Archive for April, 2008

CNN vs. Al Jazeera

The photo on the top is from CNN and the photo on the bottom is from Al Jazeera.

The story being covered is of multiple suicide bombings that took place in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last week as well as the U.S. air strikes in Baghdad’s Sadr City. Interestingly, both photos show Iraqi children. CNN strategically chose to depict three Iraqi children looking over a bullet stricken wall in Sadr City. The article describes multiple suicide bomb attacks, and other acts of violence and death in the surrounding areas by Shiite militia members. I believe they chose this particular photograph because it shows how “unsafe” Sadr City is, especially for little children. CNN goes on to explain their efforts to secure the area and their desire to provide stability for the citizens of Baghdad. They go on to say that an Interior Ministry Official believes that the U.S. air strikes were the cause of eight deaths, including two children while the U.S. military counteracts by saying, “an unmanned aerial vehicle killed two ‘special groups criminals’ in Sadr City because it’s operators saw people putting weapons into a vehicle and attacked that vehicle with a Hellfire missile”. They create “the evil other” by saying, “Fighting in Sadr City, which has been going on for a month, has involved U.S. and Iraqi forces battling Shiite militia members”. In other words, they are there for a cause. -To give the children in this photo a better life.

Al Jazeera chose to use a photo that depicts a young boy looking through a large hole that has been blown out of a brick wall with the caption: US aircraft were reported to have bombed locations in Sadr City. This caption was no doubt meant to lead you to believe that a U.S. aircraft was the cause of destruction and that small children are within close proximity and therefor put into dangerous situations caused by US. Al Jazeera’s article is similar to CNN’s when discussing the suicide bombings and acts of violence but the death and wounded tolls do not match up.  CNN claims that the violence left at least 15 dead and 94 wounded while Al Jazeera claims at least 9 dead and 31 wounded. That is quite a difference! When Al Jazeera describes the Sadr City fighting between U.S. and Shiites, they do not necessarily take one side or the other, they just leave information out and then let you decide who is “the evil other”. For example, they write, “Iraqi security sources said that eight people, including a child and a woman, were killed and 27 others were wounded in clashes on Friday and Saturday between Mahdi Army militia and US forces in al-Sadr City in eastern Baghdad. They said that US airplanes had bombed positions in the district”. There is no better way to blame US bombings for innocent deaths than how they so indirectly did here. Neither article really “tells” you anything but, they both definitely do their best to lead you to believe something. CNN takes a much more straight forward approach in creating “the evil other” while Al Jazeera is more indirect and arguably more effective in their approach to persuade. It is still unknown whether the U.S. missile or bombings (which ever it really was) is/are responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians. Each took their own approach at telling their side of the story and the results are misleading and confusing. I would imagine this was their intention, at least to an extent. I have to say that CNN’s straight forward approach comes across as more believable and reliable. They told both sides of the story, including the fact that sources believe the U.S. is responsible for innocent deaths. So, while I find their article to be somewhat biased, I give them more credit than I do Al Jazeera.

For CNN’s article click here

For Al Jazeera’s article click here

 

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How we perceive the “evil other”

Personal Perspective:

Mr. Charles Montgomery Burns is the well known villain from the tv series, The Simpsons. He is a very rich and powerful man who’s sole desire is to increase his wealth at the expense of other, less meaningful people. This picture shows him in the midst of his trademark sinister cackle. If I had never seen The Simpsons, I believe that I would easily be able to point out Mr. Burns as the villain of the show based on his appearance alone. The attached shadows on his face and hands indicate that he is the “evil other” because they make him appear dark and evil. He was created to represent the dark side of corporate America. He is greedy and full of hatred but, I love how we find humor in his relentless, abusive behavior because it gives us the opportunity to laugh at someone else’s expense without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Historical Perspective:

Mr. Burns made his debut in 1989. Interestingly none of the characters on the show have aged over the past 19 years. Mr. Burns was created as a character that would only appear on the show occasionally to give Homer some grief but, his character has become one of the most popular over the years and now it is very rare for him not to appear in every episode. He was voted the 49th best villain of all time by Wizard Magazine in 2006. Historically speaking, Mr. Burns fits the bill for how we perceive the “evil other” because he is almost always presented with his head down, looking up with beady eyes and a furrowed brow line. If his head is not down then he is usually depicted with heavy shadows, much like he is in this picture. He always tents his fingers in a way that leads you to believe he is contriving evil thoughts and he almost always has an evil smirk on his face.

