Advertising Lines of Appeal

Lines of appeal are the approaches used by advertisers to attract potential customers or clients. When a clothing company is trying to persuade people to buy its products, for example, it might use an advertisement that shows a group of attractive young friends wearing clothes from that brand and having a great time. In such an ad, the advertiser is appealing to your desire to be part of a group, so this kind of advertising approach is called a social line of appeal.

When you see such an advertisement, you won’t automatically think ‘Gosh, I can have more friends if I wear that T-shirt’ and then rush out to buy it. Instead, the advertiser is trying to plant a seed in your mind—that there is something special about the product or brand. The hope is that you will have a more favorable impression of the product/brand and that you will be more likely to buy it when the opportunity arises.

If you understand how lines of appeal are used in advertising, you can better protect yourself from having your thoughts and emotions manipulated by advertisers and you will be better able to make better consumer choices. 

Here are some of the most common lines of appeal:

  1. Social appeals (Friendship, Part of the gang, Romance, Sex, Stand out, Family, Good Housewife)
  2. Beauty & youth appeals (Beauty, Youth, Natural beauty)
  3. Lifestyle & culture appeals (Prestige/status, Adventure, Exotic, Fitness, health & athleticism, Culture, Subculture & Anti-subculture)
  4. Creativity & humor appeals
  5. Potential/improvement appeal
  6. Personal appeals: positive emotions (Heartwarming, Nostalgia, Empathy, Social issues, Patriotism, Cuteness)
  7. Personal appeals: negative emotions (Fear, Shock, Guilt, Outrage)
  8. Rational appeals (Solution, Bandwagon, Scarcity, Value for money, Authority/expert, Statistics, Celebrity endorsement, Testimony, Technical, Heritage/tradition, Modern/futuristic, Durability)
  9. Nature appeal
  10. Other appeals (Brand, Music, Comparison, Plain)

Trigger warning: some of the ads featured in this article are for addictive products (cigarettes, alcohol) and/or have sexual, racist, misogynistic and/or bigoted imagery.

1. Social Appeals

These kinds of advertisements focus on appealing to our desire to belong, to fit in, to be accepted, to be loved, to be desired and to be appreciated. There are a few different kinds of social appeal.

1.1 Friendship

Friendship appeal ads usually feature two or three people, typically of the same sex, happily enjoying each other’s company.

American Eagle Ad
Maltesers Ad

1.2 Part of the Gang

Having close friends is good, but belonging to a large group of young, attractive, energetic fun-loving friends will make your life richer and more colorful. This is the implied message of the part-of-the-gang line of appeal. Ads using this line of appeal typically feature a large group of laughing or smiling friends having a great time.

American Eagle Ad (The warm muted colors, sea of denim and long hairstyles give the ad a 1970s nostalgia feel)

1.3 Romance

Who doesn’t want to be loved?

Ad for Coca-Cola

Some companies like Hong Kong watchmaker Solvil et Titus make the romance line of appeal an important part of their brand identify. Solvil et Titus advertisements are often melancholic and nostalgic and deal with themes such as longing, separation and loss, which is a very different approach than the ‘love and happiness’ message of the Coca-Cola ad shown above.

Ad for Solvil et Titus

The company has created several long cinematic commercials such as this one (featuring a classic 1980s Canto-pop song, 似水流年, or ‘Years Flow Like Water’, sung by Anita Mui):

It is still quite rare to see same-sex couples in love appeal advertising; however, here is an example from a campaign by Coca-Cola to combat LBGTQ discrimination in Hungary. This ad campaign combines romantic appeal and social cause appeal.

Pro-LGBQT ad campaign from Coca-Cola.

1.4 Sex

Ads using the sex line of appeal tend to focus on the body as an object for sexual desire.

A typical Abercrombie & Fitch ad

Sex appeal used to be one of the most common lines of appeal in advertising, but it is less popular these days. One problem is that it has already been used so much that it has become too obvious. Another problem is that if this approach is done poorly, the advertisement may come across as being tacky or in bad taste. For example, in the following ad from Dolce & Gabbana, it looks like the woman is being attacked.

A questionable ad for Dolce & Gabbana

Sex appeal ads can be more subtle and may focus on suggesting a sexual feeling in they way the model looks at the camera, in the model’s gestures and/or in product shapes.

Coca-Cola ad

1.5 Stand out

Being part of a fashionable and energetic group is great, but wouldn’t it be even better to be popular and ALSO stand out from the crowd and catch everyone’s attention. The stand out line of appeal is based on this desire.

Midori ad

1.6 Family

Ads that use the family line of appeal tie the product or brand to the idea of a warm and loving family. Watchmaker Patek Phillipe, for example, ran a successful family appeal ad campaign in which they presented their watches as part of a family tradition. Each advertisement shows a parent and child bonding over a shared experience with the text explaining that the company’s watches can be family heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. By focusing on attractive young parents with attractive children doing luxury activities like sculling, the ads combine the family appeal with prestige, potential and beauty appeals. The idea that the watch can be passed down to the next generation is also related to the durability line of appeal.

Family appeal can be combined with a fear appeal (‘Use our product to keep your family members safe!‘), as in this ad by Michelin, a tire manufacturer.

Michelin ad (This ad uses a play on words. The expression ‘ride on’ means ‘of vital importance to’, as in the sentence ‘The success of the program rides on the whether or not we can raise enough money.’ And of course, ‘ride on’ in this ad also literally means that family members are riding in the car)

1.7 Good housewife (outdated)

Here the focus is on being a good housewife. This outdated kind of ad is sexist in nature and implies the true value of a woman is in her ability to do household chores, please her husband and raise children. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, women’s magazines were filled with advertisements such as the following:

Heinz ketchup ad (‘HEINZ KETCHUP beckons a man! It cultivates the habit of coming home to eat’.)
Ad from the British Gas Council

Men’s magazines also used to feature ‘housewife’ ads, but these focused on what a man could buy that would improve his wife’s cleaning or cooking.

Ad for a Kenwood blender (“Cooking’s fun” says my wife “…food preparation is a bore!”)

You still see ads that use this line of appeal, but such ads can attract negative publicity. For example, Hong Kong company Giordano was criticized for this clothing line and accompanying ad. In the ad, the man is wearing a ‘Work’ T-shirt and a woman is wearing a ‘Cook’ T-shirt, thus reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Giordano ad

The decline of the use of the housewife appeal show how lines of appeals can go in and out of fashion.


2. Beauty & Youth Appeals

These two lines of appeal are tied to the desire to be more attractive.

2.1 Beauty

A beauty appeal ad often just features a young, attractive and slim model doing nothing but looking off into the distance, off to the side or directly at the camera. The model in the advertisement is an ideal object to be admired for his/her good looks alone.

Lancôme lipstick ad

The advertisements often feature highly attractive models shot in carefully controlled environments with professional lighting. In addition, the images are also often Photoshopped to remove wrinkles and skin blemishes or even to adjust the body shape of the model. As a result, the images often show a kind of unobtainable ideal.

The beauty line of appeal is especially common in cosmetics, skincare and fashion ads.

Ad for shoes from Giuseppe Zanotti (The model isn’t even wearing the shoes; she just holding them)

This use of beauty appeal is less common in men’s advertising, but it is still a relatively popular advertising strategy.

Calvin Klein fragrance ad

Although the beauty line of appeal is commonly used in ads for clothing and skincare products and cosmetics, it can also be used for any kind of product or service. For example, the following ad for Sennheiser headphones uses the beauty line of appeal.

Sennheiser ad

Nowadays, women and (to a lesser extent) men are exposed to a large number of advertisements that send the message of how important it is to be beautiful. This repeated exposure to beauty-appeal advertising can have a negative effect on one’s body image and one’s self-esteem.

The beauty line of appeal—with its emphasis on physical perfection—is problematic, but it is made worse in the following anti-littering advertisements. The ad featuring a female model has the word ‘pretty’ highlighted, while the ad with the male model has the word ‘smart’ highlighted. When put side by side, the ads are basically saying men should be smart while women should be pretty.

Poorly conceived anti-littering ad campaign

Beauty appeal advertising often includes a youth line of appeal. The models are often very young and any signs of aging are usually Photoshopped away.


2.2 Youth

The message of youth appeal ads is usually: ‘Our products will make you look younger.

L’Oréal ad (‘Fight 15 signs of Ageing’)

When using the youth appeal, advertisers sometimes adopt a different approach in which the message is: ‘We can help you feel young!

Centrum ad (‘It’s better feeling young on the inside’)

2.3 Natural beauty

The natural beauty line of appeal is a reaction against the flawless, Photoshopped perfection of the beauty appeal.

Starting in 2004, Dove carried out its Real Beauty campaign, with advertisements for its brand of skincare and soap products. The ads featured women of all shapes, sizes and ages. The campaign was a conscious effort to fight against the unreal expectations created by the Beauty line of appeal.

Images from Dove’s Real Beauty campaign

The model Winnie Harlow, who has very obvious skin discolorations has been featured in advertisements such as the following ad for Puma sportswear.

Puma ad featuring Winnie Harlow

This message behind this line of appeal is NOT ‘You should be more beautiful’; Instead it is: ‘You are beautiful, and we understand that, and our product will help you keep looking good just the way you are.


3. Lifestyle & Culture Appeals

These lines of appeal focus on a lifestyle or culture. The implied message is: ‘Using our product is part of a the lifestyle you desire or part of the culture you belong to.’

I’ll introduce some of the more common lifestyle appeals—Prestige, Adventure, Exotic and Fitness appeals—but there are many other kinds of ads that make use of the lifestyle appeal.

For example, this video ad for a Hong Kong apartment complex (The Papillons) uses a lifestyle appeal, with the lifestyle being a very westernized urban yuppie lifestyle—gently cycling on riverside bicycle paths, going to coffee shops and cafés, shopping at bookstores and lounging around on the grass in a town square. Tellingly, almost all of the shots in the video are of Melbourne, Australia (and not of Hong Kong). The name of the apartment complex is a mix of English and French (‘papillons’ is the French word for ‘butterflies’), and song accompanying the video is in English and French, further adding a western flavor to the video.

The video also uses friendship, romance and family appeals, but the main line of appeal being used here is a lifestyle appeal—the message is: ‘Even though you are in a crowded city like Hong Kong, if you live in our apartment complex, you can enjoy the same leisurely lifestyle of a yuppie living in Melbourne, Australia.’

3.1 Prestige (aka snob appeal, status appeal)

Here the focus is on wealth and high social status. The implied message is that even if you are not rich, you can get a taste of that lifestyle by using the product. Wealth and class can be shown in things like activities (e.g., yachting), the models’ clothing, the props (e.g., a luxury car) and/or the choice of model (e.g., a famous rich socialite). Frequently used colors are silver and gold (which are are used to represent wealth) and greys and earthy colors (which are used to represent good taste).

Ad for India’s Golden Chariot rail line (Note the slogan ‘Travel Like Royalty’)
Image from an advertising campaign for Roger Vivier featuring model and socialite Poppy Delevingne

3.2 Adventure

The message behind the adventure line of appeal is: ‘Our product is part of an adventure-based lifestyle, so it is suitable for adventurous people, and even if you are not adventurous now, that potential is there within you and our product might bring it out.’

Toyota ad
Jeep ad (combining the adventure and nature appeals)
Mountain Dew ad (combining the adventure and friendship appeals)
Renault ad (combining the adventure and family appeals)

3.3 Exotic

Related to the adventure appeal is the exotic appeal. The implied message of this appeal is: ‘This product is related to something rather unusual and exotic, so if you buy it, that shows your have wide-ranging and adventurous tastes.’

The exotic appeal is problematic to begin with. What exactly is exotic? The word literally means ‘of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad’ as well as ‘strange in a way that is striking’. However, this idea of ‘foreignness’ and ‘strangeness’ is usually from a Western point of view. Therefore, imagery from Asia, Africa, the Middle East or Pacific islands might be considered ‘exotic’ when it is aimed at Western audiences.

In its most innocent form, this line of appeal makes use of tropical settings and colors, as in the following ads for Banana Boat sunscreen and Dubai travel packages.

Banana Boat ad
SOTC ad

Exotic animals can also be used to create an exotic feel. Gucci recently launched an advertising campaign for 2022 (the Year of the Tiger) that features real tigers and tiger-themed clothing. In a previous ad campaign, the company used flamingoes.

Gucci ad for the Year of the Tiger

Unfortunately, the exotic line of appeal can easily lead to imagery that is stereotyped and/or racist. Here is an ad using geisha imagery, but with a white model, to advertise flights to Tokyo.

Air France ad

Even worse is the following ad from Max, a footwear company. The ad features a tiny women wearing a kimono tied up in the shoelaces of a man’s shoe. It is unclear what message the advertiser is trying to send, but it does seem racist.

Max Shoes ad

The exotic appeal was quite common in the past, especially for tobacco products and cosmetics. The following vintage perfume ad is an example of that.

Rigaud vintage ad

When using the exotic line of appeal, it is easy to cross the line into racism, so it has largely fallen out of fashion as an advertising strategy.


3.4 Fitness, health & athleticism

Ads using this line of appeal focus on the product as being part of a lifestyle in which physical fitness and being healthy plays an important part. These ads feature everyday people doing a sport or being active.

Adidas ad
New Balance ad

3.5 Culture

Advertisers sometimes try to market their products to a specific cultural, ethnic or religious group. The advertisers are saying, ‘We value you and understand you, so our products are suitable for you.’ Here is a 1970s ad targeting urban black Americans that combines culture appeal and friendship appeal.

Ad by Tom Burrell (an influential figure in multicultural advertising) for Coca-Cola

The following ad from Burger King targets Muslim consumers during Ramadan. The burger eaten into a crescent moon shape refers to two things:

  1. During Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to eat only at night;
  2. The crescent moon is a symbol of Islam.
Burger King ad (the cleverness of graphics means that this ad is also using a creativity line of appeal)

Both the Burger King ad and the Coca-cola ad are done in a respectful way. If created carelessly, however, advertisements based on the culture appeal can come across as being disrespectful. For example in this ad for YellowPages (a business directory app) in Britain, the text encourages people to find out about a Korean rice dish, but the illustration displays a noodle dish.

Poorly conceived YP ad

3.6 Subculture & anti-subculture

There are many smaller subcultures in society. Subcultures in the West include punk, steampunk, new age, hipster, cosplay, goth and normcore communities. Japanese subcultures include lolita, gyaru and yankee communities. The idea behind the sub-culture appeal is to associate the brand or product with some aspect of the subculture.

Let’s look at punk as an example. Punk has a clear visual aesthetic, clothing style and music, but more importantly (for the advertiser), it is associated with things like rebelliousness, youthfulness and energy.

Eurostar ad

The above ad for the Eurostar rail line does not work well. The advertiser is trying to show how the new railway is changing London. The intended message of the ad is that Eurostar is able to make even a nihilistic hardcore punk believe in the future. However, to get that message, the viewer needs to already know that ‘no future’ was a popular slogan in the late-1970s punk movement.

Image from blog.lagrandeboutique.net/en/between-punk-and-grunge-when-fashion-and-music-mix/

Here is a page from 1980s catalogue for punk-style clothing. The design of the catalogue is based on punk music fanzines (i.e., fan-made magazines) from that era.

An advertiser can also take the opposite approach and disassociate the brand/product from a subculture—in this case, the advertiser is saying: ‘You know this group of people? You hate them, right? Oh, we hate them, too! Therefore, our products are suitable for you.’ Here is a clothing retailer criticizing the hipster subculture (and clothing style) in one of its ads.

Carhartt clothing ad

The anti-subculture approach can be problematic because it is (1) based on hatred and (2) focuses on what the product ISN’T as opposed to what it IS.


4. Humor & Creativity Appeals

In ads using humor and/or creativity appeals, the focus is largely on the advertisement itself. The message is that the advertiser, like you, has a sense of humor and the ability to appreciate funny, creative and clever things. Besides sending this message, a successful creative or humorous ad can also attract more attention with eye-catching visuals, and the ad may even end up getting shared on social media.

In the following ad for JBL headphones, there is creativity in the use of the white space in the design to create the shape of headphones, and there is humor in the exaggerated faces of the screaming children and the poor teddy bear.

4.1 Humor

Here is an example of an ad using the humor line of appeal. The following ad from Foster’s, an Australian beer company, is based on a typical friendship appeal ad—one that features a few male friends presumably sitting in front of a television watching a sports match and cheering for their team. However, in this ad, one of the friends is a little different.

Foster’s ad (The kangaroo helps identify Foster’s as an Australian brand)

The following ad for Facebook mocks the fonts, futuristic imagery, graphic design and writing style of 1950s advertising. The retro style is played for laughs, so the main line of appeal being used here is humor.

1950s-style ad for Facebook

4.2 Creativity

The following ad from Heinz uses two main lines of appeal: one is the natural appeal (with the tomatoes and the garden emphasizing the product’s natural ingredients) and the other is the creativity appeal, with the artwork cleverly putting the tomatoes in the form of a bottle.

Heinz ketchup ad (compare to Heinz ad shown earlier in this article)

The above ad calls to mind the fruit-and-vegetable portraits of 16th-century artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Evian’s ‘Baby Me’ commercial effectively made use of creativity, humor and music appeals.


5. Potential/Improvement Appeal

The message of ads using the potential appeal is that the thing being advertised can help you improve as a person and help you realize your potential. This appeal is often used in ads for sportswear.

Asics ad (‘I am made of more today than I was yesterday’)
Nike ad (‘Anticipate Greatness; Find Your Greatness’)
Adidas ad (‘Greater Every Run’)

In the following ad (in which the model is bursting through a wall of water on which the left are words like rage, anxiety and insecurity), the message is: ‘The physical wellbeing that our product can help you attain will lead to emotional and mental strength.’

Asics ad

The potential line of appeal was famously used to by the American military in many of its recruitment campaigns during the 1980s with the slogan ‘Be all you can be’.

US army recruitment ad

Potential appeal is sometimes combined with family appeal in advertising for children’s products (with the following ad even explicitly using the name of the appeal in its text).

Wyeth infant formula ad

Although the beauty line of appeal is also about self-improvement, it only focuses on one narrow aspect—appearance. Ads with the potential line of appeal are more about becoming a better person and reaching your potential.


6. Personal appeals (positive emotions)

These are advertisements that aim to get a positive emotional response from the viewer. The implied message of these ads is: ‘We are a caring company and we share the same values that you do, so if you are thinking about purchasing this thing that we make or are thinking about using this service we provide, well…you might consider us, right?’

6.1 Heartwarming

These are sentimental ads meant to tug at your heartstrings. Thai advertisers seem particularly good at using this line of appeal. Here is an example:

Silence of Love: Ad for Thai Life Insurance

It is difficult to be heartwarming in a single image, so this line of appeal often works best in video ads. The drawback of this line of appeal is that viewers can get so caught up in the heartwarming story that they don’t pay any attention to the company, product or service actually being advertised.

Ripple: Ad for the Singapore Community Chest

6.2 Nostalgia

This line of appeal, in which the advertisement looks fondly back at a time gone by, is often combined with a family or romance appeal.

As mentioned earlier, Solvil and Titus’s watch commercials often use this line of appeal combined with romance appeal. The purpose is to associate their product with a sense of timelessness. Here is one of their ads featuring Chow Yun-fat that leans heavily on feelings of nostalgia.

Solvil & Titus ad

The following ad from Nintendo makes effective use of nostalgia appeal (as well as family appeal and heartwarming appeal). The message here is that the company has been a part of the viewer’s life from childhood to adulthood.

Two Brothers: Nintendo ad

6.3 Empathy

In the empathy line of appeal, the advertisers are trying to show you that, like you, they are concerned for others and try to help others. For example, in the following Pedigree dog food ad, the focus is on the fact that for every purchase you make, the company’s will contribute some of the money to finding homes for stray and abandoned animals. There is a picture of an adorable dog named Echo to arouse your emotions.

Pedigree ad

To further drive home the point, the text touchingly describes how excited Echo is whenever potential adopters appear and how disappointed she is when she is not chosen.

Text from the Pedigree ad

The following is an empathy appeal ad from CARE international.

CARE ad

6.4 Social issues

Advertisers may try to associate the products with various social issues (anti-discrimination, diversity, anti-climate change, environmentalism, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, etc.). Such ads carry two messages: the first is the message associated with the cause itself (e.g., ‘We all should take care of the environment!’) and the second is the message that the company behind the advertisement shares your values and your concerns.

It is important to note that we are talking about the message the advertiser WANTS to send about its values, not the actual values of the company itself. For example, many oil companies like to present themselves as being concerned about the environment, when in reality their actual business practices are often horrible for the environment. This kind of playacting is known as ‘greenwashing’. For example, in 2019 BP (British Petroleum) ran a series of ads depicting the company as being dedicated to fighting climate change. The campaign was heavily criticized for being misleading.

BP ad
BP ad

Using the social issues line of appeal is a risky advertising strategy. One risk is that viewers may think that the advertiser is being insincere, which is what happened with that BP ad campaign.

A second risk is that the advertiser may anger some its potential customers. For example, Nike’s use of ads featuring Colin Kaepernick—the American football player who popularized the practice of kneeling while the national anthem was being played as a form of protest against racism and police brutality— angered some of those Americans who think the practice is unpatriotic.

Nike ad

Here is an inspiring Nike video ad focusing on the issue of female empowerment in Muslim societies.

Nike ad: What will they say about you?

The above ad is inspiring, but the following ad, a Women’s Day ad from Bic, is awful. The text implies that (1) it is important for a women to look youthful and (2) men are smarter than women.

Poorly conceived Bic ad for Women’s Day

This is the third major risk of the social issues line of appeal: the advertisers may show that they don’t truly understand the cause they say they are supporting.


6.5 Patriotism

Some ads appeal to the viewer’s sense of patriotism. In the following ad from Chevrolet, the text at the top refers to the American Revolution (followed by BEST) and the red bars forming the letter E represent the red stripes on the American flag

Chevrolet Ad

In the next ad, there is already patriotic branding in the product name (Canadian) and the logo (a maple leaf), but this is emphasized even further by the large ‘Made from Canada’ text and the prairie scenery.

Molson Ad

6.6 Cute/kawaii

This line of appeal typically features baby animals, mascots, cartoon characters and/or little kids. Cute things tend to have babyish features (e.g., small size, big eyes, round body) and tend to elicit feelings of amusement (They’re fun!), safety (They’re harmless!) and care (They’re helpless!). Consequently, though the cute line of appeal is especially popular when advertisers are targeting children, it can also work well with adults. For example, the mascot Kumamon features prominently in the tourism advertising of Kumamoto prefecture in Japan. The mascot is used to present the prefecture as a friendly, fun and nature-oriented tourist destination.

Kumamon in his office.
Kumamon products

7. Personal/Emotional Appeals: Negative Emotions

These lines of appeal are similar to those in the previous section in that they aim at getting an emotional response from viewers. However, the emotional responses here are negative ones like fear, shock, guilt and outrage

7.1 Fear

When using the fear line of appeal, the advertiser is trying to tell you that its products or services can protect you from something bad. The ad will show the ‘bad thing’ (e.g., a car crash) happening or about to happen or will show the results of the ‘bad thing’ (e.g., a child waiting alone at home for a parent who was killed in the car crash).

The fear appeal ad is often used by insurance companies. Here is a template that has been used by different small insurance companies (they add their own logos and text to the image).

Life insurance ad template

Fear appeal is quite commonly used in campaigns against drink driving, drug abuse and domestic violence. Here is a fear appeal ad being used in a child car safety campaign:

Child Car Safety Ad

Fear appeal ads can be very negative. For example, the video ‘Break in’ is a fear appeal ad from the Republican Party for the 2020 presidential elections in America (see video: Break in) . It depicts an elderly woman fearing a break-in but not being able to get through to the police while the text informs viewers that the competing candidate, Joe Biden, would reduce police funding if elected. The dark footage, ominous music and strange camera angles create a suspenseful, threatening mood.

Sometimes fear appeal ads cross the line into bigotry and prejudice. The most famous case is the 1988 US presidential campaign ad focusing on a black convicted criminal, Willie Horton (This is the 30-year-old Willie Horton ad everybody is talking about today). Another example of a bigoted fear appeal ad is the full-page ad that was published in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily in 2012 (‘Locust’ Ad Breaks in Apple Daily) in which Mainland immigrants and visitors are described as being locusts who are consuming Hong Kong and its resources. In Britain in 2014, the United Kingdom Independence Party ran this anti-immigrant ad:

UKIP ad

7.2 Shock

Shock appeal ads intend to grab the viewer’s attention with shocking visuals. The advertiser’s hope is that the feeling of shock will motivate the viewer to take action. One of the most commonly used kind of shock appeal ad features an image of a sickly, skeletal child accompanied by a request for a donation.

One problem with advertisers using shock appeal is that many viewers may simply not want to see such a shocking image at that time, so they may get put off by the ad.

Here is an relatively mild example of a shock appeal ad from World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The ad aims to persuade you not to buy exotic animal souvenirs when travelling.

WWF ad

When I was working with students on a fundraising project for Operation Smile China (a charity which provides free surgery for children born with cleft palates), I found that the shock approach worked well when (1) the potential donors were warned in advance (in person) that they would see disturbing images and (2) the shock appeal was combined with a solution appeal (e.g., in this case the potential donors could also see the ‘after’ photos of children who had already been treated).


7.3 Guilt

An advertisement using the guilt line of appeal tries to get the viewers to look at their own actions (e.g., wasting food) or lack of action (e.g., simply having a comfortable life and not doing anything to help while others are suffering). Compare the tone of the following ad from UNICEF to the similar (but not-guilt-focused) ad from CARE International that is shown in the empathy section.

UNICEF ad

Guilt appeal ads may also stress how inexpensive it is to do something such as support a poor child in a developing country and the ad may emphasize how little that amount is compared to what people in your country normally spend on non-essential things.


7.4 Outrage

Ads using the outrage line of appeal try the get the viewer angry enough about something to take action. For example, this ad from Moms Demand Action (an American group that would like to see better gun control laws) points out how ridiculous it is that Kinder chocolate eggs are banned in America for safety reasons (because the toys inside the eggs are considered choking hazards) while many children have access to firearms at home.

Ad from Moms Demand Action (In this ad, image of the classroom in the background has been desaturated to give image a more ominous feel)

8. Rational Appeals

While personal lines of appeal focus on evoking an emotional response, rational lines of appeal try to focus on giving a logical reason why you should prefer a particular product/brand.

The terms ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ are used very loosely here. The reason given in an ad may NOT actually make sense, may NOT be logical and may even be misleading or false; using a rational line of appeal simply means the advertiser is TRYING to present some kind of logical reason.

Many of the following rationales are based on ‘bad logic’, mistakes in reasoning known as logical fallacies (Purdue Writing Lab: Logical Fallacies).

8.1 Solution

This is a straightforward kind of appeal. The message is simply: ‘You have a problem; our product is the solution.’ In the following ad, the top two-thirds of the ad presents the problem (different kinds of allergic reactions) and the bottom third offers the solution (allergy medicines to relieve symptoms).

Activis ad

The following ad from Nike uses this line of appeal in a humorous way. The problem? Your lover has gone away and you are annoyed. The solution? Go for a run (in Nike shoes) and reduce your stress.

Nike ad (‘If something is burning you up, burn it by running’)

8.2 Bandwagon

The implied message of the bandwagon line of appeal is: ‘Our product/brand is popular. If so many people like it, it must be good.’

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as the bandwagon fallacy. Just because many people like something, that doesn’t mean it is good. This fallacy is also known as ‘argumentum ad populum’, ‘appeal to common belief’ or ‘appeal to the masses’.

The bandwagon appeal gets its name from the English expression ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ (which means to do something because it is already popular). The Activis allergy medicine ad featured in the previous section also makes use of this line of appeal in the text ‘Switch to New Zealand’s #1 allergy brand’.

Here is an example of a bandwagon appeal ad from Nike.

Nike ad: (‘Loving it is easy. That’s why so many people do.‘)

The ‘billions served’ text at the bottom of much of the signage at McDonald’s is also an example of this kind of appeal.

A McDonald’s sign (‘Billions and Billions Served’)

8.3 Scarcity

Ads using the scarcity line of appeal focus on how rare the product is and/or how it is only available for a limited time. The implied message is that the scarcity makes the product more valuable and therefore worth having. This line of appeal also often plays on your fear of possibly missing out on something because you were too late

However, unlike naturally scarce things like diamonds or gold, the products being advertised are usually deliberately made scarce or made to appear scarce by the advertiser.

McDonald’s frequently uses this line of appeal, with some products—like McRibs—only being served a few weeks during the year.

McDonald’s ad

Starbucks uses a similar strategy with seasonal and holiday-related drinks that are only available for a short time.

Starbucks’ ad

Besides limiting the availability of products, companies can also limit the availability of special prices. For example, to encourage shopping, many American stores offer discounts on ‘Black Friday’ (the first Friday after Thanksgiving).

Black Friday ad from Carter’s

Another form of this line of appeal is to say that the stock of something is almost sold out. This combines scarcity appeal (‘There’s almost none left!) with bandwagon appeal (‘It’s so popular!’) and fear appeal (‘If you don’t act now, you might lose out!’).

Boothstock Festival ad (‘Last Tickets; 81% Sold Out!)

8.4 Value for Money

This line of appeal has a straightforward message: ‘If you buy this product, you are getting good quality for the prices.’ The following two ads, for example, explicitly stress ‘value’ in the text of the advertisement.

Subway ad (‘Every Day Value Meal. What can $5.90 get you?’)

Sylvan ad (‘Value for Money; We are always concerned about your hard earned money!)

8.5 Authority (aka expert)

Ads using the authority line of appeal rely on an ‘expert’. The message is: ‘This expert says our product is good; therefore, it must be good.’

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as ‘appeal to authority’, ‘appeal from authority or ‘argumentum ab auctoritate’. It is a logical fallacy because the opinion of one person does not mean much. For example, television personality Dr. Oz (Mehmet Oz) is regularly used in advertisements for homeopathic cures; however, he has been heavily criticized by scientists and other doctors for his anti-science views (Dr. Oz Shouldn’t Be a Senator—or a Doctor).

Weightloss ad

Statistics are sometimes involved in the authority appeal (e.g., ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommend….’), but the main point is that the people referred to are experts in their field. For example, dentists are considered experts in oral hygiene.

Colgate ad (‘#1 Toothpaste Recommended by Dentists and Hygienists’)

In the past, cigarette ads often featured dentists or doctors recommending various brands. Once people became more aware of the dangers of smoking, they realized that all those ads were incredibly misleading.

Old Viceroy ad
Old Camels ad (‘More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette’)
Luckies cigarette ad (‘20,679 Physicians say Luckies are less irritating. Your throat protection against irritation against cough.‘)

Nowadays, the most effective use of the authority line of appeal is probably in the use of top athletes to promote sports brands. One would expect that a star basketball player like Michael Jordan, for example, would know a lot about basketball shoes.

Nike ad for Air Jordan shoes

8.6 Statistics

Ads using this line of appeal rely on statistics to persuade you that the product is not just of high quality, but also that this quality can be proven scientifically.

The following advertisement shows the statistics line of appeal being used in a clever way. The company’s products—popchips—and other kinds of potato chips are stacked up to create a bar chart to show that its products are lower in calories (so you can eat more of them!).

Popchips ad

This ad for Burger King implies that the new fries are relatively healthy because they have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories.

Burger King ad (‘40% Less Fat’ 30% Less Calories’)

However a few things have been left out of the ad:

  • It doesn’t say if the portions that were compared were the same size
  • It doesn’t say how much fat or how many calories there are now (just that there has been a decrease)
  • It doesn’t say what they are comparing it to (40% less fat than what?).

The problem with using statistics in this way is that the statistics may not really reflect reality. Those Burger King fries may still be very high in fat and calories.

In the following ad, there is a claim that 9 out of 10 dentists recommend Sensodyne toothpaste. In the previous section, there is a Colgate ad saying that it is the brand most recommended by dentists. How can both claims be true?

Sensodyne ad (9 out of 10 Dentists Recommend Sensodyne Toothpaste)

The reliability of statistics depends greatly on how the advertiser gather the data. For example, if you ask ten dentists ‘Do you think people should brush their teeth without using toothpaste or should they brush their teeth with Teethwhite toothpaste?’, and you get nine of them to choose the latter option, you can say, ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommend Teethwhite toothpaste.’

Misuse of scientific-looking statistics in advertising has long been a problem. The tobacco industry, for example, for many years paid scientists to produce research that would show that smoking was relatively harmless and even beneficial in some ways (Contesting the Science of Smoking).


8.7 Celebrity endorsement

This is somewhat similar to the authority line of appeal, but the selling point is the famous person that is endorsing the product or brand. For example, here is a skincare ad featuring singer Justin Bieber (early on his career).

Proactive ad

One of the most successful celebrity endorsements is the George Foreman grill. The cooking appliance is even named after the famous retired boxer, and Foreman himself regularly participates in advertising campaigns. The slogan of the George Foreman grill—It’s so good I put my name on it!—basically sums up the implied message of this line of appeal:

George Foreman promoting the George Foreman Grill

When a celebrity like Michael Jordan appears in basketball shoe advertisements, that would be authority appeal combined with celebrity endorsement appeal, but if he appears in an ad for McDonalds, that would mainly be celebrity endorsement appeal (as he is an athlete, not a food expert). The following ad for McDonalds features Michael Jordan and is a combination of celebrity endorsement appeal, social issues appeal, empathy appeal and humor appeal.

McDonald’s ad

8.8 Testimony

A testimonial ad features a seemingly ordinary person describing how good the advertised product or service is. The implied message is: ‘This person is an ordinary person and is someone who is just like you. He/she likes our product, so you should like it, too.’ The main idea is that advertiser is trying to make its product more relatable.

California Closets ad

The following ad for Microsoft Office 2010 is a testimonial from someone who who creates testimonial videos.

Microsoft Office ad

This way of thinking—using one person’s example to prove a point—is a logical fallacy known as argument from anecdote. Just because one person had a good or bad experience, it doesn’t mean that such experiences are common.

Another issue with testimony appeal ads is that quite often the person giving the testimonial is just an actor reading from a script. Do Jennifer (California Closets) and Melissa (Microsoft Office) really exist? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. If they do exist, are they the people in the photos? Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.


8.9 Technical (Customer Expertise)

Ads using the technical line of appeal focus on giving technical descriptions of specifications and or functions.

There are two main messages in this line of appeal.

  • The obvious message is: ‘As you can see from this information, our product is good.’
  • The implied message is ‘We are similar. We both have expertise and know what we are talking about when it comes to this kind of product. We respect your expertise!’ For people without the technical knowlege to understand the jargon in the ad, that message becomes ‘Hey, we know what we are doing. Trust us!’

Here is a classic ad from Zenith watches with descriptions of each function of one of its watches.

Zenith ad

Here is a more up-to-date example of an ad with this line of appeal.

Steelseries Headphones ad
Detail view

Sportswear ads also sometimes make use of this line of appeal.

Asics ad

8.10 Heritage/tradition

Some ads focus on how long the company has been around or how they still keep doing things the traditional way. The idea behind this line of appeal is that if something has existed for such a long time, it must be good.

This way of thinking is a logical fallacy known as ‘appeal to tradition’ or ‘argumentum ad antiquitatem’. Just because something is a tradition, that doesn’t mean that it MUST be good.

This line of appeal seems to be becoming less common, with few companies going all out in emphasizing how old they are. When advertisers do introduce the heritage line of appeal, it tends to be more subtle. For example, this ad for the men’s fragrance Fougère Royale, a fragrance which was first produced in 1882 by Houbigant, only mentions in very small font the date the year the perfume house was established (1775) and the slogan ‘Be seduced by tradition’.

Houbigant ad (‘Be seduced by tradition’)

In the following ad for Creed’s Bois du Portugal cologne, the product’s label includes the tagline ‘From father to son since 1760’ in English and French. The slogan refers to the company’s long tradition as a family-run business (it was opened by 1760 by James Henry Creed and is now run by Oliver Creed and his son Erwin Creed), but it can also had a second meaning—the product itself is something that can be passed from generation to generation (i.e., the family line of appeal). The tree trunk is used to show the the forest-like scent of the fragrance (i.e., nature line of appeal).

Ad for Creed’s Bois Du Portugal cologne
Detail view

Similarly, the advertisements for Hong Kong sauce manufacturer Lee Kum Kee, don’t play up the company’s long tradition, but their heritage is apparent in many of the designs related to the company’s branding (e.g., web banners and product labels).

Lee Kum Kee web banner (‘Your companion for superb taste and quality through the centuries’)
Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce label (with an old-fashioned graphic and the text ‘since 1888’)

Here is a tourism ad for Italy that emphasizes the country’s historic art and architecture.

Visit Italy ad

Some heritage appeal ads focus on the founders, owners or long-time employees. This can give the appeal a more personal touch. For example, the clothing company Columbia was founded by Paul Lamfrom, and his daughter Gert (featured in the ad below) was president of the company and then chairperson of the board of directors from 1970 to 2019. The text of the following ad explains that Gert ‘transformed Columbia sportswear and the entire outdoor industry’ and even at the age of 93 is still actively involved in the company’s operations—she is a part of the company’s long tradition.

