Race, Popular Culture, and Snapchat

Snapchat is one of the more recent forms of entertainment media, and one that is widely used by younger generations. There are many appealing features such as the fact that a user can send a photo that lasts for up to 10 seconds and then disappears, or attach a geotag and current temperature to display their whereabouts.

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Perhaps one of the most recent fads is the usage of Snapchat lenses, most commonly referred to as “filters,” that a user can apply to his or her face to add an animated appearance. On an average day there are about 15 filters, and they differ from day-to-day. Below are a few examples of recent Snap filters:

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Most users find these entertaining and use them to send to their friends. A user can take both a picture or a video using the filter, and some even change your voice.

With filters that alter a user’s face, there are subliminal hints of both feminine beauty standards for women and masculinity standards for men. So just as Americans understand cultural and social norms through TV and movies, so too can Snapchat influence the way people think they should act. There are some filters that I would consider gender-less, like the filters that just alter a person’s face without adding or changing the assumed gender. However, many filters are either extremely feminine or extremely masculine.

 

The feminine filters tend to widen the eyes, gloss them over, add some sort of make-up (blush, lipstick, eyeshadow, long lashes, etc.), slim the face, and will typically involve glitter, flowers, or an overall fabulous tone. Even some of the animal filters are feminized.

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The masculine filters tend to accentuate facial hair, a prominent jaw line and a really low-pitch voice.

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By having these filters it can influence the way that users see themselves, distort their self-image, and reinforce the common way of thinking of genders in terms of only men and women. It can perpetuate stereotypes of gender and reinforce beauty standards that are typically Euro-centric, meaning the standard of beauty in America is held by white people.

Which leads to an entirely bigger issue: Snapchat’s filters whitewash user’s faces.

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Not every filter does this, but as seen in the photos above (specifically the flower crown), there is a clear and distinct lightening of the skin. There has been much controversy surrounding this because it is essentially sending a message to users saying that being beautiful means having light skin. The Huffington Post writes “Snapchat’s beauty filters were meant to enhance features that were assumed to be desirable,” which is why this is problematic to the socialization of its users. Snapchat is one platform of many subliminally telling users to think that altering a skin tone or facial feature will allow them to achieve “real” beauty.

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In a small sector of this large-scale problem, is the intersection where gender and race meet. It is one thing to look at these whitening filters through the lens of a white woman and to analyze the effects it would have on her – with the pore-less, plastic looking skin and the wide, glossy eyes, demonstrating a version of herself that she will never be able to achieve.

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It is another thing to look at the same filter through the lens of a black woman. While it is still making her look like she has a plastic, perfectly groomed face, it is also making her skin tone lighter, whether she wants it to or not.

So while the whitening filters make both white and black user’s face lighter, the message is different for each woman. The white woman may not even notice that it lightens her face because she it is not something that effects her life directly, whereas the black woman may notice right away that the filter is some sort of attempt to homogenize her into the “dominant” group in America – white people. By using the filter, she has no choice to representher own skin tone so she either has to embrace it or not use it at all.

 

Noticing small details like this in the entertainment media we consume can be the difference between prejudice and understanding. By recognizing the man-made social scripts we are taught, we can begin to learn that perhaps they don’t exist at all.

 

Final Paper Brainstorm

For my final paper I plan on continuing my previous research on Snapchat from last semester. For my research last semester, I did a semiotic analysis on Snapchat’s selfie lenses and discussed its contribution to the impossible beauty standard for women in America. Along with this, I looked at how this is both objectifying users, yet allowing them (specifically women) to self-subjectify (according to Jean Kilbourne’s theory).

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For my final paper this semester, I want to look at how different genders interact with the app. To do this, I will use Feminist theory, specifically gender as a binary, to dissect and understand the ways men and women “perform” their gender on Snapchat. I am also thinking that toxic masculinity could fit into this paper well.

Thesis statement: Men and women interact with Snapchat differently based on the traditional masculinity and femininity constructs in America.

