The Universal Language of Music Being Spread Through Universal Access to the Web

Yesterday I realized I was singing to myself, “Cho Cho Cho…Cho Cho!”—a call-and-response chant native to the people of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. I have never been to DR Congo nor do I know anyone who has been there, let alone is from the country. Yet here I am—an anonymous young woman—sitting at my desk in Los Angeles, California singing (in my best attempt) the words of my African brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.

A song titled “Cho Cho Cho” was created last month by the mobile Beat Making Lab and distributed online via its web series, re-contextualizing the chant through music. I, among thousands of other viewers around the globe, watched the video and experienced a taste of Goma culture visually and phonetically in a way I likely wouldn’t otherwise.

We often think of globalization in terms of the interdependent economy; we understand it as the acceleration of the transfer of goods, services, and information between nation-states. But so too does globalization refer to the acceleration of the transfer of people, ideas, and culture between nation-states—a process amplified by new technology and the Internet. The later understanding of globalization allows smaller countries with lesser economic clout like DR Congo in comparison to larger countries with greater economic clout like China to be a part of the ever-increasing interdependence of nation states around the globe. Otherwise, these smaller countries are often left out.

Some are critical of the globalization of culture, arguing that it is making the world more homogenous particularly through the spread of Western values. As The Glaring Facts identifies:

Glocalization is a global corporate strategy of tailoring commodities to local markets. This corporate strategy stresses the importance of a product or service specifically adapting to the locality or culture it is marketed in. This fusion of globalization with localization causes a fundamental shift in the way in which commodities from foreign countries inflict their dominant popular cultural norms on a more predominantly traditional atmosphere. Through the unannounced integration of capital in an otherwise traditional atmosphere, the danger, as perceived by the public, lies in the effect it has on local identities and culture.

Conversely, spreading local culture is also possible through the employment of a grassroots approach using new technology and the Internet, as seen through efforts such as the Beat Making Lab. Programs like the Beat Making Lab allow the “global village”—the integration of culture through digital technology—include both dominant popular culture and traditional local culture. This sort of village catalyzes the constant flux of culture around the world. Funny enough, it’s what made South Korean pop single “Gangnam Style” a popular culture phenomenon from the States to Germany to China.

Of course, cultural globalization manifests not only in music, but also in sports, cuisine, and even attractions.

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Digitally Altered Images of Women: Advertisements’ Deceptive Cultural Standards of Beauty

As discussed in Girl Lens’ recent post titled “Video Game Culture Changing for the Better,” the blogger discusses the sexualized images of women as depicted in video game culture. Her discussion prompted me to ponder about yet another medium in which women are narrowly represented: advertisements. Advertisements that disproportionately use images of women representing the “thin ideal” have been a point of great controversy in a number of nations around the globe. In early March, in fact, the Israeli government passed a law intended to change idealized perceptions of beauty that, according to information provided to the branch, lead to eating disorders. The established “Photoshop Law” requires that advertisers clearly disclose when they digitally alter images of models in order to make them look thinner. Many have questioned whether or not a law such as this one would be effective in the States. Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

The reality is that digitally altered images of models used in advertisements foster narrow cultural standards of beauty. We use cultural standards in our everyday comparative evaluations, something that well-known social scientist Leon Festinger identified in his Social Comparison Theory. According to the theory, people compare themselves with others and use the comparison information to craft an understanding of their self-concept. In contemporary United States society, advertisements, especially those with digitally altered images of models, are ubiquitous. A market research firm, in fact, estimates that a person living in a city sees up to 5,000 advertisements per day. Given their pervasiveness, these images that are manipulated as to maximize perceived beauty, reflect cultural standards of beauty that consumers—especially young women—often use as a basis for social comparison. Statistics support this sort of real-life application of the Social Comparison Theory. In fact, in the context of body image, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 69% of girls in the 5th-12th grade report that magazine pictures influence their idea of a perfect body shape.

