Ooooh Fashion (turn to the left). New/Digital Media exemplar answer: With reference to your case study, discuss the extent to which you agree that ‘private lives are the subject of constant surveillance’. Fashion as a case study.

Things that drive me nuts (No 4327 to be precise): Going to a Media Studies Inset event, meeting a perfectly nice teacher, and being told that the New/Digital Media case study their students are working on (note – all of them so there is no student choice/responsibility involved on their part) is a single organisation. YouTube for example. Or even more concerning, Pixar.

The hapless students are going to be woefully ill-equipped to deal with some of the maulings that AQA sees fit to dole out to punish the unwary. A question on whether the internet is a “positive contribution to humanity” (2015) is going to destroy the Pixar student. A question on the “threats and opportunities for media producers” (2014) is going to flummox most students who have only looked at one company such as YouTube (although it would be possible).

I ask my students to create a case study that revolves around a particular type of media content and the ways that New/Digital Media offers both audiences and producers new access, interactivity, and experiences. Areas have included the news, music, sport, film and fashion. By looking at blogs, vlogs, online discussions (reddit) and other content they can build up a picture of the changes wrought by NDM.

So far it has worked well but AQA likes to throw in some big questions.

Oh AQA. How could you?

June 2016:

Question 7

Data is “retained and subsequently used without the subscriber or registered user being informed… private lives are the subject of constant surveillance”. European Court of Justice – April 2014

With reference to your case study, discuss the extent to which you agree that ‘private lives are the subject of constant surveillance’.

[48 marks]

From the mark scheme (check out how effusive and detailed these points are).

These are only possible points that could be included in answers. You should reward other valid points appropriate to the mark scheme.

Question 7

  • Changes in technology
  • Increased role of online platforms in daily life
  • Rise of ‘threats to western democracy’
  • Role of the government in ‘over-seeing’ the activities of the public
  • Ethical and moral debates within the issue
  • Role of regulation and censorship, particularly where there is none/little in place

Aaaaaaaagh!

Now throw into the mix the fact that NDM is, no hyperbole here, an absolute battleground.

I don’t know whether AQA knew how much of a political battlefield identity was going to be when they added it to the paper a few years back but it is one the hot-button topics of the day. Recent events (cough-Facebook, cough-Cambridge Analytica, cough-Trump, Cough-Brexit) have shown us that NDM is also a battlefield (and I am not talking metaphorically – Christopher Wylie described his work as building a “cultural weapon” – modern (and I mean cyber) wars are not fought with bullets.

I liked being a Media teacher when we discussed EastEnders characters. I feel a bit like a Belgium farmer in 1914 who suddenly finds his beetroot patch has a trench in it (or several).

So – how to tackle such a poo-storm of a question? Let’s make it hard for me. Imagine I have chosen fashion as my case study area (for those of you who haven’t seen me just, trust. This is not my natural area of competence). What to do? Hit the theories and make what you have got work for you. Oh – and let the examiner know what you are up against.

Exemplar essay

My case study area is fashion. There are some key areas, in terms of audience experience, where NDM intersects with the concepts of “private lives” and “surveillance” and others where it links to deeper current issues and debates concerning state surveillance and social and political manipulation.

One of the ways we can consider the concept of surveillance is through the work of Katz and Blumler (and their Uses and Gratifications theory). In their definition surveillance is what the audience uses media for in order to learn about changes to society that will affect them; metaphorically taking up a vantage point which allows them to see further. In this way a media product such as the online magazine Teen Vogue allows the individual audience member a chance to negotiate potential sartorial disasters. Teen Vogue has become a highly politicised and engaged product but there is an entire section devoted to “Prom.” In this section there are social and political stories but there are also articles such as “Celebrity Style: 10 Princess Prom Dresses Inspired by Celebrities” which give the audience a chance to look at the choices made by their peers and, possibly, emulate them. In this way other young people’s personal lives are the subject of wider audience scrutiny in a way that was less possible than in the analogue era.

