In his book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,” Michael Crawford posits that the educational system in America is set up to direct individuals toward white-collar jobs, even though some of them may be better suited for blue-collar work—in particular, that which cannot be replaced by technology. Furthermore, Crawford makes the case that positions requiring high levels of analytical thought culminating in a physical result (say, a previously broken motorcycle that now runs smoothly) are more emotionally and mentally rewarding than positions that require similar depth of thought but deal primarily in hypotheticals and intangibles (like analyzing an echocardiogram without ever meeting the patient). Crawford’s doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and his breadth of work experience, ranging from a Washington, D.C., think tank to motorcycle mechanic, allow him to make a convincing argument against the current American tendency toward “intellectual” occupation, although this reasoning falls prey to a few spirited inconsistencies toward the book’s end.
The idea behind “Shop Class” is based on the collective American perception of white-collar, intellectual, work as more laudable than blue-collar, manual, work. This institutionalized belief has led most people to gradually have less command over everyday objects, instead relying on specialists should something go awry because they lack the skill to perform manual tasks themselves. The marked absence of a dipstick (a device used to measure an engine’s oil level) from some modern Mercedes-Benz models is Crawford’s exemplar for this phenomenon; he takes it as a corporate realization that people are either collectively incapable of, or wholly uninterested in, maintaining their own vehicles—the mere possibility of which would have been rebuked in years past. Further degrading the American consensus gentium is its undue overvaluation of college education and the jobs to which its graduates feel obligated, particularly when some of these individuals are mentally disinclined to that kind of work in the first place. This is not to say they are less intelligent or respectable, argues Crawford, but merely that they think differently, and are thus better suited for the alternative lifestyle of the blue-collar worker.
In his argument on behalf of manual labor, Crawford (2010) cites Princeton economist Alan Binder, who is cited by Crawford as having stated in Foreign Affairs, said, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet,” (p. 29). That is to say, there are certain (manual) jobs that simply cannot be outsourced, and likely never will be. This is evident in the healthcare industry (among others), where physicians need not fear of losing their jobs, while those who merely analyze medical data (radiologists, for example) are already seeing their jobs relocate due to the fact that interpersonal interaction is not required. With this type of impersonal work, Crawford argues, comes a detachment from the end result, and consequent lack of interest in the quality of the work itself. But for a mechanic who hears the motorcycle engine turn over for the first time after he fixes it, and then watches its owner ride away from the shop, the consequence of the work is tangible, just as it is for the physician who must look his patient in the eye should the prescribed treatment prove ineffective. These immediately palpable situations motivate the personal worker to succeed, and gratify him in droves when he does.
The argumentation within the covers of Crawford’s book is compelling, being primarily supported by ethos and logos in its dawn, and pathos in its twilight. It is in this latter portion that the philosophy of the argument loses traction and a strong emotional appeal takes precedence. One minor gripe is that Crawford almost exclusively uses motorcycle repair (with a few isolated anecdotes of his work as an electrician) as his example of manual labor, though I surmise one could parallel his argument with most manually oriented professions (p.51). Furthermore, Crawford insists that he is not interested in promoting the existential virtues of a lifestyle revolving around manual work, yet he describes the entirety of motorcycle gear-head culture in such an aesthetic and romantic manner that the reader is hard pressed to resist its rosy allure. While this notion sprouts from the very stereotypes against which Crawford is arguing in the first place, his paralleling a logical argument with a gentle tugging on the heartstrings (imploring that his reader see the value of a simpler life through greater understanding) highlights the duality of this issue. Even though it comes at the cost of a small chink in the armor of his argument, Crawford’s last-minute introduction of this appeal to pathos is essential to the book’s capacity to affect social change. Knowing that a positive sentiment is more likely to encourage rumination than a negative one, he leaves the reader with a refreshing (if somewhat idealized) take on manual labor, so that those who finish the text will ideally experience not merely a fleeting sentiment, but rather a genuine change in perspective.
With “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Michael Crawford makes a compelling case for manual labor. He subverts the notion that a white-collar, college educated lifestyle is preferential to that of a tradesman, and further bolsters the case of the manual laborer by highlighting its apparent immunity from technological obsolescence and the deep satisfaction one gets from personal work—something that is opposite and subjectively preferential to the tacit nature of impersonal work. Crawford finalizes his claim with an appeal to pathos that intentionally supplants the logical basis of his argument to form a more lasting and favorable impression in the reader’s mind. This unorthodox outlook on the bipartisan state of American employment is as refreshing as it is an effective form of communication for social change. By bringing awareness to a deeply rooted cultural perspective that is neither accurate nor philanthropic, Crawford tactfully entreats readers to consider not only the merits of manual labor, but also the value of work.
Crawford, M. B., (2010). Shop class as soulcraft: An inquiry into the value of work. New York, NY: Penguin.
HBO’s Girls is surprisingly well received considering its gynocentric nature and its place in a TV market where the male protagonist (a la Mad Men, Breaking Bad) reigns supreme. Yet the show has developed a passionate fan base and currently holds a Metascore score of 87, which is on par with Mad Men and the first three seasons of Breaking Bad. This success can be largely attributed to the interesting female characters who populate the show, even if they sometimes seem a bit disconnected from reality. None of the four female leads on Girls is really written to be a stereotypical female role, though all of them are undeniably women. These heroines all aspire to be stereotypical independent New York City women, but this isn’t what makes people watch the show. People watch Girls because the characters are imperfect, struggling, even broken in some cases—in other words, undeniably human.
