Archive for September, 2010

This video clip of the Swiss finance minister’s speech during a parliamentary address has been viewed by more than 300,000 people on YouTube and other websites since Monday.  What was so interesting about his speech that could garner that much attention from people all over the world? This got me really curious.

The video clip showed the Swiss finance minister, Hans-Rudolf Merz breaking into giggles and convulsing with laughter as he gave his speech about the import of cured meat. He started to crack up as he read a stream of unintelligible bureaucratic language in his script. Despite so, the outgoing finance chief’s hilarious delivery was greeted with howls of laughter and even thunderous applause from fellow ministers. Was he applauded for delivering a good speech? Did he successfully convey his intended message? Regardless, this incident has caught both the positive and negative attention of many others.

After watching the video clip, from a communication student point of view, I believe it wasn’t the content of the speech that had attracted the world’s attention. I believe the huge attention was attributed to the various inappropriate nonverbal cues that the minister had sent out while delivering his speech. The anomaly of this was the main reason that caught people’s attention.

Generally, we associate speech with verbal communication, but spoken words may have nonverbal properties associated with them as well. And in my opinion, Hans-Rudolf Merz’s speech was a good demonstration of how nonverbal cues can function with their verbal counterparts to achieve a negative effect. The sources of nonverbal stimuli stems from the vocal nonverbal stimuli, we can see this in the much punctuation of laughter, and giggles that the minister uncontrollably burst into, while delivering his speech; also the nonverbal cues originating from the minister’s body language, posture, mannerism, and facial expressions, all which constitutes to the personal nonverbal stimuli.

Were these nonverbal stimuli appropriate? I believe not so. Given the context and setting that the minister was giving his speech in, the speech should be delivered with utmost seriousness. For a minister who is addressing a nation wide issue, his mannerism and flippant attitude simply showed a great lack of sincerity. Clearly, the nonverbal message the minister had sent out contradicted with his verbal message, hence it was inappropriate. In my opinion, his speech was a sign of disrespect to the nation, and all politicians.

However, to many, nonverbal communication is subjective, as attaching meaning to these nonverbal cues inherently involves interpretations and judgments. Therefore, a specific cue may mean different in different contexts or to different people.

We can see this despite the contradiction of his nonverbal cues and verbal cues, not only were the audience amused, and responded positively, but also, his speech has now even prompted one maker of air-dried meats to advertise their wares with the slogan: Never lose your sense of humour.

In contrast, let’s put this in the context of Singapore, can you imagine this happening?                                                      

I can’t. In the history of Singapore’s parliamentary address I doubt there has been one such incident. 

Hence, I conclude, the meaning of any nonverbal cue is always in the eye of the beholder to some degree.

Through this incident, we can see the pervasive and significant influence that nonverbal cues have in our communication. By giving out unintentional nonverbal cues (I am assuming the minister had no intention to send out those contradictory nonverbal cues), it could convey an immense range of specific meanings. Nonverbal communication is the unnoticed, but immensely powerful form of communication. In my opinion, having this awareness could help him or anyone, be a more knowledgeable and effective communicator.


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This is Pamela Anderson’s latest vegetarian campaign for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In this advertisement, Pamela Anderson is seen clad in a skimpy bikini, with her body labeled with words associated with cuts of meat. Words like, “rump”, “ribs” and breast”.  This advertisement was meant to promote vegetarianism, with logo reads, “All Animals Have the Same Parts.” However, it sparked a huge controversial debate instead.

This provocative vegetarian advertisement was set to launch on Thursday, July 15 at Montreal, Canada’s Place Jacques-Cartier. It was at the last minute that the permit was denied by the Canadian officials. Pamela Anderson was only inform of the ban on the launch date itself; her initial plans had to be scrapped and had to have a change of location to a privately-owned Restaurant Globe in the city.

The reason given for the ban was stated in an email by Commissioner Josee Rochefort who wrote, “I have to inform you that we, as public officials representing a municipal government, cannot endorse this image of Ms Anderson. It is not so much controversial as it goes against all principles public organizations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women.”

In light of this controversial debate, my question to you is, as audience, do you see this as just another sexist advertisement or creativity in promoting vegetarianism?

In my opinion, I believe that as audience our differences in perception are largely guided by our cognitive schemata.  We establish our perception based on our default organization templates. Hence, more often than not we quickly tend towards a specific initial perception.

