Geography Of Hate

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

How do we measure racism and homophobia across the United States? Humboldt State’s Dr. Monica Stephens teamed up with Floating Sheep, the same group that mapped post-election Twitter hate speech to broaden the scope of the study and give a more panoramic view of America’s bigotry. The Geography Of Hate map was created by geo-coding 150,000 hate tweets between June 2012 and April 2013, dividing the tweets in three categories–racist, homophobic, and disability-hating, including the words “chink,” “gook,” “nigger,” “wetback,” “spick,” “cripple,” “dyke,” “fag,” “homo,” or “queer,” amongst others. You might argue, however, that context is everything when it comes to these words so how did the research control for that variable? They used humans (probably woefully underpaid or even unpaid Ph.D. students, natch) to analyze and code the 150,000 tweets, eschewing machine inability to read tone and coding the usage as negative, neutral, or positive.
To add more rigor to the study, the researchers accounted for tweet density by creating a scale, essentially measuring something akin to per capita hate, accounting for population density.
So, what can we conclude from all this? On a micro level, there are some rather surprising results–click on the n word, for example, and you will see for yourself…the Deep South is not the hotbed of racism it is often stereotypically cast as. On a more macro level, hate speech is clearly alive and well-spread across America. In addition, the study demonstrates that Twitter has become a really vibrant (and vociferous) platform for the spreading of hateful ideas and even recruiting people with that sort of rhetoric. Now you might argue that 150,000 tweets is not a wide enough sample to make conclusions on, but this is a prime example that Twitter *can* have scholarly utility (don’t worry, consider me as shocked as you are).

I Am A Walking Contradiction: Deconstructing The Concept of Personality

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

In his 2013 Wesleyan commencement address, Joss Whedon talked about the inherent contradictions of being human–“the contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have.” The notion of our “self” or “personality” as something established and fairly long-lasting is being replaced by a new, much more apt paradigm–as something malleable and negotiated, and more importantly, through a process that requires work as opposed to something one is born with. “You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key – not only to consciousness, but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in.”

Embracing our inner contradictions is important. This is quite a shift from the prevailing popular mild disdain for “flip floppers” (John Kerry should feel vindicated). “This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.”
In his book The Ego Trick, Julian Baginni argues that the self is really a “bundle” of thoughts and while it still very much exists, it is merely a collection of things and not an immutable monolith: “We are these very remarkably ordered collections of things. It is because we’re so ordered that we are able to think of ourselves as being singular persons. But there is no singular person there, that means we’re forever changing.” Yet, while we are our thoughts, memories, and parts, Baginni does believe we are more than a sum of our parts. The fact that we are dynamic, changing systems means that we are constantly in the process of negotiating our identity, questioning our assumptions, and reveling in our contradictions instead of castigating yourself for your inconstancy.
Whedon concludes his speech by addressing the penultimate graduation speech trope, changing the world: “So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world.”
In other words, don’t feel quite so bad about being a walking contradiction and be more accepting of your flip-flopping ways, taking comfort in the fact that being able to “argue yourself down” makes a little more aware and able to pull aside the stage curtain, if you will. So what then are the implications of this inherent mercurialism for brand loyalty? What impact does your oft-renegotiated “personality” have on your lifestyle choices then? Food for thought.

Pandora’s Promise–A Movie Review

Pandora’s Promise Review

Pandora’s Promise is an exposé on the past and future of nuclear energy that readjusts a lot of public assumptions in a rather explosive way. By featuring a coterie of respected, world-renowned environmentalists who have had a change of heart on the issue, the film, although clearly on the pro side of the debate, shines light on a paradigm shift afoot. The crux of its argument is “to be anti-nuclear is to be in favor of using fossil fuel.” In other words, despite all the strides made towards renewable energy sources, we remain mired in the climate-destroying reality of oil and coal usage for energy production and this state of affairs is not tenable from any perspective. The film astutely observes that nuclear power has been forever imprinted into the public’s psyche as a “weapon we feel badly about” and seeks to destigmatize it, remove it from its Armageddon-esque milieu, and put it in a different and less malevolent context.

Pandora’s Promise does rely a bit heavily on the “if these environmentalists and scientists had a change of heart, does that not indicate the general public should as well” persuasion tactic. The film features appearances from Stewart Brand (The Whole Earth Catalog), Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb), Mark Lynas (formerly of Earth First and Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), and Gwyneth Cravens (Power to Save the World). It also has references to extra star power for added ammunition – Richard Branson and Microsoft’s Paul Allen have joined in – and Bill Gates has formed a nuclear power company that is working on a reactor for use in the developing world. Nonetheless, it occasionally veers into the territory of portraying the anti-nuclear movement as stodgy fear- mongers in a rather sweeping sense.

