Monday, July 9, 2012

Small things:

Little bits of technology, and all the connections - Carlson's and Kim's death are linked by an invisible thread…

Headlines: "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" author dies of heart attack"
Headline: "Machines can't save our world / Kim family's story shows limitations of new technology" (Originally Published Online)

     What is interesting about re-examining the untimely deaths of these two individuals is that small stuff matters in very similar ways. Because it is all the small stuff that is connected to other small stuff, that when you look at all the small stuff interconnected it becomes really big important stuff. This is the basis of systems theory, it is a basic component of social dynamics, it is the basis of biological systems, it is the basis of neuro-cognitive psychology, it is the basis of social networks, and even technological networks. The invisible thread is that element or interface that we as humans provide a consciousness to connect them all with. We can operate in a world full of small stuff, manage all the small stuff, and be connected to all the small stuff. It's not that hard, it does not require sweat, and it might just save your life

     Ironically, the first article is about a guy promoting a book about holiday stress that dies of cardiac arrest on flight from one book appearance to another during the holidays. Sadly, the other article is about a guy who reviews tech gadgets that didn't have a satellite phone or portable GPS to find a way out of the wilderness and died try to find a way out.

     The second article states technology can't save our world. Well, no one machine, no one device, not one helicopter with an infrared camera can do it. But that's not what this article is about. It's about all the devices connected.

     One cell phone is useless without the infrastructure to allow it to connect to emergency service networks. One anecdote about how to pat yourself on the back will not lower your Cortisol while you spend the holidays making public appearances on different coasts.

     What is lacking is the connection these two men made. One analyzes new gadgets that make our life better, and the other analyzes new behaviors to make our life better. Yet neither made the connection in their own life to have the gadget that would have saved one and the behaviors that might
have prolonged the other.

     One can not say for certain if Mr. Kim had spent $39 rental fee for a satellite phone or purchased one for $700 dollars he would be alive. Or if he had purchased any number of GPS devices ranging from $500 & up what might have still been the outcome?

     Nor can one say for certainty if Mr. Carlson had in the last 6 months had his homosystiene levels checked, or gotten a C-reactive protein test or any number of indicators for heart disease. Or for that matter, whether a defibrillator was on board and if somebody even used it.

     What we can sketch out is this, these were 20th century men living in a 21st century world. In the 20th century we lived in a cause and effect world. Big forces caused big effects, the two world wars can be seen like chess pieces, with clear black and white sides. But we are all connected. We have multiple redundant systems and multiple virtual profiles that keep us connected. Cell phones, laptops, email, and on and on... In the 20th century newsreels fed us information, major network anchors fed us headlines, but not now...Not in the 21st century. We are the person of the year according to Newsweek...

     We are connected, we are networked, but are we aware of all the connections? This is the real issue. Can we be aware of all the small stuff we are connected to? If we can't who can help us? Who will emerge as the that begins to see all the connections to all the small stuff.

     It is not just technology and communications, but we are now looking at our biological selves as connected networks of small stuff. Digestive systems connected to endocrine systems, connected to nervous systems. Then we have the brain itself, a barely mined golden vane of separate neuron based 'small stuff' of visual, emotional, and motor networks.

     The days of matching a cough to a pill, and the removal of a dictator to democracy are over. Now we have to begin the long hard haul to put all the small stuff into the big things that happen. Welcome my 20th century friends, this is the 21st century.

     In socio-economic and political realms, the 20th Century gurus have emerged; certainly Al Gore comes to mind to complex ecological issues. And some might even point to persons like Dr Weil and Deepak Chopra as gurus in the world of health and wellness.

     Those are just the first generation of forward thinkers of the last century, yet who are going to take the place of Mr. Carlson in terms of behaviors and Mr. Kim in the world of gadgets? Hopefully, a person who sees that all the small stuff matters because all the small stuff is connected to you.
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Calling the President “Dude”
A Conversational Analysis of the changing Norms of Broadcast Journalism

Since the 1980s journalists have lost autonomy within news organizations increasingly dominated by the logic of the market, and have lost prestige within society  - Daniel C. Halin UCSD from International Communication Association & Political Science Association Vol 16

Many social critics, scholars, and popular cultural figures have bemoaned the blending of entertainment and the news (Anderson 2004, Postman 2005, Kimball 1994). Specifically, this has become most visible in TV news organizations and TV news productions.  The once sacred domain of the TV news interview with its ideals of Social Responsibility (Siebert, Peterson and Schramm 1956) have come under scrutiny as major media conglomerates have demanded that the once sacrosanct newsroom become a profit center in its own right (Kimball 1994) .

As Halin points out in his paper, this has not always been the case, but today we see that with cable news and even with broadcast news the social institution known as the news interview with its norms of objectivity and adversarialness (Heritage, Clayman 2010) has become less clearly defined if not completely ambiguous in many cases.

News provides a way to inform the public, and is considered by many as a social good (Hamilton, Rimsky 1996) and necessary ingredient to a successful democracy. But this paper is not a political science survey of news media events, communication theory or media company histories.

But rather a look at how the slow but clear deconstruction of the news interview norms has created an opportunity for individuals to explore and exploit this once clearly defined domain.

To provide this window into the disintegrating journalistic TV norms of today’s broadcast news, the author proposes to use someone at the nexus between entertainment and broadcast news, Jon Stewart of the Daily Show on Comedy Central. This paper will use the work of Conversational Analysis to show how the participants in specific interviews are bewildered, caught off guard, and professionally damaged by Mr. Stewarts willingness to both criticize the lack of journalistic “Social Responsibility” and then use the very rhetorical techniques of news journalists in the art of news gathering he himself critiques.

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Sh...
Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Show in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As the media landscape has changed, with the internet and 100’s of TV channels, Jon Stewart, a comedian who anchors “Self-Proclaimed” fake TV news show is one who travels in and in between the world of entertainment programming and broadcast news. Research shows that specific younger demographics primarily get their news from him (Pew Research 2004), he is ranked as a trusted journalist along side TV News Journalists like Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. And, he regularly gets higher ratings than most TV Cable news programs (NY Times 2005).   

