The Merchants of Cool

The Merchants of Cool (2001): Barak Goodman; Douglas Rushkoff, Christina Aguilera, Greg Berlanti

By Liz Miller and Jenna Levandowski

November 19, 2015

Teens are the most studied generation by advertisers in American history, their purchasing power make them a targeted audience that is too powerful to be ignored by advertising companies. Merchants of Cool explores how powerful brands such as Sprite and MTV market for the teenage demographic. In 2000, this group of consumers spent one hundred billion themselves and pushed their parents to spend an additional fifty billion on products. Teens “have more money and more say over how they will spend it than ever before” making them a highly popular targeted group for advertisers.

The documentary highlights that in this consumer culture, teens live within “a world made of marketing”, the average teen will view at least 3,000 discreet ads in a day and ten million by the time they reach eighteen. Because they are so immersed into a world dominated by advertisements they have become overwhelmed by the amount of commercial messages that encompass their everyday lives. The industry targeting teens must do so creatively since this group of consumers makes an effort to reject mass media and advertising messages because they contradict with what teens believe is “cool”. By the time an industry picks up on what teenagers think is cool and airs an advertisement the trend either has already passed onto something else or by publicizing the fad the industry creates the trend’s demise. This only enforces how much research and subtle planning must go into creating a market that is aiming to attract teens.

Two of the most notable companies that have succeeded in attracting teenagers are Sprint and MTV. Through the act of cool hunting, finding out what is cool before it’s attempted to be utilized by the mainstream media; Sprite found that by appealing to the lives of teens rather than focusing on the product would increase their sales over other soft drinks. Sprite adapted a unique selling proposition which centered on the concept that the brand understood teen culture. In order to prosper in the teen market, a company will “have to think what they think”. MTV also succeeded in attracting this audience by creating a channel that was entirely an advertisement. In order to sell teen culture through products MTV advisors would conduct case studies and even go into a typical teen’s home to learn about the way they think and what they believe is cool.

Both MTV and Sprite could attribute their success from the adaptation of permission marking. “Permission marketing has led to the rethinking of the relationships between advertiser and consumer, one in which they act like partners, sharing information for mutual benefit.” (Baran 309). Through the psychographic segmentation of the teen market these companies were able to succeed by combining products and people together.

The relationship between the advertiser and consumer is reciprocal although it is often unclear if it is the media advertising to teenagers what is cool or teenagers’ presenting what is cool and selling to the advertisers. “Real life and TV have become blurred”, the fact that we are currently living in a media bubble is only reinforced by the relationship that has come out of advertising targeting teen culture. The non-traditional ambient advertising that is emerging to seem less intrusive makes it difficult for our current society to ever differentiate between ads and real life.

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The Inside(r) Scoop on The Insider & PR

Mann, M. (Director). (1999). The Insider [Motion picture]. Touchstone Home Video :.

“Since when has the paragon of investigative journalism allowed lawyers to determine the news content on 60 Minutes” (Lowell The Insider)

In The Insider Jeffrey Wigand is recruited by Lowell Bergman to give the “inside scoop” on a tobacco company called Brown and Williamson. Wigand was the VP of Research Development at Brown and Williamson, and was fired (allegedly, or in his opinion) for his questioning and inquiries into the chemical usage that was making nicotine more addictive. At this time, it was just the beginning of knowledge being released to the public about the dangers of nicotine. Wigand was being targeted for his story, because of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in which heads of corporations denied their knowledge that not only was nicotine an addictive substance, but that they were putting funding into developing formulas with different chemicals to increase the effectiveness of nicotine in cigarettes.

What occurs once Lowell begin to target Wigand for his story, is a series of events that boil down to PR strategies by Brown and Williamson to prevent this story from making it’s way into mainstream media. The extent that B & W goes to, shows how important it is to their brand to stay intact, and the impact Wigand’s information would have on their corporation.

