the frequency a kenny chung blog

There’s no denying that between the unverified University of Virginia rape allegations and the #YesAllWomen hashtag, rape culture is a hot button topic right now. These days, it seems like everyone’s writing analyses about its influence in media. I don’t make a habit of reviewing TV shows (mostly because I think it’s a stupid thing to do), but I’d be remiss to ignore these larger media trends. That said, two of the half-hour cable shows that I follow are Girls and Broad City. On paper, they’re both similar in concept (they feature 20-something females in NYC and are considered spiritual successors to Sex & The City), but they also diverge in other ways (Broad City is a straight-up comedy, and Girls is a comedy/drama with a more serious tone).

It’s difficult to ignore an overlapping theme between the latest episodes of both shows – rape culture. It was a literal tale of two cities – this most recent episode of Girls followed Hannah to Iowa, and the episode of Broad City was set in Brooklyn/Manhattan, as the show typically is.

Fair warning: This blog post contains spoilers about the latest episodes of Broad City (S02E01 – “In Heat”) and Girls (S04E02 – “Triggering”). Oh, and it also deals heavily with content of a sexual nature.

Broad City S02E01 - In Heat

Broad City – “In Heat”

Let’s start with Broad City since it aired first. In the episode, Abbi (played by Abbi Jacobson) is dating a new character played by Seth Rogen (“Male Stacy”). They’re in bed together, but due to the heat wave, Male Stacy falls asleep. We find out the next day (in comical fashion) that Abbi “finished” while he was unconscious.

The following exchange happens between Abbi and her best friend/other main character on the show Ilana (played by Ilana Glazer):

Ilana: (yelling over jackhammer) So, to clarify, you raped– [jackhammer stops] — (lowers voice) you raped him.
Abbi: No, no. He passed out from the heat. He seriously wanted it.
Ilana: That is literally what they say.
Abbi: Yeah, but I really mean it.
Ilana: So do they.
Abbi: Well, I…
Ilana: Dude, did you finish?
Abbi: My God, I raped him, dude. I raped Male Stacy. I’m a monster!

Earlier in the episode, Ilana directly refers to rape culture during a birthday dinner for her not-boyfriend Lincoln:

Ilana: All Hollywood media is porn, and all porn is kiddie porn. We live in a rape culture, you know? We just do. I’m gonna run to the little girl’s room. That is rape culture language right there!

By the end of the episode, Abbi accidentally makes out with an underage teenager in a dorm room, an act that she laments turns her into a repeat sex offender.

All of these conversations are played as jokes, mostly because: the show is a comedy on Comedy Central; because the situations themselves are absurd; and because – let’s face it – Seth Rogen being raped in his sleep is a funny concept.

There have been analyses written about how the episode “rapes rape culture” (a line paraphrased from the episode) by turning rape culture on its head with these jokes. The episode serves to highlight the double standard of how women raping men is often not taken seriously (surely enough, we never see Seth Rogen’s character find out about it, or any sort of falling out). And it also shows that rape jokes can be funny if done correctly. After Daniel Tosh made a threatening rape joke at a female audience member in 2012, many writers took the stance that “rape jokes are never funny”. It may be a matter of taste, but I’d venture that those same people don’t watch Louis CK’s standup, or could not imagine the possibility of the Broad City excerpt above.

The main characters of Broad City border on caricatures at times. The fictional versions of Abbi and Ilana are sexually liberated to an extreme – in the first season, Ilana video chats with Abbi while having sex so it feels like a “threesome”; in the Season 1 finale, Abbi discovers a used condom that had been inside of her for over half a week; and that’s not to mention all of the times Abbi has to reject sexual advances from Ilana.

The show almost directly addresses the oft-cited double standard that men who sleep around are commended while women who do the same are shamed. Broad City plays with these tropes, and in many cases, subverts them entirely.

In American TV, there’s a long history of womanizing being played for laughs (think Joey from Friends, or Barney from How I Met Your Mother). And in the 60s on, there were a ton of male characters who engaged in what was essentially sexual harassment (think Steve Urkel or Pepé Le Pew), also played for laughs.

Broad City goes along with these tropes, takes them to an extreme, and then toes a line predicated on social mores that probably shouldn’t be there to begin with. And that’s what makes the show funny. In my opinion, anyway.

