Tag Archives: media criticism

“I listened to a hilarious podcast about a fistula the other day…”

The quote above probably sounds like an unlikely sentence to text to anyone, but I have a doctor friend who shares my interest in audio content and has a weird sense of humor. She did in fact receive such a communication from me. We often recommend podcasts to each other to try out. A humorous episode about a fistula sounded to me like one she’d enjoy!

What are podcasts? They are audio presentations that you can consume on demand with a device that can access the Internet. If you like books on tape, instructional audio tapes, public radio, community radio, talk radio or similar audio content you will probably enjoy them – there seems to be a podcast for almost any topic you might be interested in.

Podcasts are a big part of my life. One reason is that I’m not very patient with entertainment content that is not on demand. I don’t want to constantly watch or listen to content that is selected by programmers to emotionally and intellectually manipulate me. I’m currently working on a Master’s Degree in Communications. My long-held suspicions that most mass media content is manipulation disguised as entertainment have been confirmed by my recent studies. I feel less manipulated if I at least choose the topics I want to hear about and get more of my entertainment from independent content producers. Although I sometimes enjoy mass entertainment for my own reasons, I prefer to avoid being inundated with commercials when possible and I don’t normally want to arrange my schedule around entertainment schedules – I want to watch or listen when it’s convenient for me.

Another reason is that I rely on podcasts a lot to help me fall asleep at night. While recovering from severe emotional trauma, I was introduced to meditation apps and sleep aid podcasts. Some podcasts are designed specifically for inducing sleep, and others work that way for me even if not specifically produced for that purpose.

I also spend multiple days a week working from home and podcasts help keep me entertained and less lonely if I’m doing tasks that are not that mentally engaging.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts, many with my brief commentary, divided into categories. I’ve linked to the podcast’s web site or social media fan page whenever possible so that no matter what platform or service you use to consume podcasts, if you can access the Internet hopefully you can find a way to listen. Usually that is done through a web browser or podcast app.

Educational podcasts

The History of Egypt Podcast – seems to be real archaeology, not pseudoarchaeology!

Pet Fish Talk – Inactive, but most of the episodes are still available. It’s not very polished, but these guys are like rock stars to me because of all the knowledge they have – when my landscaping boss told me he met these guys at a green industry conference, I was excited and pumped him for every bit of information he could remember. “You met the Bailey Brothers!!!! OMG!!!”

PodGOATS – great if you need an introduction to a history topic that you are interested in exploring in a more in-depth way later.

Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Stuff You Should Know – I don’t know if some of this “stuff” is important, but it’s almost all interesting once you get into it. A wide variety of topics to choose from.

You Bet Your Garden – A perennial favorite (har har).

Humor podcasts

The Crash Bang Wallop Podcast – This is a weird one. Two British comedians mocking some aspects of disasters. I felt extremely guilty for trying this one out, but since once at a trivia night I did sweep, singlehandedly, both the British slang and Disaster categories, I had to see for myself what I thought of it. They seem to (try to) steer away from mocking the victims and instead mock some aspects of the situation. Some of the disasters they cover are very tragic and terrible, and some are more lighthearted, such as New Coke. If dark humor does not appeal to you probably best to avoid the more tragic episodes.

The Dave Glover Show

The Tim Conway Jr. Show

Political podcasts

The Kevin Jackson Show – African-American conservatives are not unheard of, but they usually don’t get featured a lot in the mass media. If you want to hear from one, Kevin Jackson is very entertaining and will help you look at things from angles you may not have considered, if that’s what you are looking for.

Pop Culture podcasts

The Beatles Naked – I listen to a lot of Beatles podcasts and this is my current favorite. From what I can tell there is a lot of original or less obvious research presented.

Deck the Hallmark – I found this podcast while doing research for my paper What is the Hallmark Channel Selling? There are three hosts who have different views on Hallmark Channel programming – fan, tolerant, and critical. They are also very funny and I think you’ll laugh as they find things to rip and praise.

Fabcast – If you don’t LLLOOOOVVVVEEE the Beatles you might get frustrated by the sometimes over-the-top praise from these hosts, but they really do know their stuff and they have some perspectives that are worth hearing.

Fab 4 Free 4 All – These guys talk over each other a lot, which can get annoying sometimes, but their likable personalities and vast Beatles knowledge help make up for that.

I’ve Got a Beatles Podcast! – The hosts are really knowledgeable – one is even a musicologist. They also sometimes say hilarious things. For example, if you are a Paul McCartney fan, check out Episode 80: McCartney’s “Silliest (Love) Songs!” in which they include this concept – is a song “bad” if you love it? Thought provoking and funny!

Paul or Nothing – Some Paul McCartney fans that night not like this one. The host has some controversial opinions and has interviewed possibly the most controversial guest available – Geoffrey Guiliano. Guiliano is such a polarizing Beatles author that some people made up a rumor that he died in the 9/11 attacks. I found the resulting interview extremely entertaining along with most of these episodes, which sometimes praise and sometimes rip apart McCartney’s music. The host is engaging, funny and does his research. He is young and just learning some of the things we older fans have known for awhile, but he’s clearly putting in the effort.