So far, my idea is to form a survey to assess the uses of Snapchat according to gender. Then, using the answers submitted by a random collection of people, I will do a content analysis. Below I have started a list that will serve as a starting point to the survey that I plan on creating. Right now they are a little scattered, so I will have to go back and re-word them, and add or delete some according to what would be the most effective.

  • I identify as a female
  • I identify as a male
  • I use Snapchat every day, several times a day
  • I use Snapchat at least once a day
  • I use Snapchat once or twice a week
  • I use Snapchat as a primary mode of communication (to stay in touch, make plans, to have conversations that could be done via text message)
  • I usually only snap what’s happening around me instead of my own face (food, other people, surroundings)
  • I use Snapchat as a form of entertainment (I mostly use the filters or geotags)
  • I use the filters to be funny
  • I use the filters because I’m sometimes insecure about how I look
  • I usually only receive Snaps without replying
  • I have saved a picture of my “selfie” with a filter over it and posted it to another social media site (i.e. made it made my Facebook profile picture or posted it to Instagram)
  • I use the female-faced filters more than the male ones
  • I use the male-faced filters more than the female ones
  • I use the funny filters (animal/face contortions) that don’t really have a gender
  • I pay more attention to my appearance when sending a snap to the opposite gender
  • I usually use a filter when snapping the opposite gender
  • I usually use a filter when snapping my friends of the same gender
  • I rarely ever use the filters
  • I like when the opposite gender sends me snaps with a filter on their face
  • I don’t like when the opposite gender sends me snaps with a filter on their face
  • Snapchat filters usually make me laugh
  • Snapchat filters usually make me roll my eyes
  • I try to make myself presentable when snapping the opposite gender
  • I don’t really care how I look when snapping the opposite gender, and will sometimes make myself “uglier” just to be funny
  • I try to make myself presentable when snapping the same gender
  • I don’t really care how I look when snapping the same gender, and will sometimes make myself “uglier” just to be funny

 

Since I have also noticed that there tend to be more female-faced lenses, I may do a daily review of which lenses are in rotation each day. I will track how many are male, female, or neutral over a certain amount of time and then discuss my thoughts behind why that is the case. This could play into advertising and the political economy of the app, which I could also look at if there is still room in my paper.

In terms of reading material for this paper, I will use some from my last paper (Hall on Semiotics) and do some more research accordingly. I am thinking of incorporating McChesney for the political economy aspect, and perhaps some of the text book.

I am open to suggestions on different theories or methods if you think any others may be useful to this paper and would love to come in and learn how to form a survey for this project. Let me know what you think!

Class in TV

For most of us, television and movies are a way for us to access a world out there that we may have never been able to see otherwise. It is a window of exposure to new thoughts, trends, groups of people, and ways of living.

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Television shows are one way for us to soak in information about how the world is, but we have to remember that these have been created by people who have their own biases. No matter how hard a person can try, their gender, race, class, and many other demographic information will shape how a person interacts with and sees the world. This translates into most things people do, so no one is truly unbiased in their thinking or producing.

More often than not, shows do not reflect reality yet we somehow absorb most of these “realities” as fact.

So, while watching TV or movies, it’s important to understand that the people who wrote and produced them are most likely those who have had access to this industry. A lot of time it is people from the middle-class producing prime-time television shows, thus shaping an audience’s view of any information through the lens of their socioeconomic standing.

Even Holtzman and Sharpe, authors of “Media Messages“, write:

  • Most of the people who create prime-time television are middle class and above.

  • There is great competition between networks for advertising dollars

  • Advertising want programs and characters that will promote the products they want to sell.

  • Creative talent needs to comply with these demands in order to work.

 

Advertising dollars seem to be more efficiently spent on the middle class because this group is probably more likely to have access to TV, and more likely to indulge in the products being advertised than perhaps the working class would be.

So, because a middle-class-based TV show has proven to be just about foolproof, producers will often choose these over accurately representing the population and struggles of the working or lower class.

Take, for example, Full House.

