All posts by davidlin15

Presentation Reflections

Rudi’s presentation made me very curious about Native American activism, both within and outside the context of Alaska’s pebble mines. Given that Native Americans represent less than 5 percent of the American population, I’d love to learn more about what kinds of techniques activist organizers can use to encourage solidarity and make their voices heard. Moreover, given that most history textbooks focus so little on Native American history, how can Natives continue to spread cultural awareness?

Zoe’s presentation taught me a great deal about how powerful large agricultural businesses are and how much they’ve been able to shape our perceptions and habits around food. I’m glad she cleared many of my misconceptions and focused on all the ways that agricultural businesses have been suppressing food activist efforts.

I was most surprised by Neel’s presentation since I didn’t realize how unfairly Black Lives Matter was being evaluated until I began to understand the context into which this movement was born. The direct comparison with the Civil Rights Movement was very helpful in proving that unlike the 1960s, the more pessimistic BLM serves to unveil the many forms of racism that have since been swept under the rug.

Jessica’s presentation showed me that the “model minority” myth is merely a subtle means of quieting and dismissing racial activism. It’s inspired me to acknowledge that implicit biases can be just as dangerous as explicit ones, and that bringing light to these systematic injustices is the key to resolving them.


Polarizing America through Citizens United

Research Question:

Why is American politics so polarized? In social media, you see debates that never seem to get anywhere, filled with people listening only to reply and not truly understanding the opposition. In Congress, instead of hearing about bipartisan progress, we hear much more of filibusters, walkouts, and resignations. Gerrymandering, campaign finance, shifting demographics, media bias, and socioeconomic inequality all play into the growing divide in America, but how do these factors play into each other and which deserves the most attention?

Thesis Moment:

Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission was a Supreme Court decision that lifted all corporate restrictions on political spending. This meant that corporations could now spend unlimited sums of money in elections, typically through independent political action committees called super PACs. Most of the factors listed in the previous section have long affected America, but the Citizens United decision has revolutionized the campaign finance ecosystem in the past decade and marked the inception of a new political powerhouse in the form super PACs.

As such, I will focus on the effects on Citizens United and examine how these ramifications contribute to an ever-polarizing political climate. Political polarization exists on both the voter and politician level, but Citizens United affects both parties in different ways. On the voter level, super PACs can dominate television ad time, flooding voters with a stream of often negative and misleading ads. Combined with the prevalence of existing media bias, these ads can lock voters in ideological bubbles and increase partisanship by removing the middle ground. On the politician level, the need for corporate backing to survive in DC forces politicians to become more responsive to donors rather than voters.

I will be using election spending data, voter behavior studies, and historical examples to draw the connection between campaign finance and polarization and highlight the destructive political effects of Citizens United.

Debriefing and Reframing for the RBA

Link to Infographic:

During the peer review process, the primary feedback I got focused on citations and logical links. In my infographic, I used speech bubbles with statements like “Did you hear Romney let a woman die?” and “Obama is a Muslim!” to echo false claims from the 2012 presidential election. To add more credence to my point, I cited the original super PACS that produced these misleading ads that led to voters making these ridiculous claims. Similarly, in my proposal there were a number of instances where I omitted a citation for a statement I thought was intuitive. However, the absence of citations made it difficult for readers to distinguish fact from opinion and trust in me as a writer.

The issue of logical links was feedback I got on both my infographic and my proposal. Both presented a number of ideas but didn’t always make the links explicit. As an example, I started my proposal discussing political polarization in America, before jumping into Citizens United. Especially for those unaware of the Citizens United court decision, the transition was abrupt and under-explained. Another point that was brought up was what aspects of political polarization I wanted to focus on.

Taking all this into consideration, I’ll be making a couple of changes in my RBA. Perhaps most importantly, I will be expounding upon why Citizens United is the largest contributor to political polarization (as opposed to gerrymandering, shifting demographics, etc). Specifically, I want to focus on how this court decision polarizes American on both the voter and politician level. On the voter level, the deluge of negative and false advertisements perpetrated by super PACs turns what could’ve been a civilized political discussion into name-calling and mudslinging. A huge contributor to this problem is the presence of biased media sources, a topic I want to delve into during my research. On the politician level, the need for money and corporate backing naturally forces parties to support policies in line with their largest special interest donors as opposed to their average American voter.