Columbia ad

Ads for Levi’s jeans used to focus on the brands origins manufacturing and supplying durable clothes to cowboys in the American west in the 19th century (as in the 1960s ad shown below), but the company does not seem to use this line of appeal anymore.

1960s Levi’s ad (‘America’s Finest Overall Since 1850’)

8.11 Modern, Novel & Futuristic

Ads using this line of appeal emphasize how new, up-to-date, modern or futuristic the product is.

In the iPhone ad shown below, the graphics emphasize the product’s sleek design. The black background and the planet-like image on the phones’ screens give it a futuristic outer space feel.

iPhone ad

Here is an ad campaign by the Tai Hing restaurant chain in Hong Kong that really goes for the futuristic look. The results are a little odd because some of the imagery is reminiscent of dystopian movies like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and also because Tai Hing restaurants are very basic and traditional restaurants. The intended message seems to be: ‘No matter how wildly crazy hi-tech the world becomes, we will always be there for you‘.

Tai Hing ad
Tai Hing video ad

The following ad for Banrisul, a Brazilian bank. also uses dystopian sci-fi imagery (with the terminator-like hand holding a bank credit card).

Banrisul ad

The modern/futuristic appeal has been popular for a long time. For example, here is an ad for the 1952 Oldsmobile automobile.

Oldsmobile ad

8.12 Durability

The durability line of appeal is straightforward. Ads using this line of appeal stress how long-lasting the product it. This implies that the product is of good quality and is good value for the money (so it is related to the value-for-money line of appeal). Duracell and Energizer both use this line of appeal, and both have frequently used bunny toys to demonstrate the durability of their batteries. Here is one of Duracell’s ads:

1979 Duracell ad

9. Nature

In this line of appeal, the advertiser tries to tie the product to nature. There are all kinds of associations that nature imagery can bring: healthy, clean, fresh, environmentally friendly, down to earth, peaceful and, of course, natural. The advertiser is looking to connect the product with some of those associations.

For example, air fresheners ads often feature nature imagery to show how clean and fresh and ‘natural’ they can make your home smell. In the the following ad for Glade air freshener, in which living room furniture is in the middle of a lavender field, the imagery can also represent the scent of the product.

Glade ad

The nature line of appeal can come across as being insincere if it is used in products that aren’t very natural and/or that are bad for the environment. For example, drinking Coca-Cola is not good for the environment (Not all cans and bottles are recycled, and manufacturing and transportation processes cause pollution) and most of its ingredients (caramel color, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, caffeine) are heavily processed and/or artificially produced. Therefore, if a Coca-Cola advertisement leans heavily into the nature line of appeal, as in the following example, the ad is not going to fool anyone.

Coca-Cola Life ad (The main difference between Coca-Cola Life and regular Coca-Cola is that instead of using high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, the Life brand uses cane sugar and stevia extract)

10. Other Lines of Appeal: Brand Appeal, Music Appeal, Comparison Appeal, Plain

Here are four additional lines of appeal:

10.1 Brand Appeal

In this line of appeal, the advertiser tries to get a consumer to buy a product or use its services simply because of its brand. For example, in some Apple advertisements the message is simply: ‘Buy this Apple product because it is an Apple product’. However, this kind of strategy is only possible because Apple has already built up its brand identity over decades of advertising using other forms of appeal (e.g., lifestyle appeal, modern appeal, humor appeal etc.).

10.2 Music Appeal

In some ads, the advertiser tries to associate the brand with a specific song. The purpose may be to associate the brand with a musician (celebrity appeal), lifestyle or culture (lifestyle & culture appeals), message (social issue appeal) and/or emotion (personal appeal). A good example of how music can amplify the emotions and messages in an ad is the use of Bob Seger’s song Like a Rock in Chrevrolet commercials (1992 Truck Commercial). The Apple ad featuring Jet’s song ‘Are you gonna be my girl’ (Apple Ad) is another famous use of music in advertising. In this ad, the music is used to give the ad (and brand) a high-energy, youthful feel.

10.3 Comparison

I would argue that ‘comparison’ is a format rather than a line of appeal, but the comparison appeal is mentioned in several lists of lines of appeal, so I will include it here. The comparison approach involves directly comparing a product or brand to its competition. This is a format that uses statistics appeal, authority appeal, technical appeal and/or testimony appeal to make its point. Two famous ad campaigns that make use of the comparison approach are from Pepsi (The Pepsi Challenge) and Apple vs Microsoft ads (Mac or PC?). Here is an example of a comparison ad that focuses on the technical line of appeal.

Samsung Galaxy ad

10.4 Plain (i.e., no appeal)

These are ads that simply show the product (and might include a short description and/or the price). For example, a restaurant owner may display an ad outside the restaurant that merely shows the food without any attempt to attach any sort of personal or rational appeal to it. The ad is simply saying: ‘This is the food you can eat in our restaurant.’

However, there is one kind of personal appeal that can be related to this ‘plain’ approach. Advertisers can use a plain advertisement to try to send the message: ‘Hey, we know that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like being manipulated. We get it; we’re just like you. And we don’t like manipulating people either, so here is a plain ad for you!’

Even the simplest of ads can have underlying messages!


Summary

Let’s round things up with a few points:

  • There are many different lines of appeal.
  • Lines of appeal CAN be abused, with advertisers attempting to manipulate your emotions or mislead you.
  • A single ad may combine a few different kinds of appeal.
  • Lines of appeal can go in and out of fashion.
  • Some lines of appeal naturally go better with certain products, services or situations.
  • The effectiveness of an advertisement may be affected by the line of appeal used, but other factors are also important. A poorly thought-out, unoriginal and poorly executed ad won’t work well no matter what line is appeal is used.

Further reading


Your Feedback

Did I leave any lines of appeal out? Can you think of an ad campaign that makes great use of a particular line of appeal? Let me know in the comments below.


~ by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing

15 Factors Affecting Newsworthiness

What makes an event newsworthy? In this article, we will look at why some events make the news while other events are ignored.

A news organization broadcast or magazine or newspaper has a lot of limitations:

  • The number of pages to fill in a newspaper or magazine
  • The number of minutes in a broadcast program
  • The number of staff members available
  • The amount of time available to put together a story for publication or broadcast.

News broadcast producers and newspaper editors, consequently, need to decide what stories to report on, what stories to put on the front page or lead off the broadcast, what stories to briefly mention and what stories to ignore completely. In other words, they need to decide which events and information are ‘newsworthy’.

Pre-reading Question: What are some of the things that make a story newsworthy?

It is important to note that the idea of ‘newsworthiness’ presented in this article is from the point of view of news producers, editors and reporters. You may think an event is very important or inspiring, and you may be right, but if that event doesn’t align with what producers or editors consider to be ‘newsworthy’, that important event may never appear in the news.

A. The 15 Factors

This list includes more than 15 factors in total, but related factors have been grouped together.

1. Impact

This factor includes things like the consequences of an event, the number of people involved and the relative importance of the story.

1.1 ConsequencesHow important is the story to the audience? What are the consequences? Will these consequences affect the lives or readers listeners and viewers? Will the story affect their decisions and beliefs? Is the story related to the public good?
1.2 Number of peopleHow many people are involved or affected? For events like protests, accidents, arrests, disease outbreaks and even things like concerts, the more people involved, the more newsworthy a story is normally perceived to be.
1.3 Relative importanceWhat else has been happening that day? If it is a slow news day, a relatively unimportant story has a greater chance of getting published.
1.4 Everyday life & niche interestsIs the story related to everyday things like home decoration, dieting, cooking, exercise and handling stress? Although none of these topics may be important to the audience as a whole, each of the topics is of interest to some people.

2. Drama

Is there conflict, scandal and/or controversy? Did a lot of people get killed or injured at the same time? News organizations thrive on negative news; there is even a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’.

A news story with a negative angle (Immigrants are causing increases in unemployment!) is normally considered more newsworthy than a similar story with a positive angle (Immigrants are causing increases in job creation!).

Research has shown that:

With the rise of social media, a common strategy used by the traditional media is to provide one-sided ‘hot takes’ on a controversial issue in order to drum up views and shares. Supporters of one side will post links to the article on social media to support their views (“See, I’m right!) while outraged supporters of the other side will also share the same article to show their discontent (“Can you believe someone published this garbage?”).

3. Timeliness

This factor involves recency and duration.

3.1 RecencyHow recent is the event? If an event happened within the past 24 hours it has a greater chance of being reported, especially when it comes to newspaper reporting. This is because newspapers typically operate on a 24-day cycle (Timing Is Everything in a News Cycle).
3.2
Time of day
Even the time of day can have an effect. You may notice that when a government department has bad news, it may hold a press conference at an inconvenient time like Friday evening. A press conference at that time means that it is too late for the story to be included in the evening and late news television broadcasts that day, and it would be a mad rush for editors to try to include the story in the Saturday edition of a newspaper. By the time the next day rolls around, the story has already become less ‘timely’ and it may be pushed off the front page or even pushed out of the news altogether. Online news and 24-hour news networks limit this news-killing strategy somewhat, but it is still quite effective.
3.2 DurationHow does the event unfold? Is it a single event (like a terrorist attack) or does it take place during a long period of time (like automobile deaths during an entire year)? If something is spread out over a long period of time, that can make it seem less newsworthy although its actual impact may be far greater than the effects of a one-off event.

4. Proximity

Is what happened close (geographically) to the audience? A massive automobile accident in your city might get reported in the local news, but is unlikely to make the national news.

5. Perceived Importance

These factors are related to how prominent the people, places and/or events are perceived to be? This can involve things like celebrity, fame, cultural proximity, race and class. A key word here is ‘perceived’. Is a celebrity’s private struggles really more important than some random person’s? No. but they are PERCEIVED to be more important.

5.1 FameAre the people involved celebrities? Is the place famous? For example, the fire at the Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019 (the photo above is by Adam Nossiter and Aurelien Breeden) attracted a lot of attention because the cathedral is a world-famous monument in a world-famous city. If something happens in a well-known city like New York, it is more likely to catch the international media’s attention than if it happens in a smaller city—like Albany or Rochester—in the same state.
5.2 Cultural proximityMost news organizations in developed countries like the US tend to do very little reporting on news from the Global South (e.g., Africa, South America, Central America, South Asia and Southeast Asia). To many Americans, this huge region is considered not only distant In terms of geography, but also less similar culturally and as being less important. Therefore, a bomb attack in Paris will likely get a lot more coverage in the American media than a similar bomb attack in Nairobi.
5.3 Class, race & social statusRelated to the above is the issue of class and race. For example, if a wealthy, white doctor in an American city goes missing, that is much more likely to make the local news than if a homeless black person suffers the same fate. In the Hong Kong news media, something that happens in America or England is much more likely to be reported than a similar event in countries such as the Philippines or Indonesia even though Hong Kong is close geographically to those Southeast Asian countries AND is home to hundreds of thousands of foreign workers from those countries.

6. Convenience

How easy is it to get the information and create the news article or segment? Can the reporter just slightly adapt a report from a press agency like the Associated Press? Is there a press conference that makes it easy to get soundbites? Is there a press release package that has an article basically ready for printing with just a few minor changes? Is there an ‘expert’ on hand to provide information? Has someone provided an eye-witness or do the reporters have to track down potential witnesses?

‘Convenience’ is often left out of lists of factors affecting newsworthiness because it is unrelated to the actual story. However, the ease with which an article or broadcast news segment can be produced can greatly affect whether or not a story gets covered.

7. Human Interest

Does the story appeal to our emotions?

7.1 HeartwarmingIs it heartwarming, touching, cute or amusing?
7.2 PathosDoes the story make the audience feel sad? Is it particularly heart-wrenching?
7.3. That time of yearIs the story related to an upcoming holidays like Independence Day, Christmas or New Year’s Day?
7.4 The extremeIs the event especially horrifying, unique, mysterious or odd?
7.5 Visual interestAre there eye-catching photos or video footage of the event?

8. Rarity

How uncommon is the story? Is the thing featured in the story the biggest, smallest, most dangerous, newest or the first its kind? Something unusual (like a total solar eclipse) or the first of its kind is often considered newsworthy. For example, when Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, that was a massive news story. Subsequent lunar landings, however, seemed less newsworthy and received less and less media attention as the years went by.

9. Trendiness

Is the story related to something—like the MeToo movement or the Extinction Rebellion—that is receiving widespread media coverage or is creating a buzz on social media?

The effect of trendiness on newsworthiness pre-dates social media. For example, during the early 1980s, there was a period in which stories about supposed Satanic rituals were popular in the American media.

If all the competitors are running with a story, can a news organization afford NOT to report on a story and run the risk of looking out-of-touch?

Will reporting the story keep a news organization ahead of its competitors? If a reporter can provide a ‘scoop’ (i.e., being the first to publish a story), that is a strong incentive to publish the story as quickly as possible. It can help make a news organization seem to be more authoritative—it sets the trends rather than just follows them.

10. Support for the Community

Can the story help the news organization connect with the community, charities and the local arts scene? It is good for business if the media organization is perceived as an integral part of the community. Most local newspapers will support the local arts scene by publishing reviews of movies, concerts, plays and art shows. In some cases, the articles help readers make choices about how they will spend their time, but sometimes (e.g., a review for a one-off performance of a play or concert), the review just lets people know about what is going on in their city and provides support for local culture.

11. Continuity

Does the story follow-up on something that was just published? Is the story one that gets reported from time to time? Can anything be recycled from previous reports? Is the story about something the audience is familiar with?

Familiarity is generally a good thing when it comes to newsworthiness, but if something happens again and again, it can lead to over-familiarity and it will start to get ignored. For example in the US, there are a few hundred mass shootings (in which four or more people are killed) each year. The vast majority of these will not make the national news. Similarly, during the American occupation of Iraq, there were a few hundred terrorist attacks every year in that country. Only the most extreme of these would ever be reported by international media.

Recurring stories are similar stories that get printed or broadcast periodically. For example, every couple of years Hong Kong newspapers will run stories on things like cage homes and teen suicide. The teen suicide rate has been relatively constant for many years (Intuitive guide to alleviating depression and suicides in Hong Kong). Of course, some years it is a little lower and some years a little higher. If it is a year in which the rate is higher, you will likely see a ‘teen suicides are increasing’ story. Similarly cage homes—small apartments in which the rooms are subdivided into tiny cubicles— have been around for many years. They get reported on from time to time, but nothing ever really changes.

12. Unambiguity

Is the story very clear or can it be made to look very clear? The protests in Hong Kong in 2019 were very complex (The Hong Kong Protests of 2019-2020), but were usually presented in a simple way (i.e., youth fighting for freedom). In contrast, the much larger farmers’ protests in India (which may have been the largest protests in history) were largely ignored by the mass media in Western countries at least partly because it was difficult to briefly and clearly explain what the farmers were fighting for. You can try reading this Wikipedia article and see if you can fully understand the farmers complaints: 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest. The story of the farmers’ protests also had the added hurdles of taking place in the Global South (Factor 5.2: Cultural Proximity), having strong ties to socialism and communism (Factor 13: Consonance) and being against the government of an American ally (Factor 14: Adversaries and allies).

13. Consonance

Does the narrative of the story match the beliefs that are predominant in that society? Examples for the American mass media would include beliefs like:

  • Anyone can get rich if they work hard enough (e.g., the rags-to-riches story, the American dream)
  • An underdog can prevail with enough grit and perseverance
  • The higher you climb, the further you fall (e.g., the downfall of a celebrity)
  • Communism is bad and capitalism is good
  • Our country and its culture and political systems are exceptional and deserve to be emulated (i.e., American exceptionalism, Manifest Destiny)

The opposite of consonance is dissonance. If a story is dissonant—that is, it is going against a society’s commonly held beliefs—it may be less likely to make the news.

14. Adversaries & Allies

Does the story make political adversaries, an enemy state or a competitor look bad? If so, that can make the story more ‘newsworthy.’ During the 1980s, the American media had a lot of negative coverage about Japan (a rising economic competitor) and the Soviet Union (a military and geopolitical rival). In the 2000s, that negative focus switched to Islamic countries. For the past few years, the focus has been on China.

If the story makes an ally look bad, that can lead to the story going unreported.

Similarly, if a news story makes an adversary look good; news organizations may just kill the story or try to find a way to put a negative spin on it. For example, the American public broadcasting network PBS produced a documentary on poverty alleviation in China (entitled China’s War on Poverty), but it was quickly pulled from the network. The stated reason for removing the documentary was that there were concerns about editorial independence, but the American producer of the film stated that he had total independence. The more likely reason is that the film presented a geo-political adversary in an overly favorable light.

15. Bias & Influence

Does the news organization have an editorial bias? Does the story fit with the personal biases of the writers, editors and/or owners? Do the advertisers or sponsors have any influence? Is there a danger of getting sued if the story is published? Are the reporters or editors working with members of the intelligence community? This issue of influence is discussed on greater detail in my article The Roles of the News Media.


Which of the above factors are most important when it comes to newsworthiness? The following two kinds of stories would definitely be considered newsworthy: (1) a single incident involving a lot of deaths that very recently occurred in a famous place that is not part of the Global South and (2) the election/selection or death of a head of state of a very influential country. What other events would you consider to be ‘must-print’ stories?

Unfortunately, many of the 15 factors mentioned above can have negative effects such as:

  • important stories going unreported,
  • unethical reporting
  • long terms negative effects on the audience

B. The Ignored Stories

A lot of important events can get unfairly buried in the news because they are not considered newsworthy. In Canada, for example, there is a stretch of highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert in the province of British Columbia that is now known as the Highway of Tears (www.highwayoftears.org). Since 1970, it is estimated that over 80 women have been killed or have gone missing there.

Some of the victims of the Highway of Tears

Three serial killers have been convicted as well as a few solo murderers. That has all the makings of a newsworthy story: mass murder! multiple serial killers! However, it wasn’t until 2002, three decades after the first known murders, that the cases made the news in major urban newspapers in western Canada. That was when a young woman named Nicole Hoar was murdered. Why weren’t the other murders and disappearances newsworthy? The following factors were likely at play:

  • Factor 5.3 (Race, class & social status): More than half of the victims were indigenous women and many were quite poor, which is why many of them were hitchhiking or walking along the highway when they disappeared.
  • Factor 3 (Timeliness): In many of the cases, the murders were discovered only after human remains were found. Also, it wasn’t a single event; the cases were spread out over decades.
  • Factor 6 (Convenience): It was not easy to get information and police were not actively seeking media coverage.
  • Factor 11 (Unambiguity): A missing person’s case has many loose ends.  

At the moment, a similar kind of case is playing out in Canada. There are now many news reports of mass graves of hundred of indigenous children being found at Canada’s notorious residential schools (all of which had finally closed by 1997). It is not like parents hadn’t noticed that their, children who had been taken away from them, never returned home. It is not like there were no ‘graduates’ of the school who had witnessed systematic abuse. The media at the time simply wasn’t interested.

Entire continents are also largely ignored. In the US, for example, there is very little in the news about the Global South (e.g., Africa, South America, South Asia and Southeast Asia). And the stories that do get published tend to be to reconfirm existing beliefs (e.g., Western Media use of the Third World Construct: A Framing Analysis of its Validity). For example, Africa is often presented as being all warlords and famines:

Similarly, India is presented as a filthy slum; China is presented as being full of impoverished, brainwashed and oppressed people; and South America is presented as being awash in drugs and corruption. 

During early 2022, there were four major international conflicts going on (Russia/Ukraine, Saudi Arabi, Yemen, US/Syria, US/Somalia). In an analysis of the coverage of these conflicts in the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN, independent reporter Alan MacLeod found that the five news organizations published 1298 articles about the Ukraine conflict and a total of 3 articles on the other three conflicts (www.mintpressnews.com/ukraine-russia-war-media-bias-study/279847/ )

After Russia invaded Ukraine several, reporters commented on how the war was so shocking because it affected Europeans:

  • “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know like Iraq or Afghanistan, This is a relatively civilized, relatively European—I have to choose those words carefully, too—city where you wouldn’t expect or hope that it’s going to happen.” (Charlie D’Agata, CBS News)
  • “What is compelling is that just looking at them, the way they’re dressed. These are prosperous, middle-class people. These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa; they look like any European family that you would live next door to.” (Peter Dobble, Al-jazeera)
  • “It’s one thing for sarin gas to be used on people in far away Syria who are Muslim and of a different culture. What is Europe going to do when it is on European soil, done to Europeans?” (Julie Loffe, CNN)
  •  “It’s very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed.” (Ukraine’s former Deputy Chief Prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, in a BBC interview)
  • “It just occurred to me that this is the first major war between civilized nations in my lifetime.” (Michael Knowles, Daily Wire)
  • “Just to put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria. These are refugees from neighboring Ukraine….These are Christians, they’re white.” (Kelly Cobiella NBC News)
  • “And this is not a developing Third World nation. This is Europe.” (Lucy Watson, ITV news).

In those comments you can see how they view the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as being more important than conflicts in Asian or Africa simply because the people involved are Europeans. You can see video clips of the above quotes in Alan Macleod’s Twitter thread: twitter.com/AlanRMacLeod/status/1497981855764824065

Another thing that often gets ignored is what happens to people after the news media has moved on from the main story. Large mass shootings and natural disasters are frequently reported, but in most instances, after a few days, the news media will have moved on and the stories of the victims and survivors are ignored.  Here is an amazing and heartwarming video about a woman who survived the Fukushima tsunami. Such new stories are quite rare in the mainstream media.

C. Unethical Reporting

The factors affecting newsworthiness can also lead to unethical reporting if editors and reporters put ‘newsworthiness’ ahead of accuracy.

One obvious example of this is the case in which journalist Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her article on an eight-year-old heroine addict; and it was later discovered that the story was completely made-up.

Another case of unethical reporting occurred in Hong Kong in 1998 and involved how the Apple Daily newspaper covered a murder-suicide case in which a woman had thrown her two young children from an apartment building before committing suicide. Apparently not satisfied with the ‘drama’ level of the story, the newspaper paid the widower of the woman, Chan Kin-hong, to pose for pictures with two prostitutes and then ran a front page story about how unremorseful he was. In essence, they simply fabricated a story in order to make the tragedy more sensational and dramatic.

These are just two cases. There are many others:

D. Negative Effects of Negative News

As mentioned earlier, news organizations tend to focus on conflict, scandal and death. How does this focus affect consumers of the news? Research has shown that long-term effects or reading large amounts of bad news can lead to anxiety, depression and an overall pessimistic review of the world (e.g., You Asked: Is It Bad for You to Read the News Constantly?) and can lead people to developer negative attitudes towards groups that are often stereotyped in the news  (e.g., Effects of Long-Term Exposure to News Stereotypes on Implicit and Explicit Attitudes and Impact of the Media). 

E. My Personal Experiences

In this section, I will briefly describe three news stories that involved me and explain what made them newsworthy.

1. Child & Santa

Here is my first appearance in the news. What are the factors that made this photo and caption newsworthy?

Photo from the Ottawa Citizen showing me taking candy from Santa Clause.

This photo was likely in the news because:

  • Factor 7.3 (That time of year): It is just before Christmas, so a ‘kid-with-Santa’ photo is newsworthy
  • Factor 6 (Convenience): I was visiting my grandmother, who lived near the main offices of the newspaper. It is likely that an editor just told a photographer to ‘go out and get a kid-with-Santa photo’ and that particular Santa was the closest one to the newspaper offices.
  • Factor 8: (Rarity): The surname ‘Noel‘ literally means ‘Christmas’ (as in the the Christmas carol The First Noel). What an amazing coincidence—a Christmas photo of a kid named Noel! However, that is not my surname. I don’t know if the reporter or editor simply made it up or whether my grandmother did (she was whimsical). In any case, I learned from a very early age (one-and-a-half, not two), that newspapers were careless with facts.   

2. Protesting

My second appearance in the news, was on a national television broadcast in Canada. The news story featured footage of me participating in a protest in London, England in 1984. The protest was against plans to have the American military station nuclear missiles on the British Isles. I was filmed carrying a Canadian flag along with another person. That protest—and shot of me—made the news in Canada because

  • Factor 1.2 (Number of people): It was a very large protest.
  • Factor 5.1 (Fame): It was in a famous city.
  • Factor 5.2 (Cultural proximity): England has close ties to Canada.
  • Factor 1.1 (Consequences): The video footage of the Canadian flag was helpful in creating the feeling that the story was important to the Canadian audience.

3, A Student Project

In 2003, When I was teaching at City University of Hong Kong, one of my duties was to supervise groups of students working on their Final Year Project in an English for Professional Communication Program (Higher Diploma). For their projects, students would work with companies or non-governmental organizations to conduct fundraising or public relations campaigns. One of my student groups ran a highly successful PR campaign for the Chiropractic Doctors’ Association of Hong Kong. The students conducted research on two things that might affect the health of young children: carrying heavy school bags and having poor posture when using the computer. 

After completing the research, the students organized a press conference at the university to announce the findings. Their research was reported in the evening new and late news broadcast of all of Hong Kong’s television stations at the time (TVB Pearl, TVB Jade, ATV World, ATV Home), was the lead story on the TVB broadcasts, was featured in more than a dozen newspapers and even was reported by a radio station in Singapore.         

Why did that news story—which was a student research project—get so much attention in the media?

  1. Factor 1.3 (Relative Importance): It was a slow news day, and the students deliberately chose to schedule the press conference on Monday, a day of the week when governments and businesses in Hong Kong tend NOT to have press conferences. 
  2. Factor 3 (Timeliness): It was newly released research, so it was timely.
  3. Factor 6 (Convenience): The students made it very convenient for reporters. First, there was a press conference at which chiropractic doctors were on hand to explain the data and answer questions. Second, the students included a press release (hard and soft copies) including the original report, a summary that could form the basis of an article and relevant graphics. Third, the time of the press conference was convenient for reporters. The press conference was in the middle of the morning, so members of the press had enough time for to get ready before attending and lots of time afterward to prepare a story for the evening news or the next day’s paper.  
  4. Factor 1 (Impact): It was of some concern to many readers—especially those with young children
  5. Factor 2 (Drama): The story was negative in tone, The research findings suggested that around a third of children were at risk of developing spine problems.
  6. Factor 13 (Consonance): The story supported a larger narrative—that children in Hong Kong are overworked and stressed out.
  7. Factor 11 (Continuity): It was a recurring story—every few years in Hong Kong the issue of young children struggling with heavy school bags gets reported in the media.    
  8. Factor 12 (Unambiguity): It had an unambiguous message, sort of—children need to carry lighter loads and parents should also consider buying backpacks that are designed to distribute weight more evenly. On the surface, the message was unambiguous, but in fact the story did have a lot of ambiguity. The research was a student project, so there were of course questions about the reliability of the data. However, this was not mentioned in any of the news reports. Instead, the reporters all went with phrases like “Researchers at City University today reported that….” Also not mentioned was the fact that the research was sponsored by a manufacturer of ‘spine-friendly’ backpacks, so there was a potential conflict of interest. There was ambiguity, but it could be easily swept under the rug.  

If any one of the above factors were missing, I doubt the story would have received as much media exposure as it did.

On the one hand, I was proud of the hardworking students (they had also developed a teaching program that was introduced to tens of thousands of primary school students). On the other hand, I was disturbed at how the news organizations presented the report as being written by ‘university researchers’.

F. Conclusion

By now, you should have a good understanding of the many reasons that can lead to a news story getting (or not getting) media exposure and how these factors can distort the news and can even distort our perceptions of the world around us.

The subjective nature of ‘newsworthiness’ means that it is important for us, as consumers of the news, to

  • Question the news that is being presented to us and
  • Seek out a wide range of different sources of news (from large news companies to local publishers to independent news organizations to social media).

G. Research Questions

Newsworthiness lends itself to quantitative research. If you interested in this topic, you can create a checklist of factors affecting newsworthiness and try to determine which factors occur most frequently in news publications or broadcasts. You can:

  • Look at one publication or broadcast news program news and examine all the stories published or broadcast within a specific time frame
  • Compare two different news organizations (e.g., CNN and Fox News)
  • Compare the newsworthiness factors of a publication in a Western liberal democracy to the newsworthiness factors of a publication (e.g., Pravda, The People’s Daily) in a country where the media is more controlled (see my article: The Roles of the News Media)
  • Compare the print media to broadcast media

Unfortunately, this kind of approach wouldn’t be able to answer the questions ‘Which stories tend to go unreported and why?’ For that, you would probably need to do qualitative research—interviewing staff members of news organizations and asking them which stories they chose to drop or ignore altogether and why.


~ by longzijun

writing

Return to Writing

The Roles of the News Media

What is the role of the news media in society?

The answer to this question depends on the society we are talking about. There is no one universal model of the news media. In the article, I will look at five main models:

  • The Free Press Model
  • The Propaganda Model
  • The Commercial Model
  • The Combined Model
  • The State Model

1. The Free Press Model

Photo of a reporter, Umbrella Movement protests (Hong Kong, 2014)

To start with let’s look at the Free Press Model—it is considered the ideal for the news media in western liberal democracies. In this model, the news media typically has five main roles: 

  1. Information Provider: To give information to the public so that people know what is going on in their community, their nation and around the world. People can then use this information to make better choices. For example, before an election, people can learn more about the platforms of different politicians, and this can help them vote more wisely.
  2. Information Gatekeeper: To serve as a kind of information gatekeeper. News organizations can filter out false information, gossip and harmful propaganda and instead publish information that is based on fact. With the rise of social media, this gatekeeper role is even more important as news organizations can help people sort through the massive amounts of often contradictory information they receive online.  
  3. Advocate for Change: To push for social, economic and political change. The media can shine a light on problems faced by society—like racism or homelessness—and suggest ways to solve those problems. The press may thus have an influence on government policy.
  4. Watchdog: To serve as a watchdog—to keep an eye out for abuses of power. The media can expose unfair business practices or violations of rights, and it can help monitor the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government. In this role, the media serves as part of the system of checks and balances that is considered essential to the western concept of democracy.  
  5. Community Platform: To provide a voice to the community. News organizations can give readers, listeners and viewers a platform to actively comment on current affairs. This can be done through things like interviews with members of the public, call-in radio shows, letters to the editor and online comments. 

A sixth role that is often mentioned is entertainment, but for this article I will focus on the rive roles listed above.

In order to fulfill the five roles of the press in this model—information provider, information gatekeeper, advocate of change, watchdog and community platform—effectively, the news media must have a few qualities, namely:

  • The reporting must be accurate and impartial; and information should be confirmed and fact-checked before being presented to the public
  • There must be editorial independence
  • There must be a clear distinction between different kinds of content such as fact-based articles, opinion-based editorials and sponsored content.
  • Opportunities to express ideas should be given to different voices and to people that are representative of society as a whole

2. Influences on the News Media

Photo of a reporter, Umbrella Movement protests (Hong Kong, 2014)

The Free Press Model, however, is very simplistic. It assumes that the news media is mostly free from outside influence. In reality, there are many forces that can shape and influence the news. 

  • Owners
  • Advertisers & sponsors
  • Sources (press agencies, businesses and government departments, intelligence services, other media outlets, think tanks, human rights groups & other non-governmental organizations, eyewitnesses & experts)
  • Financial & logistical considerations
  • Flak
  • Cultural & ideological narratives
  • Audience expectations
  • Social media & other competitors
  • Personal biases

2.1 Owners

First, there is ownership. Media owners can include:

  • Multinational corporate conglomerates like Warner Brothers or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps
  • National media networks like the Sinclair Broadcast Group in America
  • Media moguls like Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong and Viscount Rothermere in Britain
  • Even religious sects like the Falun Gong, which publishes the Epoch Times and runs NTD (as well as a host of other outlets)

Many news organizations do have clear editorial biases. Fox News in the US, for example, was founded to provide a voice for American conservatives. MSNBC, on the other hand, appeals more to American liberals. 

Media owners have power over things like hiring practices and editorial policies of the news organizations they control. And if they want, they can order a particular story to be published or abandoned. For example, here is a compilation of local news broadcasters in the Sinclair Broadcast Group parroting a political message from the owners:

Governments can also be media owners. For example, the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia are run by the US federal government. The majority of funding for the BBC comes directly from British taxpayers via a television licensing system, but it is the British government that controls the licensing system and appoints the head of the BBC.  

2.2 Advertisers and Sponsors

Second, there are the advertisers and sponsors. If a news organization heavily depends on advertising and sponsorship revenue, major advertisers and sponsors can also influence what stories get printed, what stories get buried and how certain issues are reported. Here is one example: In 1997, at the request of one its major advertisers—Monsanto—Fox News pressured two of the reporters at its affiliate station WTVT-13 to change their story on one of Monsanto’s growth hormones and add false information to the planned article. When the two reporters—Jane Akre and Steve Wilson— repeatedly refused, they were fired and the story was killed (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Akre).

The influence of advertisers on the media can be more subtle. In a study of the news media in Argentina, researchers found that as government spending on advertising in newspapers increased, the amount of front-page space given to coverage of government scandals decreased (www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w15402/w15402.pdf). Similarly, in another study, it was found that news coverage about automobile recalls from given manufacturers decreased when advertising spending from those manufacturers increased (www.eui.eu/Documents/DepartmentsCentres/Economics/Seminarsevents/Durante-paper.pdf). In both of these cases, newspapers still covered negative news involving their advertisers; they just did it less frequently or less noticeably.

Another way in which advertisers influence the news is in the form of advertorials. These look like the publication’s articles, but are actually advertisements. Usually, this is acknowledged as an ‘advertorial’ somewhere on the page, but it is not always obvious.

Then there is crowdfunding. Nowadays, there are quite a few crowdfunded media organizations that pride themselves on their independence. However, their financing largely relies on meeting the expectations of their audience. If the Grayzone starts publishing articles in favor of American interventions overseas or if the Hong Kong Free Press starts publishing articles critical of Hong Kong protesters, they will likely see much of their funding disappear. 

2.3 Sourcing

A third influence is related to sourcing, that is, where the news actually comes from. Much of the news comes from a variety of sources, including: 

Press agencies
These companies provide licensed content that can be directly inserted into a publication or that can be combined with information from local reporters. The largest press agencies—United Press International (UPI), the Associated Press (AP), Agence France Press (AFP) and Reuters—provide around 90% of international news in a typical newspaper. Of course, when looking at press agencies, you also need to consider the issues of ownership and bias.

A group called Swiss Propaganda Research investigated how, during a two-week period, nine leading newspapers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria reported on the conflict in Syria. The researchers found that out of 381 articles published during those two weeks, not a single article was the result of direct investigation by any of the newspapers’ reporters. Instead, 78% of articles were based whole or in part from press agency reports (swprs.org/the-propaganda-multiplier/). The researchers also found that the reporting was biased. 82% of all opinion pieces and interviews provided by the press agencies were in favor of US and NATO intervention, and when the negative word ‘propaganda’ was mentioned it was only used to describe information from the opposing side.

The big issue with press agencies is that because their articles are published in thousands of newspapers, any inaccurate and/or biased material produced by press agencies can end up being quickly spread around the world.

Government departments, major corporations and local businesses
These sources can provide press briefings and press releases or can just insert their content directly into news publications in the form of sponsored articles known as advertorials. Here is one example from the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong’s leading English newspaper). An opinion piece suggesting Reading, England as a potential destination for Hong Kong holders of the BNO passport is written by Raymond Chong, the managing director of a brokerage, Star Property Agency, that (what a surprise!) just happens to be selling property in Reading to Hong Kong people. This is a case of a company directly inserting favorable content into a news publication.

Screen shot of headline
The headline
Screenshot of the writer's company's website
The writer’s company website

That is a very small-scale case, though. Governments can spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence the media. For example, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a bill (The Strategic Competition Act of 2021) in which 300 million dollars per year for five years is to be devoted to countering Chinese influence, with 1/3 of that to be devoted largely to spreading negative media coverage about China. Here is a clause from the bill that specifies how a part of the money will be used:

There is authorized to be appropriated, for each of the fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for the United States Agency for Global Media, $100,000,000 for new programs to support local media, build independent media, combat Chinese disinformation inside and outside of China, invest in technology to subvert censorship, and monitor and evaluate these programs.

How would this money be spent? Here is one example: The Herald, a newspaper in Zimbabwe, reported on a program run by Information by Development Trust (IDT) and sponsored by the American Embassy in Harare. Participating journalists were instructed on how to produce negative news stories about Chinese investment in Zimbabwe and were promised 1000 USD for each negative story produced (US Plans to Discredit Chinese Investment Unmasked).

This kind of government propaganda campaign is typically conducted through government-funded media organizations (e.g. Radio Free Asia), intelligence agencies, non-governmental organizations and think tanks.

Intelligence services
Spy agencies can supply a mixture of real and false news and can also directly recruit reporters and editors as assets. In a 1977 article in the Rolling Stone, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stated that at that time, around 400 reporters were doubling as operatives for the CIA. Their investigations confirmed the role of American intelligence agencies in manipulating the media that came to light during the hearings of the Church Committee (AKA the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities) in 1975. In this video interview from 1983, former CIA agent John Stockwell describes how he oversaw media campaigns for the CIA. The interview is from ‘Vietnam Reconsidered, Lessons from the War at the University of Southern California, USC’. The part on the media begins at 1:50.

