Quilts from the Second World War tell the stories of the Canadian women who sewed them

Written by Irene Gammel, Toronto Metropolitan University & Joanna Dermenjian, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Canadian National Exhibition Archives. Originally published in The Conversation.

Women sew a quilt at the Quilting Bee Demonstration at the Canadian National Exhibition circa 1940.

A woman sits on a bench carrying a quilt
Josephine Andrews displays the Winona Circle Quilt sewn by women in Gananoque, Ont., during the Second World War. Photo credit: Town of Gananoque Civic Collection, Author provided.

In 1992, in Esher Library southwest of London, England, Josephine Andrews and her mother, Christine, collected blankets to donate to Kurdish refugees of the Gulf War.

Among the pile of donations, the two women discovered a patchwork quilt that stood out for its vibrant cornflower blue stitches, embroidery and floral patterned fabrics, as well as the remarkable cloth label inscribed by hand: “W. V. S. WINONA CIRCLE GRACE UNITED CHURCH GANANOQUE, ONT. CANADA.”

Made across the Atlantic in Ontario during the Second World War, this quilt was a historical artifact that the Andrews safeguarded for three decades before repatriating it in 2021 to Gananoque, Ont., a small tourist town east of Kingston with a rich military history.

The quilt’s repatriation has fuelled the retrieval of additional lost quilts, each with its own story to tell. Quilts made of different pieces of cloth, like the Winona Circle, tell the story of the women’s resourcefulness and artistic capacities in the face of the war’s rationing and shortages.

A close up of a quilt tag.
Detail of the hand-written label on the Winona Circle Quilt. Photo credit: Author provided.

Quilt-making during the war

During the Second World War, Canadian women made an estimated 400,000 quilts, though the Canadian Red Cross’ provincial records of the quilt production are incomplete with several years missing, and there are probably many more.

These quilts were shipped overseas to provide comfort not only for the soldiers on the front lines and in hospitals, but predominantly for British families who had lost their homes in the German bombing of England. Today, these surviving quilts are extremely valuable for the stories they convey about Canadian women’s war labour and artistic expression.

The deft yet varied stitching patterns of the Winona Circle quilt tell us that it was the product of a community of war quilters. During the mid-19th century quilting bees rose to prominence as feminized social practices and spaces of neighbourly connection.

Quilting bees gained new popularity during the First and Second World Wars. Women’s Institutes, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, the Canadian Red Cross and countless community and private groups mobilized women and opened make-shift workspaces including in libraries, homes and schools for charitable war-time production.

A colourful quilt.
The Andover and Perth Quilt made in Perth-Andover, N.B. Photo credit: Private Collection, Author provided.

Telling women’s stories

As cultural artifacts, these war quilts unearth a myriad of information about their creators and users. The details embedded in the quilts tell a story of the women’s collective war effort. These quilts are a testament to a broader legacy of Canadian women whose volunteer work was sidelined, under-recorded and under-researched after the war. As beautiful lost artifacts, these quilts are a visual emblem of Canadian women’s heritage which is too often forgotten in the masculine scholarly accounts of war and nation building.

The quilts highlight women’s labour during world wars. Second World War quilters greatly benefited from the teachings of those who had honed their skills during the First World War, making signature quilts and stitching donors’ names with red thread into white quilts, echoing the Red Cross brand.

Raffled to raise funds for the war effort, most of these quilts remained at home in the communities that made them. In contrast, the Second World War quilts have lingered in the shadows of history in the recipient countries overseas.

An estimated 300 surviving quilts remain overseas, requiring research, analysis and ideally repatriation. This is a focus at the Modern Literature and Culture Research Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University. Research Fellow Joanna Dermenjian has participated in the repatriation of four quilts and a team is dedicated to creating an open access digital archive.

A quilt with a black, blue and beige square pattern.
A woollen Canadian Red Cross quilt made during the Second World War. Photo credit: Private Collection, Author provided.

