Thursday, May 12, 2016

Let the Games Begin

The Olympics are probably the oldest global event in human history. The idea of bringing so many of the world’s nations together in a show of peace and harmony is inspiring to all. The chance to host this amazing even is highly sought after by most countries. The nation that gets selected is usually thrilled to have the chance to play host to the world.

This year the summer games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Olympics committee award Brazil the Games in 2009. But Brazil’s outlook for the Games has changed a great deal since then. These articles wonder if this event will be Brazil’s moment to shine – or more like a perfect storm situation where everything goes wrong.

Back in 2009, Brazil’s economy was doing well and Brazilians were hoping to be accepted as a major world power. The award of the Olympic Games only seemed to reinforce this feeling.

Now, though, a recession has hit the country. Many Brazilians are out of work and cannot even afford buy tickets for the Olympics.  The government has always had problems with corruption, but the articles say that the people tend to ignore corruption in times of prosperity.

Recently, people have begun protesting the corrupt government and the president of the country is facing impeachment. Her trial may coincide with the Olympics Games!

In addition to this, the Zika virus has many worried about a pandemic as a result of the Games. This seems to be a good example of the World Risk Society concept that we have discussed in class. A single event can have a major impact on people around the globe in a myriad of ways that have never been possible before. Imagine people from around the world traveling to Brazil for the Games, contracting the virus and then bringing it home to spread it to their countries. It’s a scary thought. Or what if the athletes become ill while they are in Brazil and cannot compete?

Last, but certainly not least, there is the threat of terrorism. It would not be the first time that terrorism has impacted the Olympics. But with the recent terror attacks in Pairs and elsewhere, it seems more likely than ever that Isis would target a global event of such unique magnitude.

Some have suggested that it might be better to cancel the games. But cancelling the games will have its own repercussions. To deprive so many athletes of the chance to shine that they have been working toward for years and years - it would be heartbreaking.

What is the right thing to do, you may ask?

But that is exactly the point, in a World Risk Society, the right choice is never clear. There are so many interrelated factors in a given situation that it is impossible to know what the consequences of our actions might be.

The Olympics are shaping up to be a risky game of chance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

As the (Globalized) World Turns

When I was growing up I watched soap operas with my mother, grandmother, and aunt. This was especially true during the summer months when my sister and I were out of school. Sometimes my grandmother and aunt would come to visit for the afternoon and we would watch "the stories” (as my grandmother referred to them) together. But even if we couldn’t watch them together, we would always discuss them when we saw each other. This gave us a way to talk about a variety of social issues as they were portrayed on the shows.

My favorite program was As the World Turns. At the time, there were not many strong female characters on prime-time TV. But soap operas were ahead of the times. They had more female characters and were able to depict more of a variety of personalities.  I admired one character in particular on As the World Turns. Even then, I thought she had very good communications skills. She was a strong woman and I liked how she handled various situations. I decided that was how I wanted to be.  Even today, I think back on that character has being a big help to me in defining what kind of woman I wanted to become.

Later, in high school, I did a report on the history of the radio. It was then that I learned that most American soap operas had come into being during the heyday of radio. Years later, when television came on the scene, they transitioned to that medium. I was reminded of all these memories when I read the above article.   

In class, we have talked about global public relations and the challenges of getting a message across in an area that does not have the media capabilities that we are used to here in the United States. The article illustrates exactly what we discussed, that sometimes, plays or stories are the best way to reach an audience.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a big problem among adolescents around the world. They estimate that half of mental disorders begin by age 14, but usually go undiagnosed.  In order to address this global problem, several non-profit organizations have put together a program that broadcasts 5-7 minute dramas on the radio. These soap operas are aimed at teens. In the one mentioned in the article, the main character is 16 and dealing with issues like teen pregnancy and depression.

In areas of East Africa, like Malawi and Tanzania, radio is the only means by which they can connect to the outside world. Little is known about depression in these small villages and this is a way to educate young people. The teens who listen to the dramas are then encouraged to ask questions after the broadcast. Sometimes they can text the radio station. Other times, these programs will be listened to as a group in a community center and a facilitator from the program will lead the discussion.

A project manager in Tanzania said, “Many of them [the teens] have said they didn't realize that it was okay to talk about the thoughts in their heads, and they hadn't realized that anything could be done about the pain.”

