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Blog Post #4

As part of the last leg of the class, we looked at what makes a video effective and how to create similar videos. Video and media have played a big part in environmental awareness campaigns and overall environmental discourse for a long time. The obvious reason for this trend is that environmental issues are very visually stimulating. Pictures of the dying great barrier reef or of other destruction of natural environments are commonplace in social media relevant to environmental issues. For instance, many people can probably recall at least one video they have watched or at least glanced at on Facebook or Twitter that basically detail the harsh environmental impacts and realities of the human actions in some part of the world. In fact, many of these videos follows a similar format and strategy of many of the videos we have watched for class. Most of the videos on social media that I watched about environmental problems are usually short, around 1-5 minutes and all focus on a specific topic within the broader umbrella of climate change and environmental concern and conservation. Moreover, from what I noticed from in class and social media videos is that most videos, across all topics, seem to fall into two main categories in terms of overall strategy and emotional appeal.

The first of these categories is usually characterized by a slow pace and soft tone of a voice that I almost feel gives a sense of nostalgia. These videos usually are mellow and perhaps less proactive in trying to accomplish a goal. To me, the purpose of this slow pace and soft, warmly-lit tone is that I think it helps people to relax and think more deeply about the topic of interest in order to feel more logically and emotionally connected to the issue at hand. For instance, the “Last Letters” video we watched about the sinking of a Korean school field trip boat is a good example of the pace and tone even if it doesn’t really have a strong purpose. This genre seems to elicit guilt and sadness from the viewer that hopefully will translate into a bigger personal stake with the topic of interest. Furthermore, it helps to calm the watcher and expose them to an issue they probably don’t know that much about.

The second in the category is what we call the “shock doctrine”. As the video we watched for class, “The Shock Doctrine” points out, this style is usually categorized by a very shocking and unbelievable event or statistic at the beginning of the video and then followed by the “meat” of the argument. As we have learned, the shock of the initial statistic or event makes people more susceptible to listening to what they want and more likely to want to help. This is definitely the more common theme for videos about environmental concerns as there are a plethora of shocking statistics that are often brought up. In fact, I would even argue that this method has become too commonplace in mainstream discourse and awareness strategies for climate change and environmental concerns. Judging from social media and personal experience it seems that people have almost become desensitized to this type of shock doctrine – its overuse has led to its being not so shocking. This is one of the main challenges when working with climate change.

Blog Post #3

As I mention in my last blog post, environmental issues and climate change do not face the same problems of exposure, media coverage, and issue recognition that many other issues encounter. Discourses of climate change and other environmental problem continue to inhabit what Jurgen Habermas called the “public sphere”. Environmental issues are common in both “public” spaces that Habermas characterizes as referring to “events and occasions [that] are open to all, in contrast to closed or exclusive affairs” as well as “public” spaces that refer to state institutions and the public authority. In other words, environmental problems are discussed both formally in state legislation and agencies and informally in open to all discussions across a variety of mediums, including twitter. Moreover, Habermas writes that “Only in the light of the public sphere did that which existed become revealed, did everything become visible to all. In the discussion among citizens issues were made topical and took on shape.” (4) It seems to me that climate change and environmental issues has already made it past what Habermas indicates the point of the public sphere is: to “reveal” an issue and give it a shape. Climate change has already been “revealed” and “visible to all”, and apart from a small minority of typically very conservative elites, most of the United States and world acknowledges and recognizes the dangers of climate change.

However, some criticisms to Habermas’ ideas such as the ones posed by Nancy Fraser in the Mere Rhetoric podcast do seem to be relevant to the issue of climate change. Nancy Fraser asserts that in reality Habermas’ “open spaces” do exclude certain groups of people. For example, the discussion of climate change and climate change solutions usually revolves around developed nations such as the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, and China. This excludes arguably the people most affected by climate change who traditionally live in poorer parts of the world and are not able to participate in the discourse of climate change. Furthermore, people in regions of the world that are drastically affected by climate change usually do not have the political influence to shape or enact international laws or treaties that address climate change such as the Paris Climate Accords. This disconnect is a critique of Habermas and his ideas of the public and show that perhaps climate change and discussions of climate change, while known to all, might turn a blind eye to the voices of those who do not have the social or economic abilities to have a significant role in the discourse on environmental issues.

Furthermore, I wanted to talk about digital activism and environmental issues. As the NHPR podcast indicates, digital activism is increasingly becoming the method of choice for young activists to organize and communicate with other people interested in their cause. The low barriers to entry and large number of people on social media have allowed for “Twitter celebrities/activists” such as Bill McKibben who is an author, educator, and environmentalist on Twitter who I am currently following. The new digital age has allowed for individuals who otherwise might not have the credentials or influence to talk and be heard to be internet celebrities that have substantial followings.

Blog Post #2

Environmental issues and climate change does not face the same problems of exposure, media coverage, and issue recognition that many other issues encounter. By following the discussion on climate change and broad environmental issues it is clear that while environmental issues do get a plethora of media attention, it is not effective media attention that leads to activists or tangible, actionable plans or solutions. A study done by the New York Times on how Americans think about climate change lends some insight. * While a very significant majority of Americans think that climate change will harm Americans and that we should work towards solutions, not very many Americans think climate change will affect them specifically. This elucidates the disconnect between reading and hearing about the information, and rationalizing it in a way that individuals view it as their personal problem and not a societal problem.

Perhaps some of this disconnect can be traced back to the mediums by which Americans intake media. With the advent of the internet and rise of massive media empires, mainstream media is no longer personal. While newspapers and other news outlets used to be disseminators of local information to locals who had a stake in the issues, now it is used to cover global news and events that are much less tied to each individual person. The news that CNN, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, or any other mainstream media outlet publishes is no longer personal or gives rise to the same emotional response as an issue that is directly relevant to its listeners. Siobahn McHugh suggests that podcasting may be one way to combat this issue. Through talking with industry experts, she finds that podcasting is not “Audio-as-background, but a fully ‘authored’ creative work.” This renewed intimacy between the host and the audience may be the answer to how to get people to personally care about issues that have largely stagnated in mainstream media. This plays into Steph Ceraso’s notion of multimodal listening and bodily learning. She finds that people are too used to constant drones of sound that dull the senses. Instead she advocates for a much more involved listening in which the audience uses their sense of hearing along with their other senses to listen more deeply and emotionally to the audio. In this way, podcasting seems to encourage multimodal listening as podcasts engage more fully with the audience.

Furthermore, McHugh notes that “Low-cost ‘chumcasts’ are a growing format, with potential to cater to minority groups.” These “chumcasts” cater to niche audiences who are clearly interested in specific topics that might either be left out of typical mainstream coverage, or have not found a suitable medium which they enjoy. Podcasts are also usually characterized by smaller audiences. John Beiwen, an audio program director at Duke University says that “I would rather have a few thousand people hear a piece that I’m really proud of, that has room to breathe and unfold, than to have millions hear a three-minute piece cut down to a nub.” The smaller audience and flexibility to create a podcast that the producer wants gives air to a “genuineness” that Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd cover in their article “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience”. The more personal nature of podcasts may be one answer to facing the problem that the image of the solution to environmental is one that lies among others and not with oneself.


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