Of all the compelling characters in Girls, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunahm) seems to be the most interesting, and while the majority of the show’s ensemble is written in a realistic manner, Hannah is certainly the most visceral. While Girls features stellar production quality and equally impressive acting (thanks to its premium cable budget), the world in which it is set is far from utopian. In fact, where other dramas in the same vein (think Sex and the City) seem intent on taking their viewers on a journey into a subtly idealized world, Girls instead remains planted in reality, excluding its setting in a racially homogenized version of New York City. It is in this world that we grow to love and loathe Hannah, who wants all the wrong things for herself and does all the wrong things to others, but in a way that demands empathy. Through our pitying Hannah, we grow to love her, even as her behavior becomes increasingly antisocial and wretched as the season progresses. This negative side of her character stems from a desire to be unhappy; something we learn midway through the season, and throughout the season is exemplified by a fear of commitment and quickness to use others for selfish ends. Even when Hannah does attempt to get in control of her life, she flails in the water, treating the symptoms of her issues rather than their causes.
The season premiere, “It’s About Time,” introduces Hannah’s boyfriend, Sandy (Donald Glover), who makes the mistake of telling Hannah that he “loves how weird she is,” which sends her reeling. We immediately get the impression that Hannah isn’t particularly interested in the longevity of her relationship with Sandy, and my first thought is that she’s using him to quell her anxiety after she and Adam (Adam Driver) broke up at the end of the first season. Sandy is convinced that Hannah is dating him because she fetishizes his blackness—one of sparks for the fire of their breakup argument—and with as nonchalantly as she accepts their breakup in the second episode, we’re left to believe he was correct.
The second episode also sees Hannah on the verge of cutting her own hair, although fate intervenes just before she begins, saving her from looking like a mental patient (for now, at least). After sending her some creepy songs inspired by their breakup, Adam shows up at Hannah’s apartment late one night—she gave him a key—and she makes the nervous and scared decision of dialing 911, but immediately thinks better of it and ends the call. Instead of talking to Adam about the basis of their relationship, she chooses to address the surface issue of his unwanted presence that night. Likewise, instead of handling the situation on her own, she immediately reaches out for the help of another. Even though she may have been trying to do the right thing, all Hannah succeeded in doing was getting Adam arrested for some unpaid parking tickets and a failure to appear in court, both of which the cops found on his record when they responded to her call.
In “It’s a Shame About Ray,” the fourth episode of the season, Hannah throws a party to celebrate her successfully writing an article for jazzhate.com, but what should be a joyous occasion quickly devolves into an argument between Marnie (Allison Williams) and Audrey (Audrey Gelman), who is now dating Marnie’s ex, Charlie (Christopher Abbott). Even though Hannah only invited Marnie as a formality, not expecting her to come, she refuses to side with either her best friend or Charlie’s current girlfriend, resulting in Marnie’s storming out, Charlie’s going after her, and Audrey’s leaving in the intermediary. What could have been a non-issue turns into a grand fiasco all because Hannah simply won’t commit, even when she has a vested interest in picking one party over the other. In this instance, her fear of commitment (to Marnie) and her inability to control even the simplest things in her life—her line, “Noodles are so hard to make,” aptly describes her command of the entire party—become glaringly apparent.
At this point in the season, Hannah has alienated from several of her friends, and her sympathy from the audience is waning as well. However, the fifth episode of season two, “One Man’s Trash,” addresses the latter issue, giving viewers some valuable insight into Hannah’s proclivity for finding herself in negative situations. The facilitator of this emotional enlightenment is Joshua (Patrick Wilson), who comes into the coffee shop where Hannah works to complain that someone from that store is dumping trash in his garbage cans. As it turns out, Hannah started taking the trash there because she couldn’t muster up the courage to tell her boss she lost her key to the store’s dumpster. She finds out she likes the rush of throwing away trash where she isn’t supposed to, continuing especially after she discovers how handsome the owner of the trash cans is. After Hannah goes to Joshua’s to apologize for using his trash cans, the two have unexpected and confusing sex (I really think Dunham wrote beyond Hannah’s capabilities here), and Hannah plays at domesticated for a day. She likes the trappings of Joshua’s comfortable lifestyle, but seems incapable of realizing she has to work to get those things for herself.
The emotional breakthrough comes after Joshua finds Hannah passed out in his sauna. She wakes up in his bed and has a revelation about herself: “Please don’t tell anyone this, but, I want to be happy.” She goes on to say that she wants to “take in all the experiences,” claiming, “I’m feeling all these big feelings and containing all this stuff for everybody else.” So, Hannah is apparently so intent on living a shitty life because that’s the only way she believes she can “experience things.” Perhaps she’s even rationalized being unhappy as preferential to any sort of normal, agreeable existence. She goes on to provide us with an arresting account from her childhood, saying, “When I was three, I told my mom that my babysitter had touched my vagina in the bath. And my mom thought I was lying, obviously, and probably I was, but whether I was lying or telling the truth, something’s broken inside of me.” At this moment, Hannah is vulnerable and sincere; she knows she has issues, but seems resigned to be terrible because of them, rather than using her knowledge to overcome them. At the absolute base of her internal conflict, she is only able to treat the symptoms, not the cause.
