Subtitles: A Distraction for Foreign Viewers?

In an increasingly globalized environment, where viewers consume more foreign audiovisual content than ever, Kruger, Doherty, and Soto-Sanfiel’s study tackles an important issue. When viewers engage materials composed of foreign languages, subtitles become the necessary tool for communicating meaning over the language barrier. But do subtitles, commonly presumed as distraction, in fact lessen the enjoyment of such materials?

“Original Language Subtitles: Their Effects on the Native and Foreign Viewer” concludes that subtitles do not significantly reduce immersion; not only did they not act as distraction to the viewers, they on the other hand increased transportation [to fictional reality], character identification, and perceived realism. Such result is agreeable since subtitles are attached to the characters’ faces which, even if they demand additional visual attention from the viewers, only strengthen identification.

There is, however, a serious limitation of this study that may affect how generalizable the results are to audiovisual narratives in general. The study employs the American investigative medical drama series, House, MD (2011), as audiovisual material for viewing. This could be limiting due to the nature of television drama. This form of audiovisual narrative advances its plot mainly through dialogue. And since subtitles are within the province of the dialogue and only direct more attention to it, viewers are bound to have higher immersion. Conversely, feature length films tend to rely more on visual elements to make meaning and advance the narrative. In this regard, subtitles, now a competitor of visual attention, would be driving viewers away from the narrative.

The authors are sensible of this limitation and have stated in brief such concern in the last section. Considering this is such an important study in a globalized setting, this limitation shall be treated with extra attention.

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The summer school on “Artificial Society and Computational Social Science” – A late comer’s reflection

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now,” thus spoke the proverb. As a student using “traditional” quantitative methods, I was fortunate to be enrolled as one of the 178 participants in the 2017 summer school on “Artificial Society and Computational Social Science,” held by the School of Sociology and Anthropology at Sun Yat-Sen University (SYSU) in Guangzhou from 10 – 20 July, 2017. The summer school was coordinated by Professor Yucheng Liang (faculty of SYSU), and lectured by Dr Hong Zhang (faculty of SYSU), Dr Yongren Shi (Postdoc at Yale, who has published several high-calibrated articles on top journals such as American Sociological Review), as well as (the well-known top scholar) Professor James Evans (from U Chicago). The summer school lasted for non-stop 11 days, with a total of 57 credits. Thank goodness, I finished this summer school in the grilling and hectic season in Guangzhou.

The summer school covered two broad research areas, namely, the agent-based modeling (ABM) approach, and the computational social science (CSS) approach. The ABM approach takes the process of computer simulation based on several formulated rules, and explicates the process and dynamics among individuals (termed as “agents”), and the emergence of collective social phenomenon. In the research, the characteristics and rules of agents’ action, the rule of social interaction among these agents, and the social contexts in which the agents interact, are all defined and set-up by the researchers. The approach has been applied to a wide range of disciplines, from natural science (the symbiosis of animals, the penetration of fire in the forest), to social science such as the distribution of wealth, the formation of race segregation, and, as a recent article published on Journal of Communication explicated, the reciprocal influence of selective media exposure, interpersonal political talk, and political polarization! The ABM method tries to explain the world in a highly abstract and succinct fashion, and it manages to investigate the evolution of collective social facts (i.e., race segregation, ideological polarization) from simple individual’s actions and interacting rules (i.e., “I will move to another place if 30% of my neighborhoods are not the same race as me” – as depicted by the Schelling model).

The computational social science (CSS) can be roughly defined, by Professor Evans, as the “method to use computers to generate data, discover patterns or generate and test explanations that you could not have without them” (in-class lecture notes, taking by the author). It is based on massive amount of data generated from social media, digital traces, as well as the digitalization of existing “non-digital” text materials. The “Declaration” of this field was raised by David Lazer (2009), which has been widely quoted and featured. In the second session of the summer school, Dr Yongren Shi introduced several cutting-edged works. For example, is science political polarized? (Intuitively one may say “no!” – because one always believes that “science” is (ought to be) objective, non-ideologically tilted, and being free from the partisanship’s influence). However, massive Amazon book purchase records revealed a complex and disturbing scenario (see the work “Millions of online book co-purchases reveal partisan differences in the consumption of science” by Shi and his associates). He also mentioned another recent work on the strategic development of organization.

