St. Louis County Harassing Us Again

Introduction

Our next door neighbor has been discharging most of her drainage into our yard for years, causing thousands of dollars of damage to our property. We installed rain gardens to keep her runoff from further damaging our home. St. Louis County wants us to get rid of our fixes and be subjected to damage again when the problem originates next door. I’m going to document our steps again as we fight this plus the time I’m spending, so I’m beginning a new log. Where we left off, I had spent 27.81 hours working on our defense.

The county’s position is that our neighbor can alter her property as much as she wants and discharge water as much as she wants, even directly on our driveway. But if we do anything to protect our house, which has major structural damage from her water and will cost more than $10,000 to fix (not including the cracks upstairs), we are in the wrong and have to go to court. Plus we have to let it happen again and again, we cannot prevent it or protect the new driveway we got in 2018. We are looking at 10s of thousands of damages. You are allowed by law to take emergency measures to protect your property, but they don’t think that applies to us for some reason.

If you think this is unfair, I think it would help us out to leave comments at the end of this blog post or contact media outlets you respect with a news tip. Thank you if you can help! Even if you disagree with us your comments will help this site in the search engines.

What follows is a long read, but it’s necessary to log all the information in one place so that people who need background on the situation can get it fast. I’ll keep updating at the end as things progress.

My other main reason for making this log public, is that for years organizations like MSD and Missouri Botanical Garden have been advocating for citizens to install rain gardens to improve local water quality, reduce flooding, and reduce erosion. Our region has suffered greatly from floods for decades, if not millenia because of our natural geology. Rain gardens can help reduce this while protecting and beautifying our own property. I installed a small one at my condo several years ago to protect my neighbor’s air conditioner from the drainpipe that led off my condo’s building. It worked wonderfully well and had the other happy effects of reducing runoff, erosion and silt into Lake Jefferson in Brentwood which suffers from periodic inundation, silting and destructive algae blooms in the summer. Pleased with the results I have written articles on how to do this. But recent experiences have shown me what can happen if you try to do deal with your runoff in an ethical way. If you undergo a campaign of persecution, MOBOT, MSD and other environmentally minded organizations in the region will not help you – you are on your own and have to be your own advocate. So I want other people to see what works and what does not work if they get into this situation, because I in a tiny way might be responsible for some people falling into the same trap my husband and I are in. As a Master Gardener, part of my duty is to pass on what I have learned, and as a professional garden writer I need to inform people about what pitfalls they might fall into if they employ garden techniques that other people don’t like for some reason or don’t understand.

Part 1: The first log explaining the background is here:
Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court

Part 2 Begins Here:

01-14-20 – Received letter saying we have to remove our landscaping along the fence line.

01-15-20 – I sent an email to an official from MSD, the St. Louis County Property Complaints division, and John Geiler of St. Louis County. I left phone messages for John Geiler and Mike Hite (whose name is on the notice of violation letter). I requested a personal meeting with John Geiler so I can tour the property with him and show him the problems. I sent a copy of the letter to my attorney requesting legal assistance. I also sent a link to this update to the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, Stream Teams United, River Des Peres Watershed Coalition, Environment Missouri, Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region, Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and Great Rivers Greenway.

Time spent as of 01-15-20 – 28.39 hours

Update 01-16-20: Since yesterday, I have been contacted by the St. Louis County inspector, a representative from MSD, and a representative from the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Here is an email I sent to the MSD representative and the supervisor of the inspector a few minutes ago. It will fill you in on the situation as of right now.

“Hi, I really appreciate your call yesterday. This letter is being copied to Mike Hite and John Geiler of St. Louis County, and will be published here shortly:
www.chasenfratz.com/wp/st-louis-county-harassing-us-again/

Here, as requested, is what it says in the notice about the exact violation.

“Violation 1 302.2 Grading and Drainage. Health Related. All premises shall be graded and maintained to prevent the erosion of soil and to prevent the accumulation of stagnant water thereon. REMOVE THE LANDSCAPING ALONG YOUR FENCE WHERE THE WATER CAN FLOW AS IT WAS DESIGNED.”

Mike Hite, who is the inspector listed on the notice, called me this morning and let me know that he received my email. In his message he said that people always block the water from the other yard. He assumed we did that, but we did not do that, the water was not blocked but facilitated in the flow from her yard to ours. Just because other people do it, it does not follow that that is what we did.

I don’t know why no one from the county will look at the actual property, look at the pictures I’ve provided or the videos to see the following.

Water was on both sides of the fence before I did anything. Photos are in my first article with dates on them showing this. I can show you on my phone to show when I took the photos and did not fake the dates on the graphic. Here it is:

March 2018
March 2018

The flow of water from her property to ours probably worked fine in the 1950s when these homes were built. Here is what happened. Over the years, lawns on both sides got mowed over and over, but you can’t mow the actual fence line. Over the years, plant roots and organic matter build up along the fence, creating a high spot along the fence line. This trapped water on her side. At the same time, repeated inundations of water in both yards, and nothing planted in the yards in the affected area except turfgrass, caused the soil to be compacted in the areas that collect water. Turfgrass is not a very permeable surface especially if maintained for decades in a way that depletes the soil. So the problem the county says we caused was pre-existing.

Over the years, apparently more of her yard was paved causing runoff to have to be dumped into a smaller area of soil than the drainage was originally designed for, exacerbating the problem further. I can’t return the property to the original configuration it was designed in because the property next to us (7409 Rockwood Dr) already altered the dynamic decades ago causing much damage to the soil and altering the original drainage forever. When these houses were built they did not design the situation to still be sustainable 70 years later. We know a lot more about landscaping and how it affects water and soil than we did in 1954. Even if I could return the landscaping in both yards to it’s 1950s state, the problem would occur again over time. My landscaping is designed to be sustainable because I’ve used the knowledge we now have in the 21st century to make it so.

When I first built the raised bed along the fence line, the neighbor thought it was ugly so she complained that it was trapping water on her side. I don’t know if that was true or not since water was already trapped on her side before I did anything. Nevertheless, I knew that was not a desirable outcome and having no inclination to damage her already unattractive yard and feeble turfgrass further I took steps to make sure that does not happen. I removed the bricks in the low spot, removed the bricks along the back edge of the bed (solely because she told me she thought they were ugly, I replaced them with fine black mesh that is less visible and also more permeable just in case), made my collection area on our side larger and lower than her side, and now her yard drains completely. That is not all I did, you have a full list from my previous article, but those are the major things.

Her yard didn’t drain completely BEFORE we changed anything. I have checked it after each and every rain (other than when we were in Yellowstone last summer) to make sure (edit after sending) it does now. We IMPROVED the existing problem rather than causing it as we have been accused of doing.

Here is a link to an image that has been available to the county since July 2019.

Location of three of the four drainage pipes aimed at our yard with water collection areas indicated from before we started work.
Location of three of the four drainage pipes aimed at our yard with water collection areas indicated from before we started work.

Mike said in his phone message to me that he could not find one of the drainage pipes that is closer than 10 feet when he came to our property. I question whether the inspectors actually get out of their trucks to look because I witnessed one in May (the 2nd) doing an inspection without even stopping the truck all the way. This diagram shows clearly where to look for the pipes. I actually left one off when I made this diagram – there is one more at the north edge of the carport that I didn’t notice when I made this. Yes it’s hard to see everything at first glance, but it’s my opinion that if you are citing someone for a violation that has already been dropped in the court once, shouldn’t you be certain about these things? There is a real economic cost to me having to spend time fighting this over and over when it has been fixed since May 4. I’m partially self-employed and when I’m working on this I’m not earning money. I have plenty of proof in photo and video. I am willing to show it to a judge if that’s what it takes. Why can’t the inspectors look at the actual evidence when it’s been provided over and over again? That’s the part I can’t understand.

Here is the second pipe that is closer than 10 feet from our property (right photo).

image_pairs_pipes

This image was provided to the county in August 2019. The tape measure is shown extended to 10 feet. The pipe has not moved since I took this picture. I don’t understand why the inspector could not see it. You are welcome to come and measure it, don’t take my word for it. Are you not allowed to walk beyond the gate? That I understand. There is no lock on it, but if you are not allowed to go beyond that explains this whole mess. Please make an appointment with me and I’ll show you everything in person. This offer of a tour has been on the table since August 2019.

I also offered soil, fertilizer and grass seed to the neighbor at NO COST to repair the water damaged spot in her yard. I would even install it for free if she wanted me to. We did not cause the damage, it was caused by outdated landscape management practices that are harmful to the soil quality over time. But it’s in both of our best interests to improve the appearance of her lawn and if she believes we caused it I’m happy to fix it. I physically extended with my actual arm an actual bag of grass seed that I bought for her and showed her a pile of soil that we ordered from St. Louis Compost and offered her a share of it to revive her grass. The grass seed I offered her has roots up to four feet long which will help greatly in reducing her soil compaction and helping it absorb water. You cannot buy this grass seed in big box stores. She turned me down flat. The grass on our side of the fence is fine, even in the spots that flood all the time. It’s good enough that a client of mine bought plugs of it from me last summer. I’d love to tell this all to a judge, believe me, so I have no fear of being taken to court again. If you think that is a threat to me (the phone call made sure to include that), after reading the above I’m sure you can understand why it is not.

Thank you for your time.”

Time spent as of 01-16-20 – 30.25 hours

Update: 01-17-20

I have not heard from anyone except MSD since my last update. Here is  copy of a letter I have just sent to John Geiler of St. Louis County who supervises the inspectors.

“Hi, I’ve attached a photo that I took this morning. With the water frozen, it’s easier to see where the wet spots are. You can see where the fence is. The top portion is our neighbor’s yard. The bottom portion is ours. This is the low spot in our backyards where water flows from one yard to another. As you can see, we are not trapping water in her yard.

I don’t know why she keeps falsely reporting that we are. I don’t know why your inspectors keep falsely reporting that we are. I can speculate but don’t know for sure. I have contacted my attorney to find out how to put a stop to this. It’s been going on since May. I have blind copied him in on this email and I will be publishing this letter on my blog shortly so no one  can claim you have not been kept fully informed through each step.
Here is the blog:
How do we put an end to this?
Thank you,
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”
Here is the photo I attached:
Low spot between our yards - 01-17-20
Low spot between our yards – 01-17-20

Update: 02/24/20

I have sent emails to both Mike Hite and John Geiler. I spoke to Mike on the phone this morning. His attitude is clear. He is not interested in looking at any of my evidence and does not feel he has to actually understand the case before taking my husband to court. Eventually I will put more of my evidence here when I have time and keep track of my hours that I have spent the last few days but he make it clear he will not look at any more so I will not bother to send any more. He made it clear that 8 months is not enough time to read an email or look at a two and half minute video. He said he can’t look at videos because they might have viruses but he refused to look at it on my phone, plus it’s on YouTube so he knows it won’t have a virus anyway.

