Stream of Consciousness on Twitter and videos that don’t suck

The past few weeks we’ve been talking in class about how to make videos that “don’t suck.” Video is a form of media that I personally engage with everyday, mostly through watching the political commentary of late night comedians. Even outside of this unit, my causal engagement with short videos has greatly influenced by experience on Twitter throughout the term, as those comedians make up a large segment of the people that I follow. The videos that these comedians post to Twitter are edited very differently than the longer versions posted on Youtube, which of course, are different than the full length show that airs on TV. These short videos posted to Twitter are a great example of what we have been discussing in class throughout the term, they are short, concise, and have made me leave twitter to go watch the full length video, which accomplished their goal (synonymous with a “call to action” in this context) of increasing viewership across patterns.

For example about a month or so ago when Pepsi released their controversial Kendall Jenner ad, I first learned about it from Stephen Colbert’s twitter. His commentary on the ad was hilarious, and motivated me to stop what I was doing to 1) watch the full length segment, 2) look to see what other people were saying about it, and 3) to think more deeply about the implications of the video.

Even though a comedic monologue may not be a traditionally well respected form of media, with the utilization of different platforms such as Twitter and Youtube to publish entertaining content has a high level of efficacy in this case to deliver social commentary to a wider audience, which can be highly valuable. In this way Twitter is an amazing tool for late night comedians to expand their audience base, as watching their content no longer requires watching a full length episode or even a cable subscription.

Strong Words, Weak Ties – Part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post reacting to John McCain’s response to Donald Trump’s decision to launch air strikes against Syria. This week I want to return to this conversation in response to a tweet made by Donald Trump himself this past week.  After making some bizarre comments at a symposium on the Civil War, Trump followed up with this tweet:

There are many flaws with the President’s statement, especially given the context of his earlier statements in which he suggested that no body knows – or has ever even asked – why the civil war was fought at all. Any other American citizen with at least a 3rd grade education could answer this question. Most people would respond “slavery” while some people from southern states would maybe say “states rights” but regardless they at least demonstrate some below-basic knowledge of our country’s history.

Nonetheless Trump’s apparent ignorance of our country’s history is not what is most alarming to me (although it is incredibly alarming), rather the implication of his thought that the civil war was unnecessary and could have been stopped by President Andrew Jackson. I replied to Trump’s tweet pointing out that Andrew Jackson was also responsible for the Trail of Tears and owned many slaves himself. If Andrew Jackson was angry with anyone leading up to the Civil War, it would have been abolitionists. Further, I highly doubt that Andrew Jackson would have willingly given up his right to own slaves in order to prevent the occurrence of the Civil War. Therefore suggesting that Jackson could have prevented the war implies that he would have prevented it in such a way that would have allowed slavery to continue. This likely would not have been possible anyway, but nonetheless Trump seems to think that this could have been the case. The thought that the Civil War did not need to be fought then, is dangerous, as it ignores historical legacies and real issues fought by real people that Trump never bothered to learn about.

Trump’s statement is dangerous in itself as it it ignores historical legacies and trivializes the lives lost on both sides of the war, but it is extra troubling in conjunction with some of his other statements about the media. Thought his presidency and campaign Trump has consistently referred to the mainstream media as “Fake News.” Habermas describes the meaning and value of the public sphere in his paper “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere”. He uses the analogy of a coffee shop to describe this ideal discursive public space. In this metaphor members of the media are patrons of the coffee shop, creating a free discourse of current events. By discrediting attempting to discredit the media by calling them “fake news” Trump is essentially trying to hinder the access to public forums (such as the theoretical coffee shop) by attempting to discredit the legitimacy of their thoughts. If he were to be successful in this endeavor, he would create an environment in which only his opinion is valuable (since he – and people who agree with him – are the only people allowed in the coffee shop.) In this case, statements related to the Civil War have the potential to become powerful propaganda about the legitimacy of fighting for the rights of entire groups of people.

I Hate Podcasts – and that’s okay

Over the past few weeks our main source of new information in this class has been in the form of meta-podcasts, or podcasts about podcasting. It makes sense that the most effective form of teaching about podcasts would be through didactic examples, however the most notable thing I have learned over the past few weeks is not about podcasting, but rather about myself: I hate podcasts. I am certain that this will sound irrational, silly even, but listing to podcasts fills me with a deep void of angst which I cannot explain. I am typically a person who loves receiving auditory information. I receive most of my daily news in video form, and I am really quick to pick up on lyrics when listening to music, but for some reason listening to a podcast feels more like work.

Today, however, was different, partially for the reason that the podcast assigned was available as a PDF, but more importantly because one of the podcasters, Allison Hitt, was very candid about the fact that she too, cannot listen to podcasts. While I do not believe the reasoning she gave for disliking podcasts (not being able to easily process auditory information) is is the same reason I dislike podcasts, her statements really resonated with me, and made me feel like I had an ally, and moreover that it’s okay that I do not like podcasts.