Letters of gratitude

This effort is part of a broader feminist scholarly effort to shine a light on Canadian women’s war labour and heritage. Feminist historian Sarah Glassford has shown that quilting was an activity that also involved Canadian children, like the first-grade branch in Ontario, where participants knitted quilt squares at school for the Junior Red Cross during the war.

A letter from the women's voluntary services for civil defence.
A letter from Elsa Dunbar thanking the women of Gananoque for the quilts they sent to the U.K. during the Second World War. Photo credit: Author provided.

These quilts were sent overseas to the British children suffering the effects of the blitz who in turn sent letters of gratitude, some of which have survived in family archives.

By interviewing volunteer quilters during more recent conflicts, family studies scholars Cheryl Cheek and Robin Yaure have shown that this affective element is a powerful motivation for volunteer quilters. It leaves them with a sense that they are helping others during a difficult shared crisis. The recipients’ expressions of gratitude can even help the donor with the healing of their own trauma and grief.

In a letter from February 1943, Elsa Dunbar, the Head of the Overseas Department of the Women’s Voluntary Services, thanked the women of Gananoque for “the wonderful gaily coloured quilts which are so delightful to look at as well as being so useful” against the backdrop of a recent “daylight raid on London.”

The quilts provide a testament to Canadian women’s heritage, validating their contributions during difficult times — however belatedly. They speak of the artistic labour preserving powerful women’s stories of hardship, community support and humanitarianism. Each of these quilts speak of a gendered story of the Second World War — long lost stories that remain to be told.

A study of close to half a million soccer fans shows how group identity shapes behaviour

Written by Daniel Rubenson, Toronto Metropolitan University & Chris Dawes, New York University. Photo credit: AP Photo/Mario De Fina. Originally published in The Conversation.

Argentina fans celebrating their team’s World Cup victory walk past a mural of Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires. While shared nationality is a factor, most fans typically think about players in terms of their club team.

On Dec. 18, Argentina defeated France after penalties in what some have called the greatest World Cup final ever. For one month the attention of soccer fans from Brazil to Morocco was devoted to their national teams as the Seleção Canarinho, Atlas Lions and 30 other teams battled through the tournament in Qatar.

Now fans’ focus is returning to Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan and other clubs, as the major domestic leagues resume matches. Argentina’s hero, Lionel Messi and France’s superstar Kylian Mbappé, rivals on the pitch in Qatar just a few weeks ago, are now back in their familiar roles as teammates at Paris Saint-Germain.

Soccer players compete for a professional club but also hail from different, sometimes rival, countries. This duality provides a natural laboratory to study a question that has preoccupied social scientists for decades: How do our group memberships affect our behaviour? We recently published research from a study on the impact of group identity on behaviour among over 400,000 soccer fans from 35 countries.

We found that national identity leads to more in-group support from fans but team identity has no effect. And that soccer fans offer less support for players who have left the club they support.

A group of football fans one of whom is waving a Canadian flag.
Canada fans cheer the Canadian soccer team during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Shared national identity can lead to players receiving more support from fans. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.

Us vs. Them

Social Identity Theory holds that group membership provides us with a sense of belonging and raises self-esteem. We tend to categorize people in terms of group memberships, dividing the world into “Us” and “Them.” We often favour individuals belonging to our same social group and discriminate against those in the out-group.

Studying this behaviour is difficult. Experiments offer a way to isolate effects, but laboratory studies are usually highly artificial and experiments set in the real world typically require participants to make decisions based on very little information. These factors limit how far findings can be generalized.

To overcome these challenges, we partnered with a popular soccer app, Forza Football to design an experiment studying the role of social identities in decision-making. The experiment was conducted during Forza’s annual poll to determine the world’s best soccer player.

We randomly altered the information users saw on the ballot in the 2018 poll to include either the players’ nationality, their professional club or just their name and photo. Forza users saw one of these three ballots and clicked on the player they thought was best.

The 10 players in the poll played for 10 different clubs and hailed from 10 different countries. After a record breaking 2018 season, it was no surprise Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah won the poll.

Shared nationality a factor

We also knew users’ favourite clubs as well as their nationality. This allowed us to test how individuals vote when a player was presented as either belonging to their social group or being from an out-group.

