Making your own dungarees – old

Some time ago I posted a guide and pattern to making your own dungarees. I am now more than ten years older and more kilograms than I’m prepared to admit fatter, and I have developed a much better dungarees pattern. However, the old guide is still available here if you want to have a look.

Shoot him with a gun, then invite him to dinner

This was originally posted on my old blog on 3 June 2017.

When our daughter was about six years old, we always joked she was so pretty we’d already have to start saving for a shotgun for when the boys started visiting. One day, she asked me seriously what we would do if a boy showed interest in her when she’s older. I replied we’d invite him to dinner, so Dad and I would be able to assess him and get to know him before he can date our daughter. Her four-year-old brother, who’d half listened but didn’t catch all that, asked her what Mommy would do if a boy wanted to date her. She said: “She’ll shoot him with a gun, then invite him to dinner.”

This is a family classic joke, but it also shows the mindset we were in at the time. Our circumstances led us to reevaluate our life, beliefs, convictions from the foundations up, and the attitudes behind that joke are among the foundations that were rebuilt.

Believing your job is to protect your daughter is to believe she is not able to protect herself. I’m not talking physical protection, I’m talking a kind of oversight of every decision, every relationship, insisting that you have authority and the final say over her movements – as in, she has to ask your permission to go here or there. That sends the message to her that she is incapable. The sad thing about psychology is that being bombarded with the message that you’re incapable can make you incapable. When you are constantly told in myriad little ways that you can’t, you are likely to believe you can’t, therefore you can’t.

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Narratives and Stories

This was originally posted on my old blog on 25 April 2017.

The film When Harry met Sally is famous for That Orgasm Scene, where Meg Ryan’s Sally proves to Billy Crystal’s Harry that women can fake it, by faking it right there in a restaurant. I remember the film for something much quieter, but to my mind a much more profound message. The film is interspersed with different couples filmed in the same setting, what looked like an old-fashioned sitting room with couch. Their stories are mildly interesting, but not gripping, and in some cases a little boring. Then we see this wonderful story told of a developing relationship between two people, the ups, the downs, the close call, then finally the elation of them making it, kissing, getting together. As the camera zooms out of the kissing scene, a voiceover begins of this couple describing what we just witnessed, and the scene fades to them sitting on the same old-fashioned couch, telling us the story of how they met. It sounds just as plain, mildly interesting, borderline boring as the other stories we’d been told by couples on that couch.

The profound lesson that stuck with me from this romantic comedy was that people’s boring lives can be deeply interesting if you just listen in the right way, or, there is a story behind every face you see. As I progress in my media studies, I realise this lesson can be inverted: the most exciting stories can be boring if you don’t tell them right.

Media organisations have long ago discovered this lesson. Facts are boring, even quite dramatic and exciting facts. You have to use the same techniques used in storytelling to keep your audience gripped.

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“Scoff-law cyclist” myth strikes again

This was originally posted to my old blog on 29 March 2017.

I was once admonished by a driver that I should wear a helmet when cycling. I politely pointed out to the driver that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Today, a pedestian crossing the street in front of me remarked how astounding it was to see a cyclist wait for the bicycle green light. He was in the process of crossing the street against a pedestrian red – this time I didn’t bother to point it out.

Meanwhile research suggests that all road users break the law in equal measures, but drivers and pedestrians are more likely to break the law for their own convenience, while cyclists are more likely to be motivated by the desire to stay safe. But hey, let’s keep demonising cyclists, why don’t we.

Logs and eyes come to mind.

I am not an idiot

This was originally posted on my old blog on 20 March 2017.

Our boiler is one of those that directly heats water instead of warming a whole tankful. It’s been acting up for months, but it always managed to revive itself and work if you just left it a while and tried again later. We hoped to hold on until its service was due in July before getting it fixed, as our landlord passed away just after Christmas, so we wanted to leave the family alone as long as possible. Alas, last night it finally died beyond all hope of revival. Today I will have to arrange to have it fixed, and some guy (never met a woman boiler mechanic) will come around to fix it.

All this morning I loathed that this happened. As I made breakfast, it occurred to me that the thoughts and feelings, the imagined scenarios around the impending visit went beyond just the inconvenience of having a stranger in our house (which we hate). I soon figured out why. In my life, I have most often been treated like an imcompetent bimbo by people fixing mechanical type stuff for me.

