Thursday, April 3, 2008

Matchbox Twenty

For the first time in my life, I attended a “stadium” concert. Alanis Moressette and Matchbox Twenty performed at the Air Canada Centre. Being overwhelmed by the entire experience, I could only think enough to sing along to the songs during the concert. Only after, on the subway ride home, did I start to think about what I had just seen. Attending the concert with me, was my friend Alina, who is like me, interesting in tech elements of theatre and performance. Not knowing to us, we kept a banter going back and forth about the screens and lighting the band chose to use.
The opening band, whose name I cannot even remember, started the show off with some simple washes and a few spot lights. They played their hearts out to a somewhat filled area, and was not overcome by the use of technology in their performance. I wouldn’t say they solely relied on their musical talent, but they definitely entertained the crowd.
Next came Alanis who had her own backdrop and played up the crowd very well. You could see the progression from the first band to Alanis with the intricacy of the elements of the performance other than her singing. It was funny because she even played her April Fool’s joke from last year, a remix of “My Humps”. The crowd loved it. With her tacky boa, to her bandmates jokingly falling at her feet, she too was entertaining the crowd with, for the most part her ability to sing.
Finally, the main act came on, Rob Thomas leading the band, Matchbox Twenty took the stage like the pros they are. Between a short intermission, the stage had been redesigned with light boards and a projection screen. The entire time the band played, new images were being projected, while lights flashed about. At first glance, this may seem very showy, but to be honest, I thought it was a nice touch. It didn’t take away from their performance, and didn’t really add to it. It was its own show of pictures and interesting shapes. After talking about concerts today being sell-out-ish, I was happy with what the band had done.
Unfortunately after the show, I was unable to purchase the program in our sweet consumer society as they were $20 and I didn’t really feel the need to pay for it. Actually in total, I only paid for the subway ride down to the concert because it was a present, I think I did well.

Dear Mr. President

In reaction to both the March 3rd Class, as well as Duncombe, I almost immediately thought of P!nk’s song “Dear Mr. President”. When celebrity culture needs to step in to comment on the ridiculousness of specifically the state of the United States, I think there is something wrong. In a democratic society, the people have the power, or it should be, but no one utilizes the authority. Apathy is definitely not uncommon for politics, and even more so in the young adult age ranges. With someone with the clout of Pink (who is widely respected), draws the attention of so many people and youths. The first time I heard this song, I was really impressed at the maturity of the commentary. Not only does Pink criticize the politics of Mr. Bush, she calls him on his personal life as well. This song may not be listened to by everyone, but at least she is reaching out and trying to keep people aware and informed about their own country. The allure of the celebrity which Duncombe speaks of in “Dream: Re-Imagining progressive politics in an age of fantasy” is perfect for this. Getting a famous person such as Pink who feels strongly, like the Dixie Chicks about this issue, more people will be willing to follow along. This sounds very bad to start off with, but maybe the drones working for the queen, will be empowered and want to make an actual difference and end up doing a lot more. There is no harm having people exposed to issues, let the public get involved and maybe the democracy of the time will finally support its own definition.

Duncombe, Stephen. Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an age of fantasy. New York: The New Press, 2007.

Revolution of Advertising

As society changes, so do the meanings being associated with the elements. Keeping symbolic interactionism in mind, advertisers need to evolve with the community. On March 10th we looked at the variations of the Volkswagen television ads. I found it really interesting to see how much these ads represented the culture of their time. With cultural awareness about the bombardment of media we receive everyday, the advertisers are also becoming conscious of the level of ads people can take. Even more so now, advertisements need to be creative, and catchy more than ever due to the competition of other media. Each and every ad that a person views is not going to register in their minds. Companies are trying extremely hard to be one of the ads they see and remember. In order to be different, the ads must appeal to a different side, other than the consumeristic tendencies. Take Buckley’s ads for cough syrup “It taste awful but it works”. We are so used to seeing products that are delicious, that when we hear the word awful, we automatically are curious about the product. Another item that does the same thing is the cereal Honey and Oats, I believe. Their slogan revolves around the idea of how people won’t like their product because it is healthy, so they should have any. Both these advertisements are making the consumer think, which for the most part is a unique tactic.