So, I guess we’re headed to court no matter what we do because we are clearly being set up to fail. I hope the judge has a better understanding of the case than the inspectors are willing to have.

Update: 02/25/20

Ok, a friend of mine in the real estate business has advised me to print out every email I have sent the county, and I’m going to do that when we go to court. In the meantime the emails will all go here also. I’m going to be writing to a lot of people and they will need to see all the letters in one place. I will list the date of each one, and what the response was, if there was a response.

On February 20, Michael Hite came to the property at 7409 Rockwood. From my desk at 7405 Rockwood, I could see him. I have been wanting to talk to someone from the County in person since May of 2019, but before this they have always come on days when I’m not here. Before February 20, the only exception was May 2, 2019, the day before we got our first notice from the county. A county truck came by but did not stop all the way. When they saw I was there they hit the gas and sped off. I don’t know who the driver was, but I remember it being a woman.

On February 20 I came out and greeted Mike and offered to show him around and explain what is going on and discuss how to fix it. He was not interested in anything more than a cursory look. He would not listen to the questions or comments I had. I offered to show him video on my phone of what I was talking about. He would not look at it. I invited him to come inside and look at the video on my computer. He declined. He asked me to send him videos and pictures by email. He said not more than five or so. I said ok.

Here is what I sent him that day, recreating the best I can.

Video – They were .MOV files on Thursday. I have put them on You Tube today so everyone can see them.

Pictures

Drainage from 7409 to 7405 Rockwood, summer 2019
Drainage from 7409 to 7405 Rockwood, summer 2019
Low spot between our yards - 01-17-20
Low spot between our yards – 01-17-20

IMG_0505

IMG_0504

The above two photos of the ice on our driveway are to show that Diane Broy at 7409 Rockwood Drive, St. Louis MO 63123 is continuing to discharge water onto our driveway in violation of St. Louis County law. Her pipe is closer than the 10 feet allowed, it is four feet. We had to have our driveway replaced in 2018 because of years of this discharge undermining the soil and causing cracks with all the freeze thaw cycles. This is also where I park and as you can see it’s a hazard to walk in our own driveway because of her. I reported this in July 2019. I pointed it out again to Mike on February 20, 2020 and sent him these pictures on February 20, 2020. The ice pictures were taken on January 19, 2020.

Inline image

Those are the image and videos I sent to Mike while he was running away from me that I could not get him to look at on my phone while we were both standing there. One bit of information I did manage to get from his was the following. I asked him about the complaint that we were trapping water on her side of the fence and how he could see while we were standing there that the water was all on our side. Mike said he had video of water on her side of the fence from an earlier visit that he took during a rain. So I said the standard we have to meet then is no water can be on her side WHILE IT’S RAINING? How are we supposed to do that when it originates on her side?

After Mike left, this was my follow up email on February 20.

March 2018
March 2018
“As you can see, we did not cause the problem. It existed before I changed anything. We FIXED the problem. We did not cause it.. See this video of water flowing freely during a rain last summer.”

“It did not flow freely BEFORE I did anything because there was already a raised area along the fence line due to mowing on either side of it for more than 50 years and organic matter building up along fence line. If we have to make sure there is no water on her side WHILE it’s raining then that is something we cannot fix no matter what we do because her yard has poor drainage. The problem is on HER side.”

That is the end of my communication with Mike on February 20, 2020. You will notice that I am sending the same content over and over. That’s because people from the County keep claiming not to have it. The content in the last email I sent on February 20, 2020 has been in Mike’s possession since July 30, 2019 and has been public on this blog since July 30, 2019. (See it here: Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me to Court) This is the same evidence Mike looked at in court on July 30, 2019 and used it to dismiss the charges against us.

On February 20, 2020, Mike claimed not have this information. He asked me to send it again (you’ll read later on February 24 he criticized me for sending too many emails). I have asked him why in eight months he could not view it. I asked him why he did not remember looking at it with us on court in July 30 2019. He said he didn’t understand the case. He said he could not look at videos because they might have viruses. It can’t have viruses if it’s on YouTube, but okay fine. When he was here on Thursday February 20 I suggested looking at it on my phone or my computer. He refused and left.

I have to end this for now and get some actual work done, you’ll hear more about what happened on Monday, February 24 and why I’m resigned to going to court again. There isn’t going to be any way out of it so I’m going to thoroughly document the process here so it will all be in one place when it’s time.

Hours spent so far on our defense: 36.83

On Sunday, February 23, I went out to work on the garden and see what could be done to draw more water over to our side of the fence since Mike told us we have to draw all the water over from her yard even while it’s raining. Knowing that is not possible, since he told me to do it I thought I’d at least show we tried so that when we are in court I can show I am not just ignoring the problem. I made the bio-swales on our side bigger, and planted additional Louisiana Iris and Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). Those are hardy perennials that tolerate wet periods. Only the Iris is going to be visible right now because the Blue Mistflower dies down to the ground in winter and is not quick to get started in the spring. But it’s native and beautiful and very well suited to this purpose so worth the wait.

Monday morning the 24th it was raining and out of curiosity I went to see how the wet areas were performing. There was no visible water on her side even DURING the rain which I did not think was really possible. I thought Mike and his boss would like to see this.

I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 8:18 am.

“Inspector Mike told us that even though the water originates on our neighbor’s side of the fence, it’s not good enough that the water drains completely into our yard after the rain is over, it has to be completely on our side even WHEN it is raining. Sounds impossible, so it makes me wonder what is really going on, but we gave it a try anyway and it looks like we succeeded, I took this photo a few minutes ago during actual rain.

Inline image

Our side (7405) is on the right. Note water on right side, not the left (7409). Is this good enough?”

At 8:14 John responded and copied his reply to Mike.

“As long as there is nothing in your back yard that alters the natural flow of water from the uphill properties to the storm water inlet at the bottom of the hill. That is the natural swale and cannot be altered according to the ordinance. Any alterations would have to be approved by the Zoning Department with a request for a variance.

John”

I replied asking if he could call me to tell me exactly what this means. I have made the water flow better since I started my garden, but his directive is vague enough that I wanted to clarify exactly what I need to do. Obviously he was available so all it would take is one phone call from him to find out exactly what we are supposed to do and get this whole thing over with. I was hopeful that it was finally going to be over.

The phone rang and I was happy to be able to get some clear information finally.  But it was Mike berating me for sending the email, and telling me he would not look at it and told me not to send any more.

So clearly we are being set up to fail and we have no choice but to go on the offensive and pursue what legal remedies are possible. That’s what I’m working on next.

I sent this email to Michael Hite and John Geiler on February 24 at 3:01 pm.

“Ok I know you guys are not interested in any information from me, but you might be interested in a solution.

I’ll fill the bioswale with mulch so the water can still pass through somewhat. In the short term, this will likely make water stay in the neighbor’s yard more. That’s how it was before but you want things returned to the way they were before so that should be ok. I’ll keep adding plants, but since a lot of perennial plants die back in the winter I will need to plant in the mulch either winter scouring rush, bamboo, or something else that stays erect and green all year long and keeps absorbing water all year round. Winter scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) is a native plant so we don’t have to worry about it being invasive. That way once they start growing they should suck up more of the water. I think more diverse plants and shorter plants would be more attractive to both us and the neighbor, but we are not going to be allowed to do that so I have to suck up as much water as
 quickly as possible and winter scouring rush is a better choice than invasive bamboo so I’ll try that first. Winter scouring rush should stay green most of the year – I have seen it green in February while picking up trash on Simpson lake after the 2015 flood during Operation Clean Stream.
You most likely won’t have read this, so when you take us to court I’ll inform the judge that I offered this to you as a solution on February 24, 2020. I will continue to document all our communications on our blog as well. And the judge will be given a list of when you had what information. I can’t make you read it but I can document that at least.
I don’t know how you expect people to find a workable solution when you come to person’s house, refuse to look at evidence, ask me to email it, so I do, then you don’t read it, berate me for sending it and inform me you will not read it. Yesterday I made more changes and I sent you a photo this morning and asked if that meets the requirements. I requested a phone call to see if that was sufficient. Instead of just answering my question, I got a call saying no one will look at the email and not to send any more. So you refuse to work with me at all and the judge will be told that. I don’t know if she will care, but she will be informed of each communication, what date, and what was the response. You have decided we are guilty without a trial and have informed us that your are not interested in any evidence we might present and when we fix something you will not look at what we did. So that’s what I will tell the judge in court, and will be telling anyone who will listen to us. Which may be nobody, but I will still tell it.”
This was to show I’m working to still try to solve this to show that I’m acting in good faith, although it’s clear there is nothing I can do to satisfy these people. In contrast, what has our neighbor done since last summer to try to fix her illegal pipes? Absolutely nothing. But we are the ones who are going to have to go to court and if we don’t my husband can be arrested.
I got a response from Michael Hite on February 25 at 11:19 am. It was copied to John Geiler.

“Carolyn,

Thanks for the e-mail, I did read it.  I will be in contact with neighbor to discuss the matter further.  If you would like to talk to your neighbor that would help also.

Mike H.”
I sent this response at 2:56 pm.

“Thank you for your reply. I don’t believe talking to her will resolve anything. If she approaches me I will not turn her away but I knew after last July that talking to her was useless. You know how she likes to call you on the only day of the week that we are normally both gone? She must not want me to talk to you like I did last Thursday. If she really wanted to resolve this in a reasonable way she would want me to talk to you and not try to have you come only when we’re not here. I want to talk to you but you aren’t interested in talking to me. Neither is your boss. I have written to my County Council representative, the County Executive and several media outlets. I don’t know how many of those will care. I don’t have many options open to me. I’m proceeding with the options that are open to me on the advice of my attorney.

Last summer before we had even had our first court date, my husband and I were gone on our honeymoon in Yellowstone Park. There was a flash flood warning from the city of Brentwood (I got it on my phone in Yellowstone so I know what day it was). She knew we couldn’t talk to you or explain what is going on. She probably didn’t know where we were but my Jeep is normally parked on the driveway so she knew we were out of town. She called you when there was a flash flood so it would look like there was a bad water problem. How do I know this? A citation from you with that exact date on it.