Soap operas as a genre often get little respect, but I have always felt that they really do serve an important purpose. This article confirms that. It is good to know that this art form can help young people around the world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Not Just For Geeks and Nerds Anymore

The above article talks about how Dr. Who, a British Sci-fi/Fantasy show is becoming more and more popular here in the U.S.  I first realized this about two years ago when I attended a large multi-media convention in Atlanta. It was the weekend of the Dr. Who U.S. Season Premiere and there was a much anticipated new Doctor character being introduced for the first time.  Representatives of BBC America attended the convention and held a pre-screening of the episode for convention attendees. My friend wanted to go to the screening and I went with her. I was stunned when the line for the event was wrapped around the block several times! As I sat in that huge hotel ballroom with people from all over the country, watching a British TV show, I was struck by what a global world it really is!

I love to talk about fandoms, because one fandom in particular has had an incredibly positive impact on my life. That is the 1980’s TV show Beauty & the Beast. When I first got involved in this fandom, Fandom Studies itself was only in its infancy.  Over the last 20 years, Fandom Studies has become an acceptable area of communication research.  This has been such a wonderful discovery for me!

It all began with the publication of the book, Textual Poachers: Television fans and participatory culture, by Henry Jenkins.  It was published in 1992 just as Beauty &t he Beast was being canceled with a major uproar from the fans - who were angry at not only CBS executives, but also at each other. Jenkins devoted a whole chapter in his book to the Beauty & the Beast situation and some of his insights are very enlightening, even all these years later.

In the article that I did my case facilitation on, Plant, Reysen, Roberts and Gerbasi (2014) take a very positive view of fandoms and show how they can be a force for Globalization and prosocial values.

I see this in my own life. Being from a very traditional Italian-American family, I had a very narrow view of the world growing up.  This view might have continued into adulthood if not for me falling in love with Beauty & the Beast. Slowly, through attending Beauty & the Beast conventions, I was able to meet and become friends with a wide variety of people.  These conventions are mostly held in the U.S., but people from all over the world attend them. I have what I consider to be very good friends who live in Italy, France, and Australia. Not to mention acquaintances from many more countries.

When the terror attacks in Paris happened months ago, my first thought was about the fans that I know in France, one of whom lives near Paris.  Years ago, I might have heard about something like the Paris attacks and thought it just a news story, a horrible one for sure, but still one that was very far away from me.

The values of Beauty and the Beast are about seeing beneath the surface of a person and respecting them for who they are, not what they look like, or how much money they have. The world of the Tunnels beneath New York City (where the Beast lives with a group of societal outcasts) was presented as the utopian society that we would all like to see in our world. Beauty & the Beast fans try to uphold these values as much as we can. Like the Furry Fandom mentioned in the article, we also raise money for charity at our yearly convention. We are a small group too, but we often raise thousands of dollars for a charity that we select each year based on how it relates to the shows values.  For me, I think the give and take of values associated with the show is definitely bidirectional. That is, I think I always had some of these latent values in me, but being around people who also have them has definitely helped to shape those values even more and given me an outlet to put them into action.

One thing I love about the Plant, et al study is that they see a practical use for the link between fandoms and prosocial values.  They say there might be the potential to find alternate ways to correct or prevent negative, anti-social behavior. This would surely be a major breakthrough. Personally, I would love for more people to experience the transformative power that fandoms have had on me, and I hope that fandoms will prove to have an even greater positive impact globally in the future.

Plante, C. N., Reysen, S., Roberts, S. E., Gerbasi, K. C. (2014). “One of Us”: Engagement with
fandoms and global citizenship identification. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 3/1, 49-64.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Best Little T-Shirt Shop in Texas

I am organizing the Beauty & the Beast Annual Convention this summer.  I have to have convention t-shirts made up and I tried one or two local shops thinking that would be the easiest way to get the job done.  But sometimes shops don’t like doing fan related orders for copyright issues.  Also, if I haven’t used them before there is no way of knowing what kind of quality work they do. 

So, I was given then e-mail of a very good, reliable t-shirt shop that past convention chairs have used. The shop is located in Texas. I was concerned about the cost of shipping to New Jersey from Texas, but the woman who did the convention a couple of years ago in Cleveland said that ground shipping is still very reasonable and she loved working with him. 

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been working with a guy I have never met to create this year’s convention t-shirt. We have been corresponding through e-mail, and I’ve been thinking how amazing it is to be able to do that, when, I came across the above article.

In class, we have talked about the “scapes” involved in the process of Globalization.  A scape is defined as a “view or picture of a scene.”  These include financescapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes.

This article, from the Huffington Post, describes what Arjun Appadurai termed technoscapes: the cross-border movements of new and old technologies, based on both machines and computers.

The article says that the singer Adele posted her new song on YouTube last fall and soon sold more than 15 million downloads worldwide. “That makes her one of the most famous beneficiaries of the new age of digital globalization.”