Other media outlets
Smaller newspapers often use material from more prestigious papers such as the New York Times or government-run organizations like Radio Free Asia.

Think tanks, human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations
These organizations usually claim to be independent, but they are often heavily funded by governments, defense contractors, other major corporations and government-funded organizations like America’s National Endowment for Democracy. For example, the ‘independent’ Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is funded mainly by the Australian Department of Defense with additional funding coming from entities such as the US State Department, the US Department of Defense and NATO as well as weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northropp Grumman, Naval Group Australia and Thales. You can see this thread on Twitter for a look at some of the funding behind NGOs that frequently appear as news sources: twitter.com/catcontentonly/status/1343282499833765890.

Eyewitnesses and experts
Some eyewitnesses and experts are credible and impartial, while others and are fake or biased. The most famous example of a fake eyewitness is Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ, who in 1990 tearfully testified that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers in a Kuwaiti hospital stealing incubators and leaving premature babies on the floor to die. Her testimony, which was supported by Amnesty International, was used to encourage support for the American invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t until 1992 that it was discovered that she was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to America and that her testimony was part of a public relations campaign run by the American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. There was no evidence that any incidents like that had actually happened and Amnesty International issued a retraction.

By the time Nayriah’s identity had been revealed and her testimony debunked, the First Gulf War had ended.

Another famous case of fake eye-witnesses is Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari, a blogger who went by the username A Gay Girl in Damascus and who advocated for increased civil and political freedom for Syrians. She was interviewed by media outlets such as CNN for her insights as a young openly gay woman living in an Islamic country. In 2011, someone claiming be her cousin reported that she had been kidnapped by government agents. Her kidnapping prompted an international outcry; however, it turned out that the blogger was, in reality, Tom McMaster, a middle-aged, straight American man living in England.

Screen shot of the Gay Girl in Damascus story

Similarly, in 2020 it was revealed that Kong-Tsung Gan, who had claimed to be someone of Chinese ancestry who had grown up in Hong Kong and who had been interviewed by numerous media outlets for his views on Hong Kong politics and protests, was an American (and very Caucasian) man called Brian Kern (www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news/section/11/221905/Unmasked-Chinese-fake-quits-HK—but-keeps-phony-persona).

Then there is the case of the Uyghur activist, Rushan Abbas, who is a completely real person. However, she has worked for the American military as a consultant at the notorious Guantanamo Bay site as well as working for various other American government departments and intelligence agencies. Can she really be considered an impartial and credible source? (www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/e9ad4n/i_am_rushan_abbas_uyghur_activist_and_survivor_of/)?

Eyewitness evidence and expert testimony can be very compelling, but it is clear that news organizations are often not very careful when it comes to confirming the identities, backgrounds, motivations and stories of their experts and eyewitnesses.


All these different kinds of news sources can be linked together like a kind of chain. For example, a small local newspaper in Cleveland might run an article that is mainly based on an Associated Press report of a Radio Free Asia interview with a representative of a think tank that is primarily funded by the American government, with the interview being set up at an event organized by the US State Department.

This use of regurgitated content from third-party sources can help make the news gathering process more cost effective, but it can also lead to a lot of propaganda and false information getting published.

The use of chains of third-party sources also means that potential conflicts of interest often go undeclared and unnoticed. For example, in the article ‘Rappler: Philippines orders shutdown of Maria Ressa’s critical news site’ (www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-61976456), the BBC reports that a newspaper in the Philippines was ordered to close because its funding from the Omidyar Network (a company set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar) was alleged to be in violation of the country’s media laws. In the article, the BBC cites two sources to highlight how ‘unfree’ the Filipino news media is. The two sources are Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which is partially funded by . . . Pierre Omidyar, and Humans Right Watch (HRW), which receives regular donations from . . . Pierre Omidyar. Nowhere in the article are the links to Omidyar and RWB and HRW mentioned. There are no other sources (besides Rappler staff) included in the article.

2.4 Financial & Logistical Considerations

One important factor that should not be overlooked when discussing the news media is the financial pressure involved with running a news organization. Any measure that can save time and money has to be considered, and this can have a great effect on sourcing. For example, if you take a government press release about a new policy and edit it slightly, you can produce a news story in a few minutes. If the government then holds a press conference, you can send a small news crew there to get a quick soundbite. A national newspaper or TV network will have staff in the nation’s capital, so everything can be done in a few hours. However, verifying all those pesky details in the press release might take days or even weeks or months. And interviewing people who would be affected by that new policy—people who might be several hundreds of kilometers away in a remote town—can be time-consuming and expensive. As a result, in this case, when the story is finally put together and published, it will likely favor the government’s point of view simply because of how much easier it was to get information from the government.

Similarly, many local newspapers have a reporter that focuses on local crime. The reporters on the crime beat will have established relationships with police officers and police spokespersons, so they will normally get information from these sources first, and then it is up to the reporters and their editors to decide how much time and effort will go into doing things like tracking down and interviewing eye-witnesses. In many cases, the decision will simply be to save time and money and go with the version of events presented by police. In this way, the basic logistics of running a news organization can affect what stories get told and who gets to tell them. 

Financial considerations and logistics can therefore also affect sourcing. It is often more cost-effective for news organizations to simply run what they get from their usual sources and press agencies without having their own reporters fully investigate the story. 

2.5 Flak      

A fifth influence is ‘flak’. If any individual or group is powerful enough to cause problems for the media organization by suing it, removing its license or organizing boycotts, editors may think twice before publishing anything negative about that person or group. Noam Chomsky calls this kind of threat ‘flak.’ One good example of this is the pressure from tobacco company Brown & Williamson (B&W) on television network CBS to kill off a planned story on the company’s use of ammonia to increase the addictive effects of nicotine in its cigarettes (www.vanityfair.com/magazine/1996/05/wigand199605). CBS did kill the story at first, but the story was eventually published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and then by CBS itself. B&W’s efforts to kill the story formed the basis of the film The Insider. One important thing to note in this case is that B&W did not actually threaten to sue CBS. CBS killed the story simply because its legal team feared that there COULD be a lawsuit if the story was broadcast.

Flak can also come in the form of fear of legal persecution. For example, in 2022. Alina Lipp, a German reporter covering crimes by Ukrainian forces against citizens in the Donbass, a region consisting of two republics that broke away from Ukraine in 2014, was notified by German authorities that she would be subject to up to three years imprisonment if she returned to Germany. The punishment is for ‘supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine’ and she would not be allowed to state her case in court proceedings (www.indiatoday.in/world/story/-german-journalist-detention-ukrainian-crimes-donbass-1973896-2022-07-10).

2.6 Cultural & Ideological Narratives

A sixth kind of influence concerns the beliefs and narratives that are predominant in a society. For example, in America, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of individualism and personal rights, and there is also a strong antipathy towards communism, socialism and authoritarianism. There is a strong belief that the freedoms offered in America allow anyone to succeed in life through hard work alone (a belief called the American Dream). These kinds of ideological beliefs can color the news published by American new organizations. In the 1980s, there was a strong bias in the American mass media against Japan, which at the time was beginning to threaten America’s economic dominance, and against the Soviet Union, which was a solcialist superpower. Today, there is a strong bias against China. The following magazine covers are representative of the mainstream media’s mainly negative portrayal of China:

A typical magazine cover depicting China
Negative media coverage

The above headlines and illustrations tend to combine elements of both ‘Red Scare’ (a fear of communism: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Scare) and ‘Yellow Peril’ (a perception that devious Asians threaten the Western world: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_Peril). At times, the designs used in the media’s depiction of China is reminiscent of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda (see below), but with a LOT more red in the design.

Anti-Jewish propaganda
Anti-Jewish Propaganda

Let’s look at one obvious example of a simple news story being affected by an Anti-communist ideological filter. In the summer of 2020, a Chinese businessman suggested that people use a method to prevent food waste when eating out. He suggested that the number of dishes ordered should be one fewer than the number of diners in the group. Chinese government officials heard about this suggestion and then stated that they thought it was a good idea. They suggested that people should consider adopting it and should think of even more ways to reduce food waste.

However, this simple suggestion from the government was reported by CNN as a totalitarian regime’s ironfisted attempt to dictate what people are allowed to eat (edition.cnn.com/2020/08/28/asia/china-xi-jinping-clean-plate-campaign-dst-intl-hnk/index.html).

The article was full of words carrying negative connotations that play on the West’s image of China as an Orwellian dystopia:

  • drastic measures
  • threatened food bloggers
  • one intrusion too far into into citizens’ increasingly surveilled personal lives
  • fear of an official backlash
  • yet another political limitation on their everyday lives
  • censoring political discussion
  • 20 million surveillance cameras
  • China’s authoritarian system
  • local governments have expanded their surveillance
  • encouraging citizens to report each other
  • China’s agriculture sector is reeling from a series of natural disasters
  • threw the country’s agricultural sector into chaos
  • according to the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily

It is only at the end of the article that the following quote appears to provide some semblance of balance, with one expert saying, “The truth is, the implementation won’t be very strict.” Aside from that one interviewee, ALL the other interviewees pointed out various problems with the waste-reduction schemes.

At no point in the article are the possible benefits of reducing food waste—like environmental protection or cost savings—mentioned.

This dystopia angle on that story was carried one step further by new agencies like Bloomberg, which stated that the food-waste ‘directive’ was evidence that the government was worried about food shortages and possibly even an impending famine (www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-20/xi-s-crusade-on-food-waste-triggers-rare-anxiety-over-supplies).

In reality, there was no government directive. There were no food shortages. There was no chaos. There was no famine. The media twisted something positive—a suggestion that people think of and implement ways to reduce food waste—into something dark and foreboding.    

This kind of ideological filter has two main purposes. 

  • The first is to get the general public to approve of military action and/or economic sanctions against those countries considered enemies.
  • The second purpose is to deflect attention from the failings of one’s own government and to present the existing political and economic systems as being the best ones possible. An American reading the CNN article about food waste in China, for example, is being encouraged to think something along the lines of ‘Wow, things aren’t perfect here in the US, but at least the government isn’t trying to control how much food I eat and the government isn’t watching me all day with cameras. And I don’t need to worry about starving to death in a famine. Thank God I live in America and not China.’    

Earlier this year, I was wondering if there was ever a golden age of the media, an era in which the press was free from this kind of ideological filter. I decided to randomly look at stories from the past. This article, from the Seattle Times in 1911, was the first one I read:

Seattle Times article from 1911

It seems that ideological filters have always been in the media. The short article above is about how white men (‘Scandinavians, Germans and straight Yankees’) were being pushed out of doing business at the local city market by Italians (who do not appear to have been considered ‘white’ at the time) and ‘Asiatics’. There is a clear bias against the darker-skinned immigrant ‘others’.

2.7 Audience Expectations

A news organization’s audience can also influence the kinds of stories it publishes. If more people buy your newspaper or watch your news broadcast, you can earn more money, not only from sales, but also from advertising. Thus, there is pressure on news media organizations to publish news that sells well—for example, news that is shocking or entertaining or news that fits nicely with what the readers and viewers already believe.  A story about a spat in Britain’s royal family, for example, isn’t very important, but it might help sell newspapers.       

2.8 Social Media & Other Competitors

Another influence is social media, particularly in its role as a competitor to the traditional news media. If a story is hugely popular on social media, can the traditional news media afford to ignore it? And if an unverified story is already circulating online, can the traditional news media really waste time to confirm all the details before running the story?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just run the story as soon as possible and then issue corrections afterwards if necessary?

This race-against-the-competition has always been there, but the pressure to deliver news stories quickly has been exacerbated by the rise of social media and 24-hour news networks.

Another issue is that people are increasingly getting their news via social media, so there is pressure on news organizations to create content that will appeal to the algorithms of social media giant like Meta (Facebook) and Twitter. A wordy and carefully balanced article is unlikely to be shared as much as a short controversial and opinionated article.

2.9 Personal Biases

Lastly, sometimes reporters and editors are simply biased, and their views affect the way they present their stories. Let’s look at one example of inaccurate and biased reporting from Hong Kong. In this article, reporters of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) and RTHK criticized the Hong Kong government by claiming that the free food being provided to residents during a COVID-19 lockdown could not be opened as not everyone had can openers (www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/3119031/hong-kong-lockdown-residents-given-food-they). Their reports included eyewitness statements (see below) and photos. However, there was something wrong with the cover photo for the article. Can you spot the problem?

The SCMP’s Photo

Congratulations if you found the problem.

All the cans had been turned upside down so that readers could not see the ring pulls that would allow anyone to easily open the cans.

Photo of a government relief package showing the tops of the cans (uploaded by an online commenter)

After getting mocked on social media, the SCMP later removed the photo and issued a statement on its Facebook and Twitter threads for the article. In the apology, the SCMP attempted to shift the blame to a local anti-establishment politician, Frank Ho, who had supplied the photos. However, in the apology the SCMP editors seemed to ignore the obviously fake eye-witness statement that was also included in the article, and they also wrote that only ‘some of the cans’ had been placed upside down (when in reality, it was ALL of the cans). Did the ‘eye-witness’ quotes also come from Frank Ho? Does the eyewitness, Mohammad, even exist? In any case, either the reporters knew they were creating a fake story or they were happy to sign their names to an article cooked up by someone else. In either scenario, it was dishonest and biased reporting.

Examples of comments on the Facebook page of the article
The SCMP’s correction on social media

Of course, this is just a relatively minor news story, but when such inaccurate and biased reporting is repeated over a long period, it can affect the views and attitudes of readers, listeners and viewers.

2.10 Summary

To sum up, those five main roles of a free press—keep the public well-informed, act as a gatekeeper, encourage social change, serve as a watchdog and provide a platform for citizens to express their opinions—can be undermined and distorted by the influences mentioned in this section—ownership, advertising & sponsorship, sourcing, flak, ideological narratives, the audience, competitors (including social media) and personal biases. 

These influences can affect:

  • What stories are selected
  • What stories are omitted
  • Whose voices are given a platform  
  • What pictures and video footage are published
  • What captions are given to the pictures 
  • What words are used in the article (e.g., ‘protester’ vs ‘rioter’ vs ‘activist’ vs ‘terrorist’)
  • And even what grammar structures are used (e.g., ‘protesters set a store on fire’ vs ‘a store was set on fire’ vs ‘a store burst into flames’)

Examples of these different kinds of biases will be presented in another article.

3. The Propaganda Model

Photo of a photographer, Umbrella Movement protests (Hong Kong, 2014)

This more complex look at the news media and its many influences is beginning to resemble what Noam Chomsky calls the Propaganda Model of the mass media. In the Propaganda Model, the main role of the mass media is to get the general public to go along with with the economic, social and political systems that benefit those with power. In other words, the media is used to gain the consent of the general public for economic, social and political policies (both domestic and foreign) that will ultimately benefit the ruling class. In this model, Chomsky describes five ‘filters’ that influence the mass media:

  1. Ownership (see Section 2.1)
  2. Advertising (see 2.2)
  3. Sourcing (see 2.3)
  4. Flak (see 2.5)
  5. Anti-communism (this is related to the influence of cultural and ideological narratives mentioned in Section 2.6)

Even if we set aside Chomsky’s hypothesis that the main purpose of the media is to promote the interests of the ruling class, there is no denying the existence of the five filters of the Propaganda Model as well as the other influences mentioned in Section 2.

4. The Commercial Model

Press crews, Umbrella Movement protests (Hong Kong, 2014)

This model, which I am calling the Commercial Model, is slightly less cynical than the Propaganda Model. In this model, the primary role of a news organization is simply to make money for the owners. A news organization is a business, and like any other business, earning a profit is its main goal. In the Commercial Model, the press still has the five main roles of the Free Press Model but the reporting is susceptible to being influenced by the business demands of running a news organization, including:

  • The need to attract readers/viewers (see 2.7)
  • The need to attract advertisers and sponsors and keep them satisfied (see 2.2)
  • The need to keep owners satisfied (see 2.1)
  • The logistics involved with getting source material and independently verifying it (see 2.4)
  • Time constraints and the need to stay ahead of the competition (see 2.8)

5. The Combined Model

TV Anchor: Hong Kong Pro-democracy Protest (1 October 2014)

Regarding the news media in America and other western countries, I would argue that these three models—the Free Press Model, the Propaganda Model and the Commercial Model—exist at the same time. A news organization may have complete editorial independence and unbiased, accurate reporting on one issue but very biased and deliberately deceptive reporting on another issue. And on yet another issue, economic and logistical constraints may lead the newspaper’s editors and reporters to unconsciously allow their story to be become distorted by biases.

Therefore, it might make more sense to think of the five roles of the Free Press model, the filters of the Propaganda Model, the influences of the Commercial Model and the additional influence of personal bias as being on a continuum, with the ideal of totally unbiased and honest reporting on one end and false and deliberately misleading propaganda on the other. Let’s call this model the Combined Model.

The big problem with this model, however is that the roles of the news media that make up the Combined Model—the Free Press Model, the Propaganda Model and Commercial Model—are very often at odds with one another.

6. A Case Study: Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction

One obvious example of the mass media failing to do its job properly (according to the Free Press model) was during the lead up to America’s second war with Iraq, the one that started in 2003. Before the war, the American government claimed that its intelligence services had found ironclad evidence that Iraq was developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) such as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The US government used this claim as justification to start a war with Iraq. After America invaded Iraq, however, it soon became clear that Iraq did not have an active program involving WMDs (www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/magazine/iraq-weapons-mass-destruction.html). 

Secretary of State Colin Powell giving a speech to the UN (5 February 2003) in which he stated that the US had irrefutable evidence that Iraq has an active WMD program (www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/colin-powell-u-n-speech-was-a-great-intelligence-failure/)

In the several months leading up the war, most American newspapers and magazines supported the WMD myth and in their articles and editorials pushed for war. News organizations, including influential publications like the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Washington Post, reported the government’s claims and rationales without questioning or investigating them. Thus, the media—on the left AND the right—with the exception of a few organizations like Knight-Ridder, helped the government justify the war to its citizens.  

Here is a front page story by Michael Gordon and Judith Miller from the New York Times reporting, without question, US government claims that Iraq was purchasing parts to build nuclear weapons. Note how the large graphic beside the article features two children in front of an American flag and a message commemorating the victims of the 9/11 attack. The implied message of the combined graphic and article is clear—to prevent another terrorist attack and protect our country and our children, we need to take action against Iraq (even though Iraq had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks).    

New York Times front page (2002)

In an editorial in the New Yorker entitled Making a Case, David Remick wrote:

“History will not easily excuse us if, by deciding not to decide, we defer a reckoning with an aggressive totalitarian leader who intends not only to develop weapons of mass destruction but also to use them.”

(www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/02/03/making-a-case)

In an editorial entitled Irrefutable, the Washington Post opened with this sentence:

“AFTER SECRETARY OF STATE Colin L. Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” 

(www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2003/02/06/irrefutable/e598b1be-a78a-4a42-8e1a-c336f7a217f4/)

Even Time for Kids got in on the WMD action:

Photo from twitter.com/acanticleforkev/status/1379260590640758785

Soon after the war started, it became clear there were no active WMD programs in Iraq. The reason for going to war had been a lie, a lie that had been enthusiastically supported by most of the American mass media (limacharlienews.com/op-ed/how-media-sold-iraq-war/). 

In a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), researchers looked at the 393 interviews about the potential for war with Iraq that had been broadcast on four influential news programmes (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer) during a two week period in 2003. The researchers found that 199 of the interviewees were either current or former American government or military officials and that 198 of these officials supported the war. Only 1 expressed skepticism or opposition. Other interviewees included Iraqi officials and former or current representatives of other governments. These interviewees provided more balanced opinions, but still tended to be supportive of the war. As FAIR reports:

‘’Yet, at a time when 61 percent of respondents in a CBS poll (2/5–6/03) were saying that they felt the U.S. should ‘wait and give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more time,’’ only 16 of the 68 U.S. guests (24 percent) who were not officials represented such views.”

(fair.org/take-action/action-alerts/in-iraq-crisis-networks-are-megaphones-for-official-views)

After it was found that Iraq did not have WMD programs, some newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, admitted that their reporting on the lead up to the war had been poor (New York Times admission: www.nytimes.com/2004/05/26/world/from-the-editors-the-times-and-iraq.html; about the Washington Post admission: www.theguardian.com/world/2004/aug/13/pressandpublishing.usa).

However, nearly two decades later, the effects of the war are still causing huge problems for Iraq, which is still occupied by American forces. It is unknown exactly how many Iraqi civilians died in the war or in the conflicts that followed, but most estimates are at least in the hundreds of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died at least in part because the press failed to carry out its ‘free press’ roles properly:  

  • The reporting was heavily biased in favor of war (thus failing in its role as information provider)
  • The media reported false information as irrefutable fact (thus failing in its role as a gatekeeper) 
  • The media did not try to soften America’s aggressive foreign policy (thus failing in its role as an agent of social change)
  • The media did not investigate the veracity of government claims (thus failing in its role as a watchdog)
  • When selecting interviewees, the media did not give a voice to a representative sample of Americans—it favored those who supported the war (thus failing in its role as a platform for the community)  

However, if we assume the news media is following the Propaganda Model, the American media’s coverage of the war could be considered a success. In a gallup poll conducted in May 2003, after military action had already begun, 79% of the Americans polled thought the Iraq War was justified, even without conclusive evidence of WMDs (web.archive.org/web/20180922202051/https://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A1155-2003May16/). In a 2015 poll, conducted over a decade AFTER the WMD claims had been discredited, 42% of the Americans (and over half of Republicans) surveyed believed Iraq did have an active WMD program leading up to the war (www.politico.com/story/2015/01/poll-republicans-wmds-iraq-114016).

If we assume the news media is following the Commercial Model, the American media’s coverage of the war was also a success. Due to the novelty of many of the televised elements—satellite images of missile strikes, real-time footage of battles and footage from journalists embedded with US troops—the war became something like a hit TV show, especially on cable news networks. According to the American Journalism Review:

“Tens of millions of viewers tuned to war coverage on the major networks, according to Nielsen Media Research. Cable, with its 24/7 coverage, was a big ratings winner. A Los Angeles Times national poll in early April showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans were getting most of their news about the war from cable. The Nielsen data showed that the number of average daily viewers for MSNBC and CNN increased more than 300 percent, while those for Fox rose more than 288 percent during the first two weeks of the war. Fox was the most-viewed cable news channel, averaging 3.3 million viewers per day. The highest-rated news program was “NBC Nightly News,” with more than 11.3 million viewers.

(www.lehigh.edu/~jl0d/J246-06/Iraq%20War%20TV-AJR.htm)

In the end, the media’s push for war greatly benefited news organizations financially.

If we assume the news media is following the Combined Model, the American media’s WMD reporting show us how thoroughly a news story can get stage-managed by those in power. In this case, the free press roles were overwhelmed by the propaganda role (gain consent for war) and commercial role (make a profit).

The WMD reporting debacle highlights the importance of the news media in the US and also its shortcomings.

7. Lack of Trust in the News Media

At present, the mainstream press does not seem to be effectively fulfilling the five roles—information provider, gate keeper, advocate for change, watchdog and community platform—of the Free Press model. Consequently, trust in the news media in countries like America is extremely low.

If trust in the media falls further, what will happen? Will the traditional news media become redundant?

8. The State Model

Let’s look at one more mass media model.  In a country like China, which has a socialist and authoritarian government, the mass media follows a completely different model—I will call it the State Model—and in this model, the news media has two main functions that do not exist in the Free Press Model.

  1. First, the news media serves as a channel for the government to directly communicate its philosophies, plans and policies to its citizens.
  2. Second, the news media serves to promote unity, social stability, desired social values and social harmony

The other five roles—keep the public well-informed, act as a gatekeeper, promote social change, serve as a watchdog and provide a platform for citizens to express their opinions—are still there, but they are subservient to and cannot be separated from the above two main functions. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, when the Chinese government was trying to pull the entire nation together, you wouldn’t find newspaper articles questioning government-mandated measures such as wearing masks and locking down entire cities of millions of people. 

In this news media model, the watchdog role is limited. The media in China can report on corruption, but only up to a point—and definitely not if the central government thinks that the reporting might lead to social unrest. 

The ‘shining a light’ role is also different from that in the Free Press model. Generally, the government in China finds out about problems via social media and through the various channels in which it collects direct feedback from its citizens. The government then decides how to address those issues, and then the media reports on what the government is doing or plans to do to solve the problem (and how citizens can help).

If you look at the news media in China and evaluate how well it functions according to the Free Press Model, you will see that it fails spectacularly. For example in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders (rsf.org/en/index), China ranked 175th out of 180 countries. However, you need to bear in mind that it is a completely different model. If you ranked the American news media on how well it promoted unity, social stability and social harmony, it would also rank very poorly indeed (It is also important to bear in mind that although Reporters without Borders claims to be independent it is largely funded by European governments and organizations like NED (the National Endowment for Democracy) and George Soro’s Open Society Foundation).

This State Model is not unique to China. For example, Singapore, which is a democracy, also has a tightly-controlled news media with a lot of emphasis placed on maintaining harmony between the country’s many different racial and religious groups. In addition, in the State Model, news publications are less uniform than one may think, with some publications leaning more towards political propaganda and others leaning more towards infotainment.

As the Chinese government has a lot of control over the media, does that mean the Chinese people are brainwashed? No. This is where a lot of observers get things wrong. The main point is that people in China understand that their media is following a different kind of model—and they are fully aware that some topics may be censored, that some information may be suppressed and that the information that is reported in the news is the information that the government wants reported. As a consequence, readers and viewers in China tend to be skeptical of the mass media.  Chinese writer Ren Yi states: 

“The truth is, people who live in a somewhat sophisticated authoritarian society, like China or the Soviet Union of the recent past, are more likely to have developed a cognitive condition better understood as cynicism – a proclivity for denial, rejection, doubt and non-belief, unless such information is checked and somehow verifiable. This actually makes them much more suspicious to one-way information, especially when it’s backed by the government.”

(www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3034211/mainland-chinese-who-oppose-hong-kongs-protests-arent-brainwashed)

Ren Yi goes on to point out that to find out about what is going on, instead of relying only on official state media, Chinese citizens will access different sources of information, such as:

  • Internet chat rooms and other social media platforms
  • Western news sites that are not blocked by China’s ‘great firewall’
  • Western news sites and social media platforms that are blocked in China (but that are still accessible using VPNs—Virtual Private Networks—which are used by many people in Mainland China)

However, if Chinese netizens visit a site like CNN or the BBC, they also tend to carry that skepticism and suspicion with them, and they will not automatically assume that whatever CNN and the BBC is reporting is the complete, unbiased truth. To them, the official mainland China news organizations have their preferred narratives, and news organizations like CNN or the BBC also have their own preferred narratives. 

You might be wondering about the differences between the State Model and the Propaganda Model. In the State Model: 

  • Major corporations, wealthy media moguls, advertisers, sponsors and religious sects don’t have much, if any, influence.
  • The fact that the government controls the media is explicit and well known. There is no pretense of having a completely free and independent press.
  • There is much more emphasis on social harmony (with the avoidance of anything that might sow discord).       
  • Deliberate misinformation appears to be very uncommon. This is likely because if fake news is discovered, as it almost certainly will at some point, such a discovery will damage the government’s credibility. In the State Model, information may be withheld or presented in an overly positive light, but it is not normally completely fabricated.

Consequently, though people in China recognize that the official media is biased, they still tend have trust in it. In the previously mentioned Edelman Trust Barometer 2022, the figure for trust in government reported by Chinese respondents—80%—was the highest among all the countries surveyed (see the following charts).

From Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 (www.edelman.com/trust/2022-trust-barometer)

There is a joke amongst Chinese netizens that goes along the lines of:

Chinese person: I’ve come to the US to learn how to do propaganda.
American person: But we don’t have propaganda in America.
Chinese person: Exactly! That’s what I want to learn!

The State Model of the news media would likely be incompatible with a liberal democracy as it would be at odds with the principle of free speech and it would severely weaken one of the checks and balances that are important in western democracies. However, it may suit societies that place more emphasis on social harmony and unity.

8. Conclusion

Press at the Hong Kong protests (2019)

Which model is better? Personally I prefer the Free Press model as it allows for a wide variety of different views to reach the general public. However, how well do news organizations in countries like the US, Britain and Australia, actually follow the Free Press Model? Does the Free Press Model really exist or is it just an unobtainable ideal?

Another important question is whether some models work better in some societies. Is it possible that the Free Press Model is preferable in some societies while the State Model may be preferable in other societies? Therefore, rather than asking which model is the best, we may need to ask which model works best for that society.

Even if we go for the Free Press Model as an ideal system, we need to understand that media organizations do not always perform their roles effectively and responsibly. They often fall far short of the ideal. Thus, as news consumers, we have to be more skeptical of the information being presented to us by the mass media. We need to become wiser consumers of the news, we need to seek information from as wide a range of sources as possible and we need to push news organizations to better live up to the ideals of a free press.

If we accept that the Combined Model to be the norm—where everything in the news is on a continuum somewhere between objective truth and absolute dishonesty—how do we know what news to believe? How can we expect people to trust the media? And how do we give young people the skills necessary to identify bias and misinformation in the news media?  These are three important questions for us to consider.

Photos

I took the black-and-white photos during protests in Hong Kong. You can see more photos and read about the protests in my articles:

Your Thoughts

Feel free to leave a comment below. Did I leave any points out? Do you have any examples of obvious bias? Which model best represents the press in your country?


~ by longzijun

writing

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Weathering With You: The Ending Explained

As I will be explaining the ending of Weathering with You (天気の子, Tenki no ko)—the 2019 anime directed by Makoto Shinkai—there are SPOILERS EVERYWHERE.

The movie is a romantic fantasy about a runaway teenage boy, Hodaka , who meets a girl who has the power to control the weather. The girl, Hina, has a chosen-one role. She is meant to save Tokyo from a non-stop deluge of rain by using her powers and sacrificing herself, thereby restoring balance to the world. Hina chooses to accept this destiny, but after she disappears from our world, Hodaka finds her and brings her back, dooming Tokyo in the process. At the end of the movie, Hodaka and Hina meet up again after three years, but much of Tokyo is now beneath the sea and there is no end in sight to the freakish non-stop rain.

In many of the reviews I have read, the writers stated that they found the decisions of the characters to be selfish and even immoral. 

I disagree, and this article explains why

Though Weathering With You also has themes related to love and the environment, in this article, I focus on  ‘choice’. Towards the end of the movie, the three main characters Hodaka Morishima, Hina Amano and Keisuke Suga all face tough choices that end up not only altering their lives but also changing the world. In my opinion, the movie is mainly about the choices we make and how those choices affect us (and the people around us).

How does the Weather Maiden magic work in Weathering With You?

Weathering With You: The Sky Realm

The movie Weathering With You employs a soft-magic system (i.e., one with vague, non-defined rules). It is not clear how Hina’s sunshine-making powers work. However, it is evident that there are greater forces at work—a god, gods or beings with technology so advanced that to humans it appears to be magic.

Let’s call them the External Forces

There are quite a few clues about the nature of the magic system in Weathering With You.

  1. Weather maidens can change the weather in a limited area for a short period of time. Hina uses her power via prayer.
  2. Weather maidens appear when there are extreme imbalances in the weather, and their purpose is to restore balance by sacrificing themselves. 
  3. Due to the legends about weather maidens that are mentioned in the film, we can assume that weather-maiden interventions happen from time to time. However, since little is known about weather maidens, these interventions must be rare.
  4. Weather maidens seem to acquire their weather-changing ability by visiting another realm (let’s call it the Sky Realm). Hina first enters this realm by stepping through a red torii gate on the rooftop shrine of an abandoned building. The torii acts as a kind of portal, but getting to the other realm seems to require faith and determination.
  5. It is not clear if weather maidens are GIFTED their abilities or if they have innate abilities that are ACTIVATED.
  6. The External Forces can manipulate the actions of people. Hina was drawn to the rooftop shrine (i.e., the portal) when clouds parted and a ray of sunlight illuminated the rooftop of a single derelict building—the building with the rooftop shrine—in the middle of Tokyo.  Even though her mother was dying, Hina appeared to be compelled to leave her mother’s bedside and track down the destination of the ray of light.
  7. This ray-of-light scene also shows that the External Forces have at least limited power to control the weather. It would have taken a while for Hina to walk to that building, yet the single ray of sunlight remained perfectly in place.
  8. Although the External Forces have some control over the weather, they are either unable or unwilling to fix extreme imbalances in the weather. A weather maiden is required for that.
  9. The psychic interviewed by Hodaka and Natsumi divides weather maidens into two categories: those that can bring sunshine and those that can bring rain. Hina has the power to control sunshine, but she is also shown to be able to summon lightning. Therefore, she likely can control other types of weather phenomena. Therefore, the dichotomy (sunshine girls vs rain girls) mentioned by the psychic may be a false idea (as a single weather maiden probably wouldn’t have needed to deal with more than one kind of weather disaster). 
  10. Weather maidens are ill-fated. Through using their weather-changing ability, they will eventually be consumed by their power and will disappear into the Sky Realm, with the sacrifice of their physical body serving to ultimately restore balance to the weather. 
  11. The weather maiden’s sacrifice is not an appease-the-gods kind of blood sacrifice. Hina’s sacrifice is more of a transformation, and her spirit, essence or energy, which enters and then resides in the Sky Realm, magically restores balance.        
  12. As a weather maiden uses her power, her body slowly becomes translucent. This implies that the eventual sacrifice must be done willingly. The weather maiden, even after seeing the effect the magic use is having on her body, would need to still be willing to continue to use her powers in order for her to complete the transformation. It seems that weather maidens gradually come to an instinctual understanding of what is going to happen to them (and Hina also receives direct confirmation of her fate from Suga’s niece, Natsumi). This implies that the self-sacrifice must be done willingly AND knowingly
  13. When weather maidens finally disappear into the Sky Realm, this is shown to many people in their dreams, perhaps as a way of acknowledging the sacrifice made.
  14. When Hina follows Hodaka back to Earth, thus reneging on her ‘chosen one’ self-sacrifice, there is non-stop rain for three years with no end in sight but no further appearances of any ‘Sunshine Girls’. This implies that a weather maiden is a one-of-a-kind, one-at-a-time role.  
Weathering With You: The Rooftop Shrine

When did Hina get her powers?

Interestingly, Hina was given her gift (or had it activated) almost a full year before the weird non-stop rain really got out of hand. At various points in the anime, news broadcasts mention the exceptionally rainy weather of the summer when Hina and Hodaka meet, but the broadcasts don’t say anything about abnormal rainfall during the previous summer—when Hina gained her powers—or the fall, winter or spring leading up to the super-rainy summer. This implies that the External Forces somehow knew that a weather maiden would be needed in the near future and that it was time to find and prepare one.

Destiny vs. free will   

The role of the weather maiden involves destiny (in that a chosen one is selected to be sacrificed) AND free will (in that the chosen one needs to knowingly and willingly accept that role). 

What is causing the extreme weather?

Weathering With You: Rain

The cause of the extreme weather is never made clear. At times during the movie, the rain is completely unnatural, first appearing as a mass of water suspended in the air before suddenly crashing down to earth. Thus, there seems to be a supernatural cause (or co-cause).

One of the minor characters references global warming and climate change when she states how it is unfortunate that kids nowadays can no longer enjoy  a comfortable spring and summer in Tokyo. Therefore, global warming may be a contributing factor but is definitely not the only cause.

Is it possible that Hodaka is responsible for the weird weather? Even the scenes set on his home island feature rain, with the establishing shot of his hometown school near the end of the movie showing a flooded campus. Hodaka could be an ‘ameotoko’, a man cursed to have rain follow him around. However, during the three-years-of non-stop rain in Tokyo, he is back in his hometown. If he were an ameotoko, wouldn’t the epicenter of the rainstorm follow him back to his hometown? Thus, to me, the possibility that Hodaka is a ‘Rain Boy’ remains just that—a possibility.

The Tokyo weather is at its worst when Hodaka and Hina are most distressed—after Hodaka gets kicked out by Suga and after Hina and her brother face getting picked up by the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services. There are four possibilities here:

  1. It is pure coincidence. Snow with lightning in August, though? That seems to be too much of a coincidence. 
  2. The ‘emotions’ of the natural world are mirroring the emotions of the protagonists. This is an ‘it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night’ kind of literary device. This device is often used for dramatic effect in stories,  but the technique doesn’t suit a story in which one of the characters can actually control the weather.   
  3. The severity of the bad weather is directly caused by Hodaka and/or Hina’s emotional state. This is possible, but we don’t really see this cause-effect relationship in other scenes where the characters are distressed.
  4. The severity of the weather is influenced by the External Forces, who are seeking to raise the stakes and push Hina towards allowing herself to be sacrificed. 

I would argue that the fourth possibility is the most likely explanation. This is because we have already seen the External Forces manipulate the weather in order to draw Hina to the portal/torii. This possibility raises an important question (one that I will come back to later in this article): to what extent are the External Forces manipulating events and people?   

