Iconography of the USA

The USA is host to millions of organizations, brands, industries, and products, each with their own ranges of success. Yet, America has always been known for its massively successful and massively influential food and drink industries. Coca Cola, McDonalds, Snapple, Lays, among others. Most of these brands began as small-scale operations that grew from local popularity into multi-billion dollar industries in their own right.

Nearly everyone can tell you that one of America’s most impactful contributions to the modern marketplace is the fast food industry. McDonalds and Burger King are among the most commonly named popular American fast food chains. Coca Cola follows shortly afterwards, in most scenarios.

Coca Cola began in the late 1800s, as a product developed by a physician called John Pemberton. The drink was developed as a type of painkiller that did not include morphine, a substance that Pemberton was addicted to at the time. The tonic was marketed as such, and Cola Cola began its life as something in the way of a medicine. Its popularity surged later in the 1800s and early 1900s. Recipe changes were implemented to earn Coca Cola approval from the prohibition-era offices. When bottling plants began to bottle the mixture, the drink exploded in popularity. Easily bought, sold, carried, and distributed, Coca Cola became a drink for the everyman.

As is any business owner’s want, the brand began to make its way overseas. Coca Cola’s famous script logo remained unchanged, and its lineage could be traced back to its humble origins. The easily identified brand name and at-home popularity led to its spread outside of the USA. Canada and Mexico were among the first “foreign” markets to begin selling Coca Cola. Europe and Asia followed afterwards.

Now, it’s hard to find a country that doesn’t stock Coca Cola in some way or another. Coca Cola has even gone to great lengths to purchase and adopt other soft drink companies to capitalize on the local popularities of these drinks. Around the world, the Coca Cola takeover has received mixed criticisms. The mass-globalization of the world at the hands of large industries, specifically that of food industry, attracts a lot of attention and not all of it is beneficial.

Like Nestle, Coca Cola has been accused of taking advantage of locally available resources for profit. Some bottling locations come under fire when the plants utilize too much water to create and bottle the drink. Others feel that, culturally, Coca Cola has very little to do with the locations it is often sold in.

My personal experiences mirror the latter sentiments. When I lived overseas in Armenia, brands like Coca Cola and Doritos were commonplace to see in snack stands and grocery stores. You’d often see lines of Coca Cola cans in coolers on street corners, next to local beers, mineral waters, and iced teas. The aggressive red and white logos of Coca Cola draw attention away from these other beverages. Even in the poorest regions of Armenia, as far away from the capitol city of Yerevan as you could possibly go, you still see the same coolers full of Coca Cola and Pepsi.

When I asked my cousins about what they thought best represented the United States, they were quick to point out the same food and drink industries that have cropped up around the world. Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, KFC, and Lays. Responses to the question hardly varied. Furthermore, none of them could really state why these brand names were so popular.

Part of the reason why many find the spread of these industries distasteful is how little these brands mean to the populace there. Culturally, these brands have never existed in their lifetimes and were placed there by the USA’s marketing and development teams. Coca Cola does little, if anything at all, to benefit the countries it peddles its goods in. When I asked what my cousin’s favorite drinks were, he responded with homemade beverages or drinks that were manufactured in the country of Armenia. Despite living with Coca Cola and these same beverages during the same lifetime, Coca Cola has done nothing to contribute to its popularity. It’s just popular because it’s an American brand being sold in dozens and dozens of countries that have almost nothing to do with American business.

In class, we discussed media scholar, Arjun Appadurai’s, work in studying globalization. According to his ideas of “Ethnoscapes” and “Financescapes” operating in unison to create a world market, Coca Cola’s success overseas is reliant on two fronts. In my mind, as influenced by Appadurai’s article, Coca Cola is only successful because it is an easily consumed product. However, its iconicity is effectively meaningless to most cultures. Coca Cola is a “Big American Brand” with little else associated with it than the idea of “America.”

In essence, Coca Cola’s market strength is immense, its reach equally so. But staying true to the Frankfurt School and Marxist philosophy, there is nothing more represented in Coca Cola other than the “American Ideal.” In cultures where these American concepts are not well-received or known at all, Coca Cola has no representational meaning.