Digitally altered images of models are deceptive because the advertisers—those creating and perpetuating cultural standards of beauty—systematically distort the idea of what it means to be beautiful through the over use of certain images and the under use of others; for example, the tendency to disproportionately make models slimmer in images than they are in reality. The deceptive nature of these advertisements leads to later manifestations of consumer harm. Studies have shown that exposure to advertisements of idyllically slim models is correlated with appearance anxiety and body dissatisfaction—symptoms of eating disorders.

Now, I am certainly not advocating that the United States government ban advertisements that digitally alter images of models as that would clash with our national ideals about freedom of expression—something that should never be jeopardized. However, at some point there has to be a line drawn on deceit, especially when it can contribute to the 11 million people who on a daily basis are affected by eating disorders.

The government isn’t responsible for consumer behavior, but it is responsible for consumer protection. The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, is an independent agency whose chief mission is consumer protection. Its Division of Advertising Practices states the following on its official website:

The Division of Advertising Practices protects consumers from unfair or deceptive advertising and marketing practices that raise health and safety concerns, as well as those that cause economic injury…The Division also brings administrative lawsuits to stop unfair and deceptive advertising.

At a briefing on eating disorders held on Capitol Hill in the early 2000s, Susan Ice, an expert in eating stated that “The incidence of eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s and is increasing in younger age groups.” While there is no research that directly correlates digitally altered advertisements, specifically those that make models look thinner, with eating disorders; there is plenty of research that directly correlates such images with eating disorder symptoms. Requiring the FTC to oversee that advertisers disclose when they digitally alter images of models decreases the extent to which the advertisements are deceptive, which can reduce the correlated eating disorder symptoms. Attacking symptoms, as with any illness, prevents later, more harmful manifestations.

Our country’s commitment to freedom—freedom of expression and freedom of choice—is what defines us as Americans. We live in a country where advertisers will always be free to create advertisements that sell their products, including those that are digitally altered. And where consumers will always be free to make their own choices related to those advertisements. We cannot expect people to make the best choices for themselves, whatever those may be, without having access to proper information—information that seeks to inform and not to deceive.

Niche-Driven Marketing and the Socially Conscious Millennial

Earlier this week, in their post titled  “The Effects of ‘Nichification’ on American Audiences,” Jess Talks Journalism touches on advertisers’ tendency to use “niche-driven marketing.” Indeed, many companies are now “nichifying” their advertisements and other marketing efforts through the relatively new phenomenon known as cause marketing, a strategic partnership between a company and a social cause that is intended to be mutually beneficial for the two parties. In particular, cause marketing targets Millennial consumers, a population deemed more socially conscious than most.

In a recent study published by the Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Consumer and Customer Insight, quantitative and qualitative research lead to the following conclusion:

U.S. Millennials are receptive to cause marketing and are more likely than non- Millennials to purchase items associated with a particular cause (37 percent versus 30 percent). Millennials expect companies to care about social issues and will reward those that partner with the right causes.

Clearly, conducting cause marketing campaigns is an effective way to attract the Millennials, one of the most sought after consumer groups in the States (especially, given that this demographic has nearly $40 billion in discretionary income). But are cause marketing campaigns really effecting change, or are they yet another way for companies to perpetuate consumerism amongst the next generation?

In 2010, in place of running advertisements during the Super Bowl, the most widely watched sports event annually and most attractive platform for advertisers, Pepsi committed itself to a cause marketing campaign. Instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising during the game, the company spent $20 million on its Refresh Project, a cause-marketing initiative geared towards providing grants to organizations proven to have positive impact on local communities.

Pepsi’s Refresh Project hoped it would effectively capture its intended consumer base in the long run. This is one of the primary benefits companies running cause marketing campaigns expect to gain: loyal consumers. Such a notion is supported by the fact that Americans are more likely to switch brands, equal in price and quality, to ones that support causes. Unfortunately for Pepsi, the cause marketing campaign wasn’t effective and it didn’t expand its market share like it had hoped. The result: scrap the entire campaign and go back to “all-about-me” marketing.

This Pepsi example debunks the notion that Millennials are blindly swayed by cause marketing campaigns as some companies may think; and it also points to the idea that privately companies may not be as committed to the causes they publicly support.