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You say Pu-tay-toe, I say Pu-tah-toe… (Conversationalisation)

This was originally posted on my old blog on 18 March 2017.

I’m a sucker for the written word. I have been fascinated, since way before starting my studies, with how words are used to give subtle meaning to a written text, the reader not always realising they are being manipulated. Yet written text leaves out many intriguing aspects of communication. One of these is the impact of conversationalisation.

Conversationalisation is the effect of the audible delivery of a text (remember in media analysis ‘text’ refers to a media artefact, not only the written word). It is the tone of the speaker, their choice of words, grammar, accent, the regionally or culturally specific ‘lingo’ they may use. These factors or choices are as critical to the meaning of the message as the actual words in the sentences; in some cases, more so.

Consider this old advertisement from South African television, first aired in 2008:

The first time I showed this to a friend in Ireland, she asked: “What language are they speaking?” Well, they’re all speaking English, but this ad captures a range of specific ways of speaking English in South Africa which are typical of various cultural groups. The brilliance of the ad lies in tapping into the country’s pride of its cultural diversity, and in making a hero out of the African Mama who was in the past often the least respected member of society.

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That Famous Paxman Interview

This was originally posted on my old blog on 6 March 2017. It was for an assignment for the Media Discourse and Analysis module in my final year of undergraduate studies.

Media analysis can be extra interesting for me as an immigrant. I grew up and lived in a world far removed from the one I live in now. Famous names and faces can mean nothing to me. I often have little knowledge of issues, scandals and challenges that are part of the social memory here.

Yet even I had a vague recollection of seeing Jeremy Paxman’s (in?)famous interview with John Howard. Until I watched it again for a Media Discourse and Analysis assignment, I would not have associated those names with the memory. My task this week is to analyse this interview through the lens of what we learned in class. To begin, I watched the clip with a “clean slate” – I looked up nothing about the interview except the date on which it took place. I had no idea who Michael Howard is, what his role was at the time, which may help me to better focus on the techniques used by both interviewer and interviewee in this encounter.

Is the interviewer maintaining a stance of “formal neutrality”? Or can we see some form of bias?

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Stop focusing on the unlocked door

This was originally posted on my old blog on 23 February 2017.

Would it make sense to be alarmed about a house’s door being unlocked, preaching to the occupant of the house about how they’ll be burgled or murdered if they don’t lock the door, if the house is on fire? I feel that’s what we’re doing with the cycle helmet and high visibility clothing issue connected to cycle safety.

This video is a vivid illustration of what I mean. The cyclist is clothed in high visibility gear, and wearing a helmet, riding a bicycle that’s in good condition, obeying every single traffic law, but still things go wrong. Why? The equivalent of the house fire is driver behaviour. Without any motorised vehicle on the road,  cyclist and pedestrian fatalities would drop to zero or near it. Driver behaviour is blatantly and clearly the primary issue in almost all vulnerable road users’ serious injuries and fatalities. We simply must stop demanding that vulnerable road users be perfect before we turn our attention away from them and towards the core of the problem: driver behaviour.

Essential Road Safety Tools

This was originally posted to my old blog on 21 February 2017.

I often get very, very angry with drivers. Just in this last week, I was almost run over by a driver running a red light, who was on his phone while driving. I had an unpleasant exchange with another bunch of wankers in a car. There’s always more than that, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind. I am only human, and when you do something that might have killed me if I didn’t cycle defensively (I always leave room in my mind that other road users are indeed going to do that unbelievably stupid thing you reckon they surely to god won’t do) I will get angry and I may shout at you. It’s something I am striving to accomplish: to just not react. We’ll get there eventually.

Most of the time, though, if people do stuff that is just inconsiderate such as parking in a cycle lane, I’ll simply pull up behind you and sit there until you move. If we end up talking, I always make a point to smile and politely say: “Sorry this is a cycle lane!”. Today I’m really grateful that I opt for politeness unless you just nearly killed me. A driver was blocking the cycle lane, so I pulled up behind the car and waited for the driver to spot me. And waited and waited. I had some time, so I waited some more. Eventually this lady spotted me, got out of her car and walked around to me. I said my usual, and she apologised. “My car is broken down,” she explained.