Addressing Political Polarization in America

  1. Bridging Two-Party Polarization in America (Likely topic): “My number one priority is making sure president Obama’s a one-term president.” This quote from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell exemplifies the political gridlock that filled the Obama presidency with unprecedented instances of filibuster among other obstructionist tactics. The polarization of our senators is reflected in its constituents, a trend highlighted by the recent 2016 presidential election. Personally, I am most frustrated by the lack of civil discourse between voters on either side. Too often, I see debates degrade into uncivilized bickering and name-calling. This problem is only further exacerbated by online echo chambers and the epidemic of fake news on social media forums. I believe part of the problem is Citizens United: big pharmaceuticals, Wall Street, Super PACs, and the NRA are only some of the instances of large organizations drowning out individual opinions with money and influencing the politicians they back. Ultimately, I want to address the roots of political polarization in America and examine the policies that exist to tackle it.
  2. Civility and Order In Hacktivist Groups: Hacktivist groups like Anonymous use illegal methods like DoS attacks to forward their political agenda. I’m curious how these groups maintain organization without leaders and what code of ethics they adhere to.
  3. Activism Through Satire: Art is a powerful form of social commentary, and sometimes it’s precisely that witty satire that brings light to issues that often hide in plain sight. Since political satire often highlights problems but rarely offers solutions, I’m interested in examining the efficacy of satire as a form of protest.
  4. When Are Violent Protests Justified? There’s no doubt that images of burning houses and protestors fighting with police attract more media attention than sit-ins and picket signs. I want to explore the ethics of violent protests and the conditions under which they do more good than harm.
  5. Athlete Activism: By not standing during the national anthem, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked a fury of polarized commentary on the military, BLM, and athlete activism. Is athlete activism justified, and if so what is the ideal means of protest?

Culture Jamming: You Win Some, You Lose Some

McDiabetes, MurderKing, Khemically Modified Chicken (KFC). Everything from the signs to the logo to the color scheme were the same as ones we’d expect from our beloved fast foods. Only this time they conveyed a drastically different message. Through emulation of logos and images, these anti-fast food messages exemplify a culture jamming campaign. Tim Jordan describes the methods, motives, and efficacy of culture jamming in his Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society. He describes culture jamming as a method of subversion that first requires a keen understanding of the “cultural codes defining our desires in ways that serve corporations and not individuals” (Jordan 108). Adbuster spoofs, for instance, are eerily similar to the ones they attempt to undermine distinguished only by their contradictory messages. By adopting all other aspects of the brand, the attention is then focused on the message and the particular aspect of the brand being disputed.

The same power of culture jamming enjoyed by activists can just as easily be wielded against them. In 2000, culture jammers targeted Nike’s new football boots for using slave labor through messages like “the most offensive boots ever made”. Since words like offense had more than one connotation (i.e. offense in sports), Nike capitalized on the ambiguity with cultural jamming of their own, through messages like “Fair Minded Footy Fans Say Not Fair Mr. Technology” (Jordan 112). The power of Nike to be able to control its brand and its criticism speaks to the upscale battle protesters face and how culture jamming isn’t a tool that necessarily favors the activists.

One interesting topic is how culture jamming has evolved in the age of the internet and big data. With most ad-revenue being generated online through massive corporations like Google, culture jammers can no longer use the same methods of attack to interfere with individual browsing experiences. One technique of fighting online ads involves using bots to repeatedly click on a certain ad in order to drive up exponentially the cost of posting that cost-per-click ad. At the same time, delivering this misleading click information adds significant noise to companies using click data to drive their marketing strategy. Another much more powerful form of protesting that most resembles modern-day culture jamming is the use of memes. These cultural memes can range from hashtags like #firstworldproblems to pictures of Michael Jordan crying. Serious or not, these messages shape the online experience for most millennials. Since teenagers are most familiar with the culture and attitudes of their own generation, they now have unique access to one of the most powerful tools in modern activism. However, culture jamming will always be a double-edge sword, and it will continue to remain one of the most risky yet powerful forms of activism.