Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Occupy meme fairy tale #OWS

Once upon a time, Wall Street got occupied.

Around the same time, in the basement of a distant enchanted forest, a group of heroic graduate students discussed best practices for making an idea go viral. They talked about internet memes and network theory, and later they all went to sleep with visions of double rainbows and rickrolls dancing in their heads.

But one of the students - a beautiful but mischievous princess - was unable to sleep that night. Instead, she disobeyed the warnings of her father the king and went to visit a giant network monster, known to all as the Facebook. This monster had attacked and eaten most of the other smaller networks in the land and was a fearsome sight to see as he sprawled outside his cave chewing on the bones of MySpace and spitting out the indie rock bands.

Our princess hero wasn't frightened to face the monster, because she knew that Facebook could be good or evil depending on how you treated him - and she had come prepared. She whipped him up a nice big breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and hashtags, and he sighed in contentment and coughed up a lolcat hairball. Then he gave her a gift in return. It was a newborn video. It cried out as it took its first feeble breaths:

The princess took a liking to the video, because it was smart and fresh and relevant and had a good beat.  So she cared for it and fed it and let her friends play with it. She waited for it to grow big and strong so it could play with the other videos and be shown on Jimmy Kimmel and have someone do an autotuned remix of it.

But in spite of the care taken to raise it properly, the video never grew as much as she had hoped. "Why not?" the princess wondered. "It was a really good video and deserved to go to meme school as much as that baby who dances to Single Ladies."

Clearly, however, the princess was wrong and out of touch, and really probably part of the 1% because, come on, she's a princess. Even if she was actually completely broke from paying tuition to the enchanted forest. So no one really lived happily ever after, unfortunately. Sometimes videos just die. Although of course they never really die. They just wait around until you decide to run for office or your new girlfriend is meeting your mom for the first time. Or maybe until you decide to post them on your class blog just before everyone's blog comments are due?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cancun Candid Camera

The discussion of public diplomacy led me to consider the implications of soft power in the form of tourism and particularly advertisement of tourism.

After battling years of dwindling tourism dollars, Colombia redeveloped its travel sector by cultivating an aggressive publicity and advertisement campaign. After years of prompting its image and particularly its safety, Colombia has begun attracting tourists back to the country.

A similar decrease in foreign visitors has prompted The Mexico Tourism Board, eager to implement a similarly aggressive strategy to improve Mexico’s reputation. Plagued by border violence, drug-related crime, and kidnapping, The Mexico Tourism Board is most concerned with altering the perception that it is an unsafe destination for tourists. And the the reputation is unfounded. In Sepetmber the bodies of 35 tourists were dumped in the popular tourist destination of Veracuz, and mass grave of 18 tourists was discovered a year ago.

But, Mexico’s new commercials, which are now showing on several U.S. cable channels, feature candid-camera style interviews with American tourists returning from vacations in the country. The Mexico Taxi Project is the Mexico Tourism Boards effort to capture the unbiased opinions of Americans who know Mexican resorts, destinations, and activities. The rationale of the campaign’s creative team is that viewers are more likely to believe the “candid” opinions of other Americans as opposed to well-crafted and polished promos featuring model-like tourists frolicking on white sand beaches with pina colada in hand. The imagery and tone of the commercial suggests that Mexico is attempting to adapt word-of-mouth marketing to a mass audience.

Only time will tell if it can successful reinvigorate Mexico’s lackluster tourism sector, however until the country can get its affairs in order and curb violence fueled by confrontations of drug cartels the campaign may be all for naught. While the success of Colombia’s campaign serves a model of success, it was just a late-implemented component of a larger body of reforms aimed at combating narco-terrorism and. That is to say the ad campaigns were successful at drawing tourists to Colombia only after the country had begun to successfully improve its situation.

Public Diplomacy and Basketball

I always tend to think of public diplomacy in relation to sports, and not just because it is the field in which I am currently employed and that I literally just got back from an NCAA volleyball game.

We tend to send athletes as ambassadors, a friendly game of hoops between a couple college teams and the Chinese national team for example. Although, they don't always expect the games to look like it did this summer when the brawl occurred between Georgetown and Chinese players. That is not exactly the message of peace and friendship that really was expected out of this goodwill tour.