Girls S04E02 - Triggering

Girls – “Triggering”

On the other hand, the latest episode of Girls has Hannah (Lena Dunham’s character) moving to Iowa to attend grad school for an advanced writing degree. In the first student workshop to which the audience is privy, Hannah shares a first-person fictional piece that details the emotional and sexual abuse suffered by the narrator, who many of the other students agree is clearly based on Hannah.

Her peers tear her story apart, and call it unoriginal (they liken it to 50 Shades) and say that the main character is unsympathetic. Hannah is quick to be offended and breaks the rules by providing out-of-turn cringe-worthy retorts (i.e. “history didn’t really focus on the female perspective”). Later in the episode, she even goes as far as to insist that one of the female students who criticized her in class was a survivor of abuse, which is vehemently refuted.

Much like Broad City did, Girls puts rape culture at the forefront this week. The title of the episode is a reference to how stories/descriptions of assault can trigger post-traumatic responses in survivors. Hannah even goes out of her way to warn her peers that there were “triggering aspects of the piece” as a testament to how strong she believes her writing to be, rather than as a real courtesy (there have been articles and interviews about the trivialization of the trigger warning).

Who did it better?

I won’t pass judgment on the messages that either show presented this week (again, this isn’t a TV show review blog), but I think it’s worth commending both for acknowledging the issue, but also worth understanding that neither is claiming an absolute truth or a moral high ground (definitely not Broad City). Each storyline allows for interpretation and helps further discussion, which is always a good thing.

I don’t feel that either show has an imperative to be the final say on women’s issues just because they have female creators/writers. I think that’s an impossibly high standard to place on creative people.

If rape culture were a nail, Broad City addressed it with a sledgehammer. Girls, on the other hand, took a roundabout approach to critique the use of rape culture as a plot point. There’s also some semblance of a Shakespearean “play-within-a-play” at work here. Lena Dunham, the show’s creator, has used rape/unwanted sexual advances as a plotline before (she’s also written about real life experiences in her autobiography). And in this latest episode, her character write a fictional story using a similar theme. The fictional character that Dunham portrays on the screen however, is shameless in her use of “triggering” language and scenarios. This could be a criticism of other writers (and perhaps an exercise in self-reflection), or it could simply be an unintended parallel. But it does follow a trend of Hannah’s character being incredibly unsympathetic (like the character that her character creates).

On some level, the fictional Hannah Horvath seems to purposefully fly in the face of the “strong female” archetype and is one of the least empowering female characters on TV – she’s not self-sufficient, overly dependent on her boyfriend/friends/parents, and can’t take criticism; she had a nervous breakdown and was “saved” by her ex-boyfriend Adam, who literally carried her in his arms in the final scene of the season 2. The rest of the female leads aren’t much better – one can’t cope with being broken up with her more successful boyfriend; one fails to graduate college on time because she was broken up with; and the last one basically extorted a rich man in exchange for a divorce. Not exactly role models, but then again, nobody purported that the characters on the show were supposed to be. Starring a female protagonist does not a feminist show make.

But does every single episode of Girls have to be filtered through the lens of “Is Lena Dunham undermining feminism by creating weak female characters”? I’d also say no. I’d blame it more on bad writing and one-dimensional characterization than on an explicit rebuttal of feminist ideals.

Similarly, does the fact that Amy Poehler both created a webseries titled Smart Girls and currently serves as executive producer on Broad City necessarily tie the two together thematically? Again, I’d like to say no, but I know others would disagree.

Do we have to run every episode of TV through the Bechdel test?

Probably not, but it is a fun exercise. I would venture a guess that most if not all episodes of Broad City pass with flying colors. Girls probably doesn’t and barely squeaks by this week between a throwaway scene with two of the girls watching a movie/receiving a collect call, and one of Hannah talking to her real estate agent.

It’s definitely worth analyzing how women are portrayed in popular culture. But it does a disservice to everyone to separate “female writers” and “writers”. Ideas and writing should be evaluated similarly regardless of who’s saying them. Even if the shows are called Girls and Broad City.

It’s been a few months since my last blog post, and for once I have a good reason. At the end of October, I left my position at GroupM/Mindshare, and jumped ship to DigitasLBi, where I am now the Manager of SEO for the New York office.