B & W at this point, had maintained some level of a positive identity even after the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and were trying to keep it that way. The job of a public relations sector for a corporation such as this, is to keep customers trusting, liking and ultimately buying their product. They work to create and maintain a persona to the general public and their potential and current customers in order to keep those people purchasing their product over another company’s. As shown in the film, some companies not only have the financial means to go to extreme lengths, but need to in order to protect their brand because some information could damage an entire industry to the point of no return. In Baran, he breaks down public relations like this; “Public relations has terrible public relations. We dismiss information as “just PR.” Public relations professionals are frequently equated with snake oil salespeople, hucksters, and other willful deceivers. They are referred to both inside and outside the media industries as flacks. Yet virtually every organization and institution-big and small, public and private, for non-profit and volunteer-uses public relations as a regular part of its operation.” (Baran, 265) As Baran phrases it, we view this sector as a necessity of the commercialism but criticize its tactics and purpose. As we examine this film closely, one could extract the idea that PR has been Wigand’s safety net, turned into his nightmare over the course of a few days. When he worked for Brown and Williamson, PR was what kept his job relevant, and paying him each week to care for his family. However, once Wigand leave B & W, PR becomes his worst enemy, because he has become their’s. He becomes their target, because he could damage their reputation severely if his story is shared with the public which would result in a PR department needing to reverse these effects in order to maintain profits, which typically go hand-in-hand with a positive identity.

Although PR has a (relatively) positive connotation, in the case of the film, one could wonder where the line is drawn when it comes to how far a PR can go, before it’s gone to the point where lives are ruined or at risk, and journalistic integrity is compromised to the point where anchors producers and networks become at odds with maintaining monetary success, and remaining true to their job as news distributers. At the end of the film, B & W went to the extreme measure of essentially threatening CBS’s stock if they ran the story by Wigand. Although they were trying to maintain a positive public presence, it came at the cost of this man’s life as he knew it, just to share information with the public that was imperative to the general population’s health and well-being. Where is the line, and do people like Wigand lose all privilege of safety and security when he goes against a confidentiality agreement for the “good of the public?” That would be where media ethics and the social responsibility come into play. Both topics dealing with this ethical dilemma presented throughout the film, and cause problems for Wigand, Lowell and 60 Minutes. It is difficult, just as it is for the characters in this film, to decide what is right and what is wrong for themselves as individuals, as members of a new corporation and citizens of the United States. It is challenging to remember each of one’s different roles when making ethical choices because what may be good for one person’s life, may be detrimental to another’s. It is in the hand’s of journalists and those in news and broadcasting to rise above the industrial control so prevalent in the U.S.

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“Live from Canton”

by Liz Miller & Jenna Levandowski

Perkins, G. (Director). (2003). Live from Baghdad [Motion picture]. HBO Video.

“We are a 24-hour network looking for a 24-hour story. One just fell from the sky…” (Weiner)

CNN was the only news network before the Gulf War that had 24-hour news coverage. The Gulf War was an opportunity for CNN to continue their reign as the network that never stops coverage due to the ever-changing events in the Middle East throughout the early development of the war. The CNN effect is a theory in political science and media studies, that CNN and other news sources with 24-hour coverage of major political events alter and effect domestic and global politics ( This is because live coverage is not “screened” beforehand (obviously since it is live) so whatever is happening in the moment is being captured on the screen on the consequences of what may appear are unknown and potentially could have a huge impact on global politics, depending on the incident and the countries involved. For example when CNN interviewed Bob Vinton, an American living in Baghdad at the beginning of the Gulf War, he claimed to enjoy living there, and praised the Iraqi people and the culture he lived in. However, CNN exploited him by highlighting and illuminating physical behavior that led to the assumption that he was perhaps lying or omitting the entire truth. Soon after this interview is released, Vinton goes missing. It is important to understand the gravity of this responsibility that news platforms have distilling and distributing this information. The effect of this coverage can cause international controversy, but we sometimes forget that human beings are on the other side of these events more often than not.