Rushcast – hasn’t been active in awhile, but you can still listen to the archived episodes. Hosted by a bassist and music teacher.

Something About the Beatles

Talk More Talk – This is a videocast about the Beatles as solo artists. So far I’ve consumed it as audio only.

Take It Away – Knowledgeable analysis of Paul McCartney’s music.

Things We Said Today – Solid and entertaining Beatles analysis. Allan Kozinn in my opinion stands out in a field of talented hosts.

Trashy Divorces – Most of these episodes are about celebrities, so if you study pop culture, reputation management, the use of media as a weapon or related topics you might find it useful.

Religious podcasts

Catholic Answers Live – You have to know a lot to be able to explain the Catholic Faith and the rotating hosts on this show know the answers. They are respectful and loving to all callers but not afraid to tell it like it is even when it’s radically counter-cultural. If you are curious about what Catholics believe or are Catholic and want to strengthen your practice, this is one of the best resources I know of.

The Thriving Christian Artist – Tips to help achieve spiritual, artistic and financial success.

Who Is the Man of the Shroud? – One of my favorite intersections – Archaeology and Christianity!

Sleep Inducing podcasts

Sleep With Me – Delightfully, whimsically, benevolently weird! Effective too!

 

I’m not sure why but I feel I have to explain my interest in the next couple of podcast categories a little bit! I inherited a layperson’s interest in morbid topics and forensic science, along with archaeology and history, from my Mother and Grandmother. It may be weird, but I came by it honestly! My Mom subscribed to Reader’s Digest when I was in grade school and I usually read every article in it, but the ones that really stick in my memory are the disaster and unsolved mystery related articles. My Mom took us to every historic site that was possible during her life and history is often rather dark. When you visit historic sites and monuments, you will learn about all kinds of disasters, deaths, epidemics, assassinations, wars, crimes and oppression as well as happier topics.

When I was young, along with subscriptions to the adult and kid’s versions of National Geographic, I also had a subscription to a kid’s magazine for mysteries, UFO’s, Sci-Fi and paranormal stuff called Weird Worlds. I lost most of my interest in Sci-Fi and UFO’s when I got older but I still love mysteries, especially historical ones. I also am fascinated by human behavior. The way people react in extreme situations is interesting to me.

Weird History and Paranormal podcasts

Astonishing Legends – I am a practicing Roman Catholic, so I do believe there is a realm of existence that is beyond what our senses can normally detect, but that doesn’t mean I find every report of such phenomena credible. Most paranormal topics bring out the skeptic in me, but I have an open mind and if someone can make a case that is evidence based, I would like to hear it. The Astonishing Legends guys do a great job of doing thorough research and presenting their evidence in a way that seems intellectually honest. They lean on the side of believing in some of the paranormal phenomena they research when evidence is inconclusive or suggestive. I have no problem with that. There is no point to listening for entertainment to a presentation of research on a paranormal topic that is settled. What is the fun of that? If you don’t consider a mystery debunked, why not entertain it for awhile and see what happens? I enjoy the mental exercise of deciding how to evaluate evidence.

Diggin’ Oak Island – This podcast is about a TV show that my husband and I watch called “The Curse of Oak Island”. The History Channel should be ashamed of how intellectually dishonest this show is, but it’s still entertaining because I like the personalities, the technology and the ridiculousness. If you are interested in the actual mystery (I’m one of those people who was fascinated by the Reader’s Digest article about it in the 1970s) I recommend this podcast as a companion piece to the show. It helps understand what you’ve just watched and figure out what is bunk and what might have some credibility to it. This host doesn’t trash the show when it’s not called for, he is a fan, but he is also appropriately critical.

The Futility Closet – Obscure bits of interesting history plus lateral thinking puzzles.

Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World – Jimmy Akin is my favorite host on the Catholic Answers religious podcast. Here he tackles both mysterious faith related subjects and mysterious non-religious topics and analyzes them from both a logic perspective and a faith perspective. Very stimulating and refreshing to listen to, because he draws on many areas of knowledge and explores how they inform each other. The depth of this guy’s knowledge is astonishing every time I listen.

Lore – Sometimes it annoys me that the description of each episode is kind of vague, but on the other hand not knowing much about the topic before I listen helps me to be surprised and exposes me to bits of history that I didn’t know. I also like this host’s other podcast, Cabinet of Curiosities.

Omnibus – This is the podcast that featured the hilarious fistula episode. What more do I need to say?

Thinking Sideways – Unfortunately inactive but the archives are still available.

Disaster and Disturbing podcasts

Casefile – This is one of my favorites in the True Crime genre. Well researched and respectful to the victims, and free of rambling.

Coroner Talk – Sounds like a great educational resource if you are a coroner. Why do I like it? I am also interested in how such an occupation affects people psychologically and what it takes to be able to do a job like that.

Great Disasters – The hostess has a great delivery, very clear and organized, but not without emotion when appropriate. She is an amazing storyteller and reader. And the topics are well written and researched. You’ll be moved and informed.

Nocturne – This is a good one for when you want to be just a little creeped out but not necessarily terrified!