Food Deserts: Government and Business Attempts To Find Solutions

In a recent post titled “The freshman 50 lbs…” featured on the blog Does It Really Matter?, obesity is targeted as an issue Americans need to urgently address. The author argues that the majority of Americans are still negatively impacted by the recession, and that such limited funds combined with absent healthy and affordable food options greatly contributes to this national problem. The later part of this argument brings to light yet another issue related to obesity that our nation faces: food deserts. Food deserts are regions that lack access to healthy food.

Fortunately, contrary to what is argued in Does It Really Matter?, the White House is responding. Specifically, First Lady Michelle Obama in her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity has raised public awareness on the issues of obesity and food deserts.

According to a blog posted on the Let’s Move! website, about 23.5 million Americans, 6.5 million of which are children, live in food deserts. The great majority of those living in food deserts are low-income Americans. They have access to a disproportionate amount of fast-food restaurants and convenience stories in comparison to grocery stores. According to reports related to food deserts filed by Let’s Move!:

Public transportation to supermarkets is often lacking, and long distances separate home and supermarkets in many rural communities…It is hard for residents of these areas—even those fully informed and motivated—to follow the necessary and recommended steps to maintain a healthy weight for themselves and their children. Too often, economic incentives strongly favor unhealthy eating, and accessibility, safety concerns, and convenience can also promote unhealthy outcomes.

Living in a food desert directly correlates with higher chances of becoming obese. This phenomenon is of particular concern to low-income minority communities, especially those that have large Black populations. According to data made available by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Blacks have the highest rates of obesity in the nation.

Let’s face it: the Let’s Move! campaign is not going to combat food deserts on its own. Businesses also need to step in.

According to a blog posted on Justmeans, community members in the Old North region of St. Louis, Missouri, a predominately Black section of the state, developed a local social enterprise to “turn its food desert into an oasis.” The community created a food co-op called the Old North Grocery. Local residents collectively own the grocery store; they can purchase memberships in which the funds go directly to supporting its operations.

Combating national issues like obesity and food deserts requires efforts made on the part of both the public and private sector.

The College Sports Economy’s Lack of Reciprocity

Kevin Ware put himself on the line for the University of Louisville. Now it is time for the university to do the same for him. Last Sunday during the NCAA men’s basketball Midwest Regional final, Ware suffered a compound fracture in which the tibia bone in his right leg protruded six inches from the skin. His injury, which many are calling the most gruesome televised injury in sports history, has prompted debate over college sports programs’ responsibility to provide long-term healthcare coverage to student-athletes; currently they are not required to do so. It is unethical of college sports programs to neglect providing student-athletes with healthcare coverage as it breaks their moral obligation to continuing reciprocity.

A college sports program’s ethical integrity, like that of any enterprise, lies in its ability to engage in reciprocal exchanges with its student-athletes. Reciprocity is a sort of binding mechanism that holds our relationships, including those within the college sports economy, together. Relationships become compromised when one party attempts to gain something of greater value than it gives in return. This type of unbalanced exchange is the embodiment of the college sports economy.

College sports programs earn millions of dollars in annual revenue. These large cash inflows are generated because student-athletes are collectively capitalized on for their performances. According to an article published in Think Progress, the University of Louisville’s basketball program alone made more than $40 million in revenue last year.

To the average college sports fan like you or me, student-athletes’ ability to generate millions of dollars might seem glamorous. While I’m sure to a certain extent that is true, it is also important to be aware of the not-so-pretty price these athletes have to pay. Unlike professional athletes, student-athletes are unpaid; college sports programs are therefore making millions of dollars off the backs of free labor.

There is a gap between what student-athletes, like the men of the University of Louisville’s basketball team, generate in revenue for college sports programs and what they receive in return, particularly in regards to their protection.

