Beautiful Drama or Tragic Disaster?

I think it’s time we get a little personal, and to kick things off I’m going to tell you what my favourite animal is!

ARE YOU READY?!

Drum roll, please…

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PENGUINS!

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As long as I can remember I have love penguins! But it was only after this week’s lecture that, I realised my love for these animals could be drawn from the fact that they are often represented like humans or having human-like qualities, otherwise known as anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism – is the term uses when we give “human characteristics to animals, inanimate objects or natural phenomena” (Nauert, 2015).

Desmond Morris a zoologist conducted a study on more that 80,000 British school children, asking them what their favourite animals are and why. The results Morris found, highlight the heavy impact anthropomorphism is having on our minds.

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His results found that the most common animals which were favoured were ones that had hair, could stand on two legs or could be trained to stand on two legs and/or tricks; chimpanzees, bears, pandas, giraffes and dogs were the most common animals in this grouping. Though birds were not highly viewed in this survey, there was one particular one that caught me eye, this particular bird was able to stand much like a human and at the right angle looked to be wearing a tux…take a wild guess and what bird it was?

A penguin!

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I have never thought of penguins having human-like qualities before, however, after watching ‘March of the Penguins’ (2005), I started to understand how human traits were connected to my tuxedo-clad friends. Religious groups associated Penguins with monogamy and the perfect nuclear family, deeming the film as “proof” of intelligent design, thus promoting the documentary’s anthropomorphism further.

However, “some scientists are criticising the movie March of the Penguins for portraying the Antarctic seabirds almost as tiny, two-tone humans” (Mayell, 2005). The emperor penguins are seen making their journey across the cold Antarctic floors in “a quest to find the perfect mate and start a family against impossible odds.” The narration performed by Morgan Freeman provides us with more emphasis of humanisation, “‘[the penguins] are not that different from us, really. They pout, they bellow, they strut, and occasionally they will engage in some contact sports.” It is from language amongst camera techniques and editing that have given this particular documentary the Disney model. Margaret King states that the Disney model is selective of the perception of animal life and is exploited for human desire to find patterns in the natural world that are similar to our own. She further explains, “by subjectifying the animals, the Disney format creates audience identification with animal “stars” and arouses empathy with the affinity for their situations.” The continuation of these elements to emphasis human desire is pressed on firmly throughout the documentary, creating a narrative in which nature is redefined. “Nature, but a very special kind: not an ecosystem, but an ego-system – one viewed through a self-referential human lens: anthropomorphised, sentimentalised and moralised.”

One the other hand you have countless scientists who believe much like the film, anthropomorphism isn’t a negative thing but can be an upside to understanding animals and the start of building a relationship with them. Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal argues that anthropomorphism is the unwillingness to recognise the human-like traits of animals or what he refers to as “anthropodenial”. De Waal’s phenomenon is closely linked to those made by people in the fifteenth century, which saw dogs, pigs and other domesticated animals put on trial for crimes, like any other human being. Within the nineteenth century and to the present day, many naturalists have sought out the connections between animals and human intelligence. This may be odd and completely absurd but this mindset is what we can see now in regards to our views for animals whether they are wild or domesticated. We seem to have forgotten that animals are animals and it is in their nature to have animal’s instincts and be unpredictable with their behaviour.

Research has convinced us that animal’s intelligence is either the same, close to or of a higher level of intelligence than that of humans. However, research doesn’t tell you why these tests are conclusive. Many of these tests fail because the animals are not in the environments they thrive in, they have been tortured by the refusal of food, and because their “intelligence” cannot be described to our level of understanding. This misconception of animal’s intelligence and the opposite of anthropomorphism have led to many incidents at zoo’s, aquarium’s and at the infamous Sea World, Florida with an Orca killing its trainer.

In spite of all the incidences of injury and death, all such claims have been dismissed and covered with the notion of anthropomorphism, that is wasn’t the fault of the animal but of the human in contact with it.

When will we truly understand that animals are animals and there is a distinct line that separates the different species from one another because they are not the same?


References:

Leane, E & Pfennigwerth, S 2011, Marching on Thin Ice: The Politics of Penguin Films. In: Considering Animals: Contemporary Case Studies in Human-Animal Relations, Ashgate, Farnham, Surrey, pp. 29-40 <http://eprints.utas.edu.au/17344/>

Mayell, H 2005, “March of the Penguins” Too Lovey-Dovey to Be True?, National Geographic, weblog, 19 August, viewed 22 March 2017, <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/0819_050819_march_penguins.html>

Nauert, D 2015, Why Do We Anthropomorphise?, Psych Central, weblog post, viewed 22 March 2017, <https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/03/01/why-do-we-anthropomorphize/11766.html>

Riederer, R 2016, Inky The Octopus And The Upside Of Anthropomorphism, The New Yorker, weblog post, 26 April, viewed 23 March 2017, <http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/inky-the-octopus-and-the-upsides-of-anthropomorphism>

Russo, C 2013, Wildlife documentaries or dramatic science?, PLOS, weblog, 4 February, viewed 23 March 2017, <http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2013/02/04/wildlife-documentaries-or-dramatic-science/>

 

Poverty Porn: Justice or Exploitation?