Thus he provides a unique and powerful example of relative ease that a personality like Mr. Stewart can move to take control and deconstruct in real time various news interview situations. This paper will specifically look at three news interviews situations of Mr. Stewart. The first is where Mr. Stewart was the guest of the CNN cable news show Crossfire. The second will be his interview of Chris Matthews as a guest on Mr. Stewart’s own The Daily Show. And finally we shall look at the most recent interview of President Barack Obama on the Daily Show taken just before the November midterm elections of 2010.  In each Mr. Stewart uses his unique “un-journalistic” credentials to attack, propose his populist views, and potentially destroy the careers of other unwitting TV participants. We will use the works of John Heritage and Steve Clayman to examine how Mr. Stewart works in these interviews.

It is important to note that the author of this paper did review many other interviews of Mr. Stewart. These include interviews with Ken Auletta at C-Span, Larry King, and Oprah. Mr. Stewart is a seasoned professional who has hosted the live telecast of the Academy Awards twice. He has authored several books, and is a writer, producer and host of the Daily show which is the winner of two Peabody Awards, several Emmy’s for outstanding Comedy / Variety Show and a Thurber Award. Thus, the following examples are of a seasoned media professional who’s nightly broadcast specifically skewers broadcast media. Thus, it would be difficult to assume his naïveté in the world of broadcast journalism as a cause for his actions.  

It is also important to note that two of the transcripts used are culled from the third party transcript services, and one is done by the author of this paper. Yet due to limitations of creating transcripts, while they are all accurate, they do not contain the standard notations of inflection, breath, silence, and other points of higher precision typical of Conversation Analysis papers.

Thus our first example shows that Mister Stewart is well aware of what Heritage and Clayman refer to as the “overhearing” audience. In fact he plays to the audience in all his interviews. The twist, is that he plays to it as a comedian and not in deference as a journalist, despite his use of journalistic rhetorical techniques. Heritage and Clayman point out that the journalistic question / answer interaction is constrained in part for journalists to get answers for the “overhearing” audience and not themselves, thus journalists refrain from making “oh” or “right” remarks, so as to maintain a “neutralistic” stance. Further, to maintain a completely neutral stance is quite difficult as they state that trying to be both objective and adversarial creates a tension that is difficult to maintain and that being completely neutral is nearly impossible.

But again, Mr. Stewart is not willing to be constrained by the journalist’s neutralistic circle of objectivity which reporters use as Heritage and Clayman suggest as a shield against attacks of bias and unfairness. In fact, he acknowledges that this journalistic objectivity is being destroyed in fact by the hosts of Crossfire. So what Mr. Stewart does as he literally sits in the middle between the liberal Mr. Begala on the left and the conservative Mr. Carlson on the right is unashamedly attack not using simple declaratives as one might use in ordinary conversation, but using the question and answer turn taking of journalists to support his opinions about the current state of broadcast journalism.  

The attacks are so devastating and were so widely reported that despite the fact that Crossfire first aired on CNN in 1982 and was a very successful show, in less than a year after Mr. Stewart’s 2004 appearance, the show was taken off the air. Though long running shows frequently get cancelled, in a New York Times interview of the President of CNN, the CNN executive was quoted as saying that its cancellation was due in great part to Mr. Stewart’s appearance (NY Times 2005). 

1  STEWART: Thank you very much. That was very kind of you to say. 
2  Can I say something very quickly? Why do we have to fight? 

Here Mister Stewart uses what Heritage and Clayman refer to as deference to the interviewer, which is a request to shift the agenda. We see this in debates and news interviews. Yet, as Mr. Stewart proceeds he has something else in mind.

He continues to guide the two interviewers on saying something nice about the other candidate at the time being Bush and Kerry.  Tucker Carlson the “right wing” conservative obliges and Paul Begala “left wing” progressive makes a feeble attempt at Bush stating he ‘s be unemployed soon. 

This only frustrates Mr. Stewart more, until he pleads with both hosts to just “stop, stop hurting America.”  In fact he requests for them to go “work with us, the people.” As if he is a representative  or union leader of that group.  This entire dialogue is critical to understanding Mr. Stewarts populist stance. Mr. Carlson’s assumes that Mr. Stewart is just a “funny” journalist and makes the insistence that he is a lax journalist because of the easy questions Mr. Stewart lobed on the Democrat’s nominee John Kerry.

(This is not lost on the audience, who are listening intently)
1  STEWART: See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the                
2  politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns. 
3  BEGALA: By beating up on them? You just said we're too rough on them when they     
4  make mistakes. 
5  STEWART: No, no, no, you're not too rough on them. You're part of their strategies.    
6  You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks. 

            The audience has now turned and is clearly laughing at the “hack” hosts of the cable show they waited in line to attend.  The error that begins to grow is where Mr. Carlson continues to compare Mr. Stewart to himself in terms of journalistic objectivity. Mr. Carlson is mistaken in thinking that Mr. Stewart is a Progressive political interviewer, and continues to suggest that Mr. Stewart was too easy on John Kerry. But Mr. Stewart is undeterred by the assumption he must play by the rules of objectivity that are the hallmark of good journalism.  

1  STEWART: But the thing is that this -- you're doing theater, when you should be doing debate, which would be great. 
2  BEGALA: We do, do... 
4  STEWART: It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan               
5  hackery. And I will tell you why I know it. 
6  CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're            
7  accusing us of partisan hackery? 
8  STEWART: Absolutely.
9  CARLSON: You've got to be kidding me. He comes on and you... 
11  STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank      
12  phone calls. 

Clearly we see that Mr. Stewart believes his status as entertainer alleviates his requirements to follow neutralistic assertions, while his self-proclaimed populist position requires him to demand that others in broadcast journalism maintain the very standards he does not require of himself.

In addition, Mr. Carlson has begun to leave the realm of Question and Answer turn taking and just begins in line # 3 to simply argue that Mr. Stewart is not an objective journalist. And so to drive the point home that that Mr. Carlson’s assertion is false, Mr. Stewart buries the knife with the line # 5 “You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls”. Here Mr. Stewart gets his biggest laugh and applause.  The program proceeds but the damage is done. Neither Mr. Carlson nor Mr. Begala are able to return to the Question and Answer format their news show format was entirely based on.
Thus we see that Stewart both understands the role of news journalism, the techniques of journalism, but he himself is not required to be objective as he is an entertainer.

