Monday, January 19, 2009

What are the ethical issues of promoting prosocial messages in popular media?

Brown & Singhal (1997) ask this interesting question. They are writing about all prosocial media, but what would be the ethical issues here? Would there be ethical issues to address when using popular media to promote anti-prejudice messages? In their book chapter Brown and Singhal explore the general ethical issues and suggest some guidelines for writers, producers, etc.

They write: "Producers of prosocial messages need an ethical framework for social influence" (p. 212). They go on to give the 7 ethical dilemmas that they writers, producers, researchers, etc. may face. They offer up a framework -- 7 dilemmas to consider.
  1. prosocial development dilemma -- "how to respond to those who argue it is unethical to use media as a persuasive tool to guide social development"
  2. prosocial content dilemma -- "how to distinguish prosocial from antisocial media content"
  3. source-centered dilemma -- "who should determine the prosocial content for others"
  4. audience segmentation dilemma -- "who among the audiences should receive the prosocial content"
  5. oblique persuasion dilemma -- "how to justify the 'sugar coating' of educational messages with entertainment"
  6. sociocultural equality dilemma -- "how to ensure that the prosocial media uphold sociocultural equality among viewers"
  7. unintended effects dilemma -- "how to respond to the unintended consequences of prosocial media" (p. 212).
Borrowing on Lasswell's old maxim describing communication, Brown and Singhal summarize these dilemmas in one question: "Who is to determine for whom what is prosocial and what is not?" (p. 212)

O.K. let's look at these one at a time in the context of the anti-prejudice research discussed in this research blog. First, would it be unethical to use the media to fight prejudice (i.e., promote an anti-prejudice message)? Personally it seems to me to be unethical not to use the media. If you see injustices in the society shouldn't you do what you can to help right the wrongs (including using the media)? I guess maybe the problem is in what is an injustice and who determines that. Are there some types of prejudices that it would be unethical to fight because some groups of people would not see the message as being prosocial? What can be said of these more specific examples: a TV program that fights racial prejudice and a TV program that fights gay prejudice? If a group in society did not see a TV program that fights gay prejudice as acceptable (or prosocial), then the producer of the message can found to be unethical? In terms of a TV program that fights racial prejudice, what if a group, say the KKK, objected to TV program, would that then mean the creators of the TV program committed an unethical act?

In a short paragraph about this Brown and Singhal only bring up the example of abortion. Would a TV program that promoted a pro-abortion message offend a segment of the audience and thus be unethical? Is prejudice different than abortion?

More on this later.

Brown & Singhal, 1997

Brown, W. J., & Singhal, A. (1997). Ethical guidelines for promoting prosocial messages through the popular media. In G. Egerton, M. Marsden, & J. Nachbar (Eds.), In the eye of the beholder: Critical perspectives in popular film and television (207-224). Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tammy Bruce and "Barkie"

I like to yell at the radio. One way to guarantee this is to listen to right-wing talk radio. I was listening to Tammy Bruce on the way home today and I kept hearing her refer to President-Elect Barack Obama as "Barkie." I've done some searching on Bruce's site and find at least two references to "Barky" and "Barkie." I understand this can be said to be short for Barack, but... Is it just me or are others bothered by this? Does this sound awfully close to "darkie?" Is this an example of conscious or unconscious deniable racism? Am I reading too much into this?

It is especially helpful to think of this in the context of other examples from talk radio. Over the summer and through the fall, Rush Limbaugh refered to Obama as a "man-child." He didn't refer to him as "boy," but what is a "man-child?" Listen to some of this on Joe Lyles' podcast.

I'll post some more on the Limbaugh example a little later. Stay tuned.

Hollywood Shuffle

I just noticed that MGM put some full-length films on YouTube for free. One of the films available now is Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle. This film is Townsend's satirical look at the stereotypical roles played by African Americans in Hollywood films. See especially the "Black Acting School" section starting at about 16 minutes into the video.

See the video below or check out the full-screen version at YouTube.

YouTube asks the viewer to confirm their age before viewing, so the video may not work automatically. Just follow the full-feature link above.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Testing Roger's Diffusion of Innovation Concepts"

What similar research has been done on students as the adopters?

Abstract: "Our exploratory study investigated Roger’s diffusion of innovation framework (Rogers 2003) that in an academic setting. We hypothesized that the adoption of software and hardware will be influenced by the faculty member’s perceptions of its (1) relative advantage, (2) compatibility with current teaching methods and technologies, (3) complexities, (4) trialability, (5) observability, and (6) variables reflecting the nature of the social system including reward structures, technical support, and demographic categorical data. We surveyed faculty (n = 306) in liberal arts and sciences departments using a mail survey using the total design method and obtained a 56% response rate. Perceived relative advantage, perceived compatibility, observability, and years teaching at the university produced an R2 of .202 for the adoption of hardware. Perceived relative advantage, perceived compatibility, observability, rewards, years teaching at the university, and percentage of time devoted to research produced an R2 of .30."