Trying to get to the bottom of her own issues is Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who, in episode seven, “Video Games,” seeks some sort of reconciliation with her absentee father. Things don’t work out so well, but Hannah is inspired by the events to call her parents and thank them for supporting her. But the gesture is too little too late, and we discover that Hannah’s relationship with her parents is so damaged they assume she’s trying to play an angle and wants something. She’s cried wolf so many times and been so self-centered in the past that her own parents, whose love is supposed to be unconditional, no longer trust her.
In episode eight, “It’s Back,” a new specter appears, jarring and uncomfortable to watch, in the form of Hannah’s OCD. It is uncertain what brought on her symptoms, although her impending e-book deadline (which was a month ago in episode six) probably plays a large part. At dinner with her parents, Hannah exhibits blatant symptoms and they insist on taking her to see a psychiatrist, though she abhors the idea, even going so far as to blame them for her state, saying, “It’s genetic.” Once finally at the doctor, Hannah asks him to tell her parents she’s fine, again complacent to treat the symptoms of the problem but ill-equipped to address the cause. In the last shot of the episode, we see Hannah riding the subway with her parents, prescription medication in tow. She looks at her father, and with a petulant tone, says, “I hate it when you look so concerned about me,” clearly unappreciative of the help he is trying to give her.
Hannah continues down this dark path in episode nine, “On All Fours,” and as her e-book deadline looms just two weeks away, so her OCD symptoms get more severe. Perhaps one of the most uncomfortable scenes in this episode (and it has plenty of them) is one in which Hannah is cleaning her ear with a Q-Tip but goes too far, puncturing her eardrum. She tries to use the emergency room doctor as a sounding board for her problems, but he is unsympathetic, telling her to frame the Q-Tip. Her anxiety level is clearly rising, and the episode closes with a shot of her inserting the same Q-Tip into her other ear, presumably in search of some sort of balance in her life.
When the season finale, “Together,” rolls around, we find out that Hannah refrained from abrading her other eardrum. When her publisher calls to ascertain the whereabouts of his pages, she tries to use her ear injury as an excuse for not having written them, but her words fall on deaf ears. In response, the publisher threatens to sue Hannah for her advance pay if she doesn’t deliver that day. Never one to solve her own problems, Hannah calls her dad to ask for the money, but he’s had enough of his manipulative daughter at this point, snapping, “You spent a lot of time as a kid inventing reasons not to go to school, and dammit if that hasn’t lasted well into your adult life.” Further dismayed by this encounter, Hannah decides to cut her own hair, this time actually going through with it. To finish the back, she asks her neighbor Laird (Jon Glaiser), whom she used to get the cocaine about which she wrote her jazzhate.com story. He obliges willingly enough, but when she makes a pass at him, he, too, rebukes her. “You know what, Hannah, you are the most self-involved, presumptuous person I have ever met. Ever,” he says. “I had feelings for you, sure, until I realized how rotten your insides are.” Hannah is astonished, but Laird continues, “I think it’s a pretty dark scene inside your head.” With this rejection, Hannah has no one left. In despair, she calls Adam, perhaps the person whom she most adamantly rejected this season. He can tell how dire her situation is (“I feel like I’m unraveling, Adam.”) and runs across New York City without a shirt on to come to her rescue. But when he finally arrives at her apartment, she refuses to open the door, forcing him to kick it in. Numb, she says, “You’re here,” as he picks her up in his arms. He replies, “Well, I was always here.”
At long last, it would seem Hannah has genuinely accepted help. She might even want to be happy. However, there is still the looming possibility that Adam only came to Hannah’s rescue because he had to (that’s how love works, right?), and that this grand gesture will end up being for naught, as have so many gestures before it been squandered on Hannah. There are several faint lights on the horizon, by my judgment, at least. The first is the opening (and only) line of Hannah’s e-book, which we see on her laptop screen in the last episode. It reads, “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance…” and while it may be difficult to glean a book’s literary merit from the opening line alone, this seems like a step in the right direction to me. The second reason I have hope for Hannah is that she no longer has the option of addressing the symptoms of her problems rather than the cause, because she, the blubbering mess with no friends save Adam, has finally realized the grave nature of her situation. If Hannah truly believed herself when she told Joshua she wanted to be happy, season three will be her chance to prove it.
It’s difficult to tell at this point in Hannah’s story whether she’s at rock bottom, still descending, or made the first step toward recovery when she called Adam. There is a case to be made for each, but I think it’s likely that Hannah’s stint with utter despair is near its end, if only because the average viewer probably isn’t interested in watching more of what has essentially become an exercise in human self-degradation. That being said, the fact that Lena Dunham is willing to write her own character into such a dismal place is laudable, because it prohibits viewers from seeing Hannah as a stereotypical woman (of any sort). She may be unstable, she may be afraid of commitment, and she may be a bitch to everyone who tries to be nice to her, but she certainly isn’t boring. What sets Girls apart from its competition is Lena Dunham’s ability to paint ordinary people in an ordinary world in an interesting light. Characters like Hannah manifest themselves in the real world all the time—we all know someone who’s vapid and averse to help—and perhaps Lena Dunham is just trying to remind viewers that a little care in the right context goes a long way.