Technical Perspective:

In this particular picture the key light is coming from below giving Mr. Burns a sinister high contrast appearance. It is a close-up showing his trademark hand gesture and bad posture. His long pointy nose could be viewed as a graphic vector that leads your eyes to the direction in which he is looking.

Ethical, Cultural, & Critical Perspective:

The Simpsons is a show that is known for making fun of American issues. There is always a moral dilemma that is to be resolved ethically. Many people (including my parents who have always found The Simpsons to be ethically distasteful) feel that stereotyping and displaying bad behavior is not the best way to teach a lesson, especially in cartoon format. It is said to encourage children to behave similarly but, I disagree. Why not learn from other people’s mistakes before we make those mistakes ourselves? Culturally, Mr. Burns is an exaggerated version of how we perceive corporate America. Money hungry, take all, do whatever it takes to get to the top state of mind. Mr. Burns is a perfect example of how we perceive the “evil other” because he is relentless in his attempts to prevent anyone else from gaining success. A villain would not be seen as evil if he/she was not given the specific characteristics such as those found in this picture of Mr. Burns.  

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Arab Femininity

Personal Perspective:

At least these girls don’t have to worry about putting on sunscreen. Despite being covered from head to toe, on the beach no less, these girls appear to be completely comfortable and natural in this photo.

Historical Perspective:

Koranic law dictates that women wear the abaya whenever they are in public, even at the beach. As Americans, I think we assume that everyone would like to live like us so the general image of the Arab woman is that she isn’t happy. We tend to stereotype Arabic women as such because their culture is so different from our own. In a sense, I am jealous of these girls because when I am at the beach my culture has forced me to feel that I have to look as great as all of the models on the cover of Sports Illustrated. American girls sit on the beach wearing practically nothing, usually more worried about how they look than how much fun they are having. Arabic women have, no doubt, been oppressed but they have come a long way in recent years. Many women continue to dress this way because it is what makes them comfortable and it supports their religious convictions.

Technical Perspective:

This is a very natural photograph. It does not appear to be posed. I would imagine these girls did not know that their picture was being taken. I say this because I think that photography of Muslim women is generally considered offensive. For what appears to be a snapshot, it has a nice composition. It shows the men swimming and playing ball out in the ocean in the background while the girls sit, having a casual conversation.

Ethical, Cultural, & Critical Perspective:

However strange the beach attire of these girls may look to us, it is completely ethical and normal for them to be sitting on the beach this way. Covering themselves in this way is very feminine and I would argue, even powerful. Most women feel it is completely appropriate to flaunt everything they’ve got while these women treat their bodies as something that is sacred. I would imagine that this cultural perspective relieves many women of the emotional and psychological damage that other women suffer when they abuse and use their bodies to fulfill a part of their life that is missing. Arab women have been taught to respect their bodies and I would imagine that along with that comes a great deal of confidence and self-worth. Arabic women have no doubt been oppressed and because of that they are currently fighting for their rights. But, I don’t think that makes them any less proud of the roles they play in their culture. This photo exudes that power of modesty that is an important aspect of their culture. 

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What’s in a Scene?

Into the Wild

To view this film’s official website with footage for the analyzed scene click here.

Personal Perspective:

Part of what makes this movie so good is the director’s (Sean Penn) creative editing techniques. You cannot help but feel a strong connection with the main character (Christopher) because you are able to gain a strong sense of his emotional state, where he is coming from, and why he feels the need to be such a free, adventurous spirit. There is one scene in particular that really defines Christopher’s relationship with his parents (the root to all of his problems). It is about 15 minutes into the movie and it is when he meets his parents at a restaurant to celebrate his college graduation. My initial reaction to the scene is that his parents are uptight, religious, and conservative people who think they can fix any problem with money. Christopher comes across as the type who despises everything his parents are and have ever hoped to be. The tension between father and son is very obvious. These initial conceptions of characters are further defined throughout the film because Sean Penn uses elliptical editing by providing flashbacks and flashforwards so that you can more thoroughly understand why Christopher hates material things, hates his parents, and hates society in general.