The Rebel Sell and Josie

Through culture jamming techniques, advocates for change, may have a chance in promoting maybe not a revolutionized society, but one that helps to control the media intake. Jamming the ideas, and going counter culture takes a lot of effort, can be mistaken quite easily and in fact supports the capitalist culture. Elfont and Kaplan’s film which came out in 2001, Josie and the Pussycats, is a satirical commentary on the popular culture industry including music, film and television to achieve a common goal of major companies. As Heath and Potter explore in “The Rebel Sell” rejecting the capital society is not the same as rejecting the consumer culture. I believe that Josie and the Pussycats’ critique of society successfully satirizes the consumers through a method coined by Bolter and Grusin in Remediation: Understanding New Media, hypermediacy. It is not used in its common practice of a “style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium” (Bolter and Grusin 272) but rather to remind the audience of the exaggerated emphasis of the consumer practices in today’s society. Using the theory of capitalism discussed by Heath and Potter from “The Rebel Sell”, Josie and the Pussycats will be justified as a critique of mass society through the examination of the four elements, “capitalism requires conformity in the workers […], conformity of education […], sexual repression [and] conformity of consumption” (Heath & Potter: 2002). To some it may just be a movie about a silly comic, but even then, what is that saying about our society?
In order for a capitalist society to function, according to “The Rebel Sell” it requires “conformity in the workers” (Health & Potter: 2002). Working through the ideas of functionalism, basically each person is a needed part of the whole, to help ensure that society functions properly. Each and every part of a culture has a purpose and a role in continuing and the advancement of a culture. In the film Josie and the Pussycats, this key theory is expanded as Wyatt, a big time major record label manager is forced to fire the band Du Jour after they stop working for the societal machine and start hindering the success of the consumer market. The machine that is seen in the film is a giant plot of subliminal advertising through “popular” music to sell whatever the funding companies want. When the members of the fictional band Du Jour find this message, they want answers, leading to the malfunctioning of their part in the machine. Without this band, the subliminal advertisements cannot be sent, and the companies are now losing money, and consumers are not purchasing. Another element to this aspect of capitalism is that “[t]hese parts need to be as simple, predictable, and interchangeable as possible” (Heath & Potter: 2002). After Du Jour is taken care of, Wyatt is in need of a new band. With simple calculation, he is able to take the predictable struggling band and use their want to become famous to replace the fallen Du Jour. The scene takes place in a public place where the corrupt manager talks to the women of the band “The Pussycats” saying that their dreams will come true, signing them immediately with no more than a short questioning period of the speed of the signing. This clearly depicts how the directors of Josie and the Pussycats are in fact using the model of capitalism to poke holes throughout it. Wyatt, one of the main players in the consumer market, easily replaces the workers, in this case a band, using the simple and predictable mentality of the individuals of the culture he has helped to create. At another point in the satirical film, the other two members of “Josie and the Pussycats” are being attacked as Wyatt’s boss; Fiona wants to prevent questions being asked. The film takes MTV and uses Total Request Live, or TRL as one of these conformity elements to help the plan go round. Carson Daily, who acts as himself, the host of TRL states to one of the Pussycats “If I wasn't a key player in this whole conspiracy to brainwash the youth of America with rock music, we could totally date” (Elfont & Kaplan: 2001). The film is blatantly mocking the consumer industry to help raise well needed awareness around the use of media and consumption in today’s society.
“The Rebel Sell” by Heath and Potter, explores another part of the theory of capitalism stating that “capitalism requires conformity of education”. Josie and the Pussycats once again touches on this in its quest to parody the consumer industry. While Fiona, the mastermind running the subliminal advertisement plot, she teachers the political and media heads from around the world of the parts of the their plan. The scene flashes to a room full of teenagers who by a societal norm stand out as clearly delinquent who thinking they are listening to a new song. One of the girls had been seen before in a previous scene where Wyatt is playing Du Jour’s last song, and the rebel teen admits that she plugs her ears when music like that comes on. He then tells her he wants to talk with her and hear what she has to say about the music industry, only having her to be kidnapped and brought to the brainwashing den we see her currently. Fiona explains how the teenagers believe they are listening to the newest songs, when really they are listening to Mr. Moviefone stating the latest trends and values the system wants you to think. They are walking, talking “drones[,] where their independence and creativity is beaten out of them” (Heath & Potter: 2002). This is their new education. Each and every person is receiving the similar brainwashing schooling, as the next person. Unless you are hidden away, taking no part in your culture, which as stated above, is fairly impossible, you are being affected by the learning. There is no longer individuality only the impression of choice. Mr. Moviefone can be heard dictating sayings surrounding fashion such as pink being the new orange or Reeboks are the new Pumas. It may feel as though you are choosing, but Josie and the Pussycats is shedding light on the fact that there is no choice, or there is but the options are being chosen for us. For the consumer industry in the film, Elfont and Kaplan use the music as the way of educating. No one is immune to the brainwashing. Education being a tool in social integration typically teaches about norms and values of a society, but when the society is overwhelmed by the capitalist mentality, it is in fact doing its job. Another example can be found in the approach the girls of “The Pussycats” take while they are literally being groomed when they arrive in New York. All three band members, Josie, Melody and Valerie are put through a fashion update receiving new clothes, new makeup, new hair resulting in a new attitude. When they arrive at the studio all put together as Wyatt feels is appropriate, they are trained to trust Wyatt and his doings with the “Mega Sound 2000” which is the cause of the subliminal messages. Through education, whether found in school or not, the population is being taught how to accept and respond to the consumer industry. This is clearly depicted as a problem needed to overcome in the critique of the consumer society found in the 2001 release Josie and the Pussycats.