“Society limits the range in which men can express their emotions,” argues hip-hop writer Chuck Creekmuir. This claim is especially true in the musical world, and particularly evident in the genre of hip-hop and more specifically its sub-genre of rap. In striving to avoid being characterized as effeminate, many male rappers end up overcompensating in both their actions and words, epitomizing an extreme form of masculinity that shortchanges their expressive potential through music. But not all rappers fall victim to this unreasonable standard, and a new generation of male rappers is reinforcing the notion that one can be expressive, emotional, and even vulnerable, without sacrificing credibility or commercial appeal.
Twenty years ago, during hip-hop’s infancy, the genre was diverse in terms of both music and thematic material. It combined the musical genres of spoken word, funk, dub, soul, and even disco to create a unique sound, and the musicians creating this music were just as diverse. Like many creative individuals, artists live by extremes, both in terms of personal expression and sheer scope of work. The rap group N.W.A. (short for Niggas With Attitude) was perhaps the first largely controversial hip-hop group to work its way into the public eye by capitalizing on their artistic license to be as extreme as they wanted. N.W.A. came out of, and arguably started, the West Coast gangsta rap scene. Their edgy music, overly profane lyrics, and devil-may-care attitudes all contributed to a meteoric rise in popularity and a place in the annals of hip-hop history. With the emerging popularity of this new, rougher style of hip-hop, an emphasis quickly developed on insensitive, tough, self-obsessed, and overall incorrigible behavior.
Hypermasculinity, a concept described by DeReef Jamison in a 2006 study from the Journal of African American Studies, was becoming the norm. This exaggerated and distorted view of what it means to be masculine encompasses three main ideas: danger as exciting, calloused sexual attitudes toward women, and violence as manly (Jamison 51). All three of these evolved from their relatively isolated place in gangsta rap to the forefront of the entire genre, effectively ensuring that rap would both remain male dominated and continue to be the object of public scrutiny for years to come. To become a successful rapper, a hypermasculine persona was almost a necessity, and because most women are not predisposed to enjoying violence or harboring sexist attitudes against their own gender, few of them were able to make it big in the genre.
Whether due to fear of change, an individual desire to one-up all other rappers while simultaneously capitalizing on popular themes, or simply the inertia of hypermasculinity as an integral part of rap, the hardened attitudes pioneered by N.W.A. have persisted and are still staples of rap music. Yet in catering to such a narrow range of emotions and attitudes, many rappers end up shortchanging themselves of music’s true expressive potential. Being limited to such a small range of expression is at the very least artistically limiting, and at most perhaps even emotionally and psychologically damaging, as Richard Gilbert explained in a 1992 article published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Gilbert 42).
To the contrary, some would argue that the violent and often objectionable themes typically found in rap music are simply a method for otherwise oppressed and downtrodden individuals to express themselves. Writing has certain therapeutic qualities, and lyrics (rap included) are by no means exempt from that designation. By expressing these angry, violent, and sexist ideas through music, rappers could be less likely to act correspondingly in real life. However, the caveat is that these personas, which may very well start out as just verbal exercises, end up invading and eventually dominating the personalities of many artists, on or off the stage. In fact, as Terri Adams and Douglas Fuller point out in a 2006 article from the Journal of Black Studies, it is quite easy for individuals to internalize these false definitions of themselves (Adams and Fuller 947). And where do these easily palatable personas come from? Generally they are the byproducts of culture, but in this case they can be specifically correlated to the culture surrounding hip-hop.
In this way, being emotionally narrow-minded can be very counterproductive, both socially and personally. This reality affects hypermasculine rappers as well as their audience, who unwittingly consume every message found in popular music, whether consciously or otherwise. Today, rap music has become increasingly commercialized, constituting a large portion of popular music and culture. Accordingly, many more people are exposed to its messages than were twenty years ago, and these messages are just as objectionable and controversial as they were back then. The only difference is how they are phrased and the size of the audience.
By promulgating unsavory themes, rappers are not only shortchanging themselves but also adversely affecting millions of impressionable listeners. As these musicians are now producers of media consumed by the masses, there is an increasing need for greater diversity in the themes of rap music. This need is in actuality a cultural imperative, dictated by the variety of life itself. And as digitalization has taken over the music industry, a vast array of media, including rap music, is available to almost everyone. Music is said to reflect the culture that facilitates its creation, and in recent years several prominent hip-hop and rap artists have sparked a sort of emotional renaissance, seeking to reflect the less extreme aspects of life.
The first of these anti-machismo pioneers was arguably Kanye West, who revolutionized the hip-hop industry with his album 808s & Heartbreak. By the time West released the album in 2008, he had already established his place among hip-hop royalty, capitalizing on lyrical prowess, an eagerness to break established rules, and an infamous, explosive personality that borders on egomaniacal. But this aggressive personality belies the emotional power of 808s, argues Joey Guerra, a music critic for the Houston Chronicle. The album, which Guerra concedes is not “easily digestible” due to its dark and melancholy content, stands out as a triumph in both the emotional and experimental arenas, even when compared with West’s already unconventional repertoire. 808s & Heartbreak is largely considered to have sparked a revolution in mainstream hip-hop, setting in motion a movement toward emotional honesty and vindication.