Some argue that providing scholarships is an appropriate form of reciprocity on the part of college athletic programs. While there is certainly a degree of tangible protection that is earned from receiving a degree, for example being more competitive in the job market, on its own it is not an appropriate means of exchange. Generally speaking, tuition costs are but a mere fraction of the revenue student-athletes bring in. Plus, scholarships are often issued on a year-to-year basis and are therefore not guaranteed.

Studies conducted in the field of sports medicine highlight the noteworthy health-related risks student-athletes are taking in exchange for these scholarships. A recent study published by PLOS One, a scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, shows that college football players are prone to mental disability that often manifests years down the road. The study conducted blood tests and brain scans of local college football players over the course of their 2011 season and it found that football players who experienced hard hits to the head, even without being concussed, had high levels of a particular antibody linked to brain damage. It proved that simply engaging in football at the collegiate level, due to the nature of the sport, is enough to risk developing serious mental disorders.

But it’s not just football players who are at risk of developing long-term health issues and becoming vulnerable to daunting healthcare costs. Student-athletes pursuing all types of sports are prone to this. Kyle Hardrick, a former University of Oklahoma basketball player, experienced a similar unfortunate situation.

Currently universities do not guarantee that they will cover medical costs incurred by student-athletes. According to a recent article posted by Gillian Mohney:

David Dranove, health management professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, says…NCAA athletes can only enroll in school health care plans offered to other students, even if the student-athletes are at a higher risk for injuries that can require long-term or expensive treatments. Schools also have the option (emphasis added) to pay medical bills related to an athlete’s sport-related injury.

Given that many student-athletes’ injuries are long-term and continue to manifest years after they leave college, college sports programs should provide long-term health coverage as an appropriate means of exchange to the players for the revenue they generate. The gap between what student-athletes generate universities in revenue and what they receive in protection must be closed.

If the exchange policy is not adjusted, student-athletes like Ware could potentially bear the brunt of paying for later costs of their injuries.

Paul Ryan’s Budget: How Social Enterprise Challenges and Supports its Objectives

Last week House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released the Republican budget resolution. Consistent with conservative ideology, Ryan’s proposal suggests that cutting government spending will reduce the government deficit. The proposed budget “stops spending money we don’t have”—particularly on government programs for the poor and middle class. Like that of many conservatives, Ryan’s argument that the government should not fund public programs, despite their do good intentions, neglects to acknowledge the paradigm shift in public service.

In a recent blog post, Ezra Klein argues that Ryan’s budget is an attempt to alter the relationship between the government and the public by employing a fear tactic. Klein suggests that Ryan justifies his budget by eliciting fear of government amongst the public; he highlights, for example, the dangers our community currently faces—e.g. “rising health-care costs, a stagnant economy, a massive debt”—and he places the blame for them on federal government.

Indeed, with the rise of social entrepreneurship the relationship between the government and the public has already begun to shift. But unlike what Ryan proposes, it encourages collaboration—not separation.

Social enterprises employ business methods to advance their social motives. Some are traditional non-profit organizations that have an adjoining revenue-generating entity (e.g. Chrysalis); others are traditional for-profit organizations that have a central social mission (e.g. Grameen Bank). According to the Social Enterprise Alliance,

Mission is primary and fundamental; organizational form is a strategic question of what will best advance the social mission.

Given the rise of social enterprise, public and private sectors are no longer mutually exclusive. In fact, social enterprises benefit the private sector in a number of ways. Ryan, are you listening?

In the United States the most relevant and prevalent social enterprises are those that create jobs, which liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between generally agrees is needed. Chrysalis, for example, one of the most successful employment-focused social enterprises in the nation, provides a comprehensive job-training program for the homeless community in Los Angeles. After completing the program, clients can then apply to work for Chrysalis Enterprises, which is composed of street maintenance, facilities management, and staffing services. Creating jobs such as these in low-income communities contributes to our country’s economic development. 

Social enterprises like Chrysalis are also good practices of fiscal responsibility. By providing people necessary tools to reach economic self-sufficiency, employment-focused social enterprises not only reduce the number of people dependent on public service programs, but also their associated costs. Investing in social enterprises would thus cut funding for public programs, just as Ryan desires, not because we cannot pay for it but because we do not need to. Social enterprises help people transition from poverty to economic self-sufficiency.