There has always been a notion of sexual repression throughout history. This oppression helps to further capitalism. While trying to “stamp out individuality, capitalism denies the full range of human expression, which includes sexual freedom” (Heath & Potter: 2002). Although Josie and the Pussycats has a female as the leader of the scheme, there is still repression of both sexualities. First off, women are dominated throughout the film and made to be sex object through the eyes of Wyatt. They are made by the male dominated capitalist industry as tool of selling what they want. Using female sexuality is a strong way of repressing the openness and flexibility of normal sexual expression. By controlling their sexuality, through means such as preventing dates for Josie and her love interest, Wyatt was able to control female urges. Fiona, the head of the corporation, takes sexuality to a new level. Female sexuality is crushed as she clearly creates a competition among the girls from who is the prettiest and who weighs the least. This is one of the worst forms of oppression as now a female with power is subjecting the women of the film to the ideas created by the hegemonic males leading the industry. To further domination of males through the film the only characters that are portrayed are less than smart are two females. First of, Melody is the epitome of the stereotype of a dumb blond. She is unmistakably the dumbest member of the group as she misinterprets key elements of society and finds joy in simpler things than the rest of the cast. On the other hand, a friend of the band, Alexandra Cabot is continuously providing a stupid feel to the text of the movie. At one point leaving the fly on her pants down, allowing for others to make fun of her. Also she seems to lack an actual role in the film as her character is never clearly defined or needed to enhance the plot. Men in contrast, normally are not sexually oppressed find themselves dominated by women. Wyatt is led by Fiona who dictates his every move. She also suppresses the power of the male politician by mocking his every move as she explains the brainwashing scheme. Neither males nor females are allowed to express themselves freely, as they wish throughout the entire movie. Josie and the Pussycats, does not necessarily focus on the actual sexual repression, but does take not of the issues of dominance in the industry. The comment on this in a reverse fashion, but do critique both aspects of the oppression to help display the satire of consumer and capitalist societies.
The fourth and finale element that Heath and Potter discuss in “The Rebel Sell” is how “capitalism requires conformity of consumption”(2002) in order to function as a whole. This is a main focus of Josie and the Pussycats as the brainwashing scheme is put in place as Eugene Levy explains in his cameo appearance as the “government has been planting small subliminal advertising suggestions in today's rock music [which] now get these kids to buy just about anything [and] have them chasing a new trend every week”. Although Frank argues in “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent” that “[c]onsumerism is no longer about "conformity" but about "difference"” (1997) he is still in turn stating the same idea. While new trends are being created every day, the fact that people are taking part in “trends” shows how patterns and predictability, ultimately conformity, not to the trend itself, but to the act of buying is still a dominant factor. During the entire length of Josie and the Pussycats there are a number of product placements deliberately put to accentuate the mediacy describe by Bolter and Grusin. We as members of a thriving capitalistic society are continually and transparently being exposed to advertisements of all kinds, maybe even subliminal suggestions. Heath and Potter (2002) state the role of ads “to inculcate false or inauthentic desires” which enable conglomerates to sell what they want people to buy. Aiding in the brilliance of the critique of mass society presented by Josie and the Pussycats not one of the companies who’s logos or products are found in the movie were paid product placements. Whether the companies see this as a positive free ad, we have to see this as a personal attack on those companies depicting them as the worst offenders. All of the hidden messages that Mr. Moviefone announces in the music throughout the movie gives the opportunity for the companies to control the conformity, not only take advantage of it. Each suggestion that is planted in the consumers mind so the companies do not have to anticipate the changes in the mindset of their market. This also leads into the fact that their market is no longer limited to certain targeted groups; their products are wanted by all. In fact, Josie states that they are selling their music through their own music. This may seem very far fetched in real life, however once again, the film is clearly reflective of our current society as synergy becomes a central tool is marketing products using remediation. Each product helps to sell the other. Between Heath and Potter, and Frank, capitalism requires conformity in any sense. The obedience of the market only helps the supremacy of the capitalistic society and the consumerism within.
At first glance, Josie and the Pussycats seems like an innocent remake of an older cartoon. With preposterous plot ideas, and girls in cat ears, no one would think this film would have such an impact. By looking at Heath and Potter’s “The Rebel Sell” and the parts of the capitalist theory, we can see how the film is a successful parody of life in a consumer society. From the capitalist requirements of conformity of workers, education, sexual repression and consumption patterns, Josie and the Pussycats looks as though it is going so far over the top that we accept the inclusion of a boy band that gets attacked by Metallica. However, once we analysis its core, we see that the reason why the film is so insightful is that their ideas of brainwashing and subliminal advertisements are not that far off from the real world. Luckily the purposeful product placement help to hypermediate the setting, reminding the audience that this is in fact mocking and ironically criticizing the entire industry in which it is releasing itself too.
Ironically as in the movie, Fiona sells cat toys to go along with the theme of the band, and as the audience knows we are being sold the items because they want us to buy them, people are still open to purchasing the “collectors items” from the film. They too are emerging themselves in the culture, but really can you blame them? They are right to say that this is how our society runs, we know that, and so do they. The film itself has at least tried to make a difference by making the audience more aware of what the industry is comprised of, only to turn it against their fans, who is reality are asking for it. .