Hodaka’s Choices

Weathering With You: Hodaka

About Hodaka: Hodaka Morishima is a 16-year-old runway from a small island town. He never reveals exactly why he ran away other than he wants nothing more to do with his hometown or his family. When we first see him, he has three bandages on his face. At first, I thought that he may have been the victim of bullying, but the dislike and disregard he feels for his family suggest that the bruises may have been the result of child abuse. For the first part of the movie, Hodaka is mainly concerned with survival as he is forced to live in the streets. However, after he establishes a business and close friendship with Hina and her brother Nagi, the thing he wants most is to just maintain that. He prays to the gods that the three of them be allowed to keep what they have—nothing more, nothing less.

Weathering With You: Nagi, Hina an Hodaka

As a decision-maker, Hodaka is sometimes full of doubt and sometimes impulsive.

He can be very indecisive when it comes to little things. When he is trying to decide what to buy for Hina for her birthday, he asks for advice from Yahoo Help, Suga’s niece Natsumi and Nagi. Even after spending a few hours at a department store jewelry counter picking out a ring (following Nagi’s advice), he is still unsure if he made the right choice. 

However, he makes big, life-altering decisions without much thought about the possible consequences. It is only after he arrives in Tokyo as a runaway, for example,  that he asks (via Yahoo Help) where a 16-year-old runaway might be able to find work. 

Towards the climax of the movie, when Hodaka wakes up after Hina’s disappearance and realizes what has happened, he makes a world-altering decision to try to save her without considering:

  1. Whether it is even possible to change anything  
  2. Whether it would better to respect Hina’s decision to allow herself to be sacrificed
  3. Whether it would be better for the world if Hina be allowed to sacrifice herself to prevent a natural disaster

When he rushes off to save Hina, he is just acting on instinct and is not considering the consequences. It is only through his sheer determination (and disregard for his own safety) that he gains access to the Sky Realm and brings Hina back to Earth. 

He manages to save Hina, but heavy rain returns to Tokyo and never stops, leaving much of the city underwater after three years. During that time, millions of people would have lost their homes. It is not mentioned in the movie, but there would have been trillions of dollars of damages and there likely would have been deaths due to flash floods and landslides.  

Wouldn’t it have been better to sacrifice one girl to save a city of over 9 million people from disaster? Wasn’t his decision selfish? Is a teenage crush really that important?

However, if he had accepted Hina’s sacrifice, would he have been able to live with himself? When Nagi urges Hodaka to save Hina, he accuses Hodaka of being responsible for her disappearance. Nagi isn’t entirely wrong.

  • Hodaka was responsible for hastening Hina’s sacrifice/disappearance by starting the 100% Sunshine Girl business that made her frequently use her weather-changing ability.
  • When Natsumi brought Hodaka to the first interview with the psychic (before Hodaka and Hina had established their friendship), the psychic told them that weather maidens risked being consumed by their powers if they used their abilities too much. It is not clear whether Hodaka forgot about that warning or whether he played down the risk. In any case, he mostly ignored the warning. Although he was the one who eventually stopped the sunshine-bringing service, it was too late. 
  • The night she disappeared, Hina asked Hodaka if he wanted the rain to stop. Not fully understanding what Hina was asking, he replied that he did, an answer that only served to push Hina a little further toward accepting her sacrifice. 

In a best case scenario, if Hodaka had decided to let Hina go, he would have ended up like Suga (i.e., the version of Suga that was presented for much of the movie)— broken-down and barely functioning. There are a couple of times in the movie when Natsumi compares Hodaka to a younger Suga and says how similar they are. The broken-down version of Suga represents a potential future version of Hodaka   

In a worst case scenario, Hodaka literally wouldn’t have been able to live with himself. Tokyo would have survived unscathed, but he wouldn’t have.

In the drowned Tokyo at the end of the movie, Hodaka meets Suga, who, seemingly sensing Hodaka’s discomfort, tells him not to worry because the world has always been crazy.  Similarly an elderly woman tells him that much of what is underwater now was underwater two centuries earlier.

However, at the end of the movie, Hodaka finally understands that he instinctively made the right choice—not because the consequences weren’t severe— but because it was his choice to save Hina and in doing so, he kept to his wish for the three of them—himself, Hina and her brother—to keep what they had, nothing-more, nothing less. That was the only choice that would have allowed him to live with himself afterwards.  

Suga’s Choices

Weathering With You: Suga

About Keisuke Suga: Suga has a certain amount of rough charm that disguises the fact that his life is a mess. After the death of his wife, he not only lost custody of his daughter, but he has to beg just to be able to visit her on rare occasions. It appears that he doesn’t even have visitation rights. It is never revealed what happened to him, but the situation implies that he became such a wreck after his wife died in an automobile accident that he could not be trusted to take care of his daughter. He drinks heavily, his home-office is a mess and he barely works. The thing he wants most is to regain custody of his daughter. He is willing to make some changes to his life—such as giving up smoking (as keeping the habit would be harmful to his asthmatic daughter)—to accomplish this, but he is clearly struggling. 

Weathering With You: Hodaka, Suga and Hina

Suga helps Hodaka quite a lot, but when the police come to his home and tell him that they are trying to find Hodaka and that they may consider him a suspect in his kidnapping, he decides to cut ties with the teenager. He gives Hodaka a wad of cash and tells him to leave. This is incredibly bad timing, as at that moment everything is falling apart for Hodaka, Hina and Nagi. The police are closing in on Hodaka while Hina and Nagi are about to be taken in by the Japanese equivalent of Child Protective Services. Suga—the one person who might be able to help them—turns his back on them.     

Suga’s decision is reasonable. The thing he wants most in life is custody of his daughter. Harboring a sixteen-year-old runaway (who is also wanted on a firearms offence) would bury that dream.

He does what he thinks is best—cutting himself off from Hodaka—and then immediately tries to drown his regret in alcohol and he starts smoking again.   

The next morning, he is chastised by Natsumi, and when the police inform him of Hodaka’s escape and Hina’s disappearance (and he sees that sunshine has finally returned to Tokyo), he realizes the gravity of the situation and can’t hold back his tears. 

He changes his mind and decides to help Hodaka, intercepting him at the building with the rooftop shrine. His main concern here seems to be to get Hodaka to not attempt to save Hina, but instead to return to his parents.

However, after seeing Hodaka’s single-minded determination and then seeing the teenager getting manhandled by the police, Suga tackles the officers, allowing Hodaka to make his way to the rooftop. Suga will face a ton of trouble for doing that. This is a strange about-face as there is little chance of Hodaka being able to do anything that can change what has happened, while Suga himself is throwing away his chances of gaining custody of his daughter. 

So was it the wrong decision?

By standing by Hodaka, Suga is deciding that rather than focusing solely on trying to win custody of his daughter, he should focus instead on trying to be the kind of man deserving of winning back custody. 

At the film’s close, three years later, he is much more ‘together’. His business is doing well and he appears to have more access to his daughter (if not outright custody).

Had Suga stuck with the original plan—abandoning the three kids to their respective fates—would he have been able to live with that decision? Would he have gotten his life back together? 

He eventually made the only choice that would have allowed him to live with himself and that would help some of the people he cared about, though it took him some time to get there.      

Hina’s Choices

Weathering With You: Hina

About Hina Amano: When Hodaka meets Hina, she is a 15-year-old pretending to be 18. After the death of her mother a year earlier, and with her father not in the picture at all, Hina’s main goal is to take care of her younger brother—to keep what little is remaining of their family together.  She will do whatever it takes. She is fired from McDonald’s (possibly for lying about her age) and needs money to raise her brother, so when a sleazy man tries to recruit her to become a nightclub worker, she doesn’t resist very strongly. Without Hodaka’s intervention, who knows what would have happened? 

Hina initially chooses to accept her fate as a weather maiden—to disappear from the world in return for the weather to return to normal. 

After every prayer for sunshine, part of her body becomes translucent (something not fully revealed until quite late in the movie), yet she persists with her 100%-Sunshine-Girl job as she can see the happiness she brings to others. 

She keeps her deteriorating physical condition a secret from Hodaka and Nagi—likely to spare them from worry and to also ensure they wouldn’t interfere. She would have known they would have strongly opposed her and would have stopped their 100% Sunshine Girl service immediately if they had known about her condition. She also lies to Hodaka about her age—saying she is nearly eighteen—two years older than he is—when really she is only fifteen. This likely had the effect of making Hodaka less protective of her.

She seems to know instinctively that she will eventually disappear and she later gets confirmation of this from Natsumi. In her last conversation with Hodaka before she disappears, it is clear that she is resigned to fulfilling her destiny. She even asks Hodaka to take care of Nagi once she is gone. However, it is clear from her sadness that her self-sacrifice is something she is willing to do but is not something that she really wants to do. 

Her initial choice was not wrong. After all, she would have saved Tokyo. However, it would have come not only at the expense of her own life, but also would have deprived Nagi of her care and also of any good that would come from her own future life (and those of her potential descendants).

Sure, If the weather had returned to normal after months of non-stop rain, everyone in Tokyo would have been ecstatic…for a day or two. 

Sure, she could have prevented the flooding of Tokyo’s flooding problem, but Tokyo wouldn’t suddenly turn into a paradise of never-ending happiness.

At the end of the movie, the city is largely underwater, but life somehow still goes on for its residents. 

And it still goes on for Hina, who kept to what was her main goal all along—to raise her brother and keep whatever little was left of their family together.

Coincidence or Intervention?

Was it really Hina’s own choice to sacrifice herself or had she been manipulated by the External Forces into believing her sacrifice would solve everything? 

If I were a god and looking to recruit a weather maiden to help return balance to the world, she would be an ideal candidate for the job—naïve, relatively easy to influence, selfless, motivated to make others happy, willing to make sacrifices, secretive, soon to be without a parent or guardian to turn to for advice and emotionally fragile due to the impending death of her only parent. With the right incentives and a little push here and there, this is the kind of person who would be willing to make the sacrifice that I required.

In this movie, it is unclear what is coincidence and what is guided by the External Forces. However, a lot of events seem to lead directly to Hina choice to sacrifice herself:

  1. Hina seeing the shaft of light while she was at her mother’s deathbed–a light which seemed to draw her towards it.
  2. Her transformation into a weather maiden a year before a weather maiden was actually required.
  3. Hina finding someone—Hodaka—that knows about weather maidens and who might encourage her to use her powers and experience the happiness she could bring to others.
  4. Hina coming to understand and accept the tragic fate of weather maidens.
  5. Hina suddenly facing the prospect of losing Hodaka (who was thrown out of Suga’s home and was being hunted by police) AND losing her brother (about to be taken in by Child Protective Services) AND losing her freedom AND losing her home.       
  6. The sudden intensifying of the storm, making the self-sacrifice appear all the more urgent. 

It is almost as if the External Forces are saying “Here are your powers! Doesn’t it feel great to help others! You have the power to help everyone! Doesn’t that make you happy? Doesn’t that bring you satisfaction? Just let go. There isn’t anything left here for you anyway!  Your mother has passed away. Your brother will be taken away! Hodaka will be taken way! Your home is gone! Look how bad things are getting now! People are suffering! You have the power to help everyone! You can save them! Use your power! Save them!”

Spoilers for Donny Darko

The above situation is similar to what happens in the film Donnie Darko. In that movie, a teen is given powers that he must use to restore balance to the universe. However, it will require his sacrifice. Throughout the movie, external forces work to (1) encourage him to learn how to use those powers, (2) make him understand the need to make that sacrifice and (3) weaken his emotional ties to the world by doing things like having the girl he loves get killed.

End of spoilers for Donny Darko

In Weathering With You, there are lots of incredible coincidences: 

For example, Hodaka just happens to be saved from A SUDDEN EXTREME WEATHER event by Suga, who publishes OCCULT articles (despite having no belief in the supernatural) and who sends Hodaka and Natsumi (for his first job) to a psychic who informs the pair about WEATHER MAIDENS just before Hodaka finds out that Hina (the girl who gave him a Big Mac earlier and whom he recognizes when he SEES HER AGAIN, this time being dragged towards a nightclub by the SAME GUY who had pushed him out of a doorway, an act that led Hodaka to finding the revolver, which he then uses when rescuing Hina) is a WEATHER MAIDEN. 

You can interpret the events of the movie as a string of amazing coincidences. However, you can also view the events as at least partially the machinations of External Forces influencing things in order to come up with the required voluntary sacrifice of a weather maiden.

In this second interpretation, Hina’s initial choice to sacrifice herself is largely the result of manipulation. Her decision to return to Earth would reflect her true desire to live her own life, take care of her brother and be with people who care for her (her original goals)—a decision which the External Forces appear to respect by allowing her to return.

Thus, she makes the choice she feels is best for herself and the people around her and which is a choice that she can live with.

In this interpretation, Hodaka isn’t disrespecting Hina’s wishes; he is helping her rediscover her own true will. 

The Main Theme

Weathering With You: Hina and Hodaka

To sum up, when it comes to the main characters’ final choices in Weathering With You,  it is not a question of selfish desires versus the greater good. It is more about the individual characters making decisions:  

  • that help those around them, those they care about 
  • that they can live with in good conscience
  • that reflect their true goals.

I would argue that this is the best that we can expect of anyone and of ourselves. 

In Weathering With You:

  • Suga chooses to become a man worthy of regaining custody over his daughter
  • Hodaka chooses to make up for his mistakes and preserve the life of the one he loves 
  • Hina decides to live her life and continue to take care of her brother and keep what remains of their family together.

Thus, I would say one of the the main theme of Weathering with You is: 

If we can care about the people around us and act according to our conscience, the world will be a better place and we will be better people.  We might not fix this crazy world, but it will become a better place little by little.

And that is good enough.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about thoughts about their decisions? What are your thoughts on the film in general? Leave a comment below.

IMDB Page: www.imdb.com/title/tt9426210/

~ by longzijun

writing

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YouTube: Reused Content and Monetization

Updated September 2022: In 2022, YouTube has become a less strict when it comes to monetization. In the past, most of the issues mentioned on this page would lead to monetization rejections 99.9% of the time. Now, however. YouTube is being more flexible so you can consider the information on this page as ‘things to try to avoid’ when applying for monetization.

Updated January 2021: During the past few months a lot of YouTube channels are have been demonetized recently do to something YouTube calls ‘duplication’ or (more recently) reused content. The main message to be taken from YouTube’s monetization review process is that in order for your channel to enjoy the benefits of monetization (which is a privilege not a right), you need to:

The issue of reused content (and duplication) is mainly related to this last point—whether you are creating enough content of your own.

1. Types of Reused Content

There are several kinds of reused content:

1.1 Reused content not involving copyright issues, but involving third-party content

The important thing to note is all of these cases, you would have the right to use content commercially. However, that right does not mean that YouTube has the the obligation to assist you in making money from those videos by allowing them to be monetized. YouTube states:

In most cases, even if you have licenses to use the content or your videos are protected by copyright laws, such as fair use, if the main purpose of your channel is to monetize other channels’ or sources’ content, then you won’t be eligible for YPP. You still need to be contributing to the value of that content in some way. Note: some of these videos may still be fine to remain up on YouTube! (Partner Program Reviews and Removals (including Duplication)

YouTube has stated that using third party content can be OK, but the key thing is what you do with it—specifically, what value you are adding to it. For example, there is some value in searching for the funniest videos involving falls. However merely finding them and stitching them together into one video would not be ENOUGH added value. You would simply not be bringing enough of your own content to the table.

Channels with the following characteristics may find it very difficult to have their channels approved for monetization:

1.1.1 Videos consisting solely or mainly of public domain work created by other people (e.g., public domain movie channels)

1.1.2 Uploads of copies (or minimally edited versions) of material previously published by other people under a Creative Commons license (this would apply to even the standard CC BY licence). For example, if you use a Creative Commons song from Incompetech (incompetech.com) or a song from YouTube’s music library (www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/) as a small part of a video about something else, it would be no problem. However, if your videos were merely that same song and a still picture, that would be considered duplication,

1.1.3 Videos over-reliant on things like stock photos and stock video (even though the channel owner may have licensed them for commercial use). Slideshow-style videos (a series of still images) are generally not monetizable even when commentary is provided.

1.1.4 Compilations of viewer submissions or compilations of videos used with permission.

1.1.5 Music promotion channels (e.g., channels based on sourcing songs online, getting permission to use them and then using them to create videos, usually with a photo and/or music visualizer for the visuals.). However, there is a recent case of a large music promotion channel—alexrainbirdMusic—getting demonetized for reused content. They mobilized their subscribers to fight for their monetization privileges to be reinstated and were successful. YouTube switched their monetization back on without any explanation. Other channels have not been so fortunate.

1.2 Reused content involving original content

The following may cause problems with monetization:

1.2.1 Different versions of the same video on the same channel (e.g., a ten-minute version and a twelve-minute version).

1.2.2 Many very similar videos on the same channel (e.g., Twenty slightly different videos of the same Finger Family song, a hundred videos of someone drinking water, etc.).

1.2.3 Videos that have been done to death already. A good example of that would be ‘learn color’ and ‘baby shark song’ animations. There are tens of thousands of these videos on YouTube already. They do get a lot of views, but children really need to learn more than what the videos are offering. Channels specializing in these kinds of videos are not getting monetized. The whole genre is now considered spammy. Another problem affecting these kinds of animated kids videos is that they are targeting toddlers while YouTube (and its advertisers) are targeting people 13 and over.

1.2.4 Videos that are simply too basic (e.g., if your videos are basically just text on a still image, the channel is very unlikely to get monetization approved). Slideshow-style videos (a series of still images) are generally not monetizable even when commentary is provided.

1.2.5 Videos generated automatically (e.g., using text-to-speech programmes to convert Wikipedia articles into the audio for a video or using a music visualizer to create the visuals).

1.2.6 Videos created using whiteboard-animation software.

1.2.7 Data visualization videos WITHOUT audio commentary what the data actually means.

1.3 Reused content involving copyright and trademark issues

These are more straightforward as the copyright issues mean the videos should not have been monetized in the first place as the uploader would not have the necessary commercial rights. In this list.

1.3.1 Channels that have copyright claims (the one exemption would be for cover version channels in which the performers supply their own background music)

1.3.2 Uploads of obviously copyright-infringing content that has not been claimed, including videos that attempt to evade YouTube’s Content ID system (e.g., mirroring and videos so that copyright infringement is more difficult to detect)

1.3.3 Mashup videos, DJ mix and music remix videos

1.3.4 Compilations without commentary (or with only minimal commentary) of other people’s videos (even if those videos have not been claimed by the copyright owners)

1.3.5 Gameplay video without commentary. According to YouTube’s policy on Video game and software content, “Videos simply showing a user playing a video game or the use of software for extended periods of time may not be accepted for monetization.” The issue here is for gameplay videos, the game developer typically owns the copyright to the footage, dialogue and sound effects. If you are just uploading straight-up gameplay, you don’t actually own the rights to ANYTHING in the video. If you are doing commentary, however, at least you would own the copyright to that one element of the video.

1.3.6 Reaction videos with minimal commentary

1.3.7 Narration of texts (e.g., stories, articles, news reports) written by other people (this would include an actual person narrating as well as the use of text-to-speech programs)

1.3.8 Live concert footage (and you are not the performer and/or do not own the copyright to the video)

1.3.9 Lyrics videos of other people’s songs (with or without the actual song in the video)

1.3.10 Fan-fiction or children’s videos featuring trademarked and/or copyrighted characters (e.g., Harry Potter, Thomas the Tank Engine).

1.3.11 AMVs

1.4 Possible other categories

Other channels have also reported having ‘re-used content’ issues. These include:

1.4.1 Audio podcasts. The issue is likely that the videos are mainly to be listened to (not watched), so if ads were placed on the video, they would go unnoticed by most viewers. I have heard of many audio podcast channels encountering problems with monetization. I have heard on one such demonetized channel—Southern Cannibal—getting monetization returned.

1.4.2 Channels with a lot of very long ambient content (e.g., a ten-hour fireplace video, an hour-long audio tone). These have the problem mentioned in 4.2 (focusing too much on the audio). In addition, the visuals often have the problem mentioned in 1.3 (an over-reliance on stock assets).

1.4.3 Channels aimed at toddlers. YouTube is intended for people aged 13 and above and the advertisements would reflect this demographic. If you are aiming for a really young audience, your content and YouTube’s advertisers may simply not be compatible. For this one, it seems that if you are aiming to monetize a channel aimed at little kids, you would need highly original, varied, creative and professional-looking content.

1.4.4 Narration of public domain works (e.g., audio books). There are two main issues. One would be that the videos are mainly to be listened to (not watched), so if ads were placed on the video, they would go unnoticed by most viewers. The other issue would be related to point 1.4 (an over-reliance on public domain work).

There may very well be other kinds of channels affected. I will update the list if I notice any more kinds of channels reporting duplication issues. Let me know if you think any other kinds of channels should be added.

1.5 Issues related to Community Guidelines and advertiser-friendly content

YouTube appears to be using ‘reused content’ as a kind of blanket reason for denying monetization, so it is possible the ‘reused content’ notification your receive is entirely unrelated.

1.5.1 Community Guidelines violations.  As mentioned at the beginning of the article, one of the purposes of the review is to check to see if the channel is complying with YouTube’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines. If a channel is breaking any of YouTube’s many rules (there are a LOT of them ranging from putting tags in the description to requiring people to subscribe to your channel in order to enter a giveaway to showing people how to modify ammunition), that channel  is unlikely to pass the monetization review process. I have a list of possible violations in my article on YouTube suspensions: Was Your YouTube Channel Suspended for No Reason? (A Guide to Community Guidelines-related Suspensions)

1.5.2 Non-advertiser friendly content. If YouTube decides the content is not advertiser friendly, the channel may be denied monetization for ‘reused content’.  Here are YouTube’s advertiser friendly guidelines: support.google.com/youtube/answer/6162278

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2. What about other channels that have the same content but are monetized?

If you are comparing your channel to other channels that seem similar, there are four main things to consider here:

2.1 Starting in November 2020, YouTube has been placing ads on channels that are not monetized. Therefore, if you see ads on a video, that no longer means that the channel is monetized and that the channel owner is earning revenue.

You grant to YouTube the right to monetize your Content on the Service (and such monetization may include displaying ads on or within Content or charging users a fee for access). This Agreement does not entitle you to any payments. Starting November 18, 2020, any payments you may be entitled to receive from YouTube under any other agreement between you and YouTube (including for example payments ​under the YouTube Partner Program, Channel memberships or Super Chat) will be treated as royalties.  If required by law, Google will withhold taxes from such payments.

https://support.google.com/youtube/thread/83733719

2.2 When the new monetization policies were implemented in 2018, older channels that already met the minimum criteria for subscribers (1,000 subscribers) and watch hours (4,000 hours in the previous 12 months) were grandfathered into the new YouTube Partner Program scheme WITHOUT a review. These older channels are slowly getting reviewed, and if they are not in line with the current monetization policies, are getting demonetized. There are many such ‘old channels’ that still enjoying monetization privileges because they still are awaiting review.

2.3 Sometimes YouTube monetization reviewers make mistakes and approve monetization for channels that should be ‘unmonetizable’. Similarly, I have already mentioned a couple of larger channels in this article that appear to have been given preferential treatment. If you have a lot of reused content on your channel, you can apply for monetization hoping for a mistake or preferential treatment, but the chances of the channel actually passing the review are close to zero.

2.4 Quality is also a consideration. I have noticed a lot of top-ten style channels having their monetization applications fail. They are quite similar to the channel WatchMojo in that they have relatively shallow commentary going on throughout the video. The main difference was that the production quality of the videos on those ‘rejected’ channels was not as good as Watchmojo’s. If your channel falls into the ‘maybe monetizable’ category (e.g., reaction videos or top ten lists) and your monetization applications are getting rejected, you can think about if you can improve your videos with:

  • better production quality (e.g., sound, cinematography, lighting, editing, transitions, etc.)
  • more original content (e.g., a more detailed and more original analysis of the ten things in a top ten video)
  • less reliance on reused content
  • more detailed descriptions (in order to give the reviewer more context to work with).

To sum up, you should really only worry about making your own channel as ‘monetizable’ as possible and not focus on comparing it to other channels.

3. What you can do

According to an official YouTube post (Partner Program Reviews and Removals (including Duplication),  you can do the following to improve your chances of getting monetization:

  • Add commentary or show your presence in your videos (voice or on screen)
  • Link back to your YouTube channel from your website
  • Provide more context about your work in your video and channel descriptions
  • Make sure the content on your channel aligns with [YouTube’s] policies. You can review: Community Guidelines, AdSense Policies, and YouTube Partner Program policies.

Here are my suggestions:

3.1 Beef up the video descriptions

The problem that is easiest to fix is when the channel is in line with everything that YouTube is looking for but the video descriptions don’t contain information about the actual production. For example, who shot the video? When? What model of camera was used? Where is the music from? What rights do you have for the music? Who are the other people in the video? If there is any third party content, where is that from and what rights do you have to it? If this information is in the description, the YouTube reviewer than can get a much better idea of what you have created, and what you own, what you have exclusive rights to and what you have some rights to.

3.2 Mobilize your supporters

I know of three channels—Southern Cannibal (audio podcasts of user horror story  submissions), alexrainbirdMusic (user music submissions) and VJ4rawr2 (movie parodies) that launched viewer campaigns to get their channels reinstated—and were successful, while smaller channels with similar kinds of videos remained demonetized. Importantly, in all three cases, the monetization was switched on without any kind of notice coming from YouTube. In the latter two cases (I don’t know about the first one), the channel owners did not have to wait for the 30-day monetization re-application period. Monetization was simply switched back on.  This seems to indicate that some YouTube staff members have the power to help channels out at their own discretion.

3.3 Rethink the content and rebuild the channel

For many channels, the content simply isn’t going to be monetizable because of issues with the content of the video. If you have a channel like that, you need to change the format or accept that the channel is not going to be monetized. For specific kinds of channels, here is some advice:

4.3.1 Fair-use-style channels: You can minimize the use of clips and provide in-depth analysis throughout the videos. Good examples of fair-use-style channels are Vox, Nerdwriter and Wisecrack. it is important to accept that monetizing a video weakens any fair use claim, so there is no guarantee that your fair-use-style videos will be approved.

4. 3.2 Music promotion channels: You can choose to (1) do it for fun and not get monetized, (2) actually become a record label and sign artists, (3) really work on the videos (e.g., invite the artists in for recording sessions like the channel Paste NYC or Wood & Wires or 4.  Do music reviews in which only short snippets of songs are used.

4.3.3 Kids channels: It might be better to use adult actors, be sure to include a lot of variety and make the content educational. You can consider shows like Sesame Street, Barney, Blues Clues or the Wiggles as example of children’s programming. To be monetizable, a kids channel would have to be very professional and original.

Obviously, if there are videos that are causing problems, you will need to get rid of them if you want to get the channel monetized. However, you cannot just delete everything, upload a new video and get monetization approved. You will need to establish a strong track record with the new videos (in terms of number of videos uploaded, the watch hours for those videos the and subscribers gained from those videos). Also bear in mind that if you delete videos, the watch hours of those videos will still show up in analytics and you will still be able to apply for a review, but it is the watch hours of the non-deleted videos that will be examined during the monetization review. Similarly if almost all of your subscribers came from your deleted content, you will need to establish that your new content is also attracting subscribers.

4.4 Start another channel

In a lot of a cases I have seen, channels with a lot of views and subscribers would basically have to delete everything and start from scratch. There is no guarantee that if you delete everything and reload new content that your new content will be successful. You may simply end up sacrificing your popular videos for nothing. It might make more sense to leave that successful channel alone and start a new one. Who knows? Perhaps in future, YouTube will relax its monetization rules and the old channel will be monetizable again.

4.5 Simply forget about monetization

That is one option. You can either forget about money entirely and just work on videos for fun or you can look for sponsors and try to take advantage of crowdfunding (e.g., Patreon).


~ by longzijun

writing

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Was Your YouTube Channel Suspended for No Reason? (A Guide to Community Guidelines-related Suspensions)

Update 24 May 2022: YouTube has become much more politicized during the last two years, so people are seeing a lot of channel suspensions for things like ‘medical disinformation’ or for being ‘Russian-affiliated media’. The medical disinformation suspension can even apply to channels that are debunking COVID-19 related disinformation (but that include that wrong information in their debunking videos). Therefore, if you are doing pandemic-related videos, you need to be extra careful. Recently, YouTube has also been taking down videos that contain personal information. This has even affected channels where people uploaded completely innocent things like audition videos. Channels suspended for that have been given the ‘hate speech or harassment’ notification.

Update 20 November 2020: There seem to be a larger number of channels getting suspended (i.e., terminated) these past few weeks. Quite a few channels are getting terminated for ‘hate speech or harassment’ and well as for ‘spam’. Terminations for ‘hate speech’ used to be very rare, so the current increase in suspensions is unusual. I am not sure what is going on here as there has been no official changes in policy, but it seems that YouTube is cracking down on commenting.


Two of the most common questions on YouTube’s help forum are

  • Why did my channel gets suspended for Community Guidelines or Terms of Use violations?
  • How do I get it back?

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of some of the more common situations that lead to YouTube channel suspensions and terminations, especially those that come as a surprise. Suspensions are not done for ‘no reason’, basically there are three reasons

  • There really was something wrong.
  • There was a misunderstanding and the suspension was incorrect (e.g., YouTube reviewers mistook a list of supplies in the video description for a list of tags).
  • The videos (or other channel content) are in a grey area where a judgement call needed to be made (e.g., Is a thumbnail sexy or obscene? Is this really harassment?) and that decision, rightly or wrongly, went against you.

1. Suspension Basics

This is information about channel suspensions in general.

1.1 Duration of the suspension

Unless YouTube notifies you that the channel will come go back online within a specific period (e.g,. after three months), the suspension is permanent (so it is a ‘termination’ really).

1.2 Effects on other YouTube channels

Not only is that channel terminated, but all other channels associated with a particular user are also permanently suspended. This is one common reason for a channel suspension—once you have one channel suspended any other channel or account you have (or open after) that will be terminated once YouTube establishes that both channels or accounts are owned by the same user. These other accounts may be terminated immediately, after a short time, after long time or (if they are never linked together by YouTube) never. The main point would be that if you have more than one channel, when one channel gets terminated, all the other channels turn into unexploded bombs.  At any moment they could go off.

1.3 Types of Suspension

There are two different kinds of account suspension:

  • Community Guidelines Strikes, Terms of Service Violations and Other Issues (e.g., trademarks, privacy)
  • Repeated Copyright Violations

The rules for these are very different and you need to take different actions in order to recover your channel (for suspensions related to copyright infringement, you would need to get the number of copyright strikes down to less than three, either by contesting the claim and strike via a DMCA counter-notification or by having the claimant retract the claim). This article focus on the first kind of suspension; I will discuss copyright-related violations in another article.

1.4 Private vs Public Videos

It doesn’t matter whether your videos were public, unlisted or private. The same guidelines and restrictions apply.

1.5 Community Guidelines & Terms of Service: Strike System

Unlike copyright-related suspensions, which strictly follow a three strike system, suspensions related to Community Guidelines and Terms of Service violations can occur after three strikes or can be given without warning after a single violation.

Update March 2019: YouTube has revamped its system of Community Guidelines suspensions. These new guidelines came into effect on 25 February 2019. There are two main differences:

  • There is now supposed to be a warning before the first strike is given (However, this is not always true in practice).
  • There are increased restrictions placed on the channel as strikes accumulate.
  • More information is given to the channel owner about the actual alleged violation.

These should be welcome changes. However, channels can still be suspended after a single violation (e.g., for very serious violations) and this is not made clear in the changes.

This video, from YouTube addresses some of the commonly asked question about the new system:

2.  Appealing a Channel Suspension

There are several ways to appeal suspensions related to to community guidelines or terms of services violations.

2.1 Use the Appeal Form

The normal approach is to submit an online appeal: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802168 (click on the word ‘form’).

The appeal usually takes a few days, but you should receive a response within a week. It can take up to a month in some cases. If the suspension occurred during or after a holiday, the waiting time can be longer.

If the appeal fails, you will get a boilerplate reply. Of course, that is not good news, but you can try appealing again. You will have a much better chance of winning an appeal if you can directly address the problem you are suspected of having. Unfortunately, the notifications either sent to your email or posted on your channel page are usually very vague and could relate to any number of possible suspected problems. That can make it very difficult to guess what you are alleged to have done.

Contrary to what many people believe the decision to suspend a channel for community guidelines violations or terms of use violations is not automated. At some point, YouTube staff approved of the decision to suspend the channel. Therefore, if a channel is suspended, there is either a reason for it or there has been a misunderstanding. If there really was a problem, the appeal will unlikely succeed unless you can persuade YouTube that the problem wasn’t serious enough to warrant a termination. If there was a misunderstanding, if you can figure out what may have caused the misunderstanding and explain that, the appeal will likely be successful. This article also covers possible areas in which misunderstandings may have occurred.

2.2 Backdoor Methods

These methods are additional ways to get your case heard.

  • Several YouTubers have stated that they have gotten their channels reinstated because of interventions on their behalf from YouTube Trusted Flaggers on Reddit or Twitter. These include the Reddit/Twitter users known as TrustedFlagger Ben (now inactive), @Contributors_YT (now inactive) and LightCodeGaming. These people generally prefer to remain anonymous, but seem to have some influence over video strikes and channel terminations. The influencers I mentioned never actually explain how they can affect the review process and it is unknown how much influence they have, but many of them are quite happy to take credit for getting people’s channels restored. It seems they will become inactive after becoming well-known, so I suspect that whatever they are doing is not approved by YouTube. Still, if such backdoor methods exist, you can try to take advantage of them.
  • On the YouTube help forum, Andrew S. specializes in helping people deal with account terminations. He has helped several people get their channels restored. When posting on the forum mention ‘channel suspension’ and Andrew S. in the title.
  • You can try reaching out to YouTube via social media. For example, one YouTuber has claimed she was only able to get her channel reinstated by bringing her suspension up on YouTube’s Twitter account in India. More recently, the TeamYouTube account on Twitter has been quite active in dealing with these kinds of backdoor appeals.
  • If you are partnered with an MCN (multi-channel network), they may be able to contact YouTube on your behalf. As far as I know, however, MCNs won’t provide much assistance unless they consider your channel to be important.
  • If you are partnered with YouTube itself, you can try contacting partner support: support.google.com/youtube/answer/3545535. This would probably only be possible if you have already established a relation with partner support (n which case you could reply to the last email you received from them).

2.3 Scams

If someone asks for your log-in information (or other personal details) or asks you to pay a fee for help in getting your channel reinstated, that would be a scam.

3. The Most Common Reasons for Channel Suspensions

Aside from copyright infringement, channel suspensions mainly involve five areas:

  1. Going too far in attempts to attract views. This is generally related to the metadata (e.g., titles, descriptions, tags, comments, links and thumbnails).
  2. Going too far in attempts to influence metrics such as subscriptions, views, comments and likes. This often involves contests and promotions.
  3. Going too far in attempts to profit from the videos. This is often related to things like unrelated affiliate links, requests for money, trying to sign up YouTube viewers and pyramid schemes)
  4. Encouraging people to violate YouTube’s terms of service (e.g. linking to a YouTube downloader) or the terms of service of other social media platforms (e.g., demonstrating how to hack a Facebook account), software companies (e.g., providing links to cracked versions) or game publishers (e.g., posting videos showing game cheats or exploits) or to commit a crime, terrorist act or dangerous activity.
  5. Going into areas that YouTube wants to keep its site free from (e.g., pornography, fetishism, harrassment, hate speech, pedophila, etc.).

The first three areas are where most problems seem to occur. This is because YouTube encourages uploaders to make their videos search-engine friendly, build up a strong subscriber base and make money via their YouTube videos. When suspensions occur, it is often just a matter of the YouTuber going too far.

4. The Spam, Scams, Misleading Content Suspension

This particular suspension encompasses a lot of possible areas that are discussed at different points in the article. Such a suspension could be related to anything under points 6. 7, 8, 9, 11, 16. 18 and 20 as well as many of the issues under point 10,

5. Your Content

One common misunderstanding is that suspensions are only related to the actual video. However, suspensions may be related to:

  • The video content
  • Metadata (titles, tags, video descriptions)
  • Comments and messages
  • Playlists
  • Video features like captions, annotations and cards
  • Channel descriptions, channel art and profile pictures

The majority of suspensions would be for inappropriate video content or problems with the metadata. Suspensions related to other kinds of content, though not as common, still do occur

You may be wondering how a channel with only a playlist and no videos may have problems. Let’s look at one possible example. If someone assembles a playlist of young girls doing stretching exercises and names it “nubile cuties in leotards”, it is a kind of fetishistic content and can lead to a channel suspension even though the playlist itself is comprised of videos that are uploaded by other people and are perfectly in line with the community guidelines.

6. Attracting Views: Issues with the Metadata (Title, Tags, Descriptions)

YouTube is the 2nd most popular search engine and is owned by Google, which runs the most popular one. Therefore, YouTube is very aggressive in dealing with attempts to unfairly manipulate search results. Most of the problems in this area are referred to by YouTube as ‘spam’ or “deceptive practices” and fall under this policy: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973

6.1 Misleading titles

If the video doesn’t contain what the title says it should, that will cause problems. For example, if a video is entitled ‘five steps to happiness’ and it only contains someone saying “to find out the five steps to happiness, visit my website”, that would be considered a misleading title.