As a “late comer” of this field, I was deeply fascinated and charmed by the insightful (and sometimes “crazy”) research ideas and the rigorous operationalization and implementation of this field. The interdisciplinary nature also generates a lot of rich research ideas, and advancing our understanding on the nature of human behaviors. I was also moved by all the teaching faculties (including the five voluntary student teaching assistants), who voluntarily organized this workshop and generously shared their latest work, all for FREE! (Yes, the summer school was zero charged). I was also surprised to find the hard-working and eagerness of all the participants attending this summer school. Some of them were already ranked as Associate Professor or above. In sum, there remains much to be further reflected and digested from this fruitful summer.

 

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# Figure 1. Professor James Evan is lecturing. The photo was took by the author.

# Figure 2. A snapshot of the main campus of SYSU.

# Figure 3. My humble “Letter of Certificate”

Media education in an era of “post-truth”

A thematic conference The Third International Conference on Popular Culture and Education takes place in the Education University of Hong Kong on July 20th-22nd, 2017. The conference is organized by the Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities and the Literature and Cultural Studies Department.

One of the highlights of the conference is the keynote speech delivered by the prominent scholar of media literacy, Prof. David Buckingham, Emeritus Professor of Media and Communications at Loughborough University. His inspiring speech “Teaching Media in a ‘Post-Truth’ Age: Fake News, Media Bias and the Challenge for Media Literacy Education” not only pinpoints the trends in the contemporary media landscape which is fraught with “fake news”, but also proposes possible solutions in the field of media education.

 

First of all, it is not a strange phenomenon that we are surrounded by “fake news” in everyday life, from political news to entertainment. Fake news is a somewhat inclusive category: hoax messages, spoof stories which people take them as real, and political lies which were extremely excessive during political campaigns (e.g. pro-brexit groups painted an ad on a bus saying: “We spend the EU 350 million pound a week, let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote leave. Let’s take back control.). Tabloids full of fake news”). Sometimes “fake news” is revealed in a form of “disinformation”: telling part of the truth but misleading the message to another direction. Tabloids are full of fake news. And social media and emails is a major platform for “clickbaits”. Moreover, as online video channels such as YouTube is not bounded by the political advertising regulations, political propaganda bombards. What is even more familiar to the mass population is the president of the United States, Donald Trump who is the master of “fake news” on Twitter.

So, what’s the problem? For decades, people used to blaming the media for letting the rampant fake news grow. From a perspective of political sociology, it could generate a threat to democracy, as what the concept “media logic’ has told us that mass media has played the role as the surrogate of public opinion. Instead of going through formal “political logic” (e.g. policy making and deliberation), political figures and entities are inclined to make use of media, both in legacy and digital forms, as the major terrain of democratic practice. As a result, a new term has risen: post-truth – the alternative facts that triumph objective facts and the latter become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.  We have seen a changing media landscape – a few number of major media outlets are given way to popular vernacular voices.

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Admitting the important role of the government to impose more regulations to respond to the changing society, Prof. Buckingham advanced the discussion by proposing media literacy as a more profound solution to address the issue. Instead of sticking to a checklist which is adhere to traditional media education pedagogy: Examine provenance; Assess authority; Check source; Cross check facts; and evaluate design (always capital letters? Flash colours?), Prof. Buckingham affirms that critical thinking is the ultimate goal of media literacy education. Going beyond a static “checklist”, he suggests:

  • Think twice and put fake news in a wider context of news bias and (mis)representation
  • Media bias: defining terms, objectivity, balance, agenda setting
  • Know how to make news.

While media and education scholars are still paying every effort to tackle the issue, a best solution is yet to come. Media literacy education is never an individualistic approach that readers/audiences could sit back and watch online news comfortably after taking a course, but a social responsibility to build a better environment, to bring back the role of mass media as the fourth power, a check-and-balance force against the government.