Naji Al-Hadithi said; “All governments use press…That’s the reality. I use you, you use me. We’re the same.” What he means is that government can often control or have influence over what the media projects to the general public. Luckily (or unluckily?) in the United States we have the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights (Baran, 75) to protect freedom of speech, therefore what media platforms or mediums choose to produce for the public’s consumption. The media has a very powerful influence on our daily lives, and in an instant it can change because of what or who shows up on your television screen.

When a journalist becomes a part of the story he/she is supposed to be reporting on, they embody the people or place they are reporting on in order to see it through the most accurate and authentic way. Through the eyes of those in the thick of it. Becoming a part of the story has the potential to cross lines or boundaries of journalism that exist for the integrity of the journalist and whomever they are reporting for and the public seeing, reading or viewing this  It is challenging for some journalists, depending on a story to stay unbiased when they are pushed to become so integrated into what they are reporting on. Those who report the news are given a a privilege, and those whom they report for determine if they are trustworthy based on several factors, so if reporters abuse those powers, if can ruin their reputation or the reputation of a news conglomerate or publication. This, arguable is what happened in Baghdad, and often can occur when news goes to foreign countries or places where war is being waged. Because you are literally in the middle of a war zone, and you can’t help but become a part of it, you meet people involved and you come from some place that may or may not have a direct relationship with the conflict, but surely has a political stance. In addition, human beings will always have a stance on war, suffering and injustice, either way they feel, it will effect their behavior towards the subject. This is how CNN reporters began to get others (as well as themselves) in danger when getting too close, and in some unsafe situations in Baghdad.

Throughout watching the film it becomes apparent that whomever is filmed by Weiner’s crew in Baghdad is going to be publicized globally. Considering the poor relations and misrepresentations felt by the Iraqis towards Americans, and the deeper political system within Iraq, being the face shown on CNN is putting the life behind the face in jeopardy. When Bob Vinton is interviewed while being held a hostage, he sacrifices his ability to go unnoticed and unidentified as a threat. While the interview is being held a man walks up to Weiner and asks how he sleeps at night knowing that once this airs this man’s life is at risk, and as we know, soon after the assumption is correct as Bob Vinton is determined missing. The ethical dilemma behind a journalistic interview on a controversial topic is that what is projected on the news is not really free speech, what this man says on television is what gets him captured. It is neither the sole fault of a journalist willingly allowing the man to take the risk as it is for the man to agree to speak. Similarly, later in the film when the crew gets to interview a doctor in a hospital, we are shown another instance where the lack of anonymity on a screen limits the conversation that can be held in an interview in fear of further implications.

A lot of the film shot by Weiner’s crew requires media literacy to dissect the truth behind the face. In the beginning of the film Weiner claims, “trust the viewer” in the context that he assumes they will be able to see through the shot of the hostages with Saddam Hussein. However, the agency of people tuning into CNN cannot be assumed. This film highlights the influence potential news casters have when being responsible for broadcasting events to the public. The ability to share the information is power that poses as threatening for Iraqi officials in the film. The television is one of the most popular mediums for national news, “71% say it’s their leading source”. (Baran 191). What is seen on the television sway public opinion, dialogue within the movie further establish the power one holds when they are able to film and distribute news content. In one scene a man says to Weiner about furthering their stay in Baghdad that, “if we’re here, the White House cannot control the story” and later in the film another journalist tells Weiner, “you own this war”. The ability to televise a story when no one else has access is power that can be used to better the knowledge and understanding on the millions of viewers who tune in, however it also makes it harder for higher institutions to limit the information they want the public to know. This movie addresses the many complications that arise behind the scenes of a television broadcast. 



