past if a person sends a letter in the mail, the must wait for the receiver to get the letter, write a response and mail it back. Today, technology has closed the gap with the invention of e-mail but even faster with google or facebook chat which provided a real time conversation. But is this all a good thing?


   We're only a month into the new year and already the nation is suffering from a case of whiplash. Our collective attention pivots from Lance Armstrong appearing on Oprah to Manti Te'o's interview with Katie Couric to Michelle's bangs and  the Beyonce lip-syncing scandal. Not to mention the fiscal cliff and an inaugural speech that included global climate change and Stonewall. 
Sometimes our mass communication reminds me of one of my favorite lines in a movie. 

   Conventional wisdom supports the notion that we have the attention span of a gnat and we're obsessed with trivia. And our readings suggest this was also a concern in the early years of radio and TV. 
   In chapter 15 of our text, Lewis Mumford raises questions about whether instantaneous communication leads to more trivial and parochial personalities. Hadley Cantril and Gordon W. Allport suggest in chapter 17 that radio standardizes our lives and may affect our concentration.
   The worries of the past are echoed by today's concerns about the internet. In Is Google Making us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr warns the internet may have a profound effect on intelligence and concentration. However, Seth Godin offers a different point of view in his blog post, Slow Media. In the past, Godin says it was difficult to get your ideas in print or on the air because of the scarcity of media space. In today's limitless information landscape, Godin says media can actually be "calm instead of sensational, deep instead of superficial." Slow media, says Godin, is for people who really want to listen. 
   "It might not be obvious media, or easy to understand media, or easily digested media, but that's okay, because slow media is not mass media," writes Godin. "Slow media is not for the distracted masses, it's for the focused few.""
   It's something to think about. At least until the next Squirrel!!!

For this week’s readings I decided to focus on the Willey and Rice excerpt “The Integration of Communication” from Communication Agencies and Social Life (1933). I found their analysis of the changing times and mediums interesting as to how it relates to 2013 as we are witnessing a transition period between the more traditional means of communication and mass expression of thought and ideas and the new, more digital and networked means of communication.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Backstage Wife

In Herzog’s (1941) article, the author suggested that listeners (always housewives in her study) tuned in to daytime radio serials as a way of validating their own views and lives. She argued that the women she interviewed sympathized with the characters in the fictional sketches and that the programs they listened to had themes that reflected the listener’s own values, or at least the listener would identify with themes that she could relate to. Some, she observed, projected their real-world lives into the serials they listened to, like an extension of their own family lives. This kind of make-believe was also a way for a given listener to pretend, for at least 15 minutes or so, that her life was different. Herzog continued to suggest that the more troubles a listener had in her own life, the more daytime serials she listened to. This either helped the listener drown her sorrows as a form of escapism, to feel better about herself by taking pleasure in the comeuppance of others, or it provided guidance for her own self-improvement. Radio was not only filling in the hours and minutes of one’s own leisure time, but modeling ways to live. 

In a lot of ways Herzog seems in agreement with Addams’ (1909) House of Dreams argument, that art (film in Addams’ case, radio in Herzog’s) influences the ways in which individuals choose to model their lives. For both, listeners and viewers are assimilating an experience and filtering it through their own real-life lens. The art form is affecting a real reaction from the participants, as a form of education, as a confirmation of one’s own biases, or simply as a desired fantasy. 

Herzog’s criticisms are obviously wrapped up in a very different era than today. There are very different forms of communication, and gender roles have certainly changed. Despite this, I feel that there is something valuable about Herzog’s study, particularly as it relates to the idea of art and media influencing society and culture. Where radio was influencing how the women in Herzog’s study gauged their lives, aren’t television, magazines, and the internet often doing the same today? Herzog’s housewives were learning how to address issues in their lives by listening to daytime radio serials. It might be argued that many people today look to television for cues on how to behave and think, magazines for cues on how to look, and internet for validation of one’s own biases. 

Here's a radio serial I found interesting. It begins with a minute of gripping WWII news, followed by a minute of static, a couple of well-placed ads, and then the program Mary Noble, Backstage Wife...


Addams, J. (1909). House of dreams. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. Macmillan Co.