 

Re-thinking digital competence

In their latest article, Amiama-Espaillat and Mayor-Ruiz demonstrated a comprehensive study on Generation Z in the Dominican Republic. Aiming at assessing their digital reading and reading competence, the researchers conducted survey among adolescents at 10th grade in both public and private schools. Adopting existing reading competence measure scales, the researchers discovered that the reading proficiency literacy vary between students in the two types of schools.

It is concluded that, “a student with prior knowledge and one who lives in a literate culture will more efficiently incorporate what one has read while at the same time enriching one’s reading experience. It is a matter of the ‘rich get richer.'” On the contrary, a student with limited prior knowledge and reading habitus, even if the person reads a lot and uses ICTs, that student will be unable to efficiently incorporate the information.

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Cruel but true, the gaps in whatever terms such as knowledge gap, digital gap and so on, exist and the situation is even getting deteriorated. It has been testified by lots of scholars that, what matters most to people’s digital competence is their knowledge of how to use it and the peer culture that creates a “habitus” of “getting used to using it”, instead of the how the quantity of digital devices available to the people. To put it in an ancient Chinese saying, “it is better teach how to fish than give fish” – an ancient wisdom while still exhibits contemporary universal value. This significant but callous phenomenon has been well proved by the authors.

While the measure tools adopted by Amiama-Espaillat and Mayor-Ruiz so comprehensive that we as readers are able to grasp a general picture of how Dominican teenagers make use of their digital devices in daily life, I am curious if the teens, who show lower points in reading proficiency competence, could be regarded as “low competence”. As the authors of the article well aware of that: “students’ use of Internet, even for academic purposes, seems to be insufficient to develop the necessary reading or digital competence”, the digital competence of people, especially who are termed as the “generation z”, comes little from schooling or academic activities. It is quite true that, from our daily observation and also from the minor findings of this study, multi-channel use of digital devices constitutes the major part of people’s learning experience – learning by doing. There is not significant discrepancy between different generations in terms of learning process.

As pointed by the article authors,  there is a great need to further examine other factors such as teachers’ technological and pedagogic competence. Perhaps, more facets are worthy of further examination: parenting, peer groups, and the process-dimension that shows how teenagers gradually adopt certain digital use habits.

 

Amiama-Espaillat, C. & Mayor-Ruiz, C. (2017). Digital Reading and Reading Competence – The influence in the Z Generation from the Dominican Republic [Lectura digital en la competencia lectora: La influencia en la Generación Z de la República Dominicana]. Comunicar, 52, 105-114. https://doi.org/10.3916/C52-2017-10 

Link to the article: https://www.revistacomunicar.com/indice-en/articulo.php?numero=52-2017-10

 

The peril of entertainment on social media

On June 7th, a number of entertainment public social media accounts in mainland China (see the news report by the South China Morning Post) were shut down by the authority. According to the Cyberspace Administration of China, the censorship authority for all new media platforms, these entertainment accounts cast a threat to public order, as they are likely to promote vulgar contents such as violence and pornography, disclosing too much celebrities’ privacy and unhealthy personal lives, or containing monstrous and exaggeratedly bizarre pictures or videos. Another review by the New York Times pinpointed the tricky aspect of this issue: when entertainment news and sports news were previously regarded as “safe and free” areas of news reporting, the cracking down of these public accounts indicated an extended mode of content regulation. Another perplexed puzzle is that, defined as a crucial component of “cultural industry,” the strategic development of entertainment and new media have been written into several waves of Five-Year Plans.

My quick reflection on this “news occurrence” is twofold. First, based on a humble guess, the motivation for the authority to initiate such censorship – like some of those content regulations imposing on entertainment contents but unlike those on politically sensitive or “national security-related” contents – is that they believe ordinary audiences might imitate or legitimize those lifestyles defined to be “unhealthy” and “negative,” such as, but not limited to, extramarital affairs, law violation, showing off, binge drinking and drug abuse, plus (possibly) excessively materialistic lifestyles. A strong media effect is presumed. The third-person effect can also spell the logic out: only a small group of smart people can distinguish the right from wrong, whilst the general netizens are less enlightened.

