Archive for June, 2010

Identifying Identity

I enjoyed researching and exploring the topic of identity this week. I realised how contrived my own ‘image’ is, my ‘personal brand’ (Hearn’s self branding”) that I maintain for myself. I figured out that a combination of my values, interests, relationships, and career specifically shape my own identity and sense of self. I am not as influenced by location, nationality or religion as others are; I have friends from all over Sydney, friends in other parts of the world and work, study, and go out in completely different locations; thus I have built networks and consequentially drawn influence from all over that has added to my identity. My family has lived in Australia since convict settlement and therefore I don’t have any unusual or particularly distinctive cultural traditions, practices or diversification that I would say sets me apart from the rest in terms of adding to my own individuality. Religion also does not play a major role in my personal image or uniqueness.

In regards to Hearn’s theories of self promotion, I realised how heavily my job impacts my identity. I work for a particular fashion retailer at both store level and office level; I have the label of a salesperson, rife with negative connotations of pushiness and cunningness; and the brand I work for is also heavily synonymous with youth culture, and upon telling people where I work I am often amused at the varying reception I get in return. My company is extremely image-conscious (as is any company, of course), however particularly so since it is in the fashion industry. Thus, I must in turn project a similar image and act in accordance with the behavioral values of the company. Over time, I have found that this image has become part of my own natural behaviour, image and identity, and there is no distinction between myself at or away from my place of employment. Similarly, I am often subjected to varying receptions when telling people where I live (on the southeastern coast of Sydney).  I am told I seem to deviate from the beachy blonde  stereotypical ‘identity’ of my area.

I find both these features – employment and location – as peculiar in their shaping of my identity; I wonder to what extent I have purposely contrived my image, and alternatively what of my identity has been unconsciously or subtly influenced, as Hearn suggests, by the features of my external environment.

In terms of technology and new media, Herring’s suggestion that we are not subjected to a unanimous, homogenous identity when bound by our gadgets; instead, our mobile phones and computers allow for us to further our efforts to express individuality and identify ourselves, through customization features, perhaps like choosing applications that interest us or benefit our individual lifestyles on Apple iPhones. I’m sure that anyone looking at the apps on my iPhone would be able to make some reasonable assessments about my identity based on this singular gadget. This reminds me of the recent debate over Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial ‘Instant Personalisation’ feature, allegedly allowing marketers to tailor advertising towards the individual based on accessing their specific interests.

Also, stemming form Herring’s ideas, I realised that often I use my computer as a means of facilitating my establishment of identity; I will use eBay to shop for unique clothing that nobody else will be wearing, and scour blogs for music and fashion inspiration on which I will create my own image. Yet again, though, I must pause to ask myself – is this considered an influence, or my own unique approach to identity?

This topic has been extremely thought-provoking, and I have come to agree with a postmodernist conclusion that there is no completely free, uninfluenced thought. The individual identity is, essentially, a product of their surrounds, despite a proportionate yet arguably smaller ability to manipulate these elements.

The Meaningfulness of Media and Meaning

This week, I was most moved by certain videos we were shown in lectures. The clip from the film ‘They Live’, shown in our lecture, had a significant impact on me. As someone who has always been extremely interested and passionate about the ‘behind the scenes’ of advertising and marketing, I found this rather sinister depiction of communication – advertising as its fundamental, essential ‘sign’ or symbolism (being consumerism) – particularly poignant. Studying the readings this week, I also thought of another video we watched in a previous lecture; children recognising signs and symbols of multinational corporations, such as McDonald’s Golden Arches and mascot Ronald McDonald, yet falling dumbfounded and unable to recognise the image of Jesus Christ. This was extremely moving, if not chilling, to behold.

Such videos exemplify the sheer power of semiotics in communication practices, supporting the thesis of Schirato and Yell, and their exploration of Saussure’s theory of semiotics and his specific distinctions and cyclical relationship of the signifier, the signified, and the emergent ‘sign’. Reading this article prompted me to consider some of the signs that infiltrate my own existence. Surprisingly, this was a hard task! Are there signs and symbols so ingrained into my subconsciousness that I am stumped to produce examples at an instant? Scary! I urge readers of this blog to try it – it is quite alarming. The obvious ones that come to mind are walk, don’t walk signs; ladies’, mens’ and disabled bathroom signs; and Australian road signs. However, the corporate world has cleverly utilised Saussre’s theory of semiotics far beyond the point of the graphic sign or logo to remind us of their brand.

