Bill O’Reilly reality check

If I ever need to check my tendency towards being a know-it-all or talking over people, I’m just going to watch this video.

The gender dynamic is insane as well.  I can’t imagine getting talked down to in this way by a colleague, especially when I was well researched, seemed to share the same political stance, and was, umm, correct.  Re-reading the sentence that I just wrote, the fact that I can’t imagine this is pretty telling as I’m sure it’s a reality that many women face on a daily basis, and not just at FOX News.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing to think about all the times I felt like I had to assert myself as an authority, even when I didn’t know what I was talking about and the mildly conflicting point of view was articulated politely and clearly.   I take this as proof that the cultural expectancies that tie gender to authority, and intelligence and the ways one can express them are making us all less intelligent.

more meta blogging about Stuff White People Like

This is a response to Patrick’s response to my posting of this analysis of the Stuff White People Like blog.

I think that the language in the blog post is strong and frustrated and I’ll grant that the statements about the heftiness of the book deal probably don’t have much statistical support. Still, I think the analysis that’s important is not that the publishing industry is racist, but the idea about what is culturally popular or possible and how race plays into that. I suspect that the publishing industry, like most industries, is mainly interested in what is profitable and likely to be popular. Despite a certain frustration in the blogger’s tone, I think that this is what resonates with me about her argument. The authors got a hefty book deal, not because publishers are racist, necessarily, but because there is much more interest in white people glibly poking fun at some aspects of white culture than other critiques of race and culture, coming from both white people and people of color. The Stuff White People Like blog is popular because it provides the pretense of a critique about race and culture without requiring any change or even thinking about change. People generally seem smart enough to know that it’s not just white people who like the things mentioned on the blog, that these things aren’t a part of the life of many white people, and that abandoning these things that have been culturally assigned as white would do nothing to change the way race plays out in our culture. So, it might make people uncomfortable, make them laugh, or put the idea of race into the spotlight, but on face it doesn’t question how the things on the blog became associated with whiteness, push for changes in the cultural space that these things define, or any other change in the way multiple races are simultaneously or relatively understood.

I wouldn’t say that this phenomenon of expressing race without calling for change is inherently problematic. I recently read a book called Building Diaspora which is about people navigating their ethnic and national identity (in particular , Filipinoness) over the Internet. The book mentioned multiple instances of the importance of “You might be Filipino if …” type posts on the newsgroup and their popularity. She said that the posts were not taken to rigidly define Filipino culture or identity, but instead contained enough references that would be understood by people with connections to aspects of Filipino culture or identity that it helped satisfy part of people’s need to have some definition to Filipinoness and their own identity and for a definition of a broader Filipino community. Yesterday, I interviewed my friend as the first of a series of interviews about being multiracial. He said that for him, joking with other Asian people about Asian stereotypes or racist remarks was really important to him. So for him, humor gave him an opportunity to explore his racial identity in terms of how it was framed in his life, not in terms of Filipino delicacies, facial communication, or the practice of carry gift laden cardboard boxes through international airports as it was in the newsgroup posts studied in Building Diaspora, but in terms of his experience with racism as a perceivably non-white person growing up in a small town in Indiana. So, people coming from a lot of different cultural identities use humor to play with or think about their notion of whatever they are. This is the context in which Stuff White People Like seems to make the most sense to me. It is not a critique of whiteness or racism but a way for white people to think about one possible whiteness. In this case, unlike Samhita, the Feministing blogger, I’m not surprised at all that the Stuff White People Like blogger is white. Clearly there is a need for people in general, even white people, to examine their cultural identity using humor. I don’t think that it does the work for social justice and eliminating racism any good to view white culture as just a default (despite very apparent differences in cultural mobility and capital as deliniated by race), or to view it as monolithic or static. Still, this kind of conversation remains an assertion or question of what race is but doesn’t in itself transform the injustices of the past and present that are tied to race. Ultimately this is something that I want to see, whether it’s provided by a blog, through activism, the market, or anywhere.

