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Facebook Community

December 8, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Facebook's mission reads: “Founded in 2004, Facebook's mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what's going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” True to mission, they do create community. People can post photos of loved ones, send messages to each other quickly and notify their community of their current activities. I absolutely see the benefit in that type of community. I also see the danger of creating an online community of people that you like, products that you like and statements that you like. I would love to see long-term data from the perspective of whether or not this type of community opens our minds or closes it. Maybe it does neither. As you know, I love to think about the changes that coincide with technology, so today's blog investigates what it means to be a part of the Facebook community.

First things first, I need to better explain a few of the types of entities on Facebook. Profiles, they claim, must be real people. Individuals. With a profile, someone can offer friendship. You can friend anyone in this group. However, I cannot find any serious investigative tool to prove that the page who claims to be me is me. Anyone can type a name and minimal information in order to set up a page, or so it seems to me. So, I guess I question even the first person definition as allowed on their site (or any online platform, for that matter). How do I know that these friends are really real friends? (A discussion as to the definition of real will have to take place another day).

Next, Facebook offers Pages. These are meant for organizations, businesses, bands, etc. And yes, HMU does have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HarrisonMiddletonUniversity/ . Feel free to visit it and check out the content that we feel is appropriate to share with our community. We are educators and philosophers, and our students are intelligent, involved, open-minded folks with a wide array of interests. As with all business models, we try to find content which would support their studies, tease their interests, or develop an idea.

This discussion of the type of information that we want to share brings me to the heart of the issue today. Introduced in 2010 in response to users creating unofficial pages, Facebook rolled out the Community Page. Anyone can create a Community Page and name it whatever they want. You could, for example, create a page dedicated to discussing the issues of your child's elementary school. You can name the page anything you want (though the most obvious is to link it by name to the specific school in order to clearly reach the right audience). So, you are using a name other than your own in order to develop the conversation about a piece of community in which you are somehow involved or interested. The comments posted to this type of page may express information, changes, anger, frustration, excellence, or anything that the community feels important to tell others in the same community. Facebook allows this, and I too see the benefit of informing a specific community about the actions within that community. For example, parent involvement in schools is limited by work conflicts and other scheduling conflicts. It can be reassuring and helpful to have an online community with up-to-date information, news and events. Community Pages are open to anyone and visible for all (assuming the page has been appropriately tagged). They are run by numerous people and can create an unofficial presence around any sort of thing. At the time of their invention, Facebook said that Community Pages “give our users opportunities to express their enthusiasm and creativity, while allowing for Official Pages to continue representing official entities such as businesses, bands and public figures.”

I take issue with this last statement, however. First of all, I wonder how many people notice if the page is official or unofficial? This information is written in the tiniest of fonts under the logo, detached from the About section and nonsensically placed somewhere in the banner. Also, the official page does not necessarily contain any language about it being the official page. Furthermore, internet search engines do not distinguish between official or unofficial, so the results show a hodge-podge of associated pages. Just how they are associated, however, is up for the human searcher to distinguish. I wonder how many teenagers know this when searching information on their favorite celebrity? What is a legitimate source should be a foundational question for all internet searches.

While I understand Facebook's hesitation to remove Community Pages, I also think that the Community Page should live up to its name. For an example, I use the Community Page dedicated to Harrison Middleton University. This page uses our name, logo, address and phone number, but it never discusses education (ours or any others). Instead, its contributors post products, nonsense and profane birthday cakes (among other ridiculous things). They have taken our information from Wikipedia and reposted it as a cover for their page which, according to Facebook, is dedicated to enhancing our community. When asked about the offensive content placed on HMU's purported Community Page, Facebook passed the buck. They asked us to contact Wikipedia, which, by the way, does not contain anything illegitimate or untoward. The problem, then, is that a Community Page means absolutely nothing. Instead, any fake user can generate content with a seemingly legitimate brand from anywhere in the world. Facebook claims that any entity's ability to generate negative conversations while using our logo does not negatively affect us. Rather, it increases the scope of our university. I, however, find it highly problematic that an entity dedicated to fostering community is in no way engaging in the actual community. If the fake Facebook page actually discussed education, or anything related to HMU, I would perhaps feel differently. And, therefore, I return to my original question: what kind of online community are we fostering? In creating nonsensical groups, are we destroying the idea of community itself? In what ways do online communities disengage with an actual sense of community? And, finally, does this affect our sense of community in a physical or local or offline sense?

