8 March 2018
Advanced Essay #3: Social Media and Activism
Society is constantly evolving, and with that comes changes in every aspect of it. Each generation has been defined by a social or political movement, and the tactics involved in the movements have matched the times. In the twenty-first century, social media has become one of the most prominent forms of communication,- seeing as in 2017, 81% of people in the United States had an account on a social media (Statista)- and has subsequently become central to modern activism. On various platforms, different bubbles of accounts have formed based upon political and social opinions. People within these groups use social media to affirm their identity as activists. But is social media actually helpful in accomplishing real social change?
First, it is necessary to note the groups that are present on social media and how they interact. The groups that I have observed are usually comprised of young people, and therefore are a representation of the faces of future activism. There are two examples of groups that interact with activism by, for one group, being a part of it, and for the other, criticizing it.
One group is commonly referred to as “Social Justice Warriors” by others in a disparaging way. This group is made up of feminist, pro-gay, or pro-black accounts, for example, who follow and interact almost exclusively with each other, sharing opinions on topics relevant in current events. Examples of people in this group are Laci Green and Anita Sarkeesian. The other group is anti-politically correct, anti-”SJW” people who act in similar ways to the previous group, but are centered around near opposite opinions. An example of someone in this group is Paul Joseph Watson.
Both of these groups exist because people of like minds flock together to create a space in which they feel safe, a space in which they can base their identity. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “the self is irreducibly social”. A self is defined by those of others. On social media, you can pick and choose who will influence you the most, and members of these groups choose influencers by their political views. Interestingly enough, it does not appear that the members of these groups are always on opposite ends of the political spectrum, the far right or far left. Many appear to be on the left or in the middle. However, social justice has expanded farther to the left with more radical ideas, which lends to more conflicts between liberals.
The fact that arguments are occurring may not be a bad thing for activism. It means that conversation is happening, and that’s one of the biggest things to come out of the rise of social media. This may be because social media platforms are essentially breeders of “weak link” relationships. They encourage correspondence between acquaintances, people with mutual friends, and people with similar interests. These relationships are highly useful in terms of increasing awareness and participation in a movement. If someone has a message, they can send it out to hundreds or even thousands of people instantly, people who will now know what others are saying about the topic without seeking it out. Groups and pages can be created around a topic, allowing for everyone who wants to be involved further to do so. These interactions have contributed to social media’s usefulness in aiding political change. According to Professor Clay Shirky, “social media have become coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements.” Shirky also argues that social media utilizes the two step flow model of communication, which “proposes that interpersonal interaction has a far stronger effect on shaping public opinion than mass media outlets” (Britannica). In the first step, information is spread to the general public on mass media. In the second, people begin to talk about it. It’s this part - hearing the opinions of people you know - that forms one’s own opinion about the topic.
The argument against social media in activism is centered around the same weak-link relationships that increase participation in it. This is because the increase in participation is caused by a “lessening [of] the level of motivation that participation requires” (Gladwell). This means that people are less invested in the causes and their connections to the causes are less personal. It takes a much deeper commitment to participate in a protest that could turn violent, such as many during the Civil Rights Movement, than it does to hit “retweet”. The masses would much rather like a Facebook page than show up to a march. While there are still people who participate in real-life activism, social media can be unhelpful in organizing such events. Because these movements are not planned and put into action by a hierarchy of activists, ideas within the movement are more likely to conflict, and there is a “real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals” (Gladwell).
Do the pros and cons even out? Would 1,000 people going out and risking their lives for a cause have the same effect as 100,000 people reposting a message? It’s hard to say, and could be different case by case. Claiming one way is better than the other may not be as productive as accepting this change in society. As long as the “slacktivism” found on social media does not serve “as a replacement for real-world action but as a way to coordinate it,” (Shirky) there will be benefits from its role. We must be aware of how much we depend on it, because if the stakes of everyone involved in a movement are low, the movement is bound to fail. Activists have still been getting things done recently, including the Women’s March, the #metoo movement, and protests for stricter gun control. They will undoubtedly continue to adapt to the rise of social media.
“Percentage of U.S. population who currently use any social media from 2008 to 2017.” Statista,
March 2017. Web. March 2018.
Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change.” The New Yorker, 4 October 2010. Web. March 2018.
Shirky, Clay. “The Political Power of Social Media. Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political
Change.” The Council on Foreign Relations, January/February 2011. March 2018.
Postelnicu, Monica. “Two-Step Flow Model of Communication.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 28
November 2016. March 2018. www.britannica.com/topic/two-step-flow-model-of-communication
In this paper, I aimed to present similarities between music and common forms of literacy. I am proud of the points I was able to make. I need to work on being more concise because I struggled with the word limit even though I had already cut out a lot of content.