I have fixed everything she asked me to fix. I had the drainage problem (if there ever was one, which I’m skeptical about) fixed by sundown on May 4, 2019. I don’t know why she wants to keep harassing us. I don’t know why you go along with it. I didn’t know either of you before this started. I can’t see how I have wronged either of you in any way in the past but you are both determined to harass me and my husband. I know why she hates my husband (her friend sued him), but I never talked to her in my life until I went over to talk to her on May 4 to ask her why she called you and to see if we could work something out. She refused every one of my suggestions so I just changed the specific things she mentioned and tried to leave her alone. I’m out in the backyard pretty often and she’s rarely out there. If we are both out there at the same time I used to smile and say Hi but I’m done with that, now I just turn my back and go about my business. There is nothing I can do to make her happy since the source of the excess water is on her side. I have done almost everything I can do. Based on advice from my attorney, I’m doing what is left available to me. It will take time to go through all the steps. Whatever you do to us in the future I will react to in a way so as to defend us against further financial damage. We are already thousands in the hole from her excess water. My goal is to prevent further financial damage and I will do whatever is necessary and also ethical and legal to defend ourselves. We didn’t start this but if necessary I will finish it.”

Update February 27, 2020

On February 25, at 10:59 am I sent this email to p3@stlousco.com

“I live at 7405 Rockwood Drive, St. Louis MO, 63123. Our neighbor, Diane Broy at 7409 Rockwood has been discharging water onto our driveway. We have already had to have the driveway replaced in 2018. She is still running water over our driveway. When it freezes it’s a hazard and we don’t want our new driveway to get ruined, it was expensive. Thank you for your time.”

Replay from propertycomplaints@stlouisco.com at 3:41 pm on February 26.

“ENTERED FOR AN INSPECTOR TO INVESTIGATE

THANKS”

On February 25 at 11:10 am, I sent a message to the 5th District St. Louis County Representative, Lisa Clancy. I got a response from Legislative Assistant Carter Gibson at February 26 at 10:35 am. My message follows.

“Our neighbor is discharging excess water onto our property in several places and we keep getting harassed by the county inspectors for having water. Instead of getting her to divert her water, they blame us. We are about to have to go to court for the second time. Even though the charges against us were dismissed the first time, they want to bring them again but our neighbor has not changed anything. I don’t understand why this is happening and I’m reaching out to anyone who might be interested in looking at it. The supervisor of the the inspectors, John Geiler is not interested and will not respond to my inquiries.

Thank you!”

Carter Gibson responded that he would contact the Problem Properties division and let me know the verdict. I sent him a link to this blog log so they all have the current, updated information.

A friend of mine who is in the real estate business prepared this image for me of 7409 and 7405 Rockwood with notations she made. She has given me permission to post it and her anonymous comments follow.

diagram74097405

“Here is a satellite view of the home at 7409 Rockwood, St. Louis, MO 63123. This screen shot is from Google Maps. On the lower right corner of the picture note the map data date as being the year 2020 as well as the date and time of the screen shot.

I have added a text box and red arrows indicating all areas paved over.

Note the lack of natural ground surface to absorb water. It appears that at least 80 percent of the entire lot is paved over, offering very little vegetation or natural soil. There is very little grassy area, as opposed to the connecting properties, to absorb water. It’s not surprising that water run-off could leak to surrounding properties.

Also attached is a property sketch from the records of the St. Louis County Department of Revenue on Feb 22, 2020. The property sketch does not indicate the detatched garage in the rear portion of the property which is pictured in a photo from it’s listing in the multiple listing service when entered into the MLS on Aug. 29, 2000 through it’s sale date of Nov. 06, 2000. See attached picture. The tax records also do not indicate what appears to be a storage shed or other out-building of some sort, located next to the garage.

***The property sketch from the Department of Revenue is also depicted incorrectly. Areas ‘A’ and ’C’ are incorrectly labeled compared to the
legend below the sketch.”

My comments on the images above – the supervisor of the inspectors, John Geiler, won’t say anything to me except I can’t block the flow of water from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill. I haven’t done that. My neighbor at 7409 has. As you can see the house did not originally have a garage or most of the yard paved. Why are we being repeatedly accused, since May, of doing what someone else did and cited for it and taken to court? I can’t get an answer from anyone. I have been trying to find out what is going on since May 2019. Obviously I am missing some vital information and I’m doing as much investigating as I can. As you can see this information is from St. Louis County. Why can’t they look at their own data in 9 months? Are they confused about which house they are talking about? Why do we have to waste hours and hours of time when they could just look at their own data or look at what I send them?

I sent the above diagram to Michael Hite and John Geiler on Februay 27, at 9:30 am. My understanding is they will not look at it but I want the judge to know I tried.

Time spent on our defense since May 2019:  40.35 hours

Update March 9, 2020

I received this email on Friday, March 6.

“Dear Ms. Hasenfratz,

As a result of your inquiry to the County Executive, I asked that your case be reviewed again from a different perspective. The Department of Public Works sent a new inspector from a different division to visit the property and review the findings. The new inspector seems to have reached the same conclusion. Essentially, the raised flower bed is blocking the flow of water at the property line and the cut made in the bed is not adequate resulting in the backing up of water onto your neighbor’s lot.

Just to reiterate from my previous note, the inspectors are tasked with enforcing St. Louis County ordinances. The County Executive’s office does not have the ability to overturn decisions from inspectors on various citations of the ordinances. I am sorry I do not have better news and was not able to provide the results you seek. Unfortunately, the Court may be the best place to resolve this dispute.

Best,

Matt McLaughlin
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive
Mmclaughlin@stlouisco.com
314-615-0217”

I sent this email in reply on Saturday.

“Are Tom (my husband) and I allowed to meet with the inspector in person and go over all the evidence with him or her and discuss solutions since the problem existed before we did anything and the law says we are allowed to take emergency measures to protect our property. We can prove our foundation and house are crumbling because of the excess water from our neighbor. I would also like to know if our neighbor has to stop her discharge?

Thank you.

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”

Time spent on our defense since May 2019:  40.85 hours

Update March 10, 2020

Email reply from Matt McLaughlin on March 10.

“I am inclined to think there will not be a change of heart from the inspectors at Public Works regardless of further meetings and discussions. Again, I do believe the Court may be the inevitable result of this impasse. That said, you are welcome to request a meeting directly to the department if you think it would help. I would be happy to provide contact information. I am sorry for how difficult this situation is for you and your husband.

Best,

Matt McLaughlin
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive”

My reply to Matt on March 10:

“Yes please help us set up a meeting. I have been wanting a meeting since last August and they keep refusing. I very much doubt that they really sent another inspector like they told you. There has been no water on the neighbor’s side of the fence at least since May 4 2019, and to claim we are blocking and causing water on her side is false and they can’t have viewed the same thing we are viewing and come up with that conclusion. I don’t understand what is going on but we want to meet with them please. If everything was on the up and up they would not refuse to meet, refuse to talk to me on the phone and then when I see them here in person run away, then ask me to send an email to shut me up, then call me a few days later to tell me not to send emails and if I do they won’t look at them. Something weird is going on. It makes no sense.

They are not behaving the way people behave when they know they are doing the right thing – they are behaving the way people behave when they know they are doing the wrong thing. Did they send you any evidence that they actually did an inspection? Also, if their department is not accountable to the county executive, who are they accountable to? The county council?

Please set up a meeting and thank you.”

Time spent on our defense since May 2019:  41.71 hours

Update 03/15/20

I have uploaded a couple of new videos today. One was taken on March 12, 2020 and the other was taken on March 14, 2020. I mistakenly said in my audio commentary that it was March 12 in the March 14 video. (I guess I hadn’t had enough coffee yet…)

Here is the March 12 video:

My description for the above March 12 video reads: “It appears to me as though the inspectors are trying to protect our neighbor, who is discharging all her rainwater into our yard and causing structural damage to our driveway, foundation and basement. They like to come and inspect while it is raining, so they can say we are trapping rainwater on her side of the fence and to make it look like we are doing something wrong. Her property is uphill from us and the water comes from her side, and we have made it drain better for her. By law we are allowed to take emergency measures to protect our property and even if it was not an emergency we are not breaking any laws, I have read them. We have not impeded the flow of water, we have made it flow better than it did before we started.

There is adequate evidence on that site, both photo and video to prove the problem originates on her side. Yet the county harasses us and appears to be working for her. I don’t understand why that is the case and I am currently in contact with someone at the County Executive’s office. I don’t know how far that line of inquiry is going to lead, but I’m going to keep going up the ladder until someone will agree to look at the evidence. The inspector and the supervisor of the inspectors will not look at it and have instructed me not to send them any emails. They dodge my phone calls. When an inspector came at a time I was home (for the first time in almost a year) when I came out to try to talk to him he would not answer my questions, ran away, told me to send and email, then when I tried to follow up about the contents of the email a few days later, he berated me for sending it and informed me he would not look at any more.

I don’t know why the county is deliberately trying to railroad us, but so far all the evidence I have points to that. If anyone knows anyone in the media who would be interested in investigating please forward this to them.”

And here is the March 14 video:

My description for the above March 14 video reads: “Drainage pipes are supposed to be 10 ft. away from the the property line. I have reported that our neighbor has one four feet away and it is discharging over our driveway. We had to get this driveway replaced in 2018 because the water flow undermined the soil under it and caused a lot of cracks. We are trying to prevent our new driveway from being ruined. I have reported this to St. Louis County formally in August 2019 and February 2020.

Instead of getting her to change it, the county is taking us to court for the measures we have taken to prevent damage to our home from our neighbor’s excess runoff. They blame us for having water when the water comes from her yard. They appear to be working for her and against us, even though she is the one in violation of the law. I don’t know why they are doing this and I am doing as much of my own investigating as I can.

If you know anyone in the media who would be interested in investigating please forward this video to them. Thank you!”

Time spent on our defense since May 2019:  42.5 hours

Update 03/16/20

I sent this message to the county property complaints division this morning:

“Hi, our neighbor at 7409 Rockwood Dr. 63123 has been discharging water onto our driveway and I’ve reported it twice, in August and February. She is still doing it. Here is a video I took on Saturday.

This is a YouTube link, safe to look at:
https://youtu.be/9_g9ivdFlic

Is there anything you can do to help us? Thank you for your time.”

