Black Friday Madness Slowly Spreads Around the World

This past Friday, if you were in the U.S., chances are you witnessed or even took part in the “great American tradition” known as Black Friday. Chances are you are also familiar with the many shocking news stories that surface every year about people camping out for days for a good deal, people being trampled in the frenzy to get into stores, and more recently, even tragic shootings. Ironically, this madness all follows Thanksgiving, a day generally reserved for family and giving thanks. What about consumerism, about products and things, is it that makes people so crazy? Is this a solely American phenomenon?

black friday campers      black friday crowd

To many outside of the country, Black Friday epitomizes consumerist American culture. Americans have long been subject to the stereotype that we commercialize everything, from holidays to disasters, and capitalizing on other cultural products as well. The term “Black Friday” itself has its roots in financial jargon and is associated with the financial crisis of 1869, but the qualifier “Black” has come to carry a negative connotation in popular culture, relating to all the violence that occurs on the day each year. This tension between being a positive day that boosts the economy and being a dark day that carries public dangers has characterized Black Friday and has become a large part of American culture since its beginnings.

Yet in recent times, perhaps since this shopping event has repeatedly proven its ability to boost sales and improve the economy, foreign countries have quickly started adopting the Black Friday model. I began to consider whether this is another instance of Western cultural imperialism or just a way for business to promote purchasing. Will countries all over the globe begin seeing the same violence and frenzy that we see each year on Black Friday? Or will other countries adapt the model to fit their own cultural environments? Recently, Mexico has started their own weekend of consumerism named “El Buen Fin,” and India has adapted the Black Friday model to promote e-commerce, calling it the “Great Online Shopping Festival.” Several other countries — South Africa, Colombia, Denmark, Sweden, and even notoriously anti-consumerist France — have adopted Black Friday culture to boost economies. It is doubtful that Black Friday will take on the same violent nature in other countries as it does in the U.S., simply due to cultural differences, but the imagery is shockingly similar. Below are images from Black Friday in Mexico and France.

black friday mexico               

black friday france

Currently the imagery we see associated with Black Friday in American news media focuses on the frenzy and crowds that develop. A simple Google image search for “black friday” reveals photographs of people running, pushing, grabbing, and screaming. To me, these images draw direct association with images of violent protests and riots, an interesting link between two seemingly opposite values. On Black Friday, the goal is to purchase products from large corporations and institutions. In a protest or revolution, the object is to revolt against institutions. To stop the continually growing violence surrounding Black Friday, a dramatic institutional and cultural shift is needed.

black friday    black friday shopping

black friday fighting    running black friday

sources:
http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/france-monde/grosses-promos-avant-noel-le-black-friday-debarque-en-france-ia0b0n2517221

http://chflawyers.com/562/economic-stimulus-for-mexico-el-buen-fin-mexicos-black-friday/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Friday_%28shopping%29#Other_countries

Korean Cosmetics in U.S.

In New York City, you can see so many Sephoras, the cosmetic stores. Some stores are small, but most of them that are located in popular places such as Union Square, K-town, and Time Square are huge. They have various brands and their products, including foreign brands. Yesterday, I went to Sephora to buy body products and realized that there were so many Americans and Europeans buying Korean cosmetics. It is true that there are not varieties of Korean products, but there are still some of them and they are noticeably popular. Since I did not expect to see the actual moment of Korean cosmetics getting picked up by an American woman, it was interesting. She was buying all the facial products from Amore Pacific and trying out other products. The Korean cosmetics were not as popular as now, compared to when I was in high school. Before getting imported to the United States, the Korean cosmetics launched markets in Asia, such as China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. These countries were interested in Korean cosmetics due to the popularity of Korean songs and Korean drama. They wanted to know about what popular Korean celebrities use for their make-ups and hair. Based on the Korea’s media, the Korean cosmetics simultaneously turned into one of the significant elements in exporting market. After successfully attracting Asian consumers, the reputation of Korean cosmetics stretched out to the United States. Based on article written by Gandhi in NBC News, “it all started with BB creams, the tinted moisturizer/foundation product that took the American cosmetics market by storm almost immediately after it was introduced at Sephora stores nationwide three years ago. Since then, the New York Times reports, the American appetite for Korean cosmetics has grown considerably.” I believe as more of Korea’s media affects U.S., more Americans will wonder about the Korean celebrities’ visual that will connect to what kind of cosmetics they use. As Korean cosmetics modify the products in order to fit to different skin types and make attractive advertisements/promotions that suites current trend in globalized world, they will continuously succeed in the market.

