Olivia Rodrigo and “The medium is the message” – Part 1

So, this song Drivers License has come out and completely exploded!

Well, if you don’t know who she is you can officially wear an “out-of-touch” badge. She is a Disney star, known for High School Musical the Musical the Show and Bizardvark. This song has completely exploded in popularity and has broken many records in its wake.

It debuted first on the Bilboard where its been for the past 6 weeks. You’d think this song is from one of the greatest singer of our time – Beyonce, Rihanna (we need an album RiRi), or Jay-Z, but this song is form Olivia Rodrigo. Who?

I had never heard of her before, I had seen this song recommended multiple times for me on YouTube, but what made me interested in this topic was a video by YouTube “Todd in The Shadows.” He posted this video:

In it, he developed 5 theories as to why this song has broken so many records. Here’s the theories:

Theory 1 – The pandemic is still going one! It has struck a chord. No new music coming out, no end in sight, and still waiting for reopening. He mentions how there was an opening in the market and this song has filled it.

Theory 2 – Mouse Money! She’s a Disney start, they have the means to manipulate the market. So no surprise there. However, no other pop start from Disney has broken so many records before.

Theory 3 – People are sad a trend that’s been going on! Lot’s of new music coming out that’s slower in tempo… but no one has stuck and made such an impact.

Theory 4 – This is a great song actually! It is a song for a very specific age group (“not for adults”). It is a emotionally true song and teenagers cry alot.

Theory 5 – Hot Celeb Goss!

Oh My God Wow GIF

There’s a love triangle thing going on. Olivia was with Joshua Bassett who is now with Sabrina Carpenter. They all have songs out now you could say “diss track fight….” But they aren’t as popular as hers. But could astroturfing generate this much buzz?

Todd finishes the video explaining that this song may not be the greatest hit of the decade, but it will resonate in the future.


Alright, that’s the contex.

After watching this video, I started thinking about how much impact this song breaking records has had and what that says about the future of the entertainment industry.

We are talking 132 MILLION views on YouTube (on Feb 24, 2021); it was released a month ago! It has over 430 MILLION streams on Spotify! These are crazy numbers. Let alone its popularity on TikTok.

Well, TikTok has its history but one cannot deny it’s influence in the younger generation. Therefore, we need to talk about that!

I believe this song’s popularity is the first symptom of something bigger.

Teenagers have a voice in today’s entertainment world. They have grown up with the internet and finding their own entertainment online. Unlike most older people that were fed entertainment through their parents (listening to old CDs from your uncle, watching mom’s favorite movie, etc…). they have been able to develop their own circles and chose what represents them the best.

There’s also a dark side that I can’t stop thinking about: There’s so much data on teenagers today that I don’t think it would be impossible to collect and analyze it to create “the perfect hit.”

After all, they are the largest population online. One might disagree and say that EVERONE has a phone, however, younger people “engage” online; they comment, like, share a lot more than older people(it is hard to make this claim and I can’t find much on it -RESEARCH ALERT!- But there’s a lot coming out about political engagement online).

So what does all of this mean?

The first thought that crossed my mind was from good-ol’ McLuhan:

The medium is the message!

What do you think? Thinking of this quote and this context. What does the medium TikTok has to say?

Let’s discuss that in part 2!

Why online education won’t change the world

Online learning isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have a place in the world today.

We are all living faster and connected lives, so having the flexibility of online learning is quite a feat of humanity!

However, I have been collecting data from my students about how was their Fall 2020 (it is based on observation and an ill-constructed questionnaire, but… here I wanted to share it anyway).

Fall 2020 was unique, to say the least. It was my first time teaching at the university level outside of graduate school and it was already all online. As a teacher I found myself being an instructor -an expert scaffolding knowledge and building courses, an IT person – troubleshooting Zoom issues and computer issues, and, somewhat, and entertainer – trying my best to keep student attention through visually rich lectures, videos, games, and puns!

For students, they were coming from a frustrating Fall 2020, where classes were haphazardly transferred to the online environment. Insecurity ruled. The trust between students and their universities is low, so the spirits aren’t high to begin Spring 2020.

Here’s my “data collection” from the beginning of this semester from the four classes I am teaching at Illinois State University. I asked the students

“How was fall 2020 for you?”

I had a total of 50 unique responses with the majority of students mentioning how tiring the past semester was. (Two people said “easy” but I think these were mistakes LOL, anyway)… I believe that tiring being chosen more than stressful is very telling, here’s why.

I got to thinking “what is one thing that has been taken away from everyone as we transitioned to online teaching?” The one response I could find was: The external environment – going to campus and having people around us pursuing the same goals.