This is the reply:

“Hello,

It looks like the owner of this property is in correspondence with an inspector. The inspector issued an extension and they have until mid-April to comply.

Thank you.”

So – it looks like things are finally turning in a better direction. What will happen? Stay tuned!

Time spent on our defense since May 2019:  43.6 hours

Recieved to my email on March 17, 2020:

“I have sent your messages to Public Works. I will let you know their response. Just so you know, I have been working long hours dealing with the coronavirus health emergency so much of my constituent cases have been delayed.

Matt

Matt McLaughlin
Constituent Services Manager
Office of the St. Louis County Executive”

My response on March 17, 2020:

“Thank you, the crisis didn’t stop them from coming here though to try to trap us (last Thursday, on video) so I can’t just forget about it. Our basement is in dire straits. You’d think they’d have more important things to deal with right now like you do. I understand what you are dealing with. Thank you for your time!

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”

Recieved to my email on March 27, 2020:

“Good morning Mrs. Winkelmann,

Please e-mail in two weeks when it might be safer to meet in person. Also please note that your neighbor is working on removing the ‘drain pipe’ that is pointed at your driveway.

Thanks,

Michael Hite
St. Louis County Building Inspector”

I sent in response on March 27, 2020:

“Great! My husband is working nights now too so he’ll be able to be there too. Thank you very much, I’ll keep that in mind. I’m healthy so far, I hope you and yours are too.

In the meantime, have you read and understand the entire situation? Here are the two blog posts to read to know all the background. Two weeks or so should be plenty of time to read them. If you have any questions as you read please email them to me and I’ll be happy to respond. I can also do a conference call or video conference where I can read it to you paragraph by paragraph and you can respond in real time if necessary.

Drainage Problems Are Bringing Tom and Me To Court

St. Louis County Harassing Us Again

The most important things to notice as you read I think are the additions to the house next door AFTER it was built and the presence of water and where it collected in both yards BEFORE I modified anything to try to save our house foundation. Please also note the condition of our basement and the cracks on the main floor resulting from the water damage moving the foundation. When you come over you are welcome to see all the cracks in the house in person, upstairs and downstairs.

Mike I’ll add that if you have any worry about looking at my blog on a work computer, I will show it to you on my computer and read it to you paragraph by paragraph and you can stop me if you have any questions as we go. If you are afraid to look at YouTube videos on your own computer I can show them to you on mine.

Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann”

Update 04/30/20

Inspector Michael Hite paid a surprise visit today. We had a cordial and productive discussion about the changes we had made and are making. He said they were sufficient as long as I did not allow mosquito larvae to grow. I showed him the bottle of BTI I keep in the garage and he took a picture of it. He said I should not expect any more trouble unless there is a complaint about mosquito larvae which is not going to happen because I inspect daily and apply BTI regularly (at least every couple of weeks). A perfectly reasonable request which I would abide by anyway without being asked. I still have a small water garden on the deck at my condo which I treat with BTI regularly and have been for years. It’s the right thing to do and it’s not wrong for the County to make sure we’re doing it. He said if there ever is a complaint they will communicate with us and not just send us straight to court without an attempt at resolving it. The status of the neighbor’s illegal pipe discharging on our driveway currently is that she has been given another extension because she has to hire someone to do it and with the virus situation that takes time. That I also find reasonable. It would have been fixed last year if she had accepted my offer to fix it for no charge, but she turned me down so that is where we are. I’m just glad to be able to enjoy our garden now and go ahead on our planned improvements that were halted on May 3, 2019 when the County first came after us. It took just four days short of a year to establish productive two-way communication with the St. Louis County inspector. Who would have ever thought it would take that long? Even I, who admittedly have very low expectations of government standards of performance, did not expect it to take that long.

Anyone out there who finds themselves in a situation like what we just had, here is what I recommend, keeping in mind that I’m not an attorney and not qualified to give legal advice. I’m just relaying what worked for me.

  • Research the applicable laws before you start work and make sure you’re staying within them.
  • If you have done that and are still being harassed unfairly, log and save all communications. Get everything in writing that you possibly can.
  • Keep detailed records and take a lot of pictures and videos with verifiable dates.
  • If it’s legal to do so where you live, install a video surveillance system that allows you to record incidents and save the videos for later publication if needed. I used the Ring system and so far I am thrilled with the capabilities. Based on my detailed timeline, it seems that video was what made the situation start to turn around for us. If I had known how this would go I would have installed it sooner.
  • Get guidance from your attorney if you think it is warranted.

Low Tech Faux Postage: Part 2

Finished sheet of faux postage stamps made to put on my 2019 Christmas cards.
Finished sheet of faux postage stamps made to put on my 2019 Christmas cards.

1. Download and print out the two-page PDF file Low Tech Faux Postage. You’ll use the second page for Part 2. (Part 1 is located here: Low Tech Faux Postage: Part 1)

2. With some light colored markers or colored pencils, color around the outside edge of the faux stamp sheet and inside some of the open areas inside the stamps.

Faux postage printouts colored with pencil and markers.
In the image on the left, I’ve colored on the printout with colored pencils. On the right, I used markers and gel pens with stencils.

3. If you own any rubber stamps with postal type words or sayings on them, get them out and stamp them on some white or light colored paper to make parts to collage onto your stamp designs.

rubber stamping words on paper then gluing them down
Stamp out and glue on postal-related words. Then add border stamps in black ink to frame the composition.

4. Tear or cut the words out and glue one onto each rectangle.

5. Take some border stamps and stamp them in black ink around the composition to make a border. I used some fairly bold stamps because the black rectangles in the original printout are pretty bold and dark so a strong border will help balance the whole composition.

6. Add some color with other rubber stamps from your collection.  I’m currently working on Christmas cards and party invitations so I used some rubber stamps that would fit into use on those kinds of items – either on the actual card or on the envelope.

Faux postage sheets with coloring, collage, stamping and stickers.
My husband Tom made the sheet on the left, and I made the one on the right. I decided after adding stamping that my design needed a lot more pizzazz so I got out some stickers and cut them into pieces to add to my composition.

7. When I make a stamp sheet like this that is designed to be viewed as a whole composition as well as single stamps, I take the original and get color copies made of it. Then I cut out individual stamps from the color copies to use on other projects and keep the original to display intact.

Pride & Prejudice: Light Holiday Entertainment?

pandp_webMy husband and I have been gifted season tickets to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis preview nights by his parents and it is our custom to go to dinner with then before each new production. Usually I like to ask if any of the party are familiar with the play. If it is adapted from a book, I want to know if anyone has read it and what they thought of it. Until recently I haven’t seen a lot of live plays so I’m trying to learn as much as I can.

I read “Pride and Prejudice” long ago and I’ve seen both modern and period style movie adaptations of the novel, but none of these were recent and fresh in my memory. I described what the story was about to the best of my ability to our party and my husband said “So it’s like a chick flick”. Coming from my husband this is not a put down. He likes “chick flicks” – he is the one who introduced me to Hallmark Christmas Movies for the first time which also could be considered “chick flicks” but whose audience is around 30% men. I searched for podcasts about “Pride and Prejudice” to learn more about the history and context of the original novel and came across an episode of “The Drunk Guys Book Club Podcast” in which they admitted that they read the book because it’s something that one probably should read if one has aspirations of being well-read. They admitted it was not their usual taste but they are aware the story is enjoyed by many women even in the present day.

The central driver of the plot is an English country family with an estate that legally must be left to a male heir and is entailed – it cannot be divided up among the daughters of the family which has no sons to provide for their future support. The daughters must find husbands who are able and willing to support them and if circumstances make it necessary, the possibly future widowed mother and any sisters who don’t find husbands. The closest male heir is a cousin and it would be advantageous for the family of one of the daughters could wed him so at least some of the family remains connected to the estate.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to Downton Abbey, a popular television historical drama that familiarized many Americans with entailment and primogeniture and how those practices affected landed families in the UK that were trying to preserve estates and retain social status. It wasn’t always possible in real life to do that and indulge in romantic love at the same time. Pride and Prejudice the play makes no attempt to explore the fates of the working class or servant class which have very different concerns. American life in the present day has many differences to the landed gentry life of the early 1800s or the aristocratic life of the early 1900s depicted in Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey respectively. Regency England is so far from life in the US in 2019 but not so distant that we can’t enjoy this play today.

It isn’t always easy in the present day to find romantic love even when women have a lot more freedom and economic independence. I thought about this while watching the play because when I was dating my now husband, I told him that I might eventually sell the two small homes I own, but I wasn’t going to promise to sell them at any particular time or at all. I told him that I would of course take his opinions about managing them into account and make decisions that were best for us as a couple, but since I could afford to maintain the properties with my own money I was going to be the final decision maker. I told him if that was a dealbreaker for him to tell me now.

Does that seem like an odd question for a woman in her late 40s to have to ask a suitor in the year 2017? I think it’s odd indeed, but I learned from the relationship proceeding the one with my now husband, that yes I had to ask it. I thought I was on the verge of a proposal from my previous boyfriend, but he abruptly dumped me. He told me the reason for his action was that he did not approve of my renting an art studio. When I suggested that after marriage I move to his home and use my then current home as a studio because the cost of owning it was roughly the same as rent for the studio, he told me it was not acceptable for me to consider still retaining ownership of my condo and he was finished with me for even thinking about it. He believed I was incompetent at managing money (guess which one of us was and still is debt-free) and he didn’t want me to continue to do art projects. It’s possible there was a lot more than that going on, but I have it in writing from him that those were the reasons he was willing to admit to. I believe he was really a fake suitor and not a real one but I thought he was for real at the time. Yes, I’m old fashioned enough to still think in terms of “suitors”. I haven’t spoken to him since other than superficial politeness if we are ever at the same events. (The reason we met in the first place is that we like similar events and know a lot of the same people. I’m polite if spoken to because I don’t want to make other guests or the hosts uncomfortable.)

After that I decided that if I ever got the chance to be in a relationship again and it looked like it might be leading to marriage, I would have this conversation earlier since apparently some attitudes I thought were a given in the present day in our current culture are, in fact,  not. I wanted to get married but not if I had to give up my right to own property to do it. I had read the essay “A Room Of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolf in my teen years and as a creative person I fully understood the implications even if I didn’t yet understand how hard it was going to be to get “a room of my own” AND romantic love and how long I was going to have to wait.