For example, when we showed a Belgian Manchester United supporter that Kevin de Bruyne is Belgian, we create a shared identity. But if we show the same person that de Bruyne plays for rival club Manchester City, we create an unshared identity.

We found strong evidence of in-group favouritism based on national identity. Presenting players’ nationalities in addition to their names and photos increased in-group voting by 3.6 per cent compared to when nationality was absent.

On the other hand, providing information about a player’s professional club didn’t change voting behaviour. In other words, a person was more likely to vote for a player who is of the same nationality. While a fan sharing a club with a player had no effect on voting.

Two soccer players wearing black and red outfits running on a pitch.
Belgian soccer player Kevin De Bruyne (left) celebrates with his Manchester City teammate Norwegian Erling Haaland after scoring a goal. Photo credit: AP Photo/Jon Super.

So, a Portuguese user who saw that Cristiano Ronaldo is Portuguese, for example, was significantly more likely to vote for him than a Portuguese user who saw a ballot with just names and photos.

The disparate effect of shared club and national identity is likely due in part to the prominence of each identity. Soccer fans typically think about players in terms of their club team, not their national team. As a result, our subtle prime was more effective in raising the salience of the national identity than club affiliation.

We also measured how strongly fans identify with their favourite team and their nationality. It turns out, unsurprisingly, the effect of nationality on voting is greatest among individuals for whom that identity is more important.

Voting for and voting against

A man in a red soccer outfit kick a football.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scores his sixth goal during a Champions League match against Rangers F.C. Photo credit: AP Photo/Scott Heppell.

People not only voted for their in-group, they voted against candidates in their out-group. Professional soccer players sometimes change teams in transfers.

This creates a great test of the idea that individuals actively vote against someone they view as an out-group candidate.

For example, in 2017 Mohamed Salah moved to his current club, Liverpool, from the Italian team AS Roma. This means for Roma supporters, Salah was in the in-group but is now in the out-group.

When presented with a ballot highlighting the fact a former in-group member is now in the out-group (on a different team), users were significantly less likely to vote for the player.

For these fans, providing team information caused a 6.1 per cent decrease in voting for an out-group player.

Sports matters beyond the field of play

Recent research by a team of political scientists has indicated star players like Salah can reduce prejudice. They found Islamophobia declined in the Liverpool area because of Salah’s presence.

But what happens when Salah stops scoring or changes team? Our results suggest sports fans might be quite fickle and that strongly identifying with the in-group is directly related to a backlash effect toward out-groups.

Sports reflect, reveal and shape major social, economic and political values and changes. Sometimes sports is used to bridge or widen ethnic, racial, religious and partisan divides.

For example, researchers have studied racial bias by looking at foul calls in the NBA, how sports success can help unite divided societies and how playing sports together can foster co-operation. Our study follows this trend and provides insights from the sports world on how group identity affects behaviour.

The effect of perceiving a shared or unshared group identity is likely small in any particular interaction. But the results of our large-scale study suggest relatively small changes in the prominence of group identities can alter behaviour. This has implications for how ballots are designed, how advertisers target, how social justice campaigns are rolled out and myriad other decision-making scenarios.

As pandemic measures are lifted, social media use has declined with the exception of TikTok

Written by Philip Mai, Toronto Metropolitan University and Anatoliy Gruzd, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit (Shutterstock). Originally published in The Conversation.

TikTok’s popularity continues to rise, while other social media networks have seen a decline.

In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Instagram is faltering in its bid to keep up with TikTok, the wildly popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app.

But it is not just Instagram fretting over TikTok’s meteoric rise — a Google exec raised similar concerns about how TikTok was drawing younger users away from Google’s core services such as Search and Maps.

TiKTok’s rise is confirmed by data from our new nation-wide, census-balanced online survey, The State of Social Media in Canada 2022, which surveyed 1,500 Canadian adults over the age of 18 between May 12 and 31, 2022.

