Monday, August 31, 2009

Irish A-list of media earners

A member of the government committee on communications has asked for RTE to review the earnings of its top stars. I have heard many times in recent history that the Taoiseach of Ireland earns more than his comparable member of the U.S. government, President Barack Obama. It seems that now the government agency is turning the books on the media that brought this fact to the attention of the population.

It may seem a little childish of a tit-for-tat but it is an interesting conversation. The main broadcaster, historically, in Ireland is RTE (Radio Telifis Eireann) and it is state run. As a study of political economy, it is interesting to note that a state run media producer/broadcaster has some stars on its payroll with salaries of up to 850,000 Euro. Mr. Pat Kenny commands that salary which is paid by this "independent" government run media.

As time continues I will learn more on the workings of RTE. After a little research it is difficult to find a good book on the history and the workings of the organisation (I am now in Ireland so the spelling is with an s and not a z). Perhaps this will be a little project further into the future.

If any of you have information on a good reference about RTE please let me know.

The referenced article says that sources within RTE say that the earnings report which will be published soon will cause "much embarrassment."

This is the beginning of my transition back to the Emerald Isle. "Embarrassment" at high earnings? What language do we speak here in Ireland? It was not so long ago that the Celtic Tiger was roaring, and talk of high earnings was anything but embarrassing. Is this a turn in the culture and psychology of the nation? Or is it just a reaction to a recession to placate the masses and to turn the books on the media for shining the light on the earnings of the Taoiseach?

Source for this post:

Horan, N. (Aug. 30, 2009). Calls to rein in salaries of RTE stars paid 'more than Obama'. Sunday Independent. p. 8.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bandslam, Marx and Aer Lingus: Mass Media, Commercialism and Human Communication.

Tonight I attended a showing of Bandslam. This is a teen, high school story about growing up and taking negative and making it positive. The movie was fine, but my 13 year old daughter was sitting beside me smiling, giggling and enjoying. The experience in the moment was beautiful, a father and daughter enjoying a movie together.

The social, psychological and economic issues raised by the content were overshadowed by the moment in time. Quality time spent with my daughter, without communicating directly during the movie with each other but, experiencing the enjoyment of a media production. The product placements were obvious and were even alluded to in the dialogue of the movie. The main character once commented on the commercialization of bands and band names so that the original artistry gets lost in the commercialism.

It is interesting that the dialogue brings our attention to the over commercialization of art. Of course the lesson is ironic in its very existence in a Hollywood movie. But I wonder if it is better to have this reference in the movie or not? Is the lesson learned and/or communicated to the viewers that too much commercialism is not good? Maybe.

As educators we aspire to educate. Some (academic) bloggers argue continuously that education is not for employment but for the development of the self or the intellect. Why can't the two be interconnected?

Bandslam is probably a mediocre movie overall but it is a very professional production. Is there really anything wrong with helping students be capable of working on a professional Hollywood movie like Bandslam or on TV news or radio etc? We, my daughter and I, just did two days in Universal Studios in Hollywood. The professional attitude and development of the Universal Studios theme park is of a very very high standard.

Interestingly, I spent a lot of my time there critiquing the commercial aspects of the park but was asked to complete a survey as I left. I did. I could not fault the place for entertainment and courtesy of staff. Maybe it is a little pricy but I just thought that it was a great experience with my 13 year old daughter (if commercialism is ignored).

Is there really anything wrong with the commercial characters and the themes? Is there a better model? What is it? Let's be realistic with our answers. Is a Marxist (society) theme park really feasible? If so, how?

As I ready for my one way trip to Ireland on an Aer lingus flight I have heard from a responsible source that Aer Lingus is stopping direct flights from San Francisco to Dublin because of Irish Trade Unions demands. I am informed that the requirements made for Aer Lingus crews on long haul flights are over and above the requirements made and granted to other air transport companies.