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The September Issue (In October)

The September Issue (2009): R.J Cutler, Anna Wintour, Thakoon Panichgul

Jenna Levandowski and Liz Miller

The September Issue is an expose into the life of Vogue magazine which centers around the intimidating, successful, and talented editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. Since 1988, Anna Wintour has held her editor-in-chief position at one of the top and most prestigious and well respected fashion magazines in the United States. She has used the magazine to completely shape the fashion industry and is even quoted in the film as “the most powerful woman in the world”. This documentary reveals what is behind the finished product of the magazine and how much effort and meticulous planning goes into every single advertisement, picture, and article that make up the many pages of the september issue.

When one in ten women will buy a copy of Vogue, the messages and illustrations within the magazine will undoubtedly influence and affect the minds of their consumers. Similarly, if you take into account pass along readership, all the people who skim through the pages of Vogue in a doctor’s office, or at a hair salon, will absorb these same messages creating a magazine that has the power to change the way we think about fashion and its role in society. The advertising and fashion industry, which one can argue are about the same thing, have an immense impact on the way we perceive reality and adopt expectations within our society. As Baran writes, “graphics are used to create meaning” (117)  and the meanings become assimilated into our everyday lives. The models, clothing, and products being sold in Vogue sell a lifestyle that we as consumers are told to strive for. Equivalently with the addition of celebrity culture being linked with the fashion world the “reality” that is shown and sold through these forms of media do not accurately depict what is obtainable within our actual society.

From watching the September Issue you see all the work that gets done on the models who are supposed to look effortlessly beautiful, it is revealed that even the beautiful actress who is chosen is not perfect enough to have a picture that is not untouched or photoshopped for the cover. The documentary reveals that these pictures that get absorbed into our brains from being a consumer of Vogue are actually fabrications from what we perceive them to be. Baran writes that, “to enhance the appearance of models’ bodies… contribute(s) to unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image”. (117). The effect of these distortions on paper is that they begin to distort or social perception of reality, if we absorb these images not knowing or being fully aware of the intricately edited pictures, and the differences between advertorials and articles,  then as a society we being to believe that these bodies and faces are not only attainable, but considered beautiful, and that the products that fill the pages are there because the company paid for the image not necessarily because it is the best one to recommend.  

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The Most Dangerous Blog in America

The Most Dangerous Man in America (2009)

Baran, Stanley J. Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture

The Vietnam War occurred during the administrations of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in the years of 1955-1975. The Watergate Scandal was the time when tape recordings of President Nixon having conversations about killing and abuse in the Vietnam War, he was caught and the contents of these tapes discovered. It was related to The Pentagon Papers because it contributed to and continued to the cycle of corruption within the government that continued through the years during these four presidencies.

The Gulf of Tonkin is a gulf in North Vietnam, that supposedly had an attack on the USS Maddox by Vietnamese torpedoes in 1964. The Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was in charge of the operation and it was Daniel Ellsberg’s first day on the job working in the White House. Ellsberg worked for McNamara, who worked under the JFK and Johnson administration. Ellsberg was told by McNamara to find examples of monstrosities that supported public opinion of America’s efforts in Vietnam.

The Pentagon Papers were a report done on the birth and progression of the Vietnam War. Essentially, it displayed that years of presidents and the White House lied to the American people in order to maintain an image of trust and purpose for the war, continuing the funding and support of the nation. The Pentagon Papers were ordered by Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense at the time.

The pivotal moments that changed Ellsberg’s position towards war was when he began hearing what the people were saying during the resistance rallies, that “the best thing our men can do is go to jail.” This struck him, because it was true, people were willing to go to jail because it meant they weren’t supporting a war that they didn’t believe in.

When he says that “an authority can fall asleep at the wheel” he means that people in power can sometimes forget or lose sight of the mission or goal at hand. Because of this, they can become distracted and cause discourse through their pursuit. It applied to the role that the press is supposed to play in a free and democratic society because they contribute to the cycle of lies and deceit that these politician attempt to convey to the public. They even use the press to distract from what they’re doing by creating false stories to keep them off their case.

