Archive for the Question Category

YouTube, Convergence and Remix * Post due by 8am on 11/20/14

Posted in Question with tags on November 18, 2014 by mlenos


I was talking to you all about how this is probably the part of the class that changes the most every time I teach it.  Back in the day, when I created this class, there were a few basic types of YouTube videos. They were:


Video Blogs (“vlogs”)



And new creative content… I showed a bit of Lonelygir15 but there are TONS of examples of this, including The Guild, which I showed last week when we were talking about gaming and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which got Issa Rae hired to write a comedy for HBO

Anyway, in the years since I started teaching this class, there are SO MANY other kinds of YouTube videos, including two kinds that I absolutely DO NOT UNDERSTAND. They are

Haul Videos

And Unboxing Videos


What am I missing/forgetting?  Let’s try to think of genres of YouTube videos. What are some you can think of? What do they do? Who are they for?

I’m also thinking a lot about the idea of Remix Culture (which I think is best represented by artists like Girl Talk and “video essays” – particularly those of kogonada, who I love:

Let me know if you can think of other examples of “remix” as defined in the readings.


Gaming posts (PLURAL!) * due on 11/13/14

Posted in Question with tags on November 10, 2014 by mlenos

Remember – we won’t be meeting as a class this Thursday, 11/13 and because of this, you’ll be required to make multiple posts, including at least ONE during class time (between 1:10 and 2:25 pm).  I know the time stamp settings on WordPress are messed up – do not worry about that.  I receive post alerts that are stamped with the correct time. The post that you make during class time will count as your attendance for 11/13.

The goal here is a conversation – commenting on each other’s comments and having a substantive discussion about gaming.  Respond thoughtfully to each others’ posts – just as you would respond to each others’ comments in class.

We’ve been talking about games and “real life” – how gaming might impact our view of the world, our behavior, even (through avatars and agents) how we see ourselves.  We’ve discussed whether gaming is addictive and the possible pros and cons of gaming as a hobby.

We’ve also talked about gaming demographics (including the surprising statistic that the gender split is nearly 50/50) and the economic impact of video games – remember that it is now two and a half times the size of the Hollywood film industry: the games industry generated around $31 billion in 2011 (that was the last year I could get accurate, consistently cited numbers on).

The gaming industry trade conferences – which used to ONLY be attended by people who actually worked in the industry, now have outrageous attendance.  E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo, held yearly in Los Angeles) had nearly 49,000 attendees this year. PAX (The Penny Arcade Expo, created by the creators of the popular online comic strip) had over 70,000. gamescon in Germany had 335,000.

Since the Dawn of Games (we’ll mark that spot with 1972’s Pong, which was the first popular, widely played video game), we have an industry that’s exploded in popularity and impact, worldwide, eventually developing its own competitive sub-culture, esports. Where prize pools have exploded to over $10 million.

In your first comment, tell us which game you chose to play. Give us an estimate of how long you spent playing over the past two weeks.  Talk about whether your game of choice used an avatar (or an agent) and how you did or did not connect to it.  Talk about whether you game regularly, or this was an unusual experience for you.  What do you think of gaming as a culture?  Has this conversation changed your opinion?

Your follow-up posts should be comments on your classmates’ posts.  Have a conversation.  How many posts should you make in total?  I don’t know… how many posts does it take to have a good conversation?  That’s up to you all.

See you on November 18, when we’ll start talking about YouTube and Convergence Culture.

Advertising post * due by 8am on 11/6/14

Posted in Question with tags on November 4, 2014 by mlenos

Link to a commercial or ad that you love (OR HATE) and discuss what methods it’s using to appeal to the viewers.

If you don’t watch tv, use Ad Report Card or the Clio Awards to get ideas.

Here’s one I like from last year, and I love it most of all for its absolute absurdity.

I’m not likely to buy a big Volvo truck, but that is impressive precision steering. This one is using the feature we talked about early on today; connection to celebrity.  For people who love action movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme is instantly recognizable, and that makes the ad enjoyable.

Here’s one that I hate so much!  It makes me very angry:

It’s weird and nonsensical (why is his wife a puppet?); it’s weirdly outdated (who cares about marionettes in 2014?); it’s almost unbelievably sexist and just creepy. I am not the only person who feels this way (FYI that link contains profanity).

Fashion Post * Due by 10/30/14 at 8am

Posted in Question with tags on October 28, 2014 by mlenos

Here are a TON of fashion sites. Pick one.
Or pick one that you read on your own.
In the comments, tell which site you chose, and which particular post appealed to you.
Talk about a fashion trend (or fad?) – past or present – that you found interesting or participated in.
What did the trend communicate, in your opinion?
Start to take apart the SEMIOTICS of the trend in your comment.
Here we go…

Consumer Culture Post * Due by 8am on October 23, 2014

Posted in Question with tags on October 21, 2014 by mlenos

I want to start this post by saying something I meant to say in class today: people should spend their money on whatever makes them happy.  I am 100% in favor of you all doing just that – spending your hard-earned money on the things you want.  There’s no judgement here on other peoples’ taste or preferences, and we should continue that in the comments, please.