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Not only in the United States, but also in Korea, I had interesting experience. Because, despite which country one is from, many women are interested in how they look and have desire to look as pretty as celebrities on television. So, there are many beauty related television programs that introduces new products from other countries and tell the viewers about which actress used what product. After watching such programs, some women actually go to stores and buy the same products and expect to see same effect on their visuality. Using celebrities as fostering the cosmetic market is definitely effective method as many people are exposed to media. Ultimately, as one product becomes well-known in Korea, you need to put name down on the waitlist to get the product. For instance, one of Korean famous actresses used Yves Saint Laurent lip-gloss in TV drama, and many people waited for that product to get restored. I was one of those people, but I did not want to wait, so I planned to buy it as I came back to New York. When I went to the store, the lady told me that I am getting the last one in the store. Then, she asked me why this particular lip-gloss is so popular. So, I told her about the drama and the actress. I was also surprised because I did not know that Korea TV drama is this much well-known in the United States. Consequently, with the globalization of media products, the Korean cosmetics will be more globalized in international market.

Source:

Gandhi, Lakshmi. “Korean Cosmetic Companies Continue to Court Americans” 10 Nov 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/korean-cosmetic-companies-continue-court-americans-n238256

To myth or not to myth? Greece’s Communication Strategies and National Branding

On November 3, at the World Travel Market London Exhibition Center, Greek Tourism Minister, Olga Kefalogianni, debued the country’s 2015 communication strategy. Titled “And everywhere you turn: Gods…myths…heroes,” the promotional video intends to maintain Greece’s recent increase in tourism, which rose within the last two years. Opening with an image of a fictitious writer, in his Manhattan office, the video takes the viewer through the writer’s discovery of Greece and the mythical country’s influence on his being. Emphasizing the way in which Greece’s “light” is so much more different and clear than that felt in any other country, the writer visits ancient archaeological sites that once inhabited Gods and Goddesses.  According to Kefalogianni, the video utilizes the Greek Gods and Heroes, which all consumers have learned about in their childhood, to frame Greece’s uniqueness and hospitality.  By using these globally recognizable greek symbols, Greece’s 2015 communication strategy hopes to open visitors’s eyes to the country’s mainland and mountainous areas, so that those abroad understand that Greece is not only known for its “sun and seas” (Greek News). With images of Greece’s ancient temples and monasteries, built on majestic mountain sides, the video reinforces Greece’s core values, its myths, “which convey moral lessons from the ancient times up to the present” (Newsroom).

To understand the promotional video from a national branding perspective, I focus on a couple of points from Sue Curry Jansen’s “Designer Nations: Neo-Liberal nation branding – Brand Estonia”. In line with Jansen’s arguments, this promotional video shares a “sense of fate or destiny that implies continuity with a heroic mythic or past,” contributing to the collective consciousness of the nation, but also globally in that Greece is widely recognized as the “cradle of civilization”. And so, the video narrates a story about Greece through its history of myths, hero, and democracy. However, even though the video markets Greece in a way that is globally understandable, it fails to reinterpret Greece’s national identity and create a “calculative space” of new realities (Jansen). Here, is where some viewers base their criticism.