Once we jumped into online teaching we removed the environment from the learning equation. We removed these external cues that let us know what we were doing and where we were going. Here’s an example:

You are a student taking 15 credits in a semester (that’s about 5 classes). When you get ready to go about your day, you grab your backpack and think “okay, today I have this one class and this one class so I need to take these books/tools to class.” Once you get to campus, you go to specific buildings and classrooms where the classes take place and these spaces further support the idea that you are somewhere to do something. You don’t have to actively think “I am here for this class,” after a while that automatically happens. However, when we move to an online environment where we sit at the same desk in front of the same computer we miss these external cues that helped us navigate our schedule without using our brain power.

So, my hypothesis is that by removing the external cues we have added a lot stress onto our brains arriving at the Cognitive Load Theory. We are overworking our brains just to situate ourselves into “what do we need to now” instead of the act of being somewhere give us the answers.

As humans, and at least for the past 100 years, we really didn’t have to do that. But now, inserted into an online environment you have to keep repeating it to yourself (even if unconsciously) “I am at this class now, later I have this other and I need to press this button for that.”

This is, of course, just one aspect of how online learning might overburden our brain capacities. We are social beings after all, so substituting the in-person connection to gray squares on Zoom isn’t cutting it.

If you are an adept of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory you probably know where I am trying to get at here. In his theory, Bandura postulates that people, behaviors, and environments interact to create learning. Therefore, if one of these parameters is removed from the equation, student learning is compromised.

I do know that online learning works for some people, however, it takes a lot of self-motivation to stick with an online course, especially if asynchronous, to finish it. But a synchronous course isn’t the answer either.

We need to exchange our experiences in person to be able to fully learn, but in the middle of a pandemic that’s hard to do. But, what I don’t want to happen after the pandemic is over is the thinking that since we were all, for the most part, successful in migrating to an online environment of learning that it should become the norm. We are able to continue our teaching, but at what cost?

Maybe I’m just nostalgic about being in front of the classroom and walking around to help students use illustrator, but I think we haven’t seen the bigger picture of the effects, and efficacy, of online teaching.

Killing Me Softly, With His Ads…

After reading Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Men a couple chapters stood out, from which my group’s activities and discussion were based on.

Chapter 4 – The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis

The mediated technology numbs us.

“The principle of numbness comes into play with electric technology, as with any other. We have to numb our central nervous system when it is extended and exposed, or we will die. Thus the age of anxiety and of electric media is also the age of unconscious and of apathy” (McLuhan, 2013, p 51).

This article from UCLA’s Newsroom from 2011, brings up an interesting point regarding the connectedness of people and how desensitized they have become to horrors seen online (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/is-the-internet-killing-empathy-193294 ).

Even though this seems quite negative, there is a new wave of technology developers that put humans in the center of development. In this article from Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2017/11/20/empathy-technologies-humanity-at-the-heart-of-emerging-tech/#3e67c3f82870 ), Dianne Wilkins talks about how technology businesses are becoming more human-centric as a way to give purpose to their developments.

Maybe technology has pushed us toward numbness for a while that now the tables are turning and we are looking back at ourselves as the drivers of meaning in society.
Chapter 23 – Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses

As someone who has studied feminist art history, it is almost impossible to think about ads without remembering the words of Jean Kilbourne. She has been collecting images of ads representing women since the 60’s and has created the series “Killing Us Softly.” Below is her TEDx talk at Lafayette College in 2014 in which she explains her work and talks about the huge impact that ads have on men and women of all ages.

Her series is a must see in a world lead by capitalism. When we need to buy to keep up with life and changes, those changes come with a cultural and social price. The more we consume, the more those products shape our way of life and understanding of the world around us. From McLuhan’s chapter on ads he says, “ads are not meant for conscious consumption” (2013, p. 247) and “ads push the principle of noise all the way to the plateau of persuasion” (2013, p. 247). Ads are shoved onto us even when we believe that we are immune to them, but the repetition and the noise it creates it breaks our conscious barriers and instill the “need” to consume.

who are we?


“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es” (Not by Bread Alone) translates to English as “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” This famous quote that has entered American popular culture is credited to Brillat-Savarin’s book Physiologie Du Gout, published in the 19th century and now shortened to “You are what you eat.” This quote goes beyond the gastronomy realm and can be interpreted as “you are what you consume.”

Daily, we consume much more than only food. Everything we see, hear, or touch is interpreted by the body and therefore, it changes us and our perception of the world. “If Aliens from the planet Tharg were to be monitoring the earth by watching our television programmes, how realistic an impression of our lives would they receive?” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 237). Popular culture gives a good insight of people’s lives and helps give context to what is happening. A great example of this, is artist’s Jeff Thompson work Computers on Law & Order. He watched all episodes of the original Law & Order show (which ran from 1990 to 2010) and captured stills from almost all of the computers in the show. He was commissioned by Rhizome and turned his work into a blog (computersonlawandorder.tumblr.com) and a curated book as well.

Even though the example might seem entertaining, it brings to light one of the obvious reasons why popular culture and society are so connected. What we watch reflects what we produce and vice-versa. Meaning that these cultural artifacts can become the source of information to a society.