Going into middle school, I knew the very basics of music. I could sight read simple pieces, play scales, and recognize some intervals. Over the next four years, I studied music theory, learning about different aspects that go into a seemingly simple musical sentence. The elements of rhythm and melody and what falls underneath them; endless note values and time signatures, overwhelming scales, modes, intervals, and harmonies. Combining these pieces creates infinite possibilities in only one bar. Combining bars together then creates unique lines, which can be used to construct a piece. What Sherman Alexie said of paragraphs in The Joy of Reading and Writing can be said of musical lines; “A paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose” (Alexie, 12). If a note with a rhythm and a tone is equal to a word, then a bar is a sentence, a line is a paragraph, and a piece is a story. Music theory is the grammar of musicality.
When one thinks of types of literacy, books, articles, languages, and similar subjects usually come to mind. These sorts of literacy provide examples of the different ways literacy is used. I will be looking at a few different pieces that are used for communicative, personal, or both purposes.
Communication can be argued to be the primary purpose of literacy. Letters, texting, and emails provide simple interactions. Larger pieces of literacy, like papers and books, are meant to be read by other people and are therefore types of communication. In a piece of music, there is a transfer of information, often through a story being told. Such a story or scene is brought to life by emotions and atmosphere that the composer creates. Knowing theory helps a composer use the tools to reach for these emotions more effectively. Communication through music also extends to the way it is performed. Just as a word can have different connotations depending on the way it is said, a single note can be played a multitude of ways that are limited only by the instrument itself. Depending on the way a piece is written, certain liberties are up to the performer, bringing forth unique versions of the same piece, as the performer chooses how they want to interpret it.
In Mother Tongue, Amy Tan speaks on the power of language, that it can “evoke emotion, a visual image, a complex, idea, or a simple truth” (Tan, 1). I would say that The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi does all of these things. The Four Seasons is a well-known work, comprised of four concertos, each representing a different season. When listening, one can actually feel each season. In Spring, Vivaldi begins with bouncy and clear melodies played by a lead violin. Summer is fuller, with more of the orchestra and harpsichord filling in and creating an adventurous feeling, which progresses into Autumn, featuring a slightly brighter and more neutral theme. There is no way to describe the sound of Winter other than crisp, like the feeling of stepping on fresh snow. The way Vivaldi and the performers use music brings forth a quite clear narrative of changing nature through each distinct section.
Besides communication, another common use of literacy is personal. Many people choose to keep journals or diaries to record their thoughts and emotions. Some use creative forms of writing, like poetry, to express their feelings, or get something off of their chest. Listening to music can have the same effect. Some people listen to music to fall asleep or relax. Some use it to get fired up for a workout. Some depend on music that they can relate to. When I was in middle school, I spent a lot of time listening to the alternative band Twenty One Pilots. Their music largely focuses on living with illnesses like anxiety and depression, and I was drawn to them because of this. I remember spending nights shut in my room in the dark, listening exclusively to TOP on repeat. Although it seems crazy and cliche, their music made me feel safe at a time in my life when very little did. I depended on their songs for comfort and something to connect with when I was too timid to talk to anyone about my problems.
Music is a versatile form of literacy that everyone uses in various ways to accompany various aspects of life. When considering concept albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, that are chock full of social commentary, masterpieces like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, that showcase musical creativity and talent, or historical songs like Hirsh Glik’s Zog Nit Keynmol, (inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto uprising), that document suffering and pain, it is easy to see the many forms music can take and the functions it can have. These functions differ more than they overlap with those of The Four Seasons or the songs of Twenty One Pilots, and thus it becomes apparent that music is one of the most multifaceted and important literacies we know.
Alexie, Sherman, “Superman and Me: The Joy of Reading and Writing.”
Tan, Amy, “Mother Tongue”
Introduction: My goal for this essay was to explain how I overcame a change in my life by connecting several memories and relating them to the present. I am proud of my descriptive memory scenes. I feel as if I was able to convey the important details without going on forever. I need to improve on explaining ideas within my reflection concisely. I tend to get caught up on how to express exactly what I am trying to say and it doesn’t work out.
We walked through the lush green garden to the small wooden back house, situated away from the street, behind the larger blue house in which my best friend lives. I walked beside her and another best friend, laughing and joking. We stepped inside. There were only two rooms, one with a bed in the corner and bookshelves with hand sewn dolls on them, and a little bathroom.
My friend walked over to the bed and plugged her phone into a speaker sitting there, and began to play music as we talked. She played some songs I didn’t know as the two of them sang to the music. I stood and laughed along as they made screeching sounds and jerked around as poor imitations of melody and dancing. As one song came to a close, she reached over and turned out the lights. The afternoon sun streamed through into the semi darkness, creating contrasting patches of bright spots on the floor as we held our own carefree party within the miniature house. The opening notes to the next song played, bright bouncing chords that were familiar.