When Ellsberg decided to go to the press, it was no the decision of whether or not big Newspaper companies would also take the risk to put their name out with assisting the leak of this information. The New York Times believed that going ahead with the release was a public service but were told by their law firm to go against the publication, for they were in violation of the espionage act. The editors however understood that if it got out that the newspaper had the information and did not publish it then they would be considered a disgrace.

The publication of the papers erupted and the Nixon administration deemed it a devastating security breach and got an injunction against The New York Times. Nixon made Ellsberg seem like a traitor, saying that what he did gave aid to the enemy and that his decision placed Ellsberg in front of both the president and the entire government. However, while the release did place the government in what was called “the dark times” Nixon was reelected with a sweeping majority, it was not until Ellsberg and Russo faced a trail that he resigned before facing impeachment.

Ellsberg was facing a penalty of 115 years in prison for his decision, what ultimately assisted him and Russo from going to jail was the additional government corruption that Nixon tainted their trail with. It was rather a case about unnecessary and unfair government fraud within the case that made the Supreme Court drop it than understanding it as a problem of freedom of expression.

The decision that Ellsberg faced could have cost him his life and those of the ones he loves. Ellsberg along with Snowden, Assange, and Manning all believed that people have the right for information, have the right to understand what is really going on compared to what the government chooses to share or hide from the public. They challenged and went against the higher institutions to allow people to change how they view the way the world works, to question and rethink the uses of power that those in high government positions have. Leaking information to the media proves a lasting legacy of the newspaper that has rung true since the times of Ben Franklin, “in proving that a newspaper with popular support could indeed challenge authority”. (74).  These people considered heroes to many and traitors to some made a decision to “give priority to conscious over career”.  What has made them one or the other is based off of the popular opinion and media representation created by the opinions of their actions.

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Monastery Mystery vs. Montag

Blog Post #3

Jenna Levandowski, Liz Miller

September 22, 2015


The Name of the Rose (1986): Jean-Jacques Annaud, Sean Connery, Christian Slater

Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Francois Truffaut, Oskar Werner, Julie Christie

by Jenna Levandowski and Liz Miller

September 22, 2015


The society portrayed in the film’s official argument was that books distracted people from their unchangeable reality. Giving people access to an escape, such as books, took away the values and strength of real life, therefore diminishing the socially constructed values on family, duty and the home at this time.

The everyday life like in a society that bans books is centered around the television and the interactions related to it. The television creates opportunities for the viewers to “interact” and stay connected with the tv, believing that they are actually a part of what is occurring on the screen. The average household looks like a schedule built around the television. As soon as Montag comes home he is whisked into the living room to eat dinner in front of the television, when he comes home his wife is socializing and meeting with her friend group, by watching tv together. They depend on their media for everything, including the glue that holds their relationships together. Today our society relies on the screen for everything; the news, talking with family and friends close by and far away, our academics, our entertainment, everything in between is structured around some screen; whether it be a tv, phone or computer, now we just have different ways of accessing the screen, and the ability to constantly connect with it for whatever desire we might have.


Montag begins to question his social position because of the woman who approaches him on the train and her situation and perspective striking a chord with him. He begins to revolt and start to read because the woman asked him if he read the books that he burned. He didn’t have a real substantial answer, other than why would he, because it is against the law, so it sparked something in him to start to wonder what was in these books that his career centered around burning. I read books in my personal time, but have to make the effort to do so, knowing that if I don’t it could mean something bad for my life or soul. I am disappointed in myself when I fall behind or forget to read on a semi-regular basis.

When Montag tells his wife and her friends: “You’re nothing  but zombies, all of you… You’re not living, you’re just killing time!” they react when he starts reading to them out loud by becoming emotional. They have never heard these words, and the poetry and lack of intent other than for the author’s motives of publishing ideas unfold as Montag reads for them.