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This is a family-friendly television series that aired from 1987-1995 and is about a middle class family living in San Francisco. The premise is that Danny Tanner is raising his three daughters with his late wife’s brother and one of his best friends. Danny is a television show host in San Francisco, and his three kids are all in school.  Jesse is a musician and Joey is an aspiring stand up comedian.

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By no means does the Tanner family have tons of money, but they are definitely living comfortably. This type of show would appeal to fellow middle class folks who are looking for something relatable, for something that portrays parts of their realities.

What is this show telling its audience about social and economic status? What is it leaving out?

In an article released after the debuting of “Fuller House” in 2016, there was a video explaining that if the Tanner’s lived in this neighborhood today, there is no possible way they could afford it.

 

This funny-but-true video shows the harsh realities that the media doesn’t depict. Imagine watching “Fuller House” or even the original series “Full House” of a family that actually cannot afford their house, gets kicked out, and the daughters either end up in an orphanage or they all have to split up and live with family members in different cities.

This may be an extreme example, but the point is that the media know what its audience wants and doesn’t want to see. We want to see our own realities, but what about those whose reality isn’t on the big screen? Sugar-coated middle class family sitcoms bring in money and everyone winds up feeling happy by the time they’re done watching, so isn’t it a win-win?

While there is no harm in shows like these, there can be danger in portraying a largely middle class and neglecting the working class. And while some screen time for the working class would be nice, it will be hard to accurately portray if a middle-class person is producing it. Being a savvy citizen means recognizing how small details like one’s socioeconomic status, and how it plays into the big picture.

 

Fake News

What is fake news?

There have always been not wholly “truthful” news stories, in which a journalist may skew facts and express a bias, however, fake news is in a whole different realm. There is even a Museum of Hoaxes in San Diego, California, showcasing the various news stories, conspiracies, and legends throughout America that never actually occurred.

Although fake news is not new, the means by which we gather information has been rapidly revolutionized in the past decade. Just as schoolkids no longer need to visit a library to read an encyclopedia, neither does anyone need to pick up a newspaper to hear the latest who’s who. Likewise, kids are told that Wikipedia is not a reliable source because almost anyone can contribute to it and their expertise is not considered, versus a real encyclopedia where a person can rest assured of its validity.

In a sense, I would argue that fake news is somewhat similar to Wikipedia, in that just about anyone with a web browser can create content. The problem with this, then, is that if a person is not aware that it is not truthful content, he or she will take it at face-value. Although, unlike Wikipedia (for the most part), fake news does not resemble any sort of reality.

Elle Hunt, in an article on The Guardian puts it this way, “In its purest form, fake news is completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue.” Unlike previous decades, social media platforms allow this disinformation to spread far and wide in a short period of time. People have more access to both creating (personal blogs) and receiving fake news (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

Why does it even exist?

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In an article on NPR, Laura Sydell got in touch with a creator of a fake news website named Jestin Coler. After Sydell jumped through hurdles to find him in the suburbs of LA, Coler admitted that he owns a company called Disinfomedia which oversees many fake news websites with dozens of writers contributing to this fad.

He was amazed at how quickly fake news could spread and how easily people believe it. -Laura Sydell, “We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator in the Suburbs. Here’s What we Learned”

Sydell notes that Coler’s company wrote the article about the (fake) killing of the FBI agent who leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails in the “Denver Guardian,” which was said to get over 1.6 million views in a week and a half.

It is stories like this that help to explain the obscure and questionable tactic of posting fake news stories. While some argue that fake news largely swayed the election and others beg to differ, there is truth in the fact that people seek to confirm what they already believe.

People believe in information that confirms their priors. In fact, if you present them with data that contradicts their beliefs, they will double down on their beliefs rather than integrate the new knowledge into their understanding. -Danah Boyd, “Did Media Literacy Backfire?”

So, by creating a story and sharing it among people who want to hear it, either to confirm their own beliefs or to prove another side wrong, fake news can travel fast. Coler even mentioned that they would write a fake story and plop it into a network of Trump supporters and it would “spread like wildfire.”