I told my husband that if he liked Hallmark Christmas movies he would probably like the play we were about to see. The heroine is rewarded for her strong-minded and unorthodox approach to life. She finds love with a handsome man and security for her family, similar to many Hallmark movie plots. The play even ended in true Hallmark style with a couple of conventions I won’t spoil but which you can probably predict! With its disturbing background about the rights and roles of women in the circumstances in which it was written, it can be paradoxically enjoyed as light Holiday fare if you don’t dig in too deeply. And if you want to dig in deeply there is plenty of substance to reflect on later. Is this story romantic or anti-romantic?

Enjoy the florid manners, witty banter, choreography, romantic comedy conventions and lush production. As someone who appreciates design and sewing, I was particularly taken by the costumes and would have been entertained by those alone if necessary! There is a big cast with lots of costume changes and I loved how certain characters wore variations of the same color to help you keep track of who is who. If you go, if you are not very familiar, to get maximum enjoyment out of the play I recommend brushing up a little on the characters beforehand so you are not confused. Also don’t do what I did and remain seated during intermission. It’s a long play and I got a little restless-leg feeling going at the end which made me fidget to try to get my leg comfortable. (When I was younger I called it “movie knee”.) Do walk around a bit if you can!

Pride & Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Adapted by Christopher Baker
Directed by Hana S. Sharif
December 4-29, 2019

Link to box office: Pride & Prejudice

I put some links to help understand more of the historical background here:
Literary Origins

Media Literacy and Interpreting Political Messages

In Mass Communication class this past fall, I wrote about the following propaganda techniques in my paper “How do we decide which media sources we can trust?” – Name Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, Band Wagon, Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. I found some really interesting information about trolling that I saved in the extra links section below my paper for further study later. Recently in Media and Culture class, we watched a 60 Minutes video report titled “Brain Hacking” which inspired me to do a little experiment on social media the next day.

I saw a meme shared by a friend on Facebook that contained a false but somewhat plausible sounding claim about current political events. I shared it in my Facebook feed, which is public because I use it for marketing as well as other purposes, to see what kind of reaction I would get. I and others made some comments below it that I plan to investigate more and write up in a more polished way later. For now, one of the most important things I observed was that the meme drew comments from people I’ve been Facebook friends with for years (and friends in real life in some cases) who never respond to my more typical, much higher quality content. I can speculate on many reasons why this was so, some of which I may be able to prove and some I may not. One thing I can definitively assert however is the effect of the trolling on this blog, a separate channel from Facebook but with lots of cross-links back and forth. I posted the trolling meme on November 20, 2019 and here is a screenshot I took this morning of my blog stats.

blog traffic increased by trolling
Yes I’m a graphic designer and I could have easily faked this graphic – but I give you my word that I didn’t, for what it’s worth!

With more research I hope to understand more about how trolling works, but I think it’s pretty clear why so many people do it – it gets attention!

In my current Media and Culture class, one of our recent assignments was to find and analyze examples of a successful political ad and and unsuccessful political ad. I found something really great – a successful political ad about political ads, very interesting for that reason alone, which was also a Facebook trolling experiment perpetrated by a presidential campaign.

A political ad that comments on advertising and is also a trolling test.

Even though “trolling” is a word with negative connotations, I think this is a very successful example and in a way could be considered “good” propaganda as I consider my own trolling test to be. In both cases we tried to be somewhat ethical while trolling by eventually coming clean about what we were doing in order to raise awareness. Regardless of which candidate one supports, I think all can benefit from seeing and analyzing the Warren ad. In order to truly be able to interpret media messages it is a good media literacy skill to be aware of the ad policy on the channel on which you are viewing the content. It’s a hot topic right now in the news as channels scramble to modify their ad policies to bring about the election results they want, appease users who fear “fake news” and trolls, and still get a slice of that fat advertising pie (according to Bloomberg over a billion in 2016 just for the dominant presidential candidates).

The original Warren ad led off with a shocking statement to get attention. After explaining the purpose of lying in the ad, the copy then makes accusations that would take research to prove or disprove which I’m not going to attempt here, but would probably be believed or dismissed by many depending on how the audience has been primed. The photo of Trump and Zuckerberg shaking hands will likely get an emotional reaction out of a lot of people. Even though a handshake is a standard beginning and end to a business meeting, the photo suggests they are partners. I don’t know if the photo was purposely chosen to show eye contact between Mr. Zuckerberg and President Trump with the President appearing to be speaking and Mr. Zuckerberg listening, but it could be interpreted as trying to show the smaller, slighter, younger Zuckerberg as being under Trump’s thrall.

Was the Warren ad effective? When I did research trying to find information about this ad, I learned that it inspired commentary and articles on NPR, CNET, CNBC, The New York Times and others. The media coverage I’m sure is something the campaign wants since their stated goal is to raise awareness of Facebook’s current advertising policy. Based on a quick glance at Warren’s Twitter feed, the amount of likes and shares this ad instigated was a very good result compared to normal results. The call to action at the end is a common feature of many good ads – it lets viewers do something right away if they are so moved.

There is a Facebook Ad Library that allows you to view current and past ads, even ones you were not otherwise shown because you were not the target audience. It’s interesting to see what each campaign is running! Also if you do searches about a candidate (for example “Donald Trump”) vs. those that are paid for by the Candidate’s own committee (for example ” Trump Make America Great Again Committee”), you can get very different results. Try it!

The photo in the troll ad reminds me of the Webster University Journal article we discussed toward the beginning of the class about Senator Josh Hawley and the Confucius Institute. A lot of photos could have been chosen to use in that article. It’s interesting that most of the other articles I found have photos of activities at Confucius Institutes, Chinese people or Chinese culture, or some kind of protest. But the Journal article has a photo that could be considered kind of loaded, especially when you consider it in conjunction with the article’s contents. Why do you think a photo from Cape Girardeau was chosen instead of one from the St. Louis area when Webster University and the Confucius Institute it hosts are in St. Louis County? Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they are available. Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they convey a latent message. Do you think there are latent messages in these two photos?

political photo choice in an ad and in an article
Photo from the Warren ad on the left, photo from the Webster University Journal on the right. What messages might be sent based on Scale? On Relative Position? Anything else?

After reading my paper “Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series The Crown what do you think of the above two photos? Still photos and motion pictures use a lot of the same production elements. Following are some more questions I would ask the writer, editor and publisher of the Journal if I could.

Why was there no mention made that there was a Senate hearing on the issue with a member of the FBI giving testimony about why the agency was concerned?

Why was no mention made of other politicians from both major parties writing similar letters to colleges in their states? Some of the other Universities’ actions were mentioned, but not what prompted them. Why is that?

Why was no mention made of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report? The excerpt below is from page 21:

“Over the last several years, members of Congress, U.S. government officials, and academics have raised a number of concerns about Confucius Institutes, including about academic freedom, contractual agreements, transparency, hiring practices, and self-censorship. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Foreign Relations Committees all held broad hearings that discussed China at which Senators heard from experts on U.S.-China relations, academic freedom advocates, and law enforcement officials. Additionally, members of Congress from several states issued public letters to U.S. schools with Confucius Institutes urging them to reconsider their arrangement with Hanban.”

I am very much in favor of cultural exchange and the learning languages of other cultures. I think the more we and other nations understand each other the better off we will all be. I don’t know whether the Webster University Chancellor made the right decision or not because I don’t know enough about the legal and financial arrangements to judge. I could not detect anything false in the Webster Journal article, but on the other hand I don’t think there was enough information in it to understand the actual issue. I am pretty sure I know what the Journal wanted me to think about it though. I think my analysis is an example of how we have to read all news stories to be informed and not just manipulated.

To see what I used as sources in analyzing the Journal article I put a link to the Journal article and other interesting articles on the topic I found, plus a link to the Senate report on this Confucius Institutes on College Campuses Pinterest board.

Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series “The Crown”

WARNING: Contains spoilers for Season 3 Episodes 2 and 3! Yes I know the show is about historic events but some of them are obscure enough that some audience members might not be aware of them before watching… Also there are some liberties taken with history here and there to make a better story. Private conversations are dramatized on screen for which there are no records. This goes for every historical drama that I have ever taken the time to analyze, so I think it’s important to use them as entertainment and to generate interest in a historical topic that you want to learn more about, but be cautious about using them as sources of facts. Actual documentaries can be manipulated quite a bit as well. Both forms can be marvelous entertainment however. As a visual artist, I think practically every shot in The Crown is a work of art and the period costumes and sets alone are worth the time to watch. For example it’s kind of disappointing to find out that in real life Princess Margaret wore a pink dress with a modest neckline to the White House and not a low-cut bright red and white floral, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Enjoy!

Following is a paper I turned in yesterday for Media and Culture class, before grading.


Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series The Crown

The Netflix historical drama series The Crown tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign against a backdrop of historical events and personal relationships (The Crown). Reviewers consistently praise the high quality of the production (The Crown). I watched two back-to-back episodes of the current third season which featured stories of increasing seriousness and emotional impact to explore how production elements help to tell each story.

Editing

In S3 Ep2 “Margaretology”, editing greatly helps the narrative by beginning the episode with a flashback of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as young girls. They discuss how younger sister Margaret, though by law she cannot be Queen because she is not the first born, actually wants to do the job, has more confidence in her natural ability, and might actually be better at being Queen. They decide to find out if they can switch places. Next is a scene from the show’s present day in which Margaret and her husband discuss her life as it is contrasted with how it should have been. Then the opening credits begin. Later in the episode, Elizabeth decides that she needs Margaret’s help with diplomacy with the United States and Margaret has success in charming President Johnson at a White House dinner. Margaret asks Elizabeth to give her more duties. Although the Queen is tempted, she is persuaded by her husband Philip that it’s safer for the monarchy and the country to keep things the way they are. The episode ends with flashbacks to the child Margaret intercut with the present day Margaret at similar dressing tables, looking devastated, showing that her feelings of not being able to achieve what she viewed as her potential are old hurts that won’t go away (Margaretology).

“Aberfan”, S3 Ep3, is a much more serious episode. Instead of dealing with the disappointment of one character whose personality is sometimes abrasive and not always easy to empathize with (Margaretology), “Aberfan” tells the story of a horrific 1966 mining disaster that killed 144 people, including 116 children (Blakemore). Before the opening credits, there are scenes of the Welsh town Aberfan in the rain (Aberfan). The camera slowly rises over the rooftops to show a view of dark hills surmounted by a mining operation that dwarfs the community. Next there are more scenes of the village, showing children at the end of a school day, being dismissed, walking home and going about their normal evening activities with their families. Considerable screen time is spent on the children and this sustained coverage lets us know their importance (Silverblatt et al. 169). We are also shown a canary in a cage in one of the mining families’ homes. The canary could symbolize many things. The little bird’s sweet chirping recalls the chatter and singing of the innocent children. It has little control over its own fate because it is in a cage, possibly bringing to one’s mind a symbolic cage of being born into a way of life built on dangerous labor with limited opportunity to escape. Canaries also remind us that mining is a hazardous profession due to their traditional use in detecting deadly underground gases (Eschner).

