Based on a true story


I recently learned that the movie American Sniper is not, in fact, based on a true story.

The protagonist is a real person, and he really was a talented sniper, but that’s where most of the similarities between real life and film life end. (The main antagonists and most of the main conflicts of the film are entirely works of fiction, for instance.)


Full disclosure: I haven’t seen American Sniper. Now, as I try to remember seeing the words “based on a true story” in any of the promotions for the film, I can’t. But everyone I asked agreed they had thought that about the movie.

The film’s website doesn’t use this terminology. (It does, however, include a line in the synopsis that says the screenplay is adapted from Chris Kyle’s novel.)

So if “based on a true story” wasn’t written or stated on any of the film communications, how did my classmates and I get that impression?

I think a big part of that answer can be found within movie genre conventions and our expectations associated with different types of film. When I see “based on a true story” flash across the screen at the beginning of a horror movie, I find myself thinking, yeah, right. I have the expectation that very little of that film will represent actual events. On the other hand, when I see the same words associated with a historical film, I assume that “based on a true story” means the majority of the movie will represent true events.

based on a true story

It comes down to how the intentions of these films are communicated to us by the people in charge of marketing them. When we watch a trailer, see a movie poster, or hear an interview with the lead actor, what impression are we given about the level of truth it contains? About the purpose of the film? (Is it purely entertaining? Informative? A combination of both?) I would argue that these initial communications between the movie marketers and the audience can help make or break a film.

Take This Is Where I Leave You for example. IMDB lists the film as both a comedy and a drama. But because the movie had its share of funny stars (Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman), a lot of viewers seemed to be under the impression that it was a comedy film. In fact, this wouldn’t be an unreasonable impression based on the movie trailer, which seems to present the film in a much more comedic than dramatic light.

The marketing of the film stressed the actors with comedic backgrounds and cut the trailer in way to include much more humor than drama, which in turn communicated to potential audiences that the movie was a comedy. The genre expectations for a comedy film include big laughs and often times a distancing from anything too serious (with the exception of dark comedies and such sub-genres).

this is where i leave you

While the movie definitely had its funny parts, it focused on a family dealing with a lot of serious issues (death, divorce, infertility, infidelity, and brain damage, just to name a few). My parents, who watched the movie expecting a full-blown comedy, were taken by surprise by these serious elements and ended up disliking the film for not being funny enough. On the other hand, I tuned in expecting to see a family drama with some comedic elements, and I was not disappointed.

When a movie’s reality does not meet the expectations of an audience, the audience will find it difficult to enjoy the film – just another way our words can have unexpected power and consequences. It is also a reminder that we should be wary of blindly accepting the content we consume as fact: “based on a true story” may encompass a whole spectrum of different “truths.”


Shower thoughts


A “shower thought” is the term for those crazy things you come up with when you let your mind wander while showering, driving, or doing any other mindless task. These thoughts may involve a philosophical reflection on life, the realization of unexpected coincidences, or a general epiphany about how the world works.

The great thing about shower thoughts is that the best ones can get other people thinking too. A recent Buzzfeed article gathered up some technology shower thoughts. They are all pretty interesting, but here’s a few that really made me go “whoa.”

“What if Artificial Intelligence built to defeat the Turing Test actually fails on purpose so we don’t know how smart it really is?”


So this one is part crazy conspiracy, part epic futuristic robot dystopia movie, but in a mind-blowing kind of way that makes it something you just have to consider on a certain level. I find AI and the Turing Test fascinating. Can we create something as intelligent as we are? Something even more intelligent? How do we do that? And what would happen if we did? (Robot apocalypse, probably.) Oh, the things that keep us up at night.

“Finding an old USB drive with a file on it is modern technology’s equivalent to finding a message in a bottle.”

conspiracy keanu

Maybe it’s because I’ve always liked the idea of finding a message in a bottle, but this one is both intriguing and a little sad to me. I see the equivalent nature, but the fun part about a message in a bottle was that you were left reading someone else’s thoughts. (You wouldn’t leave yourself a message in a bottle.) So I guess this would be more applicable if you happened to come across an old USB drive of someone else’s. Then you can get that glimpse into another time while still being nosy!

“There are people alive today who have never seen a floppy disk, and yet it is still the universal ‘save’ icon.”


Ok, to be perfectly honest I think this one was just personally mind-boggling because I never understood the save icon image. I know what a floppy disk is and I never even made that connection. (I totally see it now, and I feel very silly.) You learn something new every day, I guess. On that note, can anyone tell me where the “power” symbol came from?

“Asking someone ‘Where are you?’ is a recent thing.”

Because before we had cell phones, the only way we could talk to people is if we already knew where they were.


I did a double take when I read this one. But it’s true. The primary person-to-person communication methods predating the cell phone were speaking face-to-face, sending telegrams, writing letters, and calling on landline phones. In all of those cases you have to already know where someone is in order to contact them at all, so you’d never have to ask where they are. This question only exists in our daily lives because of our communication’s relationship to technology.