The Brain / Pharmaceutical Ads

If anyone is most guilty of brain abuse, it is likely a college student. Overworking, staying up too late, distractions, head injuries from sports, head injuries from being careless, drinking too much, head injuries from said drinking. Misuse of the brain is a common young adult hobby.

Now, I’m no angel. I get roughly six hours of sleep at night on a weekday. I’ve never had concussions, but I have had a number of bad falls and periodic migraines within the past month or so. I try to look out for “number one” most of the time, but I can’t always be sure that I’m taking care of myself at the same time. I read books in dim rooms, don’t sleep until I feel that I have to.

When studying for this post, I recalled a bit of what I already knew about the human brain. My mother made a great effort when I was young to make a point about taking great care to not damage your brain. As a young adult, who has yet to reach the age of 25, I am still in an “at-risk” age range for brain damage. The websites I visited gave me some deeper insight into that aspect. According to Healthline, “The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for the “important cognitive skills in humans, such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgment, and sexual behaviors.”

From what I recall, the young adult brain does not truly finish development until the age of 25. As far as I know, poor habits, addictions, and other forms of minor brain damage can have a more damaging effect at or around this age. This was the point that my mother really tried to drive home. Effectively, this point boils down to the idea that “you’re not thinking with your whole brain, you’re still developing your ability to think critically.”

I don’t believe the brain simulations did much to change my attitude about mental health. My opinions are already set from years of my parents and teachers telling me about how my brain develops and the proper attitudes to “take care of yourself.” I’m not overworked or at risk of severe brain damage. Stressed out? Yes. Do I make bad health decisions? Constantly. Will I change how I live my life as a result of these simulations? Doubtful, not unless I begin to experience side effects that prove to me that what I’m doing is harmful.

Of the two simulations, I preferred the “g2conline” version more. Its descriptions and details were more in-depth and made more sense to me as I explored the simulations.


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For my second part of the assignment, I decided to examine this Concerta advertisement. While I am unfamiliar with the product, I gather that this advertisement is intended to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

“Interpellation” is the ability of a medium to assign agency and identity to its viewer. This branch of visual theory was introduced to me by the studies of Louis Althusser, a Marxist theorist who expanded on the ideas of previous philosophers like Barthes and Gramsci. While Althusser’s view of “interpellation” referred to the mechanics of Marxist theory, like class, identity, and ideology. In this sense, I believe that the advertisement is attempting to assign an identity to its viewers. This is achieved by a slightly manipulative tactic of guilt and direct marketing.

While this advertisement does not have a “checklist” like other pharmaceutical advertisements, it has a “map” of events that interpellates the viewer. The progression begins at the top-left corner, and branches from there. One path travels downward, detailing a hypothetical day that the subject, Alex, might have without taking his medication. The second path continues steadily towards the right, highlighted with gold stars, and details a “good day”, a day where Alex takes his medication.

These branches assign identity to the child in the picture, and are likely designed to appeal to a parent’s senses of protectiveness, desire for their children to success, and pride. All the benefits of the drug demonstrate that Alex is capable and Concerta is enabling him achieve these successes. The advertisement, in effect, preys on the sense of failure that parents feel that their children experience. In my opinion, this is a scummy tactic, but it works very well when you consider how immensely unpleasant the feeling of guilt is.

Among the side effects of this drug are “abnormal thoughts” and “hallucinations.” As well, it also is evident that the medication may cause more anxiety and aggression. Further capping this off, is the small-print declaration that Concerta is intended to be used in conjunction with other therapies, indicating that Concerta is not going to be solely responsible for the improvements in you or your child’s attitudes and behaviors. The entire bottom half of the advertisement is marketing copy, and FDA-mandated pharmaceutical safety content.

The ad does not “promise” anything, but simply implies that Concerta will help “get [your child] on the path to success.” The “timeline” in the top left corner reinforces this claim. In all, this advertisement preys on the feelings of failure that might be present in parents who raise children with ADHD.

Pastiche

Pastiche is a term for an art form that is reflective of, or a parody of, another art form. Typically, pastiche is invoked in the form of comedy or witticism. Hence why I chose to study the works of “Weird Al” Yankovic for this entry.

“Weird Al” is a musical artist whose life work has been spent almost exclusively parodying other music artists. Growing to prominence in the 1980s, Weird Al became well known for his accessible, zany, pop-humor. Opting to work with whatever was popular at the time, Weird Al became a fixture of the music scene.