Howells, R., Negreiros, J., (2012). Visual Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Not by Bread Alone: America’s Culinary Heritage. (2002). Retrieved March 23, 2018, from http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/food/gastronomy/Physiologie_du_Gout_L.htm

Thompson, J., (2014). Computers on Law & Order. Rhizome

Representation of Women

Up to now, we’ve been looking at many different images and analyzing them in class.
For me, the ones I feel strongly about are the ones that have women pictured in them. It all started with some beer labels that, even in 2018, were using the objectification of the women’s body as a sale strategy.

This usage of the women’s image has long been done, especially in European paintings. John Berger, in the BBC series and book of same title Ways of Seeing, says, “[…] men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (1977, p. 47, emphasis in original). This quote reinforces the idea that women are being portrayed for the sole purpose of having men stare at them and be drawn to the painting or product.

Fine art, when looked through the lens of hermeneutics, tells us the story of the “[…] human experience made visual” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 173) therefore, the number of images that represent the nude tell us a story of society at that time. From the images of Adam and Eve (Berger, 1977, p. 47) to the venus paintings.

When photography came along, the representation of society itself continued this time with a more realistic consideration. Unlike fine art pieces, photography “[…] persuaded people that when they looked at a photograph, they were looking at reality itself” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 190) which goes beyond a perceived interpretation of life and society to it being reality itself. “[…] [A] picture is said to be worth a thousand words” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 140) “but images are not words. […] They may show something, but the verbal message or speech act has to be brought to them by the spectator […]” (Mitchell, 2005, p. 139). So, the way people read images, be it fine art or photography, depends on their own background, but the lines get blurred when what they think what they are seeing is part of reality. The reality of the photograph just reinforces any beliefs that they might have had, “as it [the camera] is a mechanical recording device, it can only record the truth” (Howells & Negreiros, 2012, p. 190).

Understanding the images we see has as much to do with our own cultural and social background as the artist’s background. When someone creates an image, all their knowledge is transmitted through the image, whether they want it or not. But how the image is read depends on the viewer’s background. Some may say that they don’t consider contemporary art or performance “real art,” which, most often than not, has to do with their own background, what they studied and how much they know about art. Everyone can read images, but each person might have a different interpretation of it until they learn about the artist’s background.


Berger, J. (1977). Ways of Seeing. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Howells, R., Negreiros, J., (2012). Visual Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Mitchell, W., (2005). What Do Pictures Want: The lives and loves of images. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Visual Essay (strong images ahead)

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1. Adam and Eve – Albrecht Dürer – 1504 (Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/19.73.1/)

2. Europe supported by Africa and America – William Blake – 1796 (Retrieved from http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O127397/europe-supported-by-africa-and-print-blake-william/)

3. The Birth of Venus – William Bouguereau – 1878 (Retrieved from http://www.williambouguereau.org/birth-of-venus/)

4. Luncheon on the Grass – Édouard Manet – 1863 (Retrieved from http://www.manet.org/luncheon-on-the-grass.jsp)

5. Olympia – Édouard Manet – 1863 (Retrieved from http://www.manet.org/olympia.jsp)

6. The Apparition – Gustave Moreau – 1876 (Retrieved from http://www.identifythisart.com/art-movements-styles/modern-art/symbolism-art-movement/apparition-gustave-moreau/)

7. Job – Alphonse Mucha – 1900 (Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/dec/31/alphonse-mucha-job-poster)

8. We Can Do It – J. Howard Miller – 1942 (Retrieved from http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_538122)

9. Weyenber Massagic Shoes Ad – 1974 (retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/22/living/seventies-sexist-ads/index.html)

10. Interior Scroll – Carolee Schneemann – 1975 (Retrieved from https://fineartmultiple.com/blog/carolee-schneemann-interior-scroll-masterpiece/)

11. My Bed – Tracey Emin – 1998 (retrieved from http://artlead.net/content/journal/modern-classics-tracey-emin-bed-1998/)

12. Victoria’s Secret Ad – 2017 (retrieved from https://www.victoriassecret.com/bras/new-arrivals)

Celebrating Design – TYPEBOX Unboxing

For my final Grad Studio project, we were told to CELEBRATE DESIGN!

After a whole semester of criticizing consumerism and parts of our culture, it was time to celebrate the good things design has brought us.

I chose to celebrate typography since it is one of my favorite parts of graphic design.

The assignment also asked us to play on tropes from youtube or websites. Since I am already working on making videos for youtube I thought this would be a good opportunity to make a funny, over-the-top video.

I chose to create a new subscription box called TYPEBOX and do an unboxing on camera of my first month. This box contains the typeface Futura, a bonus Futura Bold, and some historical accounts of the typeface.

I tried to make it over-the-top, funny and exaggerated to really play on beauty guru’s unboxing videos that I’ve been watching lately as well as bringing some curiosities about the typeface.

Here is the result, hope you enjoy it.