The rise of TikTok

Our report findings show that Canadians’ use of social media has declined from its early pandemic peak; however, Canada continues to be one of the most connected countries in the world — 94 per cent of online adults use at least one social media platform.

We found that TikTok had the largest gain (an increase of 11 per cent) in the number of Canadian adults who reported having an account on the platform in 2022, compared to data we collected in 2020.

While the number of Canadians on TikTok is still relatively small (26 per cent), those who do use the platform visit it regularly (65 per cent daily). Like in the United States, TikTok adoption in Canada largely skews towards younger age groups, as 76 per cent of those aged 18–24 reported having an account on the platform, while the fastest growing demographic on the platform are those who are between 25 and 34 years old (54 per cent).

These findings suggest that TikTok’s appeal has grown since 2020, when we last conducted this survey, and that TikTok is no longer just an app for short videos.

Other studies have shown that young people are now using TikTok as one of the primary ways to get news and that some have even replaced Google Search with TikTok.

Our findings from earlier in the summer support this: 51 per cent of Canadian TikTok users reported using the app to follow news on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A woman in pink athletic gear holds a smartphone showing a TikTok video of another woman in black exercising
Canadian internet users are turning to TikTok for news and information in greater numbers. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

After the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in some changes in where and how often Canadians are spending their time on social media. After living through two years of COVID-19 restrictions, more Canadians are re-evaluating the role of social media in their lives.

In particular, Canadians are spending less time on social media now that most pandemic restrictions have been lifted. In Canada, Facebook has the highest percentage of daily users at 70 per cent, but this dropped from a previous high of 77 per cent daily users in 2020.

TikTok is the only platform showing a slight two per cent increase in the percentage of daily users. In contrast, Reddit has the largest drop — 14 per cent — of daily users.

Fewer Canadians reported having an account on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Platforms such as Facebook, messaging apps and YouTube still dominate in terms of the number of users, but newer platforms — like TikTok — and more niche platforms — like the livestreaming service Twitch — are gaining ground.

The percentage of Canadians who reported using LinkedIn has dropped by seven per cent since 2020. The rate of new users joining Facebook and Pinterest has also declined, each dropping by three per cent and four per cent since 2020 respectively.

An unfolding story

There’s little doubt that TikTok has been a disrupting force on the social media landscape. It has forced social media stalwarts like Facebook and Google to make radical changes to their platform in order to keep up.

But for TikTok to continue to grow, it will need to convince skeptics that it is not part of the Chinese state apparatus; however, in the current geopolitical climate, that could be a very tall order.

Why Ms. Marvel matters so much to Muslim, South Asian fans

Written by Safiyya Hosein, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Daniel McFadden/Marvel Studios 2022. Originally published in The Conversation

Muslim participants of different backgrounds who participated in an audience study said they identify with Kamala Khan, also known as Ms. Marvel, because she’s connected both to her ancestral culture and her American one.

The Disney+ TV show featuring Ms. Marvel, also known as Kamala Khan — the first Muslim superheroine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), launched June 8 — and the internet has been alight with discussions about the lovable titular character.

The comic book series, Ms. Marvel shot to No. 1 on the comic book charts after its 2014 debut.

The Pakistani American teen Kamala has been one of the most successful characters Marvel unveiled in the past decade, with a large audience reach.

The show has received strong reviews, and Kamala’s representation is a breakthrough — particularly to her South Asian, Muslim and racialized fans.

Unfortunately, the show has also received some racist and sexist backlash in the form of internet “review bombers,” people who spam a show with negative reviews, who are upset with the new identity of Ms. Marvel.

Trailer for ‘Ms. Marvel.’

Regular Pakistani American teen

Kamala, played by Iman Vellani, is a regular Pakistani American Muslim teen who transforms into a superhero. In the comics, this happens after she comes into contact with a mist that induces genetic mutation. In the show, her powers are unlocked after she puts on her grandmother’s bangle.

Viewers can partly credit Ms. Marvel’s success to the comic series’ co-creator and editor, Sana Amanat, a Pakistani American Muslim, and its first writer, G. Willow Wilson, a white American convert to Islam.