Omitted – Season Four, Island Vacation combines creepiness, storytelling and travel. Really compelling.

Plane Crash Podcast – Believe it or not, there are several podcasts about plane crashes in existence. This is by far my favorite. The host does good research, is logical, doesn’t ramble, and has a kind, compassionate attitude.

Rippercast – Although organized around the Jack the Ripper case, this podcast is mostly not focused on gore but instead on Victorian history and culture and how it intersects with the case. Since the case lives on in current pop culture, some of the episodes examine that aspect also. If you have any interest in the Victorian era there will probably be some episodes you can get into.

True Crime Garage – I don’t listen to every episode, but my liking for the hosts keeps me checking in from time to time.

Wow, that was a huge list. It doesn’t include all the podcasts I currently listen to or have listened to, but I hope it’s enough of a selection that you’ll find something interesting!

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.

Play Review: The Lifespan of a Fact

lifespan_reviewOn October 17, 2019 I saw the play The Lifespan of a Fact at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Have you ever wondered how much of the media that you consume contains truth? Have you ever pondered how you personally define “truth”? Do you ever examine your own views on what kind of media you consume and whether or not you have different standards and expectations for how it presents supposed facts depending on the genre? How many artistic liberties are permissible to take with factual events in order to create a message that you think has merit? If you have ever thought about such matters or generally enjoy the kind of play that sparks discussions among your theatre-going party, I think you will love The Lifespan of a Fact.

There are three characters in the play, a writer, a magazine editor and a fact checker. They battle with each other as they negotiate what kind of finished product will end up in the magazine according to personal and industry standards of ethics. Will the finished product serve high art or the interests of the readers, the community, the advertisers or publishers? Can a compromise be reached? What would you decide if you were the editor?

Even though the play deals with serious issues and will give you a lot to think about, this production will not test your endurance or attention span. It’s not long enough to require an intermission and is fast-moving and entertaining with humorous and emotionally touching passages. Even though one could obviously apply the ideas in the play to current political situations, there are no overt partisan political references so it’s safe to invite your conservative or liberal friends – all should have a good time.  The Lifespan of a Fact is showing through November 10, 2019.

Link to Repertory Theatre box office: 
http://www.repstl.org/events/detail/the-lifespan-of-a-fact

A Comparison Between Emotional Abuse and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”

The tone of public discourse about politics in our country today alarms a lot of people of different political persuasions. Events in my recent personal history have caused me to educate myself about emotional abuse tactics that others have used against me. I’ve noticed that a lot of these tactics are prominent in social media and the “mainstream” media. It seems to permeate almost all pop culture, entertainment and “news” which is why I avoid most of it and have for many years. I thought it would be interesting to compare emotional abuse tactics that I have personally experienced with Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and see if there is any overlap.

Here are links to the source documents I used for my comparison:

And here are the results:

My Personal Experience Rules for Radicals
Intended target I was likely perceived as vulnerable because of grieving a deep personal loss and having suffered a recent and extreme career and financial downturn Low-income communities and “have nots”
Gaslighting Ex-boyfriend tried to convince me that I have a lot of illnesses and that my web site gave him a virus. Ex-boss told me I’m not smart enough to learn things in classes I wanted to take. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
Name-calling and put-downs Just in the last week I’ve had the following terms applied to me – “dumb”, “mouth-breathing”, “brain-dead”, “stupid”, “subhuman dwarf”. These were in one-on-one interactions where the people knew exactly who they were addressing.
My ex-boyfriend mocked my physical appearance and gloated and mocked me over signs that I was hurt by his actions.
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also
works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
Isolating you from your support networks My ex-boyfriend put down my family and sabotaged a reunion I had with some friends I hadn’t seen in years.
My ex-boss instructed co-workers not to help me with my projects.
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the
target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Projection – accusing you of doing things they are doing themselves My ex-boyfriend had a lot of debt and I have none but he accused me numerous times of being bad at handling money. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
They accuse you of being “too sensitive” in order to deflect their abusive remarks When people taunt you and hurt you until you react, they can accuse you of all kinds of things, such as being neurotic and mentally ill. And that’s just the beginning! “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong Abusive people have criticized me for not having enough money then got angry at me for working too hard.
I’ve been put down for taking classes to help me with my career while simultaneously being put down by the same person for my career not being sufficiently successful. I’ve been put down for things that I think are common sense – getting exercise, wearing sunscreen, eating healthy food, losing weight, saving my retirement money for retirement, combining car trips to save on gas. An abusive ex-roommate used to put down my hair color (it was natural then!). There doesn’t seem to be any aspect of my life that is too trivial for someone else to take notice of and attack.
“Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance.

Results: there is not a one-to-one correspondence, but there is some overlap. I recommend you read the signs of emotional abuse very carefully – is someone in your personal life using those tactics against you? Is the media using those tactics against you? Are political movements using those tactics against you? I’m not pointing the finger at only one side here – I’ve been abused by people from different political points of view. My goal in writing this is to make you more aware of abuse in your life and inspire you to refuse to tolerate it – no matter who is doing it to you!