Final Brown Bag of the Semester – April 25, 2014

Tamara Kharroub, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Gender and social identity in transnational Arab Television

SUMMARY: In this talk I will present a series of studies and preliminary results from my Ph.D. dissertation, exploring the role of social identity and identification with media characters in the process of effects of gender media stereotypes. Given the transnational nature of the Arabic-language television industry and the great diversity between viewers in Arabic-speaking countries, the studies explore the media content in different Arab countries, the extent to which cultural and national identity in the Arab world influences selective exposure, identification with characters, self-categorization, and the effects of content on the viewers’ attitudes and beliefs particularly conceptions about sex-role ideology.


Paul Wright’s acknowledgements on the occasion of the last brown bag of the year:

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Sixth Brown Bag of the Semester – February 28, 2014

David McDonald, Assistant Professor, Departments of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University

Framing the Arab Spring: Hip-Hop and the poetics of reform in the Arab world

Despite an unprecedented level of interest in the popular culture associated with the Arab reform and revolutionary movements that began in December 2010, American news media to date have provided only a superficial and at times misguided depiction of the music performed during the protests, as well as its larger socio-cultural use and function. This depiction has focused almost entirely on transnational Hip-Hop at the expense of nationalist, political, classical, and folk song repertories indigenous to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.  In this talk I argue that this misinformed, partial, and superficial depiction of the protests, centered around hip-hop and social media, has strategically shaped the ways in which the uprisings have been framed within the American public imaginary, attempted to control the direction and outcome of the uprisings in the streets, and further served to impose a neo-orientalist discourse of American hegemony over forces of reform and democratization in the Arab Middle East.

Tamara Kharroub and Ozen Bas, Doctoral Students, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Protests and social media: An examination of Twitter images of the 2011 Egyptian revolution

This exploratory content analysis examined Twitter images of the 2011 Egyptian revolution in terms of visual content (violence, facial emotions, crowds, protest activities, and national and religious symbols). The analysis of 581 images shows more focus on efficacy-eliciting (crowds, protest activities, and national and religious symbols) content than emotionally-compelling (violence and facial emotions) images. Further, emotionally-compelling content decreased over time, whereas efficacy-eliciting content increased at times of instability and unrest. Violent content and protest activities were the best predictors of image re-posting. Finally, highly-influential users (“opinion leaders”) posted significantly more efficacy-eliciting visuals than images of emotionally-charged content. The findings are discussed in terms of the possible explanations for the content patterns and their potential impact on twitter users and viewers.

Comps. Comprende?

by Teresa Lynch

For doctoral students, when classes are complete there comes a point when efforts turn toward a different type of task. Comprehensive exams, the four days of four-hour blocks answering questions from each of the members of your committee, mark that point. Tamara Kharroub and Nic Matthews just took their exams. Tamara has already finished the final portion of the exam process, which is defending her answers. Nic still has that part to go.

Although they focus on different programs of research, Tamara and Nic have been very much in sync with one another. They began and ended doctoral coursework in the same semesters, share the same committee chair and advisor (Andrew Weaver) and minor (Psychology), and even took their comprehensive exams within a week of one another. “The funniest thing about our similarity is that for years, we didn’t even realize it. It didn’t hit us immediately that we were always checking things off the list at pretty much the same time. It’s probably part coincidence, part guidance from our committee members…who are mostly the same,” said Nic with a laugh.

That similarity meant that they were readying for the exams simultaneously. For Nic it was the two weeks prior to beginning that involved the most intense preparation. In that time frame, Tamara says what helped her wasn’t just reading, but “thinking beyond the material while reading, trying to connect different readings and ideas together, constructing arguments, and thinking about how they might inform my dissertation.”

The hardest part, we’re always told as junior classmen, is actually going and sitting in the room. For Tamara, that was true. “.. sitting in that small room for 4 hours and knowing that I [would] have to do the same thing the next day – for 4 days! I soon realized how difficult it was for me to think, remember, and write under time pressure and space constraints…also, being a little claustrophobic [didn’t] help the situation.”

Although they both say they feel relieved at having the daunting portion of sitting in the room and writing furiously for days on end behind them, there is still more to go to achieve the doctorate. Tamara admits she does feel a bit overwhelmed, “because now I have to start working on the next serious steps; dissertation, finishing research projects, job, etc.” And those next steps have begun for both of them immediately in prepping their dissertation proposals.