In the past some analogue magazines used candid and street photography to showcase fashion or harangue those who had made poor choices. ID magazine’s famous “straight-up” photographs (most famously issue 3 featured an unknown Boy George) offered parochial youth a chance to see what was being worn by those at the cutting edge. Vice magazine (both in analogue and early online form) had “Do’s and Don’ts” where effusive praise and scathing abuse seemed to be poured on individuals in an often arbitrary, and hugely sarcastic way. The fact that Vice used candid photography clearly exploits the way that digital photography is more easily shared than analogue photography and has reshaped such surveillance. Online discussion and content aggregator sites such as reddit and the Chive offer further chances to offer advice or humiliate people using the audience as content generators (part of Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0).

Another way that private lives have become public is through the way the internet has allowed people to make their private life public. At an extreme end this has allowed for monetization of blogs and vlogs so that “influencers” gain remuneration for their self-exposure. MannyMua uses his YouTube channel, Facebook account and his Instagram micro-blog to generate over four million subscribers to his beauty advice. Manny has also become sponsored as the male face of Maybelline cosmetics. His work is rooted in the way that the internet bypasses traditional publishers; therefore his identity (as a gay man using make up in a non-drag way) can be represented. His work is a form of self-exposure. In a discussion of surveillance however it is important to note that there is not simply a producer/audience relationship in a discussion of NDM. The audience is also being watched by third party entities. By using Mozilla Lightbeam after watching some of Manny’s videos, and following product links, it is possible to see the 34 third party sites who are monitoring, and storing data, on the audience.

lightbeam

There are some important things to say about this. Firstly any closeted individual might believe that they are looking at material privately; unaware that they are being scrutinised, both for commercial and state reasons. This is an issue of surveillance over private lives. In an extreme form this was made clear by the 2015 revelation by whistle-blower Edward Snowdon of the scale of the U.S. N.S.A. Prism operation to eavesdrop on much of the internet. In addition the way that cookies shape the internet experience for each individual user was noticed back in 2011 by Eli Parisier who coined the term “filter bubbles” so that for an unaware individual a visit to Manny’s sites will have an effect on the Google searches and advertising streams that they see. Secondly, whilst most of these third party sites use data to target the audience through advertising, recent revelations by Christopher Wylie concerning Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data shows how seemingly simple choices can be weaponised in order to shape social and political attitudes and choices. In fact it is the use of the mundane (such as likes in Facebook) that gives data companies such as AIQ the information they need to psychographically profile each individual and target them specifically. This clearly runs counter to the techno-utopian ideals of Tim Berners Lee who wanted to create a decentralised internet through the creation of the World Wide Web.

On a lighter note much of David Gauntlett’s recent work has focused on the way that audiences create, and co-create, content using NDM (avoiding the old “media gods”). A good example of this would be Susie Lau (@susiebubble). She was one of the first fashion bloggers to generate both an income and a following (back in 2006) and she has utilised a variety of social media platforms as these sites have matured and developed. She currently uses her Instagram account and her own website to develop her content. Her work consists of self-promotion (images of herself) and those from her attendance at fashion events, such as her recent post concerning Valentino’s haute couture show. In this way she allows the audience access to her private life and access to the closed world that she has access to (which was previously only accessible through magazines such as Vogue). Other bloggers such as Kavita Donkersley (she wears fashion), who started her site when she was 16 by posting images of her vintage finds in Sheffield, show how the private has become sharable and so public. Both bloggers exploit the opportunities created by media convergence (Henry Jenkins) which allows images, video and text to be produced and combined by one individual and in one media product allowing the audience to curate their own experience and self-publish. This could be argued is a way that the audience is willingly foregoing privacy and, if we consider the way that individuals use their social media accounts to post selfies of themselves dressed for a night out, showing off new hair or make-up then a huge number of individuals are blurring the line between private and public space.

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