So I got to express my sympathy, and ask if she’s all right. She said she’s in a bit of shock, so I expressed my sympathy and made sure someone was on their way to come and help her. Someone was, so I wished her well and went on my way.

The vast majority of people who park in cycle lanes don’t have a good excuse. But if we try to be polite to each other, we don’t end up being the dick. Empathy and politeness are probably the most essential tools we can apply to achieve safer roads.

Preferred Meaning

This was originally posted to my old blog on 20 February 2017.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall suggested that mediated information must be examined through the lens of what he dubbed the Circuit of Culture:

circuit_of_culture

Image Source

The circuit shows how every element influences and is influenced by every other element. Nothing stands alone, nothing escapes the effect of the discourse in which the message is delivered. Let’s examine an article I saw shared on Twitter through the lens of this circuit. You can read it here. I’ll wait (but I also summarise the content below).

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

What, more or less, does this article say?

I want to summarise and highlight the following reported facts:

The headline:

Village vigilante who informs on illegally parked cars dubbed a ‘prat’ by furious traders

Take note also of the sidebar in red text on the left, in this snip of how the article is presented:

aside

A summary of the content:

An anonymous vigilante has caused outrage in a village by reporting illegal parking. Many drivers were consequently fined. The mystery vigilante “has been accused” of going around looking for illegally parked cars to report to the traffic warden. Drivers “popping into shops” have been reported by the “informer, making them and traders furious”.

The anger of a trader who wrote a strongly worded letter is described.

It is mentioned more than once that attendants of a pantomime were “reported and given tickets”.

“The issue has become so heated and caused so much outrage in the village, councillors have held talks with parking officers over concerns too many tickets will deter shoppers.”

A Conservative councillor is quoted saying that the matter has caused a lot of upset, that she agrees people should park correctly but that “the biggest thing about Rottingdean is the survival of the High Street. ‘Anything that upsets that is not welcome. Traders are having a hard time and there are a lot of empty shops at the moment.'”

The final paragraph states: “Parking compliance in the village is considered by Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex, to be ‘quite good’, with just 162 tickets issued in six months.”

Two images are included, a councillor interviewed about the matter:

vigilante-article_photo

And a photo of an “angry letter” penned and displayed by one of the traders interviewed:

vigilante_article_photo_2

Who created this message?

The Article appeared in The Telegraph, a UK newspaper known to have a politically conservative slant. It is considered a broadsheet rather than a tabloid. We’ll look at the significance of its perceived political association in more detail later.

What makes it newsworthy?

The issue is framed as one that threatens the livelihoods of traders in the village. Since the 2008 financial collapse, economic struggle has been an emotive topic, at the forefront of people’s minds in Britain. The village in question is on the South coast of England, within commuting distance of London. While this area has not felt the impact of the financial crash as much as places farther North, the fear and insecurity brought about by the collapse is widespread.

Moreover, drivers are a a dominant social group in the UK. Most people travel by car, and therefore see the world from the perspective of drivers. The article focuses entirely on the perspective and interests of drivers, framing the story as being about a mean-sprited “prat” causing hardship for motorists.

What creative techniques are used to draw one’s attention?

The use of a borderline profanity uses shock value to grab the attention. There is also a photo of a “strongly worded letter” which a “furious trader” had put up in a window.

How might different people understand this message ‘differently’?

This is where it gets interesting, and where the blunt bias of the reporting becomes obvious. Imagine if you’re a wheelchair user, or a parent who regularly pushes their child in a pram. You may view the issue of illegal parking in a very different light from the frame chosen by the writers of the article in the Telegraph. This Louth Leader article, for instance, takes a very different tack, accusing drivers in the headline of being irresponsible. The article describes the frustration of a wheelchair user who finds drivers parking illegally impair his ability to get around.

The facts are that people broke the law, got reported, and in many cases were fined as a result. We don’t know from the article whether there is a shortage of legal parking spaces in the village, which may have been another way to frame the story. So we could have written the headline as follows:

Anonyous Hero Takes On Scoff-Law Drivers

or

Lack of Parking Leaves Fined Motorists Furious

or

Lack of Parking Threatens Village Traders

The story could have been framed differently, either through the lens of those who would sympathise with the person reporting the violations, or sympathise with motorists but suggest poor infrastructure is to blame (and by implication the councillors or government officials responsible for its development), or sympathise with traders and suggest blame as described above. It could even be shown from the perspective of a quaint village being overrun by illegal parkers. That begs the question:

Why was the article in the Telegraph framed the way it was?