Musical parody acts have existed before, after, and during Weird Al’s career. However, what sets them apart from Weird Al himself is the effort taken to re-create the source materials. Weird Al and his musical cohorts take as great as an effort to remain true to the original songs as possible. Even when it comes down to the promotional materials, Weird Al spares nothing to create the “picture perfect” replica.

Shown above are two album covers, one is a cover of pop-star Michael Jackson’s album “Bad.” Weird Al’s pastiche take on this album is “Even Worse”, mirroring virtually every detail from Jackson’s original image. In the music videos filmed for the promotion of Weird Al’s “Even Worse”, Weird Al parodies Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video in his own rendition, titled “Fat.”

While Weird Al’s work often parodies music that is currently popular, he often releases his works just soon enough after their immediate popularity to capitalize on the “You remember this, right?” factor. As well, the works often have little to do with the original topics of the source materials. “Fat” shoehorns fat humor into Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, a song about rebelliousness. On his “polka” collections, Weird Al rhapsodizes a number of songs that are currently popular in a polka style, effectively summarizing entire genres or musical movements. Interestingly, Weird Al does not change any of the lyrics for these “collection” pieces, opting to sing the original song’s lyrics in a zanier, upbeat style.

To me, Weird Al’s “polka” pieces are more faithful to their source materials in terms of content, and as a result embody a stronger connection to the pieces themselves. This work of pastiche is best revisited after their “heydey”, and seeing what Weird Al managed to concentrate into a single song. This effectively grants the songs a second lifetime, once while they are popular, and then some time later, being revisited and re-examined through a new lens.


 

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In the second half of this entry, I will discuss this meme image, taken from “GraphJam,” a website dedicated to cataloging pop humor and internet humor.

In order to understand this graph, you need to understand the humor that lies within its references. The graph references “Marty McFly”, a character from the “Back to the Future” film series. In the original film, the DeLorean sports car functions as a time machine, and is a major plot point. The car was only produced for three years or so, before the company shut its production down.

The DeLorean is commonly known as “The Back to the Future Car.” This popularity is reflected in the graph above. The joke will be lost on people who haven’t watched the film or lack experience with the pop culture icons that the film series has spawned. If you didn’t know who “Marty McFly” was, or what a DeLorean was, this graph would mean nothing to you.

As a work of pastiche, this graph references two key components of the original Back to the Future series, without using a visual medium. This is a critical aspect of this graph. Pastiche exists beyond the realms of sight, Weird Al managed to make that evident in his nearly one-to-one reproductions of his music source materials. This graph makes it evident that pastiche does not rely solely on image, but also on culture, humor, common sense, and a wealth of other factors that a viewer must possess in order to best understand these works.

This statement echoes various cultural and media scholar’s ideas about the mediums in which we experience media. Marshall McLuhan, who I wrote about in my last entry, argued once that “The medium is the message.” I agree, in these works of pastiche, both Weird Al’s and the GraphJam image, the medium is responsible for how we experience the humor.

If we understand the joke about the DeLorean and Marty McFly, then we don’t need to see either to understand the significance between them. The graph refers to both in text alone, with no other visuals besides its pie chart, and yet we still “get” it. When Weird Al’s music comes on the radio, we hear the humorous takes on hit songs that we once experienced, we don’t need to see Weird Al’s music video to understand the humor there, either.


 

Image source for the GraphJam image

Image source for the Michael Jackson album cover

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Even_Worse

McLuhan’s “Tetrad” as applied to Music Media

The world of music media has undergone a severe loss of control in the modern era. With the explosion of technology and the ever increasing “ease of access” to most forms of media, large music corporations are losing their grip on their monopoly.

Some might claim that “Art is FREE”, and Music is chief among the art forms that are commoditized. The dawning of peer-to-peer file sharing in the late nineties was not a death sentence to the music industry, but it heralded a new era of music consumption. Bootlegging and unauthorized taping/copying were already issues that the industry had tried to tackle time and time again. Most musicians were liberal enough to not care about bootlegging, some, like the Grateful Dead, encouraged it.

No, the prime opposition to bootlegging and piracy has always been carried by the industries that, till now, had nearly exclusive rights over the music they licensed and distributed. Napster, Limewire, torrent sites, and the manual piracy trade of bootlegging all represented threats to that monopoly.