I also want to address a subtext that I read into the Feministing blog post and this has to do with the mobility that is afforded to poking fun at white culture. I think that a Stuff Black People Like blog would be much less popular and much more controversial not because Black people are more easily offended but because there are just fewer negative stereotypes (and consequences) for assigning things to a white identity. I will stand strongly corrected if someone can tell me otherwise, but I would suspect that a white person has never been passed over for a job because their employer told them, “I’m sorry, your resume is great but I’m just worried that you people spend too much time eating expensive sandwiches, drinking bottled water and riding your Segway.” Cultural stereotypes are simplified, limiting, and not completely truthful regardless of which culture they represent. However, there is a big difference between stereotypes of middle to upper class white people in the U.S. and stereotypes of many other cultural groups in whether those stereotypes can be linked to fundamental beliefs about the superiority of one race over another. Comedians such as Dave Chapelle or Margaret Cho, who poke fun at the racial groups they identify with navigate difficult territory because they really satisfy the need for people to use humor to define their identity and community, but they also run the risk of perpetuating racist beliefs when those same stereotypes are identified by others as markers of inferiority. I don’t see Stuff White People Like as having to navigate around this challenge and I think that contributes to its popularity and success.

Finally, I want to address the idea of backing analysis about race with statistical evidence. While I think the proposed research strategy about race and the publishing industry could probably tell us some interesting things about both race and publishing, the amount of resources and time to compile this information is pretty significant. I would estimate maybe a month of full time work just to make the calls and compile the data, and much more time to make the connections necessary to have access to this information or to make people willing to respond (even quasi-truthfully) to questions. While this particular issue isn’t a good example, I think the idea of compiling potent statistical data about “touchy” subjects like race or gender can be problematic because if you are disadvantaged by prejudice, you could likely have fewer resources with which to conduct this research. If statistical data is taken as the only metric of credibility, it essentially requires that people with fewer resources receive the aid and attention of those with more resources. Then, there is still the factor of someone’s experience, even represented statistically, being filtered through the experience and perspective of someone who has a different experience and interests than the people being statistically represented. This could be a very good or a very bad thing. Ultimately, I think that the cause of a lack of statistical data about issues such as race needs to be examined and if access to resources is one of the factors leading to this dearth, we must ask “how do you tell the truth without statistics?”

This is a good question to ask in general, whether the resources are available to compile the statistics or not because the way that people perceive truth is a complicated thing. Hard data and analysis of that data plays into people’s decision making, for sure, but so do experiences, culture, and prejudice. Certainly, these things effect whether people perceive statistics as valid, even if there is an available criteria for evaluating statistics objectively. So, there is a value in representing things through experience or culture since that plays an important role in anyone’s decision making. A friend recently gave me a good example of this. New York City, in planning public network infrastructure projects, wanted to find out how people used the Internet. They decided, in part, to evaluate this through an online survey. Unfortunately, this format left out people who didn’t have Internet access but may have wanted it and who should be represented in the city’s infrastructure planning, especially as bridging the “digital divide” continues to be an objective of many public cyberinfrastructure projects. This strategy for information gathering could also have left out people who view Internet use as important but have such limited access that they have to prioritize their Internet tasks in such a way that completing an online survey would be difficult. So, in response to this, a community group decided to talk to various communities in NYC and to nonprofits, grassroots organizations and other groups that had a varied constituency about how the Internet and technology was being used in the city. The group conducting this research then decided that they would present their findings not as a report or collection of statistics but in youth-produced audio documentaries. I argue that this approach is not better or worse, more or less truthful than a statistical approach but that it resonates in ways that statistics cannot and can reveal truths that are obfuscated by statistics. Ultimately, I find it to be an exciting example of representing a reality with the purpose of affecting policy.

memes for media literacy discussions

  • Lupe Fiasco on sexism (from masculinities in media blog). I heard about Lupe Fiasco when someone brought ihis music up in the Q&A after the MED lecture last month. I heard a really great song called Kick, Push about skateboarding by Lupe Fiasco along with a lot of other great music on the Pandora Radio site.
  • Gabriel Teodros (thanks st!) on multi-racial identity and language in Africa East.  More and more I feel like punk music doesn’t speak to the questions that I need help answering, or to my experience, or connecting my experience with bigger things.  If it does connect with my experience, it seems often to link from my intentional investment in a particular subculture.  That’s not entirely true, because I think punk culture and the experience of playing music and organizing shows in a small town was, and remains, so honestly and beautifully linked with my experience growing up in central PA (and my parents as college-educated middle class people and the lifestyle that created for me).  But, that’s not my whole story, and it’s more and more unsatisfying to feel so invested in music that seems to lack a language to talk about some things, or has a political motivation without a complete perspective (say, in punk’s consistent striving to talk about and against racism but doing so without talking about race).  I’m searching for, and would like to think that I can help make multicultural music, not stylistically in the Lotus Fest, Puntamaya sort of way, but in terms of theme and perspective.