6.2 Click-bait titles

Some YouTubers find themselves in a Catch 22 when they use click-bait titles like ‘Free Cracked Gears of War’ or ‘Leaked Sex Tape of Hollywood Star’ . If the video has what the title suggests, it will likely be a community guidelines violation (due to inappropriate content). If the video doesn’t have that and the title is “just a joke”, that is a community guidelines violation, too (because of the misleading metadata.

6.3 Parodies, pranks and joke titles: Titles and description

If you are doing a parody, it should be labeled as such in the title. Similarly if you are doing a kind of prank ‘advice’ video, there should be an indication somewhere in the description or video itself. Channel owners who use joke title often find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. If they post a video with the title ‘My Sex Tape’, for example, if the video is not an actual sex tape, that would result in a channel termination (for misleading metadata) and if the video is a sex tape, that would result in a channel termination (for sexual content). The would be no way to successfully appeal.

6.4. Unrelated or only marginally related tags (new policy: this should no longer lead to suspensions)

The tags should represent what the video is about. Having unrelated tags can result in a strike or channel take down. A more common problem occurs with people using tags that are only tangentially related to the video. If you include ‘Jennifer Lopez’ as a tag, she should be one of the main points of focus of your video, not just someone who was briefly mentioned in one sentence.It doesn’t matter if tags are related to others videos on your channel. Tags should refer only to what is in that specific video. A good rule of thumb is: if someone searching for that tag word or phrase will NOT consider your video to be what they are looking for, the tag is likely inappropriate.

Update: On 15 February 2017, YouTube initiated a new policy at the video level. Now videos with unrelated tags, will be set automatically to private and channel owners will have the opportunity to edit their tags and then appeal to have the videos made public again (without a loss of views). Only one appeal is allowed. If that is unsuccessful, channel owners would have to reupload the video to a new URL. No strikes will be given. Although channel suspensions were not mentioned, it would appear that the use of misleading tags will no longer result in such suspensions. However, this has not been confirmed by YouTube.

6.5 Tags in the description

Stuffing a description with list of tags is simply not allowed.

6.6 Lists in the description: Possible misunderstanding

There is nothing inherently wrong with lists, but sometimes lists of things—e.g., songs in a medley, art supplies needed to create a project—are mistaken for tags; therefore, it is better to avoid long lists. If you think this sort of misunderstanding may have caused a community guidelines strike, you can explain the situation in your appeal.

6.7 Irrelevant descriptions

The description should be related to the video content, channel and/or the production of the video (including information about the participants).

6.8 Same description in multiple videos: Possible misunderstanding

As the video description should describe the video, having the same description in multiple videos can lead YouTube to conclude that you are spammily uploading near identical videos. This sometimes happens when people use the same description for a long series of videos in order to save time.

6.9 No or minimal description: Possible misunderstanding

One of the purposes of the description is to put your video in context–to tell someone reviewing your video what it is about. If the description field is left empty, someone reviewing your video doesn’t have that context. For example, a video of you trying on shoes as part of a haul video could be be reported as a foot fetish video. When the YouTube reviewers take a look, and there is nothing in the description to provide any context, they may decide the report is correct and take the video down.

6.10 Overly-sensational title, descriptions or tags

This problem can occur if you are trying too hard to attract views. For example, if you make an educational video about breastfeeding and include things like “hot moms”, “sexy” and “big t***” in the description and tags, you are clearly presenting the video as a kind of fetish video and not at all as an educational video. As previously mentioned, one purpose of the metadata is to put the video into context for anyone reviewing.

6.11 Unrelated links in the description

Links are fine, provided they relate in some way to the video (and are not referral links or affiliate links).

7. Attracting Views: Thumbnails

There are two common problems (these fall under YouTube’s policy on spam and deceptive content: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973

7.1 Unrelated thumbnails

If you are using misleading thumbnails as a kind of clickbait, that can be a violation as it would be viewed as an attempt to unfairly gain views.

7.2 Overly provocative thumbnails

The thumbnail should not only represent what is in the video, but should steer clear of nudity, fetishism and overly sexually provocative thumbnails. I came across a case recently in which the YouTuber had uploaded videos of females interacting with animals but had titled them and used thumbnails in such a way as to suggest the videos were really about bestiality. Clearly that would not be acceptable.

Also, together with titles and descriptions, thumbnails are another way in which you are telling viewers (and in the case of channel suspensions, YouTube reviewers) how they should interpret your video. Therefore, if your video contains sex or violence and you choose the sexiest or most violent shot to represent your video, you are in essence telling the viewer/reviewer what to expect and what your video is about. Therefore, if you video gets flagged for violence or nudity, an overly provocative thumbnail will harm your chances of getting a favorable decision.

8. Invalid Attempts to Influence Metrics

This would refer to schemes to boost thing like views, likes, comments and subscriptions. YouTube wants these metrics to reflect the viewer’s true wants. For example, YouTube wants people to subscribe to your channel because they are interested enough in your content to do so, and so that they can enter a giveaway

8.1 Giveaways and contests

If you force people to subscribe or comment on a video in order to be eligible to win, that would go against the guidelines on contests. A lot of channels do this, but that does not mean it is OK. Similarly, if it is found that you don’t follow any of the other guidelines on YouTube’s Policy on Contests (support.google.com/youtube/answer/1620498), that can also lead to suspensions.

8.2 Buying views, clicks or subscribers

It is against YouTube’s policy for channel owners to buy views (support.google.com/youtube/answer/3470104). This generally doesn’t lead to channel suspensions because it is next to impossible to prove. Usually, the only consequence are that bought views are rolled off, paid subscribers are cut away and monetization privileges are suspended. However, buying views, ad clicks or subscribers may still possibly lead to channel terminations.

8.3 Using viewbots, uploading bots or clickbots

The use of bots against YouTube’s terms of service. Of course, almost all third-party view providers will claim that they use real humans and not bots. However, if you use these services you are placing your trust in people running an unethical enterprise as well as they people they have contracted out to actually view the videos.

9. Money-related Issues

A lot of people look at the top YouTubers, who are able to bring in millions of dollars in every year, and want to use YouTube as major income stream. There is nothing wrong with that, but earning anything substantial from a YouTube channel is actually very rare, so sometimes people try too hard to squeeze whatever they can from their channels. This can lead to the following problems:

9.1 Affiliate links, referral links and ad.fly links in the description

Affiliate links are a grey area and Youtube has no clear official policy. According to YouTube’s terms of service, advertisements, which affiliate links are, are not allowed in YouTube content without permission. However, the general consensus is that one or two links are acceptable if:

  • They are directly related to the content of the video. For example, if you are reviewing a book, an affiliate link to the Amazon page for that book would be “related”. An affiliate link to the Amazon page for the shirt you were wearing in the video or the camera you shot the video with would not.
  • They are identified as affiliate links.
  • They are not shortened.
  • They are not at the very beginning of the description.
  • Adfly links and other kinds of commercial links are not used.

YouTube doesn’t like it if you are profiting by sending people off its site (which is why ad.fly links are frowned upon). If it feels the main reason for your video to exist is to earn money off of the links, your video may be taken down. For this reason, it is better not to start your description with an affiliate link (even if it is related) as it is sending a message to YouTube that this is the main thing you want people to see.

9.2 Links to non-approved fan funding and merchandise sites in the description (or video)

The list of approved sites, such as Patreon, is here: support.google.com/youtube/answer/6083754
If you request funding through some other means (e.g., via a bitcoin account), that can pose problems.

9.3 Cash for call-outs

Don’t ask people to send you money in exchange for a callout in a video. You are free to give call-outs to people who donate to your channel, but you are not allowed to state: give me a dollar and I will give your channel a call-out.

9.4 Videos that serve only as ads

Advertising is permitted on YouTube, but there should be some entertainment or informational value to the ad.

9.5 Videos that promote pyramid schemes and other kinds of scams

You should steer clear of any kind of scammy financial scheme as a video subject.

9.6 Links that send viewers to a sign-up or registration page

If you send viewers to your website, that is fine, but if the first thing the viewer sees is a pop-up window requesting them to sign up and leave their personal information, that may be construed as using YouTube as a means to harvest its users’ personal information.

9.7 Monetization without commercial rights

If you habitually monetize videos you don’t have the right to monetize, this can lead to a suspension of monetization abilities. Usually that is all that will happen, but there is the potential for a channel takedown of YouTube feels you are habitually abusing its monetization policies. Recently I have noticed several takedowns affecting channels with no obvious problems by all with the same profile: recent rapid growth, a large number of copyright infringing videos being uploaded and monetization of these videos.

9.8 Ad campaigns on your own monetized videos

This is kind of like paying YouTube to pay you. If you are going to run a campaign through YouTube to promote your videos, you should demonetize them first.

10. Encouragement to Violate YouTube’s Terms of Service, Violate the Terms of Service of Other Companies, Commit Crimes or Perform Dangerous Acts

10.1 YouTube Downloader links (or encouragement to use a downloader)

It is against YouTube’s terms of service to download videos without authorization. Therefore inviting viewers to download your video from YouTube (in the description, comments or video itself) via a third-party service would be encouraging viewers to violate YouTube’s terms of service. This falls under the policy on encouraging terms of service violations: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801981

10.2 Videos showing and links leading to software or game cracks, hacks, mods, cheats or exploits

YouTube does not want its services used to undermine other products. Videos involving cracks, cheats and hacks are never a good idea. Whether a video with mods is OK mainly depends on the policy of the game or software developer.

10.3 Hacking videos

YouTube is especially sensitive to hacking videos. Some people will argue that by posting the videos, they can help a company eliminate vulnerabilities. This is a disingenuous excuse. The best way to do that would be to reach out to the company directly and not disseminate hacking techniques on a worldwide video platform. Similarly, if you are showing people how to protect themselves from being hacked, is it really necessary to show in detail how to do the hack in the first place?

Hacking would generally fall under YouTube’s policy on circumvention of technological measures:support.google.com/youtube/answer/6156383

10.4 Hacking: possible misunderstanding

The word ‘hack’ alone simply being enough to raise a red flag even when used innocuously (e.g., top 10 life hacks) or in an educational context (How to keep your Facebook account safe from hacks). If you had the word ‘hack’ in your title or description in such contexts, you can explain your innocent use of the word in your appeal.

10.5 Dangerous activities: Challenge videos

People like watching dangerous things. In the past, however, TV shows and videos tended to include disclaimers like “These stunts were performed by trained professions. Do not try this at home.“ However, since the ice-bucket challenge proved popular, a lot of things that carry some minor risk are now being presented as a “Yeah, try this at home!” challenge The problem comes with challenge videos that by their nature encourage viewers (some of whom are young children) to do similar stunts. Some things look harmless, but have the potential to do harm, especially if done by young children. These include:

  • Cinnamon challenge (choking, asphyxiation, inflammation and scarring of the lungs)
  • Duct tape challenge could lead to suffocation if done by really young kids, could lead to head injuries if the ‘victim’ falls over (as they have no means to protect themselves from the falls)
  • Fire challenge (burns, obviously)
  • Alcohol challenge (alcohol poisoning)
  • Condom challenge (choking)
  • Cold water challenge (hypothermia and drowning)

Challenge videos are fall under YouTube’s policy on harmful or dangerous content (support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801964), though these guidelines do not specifically mention challenge videos.

10.6 Illegal activities and drug use

If you make a bomb-making video, don’t be surprised if it gets pulled. If you are teaching people how to make meth, that would also not be wise,Of course a lot of things are in a grey area. What about smoking marijuana and getting high on screen? Marijuana is legal in some places but not in others. How would that be handled? Is your video promoting illegal drug use or is simply educating people about the effects of a drug? Or what if the whole thing is an act and you aren’t really high at all? What if is just part of a short drama in which one of the characters gets high?

In any case, if you are shown to be getting high in your video, you may be forcing YouTube to make a judgement call. Scenes of drug use would be more acceptable in dramatic and educational contexts.

10.7 Links to inappropriate sites (e.g., pornography)

If you were to link to a pornography site, that could cause problems

10.8 Links to sites selling federally-regulated goods

It is advisable not to link to things like firearms retailers or websites selling pharmaceuticals, tobaccos or alcohol. Don’t link to sites selling cannabis and/or related paraphernalia.

10.9 Counterfeit and knock-off products

You should not promote counterfeit products. Even videos in which you are educating people about the differences between an authentic product and a counterfeit are risky as the trademark/patent owner of the existing product may not want a worldwide audience being informed that counterfeits of its products are available. The policy regarding counterfeits is here: support.google.com/youtube/answer/6154227

10.10 Dupes and alternative products: Possible misunderstanding

Another problem arises with YouTubers who make videos about legitimate products that can act as cheaper alternative to more expensive products. The problem occurs when the YouTubers themselves use ambiguous language (e.g., Dupes, which is a word derived from duplicate) or incorrect words (e.g., Knock-off, which implies a kind of patent infringement) to describe the products in their video. If you are presenting a cheaper alternative, just call it that.

10.11 Terrorism

Videos supporting and/or inciting terrorism are not allowed. This is covered in the policy on dangerous or graphic content (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802008)

10.12 Firearms and ammunition (certain restrictions apply

YouTube policies regarding firearms and ammunition are here. You are not allowed to upload videos showing things like how to modify and/or manufacture firearms, ammunition or peripheral equipment. You can’t link to sites selling firearms, ammunition or peripheral equipment. The policy page is here: Policies on content featuring firearms

11. Large Amounts of Repetitive, Unsolicited, Untargeted Content

YouTube refers to this as spam and it is under the policy on spam, deceptive practices, and scams (support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973)

One thing this policy would definitely refer to is copy-pasting comments and shamelessly promoting one’s own channel in comments sections, but this is usually dealt with by issuing a commenting ban.

Some channels simply upload things like photos of a product and an automated voice reading from a promotional brochure. Such a video would not offer any kind of value whatsoever and a channel full of them could be suspended.

Uploading different language versions of the same video would not be a problem. Uploading exactly the same video on another account would also not be a problem. Uploading the exact same video in several accounts, however, could be interpreted as spam.

12. Sexual Content, Nudity and Predatory Behaviour

YouTube’s Guidelines on Nudity and Sexual Content: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802002

Three is a lot of misunderstanding about this. Of course, being a family-oriented site, YouTube does not allow porn. When reviewing videos flagged for nudity or sexual content YouTube is not only looking at how explicit the video is, but it is also considering the purpose. As the guidelines state: “If a video is intended to be sexually provocative, it is less likely to be acceptable for YouTube.”

There are allowances for nudity and sexual material for artistic and educational purposes, but simply slapping an artistic or educational label on something doesn’t make it so.

12.1 Pornography

Obviously, it is not allowed.

12.2 Nudity

It is allowed to a certain extent depending on the purpose, though the video may be age restricted. For example, it may be allowed for educational or artistic purposes, but if the main reason for the video is sexually provocative for the sake of being sexually provocative, it may be removed and the channel associated with it punished

12.3 Fetish videos

A lot of people have turned to YouTube to explore their own fetishes or to earn money by exploiting the fetishes of others. Fetishes range from foot fetishes to emetophilia (sexual arousement via vomiting) to breastfeeding to beastiality. If the main purpose of the video appears to be to turn people on (sexually), it may violate the community guidelines related to sexual content though no nudity or sexual activity is shown. Some fetish videos are, such as foot fetish videos are not graphic at all, but would still be considered inappropriate.

12.4 Inadvertent fetish videos

These are videos that start off innocently enough, but attract a fetishistic audience. This becomes apparent in the content. For example, a guy may start of doing workout videos wearing only a pair of tight shorts in order to better show off his body. However, if the comments start becoming lewd (e.g. I love your package) and suggestive (e.g., “”Can you wear wet white cotton briefs next time?”), it can turn the video into a fetish video. The channel owner would have a choice: try to cool things off by disabling comments and wearing less provocative clothes or leave things be and and risk losing the channel.

12.5 Sexualization of minors

Children and young teens should not be presented in a sexually suggestive context. This would fall under YouTube’s policy on child endangerment (support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801999)

12.6 Inadvertent sexualization of minors

Similar to the above, a young teen running a channel may begin to pander to suggestive comments and requests not knowing they are sexual or fetishistic in nature and inadvertently create content that appeals to pedophiles.

12.7 Fetishistic playlists and playlists that sexualize minors

As mentioned earlier, it is possible for a channel to suspended based solely on playlists. If a girl uploads a video of her doing gymnastics in a leotard, that is just a gymnastics video.If someone comes along and then makes a playlist of such videos entitled “young girls stretching in leotards”, that is a lot creepier and a lot less innocent.

12.8 Predatory behaviour

This refers to adults trying to strike up relationships with minors online. This would be done via comments or messages. This would fall under YouTube’s policy on child endangerment (support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801999)

13. Violent or Graphic Content

YouTube’s Policy on Violent or Graphic Content: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802008

This only rarely results in channel suspensions. YouTube has a high tolerance for violence provided there is some kind of context (e.g., you are reporting on people being attacked during a riot), though it is likely violent and graphic videos will be age-restricted and made ineligible for monetization. If the main purpose of the video however, is to shock people that could cause problems unless your video was clearly fictional

14. Hate Speech

YouTube’s Policy on Hate Speech: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801939

It is actually quite difficult to get a channel suspension for this (Edit 2022: This has changed. Hate speech terminations are now much more common). You have to be actively promoting violence against or hatred for a specific group based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation/gender identity.

YouTube’s policy regarding hate speech lies somewhere between the American legal system’s anything-goes free speech laws and the hate speech laws of countries like England. Thus, some American find YouTube too controlling while people in other countries may be surprised at what is allowed.

15. Harassment

YouTube’s Policy on Harassment: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802268

YouTube is notorious for rude and ill-informed commenting. To a large extent this is allowed. There is a policy intended to protect users from harassment, but the action needs to be quite obvious and serious. If you upload a video of yourself, to a certain extent, you are pushing yourself into the public sphere and are open to the same kind of abusive comments that celebrities get. According you YouTube’s policy harassment MAY include:

  • Revealing someone’s personal information, such as their address, private email addresses, private phone numbers, passport number, or bank account information (Note: This does not include posting widely available public information, such as a public official’s office phone number)
  • Content that is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone
  • Content that makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person
  • Content that incites others to harass or threaten individuals on or off YouTube
  • Content featuring non-consensual sex acts or unwanted sexualization
  • Content threatening specific individuals with physical harm or destruction of property
  • Content featuring abusive or threatening behavior directed at a minor
  • Sexualizing or degrading an individual who is engaged or present in an otherwise non-sexual context
  • Content claiming that specific victims of public violent incidents or their next of kin are actors, or that their experiences are false

Some of the points in the above list are meant to deter Doxxing and other forms of online attacks. It is OK to negatively comment on another channel, but if you instruct your own fans to interfere with someone else’s life and/or YouTube channel,that would be going too far.

Another form of harassment would include actual threats (YouTube’s Policy on Threats: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801947)

Blackmail is another kind of harassing behaviour and is included in YouTube’s policy on scams (support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973)

16. Impersonation

YouTube’s Policy on Impersonation: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801947

If you impersonate another channel or user, YouTube may consider this a form of harassment and your channel may be suspended. Individuals can report impersonation to YouTube directly while businesses and organizations would need to submit a legal complaint.

17. Privacy

YouTube’s Policy on Privacy: support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801895

If you receive a privacy complaint, this usually will not lead to an immediate taken down. Usually, you would be given the option to blur the faces of people in your video. For a privacy complaint to be accepted YouTube looks at how identifiable the person is as well as how public they are. For example, if someone uploads a video clip of themselves to YouTube and you use a screenshot of that video, they wouldn’t get very far making a privacy complaint.

Privacy complaints would generally only lead to a takedown if there was malicious intent as well as an invasion of privacy (and this would fall under the policy on harassment (“Maliciously recording someone without their consent.”)

18. Trademarks

Generally speaking, if you are doing a product review, you do have the right to show that product in the video (it is a kind of trademark-related fair use). The two main things to avoid would be:

  • Making your video appear to be an official or officially endorsed release. For example, ‘’Revlon’s New Lipstick Line” is potentially misleading, whereas “My Review of Revlon’s New Lipstick Line” would be a lot clearer. Also, you should avoid using trademarked logos and slogans more than necessary (e.g., don’t use the logo in the thumbnail).
  • Showing the trademarked item or logo in ways that could bring the brand into disrepute.

Trademark infringement problems are generally resolved by removing or asking you to remove problematic videos. If the trademark problem is compounded by problems related to counterfeiting (see Section 9.10), that can lead to channel suspensions.. YouTube’s trademark policy is here: support.google.com/youtube/answer/6154218

19. Abuse of Legal Processes

This kind of termination is becoming more common. It occurs when channels

  • make false copyright claims (i.e., the channel owners don’t actually own the copyright to everything they are claiming)
  • make bad-faith counter-notifications
  • make false trademark complaints
  • include false information when submitting a copyright takedown
  • include false information when submitting a counter-notification

20. TOS Section 4 Part H (outdated)

This is the part of the Terms of Service that deals with bots (used for mass uploading,viewing and/or subscribing) and also with harvesting user data. However, it used to be relatively common for YouTube to send this notification of violations unrelated to anything in that section.

21. Ineligible Channels

As mentioned earlier, channel suspensions are:

  1. given to the user
  2. are permanent
  3. affect all channels managed by that user

Thus, if you don’t resolve a channel suspension and instead keep making new channels, the very existence of the channels would be Community Guidelines/Terms of Service violations and could result in their termination.

22. Buying & Selling Channels

This would violate the terms of service.

23. Mass Flagging

By itself, a mass flagging campaign against your channel, will not work. This is because reports are reviewed before strikes and suspensions are dished out. The problem is that many channels have one or more of the many problems listed above and it only takes a few “correct” reports to bring a channel down.

24. Avoiding Channel Suspensions

Basically you just need to to do two things. The first is to ensure your channel has none of the problems listed on this page and that you closely adhere to YouTube’s terms of service and community guidelines. The second thing to do is to use the titles, description and thumbnails wisely so that if any videos of yours are flagged, the reviewer knows exactly what they are looking at and exactly what you intended.


~by longzijun

writing

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An Interpretation of Jimmy Liao’s ‘The Blue Stone’

blue-stone-cover

Jimmy Liao (廖福彬) is a well-known Taiwanese illustrator and writer. His illustrated books, written for adults and teens, are full of the whimsical, colourful drawings you would expect to find in a storybook for children, but his bittersweet stories tend to involve deeper themes like loneliness, longing, fate and hopefulness and are open to very different interpretations.

He goes by the pen name 幾米 a phonetic translation of his English name (Jimmy). He began his career in advertising but after a harsh three-year battle with leukemia, In an interview with Paper Tigers (papertigers.org/gallery/Jimmy_Liao/: offline), he speaks of how this battle helped to shape his artistic vision

“Looking back at that time, I’d say the leukemia did have a huge effect on my creativity. My painting started to show a different sense: slight sadness, a feeling of alienation, and a sense of helplessness revealed through the joyful pictures. Many people told me that I had made a great improvement. I didn’t quite believe it. But now I have gradually come to realize that, in fact, I was able to release some real emotion in each book I drew at that time, and that therefore part of my personal style was established through that experience”

Warning 1. Spoilers EVERYWHERE
Warning 2. I am working with the English translation of the book, which has been simplified. The translator was told by her publisher to “take these Taiwanese books for adults and turn them into English books for children.” (papertigers.org/personalViews/archiveViews/SThomson.html: offline)

1. Introduction

In the story The Blue Stone (藍石), the stone of the title exists peacefully in a forest for thousands of years. One day, however, it is split into two and one part is removed from its devastated forest home, brought into the human world and repeatedly carved to suit the whim of its human owners. In different guises—as a statue, a pendant, a simple rock—it witnesses a series of losses: a lost child, the death of an old woman, the disappearance of a husband at sea, a loss of freedom and the end of a first love. With each loss, with each reminder of the pain of existence, it recalls and longs to return to its own home in the forest. And with each reminder, the stone breaks a little until nothing is left but dust. The dust is then carried by the wind back to the forest where it can again find peace.

blue-stone-breaks

If the story is to be interpreted literally as simply the imagined life of an object, is there much meaning to be found? What would the themes be—objects don’t care much about people, objects desire to return to their natural state, things happen to people?

If the journey of the stone represents, as implied in the full title of the story “The Blue Stone: A Journey Though Life”, something about life, it is a very bleak journey indeed. We are born, pulled unwillingly into the world, experience a series of losses, confront the pain of existence, crumble bit by bit and then die, returning to wherever it is that we came from.

Is this really all there is to life’s journey—we are born, we suffer, we crumble, we die? For the longest time, I couldn’t really come up with a good interpretation of the story. Surely there must be more to life than this. After a conversation with a couple of my students, it finally dawned on me. The story of the blue stone is a cautionary tale. It doesn’t represent how life IS or how it SHOULD BE; it shows how life CAN BE if we obsess over trying to reclaim something we lost, if we obsess over trying to go back to an ideal time—a time of innocence, a time of wholeness, a time when everything was OK. The story shows what can happen if we let ourselves get lost in regret, sadness, longing and heartache and fail to appreciate the beauty around us.

2. The Guises of the Blue Stone and its Failure

The stone goes through several different guises. Each time it breaks a little and the main part is reshaped into something else.

  • It is a stone in a forest. This is its original, whole state.
  • It becomes a statue of an elephant, a symbol of strength, but it is fragile. Simply longing for its home causes it to break.
  • It becomes a statue of a bird, a symbol of flight and freedom, yet weighed down with longing, it is too heavy to fly. It cannot even move.
  • It becomes a statue of a fish, a symbol of abundance, yet whenever it is near an abundance of love, care or joy, it sees only emptiness and absence and feels only loneliness and longing.
  • It becomes a sculpture of the moon, a symbol of dreams and ambition, yet it only looks back, longing to return to its lost home.
  • It becomes a toy cat, a symbol of companionship and care. It was carved into something to be loved and to bring comfort, yet it seems unable to care.
  • It becomes a brick, a symbol of creation and building, but it exists in a wall in a jail that imprisons dreams.
  • It becomes a ball twirling through the air, a symbol of innocent joy, but it remains oblivious to the joy it brings others.
  • It becomes a heart, a symbol of love, but it only feels its own longing and loneliness.

The different guises of the blue stone can represent its potential—to be strong, to be free, to enjoy the abundant beauty of the world, to dream and move forward, to care for and be cared for, to build and create, to bring joy, to love and be loved. There is purpose to its existence. However, throughout its life journey, the blue stone ignores its potential and instead always focuses on what it has lost—its tranquil forest home and its other half. It exists in a state of longing for an irrecoverable past. Its potential remains unfulfilled.

3. The Journey of Life

Let’s look at the different stages in the stone’s journey.

3.1 The Stone in the Forest

We can take the blue stone as representing one’s soul or spirit. At the beginning of the story, the blue stone “lies peacefully in the heart of the forest” for thousands of years. It is discovered by people who split it into two and one half is transported to civilization. In a sense, this represents a kind of birth. At birth, one is unknowingly pulled into the world from the womb and the physical connection to one’s mother—the umbilical cord—is severed. The splitting of the stone can also represent a loss of innocence. When innocent, one’s spirit is pure, whole and natural like the stone resting in the tranquil forest. Both events, birth and loss of innocence can be taken as starting points in life’s journey.

As soon as the stone begins its journey, however, “It longs for its other half. It wants to go home.”

But where is the forest home it is longing for? In the picture showing the stone being split and pulled apart, it is clear that the entire forest had been decimated. The stone is longing for something—a home—that no longer exists.

And what is the other half it is longing for? Every time the stone breaks, it appears that its consciousness remains with the largest part. There is no indication that the other parts are alive in any sense. The stone is not longing for a partner or for something like itself. It is simply longing to be whole again.

When we are born, we cannot return to the womb. And innocence, once lost, cannot be reclaimed. There is no going back. It is sensible to forever long for a time of innocence, for a time when everything was pure and natural, for a time when we were whole?

3.2 The Elephant

After being taken away, the stone is carved by a sculptor into a statue of an elephant that delights all who see it. The stone, however, seems oblivious to the joy it brings. One night, a lost child wanders by and asks the statue, “Can you tell me the way home?” The stone, confronted with this lost child—a symbol of lost innocence—starts to think of its own loss. It recalls the forest and longs to return home—to a place that no longer exists and to a time that has passed. “Its heart breaks a little” and it begins to crumble.

This is a recurring process in the book. The stone in transformed into something with a purpose, usually something that delights others, yet the stone itself remains oblivious to its purpose, ignores what it is capable of and focuses solely on its own sense of loss. Lost in melancholic regret and longing, the stone breaks apart piece by piece.

3.3 The Bird

The remains of the statue are used to create another sculpture—that of a bird. This statue resides in the garden of an old lady who every day “hobbles out to smell the flowers” and talk to the statue. The statue provides her with a kind of companionship, but this relationship does not seem to be acknowledged by the stone.

blue-stone-bird

Years pass and the old lady no longer comes to the garden, presumably because she has passed away.

When we lose our innocence, we tend to lose it little by little. One step in a loss of innocence is when we are first confronted by the death of someone we know—quite often an elderly person like a grandparent. We begin to understand that life is temporary. We begin to understand our own mortality. Nothing lasts forever.

3.4 The Fish

When the statue is found by the old woman’s grandson, it is already broken. The grandson carves the remains of the blue stone into a statue of a fish. Every day in this guise, the stone watches a young man sail out to see and return, welcomed by his sweetheart. One stormy day, the man does not return. He is lost at sea. His girlfriend waits in vain at the dock while waves “smash against the reef and the cold wind blows”. This can represent another step in the loss of innocence. It is one thing to come to understand that all living things will one day grow old and die; it is another thing to understand that fate is capricious. One doesn’t have to be old to die. Death can come at any time.

And quite often there is nothing we can do about it. Though the stone is shaped in the form of the fish, it can’t swim. There is nothing it could have done to save the young man.

blue-stone-sea

Confronted with the girls’ loss of her sweetheart—another reminder of the pain of existence—the stone recalls its forest home and longs to return.

However, once innocence is lost, there is no going back; once you understand the temporary nature of life and its innate fragility of life, you can never undo that knowledge.

blue-stone-sea2

3.5 The Moon

The remnants of the statue of the fish are found by divers who fashion it into something new–a golden statue of the moon. The moon can be considered  a symbol of dreams and aspirations that are beautiful and enchanting, but perhaps just of of reach. In its guise as a statue of the moon, the blue stone warms the hearts of those who see it. It brings joy into the world (much as it did when it was a statue of an elephant), but remains oblivious to the happiness it brings. It senses only its own loss. The stone continues yearning for its former forest home and breaks again.

3.6 The Cat

It is found by a group of orphans who ask a man to carve it into something new, something they can love. It is turned into a statue of a cat and is used to decorate an orphanage. Another stage in the loss of innocence is the understanding that the world is not always fair. Why should one child have a warm and loving family and another have no family at all?

The children and the blue stone together gaze out of the window “longing for a home they cannot see.” The children will likely never be reunited with the birth families, so the home they are longing for is somewhere else, anywhere they can belong. The home the children cannot see belongs to the future, and they will likely find their home one day. The home the blue stone cannot see, in contrast, is one from the past, one that is already gone.

On the pages where everyone is “longing for a home”, eight children are shown in the windows. In the next two pages, the statue of the cat is show alone in a large empty room staring out of the window at the candlelight glowing from each house. It appears that most of the children have moved on to be with new families, but the blue stone remains.

The orphanage will never be empty of children. There will be other children who can gain some small solace from the lovely statue of the cat. The blue stone has a meaningful purpose, but does not seem aware of this. It remains oblivious to the small comfort it can bring and. longing for its lost home, it breaks again.

3.7 The Brick in the Wall

It is then found by prisoners who carry rocks to build their own jail and is used as a brick in the wall of a prison cell. This prison can represent another stage in the loss of innocence: the realization that we are not totally free to do whatever we want. At first, we must meet the demands of our parents, teachers and friends. Later on we need to meet the demands of our employers and families. There are responsibilities and obligations which, if we aren’t careful, can imprison us. In the drawings of the prison, no jailers are depicted and no one is shown telling the prisoners to build the jail. They seem to be doing that of their own free will. To a certain extent, we also give up our own freedoms and dreams willingly. We may put aside “unrealistic” dreams and study hard to get into university to take a suitable programme to get a degree to get a good job to have a good life. In essence, we may end up building the prison that restrains our own dreams.

In the prison, every day a young woman weeps , perhaps due to frustration and regret at losing her freedom. Her grey cell can represent the daily grind of study and work that can consume our dreams. Every night, when she has a little time to herself, her dreams come alive a little and she sings, bringing the walls of her prison alive with color.

The stone, now used as one of the rocks in the prison wall, once again is reminded of loss—this time the loss of freedom, the loss of dreams—and longs for its own lost home. It breaks once again The young woman dreams of “slipping through the bars and flying free on the wind,” but she remains in the prison which she built herself. She does however toss the fragment of the blue stone out of the window as a gesture of her desire to be free.

3.8 The Juggling Ball

The stone is picked up by a clown in travelling circus. Now quite small, the stone is carved into a juggling ball. It is used in a performance that amuses and delights people. Once again, it is able to bring people joy, but once again the stone remains oblivious to the happiness it helps to bring and just feels its own sense of loss. It breaks in mid-air during one performance.

The circus can represent another stage in the loss of innocence—the realization that a certain amount of performance is required to get through life. We cannot always show our true face; we cannot always say what we really think. We learn to entertain and amuse. We learn to dress up and put on a show. We learn to jump through hoops to please people so that we can get what we want. We learn to juggle a dozen tasks at once. We learn to walk the tightrope between who we really are and what everyone wants us to be. We learn to perform. Life is not a stage; it is a circus ring.

When the stone breaks, the clown “carelessly.tosses the broken stone away.” The use of the word ‘carelessly’ is important. Why should one be careful with a broken object? The use of the word carelessly here reveals that although the stone is now but a tiny fragment, it’s essence still exists within that small piece and therefore that fragment is still of value. At his point, it is still not too late for the stone to change.

3.9 The Heart Pendant

The remains of the heart pendant are found by a dog, which brings it to a young boy, who carves and polishes the stone into a heart pendant which he gives to a girl–his first love. “The lonely blue stone lies over a heart warm with love,” but the love the stone witnesses only serves to remind it of its own loneliness, and once again it breaks a little. This is more obvious in the original Chinese passage, which could be literally translated as “The world becomes a beautiful flowery room, and the spring blossoms carpet the whole valley. Blue stone lies close to the young girl’s bosom, like a truly blissful heart. She has everything, but it has nothing.”

blue-stone-love

“And since first love rarely lasts, the girl’s heart breaks as well.” She throws the pendant away and it falls onto the railway tracks, where it is eventually ground into dust by the passing trains,

Falling in love and then losing that love are also stages in the loss of innocence. With first love, often come words such as “I’ll love you forever” or “We be together forever”, but we soon find that ‘forever’ doesn’t last nearly as long as we thought it would. Like life itself, love is also impermanent and fragile.

The girl, heartbroken and focusing on her own loss rather than fondly remembering the love that once existed, throws the pendant onto the railway tracks. The stone remains there and each passing train—like the dull, soul-grinding routine of each passing day—splits the small stone until only a few grains of sand are left

3.10 The Return Home

Now reduced to dust, the stone is carried by the wind back to the forest. The picture of the forest at the end of the story mirrors that at the beginning, but there is one key difference–a blue glow can be seen in one area of the forest at the beginning. At the end, there is just green forest. The energy emanated by the stone is gone. Its journey is over. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

4. Conclusion

By losing itself in longing, sadness and regret, the stone ignores its own value and its own potential. The stone itself has a positive effect on almost all who come into contact with it.

It delights visitors and audience members in its guises as an elephant, star and ball.
It provides companionship for the old lady and the children in the orphanage and is loved by them.
It shares in the love between the boy and the girl and between the young lady and the fisherman.

Throughout its journey, the blue stone is surrounded by love, care, warmth and joy, but the stone remains oblivious to all these and gets lost in its own loneliness and longing.

And what about the love, care, warmth and joy that the stone experienced or witnessed? All things come to an end, so none of these experiences can last forever, but that is not the point. The point is that they did exist and the blue stone was a part of them. Yet, the stone only seems to recognize the loss of these things because those losses resonate with its own sense of loss. It experienced so much of life, but the blue stone was unable to truly share in and treasure those wonderful moments of love, care and joy that were all around it. Consequently, it crumbles, its spirit diminished piece by piece until there is nothing left but dust.

It is an easy trap to fall into. When a relationship breaks apart, when someone we love leaves us, when we lose our innocence, isn’t it easier to feel the sharp pangs of heartbreak and loss than it is to treasure the wonderful moments that did exist for that short time? To dwell on those sad moments and to forever long for things long past is to miss the abundance of joy we can find on our own journey of life. The story of the blue stone, therefore, is the story of a life that is rich in experience but which is emotionally unfulfilled and spiritually empty. It is a story of lost potential.

