Saturday, May 3, 2008

Detective Fiction and the 'Hard-Boiled' Genre

When Raymond Chandler wrote about the emotional basis of the new 'hard-boiled' detective story, I believe that he described the 'hard-boiled' detectives and their stories perfectly. All the early detectives solved mysteries like machines, almost never touching on the natural human emotions to solve the case, but instead relying on their heightened knowledge and what sometimes comes across as a sixth sense. The 'Classic' detectives (i.e Holmes and Dupin) always had the knowledge that was necessary for solving the mystery at hand and wanted nothing else but the satisfaction of the solution itself. At times, there appears no other reason for these men to exist other than solving 'crimes' with the help of their friend/right hand man (Watson or Poe's 'Narrator'). The 'hard-boiled' detectives seem to approach their cases haphazardly, with minimal knowledge of the situation. They rely on gut instinct and a 'brawn over brains' style of deduction that separates them (Spade, Marlowe, Archer) from the 'classic' sleuths. Chandler said, "If you know all you should know about ceramics and Egyptian needlework, you don't know anything at all about the police." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). I agree with this idea that Holmes' extensive knowledge of ashes wouldn't count for anything on the new age 'mean streets' of 'hard-boiled' fiction.

The 'classic' detectives not only possessed knowledge that the average person would not, but it seems that they also had far fewer loose ends to tie up due to the settings in which the authors placed them. While the 'hard-boiled' private eyes are following up leads in the big cities, with some of the lowest people on earth, the 'classic' detectives are off in the countryside dealing with, at the worst, an escaped convict. These criminal figures make up the majority of players in 'hard-boiled' mysteries. "We spend more time in Miami hotels and Cape Cod summer colonies and go not so often down by the old gray sundial in the Elizabethan garden." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). This is a point most recognized when looking back into "The Moonstone", where Mr. Franklin Blake can be found walking down the garden path more than once in Betteredge's narrative.

Not only is the 'hard-boiled' story told in a new setting, it is told about different types of people. The Baskervilles of Homles' 'Hound' and the Verinders of 'The Moonstone' are people of wealth and elegance, people that would have no place in the slums of Hollywood or Los Angeles with the 'smut peddlers' and 'grifters', like Gutman or Geiger. Chandler commented on the 'English-style' of detective stories as "... not quite so brittle and the people as a rule just wear clothes and drink drinks." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950). One couldn't imagine Miss Rachel acting the way that the Sternwood girls did in 'The Big Sleep', because Collins was writing about a different time and very different people than Chandler. "But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet and unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor- by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in this world and a good enough man for any world." (The Simple Art of Murder, 1950).

This description of the 'hard-boiled' detective is the most complete take on the subject. Even though Spade has some connection with Brigid, in Hammett's 'Falcon', he still has to bring her in to the authorities. "She did kill Miles...," Spade tells his secretary Effie. Thats how the 'hard-boiled' detective works, on a strict code. "Thats the way it is," Marlowe tells Vivian Regan in Chandler's 'Big Sleep', "Kissing is nice, but your father didn't hire me to sleep with you," and the honorable man shows through in the end.

Keeping a balanced outlook on life, and sports...

As the 2002 Winter Olympics closed, the whole world witnessed the Canadian Men’s Ice Hockey Team defeat the Americans to capture the gold medal. As is expected, there are many different journalistic approaches to reporting the outcome of this game; three articles about it make these different approaches clear.

The first article, titled “After a 50 year wait, Canada has gold medal again,” appeared in the New York Times and seems to reflect the Americans view of the game. Starting with the title, which makes it a point to mention the 50 years since Canada’s last gold, the whole article is biased towards the Americans. The title is biased because it directly comments on the long span since Canada’s last gold medal in it’s national pastime. It is almost a shot at the Canadians, questioning their ability in the game they love. The article excuses the American team multiple times, which is made clear when the author says, “Defenseman Brian Rafalski fell with an apparent skate problem.” The way that the author presents this event shows his biased view of the game. The article also points out the fact that “Canada caught a break by facing Belarus, a weak opponent…” while it makes the excuse for the Americans by stating, “But the Americans had to play a later game against a stronger team from Russia…” It becomes obvious that he was a fan of the American team and was trying to make some excuses for them. By quoting US Captain Chris Chelios, “Yesterday, Mario’s quote said it was his game, or Canada’s game. We’ve listened to that. It might be the only game that they’re very good at, except for curling and a couple of other things. All kidding aside, they’re a proud group of players,” the author can give the article an American bias without coming out and saying it in his own words. The choice of this quote lets him present his own opinion of the game without saying, “I think…”

