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This area provides trans-disciplinary explorations of topics around the broad field of international communication. Content published here ranges from scholarly articles to presentations that draw connections from disciplines such as sports, law or religion to communication and examine these areas of interest from an international perspective. “Exploring topics” aims to enhance a trans-disciplinary dialogue by bringing experts from various disciplines together and inspiring an exchange of ideas for examining innovative research issues.
Mia Ross is a Master's student at St. John's International Communication program and especially interested in Humanitarianism, Education, and Art Activism. She attended the annual Global Fusion conference on global media and communication research, this year held at Temple University from October 21-23. Mia originally published this article on her blog and portfolio site. She is the one in the first row, on the right of the group photo at the end of this article.
Day at the Global Fusion 2016 Conference at Temple University
by Mia Ross
The temperature was low, but my spirits were high that cloudy Saturday. After taking public transportation to Philly from New York I was ready to soak up as much information as I could.
First Session: Violence, Conflict & Surveillance
Syed Irfan Ashraf from Southern Illinois University presented a thought-provoking piece about the imagery of terrorism and high-tech rural warfare in Pashtu music. This is one of the many languages spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, the location of drone strikes and violent unrest for far too many years.
This powerful speaker emphasized that in these areas civilians are caught in the cross fire between militants and governments. Local militant groups destroy cultural nodes such as music centers, kill elders, forbid music at marriages, and send suicide bombers to movie theaters. Their government proceeds to engage in drone strikes to extinguish the militants who live among the innocent, needless to say, more innocent civilians are killed in these strikes than militants. In 2005 alone over 30,000 drone strikes were performed in the area, and the number has steadily risen.
One of the questions Syed sought to inquire was; How does their music package the war on terrorism? With spaces to create music damaged, and communication about the on goings of war scarce, the rural population is isolated within their anguish. The rural areas music have lyrics illustrating that isolation, the deep inescapable sorrow, tears, death, and hopelessness due to drones and terrorism. In contrast, the urban areas romanticize the violence; assimilating drone strikes with the eyes of a lover. Because the urban areas are rarely if ever hit by a drone strike there seems to be an ignorant bliss regarding the issue.
This reminds me of how Americans view violence. Action movies are packed with meaningless killings and gore that we cheer about as long as it’s in line with the Hero’s plight, we very seldom wonder about the families of the lives lost in these movies, and usually there are no innocents lost in the crossfire. That would take attention away from the storyline, purposefully created to entertain only.
“Protest music is an under-theorized source and practice in pedagogy.”
Syed teamed up with another presenter, Kristin Shamas from the University of Oklahoma, to talk about Necrospace. Using this term, which the presentation attempts to coin, they spoke about the politics of death. There are areas of the world that governments have sectioned off as fair shooting ground, whether people live there or not. The people are then subjected to remote warfare. In Frontier Crime Regulation there’s no governance, just subjects who happen to be in crime buffer zones.
Necrospaces like the ones in the Middle East are perceived semiotic:
“The smell of the Lebanese civil war was of napalm and decomposing bodies”
Syed went on to express that Fadar is another location that now has a permanent smell of death imprinted on its location.
The media tends to justify and normalize these areas of death, taking the side of the government they belong to and telling the story of the “Hero”. In an effort to express civilian discontent with the casual bombings, they leave the bodies to rot in order to force their governments and journalists to acknowledge the carnage. The backlash to this “forced witnessing activism” is when families and hospitals refuse to participate in leaving their loved ones unburied.
This presentation at its core explored what do we mean by space, who gets to label them, and what reactions and consequences does this elicit?
Stuart Davis from Texas A & M International University had a presentation entitled “Where is Amarildo”. He spoke about the battle against police brutality in Rio De Janeiro’s favelas and transnational advocacy networks. In the Rio area there was a crack down on drug distributors that increased police presence in the poorer areas. Many Afro-Brasilia people were treated with suspicion, discrimination, and police violence.
There was one young boy whose missing status became a nation wide and eventually a worldwide question. Originally authorities accused the drug gangs of kidnapping the boy, but the communities mobilized and protested the chant to find the truth. Later it was revealed that the boy was taken in police custody, beaten severely, and electrocuted to death. This sparked outrage, and 24/30 of the authorities in that unit were fired.
Heather Anderson from the University of South Australia conducted the last presentation in this session. She illustrated the importance of Prison Radio in the UK and Australia as a creative outlet, a sense of community, and regaining feelings of humanity. Although it was a great presentation, in America we have the largest prison population in the world and I don’t know if there are luxuries like televisions in every cell here. It made a larger problem of inhumane conditions of prisons that belong to my country, and I was unsure of her purpose of presenting.
Second Session: Representations of Race and Gender
Reighan Gillam from University of Michigan spoke about representation in media, racism, and police scrutiny in Rio De Janeiro. She analyzed a YouTube series created by an Afro-Brasilia family in an effort to confront the lack of representation of darker people on television and commercials. This alternative media is important to the communities of color in Rio, but remains non-existent or ignored in popular culture. The content of the show includes debunking stereotypes, pointing out discrimination, and parodies of deliberate exclusions of brown people.