Can we fulfill the potential of our own life? Can we truly appreciate all that life offers us—all the pain and joy, all the loss and love. And can we appreciate all that our life can give to others? Can we truly live?

~by longzijun

January 2015

writing

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Photo Essay: Hong Kong Protests (2014 Umbrella Movement)

At the barricade at the north of Tim Wa avenue (Admiralty)

This photo essay shows the day-to-day life of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong during the 79-day Umbrella Movement protests that took place in the autumn of 2014. During that period, protesters occupied streets in three districts in Hong Kong with the aim of reforming elections so that Hong Kong people would be allowed to vote for the territory’s top official—the Chief Executive—and for all the lawmakers (only half of which were directly elected).

I have another article—The Hong Kong Protests of 2019-2020—which covers the more recent protests.

At the time, news coverage tended to focus on tense confrontations between protesters and police. Footage of demonstrators fleeing from police and shielding themselves from teargas and pepper spray caught the world’s attention, but those images don’t represent the whole story. The aim of my photography was to try to present the individual people involved.

Young protesters at Admiralty

The protests were for the most part very peaceful. I visited the various protest sites around thirty times but never encountered any violence and only witnessed a few tense scenes.

Young protester at the Admiralty site

The nature of the protest changed day-by-day, hour by hour. During the evening, thousands of protesters might occupy the streets; but the next morning this might be reduced to a few hundred hardcore members manning the barricades as their comrades trooped off blurry-eyed to work or school after spending the night on the pavement.

The main protest site at Admiralty

What made Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests in 2014 so distinctive was the young protesters’ total commitment to non-violent civil disobedience—there has been no looting and almost no vandalism aside from chalked slogans on the pavement. Unfortunately, as the protests were coming to an end, a few frustrated protesters smashed glass panes at the entrance of the Hong Kong’s Central Government Offices, putting a blemish on what had otherwise been a remarkable show of restraint. Even the symbol of the protest movement—the umbrella—was one of resistance and protection rather than aggression and attack (this changed in the more recent protests of 2019-2020).

Form 6 (Grade 12) girl with umbrella

And this is ultimately what the protest was about—protection. Concerned about the growing encroachment of mainland China into the territory’s politics, media and social fabric, the student protesters maintained that in order to safeguard Hong Kong’s unique culture and identity, one of the most important measures was for Hong Kong citizens to have the freedom to nominate and elect its own leader.

Calling for universal suffrage

The Reason for the Protest

The protest started in response to the announcement by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on 31 August 2014 regarding the 2017 elections for the territory’ s top political post (the Chief Executive). The announcement can be summed up as: “For the first time you will be able to elect the Chief Executive through universal suffrage, BUT we will select all the candidates for you beforehand via a selection committee.”

Volunteers distributing tissue paper

That proposal was in line with the Basic Law, the document that is the foundation of the One Country Two Systems policy and which is supposed to guarantee Hong Kong a certain amount of autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. Article 45 of the Basic Law clearly states that there is a two-step process to the election of the Chief Executive, with one step being selection/election and the other being approval by the central government. However, many Hong Kong people, disenchanted with the performance of all three Chief Executives since the handover in 1997, had been hoping for greater say into who runs the territory.

The aim of the protest was to allow Hong Kong people greater say in the nomination of candidates for Chief Executive.

Many of the protesters are university students, but people from all walks of life are actively involved .
Andrew is a retired civil engineer who regularly attended protests at one of the three occupied sites. There was also a fourth tiny site on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, and he was there when that site got shut down. He said there were a only a handful of protesters there when they were surrounded by a large group of men who demanded that they leave. The protesters were told by police that it would be safer for the them if they left, so they did. Like many protesters I have spoken to, Andrew was pessimistic about whether the protest movement would meet its aims, but he said it was still important to for Hong Kongers to speak up and make their voices heard. I met him on the 14 October at Admiralty, and he said he had only missed one day of the Occupy protests since 28 September. Andrew was also interviewed for an article that is now offline. In that article, when asked why his generation didn’t take action earlier, he was quoted as saying: “At that time, we were not aware of where this all would lead,” said Leung. “Plus, the situation has changed a lot in 30 years. Look at where we are now.”
University students
A secondary school girl encourages visitors and protesters to write messages.
A young woman adding a message of support.
Dr. Kacy Wong invites people to discuss issues with him.
If we lose this battle…

How the Protests Grew

The protests started as a five-day boycott (22-26 September) of college and university classes by the The Hong Kong Federation of Students (which was composed of the student unions of the territory’s eight universities). Towards the climax of the boycott, the student unions were joined by Scholarism (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholarism), a political activist group led by 17-year-old Joshua Wong.

As part of the boycott, students protested outside the Central Government Complex in Admiralty district and demanded free, fair and open elections. A separate protest campaign—Occupy Central with Peace and Love (their website is now offline)—was to begin on 1 October. This movement was led by Benny Tai, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong. As the name suggests, this campaign was loosely based on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Joshua Wong (with microphone) addresses a forum for high school students (14 October). The umbrella-themed art installation behind him was created by students at City University’s School of Creative Media.
Secondary students at the forum
Joshua Wong meets briefly with reporters. At 17 years of age he is already a seasoned activist.

On Friday evening (26 September), the last scheduled day of the student boycott, a small group of protesters managed to push through the police cordon and past the gates outside the main government offices and…well…they just sat down around the flagpoles in the forecourt, where they were immediately ringed in by police. In keeping with the non-violent spirit of the protest, the student protesters did not attempt to vandalize or enter the government buildings. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but the police, clad in their usual uniform—short-sleeved shirt, trousers and cap—and reflective vests, acted with restraint. During the evening, two prominent student leaders were arrested at the protest site.

One of leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students negotiates with police outside the government offices (2 August)

The next day police cleared the forecourt of protesters. In general, the police behaved reasonably, using minimal force to carry people away, but a few officers struck out with their batons and some others rashly and unnecessarily used pepper spray on students. This heavy-handed treatment of non-violent student protesters was televised live and provoked a strong public reaction. Another issue was the police’s continued detention of student leader Joshua Wong.

On Sunday morning, protesters started streaming towards the government office mainly to support the students and ensure they were not manhandled by the police. The main rallying cry was ‘protect the students‘ and not ‘occupy the streets‘. The police, now wearing helmets and with many officers clad in full riot gear, halted the protesters. I am not sure what they thought this would achieve.

The arriving protesters, blocked from progressing towards the Central Government Complex by the police, flooded into nearby streets blocking traffic on Connaught Road. To take advantage of this development, the organizers of Occupy Central with Peace and Love announced an immediate start to their campaign. More and more protesters started streaming into the streets, and then police made the rash decision to try to clear the streets using tear gas and pepper spray. Because of the risks associated with using tear gas on crowds, it is generally not used against peaceful demonstrators, and it is uncertain as to whether the use of tear gas by police on that day was lawful (researchblog.law.hku.hk/2014/09/legal-authority-for-police-to-use-tear.html). In any case, its use only served to escalate the protest (In the protests of 2019-2020, tear gas was used a LOT, but in 2014, people were shocked to see tear gas being used in the streets).

It was a hot day, so many protesters had brought umbrellas to the protest to shield themselves from the sun. The umbrellas instead ended up being use to ward off tear gas canisters and pepper spray. This is how the Umbrella Movement got its name.

While police were struggling in their attempt to clear the streets in Admiralty, protesters used social media to quickly mobilize. In a matter of minutes they were able to occupy main thoroughfares in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, opening up two new fronts for the police to try to control and sending a message of “Even if you keep us out of one place, we can easily pop up in another place.

At Admiralty, police eventually ceased the tear gas attacks and retreated back inside the main government complex. Strategically outmaneuvered, the police had lost the battle. And with the heavy-handed tactics, they lost the respect of many of Hong Kong’s citizens.

As this illustration by local artist Vin shows, the police use of pepper spray and tear gas led protesters to create makeshift protective gear out of raincoats, goggles, face masks and umbrellas.
Yes, people did dress like that.
Police reinforcements arrive at the Central Government Complex and are jeered by the crowd (of course, it didn’t help that they were spotted bringing in barrels of tear gas and cases of rubber bullets). At least one of the police officers seems to be feeling the pressure.

I have no idea if the student leaders had planned on this kind of occupation, but at the end of the day, protesters were in control of three sites. There was an attempt to establish a fourth site—in Tsim Sha Tsui—but that one fizzled out.

The Admiralty Site

The main site protest site was in Admiralty, where protesters occupied several city blocks and surrounded the main government offices, including the Legislative Council building as well as the office of the Chief Executive. On weekends and public holidays the number of protesters swelled into the tens of thousands, with numbers dwindling to several hundred in the morning as those who stayed overnight went to school, went to work or just went home to freshen up and get some rest.

The Admiralty site at night (view looking towards Central)

The atmosphere there was incredibly civil—kind of like a mellow folk festival, but with large rallies, small forums and informal singalongs among friends.

Students singing protest songs
Secondary school students singing at Admiralty
Martin Lee (right), founding chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party from 1994 to 2002 speaks at a small forum. Along with the late Szeto Wah, Martin Lee led Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement during the 1980s and 1990s. The 2014 strike and protest is in part a reaction to the lack of success of Lee’s attempts to promote democracy via electoral reform and political lobbying. Though one of the leading figures of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in the past, he was only treated as a marginal figure among the protesters of 2014.
Sharing session at Admiralty
Rallying the crowds (the Westerner in the background appears to be American Brian Kern, who later became notorious for taking on a local Hong Kong Chinese persona—called Kong Tsung-gan—who was frequently interviewed by the international media as a representative voice of Hong Kong. In one article, his Hong Kong Chinese persona interviewed is Mainland Chinese persona)
Protesters at Tim Wa Avenue
The Admiralty site often has a slightly festive feel to it. Here are some volunteers at a body art station.
With a partner, this young man is working on a kind of photography project.
Support from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union

In November, with the weather finally starting to cool and the the government cancelling talks with the student leaders, the protesters began to settle in, setting up more and tents throughout the site.

Overlooking the Admiralty site
The main road at night
Tents everywhere!
Some students customized their tens with artwork
Sharing session at Admiralty
Wally is a well-known local busker (he usually dresses up as the Where’s Wally character when performing)
Graduates pose for a photo
Girls making fabric umbrellas
As the protests wore on, the site could get quite sparsely populated. Some of the protest methods, like the cardboard cutout of Chinese President Xi Jinping shown in the photo above, where quite whimsical
Even towards the end of the rally, massive crowds would turn up for rallies.

Volunteers at Admiralty

A small army of student volunteers (as well as a number of volunteers from churches and Christian groups) helped maintain the site, providing free food, water and other essential supplies. Volunteers walked through the site to collect waste and bring it to one of several recycling stations for separation; they even gave talks on waste collection methods. Volunteers set up and manned first aid stations (whose staff included many medical students) and phone-recharging centers, assisted people clambering over traffic barriers and helped maintain an orderly flow of pedestrian traffic. I asked a few volunteers if they knew who was coordinating the efforts, and they all replied that no one was actually in charge; that different groups took it upon themselves to recognize a need and then work towards meeting that need.

Volunteers at one of the recycling stations
Volunteers spraying water on passers-by to keep them cool
Volunteer spraying water on passers-by to keep them cool
Volunteers at a resource station
Volunteers distributing water
A young woman sweeps up rubbish at a nearby bus terminus
Social worker station at the Admiralty site
Red Cross volunteers

The Study Corner at Admiralty

In early October, a study center sprang up in the middle of the site with several tables set up for students trying to keep up with their coursework.

Admiralty study corner
Admiralty study corner

So where did all those tables and chairs come from? Many of them were made by volunteer carpenters such as these men:

Volunteer carpenters
Jeffrey, a volunteer carpenter. He is a self-taught English learner and is very well read. The book he was reading at the time was: “Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World.” Commenting on his participation in the movement, Jeffrey said, “Almost everyone here comes here because they are self-motivated. I am not a student I am don’t belong to a political party. I am not part of an organization. I come because I am self-motivated.”

After a few weeks, the study center acquired a roof and started to look a little like a café.

The study corner

The Causeway Bay Site

A second site occupied a couple of blocks in Causeway Bay, a shopping and entertainment district a few kilometers to the East of Admiraly. The site was centered on the super busy intersection outside the Sogo department store. Usually, there were only a few hundred protesters there at any given time. The mood there was also laid back, but as an occupation site, it seemed rather vulnerable—a kind of isolated outpost.

Causeway Bay
Hong Kong Mobile Democracy Classroom at Causeway Bay. These kinds of small scale workshops and talks were a common feature at the Causeway Bay site.
Sharing across generations
Most of the time, the protest sites were calm and peaceful. A group of volunteers were taking a break at a message writing center (where people are asked to express words of support on pieces of cardboard)
Medical students volunteering at a first aid station
At the Causeway Bay site, there were frequent talks, forums and classes. Here a volunteer is giving a lecture on digital photography. You can see the course schedule on the right. If you stuck around, you could brush up on your Japanese and refresh your memory of high school physics and biology.
Volunteers at a resource center (the supplies are given away for free)
Young volunteers

The Mong Kok Site

The third site was in Mong Kok, a densely populated, perpetually busy commercial and residential district across the harbor in Kowloon. Here protesters occupied the normally bustling intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street. The intersection was later cleared, but protesters maintained control of a few blocks of Nathan Road and another couple of blocks north of the intersection. If you watched the news and saw scuffles between different groups of civilians this is likely where that was happening. The protesters were sometimes subject to harassment and attacks. (I don’t have any photos of this, but I did take some video footage of minor confrontations).

Some of the anti-protesters were local residents who were angry with the disruption in their neighborhood, but some seemed to be hired thugs. On 3 October, for example, a group of masked men attacked protesters and pulled down stalls. The attackers were later recorded on video being ushered away by police and into waiting taxis.

On Nathan Road
Two school girls with their yellow dove. They were tying to spread a message of peace.

Anger was directed against police, who were accused of either actively colluding with triad members or of simply looking the other way. Student leaders suggested abandoning the Mong Kok site to concentrate their manpower at the main site, but the protest area in Mong Kok was mainly run by grassroots activists (not student groups), and they had no intention on leaving.

Beside Nathan Road
Setting up a shelter on Nathan Road
Setting up a shelter on Nathan Road
Setting up a tent on Nathan Road
A speech at Mong Kok
Protesters and street sign
Protesters at the front line
Protesters at the front line. This particular group was occupying a single block on Portland Street in Mong Kok, so they were in a particularly vulnerable position.
Protesters at the front line
Protesters at the front line
Taunting the police in Cantonese and English. This protester was known as Mong Kok Painter, as he spent a lot of time drawing graffiti (mainly Wildstyle) paintings in a sketchbook. He was quite aggressive though and was one of the first protesters arrested during the protests in 2019.
Exhausted
As there was not much tension away from the front lines, parents sometimes brought their young children.
In November a comfy-looking mini-library was set up in the middle of Nathan Road.
Let’s read
Relaxing on barricades
Finding material to write on in a rubbish skip. This photos was taken a day after the Mong Kok site was cleared by police. Protesters were still hanging around.

Artists

Vin, the illustrator of the drawing “Who dress me like this?” shown earlier in this article.

Many artists visited the sites to sketch and paint works and other artists put up posters, banners and sculptures. By the end of the protests, the Admiralty site looked like an outdoor contemporary art gallery. I am not in the middle of editing those photos and posting them on my art blog. At the moment I have only completed one page: Art of the Umbrella Movement: Part 1. Paintings and Sketches

Perry Dino is a an artist and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I came across him at the Admiralty site, where he was on an overpass beside the BBC news crew. 
Perry Dino paints at the Mong Kok site.
Frances Lee (pseudonym) is a Hong Kong-based artist. During the Umbrella Movement he created a series or paintings that involved collaborative touches added by passers-by.
A young woman works on one of his paintings.
The finished paintings were displayed a few weeks later at the Admiralty site.
Flyingpig is a young Hong Kong artist who specializes in watercolor paintings of daily life in local neighborhoods. During the Umbrella movement protests, she was mainly concerned with documenting the normal routines at the protest site.
New York Artist Miso Zo at work at the Admiralty site. Miso Zo is pseudonym. He is a New York-based artist who was in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He also did some installation pieces during the Umbrella Movement protests.
When I came across Misa Zo at the Admiralty protest site, he was working in acrylic and oil paint on a large canvas, the painting depicting a scene capturing the more peaceful side of the movement. In that painting, set in a quiet area a few blocks away from the main protest site at Admiralty, a man is getting a haircut in the middle of the road.
I was a little perplexed by the tree imagery, so I asked the artist what her message was. She replied: “This idea comes from a conversation I had with my sister. She asked me if I had heard the birds singing this morning. That made me think. When birds are flying, when they are in the air, they don’t sing. It is only when they are in the trees that they sing. It’s just like people in Hong Kong normally. They are flying here and flying there, going to work, working, going home, always going somewhere. always doing something. But now they have stopped for a moment to come here…like birds returning to the tree. And now it is time for them to sing. And now people can hear their voices.”
This is a group of photographers and designers who took photos of protest participants in a series called Yellow Backdrop Hong Kong. The Facebook page where they posted the photos is no longer online. I spoke to the photographer (at very left in the above picture) and it turns out that we were both motivated by the same impulse. Portrayals of the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement protests in the local media focused on confrontation, social division and violence. If you walked around the three sites regularly, however, the thing that would strike you was the peaceful and relaxed atmosphere, the positive spirit of people and the strong sense of community, with everyone pitching in and playing a part. He is hoping to capture and share that spirit of camaraderie, solidarity and positivity by working on a a series of portraits of people posing in front of a vibrant yellow background.

Caricature artists also dropped by from time to time to sketch participants in the Umbrella Movement.

Caricature artist
Sketches of participants and visitors
Caricature artist

Press & Researchers

Reporters came from around the world.

Reporter at the Admiralty site
Reporter at the Admiralty site
A BBC reporter takes a break
This is award-winning Getty photojournalist Paula Bronstein. She created a stir in Hong Kong when she was detained and charged with criminal damage on 17 October while covering an attempt by protesters to reclaim an intersection in Mong Kok. She had been standing on the hood of someone’s car (with the driver still inside) in order to get a better shot.  
A local reporter covers events in Mong Kok
Camera operators perched atop an MTR entrance in Mong Kok
Interview in progress (Admiralty)

In addition, local universities conducted research at the sites.

At the Mong Kok site on 16 November, two journalism students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong were conducting a questionnaire and interview survey in Mong Kok as part of their department’s research on the public’s attitudes towards the occupy movement. Although they had only just finished collecting the data, they suggested that public support for the protesters’ strategy of occupying key streets appeared to be waning. Their observations were consistent with findings from other surveys. A telephone poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Communication and Public Opinion between 5 and 11 November showed that just over two-thirds of the respondents wanted protesters to completely evacuate the streets (PDF File: www.com.cuhk.edu.hk/ccpos/images/news/TaskForce20141116-e.pdf). In another survey conducted by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 73% of respondents indicated that they wanted the protests to end (the article, entitled ‘Lau Siu-kai blasts occupy campaign for bad strategies’—is now offline)

Police

The police had a tough time as they had to work long hours and put up with a lot of abuse. In the end, they were probably the biggest ‘losers’ in this battle. It became clear that the role of the police had become politicized.

Police standing away from the action in Mong Kok
Police officer, Mong Kok
Police officer, Mong Kok
By the time this photo (as well as the next two photos) was taken on 26 November, police had cleared Mong Kok and were trying to ensure protesters didn’t retake the streets. This was the only time I saw a police dog being used.
Police cordon.
Police officers (Mong Kok)
Police officer (Mong Kok)

Did Most Hong Kong People Support the Protests ?

It is safe to say that most Hong Kong citizens would have liked a greater say in the choice of Chief Executive, but it is unclear whether this is mainly due to their dissatisfaction with all three post-handover leaders (Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang and C. Y. Leung) or a deep desire for democracy and political self-determination.

Chalk graffiti
Go to school during the day; protest at night

Not everyone in favor of increased democracy, however, agreed that protests were the best way forward. Among Hong Kong residents opposed to the protests are those who:

  • preferred a less-confrontational wait-and-see approach in the hope that China would gradually become a more open and democratic country
  • were somewhat supportive of the protests, but felt the students hade made their point and should pack it in
  • had resigned themselves to the belief that the Mainland’s ‘grip’ over Hong Kong would inevitably become even tighter over time, so students should just return to classes, work harder, graduate and think about emigrating
  • saw Hong Kong’s future as being inextricably intertwined with China and believed that if one had a more positive outlook, it would be possible to take advantage of all the things China has to offer
  • worked or lived near the protest sites and were fed up with the disruption.
Painting a banner

There are also those opposed to democracy in general. These include:

  • Beijing loyalists such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and its supporters. The DAB is a political party that has been unwaveringly loyal to China’s Central Government. It is is quite well supported in Hong Kong due to its strong organization at the grassroots level and efforts at representing its constituents;
  • Ardent nationalist groups such as Caring Hong Kong Power, Voice of Loving Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Youth Care. They are known for their use of Cultural-Revolution-style intimidation tactics (badcanto.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-conspiracy-behind-suicidal-pro-china-organisations/ & www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2013/09/09/2003571680);
  • Anti-imperialists who view the pro-democracy movement as a plot hatched, planned and funded by American intelligence services looking to destabilize the territory and weaken China (the protesting university students are viewed as unwitting dupes manipulated into betraying their country). Here is an article by Laura Ruggeri outlining this argument:  Agents of Chaos. How the U.S. Seeded a Colour Revolution in Hong Kong.

There exist deep divisions within Hong Kong and it is unlikely that the majority of Hong Kong people supported the protests.

Volunteers lay out messages of support

Did the Protest Have a Chance to Succeed?

Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong people had twice used massive protests to stave off unpopular political proposals. They forced the Hong Kong government into shelving the introduction of far-reaching anti-sedition laws (the Article 23 protests of 1993 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_Basic_Law_Article_23) and into indefinitely delaying the introduction of a mandatory Moral and National Education curriculum in the territory’s secondary schools (the student-led protests of 2012 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_and_national_education). It was during this second campaign, that many of the student leaders of this current campaign gained experience.

Students at Admiralty

However, this time the protest was against a decision by China’s central government, which would not want to see a precedent of being forced though public dissent to backtrack on official policy.

Origami umbrellas

Thus, even if there was disagreement among different political factions in China about what to do with Hong Kong, the idea of Chinese leaders giving in to protesters’ demands for greater democracy seemed rather far-fetched.

Photographer in front of the Lennon Wall—a staircase covered in messages—at the Admiralty site.

In addition, Hong Kong simply lacks leverage with China. With a typical strike or boycott, protesters send a message of “We are prepared to make a sacrifice to get what we want. We will suffer, but you will suffer, too; so it is in your best interest to meet our demands.” In this case, however, Beijing can simply say “Yeah, about that suffering…if you want to suffer, that’s fine with us. We can help you suffer some more. Shall we shut down your economy?

During the protests, Beijing started applying gentle pressure already by halting many group tours from the mainland. As Mainland tourists made up the bulk of visitors to Hong Kong, local businesses began to feel the pinch and public antagonism towards the protesters grew. In this CNN video, Michael DeGolyer describes this strategy of slowly applying crushing pressure as the ‘anaconda scenario’ (edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2014/10/08/pkg-stevens-hong-kong-anaconda-strategy.cnn.html).

A hunger striker named Benny (at Admiralty)

At the same time as public support for their protests began to wane. the students themselves were getting worn out mentally and physically as they tried to cope with the pressures of living on the street while trying to keep up with their classwork and negotiate with disapproving parents.

Get rest while you can.
Protest Life

As the situation at the protest sites can unfold rapidly, even if protesters could get away for a night’s rest, some of them would set the alarm to wake up every two or three hours so that they could return if needed. The effects began take their toll and the students’ resolve began to waver.

At the Admiralty site.

It is hard to see what the students could gain from Beijing. Perhaps, the best they could have hoped for was to extract some minor concessions from the local government. Commenting on an article by local businessman Allan Zeman (entitled ‘We can keep building on our can do spirit’), James Tan suggested these possible concessions:

“[for the HK government to (for example):

  • hold independent public enquiries into allegations of: 1. use of excessive force by the police since September 27th during all the recent protests; 2. collusion between police and triads in recent days.
  • apologise for illegally detaining student leaders for over 48 hours;
  • review all charges against all protesters since September 27th;
  • consider conveying student and protesters’ demands w.r.t. NPCSC’s Framework for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017 to the NPCSC, subject to the outcome of planned negotiations between students and the government”

What did the Protesters Expect to Achieve?

I asked many participants this question. Surprisingly, not one of the people I spoke to expected the protests to change anything. They all said that they simply wanted their voices to be heard and realized that the protest might be the last time they would have the chance. Perhaps the Umbrella Movement’s leaders had higher hopes, but the ordinary people I talked to were all rather pragmatic and pessimistic.

Young woman drawing flower designs with chalk.

Many people hoped that the local government will be more responsive to its citizens’ needs and wants. The government cannot be ousted at the ballot box, but the students showed that Hong Kong people were willing to make a stand for what they believe in.

If a more careful, caring and considerate governing style takes root in Hong Kong, perhaps that will be the lasting legacy of these protests.

Making history
The next generation

More Pictures

You can visit the Google Photos gallery (photos.app.goo.gl/DzJy8gM8oKy6XAcXA) album where there are more than 200 images (including the ones on this page) at a resolution of 2048 x 1035. This gallery is not yet up to date. You can also view a gallery of 554 black-and-white photos on Flickr: HK Pro-democracy protests 2014

A couple of people have mentioned that I should not show people’s faces in the pictures. However, all the photos in these albums only show people attending a protest (Freedom of assembly is normally enjoyed in Hong Kong) and the protest is only in support of increased democracy (a principle enshrined in the Basic Law). Bear in mind that the aim of the photo gallery is to present a more human side to the protests. Simply having photos of anonymous masked protesters will not achieve that aim.

If you are featured in one of the photos and would like to NOT be identifiable, let me know and I will pixelate your face.

Postscript

The protests came to an end late November (Mong Kok) and early December (Admiralty and Causeway Bay) after bus companies obtained court injunctions requiring the streets to be cleared. One by one, the protest sites were cleared. Protesters packed up and police and cleaning crews moved in, meeting little to no resistance.

Cleaning the streets: Admiralty

There were quite a few causes for the end of the protest:

  • The legal actions taken by the bus companies, which would have put anyone failing to comply with the orders to clears the site in contempt of court
  • The protester’s exhaustion (many of them were students, who would soon sit for exams)
  • Dwindling public support
  • Lack of leadership among the protesters (there was no one actually in charge of the protests)
  • Government intransigence.

Were the protests successful? The government made no concessions and the protests ended, so it emerged as a clear ‘victor’.

I put ‘victor’ in quotation marks because by taking such a hardline against peaceful protesters and refusing to make any concessions, the government unwittingly gave birth to more radical protest movements that have ideologies ranging from stressing localism to calling for independence. When the opportunity came to protest again during the so-called Fishball Revolution (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Mong_Kok_civil_unrest) during the Lunar New Year Holiday in 2016, the number of protesters was much smaller, but they were a lot nastier, as witnessed by their attacks on police The protest quickly escalated to a riot, with protesters hurling bricks at police and viciously assaulting a fallen officer, leading to one of his colleagues firing warning shots into the air.

Similarly, the anti-extradition bill protests of 2019-2020 have been marred by the use of violence. vandalism and intimidation.

The protesters of the Umbrella Movement won nothing.  However, regarding the people I spoke to—the ones who expressed a desire to be heard—I suppose that to a certain extent, they did succeed. For a couple of months, their voices were heard.  

This photo was taken the night the Admiralty site was cleared. Most of the messages on the Lennon wall had been torn down, but this one remained.

~Photos and text by longzijun

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Film Scene Analysis: Cinematography and Mise-en-scène in American Beauty

The aim of this video is to demonstrate how cinematic techniques are used to show meaning and visually express moods and themes.

It uses two scenes from the movie American Beauty (American Beauty IMDb Page) —the two office scenes featuring Lester (Kevin Spacey) and Brad (Barry Del Sherman). I’ve kept the video short and simple, so it should be suitable for anyone interested in learning about movie making.

The cinematic techniques discussed in the video are mainly related to mise-en-scène collegefilmandmediastudies.com/mise-en-scene-2, which is the term used to describe everything ‘put into the scene’. You can think of this as being everything in front of the camera. The elements normally included under the umbrella of mise-en-scène include:

  1. The actors and their performance. This includes what the actors look like, what they are doing/saying, how they are doing/saying it and their facial expressions, body language and gestures.
  2. Costumes, make-up and hairstyles.
  3. Props.
  4. Blocking. In theater, blocking refers to how the actors and arranged on the stage (and when and how they move and how they interact with the props and set). In movies, there is one additional feature that is included: where the camera is positioned.
  5. The film set, indoor location or outdoor location. For indoor scenes, mise-en-scène would include the décor, furniture, interior design and whatever can be seen through the windows. For outdoor scenes, mise-en-scène would include things like buildings, scenery, trees, roads, cars and signs.
  6. Lighting. This would include natural lighting, artificial lighting and shadows.
  7. Space. This includes depth of space, which refers to how close the elements—e.g., people, props, décor—are to another and to the camera, and it also includes things like density. Density refers to the number of people and objects competing for attention in the shot.
  8. Composition. This is similar to the concept of composition in photography and painting. It basically involves how everything is arranged in the frame.
  9. Special effects that involve some in-camera work. For example, when shooting a scene of people in a car while street scenes are projected behind the people, that projection would fall under mise-en-scène.

In this video, I focus on décor, lighting and props, costumes, body language (e.g., posture, gestures and facial expressions), blocking and composition.

I also look at how these elements are framed in terms of shot angle and shot distance, which fall under the category of cinematography (filmanalysis.yale.edu/cinematography).

Elements that make up cinematography include:

  1. Shot angle (e.g., eye-level shot, high angle shot, low angle shot, overhead shot, Dutch angle shot, etc.), type of shot (e.g., POV shot, over the shoulder shot) and shot distance (e.g., long shot, medium, shot, close-up, etc). Shot angle, type of shot and shot distance are closely related to the ideas of blocking, space and composition that are mentioned under mise-en-scène. For more information refer to: www.studiobinder.com/blog/ultimate-guide-to-camera-shots/.
  2. Camera movement (e.g., tilt, pan, zoom, track, steadicam, etc.).
  3. Depth of field. If you have a very shallow depth of field (using a large aperture), the thing you are focusing on will be clear, but everything in front of it or behind it will look blurry.
  4. Focus. If you are using a shallow depth of field, what are you focusing on? Will you gradually change focus while filming—using a technique known as rack focus—so that you end up focusing on different things in the same shot?
  5. Lenses and related settings. For example, using a zoom lens will make objects appear even closer together than they really are.
  6. Aspect ratio. This is the ratio of width to height of the frame.
  7. Exposure and ISO settings.
  8. Color balance settings.
  9. Format settings (for digital formats) or film stock* (for film cameras). Different kinds of film stock will create different effects. For example, Technicolor films had a particularly vibrant look. In the digital era, however, this kind of effect is often done in post-production processes such as color grading.

*Film stock: Many people include film stock under mise-en-scène. However, I prefer to put it under cinematography. This is because mise-en-scène typically describes everything put in front of the camera, while cinematography refers to choices involving the camera itself.

In reality, there is quite a lot of overlap between mise-en-scène and cinematography. For example, if a director wants an actor to slowly emerge from the shadows the set designer, costume designer, lighting director and cinematographer would have to work together to get the right look.

1st Scene: Lester’s Performance Review (Focus on Lester)

1st Meeting: Lester
1st Meeting: Lester

The scene appears early on the movie. At the beginning of American Beauty, the protagonist, Lester Burnham is disillusioned with his life. At home he and his materialistic, ambitious wife can barely stand each other, and his sullen teenage daughter cannot stand either of them. At work, he is going nowhere, trapped in a thankless and meaningless job writing for a media magazine.

In this scene, Lester is having his performance reviewed by Brad, his company’s recently hired efficiency expert. Brad tells him that his work is not up to standard and that if he wants to keep his job, he will have to start performing. What’s interesting in this scene is how differently the two men are presented visually.

Let’s look at Lester first. As this is a wide shot, Lester occupies a small portion of the frame, which makes him look small. This shot is also a high angle shot, which makes him look even smaller. He is in the middle of a mostly empty room, totally exposed. His body language—slouched in his chair, legs spread—gives off an aura of weakness and resignation, and his facial expression shows his exasperation and frustration. He can’t even keep his tie straight. He looks powerless and vulnerable.

This shot is a like a point-of-view shot, as if we are looking at Lester from Brad’s position. However, the downward angle is exaggerated. Rather than looking at Lester strictly from Brad’s physical point of view, we seem to be looking at him from Brad’s mental and emotional point of view. We are looking at a small and unimportant man.

In terms of décor and lighting, the room itself is ugly, utilitarian, dimly lit, poorly decorated and is horribly dull and grey. Behind Lester, there is just a dying plant stuck in a corner and a painting that is too small for the wall. The décor reveals what kind of organization Lester works for—one that sucks the life and light out of its employees.

In terms of composition, the framing of the shot is ugly as well. Lester is positioned in the center-bottom of the frame, which is a strange place to put the main subject. There is far too much headroom above him, his feet seem to be cut off and a ceiling light juts down into the top of the frame. It’s an ugly shot in a dark, ugly room; it serves as a visual manifestation of Lester’s discontent and unease.

1st Scene: Lester’s Performance Review (Focus on Brad)

The following image shows how Brad is presented in the same scene.

1st Meeting: Brad
1st Meeting: Brad

Here the shot is a mid-shot, and Brad occupies a large portion of the frame. The low angle mid shot emphasizes his power, especially when juxtaposed with the high angle wide shot of Lester that we just looked at. When Brad stands up, the low angle shot is further emphasized.

Visually, Brad is presented as being dominant. His posture his straight, he is younger, he is dressed more fashionably and his facial expressions reveal smugness and contempt.

Behind him, the vertical Venetian blinds create a visual pattern that brings to mind the bars of a jail cell or cage. To Lester, his job is like a prison.

Note the furniture and props positioned around Brad: his desk, his brightly shining nameplate, the gold pens, the paper holder, the portrait behind him, the Venetian blinds. Almost everything is straight edges, angles and points. Everything is hard and sharp. You can think of this scene as a battle: Brad is protected by his desk and is surrounded by his sharp edged weapons; Lester has…a dying plant. There will only be one winner in this battle.

In terms of lighting, the room is brighter where Brad is. Brad’s career at this moment in time is certainly outshining Lester’s.

In short, the visual elements in this scene work together to emphasize Brad’s dominance over Lester, the soul-destroying nature of Lester’ workplace and Lester’s sense of hopelessness and disappointment.

Beware of Oversimplification

Before moving on to discussing the next scene, I would like to clarify one point. The use of a single film technique in isolation doesn’t carry a specific meaning. A good example would be the low angle shot of Brad. A low angle shot does not necessarily imply power; it could also be used to establish a point of view (e.g., from the point of view of a character lying down and looking up at someone or from the point of view of a shorter person or creature), to create a comical, grotesque and/or ironic effect or to exaggerate a physical action such as jumping or hurdling.

In the scene from American Beauty, the low angle shot works TOGETHER with a variety of different elements to create the effect of dominance:

  • The plot (Brad is threatening Lester’s career)
  • The acting (Brad and Lester’s body language, their words and their intonation)
  • The elements of mise-en-scène mentioned above (lighting, decor, props, wardrobe)
  • The contrasting shots of Lester (high angle wide shots, dim lighting, ugly decor, etc.) that precede and follow the shot of Brad.

If you are analyzing cinematic techniques, it is important to consider them in context.

2nd Scene: Lester Quits

Mid-way through the film, the two men meet again. By this point in the movie. Lester has decided he needs to make a change. In this scene, Lester is quitting his dead-end job AND blackmailing the company into paying him off. Emotionally, he is in a very different place.

When the camera is looking over Lester’s shoulders at Brad, Lester‘s head dominates the screen.

2nd Meeting (Lester Quits): Brad
2nd Meeting (Lester Quits): Brad

When we go to the reverse angle shot looking over Brad’s shoulder, Brad’s head is out-of-focus and slightly off-screen.

2nd Meeting  (Lester Quits)
2nd Meeting (Lester Quits)

Lester dominates the screen in both shots. Brad is no longer so important, no longer so powerful. And all those sharp edges, the pointy gold pens, the massive nameplate—those have become small, unnoticeable, unremarkable pieces of stationery.

Lester’s posture is now relaxed and confident. He is in control.

The room is brighter. Lester is no longer trapped in gloomy darkness.

The shots are now more aesthetically pleasing in terms of composition and framing. For example, the shots of Lester are composed so as to follow the rule of thirds. This more attractive (and more conventional) composition reflects Lester’s newly found feelings of being at ease.

Everything has changed. The whole look is different.