I'm all for the employee. I'm all for less commercialism, even a little sharing and caring. But when demands for changes are made in any situation we must be careful to consider carefully the alternatives. I will benefit (it seems) from the direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin but I will be one of the last. Perhaps a little compromise could have saved the route? I don't know.

Proposing media theories which inevitably tear down the structure of the media without an appreciation of how it actually works is a one sided pedagogical approach. A little compromise/balance might give the student an appreciation for the theories of Marxism, sociology and psychology WITHIN the structure that is reality. Knocking it all down all the time will only turn them against one side or the other. We can engage the theories of criticism while at the same time appreciating the profession which the students are expected to operate within, hopefully happily.

What I do know is this. A Hollywood movie on a Friday evening in San Francisco was enjoyed thoroughly by a 40 year old man and his 13 year old daughter. It gave them material for discussion and chat. They smiled and giggled at happenings on the screen which identified that they had something in common. Laughter.

I'll take this experience without questions. Hollywood or Marx - at the end of it all, it is about human communication.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reality TV: If you can't beat them ...?

Reality programming accounts for more than 25% of prime time viewing on the five broadcast networks. The popularity of reality programming was helped along by the writers strike in the US a few years ago. Many cable channels show a lot of reality TV too and continue showing repeats. The cost of a network reality show is approximately $1 million per hour. This is about a half of the cost of a scripted show. The salaries relate. Producer's salaries start at approximately $1,000 per week on a reality show which is one third of the rate on a scripted show. (Wyatt, 2009)

These reality posts are usually independent contractor positions which means less benefits and little job security. Seems to me, it is a typical economic model for the 21st century. Reality shows unlike scripted dramas or comedies, can be shot on a seven-days-a-week schedule, and takes maximum advantage of the availability of the contestants.

According to Wyatt (2009) "the lesson to anyone entering the television industry is pretty stark: Reality is where the jobs are." The indications are that this is the area of the industry that will continue to thrive in the US. One argument for this is that the new generation of practitioners have grown up watching reality television and they will gravitate towards what they know. So says "Chris Coelen, chief executive of RDF Media USA, whose productions include "Don't forget the Lyrics" for Fox and "Wife Swap" for ABC" (Wyatt, 2009).

Reality TV is all over the place. Whether this is good or bad is not really what I would like to address. Perhaps RT is here for more time. If it is - why worry? Can't reality TV be good TV? Can't we produce RT that is socially aware and intelligent? Really, when people bite their thumbs at reality TV, I wonder what is so much better? Is it the sitcoms? The news? The soap operas? Or are they comparing RT to the list of "best movies" in their heads? An unfair comparison I suggest.

If RT is the ground zero for the future of TV, (whether recent or afar) then isn't it time to start measuring it up against the sociological, psychological, aesthetic, and perhaps even Marxist criteria we have in media studies, and strive to make it better?

We should not snub our noses at what is most popular just because. We should aspire to understand the attraction and then maybe even contribute to making it better.

Doneen Arquines should be congratulated. She took the task at hand and worked hard to get into the business. She has managed by the accounts of Edward Wyatt to grin and bear it, pay her dues and continue working. (It probably helped that she studied a little anthropology.)

In this 21st century it may be appropriate to respect those who manage to break into the business. It may be prudent to listen to what they have to say.

Source for this post:

Wyatt, E. (2009, July 26). Television fledgling keeps it real. The New York Times, Arts and Leisure Section, P. 1-17.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Positive Media: Recession be Damned.

I love to witness a positive attitude. In these tough economic times this business decided to be proactive, cheery, positive, creative and humorous. In downtown Mill Valley I noticed this sign in a store front window. It brought a smile to my face and thought it might do the same for you.

It is interesting to be aware of your response. Mine was a desire to purchase. This is successful advertising. The creators of this message got me to be "on their side" and to want to contribute to their "staying in business."

I wish them the best of luck.

I hope they stay in business and share the positivity.