YouTube is a platform that allows this community to present themselves, and do so in a way they can control.
Xiaomeng Li from Ohio University started her presentation with this comment: “In China there are three sexes: Male, Female, and Female PhD’s”. This seemed to be a common joke in Chinese culture, reflecting a much larger problem. Women who opt out of marriage to pursue professional goals or higher education are made fun of and seen as “left over” or a waste. Chinese culture in the past was largely influenced by Confucianism, which includes a sexist outlook.
“A husband who is virtuous has talent, and a wife who is ignorant has virtue.” – Zhang Di
This foundation of sexism, combined with China’s uneven men to women ratio, creates this discontent with women who do not want be paired. Xiaomeng searched the keyword Female PhD on Chinese mass media sites and shared her findings with us. The ones recognized for they’re accomplishments had to be attractive, and their contributions to academia are not acknowledged. Even more common are the articles about how to get a boyfriend for Female PhD’s where women are encouraged to lower their standards and to pursue a family instead of education.
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Marwan Kraidy of University of Pennsylvania
This speaker talked about the rise of Islamic terrorist groups, and media as a War Machine. The ascetics of the visuals these groups project into the public, in addition to their structure as a nomadic entity were topics this speaker elaborated on with heavy reference to theories. He supposes that “Projectilic Images” are more pernicious than weapons. In reference to the “Projectilic Effect”, Marwan suggests these groups are now using images as swords, or bombs that affect our societal bodies.
“A lot of ISIS doctrine renders women invisible in the public body but complete obsession on possession in practice”. I found this quote interesting, since before I had heard theories that in terrorist groups are suffering from a testosterone saturated environment. In this environment, violence and pride overwhelm and overflow, directly associated with suppressing feminine energies, which tend to be non-violent.
I notice a slight fear within the speaker when upon answering a question the idea of if these groups are aware of or read the American scholarly analysis of their doings. “Do they read our work?” Marwan expressed that he hopes not, and I couldn’t help but wonder the implications of if they do…
My Take Away
The bulk of my newly learned information was regarding terrorism, the Middle East, and war politics. I usually stay away from these topics, assuming there’s simply too much going on to even begin to understand what’s happening there. Still I feel I’m no expert, but I know now why these events abroad are important to be aware of. The presentations about gender, activism, prison radio, and race expanded my perception of cultural issues to a more global scope. The real issues we face today are increasingly worldwide, and it’s going to take everyone working together to solve them.
Thank you to all of the presenters and organizers of Global Fusion 2016!
Rabbi Bill Bernbach
Bill Bernbach is widely recognized as an advertising god (lower case ‘g’).
He was a driving force behind advertising’s creative revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. He and his agency Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, created mythical campaigns for Volkswagen (Lemon, Think Small), Avis (We try harder), Alka Seltzer (I can’t believe I ate the whole thing), American Tourister luggage (gorilla throwing around a suitcase), Ohrbachs and Polaroid. Bernbach began the unheard-of practice of pairing copywriters with art directors.1 While he was Jewish, Bernbach’s job title was Adman, not Rabbi. However, a Rabbi is a teacher, and perhaps Bernbach’s biography should be amended to include that title. Here’s why.
The core of all Judaic teaching is the Torah, the five books of the Hebrew bible. The translation of Torah is “to guide” or “to teach.”2 The role of advertising, according to the ADV 2100 textbook, M: Advertising, is “…to inform, persuade and remind groups of customers or markets about the need-satisfying value of the company’s goods and services.”3 When a consumer wants to, for example, eat healthier, prevent tooth decay, or drive safely to and from work, she requires facts to make an educated purchase decision. That’s where advertising comes in.
Advertising provides information to consumers about products and services on the marketplace. From information gathered through a TV commercial or online video, a print ad or billboard, a direct mail package, an email, a Google search that leads to a website or Facebook page, a consumer can learn about products, compare and decide which is best. It follows then that the job of an Adman is to use advertising to educate and inspire critical thinking: to be a Rabbi. This is consistent with Jewish theology and practice in which Jews are taught to constantly question to learn more deeply.4 Like a Rabbi, well-crafted advertising will provoke curiosity, comparison and conversation, which lead to insight.
Conversation is a particularly important part of the advertising equation today. In Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit, Philip Kotler and his co-authors declare we are in the age of collaboration. New technologies have enabled people to connect with others, express themselves and collaborate in a way that amplifies (or diminishes) a point of view.5 The conversation and questioning commanded of a Jew can now occur on social media. Through advertising and marketing, brands hope to inspire conversation and promote sharing.