“I had a basic idea of what I wanted to study [in my dissertation], but it was a nebulous concept. As I read more and more, that nebulous concept fundamentally changed into something more concrete and it fundamentally changed my ideas…and it was really, really useful. You read all of this work over years, but it’s really hard to put it in a frame until you have comps to help you organize it all in a flash. You start re-reading all these concepts with theory and philosophy so fresh in your mind that new connections are made,” says Nic. His general dissertation direction will use video games as environments to test and explore our understanding of morality. For Tamara, prepping for the exams meant expanding and refreshing her knowledge on social identity and relationships with media characters ultimately to inform her dissertation proposal.

Ever studious – after completing the four days of exams, Tamara and Nic put their noses right back to the grindstone. Although, both said they made it a priority to reacclimatize to “normal life” by catching up with friends and relaxing.

Having so recently completed the entire process, when asked for any tips for success, Tamara modestly admitted with a laugh that she is no expert as she has “only taken the exams once.” Still, she offered a few pointers that helped her along the way, paraphrased below:

  • Know how well you can work under these conditions and prepare accordingly
  • Read with a purpose
  • Sample questions written by the professors on your committee
  • Discuss preparation with your committee members (a few months in advance) so you know what is expected,what kinds of questions you might get, and how to prepare
  • Write and answer potential questions for yourself
  • Write the main points and your ideas and arguments while reading
  • For defending, read your answers very well and be prepared to explain your answers, even beyond what you wrote. The oral defense is also a great opportunity to correct answers, so prepare well if you need to correct something. In both parts, it is important to provide complete answers.

Potter Avoids Muggles, Tamara’s Research Endeavors, Brown Bag

Potter Avoids Muggles: A Geocacher’s Life for Me

“I love geocaching,” read the stickers plastered to the vehicles shuttling swarms of boy scouts across the IU campus. Oblivious to the term, Professor Rob Potter dismissed it as some “dorky scout thing,” before forgetting about it completely.  In only a few short weeks, he would be on sabbatical in Perth, Australia, away from IU, away from his intensive freshmen seminar, and away from all those invading boy scouts.  His wife was already over there.

Before she left, they had talked about purchasing a GPS in order to navigate the land down under, but they decided to wait and buy one when they arrived. That was before Potter got a message from his wife. “Electronics in Australia are too expensive. Buy a GPS before coming over.” With little knowledge about GPS devices, and little time, Potter took to Twitter to ask for recommendations. Based on those responses, he bought one, and in a moment of realization (considering he believed Twitter to be rather worthless), acknowledged Twitter’s usefulness and thanked those who had provided their recommendations. Then it happened. Mary Beth Oliver from Penn State left him a reply.  “Rob, congratulations on figuring out which GPS to buy. You seem like someone who would really dig Geocaching.  Australia is really into it. Check it out.” Geocaching, the same dorky activity advocated by those pesky boy scouts was now being advocated by a colleague. After a little bit of internet research, Potter was in. “It was just geeky enough for me to try.”

Geocaching, in essence, is a high-tech treasure hunt. Armed with a gps unit geocachers plug in coordinates where a cache is hidden and then go find it. The cache, a container varying in size and very often cleverly hidden, normally contains a few items, and a log of all those who have found it. When a cache is found the person that finds it signs the log, takes one item out of the cache, and replaces it with an item of his own. In some cases the items are trackable. By entering a tracking code found somewhere on the item online, the geocacher can find out where an item has been and how long it has been in circulation.

Due to the public nature of geocaching, certain rules must be followed. Caches can only be hidden in public places and in private places with the landowners’ consent, they cannot be buried, and they cannot deface, or cause the searcher to deface the landscape. However, geocaching is very much an underground/alternate reality activity. Geocachers often refer to those not geocaching as muggles, and geocachers must complete their activity without tipping off the muggles as to what they are doing.  While the designation adds a stealthy element to the game, the reasons for it are more pragmatic. People who find a cache and don’t know what it is may take it, steal it, throw it away, or move it, making the activity impossible for future geocachers.

While much of the work of geocaching is performed outdoors, the communal aspect of geocaching is performed online at the geocaching hub, On this site, geocachers can create a digital log of the caches they have found, participate in forums, track items found in caches,  find the coordinates of new caches, and submit new caches for geocachers to find. Premium members of the site gain access to even more features such as statistics, favorite ratings, and real time updates on new caches.