As an entertainer, his role as interviewer can change depending on how he wishes to proceed. In the next interview we look at how a very seasoned broadcast journalist  Chris Matthews fails to realize the use of adversarial techniques in the guise of a talk-show conversational format.

Mr. Matthews is a 20 year veteran of news, a syndicated columnist in over 200 papers, hosts TV news programs, winning numerous awards, as well as being a visiting fellow at Harvard’s JFK school of government. So again he should be prepared to handle whatever a comedian might throw his way.
Yet we see again, Mr. Matthews is thrown off guard, where it might have been expected by a younger less experienced Tucker Carlson, one might assume Mr. Matthews can handle a comedian.

Video Link: Of the exchange
1  JS: Welcome to the uh Welcome to the show2  CM: That’s right
2  JS: How’s it going?
3  CM: It’s great.
4  JS: (Closeup of Book on Table) Life’s a Campaign,  now if I read this correctly and I 
5  believe I have read this book correctly  what you are saying is people can use          
6  what politicians  do and uh  in political campaigns 
7  CM: Yea 
8  JS: uh to help their lives 
9  CM: YEA
10  JS: Now the-at
11  CM: That’s irony isn’t it?
12  JS: It strikes me as fundamentally wrong. It strikes me as a self-hurt book if you will
13  CM: Laughing

Mr. Stewart is beginning this interview in a typical Question and Answer format. But we can see in this first question line #4. But he states it as a declarative, and not an interrogative. Thus he sets the tone for the way he will manage the interchange. In fact, there are no questions of who, what, where questions in the most of the interview. Even in line #12 “It strikes me as a self hurt book if you will” is a combination of declarative statement and agenda shift.

Clearly Matthews interprets Mr. Stewart’s comments as comedic sarcasm and gentle ribbing at his book’s premise. What unfolds though is a process again where the guest incorrectly presumes the stance of Mr. Stewart. In this interview Mr. Stewart carries on no Q&A interview. It is simply a conversation, or rather an argument about the value of Mr. Matthews book. We know this by the lack of turn taking constraints, lack of any lexical choices, or sequence design (Heritage, Clayman 2010) typical of a TV interview.

John poses one of just two questions of the entire interview, “How is this not a  book about Sadness, just halfway through the interview? Matthews counters stating “May I give you an example” what Heritage and Clayman state as a token request for permission.  as if he is in a journalistic setting of turn taking question and answer format. But Mr. Stewart will not have any of the Q&A format, and continues with his conversational style denigrating the books’s premise. Matthews ignores Stewart’s proposition stating “But watch how far politicians have gotten, watch what Clinton got watch what Hillary …”. Matthew steps into a deep hole by using an example of women and Bill Clinton. Matthews illustrates that Clinton shared the tip to friends that you have to listen to women to get them in bed.

1  CM: But  Noo
2  JS: But politicians often listen but they don’t their their
3  CM: Listen (softly)
4  JS: It’s a contrivance
5  CM: It’s not a contrivance if you I’m listening to you
6  JS: No your not
7  CM I’m listening to you
8  JS: You don’t listen to anybody
9  CM: How could I not listen while your trashing my book . How could I not hear ya?
10  JS: I’m not trashing your book, I am trashing your philosophy of life
11  (Audience laughter and applause)

Matthews tries but can’t “Operate on the Question”, despite following up on the presumptive term “Contrivance.” Heritage and Clayman suggest this is one way to shift the agenda in news interviews, but it fails and Matthews gets clearly disgusted at this point. He grabs his book out of the hands of Jon Stewart at line #9.  What follows is an interesting ploy by Matthews to turn return to the accepted rules of interviews back in his favor. He realizes he must take over and return to a Question and Answer format and leave this conversational parlay where he is at a disadvantage with a skilled comedian.

1  CM: Can you come on Hardball?
2  JS: What?
3  CM: Yes come on Hardball
4  JS: No
5  CM: You know what we can play this both ways
6  JS: No: You know (pause) what I can say is this (pause) I don’t troll
7  CM: (slapping his open hand down on desk) Hard laugh
8  (Audience laughs and moans)
9  CM: You are unbelievable, you are, this is a book interview from hell. 
10  JS: (laughing coyly pulls his arms and body away from being hit mockingly)
11  JS: No this is
12  CM: this is the worst interview I have ever had in my life
13  JS: No
14  (Audience begins to cheer and laugh)

In this sequence we see that Matthews can not figure out how things went so wrong, but realizes that he needs to get to the safer realm where he does understand the journalistic rules of engagement that Mr.Stewart has no interest in maintaining. But interestingly even Mr. Stewart has over stepped what might be called the realm of common courtesy. As in line # 6 “I don’t troll” gets laughs but also gets an equal set of moans at the bitterness of how the interview has become.

Mr. Matthews is known as a more liberal tilting journalist from his political work with  Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil and Senator Ed Muskie. As Jon is also typically known to side with more progressive points of view on his show, It could be assumed that attacking a fellow progressive in each conversational turn has become too much for many in the audience to bear.

And so this is evident as Stewart recognizes after the moans to re-dress his adversarial attacks on Mr. Matthews, offering to appear on his show after saying no to the suggestion and asking for his handshake for the sake of friendship. 

But Mr. Stewart does not just interview celebrities and media personalities. He also interviews powerful political figures including former and current presidents. This final analysis is an interview with Barack Obama. Here, Mr. Stewart does away with his conversational style he used with Matthews and instead uses the journalistic techniques of Question and Answer turn taking typical of a presidential press conference or interview.

Where as the Matthews interview had few if any clear question and answer turns, this interview does. In fact we are able to use Clayman and Heritage’s work of five dimensions of adversarialness; initiative, directness, assertiveness, accountability, and hostility.  We will briefly look at this segment to analyze how this interview stands up to other presidential interviews.

Video Link: POTUS vs. Stewart
1  Stewart: Does that happen to you wherever you go? Is that just a wild — 'cause           
2  when you guys [gestures to audience] go to work, do people typically applaud? It's     
3  a nice feeling.
4  Obama: It was a wonderful welcome. It does not happen, for example, when I go         
5  to the Republican caucus meetings.
6  Stewart: I see; slightly different. So here you are —
7  Obama: Here I am.
8  Stewart: — you're two years into your administration, and the question that                
9  arises in my mind: Are we the people we were waiting for? [laughter] Or, does it        
10  turn out those people are still out there and we don't have their number? How       
11  are you feeling about that?