Conclusion

In a commentary by the director Sam Mendes and the cinematographer Conrad Hall, the two men discuss how they tried to show Lester’s emotional growth by making him look bigger on screen as the film progresses. And we can see that growth clearly in the two examples. In the first scene, the cinematic techniques that were discussed reveal the power differential between Brad and Lester and show Lester’s disappointment, frustration and vulnerability. In the second scene, they show how Lester has become emotionally stronger and more hopeful.

In this video, I have only touched on a few cinematic elements related to mise-en-scène and cinematography and have not touched upon things like dialogue, editing, sound or music. I have also left out things like blocking , cameras level, depth of field, film stock, keying (e.g., high key versus low key lighting) aspect ratio, tonality, camera movement (e.g., zoom, pan. tilt, tracking shots, etc), shot duration and editing.

There is a lot more to discuss when interpreting a scene , but hopefully this video can give you an idea how different visual elements can work together to help tell a story.

Why American Beauty?

I chose to use American Beauty, because the director (Sam Mendes) and cinematographer (Conrad Hall), who both won Academy Awards for their work on this movie, did an amazing job visually presenting the story and its themes. You can see that each shot has been set up, framed and shot to bring out a plot and/or thematic element. Personally, I think that in some of the shots, this is done too obviously, but that helps when it comes to learning about cinematography.

The only problems with using this film as a teaching aid is that many of the scenes contain swearing or coarse language (which is why I didn’t show the entire meetings in this film analysis video) and there are sex scenes.

Related Videos

This is the second video in my film analysis series. You can view the first one here:

Fight Scene Cinematography in Hero and The Bourne Identity.

This features an analysis of the different ways filmmakers strive to capture a sense of realism in action sequences.


~by longzijun

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Return to Writing

15 Books for Teens Who Hate Reading

A few years ago I was asked to write a biweekly newspaper column introducing books (fiction and non-fiction) to senior secondary school students in Hong Kong to read as part of their HKDSE English studies. I started with the recommended texts, but soon found that most of the selected books were uninspiring. Sometimes the were too young and the stories too childish, sometimes the vocabulary was too difficult and sometimes the text had been dumbed down until it was something like a Reader’s Digest version of a Wikipedia entry. There were much more interesting books out there.

Part 1 of this series (Books for Teens) focuses on books that have a strong visual element to them. Instead of forcing readers to slog through large passages of text, the books use images to bring the story to life and provide inspiration for thought. Do you have any books you would like to recommend?

The second part of the series—12 Good Novels for Young Adults and Teens—introduces more conventional novels in different genres like fantasy, adventure, suspense, and family drama.


Books with Activities

if you are the kind of person who likes to do things and doesn’t want to get bogged down in page after page of text, you can try the books in this section.

Book 01: 101 Things You Need To Know and Some You Don’t

Inside 101 Things You Need to Now
Inside 101 Things You Need to Now

If you are interested in doing things like searching for bad smells, making secret codes or sending messages in a bottle, try one of Richard Horne and Tracey Turners’ 101 Things books: ‘101 Things You Need To Know’, ‘101 Things To Do Before You Are Old and Boring’ and ‘101 Things you Wish you had Invented’. In each book, a topic is presented on one page and the facing page is an activity page for you to fill out. You can keep track of the new things you have learned and the new things you have done. For more information, visit: www.101thingstodo.co.uk/101k/Home.htm

Book 02: The Cube – Keep the Secret

The Cube - Keep the Secret
The Cube – Keep the Secret

A former student of mine, Jolin, recently suggested we play a game. She asked me a series of questions—to describe an animal, another animal, a cup (and how much water it contained) and a doorway. After I gave her my answers, she interpreted them, with each of the objects I described representing a different aspect of my life. Later that day, while shopping for books, I came across The Cube by Annie Gottlieb and Slobodan D. Pesic, This book presents a similar psychological game, but one which is more complex and more open to interpretation.

In the beginning or the book, you are asked to imagine a landscape and then a series of objects within this landscape, the first object being a cube. The nature and appearance of each object is entirely up to you, but you are asked to describe each object in detail—its size and colour, where it is the picture and what it is made from. Once you have formed the picture in your mind, you are invited to read on and discover how to interpret your landscape.

Reading the book can benefit you in different ways. As one reviewer commented on the Amazon website: “This is a book that enables you close your eyes and imagine. That alone is worth the price of admission.” In addition, as you learn to interpret your landscape, you can learn a lot of new words related to colours, materials, shapes, spatial relationships and even breeds of horses. And in the section on analysis you will learn things like the difference between fact and flattery and how a single characteristic like ‘hardness’ can be both an advantage (‘strength’) and limitation (‘lack of flexibility’)

The main benefit, however, is that the book takes you on a journey of self-discovery. There are no definite and correct interpretations for the different elements in your landscape; instead, the authors make suggestions about what each aspect of your description might mean. They guide and encourage you to reflect deeply on what the elements in the picture mean to you. And what if you don’t like the interpretation? You can’t just change the picture, but you can use it to think about how you might change the things you don’t like about your environment or about yourself.

Many of us of busy with our work and studies. Even in relaxation, we are busy—logging on, downloading, blogging, chatting, browsing, shopping. This book encourages us to:

Stop.

Just for a moment.

And question.

“Who am I?”


New Ways of Storytelling

The three books introduced below tell their stories in extraordinary ways. In the first, you read the mysterious letters and postcards two strangers send to one another, in the second, illustrations are used in place of text rather than to support it, and in the third, the story is told through diary entries, e-mails, IM messages, lyrics and other kinds of texts.

Book 03: Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence

Griffin's first reply to Sabine
Griffin’s first reply to Sabine

One day, Griffin Moss, a London artist who designs postcards, receives a mysterious letter from a stranger. It says:

Griffin Moss
It’s good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right—the wine glass has more impact than the cup.
Sabine Strohem

Griffin is bewildered. Sabine has written about one of his designs—a goldfish and a broken glass—and is referring to a rough draft that he has never shown anyone. In Sabine’s next letter, she explains that though she lives half way around the world from Griffin, she has the power to see in her mind everything that he draws.

So begins the mystery of ‘Griffin & Sabine’. This is the first book in a trilogy written and illustrated by Nick Bantock. The story continues with Sabine’s Notebook and The Golden Mean. Each book contains only the letters and postcards that Griffin and Sabine send to each other. The cards are beautifully drawn (Sabine is also an artist), and the letters are held within envelopes that are glued to the pages of the book. This unusual format for a book can give you the voyeuristic feeling that you really are reading someone’s private correspondence.

As the two artists continue to get to know each through their cards and letters, Griffin finds that he is falling in love with Sabine. Rather than bringing him happiness, however, these feelings lead to despair. His begins to hate the boring routine of his daily life. And when he thinks of Sabine, who lives on a small island in the South Pacific, about as far away from London as is possible, he is overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness.

How can I miss you this badly when we’ve never met?

Sabine invites Griffin to join her, but that would mean giving up everything he has, including the business he has set up. When he asks for a photograph of Sabine, she replies that it “would not be possible” and sends him a painted portrait instead. This makes Griffin question whether Sabine is a real person. Has he simply been creating fake letters with fake postmarks and then leaving them in his own mailbox? Is the entire relationship simply a figment of one man’s warped imagination or are Griffin and Sabine two real people who magically share a special bond?

Book 04: The Invention of Hugo Cabret (a novel by Brian Selznick)

It’s the 1930s. A twelve-year-old orphan named Hugo Cabret lives by himself in a train station, secretly taking care of the duties of his missing uncle—maintaining the station’s clocks. He spends his spare time trying to restore a strange mechanical man—an automaton—that his late father had been working on. One day, while he is trying to steal parts for the automaton, he is caught  by the bad-tempered owner of a toy shop. The owner’s niece, Isabelle, helps Hugo out and together they discover that her uncle has a mysterious past.

Hugo’s story is presented in a creative and unusual way, combining passages of texts, beautiful pencil drawings, old photographs and stills from silent movies. According to the author, the book is “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.” In one part of the story, for example, a passage of text describes Hugo returning to his secret room. He is discovered by the railway station’s security chief and tries to escape. The chase is then shown using a series of drawings. As you turn the pages, the drawings imitate camera techniques such as pans, zooms and tracking shots, thus creating a film-like feel. The pictures don’t illustrate the text (like they do in a typical children’s storybook); instead they momentarily take over from the words to move the story forward.

On one level, the book is a mystery. What happened to Hugo’s uncle and father, what was the automaton created to do and why is Isabelle’s uncle so interested in getting his hands on it? On another level, the book is about the power of imagination. The automaton, for example, has a surprising, almost magical ability, but it is just a machine; the real magic is in the imagination of the machine’s inventor. At one point in the story, Isabelle and Hugo need to open a locked door.

“Hugo watched as she fiddled with the pin inside the lock until it clicked and the door opened.

“How did you learn to do that?” asked Hugo.

“Books,” answered Isabelle.

.

There is a double meaning in her answer. Reading can give you practical information, but more importantly, it can also unlock and open doors—the doors to your imagination.

An Interview with the Author

Did you know?

  • Automatons were popular in Ancient China, Edo-period Japan and in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries: www.karakuri.info/
  • In 2011, the book was made into a feature film directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Chloe Moretz, Jude Law, Ben Kingley and Sacha Baron Cohen:  www.imdb.com/title/tt0970179/
  • The silent films shown in the book were by a real-filmmaker—Georges Méliès. He created many of the special effects that are used in movies today.


Video about Georges Méliès

Book 05: Boy Meets Girl

boy-meets-girl

‘Boy Meets Girl’ is a novel by Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries) about a young woman, Kate Mackenzie, making a new start in life. She has broken up with her boyfriend and started a new job working in the human resources department of a magazine.

She faces the problems any young woman might encounter. How do you get rid of a bothersome ex-boyfriend? How can you find the right career—one that is meaningful and enjoyable? What do you do if your boss asks you to break the rules? How can you get that cute guy to notice you?

Interestingly, the story is told through different kinds of texts—letters, e-mails, song lyrics, telephone voicemail messages, diary entries and transcripts of instant messaging (IM) conversations and business meetings. You can even read menus, song lyrics, recipes, washroom signs and security reports. This unusual way of telling a story means that you aren’t reading about what happens; rather you are reading about how Kate and the other characters are reacting to what has just happened to them.

The use of different kinds of writing and speaking by the characters in the story can tell you a lot about each character’s personality.

  • Kate: Kate has a good heart, but she doesn’t have strong communication skills. When she should speak out, she remains silent. When she should remain silent, she speaks out.
  • Amy & Stuart: Kate’s boss is Amy, who is dating Stuart, a powerful but unlikable lawyer. Amy and Stuart are ambitious and insincere. When writing to each other they are sickeningly romantic but when writing to their subordinates they are aggressive and rude.
  • Dale: Kate’s ex-boyfriend is a selfish rock musician who is always begging Kate to return to him, but in his songs, letters and messages, the topic always ends up being about himself—how much HE misses her, how much HE needs her and how much HE still needs HIS OWN freedom.
  • Arthur: Stuart’s father is away on holiday after having a heart attack. Throughout the story, his family wants him to come back and solve everyone’s problems. He simply ignores them and turns off his phone so that they can learn how to solve the problems on their own. No communication is sometimes the best communication.

Illustrated Books

With the lovely illustrations, these four books may look like children’s books, but the first is written more for young adults, while the next two deal with serious themes that allow the books to be appreciated by all ages. Even the last one, which is aimed at younger readers, is an enjoyable light read.

Book 06: The Sound of Colors

The Sound of Colors
The Sound of Colors

Jimmy Liao (幾米) is a renowned Taiwanese artist and writer whose books are now becoming available in English translations. His work can best be described as picture books for teens and adults. Though his illustrations are vibrantly colourful and full of whimsy, the stories deal with mature themes such as alienation, destiny and the power of imagination.

The Sound of Colors is about how a young woman copes with becoming blind. Though she has lost her sight, she uses her imagination to create vivid and lively scenes in her mind. She feels lonely and isolated, but she still keeps alive her hope of finding love.

“She’ll lead me to the place
where all the colors are.

“She’ll bring me back to the light that I lost,
still glowing here, in my heart.”

I first read the Sound of Colors after I started having serious problems with my eyesight, so it struck a  personal chord; I often wondered how I would cope with blindness, how I would interact with the world. The themes of the story also apply to anyone who develops a physical or mental disability. Life becomes different and is often more difficult and is certainly not what we would have wanted, but it still goes on. 

On yet another level, the young woman’s story can also apply to anyone who has lost someone or something precious. If we lose someone we love, how do we handle our bittersweet memories of a person we can no longer be with or something we no longer have? If we lose faith or hope and are left blind in the darkness, what can we do to feel whole again?

Book 07: The Best Christmas Present in the World

The Best Christmas Present in the World:

‘The Best Christmas Present in the World’ is a touching short story by Michael Morpurgo. With its short text and beautiful illustrations by Michael Foreman, it looks like a children’s book. The serious themes and elegant writing style, however, are more suitable for young teens.

The story begins when the narrator discovers an old letter while tidying up. He opens it.

“I knew as I did it that it was wrong of me to open the box, but curiosity got the better of my scruples. It usually does.”

He reads about a strange event that happened during World War I (1914-1918) and sets out to return the letter to its elderly owner.

Just when you think you understand the meaning of the title, the writer introduces a twist that reveals another ‘best present’. The ending is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

The book is particularly good for second language learners. It is short and relatively easy to read, but every page contains at least one challenging word or phrase (like “got the better of my scruples”) that can help them improve their English skills.

The Christmas Truce: The letter in the story describes a real event—The Christmas Truce of 1914 (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce). For years, two of the main combatants in WWI, Britain and Germany, were involved in a brutal kind of fighting known as trench warfare. Life as a soldier in the trenches was brutal. The trenches were often filled with mud. Disease and death were everywhere.On Christmas Eve on 1914, near the town of Ypres, the German soldiers started decorating their trenches and singing Christmas carols. When the British soldiers recognised the tune of one of the songs—Stille Nacht (Silent Night)—they responded with carols of their own. Before long, all fighting stopped. Soldiers from the two sides visited each other and exchanged gifts such as whiskey and chocolate. Both sides collected their dead from the no man’s land between the trenches and held a funeral service together. The two sides even played a football match on the battlefield.

The commanders of both armies were unhappy. Their soldiers were supposed to be fighting to the death, not trying to score goals. They soon ordered the soldiers back to their trenches to begin fighting once again. The real-life story of the Christmas Truce shows what can happen if we recognise the common bonds we share with all people. When soldiers can lay down their weapons and embrace the enemy, even if it is just for one brief moment, there is hope that one day war will fade into distant memory and peace will reign around the world.

Book 08: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

An Illustration from The Book
An Illustration from The Book

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo, is the touching story of a toy—a beautiful rabbit doll named Edward Tulane. The novel, with its simple text and beautiful illustrations, looks like a children’s book, but it can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Edward is able to think, but unlike the living toys in the film Toy Story, he is only able to move in his dreams. At the beginning of the story, he is a proud and selfish doll. His favorite season is winter because it gets dark earlier in the evening and he is therefore able to spend more time admiring his own reflection in the window.

He is owned by a young girl called Abilene, who loves him very much and treats him like a member of her family. Edward, in contrast, just loves himself. He only pays attention to others when someone handles him too roughly. He can’t stand being treated disrespectfully. While Abilene’s family is traveling on an ocean liner to England, Edward is accidentally dropped into the water and sinks to the bottom of the sea. During the long months he spends alone on the ocean floor, he feels his first real emotions: fear and hopelessness.

After a violent storm, Edward is found by an elderly fisherman, who brings him home to his wife. Edward soon meets other people, including an old vagabond and a pair of abandoned children. He is back among people who care for him and he slowly learns what it means to love others. His journey, however, is not smooth. He is stolen, tied to a stick to scare away birds and buried in a rubbish dump. His heart is broken when he loses someone he loves; his head is broken when it is smashed apart by an angry restaurant owner. Now that Edward understands what love is, will he be able to survive long enough to experience it again?

The story is easy to read and can be finished in a couple of hours. Each page contains one or two challenging words, so you can still work on improving your vocabulary without having to pause often to look up the definition.

Book 09: The Spiderwick Chronicles Book One (The Field Guide)

spiderwick-cover

‘The Field Guide’ (The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1) is the first of a five-part series of novels by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. In this first volume, troubled nine-year-old Jared Grace, his animal-loving twin brother Simon and fencing-mad older sister Mallory move into a relative’s ramshackle house and

discover a new and strange world that exists alongside our own—the world of faeries.

Soon after the family arrives, things start to go wrong—something in the walls is making strange noises, Mallory wakes up one morning to find her hair tied to the bed and Simon discovers that his pet mice have been stolen and his tadpoles frozen inside ice cubes. After finding a book about faeries (The Field

Guide) while exploring a secret room, Jared suspects that a mischievous faerie known as a boggart is causing the problems. The children need to set aside their difference and try to find the creature and stop the attacks.

The Jared children in the film version
The Jared children in the film version
A goblin from the film version
A goblin from the film version

The book is suitable for very young teens or for older teens looking for something interesting with an easy-to-read text (e.g., and ESL or EFL learner) It is very short and the language is easy to understand. In addition, the book is filled with illustrations that can help you understand the text. If you are not sure what a “rusted ram’s head door knocker” is, you can just look at the illustration.

The whole story arc takes place over five short books. A film version, covering all four books, was released in 2008 (www.imdb.com/title/tt0416236/)


Books about Fashion & Art

If you are interested in street fashion, you may want to check out two new books: Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion by Tiffany Godoy and Streetwear by Steven Vogel. Of the two books, ESL and EFL students would find Style Deficit Disorder, with its clearer and more formal style, easier to read. The book is written for readers who may not know a lot about Japanese culture so when special terms like Visual Kei are used, they are carefully explained. Streetwear, however, is written in an odd mix of American cultural references (“rockin’ the BMX”) and marketing expressions (“establish a product platform”).

Book 10: Style Deficit Disorder

Inside Style Deficit Disorder
Inside the Style Deficit Disorder

Tiffany Godoy’s book looks at the four distinctive trends that came out of Tokyo’s famous Harajuku fashion district: Kawaii, Cyber, Goth-Loli and Ura-hara. Each trend is given its own chapter and explored from different points of view. The Goth-Loli chapter, for example, features an essay on the beliefs associated with the style, an introduction to specialist magazines like Kera, an interview with a Gothic Lolita and a cosplay photo-essay. It also features profiles of fashion house Baby the Stars Shine Bright, designer Naoto Hirooka and Visual Kei singer Mana. This wide-ranging coverage highlights an important feature of the Harajuku scene—fashion-conscious teens, magazine editors and photographers, designers, retailers and celebrities all influence, inspire and try to out-do each other. The resulting fashions are often outrageously flamboyant. As Godoy writes, ‘kids pushed themselves off Olympian heights of fashion excess. “What’s the world record for the number patterns you could possibly wear at once? How many badges can you attach to your leather jacket?”’

Book 11: Street Wear

Streetwear by Mark Vogel
Streetwear by Mark Vogel

The fashions in Streetwear are much plainer: T-shirts, trainers, jeans, baseball caps and hooded sweatshirts. The influences are mainly skateboarding and hip-hop. The book focuses on designers and brand-names. The text is mainly in a question-and-answer format covering topics such as inspirations and influences, ideas about street fashion and tips on how to get started and how to achieve success.

Book 12: 50 Artists You Should Know

50 Artists You Should Know
50 Artists You Should Know

’50 Artists You Should Know’, by Thomas Koster (with contributions by Lars Roper), is a fantastic introduction to the world of Western art. The beautiful colour reproductions of masterpieces and concise and clearly written text will give you a good understanding of what made each of the artists great and how art has developed over the past 600 years.

Although there are only a few paragraphs written about each artist in this short book, Koster does a fine job of selecting the key information. He describes what the artists were like, how they lived, how they developed their skills, where they found inspiration, what special techniques or ideas they had and how they influenced other artists. Artistic techniques and styles and historical periods are briefly described in sidebars and in a glossary at the end, but the book focuses on individual artists and their work.

In the section on Vincent Van Gogh, for example, you can learn about this famous artist’s lack of success and low self-confidence. He was even sent back one year at the art school he attended because of his poor drawing skills. And as you read about his painting style and how he tried to capture the beauty, light and colour of the French countryside by using thick, powerful brushstrokes in earthy hues of yellow and orange, you can see these techniques for yourself in the paintings that accompany the text.

In 50 Artists You Should Know, the book’s tight focus on the artists and their paintings and sculptures makes it easy to read–perfect first step to learning about the great masterpieces of art from ‘The Birth of Venus’ to ‘A Bigger Splash’.


Books for Manga Lovers

These three books are based on popular Japanese manga. The first two are strictly text-based novels, but if you are already familiar with the characters through manga and anime, you may be better able to visualize the characters, settings and action. The third book in this section is a reference guide to the plot, themes and character of a popular manga.

Book 13: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Land of Sand

The Land Of Sand
The Land Of Sand

in this novel by Makoto Inoue, two brothers, Edward and Alphonse, try to use alchemy (a combination of magic and chemistry) to bring their dead mother back to life. The ritual goes wrong and Alphonse loses his entire body, leaving his soul trapped in a suit of armour.The Land of Sand is a well-written fantasy novel describing one stage in the brothers’ quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which they hope can restore Alphonse’s body. They travel to a run-down mining town where they discover that two other boys have stolen their identities and are working for an alchemist trying to manufacture such stones. Edward and Alphonse battle the brothers but also need to be wary of the real intentions of the alchemist.

Book 14: Naruto—Mission: Protect the Waterfall Village

Naruto—Mission: Protect the Waterfall Village
Naruto—Mission: Protect the Waterfall Village

When Naruto Uzumaki was a baby, the elders in his village trapped a fox demon within his body. As a young orphan, he was considered a monster and was shunned by everyone in the village. Now an adolescent, he dreams of becoming the greatest ninja in the village so that he can be accepted and respected. This novel y Masatoshi Kusakabedescribes one of the missions undertaken by Naruto’s squad of young ninja. The book could do with more description and less dialogue, but the story does come to life during passages of action. This is when Naruto’s never-say-die attitude, creativity and strong sense of loyalty come to the fore.

Book 15: Death Note 13: How to Read

Death Note 13:  How to Read
Death Note 13: How to Read

This reference book by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata should be read after you have finished the 12-volume Death Note manga series. In this manga, abrilliant student, Light Yagami, comes across a supernatural notebook and learns that if he writes someone’s name in it, that person will die. Light decides to create a better society. He thinks that by using the notebook to kill criminals he can frighten everyone in the world so that no one would dare commit a crime. If Light really can create a better world, are his actions justifiable? L, the detective trying to stop him, certainly doesn’t think so. Death Note 13 is a reference book that gives background information on the series’ themes, characters, plot ideas and design elements. It gives interesting insights into the creative process—where the inspiration for story ideas came from and how the writer, artist and editor worked together.


~by longzijun

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The above book introductions and reviews were originally published in Ming Pao as part of a series of articles written to introduce senior secondary school students to novels and non-fiction books suitable for their School-based Assessment in English.

Go to 12 Good Novels for Young Adults and Teens


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Gameplay Videos, YouTube and and Copyright: FAQ

Hopefully, this article can help you make sense of the copyright issues related to the uploading of gameplay videos of YouTube. Let me know if I’ve missed anything important.

1. Do I have the right to upload Let’s Play videos?

Except in cases where 1) the terms of service of the game allow for this OR 2) you have received permission from the game’s developers, you do not automatically have such a right. If you are wondering about the principle of Fair Use,  there is a section at the end about this.

2. Is video game content protected by copyright law?

Video games are protected by copyright law and, in many cases, patent law and trademark law. For example, in a Batman game like Arkham Asylum, not only is the game itself copyrighted, but the character, name and logo of Batman have been trademarked (even the name Gotham City is trademarked), and many aspects of the game and/or visual design may have been patented.

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Is it OK to buy views for YouTube videos?

The short answer is this: Buying YouTube views is a questionable and risky strategy that can work but that can also backfire. If you are thinking about buying views, do check out the article so that you can make an informed decision. The  article covers four questions:

  1. What is the purpose for buying views?
  2. Is the practice of buying views allowed according to YouTube’s Terms of Service?
  3. Can YouTube detect whether or not you are buying views?
  4. It it an effective way to build up your channel’s popularity?

1. Why do people buy YouTube views?

The purpose of buying views is to help hasten the natural, organic growth of your channel. Inflating your view count would make your videos appear more attractive. For example, if you see thumbnail links for two cover versions of the same song and one has 100,000 views while the other has 100 views, which link would you be more likely to click? Similarly, if you come across a channel with ten of thousands of subscribers, wouldn’t you be more likely to subscribe as well? Basically, buying views and subscribers is meant to attract more real viewers and subscribers in future.

2. Is buying views allowed under YouTube’s Terms of Service?

No. This is mentioned in this YouTube Policy Article: Fake Engagement Policy

YouTube doesn’t allow anything that artificially increases the number of views, likes, comments, or other metric either through the use of automatic systems or by serving up videos to unsuspecting viewers. Additionally, content that solely exists to incentivize viewers for engagement (views, likes, comments, etc) is prohibited.

Content and channels that don’t follow this policy may be terminated and removed from YouTube.

Important: If you hire someone to promote your channel, their decisions may impact your channel. Any method that violates our policies may result in content removal or a channel takedown, whether it’s an action taken by you or someone you’ve hired.

We consider engagement to be legitimate when a human user’s primary intent is to interact with content free of coercion or deception, or where the sole purpose of the engagement is financial gain.

If it is detected that you are buying views and/or subscribers, your account may be terminated. Additionally, the if the views are automated (i.e. from a bot), that would go against the Terms of Service (www.youtube.com/t/terms)

3. Can YouTube detect bought views and subscribers?

A view-selling service CAN operate undetected, but channels buying views can often be easy to spot either through viewbot-generated activity or through anomalous viewership statistics (e.g., a huge and sudden spike in the number of subscribers).

Most view-selling services state that all bought views, comments and subscribers come from real people and are spread out over a period of time to avoid detection and will therefore be impossible to detect. However, this kind of business is already kind of shady—the business model is, after all, based on deception—so it is difficult to trust such statements 100%. Can you really guarantee that the human viewers the services hire always follow their instructions to the letter and will never take shortcuts? Can you guarantee that YouTube will not update it’s monitoring methods to catch behaviors that now go unseen?

Accounts do get terminated; it is not an empty threat.

It’s kind of like steroid use. Does it work? Yes. Can it be detected? Yes, if you are not careful. Can one evade detection? Yes, until the detection methods catch up with the doping methods. Is it worth the risk?

4. Is buying views an effective way to build up a channel?

To a certain extent, it does work. You will get those bought views, but will it lead to more views down the road?

It definitely did work in the past, especially if you were buying the hundreds of thousands of views that would propel your video to YouTube’s front page and the top of relevant search results. If you ask, you will find people who say, “Yeah, I bought views from Company X and everything was great. It really helped a lot.”

YouTube, however, operates differently now. It is now placing a lot more emphasis on things like watch time and viewer engagement when ranking search results and selecting recommended videos. If real views are being bought, it is likely these viewers will only watch a few seconds of each video. Under YouTube’s algorithms, this would be interpreted as either ‘this video is rubbish’ or ‘the title or thumbnail is misleading’ with the consequence being your videos disappearing from search results or recommendations. If this happens, you would be hurting your ability to attract new viewers and organically grow your view count, thereby defeating the purpose of buying the views in the first place.

You also need to bear a certain amount of risk. If YouTube detects suspicious activity on you videos it may simply reset the views of those videos to zero or it may terminate the account. I was just reading an interesting post on Google’s YouTube forum. The original poster had hired someone to get real views, but it was found that the freelance ‘promoter’ had used viewbots instead. It seems that the dispute has escalated to the point where the promoter is now trying to blackmail the original poster. Do you really need such trouble?

Conclusion

I would recommend against buying views, especially if you are in the partner program. For non-partners, you can consider the following question: “It is OK for me if the existence of my channel depends on the ability of a third party service (and the people it hires) to fulfill their promises?” For me personally, the risks would outweigh the benefits.

Postscript: Can YouTube’s rules be used against you?

Would it be possible for an enemy or rival to hire a service provider to send fake views to your channel and get your account terminated? Yes, it would. I guess the only thing to do is to be vigilant and if you see a sudden and unexplainable surge in views, report the matter on the Google YouTube forums immediately. You can consider taking the following protections to prevent your video from being removed. This advice comes from XXLRay on the YouTube Products Forum:

  • Set the video to private to prevent additional false views.
  • Use the feedback button on the bottom of your video editor menu to inform YouTube about your observations and counter actions. Tell them you are going to search pro-actively for the source and that you are going to make sure it will not happen again.
  • If your video is monetized inform AdSense as well by using their Invalid Clicks Contact Form. Users had their AdSense Account permanently terminated for invalid clicks in the past.
  • Once you took these “first aid” actions try to find out the source website for these views from your Youtube Analytics. Search the web for the depending contact data and tell the responsible [parties] to stop directing views to your channel. If they repeat their behaviour take legal action.
  • Note that this is no guarantee that YouTube won’t delete your videos. It’s just the best way to tackle the problem I can think of.
  • If your video got deleted anyway you may use the YouTube View Abuse Appeal Form. Make sure to describe the counter-actions you took to prevent the YouTube system from damage. (productforums.google.com/d/msg/youtube/OSpl8xFs0SI/b_XW_zmnuoYJ, accessed 13 March 2014)

~by longzijun


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Loss of Innocence in All About Lily Chou-Chou

Movie: All about Lily Chou-chou (Riri Shushu no subete)
Director: Shunji Iwai

lily-chou-chou-2

With its shaky hand-held cinematography, chrnologically disjointed plot and nihilistic portrayal of youth, the Japanese movie All about Lily Chou-Chou (2001) is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film. Usually I prefer movies that are more linear, less experimental; however, the imagery and themes in the movie resonated with me long after I watched it.

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J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-Songwriters

The talented Japanese pop singer-songwriters and performers featured on this page—Yui, Miwa, Tsuji Shion, Rika Shinohara, Aya Kamiki, Nana Kitade and Cocco—craft guitar-based songs ranging from gentle acoustic ballads to upbeat mid-tempo numbers to full-out rock songs. I hope you enjoy this selection of their music.

YUI

yui

Of all Japanese music artists, YUI is my favourite. I haven’t introduced her in this blog before because her record company (Sony) had a habit of deleting any video of her posted on the web. The good news is that she now has a Vevo channel, so it is easier to introduce her songs. The bad news is that she has recently announced that, after releasing five albums between 2005 and 2010, she is taking an indefinite hiatus from music (She is back now, with her new band Flower Flower). She talks about her career, her love of music and her desire for a break in this interview: MESSAGE from YUI.

While growing up, she was very introverted and started writing poetry (which she then started setting to music), to express her feelings. She soon devoted herself to music, dropping out of high school to join a music cram school and later started performing outside a railway station in her hometown of Fukuoka. The reason, I mention her early life is that it comes through in her heartfelt and often personal lyrics and in her intense performances that evoke a strong sense of sincerity.

Tokyo (short version) – From her first album (From Me to You)
This song is about her the start of professional career, moving from her hometown to Tokyo.


Here is the English translation of the first part of the lyrics (from kiwi-musume.com: now offline):

The day has come when I will leave the room I’m so used to living in
My new journey is still disorienting me

On the bus to the station
I emailed my friend

On the platform in the morning, I tried calling too
But it felt like something had changed

I’ve brought one old guitar with me
I’ve left all my photos behind

Letting something go and then gaining something new
Does the same cycle repeat itself?

When I pretend to be strong, it always leads to dreams
When I let myself be cowardly, they stop

Rolling Star (Short Version), a rock song from her second album Can’t Buy My Love

Coming full-circle with a 2012 reinterpretation of her first hit song—Feel My Soul.

Although YUI sings almost entirely in Japanese, she has a strong fan base around the world, with a lot of people uploading covers of her songs (you can find many of them listed on the YUI_lover fan site).

She has more recently returned to music recording and performing with her new band Flower Flower. Their sound is a lot more ‘indie’. It is interesting to see her development as a songwriter.

YUI-Lover Fan Site and Forum: www.yui-lover.com
YUI Official YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/YUIVEVO
YUI Official Website (Japanese): www.yui-net.com/

miwa

miwa is a young singer-songwriter with three albums under her belt: Guitarissamo (2011), Guitarium (2012) and Delight (2013). Her songs, especially when it comes to her singles, tend to have a bright and optimistic feel Her albums also feature soft ballads and rock numbers. Her most popular single so far has been Don’t Cry Anymore:

Here she is performing Faith live:


miwa Official Website in Japanese): www.miwa-web.com

Tsuji Shion (辻詩音)

Tsuji Shion is another young singer-songwriter who plays acoustic guitar. Like Miwa, her singles tend to have a cheerful feel. She hasn’t been very active recently, however, with her only album to date being released in 2010. She is best know for the song Sky Chord which was used as one of the ending themes in the Bleach Anime.

Candy Kicks

Sky Chord

Tsuji Shion Official Site (in Japanese): http://tsujishion.net/

Rika Shinohara

I don’t know much about this singer song-writer (and her English website hasn’t bee updated for years), but she specializes in beautiful acoustic ballads and covers of English songs in a similar vein.

Borderline

Song of My Days

Official Website (Japanese & English): www.rika-web.com


The next group of artists can play guitar and tend to compose using that instrument, but generally leave the guitar part in their studio recordings and concert performances to others.

Aya Kamiki (上木彩矢)

Aya, known for her powerful vocals, is a rocker who has released six albums since making her debut in 2006. Her sound ranges from a straight-forward and retro Seventies-sounding rock style to some of the electro-dance-rock hybrids on her most recent album.

Sunday Morning, a more laid back sound.

The Light, from her most recent album, with a more electronic-influenced arrangement. I’m not sure if this is the direction she is moving in as the album is released by AVEX, a label known more for it’s dance-oriented artists and a label which she has since left.

Nana Kitade (北出菜奈)

It is interesting to see Nana here on 2005 playing the Full Metal Alchemist Theme Kesenai Tsumi 消せない罪. This is at the beginning of her career when she was being presented as a teen rocker (her first album 18: Eighteen, released the same year, refers to her age at the time). Shortly after this performance, while still performing rock songs, she started focusing more on her style and became a figurehead and style icon of the Gothic Lolita sub-culture. She has released three solo albums, has fronted the band Loveless (2009-2012) and is now the vocalist for new band The Teenage Kissers.

Kesenai Tsumi

Hold Heart—Also from the 18: Eighteen album. The arrangement reminds me of Roxanne by the Police.

Her last album, Bondage, featured a range of different styles, rock, anime ballads like Marie Antoinette, punk numbers (Punk & Babys) and experimental songs. Here is, Lamia, one of the tracks off that album:

The 18: Eighteen album is one of the records that first got me interested in Japanese pop. I had assumed J-pop was all about sparkly boy bands and girl groups until I was introduced to rock (Nana Kitade), indie pop (Kojima Mayumi), and alternative rock (The Tokyo Incidents) albums. I can’t find any good up-to-date sites for Nana. Please leave a comment and let me know if you can find a good link to add.

Cocco

Cocco started her career earlier than the other artists on this page, releasing her first album in 1997. Her style blends folk and rock with some influences from the folk music of her native Okinawa. She is known for her intense performance style.

The Hill of Dugongs (「ジュゴンの見える丘」). This is an environmental ballad inspired by the appearance of rare dugongs in Ohura Bay, Okinawa. The music starts at around 5:50.

This next song combines rock with an Okinawa-influenced vocal style.


One worrying trend I see is that most of the artists on this page have been relatively inactive during the past couple of years, YUI is on hiatus, a couple of others have left their record labels and a couple have seen pretty terrifying drops in album sales. Perhaps the K-Pop craze of the last couple of years is making it very challenging to carve out a career as a guitar-based J-rock performer.

Who have I left out? Is there anyone you would like to add to this list? Please leave a comment below.


Articles on Japanese Pop Music

J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

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Creative Commons Licenses: Advantages and Drawbacks

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons is a free licensing system designed to make it easier for creative people to share their work and make it freely available for people to use (creativecommons.org/).

This article examines the benefits, perils and pitfalls of using Creative Commons Licences. If you are doing creative work and want to share your work, you can consider if the Creative Commons license is right for you. There is no need for a formal registration process; you can simply indicate somewhere on or by a specific work that you are publishing it under one of the six licenses:

  • Attribution (CC BY) (The user needs to credit the creator)
  • Attribution Share Alike (CC BY-SA) (The user needs to credit the creator and the the new work, whatever it is, should have the same Creative Commons license.
  • Attribution No Derivatives (CC BY-ND) (The user needs to credit the creator; the user may use, but may not adapt or remix the original work).
  • Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC)(The user needs to credit the creator; the work may only be used for free for non-commercial purposes; however, the creator, is free to make other arrangements for people who want to use the work commercially)
  • Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC BY-NC-SA)
  • Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND)

Why should content creators use Creative Commons Licenses them?

Artists, musicians, photographers, bloggers and video-makers can consider consider using Creative Commons licenses to make their work available to a wider audience. It can also help others—like students, charities, amateur filmmakers or simply fellow hobbyists—create their own work.