On the other side of this story, is the Canadians view on the outcome of the game. An article in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, shows an entirely different view of this game. The headline reads, “Canada will look at ’02 as golden,” which is a more positive way to look at the Canadian victory than how the N.Y. Times portrayed it. Following the positive angle, the first paragraph gives Canada credit by saying, “a new date was added to the country’s long and enduring hockey history” The author then makes it a point to tell the readers “there were as many people cheering for the visiting Canadians as there were for the home side.” The Canadian bias shows through when the author mentions, “U.S. Coach Herb Brooks thought his team looked ‘more tired’ because it had a more difficult path to the final.” The author’s choice of this quote shows his bias, because he could have mentioned how the American’s clearly had a harder route to the finals on his own, but instead he chose to use Brooks’ words against himself, portraying him to the readers as the coach that makes excuses when his team loses.

Presenting a more unbiased view on this game, I chose and article titled “Young and old lead Canada to gold” from This article shows a broad view of the whole game and of the back-stories on both teams, not favoring either. The article mentions Canada’s “50 year wait” and the end to the U.S. team’s “70 year unbeaten streak” making it clear that both teams had a significant event occur due to the outcome of this game and not making one sound more important than the other. The author does mention that “Canada had an easy route to the final, beating only Germany, Finland and Belarus, while the Americans twice played bronze medallist Russia,” but unlike the other articles, this is presented as pure fact without the quote that would have given the article a biased towards either country.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Study of Political Bias in the National Media.

Research Question:
Does the media provide balanced coverage of both Democrat and Republican news?

There will be similar amounts of coverage for Democrat and Republican news

A keyword search, using the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, was conducted on February 20, 2008. Four keywords were chosen as parameters for this search. Those keywords were chosen for their relevance to this particular study and were documented as follows:
1. 'democrat' or 'democrats'
2. 'republican' or 'republicans'
3. 'democrat' or 'democrats' and 'republican' or 'republicans'

Further parameters were set for this keyword search. They are as follows:
· Only those broadcast in the month of January, in the year 2008
· Exclude Commercials

The Archive was searched for ALL NETWORKS, which include; ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, PBS, FOX, MSNBC, CSPAN, CNBC, and UNIV. No results were returned from PBS, CSPAN, CNBC, or UNIV during any search. Results were sorted by 'Network' to further investigate coverage patterns; the intent was to determine whether one government party receives more news coverage on certain stations than the other.

1. The search for keywords 'democrat' or 'democrats' returned 68 items (CHART- D1 and D2); where either of these words can be found in the Title or the Abstract for a particular broadcast. The complete list of results for this search fell under 'Evening News.' The search returned broadcasts from four of the ten possible Networks. They were distributed as follows: ABC, 22; CBS, 11; CNN, 28; NBC, 6 (CHART- D1). The percentage of coverage was formulated by the 'Create-A-Graph' program, and returned the following data: ABC, 32.84%; CBS, 16.42%; CNN, 41.79%; and NBC, 8.96% (CHART- D2)



2. The search for keywords 'republican' or 'republicans' returned 130 items (CHART- R1 and R2); where either of these words can be found In the Title or the Abstract for a particular broadcast. The list of results for this search fell under either 'Evening News' or 'Special Program.' 'Evening News' accounted for all but 21 of the broadcasts. The search returned broadcasts from six of the ten possible Networks. They were distributed as follows: ABC, 41; CBS, 15; CNN, 58; NBC, 8; FOX, 3; and MSNBC, 3 (CHART- R1). The percentage of coverage was formulated by the 'Create-A-Graph' program, and returned the following data: ABC, 32.03%; CBS, 11.72%; CNN, 45.31%; NBC, 6.25%; FOX, 2.34%; and MSNBC, 2.34% (CHART- R2).



3. The search for keywords 'democrat' or 'democrats' and 'republican' or 'republicans' returned 153 items (CHART- C1 and C2); where either of these words can be found together in the Title or the Abstract for a particular broadcast. The list of results fell under either 'Evening News' or 'Special Program.' 'Evening News' accounted for all but 21 of the broadcasts. The search returned broadcasts from six of the possible ten Networks. They were distributed as follows: ABC, 50; CBS, 20; CNN, 65; NBC, 9; FOX, 3; and MSNBC, 3 (CHART- C1). The percentage of coverage was formulated by the 'Create-A-Graph' program, and returned the following data: ABC, 33.33%; CBS, 13.33%; CNN, 43.33%; NBC, 6%; FOX, 2%, and MSNBC, 2% (CHART- C2).