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media theorist, developed several theories on media and their effects. His work concerned the field of visual media, but I find that several of his theories apply to other fields, such as Music and Art. In particular, I wanted to talk about his “Tetrad” theory. Many of McLuhan’s theories involved the “medium” of media, not the media itself. This is a key factor in the realm of commodity media, as the types of media that we consume have remained largely unchanged as time has progressed. The mediums by which we experience them, however, have.

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McLuhan’s Tetrad

McLuhan’s Tetrad describes what the medium’s effects are on its content. What does it enhance, reverse, retrieve, or render obsolete?

Enhancing something, in McLuhan’s model, refers to how the content is “amplified.” Television will “enhance” news by adding visuals and sound.

Reversing something refers to what is accomplished by “pushing the medium to its limit.” A board game, when pushed to the absolute limits, may lead to video games. Video games, pushed to their limits, become real-world experiences, or even virtual reality.

Retrieving, in this scope, refers to what the medium re-establishes. Radio re-establishes the ideas of storytelling, or description without visual assistance.

And lastly, what a medium renders obsolete. Television obsolesces media that does not have both visual and sound, effectively outmoding things like books or radio.


How does this tetrad apply to the field of music media?

Enter, Bandcamp.

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Bandcamp is the face of the “new music marketplace” that the music industry has been fearing since their sigh of relief at Napster’s demise.

For too long, music makers and music consumers have had to purchase and collect music on the terms of the record labels that hold the rights to the music. Bandcamp’s purpose is to create, as their website’s “About Us” section puts it:

“Bandcamp makes it easy for fans to directly connect with and support the artists they love. We treat music as art, not content, and we tie the success of our business to the success of the artists who we serve.”

In essence, Bandcamp offers the individuality of social media to musicians through a form of a subtle commercial format. Each Bandcamp page has a simple layout, consisting of a collection of each user’s complete albums, each with their own unique page with streaming options, buying options, lyrics, album information, and a short bio blurb.

As a musician, you are offered a fairly unobtrusive platform that allows you to sell your music for what you feel it is worth. Either for free, for a set price, or for a “pay-what-you-want” price. Bandcamp takes only a small margin of your profits, as opposed to the large percentages taken by record conglomerates.

Bandcamp enhances the music commerce system by making music sales fast, easy, and profitable for all parties. It retrieves the spirit of independent music commerce, and makes it possible to make a profit on the quality of your music as opposed to its perceived marketability. You do not need to be evaluated to make money on the site, unsigned artists and unknown artists are treated with the same respect that reputable musicians are given.

At its reversed“limit”, Bandcamp becomes a completely new platform for the music industry. Were Bandcamp even more popular, it could completely overtake the notions of “record labels.” In fact, a number of small or independent record labels use Bandcamp as well, as a “blanket” approach to music promotion and sales. This effectively obsolesces the aging record industry, whose music licensing and logistics nightmares prevent musicians from creating or releasing music on their own terms.

Culture Jamming

ORIGINAL

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JAMMED

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Bottled water sold to generate capital is a ridiculous concept, and if it doesn’t strike you as such, you’re likely the type to want to sell water. Moreover, your desire to generate profit on an essential, life-giving, substance that is absolutely necessary to sustain human life likely means you only care about profit and not about the ethics of selling this substance for a price.

I understand that commodities create a market where they are needed and supplied and traded for profit, but bottling water and selling it defies logic in my opinion. What drives me even further over the edge is when the companies selling this bottled water do so at a massive markup and in doing so create untold amounts of waste material. Water ought to be free, it is a core requirement of humanity. Humans can live without transportation, meat, gasoline, entertainment, or textiles, but they cannot live without food and water. Commodifying both food AND water is cruel to those who cannot secure themselves either.

Chief offender among those that commodify the basic requirements of human life are corporations like Nestle. For those unaware, Nestle, (and legions of corporations just like it), siphons water from communities to sell back in bottles. Their CEO has been outspoken in his denial that water is a fundamental human right.

So therefore, Nestle has earned my scorn in the form of boycotting any and all of their products. At any given moment I can and will soapbox as hard and critically I can against Nestle and their absurd money-making obsessions. For this “Culture Jamming” assignment, I chose to hijack the original advertisement’s original text.