In comparison to The Name of the Rose, Fahrenheit 451 shows a time of indeed darkness when information was decidedly shared with the general public. Monks wrote script on the information that the monastery wanted available to the public, but kept hidden the source of this information, which were other texts that may have had ideas or beliefs that weren’t held by the monastery itself. In Fahrenheit 451 it was a time where information from books was completely forbidden because of the societal structure at the time. Giving the opportunity of fantasy to people was counterproductive to the continued ideals and social structure at the time.  


In The Name of the Rose, a monk, William of Baskerville, and his apprentice, Adso of Melk travel to an abbey famous for their scriptorium and end up investigating a series of murders while trying to understand where all the books went. The movie touches on the conflicts between reason and religion, it explores the theme and implications that arise from censorship of information and who has the right to impose that on society.  The movie is slow paced and has grotesque images and scenes that do not try and romanticize the dark time period as Hollywood usually falls into pattern of doing. The movie requires more focus and attention than lots of other films for it can be often hard to understand the dialogue going on within scenes. The scenes are also light by candles rather than artificial studio lighting which give a much more realistic look into the time period.

The scriptorioum is the room within the monastery that was used for copying, creating, and illuminating books. It was the monk’s job to reproduce books to create libraries for other scholars to enjoy. Monks take on the positions of the copiest, translators, researchers and thinkers. These are monks who are contain different skills that have the ability to share knowledge and discover ways of thinking that are untraditional to the religious institution. The elimination of many of these positions through the murders show that those places in superior positions within the monastery are threatened and feel their values questioned by many of the books they chose to hide at the top of the tower. Venerable Jorge is a perfect example of this, he believes that what is written in the bible and what has been considered traditional religious texts, as ways that govern the people are the only modes of information that are worth learning and practicing. He does not see the need for the exploration of new knowledge because he does not see a problem in what has already been learned and created.  

The final scene demonstrates the power of knowledge, William educates Adso that these books were not hidden up here because they are rare and delicate but because they contain ideas and stories that contain differing views from what the monks believe and stories that contradict some values that the monks share. This book was able to symbolize a theme for the pursuit of reason, ethics, and knowledge that is gained from developing a variety of different understanding than simply being limited to select knowledge. While this movie was set in 1347, and Fahrenheit 911 was a futuristic society, they both present the similar case that the ‘dark ages’ are portrayed as a time where people are not given the right to be able to develop agency over the knowledge they can pursue because those within larger institutions believe that they will not be able to enforce a functioning society without enforcing similarity.    


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“Reel Bad Arabs”

Blog Post #3

Jenna Levandowski, Liz Miller

September 15, 2015


Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2006); Jeremy Earp, Sut Jhally, Jack Shaheen

by Jenna Levandowski and Liz Miller

September 15, 2015


The documentary Reel Bad Arabs aims to exploit the myths and dehumanizing stereotypes that we have developed towards the Arab community and the Middle East as a result from watching their portrayal within television. Dr. Jack Shaheen dedicated over thirty years analyzing more than a thousand films starting from early Hollywood that depict how image makers project Arabs and how that correlates with societies inherited national attitudes towards the Arab culture. Shaheen watched and dissected both unknown films and major blockbusters to find that for decades the people behind the making of these films have reproduced the same demeaning stereotypes over and over again.

Within these movies you see that women and men are portrayed in not only a negative light but in a one dimensional manner, the complexities behind the culture and human beings are wiped away and replaced by an overarching Western hating motif. Women are portrayed as sultry, submissive, and sexualized beings. They illustrate women as sexualized entertainers for the men around them. The other side of this stereotype shows women Dr. Shaheen described as  “bundles in black”. If they are not going to be casted as beautiful seductresses then they are completely covered up and silenced. The final other depiction of Arab women is shown as being terrorists and bombers. Similarly, the Arab men within Hollywood films show the same type of violent and dangerous person recycled over and over again with different characters. The men are painted as incompetent villains who are extremely attracted to American women. These men are not shown as fathers or brothers, but kidnappers, terrorists and abusive people.     

