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On minutes 1:48 and 2:03 of this 2012 five-minute promo video, you see billboards of the Southern California nonprofit organization Heal the Bay crumbling down … sorry guys, I guess environmentalists don’t survive the Apocalypse (or is the Apocalypse being brought on human kind as punishment from God because we haven’t been caring for our environment as we should have been?!)

I’ve started to see the signs of the Apocalypse … no, not on the skies, not on earthquakes, and certainly not on tarot cards, but rather plastered on billboards all over L.A. and on YouTube videos.  As a fan of Mesoamerican history and a holder of a  B.A. degree in Anthropology, I have been keenly aware about the Mayan calendar that supposedly “ends” on the year 2012.  I must say that I was actually suprised that it took this long for Hollywood to make a movie about it.  Conveniently, they did not make a film about the calendar leading up to Y2K but I guess that would’ve defeated the whole purpose somewhat: how could the world end in 2000 if the Mayan calendar went all the way up to the year 2012?  But I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on Hollywood: after all, the film is only the latest incarnation of an ongoing furor of Apocalypse theories (I’m being overly kind: I’m using the word “theory” loosely here) based on the calendar that have been peddled for many years now.  However, the film has blown up the profile of such theories way out of proportion; so much so, that even the descendants of the Mayans are getting fed up with it.  Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan Mayan elder, was recently quoted by the AP as saying that “the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan, ideas.”        

Hollywood has a nack for re-inventing and sensationalizing history but I guess that is nothing new.  A perfect example of this was the movie Apocalypto, which told the story of the Mayan conquests just before their civilization runs into the Spanish “conquistadores”.  There was just one small problem with that story line: it never happened.  It was the Aztecs that had a brush with the Spaniards, not the Mayans (the Mayan Mesoamerican civilization and the Aztec civilization existed centuries apart).  In our modern world saturated by myths that are spurred by a modern popular disdain and mocking of academia and rationality, facts are sometimes irrelevant.  Point-in-case is the term “Aztec” (which comes from the Nahuatl word “Aztecatl”, which means “someone that comes from Aztlán“).  Yet, the indigenous people that came to make up what we now call “the Aztec empire” did not even call themselves that.  The Aztec empire was in fact not a homogenous group of people, but rather made up by three main ethnic groups (also known as “The Triple Alliance“) that were dominant over the others at one point or another: the Mexicas, the Acolhuas, and the Tepanecs.  The homogenizing category “Aztec” was actually first used by English-speaking westerners and was widely used by American historian William H. Prescott.  In modern times in the U.S., it was later further popularized via the Aztlán mythology that was adopted by many “Chicano nationalists“.  The problem with such reductionist approach, (as with any type of reductionism), is that it glosses over the rich diversity that actually exists and presents a reality that is overly skewed just so it can fit into a particular theory.  Don’t get me wrong, I happen to like that the word “Aztec”.  Besides, humans, after all, have an inherent need for categories that help us make sense of this world.  That is the way we are wired and for a good reason: it helps us identify important patterns in nature.  I only wished our western modern “patterns” or “categories” or for that matter our industries were more inclusive and respectful of the rich cultural variety of the indigenous ethnic groups that flourished and still exist not just in Mexico but in all of Latin America.

PS So am I going to go see this 2012 film? Depends.  I’m gonna wait for the reviews.  I hate watching movies that are all flashy special effects and terrible acting/dialogue.


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Filed under History, Media Literacy

Christians & Veterans Defend Healthcare Reform

Update on the healthcare reform front: veterans and religious groups that support Health Care Reform are fighting back the vicious tide of well-funded hate:

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Tweeter me this twitter me that!

Do you twitter?  Here’s another CurrentTV video on the topic:

I am so lost in twitterland and I guess I’m not alone; the whole thing seems so esoteric to me.  Here’s Twitter’s CEO explaining what exactly Twitter is and how it come about:

 SO do you tweet … ehr, I mean, “twitter”?

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When negatives assert and reinforce

George Lakoff's work is the alternative to conservative messaging manipulator Frank Luntz.

George Lakoff's work is the alternative to conservative messaging manipulator Frank Luntz.

Let’s say that thinking of elephants is something that I want everyone to stop doing because for some reason elephants are bad for you.  So I go ahead and say “everyone: don’t think of an elephant!”; and so everyone cannot help but think of an elephant because I used the word “elephant.”  Ironic, isn’t? 

I must confess that ever since I discovered the book “Don’t Think of an Elephant”, I have been fascinated by the dynamics of how linguistic frames work and of the subversive power of negation.  The author of that book, linguists professor, George Lakoff, explains very clearly how the dynamic works.  He provides several examples, the most powerful of all being the one about how when President Nixon said “I am not a crook”,  Nixon himself sealed his fate because all that everyone remembers him by is how he was a “crook”.  In essence, he shot himself in the foot by using a negative that just reinforced what everybody was already thinking about him: that he was a crook. 

Last week in class we touched a little on the way negation in PR campaings work.  One example was how sometimes anti-smoking ads that are produced with the tobacco industry’s money are so ridiculoulsy over-the-top that one can’t help but feel a desire (specially if one is underage or just relatively young) to just rebel against the ad and pick up a ciragette to “stick it to the man.”  It’s a pretty clever ploy that the tobacco industry’s got going on. 

I’m also reminded of just how sometimes ineffective anti-drug ads are because they are so over-the-top and so ridiculous that they achieve the opposite effect of what they set out to do.  For example, the video below shows a dog talking.  Now, after watching this video, am I supposed to understand the message that there are better things to do than smoke pot or am I getting the message that I should start smoking pot because it’ll make my dog talk … and well, how cool would that be?! 

I cannot help but remember back to a Psychology textbook (sixth edition) that I read a few years back by Carole Wade & Carol Travis.  In a section titled “When Punishment Fails” about how Operant Conditioning (for the definition of what it is go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operant_conditioning) works in real life, the book lists these two (out of six) principles (page 249):

“*Punishment conveys little information: If it immediately follows the misbehavior, punishment may tell the recipient what not to do.  But it does not communicate what the person (or animal) should do…[extrapolating this concept onto the field of advertisement, one immediately can see that in order for a message to be effective, it has to tell the recipient what action he or she should take instead of just what not to do]. 

*An action intended to punish may instead be reinforcing because it brings attention.  Indeed, in some cases, angry attention may be just what the offender is after… [extrapolating this concept onto messaging, it highlights the importance of avoiding the use of negation and instead offer an affirmative message; Nixon could have said I’m a man of integrity, instead of his infamous I’m not a crook. In messaging, by bringing attention to the very same thing we are trying to stop or get away from, we actually reinforce it by putting a verbal magnifying glass on it]”


Filed under Framing, Marketing, Media Literacy