At this point, then, it doesn’t matter if a story is true or not, because an article with a hyperbolic headline will still generate revenue just as any ole news article will. In the follow-up interview after Sydell’s article, Coler expresses that within in his fake news business, there are hundreds of advertisers for his websites and that is how he makes money. He estimated that a typical person in his position would make anywhere from $10,000-$30,000 per month.

So how do I detect fake news?

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Becoming more prominent throughout this past election cycle and into Trump’s presidency, where we hear things like Donald Trump calling CNN “fake news,” we are all left to wonder who can I trust? Now more than ever it is increasingly necessary to stay informed and to be media literate. Below are a few tips from an article on NPR by Wynne Davis on how to avoid falling into the trap of fake news.

  1. “Pay attention to the domain and URL” – they should have a standard URL rather than things like .com.co, even if they look professional
    • An extensive list of detected fake news/unreliable websites can be found here 
  2. “Read the “About Us” section – what does it say about the company, leadership, and mission? If you are able to find information about the company elsewhere, that is a good sign
  3. “Look at the quotes in a story” – are there experts speaking on the topic? If it is a real (or controversial) issue, there should be a decent amount of quotes, especially from researchers and people who are qualified to speak on the issue
  4. “Look at who said them” – are they reputable? Can you find their name with a Google search, besides on that article?
  5. “Check the comments” – if the title is exaggerated, trying to capture attention, and cause uproar on Facebook, check to see if any comments mention that the article is misleading – it probably is
  6. “Reverse image search” – since most fake news authors may not be actual journalists, they probably borrow featured images from the web. If you right-click on an image, you can do a reverse image search to verify whether or not the photo was an original
  7. Recognize satirical publications – Websites like The Onion and Clickhole often appear in a typical news-writing fashion and can be misleading to some who may perceive these articles as literal, however they are labeled as satirical and comical. If someone in your network does this, politely inform them that it is not real.

Since fake news shows no signs of slowing down, it is vital that we educate others and ourselves on the media landscape of today. By being able to detect these fake news stories, we can collectively slow down the circulation of them, helping both ourselves and those in our networks.

Women in TV

There is a variety of television shows that air weekly, ranging from quirky families to young millennials just trying to get by. Each show contains a different range of characters from age, race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class. I don’t know about you, but I often don’t think about how these shows help to mold my view of the world. I will say things like, “oh, media doesn’t affect me,” but then will go get ready for the day and ask myself why I don’t look like that girl from the show I just watched. Likewise, I will look around and notice that most of the women I know don’t look like the women in TV shows I watch, unless they really try to.

I have noticed that women who are portrayed in these shows tend to align with the beauty standard society holds, which is what is typically shown in magazines. So, I decided to take a look at a few of my favorite TV shows to analyze how the female characters align or don’t align with the beauty standard set by popular media such as magazines.

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Women in magazines are typically white, slim, and wearing make-up.

Parks and Recreation

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One of my favorite shows to watch is Parks and Recreation, which doesn’t air anymore but it would run on Thursdays at 8:30pm on NBC from 2009-2015. A viewer can now stream it from Netflix or other similar websites.

The show is about Leslie Knope, a government employee in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. The premise of the show surround the Parks and Recreation office and the employees within it. The office consists of Leslie Knope, Ann Perkins, Chris Traeger, Andy Dwyer, Ben Wyatt, April Ludgate, Ron Swanson, Tom Haverford, Jerry Gergich, and Donna Meagle. So there are ten main characters, four of which are women.

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Leslie Knope is the main female character. She is blonde, slim, and very attractive. She is portrayed as hardworking, intelligent, optimistic, and funny.

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Ann Perkins is another major character who is brunette, slim/average weight and attractive. She is Leslie Knope’s best friend who is a nurse and becomes active in the Parks and Recreation department because of her.

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Donna Meagle works in the office as well and is portrayed as sassy, mysterious, and loves to indulge herself in pleasures like shopping. She is voluptuous and average-looking.