What I’m interested in, is HOW the things we buy make us happy.  Why do we prefer certain products over others?  How do we determine what makes us happy?  And – do purchases make us happy over time?  Or does that happiness wear off?

Okay – the reading for this week suggested that “we are what we buy.”  In class on Tuesday, we talked a lot about what we WOULD buy, if we had unlimited money, and also the things we already own.

I have about 8 million questions for you guys – mostly because it’s been shown that your generation – Generation Y or “Millennials” – see shopping almost as a form of activism – that’s how important brands and consumerism are for Gen Y.  For example, in that article I linked to, one Millennial says that brands and corporations have more influence in our lives than elected politicians do – at one point she said that Pepsi (the company) is her “friend.” According to marketing research, your generation – more than any other – feels very strongly about brand loyalty.  When you brought up #TeamAndroid versus #TeamiPhone, that’s the research I thought of right away. When I just now searched the #TeamiPhone hashtag on Instagram and Twitter… I saw an awful lot of people posting pictures of their new iPhones. Again – that’s a ton of free advertising for Apple… but we’ll save that for next week when we talk about advertising.

Okay okay – I need to get to the questions, I know.

1. Do you find yourself feeling more loyal to certain brands than others?  Are there brands that you WANT to be associated with?

2. What causes you to prefer those brands?

3. Who does it benefit when you build brand loyalty?

4. HOW does that brand loyalty happen?

5. How do you feel when you buy something that is branded in a way that you like?

6. How do you feel when you’re not ABLE to get something that is branded the way you like?

7. Whatever product you’re talking about… how often do you feel compelled to “update” it?

I mentioned today that I have an Apple computer – a MacBook Pro, to be exact.  My past three computers have all been Apple.  I prefer Apple for a couple of reasons – first off, I do a lot of work with film and still images, and Apples tend to be better for those kinds of projects.  Secondly, my last PC died quickly and had very poor customer service when I needed help.  I’ve taken my MacBook to the Apple store in the Plaza a few times and they’ve always been able to fix whatever is wrong. The past two times, they haven’t even charged me for the repairs.

So, on the one hand, my brand loyalty has to do with quality.  That said, I do love the way Apple computers look. I think they’re sleek and beautiful in a way that many PC brands can’t touch. So, I’m absolutely willing to pay more for a really good quality computer that is reliable, and that has good support if I need it, and bonus – I like the way it looks.

I also have an iPad mini, but I didn’t pay for that (thank you, Donnelly College Soccer Team raffle!!!) and I tend to use it as a little laptop.  For example, if I’m working on writing about a film and need to watch the film on my computer for some reason (if it’s only available online, for example), I’ll type up my notes on the Mini.

I can’t afford an iPhone, and that makes me a little sad sometimes.  I tend to be pretty hard on phones, though, so I can’t even begin to justify the kind of expense an iPhone would involve (the phone itself, a good-quality case, Apple Care insurance, paying for the repairs when I inevitably drop it, and so on…)

Frankly, it makes me sadder that I want the phone that bad.  I try to think hard about why I want it so badly… so I’ll think about that now. Here are my reasons

1. Most of my friends have iPhones, so I see them all the time

2. They’re beautiful – the design is much nicer than my ancient Android

3. It’s a status symbol. Having a relatively recent iPhone looks good. So even though I hate to admit it, I’m definitely guilty of conspicuous consumption, too.  When I can afford it.

I should maybe pause here for a moment and say WHY I hate to admit that I’m guilty of conspicuous consumption.  I’ve spent the past 20 or so years of my life studying media very closely.  I am hyper-aware of how things like advertising and marketing work – so much so that I can’t ignore it.  I know when an ad is targeting my demographic (which Apple does, flawlessly) and I know when advertising is prompting me to be wasteful – to get rid of a perfectly good phone that does everything I need it to, and buy a new one so that… what? None of my reasons are very good, when I stop to think about it.  Additionally, I’m a person who cares a lot about the environment, and I know exactly how much damage we cause when we treat our cell phones as disposable. So it’s not so much that I judge others for their conspicuous consumption (like I said, everyone should do whatever makes them happy [within reason]).  It just happens to be a trait that I try to avoid, or at least be thoughtful about.

Anyway, even if I’m silly and wish I could have an iPhone, I NEVER update until I absolutely have to. I’m from a different generation than you all – most Baby Boomers and many older Generation Xers HATE to throw things away.  We tend to be  hyper-conscious of waste and when we buy something, we want it to last.  I’ll replace my MacBook when it stops working and not a moment sooner.  I still use my pink iPod mini to listen to music when I run. That’s ten years.  A ten year old iPod. Is that a record?

All right, folks – now you take it.  And I’d REALLY like to see some commenting on each others’ posts this time around.  Ask your classmates the hard questions, and we’ll have an awesome conversation on Thursday.

Sports Post * Due by 8am on October 16, 2014

Posted in Question with tags on October 14, 2014 by mlenos

Do you have a particular sport, team or athlete that you follow? Talk about it in the comments. Be sure to think carefully about WHAT it is that you like about this sport and what you think it represents, in terms of US popular culture. Does  the sport that you like have scandals associated with it?  (Hint: unfortunately ALL sports do).  What are those scandals?  Do they make you think differently about the sport?  Why or why not?

