Category Archives: Culture

Knowing Me, Knowing YouTube: Are Video Algorithms Silently Recasting Us?

In recent years, it has become almost passé – and all-too-easy – to blame the ever-encroaching behemoths of social media for a whole host of problems. Because of the continued weight given to matters of state, scrutiny of these corporations has overwhelmingly focused on their alleged capacity to engender electoral upsets and remove entrenched power elites – often at the cost of installing a yet more freakish, less predictable iteration of the departing political class.

However, this relentless focus on a single apparent consequence of mass social media adoption has effectively obviated discussion of considerably more profound impacts that these historically new technologies are having on both society and the individual; in this context, the YouTube algorithms which suggest new video clips to the end user based on previously-viewed content merit serious attention.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, video has assumed a primacy within the media sector such that it is in an unparalleled position to shape human consciousness. Digital television, the evergreen DVD format and streaming services together now dominate how we perceive the world beyond our immediate surroundings. But just a single streaming website – YouTube, which Google acquired back in November 2006 – can claim to be making the next leap: guiding us, whether consciously or otherwise, into new and deeply personal cultural realms.

Uniquely amongst video content portals, YouTube possesses a truly enormous and phenomenally diverse back catalogue of televisual fragments – and a truly massive community which is continually uploading content, fusty and fresh, to its servers.

On a basic level, what this means is that only YouTube has the ability to continually present hyper-customised video recommendations to its users. This may sound borderline innocuous. But the consequences of this go far beyond the conventional platitudes of monetisation and engagement (although these are certainly encompassed by its emerging business model). Much more interesting is the fact that YouTube can effectively curate the cultural preferences and overall evolution of nothing less than the individual citizen – and maybe even the individual soul, particularly if recommended videos pertain to spirituality – to a remarkable degree.

Should this worry us? This is enormously difficult to state with any certainty, partly because no two users will experience YouTube in quite the same way. Additionally, the relevant algorithms are still quite clunky and easy to game – though whether they are broadly perceived as such is another matter entirely. But at the very least, this is a debate that should enjoy much greater prominence, both in regulatory circles and far beyond.

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British Fourth-Wave Feminism Latest: Sexual Violence and Domestic Killings ‘Need New Scale’!

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It’s the Language: Former French Colony Switches to English! #highered

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Catwalk Collapse: UK Fashion Industry Faces Brexit Massacre!

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Oh, Vienna: Top Ballet School Mired in Abuse Allegations!

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Why Asians (Still) Can’t Play Football: the US$45tn Rhetorical Question

As YouTube attains a certain level of commercial maturity, we at Mediolana continue to be impressed by the output from the team at COPA90, one of the very few independent channels to successfully bridge the gap between basement video creation and recycled ‘legacy’ media clips. One of their most recent (and perhaps controversial) offerings is well worth under fifteen minutes of any football fan’s time.

In Why Do British Asians Never Make It Pro?, host Adam McKola poses one of the more discomfiting socio-cultural questions of our time: how it is possible that in 2019, there are not enough professional footballers of British Asian ethnic origin in the first four levels of the English soccer pyramid to even come close to filling a single match day squad?

A particular strength of this piece is that it correctly underlines the inadequacies of conventional theories – parental preferences, cultural proclivities, middle-class economic aspirations – which seek to explain this stark lacuna. Ultimately, there is no shortage of football-mad, working-class people of Asian heritage in the United Kingdom; ceteris paribus, it defies all rational expectations that there has not been a single ‘breakout’ player emerge from a broadly-defined community numbered in its millions.

However, at the end of McKola’s mini-documentary, our Creative Director & CSO was left slightly unfulfilled when it came to both the historical treatment of this issue and prescriptions for a remedy.

The question of why British Asians have enjoyed only the most marginal of successes in the country which codified the modern form of the beautiful game was being asked by anti-racism campaigners at least as far back as twenty years ago, when it became clear that the coming of age of second-generation UK Asians was not being accompanied by their acceptance into what is arguably the nation’s single most important cultural experience; the fact that only the slightest of progress has been registered in all this time evinces just how stubbornly positive change is being resisted.

As uncomfortable as it is to articulate, the only plausible explanation for this dynamic is the existence of a form of structural discrimination which is so profound that it shapes interactions on a much more powerful level than most of us would like to admit. The legacy of colonialism – which involved the heisting of at least US$45tn from the Indian subcontinent, surely one of the greatest acts of de-development in history, recorded or otherwise – means that in England, pseudo-nationalist demagogues and well-meaning liberals alike are curiously united in regarding British Asians, in this particular context and perhaps others, as essentially invisible; additionally, a media which simultaneously portrays South Asian males as night-time economy predators and sexual sub-incels is doing nothing to promote an objective perception of their attributes, sporting or otherwise.

Once this truth has been accepted and internalised, the path forward for the British Asian soccer stars of the future is clear: they must seek their fortunes in systems which have actually demonstrated that they do value players of South Asian descent equally. Holland, Norway and France have all recognised footballers of subcontinental origin with caps at full international level; this fact alone should be enough to end the collective British Asian fixation on a Premier League which evidently has little place for their type.

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Desperately Missing ‘Marissa’: Was Mischa Barton the Last Great American Icon?

Moments of transcendence in the context of the act of purchasing a consumer fashion magazine are usually rare to the point of non-existence, but back at the start of 2005, the person who was to become Mediolana’s Creative Director & CSO experienced precisely one such episode on seeing Mischa Barton grace the cover of the short-lived Elle Girl. Barton – at the time, the ace face of a certain California-based teen soap opera – was an it-girl with a difference: namely, an unusual depth of being which was almost totally incongruous to the rapidly-decaying US media environment she found herself inhabiting.

With the best part of a decade-and-a-half has passed having elapsed since this point, we at Mediolana have recently been troubled by a question to which we have no satisfactory answer: with no female (and almost certainly no male) remotely of Ms Barton’s stature having emerged from Hollywood and its domestic satellite media markets in the intervening period, was this remarkable actress the last great American icon?

This question is not merely an academic one. Particularly in the post-1945 era, the projection of US dominance has been inextricably linked to its national brand; in turn, the ability to create personas worthy of emulation and adoration is a key element of this vital ‘soft power’ element. For decades, Brand America enjoyed peerless reach, and globalisation was presumed by many to be synonymous with Americanisation.

However, since the increasingly catastrophic moral and geopolitical failure that constituted Operation Iraqi Freedom – in 2018, Chinese and Russian oil companies are operational in what was until at least the late 1980s a US client state – the United States has apparently been unable to engage in cultural reproduction with anything like the same degree of success (with seemingly even post-Season One installments of The O.C. suffering). Indeed, it has been losing market share in the domain of scripted content to nations such as South Korea and Turkey for some time now.

Of course, explaining this phenomenon requires a broad and sophisticated examination which is beyond the scope of a mere blog post. But it surely isn’t unrealistic to posit that one core reason behind this decline is the total, jarring absence of anyone who can enthuse viewers – particularly young consumers – from São Paulo to Istanbul in the way that Mischa Barton so evidently could. This is something for US policymakers – and not merely television and film executives – to contemplate in an atmosphere of profound sobriety.

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