Lets’ look at this through each dimension.  According to  Heritage and Clayman Initiative contains three  aspects reporters use;(1) preface their question with statements that construct a context for the question to follow, or (2) ask more than one question within a single turn at talk, or (3) ask a follow-up question. 

Clearly we see initiative used as Stewart in line #1 he asks a direct question, but does not pause and clarifies the question with reference to the audience. And then ends with a declarative line #3“It’s a nice feeling” .

In terms of Directness, line one is clearly direct. There are no self-referencing or asking or permission, but Stewart does open the question to the audience, before making the statement its nice...  

Assertiveness, which captures the extent to which the question invites a particular answer and is thus opinionated rather than neutral, according to Heritage and Clayman. Here both questions are mildly assertive. The first ends with an open declarative of being nice to be liked, and the other ends line #11 with an open question that does not require a yes or no response.

Adversarialness, which captures the extent to which the question pursues an agenda in opposition to the president or his administration, is concerned mainly with  the question content (Clayman). Clearly neither is truly adversarially posed questions as the first question is poised with positive statements of being liked and the second is neutral offering the president either option of finding people who believe in his administration’s claim to change or not.

Accountability as defined in their work is in new reporting is as questions that explicitly ask the president to defend and justify his policies. Because such questions decline to accept policy at face value, they are to some extent aggressive, although the degree of aggressiveness depends on the linguistic form of the question according (Heritage Clayman 2010). Again these two questions are devoid of any accountability. 

So we can see in these first two questions that Mr. Stewart is playing “softball” with the president. This is what Tucker Carlson argued was his tendency to not hold left leaning or progressive politicians feet to the fire. And not what Mr. Matthews received in his conversational interview.

In each section we see clear delineation of question and answer turn taking. But Mr. Stewarts adversarial “quotient” does ramp up.

1  Stewart: Is the difficulty that you have here the distance between what you ran on     
2  and what you delivered? Is that — you ran with such (if I may) "audacity" — so much 
3  of what you said was, "great leaders lead in a time of opportunity," "we're the ones    
4  we're looking for" — yet legislatively it has felt timid at times. I'm not even sure at      
5  times what you want out of a healthcare bill.
6  Obama: And this is — Jon, I love your show, but —
7  Stewart: Very kind of you!
8  Obama: — but this is something where, you know, I have a profound disagreement    
9  with you and — I don't want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits — but —
10  Stewart: You may.
11  Obama: — but this notion that healthcare was "timid": you've got 30 million people 
12  who are gonna get health insurance as a consequence of this —
13  Stewart: Right.
14  Obama: — you've got a Patient's Bill of Rights that makes sure that insurance           
15  companies can't drop you when you get sick, if you've been paying premiums, that…

In line one we see that  Stewart is asking direct question line #2 what you delivered? Though it is tempered by using an indirect self reference of (if I may) line #2.  In terms of Initiative though the question is complex and prefaced content that the president is not meeting the mark of his campaign rhetoric.  This speaks to it being much more adversarial and assertive. And by using his keyword “Audacity” from the president’s own book title, we see that Stewart is demanding accountability for the president’s record so far.

So we see at line #8 that the president has become aware that this is no longer a comedy interview show. The questions have moved from “how do you feel?” to complex prefaced presuppositions of the president’s willingness to be a “great leader” and embrace the “audacity” rather than the assertion of timidity. Stewart is using what Clayman and Heritage state as a “Contrast” in question design creating very stark Black and White hypothesis.  

In fact we see the president not wanting to “Lump you with a lot of other pundits” which appears to be placing a kind of deference to Mr. Stewart. Remarkably, Stewart responds with “You May” line #10. This appears ironic, since just a few years back as in the CrossFire interview Stewart very clearly states he is not a political pundit or partisan. This may be sarcasm on Stewarts part, but it still suggests that even Mr. Stewart is not concretely aware of his sliding position from political interviewer to stand-up comedian.  And is supported by the president’s deferential comment to not want to compare him to other pundits. It is important to note that in line 11, Stewart responds to the president with “Right”. Again Mr. Stewart despite developing complex adversarial questions has no qualms of stepping beyond the neutralistic circle of objectivity and agreeing or confirming answers, rather than to remain silent and objective.  

But there is a turning point in the interview where Mr. Stewart uses a rhetorical technique that traps the president between two questions one in which Mr. Stewart answers for him and another just as difficult to respond to.

1  Stewart: — you worked within the system. You know, during the campaign there was 
2  talk that we were gonna be able to negotiate prices with Canadian pharmaceutical      
3  companies —
4  Obama: Right.
5  Stewart: — a deal was made with them — $80 billion over 10 years — okay, that         
6  seems like a quid pro quo that seemed reasonable, but there's other things with the    
7  insurance companies. You know, I was talking with a woman in the audience before   
8  the show [audience cheers] but she brought up an interesting point: you know, 2014   
9 is when these exchanges kick in and there will be some kind of price controls, but up 
10  until that point there's really nothing in this bill that doesn't allow these insurance 
11  companies to raise rates.
12  Obama: Not true! In fact, what we have done is we have empowered state insurance 
13  commissioners to review the rate hikes that are taking place in states — in some   
14  states, like North Carolina, they've already used it and rolled back premium              
15  increases by 25%.

From line 1 to line 5 Stewart sets up the president for a tough question on his campaign promise of negotiating with big pharma on drug prices. This was a major democratic talking point during the 2008 campaign (NY Times 2009). But in line# 5 Stewart answers his own allegation and assertion that it was “quid pro quo”. Then continues to assert that the president policies again are not helpful as an audience member points out that the insurance industry is hiking up rates currently.

Stewart is formulating what Heritage and Clayman call fork or presenting two unpalatable alternatives. Does the president agree that it was a backroom quid pro quo done in contrast to his campaign talking points or that his policies are hurting audience members with higher insurance rates?

Clearly this represents what Heritage and Clayman suggest as maximizing adversarialness. The president is trapped between two tough alternative takes. The president chooses the later, ignoring the deal with big pharma.  