It reads: “Drink better, Live Better: Hydrate with a refreshing taste”

I found this to be tremendously ironic, so I decided to “jam” their subtitle text with my own. I replaced the text with an open-faced admittance of their business practices that portrays them in a poor light.

“Drink better, Live Better. Unless you live wherever we siphon our water from, then I guess you’ll have to stay thirsty or something.”

My interpretation also contains a small replacement of the “Slightly sweet and refreshing” tagline in the top left with a tagline that instead reads “Now with less ethics!” In doing this, I sought to include a jab against the idea that, while the practice is technically legal, it is not an ethical thing to put into practice.

The image’s intended reading in the original, unedited advertisement, was meant to signify that Nestle “Pure Life” water was refreshing and hydrating. The irony of the image is lost among those who are unaware of Nestle’s business practices, so I decided to reverse the intent of the advertisement. My reading is directly oppositional to the notion that Nestle water is in any way related to “wellness” or “better life” in the sense that communities robbed of their water are offered no recourse.

I almost didn’t even need to change anything in the ad. For those “in the know”, the advertisement almost seems like a parody of Nestle’s shady practices. What would an enormous corporation care about whether its consumers are “refreshed” or living better lives? Furthermore, if Nestle’s water is truly leading to “better life”, then why are they exacerbating droughts and robbing water from those who need it?

My personal philosophies are heavily influenced by humanitarian, transcendentalist, and Marxist thought. On all counts, I object to consumer culture, human rights violations, the exploitation of the workers, the exploitation of disenfranchised peoples, and the passive stances we all take against corporations that we deem “too big to fight.”

Antonio Gramsci, a philosopher we’ve encountered in our readings, and one I’ve known for some time, described the resistance to dominant cultures as “Cultural hegemony.” The forces exacted by the dominant force are resisted by the “lesser.” In class, we discussed the role of advertisers and consumers. The advertisers wield power in what is presented to us, demonstrated here as Nestle “offers” us our own water. As consumers, it is our duty to oppose Nestle’s unethical scheme by boycotting and shutting down Nestle’s offers. In the hegemony between the consumers and the advertisers, oppositional readings of their “advances” towards us stand as some of the strongest counter-techniques against the corporations we oppose. In cases like this, oppositional readings that expose the companies for their human rights violations are much stronger.

Yet, we are consumers, and our stake in Nestle’s success or failure is distant and weak. It will only be weak if we choose to passively ignore their corporatism and stand by as more and more companies just like Nestle drive Earth barren.

Media Tracking

Over the span of forty-eight hours,  I cataloged my media use. I found some of the results to be surprising, considering how frequently I find myself at the computer.

Before beginning the tracking experiment, I knew there would be several factors that would affect my end results. I do not watch television. I don’t own one, I don’t go out of my way to find one to watch television. Similarly, I do not play video games, listen to the radio, read magazines or newspapers, or have an Instagram account. Essentially, the only aspects of media that I tracked my use of were:

  • Smartphone
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Books

 

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In total, I spent nearly twenty five hours engaging in media use. However, a lot of the time spent on my Smartphone was engaging in multiple tasks at once. I recall using my phone to check my Email, Reddit, and Facebook all at the same time.

The most heavily used media over the course of the two-day experiment was Literature. I read for nearly four hours each day, giving or taking perhaps ten of fifteen minutes here or there. This surprised me, as I believed that I hadn’t had much time to read recently. However, I did read quite a bit on Friday evening and Saturday morning. It was the largest amount time I spent engaging with media.

My least-used form of media (that I still used) was split in three ways between Email, Twitter, and Facebook. I checked my Email for about an hour each day, I used Twitter and Facebook for longer periods of time, but I didn’t really “choose” to use them for much longer than an hour or two at a time.

Another good question that could be posed here is the question of why I do not use many of the listed types of media?

Instagram never appealed to me, so I never bothered pursuing that avenue. I do not mind reading magazines or newspapers, but I didn’t have any need or opportunity to read either during the two days I did the media tracking. Radio is a dated medium that I haven’t had access to in a long time. When I was much younger, I did have a favorite radio station, 93.7 “Mike” FM. However, the studio went under and I got my own computer where I could have all my music on hand without having to rely on the radio to supply it. The only form of media that I openly reject is television.