Secondly, the real paradox is that, in a context where the media system is relatively not free (of course, it depends on the benchmark of “free” – a handy reference is that how much “independence,” or “dependence” the media agencies can enjoy), media has the function of “empowerment:” everything appears on the media is legitimate and endorsed by the authorities. This is a myth that should be corrected, and one crucial way, though may not be the best one, is to grant a more open and diverse media landscape and return the right for decision-making back to the audiences themselves. In the vein of entertainment (or just like sports), perhaps the neo-liberal interpretation of market functions perfectly. One can always vote for or against his or her (entertainment) idols (setting aside running the risk of objectifying those celebrities for a while). The Media System Dependency theory argues that people rely on media the most when the situation they are living in is uncertain and unstable. Based on the theory, perhaps a rapid development of entertainment media, though somewhat not that decent for a while, is the result of limited competence in reporting issues on government, politics, and the public. This in turn promotes a rapid growth of online content providers. One may ask, what will happen if the entertainment media is constrained as well? In balancing the benefits and demands among media, politics, stakeholders, and audience, there is still a long way to proceed.

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(This picture is in the public domain and it is obtained from: https://pixabay.com/en/news-information-reading-1483109/)

Reflections on “The Emotional Impact of Traditional and New Media in Social Events”

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This research paper monitored Romanian mainstream media and social media for a month after a tragedy occurred. The fire occurred during a rock concert with 400 people in the club at the time, killing 64 and injured over 100. Minodora Salcudean and Raluca Muresan use “#Colectiv” to collect the data from the online press and from social media (mainly facebook, Instagram and twitter). The authors’ research suggests professional journalists still act as “responsible filters” when reporting the emotional tragedy. The authors believe the journalists make use of the authentic information and opinions from social media thus produce quality news report when covering a fire tragedy.

This research could be more comprehensive if the authors could take the impact of the picture into account when investigating how journalists use social media as a source and how emotional items are being quoted. As mentioned by the authors, social media is a cheap and convenient source of information, particularly in terms of citizen’s opinion and image-on-site. The latter is essential to the news report of tragedy, as 1) media might not have the resources or time to report onsite during the occurrence of tragedy; 2) news report with pictures, especially when related to victimization and emotions, are often found to have a greater popularity when compared to reports without images. Journalists could, therefore, be more likely to include images than text in their reports of tragedy.

Information from social media is a double-edged sword. Acquiring information is one thing, verifying is another. In the social media (and citizen journalism) era, fact-checking has never been so important for journalists. Journalism is valued due to credibility. Speed should not be a substitute for accuracy. The result suggested by this research is optimistic; whether it is the overall trends of journalism practices need to be examined in other countries, as well as in non-tragic daily life period.

 

Reference:
Minodora Salcudean and Raluca Muresan. “The Emotional Impact of Traditional and New Media in Social Events.” Comunicar, 50 (2017).

Early forms of globalization – Hong Kong film

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From the very beginning of its development, Hong Kong film industry has been facilitated and furthered to full blossom by forces from different directions. These forces, monetary, manpower, creative power and technologies, accidentally, forcefully or under explicit plans, converged in Hong Kong to make film and cinema a lucrative business. A number of modes of Hong Kong film development have been pointed out: national cinema (as part of Chinese cinema), local cinema, regional cinema (e.g. influence in Southeast Asia) and global cinema (e.g. connections with the western world). It is Hong Kong’s unique geopolitical and economic status that nurture the Hollywood in the East, the dream factory for a phenomenal number of film talents and film merchants throughout the century. A hundred-year’s history of Hong Kong film industry reveals a sub-history of inbound-outbound culture and resource interchange.