I did not make this choice lightly. After all, I was at GroupM for almost 3 and a half years, which is an eon for agency life. I won’t get into the details of why I left, as this isn’t meant to be a year-end rant. I also won’t speak about why I like DigitasLBi, because I’ve been there for fewer than three months.

DigitasLBi logo at the New York office

Instead of the destination, let’s talk about the journey. In this past year, I’ve known a lot of SEO folks who have switched jobs, or are looking to. So I’m guessing there will be at least some value in my speaking candidly about my job search experience.

Right off the bat, it seemed like there weren’t that many job openings. Whereas I used to receive several messages every week from recruiters on LinkedIn, it didn’t seem that way anymore. Granted, it had been several years since I last applied for jobs, so it was hard to gauge if the digital job bubble had burst, or if the lull was due to Q4 budget freezes (I highly suspect the latter). If I’m to be completely honest about why I chose Q4 to apply for jobs, I had made myself an ultimatum earlier in the year: either I was going to save up money at my old job and go to Turkey/Thailand, or I was going to find a new job. Obviously, the second option won out.

Over the course of two months:

  • I applied to 42 jobs (35 in-house)
  • I received 12 confirmed rejection emails
  • I had 7 Interviews (including phone and in-person)

 

Some general observations:

  • Almost all of these job applications were in response to LinkedIn postings (I’m incredibly thankful that I’m past the point of relying on CraigsList).
  • I was actually surprised that so many companies took the effort to send rejection emails, which I appreciated (the companies I was applying for were also pretty well-renowned, so that may have been a contributing factor).
  • In-house positions seem to take a long time to fill. I saw several jobs reposted several times. I suppose they also tend to receive a lot more applications, as some hiring managers took almost 2 months to respond… and those were the ones interested in interviewing me).

 

A few caveats: many of the positions I was applying for were digital brand management roles, and not strictly SEO jobs, so take the above figures with a grain of salt. I had a colleague who was also looking at the same time (mostly for in-house SEO positions), and he also lamented the low response rate and limited postings.

At the end of the day, I interviewed at DigitasLBi and found that their agency structure fostered internal growth and provided opportunities to expand my skillset. At some point, I would like to branch back out into creative (where I started), and moving back to a full-service agency was a good step toward that goal.

I don’t have many neat takeaways for my experience, as I’m not sure if it was unique or typical. But I do think that Q4 is the toughest time to search for a job, so those of you looking now should be thankful that tomorrow begins Q1!

Jennifer Lawrence playing with her iPhone

This is the opening line of a blog post I never thought I’d have to write: this blog post covers the topic of nude selfies and online masturbation culture, and as a result, may not be safe for work.

On August 31, a deluge of nude celebrity photos was leaked onto the internet. In the past, we’ve seen similar isolated incidents (Scarlett Johansson and Rihanna, for example), but the leak that occurred over Labor Day weekend was unprecedented: it included photos of dozens of celebrities (including Jennifer Lawrence, Victoria Justice, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande).

It quickly became fodder for tabloids, Twitter users, and journalists on the 24-hour news cycle. And as is typically the case when you have non-tech journalists reporting on technology and Internet culture, there was a severe lack of information at play. I know I’ve made a habit of picking on CNN, but it is never without warrant. For instance, the following video:

Let’s ignore the fact that this Brett Larson is obviously underqualified to be CNN’s “Technology Analyst”. But there are so many things wrong with what he’s said in this clip. Most of these things could have been easily fixed with a simple visit to Know Your Meme.

To clear some things up:

4chan is not a person. It is a message board located at 4chan.org. On that site, there are many sub-forums, known by shorthand abbreviations. For instance, /v/ is the Video Games forum, and /mu/ is for Music.

And then there’s /b/, which stands for Random, because why not? It’s where anything goes, including porn, gore, illegal porn, file sharing, coordinated cyber-bullying, and even some hacking. /b/ is also typically what uninformed journalists think all of 4chan is.

To be clear, using “4chan” as a metonym for “/b/” is as inaccurate as saying reddit’s now-defunct /r/jailbait sub-reddit represented the whole community (which happened all too often during the 2012 scandal).