Presenting facts is an important first step, but brands today are heightening the emotional connection while stoking conversation through storytelling. Like midrash, the stories used to interpret difficult bible passages,6 advertising weaves emotionally laden stories to help consumers interpret and internalize complex ideas, and build a bond with the product/service. A plethora of research demonstrates that logic causes a person to consider making a purchase, but a decision is heavily influenced by subconscious emotional factors.7
Nowhere is the stoking of emotions more noticeable than in political advertising. Each advertising vehicle presents a point of view about a politician that aims to change a voter’s mind or reinforce a perception. This year’s election is particularly heated, and voters will pull the Clinton or Trump lever not so much because of the candidate’s position on, say, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Votes will be cast based on passions inspired by the candidate.
The stories of Gold Star parents have become a flash point. These modern-day midrashim are presented as testimonials articulated by parents, spouses and loved ones. Testimonials are a tried-and-true advertising technique. Both political sides use them to convince and convert. For sure, they have sowed dissent–and this too is consistent with Jewish practice: Just as Jews are allowed and even encouraged to argue with God, Democrats and Republicans should argue. Argument is ethical because it is a route to deeper understanding.
Where does advertising stray from Jewish teaching and become UNethical?
Consider these two questionable advertising behaviors and their relationship to Jewish principles:
The 10th commandment tells us not to covet. People need cars to get to work. While a Ford compact is a perfectly suitable mode of transport, many consumers covet a BMW. Is advertising guilty of breaking the 10th commandment by promoting the luxurious engineering of a Bimmer? And does driving a BMW imbue status on the driver that was earned simply by being able to afford an expensive automobile?
Jews are taught to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This implies there should be mutual respect. Advertisers that condescend to prospects are guilty of disrespect. Another advertising god, David Ogilvy, once warned his colleagues and clients “the consumer isn’t a moron. She’s your wife.”8
Of course, both Jews and Christians share the 10 Commandments and the Old Testament, and they are the foundation for Judeo-Christian morals. In Judaism, however, the Talmud is the font from which all ethical teachings flow.
The Talmud contains the book of Jewish law, called Mishnah, with rabbinic commentary and discussion, called Gemara. It’s not surprising that the Talmud stems from discussion between Rabbinic sages.9 Here’s one way Talmudic teachings apply to advertising ethics.
In his paper, Geneivat Da'at: The Prohibition Against Deception in Today's World, Hershey Friedman states that in the Talmudic view, “…there are seven types of thieves and, of these, the most egregious is the one who "steals the minds" of people (Tosefta Bava Kama 7:3).”10
This is a description of deceit–making false or misleading statements, puffery, dishonest offers and providing false or misleading credentials. Consumers consistently accuse advertisers of being deceitful. In fact, Millennials are so suspicious of marketers that they actively avoid advertising.
At its core, this is a trust issue: When consumers believe the claims an advertiser makes, they are more likely to purchase the product and share positive opinions. Deceit undermines trust. And brands that are not trusted flounder.
Most reputable brands strive to be honest and straightforward–to NOT steal the minds of consumers. They include messaging in their advertising to directly address this issue. They hire lawyers (Jews and non-Jews) to ensure their advertising is honest and legitimate. They engage in conversation on social media to be transparent and authentic. They expose themselves in new, risky ways to build trust.
Here’s a poignant example from my career. I worked at an agency that built the first social media program for Disney. The Disney lawyers objected to this “risky” strategy for fear that allowing consumers to comment in an open forum on Facebook needlessly exposed their most treasured brand asset–the Mouse. After building in safeguards, Disney was able to open a dialogue with moms in social media and expand on the good will. The program was a success and established another avenue for Disney to connect with their audience and heighten trust.
Geneivat Da’at is a serious Talmudic law. Advertisers must also see it as a guiding principle toward ethical business behavior. In my world, where the glass is always half full, I like to believe honesty and ethics, being straightforward and transparent are all ingrained in every piece of marketing an advertiser puts forth. But hey, that’s this author’s opinion. Like any good Jew, I invite discussion, questioning and argument. How else will we gain a deeper understanding?
1. William Bernbach. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bernbach
2. Taking a Look at Jewish Religious Beliefs. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/taking-a-look-at-jewish-religious-beliefs.ht
3. Arens, William; Weigold, Michael; Schaefer, David (2012-07-01). (Page 9) M: Advertising, First edition.
4. Taking a Look at Jewish Religious Beliefs. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/taking-a-look-at-jewish-religious-beliefs.html
5. Kotler, P., Kartajaya, H., & Setiawan, I. (2010) Marketing 3.0: From products to customers to the human spirit. 5, 6. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
6. Ellman, Y. (n.d.). Midrash and Midrashic Interpretation. Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://online.sfsu.edu/kmillet1/midrash
7. Emotions drive purchase decisions, not logic: Forrester. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from https://www.luxurydaily.com/emotions-drive-purchase-decisions-not-logic-forrester/
8. A quote from Confessions of an Advertising Man. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/191459-the-consumer-isn-t-a-moron-she-is-your-wife
9. The Roadmap 1. What Is The Talmud? (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.come-and-hear.com/editor/whatis.html
10. Jewish Law - Articles - Geneivat Da'at: The Prohibition Against Deception in Today's World. (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/geneivatdaat.html