Kanye West hinted at the homogeneity that drove him to this new musical philosophy in a 2008 interview with MTV, saying, “Hip-hop used to be about being fearless and now it’s all about being afraid. It used to be about standing out, now it’s all about fitting in.” This expectation to fit in was what West sought to combat with 808s & Heartbreak, but not if it came at the cost of his musical integrity. In another interview about the album’s release, this time with the Los Angeles hip-hop station Power 106 FM, he decried those who claimed the album was simply a throwaway experimental piece. “I’m coming to make the best music I can possibly make,” West said, “that can connect with the most people.” He realized there were certain limitations of hip-hop in its then standardized and largely vulgar form, and decided to take a risk on an unproven style in order to reach a larger audience. And when a musician with as much report as Kanye West succeeds with an unproven idea, his contemporaries take note.
In the wake of 808s & Heartbreak, hip-hop artists have been able to realize commercial success and notoriety through the employ of emotional themes and an introspective vision. This subject matter has become such a force in the world of hip-hop that certain artists, such as Drake, B.o.B., Kid Cudi, and Childish Gambino, have been able to develop successful careers around existential exploration and emotional identification. Keep in mind that these artists are not just one-hit wonders, but musicians who sell out shows and are revered by fans and critics alike. All the aforementioned have proven that the movement catalyzed by Kanye West in 2008 has the potential to revolutionize hip-hop, emotionally liberating an untold number of new fans.
This is not to say, however, that the time has come for hypermasculinity to retreat entirely from the forefront of hip-hop. No, the themes of misogyny and violence are so pervasive within the genre that they may never totally disappear, but that does not mean that there is no room for expansion. Instead, it is likely that artists will instead pursue whatever content is truly relevant, both to themselves and their audiences, whether they are passive or aggressive in nature.
One thing that is certain, though, is that the reign of emotionally one-dimensional rap is quickly drawing to a close. With such a wide variety of content in hip-hop today, it does not follow for audiences to listen to music that embodies but a fraction of the emotional spectrum of life. But just as the ideals of hypermasculinity have a certain (if somewhat contemptible) place in real life, they will no doubt continue to be reflected in the words of hip-hop artists seeking to express themselves. However, with the heightened occurrence of lighter, softer themes in hip-hop, the future of the genre certainly looks bright.
Adams, Terri M., and Douglas B. Fuller. “The Words Have Changed but the Ideology Remains the Same: Misogynistic Lyrics in Rap Music.” Journal of Black Studies 36.6 (2006): 938-957. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Gilbert, Richard K. “Revisiting the Psychology of Men: Robert Bly and the Mytho-Poetic Movement.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 32.2 (1992): 41-67. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Guerra, Joey. “A Dark, Moody Side to Kanye West.” The Houston Chronicle 24 Nov. 2008: Newspaper Source. Web.
Jamison, DeReef F. “The Relationship between African Self-Consciousness, Cultural Misorientation, Hypermasculinity, and Rap Music Preference.” Journal of African American Studies 9.4 (2006):45-60. Academic Search Complete. Web.
“Kanye West Visits Big Boy’s Neighborhood.” Big Boy’s Neighborhood. KPWR, Los Angeles. 17 Dec. 2008. Radio.
West, Kanye. Interview by MTV. “Hip-hop is like a big High School.” MTV. MTV, 2008. Web.
In the first outing of its fourth season, NBC’s Community gets off to a rocky start. The episode, “History 101,” hints at all the touchstones of the show fans have grown to love, but never goes farther than merely touching on them. As those acquainted with the show will be aware, this is the first foray for new producers David Guarascio and Moses Port, who replaced former showrunner Dan Harmon after three seasons. If Guarascio and Port have set the goal of creating a facsimile of Harmon’s Community, they’ve done only a passable job. To a fan of the show in seasons one through three, it’s apparent that something is off.
There are good performances from the usual suspects, namely Jeff (played by Joel McHale), Dean Pelton (Jim Rash), and Abed (Danny Pudi), but after watching “History 101” for the third time I got the impression that they’re working harder than usual, McHale and Rash in particular. I can only assume that this is due either to the growing pains of working under new management or that the spark that lit the show’s fire – Dan Harmon – is gone and they’re forced to compensate. Throughout the episode, there are references at the change in command, the most blatant of which comes from Dean Pelton, who says, “I don’t know why I was so worried about change, this year’s gonna be great!” Is this meant to be a confident reassurance from the writers that everything will be all right, or is it ironic foreshadowing, signaling the show’s imminent demise?
The episode’s main storyline of the “Hunger Deans” makes strong arguments for both notions. While the Hunger Games is indeed relevant to pop-culture, it’s a rather shallow reference by Community’s previous standards. The level of detail in lampooning we’ve come to expect over the past three years isn’t there, and the newest satire only manages to garner a few genuine laughs from what could have been an elaborate, riotous story. But just when all hope seems lost, bits like Pierce’s struggle to find a joke about Jeff’s balls and Annie and Shirley’s (Allison Brie and Yvette Nicole-Brown) senior prank subplot remind us that the old Community may still be alive and well, if somewhat displaced.