Wilson wrote Kamala so beautifully that her struggles appealed to a large audience. As The New Yorker reports, Amanat and Wilson knew that as a breakthrough Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel would face high expectations: “traditional Muslims might want her to be more modest, and secular Muslims might want her to be less so.”

Their work was also unfolding in the charged post-9/11 climate when representations of Muslims, while gaining some nuance, have also reiterated long-standing orientalist stereotypes — and Islamophobes framed debates that questioned the compatibility of Islam with the West.

People dressed up and dancing.
Kamala’s friends Nakia (Yasmeen Fletcher) and Bruno (Matt Lintz) are seen dancing with her and her Auntie Ruby (Anjali Bhimani) at her brother’s wedding.

South Asian Muslim culture

In both the comic and TV series, Kamala’s representation of Islam is primarily a South Asian one. For instance, Kamala wears a South Asian dupatta, when praying in the mosque. And the inter-generational trauma created by Partition, which led to the creation of the South Asian Muslim state, Pakistan, is a driving force in the plot.

Characters speckle their conversations with phrases and words in Urdu. Episode 1 shows Kamala and her mother shopping for a ceremony that is among the most important events in South Asian backgrounds: a wedding. The event is later shown in Episode 3.

The audience is treated to a fitting of Kamala’s go-to-South Asian wear in this episode, the shawlaar kameeze. In this scene, another major fixture in South Asian culture debuts: The gossiping aunty. South Asian music is also a regular feature on the show, and Marvel has posted links to the soundtracks which include a mix of pop and desi tracks.

Supporting cast: Nani and Red Dagger

A young man smiling.
Aramis Knight is cast as the Red Dagger. Photo credit: Shutterstock

I’m looking forward to the plot lines with two South Asian characters — Kamala’s nani (maternal grandmother), played by Samina Ahmed, and the Pakistani male superhero, the Red Dagger, played by Aramis Knight.

Red Dagger currently stars in a webcomic with Ms. Marvel and is important mainly because western popular media has often depicted Muslim men as oppressors of women, not superheroes.

Breaking the tired tropes

I’m excited about Kamala’s screen debut because of what she signifies to her South Asian, Muslim and racialized female fans after a lifetime of seeing sparse or orientalist representations of ourselves.

After watching the first two episodes, journalist Unzela Khan said she feels like her “day-to-day reality (minus the superpowers) was finally being shared accurately and safely with the whole world.”

In an audience study I conducted on the Muslim superhero archetype as part of my doctoral research, participants of many different Muslim backgrounds indicated an eagerness to receive Ms. Marvel.

Respondents expressed relief at seeing Kamala as a unique three-dimensional Muslim superhero in American comics, because she is a break from the relentless terrorist and oppressed women tropes entwined with representations of Islam that have dominated the western popular culture landscape.

They regard her as “relatable” because she connects both to her ancestral culture and American one.

A superhero is seen extending her hand.
Iman Vellani stars as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ ‘Ms. Marvel.’ Photo credit: Marvel Studios 2022

The South Asian Muslim participants in particular were excited for her because she not only embodies much of their customs, but because she represents a break from the “Muslim equals Middle Eastern” portrayals. Black Muslim participants voiced this last point as well.

Refuge from stereotypes?

While most participants in my study welcomed Ms. Marvel as a refuge from Islamophobic stereotypes, one stressed that if a Muslim superhero appeared in a story showing something that didn’t reflect Islamic principles, there would be a risk this could negatively affect the Muslim community.

Since the show launched, some Muslim fans were outraged by Episode 3’s revelation that Kamala is a djinn. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, a djinn is a Qurʾānic term applied to bodies composed of vapour and flame. Djinns are popularly understood as supernatural beings. The djinn filtered through a western orientalist lens has been a staple of orientalist “genie” depictions.

Many have said that it was a baffling choice to draw on orientalist tropes while making the first Muslim superhero in the MCU a djinn — and that they can’t cosplay as her now. The plot turn of Kamala-as-djinn isn’t in the comics.