Now, Anonymous refers to a collective of “hackers” or “hactivists” with a cause. The problem (and genius) of using this name is that literally anybody can be part of Anonymous. Occupy Wall Street protesters in Guy Fawkes masks called themselves Anonymous. A high school kid participating in a low-level DDoS attack can be Anonymous. The people who leaked information related to the Steubenville High School rape case were Anonymous. They even made Time Magazine’s 2012’s list of The World’s 100 Most Influential People. The biggest mistake that journalists make with regard to Anonymous is to pigeonhole them into a single agenda. It is a group with almost no central leadership, all using the same name for purposes of solidarity and obfuscation. They can use their powers to correct what they believe to be political injustices, or they can just completely dox someone (i.e. share their private information online) for the “lulz” (i.e. just because they think it’s entertaining). That said, there is a high likelihood that Anonymous and 4chan users from /b/ were involved with the celebrity phone hacking in some way.

Some more terminology that you’ll hear include “The Fappening”. The name is an obvious reference to the terrible M. Night Shyamalan movie The Happening. It was likely coined by 4chan/reddit, but was definitely popularized by reddit by way of /r/TheFappening, a community devoted to covering the leaked celebrity photos. This sub-reddit became the fastest growing for the month, with over 55,000 subscribers in about a week’s time.

The popularity of /r/TheFappening

Now, for some “lulz”. “The Fappening” derives from the term “fap”, which is used as an onomatopoeic euphemism for masturbation. It is both a noun and a verb, though the latter is more common. For instance, there’s a community on reddit for the 30 day no-masturbation challenge (a la Seinfeld) called /r/NoFap. With all due seriousness, it’s undeniably hilarious when established news sources adopt the term “The Fappening” because of all of its sophomoric connotations.

Here are some other terms that you’ll probably see thrown around in relation to this scandal:

iCloud: The cloud refers to saving data on the internet for backup, sharing, and syncing purposes. iCloud is the service that Apple uses for its devices, including iPhones. It has been speculated that there was a security breach involving iCloud that led to the leak of all these photos.

Brute forcing refers to utilizing all possible key combinations in order to gain access to someone’s account. In the CNN video above, their “technology analyst” implies that a hacker brute forced their way into all of these celebrity’s accounts, which is a preposterous claim.

Hacking and Hacker are both extremely loaded terms, typically with negative connotations. At its fundamental definition, a hacker bypasses a computer or device’s security in order to gain access to files or systems. This can be done for improving security, or for more nefarious purposes. In the common tech vernacular, a Cracker refers to hackers who partake in criminal activity.

White Knighting is an Internet slang term that refers to when people (typically men) defend strangers (typically women) from online criticisms due to some romantic attraction. It can also refer to what’s happening when “journalists” and celebrities refer to the hackers as pathetic, pervy basement dwellers or calling people who view leaked photos sexual molesters.

Victim blaming: Let’s try our best not do this.

Note: This blog post is not meant to pass judgment on the events that took place in Ferguson, but is rather a mass communication analysis of the responses from both mainstream and social medias. Death is always tragic, and this post is not meant to downplay the loss of life.

On August 9, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer. This just about ends the list of things that everyone can agree on. There have been many conflicting reports about the circumstances of the shooting, and as a result, the public has been subject to many different interpretations by the mainstream media.

With regard to communications, agenda setting refers to the ability of the media to shape what people talk about and value as important by devoting space/time to certain stories; a second tenet of the theory is that the press does not necessarily reflect reality accurately. And what about images? It’s been long since established that images are more persuasive than text in the context of news. And while undoctored photos cannot lie, they most certainly can be misleading. The pictures shown in news reports can have a significant impact on how the viewing audience consumes the content of the stories.

After the initial coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown, some online commentators took issue with the photo of Michael Brown used in news reports, citing that it was deliberately chosen to depict some version of the scary black man trope. See below for an example:

In response, Twitter users began utilizing the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown to express their dissatisfaction with how the media negatively portrays black men.

An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag
An example from Twitter of the #iftheygunnedmedown hashtag

Some also likened it to the coverage of another black teenager who was recently killed. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman in Florida. As a result of the 24-hour news cycle, we all became painfully aware of the “Stand-Your-Ground” law, and were exposed to many photos of Martin that were less than flattering; this included photos of him flipping the bird and smoking marijuana.