When reviewing the collected data, it initially appears that the Republican party receives more television coverage than the Democratic party. The Republican search returned 62 more items that the Democratic search. When broken down into percentages, though, it becomes clear that the amount of coverage per station stays somewhat constant between the two parties; for example, the Democratic search shows ABC accounting for 32.84% of its broadcasts, while the Republican search returned 32.03% for the same station. This perception is further negated when both searches were run simultaneously, returning 153 of the 198 total items gathered from the archive.

This shows that coverage between stations is somewhat balanced; exceptions to these findings are FOX and MSNBC, which failed to return data in the Democratic search, but returned the same items in both the Republican and the Combined searches. These findings also fell into the minority of 'Special Programs.'
Further research should be done into the amount of time devoted to each party to determine if this data can reveal any other patterns in coverage between stations, but at this time, it appears that the national media devotes nearly the same amount of coverage to both Political Parties.

We're watching you. But why?

The selection of media news outlets is directly related to the uses and gratifications approach to mass communication research, audience motivations and the various criteria which may be used in selecting media messages for attention (Garramone, 1985). It has been widely discussed that viewers tend to seek out information that is similar to their own beliefs (Xiang, 2007).

The uses and gratifications approach to mass communication research focuses on the audience because people select and use media to satisfy their needs and desires. A central concern of uses and gratifications research, then, is people’s motivation for using mass communication. Researchers are interested in what influences the reasons people use mass media and how different motives lead people to select different content (Perse, 1990).

The reason’s why viewers choose Fox News (FNC) or CNN are somewhat clarified in the following studies; Gina M. Garramone: Motivation and Selective Attention to Political Information Formats; Douglas A. Ferguson and Elizabeth M. Perse: Media and audience influences on channel repertoire; Elizabeth M Perse: Predicting Attention to Local Television News: Need for Cognition and Motives for Viewing; Michael Pfau, Patricia Moy, and Erin Alison Szabo: Influence of Primetime Television Programming on Perceptions of the Federal Government; Lawrence A. Wenner: Political News on Television: A closer look at audience use and avoidance orientations; and Yi Xiang: News consumption and media bias.

The study of attention to local television news presented information on the hypothesized relations between local news viewing motives and attention to sports reports and government reports (Perse, 1990). This questionnaire study had the intentions of examining how different reasons for watching local news leads to attention toward different parts of the newscast; and testing how need for cognition, a personality trait that directs people to enjoy thinking, influences motives for watching local news (1990). Three reasons were given why local news was the specific focus of the study. First, local news is broadcast several times a day, attracting a variety of different viewers who compromise a large audience. Second, local news is reported to be more widely watched that network news (Comstock, 1989; Perse, 1990). Finally, local news focuses on a wide range of topics; such as government, news, crime, human interests, sports, weather, and investigative reports (Perse, 1990).This study aims to show that motivation, a central concept in uses and gratifications, leads to media selection. It is successful in relating motivation for watching local news to selective attention toward different parts of the newscast. Specifically, utilitarian viewing motives (viewing to gain information for personal or social use) lead to attention toward local news government reports while Pass-Time viewing motives (viewing because there is nothing better to do or watch) lead to avoidance of local government news (Palmgreen et al., 1980; Rubin, Perse, and Powell, 1985; Perse, 1990). This is important in the study of why Democrats and Republicans choose FCN/CNN because it explains that the viewer’s motivation for choosing to watch the news is related to what they will watch.

More information on this topic is revealed when selectivity of strictly political formats are studied. Several examples for selectivity include the perceived objectivity of the message, the extent to which the message agrees with their opinions, its timeliness, its topics, and the media source or format by which it is conveyed (Garramone, 1985). Motivations for paying attention to political content in the media are placed in two categories; surveillance/ vote guidance and diversion (Blumler, 1979; Garramone, 1985). An audience member with a surveillance/vote guidance orientation uses the mass media for general review of the political environment and for information needed to make voting decisions. The most obvious diversion provided by campaign information is the “horse-race” excitement of media coverage. However, the use of political information for casual conversation may also be conceptualized as largely diversionary (Garramone). Research indicates that most political discussions are not aimed at persuasion, but rather focus on the “game” aspect of the election (Patterson, 1980; Garramone, 1985). This study claims that surveillance/ vote guidance-motivated individuals should select information based on its usefulness for making vote decisions. Diversion-motivated individuals, on the other hand, should choose information based on its excitement or conversational value (Garramone, 1985). Results of the factor analysis indicate that people selectively attend to presidential campaign information based on editorial (live coverage, news reports, journalists’ opinion, etc…) format, rather than it’s originating (speech, debate, interview, etc…) format (1985). This research relates to the FCN/CNN question in two ways. First, viewers may choose a specific station because of the formats used by that station, not their own beliefs (political affiliation). Secondly, Garramone agrees with Perse and Xiang in the idea that viewers tend to watch programs that share their beliefs and moral standing.