Turning point of representation?

In my audience study, a young Indian Muslim woman was excited to see Kamala take over the Ms. Marvel mantle from her blonde and blue-eyed predecessor, Carol Danvers.

She said Kamala would let young, brown and dark-skinned girls know that they too were special after a lifetime of not seeing themselves represented in western popular media.

The Pakistani American Muslim illustrator, Anoosha Syed, recently tweeted about this in response to questions on Kamala’s identity, writing: “Seeing a lot of people online … angrily commenting ‘who is this show even for??’ Hi! Hello! It’s for me!!! ME!!!! A Pakistani Muslim girl who has literally never seen herself represented in media like this before!!”


With the Ms. Marvel series currently clocking in at a 96 per cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I question whether we are on the cusp of a turning point for Muslim representation in the West — especially for South Asian and Muslim girls.

In the past, some dressed up as the orientalist Disney character, Princess Jasmine, for Halloween. With Ms. Marvel and other superheroines, girls are gaining heroines to choose from.

Move over unicorn lattes, there’s a new Instagram trend in town: Normal-looking food

Written by Matthew Philp, Toronto Metropolitan University, Ethan Pancer, Saint Mary’s University and Jenna Jacobson, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Figuring out which foods garner more social media engagement will help restaurants and food content creators determine how to better amplify the reach of their online content.

The past decade has seen the rise of the Instagrammable food trend, where restaurants have altered menus to prioritize visual uniqueness — often at the expense of taste.

In a competitive social media landscape where users are inundated with content, the question for restaurateurs has been how to stand out and generate audience engagement in the form of likes, comments and shares.

Under the assumption that creating unique food items will help businesses stand out and garner more engagement on social media, the Instagrammable food trend has given birth to novelty items like unicorn lattes and poop cafes.

But does this strategy actually work? Do unique, distinct and atypical-appearing foods garner the most engagement? Or do people engage more with normal, familiar and typical-appearing foods?

What people think Instagrammable food is

Since social media platforms use rank-ordering algorithms to prioritize and boost content, figuring out which foods garner more social media engagement will help restaurants and food content creators determine how to better amplify the reach of their online content.

Conventional social media wisdom suggests that people will engage with social media content they deem entertaining, where “entertaining” is synonymous with unique, distinct and atypical content.

In a food context, it has been assumed that entertaining means food that looks more unique, distinct and atypical.

This assumption has sparked an industry trend where restaurants have abandoned taste in lieu of visual aesthetics, such as bright and unusual colours, to spark engagement on visual-based social media platforms, such as Instagram.


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A post shared by Fugo Desserts (@fugodesserts)

There are many different examples of this over-the-top food trend on Instagram, from the Bagel Store in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Fugo Desserts, the Enchanted Poutinerie and Glory Hole Doughnuts in Toronto.

What Instagrammable food really is

Our recent investigation, published in the Journal of Business Research, investigates which foods are truly the most Instagrammable — in other words, which ones garner the most likes, comments and shares.

Our research examined over 10,000 images of food on Instagram from over 850 top restaurants (according to Eater.com) using Google Vision, a machine-learning algorithm that extracts insights from images.

A photo of a pizza is classified as being 80% food by an algorithm.
Google Vision’s API assigns labels to images and classifies them into predefined categories. In this example, a pizza has been classified as 80 per cent food by the machine learning model. (Shutterstock/Google Cloud API)

We found that when Google Vision was more confident that an image contained actual food — a proxy for how normal and typical the food actually is — the more social media engagement it received.

A followup experiment suggests that positive affect, which is the extent to which we feel good, helps explain this relationship.

While social media forecasters may suggest that unique foods are a trend, this logic contradicts some principles of evolutionary psychology. Humans evolved to quickly visually recognize foods, not just for what is edible, but also for what is calorie-dense.

Since finding and eating edible food was crucial for survival when humans were hunter-gatherers, we may be hard-wired to feel intrinsically good when we simply see food we know we can eat.

Social media food marketing

How is this relevant to social media? The average user spends over two hours a day on social media platforms, exposing them to hundreds of different posts in a single scrolling session.