What happens when these adverse depictions of Arabs are even injected into movies that have nothing to do with the culture or people, these negative stereotypes become deeply embedded into our perception of reality. The American population has grown up watching these stereotypes and making the connection to reflect these characterizations onto the whole Arab population. This has affected the way our society rushes to judgement and immediately blames and looks for an Arab to publicize as the villain. The Cultivation Theory implies the “idea that people’s ideas of themselves, their world, and their place in it are shaped and maintained primarily through television”. (p 323). As a result, the amount of time people are spending in front of their television screens directly correlates with our perception that these Arab people can in fact be generalized to their entire population. Similarly, the repetition of enforced stereotypes “make people feel superior to others”, the fact that we vilified an entire culture creates the inequality that our society is better, we have superior morals and customs, why should we attempt to understand the Arab culture if this is what it is like there? The American people have not been given the ability through television to be exposed to Arab characters that humanize and respect their culture. The lack of mutual respect in films excludes the majority of the Arab population that do not fit into the societal boxes we put them in. With only a miniscule amount of films to counter the negative way Arabs are shown in film, it is easy and disappointing to see why so many Americans are to believe these stereotypes as their social reality. “Stereotypes Do Reinforce the Status Quo.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. Jost, John.  Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

Shaheen’s asks in the film; “And if we cannot see Arab humanity, what’s left?” What he means by this, is if we cannot even seen Arabs as human beings depicted on the television how can we ever relate to them in real life? The media is where we are supposed to see the most glorified (yet often stereotypical or false) displays of people in society. Yet, the Arabs have a history of being displayed in media in a negative context, exemplified after the 9/11 attacks (presumably) to create “justification” for a war that has continued for many more years than the American public could’ve ever guessed. First, to reduce or remove these stereotypes from our present society, we must remove them from our  everyday media.

As aforementioned above, it is presumed that the continued negative portrayal of Arabs in modern media has some connection with politics or the government. It is no surprise that years into the War on Iraq and Afghanistan the American public began to wonder what started this war, and why it was continuing. One could speculate that the American government may have supported such efforts, possibly even funding to further support the negative stereotypes that emerged or were illuminated after it was revealed who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The government can play a big role in socially constructed definitions and norms and how they use that power can be extremely important to the future of the country and the world.  

The concept of social construction of reality in this film is present in how media has created a reality within our country based on definitions and stereotypes. We see Arabs in the United States as bad people because we assume that they are like those whose who killed thousands of Americans because those ideas are reinforced repeatedly in the media. For instance, in the movie Flight 93, the stereotypes of those who participated in the terrorist attacks, were brought to light through those who played the hijackers, the music during the “stressful” or “action-packed” part of the film is very middle eastern and reminds us of the origin (or socially constructed “origin”) these people inciting this violence are from.

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Welcome to St. Lawrence University Blogs. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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Blog #1 (9/8) The Truman Show

The Truman Show (1998); Peter Weir; Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, LauraThe_truman_show

Our generation has grown up alongside the development of technology, it is easy to realize that we are submerged in a media environment because it is almost impossible to ignore the advertisements, commercials, and technology devices that surround us in our everyday life. However, a majority of our society is unaware of many of the affects and influences it has on our lives. As Baran states, “the Media so fully saturates our everyday lives that we are often unconscious of their presence, not to mention their influence.” (4). We have grown up absorbing lessons and expectations of our culture as a result from living within our societies media bubble, mass media acts as “cultural storytellers” and we have been learning these stories for years. (15). The media affects how we perceive our everyday world. What it puts out for our society to watch shapes how we view our own realities. In The Truman Show, Truman grows up in a false reality that he believes is a normal world because he has never learned anything to counter his experiences. He has accepted his lifestyle as normal because his life knowledge that has been shaped by what the media told him to consider as the norm. Similar to The Truman Show, our society has also been inaccurately affected by what our country’s institutions choose to show us. For example, within the United States media bubble we have been shown that we are living in an increasingly violent world. This has affected how parents raise their children, and how we choose to spend our leisure time. However, studies show that our world is no less dangerous than it was fifty years ago. (Pinker, Mack). Our media bubble along with Truman’s have the power to present distorted truths of the world we live in, however because these bubbles have been something we have been put in since birth, we will never be completely aware of how influenced we are by our media environment until we put ourselves out of it entirely.