But the damage is being done and the president will seal the deal himself. The over arching principle that the president is not the populist hero or idealist but rather a pragmatist that sides with big pharma, big insurance, and is adverse to risky idealistic populist positions his 2008 campaign espoused has been set  in the minds of the audience through the skillful techniques of Mr. Stewarts adversarial pursuit of this theme. 

1  Stewart: Welcome back to the show President Barack Obama. [audience cheers and    
2  applause] You expressed some frustration with those on the Left who are still feeling 
3  dissatisfied. Do you think in any way the expectation was something that maybe even 
4  you and your campaign created? Were people being naïve, in the sense of — I             
5  remember very clearly you said, "We can't expect different results with the same        
6  people."
7  Obama: Right.
8  Stewart: And I remember when you hired Larry Summers [laughter] — I remember    
9  thinking, "Well, that seems like the exact same person," and why would you — so, in 
10  some respects, I get your frustration with this idea that, "Well, geez, are you never 
11  satisfied?" but again, the expectation, I think, was Audacity, going in there and really 
12  rooting out a corrupt system. And so the sense is, has reality of what hit you in the 
13  face when you first stepped in, caused you to back down from some of the more     
14  visionary — like bringing in a guy like Larry Summers, like —
15  Obama: First of all, if you look at how we have handled this financial crisis —
16  Stewart: Right.
17  Obama: — if you had told me two years ago that we're gonna be able to stabilize the 
18  system, stabilize the stock market, stabilize the economy, and by the way at the end 
19  of this thing it'll cost less than 1% of GDP where the S&L crisis cost us 2½% of our    
20  entire economy for a much smaller crisis, I'd say, "We'll take that," because we       
21  saved taxpayers a whole lot of money. And, in fairness, Larry Summers did a heckuva 
22  job trying to figure out how to —(audience laughs)
23  Stewart: You don't want to use that phrase, dude. [laughs]

Mr. Stewart skillfully takes his time and uses the casualness of the tone to set up the president in two questions. On line  #5 he quotes the president’s campaign rhetoric, “We can’t expect different results with the same people”. On line# 7 the president ignores the question as a statement in line #3-4. And Obama confirms the premise  on line #7 with “Right”

But Stewart is working toward a premise and hits him in line # 14 bringing up Larry Summers. It is important to note that Larry Summers was Secretary of Treasury under Clinton and helped pass the deregulation bill that ended the separation of investment firms with banks by ending the Glass-Stegal Act that prevented this since the great depression. Thus Stewart is twisting in the knife again, using a highly political figure that Obama is well aware of. And although the president was fully prepared to defend this choice and stand behind his record of ending the economic free-fall he faced when entering the white house, it is on line #22 where Obama’s tone briefly changes.

The line is  “And, in fairness, Larry Summers did a heckuva job trying to figure out how to”. The president is stopped cold in mid sentence as the audience laughter begins. But rather than laughing with him and cheering, they are laughing at him.

The audience is quicker to respond to the statement than Mr. Stewart is able to. The line is recognized as nearly identical from the one used by former President George W. Bush, in his defense of his FEMA Secretary  Mike Brown in the Katrina Hurricane crisis. An instance where Brown’s incompetence was pointed out by the press and yet defended by president Bush.  And Mr. Stewart pleased and shocked by the irony, calls the president “Dude” casualness not typical of a presidential interaction further demeaning the stature and dramatic nature of the slip.

Thus slip on its own, might be meaningless, especially with the typically progressive leaning audience of the Daily Show. But here, after question after question of Mr. Stewart setting up the context that the president is not a visionary leader but rather just another politician using the same team and defending the status quo, Obama’s slip makes the assertion complete.

If not for the president’s strong rebuttals and preparedness, this interview might have been more devastating as in the previous two examples. As a result, the president escapes lightly bruised. But we can see that the affable attitude and tendency to lean in towards Mr. Stewart smiling has left Mr. Obama. His expression from here on out is more stone faced and remote.

In fact, the president realizing his defeat asks to return to the subject of his campaign ideals and campaign spirit to defend it moments later. But again Stewart succeeds by setting up a contrast already throughout the interview.  

1  Stewart: You wouldn't say you'd run this time as a pragmatist — it wouldn't be, "Yes, 
2  we can — given certain conditions..."?
3  Obama: No, I think what I would say is, "Yes, we can, but — [audience laughs] — it is   
4  not gonna happen overnight."

In line# 3 the audience again cuts the president off and begins to laugh at the president. Here Obama makes the mistake to use his campaign slogan but interjects a “but” which simple signals to the audience he is conceding to Mr. Stewarts premise that he is in reality a pragmatic politician not a visionary leader.

In conclusion, what we see is a talented individual who uses rhetorical techniques and accepted journalistic conventions and maneuvers in and out of those accepted norms with a nimbleness and skill that most journalists and comedians do not have in there respective domains or verbal skill arsenals.  The world of broadcast journalism may be the one  grist for the mill of Mr. Stewart, but it is also where he takes when he wishes to attack and disarms those who oppose his genuine populist views.

Further it is clear as to whether he sees himself as being part of the solution or part of the problem of a media landscape lacking Social Responsibility. He clearly sees himself as part of the solution. But as he jumps into the fake suit of news journalism using adversarial techniques, the question begs does his audience realize the difference?

And if they don’t as some research shows, the question begs for more research to find out if he is doing more harm by not clearly defining what he does as pure entertainment and not news. As we saw in the Obama interview, Mr. Stewart is a skillful political interviewer, worthy of putting an experienced politician such as President Obama on the ropes. But did the audience experience a news interview or entertainment?

And did his use of news gathering techniques blur the lines further that he himself has decried and satirized on his own show? More research must be made, what is clear is by using the tools of Conversation Analysis we can see that what Mr. Stewart does is not as ambiguous as it may seem. 

We see also that others do not understand his particular delineation of entertainer vs. objective journalist, as the lines have become blurred even for those who participate in it. So blurred in fact are the waters, that professionals in broadcast media as well as seasoned politicians are having a hard time navigating these uncharted seas. All the while, Mr. Stewart captains the ship into murkier and murkier waters of journalistic objectivity and entertaining combativeness.