Sports normally are a great way to spread public diplomacy, who doesn't enjoy watching international games or exhibitions and seeing some pretty amazing talent. And, it's way more interesting than watching a meeting take place and the canned political statements.

But, as with the Georgetown-China basketball game, things can go wrong. It's hard to say why the players felt like they needed to start swinging at each other (especially when they knew they were on a goodwill tour and this is highly anti-goodwill), but it definitely wasn't planned. Public diplomacy can also run into hiccups, whether it's comments that are not culturally correct (Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" example) or if there are highly controversial statements made that could rub either of the publics the wrong way, it's not a bulletproof thing. There is always the chance of it back-firing, though more with actual public diplomacy than basketball diplomacy we definitely hope not.

Mi Gorda Bella!

Now, I know there's plenty to talk about from this week's readings. But, since this is my last blog post and I've been putting posting these 2 CELEBRITY CRUSHES (apparently a theme of mine this semester) AND 2 AWESOME VIDEOS off in favor of other topics each week, I'm going to backtrack. *Note: the second celebrity crush and awesome video can be found in my actual final post...check it out!*

Firstly, I couldn't help but share a clip of Mi Gorda Bella [in English they usually call it My Sweet Fat Valentina]. I've wanted to since the Ugly Betty/Betty La Fea article, because I watched (and loved) this Venezuelan novela in Costa Rica just about every day with my family back in 2003, thereby causing total nostalgia when Betty's story finally made her way stateside. Mi Gorda Bella was one of the many format exports like Jade Miller mentioned in her article; not a direct remake of the original novela, but a similar storyline, with overweight Valentina in place of ugly Betty, and Valentina's maybe-cousin/love interest Orestes (it's not as gross as it sounds, and he is *spoiler alert* revealed to be unrelated by the end) in place of the boss. The show's Spanish was decidedly Venezuelan, which falls under Telemundo CEO James MacNamara's assertion that regional colloqualisms and accents have to change in order to be available to bigger (or just different) markets. Thought it would be interesting to share with everyone, because I enjoyed the show. Also because the protagonist male (Juan Pablo Raba, who plays Orestes) was one of the only celebrity crushes I've ever had. [If you've been reading diligently, you know that a Jon C. Reilly lookalike has since taken over...although to be fair Alan Grayson hasn't totally beaten out Bradley Cooper for the #1 spot.]

Without further ado, here's a clip (no subtitles, sorry):

Loooove it. India and Mexico picked this one up, creating remakes titled respectively Dekho Magar Pyaar Se and Llena de amor - these are in addition to their more direct Ugly Betty remakes, which is (you guessed it) pretty meta.

Revenge of the Nerds

No offense by that title because I include myself in that group as well - at least "video game" nerds. When talking about the power of internet-borne communities, this recent example justifies it in a pretty significant way - and as always, the impact of social media.

Operation Rainfall is a fan campaign launched on June 23, 2011 meant to persuade Nintendo of America (NOA) to localize three role-playing games for the Wii console, one of which was called Xenoblade Chronicles.

Fans sent as many physical letters and e-mails as well as giving as many phone calls to Nintendo of America's headquarters as possible, in addition to posting messages on the companyis Facebook page and Twitter accounts, requesting a North American release of the game.

Nintendo did decide to localize it - in Europe. This understandably ticked a lot of people off; it's easy to understand the typical responses of "it won't sell outside Japan." But to localize it in a region in which everything will be in English anyways with the same expectations of success burned a lot of people up, and when in doubt, complain on the internet.

Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime commented that, "We will be watching very closely what happens in Europe...Certainly if there are business opportunities and positive consumer uptake from some of those titles, that will be great data for us to consider as we look at what to do with these titles." Yesterday, Nintendo revealed on its Facebook page that Xenoblade would come to North America on April 3, 2012.

You could feel the disbelief from these fan corners but what really got me was the message on Operation Rainfall's Facebook page, "We Did It!" I'm a softy at heart, plus I might be able to buy a Wii by April.