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April Ludgate, a pessimistic and mono-toned employee, is a slim and attractive brunette.

 

New Girl

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New Girl is a sitcom that airs on Fox on Tuesdays. The show is about a group of friends who live in a loft together in Los Angeles. The main character, Jess, moves into the loft with a couple other guys and the entire series is about the odd scenarios they find themselves in.

The main characters consist of Jessica Day, Nick Miller, Winston Bishop, Schmidt, and Cece Parekh. Of the five recurring, main characters, there are two women casted.

 

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The first, Jess, is very attractive and she is average weight. She is an elementary educator and is portrayed as bubbly, active in her community, and a very caring and loyal friend.

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Next, Cece, a model in the show, is slim and extremely beautiful. She is Jess’ best friend who is protective of Jess and a faithful friend.

 

The Middle

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The Middle is a sitcom about a middle-class, American family that airs on ABC on Tuesdays. The show is about an average family living in Indiana, and it shows their day-to-day activities and thoughts. There are the parents, Frankie and Mike Heck, and their children, Axl, Sue, and Brick Heck, who are all extremely different from one another. Two of the five main characters are women – the mother and the daughter.

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Frankie Heck is a plain-looking mother of average weight with brownish-red hair. She is portrayed as the narrator of the show, keeping track of her kids, working as a salesperson and seeking affection from her stoic husband.

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Sue Heck, the daughter in the show, is a slim but unattractive brunette. She is portrayed as socially awkward, but optimistic and chatty.

 

 

SO WHAT?

Who gives a rip how many women are in a show? Or about their weight and physical attractiveness?

I don’t think that matters. I’m not affected by those types of things. I just watch shows for fun.

If you’re anything like me, you may have thought those. You may still believe that. It’s not easy to admit that the media we consume can genuinely shape or change the way we think about things. But being a savvy citizen in this media-filled world, it is imperative to recognize the immense effects shows can have on the way we look at and take in information in the world around us.

Why do I feel like I need to look a certain way? How do I know how I should present myself to the world? Taking a look into shows like these above, and seeing how women (or any group of people) are portrayed (and not portrayed) can help to answer those questions.

I will compare two shows in order to support my point.

Take, for example, the women in New Girl. They are both young and beautiful, wear stylish clothes, have cool jobs, and get all the guys. Because I watch this show so much, I might start to think  that this is an accurate representation of the real world, when in fact it is not. I will start to compare myself to their lifestyle, but this is also another way that I understand beauty. I have to look like that if I want to be successful, I have to put on make-up and dress cute every day, I have to be skinny and well-polished if I want to fit in and be lovable.

Now let’s take a look Sue The Middle. Sue is not beautiful on America’s standards of beauty, and is the object of ridicule, yet she is lovable. She is almost funny because she is so realistic. So how do these women shape my perception of the world? In my own life, I probably know more Sue’s and Frankie’s than I know Jess’s and Cece’s. I doubt either one of them would be in a fashion magazine, so it helps me to understand that perhaps I don’t have to look beautiful. But if I’m not, will I be perceived like Sue? And if I am, they sure don’t make it look fun or easy to be Sue. So maybe I should just try to be beautiful.

I also have to notice what I don’t see in these shows. For example, Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation is the only woman of color in all of these shows. It varies from person to person, but the demographics in TV shows are often disproportionate to the rest of the world. While they are all typically white, beautiful people in these shows, I know that this is not how the world actually looks.

I could look around and take things as they are, or I could compare my life to a television show. One that is manipulated in order to keep viewers by showing what people want to see. I could sit unsettled at my inability to achieve the beauty standard, or I could take a step back and look the ways in which people like me are portrayed in television shows, and all of the deceptions that go along with that.

Seriously, though…

It matters! It matters how television chooses to portray women, and how they choose to portray people of color and people of different sexuality. It matters how we, as consumers, perceive these, and don’t just passively accept these. We need to critically think about the information we absorb, even if it is all in good fun.