As early as 1920s, Shaw brothers originated from Shanghai moved their filming business to Hong Kong and continued to explore potential markets in Southeast Asia. among the four Shaw brothers, Run Run and Runmei were sent to Malaya and Singapore to expand business network. At that time, the major cinema market in Malaya and Singapore was in the hands of migrations from South China, divided into different cultural circles according to their dialects such as Cantonese, Chiu Chow dialect and Hakka dialect. With assistance from some prominent figures who were also Chinese emigrants, in 1927, they settled down in Malaya, renting theaters to exclusively screen Tianyi productions (the film company by Shaw family). In 1940, they opened their first overseas studio in Singapore and started to make Malay-language films starring Malay Cantonese opera superstars[1]. From the mid-1930s and 1940s, the Shaw brothers bought amusement parks from Chinese Malayans. By that time, the Southeast Asian entertainment business founded by Run Run and Runmei was constituted with a sizable theater chain and two amusement parks. Without doubt, they had laid the foundation stone for Tianyi’s further development in overseas market[2]. This network was even extended to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesian Java with over a hundred theaters and ten amusement parks. As early as the 1930s, the inception of Shaw family’s ambition of territorialization could already be spotted.

After the anti-Japanese war, facing the rise of strong competitors, Run Run Shaw was appointed to move back to Hong Kong from Singapore, to revive the shrinking filming business. When Run Run arrived in Hong Kong in 1957, he purchased a huge land in Clear Water Bay to establish a studio and started to found the Shaw Brothers film company. Different from the traditional practice, Run Run mimicked Hollywood system, focusing on both the quality and efficiency of film production by recruiting versatile talents to look over different functional sectors and introducing a centralized streamline-based production system. By that time, the entertainment network constituted of cinema chains, amusement parks and cabaret had reached to a wide range of territories from Hong Kong to south sea, with a full blossom of film business: cross regional distribution, cross-genre, cross-language (including Hokkien and ChiuChow language), and multiethnic (Chinese, Malay and Indian). Even under the shadow of the cold war, the prosperity of Shaw family’s business had ceaselessly revealed the process of territorialization and even globalization[3].

There is no other place in the world that the film industry of a city is ranked equivalent to a national level. In film history, we have British films, French films and Indian films. Hong Kong films are never equal to Chinese films. Hong Kong film is Hong Kong film per se.

Described by a Filipino young adult, he encountered “Hong Kong” for the first time in his life via “Kung Fu movie”. A mysterious but exciting encounter at a wooden hut which was run by Chinese emigrants bridged this young man with a place he even did not know the exact location. Twenty years later, this young boy pursued his further study in Hong Kong, bringing his childhood memory to reality.

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When I was around 7 years old, my mother would give us 5 pesos to watch kung fu in what was a house where the living room was transformed into a makeshift theater in the  afternoon. This was between the late 80s and early 90s. To me, it was the only incentive for walking to our store and my grandfather’s corn mill from where our house was. It always happened in the afternoon, around the same time we gave our yayas (nannies) a headache for not taking a tap.

Perhaps that was my first encounter with Hong Kong films — although at that time I really did not care where the kung fu movies came from. The swordplay, the flying long hair-men dressed in silk robes, and the fight scenes that almost always started with conversations over bowls of noodles and wine-drinking were simply “Chinese” to me. Everything that sounded Chinese to me as a kid was simply China, never Hong Kong nor Taiwan. In fact, our fascination with Chinese kung fu films went to as far as us mouthing gibberish that at least sounded (but was never at all) Chinese every time we mimicked kung fu fight scenes.” (https://smarkbites.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/kung-fu-in-a-living-room-by-night-movie-house-by-day/)

[1] Yu Mo-wan, 1997, History of Hong Kong Film (Vol 3) – 1940s 香港電影史話 (第三卷) – 四十年代, p.25.

[2] Chung, Po-yin, 2003, “The Industrial Evolution of a Fraternal Enterprise: The Shaw Brothers and the Shaw Organisation 兄弟企業的工業轉變- 邵氏兄弟和邵氏機構”, in Wong, Ain-ling (Ed.). The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study 邵氏電影初探 (pp.1-13). Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive; Chung, Po-yin, 2011, “Connect Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore: The story of Shaw Brothers (1920s-1950s) 連接上海、香港和新加坡:邵氏兄弟的故事”. In Yeh, Y. Y. (Ed.). Rethinking Chinese Film Industry: New Methods, New Histories華語電影工業:新歷史與新方法. Beijing: Beijing University Press.

