All posts by Makena

Blog 5: Reflecting on the class presentations

After listening to everyone’s intriguing topics, I am still interested in Renee’s coverage of censorship and social media activism in China. I thought she did a great job of addressing the sublanguage, which can be developed within the Chinese language. I am curious as to how that is effective and what the repercussions are when censors discover the hidden meaning. I think censorship is an important topic of discussion because of the difficulty surrounding conversations about the right to voice concerns on the Internet.

I believe Steven’s presentation about the Tea Party taught me the most because it addressed the rise of the Tea Party and the underlying economic support that allowed it to gain a foothold in the American political system. I was not aware of the various parts of the party. He also articulated why it lost momentum, which I found to be interesting knowledge considering what that portends for other movements that are backed by large monetary interests.

Lactivism is the topic that I found to be most surprising. Paulina explained the dichotomy between original lactivism and reactionary lactivism. It was surprising to me that the opposing groups undermined the choice of the opposing coalition of women. Overall, it was fascinating that such a personal issue has led to such a split between activists who could be working towards better education and healthcare for mothers.

Richard’s presentation about the water battle in the central valley was the most inspiring to me. It got me more interested in local activist movements because of his account of interviewing the farmers from a community in the central valley. The number of times that I drove by their signs without researching the topic is rather shocking. Therefore, I walked away from his presentation with a stronger desire to cultivate more awareness of issues in my own community and the state of California.

Business activism and its legacy on consumption


What is the impact of business activism on consumer behavior?

Business activism refers to the role of a corporate entity in the advancement of a cause that goes against societal norms. Businesses have been placed under increasing pressure from shareholders to go beyond quarterly profits in order to create positive social change. However, with the pressure placed upon businesses to appease shareholder consciences there has been an increasing amount of “greenwashing”. The term “greenwashing” refers to the dissemination of false information about a company in order to appear more environmentally friendly. Thus, with green advertising came a widespread consumer suspicion regarding companies that advertise as environmentally friendly. Furthermore, suspicion has led to consumer apathy regarding the labeling of products as green, which may in fact deter purchases or investments from stockholders who believe that environmental improvements cut into profits. Studies have found that many consumers relate “green” with ineffective. Ultimately, the main trends arising from business activism center on consumer suspicion which leads to false information and less support for companies that are moving towards social good.

With my research, I explore the ripple of “greenwashing” and the rise of deep seated disinformation that has become so embedded in selling products that some cars are programmed to show false information about their mileage and emissions. Therefore, activism’s role in igniting this coalition of confusing information needs to reorient the focus onto regulating the information provided to consumers and the ethics of business. Research shows that companies are less likely to present false information when they are being observed by an external source. As the line between activism and business blurs, I will outline contrast between cases where a business conflicts with activists (LEGO versus Greenpeace) and an example of successful business activism (Lush). What is key is the fact that there is a lot of area between these examples where consumers can potentially get confused. I will refer to a 2015 study that explored the correlation between a green initiative and the business’s alignment with that idea according to its sector. My research will go on to evaluate the risk involved with misrepresenting information such that some companies actually underrepresent their environmentally friendly nature. Then I will talk about the self-regulatory drives behind consumption that determine whether a person supports “green” products according to a paper from the Journal of Advertising. Finally, I will go into depth about solutions to the mixed information that is presented to consumers. The importance of regulation and transparency will be backed with studies and papers.

Feedback and Plans for the RBA

Link to my infographic:

The feedback that I received on my research proposal was very informative. My peer reviewers allowed me to see that the connection between environmental issues and the ethical treatment of animals is not immediately clear. Therefore, I refined my proposal to focus on “progressive ideals” which encompass these two issues. From there, I also included an example of a company that is using “greenwashing” purely for gain, namely Coca-Cola in their “Life” campaign, in order to contrast that with the activism promoted by Lush Cosmetics. Ultimately, I am building my proposal towards the idea of defining the criteria that a company needs to meet in order to be considered honest in their pursuit of activism for change rather than profit. When presenting my infographic, I tried to hone in on the intersection of environmentalism and animal activism under the umbrella of ideals they represent in order to introduce the conversation surrounding marketing schemes that exploit these societal morals and the confusion in the marketplace surrounding terms such as “natural” and “eco-friendly”. Additionally, I worked on presenting without notes and using more emotion in my tone. The visuals and presentation were well received, and I felt that I improved with each presentation.