I object to television as I was never afforded much time to use them when I was younger. As I grew older, I was less interested in television than I was with the internet or music. Eventually, I just stopped watching TV on my own. I would only ever watch TV if my parents or friends were watching.

My reasoning is simple, I never grew up with it and I don’t like advertising. I think consumer culture is both annoying and dangerous to engage with. Television, in my mind, is the greatest enabler of entitlement and desire. Dense blocks of advertising, sensationalism, cheap comedy, and other pointless programming do little to positively engage its viewers. The whole industry is backwards, and feeds off of attention that has been growing without ever stopping since its conception.

These are beliefs sculpted by left-wing Marxist theorists. Antonio Gramsci was one such theorist who was discussed in our book “The Practices of Looking.” Gramsci is perhaps best well known for his concepts of “hegemony.” Hegemony is a system where dominant ideologies are described as the “default” ideology, and anything that opposes it will do so by creating “discourse.” Challenging the “norm” is key to Marxist theory, and I believe that opposing the television and radio industries is a core belief of mine. I don’t believe that television does much to improve society, and I believe that those who grant so much faith in the television industry are misplacing their trust.

While still only tangentially related to visual theory, Gramsci’s hegemonic theories impact my view of media forms that are “popular” by default. However subversive that belief may be, I choose to hold it, because popularity only means that a lot of people “like” it. It all operates along the same logic of “if all your friends were going to jump of a bridge, would you do it too?”

My use of social media was quite minimal. I used Facebook Messenger to text my friends, and I replied to maybe two emails, but aside from those instances, I opted to speak with people in person or simply not engage socially at all.

This meant that basically all my other media use was monologic, I was the only party involved in the activity. This didn’t strike me as unusual, I’m an introverted person and I don’t like engaging in social media because I prefer to speak face-to-face more often than not.

What did surprise me was how often I used my Smartphone “just because.” Looking back, I often just opened up my phone to browse Reddit when I had free time or wasn’t currently doing much else. I was also interested to find that my Smartphone usage was second only to reading print media. The difference between the two were their durations.

When using my Smartphone, I used it for shorter spans of time at seemingly random times of the day. I spent more dedicated time reading than I did on my phone. But as the two were my most commonly used media outlets, I found it interesting to see not just how much time I spent using them, but how that time was portioned out over the two days of media tracking.

In my Mass Communication Theory class, we discussed media usage in almost the same way. Our professor brought up the point of how frequently we check our Smartphones without realizing just how often we do it. We also discussed some media habits that we have, some people prefer to engage with media to help de-stress and unwind. When I discussed my own habits, some found them slightly unorthodox. But those habits might reflect why I used my selected media sources in the way I did.

When I get stressed or bored of electronic media, I fall back to some “classic” methods of decompression. These involve stepping away from the screen and doing something that doesn’t agitate me. I read, listen to music, write, or just sleep. A few hours of non-engagement helps tremendously to keep my media consumption habits healthy.

Therefore, I don’t believe I will change my media use habits in any notable way. I believe this because I think these habits are cyclical and beneficial to keeping balance between overexposure and isolation. If anything ought to change, it should be my skill in determining when “enough is enough” as I feel that I might continue to engage in media use in unhealthy amounts of time.

Luckily, university is basically forcing me to spend most of my time on work and study. This leaves me with a limited amount of free time to do what I want, and this is probably affecting how I view the time I spend engaging with media as “too much.”

Creative Commons

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The Creative Commons is an American-gone-international nonprofit organization launched in 2001. The goal of the project is to, in their own words – “[provide] free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work–on conditions of your choice.”

Creative Commons was a movement spearheaded by scholar Lawrence Lessig with the goal of creating a rich base of public-accessed assets, images, and media. The movement commonly associated with the project is termed the “Copyleft”, so say the developers behind GNU, an operating system sponsored by the Free Software Foundation.

The philosophy behind creating this aggregate of common-use media is to enable and enrich media itself. The project itself believes that the best way to improve mass media is to make materials and the media itself more easily accessed.