Further clarification on this topic is gained from a telephone survey that was conducted to examine the television viewing patterns and motivations of 615 respondents through channel repertoire (Ferguson and Perse, 1993). Channel repertoire was divided into two categories: Total Channel Repertoire (TCR) and Mindful Channel Repertoire (MCR). TCR was defined as the number of channels viewers watched, using aided recall (a list of available channels was presented to the subjects and they designated which channels they watched). MCR was further defined as those channels identified by viewers through unaided recall (unprompted). The findings indicate that TCR is related to media and audience factors, while intentionality was a significant positive predictor of MCR (Ferguson and Perse, 1993). TCR is related to the number of channels offered (Webster and Lichty, 1991), while MCR is generally smaller than TCR (Greenberg, Heeter, and Lin, 1988). Television viewing motives are a primary signal of audience activity (Rubin, 1984). Ritualistic television use, which is marked by watching to pass time or out of habit, is a nonselective and less active use of television that focuses on using television as a medium, not specific content. Instrumental use, on the other hand, reflects selective and purposive exposure to specific content (Rubin and Perse, 1987). These results correspond with the FNC/CNN study by showing that channel availability and viewing motives play roles in the viewer’s choice of media outlet.

These studies have shown that a viewer’s decision for choosing a specific media outlet is directly related to many different social and personal parameters that are different for most subjects. Simply taking into consideration one’s political affiliation is clearly not enough to determine why they choose the news outlet that they do. Selective exposure, through seeking like opinions, is the most obvious choice for why the viewers would choose the specific broadcast that they watch, but it is only a portion of the reasoning behind the actual choice.

Bibliography/Works Cited

Is our use of Mass Communications inhibiting our culture with too much entertainment?

Mass Communications drives our country. Its mediums serve as sources where people obtain their information. Recent trends show that a decline in content may be a social problem for the United States.

It's not unusual for an American to admit that other countries have a negative view of our culture, or what they perceive to be our culture. In a book titled Learning to hate Americans: How the U.S. media shape negative opinions among teen-agers in twelve countries, Marvin L. DeFleur found that of the twelve countries surveyed (Argentina; Bahrin; China; Italy; Lebanon; Mexico; Nigeria; Pakistan; Saudi Arabia; South Korea; Spain; and Taiwan) only Argentina showed a positive outlook on American culture (Times, pop programs). American pop culture has branded all American culture as violent, corrupt and scandalous in the eyes of other cultures. The actual problem with this perception is that depending on where you look, the culture may directly reflect an image of pop culture stereotype. FOX's The OC or MTV's Laguna Beach (a "reality" show based on the lives of Californian teens) clearly reflect lifestyles that can sometimes project a negative image. The sensational plots that company agenda-setters formulate to draw in audiences are taken as actual portrayals of American culture by people in other countries. This limited exposure to American culture does a very poor job of representing how many Americans would view themselves in society. "Using the lessons of the media product, they [teens from other countries] learn to hate Americans because they seem like despicable people," said DeFleur (Times).

Another trend that is affecting American culture is the over use of foul language, especially by people in positions of influence. While comedians like Denis Leary, George Carlin and of course Andrew "Dice" Clay have used excessive profanity in their performances, recent political heads such as George W. Bush and John Kerry have been caught on record using profane language. Senator John Kerry was quoted saying, "Did I expect George Bush to [expletive deleted] it up as bad as he did?" (Christian Century, foul words). This comment on how Bush handled the war in Iraq is a direct example of how 'curse' words are used by nearly everybody in American culture. President Bush himself was caught referring to a New York Times reporter as a "Major league [expletive deleted]-hole" (Christian Century). Even peace advocate Bono, of U2 fame, dropped the "F-bomb" at the Golden Globes causing them to air the ceremony on a five minute delay (Christian Century). This use of coarse language negatively affects America’s youth and poses great social risks.