Which leads me to my own shower thought for today: what questions will become a part of our daily lives in the future that we would never think to ask now?

The most amazing thing is it’s probably impossible to know.

And if you’re interested in hearing or sharing shower thoughts, I recommend r/ShowerThoughts.

Stop generalizing millennials in social media marketing


I recently read this teenager’s post about social media sites, which reflected on how he believed his generation feels about the various social media platforms currently on the market. After a class discussion today, I realized my biggest issue with the article (besides some presumably unintentional privilege issues) is this “millennials” generalization that all young people react to social media the same way.

In reality, there is a HUGE difference between social media users in every age group. The difference of just a few years can drastically change one’s social media habits; I offer up myself and my younger sister as examples of this fact.

My sister is in her late teens, just four years younger than myself. I recently asked her if she was going to get a Facebook account. She scrunched up her nose in a classic “ew” face and said,

“I’m not getting a Facebook. Facebook’s for old people.”

Of course, I have a Facebook account – and don’t consider myself “old” –  so I was like:


She went on to say that hardly any of her friends were on Facebook, and that her most used social media apps by far were Snapchat and Kik. (I might as well go ahead and admit that I had to ask what Kik was, so maybe I really am old.)

This chat with my sister demonstrated to me the complicated relationship between social media and two of its influencing factors: brand perception and demand for services.

Let’s go back to Facebook to examine fb messengerthis further. Most people my age that I come in contact with have Facebook accounts. Furthermore, most people I know continue to use the messaging feature on Facebook, even if they rarely post content to their profiles. We have a need for an instant messaging service, and Facebook provides it. Many choose to use Facebook’s messaging system over another option like Kik because we already have an established network of people we want to contact on the site. We’re accustomed to Facebook and it is meeting our demand for messaging services, so we keep using it, even if we see newer social media platforms as “cooler” or more useful for other things.kik

On the other hand, it makes sense that my sister and her friends would be partial to the messaging app Kik if they shun Facebook so vehemently. They still demand an IM service, but without a pre-established network and sense of brand loyalty (or laziness, depending on your viewpoint) to another site, they found their own app somewhere else. Facebook was deemed “uncool,” which allowed Kik to enter the scene and take over that particular target market.

This is why my advice to anyone trying to start up a new social media site or app would be to consciously evaluate a precise target age range based on that group’s current brand perceptions and needs. All young people are not looking for the same things, nor do we feel the same way about all types of social media. I believe a better age-tailored campaign for new social media options could truly change how receptive we are to new social media platforms.

“Millennials” just isn’t a narrow enough audience anymore.

Meme Culture: Sure, Jan


It’s happening. The first new meme of 2015…and who would have guessed it would come from a Brady Bunch movie from 20 years ago?


If you’re new to the meme, this is where you can find the clip that started it all:

And if you’re unwilling to watch this one-minute video (or for whatever reason, can’t) here’s your quick summary: Jan Brady tells her family she has a new boyfriend, George Tropicana Glass. Marcia says she has never heard of him (and in the process butchers the pronunciation of the word “school”). Jan insists her made-up boyfriend is real. Marcia responds with a disbelieving “Sure, Jan” complete with an impressive shade-throwing expression.

All in all, I think this clip has demonstrates great meme-ability. Here are some “meme traits” that I think helped launch Jan and Marcia Brady into the spotlight in 2015:

  1. A relatable situation

jan george For the Brady Bunch, it’s Jan and her on-the-spot, awkwardly poor lying about her made-up boyfriend. Making up a fake significant other to seem cool/less pathetic or to get someone to stop asking when you’re going to find someone is totally relatable. More relatable – > more likely for people to enjoy and share -> more meme potential.

2. Bad grammar, mispronunciation, misspelling, or any other such butchering of the English language

magic skule bus Did you hear Marcia say “school”? (Or sküle, as memeland has phonetically dubbed it?) What even was that word, Marcia? Her weird pronunciation is humorous, memorable, and easy to recycle and reuse in new and different contexts, giving it excellent meme potential.

3. Memorable imagery or facial expressions

sure janThe shade in Marcia’s disbelieving expression and her condescending “Sure, Jan” at the end of the clip. It’s funny, relatable, and has excellent reuse potential as a reaction gif for anytime you need to throw some shade. In fact, one site suggested “Sure, Jan.” might be the next “Bye, Felicia!”

A few things fascinate me about memes: first, how quickly they spread and evolve. I think memes spread quickly based on two primary factors: humor and relatability. Relatability draws us in and humor makes us remember. Both give us reasons to share with others, creating viral content.

Next, I’m interested in how memes can originate from content that isn’t even recent, or content that previously seemed culturally irrelevant. I think memes are a great way to demonstrate how people’s views, their likes and dislikes, their values, and so on change over time: we can see them through what is created and deemed important (based on the level of sharing the content receives). These “flashback” style memes – based on content from years past that suddenly becomes relevant – is also a great testament as to how the internet has changed and shaped our lives. We couldn’t have a Brady Bunch meme back when the movie came out the way we can today, because the state of the internet (and our lives) is so different.