Plus, social enterprises generate returns. According to its website, Chrysalis Enterprises in 2010 alone generated $2.5 million in wages. Even some of the world’s poorest countries are seeing returns; microfinance is now a $65 billion market as it serves more than 90 million borrows.

As noted in a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, the challenge for most social enterprises is that they have difficulty attracting enough investment to, for one, cover their costs and, for two, grow their activities and thus expanding their impact. Unlike conventional businesses, social enterprises seek a social, in addition to monetary, return on investment. As such, they are often not profitable enough to compete in traditional financial markets. Preventing the resulting “financial-social gap” from manifesting requires government funding.

The government has already begun to respond by acknowledging the importance of public-private collaboration; in 2009 it created the $50 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF). According to the Corporation for National and Community Service,

The SIF makes grant awards of between $1million and $10 million per year for up to five years to grantmaking intermediaries, selected through a rigorous, open competition. Intermediaries, match their federal grants dollar-for-dollar and with those combined funds they then:

  • Host open, evidence-based competitions to select non-profits implementing innovative program models’
  • Invest in expanding the capabilities and impact of the non-profits they select; and
  • Support those non-profits through rigorous evaluation of their programs.

Unfortunately $50 million is not sufficient enough to truly scale the impact social enterprises have the potential to reach.

Upon unveiling the House Budget Committee’s proposed budget, Ryan stated, “A budget is a means to an end. An end is the well-being of the American people. An end is a growing economy that produces opportunity and upward mobility.” Social enterprise is reaching such an end. It acknowledges that government is not always the best entity to operate public programs; effective change can be made in the private sector. It cannot, however, solve some of our nation’s most pressing problems on its own.

Job Creation: The Necessary Step to Ending Poverty in Los Angeles County

There are over 51,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, making it one of the largest homeless populations in the nation. Homelessness, although a social issue on its own, is also linked to additional problems such as poverty, violence, and public health (recently, in fact, there has been a reported outbreak of tuberculosis among the Los Angeles homeless community). Combating homelessness would therefore benefit the community at large in a number of different areas but doing so, as we know, is no easy task.

In December of 2010, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the regional branch of a national non-profit dedicated to improve communities around the world, began implementing an initiative to end “chronic and veteran homelessness” in Los Angeles by 2016. The crux of the initiative, called Home for Good, is to provide homeless people housing and thus promote wellness. Home for Good is a helpful step in ending homelessness as it provides people, well, homes. This service on its own, however, will not end homelessness because it does not promote self-sufficiency. Job creation must therefore be a part of the solution.

For homeless people self-sufficiency means having the ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Doing so requires having the skills, knowledge, and experience that lead to obtaining a living wage.

Obtaining a living wage requires having a job. Los Angeles County in particular has reached record unemployment rates. Since 2009, it has remained in the double digits. It peaked in 2010 at 13.3 percent and it is currently at 10.2 percent. Unemployment rates in Los Angeles County last reached the double digits in 1994. Given the current state of the economy, there is increased competition for fewer jobs, and the homeless are having a difficult time being able to compete.

Combating homelessness in Los Angeles, just as in any other part of the world, requires that homeless populations have access to job training programs. Non-profit organizations such as Chrysalis, which is based in Los Angeles, understand the importance of preparing the homeless to compete in the job market. Chrysalis Enterprises, the for-profit branch of Chrysalis, hires those who complete the non-profit job training programs. Specifically, Chrysalis Enterprises provides employment in the areas of street maintenance, facilities management, and staffing. The Chrysalis philosophy, according to its website, is:

…that a steady job is the single most important step in a person’s transition out of poverty and onto a pathway to long-term self-sufficiency. Offering a hand up, rather than a hand out, Chrysalis empowers its clients to complete a self-directed job search.

Having a steady job provides a person with assets, many of which are intangible such as feelings of empowerment, that cannot be taken away at the snap of another’s finger. It discourages relying on dependence and encourages making sustainable life choices.