Just for your reference, here is the illegitimate HMU page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrison-Middleton-University/107652162597521

And here is Facebook's response to my query about trademark infringement (both the HMU name and logo are trademarked): “A Community Page is automatically generated based on what Facebook users are interested in. It is not intended to be the official presence of a brand, public figure or organization. If you object to the content on the reported Community Page, you may access the source of this information by visiting Wikipedia. In some cases, you might be able to edit or provide feedback about this information. Under these circumstances, it’s unclear to us how the reported content, used in the manner depicted, would violate or infringe your legal rights.” Finally, they advised that I contact the Community Page administrator myself. As you can imagine, the HMU Community Page has neither changed in content or existence since we contacted them.

To find previous HMU blogs about Facebook and technology, read this or this

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Consumer Narratives

December 1, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Before reading today's blog, I suggest watching the following four minute music video:

Taylor Swift “Look What You Made Me Do

It would be hard to pin down my musical tastes. Truly, I can listen to nearly anything. While I am not an expert in anything, I feel pretty compelled to discuss Taylor Swift's recent video for “Look What You Made Me Do” from the album Reputation, released in 2017. This song pulls hard at an anger that feels primitive. To me, both song and video are haunted with complexity – in the sense of anger that lacks any specific resolution. This is sort of a coming-of-age video, but is hardly that concise.

Taylor Swift signed her first album deal at age 14 and has been at the top of the charts since. I cannot imagine life as a teenage celebrity, though America has certainly had a number of them. It seems that we often read about their crisis later in life. I suppose that I will call it a “coming-of-age” crisis for lack of a better term, but it's far more than that. Their struggles are splashed about by media, fans and critics forever, forever google-able. And I am sure that the constant demand of reliving life outside of your private space makes life feel a bit out of control. As a result, in the video, the new Taylor stomps on all previous Taylors while also claiming that the old Taylor is dead. It makes me wonder...what are we singing along to here?

What follows are my notes on the video. The fast and furious pace of the video only increases anxiety, anger and emotion. The colors move from dark to vibrant depending upon the scene. And Taylor's eyes center the whole piece – closely engaging with us, or shutting us out entirely.

First: Haunted, dark, destruction, TS lights shine from a graveyard filled with fog, crows, and some mystery swamp. Her tomb reads: “Here lies TAYLOR SWIFT'S REPUTATION”. Then zombie Taylor crawls from the crypt, scraping. Demoralized? Or free? Not sure yet. She sings: “I don't like your little games, don't like your tilted stage, the role you made me play, the fool, no I don't like you.” Why intro with zombie Taylor? This is a retrospective. Are we supposed to understand a self-continuum? Is there a point at which the self becomes something other? Is she irretrievably separated from the former, more naïve self? Is the zombie born from a combination of innocence and pain?

Quick switch: There's a flash of beautiful, young, all-dressed in white Taylor in the grave. Eyes closed, casket open. Is she a bride, virgin, child, all of innocence? Then flash forward to young, rich Taylor soaking in diamonds, surrounded by mirrors – reflections of self. She focuses on us. Repeats, “No I don't like you.” Only now we know more about what she doesn't like, “I don't like your perfect crime, how you laugh when you lie, you said the gun was mine, is it cruel? No I don't like you.”