It’s not only raining in Wales, it’s also raining at Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II is looking over her planner and writing the heading “Friday” as she plans her next day. This is not the only instance in which the disaster occurring on a Friday is emphasized (Aberfan). The Christian faith of the people of the village and of the Monarch is prominent throughout the episode, and Christian viewers watching would be aware that Friday is the most somber day in the Christian week because by scripture and tradition Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday (Aglialoro). Before the teacher dismisses the children, he asks what tomorrow is. The first answer is Friday. The answer the teacher is looking for is that it is also the day when they are going to have an assembly for which they need to practice a song (Aberfan).

On the Friday morning, the tension keeps building when scenes of the disaster beginning to manifest are cross-cut with classroom scenes (Aberfan). Cross-cutting is a technique that shows events happening in different locations are occurring at the same time (Silverblatt et al. 171).

More than once during the episode we are shown the Queen’s arrangement of family photos in her sitting room, and she and the Prime Minister are each seen gazing at family photos as they contemplate events. Perhaps we are meant to remind ourselves that families are a near-universal part of human existence no matter what our life circumstances are. Even if we feel safe and secure in an imposing palace or a modest but cozy cottage, our loved ones can be taken from us at any time in ways we never expected (Aberfan).

Color and Lighting

Margaret is consistently shown wearing livelier and more colorful fashions than her more conservative older sister in the “Margaretology” episode. As Margaret arrives at the White House, the facade of the building is well lit with warm light in contrast to gray Buckingham Palace, suggesting that the older, struggling country might find the hope and help it seeks from the prosperous younger nation. The light could also symbolize Margaret coming out into her natural if not traditional place in the spotlight at last (Margaretology). In a scene where Margaret asks the Queen for more public duties, the sisters are both wearing green as Elizabeth and Margaret get little digs in at each other about what they envy about each others’ lives (Margaretology), an example of exploiting associations that different colors have in our culture (Silverblatt et al. 171).

When Prime Minister Harold Wilson visits the Queen to tell her about her sister’s lively if not outrageous performance at the White House dinner, using humorously understated phrases such as “less than discreet” and “a little off-color”, they are in the Queen’s sitting room which as usual is softly lit with a color palette of muted grays and pastels. The Queen is expecting to hear bad news during this private conversation with her Prime Minister and the subdued atmosphere fits his hesitance and embarrassment as well as her reluctance to hear the inevitable. Gray tones can signify discomfort (Silverblatt et al. 172) and dim lighting can indicate something hidden (Silverblatt et al. 176). While Margaret is proud of her turn in the spotlight, the Queen and Prime Minister would prefer not to bring her behavior out into the open. The sitting room scenes are intercut with incidents from the previous evening’s dinner that had been relayed to the Prime Minister through the British Ambassador. The dinner party scenes are full of bright flowers in warm tones that complement Margaret’s coral-red and white-flowered dress as she wins over the first couple and their guests who follow the President’s lead in appreciating Margaret’s cruder type of charm. Margaret is even verbally compared to a color film as opposed to one in black and white as her husband reads to her a newspaper account of their earlier, socially successful visit to San Francisco (Margaretology).

In the episode “Aberfan”, at the beginning before the credits we see a wide view of the village with the coal tips and mining operations in the background. It’s early morning and the light from one of the cottages near the foot of the dark mass that threatens the town shines through the windows. The house looks like a nostalgic little model in a holiday display or toy train layout. Since this dwelling is close to the base of the coal tip, it’s possible that it represents one of the homes that got destroyed in the disaster. The light could symbolize the life that is about to be snuffed out like a little candle flame, consistent with several possible meanings of light including life and innocence (Silverblatt et al. 176). Later in the episode candles are prominent as lighting for emergency use, in the mortuary and in the chapel (Aberfan).

Lighting is used in dramatic ways throughout the whole episode. The dark hills and rainy, gray weather combine with the dimly lit interiors of the humble buildings in the village to create a suitably somber mood, appropriate for grief, mourning and death (Silverblatt et al. 176). Light is used constantly throughout the whole episode to enhance and what the viewer is seeing and feeling. Vehicle headlights, lamps, flashlights, spotlights, flashbulbs, the sun and beams of light all play a part in the composition of scenes. Prime Minister Wilson looks shocked at several points in the episode and flash bulbs going off in his face emphasize his distress even more (Aberfan).

At the end of the devastating funeral service for dozens of children, some beams of light barely get though the gray sky as the mourners sing a hymn. This light could represent several things. It could be the mourners comforted slightly by the thought of the children’s souls being lifted up to God. It could be comfort from God or the funeral assemblage or both, however feeble, giving a tiny bit of hope to the community that they can live through this catastrophe. During the funeral scene, we are shown close-ups of Philips face. Perhaps the light is Philip’s thoughts as he becomes enlightened on how best to advise the Queen on how to help the community heal.

Shapes and Connotative Images

There are occasions in the “Aberfan” episode where Elizabeth is contemplating what actions she should take while she is shown backlit in profile. This technique is perhaps intended to bring to mind the iconic image of the monarch on coins and stamps as she decides how to live up to the duty that her idealized image represents. Shape and light are again used together in the Aberfan cemetery. The graves of the children are arranged in a cross shape. We also see a cross in focus behind the Queen’s head when she prays alone in a chapel (Aberfan). Both the profile and the cross could also be considered connotative images that bring up associations in the intended audience (Silverblatt et al. 189).

Scale and Relative Position

Scale is used effectively in “Margaretology” when Margaret sees by her sister’s attitude that the answer to her request to have more of a public role is no. There is a picnic taking place on a hill in front of a castle. Margaret’s position as well as the camera’s is downhill from the picnic, suggesting she is dominated by the institutions that control all their lives and is forever subordinate to her sister. In a flashback when the young Margaret is being scolded for daring to ask courtier Alan Lascelles (Alan Lascelles) if she and her sister could change places, Lascelles is shot from approximately her eye level so he looks exceedingly stern and intimidating while the young Margaret is comparatively powerless (Margaretology).

In “Aberfan”, the ominous mountain of coal is repeatedly shown looming over the village and the people, emphasizing their vulnerability (Aberfan).

Angles and Movement

In the beginning stages of the Aberfan disaster, the tension is enhanced by diagonal shots of ore cart tracks, lift cables and structures. The mountainside itself forms a diagonal angle as the coal slurry starts to slip down and toward the town (Aberfan). Diagonal lines and movement are associated with the triangle shape which is more active and unstable than squares and 90 degree angles (Silverblatt et al. 178-179).

Sound Elements

In the pivotal, wordless slow-motion scene where Margaret experiences profound disappointment in “Margaretology”, even though there is a festive picnic in progress, all that can be heard in the soundtrack is wistful music and the faint sound of blowing leaves. Elizabeth and Philip walk past her, leaving her behind in actuality as well as symbolically (Margaretology). The combination of unnatural movement and unnatural sound help give focus to what the character is experiencing internally (Silverblatt et al. 184, 198).

“Aberfan” begins ominously with the sounds of rain, thunder and threatening mechanical noises. The noises continue subtly through a scene of children in a classroom. There are sequences of children practicing singing for a school assembly. The purity and sweetness of those sounds is in contrast to the menace that looms over them, accompanied by poignant background music. It’s significant that the children are practicing a song containing the lyrics “All things bright and beautiful”, reminding us that they are pre-eminent among the bright and beautiful things that are about to be lost (Aberfan).

In the palace, the Queen is shown writing in her planner while thunder is in the background, suggesting that she will somehow be affected by what is about to happen even in her solid, imposing residence (Aberfan).

When the Prime Minister speaks to the bereaved community, the sounds of cameras are conspicuously loud. We also hear prominent shutter clicks when the Queen dabs her eye with a tissue, reminding us that we are witnessing an important moment. The Queen was moved by Philip’s account of the mourner’s singing instead of using their anger and grief as fuel for a disturbance. She listens to a recording of the hymn at the end of the episode and finally is able to shed a tear (Aberfan).

Manifest and Latent Messages

In these two episodes of The Crown, most of the concepts are examples of manifest messages, clear and obvious to the viewer (Silverblatt et al. 11). I did find a couple of possible latent messages, that is meanings that are hinted at or unintentional (Silverblatt et al. 11). In “Margaretology”, it’s not stated out loud by anyone that Princess Margaret might have hit it off with President Johnson mainly because their personalities were similar and it’s likely she would not be able to repeat her diplomatic success in other situations with more genteel people (Updergrove). If one was not already familiar with Johnson’s reputation, some hints were given earlier by showing Johnson doing things like having a meeting while urinating and making crude remarks. The viewer can connect the dots and add to the clearly stated reasons why the Queen and her consort are hesitant to take more chances (Margaretology).

As the Queen exits an Aberfan home where she has expressed personal condolences to selected representatives of the community, she is photographed dabbing at her eye with a tissue. Near the end of the episode the Queen confesses to Prime Minister Wilson that she was not really crying and feels “deficient” because she is not able to cry at sad events like others do. The manifest message is that the Queen feels shame that her photographed suggestion of crying was not real and that the mourners deserved better. In preceding parts of the episode, there are many discussions among various players about how to manage public outrage over the disaster for the benefit of one political party or another, the Coal Board, the Monarchy, or the establishment in general. Since both the Prime Minister and the Queen are portrayed as at least somewhat principled and not solely acting in self-interest, a possible latent message is that the Queen felt obligated to fake the scene in order to create photographs that would both comfort the bereaved and help protect institutions that she is charged with preserving (Aberfan).

The creators of The Crown take already compelling subject matter and increase the emotional impact of this drama series considerably by indulging in careful and thoughtful detail in the production.

Works Cited

“Aberfan.” The Crown, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Benjamin Caron, Netflix, 2019.

Aglialoro, Todd. “Three Benefits to Abstaining from Meat on Fridays-Even After Lent.” Catholic Answers, 2019, www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/three-benefits-to-abstaining-from-meat-on-fridays-even-after-lent. Accessed 3 December 2019.