[3] Yung Sai-shing, 2008, “Territorialization and the entertainment industry of the Shaw Brothers in Southeast Asia”, in Fu Poshek (Ed.). China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (pp.133-153). Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

 

 

“Let’s start from here:” Bringing deliberation back into the classroom

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” This famous quote from Joseph Joubert, together with some staccato reflections on three recent events, motivated me to compile this blog post. The first event was a workshop I attended, held by the Department of Media and Communication at City University of Hong Kong (my alma mater) on 27 March, entitled “International Workshop Political Polarization and Media: Cases in the US, Korea, and Hong Kong.” The second event was another workshop I (had to) attend as a part of new staff introductory training, organized by the Centre for Holistic Teaching and Learning at Hong Kong Baptist University (my current employer) on 29 March, entitled “Flat Space, Deep Learning,” lectured by Professor Eric Mazur, who is Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. The third case was, unfortunately, far less enthusiastic: two students, each from one of the two classes I teach this semester, reported cases of “free-rider” problems in their group project assignments. You can guess what they said: “One of our group members is always out of contact and not doing his/her job…blah, blah, blah (thousands of words omitted here) …”

These three events took place within one week purely by accident. A normal faculty member will always encounter a lot of refreshing ideas as well as thorny issues at the end of the semester. But the case in point here is, how can people collaborate without pride and prejudice? How can we hammer the notion of deliberation and collegial collaboration into students? When society is being torn apart, how can we offer potential remedies? The answer probably is, like a song’s title, “let’s start from here.”

Let me start this reflection in chronological order. The workshop at CityU was fruitful and insightful, thanks to the organizer, Dr. Tetsuro Kobayashi. The speakers included Professor Shanto Iyengar (Standford), Dr. Kyu S. Hahn (Seoul National), and Professor Francis Lee (CUHK). Professor Iyengar brought tremendous empirical evidence on the extent to which U.S. society has become highly politically polarized. This evidence included, but was not limited to, the insane and unexpected 2016 election, the results from the feeling thermometer, and insights from the social distance scale introduced several decades ago. Data in the past several decades indicated a clear pattern. It is political ideology that is the basis on which people make a series of crucial decisions, just like those known factors like race, ethnicity, and religion. Nowadays, people heavily use partisan media; however, these media provide biased and distorted world views. People select communities to live in, and ideologies are highly clustered within these communities. People rate those who hold divergent political viewpoints more negatively, showing less support. People even select their mates according to ideology during online dating, which aims at establishing long-term relationships.

However, that was only part of the story. I got a chance to ask Professor Iyengar a question after the talk: speaking of those collaborative relationships, will people do business with those who have opposing political viewpoints? Professor Iyengar seemed to think for a while and said, “Well, probably no.” In other words, it is likely that a pro-Democrat company will not do business with a pro-Republican company, even if it generates great profit. Presumably, the case should be different in Hong Kong. I asked a similar question to Professor Francis Lee in the afternoon after his inspiring talk: “Will people who consider themselves ‘yellow ribbons’ use Taobao or Ali-pay?” Professor Lee replied, “I guess, yes. Someone who is not a big fan of China still may hold a lot of Chinese stock!” Taking these two divergent answers together, I am not sure whether Karl Marx and his associates will have a sleepless night.

Can I push the question further: what happens if people have to work with someone who is different? I am thinking about that piece in the New York Times: “Your Surgeon Is Probably a Republican, Your Psychiatrist Probably a Democrat,” which brings me to the next event.