If you DON’T follow any particular sport, why don’t you?  Have you ever played a sport?  What is it particularly you find about sports to be uninteresting or not worthy of your time? Again, don’t just shrug it off if you’re not a sports fan – we’re interested in hearing WHY you’re not one.

I’ll get us started.

When I moved to Pittsburgh many many years ago, I was not really a sports fan. But I realized very quickly that Pittsburgh was not like any other city that I’d lived in before. EVERYONE followed the Steelers (Pittsburgh’s NFL team) – even people who were not what you’d think of as stereotypical “football fans.” Poets, musicians, artists, professors, authors, designers, scientists… from September through January, EVERYONE was following the games and talking about football. I realized that I could spend 15 weeks of the year feeling left out, or I could start to pay attention to football and still have a social life.

So sure, I started following football so that I wouldn’t have to give up hanging out with my friends, but I also quickly became interested in the sport and the players, and as someone who studies popular culture academically, what football represents to the US. After all, in every other country, “football” is soccer. American football is a specifically American sport.

While it’s a sport of precision (at least from the quarterback’s perspective), it’s also weirdly a sport of absolute brute force. I never realized until I went to a Steelers game in person – NFL players are ENORMOUS human beings. What does it mean, I wondered, to have an American sport that is focused so much on the physical size of the players?

Then, in 2009, the Steelers’ quarterback was accused of sexual assault. Then two more accusations came up. Then, rumors started floating around Pittsburgh that regardless of whether Roethlisberger was guilty of the specific assault charges, he was definitely a creep (friends of friends had photos of him groping women at parties around town). It became harder and harder to root for the Steelers, and even my husband (a life-long Steelers fan who grew up in Pittsburgh) started to feel strange about watching the games.

Anyway, the point is that I’d already begun to pull away from American Football when news began to spread that many players suffer terribly from brain diseases caused by repeated head trauma, and that the NFL tends to not take care of their retired players when they’re in bad health. While some might argue that NFL players make a lot of money, and therefore are compensated for the risk, I personally can’t value entertainment over a human being’s health.

Then, the Ray Rice video surfaced. And a new conversation began over the hyper-macho culture of the NFL and what it means for these men to essentially be encouraged to be as huge and tough and “masculine” as possible, the fact that powerful sports teams can cover up crimes to protect valuable players, and the fact that wealthy or famous people are seldom punished in the same ways as regular people. Finally, the Washington Redskins’ refusal to change their idiotic, racist team name…. I can barely talk about that, it’s so infuriating.

The end result? At my house last night, some friends and I were watching the Monday night game between the 49ers and the Rams, and my husband asked, “Do you guys kind of feel uncomfortable watching football these days?” After a moment of quiet, we all agreed. So we put on a movie instead.

That said, it’s worth noting that I’ve spent an irritating portion of my adult life defending the fact that my favorite poet hated women and was an anti-Semite, that one of the philosophers I most admire strangled his wife, I happen to love the work of an artist who almost certainly murdered his wife…

These are difficult acts to try to explain and understand in a world-wide culture that tends to excuse (or even promote) violence against women and minorities. TS Eliot, Luis Althusser and Carl Andre were all geniuses, so I believe that their work is worth defending in spite of their terrible flaws.

Professional football, to me, simply isn’t worth defending – its flaws are too dramatic and it does too little good in the world to offset the negative impact it currently carries. There are other things in my life more important and more valuable than an entertainment-focused sports industry. Certainly, it’s very important to other people who feel strongly about defending it, and that’s fine for them.

Unfortunately, being a “football fan” is not something that I want to be associated with any longer. I’m going to start watching more soccer, instead.

Popular Literature Post * Due by 8am on October 9, 2014

Posted in Question with tags on October 7, 2014 by mlenos

Review the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Identify a trope, an archetype, or a use of symbolism in the book, and describe its use in your comment.

If you’ve read the rest of the book or series, feel free to refer to the text as a whole.

Regardless of how familiar you are with the series, you might have to do a little bit of research for more information. If you use an outside source, you need to cite it properly.

There’s one other rule to this post: once someone takes a topic, name or concept, it CANNOT be repeated. So better to post early to make sure you can discuss the topic of your choice!

I’ll start.

On page 8, Dumbledore references “Madam Pomfrey.” From reading the series, I know that her first name is “Poppy” and that she’s the nurse at Hogwarts. Madam Pomfrey’s name, like many characters’ names in the series, contains etymological hints about who she is and what she does.

The poppy plant (which is used to make opium!) is a powerful painkiller that’s been used for medical purposes for many generations. Her last name stumped me, though – the Harry Potter Wiki suggests a couple of possibilities: Pomfrey rhymes with comfrey, another medicinal plant, and “pomfrey cakes” are a kind of lozenge or cough drop.

I also like the fact that the “Madam” implies a possible French background and “Pomfrey” is the pronunciation of “pomme frites.” Which is French for “french fries.” 🙂