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To be completely honest with you, I know nothing about being poor and having very little to get you by. The closest I have come to it is scraping pennies together to buy myself a coffee until my next paycheck comes in. However, my struggle with my finances and trying to make ends meet is nowhere near the hardships many people in Australia and around the world have to go through.

Although when it comes to poverty we usually categorise it with people who have made bad decisions that have led them to live this way or people who had no control over their circumstances. This particular grouping has led to the media’s depiction of poverty has grown into a new genre called poverty porn.

Poverty porn is defined as a medium type either “written, photographed or filmed, that exploits the poor conditions of an individual in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause” (Aid Thought, 2009).

Steven Threadgold (2015) refers to poverty porn as Westerners’ portrayal of global inequality and their ability to distort the presentation of the disadvantage by making it an advantage for themselves.

“Poverty porn objectifying images of the poor through a privileged gaze for privileged gratification” (Threadgold, 2015).

It is argued, however, that the media’s exploitation of underprivileged people has created a negative stereotype that often seems like they have brought the situation on themselves by not taking the help or relying on benefits too heavily.

The media driven “reality TV” and “documentaries” have stirred debate on whether the representation of the poor is ethical and whether or not it serves as a successful purpose at rising awareness of people in need. It is often believed that ‘any publicity is good publicity’, especially when it comes to creating awareness for social issues, however, when can you draw the line from entertainment value and sheer exploitation of the people involved?

The SBS series, Struggle Street, is a documentary that follows individuals and families living poverty showcasing their stories and struggles in the Australian suburb of Mt. Druitt. However series has received great backlash in regards to the portrayal and stereotyped images that they gave the people living in the suburb.

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Steven Threadgold (2015) coined the series as “poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism”. This statement is made clear throughout the different elements of the show, as well as the lack of attention paid to the economic, political and social fators that have created poverty within Australia in the first place.

The patronizing element of the voice-over, who makes it clear he has been brought up in a privileged environment and knows little about those who live in poverty. Adds a judgemental and cliched tone to the show, “When life sticks the boot in, it’s about how you fight back,” said true-blue narrator David Field. “If you want to survive you’ve got to keep moving and never give up on your next silver lining.” Gay Alcorn, (2015) adds that it is this tone that shows no sympathy to the despair happening onscreen. The residents of Mt. Druitt were also unpleased with the series as it showed the entire suburb to be stereotyped and showed those who did live in poorer conditions as sensationalised.

Struggle Street, aids as Australian-based questioning if poverty publicity motivates an intention to help the marginalised or if it just acts as a well to allow privileged people feel grateful that they are not in that particular situation.

It can be seen that Struggle Street alongside any other Australian-based series that follows poverty doesn’t receive the same reaction as campaigns and series’ that follow poverty in third world countries.

Jack Blacks meet a homeless boy campaign for Red Nose Day, it a great example of how poverty in a third world country, with children, can have more of an effect towards helping then that of a documentary in a Westernised country.

The Red Nose Day campaign also uses the familiar face of Jack Black, better known for his comedic work, breakdown on camera and ask for help for the young boy who has lost everything and none of it was his fault and completely out of his control.

The topic of poverty porn can be taken in many different directions and the debate over media coverage of these topics is still in the air. I, however, have come to the conclusion that in this situation, having poverty broadcasted for people to see is very subjective depending on who’s watching and what that individual person is like. It is possible to criticise the elements of production from the documentaries, however, everyone’s perceptions are different and some will view voice-overs, camera angles and the stories themselves very differently.


References:

Alcorn, G 2015, Struggle Street Is Only Poverty Porn If We Enjoy Watching, The Turn Away, The Guardian, 15 May, viewed 19 March 2017

Matt 2009, What is ‘poverty porn’ and why does it matter for development?, Aid Thoughts, weblog, 1 July, viewed 19 March 2017, <http://aidthoughts.org/?p=69&gt;

Threadgold, S 2015, Struggle Street is poverty porn with an extra dose of class racism, The Conversation, 6 May, viewed 19 March 2017

First!…Let Me Take A Selfie

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I’m sure we’re all familiar with the concept of the selfie; in fact, I’m sure there’s someone out there right now taking their 20th selfie.