Creative Commons licences are becoming more popular. Many media sites sharing like YouTube, Vimeo, Wikimedia Commons and Flickr include functions that allows users to post Creative Commons content (with Vimeo, the default sharing setting is a Creative Commons license). This Creative Commons licensing feature is typically found under Advanced Settings or Sharing Options.

These media sharing sites, as well as search engines like Google (in Google’s case, this function is found under Advanced Search), also enable people to search specifically for Creative Commons content, so if you upload your content using such a license, it may bring your work more exposure through such searches. However, Not a lot of people know about these search filters yet, so you are unlikely to see a huge increase in views/traffic.

Search for Creative Commons work using the YouTube search filter
Search for Creative Commons work using YouTube’s search filter

What are the drawbacks of Creative Commons licences?

Although Creative Commons licenses are very useful they can be misused, so content creators and content users need to be careful.

1. If you are a content user, can you guarantee that the content creator had the rights to publish that content under a Creative Commons license?
This may be the fatal flaw of the Creative Commons system; in order for it to work properly, everyone needs to be familiar with concepts like copyright law and public domain. For example, Person A may publish under a Creative Commons license a recording of her saxophone quartet’s version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Person A may think that this composition is in the public domain, but the quartet was using an arrangement that is protected by copyright as it is a substantial adaptation of the original Beethoven work. Therefore, Person A did not actually have the right to issue the work under a Creative Commons license. Person B then comes across the song and uses it in a video that he uploads to YouTube, and he publishes that video under a Creative Commons license. Then twenty other people make use of that video to create their own videos. The problem is that Person B and the twenty other people are now guilty of copyright infringement and could have their videos taken down. This kind of inadvertent copyright infringement is popping up quite frequently on YouTube’s help discussion forum.

2. They last forever…kind of
For the creator: Once you license your work, or state that you are issuing your work under a Creative Commons license, the license is irrevocable. One day down the line, you might want to make your work ‘less free’. For example, perhaps your photography hobby has now turned into a profession. You would not be able to cancel the Creative Commons licenses you applied to all of your old work.

For the user: Not all creators follow the above rule and people often change or cancel the licenses. For example, on Flickr, a photographer can upload photos with a Creative Commons license and then some time later change the copyright on the photos to ‘All Rights Reserved’. If you really want to be safe, when you download anything listed under Creative Commons and plan to use it in your own work, it would be a good idea to get a screen capture of the webpage and write down the date downloaded, the site URL and the type of license the work was published under. Here’s a case in which YouTuber meloST used the YouTube video editor to create his own videos from CC-licensed YouTube videos. Sometime later, the uploader of one of the videos removed the CC licensing and then had two of meloST’s videos taken down, earning him two copyright strikes and putting his channel in jeopardy: productforums.google.com/forum/#!msg/youtube/HEMd4WQcTlk/Z4xEqVXDHvgJ

3. Are you sure that you are OK with all possible uses of your work?
Let’s say, for example, you have strong views on a social issue like gay marriage. Would you mind if someone used your photo of two men as an illustration in a popular blog article espousing completely the opposite view and then having your name attached to it. Under the Creative Commons system, you can demand to have your name removed, but would you mind having your work used to support something you are strongly opposed to? The international Creative Commons licenses do include a moral rights clause stating that end users “must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor or reputation.” However, it is difficult to see how this clause could be used by you, the photographer, in the given example, which simply involves opposing points of view. After all, what is considered immoral or reputation-damaging by one person, may not be considered so bad by the community in general. The blog writer may even consider his/her use of your photo to be doing you a favor in terms of your honor and reputation.

4. Is everyone involved in your work OK with all the possible uses?
And what about the two men in the photo? Perhaps it is just a photo of two of your friends taken during a trip to the beach. Suddenly, because of the blog’s popularity, the photo starts appearing in Facebook feeds and before long, your two straight friends have become poster boys for homosexuality. Notwithstanding their own views on gay rights, would they be comfortable with their new role as symbols. A similar thing happened to a Texan teen, whose images, published by a friend on Flickr with a CC BY license, were used in a Virgin Mobile advertising campaign in Australia that presented her in an unflattering light (www.cbsnews.com/2100-205_162-3290986.html). Her family attempted to sue various parties, but was unsuccessful (the main stumbling block was that there was no clear jurisdiction).

5. Creative Commons licenses can easily be abused by scrapers
Scrapers are people who collect, often using automated software, content produced by others and then republish the content with the goal being to drive people to their own website and earn advertising dollars (this is called ‘web scraping’). If all of your photos, videos or blog entries are published under Creative Commons licenses, there is nothing to stop a scraper from downloading and re-uploading ALL your work into what essentially becomes a mirror site. If you find out your Creative Commons licensed work is scraped, there is not much you can do about it, especially if your name is included somewhere on the page. If your work is NOT published under a Creative Commons license, however, you can act to have the copied content removed

6. The licences may be too specific, not specific enough or may clash
Here are some examples:

  1. Can images with a Non-Derivative license be used unaltered to make a video?
  2. What exactly does non-commercial mean? Are monetized YouTube videos commercial? What about a company-produced video that features one of its products but doesn’t actually try to sell the product? Is that still commercial use?
  3. If you create a video that uses an Attribution (BY) Share Alike (SA) image that you found along with music that you received permission to use, should you slap a Share Alike license on your own video? If you don’t, the use of the image infringes the rights of the photographer. If you do, you are infringing on the copyright held by the composer/musician.
  4. Can you upload a video you made that contains music issued under an CC-NC license to YouTube and publish it under YouTube’s Creative Common’s system (CC-BY)?
  5. If I take a photo of graffiti, can I then publish it under a licence allowing for commercial purposes?

I can answer all of the above questions based on my understanding of the related laws: 1) No, they can’t. 2. There are grey areas; Yes, it is;  Yes, it is. 3) You would need to get permission from the musician to do that. 4) No. 5) Most likely no, but it would depend on the extent to which the photo includes things other than the graffiti (the person or organisation that owns the wall the graffiti was painted on owns the copyright to the actual graffiti unless other arrangements were made with the artist).

However, different people might give you completely different answers.

Summary

Content creators need to look carefully at the pitfalls of Creative Commons licenses before deciding whether they are willing to share their work permanently under those terms. Content users need to especially careful when using Creative Commons work. They should only use work from creators they have full confidence in and should keep a clear record of the licenses (e.g, they should take screen shots)  .

My own use of Creative Commons

I rarely use Creative Commons works in my own work. One exception might be to use attributed CC photos in something like class notes.

I used to use it for my music compositions music, but was put off by the permanent nature of the license and by seeing scrapers re-publishing my work. To make my work available for use, I set up my own terms of use with specific terms governing scraping, remixing and altering and an option for people who monetize videos using my music on YouTube.

I currently use it for some photos (CC-BY-NC), but never for photos with people in them. These I publish using the ‘All Rights Reserved’ setting.

I don’t use CC licenses with blog posts. Why give someone the right to republish your work in it’s entirety when it is just as effective for the other person to quote a paragraph and then have a “read the original article link” at the end of the paragraph?

Related Articles

Music: Public Domain, Fair Use, Copyright and YouTube: Guidelines for video-makers
The Illegal Downloading Debate: Is it OK to Download Songs without Paying?


~by longzijun

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Fight Scene Editing and Cinematography: The Bourne Identity and Hero

Let’s looks at the cinematography and editing of two very different style of movie fight scenes. The first clip is from Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity (featuring Matt Damon). The second clip is from Zhang Yimou’s Hero (the sword vs spear fight between Jet Li and Donnie Yen). I won’t be looking at the differences in fighting style; instead I will be concentrating solely on camera techniques (especially the kinds of shots used) and editing.

In these two excerpts, only cuts are used in the editing (i.e., there are no fancy edits like dissolves or wipes or anything like that—each shot just cuts straight to the next shot), so the focus here will be on the rhythm of editing and not on types of edits.

1. Procedures

I did a kind of quantitative analysis, selecting one minute from a fight scene from each movie and counting the number of shots (basically the number of edits) and calculating the average shot length as well as identifying the shortest and longest shot. I also counted the number of each type of shot:

  • Wide shot (the whole body can be seen)
  • Mid-shots (most of the body can be seen)
  • Close-ups and extreme close-ups.

I also roughly observed the kinds of camera movement used and noted any point-of-view shots (a POV shot is when the camera seems to be taking the physical—and psychological—position of one of the actors/characters).

2. Findings

These following table refer sto the two 60-second excerpts shown in the video.

Shots and Camera MovementThe Bourne IdentityHero
Total number of shots (60 sec.)6323
Longest shot3.6 sec8.2
Shortest shot0.4 sec0.8 sec.
Average length of shot1.0 sec.2.6 sec.
No. of wide shots (whole body onscreen)27
No. of mid shots (most of the body onscreen)14.55
No. of close ups (incl. medium
and extreme close ups)
46.511
Type of camera movementAll shots are hand-held
and all are moving
Combination of stationary
shots and pans, tilts, dolly
shots and zooms (with some oblique angle shots)
No. of obvious POV (Point of View) shots4None

2.1 Shot length

There is far more editing going on in the Bourne Identity scene, with 63 shots in one minute compared to 23 shots in the Hero scene. The average shot length in the Borne identity scene over two-and-half times longer than the average shot length in the Hero scene.

The shortest and longest shots in the Bourne Identity scene were at least half the length of their counterparts in the Hero scene.

2.2 Type of shots

Around 30% of the shots in the Hero scene are wide shots (in which you can see the entire body of the actor). In contrast only 3% of the shots in the Bourne Identity are wide shots.

The Bourne Identity scene features far more close-ups (74% of the shots are close-ups) than the Hero scene (in which 47% of the shots are close-ups).

The proportion of mid-range shots in both scenes are quite similar (just over 20% for each film), so the difference is found in the use of wide-shots and close-ups.

2.3 Type of camera movement

In the Bourne Identity scene the camera is handheld and is always moving. In contrast, in the Hero scene, the camera is either still or smoothly moving with and pans (left to right and vice versa), tilts (up and down), dolly shots (the camera is moving along on a track) and zooms. There are also some very noticeable oblique angle (which are used to show the scene is (spoiler alert)

not actually real and is only taking place in the mind of one of the protagonists

(end of spoiler).

2.4 Use of POV shots

Only the Bourne identity scene features point-of-view shots (there were 4 POV shots).

3. Editing & shot choices in the Bourne Identity

In this clip from the Bourne Identity, the rapid-fire editing of hand-held close-up shots creates a frantic, chaotic and exciting feel—almost as if you are one of the combatants taking part in the fight. There are 63 separate shots in one minute. This frantic feeling is reinforced through the occasional use of shots in which the fighters are out of focus and through POV shots. In the Bourne Identity clip, everything is moving fast and you are not always clear what is going on.

4. Editing & shot choices in Hero

The clip from Hero, in contrast, features far fewer edits, longer shots and a much greater use of the wide shot, in which you can see the entire body of each actor.The use of long and wide shots makes it easy to appreciate the martial arts skills of the actors. Even though there is some wire work in this scene, it is clear that the actors, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, are highly skilled. The camera work is this scene is generally very smooth and makes use of stationary shots without any camera movement and other shots that feature pans, tilts, zooms and tracking shots, quite often in combination.

If you are wondering about the use of black and white in the Hero clip, these scenes represent the fight as it takes place inside the swordsman’s mind as he envisions will happen in the coming battle.

You may also notice that, except for a few frames, Jet Li is always on the right and Donnie Yen, wielding a spear, is always on the left. Even when their weapons are shown in close up, the sword is coming from the right and the spear from the left. This regular positioning of the actors, combined with a more extensive use of longer and wider shots, helps to make it very clear who is doing what to whom at any given time.

5. Rhythm

One thing the two excerpts have in common is that they both have a similar rhythm to the editing. While the editing rhythm in Hero is much slower, both films take brief breaks in the action. In the Bourne Identity, this is done with the use of slightly longer shots during short breaks in action, while in Hero this is done with the use of a series of relatively still close-ups as the characters prepare for the next move.

6. Different Approaches to Realism

To sum up, the camera work and editing in the Bourne Identity creates a sense of realism—as if you are right there with the characters, whereas the cinematography and editing in Hero, as with many Chinese martial arts movies, is better at revealing the real skills and techniques of the actors and in allowing viewers to clearly see and understand what is happening.

Both films are striving for a sense of realism but are focusing on entirely different aspects—the Bourne Identity on the real feeling of being in a fight and Hero on the real abilities and skills of the actors.

Background

This is a video I put together to show how film techniques can be used in different ways and for different purposes for a similar kind of scene—in this case, a fight scene.

Related Video

This is the first video in my film analysis series. You can view the second one here:

Film Scene Analysis: Cinematography and Mise-en-scène in American Beauty

This features an analysis of the how filmmakers use cinematic techniques to show meaning and visually express moods and themes.


~by longzijun

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The Illegal Downloading Debate: Is it OK to Download Songs without Paying?

Is it OK to download MP3s, software and movies without paying.

Arguments for and against

Let’s treat this as a debate and look at the arguments for and against illegal downloading using music recordings as the main example.

1. It’s Just a Copy

For: It is not stealing. It is just creating a copy of a product. That product still exists and still can be sold; therefore, downloading a copy of a computer file is not the same as stealing a physical product like a CD.

Against: Copyright laws are put into place to try to ensure that people in creative industries (filmmakers, musicians, music engineers, writers, composers, software developers etc.) are able to get paid for the things they create (their intellectual property). If artists work hard to compose and record songs, shouldn’t they be able to gain financial rewards like professionals in any other field? Not paying for something which is supposed to be paid for, no matter whether it is a physical object or not, is still wrong.
Winner: Against
Score: 0 – 1

2. I Support the Artists I Like in My Own Way

For: Think of it like a test drive. I’ll try out the songs and if I like them enough maybe I’ll spend some money and buy the album or maybe I will go to that band’s concert and buy some merchandise. Bands should focus on making money from concerts and merchandise rather than from selling music.

Against: There are a lot of ifs and maybes in the above argument. For all the songs you have downloaded and liked, have you always ended up buying something (tickets, a CD, merchandise) from that artist? Also, you can usually preview parts of songs on Amazon or entire songs YouTube. Does one really need to hear every part of every song on the whole album before you decide to buy it?

Winner: Against. For the many individuals who really carry out on their promise to support the artists they like, the winner might be ‘for’, but when you consider all the people who download things they like, but don’t end up buying much of anything, the decision would have to go the other way. In this BBC video interview, musician David Lowery video points out some of the hypocrisy of online music sharing: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25771368. He mentions how people are willing to pay corporations for hardware and broadband access that facilitate online sharing, yet are unwilling to pay for the creative talent actually producing the songs.
Score: 0 – 2

3. I Wouldn’t Buy It Anyway

For: It’s not like anyone is losing money. If I didn’t get it for free, I wouldn’t buy it anyway.

Against: Are you kidding? According to the RIAA, the recording industry alone loses over $12 billion per year due to music piracy.

Winner: Draw. Both sides are using misleading evidence. On the one hand, most people—if music, software and movies could not be freely downloaded—would likely end up buying some of these things. On the other hand, it is also wrong to count every song pirated as money lost. People who are now downloading things for free would be more discerning if they had to buy things, and a lot of what is downloaded certainly wouldn’t be bought.
Score: 0.5 – 2.5

4. The Robin Hood Approach Part 1

For: Pop stars are rich. Do I really want to be subsidizing their luxurious lifestyles? They don’t need any more money. Song uploaders and downloaders are modern-day Robin Hoods

Against: Is it really OK to steal from the rich? Let’s just leave that argument aside for now. Are you trying to say that people are downloading only the songs of wealthy, pampered pop stars? Most performers and songwriters are just normal people struggling to make ends meet. It’s difficult for non-mainstream artists to gain a foothold in the industry, and without getting paid for their music, it will be next to impossible for anyone to break out of the amateur/hobbyist stage.

Winner: Against
Score: 0.5 – 3.5

5. The Robin Hood Approach Part 2

For: Record companies are rich. Besides, they take almost all the performers’ money from CD sales; artists can make more money from concerts and merchandise. That way, they get the money, not those immoral, greedy corporations. The musicians should cut out the middle man and just sell their music to us directly.

Against: Artists do get royalties from CD and online music sales, though terms vary greatly (entertainment.howstuffworks.com/music-royalties6.htm), and it is true that many artists will receive nothing (because they need to pay back advances given to them by the company that are used to produce the record). Record companies, however, need to invest a lot of money in each new act and in the large majority of cases, these acts end up losing the company money. Besides, you say you are supporting the artist, but by not buying their work, you are still denying them income and are making it less likely they can get a new contract and be able to release new music and go on tours.

Winner: Draw. The recording industry can (and should) improve the way artists are treated and remunerated, but downloading music without buying it still harms the artist. Say for example, an artist needs to pay back a record company’s advances—the less money being made from music sales, the longer it will take before the performer receives any royalties. I don’t think we are at the stage yet where a lot of acts can jettison support from record labels.
Score: 1 – 4

6. Let Them Eat Cake

For: Many artists simply want to be heard and praised. Anyone who is in the music business for the money is not a true artist. Free downloading means more people can hear their music, right? Isn’t that what they want?

Against: Praise can’t buy food. While some artists do release free music (as a kind of promotion or because they treat music as a hobby and don’t need the income), professionals can’t be expected to give their work away for free.

Winner: Against
Score: 1 – 5

7. It’s Too Expensive

For: Music CDs, Software, and Movie DVDs are simply too expensive. For example, digital recording techniques have reduced the amount of money needed to record a CD. Production, packaging and delivery costs are reduced (especially when compared to the cost or making vinyl albums). In addition, most albums aren’t worth it. If I buy an album, there might only be one or two decent songs on it. The value for money simply isn’t there.

Against: There are lots of costs involved. Sure record companies make a lot of money from CD sales of very popular artists, but this money is used to invest in new artists and less commercially successful artists. Anyways, just because something is expensive, that doesn’t give you the right to get it for free. And maybe if you stopped downloading it for free, reocrd companies would reduce prices.

Winner: For. Originally, I called this a draw, but I think I’ll have to go with the ‘Fors’ on this one. Even some music industry insiders agree that music CDs and downloads are over-priced (www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-11547279)
Score: 2 – 5

8. Everyone Is Doing It

For: Everyone I know has illegal downloads. Maybe it is ‘illegal’, but it can’t be wrong if so many people are doing it and they have been doing it for years.

Against: That doesn’t make it right. Throughout history, there are many examples of ‘everyone’ doing the wrong thing (slavery in the confederate states, apartheid in South Africa, Nazism in Germany). If a kind of behavior is a social norm, it is much easier for people to justify doing it, but it may still not be the right thing to do.

Winner: Draw. The ‘for’ argument doesn’t really stand up (it is a kind of logical fallacy known as ‘argumentum ad populum‘), but creative industries have been slow off the mark to recognize and tackle this problem, so they get a lot of the blame. How could the industries have responded? For starters, they could have reviewed their pricing and marketing strategies, made it cheap and easy to download things and dealt with international online sales and licensing arrangements years ago, like when Napster was released in 1999. To see how one company in the industry, HMV, failed to heed the warning signs, you can read this article by Philip Beeching: Why companies fail – the rise and fall of HMV
Score: 2.5 – 5.5

9. I Can’t Buy It; I Can Download It

For: Some things are not available to be bought (especially if you live outside of the US) or are very difficult to buy, but they can be easily downloaded for free.

Against: It’s difficult, but you should still do the right thing and buy it.

Winner: For. If something is easier to get for free than it is to buy, that’s a very strong disincentive to purchasing. This is especially true in many countries outside the US—there are no equivalents to sites like Netflix, and the iTunes store just became available to selected countries outside the US earlier this year. A similar problem exists with the regional coding system for DVDs. If, for example, the only way I can purchase a DVD is to buy one that is from another region, the DVD will not work in my region-specific hard drive or DVD player. I can, however, download a region-free version of the movie for free. What should I do? The answer is obvious.

(Edit: since this article was written, it as become a lot easier to buy songs online around the world. However, the music industry was really slow in making this happen. While they dithered, many people got in the habit of downloading things for free.)
Score: 3.5 – 5.5

10. It Frees up Money for Other Things

For: If I had to buy all my music, software, movies and TV shows, I wouldn’t have money left over for other things like good coffee. Overall, I’m not hurting the economy.

Against: So creative artists lose out while Starbucks gains? That’s not a very convincing argument. Would you mind if we took some of your salary and redistributed it to the owner of our favorite pub?

Winner: Against. The point is that while the economy overall is not being harmed, the sector responsible for creating music loses out while unrelated retailers gain.
Score: 3.5 – 6.5

11. It’s for the Sake of the Artist

For: If artists had nothing to do but write music they would have very few interesting life experiences to inspire them. If we don’t pay them, they will need to find different jobs and meet different kinds of people. Therefore, their art will be more interesting and meaningful, right?

Against: Seriously? You’re really reaching here.

Winner: Let’s just throw this argument out. I have read it on online forums, so it does exist, but it seems too delusional to be considered as an actual argument.
Score: 3.5 – 6.5

12. I Bought it Another Format Already

For: I bought this album on vinyl, I bought it on cassette, I bought the CD (but left it in the sun too long) and now you want me to pay a fourth time for a digital version?

Against: It’s a new format, an upgrade!

Winner: For. Maybe for this kind of case, there should be the same kind of upgrade pricing that is available with some software programs. If we are arguing that people should be paying for the content (i.e., the song) of a digital download—and not a physical product (see Point 1)—people who have already paid for that content should be given some consideration.
Score: 4.5 – 6.5

And the winner is:

Against 4.5 – 6.5 (points decision).

Some of the ‘for’ arguments seem to downgrade the role of the artist. The artists are not being considered as professionals trying to earn a living, but as either celebrities who have too much already or as hobbyists who should be grateful we care about them enough to listen to them.

The remaining arguments tend to focus on fairness (Are prices fair? Do artists receive their fair share of sales revenue?) and the practical issue of availability. There are, therefore, a few things creative industries, like the record industry, can do to improve the situation:

  • Make songs easy to purchase online, even if you live outside the US (edit, this has improved a lot since the article was first written)
  • Review the pricing system (If prices are low enough and if people can preview and buy just the track they want, will they be more willing to spend their money?)
  • Make sure the actual creative people are treated and paid properly and that the general public is aware of it (so that when people purchase music online or on CDs, they feel that they are mainly supporting the artist, not the company).
  • Don’t unnecessarily restrict uses of bought products (e.g., A DVD should be playable in any computer/DVD player).

Bonus round for online video services

The above arguments also apply to services like NetFlix, HBO, Amazon Prime and Disney+. If you want to watch all of the top shows, you will need to pay for all of the services, which seems excessive. I would award a point to the ‘pirating is OK’ camp, for this argument.

So now we are at 5.5 to 6.5. That means the debate is becoming a lot ‘greyer’ than I had originally anticipated.

So why do people still think it is OK?

Arguments 7 and 9 are just two arguments, but they are strong ones. If the product isn’t easily available, is considered too expensive by the target consumers and/or comes with cumbersome restrictions, can you blame them if they then decide to get the same product for free?

In addition, Argument 8, the “Everyone is Doing It” argument, is very attractive. Though it would not stand up in any kind of debate, it does make it easy for people to justify their actions. After all, if everyone is doing something, how bad can it be?


Have I missed any common arguments?

What are you views? Do you agree with the ‘results’?  Leave a comment below.

The future?

If people continue to download illegally and corporations do nothing constructive to entice people to buy music, different things might happen:

Best Case Scenario: The entire way the music industry works changes. Performers find efficient ways to reach their target audiences directly and make enough money through music sales, concerts, publishing rights, music streaming, video streaming, promotion and merchandising. Basically, the big labels lose their power while the artists gain independence (unless services like Spotify and iTunes become more dominant and take over the power and the cash that the major labels used to enjoy). Freed of the excessive demands to be commercial, artists usher in a renaissance age of musical creativity.

Worst Case Scenario: It will become more and more difficult for people to have a career in the music industry. Great new bands will still arrive on the scene, but they won’t be able to support themselves with the income they earn through their music, and within a few years, they will flame out, sputter away or just settle on grinding out a career on their regional bar scene. If you look at US census statistics, the number of people who identify themselves as musicians has dropped considerably (Have we lost 41 percent of our musicians? Depends on how you (the RIAA) count). This definitely doesn’t indicate a renaissance in the music industry.

Where do you think we are heading?

Further viewing

A lot of the arguments in favor of illegal downloading seem to be rationalizations that allow people to benefit (get lots of free stuff) while at the same time feeling good about themselves. Here is an interesting video on this topic.

Disclaimers

What about myself? As a music creator, I would consider myself as a hobbyist; my music is free to download and is free to use on non-commercial projects. However, I do not rule out selling/licensing the music in future.

As a consumer, I am old-fashioned. I like to buy things in stores; I like having a physical product in my hand when I buy something. Have I ever downloaded something without paying? Occasionally, if I cannot buy something in a store, I will download it.

Related articles

Music: Public Domain, Fair Use, Copyright and YouTube: Guidelines for video-makers
Creative Commons Licenses: Advantages and Drawbacks


~by longzijun

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J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands

Here are five interesting J-Rock bands. The first three are related, with Nothing’s Carved in Stone and the HIATUS being created by former members of the punk outfit Ellegarden. The electronic rock band Boom Boom Satellites and pop-punkers fly sleep fly are also featured.

The fierce and melodic alternative rock of ELLEGARDEN, the HIATUS and Nothing’s Carved in Stone

ELLEGARDEN (photo from fairvue.org/)

ELLEGARDEN is pop-punk-rock band consisting of Takeshi Hosomi (vocals, guitar), Shinichi Ubukata (guitar), Yuichi Takada (bass) and Hirotaka Takahashi (drums). They play a North-American style of rock reminiscent of Green Day, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Blink 182 (listen to SuperNova, for example, to hear the strong influences). Their songs are predominantly in English (accurate English sung with an American accent). They formed in 1998 and released their first mini-album three years laters. Early on, the band’s sound was a little rough around the edges, but as they developed, their sound became cleaner and at times a little more experimental. After releasing five studio albums, the band announced in 2008 that they were taking an indefinite hiatus. Since then, all the band members have stayed active working on new projects. My favourite songs from ELLEGARDEN are Fire Cracker, Space Sonic and Salamander.

ELLEGARDEN: Space Sonic

I didn’t know about ELLEGARDEN when they were still actively recording. When I went to Tokyo a year or two ago, I bought a few albums after sampling them at record store listening booths: one album—Trash We’d Love—was by Takeshi Hosomi’s new band the HIATUS and another was Parallel Lives by Shinichi Ubukata’s new band Nothing’s Carved in Stone. As the albums  came out around the same time, fans of ELLEGARDEN debated which one was best. However, I find both albums very different from one another and difficult to compare.

the HIATUS (photo downloadeded from juicemusic)

the HIATUS released their first album Trash We’d Love in 2009. The band—featuring Takeshi Hosomi and bandmates Masasucks (guitar), Koji Ueno (bass), Takashi Kashikura (Drums) and Hirohisa Horie (keyboard and production)—went for a cleaner, tighter, poppier, more melodic rock sound.

the HIATUS: Ghost in the Rain

The album is great. Though there is no one track that stands out, the songwriting, production and musicianship is very strong throughout the whole album. However, one song—The Flare—is different from others on the album; it’s  slower, grungier, with heavier guitars, a more complex arrangement and a different vocal style (with a Muse-like melody in the chorus).

the HIATUS: The Flare

Their second album— Anomaly (2010)— is much more varied, with sonic influences of grunge, pop rock, post rock, electronica, punk and art rock. To appreciate it, I need to drop whatever else I’m doing and just listen to it. I’m not sure if this album is the sound of a band searching for a new sound or simply basking in the freedom to do whatever they want.

the HIATUS: Walking Like a Man

Nothing’s Carved in Stone (aka NCIS) has also released two albums but I only have the first one—Parallel Lives (2009). In this new band, guitarist Shinichi Ubukata also handles backing vocals and is joined by Taku Muramatsu (vocals guitar), Takanori Ohkita (drums), Hidekazu Hinanta (bass).Parallel Lives occupies and interesting, but largely uninhabited border zone between the pop-punk of ELLEGARDEN, Tragically-Hip-style alternative rock, progressive rock and . . . um . . . jazz-rock. The create an audio landscape of angular guitar riffs, complex but tight arrangements, shifting time signatures, amazingly creative bass lines and drums being used as much for texture as for rhythm

Nothing’s Carved in Stone (photo downloaded from tokyohive)

The opening track— Isolation— is the strongest track on the album and shows what the band is capable of.

Nothing’s Carved in Stone: Isolation
Nothing’s Carved in Stone: Mirror Ocean

the HIATUS & Nothing’s Carved in Stone Online

The rock-electronica riffs of Boom Boom Satellites

Boom Boom Satellites
Boom Boom Satellites

Boom Boom Satellites—Michiyuki Kawashima (guitars and vocals) and Masayuki  Nakano (bass and programming)—are an electronic rock duo. The songs are in English and their style is somewhat similar to the Prodigy (i.e., Big Beat), but with heavier guitar, jazz-influenced drumming and dreamier vocals. (Edit: Sadly,  Masayuki Nakano passed away in 2017 from brain cancer).

They are usually accompanied by a regular live drummer (Yoko Fukuda is the current drummer).

Their latest album—To the Loveless—is full of strong tracks, moving effortlessly from the driving electronica of Back on My Feet and the ten-minute climax of the album—Caught in the Sun—to the harder rock of Lock Me Out and the flowing, slow-building post-rock of Stay.

The drummer plays an interesting role on this album. With the rhythm often being provided by drum and synthesizer loops, the drummer can focus more on creating textures rather than rhythms. As you can see in in the following video for Back on Me Feet, Yoko Fukuda alternates between waiting patiently and whacking seven shades of hell out of her drum kit. The studio version is offline. Here is a live version:

Boom Boom Satellites: Back on my Feet

More recently the provided the opening song, Shut Up and Explode for the anime Xam’d: Lost Memories> Is there a more exciting way to open an anime!

Boom Boom Satellites: Shut Up and Explode

Boom Boom Satellites Online
Official Website: www.bbs-net.com

The Avril-style pop-punk of fly sleep fly

Fly Sleep Fly is a five-piece rock band—vocals (NuTz), guitars (yUsUke & BACHI BLUE), bass (kaz) and drums (ShoW). Their sound? Kind of like Paramore, but more upbeat and with a touch of complicated-era Avril. They haven’t yet released a full album, but I have their third mini-album—Fly the Flag. The six tracks are all solid, but the first two—PAINter and Shine Out—stand out.  The lyrics of all six songs are in English and are all positive and inspirational (though they are often difficult to make out). If you’re feeling down and need a jump start, why not try Fly Sleep Fly?

fly sleep fly: Shine Out

Lyrics (according to the lyics booklet in the CD)

The moon from my bed
It shines on me tonight without much sympathy
The lights of the truth
They make my shade loom up into my mind.

I know it's part of myself
and never tear away
But I don't think I wanna take it all away.

(Chorus)
We were born to the light
and if we got the darkness from our birth to here
Shine out! Shine out!.
Don't be afraid of anything
We were born to be the light
Even if we drop out as you blow out the lamp
Shine out! Shine out!
I'll never easily run out of my life

Your eyes like the sun
You always shine on me
I'm just like a crying moon
I always count on you,
and never try to burn out on my own

I know you're part of myself
and never tear away
so, I wish I could shine my beam of light on you

(chorus)

I'Il never be used to the darkness all the way
but I have one thing that, I'm sure of
when there's not the light, there's not the shade all of the time.

I know it's part of myself
and never tear away
But I don't think I wanna take it all away.

I'Il never be used to the darkness all the way
but I have one thing that, I'm sure of
when there's not the light, there's not the shade all of the time

(Chorus)
fly sleep fly: set me free

More Articles on Japanese Music

J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

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Indie J-Pop (Part 1)

These four performers on the J-pop scene—Kojima Mayumi, GARNET CROW, ohashi Trio and moumoon—deal in a more sophisticated brand of melodic pop, incorporating jazz, folk and electronic influences.

The playful, quirky jazz-pop of Kojima Mayumi (小島麻由美)

Kojima Mayumi

Kojima Mayumi (小島麻由美) is one of the performers who first got me interested in Japanese music. I was teaching at City University of Hong Kong and had organised a small music sharing club for students and staff members who wanted to try something new. One of the students introduced singer-songwriter’ Kojima Mayumi’s 5th album Ai No Poltergeist Sounds of—an intriguing mix of pop, big-band jazz, Kurt Weill musical numbers, Stray Cats retro-rock, and Japanese folk. On top of that, you get a singer with a voice that blends girlish naïvety with a sultry lounge style. What an insane mix of sounds! Her music helped me realize just how varied the J-pop scene is. Here is the first track on the album, Poltergeist (ポルターガイスト):

Here is a more laid more recent number, the single Arabesque (somewhat similar in style to one of my favourite songs of hers: 赤い帽子.

She has released seven studio albums (the last being in 2006), a live album a couple of compilations and more than a dozen singles. Her song Hatsukoi was used in this amazing Nintendo commercial (shot here in Hong Kong):

Kojima Mayumi Online

The soulful elegance of Garnet Crow

Nana Azuki, Hirohito Furui, Yuri Nakamura, Hitoshi Okamato

When I describe Japanese bands, I often try to think of their Western equivalents. With GARNET  CROW, there don’t seem to be any. The closest I could come up with is a Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac)-Sade hybrid fronting Crowded House after they’ve all been watching a lot of anime.  That comparison doesn’t do the band justice, but it  might give you and idea of their sound: sophisticated, melodic, classic pop.

GARNET CROW recently celebrated their tenth anniversary. The members, who all have clearly definied roles in song-writing and performance, are Yuri Nakamura (vocals, music composition), Hitoshi Okamoto (guitar), Nana Azuki (keyboards, lyrics) and Hirohito Furui (keyboards, arrangements).

The elegant musical arrangements and Yuri’s deep voice set them apart from other bands. Unlike  many other female singers with deep voices (like Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, PJ Harvey or Melissa Etheridge), who tend to have husky voices, Yuri’s voice is pure and round. She avoids vocal techniques like glides and runs, makes minimal use of vibrato and sometimes can’t quite keep the pitch from faltering when holding long notes, so she doesn’t give the impression of being a technically amazing singer. However, her singing voice, pure and unadorned, is beautiful and expressive and helps give the band its signature sound.

The band has released eight studio albums, the latest release being Parallel Universe (2010), and two compilations. The albums are solid, full of quality songs all the way through, but without obvious hit singles; in way, Garnet Crow are throwbacks to the album-based adult-oriented rock scene of the seventies.

GARNET CROW online

The Jazzy & Smooth Pop of ohashi Trio

ohashi trio

Ohashi Trio (大橋トリオ) is a project of multi-instrumentalist and composer  Ohashi Yoshinori. The music is a laid-back blend of acoustic pop and jazz with an occasional touch of funk, creating a mellow early-70s sonic vibe accompanied by a Victorian visual aesthetic (courtesy of his ever present top hat and jacket).  I came across this artist via a record store listening booth and immediately snapped up the albums This is Music and A Bird. He has since released another album (I Got Rhythm?) and an album of covers (Fake Book).

Half of his songs are in English and half are in Japanese (with my favourite being the English We’re Waiting); the singles and their accompanying videos, however, usually feature the Japanese-language songs.

More ohashi Trio

The light breeziness of moumoon

Kōsuke Masaki & Yuka

moumoon are  a J-Pop duo with a breezy, upbeat sound. The music, composed and arranged by Kōsuke Masaki, has a gentle pop style that sometimes veers towards guitar-based rock, occasionally flirts with electronica and eighties-style new romanticism and even touches upon reggae in a couple of songs. Yuka, the vocalist and lyricist, has a unique style; she tends to sing in a high, airy slightly nasal voice, though she she sometimes adopts a deeper, rounder timbre. The songs are mainly about love, with English lyrics being used quite frequently.

The name of the band is a portmanteau combining mou (French for soft, or more literally slack) and moon.

moumoon, currently signed with the Avex label, had a minor hit this summer with the catchy, but somewhat repetitive Sunshine Girl. Their latest release, the mini-album, Spark, features the song and includes an English language version. They have released only one full album so far—Moumoon, which is an excellent album filled with beautiful melodies and effective, unobtrusive arrangements.

A wide variety of influences from western pop are bubbling beneath the surface. For example, the last track on the album features a chorus with melody strongly reminiscent of Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis while the song Don’t Wanna Be has a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on an Avril Lavigne album. Personally, I find their rare forays into electronica, like 3 days magic, to be the most interesting. More recently they enjoyed a surge in popularity when their song Hello Shooting Star was using as an ending theme in the anime Assassination Classroom.

moumoon Online

More Articles on Japanese Music

J-Pop Girls and Guitars: Female Singer-songwriters
Girls & guitars: YUI, miwa, & more
J-Rock Mix (Volume 1): Introducing Five Bands
J-Rock 1: the HIATUS, ELLEGARDEN & more
All-girl rock bands from Japan
All-girl bands:  BAND-MAID, Scandal & more
Offbeat & Sophisticated J-Pop
J-Pop: moumoon, ohashiTrio & more

~by longzijun

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