Next: mirrors evolve into Taylor at the top of a golden throne, red dress. Papal throne? Snakes crawl up the throne. All snakes stop at “OH!” Snakes slither and also serve tea. Are these false prophets, or false friends? How can a celebrity trust anything? (If I were you, I wouldn't drink the tea, Taylor.) She sings, “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. I've got a list of names and yours is in red underlined. I check it once and then I check it twice, OH”.... She's about to jump again, but I'm stumped here. What is the red dress underlining? This hardened version of Taylor (in response to whatever made her hard - and I think the viewer has a number of ideas about those outside forces) wears a vicious, red underbelly. This hardened version has consumed at least some of what made her hard while simultaneously quoting Santa Claus. And that worries me.

Jump to car crash. “Look what you made me do, look what you made me do, look what you just made me do, look what you just made me do!” Gold race car meets streetlight in slow motion, jewels flying next to coffee, platinum blond hair swirls on the head tilt, still slow motion. Sunglasses permanently fixed, masking the ever-expressive eyes. She wears a cheetah coat and black sequined dress and grasps a Grammy award. Passenger = cheetah. Paparazzi watches, snaps photos, but doesn't help in any way, and never fear, damage exists on the car alone. No one is concerned – driver and cheetah included. Flames from the car flicker in the background, upstaged by flashing cameras. This feels very personal – and makes me think of the impossible emotional situations that celebrities must navigate every day.

Next: Taylor swinging in a cage. This is not the circus? “I...don't like your kingdom....keys they once belonged to me you asked me for a place to sleep, locked me out and threw a feast”. Birdcage... are we talking Maya Angelou's birdcage? Does a birdcage now represent all levels of imprisonment? Orange dress, island flair, the horrendous juxtaposition of color in captivity. Who are the guards – they look like ninjas from a chess club? Don't they know that white makes the first move? And still she swings above their knives in the cage with champagne and lobster. How are we to interpret that? Maybe the feast is something altogether unhealthy. Maybe the feast is flesh. (I am waiting to see the zombie again – she feels very close to the crypt inside this cage.)

Now: Bank robbers in catmasks, everyone falls to the floor. Choreographed? Group of ninja men have been replaced by girls who stash gold. Taylor rips off her mask: “The world moves on another day another drama drama but not for me all I think about is karma karma.” Gold baseball bat tips to the screen, points like the eyes. Baseball bat circles and all cats look up. Look up, towards the door. Is this another type of jail cell – why are the pretty little cats loading up riches? Maybe there's something richer than gold.

Now she's in a motorcycle gang? I mean, now she's in a motorcycle gang. Maybe the same girls, without cute masks. Does everything take place at night? Tough to tell with the constant switching. Headlights on, face center: “Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours!...

“Baby I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time.” Enter S&M Taylor. Red and black theme continues. “I check my list and yours is in red underlined”. Santa's list again, underscored by red and blue neon underlines. (Remember the feast and the tea? More of the thing that she hates has been imbibed.) Even harder now, bodies appear robotic and synthetic. The bodies, the robots, reflect red lights, not stop lights, but more like red light districts. (I don't know about you, but I'm waiting for the ball to drop like in Minority Report.) If we have entered a new zone, this may be darker than the crypt at the beginning. Are we still in a retrospective? How does time function in a music video – especially one which may weave in a bit of autobiography? I'm learning that virtual death comes at a great cost to the still living.

Black fishnets. Now she's the boss. Strong entrance, messy hair. Those doors swing open as the birdcage didn't. This must be free. In four minutes, this video has shown a number of geometric realms...lots of lines and cages ripe for crossing and opening. The chessmen have all changed into queered figures wearing “I love TS” tops. Who is the you? Media? Audience? People from her past? And what defines participation at this point? It seems we all listen, snapping along with the beat, feet tapping, a quick sway of the hips, much like Taylor's fishnet self. Is she inviting us into the room, or removing herself from all connection? Or maybe something altogether else.

“Rep” at the top of the pile. Doesn't trust anyone. She kicks at the climbing Taylors. Can we say that she's standing on the backs of more innocent Taylors? Or that she's kicked all previous versions of Taylor out? Taylor and her rep stand in front of a neon cross. If she hasn't smashed your innocence, I think it might be coming. Wait for it.