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media.
Cambridge, MA.; MIT Press, 1999.
Frank, Thomas. “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent.” Michigan State University. 1997. March 6
Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. “The Rebel Sell.” This Magazine. 2002. Red Maple
Foundation. March 5 2008.

Josie and the Pussycats. Dir. Elfont, Harry and Deborah Kaplan. DVD. Metro-Goldwyn
Mayer (MGM). 11 April 2001.

WWJD? Nah, more Like WWTDD? (What Would Tyler Durden Do)

Now that I have been sucked into the fun of, I tend to visit the site looking at different articles that grab my attention at least twice a day. One article caught my attention surrounded itself with the tagline What Would Tyler Durden Do? Being a huge fan of “Fight Club”, I immediately clicked, and was introduced to a new site, Being along the same lines as Perez Hilton, I was really disappointed. If something is going to affiliate themselves with the shocking content of “Fight Club”, they need to fully embrace the mindset of Tyler Durden. This site did not do that in a very effective manner. Simply taking articles and making fun does not seem like a very mature way of criticizing today’s culture. Even though they are somewhat countering the obsession with celebrities, they are just doing the same thing. It bothers me to think that our way of being counterculture is in fact no better, potentially even worse. Tyler Durden is a complex character who knows that he is being captured by the capitalists, and does want to change things. This website is far from any of the values that are depicted in the film. Attached is a picture of the Warning that is played prior to the film on it's DVD to give you an idea of what the character is like, and how the website does not do this justice at all. I was just expecting so much more from this site than what it was offering. Not to say that I won’t be visiting it again, but it will not be for the quality of AdBusters or the Yes Men.