Historical Perspective:

This movie is based on a true story. It takes place in the early 90’s and it is about a young college graduate who has had a troubled past. He grew up with parents who physically and verbally abused each other and tried to cover up their problems with material things. He has given up all hope on human kind and he wants nothing more than to be free of society as he knows it. He gives his life savings to charity and sets out all alone on an amazing adventure, into the wild. I vaguely remember hearing about this story when it happened in 1992 and even though I was a young teenager myself, I remember feeling more sympathy for his parents than for this presumably self-absorbed kid who disowned his family to take on the challenges of nature, unprepared for what he was exposing himself to. This movie gives a different perspective. It makes you question the way we live as a society. Instead of appreciating what life has to offer, we use and abuse each other to get ahead, to make more money, and to become something we were not intended to be. Instead of enjoying this planet, we are destroying it. With all of the talk about global warming and the new biological hypotheses being circulated today about the future of our planet and life as we know it, this film fits perfectly into a genre that many people can relate to.

Technical Perspective:

The scene in the restaurant begins with Chris’s parents impatiently waiting for him and his sister to arrive. There is a sound bridge of Chris reciting a passage from a book that relates to how his parents are not meant for one another. You hear his voice speak of the terrible things that come to people such as his parents as you watch an extreme close-up of their hands fidgeting with their silverware and glasses of water, panning from one parent to the other. It cuts away to a car pulling up in front of the restaurant and zooms into the people in the car, Chris and his sister. As Chris walks into the restaurant to meet his parents an  over-the-shoulder shot is used to continually focus on his father. This shows that he is the authority figure and he demands respect. Moments into their conversation a rowdy bunch of sports fans burst into the restaurant and again the camera stays focused on Chris’s father who shows complete distaste for the inappropriate behavior of the kids. This shows his uptightness, his intolerance for fun, and distaste for living freely. There is a quick establishing shot of the atmosphere: the loud partiers, the sense of urgency in the kitchen, and then a racking focus back onto the stiff, formal setting at Chris’s table. Throughout the rest of the scene there is a patterned use of transition between extreme close-up shots and reverse shots of the family members. The eyeline matches point out how the characters are reading each other. For example, there is a shot of Chris looking at his mother while his father is reprimanding him and then the next shot is a close-up of his mothers hand pushing the food around on her plate. In other words, he notices how his father’s behavior makes her feel uncomfortable. A shot of Chris looking at his father quickly changes into a close-up of his father’s tense hand with bulging veins. His sister never takes her eyes off of Chris, showing she is sympathetic to his feelings. The way in which these shots were edited together tell a lot about the types of relationships these people have with one another. The setting and lighting also influence the message trying to be conveyed. There is low contrast lighting that creates an atmosphere that is realistic. The bright sun is shinning through providing a light that is almost stark and uncomfortable, like his relationship with his family. The setting is a bit distracting but it shows that life goes on despite the conflicts occurring between these parents and their son.

Ethical, Cultural, & Critical Perspective:

Children rebelling against their parents ideals is nothing new but it might make some people feel uncomfortable to watch because maybe they are not proud of past behavior or family decisions made in their own life. It is not unethical to show this type of behavior because it is reality. In our culture, we are expected to treat our parents with respect. Or at least we were expected to treat our parents with respect. I say this because younger generations seem to be less inclined to do so than what I thought to be appropriate as a young teenager. The behavior of Chris, abandoning his family for a new life, is quite extreme but, the trauma he was forced to deal with his whole life was also extreme and unfair. Even though Chris was rebellious and ungrateful towards his family, it is still difficult to not feel sorry for him. This scene of the movie is very powerful because it displays the type of life many people find themselves “dealing with”. The sad thing is, is that most people don’t do anything about it, like Chris did. 

 

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