The documentary thoroughly covers the history of the use of nuclear energy, bringing in many of the original nuclear scientists to speak about its development. Charles Till explains that in the 50s, two types of nuclear reactors were being developed: the breeder reactor, which breeds plutonium and recycles it, and the light water reactor, which creates much more waste. The selection of the light water reactor to use as a commercial reactor appears to have been made very short-sightedly and, not surprisingly, not by a scientist but by a military official. Since then, technology has progressed in a significant sense with many breeder reactors built successfully and progressing to a third generation reactor which recycles all waste. More importantly, disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are now much more preventable by implementing containment chambers and adequate cooling systems. The film also brings up a lot of lesser-known examples of how political pressure and public opinion has prevented a lot of facilities from opening—for example, a nuclear waste storage facility was constructed in Nevada and never used, despite the success of other such pilot projects in New Mexico. There were other plants which were built and never went into operation; the Integral Fast Reactor program was shut down.
The main point of Pandora’s Promise is that not until recently has it become apparent how huge the gap between fossil fuels and renewables is. Electricity is the one thing that causes the most significant improvement in the quality of life. With the growing development of the “Global South,” the need for energy is only expected to rise; energy consumption of the planet is expected to double by 2050. Use of coal is, shockingly, accelerating and it has cemented its role as both the most common source of energy and the fastest growing. The environmental effects of this fact are clearly destructive. One pound uranium is the equivalent of 5000 barrels of oil in energy output. Thus, it quickly becomes apparent why nuclear energy is viewed as “clean and efficient.” The film brings up the example of France which derives nearly 80% of its energy from nuclear power, has the cheapest energy in Europe, and the lowest carbon dioxide emissions.
The film stumbles when it addresses the specter of nuclear accidents and the eerie aftermath of contamination for generations, glossing over the dangers in a rather dismissive way. It argues that in terms of the mortality rate, nuclear is the safest industry, second only to wind. The assertion about Chernobyl and Fukushima that “there were so few casualties,” may be factually true but it does not really address the afterlife of radiation and its health risks. The assertion that “only” plutonium is long-lived and that nuclear waste is volumetrically non-significant (e.g. all the fuel rods could be fitted into a football field) is meant to assuage fears yet is not explored as in-depth as it could have.
Director Robert Stone relies on many detonative revelations to make a very compelling case for nuclear energy. The presence of environmentalists advocating for it certainly gives its credibility a strong boost. The assumptions we have held to be true for so long will indeed need some processing before they can be dispatched away as “we were wrong.” A more measured response might be that global warming is a serious threat and nuclear energy certainly poses a very promising solution, but one can’t help but feel as though it is a solution *only* because of our insatiable energy thirst and its ensuing pollution. With technical advances, the risk of accidents and toxic waste leaks is also decreasing; nevertheless, it will take some time before the general public can be thoroughly at ease about it. When Stone asks Lynas if he is still pro-nuclear when he visits Fukushima, his retort back to Robert Stone, “Are *you* still pro nuclear?” is not exactly entirely fear-allaying.

Less Than Cheery–The Cheerios Ad Serves Up Some Unanticipated Indigestion

My post for the Ministers Of Design blog

It’s an ad like any other Cheerios ad–heart-warming (and heart-healthy) and family-oriented so why the hoopla? The interracial-family-featuring ad elicited a veritable maelstrom of responses emblematic of the darkly vitriolic racist underbelly of Internet trolldom and prompting Cheerios to disable YouTube commenting. Camille Gibson, Cheerios’ Vice President of Marketing, explained: “The [YouTube] comments that were made were, in our view, not family friendly. And that was really the trigger for us to pull them off. Ultimately we were trying to portray an American family. And there are lots of multicultural families in America today.” Noteworthy is that the tagline of this ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, is “Love,” while previous ones were “Smile,” and “Happy Mother’s Day.”
The commercial has also received an equally vocal positive response for doing its part in “normalizing” biracial families by making them more visible in the media zeitgeist. The response from the multicultural community has been, overwhelmingly, “I finally get to see a representation of me on TV.” As Ad Week points out, however, TV ads have been notoriously behind the curve in “envelope pushing” in comparison to shows or movies, as brands are very fearful of making political statements in their casting choices. Arguably, multicultural families are a far cry from the shocking and subversive category, considering that 1 in 10 families would fit that definition, a 28% jump from 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, race representation concerns are starting to become much more prominent of a consideration in brand strategy, considering the multicultural ad market spending is rising in a serious way.
So was Cheerios being socially progressive or were they attempting (rather successfully, in this case) to divert public attention away from the GMO-labeling scandal which roiled their Facebook page less than several months ago? Clever brand repositioning notwithstanding, it seems like the ad did earn the company some “love” back.