As time passed, those photos were largely replaced by this one:

The most commonly shown Trayvon Martin Photo in the news
The most commonly shown photo of Trayvon Martin in the news

However, the above was a (then) 5-year-old photo of Martin. Was it a conscious decision to use an outdated photo in order to play up the differences between Zimmerman and Martin? Or was the media overcorrecting on their previous coverage? Either way, it leads to biased reporting. Zimmerman’s lawyer Don West even made this joke during his client’s trial:

While the joke itself was pretty cringeworthy, he did have a point. Anyone who had even watched a single news report about the Martin/Zimmerman altercation already had their understanding of the events shaped by the media.

Sure enough, the new “default” photo of Brown seen in most news reports changed to the one below where he looks younger and less “offensive”:

Photo of Michael Brown circulated on CNN
Photo of Michael Brown shown on CNN

But was this photo any more accurate? The photo was also not that recent (dated January 2013 according to his Facebook). The photo that the media originally showed (of Brown throwing up a peace sign) was actually his default/public Facebook photo (as of July 8). Occam’s razor would posit that the media ran with the “peace sign” photo because they didn’t bother doing further research (and if we wish to be more raffish, we can also invoke Hanlon’s razor). Perhaps it was a kneejerk reaction to call the use of that photo racist?

In stark contrast to how the media has portrayed Brown, here are security footage stills of Brown robbing a convenience store the same day he was shot:

Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery
Security footage of Michael Brown allegedly committing a robbery

The iffy timing and the horrible damage control by the Ferguson Police Department notwithstanding, this set of images definitely tells a much different story. In this footage, Brown is an imposing 6-foot-4, 295-pound man, and not an innocent child. If this image of Brown were also presented with the original news coverage, how would public opinion differ? Would that have quelled the accusations of discrimination? Would it have prevented riots?

At the end of the day, journalism should be about reporting truth. So which image is a more accurate depiction of Michael Brown? As is typically the case when extremes are involved, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Maybe #iftheygunnedmedown is actually presenting a false dichotomy; Michael Brown could have simultaneously been the recent high school graduate and the man who robbed a convenience store. As consumers of the news, we have a responsibility to be more critical of what’s presented to us. In real life, narratives are not as cut and dry as they are in cartoons. Or on CNN.

I was invited to attend the Mobile Media Upfront presented by the Mobile Media Summit in New York City on May 19. There were many presenters from my employers’ family of companies (GroupM and WPP) as well as some who worked with my clients. There were many recurring themes, including current deficits in mobile analytics, the need for stronger cohesion in media tactics, the fact that mobile should be measured through its own metrics, and the general notion that mobile’s time is now and it’s here to stay.

Below are a summary of some of the favorite tracks I attended, as well as some live Tweets. As always, the points and POVs presented below belong to the representative speakers and inclusion does not indicate an endorsement.

Featured Fireside Chat: Babs Rangaiah, Vice President, Global Media Innovation & Ventures, Unilever
Babs Rangaiah (Unilever), James Smith (Verve)
Babs shared insights into Unilever’s mobile strategy, including both strengths and weaknesses, and where the future of mobile marketing is from a global perspective. He shared the difficulties involved with marketing across different regions, as well as unique marketing opportunities that are available only in developing markets.

App Marketing Done Right
Spencer Scott (Fiksu), Jonathan Anastas (Activision), Stuart Meyler (Beeby Clark+Meyler), Lewis Goldman (MetLife), Ian Beacraft (Leo Burnett)
This was a great panel with tons of actionable insights on how to coordinate all marketing channels and efforts to connect with users throughout their consumer journey, and not necessarily via a mobile-first approach.

Brand Experiences in the Mobile World
Sal Candela (Undertone), Andrea Wolinetz (PHD Network), Eric Korsh (DigitasLBi), Amanda Zaky (Mars Chocolate N.A.), Danny Englander (Mobext)
This panel focused on the importance of context when marketing in the mobile space, without overstepping the bounds of users’ “personal time”.

Creative in a Mobile World
Harry Kargman (Kargo), Mark Jackson (McCann Worldgroup), Eric Weisberg (JWT New York), Glenn Sheehan (GSD&M), Gregg Colvin (Universal McCann)
This track focused on creative solutions for bringing brands to the mobile consumer (not exclusively within the bounds of digital ads). In addition to the points below, Etsy was brought up as a disruptive service, WWF was brought up for their Snapchat campaign for endangeres species, and Kit Kat was praised for its partnership with Android.

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