When we think of cross border merchandise flows, we think of goods being shipped from one country to another the way it used to be – on freighters crossing oceans. But that is no longer the biggest way that sales are crossing borders.  

Shoppers are turning to on-line stores that can cross borders with a lot more ease than a ship or a truck.  According to the article, just fifteen years ago, cross border digital flows were almost non- existent. Today, they exert a larger impact on global economic growth than traditional flows of goods, which took centuries to develop. Overall, the usage of cross-border bandwidth has soared 45-fold since 2005.  This digital economy also differs from its older counterpart in that it is knowledge-intensive, rather than capital- or labor- intensive.

The result is that small businesses can now be a part of the same global marketplace as the big transnational corporations. All they need to enter the market is a computer. Such small companies that are doing business in a global marketplace are called “micro multinationals.”

An example of this given in the article is that a weaver in Africa can find customers for her handiwork in Europe by posting pictures on Etsy.  It is estimated that 30 percent of sales on Etsy are now cross-border.

So, if a group of Beauty and the Beast fans from say, Italy or Germany, ever needed t-shirts made, I could see it happening that they would be given the name of this guy in Texas, just like I was, by other fans. That’s how a little t-shirt shop in Texas might become a micro multinational company!

If you are digitally-connected, it really is true that all kinds of business opportunities are available today in our Global world that would not have been possible just a short time ago.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Additional Thought on Pope Francis

One thing I forgot to mention in my original post is that this article, I think, also relates to the concept of "Jihad vs. McWorld" that we talked about in class.  The idea that forces of Globalization are working, at the same time, to push together and pull apart. Although in this case, it may be in the reverse order.

The Pope and the Patriarch may not have talked much about religious issues at this meeting, but the fact that they are talking at all is good.  Who knows, if they come together often enough maybe there will be an eventual reuniting of the two Christian Churches. 

If this does happen, it will have been a direct result of the threat from radical Islam. So, "Jihad," the terrorism that is persecuting Christians in parts of the world, may play a role in the eventual unifying of Christians. Making the Christian Church stronger is certainly NOT what the terrorists would want. But it is out of their control.  The forces of "Jihad and McWorld" operate together - in the most unusual ways.

Pope Francis Visits Havana

The Pope has been in the news a lot lately. I am Catholic and I have been very interested in the current Pope because he is so unique.  He has done some very unconventional things and has taken people off guard with his humble nature. I like him a lot. I hope he will change the often negative and rigid reputation that the Catholic Church has in the media.

Recently, Pope Francis met with Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church while they were both on a trip to Latin America. In Havana, they issued a joint statement that is seen as historical. While I understand the division between the Catholic Church and many Protestant Churches, I have been less clear about the division among the Orthodox Churches.  However, the article describes how the head of these two churches have not come together in centuries.

Yet, religious differences were not the topic of conversation. The main topic that was discussed seemed to be the crises affecting Christians in Europe and the Middle East.  Christians in these areas are facing persecution by extreme Islamic groups and being driven out of their homes.  This is quite ironic because many of these areas, such as Iran and Syria, as considered the Holy Land to Christians, and now they can’t even live there.

In class, we have talked about the concept of “shell” organizations. With the advent of multinational corporations and transnational organizations, it is happening that a particular country’s government may no longer be the highest authority on an issue. As a result, many bodies that once had a lot of power now have reduced power.  

That is probably a big factor in why this meeting happened. Governments are turning to religious leaders to influence the issues that are important to them.

But the Church also does not have the power it once did.  The Pope used to have as much influence as any monarch. But that is not the case anymore. Now, he is more of an ambassador of peace.

I had to laugh when I heard another story about Pope Francis on his way home from this trip to Havana.  He made a simple comment about Donald Trump and it became a huge news story.

I find it hard to believe that the Pope Francis really cares much about Trump. I can't remember a Pope ever getting involved in a US Election!  I think the reporters that asked Pope Francis that question were looking for some kind of leverage to use against Trump.  By implying that the Pope said Trump was “not a Christian” they are reminding people of the Pope’s ability to excommunicate a person from the Church.

But the Pope has not used that power in many, many years. I seriously doubt that Pope Francis, of all Popes, would use it now.  The Pope simply meant that Trump’s stand on Mexican  immigration to the US did not reflect Christian values of inclusion and equality.  But the press was trying to create a "throwback" to a time when Christians in America would have been afraid to go against the Pope in any way.

So, in this situation, you have religious leaders coming together to try and address political issues around the world.  You also have reporters asking the Pope of Rome to comment on an American Presidential candidate.  These are truly examples of how issues are not contained in one country anymore – issues are Global and belong to all the world’s players.