Looking back to 2012, the Greek National Tourism Organization launched the “You in Greece” campaign. This promotional video compiled a series of clips, interviewing a variety of visitors, from all over the world, while they sat at cafes, restaurants, on the beach, or amongst ancient ruins in Greece. The informality of these clips and rawness of the interviews perhaps cultivates a new type of reality, in that viewers will still see all the familiar scenic backdrops of Greece without the cliches of its Gods and Goddesses that has turned off so many viewers from the 2015 communication strategy. Also, rather than understanding Greece through the perspective of a fictitious wealthy writer, the viewer will hear from citizens of their countries. Because the 2012 communication strategy does not focus so much on Greece’s mythic past, the video seems more commercially ambitious because it focuses on tourists speaking about their time in Greece, while in Greece. After all, nation branding attempts to create a national identity that is commercial enough to attract tourists and influence the nation’s economy.

In my opinion, because myths and ancient civilization are so much apart of Greece’s global identity, a combination of both the 2012 and 2015 campaigns would provide a more attractive promotional video.

Works Cited

Greek News. “2015 Campaign Spot Introduced. Greek News. 5 Nov 2015.http://www.greeknewsonline.com/2015-campaign-spot-introduced/.

Jansen, Sue Curry. “Designer nations: Neo-liberal nation branding -Branding Estonia”. Social Identities. January 2008.

Newsroom. “Myths, gods, and heroes: Greece’s new communication strategy to draw tourists”. Protothemanews.com. 5 Nov 2015. http://en.protothema.gr/myths-gods-heroes-greeces-new-communication-strategy-to-draw-tourists-watch-video/.

Snapchat Live Stories: Connecting People

If you have Snapchat, the Our Story live story feature may be annoying to find on your friends list, but it serves as a method for people to see what is happening around at these certain events around the world. Contributing to events depends on factors such as geolocation, but the content is viewable to all Snapchat users (about 16.5 million daily). Gathering the snaps from people at these certain events allows other users to act as spectators or vicariously live through those sharing their moments.

For example, during the World Cup over the summer Snapchat created a live story for the event collected in an account called “Rio Live.” As someone who spent each and very day watching the games (but then like most, not following soccer after the World Cup ended), I personally found it to unify viewers all around the world. Celebrations were not just limited to those around you or the live tweets that you read on Twitter, but also shared with the celebrations of those actually in Brazil. It made it seem as though the hype of the World Cup was present in almost everyone.

This expands how people view spectacles. Because the content of Snapchat stories are user-generated, the role of the gatekeeper is diminished. There is probably some filtering to prevent spam from being included, but for the large part this feature of Snapchat shares one of the most beloved characteristics of Web 2.0. It transcends location to connect experiences and offer an alternative method of viewing that comes directly from normal people, not marketers or a media organization. Since the beginning of live Our Stories in June, Snapchat has created user-curated stories for events like Halloween, Diwali, and various concerts.


Souces:

http://www.businessinsider.com/snapchat-active-users-exceed-30-million-2013-12

http://blog.snapchat.com/post/89064817345/introducing-our-story

Are New Lotion Ads Replacing the Old Soap Ads?

The ad posted on NYU Snaps.

The ad posted on NYU Snaps.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed the other night, I paused when I noticed an unusual advertisement. It was actually a photo taken by a student and posted through NYU Snaps, a Facebook page for publicly, yet anonymously, sharing snapchats. The ad itself is for a face peel, though the student’s added text mocks the ad, a sign that Photoshop has become so obvious to consumers that we not only distrust it, but find it humorous. What I noticed though, was the stark change in the skin tone of the girl, supposedly before and after the peel. This immediately reminded me of the soap advertisements from the late nineteenth century, discussed in Anne McClintock’s “Soft-Soaping Empire.” The ad purports that the peel leaves the consumer with ideal skin; yes, it is free of some slight wrinkles, but the only major difference is that her skin is many shades lighter. This product shows the before and after, without showing the process, even though it would be impossible to lighten your skin so easily with a peel. This is just like the before and after advertisements common of soap ads, which magically cleansed children’s black skin to white. By associating the lighter skin with the ideal (although the girl looks no more beautiful after than before), this advertisement gives into a subtle hint of racism in which whiter skin is deemed better for no apparent reason. Many cosmetic and beauty product ads rely on before-and-after frames or cutaways, often lightening skin with Photoshop. The cartoon advertisements for soap now seem completely inappropriate in their simplified graphics, but although Photoshop’s subtleties have become obvious to the viewer, are we still noticing the racist undertones these alterations imply?