Let’s be real the first one’s never the best one.

Now I’m sure we all know the basic definition of “selfie”, as it being one of our daily practices, however for a deeper understanding of the concept Senft and Baym (2015) state:

“A selfie is a photographic object that initiates the transmission of human feeling in the form of a relationship (between photographer and photographed, between image and filtering software, between viewer and viewed, between individuals circulating images, between users and social software architectures, etc.)”

The Selfie, often seen as amateur photos taken for online purposes, to be commented on by strangers, has become a cultural phenomenon revolutionising the face of social media. The buzz around the selfies has changed not only the way we communicate but also changed the meaning a portrait can uphold.

The portrait has been around since the 17th Century allowing for discussions to be made behind the meaning of its existence. Portraits have been set as images of self-branding, highlighting class, success, wealth and much more to be known about a singular person.

The only difference now is instead of hanging these pictures up in our living rooms we hang them up virtually online for the world to see, creating a branded self-image.

As a generation maintaining an image or stature online is important for our future endeavours.

Personally, I am not one to take selfies a lot, mostly I feel awkward posing in a crowded place searching for the right angle or lighting. Which is odd considering we’re living in a society where it is so common to see people taking selfies. However, when I do post selfies on my social media they are usually reserved for Instagram and Snapchat and the odd one for Facebook when I’m in direr need of a new profile picture. Although with each of these platforms comes a sense of authenticity within my posts to reflect who I really am as a person.

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The extent of my selfie game.

As Pamela B. Rutledge (2013) emphasises

“Selfies are immediate, personal, and authentic.

Selfies are fun, participatory and transient.

Selfies capture a moment.

Selfies are playful.

Selfies challenge social norms about portraiture and a bunch of other things.”

A journal article written by Ian Goodwin, Christine Griffin, Antonia Lyons, Timothy McCreanor and Helen Moewaka Barnes (2016) although looking into intoxicated selfies on Facebook, they did reflect on the regime of the branded self as a “symptomatic of new forms of online sociality and “required” aspects of identity work which are tied to imperatives for self-promotion in the current conjuncture”. Selfies do more than just showcase someone’s daily activities, but also their personalities and characteristics.

We see celebrities take on this regime as they showcase their brand online; we see this significantly with the Kardashian’s who brand themselves based on economic value and social value.

Kim Kardashian’s famous viral selfie portrays the image of a strong, an independent woman who is embracing her body.

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However, the selfie game is playing itself out on social media by creating micro-celebrities or influencers. Independent writer Heather Saul (2016) explains how the term “celebrity” is being redefined and reshaped,

‘Celebrity’ is diversifying. Where once only film stars, singers or high-end fashion models represented by powerful agencies would fit under this classification, social media influencers are now working their way to the fore. Instead of turning to the pages of magazines, catwalks or films, Generations Y and Z now look to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in search of their idols.”

These are the people who have established their brand on social media to influence other users towards a particular lifestyle. Emily Skye and Kayla Itsines are two examples of social media influencers who have established their brand of fitness on social media.

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Based on this they have developed a following based on health and fitness for women, they also use their branding effect through selfies to motivate women and highlight that it’s not all about being skinny or a size zero. Emily in particular highlights how you don’t always have abs or look flexed and lean all the time.

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Through these examples, the cultural phenomenon of the selfie is revealed, as being highly relevant to an individual’s brand. Shaping who they are in an authentic manner online for all to see.


References:

Emily Skye’s Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/emilyskyefit/?hl=en

Goodwin, I & Griffi A.L & McCreanor, T & Barnes, H.M 2016, Precarious Popularity: Facebook Drinking Photos, the Attention Economy, and the Regime of the Branded Self, Social Media & Society, vol. 1, no. 2 <http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305116628889>

Kayla Itsines’ Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/kayla_itsines/?hl=en

Kim Kardashian’s Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/kimkardashian/?hl=en

Rutledge, P.B 2013, Branding with Selfies, Psychology Today, weblog post, 24 November, viewed 9 March 2017, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-media/201311/branding-selfies>

Saul, H 2016, Instafamous: Meet the social media influencers redefining celebrity, Independent, weblog post, 27 March, viewed 10 March 2017, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/instagram-model-natasha-oakley-iskra-lawrence-kayla-itsines-kendall-jenner-jordyn-woods-a6907551.html>

Senft, T.M & Baym, N.K 2015, What does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon, International Journal of Communication, vol. 9, pp. 1588-1606 <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/4067/1387>