Jay Winsten, a professor at Harvard's School of Public Health, has utilized America’s pop culture to battle negative trends in society. He believes attitudes and behaviors can be changes by popular culture, and especially by TV (Chronicle of Higher Education, using pop culture). His work on popular shows of influence, such as Beverly Hills 90210, greatly influenced views in issues like domestic violence and drunk driving. His work even spurred Random House Webster's College dictionary to add a reference listing for the phrase "designated driver" in 1991 (Chronicle of Higher Education). Violent video games like Rock star’s Grand Theft Auto series and glorified violence in "gangster" rap music have attributed to a more violent society and changes need to be made because the street fights of our fathers (or possibly our grand-fathers), which seem like child’s play in comparison, are being replaced with drive-bys and random acts of violence like the Colorado and Montreal school shootings, which are viewed as a decline in society.

Mass Communications provides us with an outlet for change and a decision has to be made (by the people in power) whether this change is going to be for the better or for the worse. This decision needs to made quickly because if these negative trends continue to escalate, there may be no way to reverse the damage done to our image in the world and America’s actual values and morals.

Bibliography/Works Cited

What is the nature of the relationship between media and society?

Mass media usually are thought of as sources of news and entertainment. They also carry messages of persuasion. Important, though often overlooked, is how mass messages bind people into communities, even into nations.

Mass media are pervasive in modern life. Every morning millions of Americans wake up to clock radios. Political candidates spend most of their campaign dollars on television ads to woo voters. The United States economy depends on advertising to create mass markets. American children see unprecedented numbers of commercial messages a year. Through the mass media we learn almost everything we know beyond our immediate surroundings. What would we know of Baghdad or Tikrit or the Super Bowl if it were not for newspapers, television and other mass Medias? (Miller).

The mass media bind communities together by giving messages that become a shared experience. In the United States, a rural newspaper editor scrambling to get an issue out may not be thinking about how his work creates a common identity among readers, but it does. The town newspaper is something everyone in town has in common. A shared knowledge and a shared experience are created by mass media, and thus they create the base for a community.
The same phenomenon occurs on a national level. News coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon bound Americans in a nationwide grieving process. Coverage of the death of Princess Diana prompted a global dialogue on celebrity coverage. Stories of misdeeds help us figure out what we as a society regards as inexcusable. The news coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton did this. Mass media is essential for the ongoing process of society identifying its values. The importance of mass media in binding people into nationhood is clear in every revolution and coup-d’etat around the world. The leaders try to take over the national media right away as an essential vehicle to unify the population behind their cause and silence the opposition. When the U.S. invaded Baghdad in 2003, a priority was to get the television back on the air.

The trend of conglomeration in media poses a problem for society. Conglomeration affects the diversity of messages offered by the mass media. Conglomerates are trying to buy control or market domination not just in one medium but in all the media. The aim is to control the entire process from an original manuscript or new series to its use in as many forms as possible. A magazine article owned by a company becomes a book owned by the company. The book becomes a television program owned by the company which then becomes a movie owned by the company. It is shown in theaters owned by the company and the movie soundtrack is issued on a record label owned by the company, featuring the vocalist on the cover of one of the company’s magazines (Bagdikian). Understanding this, it is clear that the company will be less than enthusiastic about outside ideas and production that it does not own or control.
One of the negative affects of conglomeration occurs when a parent company looks to its subsidiaries only to enrich conglomerate coffers as quickly as possible and by any means possible, regardless of the quality of products that are produced. Management of diverse conglomerates tends to take an “easy-way-out” approach that deemphasizes content. Many of these conglomerates focus on profits alone. This mind set leads to decline in quality product.

“The Man” forces subsidiaries to cut costs to increase profits, a trend that severely impacts the quality of the media message. Fewer people to do more work is the new formula for business success. At newspapers, a reporter’s story used to pass through several hands- editor, copy editor, headline writer, typesetter, and proofreader. At every stage the story could be improved. In today’s streamlined newsrooms, proof readers have been replaced by spell check software. The jobs of reporter and the typesetter have been consolidated. In many newsrooms, so have the jobs of copy editors and headline writers. This trend in media directly affects people in their everyday life, costing some their jobs.

Mass Medias also create rituals around which people structure their lives. This is one of many ways that the media contribute to social stability. Northwest Airlines pilots flying over the Dakotas in the 1950’s could tell when the late night news was over on WCCO, the powerful Minneapolis radio station. They could see the lights at ranches and towns all across the Dakotas going off as people, having heard the news, went to bed. The 10 o’clock WCCO news has become a ritual (Curran).

These are just a small look at how media influences society. The relationship between the two is parasitic. As long as society has a need for information and entertainment, the media will be there to provide it.

Bibliography/Works Cited