John Heritage and Steven Clayman Talk in Action  Wiley- Blackwell 2010

Steven Clayman, Marc  Elliot, John Heritage, Laurie  McDonald Historical Trends in Questioning Presidents, 1953-2000 Presidential Studies Quarterly 36, no. 4 (December)

Steven Clayman, Marc  Elliot, John Heritage,and Megan  Beckett A Watershed in White House Journalism: Explaining the Post-1968 Rise of Aggressive Presidential News Political Communication, 27:229–247, 2010

Also videos and papers cited and used:

CNN / Crossfire:

Daily Show Chris Matthews:

Daily Show Barak Obama:

Bonnie M. Anderson News Flash: journalism, infotainment, and the bottom line of Broadcast news 2004 Wiley Imprint SF

Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Penguin 1985 / Foreward 2005

Obama’s Health Care Mistake?  THE EDITORS NY Times August 19, 2009

John Maxwell Hamilton George A. Krimsky Hold the Press Lousinana State University Press 1996

Penn Kimball Downsizing The News: Network Cutbacks in the Nations Capital  Woodrow Wilson Press 1994
The Passing of the 'High Modernism' of American Journalism Revisited Professor Daniel C. Halin UCSD
International Communication Association & Political Sence Association, Vol 16. No. 1 Winter 2006

Fred S. Siebert Theodore Peterson WIlbur Schram Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do University of Illinois press Illini Books 1963

David Carr The Media Equation Olbermann, Impartiality and MSNBC
Published: November 7, 2010

 BILL CARTER  CrossFire Ends Published: January 6, 2005

Pew Research: Project for Excellence in Journalism The Daily Show: Journalism, Satire or Just Laughs May 8, 2008

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Gender in a 3-D Virtual World

A man and a woman
A man and a woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This Research Paper was confined to the readings assigned by the Professor. A broader literary review is required, and the references though succinct are not in any way extensive) 

The Freedom of Gender in a 3-D Virtual World
From early in our lives gender gets constructed (Lorber p.105 1993), we see in children’s stores sections of blue clothes for boys and pink clothes for girls. We see how the mass media creates images and portrays men and women in stereotypical roles of gender (Kilbourne p.142 1999). We are flooded by socialization cues from our earliest ages( Mackler p.80 2001).  Yet creating gender is not passive process as examined in this quote by West and Zimmerman:

It is a situated doing, carried out in the virtual or real presence of others... Rather than as a property of individuals, we conceive of gender as an emergent feature of social situations; as both an outcome of and a rationale for various social arrangements and as a means of legitimating one of the most fundamental divisions of society. (West p.14 1991)

Is it possible to break free of the social construction of gender?  Some may try to escape the social constructions of gender through the act of changing or becoming another gender. Yet, up to now the difficulty of changing gender was accomplished either through hours of makeup, changing of entire wardrobe, or even changing of sexual characteristics through surgery. Now with the advancement of computer and software technology, can changing gender really be accomplished virtually with the click of a mouse?

This paper will examine how by entering a 3-D immersive online world one can attempt to accomplish gender. The world the author has chosen is Second Life. An online world community created not by a single team of software engineers and designers, but by the users of the community itself. The free software enables every user to create not only their own home, furniture, and clothing, but also define their virtual body and gender. This paper will first look at the software design features, then the user communication interactions, and finally the community dynamics to analyze if the user can accomplish and identify themselves as their own unique virtual gender free of social situations and cues of the real world. 
It is important to note that this paper will examine the full expression of gender as realized by the interactive online world. The software does not allow personal identity to be revealed  through any means other than the voluntary permission of the person who is behind each online persona or avatar. We will also focus on not only the production of the avatars gender, but also how users try and sometimes fail to conceal their actual gender from what they have produced inside this virtual world. Though the author did not expand on the very small minority of non-gendered animal avatars, their numbers are very insignificant. They are extremely rare and hard to find in the vast majority of places. Thus, they play no major role in this online 3-D community paper.

The Second Life software does not allow anyone to die, to kill, to hit, to wound, to move, to hold, or to otherwise control another avatar without the express permission of that user through additional software downloads. So whereas in other worlds you can be a human warrior and be turned into a newt by an evil wizard, in Second Life all avatars are the pure production of the user. The software’s unique ability to control the avatars complete persona gives the user the ultimate control over their virtual gender identity. Thus it should enable the answering of the question “Am I a man or a woman or what?”(Bornstein p.24 1998).

This along with the ability to chat via text, via voice, move or fly the avatar around in 3-D space gives the user even more amazing freedoms. So the options to express ones individuality is limited only to the imagination of the user.  The software has two main design features. The first is to create and model 3-D objects into clothing, furniture, buildings, or even pets. The second major design feature is the ability to modify your avatar. Second Life has some of the most sophisticated controls to modify every aspect of your avatar. And it is because of these fine detailed features that users could so masterfully define gender. 

When signing on and registering the software you must choose a sex. You get only two choices of sex assignment, male or female. At this stage, sex assigns gender into characteristics specific to that sex without variation (Garfinkel 1967). Then you must choose some default gendered characteristics that support your gender. For example, you could choose to be a black male or a blonde blue eyed female. 

These defaults are not important, because once you log in online your software interface allows you to change your sex immediately. The software enables you to change your sexual characteristics in numerous ways. 

First you can click the button for male or for female. If you are changing your sex, the software makes specific automatic changes to your body type following the “Natural Attitude” on sex and gender as defined by Garfinkel. So if you had chosen a default pony-tailed skirt wearing female, the clicking of male would not change your outfit or haircut. But your shoulders would become more broad. Your hips would become more slender. And your face might become more square jawed and angular. Again this is just one way to express your gender. This is how Second Life allows immediate and automatic gender identification through the manipulation of specific body regions to suggest sexual identity. Yet it is not the only way. 

The user can also define their physical sexual characteristics through individually going from body region to body region making minute adjustments. The  software breaks the body up into section parts; the overall body weight, the head, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the chin, the torso, and the legs. 

Thus by giving freedom and empowerment to define body parts, each section enables the user to make choices to define how the avatar will appear or enable us to “Shape our own futures” (Erlbaum p.9 2000). But each choice comes with a socialized ideal of what that change says about our gender. 