To further legitimize this whole campaign, our very own Washington Post even covered the saga and continuing power of fans convening on the internet. Maybe I'm easy, but I have to say I am impressed, and likely buoyed by their recent success, the group is still openly campaigning for the other Japanese games to be localized as well. A well-won victory all without leaving the computer screen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Where have all the correspondents gone?

You rarely see true foreign correspondents anymore. There are reporters covering foreign news, yes, but there are fewer and fewer who actually live in the region their covering, working in their organization's foreign bureau.

During times of war, you see them. But most of the time these are reporters who were sent to the region specifically because of the war. They are there on assignment, like any other reporter, and when the war is over (or pretty much over) they are flown back home or onto other international assignments. War is the driving factor of foreign correspondence today, it guarantees that news will be generated in that region and that it will need to be covered. There will be a number of different stories and angles as well, aside from just covering the battles and troop movements. There are people whose lives have been turned upside down and are being affected because of the area they live. But there are only so many of those stories, and eventually the public will grow bored and there will be no more need for a large number of reporters to tell those stories.

Traditionally, foreign correspondents would live and cover the area they lived in for years. They would know the language and the people, which would make gaining access for stories easier. But more and more papers have shut down their foreign bureaus and those who are left are responsible for covering a larger region than before. When news happens immediately in a region where there are no foreign correspondents nearby, they rely on the news from international organizations or local reporters, or freelancers if they have decided to come fill the gap for coverage of the region that they see in the international news.

Whenever I would talk to editors or professors and say I wanted to become a foreign correspondent after I graduated, most of them would say, "Wow, we never hear anyone say that anymore. Good luck with that." The nature of how we get our foreign news has changed, we rely more on the one organization that may have a reporter left in the area or freelancers who are willing to brave the unpredictable environment. But it has definitely changed and it seems unlikely that it will go back to what it used to be. The heyday of foreign correspondence has ended, for better or for worse, and most of the time it's definitely not for the better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Because it's necessarily personal

Instead of discussing this week’s readings, I want to reflect on the presentations we saw in class on Tuesday. Both were awesome and very interesting – kudos, classmates!

Emily, Marc, Ayonfe and Katie’s presentation struck a bit of a nerve with me (in a good way) as those of you in class may have noticed. They discussed the new imagined communities – not just nations anymore, but diasporas, telenovela fans, gamers, and members of religious groups, regional areas, etc. Bonus points for keeping it interesting, engaging, and interactive… (hint, hint, Prof. Hayden).

In class I reflected on the sports world as an imagined community of its own, and then mentioned one of the more awful effects we’ve seen of that community in recent news – the Penn State scandal. I discussed the apparent separation this imagined community caused between some fans and what could be called American society’s morals (or generally accepted human morals, perhaps?). I brought up the example of Shayna’s Facebook share of a Jon Stewart clip showing the rioting and protests that followed the ouster of the team’s head coach following allegations that he didn’t do enough after hearing about the alleged child sexual abuse committed by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. The clip includes footage of protesters indignant over their beloved head coach having suffered such an unfortunate fate. Stewart’s reaction – and mine – was disbelief that this was THIS was the cause of the anger and sense of betrayal being protested. Not, say, the possible rape of young children.

(Nota bene: Because I need to keep believing in some amount of good in my fellow humans, I'll trust this is not the majority view of the university or its students, and I do not mean to make an example of athletics in general or of Penn State by bringing this up. But even treating it, as I’d like to be clear is my intent, as the example of a select few individuals caught on camera – it boggles the mind how any person can be so blinded by their imagined community that they ignore or defend what society considers to be grave and egregious mismanagement of an unspeakable crime.)

I keep writing other things and realizing I've gotten too personal, but this is an issue that cuts me too close to my own heart to bear. I honestly can't say much more. I just want to ask that we take a moment to recognize this with horror. That we think about how the cases that are reported are only the tip of the iceberg, that we condemn the fact that utter mismanagement of allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse are likely the norm rather than the exception. That we realize many of these unspeakable acts are occurring in places that don't have a highly developed HR department and a set reporting structure like Penn State does. And that we reflect upon how our own imagined communities affect our choices.