Representation and Identity

The identity of the paper’s readership is politically conservative. This political view corresponds with a neoliberal philosophy, in which focus is on smoothing the way for the wealthy and powerful first and foremost, arguing that their prosperity will benefit all. Conservatism is also linked to support for driving over green transport, and for lack of support or concern for social welfare – those most reliant on walking for transport, and therefore most likely to be adversely affected by illegal parking, are often in a lower socio-economic band, a class for which politically conservative people have little sympathy (pp. 8-11). Drivers are generally considered the more powerful and wealthy, with greener transport options such as walking and cycling sometimes associated with a lower socio-economic status, while car ownership confers (p.7) prestige and status. It should not be surprising then that there is a correlation between liberalism, which is more associated with socialism, and support for cycling and walking. The framing of the article can therefore be seen as catering to the views of the target consumers, and conforming to the current dominant discourse surrounding traffic and transport issues.

The person who reported the parking violations is called a prat (though of course this is presented as a quote from a trader). This term is used or shown five times in the report: in the headline, twice in the written content, in a photo of a hand-written note, and in a prominent, highlighted sidebar. This person is also called a vigilante and an informer – both terms laden with negative associations.

Production

In the course of production, interviews were only conducted with people whose views aligned with that of a frame that may have been chosen before the reporter even arrived to collect data on the matter. No attempt at neutrality or balance is evident.

The article is distributed online, and I have been unable to ascertain if it was also included in a print version of the paper. If so, it is possible space restriction could have played a role in its production.

It also seems the identity of the person who reported the crimes is not known, though the writer of the “strongly worded letter” refers to a gentleman, and elsewhere a business owner is quoted as referring to a man. The person who reported the crimes could therefore likely not have been interviewed for their point of  view, and to explain what motivated their actions. The journalist may not have had the means to travel to the village and gather first hand data – everything in the article could have been gathered by phone, email, and other remote means. This may have restricted their ability to find people with opposing views, or to notice and follow up such problems as insufficient legal parking spaces.

Regulation

This refers not only to government laws, policies, and rules; but also to more subtle “unwritten” rules which dictate “what is considered acceptable and unacceptable within a given cultural context” (quote from class notes distributed by my lecturer). On the face of it, people broke the law, were reported, and were fined, and other people were angry because they believe this enforcement of the law will impact their livelihood. Because the law-breakers were drivers and the law they broke is considered socially acceptable to ignore, the person reporting the crime is painted as the villain. Consider what sentiments would be if the law-breakers were a gang of thieves. If a trader complained about the impact on their business if the thieves were jailed, it is unlikely the resulting story would be framed as the “prat” vigilante daring to report transgressions of the law.

The cultural context and regulation allows for law-breakers to be portrayed as the victims and the person reporting their infractions to be portrayed as the villain.

While the article skirts dangerously on stoking hatred against the person who reported the violations, and an extremely one-sided view is presented, no official laws or regulations are broken.

Consumption

This article is available online, and it is a written news item. As discussed, the readership is thought to be mostly politically conservative, and likely to be drivers who will be able to decode the message through their frame of reference and experience, which will enable them to sympathise with the emotions felt by drivers fined for parking illegally.

However, the internet is a wider thing than just the intended readership of the Telegraph. I laid eyes on the article because it was shared on Twitter by an account dedicated to advocating for the case of pedestrians and cyclists, placing particular emphasis on how they are endangered and marginalised by the behaviour of drivers. They in turn were retweeting someone who shared the link to the article, whose profile picture is of someone cycling, and whose description is “Likes bikes.” Their comment: “Not all heroes wear capes.”

Not all heroes wear capes https://t.co/Nice17FrrC

— Steve Cromwell (@steveocrom) February 18, 2017

My own bias is no doubt clear in my analysis. As someone who cycles or walks everywhere I go, I often experience first hand the frustration and sometimes danger caused to me as pedestrian by motorists parking illegally. I therefore read the article through that frame of reference. It is not possible to escape our biases, but we must recognise them and actively try to be fair and balanced in both the messages we send, and in our assessment and analysis of the messages we receive.