“Ooooh I love this song”, my one friend exclaimed.
“I know, it’s such a throwback!” the other yelled over the start of the pounding beat. We continued to flounce around the room as the song went on into the catchy chorus, “no matter what you say or what you do, when I'm alone I'd rather be with you…” The way we felt was reflected in the way we moved; careless, free, nothing held back. We were comfortable in this oddly lit room, with each other, and the music. It was peaceful and chaotic, a physical catastrophe of swinging arms, a mental meditation free of worries. I was content sharing the happiness with my closest friends.
This juxtaposition of peace and chaos is something that I have experienced numerous times in my daily, social or school life. I used to be a very active person, as activity would calm me down. When I was in a chaotic situation, I would feel very relaxed. Another example of this is in the calm that I have felt while practicing or performing circus arts. I remember the thoughts that went through my mind while wrapping myself in fabric before spinning through the air.
A particularly hard trick I once learned was the triple star drop, during summer circus camp. I was so tired. My muscles had been aching for weeks and I could practically feel the pain I would endure in the future. I had lost track of my oxygen intake, didn’t know if I was breathing too fast or not at all. My body had been pushed past its limit, every muscle stretched loose and flexed taut, contorted in impossible movements. My skin was covered in stinging rashes and burns, the results of silken fabric that clung too tightly as it slid against my legs. Angry red scrapes lined my armpits and ankles from the rough rope. My hipbones were purple with bruises from the unforgiving metal of the trapeze bar.
Maybe I was so calm because my brain was flushed with blood. Maybe I had no space in my mind for worry because it was filled with the list of every move to make, every transition into the next position to be executed flawlessly. I had no time to think about what would happen if I fell because I was reviewing my checklist, going down the lines one by one, making sure everything was in place. But I did it automatically anyway; the right side invert, right leg hook, left arm reaches down, loops around the left leg, lift up and out, scoop fabric up and invert again, now do it all again, and again, right leg, left arm, left leg, now wrap around, once, twice, okay. I had done it. My mind was clear as I readied myself for the drop. My body was upside down 30 feet in the air and I’d never felt safer. This calmness is what led me to become so passionate about circus arts. It was an escape, an opportunity to clear my mind. Circus was being in the moment.
A year ago when these activities were taken away from me, everything was reversed. For a time I spent my days sedentary. I was not allowed to walk or even wheel my own wheelchair. My unexpended energy bottled up inside my head since I could not let it out through movement. It rattled around in there, sending my thoughts everywhere in disarray.
Now, I sit at the front of the fitness room and watch thirty kids jump and stretch and sweat. They come into the room solemn from other classes, systematically filing in, a sense of refinement around the way they move. Throughout the next hour, they begin to smile more, laughing as they complain of sore muscles and how the class is “killing” them, and it seems that as they move they let off steam. This is not to say that I am sad now. This is to say that upon reflecting over these memories of movement, I have realized how I have adapted over the past year. I have learned that discontent and restrained resentment need to be released somehow. I have developed new ways to let my energy out, most commonly through writing, drawing, reading, or working. Nostalgically analyzing my past has shown me how different it is from the present, but not that it is better either way, simply different. Change has come, and phases have gone. Maybe I will soon be able to return to circus as I have to dancing with my friends and simply walking. If I don’t, I can still remember the serenity of hanging upside down preparing for my favorite trick.
31 March 2017
William Golding’s Lord of The Flies follows the rise and fall of a civilization created by a plane full of stranded preteen boys. The downfall of the fragile society is when most of the older boys break off into a group of savages. They spin out into stealing, violence, and eventually murder. They completely abandon their values and never think twice about their actions. This is so easy for them to do as they hide behind new identities and painted faces. Their behavior illustrates that it is easy for people to harm others when they are hiding behind a mask because it limits their emotional connection.
This theme is present in the novel. It is introduced in Chapter Four, Painted Faces and Long Hair, when choir leader and aspiring hunter Jack, is frustrated that he has not been successful in catching any pigs. He and Ralph have encountered a pig in the past, however Jack was too timid to kill it. Now, he has the idea to camouflage his face with charcoal, and sneak up on the pigs. Once he paints his face, however, Jack sees his reflection and discovers that the paint is more powerful than just concealment from the pigs. His reaction takes place in front of some of the other choir boys. “He looked in astonishment, no longer at himself but at an awesome stranger. He spilt the water and lept to his feet, laughing excitedly. Beside the pool his sinewy body held up a mask that drew their eyes and appalled them. He began to dance and his laughter became a bloodthirsty snarling. He capered toward Bill, and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness (63-64).” This is the beginning of Jack’s transformation into a savage, which I believe is aided by his mask of paint. While he is not using violence against or harming other boys at this point, he exhibits signs of unusual behavior, including his snarling and dancing. This newly discovered mask allows him to do these strange things in front of other boys without feeling insecure; the mask gives him the power to act without thinking realistically about what he is doing.