While Abed’s Inception-esque internal sitcoms help ground the show (as his character is wont to do), they become annoying and out of place when he reduces the gang into Muppet Babies versions of themselves. This scene, along with Troy and Britta’s fountain wishing fiasco, doesn’t fit with the rest of the episode. It seems like the creators are just reminding us that the show does wacky things like this on a regular basis, but placating to us is… insulting. As Mike Hale states for the New York Times, “Being asked to take a show with a distinctive, delicate chemistry and increase its audience is definitely a more difficult proposition than being asked to maintain an already highly rated franchise.” Is NBC so worried about gaining a bigger audience for Community that they’re willing to ostracize fans who have been loyal to the series for three seasons? It follows that NBC would want to keep all the existing fans, but the prospect of doing that while simultaneously expanding the audience might be reaching too far. Indeed, Holt asserts that, “Apparently the new producers know what we want, but they won’t, or can’t, give it to us,” and I agree. This first episode seems well intentioned, but falls short.
Another reviewer, Todd Van Der Werff, who writes for the A.V. Club, feels equally torn about the show’s potential. “This is still an often hilarious, well-acted, well-directed, well-written show with one of the all-time great ensemble casts…” he says, before conceding later in his review of “History 101” that the show is “displaying rampant signs of age.” Those signs include a scarcity of laughs (when compared to earlier seasons); shallower, less nuanced characters; and uncharacteristically broad pop-culture references. There is still hope for season four of Community, even if the show is starting to feel more like a standard sitcom than its fans are comfortable with. It may be “a very handsomely produced, excellently acted sitcom,” as Van Der Werff professes, but that isn’t what got Community its passionate fan base. If future episodes don’t improve, I fear my favorite NBC comedy won’t be so lucky as to narrowly escape the blade of cancellation a fourth time.
Among luxury car companies, Audi has always been a polarizing brand, with people either loving the German automaker or hating it, choosing instead the established Bavarian favorites of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. However, thanks to a sterling advertising strategy based primarily around a strong social media presence and effective use of hashtags, both on Twitter and Instagram, Audi has become one of the most sought after brands in the past two years. This recent push has helped set the brand apart from its biggest competitors of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, both of which frequently call upon tradition in their advertisements, whereas Audi focuses on its slogan of, “Truth in Engineering,” pushing race bred technologies (proven in its Le Mans and Petit Le Mans series racecars), ‘not-like-the-others’ market position, and being the automaker with the optimal balance of performance and luxury.
Of all social media, Twitter is certainly not the most popular (only about 10 percent of Americans are active users), but its reach is startling, according to advertising and branding journalist David Griner, with 43 percent of Americans saying they hear Twitter mentioned, “Almost every day,” (2012). Even though only a small portion of the country uses Twitter, Audi’s senior social-media manager, Andy White, asserts that, “To tap into that live, as-it-happens cultural zeitgeist, Twitter is the medium in which it’s best to reach, respond and be proactive.” In this manner, Audi can curate user-generated hashtags and incorporate them into further advertising campaigns, as was the case when a fan created #WantAnR8, indicating his lust over the automaker’s top-of-the-line offering. The hashtag, “Was initially organic and then supported by us with paid ad dollars,” said White. “The hashtag is now synonymous with Audi social.” Indeed, I constantly see evocative images tagged with #WantAnR8 popping up on my Instagram and Twitter feeds. This constant exposure, although manipulated by the company, really does feel organic, and often Audi uses images submitted by fans when it makes posts to further this idea.
Although Audi has only five and a half million fans across its social media platforms (versus Mercedes’ more than seven million), the former still manages to generate more of what analysts are calling, “Engagement,” a quantifiable metric of the impact of social media posts. According to Venture Beat writer John Koetsier, social marketing company Socialbakers developed the concept of engagement, which essentially means, “Your post, tweet, or status update did something. Someone changed their behavior or actions as a result of it. And others will see your message because they did,” (2012). Audi has been the foremost authority when it comes to engaging customers, and Socialbakers even ranked it as having the single highest engagement rate of ten top companies. Audi registered 0.7% engagement, more than twice Mercedes’ 0.306%. But how are these numbers calculated? “The protocol is slightly different for each network,” says Koetsier, “But the basis is the same: How many social reactions are taking place in response to your actions.” Audi’s seemingly small engagement percentage equated to, “700,000 social shares, likes, tweets, and other actions in June,” according to Koetsier (2012). Most will agree that nearly a million customer interactions generated solely by free online platforms is social marketing at its finest.
In a recent interview with brandchannel’s Dale Buss, Joe Quattrone, vice president of M80, Audi’s social-marketing agency, elaborated on the company’s approach to producing content for social media. The first contributing factor to Audi’s social success is that it frequently posts unique photos that, “[Its customers] can’t get on the blog scene or just perusing Google images,“ said Quattrone (2012). “We try to provide that on a consistent basis.“ This means behind the scenes photos from auto shows around the world, sneak peeks at concept cars, and tantalizing images of pre-production models. Buss says the second thing Audi does is refrain from simply regurgitating messages from its print and TV ads on its social media accounts. This could result in customers’ overfamiliarity with the campaigns, and as the old adage goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Continuing on this train of thought, Buss contends, “Audi’s strong engagement philosophy is consistent with its overall brand philosophy: While it is far from the highest-volume luxury make in the U.S. car market at this point, it wants to be the most intriguing,” (2012).
