This article was originally published in OPENWIDE back in 2015, and was written by various MPI students
Every year MPI (Media and the Public Interest) students have to conduct an alternative media project. This assignment allows them to develop hands-on experience with non-mainstream media as well as blend their academic pursuits with critically informed social action. Essentially, they explore an issue they care about through alternative media.
This article reveals just some of the amazing projects our fellow students have undertaken and the diversity of issues they care about. Thankfully, they’ve condensed their 16-18 page reports into shorter summaries.
Election Apathy Through Tinder – Madelene Lauris
The recent London election coincided with the timing of the assignment, and ending up inspiring my alternative media project. My original plan was to promote the election to students and create an informative resource about all the candidates. What I found out was that this already existed – in multiple forms. This then made me confused as to why so many students were unaware of the upcoming elections. The resources are in front of us; why aren’t we using them?
So I decided to switch my focus from the candidates to the voters. I did something I had sworn to myself I would never do; I went onto Tinder. I justified my actions by swiping right for every UWO student and asking them about the upcoming elections. I took the most ridiculous responses, made them anonymous, and then posted them online onto maddyvoteslondon.tumblr.com. The point of this wasn’t to present the apathy of Tinder users but to show how silly people seem when they purposely state they don’t care about societal issues. People laughed when they saw the responses I got, but who’s to say that couldn’t have been them? I wanted to make people aware of their own role in the elections, and maybe even make them feel a bit guilty for being not interested in voting. In the end, I don’t know if I had any impact on student voters, but I was happy that I at least got to try. It became more than a project for me. I got to increase my knowledge about some really amazing Western students and organizations, in addition to feeling closer to the London community.
A Fish Out Of Water: Examining the Outsider Experience – Gloria Zhu
As someone who has moved to and lived in Canada for the past three years as a so-called “visible minority,” I realized Canada might not be as much of a diverse place as I initially presumed. We celebrate Canada as a place that is built on respect and diversity, while never acknowledging its problematic past. As a result, racial segregations and stereotypes keep circulating and go unchallenged most of the time. Instances of xenophobia are ignored, and this is where the problem arises. Not only does this problem matter to people like me, it is important when critically constructing what it means to be a Canadian.
Reflecting on my personal experiences in Canada, I launched the “A Fish Out of Water” campaign for the assignment. The title, “A Fish out of Water,” reflected my fear of being an outcast, of failing, of powerlessness, of anxiety, and of instability. I used various social media platforms, such as Facebook, to feature personal stories from students and staff at Western University, and in particular international students, immigrants, and non-white racial groups. “A Fish Out of Water” aims to create bridges between people and provide a space, where those who suffer from marginalization can speak out. It also strives to challenge the predominant iconography of Canadian as ‘white, European Canadian,’ as well as sparking conversation about racism in our society – because anything is better than silence in this situation. I believe in the power of stories. Stories are the strongest way to make people realize the kind of life we’re living.
The issues students raised through the “A Fish out of Water” platform are surprisingly unified. Though coming from an array of cultures and backgrounds, there are common themes of struggle, culture shock, exclusion, and stereotyping. The message of this campaign is in the title: everyone could be a fish out of water. The feeling can suddenly emerge at any point in your life as you explore new situations. Nothing can be taken for granted and globalization encourages everyone to be a global citizen. Thus we need to understand and offer help to those who are encountering the struggle right now. A little empathy goes a long way.
Unquestioned Capitalism – Melissa Peterson
Mark Fisher argues that “[f]or most people under twenty in Europe and North America, the lack of alternatives to capitalism is no longer an issue. Capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable.” Fisher observes the inherent acceptance or unquestioning of capitalism in today’s Global North. This acceptance can be observed in the practices of exchange: the way we buy and spend money. This activity has become second nature; it therefore communicates how and what we think of our economic system—if at all. Furthermore this activity is an aggregate of a set of specific gestures (e.g. holding out our palms, facing up to receive change) and (pass) words (e.g. PIN) that have become etched in our muscle memory and native to our vocabularies; arguably, they constitute what Roland Barthes would call a system of signification and are therefore an expression of capitalist culture.
In a project for my Alternative Media class, I worked to render this system visible through “culture jamming.” For two weeks I refused to enact any practices of exchange, instead asking others to perform them in my stead. To be clear, I did not ask other people to spend their money for my project, instead I would request that they take my wallet out of my bag and complete the purchase for me, receipt and all. My attempt to jam the practice of exchange was done for the purpose of inciting conversation with my stand-in consumer about what these gestures represent in today’s culture and the significance of having internalized them.
Throughout the project, the majority of the people I encountered initially thought I was asking them to assist me because I did not have enough money of my own; this lack of performance was immediately interpreted as a lack of the means to participate in exchange. In fact, most of the people I approached to assist me offered to pay for me. After conceding to my pleas that they use my money for the transaction, people would often vocalize their discomfort in participating on my behalf—having to reach into my backpack was seen as especially intrusive. This was not a one-sided sentiment; what I expected to be a fun experience was also at times uncomfortable for myself.
The most meaningful conversation I had over the course of the two weeks was with someone outside of my circle of friends. After reflecting on what I told him I was doing, he said he was extremely uncomfortable for me that I had to give out my PIN to other people, that this was personal secure information he would not want to divulge in my position. Thinking back to that conversation and the project on the whole, I am glad that sacrificing the subjectivity of my consumption—by involving others in the process—led at least one person to think self-reflexively about the practices of spending money and what these practices meant to him.
Campus as a Second Home, literally – Ramon Sanchez
Everyone is always saying ‘Campus has everything you could possibly need. That you
practically never have to leave’ so for my project I wanted to see if living on campus as a
student would be possible. For a week, I permanently stayed on campus and continued to
act out my regular routine. I ate at the Wave, drank at the Spoke, studied at Taylor, showered
at the gym, and tried to sleep in the UCC or any empty classroom. I only used resources and
spaces that an average student would have access to. But after a full week’s worth of buffalo
chicken wraps and almost no rest, I realized that though it’s technically possible to have a low living standard on campus, it will cost you your physical and mental wellbeing, not to mention your academics too. Simply put, during that week I was not a student, but just a person trying to find shelter.
The idea stemmed from a conversation with one of my friends about the ever increasing cost of tuition and living expenses for students. We wanted to find a way to decrease the financial burdens students have to face. Since universities and the Canadian government are no longer willing to fund higher education as a public good, it seemed that the only option was to decrease one’s own personal living expenses. I decided to remove the most costly expense in my student budget: housing. While the project initially was about the rising tuition and student fees, it also expanded into a very limited first person experience on what it might be like to be homeless. This is not to say that my project came anywhere close to the struggles homeless people face, rather it provided a small glimpse into a very real and detrimental societal issue.