Repeat: “I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me. I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams.” The Taylor pile falls, of course, but you knew that it would. And then she says, “The old Taylor can't come to the phone right now....Why?...Oh, cuz she's dead.” Two second zombie shot and then choreographed fishnets jump in. The lyrics “look what you made me do” repeat often, kind of like smiling when you mean to cry. Has she figured out how to laugh while lying? If so, then innocence isn't subjugated, it's replaced by something mean, nasty and slimy, like the snakes.

Taylor's plane awaits, gold, of course, but sawed in half, dripping with the red-painted “reputation”. Outside the plane, all former video Taylors argue amongst themselves. The Grammy Taylor says: “Umm, I would very much like to excluded from this narrative.” And I think you know the answer to that.

Is anyone satisfied at the end of this song? The angst aches. What is my reputation as a consumer, and, honestly, can I be excluded from this narrative?

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Code Talkers

November 24, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

“The code word for America was our mother Ne-he-mah.”

“I enjoyed serving my country and my people.” - Chester Nez

Protecting our country is an act of honor and bravery. Every one of those citizens who sign up for the arduous task of defending America is worthy of mention. Just within my own life, I have come to listen more closely to those veterans who are familiar to me. And I have discovered that each person contains a wealth of stories, information, humility, kindness and complexity. Soldiers lives are littered with disruption. Constant movement and change juxtaposes the often monotonous routines of the armed forces. I would love to highlight every single one of them. Since this is not feasible, then I will simply say that we are grateful and honored to be Americans. Thank you for your service.

The month of November celebrates two extremely important pieces of American culture: both Veteran's Day and Native American history and heritage. As I have been studying languages for some time, I felt it might be interesting to revisit the Code Talkers. While most of these men have passed away, their legacy is still palpable. In a very short time, they wrote the beginnings of their own language and used it to then create an unbreakable code. This code helped America win both the first and second World Wars.

According to the National Museum of the American Indian, “More than 12,000 American Indians served in World War I – about 25 percent of the male American Indian population at the time.” The use of a code dates back to World War I in which 14 Choctaw soldiers helped the U.S. against Germany. Then, in 1941, the U.S. government once again struggled to create encrypted codes safe from enemy eyes. Philip Johnston, son of missionaries and fluent in Navajo, proposed the idea of using the native language to the U.S. Marine Corps. The original program enlisted 29 code talkers who created and memorized the code. There was no written record to ensure that the code would be kept private. Therefore, the men created an alphabetical code based upon common Navajo words so that it could be easily memorized. For example, “[T]he Navajo words 'wol-la-chee' (ant), 'be-la-sana' (apple) and 'tse-nill' (axe) all stood for the letter 'a.' One way to say the word 'Navy' in Navajo code would be 'tsah' (needle) wol-la-chee (ant) ah-keh-di- glini (victor) tsah-ah-dzoh (yucca)." The code talkers were deployed to the Pacific and as the program grew, more than 400 code talkers would join their forces.

The Diné word for warrior is naabaahii. The warrior tradition is an important and respected part of Navajo culture. Chester Nez (a Code Talker from World War II) said that “a warrior is someone who cares for and protects the area that they are from, protect the country” and that he was proud to be a part of this tradition. These warriors created a code that changed the face of the war. The code was kept secret for 23 years and then declassified in 1968. After its declassification, the code talkers were asked for interviews and information. The National Museum of the American Indian reminds us how difficult and complex it may be to understand a soldier's life. They write, “Like all soldiers, Code Talkers carry many memories of their war experiences. Some memories are easy to revisit. Others are very difficult. Some veterans do not really like to discuss these memories, while others can more comfortably recall them. They remember how fierce and dangerous some of the fighting was. Some remember when their fellow soldiers were wounded or killed. They remember the noise and the violence of war. Others recall being prisoners of war. Sometimes they have more pleasant memories of different cultures and places that they had never seen before and probably would never see again. They also remember how their American Indian spirituality was important to them during the war.”