Herzog, H. (1941). On borrowed experience: An analysis of listening to daytime sketches. Studies in Philosophy and Science. Vol. 9, no. 1 (pp.65-95) Institute of Social Research.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Complaining About Content Changes

Theo Adomo writes in A Social Critique of Radio Music that "standardization in radio produces a veil of psudo-individualism." He also critiques the taste of people's music saying people stop listening for high-quality music and begin consuming music that is easy to consume. He calls it "the same ideal as Aunt Jamima ready-mix for pancakes extended to the field of music."

By these critiques, I believe Adomo is saying he feels music composed in 1945 was still high quality, but he was surprised by what music was making it on radio most often and how popular it was getting because of it. In 1945, the top artists included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday.

The same case can be made today about popular music. According to, researchers, including Princeton sociology professor Matthew Salganik, find that people with to many options gravitate to media used by others because there is too much to try every song out one-by-one.

"People are faced with too many options, in this case 48 songs. Since you can't listen to all of them, a natural shortcut is to listen to what other people are listening to," Salganik told the site. "I think that's what happens in the real world where there's a tremendous overload of songs."

Adomo's critique is not that different from others we've heard in our readings thus far. I would be interested in his critique of cable TV and the most popular sites on the Internet now.

For example, when TV was at its golden age there were first only three channels. That number grew slowly to 50 over 15 years. Now, there are an average of 119 channels in each house and almost 100 more than that exist in a vacuum. The programming has evolved from old variety shows and family sitcoms to cable dramas, reality TV and raunchy comedies in addition to old-fashioned talk shows, family programming and news.

Internet site have changes vastly since the early 1990's through today as well. Look at the Internet in 1997. According to, the top sites in 15 years ago were comprised of various search sites like Geosites (#1) and informational sites like Yahoo! (#2) and CNET (#8). In 2007 it was Yahoo (#1) Google (#2) and various social media sites like YouTube (#5), Facebook (#7) and Craigslist (#9).

The point is that media changes. Mass communication changes. Through these changes come content changes and becomes more diverse. It is a trend since the radio first made it happen and it will continue into the future. Popular music in 1945 did not sit well with Adomo. Popular music today wouldn't either. However, with those changes in mass communication came the ability to completely individualize the experience of radio, TV and the web.

How many of us use a phone or an iPod as our radio in the car or office? How many of us have Netflix or Amazon or another form of streaming video? And which of us bookmark various niche sites like Rotten Tomatoes and

Finally, here is a video that somewhat represents the change from old media to a new media controlled by the users. It shows the shift from Adomo's "psudo-individualism" to almost complete individualism.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Am I ugly?"


            “Am I ugly?” This is the name in which numerous teenage girls have named some videos they created at home and upload it later in YouTube as a way to receive some feedback of unknown and anonymous YouTube users confirming or denying their supposedly “ugliness”. Those videos seems to be one of the most recent trends among teenagers between ages 11 and 13. The videos were posted mainly for girls although there are some boys who also posted similar videos (Gray 2012).
            These videos can even reach a considerable amount of viewers. One of them has been posted in December of 2012 and has reached 3.4 million of viewers. The comments range from supportive messages (E.g: “I think you look pretty and nice”) to awful and aggressive ones (E.g: “UGLIER THAN A DEMON”) (Gray 2012). I am just trying to figuring out how much pressure of how desperate one of these girls might feel just to put their concept of themselves under scrutiny of anonymous and total strangers. The girls mentioned that the main reason for posting those videos were that they received negative comments by their peers at school and they were bullied most of the time (Gray 2012).

            This is a news report about this new trend:

          If you can't open, this is the link:

            Herbert Blumer in the reading 12 about “Movies and conduct” discuss about the role that motion pictures has in children and girls and boy at a young age. Some of the perspectives that the author offers about the influence of motion pictures in people are arousing different positive and negative emotions and imposing modes of conduct. More importantly, “in the case of the girl, in particular, desires for beauty, for sophistication, for grace and ease, for romance, for adventure, and for love are likely to come to the fore” (Peters & Simonson 2004).
            Some other recent studies have been conducted about the media’s influence on body image disturbance. In this study, Thompson and Heinberg have presented some information related to a survey conducted by Psychology Today. The survey has indicated the tremendous impact the mass media has in transmitting the cultural ideal of thinness, beauty especially for women. This study conducted among 3,452 participants showed that 23% agreed that movie or television influenced their body image and 22% attributed the influence to fashion magazine models (Thompson & Heinberg 1999).
            Blumer discussed the impact of motion pictures in high school student as they were expectators. He also describes how this tool can become a very powerful educational tool when even home, school or the community is unable to introduce them in the new world they are entering at that age. He even mentions that when the strength and capabilities of institution might be higher to mold attitudes and behaviors, there is a “condition of emotional detachment” which leads individuals to accept what motion pictures show as a norm (Peters & Simonson 2004). In addition, I might say that this notion of the influence of motion pictures in young people as mere spectators has evolved since now technology allows them to create their own videos or motion pictures as a way to express themselves and show how media is influencing on them. This is something that definitely was not possible at Blumer’s time.
            I think maybe something interesting to see those days would be how much impact does movies have in teenagers. Do you think they are the only medium that can have such a high influence on them? What about social media? It might be a good idea to see some statistics about it. In addition, do you know of any films that you believe are promoting education and positive values among teenagers?

Peters, J. D., & Simonson, P. (2004). Mass Communication and American Social Thought. Key Texts:1919-1968. Maryland, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Gray, E. (2012, February). 'Am I Ugly?' Videos: Young Teens Ask YouTube Users Whether They're Pretty Or Not. The Huffington Post. Retrieved January 20, 2013, from

Thompson, J. K., & Heinberg, L. J. (1999). The Media's Influence on Body Image Disturbance and Eating Disorders: We've Reviled Them, Now Can We Rehabilitate Them? Journal of Social Issues, 55(2), 339-353. Retrieved January 20, 2013, from

Equality in the eye of art

In this excerpt from Crisis Magazine W.E.B. Du Bois yearns for equality among the arts and says that blacks will not truly be human until their art is seen as equal. As a proponent of "Negro Art", Du Bois became a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, which saw a flowering of intellectuals, writers, painters and patrons in Harlem.  Du Bois believed that whites and blacks alike saw a prejudice when they analyzed art from blacks. He even points to some artists who superstitiously try to pass themselves off as white just to be taken on an "even" playing field. Du Bois, here is yearning for the Platonic truth. He says " The apostle of beauty thus becomes the apostle of truth and right not by choice but by inner and outer compulsion." If "negro art" is seen as inferior, then the truth for an entire race, in turn, is seen to be inferior.  As art is a tool for propaganda, du Bois argues, the black artist struggles to have their version of the truth heard.  Du Bois also calls for freedom from white dependence. If a black artist has to impress white publishers to be published the kinds of stories and portrayal of black in white dominant media are "Uncle Tom's", Du Bois argues. Blacks should be able to portray their own story and show their struggle in pure and honest portrayal of the truth, unadulterated by white prejudice.  When blacks can support and print the art of fellow blacks and this art is seen as equal and not then, not only will it be independent and self-sufficient but reflective of the true "humanity" of truth for these black artists. So the struggle isn't just against the white ideas, but of the own ingrained prejudice that blacks have being handed down "white ideas" about art and culture. He is, in essence, arguing for an independent culture, a black culture.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Big Brother

What Jane Addams says in “The House of Dreams” is an argument for propaganda. She argues that the public needs to use its collective power to project the idealized society we want rather than the society we have.  That the medium has such a reach into the psyches of the consuming public, “The Theater is making the minds of our urban populations today.” These feeble-minded people have to be protected. We need to protect the masses from themselves - give them what they need, not what they want. 
Apply the argument to TV and follow it to its logical end and you get Newton Minow’s “Wasteland Speech.” And now the argument is for exploiting the medium to control minds and promote what they view as good. Trust us we now best.
So entertainment is used as escapism. It’s a bleak view of reality. Addams writes, “the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them.”  and “The drama provides a transition between the romantic conceptions which they vainly struggle to keep intact and life’s cruelties and trivialities which they refuse to admit.”
Adams says bring the person back to , back to reality and back to personal relationships but so did Minow. 50 years later he said, “Program materials should enlarge the horizons of the viewer …and remind him of the responsibilities which the citizen has towards his society.”  And people make the same arguments against reality TV today, it’s trash. But we like trash, and consuming hours upon hours of trash hasn’t destroyed our society and never will.