Aiming at facilitating effective teaching and learning, Professor Eric Mazur promoted a group-based pedagogical method that avoided lecturers and exams. People work in groups and solve problems collaboratively, based on “case studies.” Oh, the famous case study—a method that gained its reputation from the similarly famous Harvard Business School and numerous learners and parodies all over the world. Three golden rules, however, as advised by the Harvard “B School” and Professor Eric Mazur, should be implemented when designing group projects: 1) the project should require the practical application of skills, 2) the project should be linked to real-world problems, and 3) the project should be instructed with a compelling narrative (“you are designing a marketing plan that is vital for a start-up company in a developing small city of mainland China…”). Particularly, Professor Eric Mazur elaborated on several of his requirements for the group projects: a) the projects should be difficult enough so that group members must collaborate to accomplish the task, b) the grouping of the students is random, and c) most importantly, when there are several group projects within one semester, students are required to change groups. That way, students can learn from each other and be exposed to different viewpoints. I was impressed by the professor’s pedagogical approach (although that workshop covered far richer information than I reported here), as I am now going to elaborate on the third case, something like a group of Democratic surgeons working with another group of Republican pharmacists.

I used to set up rules for group project assessments in my classes as such: students form groups based on their preferences, and all the students within one group should abide by a mutually agreed workload distribution. Having such a workload distribution endorsed by all the members, all the group members will receive the same score in the group assessment. What I used to follow is “procedure justice” (I must confess that I am a big fan of Jean-Jacques Rousseau). That is, I don’t mind if the workload is unequally distributed among the group members, as I always believe that students can actively form a group (rather than be assigned by me), negotiate among themselves, and sharpen everyone’s best skills under such a group contract. Why not let Amy, who is a veteran in SPSS, shoulder more quantitative work, whereas Rob, a drama society leader, can finish the entire 20-minute presentation?

Obviously, however, my method runs the risk of failure if students are not evaluating each other based on the performance of coursework, but on something identified by Professor Iyengar —notorious factors that lead to political polarization. Yes, unfortunately, I realized from several anecdotal cases (including the ones this time) that typical “free-rider” problems, “uncollaborative outliers,” or “bad group members” emerged when a group included students from varying majors, different genders, different pre-enrollment academic backgrounds, different career perspectives, both local and international exchange students, and both part-time and full-time students. As a keen observer of political polarization studies, I remembered that one of the measurements of political deliberation reads something like this: “How frequently have you discussed politics with people who are a) with a different gender; b) with a different age; c) with a different race; d) with a different occupation, …, etc.?” Defined like this, most students nowadays may only rate below the theoretical median. Birds of a feather flock together, wherein polarization arises.

Hence, as a tiny and humble step toward my contributing two cents to the tearing apart of society, perhaps we can advise students to ensure they are always exposed to people who are different from themselves, be those filtering characteristics gender, age, income level, academic major, place of origin, dining schedule, mode of study, race, religion, interest in a course, GPA, hobbies, organizational membership, political ideologies, self-efficacy, personalities, and other possible items in an endlessly long list. Perhaps some “matching” process can be implemented before the class (via a pre-class questionnaire), i.e., assigning people with similar backgrounds into separate groups, a procedure much like deliberation polling.

In summary, there will always exist discontent with civilized deliberation. We are at the front lines, fighting against it.

[Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Dr. Wan-Ying Lin (CityU) for inviting me as an (additional) discussant in the workshop at CityU; together with the organizer, Dr. Tetsuro Kobayashi (CityU). I would also like to thank the support from Professor Alice Lee (HKBU) and Dr. Klavier Wong (Education U, HK) to make this blog post available to the public.] 

Figure 1: Professor Shanto Iyengar (left) and the discussant, Dr Marko Skoric (right)

Figure 2: Professor Eric Mazur is giving a lecture at HKBU

Prof Iyengar and Dr. Skoric

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HKBU Workshop

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Multi-temporalities of Protest Songs in Hong Kong (an ongoing project)

Plenty of research has highlighted the significance of music in collective actions for evoking and reifying aspirations and grievances, as well as consolidating solidarity among activists. This paper will contribute to the literature on pop music in protest movements by analyzing the meanings of three Cantopop (Cantonese pop music) songs in the construction of a collective Hong Kong identity during the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

Through the perspective of the historical and cultural studies of music, I start my research project on Hong Kong’s protest music in the recent decades, their spatial, temporal and social implications. Specifically, I fathom how music/songs have projected an imagined Hong Kong among the people in a particular historical timeframe.