“I feel the problem is that we’re not represented in our culture. We don’t create it and it’s not born of anything of us”

The title to this post is from a young person quoted in Susan Herrig‘s article Questioning the generational divide: Technological exoticism and adult construction of online youth identity. (In: D. Buckingham (Ed.), Youth, Identity, and Digital Media (pp. 71-94). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.) which deals with the differing perspectives of digital media from adults and youth.

I found the discussion of how youth use media pretty interesting:

Young people use new technologies for social ends that are much the same as for earlier
generations using old technologies. Young people instant message, text message, or email their friends much as my Baby Boomer generation talked on landline telephones. They abbreviate and use language creatively to signal their in-group identity, much as my friends and I wrote backwards (manipulating the affordances of the hand-written
medium) and created special writing conventions to pass notes in class. They flirt online, while we flirted on the phone or in the hallways at school. They express their daily angst in blogs, whereas my generation kept hand-written diaries. They painstakingly craft their profiles in social networking sites to win the approval of their peers, while we dressed up to be “seen” hanging out at school dances and community youth events. Moreover, “search engines [function] as a library, … product-based sites as a mall, and downloadable movies and games as a theater or video arcade.” As was also true when I was young, the ends are more interesting and important to the participants than the technological means, especially if the means have been available all one’s life.

as well as the discussion of some possible motivating factors of youth technology use:

Moreover, contrary to the stereotype that the digital generation is enamored of technology, for many youth, technology use may not be the most fun activity, but rather what is most available, a substitute for something they would rather do. In a recent survey of media use by 6-17 year olds in the U.K, a majority of teens said that they would rather go out to a movie or do something with friends than stay home and consume media, and they complained that their neighborhoods did not provide enough activities for youth. Increasingly, parents are afraid to let their children go out for fear that they will not be safe, especially in urban areas. According to new media researcher Henry Jenkins, more elaborate indoor media environments have evolved to compensate for unsafe or otherwise inhospitable outdoor environments. danah boyd, in her chapter in this volume, argues that social networking spaces such as substitute for traditional offline hangouts, whose numbers have dwindled dramatically in recent decades in the U.S.

Link to PDF of article.

Defiance, Ohio Audio Files

I finally posted audio files from the recent Defiance, Ohio record The Fear, The Fear, The Fear to the web.  After seeing how El-Iqaa distributed his recent release as well as the encouragement of others, I decided to make the audio available as both a free download of 128Kbps or Ogg/Vorbis files on as well as a donation-requested 320Kbps or FLAC file download where the proceeds get paypalled to the Midwest Pages to Prisoners Project.


from the radio: analysis of digital media and a cool sounding college class

This radio piece had interesting statistics on the financial viability of the latest Radiohead album which was also available as a free download.

Adam Greenfield, the person interviewed in the piece teaches a class in Urban Computing at as part of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.



My friend Peter, had the following to add:

Regarding your recent blog post ( The statistics cited in the NPR story are indeed interesting, but not for the reason most people (even in the “quality” mainstream press) think they are.

As I reported in a recent issue of The Nation (, the stats were gathered by Comscore, an internet marketing firm that gathers data from 2 million poor souls who let their every point and click be monitored in exchange for some free software and sweepstake entries. Their software doesn’t work on macs or in firefox. They provide no detailed information about the type of statistical analysis they use They don’t even publish their relevant sample sizes ( i.e. how many of the folks they monitor actually bought the album – the way they phrase it leaves). Their findings are not accepted by many trade groups, and have been widely (and justly) critiqued across the web. Yet the AP, the NYtimes, NPR, etc. etc. are all regurgitating their Radiohead findings, never once noting that the evidence isn’t there.

Why would they do such a thing?

While reporting my first story (a reported personal essay, also in The Nation) on the Radiohead album, I noticed that all the industry people I talked to were not-so-subtly trying to put down Radiohead’s effort. One exec told me he’d heard they were just demos they were dumping on the public for laughs. When I pressed him, he told me he got the info from a members-only industry message board. I weaseled my way into a membership and guess what? No talk of “demo dumping.” Others told me “just look at the reviews, no one thinks its any good, etc.” It’s aggregating in the high 90s at!

To quote one of my own articles:

“It’s hard to resist some cynical conclusions: Comscore’s client base includes several media conglomerates, media conglomerates want In Rainbows to fail, newspapers want stories, and failure sells.”