Once Jack has begun to wear a mask, his personality and actions change harshly. He is successful at hunting pigs, and loves to talk about his strength and fearlessness. “Jack, his face smeared with clays, reached the top first and hailed Ralph excitedly, with lifted spear. ‘Look! We’ve killed a pig-we stole up on them-we got in a circle- (69)’”, and later, “‘Bollocks to the rules! We’re strong-we hunt! If there’s a beast, we’ll hunt it down! We’ll close in and beat and beat and beat-(91)!’” These situations show his changes before he falls into complete savagery. He is using violence against animals, which is not unusual, however the way he goes about it and discusses it surely is. The next time Jack and his hunters kill a pig, Jack decides to strangely rub the blood of the pig onto one of his hunter’s faces. “Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her… At last the immediacy of the kill subsided. They boys drew back, and Jack stood up, holding out his hands. ‘Look.’ He giggled and flicked them while the boys laughed at his reeking palms. Then Jack grabbed Maurice and rubbed the stuff over his cheeks (135).” Until that point, Jack has been the only one to wear paints, now his hunters are masked in the literal blood of their prey.
Jack and some of his close friends decide to break away from Ralph’s civilized group. Jack is furious that Ralph has gotten all of the power and attention. He has been shamed from rejection. Jack decides to expand his tribe. “The forest near them burst into uproar. Demoniac figures with faces of white and red and green rushed out howling… Jack ignored him, lifted his spear and began to shout. ‘Listen, all of you. Me and my hunters, we’re living along the beach by a flat rock. We hunt and feast and have fun. If you want to join my tribe come and see us. Perhaps I’ll let you join. Perhaps not.’ He paused and looked round. He was safe from shame or self-consciousness behind the mask of his paint and could look at each of them in turn (140).” The most notable section of the nature of this speech Jack gives is that the author states that Jack is safe behind his mask. And no longer is he safe just from his insecurities about killing animals; he feels safe from the judgement of others. Safe to say and do what he pleases.
Next, Jack and his savages progress from killing animals, to killing humans. “The beast was on its knees in the center, its arms folded over its face… the beast struggled forward, broke the ring, and fell over the steep edge of the rock to the sand by the water. At once the crowd surged after it, poured down the rock, leapt on to the beast, screamed, struck, bit, tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws (152-153).” The death of innocent Simon was aided by the all the boys, however it was led by the savages and would not have happened if they had not started their dance. Later, the death of Piggy is caused by the savage boy Roger, and sparks Jack to attack Ralph. “Roger, with a sense of delirious abandonment, leaned with all his weight on the lever… The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee… Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea… Suddenly Jack bounded out from the tribe and began screaming wildly. ‘See? See? That's what you'll get! I meant that! There isn't a tribe for you anymore! The conch is gone-’... Viciously, with full intention, he hurled his spear at Ralph (180-181).” Although Jack does not end up actually killing Ralph, he has that intention and acts upon it. Think back upon the Jack who could not kill a pig right in front of him. This is not the same person. His use of the mask has certainly aided his drastic transformation.
This phenomena is also present in the real world. A common occurrence on the internet, mostly through social media, is cyberbullying. The rise of cyberbullying is clear. It has been reported that half of teens have been cyberbullied, 1 in 3 experiencing threats online. According to EndCyberbullying.org, “Cyberbullies hide behind a computer screen and maybe even behind a false identity…giving them a further sense of control over the situation.” Cyberbullying eliminates the face to face contact of traditional bullying. This is part of its appeal and popularity. A bully can even create an anonymous or new identity to hide behind, masking their previous selves like Jack did.
Jack’s use of a mask is prominent throughout Lord of the Flies as it accompanies his descent into violence and savagery. This use of hiding behind a mask while doing harm to others is also an issue in real life, as it is present in cyberbullying.
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Van Edwards, Vanessa. "Guide to Reading Microexpressions." Science of People. N.p., 14 Dec. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. ttp://www.scienceofpeople.com/2013/09/guide-reading-microexpressions/
"Cyber Bullying Statistics." Bullying Statistics. N.p., 07 July 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
"End to Cyber Bullying Organization." End to Cyber Bullying Organization (ETCB). N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. http://www.endcyberbullying.org