“Alan Lascelles.” Everipedia International, 2019, everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/Alan_Lascelles. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Blakemore, Erin. “How the 1966 Aberfan Mine Disaster Became Elizabeth II’s Biggest Regret.” Maven, 2019, www.history.com/news/elizabeth-ii-aberfan-mine-disaster-wales. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Eschner, Kat. “The Story of the Real Canary in the Coal Mine.” Smithsonian.com, 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/. Accessed 3 December 2019.

“Margaretology.” The Crown, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Benjamin Caron, Netflix, 2019.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

“The Crown.” IMDb.com, Inc., 1990-2019, www.imdb.com/title/tt4786824/. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Updergrove, Mark. “Cruel to Be Kind: LBJ Behind the Scenes.” The Alcalde, 2012, alcalde.texasexes.org/2012/02/cruel-to-be-kind-lbj-behind-the-scenes/. Accessed 3 December 2019.


I have a growing collection of links in my Media Analysis Pinterest board – check it out!

Pop Art Sightings

My husband Tom and I were looking for an art show to go to on a Saturday evening after 5:00 pm mass and were pleased to see an ad for the show “Thank You” at Galeria Obscura by mixed media artist Marley Billie D. The theme of the show really resonated with me because an old friend of mine had died a few days earlier, and I had recently submitted a proposal for an art show that involved a tribute to another friend that passed away last year and both deceased friends and others were heavily on my mind. Appreciating the impact people had on your life when they are gone is a good thing, appreciating people while they are still here if you can is even better. I need reminders to do that more. Seeing a collage invitation for the show excited me. Collage and mixed media are near and dear to my heart (and one of my major muses) because of the way that actual found objects and papers can give another dimension to projects that brand new materials just can’t do sometimes.

Marley Billie D invitation and a scene from opening night.
Marley Billie D invitation and a scene from opening night.

I spoke to Marley briefly at the opening and expressed my appreciation for the collage, found objects and re-purposed materials used in the show. While some of the pieces in the show are actual collages or include some collage elements, each wall in the installation was itself a masterful assemblage that together created a kind of collage room. You could also think of it as a scrapbook that you can walk into. Artwork was combined with snapshots, many with captions written either on them or on the wall. The walls became a “journaling space” like you would see in a scrapbook or art journal. The black walls of the gallery space, some light gray painted frames at regular intervals, white text and “Polaroid” style photo margins in the exhibit were perfect neutral foils for the highly saturated colors in the artworks themselves. While viewing I soon realized the skill and design ability it takes to create an installation of joyful harmony when there is so much going on with colors, materials and textures.

Marley told me that Pop Art is one of her influences. I learned on the Oxygen web site that Marley Billie D was on a show called “Street Art Throwdown”. You could consider Street Art in the Pop Art category because it’s a populist form of art, and sometimes there is Pop Art subject matter incorporated into it. Marley told me that some of the Pop Art influences came out in her work in the “dot gain” pattern she likes to use in some pieces, used prominently by some well known Pop artists like one of Marley’s inspirations, Roy Lichtenstein. There is torn away corrugated cardboard also, which whether consciously or not helps me see the Pop Art influence. Cardboard cartons are a form of advertising re-created by another influence Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes piece. The textures made by corrugated cardboard also look great combined with the dot gain pattern, both visually and thematically.

To my eye, there is also Pop Art influence in the saturated color schemes and the creative re-use of materials. There appear to be things like old wood, recycled frames and old wall decor blended in many of the pieces. The “cheesy” kind of wall art many of us remember growing up with could be considered a form of Pop Art. They are cozy, familiar, homey objects that remind many of us of happy family times from the past. Some of these discarded items from other people’s families can be found in alleyways and thrift stores, and while hunting and dumpster diving you might also find cardboard and product packaging. Very fitting to blend such materials with the retro and populist sub-contexts of the show. Also an example of how you can use kitsch to make art that is decidedly NOT kitsch.

You can understand by what I have written above why I had a strong personal reaction to this show. To explain further, the huge blue spoon and fork seen on the wall in my photo are perhaps examples of those objects that for some artists can become powerful symbols that appear repeatedly in an artists’ body of work. Sometimes the audience knows right away what the symbols mean, in other instances they are part of a more private language that the artist uses. Giant wall utensils also appear in one of Marley’s paintings – see it here on her Instagram account. I grew up in a house with several painted plaster ornaments decorated by my Mom, myself and my brother. For example my Mom “antiqued” a giant wall set that included fork, spoon and ladle, and displayed plastic grapes in the ladle part of it! I can relate intensely to this symbol. I think what Marley did in painting either the actual objects from the painting or objects like them dark blue and including them on this wall is a masterstroke, both in color choice and concept. The feelings they might evoke in someone who grew up surrounded by similar objects are powerful. They are also good examples of Pop Art because of their kitsch appeal, large size, bold colors and celebration of ordinary household objects, all characteristics that help signal the Pop Art genre. To add yet another level of meaning, utensils are associated with Thanksgiving, a ritual that involves food and family, is coming up in two days, and probably had something to do with the timing of this show.

I’m thankful for all the people who had something to do with forming my character and creativity as I have lived life. And I am thankful for Marley’s show for inspiring me and reminding me what I owe to others.

For more information about Marley Billie D:
Street Art Throwdown
Marley’s Facebook Page
Marley’s Instagram

I mentioned Pop Art subject matter above when I explained how Pop Art often celebrates objects that “ordinary” people use and encounter in their daily lives. A hamburger is one of the quintessential and ubiquitous American foods, and pop artist Claes Oldenburg was one of many pop artists who have celebrated the hamburger when he made his famous giant soft hamburger sculpture. The chain restaurants that feature objects on the walls evocative of the chosen restaurant theme could be considered a form of Pop Art as well. I don’t know a lot about the industry that supplies these objects, but I would like to! Some restaurants appear to use reproductions and/or vintage and antique objects to help create the desired atmosphere. It is very fitting that the new Red Robin restaurant in Richmond Heights, Missouri is decorated with colorful and engaging Pop Art. At least some of it appears to be specially commissioned work. I went to eat there because some of my friends were checking it out and I wanted to socialize with them (see photo). The art work was a special treat that I did not expect. Basically they turned the dining area into a giant Pop Art installation. There was even a hamburger hassock! The graphic below is a montage of some of my favorite pieces. Enjoy while contemplating an art form that originated as commentary on commercialism being shamelessly used as advertising! And very appealing advertising if you ask me…

Pop art subject matter
Stellar examples of Pop Art subject matter: beer advertising, maps, Americana, roadside signs, neon, video games, iconic toys, hamburgers…

Low Tech Faux Postage: Part 1

stamp sheet collageFaux postage is a really fun mixed media project to make because it’s relatively non-threatening to create tiny works of art in a format that everyone is familiar with. There are lots of craft products you can buy that make it easier to make artwork that looks like postage stamps. A long time ago I designed some rubber stamps for this purpose and some of them are currently for sale in my Etsy shop. You can make this project with any other small stamps that you own also and a selection of paper crafting supplies. Enjoy!

1. Download and print out the two-page PDF file Low Tech Faux Postage. You’ll use the first page for Part 1.

2. Cut out some paper rectangles that are 1 3/4 inches tall and 1 3/8 inches wide from dark paper. You will need at least 16 rectangles.

Cutting rectangles from paper scraps to glue onto faux postage template.
Cutting rectangles from paper scraps to glue onto faux postage template.

3. Trim the edges with a paper edging scissors and arrange on your Low Tech Faux Postage sheet Page 1. You can think of your sheet as one composition made up of 16 tiny compositions if that helps you to get ideas. Glue down your trimmed paper rectangles.

4. Use a 1″ square paper punch and start by punching out one square for each rectangle from a selection of random scrap papers. Arrange until you are satisfied. If you have similar sized paper punches in other shapes such as circles, feel free to try them out. As you look through your scrap papers, you might get inspired to cut out other shapes. If you are moved to do so, go ahead and cut out whatever you like and glue down on your sheet without worrying about whether or not you’re “inside the lines”.

Paper collage on the template sheet
Paper collage on the template sheet. Mine is on the left, my husband Tom’s is on the right.

5. Take some tiny rubber stamps with words, phrases, numbers or symbols that have to do with philatelic stuff like stamps or cancellations. Stamp them in permanent black ink on light colored pieces of scrap paper. When the ink is dry enough to handle, cut or tear out what you have stamped.

6. Glue the torn or cut pieces to the collage work you’ve already done to help make each rectangle suggest a postal stamp design.

Stamped paper bits glued to collage
Stamped paper bits glued to collage.

7. Continue to add embellishments to your stamps until you think they look finished. Here are some suggestions for what you can add:

More cut collage papers, found or commercial
Stickers
Drawing – paint and gel markers are interesting choices to experiment with because you can write with them on slick surfaces and sometimes dark backgrounds as well
Stenciling
Image transfers
Design tape
Rubber stamping

8. When your stamp sheet is done, you can frame the whole thing to display it, cut apart your stamps to make tiny artworks, make color copies then cut apart the color copies, or put the whole thing in an art journal. Your imagination is the only limit and the most important thing is to have fun!

What is the Hallmark Channel Selling?

Here is a paper submitted for Media and Culture class, presented here before grading.


Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Dr. Amanda Staggenborg
MEDC 5310.01: Media and Culture
12 November 2019

What is the Hallmark Channel Selling?

People tend to consume culture that is in accordance with their own attitudes, values and behaviors (Silverblatt et al. 97). If a media product gains a wide audience by appealing to the cultural norms of a large number of people, it becomes an example of popular culture (Silverblatt et al. 97).

During the week of November 20, 2017, the Hallmark Countdown to Christmas subscriber television programming was the highest rated for women in the age ranges 18-49 and 25-54 (Rosa). Hallmark put 16 more new Christmas movies into production in 2018 than 2017 (Rosa), indicating that the channel’s popularity was expected to rise even more.

Back in 2003, the Hallmark Channel was ranked 22nd. It saw itself as family friendly, “Main Street and mainstream”, with potential to become a much more powerful and popular network (Umstead). Also in 2003, the Hallmark Channel’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing and brand strategy also found the concept of “owning holidays” appealing as the channel started timing its programming to follow the holiday oriented calendar of the Hallmark brand’s retail stores (Forkan).