In 2006 I underwent work experience with the creative department of a prominent major advertising agency in Australia. I was extremely lucky to score this gig, and for the sake of maintaining good relations with the business, I won’t give away too many details. One of their main clients was a particular multinational fast food chain. I remember being handed a booklet given to the agency by the brand’s marketing team, with specific information as to the specifications for advertising that brand. This included the exact colour shade that had to be used in all fonts, fills and formatting of the brand’s graphic design. This colour was named uniquely to the business. No other shade of this colour could be used in any campaign or graphic promotion of this brand. Then there was a font, again unique to the business. Just as the colour, this was the mandatory font for all advertising of this brand.

When making television advertisements, I was told to notice how all the actors would be wearing this particular colour, surrounded by similarly hued props. Obviously, semiotics extends far beyond the physical sign and delves into manipulation of our subconsciousness as consumers; the brand wants consumers to relate these colours and typography to their communicated brand experience, values and image; a practice alarmingly contrived to the ‘enth degree and almost scientific in nature.

I found media and meaning to be an extremely thought provoking topic this week; one that truly makes us – as both media audiences and practitioners – to stand up, rub our eyes and really take notice of what we are seeing… or consuming.

Media Audiences: Gaining the Upper Hand

In the readings this week, I noticed that the notion of the ‘media audience’ is explored from two different angles. In Couldry’s article, we come to understand distinctions and developments in media audiences over time, and the features of these new emerging audience structures. In Haddon’s article, however, the reasons behind these changes is explored and we can gain an insight into what goes into our choices as being part of media audiences. It is for this reason, that the articles go hand – in – hand with each other, that I found them equally interesting and useful this week.

In reading about Couldry’s ‘diffused audience’, I couldn’t help but think about contemporary advertising. Given the increasing fall in television as a powerful medium for mass communication (now with Digital television we can fast forward ads watching pre-recorded shows, or even watch television online or on our mobile devices), advertisers now have to find creative ways to communicate to their target markets. Much in line with the notion of Couldry’s ‘diffused audience’, is the advertiser’s need now to communicate WITH the audience; by involving viewers and establishing a participatory aspect to suit the diversifying demands of the consumer, and of course the growing ‘immunity’ towards traditional marketing efforts in general society. Guerrilla marketing is a fabulous example of targeting a diffused media audience – take for example, an ad that has stood out in my mind for crime channel 13th Street:

The interactiveness of this campaign not only exhibits new movements in creative advertising as a response to changing consumer demands, yet in itself is a reflection of the contemporary, ‘diffused’ media audience. Of course, it is important to remember that Couldry advocates the opinion that mass media still exists and remains effective, however I personally disagree, feeling that audiences now ‘control’ (this word might be a little strong for what I’m trying to imply – perhaps ‘more significantly influence’ would be better!) marketers and advertisers; the result of which I believe to be from a growing desensitsing and awareness to corporate motives and marketing tactics. The more diverse, ‘diffused’ media audience of the twenty-first century has distinct and individual sets of demands, to which the creative media practitioner must cater for in order to retain interest from the consumer.

Touching now on Haddon’s article, I wanted to address his point of mediums like the internet, gaming consoles and mobile devices as being wrongly portrayed as instruments of “isolation”. I completely agree with this, and have always felt that with the rapid rise and widespread saturation of social media, I feel that society is more ‘socialied’ than ever. The private life of the individual is more publicised than ever now, especially with websites such as Twitter allowing users to broadcast their every move to the public, twenty four hours a day. Social media demands of the user – or ‘audience’ – a level of participation relative to their specific networks; much in the same way that Japanese youths have created a culture of social expectation in regards to their mobile phone use in Mizuko Ito’s article we looked at previously. There can be no doubt now that, despite often operating these devices in physical isolation, we are more integrated and immersed in social relations than ever before with new media forms of communication.

Finally, in what many people have condemned over time, Haddon argues that rather than “inhibiting” language and progression, new media limitations (such as Twitter or text message word/character limits) have only created a platform for creativity and imagination, rather than oppressing these values, thus shaping these new media audiences of the twenty-first century.

I found this week’s topic extremely interesting, being an audience member of traditional and ‘new’ media myself, constantly immersed in media in a inescapably media saturated world!