It is yet to be seen how far-reaching the effects of social media marketing are, but if Audi continues on the successful trail it is blazing today, it will be one of the first companies to fully reap the benefits. Social media marketing is somewhat tenuously connected to a company’s bottom line, as it is infinitely difficult to track what is essentially the influence of word-of-mouth on sales, yet the engagement calculations developed by Socialbakers are a step toward eliminating ambiguity from the field. Audi stands to benefit from further advancements in social media marketing, and, like its cars, the German automaker’s advertising will continue to push the boundary between what is expected to be done and what can be done. In the mean time, I’ve no doubt that Audi will continue to build off what it knows and innovate in every area it can, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the next big social medium.
Buss, D. (2012, July 23). Audi Gets Traction Via Social Engagement. brandchannel.com. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2012/07/23/Audi-Social-Media-072312.aspx
Griner, D. (2012, June 11). Q&A: Audi’s Social Chief Talks Hashtags and the Power of Twitter | Adweek. Adweek. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/qa-audis-social-chief-talks-hashtags-and-power-twitter-141050
Koetsier, J. (2012, July 16). One number will tell you why Audi beats Mercedes ? and if your social media marketing is working. VentureBeat. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from http://venturebeat.com/2012/07/16/one-number-will-tell-you-why-audi-beats-mercedes-and-if-your-social-media-marketing-is-working/
Earlier this semester in my Media Management course at Ohio University, I compared and contrasted the management styles of Steve Jobs and Alan Mulally. Steve Jobs is a particularly inspiring figure for me, as I am sure he is for others, and writing about him for the first assignment of that course piqued my interest further, leading me to consider what exactly it is about him that I find so inspiring. After some introspection and much contemplation, I decided the largest factor was his ability to come across as just another guy. His “uniform” was decidedly casual, and even in his keynote speeches, where he usually announced technologically groundbreaking products, he seemed laidback and personable, all while presenting with the entire world watching. Clearly the man was a genius, managing to transform a garage-based business into what is today the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, but his disposition was such that, to the average man, it seemed being average (or at least branding oneself to be) did not preclude him from obtaining greatness.
The pivotal moment of the documentary, One Last Thing, which I watched in class, revolved around a quote of his, one that I find truly speaks to both his own creative genius and his embodiment of the everyman’s dream of creating something exceptional from something commonplace. “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you — and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use,” he said. “Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.” Indeed, this tenet changed Jobs’ life, and has positively affected mine as well.
The sentiment rings similarly yet distinctly when sung by Simon Sinek in, “How great leaders inspire action,” his 2009 TED talk. In this lecture, Sinek uses the success of Jobs and Apple as a case study, asserting that the success of the company is due to its realization of the sentiment, “It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.” And why Apple does the things it does (foster creativity, think differently, create elegant and intuitive products) is directly related to that belief Jobs had of realizing that any one among us has the ability to change the world.
Having been exposed to such revelatory notions, do I walk around actively thinking I can change the world? Not exactly, but gaining these perspectives on life subconsciously reinforces my desire to make something more of myself and have a positive impact on the world around me. I still don’t have even the slightest inkling of how I’ll accomplish such a task, but I know it is most certainly within my abilities.
In order to realize my goals, I have to refine myself, both as an individual and as a brand. A branding exercise I did through the leadership center here at OU was eye opening for me, primarily because some of the observations I wrote about myself didn’t appeal to me, the very same person who embodies them day in and day out. But, as the adage goes, “Knowing is half the battle,” and the fact that I am cognizant of my own shortcomings can only serve to benefit me in the future, and once I hone my personal brand I’ll be that much closer to reaching my goals.
As Mark Deuze said when he spoke to our class on Thursday of last week, staying true to one’s brand is one of the soundest ways to success in media, as evidenced by Tiësto, the Dutch DJ whom Deuze used as a case study throughout his lecture. Tiësto has only become as successful as he is today by staying true to his brand, and as a result he is one of the highest paid DJs in the world, owns two record labels, has his own clothing line in conjunction with Guess and a signature headphone line with AKG, and, most importantly, positively impacts thousands (if not millions) of people every year with his music.
If anything is clear to me after 15 weeks of studying media management (albeit in a limited capacity), it is that leadership of oneself must be paramount to the leadership of others. And surely enough, I find myself convinced that in managing a company, a brand, or a group of students, there is one common thread, one absolutely indispensable ideal: self-management. An individual’s ability to manage and lead him or herself must antedate his or her ability to manage and lead others. Apple would not be the corporate juggernaut it is today if Steve Jobs did not know himself well enough to manage his employees, nor would Tiësto be as wildly successful as he currently is had he wavered from his brand, his self-identity.
I see these men as inspirational figures, but inspiration can only do so much. In the end, it is up to me to manage myself so that I, too, might one day have the privilege of making a positive impact on the world in which I live.
And now, for a short story:
Walking down the snow-dusted sidewalk, Anon’s feet kicked up little trails of flurries to complement those falling in the dry, wintry air. He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets in an honest (if futile) attempt to further brace himself against the cold, but he knew the sting of the frigid air on his face would persist regardless of how hard he willed it away. He rounded the corner onto Main Street, knowing he only had five more blocks to go until he made it to Cuppa.
Five more blocks of bitter wind. Five more blocks of cold fingers. Just five more blocks.