For many who adopt the former perception, I feel that it is the work of their personal constructs, in particular the physical constructs and psychological constructs.  Simply based on Pamela Anderson’s sexy and skimpy physical appearances, many of us unknowingly infer other personal characteristics. In our minds, we label Pamela as a sexual icon simply based on her outlook and the presentation of herself in the advertisement. Hence, in making our judgment, the biasness we bring in erodes all possibilities for Pamela to be classified as a woman “using her own body in a political protest over the suffering of cows and chickens”. We unknowingly strip off her identity as an advocate for animal rights. On top of which , based on what we have seen in the mass media content we have consumed, we have so quickly established psychological  constructs of Pamela Anderson.  We draw on our knowledge of what we know of Pamela in the media scene, from the Baywatch actress, to the Playboy model.  It is the result of our past knowledge of Pamela that allowed ourselves to form a negative perception that this advertisement is just another that adds on to the bulk of sexist advertisements in the media. The biasness we bring in immediately shuts out any considerations and possibilities that this advertisement could very well be a good advertisement. Is this fair?

In my opinion, I honestly think that this PETA advertisement presented an extremely creative concept. The notion that “All Animals Have The Same Parts” employs the appeal of pathos to reach out to people. It differentiates itself from the usual boring advertisements, that simply harp on the notion that being a vegetarian benefits our health, the animals and the world. Also, who better to star in this advertisement other than Pamela Anderson? An active member of PETA and a vegetarian herself.

Will you be motivated by the regular posters below that aim to promote vegetarianism?

For me the PETA Pamela Anderson advertisement has more persuasive power, and I simply adore it!

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What do you think of the art form on the right? Do you associate it with fine art or vandalism?

Our perspective of a subject matter is widely shaped by the social constructionist perspective our society adopts.

In the video clip below, Graffiti is regarded as an art form worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions. The video highlights that there is a significant graffiti tradition in Sao Paolo – a city within Brazil. Until the first week of October, Sao Paolo will be hosting its first International Graffiti Fine Art Biennial showcase. The Sao Paolo people adopt the view that it is time to address Graffiti as a fine art. To them, Graffiti is an opportunity to let loose with imagination, to show others what inspires them. The Graffiti works evoke emotions, just as any other form of Art and hence it is regarded as a serious fine art.

In light of this, I cannot help but notice that there is a stark contrast across the world in viewing Graffiti as a serious art form. Many others in the world, including Singaporeans, associate the subject matter of Graffiti with vandalism, not so much as a fine art.

Do you remember the outburst of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) vandalism graffiti saga in May 2010? From the response of Singaporeans, it is evident that the social constructionist perspective adopted in Singapore is very different. True, it was an act of vandalism because it was an act of damaging public property without permission. However, apart from this, has anyone viewed this saga from an artistic point of view? That is, Graffiti is an art; it is a way of communication and expression of one’s inspirations and creativity?

In response to this episode, the government took on a strong stand by placing great emphasis on having the vandal (or artist) punished. I agree that it was important for the government to step in and shape what is deem culturally acceptable. It was necessary to send out the message that such act of vandalism will not be condone. However, I feel that in the process of enforcement, coupled with the overwhelming focus on the act being wrong, this unknowingly takes away almost any form of relation that Graffiti is an art. As a result, this naturally forms the impression in Singaporeans mind, that Graffiti is closely associated with vandalism. Such that till date, Graffiti as an art form that is much frowned upon in Singapore. Because of the way our culture tools (symbolic codes, cognitive customs, cultural traditions, shared roles and rules that guide our actions) shape us, hence the way we experience and talk about the world is different. We take what is culturally recognisable ways, connect them to the other factors that we know, and respond to them in ways our culture considers significant. Thus, more often than not, we become narrow-minded; we are not encouraged thought to think out of the box, we become less accepting to differences. Hence in viewing of this video, some may even find the Graffiti culture that Sao Paolo has, appalling and shocking. In actual fact, I feel that we are actually inhibiting the development of just another beautiful art form.

Through this comparison, we can immediately identify the weakness of the social constructionist perspective. It points out that when we come into contact with people, who communicate differently; when there is no collective representation of reality, we let what shaped our mind deem what reality is, hence make judgement about another’s culture – more often than not in a negative way.

In my opinion, as much as I feel that it is important to have our own identity, we should not blindly allow the communication model to distort our communication – accepting cultural myths and stereotypes without thinking. That is, viewing Graffiti as an act of vandalism. We should exercise respect with open-mindedness for a different culture, such that when being thrown in one, we do not judge with biasness, and make comparisons with unnecessary negative judgement. This will allow for a more enriching life.


Picture – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:OlindaGraffiti.jpg

An example of the highly decorative graffiti typically found in Olinda, Pernambuco, Brazil. Source: Travel photos by the uploader, see more at http://www.pvv.org/~bct/brasil3/

Video – http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xers3y_graffiti-is-a-fine-art-in-sao-paolo_news

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