"If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this is useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all who claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read? Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told you should want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned... Tyler"

Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. 1999. DVD. Art Linson Productions.

iPod Update and the Apple Store

So, after lots of deliberation, I finally caved. I purchased the new 2GB iPod Shuffle for $70. Realizing that I did not want the player to be used for videos, so really it limited my options, if I were to get an iPod, the Shuffle was really my only choice. Once I had made my decision, I was off to Yorkdale Mall in Toronto to visit the Apple Store. Having read reviews of the Shuffle online, I had been introduced to the “Amazing” Apple Store. When I arrived, just as all the articles stated, it was one of the busiest stores in the entire mall. I went in, looked around and found the Shuffles attached to a table with some sort recaps of the technology that I could be purchasing. At the store, I was really interested in seeing the colours. Since the blue was too blue, and the green was too green, I chose the classic silver look and now all I needed was some help. Standing in the middle of the Apple Store, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights as everyone else seemed to know how to maneuver about. There was a group of employees standing talking, but no one was around to help me. I waited another 5 minutes or so, before I finally was sick of waiting and approached the group of “Experts”, who might I say were quite intimidating, and asked if one of them could help me. I must have looked ridiculous wandering around, looking at the same product for so long, but I honestly was not ‘cool’ enough to understand the concept of the store. The Expert then jumped right into it, assuming that I knew all about the products, which in this case, was the truth, and asked “what I would like to purchase?” I answered knowingly stating “The Silver 2GB iPod Shuffle”. The employee then went behind the counter, grabbed the box, came back out and question my method of payment. Visa it was. She took a wireless checkout item, and completed all my information in the middle of the store, completing the transaction with my receipt being sent to my email account. I walked out of the store carrying a new iPod and felt like I knew how to work the Apple Store now.

Currently, I am still enjoying my Shuffle and it seems to be working well. Apple sent me a survey to see how I enjoyed my experience at the Apple store. Upon completing it, I felt even more part of the culture. Feeling somewhat guilty about this, especially after this class, I simply brushed it off, and went on walking with my white earbuds.

Dream x2

Everywhere I turn it seems my friends, my coworkers and even my family are involved with this addiction. They wake up and need to do it. They need to do it after they eat, even while they eat. There is no end. Video gaming has taken over life as I know it. From Mario Galaxy and Wii to Zelda, it all seems somewhat distanced from my understanding. I am used to the original Nintendo, not Super Nintendo, N64, I mean Duck Hunt or Super Mario Brothers, the first one. These new systems, new controllers, crazy games, take the fun to a new level. It is the evolution of gaming, and society itself. Duncombe expands on this idea through Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas. With the avatar, CJ, being a young, poor, black, male, he clearly does not represent the entire population and target market for this game. However, CJ does in fact appeal to these same flaws. The game displays very explicitly violence, crime and sex through the eyes of CJ. For Duncombe, this is an outlet for people who struggle with allowing themselves to go against the norms and values of a society. A quote from Empire Records (1995) “damn the man” said by a young man who is determined to not be sucked into the capitalist society and save his friends. This same idea applies to the mentality behind gaming, and specifically games which allow players to be someone else. Duncombe speaks of the idea of taboo, being something that is prohibited socially or formally. For Freud, these are pretty much all of our basic instincts, which happens to be the same idea behind politics. Grand Theft Auto – San Andreas is the outlet for the instinctual desires. Even things so simple as driving an SUV or wearing a tank top can be seen from certain people’s points of view. This sense of rebellion is one way for culture followers to feel as though they are at least sticking it to the man once.

Duncombe takes this a step further and introduces rebellion to politics. Maybe not bringing the two things together, but forces the reader to acknowledge that revolution only comes from rebellion. Take Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, both cases, only by acting out of the norm, was anything done to correct it. I highly doubt that all video gamers will end up changing the world, riding it of all evils, but maybe CJ will inspire at least a small change, or ignite a passion to “rebel” even more resulting in a bigger impact on the existing society.

Whether a young, black, male named CJ, or a dream inspires change, at least it is happening. I guess I could get used to the new Nintendo lingo and star collecting Star Bits or playing with the Wii remotes.

Duncombe, Stephen. Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an age of fantasy. New York: The New Press, 2007.