For example, you can adjust the bridge of the nose and the depth of the brow. By creating a strong brow and wide bridge on a female avatar, you appear to give her a more masculine forehead. Or the user can thicken the arms and legs, which also appear to give the female avatar a more masculine appearance. 

There appears to be an infinite mix of masculine and feminine attributes that can alter the gender appearance of the user’s avatar. The same can be said about the skin sections, the hair sections, and clothing as well. Each of these has subsections  so you can define size, texture maps or images that give the look of texture, and other details to these features. Yet, the vast majority of avatars stay safely with the two poles of gender. It is rare to see a female with breasts have male facial hair, or any other mix could be expressed in the spectrum of gender (Bornstein). 

As mentioned, clothing is another section on the avatars appearance panel. The user has a very small selection of clothing initially. Each avatar regardless of the default previously chosen, has both male and female gendered clothing to choose from in their clothing library folder. The only difference is the clothing that came on them as they initially logged on. Clothing has very powerful gender clues (Cortese p. 60 1999)  but are more part of the community dynamic and the communication interactions than personal software design. But of course giving your physically masculine avatar a dress will blur the gender lines which few if any do. But this begs the question what is under the dress?  

It turns out that each avatar despite having to be initially chosen male or female has no genitalia. The actual sexual organs such as a penis or a vagina are not included. But even in the sexual organs, we see the societal need to be mutually exclusive sexually (Newman p.127 1997). For example if you were to shop for genitalia, there are no hermaphrodite sexual organs anywhere to be found. Yet, because of community standards and the ability to report any behavior to the “authorities”, it is extremely rare for avatars to run around naked to so as to identify their genitalia. And when avatars are naked they are not always with genitalia.  Thus, though having a penis or vagina in the real world is important to assignment( Lorber) to defining your gender, in Second Life it is an after thought to gender.  

The role of communication interaction plays a critical role in the accomplishment of gender. The software allows for three primary ways for users to express themselves. One is via the image and physical behaviors of the avatar. Second is the ability to communicate via text chat. And third, the users can opt to speak with their real voice via Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP. Each has different implications for how gender is expressed or concealed. 

Not only can body type and dress indicate gender as previously described, so can the avatars behavior. 

The user has two ways to communicate behavior, canned movement and acquired movement. Some canned behaviors like bowing don’t appear to have a gender preference. Whereas blowing a kiss, makes even the most macho of virtual Hells Angels look more feminine. The software has a set of these canned body movements that using a simple command will make the avatar move. But the system also allows for acquired behavior. The most gender indicative behavior is the “Sexy Walk” which must be purchased. 

Although many stores or malls sell a few “Sexy Walks” for men, many more sell a variety of sexy walks for women . The female Sexy Walk can easily be identified by the wide swinging of hips and the swaying of the head to move the hair from side to side. Sexy Walks also include sexy standing where one hip shifts up, and the avatar fiddles with nails, hair, or in some cases pouts and puts hand on their hips. This obviously supports Una Stannard’s contention that “stereotypes die hard”. Though men have “Sexy Walks” too, this author could not see any difference in the way the avatar behaved other than the folding of arms when resting. Thus the user can use or purchase gendered behaviors to enhance the gender they wish to accomplish though the manifestation of which is classically stereotyped. 

Chat can also be an expression of gender. But as it is a direct window to the user behind the avatar, much care must be taken to conceal gender within chat. Most identified male avatars that said they were real male humans, felt chat was the best way to identify real females. Many suggested that being sexually aggressive was a good test. Not that men as women avatars would show aversion to sexual advances, but rather they wouldn’t. Meaning typical real females would be trying to slow the sexual advancement of real men, whereas men as female avatars would be just as aggressive. The author found this to be true. In the authors’ experience, many men became women to gain access to female only areas. Thus their chat would expose them as men, in that they are naturally sexually aggressive / controlling (Angier p.275, 2000) or sexually willing to engage in sexual chat. 

Also their style of chatting or communication was indicative of gender Women tend to be more descriptive and interpretative in communication cues ( Schwartz p.169 1996). They would and could discuss clothing and styles among each other in great details. And would prefer men to do the same in courting them. For example, many men might initially make comments on the sexual beauty of the desired female they were pursuing  despite having a female avatar. The author observed that women never did this. Women, who were attracted to other women, discussed intimate(Schwartz) details about life and feelings about being in Second Life. Men even as female avatars were impatient and many were unable to achieve the timid pace of uncovering the feelings of the other avatar. Thus by being aggressive, uncreative, and not detail oriented, men gave away their gender via chat. 

Finally, it is important to note VOIP. This is the great equalizer. No man or women can as of yet use a voice synthesizer to mask the very real sound of male or female voices and sound real. The author specifically used VOIP, to verify sex of the user in many examples. If VOIP was denied, then it was assumed in most cases that the user’s gender did not match that of their avatar. 

It is critical to note that choices in body type can also reveal the user’s sexuality similar in some respect as chat can. It is the experience of the author that women generally speaking did not create perfect female avatars. Despite the softwares default in creating a normal  ratio of hip, waist and breast, females created avatars that more mirrored real bodies. Clear signs were larger thighs, or butt, or the changing of the nose to better match the look of the actual user.  This was decidedly a break from the social forces which pervade our society(Kilbourne). Though this was not always the case, it was true in the majority of women the author could identify via photo and voice verification.  Men posing as women tended to create idealized female avatars, with oversized breasts , hips and butt. In some cases they appeared almost to be cartoon like in dimensions. 

The community dynamics of Second Life play an important role in how gender is produced in the virtual world. First Second Life is unlike most typical online 3-D adventure worlds. World of Warcraft have specific rules that enforce specific gender or sexual characteristic boundaries. WoW have rules that men are stronger than women, thus they can kill faster. Second Life you can not kill anyone or make anyone do anything they don’t want to. The author once angered an dark elf clan trying to play a role game inside Second Life. I would not move from having my picnic inside their ritual cave. This has very important gender ramifications. 

Female avatars are absolute physical equals to the male avatars. Thus men have no strength advantage over women. This creates a very unique community dynamic. Female avatars still have and can control access to sex, but they have no fear of threat of retribution from withholding sex from males (White et al p.205 1996) . This creates a power vacuum that women have yet to fill. Despite the fact that the vast majority of all jobs are for female sex workers, strippers, dancers, and hostesses, female avatars have not taken advantage. If when entering Second Life you wish to make money, women have the majority of jobs that pay Linden dollars a currency that can be exchanged for real dollars. This should enable women to control most of the businesses of Second Life. If wave after wave of females gain all jobs that pay, and men don’t, one might assume women could take that money and build businesses and buy virtual land. 