“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.” In The Truman Show, Truman has accepted the reality in which he is a part of, just as most people within common society do today. It is unusual, on a daily basis for a person to reflect that deeply on their place within the world and their purpose or what’s around them in their every day life. Christof tells Truman that he is safe in the world that he has created over the years for him, and that there is no less deception outside his “bubble.” Christof argues that his so called “cruelty” is not being forced upon the viewers, they have the freewill to change the channel, just as media executives argue for their often inappropriate or outrageous programming. Our lives are dictated by what we interact with, especially our surrounding media, it becomes such a normal part of our existence, that we can rarely acknowledge the effect it has on who we are and how it makes us behave. Just as Truman accepts his reality just up until something odd occurs in his routine (the part of the set that falls from the sky and breaks on the street in front of him). The common man accepts their reality, until something goes awry within their lives, which is why we only give people what they want, and that the more knowledge of the world is power because it creates awareness that we are blind to what is not immediately in front of us.


Much like how Christof controlled the way Truman perceived his life, the heads of media industries have the capability to regulate information within our society. Christof believed that he was doing what was best for Truman, saving him from the real deceit and lies that people experience everyday outside of his bubble. He justifies the television show by saying that the real world is the true “sick place”. Correspondingly, our media industries morph how we view and create opinions of the world around us. By ignoring and selecting specific media to present within our society they are also attempting to keep us comfortable within the reality they have chosen to display us. In a way, they are also concealing us from “the sick place”. Christof explains that if Truman truly wanted to discover the truth then it would be impossible for the producers to stop him, this coincides with the concept that as a society we are all affected by the third person effect. For many people within our society there is a shared common attitude “that others are influenced by media messages but that we are not” being “not self aware or honest enough to see its influence on our lives”. (32).

The only way to counter the habit of preferring our ignorance to the reality of the media’s control over our lives is by advancing our media literacy. Truman asks “is nothing real?” during the final scene of the film, as he discovers how his life has been adjusted and tainted by Christof he is able to think critically and becomes aware of the impact of media. It is when Truman gains concentration of ownership that he is finally informed on his world’s authenticity and has the means to make the decision himself. If Truman was never able to question the way information has been presented to him by his adaptation of media literacy, then he never would have had the resources to be educated enough to break free from the bubble. 


The concept of socially constructed reality is how we create definitions, realities and the foundation of our every day lives. In The Truman Show, Truman’s socially constructed reality is heavily constructed by those around him who are hired to “construct” his reality of the show surrounding his life. They have actors create situations for Truman, such as when he has a connection with Sylvia, but she becomes unavailable to him and disappears all together, so he ends up marrying Meryl who is essentially served to him on a silver platter when she falls into his lap during a pep rally. Anther socially constructed reality is what keeps Truman from attempting to leave his home town. At an early age, they “kill off” Truman’s father in a boating accident where he drowns at a sea in a large storm, because of this, Truman fears the water and since the only way to leave is either by boat or bride, he can never summon the courage to face his fears to leave. Another reality that is socially constructed, is how Truman spends his time, his job is a rouse to some extend, his neighbors greet him each day, his other neighbor’s dog jumps on him, so on and so forth. His entire life is a construction of reality, as by definition is our’s, and since we rarely have the opportunity to look outside of our “bubble” the construction is our reality.





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