As the generation of Code Talkers fade, it is important to dedicate some time in becoming familiar with the multiple ways in which they served. They bridged two worlds, both Navajo and American, in order to create a better society for all of us. There are many ways to support local veterans, from donations to programs. We can all find ways in which to serve those who have best served us.

For more on the code talkers, visit the National Museum of American Indians: http://www.nmai.si.edu/education/codetalkers/html/chapter4.html

To find the Navajo Code Talkers dictionary, visit: https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/n/navajo-code-talker-dictionary.html

Pop Culture Preview

November 17, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

This book review was originally published in the November 2017 issue of HMU: Dialogues.

Tube Talk, Double Features, and Sound Bites, three new publications from the Great Books Foundation.

In February, Harrison Middleton University will cohost the inaugural Southwest Great Books Weekend  which will focus on a new popular culture series from the Great Books Foundation. We will discuss essays about television (Tube Talk), film (Double Features) and music (Sound Bites). Their focus on popular culture offers some timely and important readings worthy of discussion. I was fortunate to grab a sneak preview, and so I wanted to express my enthusiasm for February's event. These essays offer any number of interesting discussions. More than that, however, I think it is vital to take a better look at the culture that we are currently making, promoting and consuming.

First of all, these three genres unite in the fact that each medium is meant to be shared. We follow television shows and films on social media, we pick favorite characters, dress in character and create intricate fandoms. We talk about our favorite media at work, in school, on the phone or at coffee shops. Clearly, we want to share our opinions or questions with others. What better opportunity, then, to share our ideas with a group of open-minded individuals interested in the same topics!? The three volumes look at what these personas might tell us about ourselves as individuals, or as cultures. In addition, they include articles of events of such originality that there is literally no word or phrase yet adequate to describe the intricate relationship between show writers, on-screen character and impersonations.

An article from Tube Talk discusses one unnamed phenomenon that has been generated by fans of Mad Men. As technology continues to evolve, it increases our avenues to connect, but also blurs the lines surrounding reality. For example, Twitter accounts impersonating Mad Men characters quickly arose, and though the show stopped after seven seasons, the Twitter accounts continue – in character. I wonder, what enjoyment do we get from assuming the voice of characters in something like Mad Men? One blogger says “I try and think like [Roger Sterling], tweet what he might say. It’s creative, and a lot of fun.” This requires a serious engagement with the time period, an understanding of cultural constraints in that society and, of course, a thorough study of the character. The Twitter-author-voice must thoroughly know the character to presuppose what they would do. And of course, in creating an alter-ego, there is the question of losing the alter-ego. 

The rise of Twitter in tandem with shows like Newsroom and Mad Men, which relate to a relatively recent time of American history, has created a different kind of fandom than that of, say, Star Trek. Yet the urge to become or live in a fictional skin continues. The introduction to Tube Talk claims that “[Television] is the greatest mirror that our global society has ever held up to itself, and even though sometimes we may not like what we see, it is impossible to look away.” I would further say that, not only is it impossible to look away, we should not look away. Rather, we should attempt to understand the underlying culture as a way to change what we do not like, or to better understand that which we do not know. For example, in the introduction to Double Features, Nick Clement writes, “The collective practice of gathering with a group of strangers in a darkened theater to watch images moving on a screen represents one of the more unusual agreements that human beings can reach.” Funny, but his comment also opens up a number of different questions regarding film culture, human connection and historic trends.

These books offer some excellent insight into current culture. They are an essential reminder that, for better or worse, we actively participate in a dynamic era filled with mixed media and art forms. It is essential that we realize our involvement in these forms if we have any intention to understand ourselves and our society. If we intend to create the best future for ourselves, our children and our communities, then it is worth our time to understand contemporary art forms. I look forward to discussing these books in February!

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