Recently; the “Rijksmuseum”, a Dutch art institution, made all of its archived works freely available online. The case study, published in 2014, details the steps the team made to making their artwork collection available by means of the Creative Commons. Their business plan was to allow the downloads of high quality images for free, while charging for the highest quality professional copies. The Rijksmuseum later shelved the plan in favor of allowing all of its images to go to “market” freely. In spite of the easy/free-access images, the museum has claimed that interest hasn’t dwindled.

The Creative Commons allows its contributors to supply their works according to the policies they choose. These policies determine how and under what provisions their uploaded materials may be released. When you choose to upload your media content, you are asked to choose the guidelines that restrict its usage.

The default, no-holds-barred, laissez-faire, whatever-happens-happens license is the “Attribution” license. This means that anyone using the image must attribute its creator when re-purposing it. Under this provision alone, you can create a commercial work as long as the original creator is credited.

Other restrictions may be applied to insure that your media is only used by your standards. Non-commercial licensing prevents those who re-use the media from making profit off of its use. Non-derivative licensing prevents the appropriation or re-invention of the original image.

These are important distinctions to make when discussing copyright law. Creative Commons is not an anarchistic “everyone for themselves” cesspool of “infinite free resources.” Instead, it is an equitable system that ensures that those who contribute are doing so under their own agency and their own personal desire.

So therefore, the principal of Creative Commons is to allow those to create and supply their media for the common good. You still own what you create, but on your terms, you can allow others to use it or disallow its re-appropriation. The fallacious idea of “you no longer own what you create” should be carried out with the rest of the trash when you consider for a moment that when you supply your work, you decide under what restrictions it can be used by. This is a tenet of Marxist theory, thinkers like Antonio Gramsci opposed commercialism and dependence on capitalist resources. The founder of Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig himself, believes that freely-accessed public resources (media or otherwise) contribute to a more enriched and educated society. The philosophy behind CC spans generations as a result.

But not everything can be so noble and charitable. There is an exceedingly large history of legislation and copyright difficulties with copyright law and the Creative Commons. Following the death of actor Bela Lugosi (famed for his portrayal of Dracula), the surviving members of his family sued Universal Pictures for the use of his appearance. After a long and lengthy court case, the Lugosis were awarded 70,000 dollars and the precedent was set, image rights would be restricted to the subject’s lifetime and rights would not be passed to that person’s heirs following their death.

And more to the point of the finicky copyright law beneath the Creative Commons, we are begged the question if the immediacy and ease of access to these resource “cheapen” themselves somehow. Allow me to illustrate: Photographer Walker Evans creates a series of photographs in the heat of the Great Depression, depicting the faces of Americans who struggled to get by. Decades later, a woman by the name of Sherrie Levine co-opted these photographs by simply taking the photograph again.

In this form of appropriative art, a Creative Commons license would have removed meaning from these photograph. The whole point behind Levine’s actions was to turn the dialogue around on “authenticity.” To do that, Levine had to cross a line and effectively plagiarize the original photographs. If Walker Evans’ photograph was licensed to be redistributed, Levine’s act would just be another instance of reproducing work under the providence of Creative Commons’ licensing. Years after Levine, a man named Michael Mandiberg did the same to Levine’s art.

Barring the reproduction of a certain work, and ignoring that rule created a polarizing piece of appropriative art, and opened a dialogue. Ethically questionable? It was, but it addresses the idea of art in the public domain.

So then, when someone or something is represented in a work under Creative Commons, who owns the right to the subject? Bela Lugosi, had his image been licensed under the non-commercial license, would not have been subject to the same issue of copyright law following his death. Roland Barthes’ philosophy on the image gives insight into the more metaphysical nature of what may be within an image.

Bela Lugosi is represented in the movie “Dracula” and his image is associated with that movie nearly exclusively. When the Lugosis sought action against Universal Pictures for misappropriating Bela’s image, they must have operated under the assumption that Bela’s image was already tied to that of Dracula. Bela’s image is not him, it is a representation of himself. When his family took action to prevent his image from being used, it was already known that his image was no longer attached to any living being.

So therefore, I’m tempted to draw my conclusion thusly; Creative Commons is a resource that allows for collectivist contributions in the forms of art and other media. At the same time, adding your work to the Creative Commons is moderated by flexible licensing and content rights. Prior to its existence, image rights and representational rights in media were difficult to exact in many cases. Now that we have a resource whose licensing system operates as freely as you wish it to, the same issues may not be so commonplace.