Update 2:

I read on my friend Jenny’s blog, Greater Detroit, about a Detroit-based artist who also released his latest album, DETRO!T BE!RUT, as a free or donation-based download.

From the artist’s website:

This music comes from South Lebanon, was born in Lansing and lives in Detroit.  A sound declaration.  This music is rhythm for revolutions, rebellions, empowerment and progression.  Through audio and images, history is projected onto the future, terrorific stereotypes are rejected, a slandered heritage is reclaimed, the ruins of a city are rebuilt.  Sound and visions express the struggles and share the beauty of Detroit, Beirut.

Honestly, I’ve only just started listening to the recording, but it makes me think about refocusing the question of downloadable music.  I think the question is often asked as whether free or donation-based music is viable for the music industry or for artists in the context of the music industry.  I’m not sure if it is viable for the industry, or artists trying to operate within that system.  However, I don’t think that’s problematic.  I think that the Internet and digital music is less interesting as a tool that can be assimilated into the current music industry’s business model, or even as something that will shift the direction of the music industry, and more interesting as something that allows for a completely separate space for the dissemination of music and ideas.

It’s easy to see downloadable music and the social and technological network infrastructure that supports it as something that can be exploited by those who wouldn’t succeed within the confines of the record industry.  This casts those who utilize these networks as failures within the mainstream media market.  However, I see the recording industry and mainstream media as failing to produce media that is multicultural or culturally critical and that speaks to or from those for whom the traversal of these cultural boundaries is personal and important.  Digital media offers an opportunity, not just as reform or critique, for artists to succeed where existing cultural systems has failed.  It offers a tool to create something that is completely new and separate, not a music industry, but, hopefully, music culture.

e-learning and a changing collegiate culture

Online classes were just emerging as I left college.  There was a piece on Morning Edition this morning about the technology and trends in general and an instance of them at on University of Illinois branch.  I think this technology is inevitable and it does have some egalitarian advantages, as the president of the University of Illinois system state:

“But let’s be honest, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the world who don’t have the privilege of earning their education by leaving home, giving up their job, leaving the family and living on one of these campuses,” White said.

Still, there are also implications for a trend that is apparent even with living in a college town and meeting a lot of students on tour.  The idea of a university as a forum and a place where you might get exposed to unexpected ideas or ideas across disciplines is quickly eroding.  Technology plays a role in furthering this cultural shift.  As one professor says:

“But I can assure you that the next generation of students are ’24/7 students’ that want stuff right now. They don’t want to come to your class and listen to a professor lecture and tell funny stories,” Mims said. “They want just what they need to succeed in that class and get a job and be successful in life.”

I did a fundraising event for Pages to Prisoners in partnership with a local multi-cultural sorority.  The sorority members made a presentation about prison and education issues, and one woman read an article about the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that allows incarcerated people in New York get a liberal arts college degree.  When one of the inmates who was participating in the program was asked why it was important for inmates to receive a liberal arts education as opposed to vocational training, the man said that while job training could teach you how to do a specific job, the Bard education that he was getting through the program was teaching him how to think.

I fear that the “I want what I think I want when I want it” collegian is going to further erode the value of knowledge and discourse in culture.


Media check for the week of November 25, 2007

Last night, I watched a movie called Saving Face. It was your traditional rom-com in the sense that it had both an interrupted wedding and an airport scene. However, the characters were Chinese-American and the primary love stories were between two young women and an older woman and a younger man.


I heard a story on NPR this morning that talked about Dunkin’ Donuts’ rebranding campaign, but I thought there was a nice statement about the cache of products being working class and upper class people aspiring to “lower class” identities.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ advertising campaign “America Runs on Dunkin” is created out of a sentiment among customers that they wanted to buy a good, simple product. Brand guru Leslie Bielby says the campaign expands the retailer’s appeal.


media check for week of 2007-09-10

I was listening to Morning Edition today and heard a really interesting story about a man in Iraq meeting a friend from Texas via the Internet.  The Texan loves the Bush administration and thinks the war in Iraq was justified and a good thing.  The Iraqi man agrees that extremists in Iraq are responsible for the violence and other problems in the country, but feels the US isn’t helping by being in Iraq.  This is a crazy example of a cross-cultural dialog.  What I find difficult to understand is the Texan’s unwillingness to accept the Iraqi’s criticism of the US occupation, even though the Iraqi seems to have a better perspective.  It makes me want to be more careful at watching out for my own ridiculous belief at times.