Zimmerman, D. and Yohon, T. , 2008-05-22 "Testing Roger's Diffusion of Innovation Concepts: Faculty Adoption of Information Technology for Teaching" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, TBA, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Online <PDF>. 2008-12-10 from

Diffusion of Innovations & Online Courses

Diffusion of innovations was one of the key topics that I studied while I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico. Diffusion of innovations is the study of how new ideas/technologies spread throughout a group of people. Everett Rogers, the man who literally wrote the book on the topic, was my UNM advisor, my mentor. (I wrote about his role in intercultural communication study -- see this article.)

Right now my particular DOI research interest is in the diffusion of online courses. I've taught online courses in the past, but teaching a course this semester has rekindled that interest. I've also been talking about this topic with Dr. Mamie Johnson, a friend and colleague at NSU.

Some specific RQs of interest:
  • What leads a student to adopt (enroll in) an online course?
  • What factors leads a student to continue taking online courses?

Topics for this Semester (Sp 09)

This semester in this blog I'm going to focus on the following topics.
  • Online Teaching
  • Critical Thinking
  • Items in the News Related to This Semester's Courses

A Secret Education

"Industrially produced fiction has become one of the primary shapers of our emotions and our intellect in the 20th Century. Although these stories are supposed to merely entertain us, they constantly give us a secret education. We are not only taught certain styles of violence, the latest fashions, and sex roles by TV, movies, magazines, and comic strips; we are also taught how to succeed, how to love, how to buy, how to conquer, how to forget the past and suppress the future. We are taught, more than anything else how not to rebel" (Dorfman, 1996, ix).

Cited in Cortes, 2000, p. 22-23

Dorfman, 1996

Dorfman, A. (1996). The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds. Penguin (Non-Classics).

Cortes on Plato and Poets

Cortes (2000) also comments on Plato.
"This is hardly a contemporary idea. After all, Plato recognized the power of fictional narratives when he asserted, 'Those who tell the stories also rule the society.' In his Republic, he expressed particular concern with the impact on children."
The focus of Cortes' book is on children.

Lewis & Jungman, 1986

Lewis, T. J. and Jungman, R. E., editors (1986). On Being Foreign: Culture Shock in Short Fiction, An International Anthology. Intercultural Pr.

Summerfield, 1993

Summerfield, E. (1993). Crossing Cultures Through Film. Intercultural Network.

Cortes, 2000

Cortes, C. E. (2000) The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach About Diversity, New York: Teachers College Press.

Vogler, 1998

Vogler, C. (1998). The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 2nd Edition. Michael Wiese Productions, 2nd edition.

Truby, 2008

Truby, J. (2008). The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber & Faber, 1st edition.

An Anti-Prejudice Genre in TV and Film

Preliminary results of this study show that there is so much TV programming about prejudice that I would argue that we could speak of this type of programming as a genre.

Marriage of the Narrative Rhetoric Lit with Screenwriting Books

What do you get when you marry the narrative rhetoric lit with screenwriting books?
You get the theoretical mixed with the practical.
How to "marry" the two? Look for the common elements mentioned in both.
In the narrative rhetoric lit, Rowland (1999) writes that narrative rhetoric functions in six ways to persuade.
"1. Narratives add interest;
2. Narratives create identification;
3. Narratives function aesthetically to persuade;
4. Narratives encapsulate claims;
5. Narratives can be used to create an emotional response;
6. Narratives can transport us to another place and time." (p. 83).

Functions #2 and #5 are often mentioned in screenwriting books -- identification of the audience (Frensham, 1996, p.78-80), evoking emotion in the audience (Miller, 1998).

Frensham, 1996

Frensham, R. (1996). Screenwriting. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group.

Miller, 1998

Miller, W. (1998). Screenwriting for Film and Television. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rowland, 1999

Rowland, R. (1999). Analyzing Rhetoric: A Handbook for the Informed Citizen in a New Millennium. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Aristotle, 335 BCE

Aristotle, Poetics.

Original online: The Internet Classics Archive, Project Gutenberg
Summaries: GradeSaver and SparkNotes

Plato on the Danger of Poetry

"all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers" (Plato, 360 B.C.E., Book 10)

Plato, 360 B.C.E

Republic (Book 10)

Online:, Project Gutenberg

Summaries of Republic (Book X)

See CliffNotes, SparkNotes and GradeSaver.

More on Plato and the Power of Poets

In Republic Plato condemns storytellers (epic and tragic poetry).
Ironically, Plato's famous student Aristotle defends storytelling in Poetics.


McKee, 1997

McKee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. New York: ReganBooks.

Plato and the Power of Poets

"In 388 B.C. Plato urged the city fathers of Athens to exile all poets and storytellers. They are a threat to society, he argued. Writers deal with ideas, but no in the open, rational manner of philosophers. Instead, they conceal their ideas inside the seductive emotion of art. Yet felt ideas, as Plato pointed out, are ideas nonetheless. Every effective story sends a charged idea out to us, in effect compelling the idea into us, so that we must believe. In fact, the persuasive power of a story is so great that we may believe its meaning even if we find it morally repellent. Storytellers, Plato insisted, are dangerous people. He was right" (McKee, 1997, p. 129-130).

Note: Begin paper/article with this story of Plato and Poets (1st paragraph). 2nd paragraph on Aristotle.

First Post

Here in the new year I start a new blog.