Yet that is not the case. Though according to conversations with Linden Labs Marketing associate V. Reitveld, expressed that the distribution of male to female businesses was about even,  with slightly more men. So despite the job inequity that favors women as hostesses of clubs and dancers they could not overcome the inequity outside Second Life. Yet despite the appearance of this in-world advantage, along with being dancers, programmers also make money. As anything that needs a behavior must also require code. From the authors experience as a software executive in the real world, male programmers far out number the female programmers. But this is only one aspect of the power vacuum. 

Women did not understand the full extent of their power in Second Life. Considering that the service only handles about 20 thousand users at a time. All space is virtual and infinite on Second Life. Second Life sells land for users to build on it, this is one way they make money along with money transactions. Thus users are very spread out. This is a critical point.  Getting persons to a location to generate any business is the majority of work in Second Life, the rule if you build they will come is just not true there. So hostesses, dancers are critical to make a business place rank high in the systems search popularity. 

Whereas Google ranks links to and click to a site. Second Life ranks the number of avatars visiting a site for popularity. If you can get avatars to your business it grows exponentially, so hostesses and dancers help passively attract other avatars and that attraction both in popularity and sexuality is the real power in Second Life community. 

Yet out of the dozens of women  I spoke to none realized they had power over men. So I did an experiment as a female avatar to test this power vacuum. I went to a crowded beach and began to flirt with dozens of men. Once I had at least 10-12 interested in me, I asked them to follow me into the dance club. An empty club was filled in minutes. I shared this with numerous women friends I knew from 
Second Life and had friendships outside as well, and they were astonished. This same experiment was tried as a male avatar in male gay areas and failed. Gay male areas are unusually rare. And after several attempts the author was unable to understand why gay males did not respond while straight men did to female avatars. 

The result was that women had viewed Second Life opposite sex interactions as defensive and cautionary. They did not understand or take advantage of the equality of strength or the power of their sexuality.  They did so as they had been conditioned in real life to deal with men and the consequences of powerful sexual women in the real world. Of course in real life men are in positions of power and generally have the advantage in physical strength. They had never realized they could take control by using their gender as a powerful magnet. Instead, they and their female avatar friends continued to take subservient roles as hostesses and strippers. So despite, the equality of rules inside Second Life’s virtual world, real world gender roles expressed itself in the community dynamics emerged from the real world users perspective. 

The Self , as that which can be an object of itself, is essentially a social structure, and it arises in social experience... George Herbert Mead  - Mind Self and Society

So we can see that despite the efforts of Linden Labs to create a world where you can create your own persona and define your own gender  with the push of a button, some social forces were still too powerful to overcome. We saw how community dynamics, communication interactions, and the software its self enabled a wide spectrum of choices. Yet, this is a world that was created from the minds of its users to be anything they wanted it to be. And, they could define gender as a wide and vast spectrum. Yet, this did not occur. Gender roles or categories were not challenged. Thus we could not answer what John Boswell calls “the problem of the universals”. Do we create named roles or do roles emerge from nature and we simply categorize them.  Despite all the options in accomplishing one own gender via communication, community dynamics, and design of persona the majority of users could not break free of the crushing force of societies gender construction. 

Works Cited:
Angier, N. (2000). Woman: An Intimate Geography. ch. 15, pp. 263-284 “Spiking the Punch” In Defense of Female Aggression Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company

Bornstein, Kate (1994) Gender Outlaw, Naming all the Parts. Random House Inc

Boswell, John (1993) . “Sexual Categories [Realor Social Constructions>”], excerpted from “Revolutions, Universals, and Sexual Categories,”from Lesbians, Gay Men , and the Law, William B. 

Rubenstein, ed. New York The New Press. Preprinted pp.33-37 in Readings for Sociology (third Edition) 2000) Garth Massey , ed. New York W.W. Norton 

Cortese, Anthony (1999). Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorites in Advertising, ch3. pp. 45-76, Constructed bodies, Deconstructing Ads Sexism in Advertising.” Lanham , Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 

Erlbaum, Janice “La GirlBomb” (Winter 2000). Bust Magazine, no. 16, p.9 “Brain Implant,  Anyone?”

Farrell, pp.13-37, “Doing Gender.” Newbury Park, Sage Publications

Garfinkel, Harold (1967). “The ‘Natural Attitude’ about Gender.” From Studies in Ethnomethodology, Polity Press. 

Huston, Michelle and Pepper Schwartz, in Wood, Julia T.(1996). Gendered Relationships, Chapter 12, pp. 197-210. “Gendered Violence in Intimate Relationships.” Mountain View California , Mayfield Publishing Company. 

Kilbourne, Jean (1999) Deadly Persuasion, ch 6. pp.128-154, The More You Subtract, the More You Add.”New York, The Free Press

Lorber, Judith (1993) Paradozes of Gender, pp.3-15 and 17-27, “Night to His Day.” Yale University Press. No. 111, pp. 99-112 in Mapping the Social Landscape: Readings in Sociology(1999), Susan J. 

Ferguson, ed. Mountain View, CA Mayfield Publishing Company

Mackler, Carolyn (April/May 2001). Ms. pp. 80-85, “Honey, Disney Shrunk the Kids.”

Newman, David M. (1997). “the Socialization of Gender”. pp. 127-139, from Chapter 5, “Building Identity the Social Construction of Self,” in Sociology: Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life. Thousand Oaks, California Pin Forge Press

Stannard, Una. “Stereotypes Uber Alles,” ;;/80-83 in In Stitches

West, Candace and Don Zimmerman (1991). The Social Construction of Gender, eds. Lorber and Farrell, pp. 13-37, “Doing Gender.” Newbury Park, Sage Publications. 

White, Jacquelyn and Barrie Bondurant, in Wood, Julia T. (1996). Gendered Relationships, Chapter 12, pp. 197-210. “Gendered Violence in Intimate Relationships.” Mountain View California , Mayfield Publishing Company. 
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