His mind started to wander as it often did when he was walking in solitude (always in solitude), bouncing from one topic to the next so quickly that he could hardly keep track of what he was thinking himself. His feet kept shuffling (left-right-left-right-left) and the gears of his mind kept turning, seemingly of their own volition, without any reason, but most certainly with rhyme. Disparate topics flowed together into one beautiful torrent of expression, its source in Anon’s mind, and its delta on his silver tongue - the topic currently at hand.
…My flow’s so steady so I know y’all niggas ain’t ready/To fuck with this hard son of the streets/Especially when I drop these fat beats/With the bass so thick like a Redwood trunk/I ship elephant tusks in the Louis trunk/I let the hoes ride in the trunk/Of the Benz G-Wagon/ Bitch I roll like Arnold, the Austrian Oak/Yeah I know my trees/Roll the Bubba Kush, Cali Gold, and that sweet Blue Dream/Everything you want but couldn’t have I achieve/Before I leave my bed in the morning/Ya mamma be mournin’ your death/If you tryna battle me/I make the most enemies because I roll one deep/Don’t need a fuckin’ crew to teach me how to do me/Think you lookin’ fresh in your Supreme T/Ima jack your swag and leave you slack jawed/Call me an oral surgeon/But I cap fools, not teeth/And you got the aura of a virgin…
Although he had never entered a rap battle, much less won one, Anon was convinced he was legit. Everywhere he went, he carried himself with the air of Marshall Mathers, a la Eight Mile, sauntering gait and downturned eyes, affecting to be more introspective than he actually was. The effete lifestyle described in his rap stylings couldn’t have been farther from his upper-middle class suburban upbringing, and yet he still yearned for the kind of strife that he believed birthed good rappers. All the heavy hitters in the industry slung dope and shot people at one time or another, right? Why the fuck couldn’t he? Or at least make people believe he did? It was just a matter of picking out the right words and phraseology, that’s all.
“Rapping is lying,” he thought aloud.
One block from his destination, Anon heard a siren wail in the distance. He couldn’t tell if it was a cop car or an ambulance but he became anxious just the same. Sirens always made him nervous, even though he had never been arrested (or even questioned by a cop for that matter). His hands began to sweat despite the cold as the drone of what he had finally identified as a cop car got nearer to him, its pitch steadily increasing along with the rate of his pulse. Anon instinctively pulled the hood of his jacket farther down his brow in an attempt to make himself seem inconspicuous, lest he be incarcerated for his many (none) offenses against the law.
The blue and white car whizzed past, its siren changing pitch as it passed the lone figure walking down Main Street. Just another silhouette in the night. Anon started and the sound, and immediately became angry. He had almost been wishing that the pigs would have stopped him and perpetrated some Rodney King-esque injustice on his suburban white ass so he could have something to rap about, something to get rich off. But to get arrested he had to commit a crime, and to elicit a prodigious beat down from the Five-Oh, he would have to resist arrest, maybe even assault an officer.
“Fuck it,” he said, stopping in his tracks, the snow crunching under his boots.
“I need fucking material,” he ejaculated to no one in particular, clenching his fists inside his jacket pockets. “I need to do something that I can rap about.”
The storefront on his right couldn’t have been more undeserving of Anon’s sudden wrath, but it fell victim just the same. With a scream rife with all the fervor capable of one who has everything but believes he has nothing, Anon ran at the window that read, “Hot drinks, open late,” and bore down on it with all the might his 19 year-old fist could muster. As the plate glass shattered, his skin tore open at the knuckles and shards of glass sliced his forearm. The remnants of the wall-sized window rained down on the unsuspecting coffee shop patrons seated next to it, as they screamed and jumped away as best they could.
Tumult ensued. Anon’s hand was warm for the first time all night. His fist was still clenched, dripping blood on the white snow at his feet.
People were shouting, some standing flabbergasted. An irate man grabbed Anon by the shoulders, shaking him hard, yelling in his face, spittle flying out of the corners of his mouth. He was foaming like a mad dog and his eyes were bloodshot with rage. Anon couldn’t move, couldn’t think. Didn’t want to, anyway. This was his moment. His glory. His lyric.
The familiar whine of sirens sounded in the distance, growing louder at an alarmingly fast rate. In seconds, the police were on the scene, two from one car. They wrestled the angered proprietor away from the numb teen and swiftly clamped handcuffs around Anon’s wrists.
His hand was cold again.
They patted him down, finding a wallet containing a New York driver’s license in his back pocket.
“What’s your name?” the shorter of the two officers asked. Anon offered no response. “Are you Derek Balmer?” he inquired, reading the name on the license.
“No,” Anon responded.
“Then who does this wallet belong to?”
“Correct me if I’m mistaken here but that would make your name Derek Balmer, no?”
“No,” said the newly made criminal. “My name is Anon.”
“Is that so?” the officer retorted. “Well, pal, you can continue your little identity crisis in lockup.” He turned to his partner, saying, “Jerry, put him in the cruiser.”
Jerry first wrapped the perp’s bloody hand in a towel, then obliged his partner and placed Anon in the back of a Crown Vic that had seen better days.
The officers got statements from those present and then departed the scene as Anon stared bleakly, vacantly, out the window, seeming not to register anything that was happening.
He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him. He didn’t know he had finally made it to Cuppa. He didn’t know the window he broke belonged to his favorite coffee shop. He didn’t think.
No wheels turned.