Geocaching is more than just a creative way to kill time. In the case of Rob Potter, geocaching provided a kind of crowd-sourced tourist guide to Australia. “The draw for me initially was very much based on Australia. I’m going to a place that I don’t know, where outdoor recreation is big, and I don’t know where to take my family. So it was a way of saying ‘ok Australians, tell me where is cool.’” The nature of geocaching requires geocachers to get down and dirty with, well, nature. Because caches are not meant to be found by those not looking for them, the geocachers must explore the landscape, often painstakingly so, in order to find the cache. As such, geocaching’s experiential yield is much higher than that of a guided walking tour. The subtleties of the landscape, from floral arrangements, to architectural refinements, to native flora all potentially contribute to finding a cache, but those whose view stretches wider than that of the prize are often rewarded with exposure to the wonders, both nuanced and grand, of local environments.

Now that Potter is back in Bloomington, geocaching has taken a backseat to the complexities of life. “I don’t have time to do it very much, now that my wife and kids have stuff to do on the weekends, and our weekends aren’t empty anymore, very rarely will I force myself to do a geocache. Now it’s a must schedule.” However, geocaching opens up new possibilities at conferences. Recently Potter attended a conference in Boston and took some time to log a cache. On the south side of Boston Potter found a nano-sized cache with a tiny, tightly rolled up log inside attached to the backside of a handrail ornament. Not a bad way to explore the city.

Caches are hidden everywhere (there are a number of them hidden all over campus, and the surrounding Bloomington area) and finding them is often fun and challenging. For those like Potter though, geocaching is more than fun and games, it open up new possibilities for discovering local environments.

For more on Rob Potters geocaching experiences in Australia, check out his post on geocaching on his blog here.

Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television

PhD student Tamara Kharroub has embarked on an interesting research path.  Her interests involve the effects of the transnational Arab television industry.  The industry has a market of 300 million viewers across two dozen countries that share a common language, but vary in their cultural, religious, and ethnic identities as well as their social, political, economic, and historical contexts.  The content of programs is shaped by a complex interplay of two factors.  On the one hand, Saudi viewers are considered commercially the most desirable, and consequently, content is produced with their conservative tastes in mind.  On the other hand, there is a growing trend towards the creation of a new regional television identity that appeals to viewers across various Arab countries, such as historic genres.

Tamara first got interested in this line of research as a result of her work experience and passion about issues related to social justice.  She is particularly interested in media portrayals of women and minority groups and their effects on viewers.  Arab television is one of the most ubiquitous forms of media in the region, with 538 transnational Arab television channels available free via satellite.  However, the effects of this industry have not been studied quantitatively or transnationally.

Tamara has used coursework in the department to develop a cohesive literature review of theories relevant for this research. Over the summer Tamara completed a quantitative content analysis of serial drama shows, containing a sample of programs from various countries and subgenres.  Currently, she is developing a study that examines viewers’ social identification with diverse television characters.  This is to be followed with studies exploring the formation of identities and beliefs.  Tamara will eventually look into other genres of content and mediating factors.  By all accounts, this looks to be a truly promising line of research.

Brown Bag

This week’s brown bag provided quite a history lesson about how the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications at Indiana University-Bloomington evolved over the years.  It featured a panel of current and former faculty to discuss history, research programs, and directions for the future.  From Journalism, former Dean Trevor Brown and Professor Owen Johnson provided an overview of their past experiences.  From Telecommunications, Professors Ron Osgood and Herb Terry shared their stories from over the years.  Professors David Weaver of Journalism and Walt Gantz of Telecommunications  served as moderators of the forum.

One interesting story to come out of the session involved the identity of Telecommunications, which was earlier called Department of Radio and Television, and Journalism, which was earlier a department in the College of Arts and Sciences. When both departments were in the College, before Journalism became its own school, courses from Journalism, Radio and Television, Home Economics, and Social Work were not counted towards general education distribution requirements.  They were deemed to be skills courses.  Since then, we have seen the Department of Telecommunications and the School of Journalism become two driving academic forces on the Bloomington campus.

This storytelling session uncovered some of the mysterious aspects of the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications.  Over the years Telecommunications and Journalism have both collaborated and competed at times.  Once Journalism left the College and became a school of its own, the patterns of interaction between Journalism and Telecommunications changed.  Now looking to the future, all on the panel were in agreement that for the relationship between the programs to strengthened, a new, shared building must be constructed, providing facilities and opportunities for open discussion and collaboration among faculty and students.  As media production and research continue to constitute a major part of IUB’s identity, these issues and concerns are ever present and open for debate.


Mike Lang:  Potter Avoids Muggles

Nicky Lewis:  Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television, Brown Bag