And finally, the level of confusion for “meme-outsiders” is always an interesting reflection on communication – whether someone just is not familiar with the content or is familiar with it but completely doesn’t get the joke. Is the familiarity, the general relatability of the meme, not applicable to them? Is it just not their style of humor? Are they secretly a soulless robot? Who knows. Maybe one day we’ll have a Meme Sküle to help them out, but until then, we have Jan and Marcia Brady.

Can our Facebook addiction help us save missing kids?


Sometime soon your Facebook habit could lead you to help reunite a missing child with their family. Or that’s the idea, anyways. NPR reported this week that Facebook will begin working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to release Amber Alerts to people’s newsfeeds.

The idea was set in motion when Emily Vacher, Facebook’s trust and safety manager, noticed that in the past couple of years people have taken to social media to ask for help and share information when someone goes missing.

“Kids have actually been brought home because of the information people shared on Facebook.”

Amber Alerts appear on highway billboards, TV, radio, and some cell phone alerts, but Facebook is the first social media site to work with NCMEC. Proponents of the program believe that Facebook could be a game changer for the success of Amber Alerts because of the quick and easy ability to share the post with others on the site.

Facebook has actually been involved with Amber Alerts since 2011, when 53 pages (one for each of the 50 states, plus DC, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico) were created to provide users with information on missing children. However, Facebook users had to go to their location-specific page and sign up to receive the updates.

The new program, which went into effect on January 13, automatically applies to users and will put alerts on directly onto their newsfeeds. There were some concerns that Facebook users would see these posts as spam, since they will appear in newsfeeds without being requested and there will not be a way to opt out of the program. However, Vacher says because the system is location targeted, most people will only ever see one or two alerts a year.

“If you see an Amber Alert delivered, it means you are actually in a position to be able to help.”

I am very excited for this new feature. In fact, I’d say this is the first time in a while I’ve thought, ‘Wow. Good job, Facebook!’ and not meant it sarcastically. This is one of those ideas where I wonder how no one had come up with it before. And the best part of all this is I have hope that Facebook posts about missing kids could really help bring them home because it has actually happened before.

Obviously I don’t expect miracles. Facebook isn’t about to solve the problem of missing children singlehandedly. I’m sure plenty of users will skim over the alert without much thought, or even ignore it completely.  This is still social media, after all. Mindless scrolling is a part of the culture. But the way I see it, the more people who know a child is missing, the more eyes there are that could be watching out for him or her, and the more likely the child is to be found.

So if an Amber Alert graces your newsfeed, I recommend you take a second to share it. Who knows? You could help save a life.

Sling ‘Slingshot’ back where it came from


So I’m casually browsing my Facebook feed today when I see an ad for Slingshot, a new social media app. The first line of the post promises an experience that is comparable to “Snapchat, with a twist!” I don’t particularly care for Snapchat myself (that’s a post for another time) but I do recognize that it is pretty popular with other people. The popularity of Snapchat and my curiosity as to what kind of “twist” you can put on sending pictures encouraged me to read on…and the next line is where I lost it.

“Your friends can’t see what you sent until they send something back!”


I had to read that a couple of times because I was sure I had to be misunderstanding something somehow. “Your friends can’t see what you sent until they send something back.” Excuse me?

Here’s how I picture this Slingshot thing going down:

Person A: *slings a photo he wants to share*

Person B: *gets notification that she has a photo*

Person B: *can’t view photo*

Person B: *slings back random photo of nearest object so she can open the photo sent to her*

Person A: *receives response photo of random object but can’t open it*

Person A: *slings back a photo of his own random object so he can view the reaction photo of her random object*

Person B: *finally opens first photo*

Person B: *gets notification of another photo – the random object reaction sent to view the random object reaction sent to view the original photo*

I can’t even complete a full cycle of this. The tedium of writing that out is too much; I can’t imagine living it. In what world would it be useful to send a response to something you haven’t seen yet? And similarly, in what world would it be useful to receive a response that has nothing to do with what you sent? You didn’t ask for it, it’s not relevant to the message you were trying to convey…Slingshot is basically just opting to receive junk mail from your friends.

After researching Slingshot, I discovered it is a Facebook creation. I can see the business appeal of the app. If Facebook can get people to buy into this Slingshot nonsense, you can see how it would be easy to make money. The whole “response before you know what you are even responding to” deal means if one person slings one picture, it starts a cycle of slinging back and forth before the intended “conversation” can be completed (as I demonstrated above); the nature of the Slingshot app fosters increased usage. Assuming the audience doesn’t lose its patience, that is.

With the rise of the digital age, there have been countless arguments that social media culture hinders social skills, damages interpersonal communication, and is making us generally less intelligent. I have never personally bought into these types of arguments much, but if Slingshot represents the future of digital communication, they might actually be right. I definitely see this weird Slingshot method as breaking down traditional communication – and not in a good way. You won’t catch me slinging photos anytime soon.