Overall, the reviewers helped me refocus the lens of my proposal in order to hone in on analyzing businesses as activists. My research question will be: how can a conscious consumer determine the credibility of claims made by a company in regards to activism surrounding modern progressive ideals? What criterion defines honesty in the realm of capitalist competition? My thesis will tentatively be: In order for a company to be considered an ethically valid activist, it must create lasting change that is not directly profitable in the area of society that it claims to hold an interest and foster transparency in its manufacturing practices. I want to hone in on how consumers can use their purchasing power to foster change rather than the façade of investing in societal well-being.

Greenwashing the cosmetic industry and other areas of inquiry

Within the realm of activism, there are many avenues into which current political tensions and social dynamics impact the conversations being held and actions being taken. When brainstorming about current issues related to activism, I have thought of several topics that may expose interesting possibilities of inquiry. The topic of street art is rather interesting, as this form of activism has actually led to the growth of popular figures such as Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, and JR. However, with the growth of their renown, does their art still transgress cultural norms enough to be considered activism? Another topic to consider is how activist efforts have shifted in addressing sex trafficking within the United States. Have activist movements successfully led to legislation? Another topic is “slacktivism”, social media activism. It would be worth researching whether or not this is activism and how certain issues capture the collective imagination more than others. Another topic could be the evolution of activism with regards to the use of technology. For example, the economic crisis in Flint, Michigan was central to a documentary made by Michael Moore. Today, the issue of water contamination in Flint has led to outrage through the dissemination of information over the Internet. How has the ability for people to access information altered the way that they interact with activism?

Finally, I believe that a fascinating topic that is worthy of attention centers around the activism confronting the “greenwashing” of the cosmetic industry. Greenwashing is a term referring to the active dissemination of disinformation about an organization in order to appear environmentally responsible to the public. According to an article published by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the European Union, Israel, and India all banned the sale of cosmetics that were tested on animals. However, the U.S. still allows for animal testing. Therefore, I want to research how the role of activism has shifted public perception so that corporations have responded with increased branding involving a natural emphasis without changing the testing process. It is especially interesting to note how consumers are being manipulated into using what they believe to be their purchasing power to support products labeled as environmentally conscious without educating themselves about the production processes of the company.

Manipulating the Anonymity of Activism

Tim Jordan, the author of Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism, and the Future of Society, writes about the history and development of activism through the information age. According to Jordan, activism is characterized by a group of people who hold a shared pursuit of transgression that must contradict existing social structures or ethics. However, he emphasizes the importance of time when he defines “activism!” as specifically “those movements that draw on the future to create the future” (26). Some activists utilize ingrained advertisement campaigns to draw attention to their ideas in what is coined “culture jamming”. According to Jordan, “It is this corporate production of symbolic codes, which attempts to structure our unconscious desires and needs, that is most deeply opposed by culture jammers” (109). Because the success of the branding depends on more deeply seated trends within society, the activists who pervert the original advertisement are able to speak to the social norms that they wish to alter. Thus, when a jammer uses the color scheme, font, and spacing of a commonly known campaign but alters the message, people are more likely to pay attention and perhaps question how the new message comments upon the well known brand.

With these questions arising, corporations and their advertising teams were able to respond in kind. Nike used culture jamming when one of its campaigns mistakenly used “offensive” in reference to offense in sports. In the advertisement, offensive negatively shadows the brand. By plastering over their original slogan, Nike made it appear as if a grass roots organization saw Nike shoes as too much of an advantage over other players to be considered “fair.” Cultural jammers responded by reinstating the original slogan with an addition of their own. However, the ability for corporations to control and fund the critique of their own actions is a terrifying concept in the way that a company can then manipulate how individuals perceive the common response to products. Ultimately, culture jamming must be considered with a rather cynical view as advertising movements have begun using culture jamming in campaigns. It is important as a conscious consumer of advertisements and information to be aware of the obscurity of the intentions of the people speaking and editing content.