To begin with, the Umbrella Movement in 2014 sets milestone: contradictions and connections between the songs <Under the Lion Rock>,  <Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies>, and <Hoist the Umbrella>. Tracing their respective historical contexts and impacts on Hong Kong society, while engaging with theoretical discussions on the function of pop songs in protests, this paper will unpack how the three songs (re)define three spatial registers: the Umbrella Movement, the Hong Kong society and the generational location. The historical epochs giving rise to these songs and the contradictory ethos embodied by them were (re)imagined and (re)articulated in the Umbrella Movement protest.

<Under the Lion Rock> is the theme song of a TV series that originated in the 1970’s. It manifests the so-called “Lion Rock spirit” supposedly shared by all walks of life in Hong Kong. This was an ethos interpellating recent immigrants from mainland China and their children to work hard for the prosperity of the city. <Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies> was composed and sung by the local band Beyond in the 1980’s, the golden age of both Hong Kong’s economic development and its entertainment industry. This song expresses the desire for freedom and the courage to dream. <Hoist the Umbrella> came out of the Umbrella Movement and is sung by a group of pro-movement pop singers.

October 28, 2014 marked the full month since the outpouring of Hong Kong people taking part in the Umbrella Movement after the police’s use of tear gas to disperse the initial protesters. On this date, amid an ocean of mobile phone flashlights and fervent chants of “I want genuine universal suffrage,” the three songs were performed in Hong Kong’s central business district, which had become one of the occupation sites of the Movement. These three songs registered the past, present and future of Hong Kong. Together, they epitomized the trajectory of Hong Kong people’s identity, from refugees to homo economicus to……. us past colonial ideology and the myth of economic evolution and the in-situ re-interpreted and re-defined of the past “memory” in this Umbrella Movement. The de-politicized song <Under the Lion Rocks> which advocated grass-root citizens stop complaining but endeavour head to toe, was endowed with a post-colonial signature and movement-specific interpretation of the keywords “complain”, “on the same boat” and so on. In the same vein, the <Vast Ocean and Sky> was transformed from an autobiographic account of a legendary band to a collective declaration of democratic pursuit. Such re-contextualization of songs was eventually concretised in the <Hoist the Umbrella>.

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The Rise of New Media Influencers

Salcudean and Muresan’s article “The Emotional Impact of Traditional and New Media in Social Events” provides insight into the interweaving of traditional and new media in reporting social events, through the case study of the Bucharest nightclub fire that took 64 lives on October 30, 2015. Although the article focuses on the emotional layer of the blending between traditional and new media news reporting, it nonetheless touches upon a paradigm shift in the public sphere brought about by this blending.

As the article points out, new media content are being picked up by traditional media is because (1) it is much more convenient for journalists to pick up ready-made user-authored content for news reporting, and (2) the monetary incentive which has to do with the increase in rating and traffic. What is first and foremost interesting to the reader is the way in which the inclusion of new media in news reporting changes the mode of discourse in the public sphere, particularly regarding the question of whose voices get privileged in civil debates. In the traditional public sphere, which is generally sustained by traditional media, the usual determinants of whose voices would be heard lie along the lines of race, class, and gender. The increased involvement of new media content in news reporting, however, introduces the Facebook algorithm as an additional determinant. The quote from journalist Nick Denton speaks for itself: “We [journalists] were slaves to the Facebook algorithm.” Facebook algorithm places the most popular—hence to a certain degree “the most important”—information and/or opinions in the spotlight. And the algorithm has its own set of rules, which has to do with virility and the affective quality of information and opinions. Therefore, in addition to traditional news outlets, the use of data from Zelist.ro, which is the important platform for social media monitoring in Romania, is especially fitting in this article to highlight and recognize the impact new media has on news reporting.

The blending of social media and mainstream media allows a new class of influencers in the public sphere. For instance, in the case of the Romanian nightclub fire, artist Tudoe Chirila, who occupies first place in the Zelist ranking, had huge influence in mobilizing young people to protest against the political class in the street. As a result, days of civil pressure from the streets coerced Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to resign. This shows a fundamental shift of political power in the public sphere, which is brought about by the blending between traditional and new media news reporting.

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