Hallmark stores are in the business of selling a variety of gift products that carry emotional messages (Ferrante-Schepis). On the Hallmark Channel, now one of several channels owned by Crown Media Family Networks which is in turn owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. (About Hallmark Channel), the emotional messages support the brand and are also part of the product.

To be successful, marketers need to understand the values that their customers hold and celebrate during the holidays. Christmas consumers are moved by traditions and holiday memories (Knaub-Hardy 119-121). Other than just commerce and commercialism, many people celebrate by attending worship services and are conscious of promoting joy, love, community and kindness to others (Meredith). Typically celebrants engage in a lot of family activities such as parties, family portraits and school concerts (Stirland 22). The Hallmark brand has been around long enough that it has become a holiday tradition in its own right (Danailova 184).

The Hallmark Channel audience is about 70% female and about 30% male (Hallmark Channel CEO…) with a median age of 58.6 (Battaglio). Bill Abbot, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, aims to appeal to viewers who are under served by an industry that in the main produces content that features violence, sex and controversy to court young viewers and the affluent audiences that are found in large cities (Battaglio).

Many Hallmark movie plots center around a woman who lives in a big city and has a stressful career (Battaglio). There are few people of color in most casts, a frequent criticism that the channel has acknowledged and is gradually taking steps to correct (Ellenbogen). The protagonist usually finds fulfillment by moving to a small town and engaging in romance with a supportive man that sometimes helps her solve her problems (Battaglio). There are holiday activities we associate with stereotypical All-American small town values and the plots make sure these endeavors include lots of consumption, such as gift giving, wrapping, food crafting and decorating (Battaglio). It makes sense to combine Christmas and romance together because the romantic ideal world view embraces Truth, Love, Beauty, Faith and Justice (Silverblatt et al. 109), values that work well in either context or both together.

Many critics have examined the implications of the popularity of these formula driven movies from feminist and political points of view. Some analysts think the movies make a pro-feminist statement while others are of the opinion that the values celebrated in the movies are a throwback to times when women had more constrained roles in society. Sometimes the movies are praised for giving viewers a respite from exhausting politicized content, and they also invite criticism from others for not including controversial or political messages.

The choice by Crown Media to attempt to avoid controversy is deliberate (Hallmark Channel CEO…). Referring back to the company’s direction in 2003, Crown Media appears to have kept its goal of “owning a holiday” firmly in mind (Forkan). Consumers who are motivated by thoughts of nostalgia, tradition and the better parts of human nature are assumed to respond negatively to programming that reminds them of how different the real world is from their ideal vision. People also reject content that is offensive to their most deeply held values (Silverblatt et al. 97).

Moving to the country has been a cherished American fantasy for a long time. When the United States was founded, many of the architects of the new nation idealized farming (Wolf). In the 1950s, when television first became the dominant form of media, many television programs moved their casts to or created shows in small towns and suburbia (Hine 24). People who moved to the suburbs liked to think they were moving to small towns, according to analysts of the time (Hine 24).

The book Populuxe makes the case that the years 1954-1964 were the high point of American consumer culture. Despite criticism by elite taste makers, many Americans bought products that were not of great quality but symbolized their fantasies about the past and the future (Hine 60-61). Crown Media appears to have tapped into the fantasies of Christmas and holiday buyers but has gone even farther by associating holiday consumption with other cultural myths of American mass consumers.


Works Cited

“About Hallmark Channel.” Crown Media, 2019, www.hallmarkchannel.com/about-us. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Danailova, Hilary. “Party, Gift and Hallmark Stores: Trends in Year-End Selling.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 56, no. 4, May 2017, pp. 182-184. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=123229254&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Ellenbogen, Rachel, “Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO” IBTimes LLC., 2017, https://www.ibtimes.com/why-are-hallmark-movie-casts-so-white-we-asked-ceo-2631589. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Ferrante-Schepis, Maria. “Lessons from Three Undisrupted Brands.” National Underwriter / Life & Health Financial Services, vol. 121, no. 2, Feb. 2017, p. 18. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=121064821&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Forkan, Jim. “Promo-Wise, Hallmark’s the Holiday Net.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 15, Apr. 2003, p. 23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=9537921&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

“Hallmark Channel CEO Shares the Magic Behind the Network’s Strategy.” NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, 2019, www.ncta.com/whats-new/hallmark-channel-ceo-shares-the-magic-behind-the-networks-strategy. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Hill, Samantha Rose, “Why the Hallmark Channel Is Completely Dominating in 2017.” Group Nine Media Inc., 2019, https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/hallmark-channel-movies-success-2017. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Hine, Thomas. Populuxe: From Tailfins and TV Dinners To Barbie Dolls and Fallout Shelters. MJF Books, 1986 and 1999.

Knaub-Hardy, Kathy. “How to Sell More Christmas-Themed Home Décor and Ornaments.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 51, no. 5, June 2014, pp. 116-122. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=97170255&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Meredtith, Brian. “Time to Rethink Christmas Marketing.” NZ Business + Management, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2016, p. 54. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=112287637&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Rosa, Christopher, “There’s a Reason You See the Same Women in All Those Hallmark Christmas Movies.” Condé Nast, 2018, https://www.glamour.com/story/hallmark-christmas-movie-actresses. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

Stirland, Kirby. “All the Trimmings.” Earnshaw’s Review, vol. 99, no. 6, July 2015, pp. 22-39. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=109111548&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Umstead, R.Thomas. “Hallmark: ‘JAG’ Fits Our Brand Strategy.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 25, June 2003, p. 16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=10092311&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Wolf, Tom, “A Nation Founded By Farmers.” Modern Farmer Media, 2013, https://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/the-founding-fathers-on-farming/. Accessed 12 November 2019.

There are a few more articles that I read but did not use on my Pinterest board:
Media Analysis

The Joys of Decorating

endcap at Schnarr's Hardware in Webster GrovesThis past Wednesday was a pretty gloomy day weather-wise. It wasn’t terribly cold, but it was relentlessly gray and damp. While working at Schnarr’s Hardware in Webster Groves on that day, I was given the task of helping to hang garlands and wreaths on the outside of the store. We were preparing for the Old Webster Holiday Open House which runs from 10 am – 4 pm today.

Whether it was the physical exercise involved or something inherently joyful about decorating, almost immediately my dull mood turned lively and creative. Over the next few days I got some of my Christmas stuff out and started brainstorming on decorating ideas for the store and the home I share with my husband Tom. I finally got some ideas for the endcap in the Garden department that I decorated and update from time to time. I added some paper flowers I made with tin birds, seed packets from Botanical Interests, some little tin watering cans, a canvas mat with attractive lettering and some holiday faux greenery and floral pieces.  I’d been stuck for awhile on ideas but I finally felt inspired. If you’re going to the Open House today be sure to stop in Schnarr’s – there are some new holiday items to see and and lots of festive lights and decorations!

For many years when I lived alone in my condo I did not bother with displaying Christmas decorations. I made them because I love to make them and always will, but since I didn’t have many visitors I thought it was not worth the effort just to decorate for myself. Before I met my husband, I was dating a guy for the first time in many many many (did I say many) years and I did decorate a bit while seeing him since I finally had someone else to decorate for. I think I have learned a lesson from these experiences – it’s exciting to work on decorations and displays for business purposes because selling things and creating excitement in a store is a lot of fun. But it’s also worth doing just for yourself, whether you live alone or not. You can choose to shop for a lot of new items, use old favorites or combine old and new. If you find that decorating lifts your winter mood, you are worth the effort all by yourself! You could look at it as a form of necessary self care. Tom and I will have to be somewhat restrained in our decorating at home because we have cats, but we can do something and I’m going to make the effort. (The mistletoe is up already, to make sure we get lots of use out of that!)

Matching Advertising To The Right Audience

Here is one of my homework assignments for Media and Culture class. We were asked to bring in two ads and answer questions about them. Here is my response.

Ads by Fujifilm made for different products aimed at different audiences.
Ads by Fujifilm made for different products aimed at different audiences.

On the left is an advertisement for Fujifilm lenses, and the right shows advertisements for Fujifilm cameras. The advertisement on the left is from American Cinematographer magazine and the rightmost advertisements are samples of graphics made for social media and other campaigns.

1. Does the communications strategy of the ads differ? How?

The ad in American Cinematographer features an industry professional giving a testimonial about the quality of the product. The strategy is to appeal to an audience that is looking for serious professional equipment. The format of the ad is appropriate for a magazine which an older audience is more likely to be reading in the first place.

The ads for the Instax camera are meant to appeal to consumers taking snapshots. The consumer ads are designed for social media which is used more by younger people.

2. Does the style of the ads differ? How?

The professional ad uses serious colors, typefaces, and a photo that shows the professional looking intent and purposeful. The technique used in the photo is one that would catch the eye of professionals who know what lenses and professional techniques such as depth of field can do to enhance a subject. The focus is on the face of the professional person and both the foreground and background are out of focus which makes it an effective photo in itself but also shows off technique.

The consumer ads are much more brightly colored and contain less text than the ad aimed at professionals. It looks like the product is fun to own and use due to the bright trendy colors and sample pictures of social occasions. The consumer ads are also shaped and sized differently for use in different media, for example sharing on social media as opposed to sitting down and reading a print magazine.

3. Does the content of the ads differ? How?

There is more text in the professional ad. This type of consumer would need to know about photography to be interested in the product and know how to use the product. Such a person needs to know at least a little technical information about the product to know whether they would be interested and would be willing to read the small text. There are also references in the text that would mean something to professionals and give the spokesperson credibility. The professional pictured is male and the creators of the ad are apparently assuming the majority of the interested consumers would also be male. The person is a mature age but not elderly so at a stage of life where people are usually at a professional peak. There are small pictures of the product in the ad but the professional in the main photo is the dominant image.

The consumer Instax ads have less text. The consumer for this product is going to want something simple to use and is familiar enough with the concept of a camera to know how to take snapshots. The intended audience wants to have fun with the product and the bright colors and images of social situations suggest fun very effectively. The consumer is presumably interested enough in fashion and trends to respond to different color offerings. Instead of technical specs there are words like “cute”, “party”, “fun” and “instant”. The majority of people shown in the photos are young and female. The product looks simple enough for a teen or tween to use. An older consumer who is a crafter and into scrapbooking might also be attracted to the bright colors because they coordinate with a lot of popular lines of craft supplies. The pictures of people are small and subordinate to the product which is shown much larger.

I also put some magazine ads on a Pinterest board to look at, with the publication and date indicated.

https://www.pinterest.com/chasenfratz/media-analysis/