The banned foundation advertisement.

The banned foundation advertisement.

The above advertisement was banned in the U.K. due to it’s use of Photoshop to create an unrealistic and unattainable “image” of their product. But the ad wasn’t banned for skin lightening so much as it’s “unrealistic” and therefore false advertising. Jo Swinson, the Parliament member who brought up the notion of a ban, critiqued the “excessive retouching” that creates an ideal of “flawless skin.” It seems that people were upset that the model’s skin was too smooth more so than too light. The ad does not show any before results of the three things it purports to correct, so you are only left with swipes of foundation that lighten the model’s skin a few shades. The darker skin has no wrinkles, but since it is the skin without foundation, it is selling the consumer on the idea that this darker skin is worse. The dark skin is associated with other undesirable aspects that are more of a sign of aging or stress. The model’s skin may look slightly smoother, but it really is just slightly lighter (which L’Oreal admitted to doing in the retouching process). But this racist undertone wasn’t addressed by the media, Parliament, or the overall coverage of the ban. Instead, the issue was boiled down to Photoshop’s ability to create a “perfect” image and smooth skin. It seems that the consumer is still unaware of the racism because they are still in shock of the technical capacity of Photoshop.

An ad for a Facebook application sponsored by Vaseline skin lightening cream.

An ad for a Facebook application sponsored by Vaseline skin lightening cream.

The above advertisement is actually for a Facebook application, sponsored by Vaseline (which is ultimately trying to sell you their product through their use of the application). This application, targeted towards Indian men (the target consumer of the Vaseline product), allows you to lighten your skin tone. Again, lightness is seen as the ideal while darkness is associated with spots and other flaws. But what exactly is Vaseline trying to sell? The above image could easily blend in alongside any of the other cosmetic and beauty product ads mentioned above or filling magazine pages across the world. The product isn’t explicitly stated in the ads, but it seems as if it is selling a “miracle” peel or foundation. But in reality, Vaseline is trying to sell a men’s skin-lightening cream. Skin-lightening cream is the direct result of years of racist undertones in advertising images that associate lightness with the “after” and the “ideal.” There is no real reason for this beauty ideal other than this is what advertisers have been telling us in their ads since the beginning of modern consumer advertising (which is itself a result of a long history of racism in Western culture). I think the above ad is a sign of our inability to look deeply beyond Photoshop; it’s an ad for a Photoshop-esque app that could easily be mistaken as an ad for a normal beauty product or foundation, but the ad is actually trying to sell a product with an explicit connection to racism. These are the invisible moral lines that Photoshop blurs as commodity racism becomes digitized.

Sources:

“Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising” by Anne McClintok

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/julia-roberts-christy-turlington-makeup-ads-banned-u-oreal-maybelline-ads-cited-article-1.155892

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/07/16/facebook.skin.lightening.app/

Nabokov’s Lolita

“America, the country of rosy children and great trees, where life would be such an improvement on dull dingy Paris.”

AVT_Vladimir-Nabokov_266

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born in Russia on April 23, 1899. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Nabokov and his family went into exile in England. The Nabokovs lived in both Germany and France before immigrating to the United States in 1940. The move to America inspired Nabokov to begin writing in English so he began Lolita in 1949. It was originally rejected by American publishers who thought the story too scandalous. Nabokov persisted and Lolita was published in France in 1955 by Olympia Press and soon became an underground literary sensation. Driven by the increasing critical acclaim, an American edition was published in 1958. Some countries deemed it obscene and banned it, but the novel became a best seller in the United States. As Berger proves, it is vital to understand the context in which this text was created to grasp the underlying meaning that builds between the characters.