Nonetheless, this does not get to the root question I have been wondering over the past few weeks: why is my reaction to podcasts such a visceral dislike that I even judge myself for having such a hyperbolic reaction? A quote from This Rhetorical Life episode 25 really made me think more deeply about this. It reads:

“Scholarship is designed to reach some sort of conclusion, even provisional, whereas the podcast because I think it’s still anchored in a kind of entertainment model [stardust clicking] is actually sort of less interested in conclusions and probably also—even if it was interested—that that’s sort of antithetical to the form that it’s working through. You want people to keep coming back. You want them to be able to take the episode with them.” – Nathaniel Rivers

Even though I had not thought about it in this way before, I agree with Rivers that podcasting, at least of this sort, is in a weird niche of not-quite-scholarship, and not-quite-entertainment. This suggests that podcasting as a medium rejects traditional scholarship, and instead strives to make information and ideas more accessible to a wider audience. This is a mission that I understand and support, and is the reason Allison Hitt gives for why she bothers with podcasts at all. At the same time, I find that the tone of Rivers’ statement, as well as the tone of many other podcasts I have listened to previously, feels a tad self-righteous. The subtext of the message to me reads, “we are not entertainers, but you should want to listen to us, because we are very intelligent people who are here to share our musings with you.”

One may argue that Twitter has been used in a similar way by intellectuals and grassroots organizers to spread ideas and create momentum for social movements, and I would say that this is an appropriate parallel to draw. However, Twitter gives everyone a voice, and allows people to engage in conversations in a way that podcasts do not. For example, Jake Tapper, CNN host and Dartmouth alumnus, is one of the more prominent figures in my Twitter feed, primarily because he is constantly replying to and retweeting other journalists and intellectuals, as well as regular people. This is great example of how information on Twitter is shared in a more free-form conversation between individuals and groups, as opposed to in a podcast where information is shared through curated interviews or otherwise scripted content.

This to me, pushes podcasts closer to scholarship than entertainment, in an awkward way. As opposed to speaking with an abstract, yet tangible audience, podcasts talk at their audience in a similar way that academic papers do, with the key difference, which Rivers’ points to, that academic papers reach conclusions where podcasts do not. This then, creates an awkward reality for podcasting such that it is not as accessible as social media, not as entertaining as traditional media, and not as intellectually relevant as traditional scholarship. Therefore, the intrinsic value of a podcast, particularly a didactic one, becomes elusive.

This is not to say that podcasts have no value, if that were true no one would listen to them. Instead the value of a podcast is dependent on what the listener chooses to take from it, whether it be entertainment or information. I realize this is not a particularly satisfying conclusion, but then again my discomfort with inconclusiveness is part of why I dislike podcasts, and that’s okay.

The Potential Weight of Strong Words on ‘Weak Ties’

Originally, I had planned to write this first blog post about a Google Chrome extension created by the Daily Show that changes the font of all of Donald Trump’s tweets to make it look like they were hand-written by an eight-year-old. I was planning on discussing both the value and absurdity of such a micro-protest and the impact of strategic design on perceived tone. However, something else that I saw on twitter (well, actually BuzzFeed, but linked to Twitter), has been weighing on me a bit more heavily. Before I get in to discussing my thoughts I wish to note that while this post will relate to last nights air strikes against Syria, I am not attempting to offer my opinion of the air strikes or the situation in Syria, but my musings on the value of words in the age of social media.

Over the past few months, senator John McCain had arisen as one of Trump’s most vocal opponents within the republican party (The New York Times even went so far as to call him “Critic in Chief”). Yet, last night McCain posted to his twitter a link to a press release co-witten by himself and Lindsey Graham praising Trump’s decision to launch the airstrikes. This in itself is not surprising to me, as McCain has been in support of such a decision this whole time, but one sentence really stood out to me. It read, “For [Trump’s decision on Syria], he deserves the support of the American people.” For me, this is where McCain and Graham shift away from praising a specific action made by Trump, and instead express full support of the president, calling for the American people (of which only 40% currently approve of the president) to offer him full support as well.

This radical shift from McCain’s previous stance on the Trump administration seems dangerous, and in a way abstracts all other problematic aspects of the administration, by making support of the president black and white (i.e. the subtext of the statement reads “the president deserves the full support of the American people because of action z, and since we now support the president, ignore actions a-y.)

In the past 12 hours since reading these words from McCain and Graham, I’ve been wondering what the impact will be on Trump’s approval rating. On the one hand, if we take Malcom Gladwell’s opinion that social activism does not happen with much gravity over Twitter, McCain’s words suddenly carry less weight. Plenty of people will like and/or retweet McCain, but how many people will suddenly act in full support of the President beyond that passive interaction with the senator? On the other hand, Senator McCain is not just some random person people follow on Twitter, but a political leader whom many people respect, even if the majority of his followers are “fans” or “weak ties” they’re likely to take the things he says more seriously. More importantly, as Leo Mirani points out, Twitter has become so prominent in social movements in part because of it’s ability to disseminate news quickly. In the immediate aftermath of such a big event, politicians are forced to offer an opinion as quickly as they can, while follower’s are still emotionally invested in the issue. In this respect, I’m not sure if this gives his words more or less weight, as the statement was obviously written without much time for reflection, but at the same time was twitted while engagement was at it’s peak.

To be sure, there is much to be seen in the following days and weeks related to Syria, and the people’s reaction to the president. Nonetheless, my hope is that Trump’s opponents (and supporters for that matter) will be able to separate Syria from all of the president’s other policies, and approach with caution as opposed to a radicle shift to steadfast support on the basis of one issue. After all, Trump did not seem to care about Syrian refugees only a few weeks ago, and personally, I’m skeptical of any authentic change in heart, regardless of the potential efficacy of the airstrikes.