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Lolita is a comparison of Europe “The Old World” and America in more ways than meets the eye. Various relations between European and American cultures result in seemingly never ending conflicts throughout Nabokov’s work. Charlotte Haze is an American who’s daughter is the coquettish Lolita. Humbert Humbert is a European man who is interesting in many facets. Charlotte, a “typical” American, is lured by Humbert’s sophistication and worldliness. She quickly marries him due to his intellect and charm. While on the other hand, Humbert has no feelings for Charlotte. He thinks of the American culture as superficial and evanescent in which Charlotte has the role of a guileless and artless housewife. Humbert soon becomes infatuated with her daughter, Lolita, and her many crudities. He enscribes her daily actions in detail during his travels through America with her, showcasing the opportunities the country has for freedom. In the novel, he states that he defiled America rather than the other way around.

kinopoisk.ru

Lolita was revolutionary for its time due to its candid discussions of desire and sexuality. Lolita was adapted for film two times. Stanley Kubrick did the first adaptation in 1962 while Nabokov himself worked on the script. Lolita was adapted for film again in 1997 by director Adrian Lyne. Both versions faced controversy for sex scenes and the humor around pedophilia. In my opinion, neither film captures Nabokov’s complex language, coquettish humor and romantic sentiments. Due to the novel, two movie adaptations and the multitude of depictions of Lolita, Lolita has transformed into a timeless piece of visual culture. Through globalization Lolita has become a symbol of a coquettish, young, liberal and sexually proud woman.

Lolita-Quad-GB-011

Shake it Off, shake it off!

The past month, Taylor Swift released her 5th studio album called “1989”. As an artist she has had enormous success the past years, that I did not expect anything less than her album debuting at #1 worldwide. It’s the biggest album of 2014 with 1.287 million copies sold  in its first weekJune 2002 was the last time a record (Eminem’s “The Eminem Show”) sold as many copies in one week.

But what is it that made this album a global success? It is important to look at the release of her first music video “Shake it Off”  before the release of the actual album and how it had expanded on a global level. Music video as an art form has been part of our culture ever since MTV coined the distribution of music videos in 1981 so it has always plays a vital role within mainstream culture.

The music video itself starts off with Taylor Swift being in a ballet studio without wearing the proper attire, then she is in a hip hop setting impersonating how hip hop musicians behave. Throughout the video, Taylor Swift shifts from various dance settings to show how she doesn’t fit in in any of those shown. She dances with a lot of energy in wacky, goofy character and thus creates some dance moves associated with the music video. She encourages people to “Shake it off” and people are seen as having fun and feeling relieved in the music video. Take a look at the official music video:

I did expect the music video and song to receive many responses worldwide and it did by going viral and having its own versions. People created their own versions of “Shake it Off”.   Starting off with a hilarious rendition of President Obama singing “Shake it Off”,  it is evident that a music videos and songs can easily be taken out of context.

Every pop song usually gets an indie spin, and here a Canadian group called Walk Off Earth did a recreation of Taylors’ song on a chilled beach. Its very common to change the rhythm, style of popular song to appeal to a different audience and YouTube has allowed for smaller artists to express their artistic version of songs. I absolutely love this version.

In addition, look at this African Hipster version of the pop song created by Alex Boye. Throughout the last year, singer and songwriter Alex Boyé has been taking the Internet by storm, publishing video after video of his Africanized covers of popular music.

Just like the trend of recreating “Gangnam Style” two years ago, Shake it Off has received so many self produced videos that it is even hard to pick my favorite ones. Take a look at these frat boys from Transylvania University and their lip sync music video to Shake It Off.

Lastly a version I absolutely believe is amazing, is the viral Parody called “Knock it off” created by mothers by altering the lyrics and content of Taylors’ music video to talk about their daily struggles as mothers.

From all the above examples of recreations of Taylor Swifts “Shake it Off” it is important to understand the role of music and music video within global visual culture. It is easily distributed, manipulated and can be a form of expression to any person around the world. Besides, isn’t that the main goal of visual culture?

-Natalia K.