While rapidly processing content, the brain may instinctively feel more positively toward images that are more easily recognized as food. These positive feelings can then transfer to behaviours directed toward the post, thereby increasing the likelihood of the post receiving likes, comments or shares.


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A post shared by RUDY (@rudyresto)

Since people feel better when they see foods that are easily recognizable as food, normal-looking food tends get more likes. On the other hand, unique foods tend to result in lower social media engagement because they are harder for people to recognize and classify as food.

Despite food industry bloggers and social media trends suggesting that people crave unique, eye-catching content, the most successful Instagrammable foods are the normal-looking ones that are more easily recognized as food.

Not ice cream disguised as feces served in a toilet, waffles shaped like penises or unusually coloured ice cream. Instead, consumers appear to engage more with regular food, like a classic burger or normal pizza — no unconventional shapes or colours required.

Bottom-up, audience-driven and shut down: How HuffPost Canada left its mark on Canadian media

Written by Nicole Blanchett, Ryerson University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

HuffPost Canada was abruptly shut down on March 9, 2020, by Buzzfeed as part of a broad restructuring plan for the company. This closure came two weeks after two dozen workers filed for union certification.

From prioritizing diversity to a bottom-up editorial process and using traditional marketing practices to develop journalistic stories, HuffPost Canada was a digital-first innovator. Then it was shut down.

It’s now been a year since the small newsroom closed. Trying to make a big impact, HuffPost Canada fought against the narrative that it prioritized free content over quality journalism. Those who worked there thought they were playing an important role. Now that it’s shuttered, they’re moving on to different newsrooms, bringing experience that could influence practice across Canadian media.

I undertook interviews with HuffPost Canada employees as part of data gathering for the Journalistic Role Performance project, an international effort between 37 countries exploring if there’s a gap in journalistic ideals compared to practice.

After collecting thousands of stories in 2020, then coding them and surveying journalists from the news organizations who produced those stories, we’re now getting to the analysis stage. And, by coincidence, we captured some of the last days of HuffPost Canada.

A different kind of newsroom culture

With wood-planked floors, high ceilings, exposed brick and lots of natural light, HuffPost Canada had a different look and feel to it than many legacy news organizations. It was less utilitarian, more a place you’d want to hang out even if you weren’t working.

Another reason was the young and diverse staff.

Although some strides have been made industry-wide in terms of newsroom diversity, there’s still a long way to go based on a recent report from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Of the more than 200 Canadian newsrooms that participated in its survey, almost half “exclusively employ white journalists.” About 90 per cent have no Latin, Middle Eastern or mixed race journalists, about 80 per cent have no Black or Indigenous journalists and about two thirds have no Asian journalists.

At HuffPost Canada, the focus on diversity didn’t stop with the people working in the newsroom, but flowed through to the use of sources and experts. One HuffPost Canada editor said:

“Our big thing is that we normalize diversity. We don’t have special sections, we just do it — and if that approach can influence other media, that’s a marker of success for us.”

In terms of newsroom hierarchy, one reporter said there was a “striking difference” at HuffPost Canada compared to legacy newspapers. At her previous job, the editorial process was completely top-down: decisions about what was covered were based on what editors “felt” should get published. At HuffPost Canada, the reporter was able to come up with their own ideas.

More than meets the eye

A study participant from another news outlet acknowledged HuffPost Canada did some good work, but questioned why it was part of our research. He said they were “national” only because anybody could “click on them” but their “reportorial footprint” was “pretty thin.”

Addressing this perception, one HuffPost Canada editor said it was a small team and there was “no illusion” that they could cover everything. They relied on agencies like The Canadian Press for stories they didn’t have the resources for and encouraged reporters to focus on what they were passionate about and develop stories they’d be “remembered for.”

He stressed they weren’t just going for “cheap clicks” and that speaking “truth to power” and giving a “voice to the voiceless” was their “brand.” However, he also said there was no shame in doing viral stories and didn’t understand why they were somehow considered “dirty” or labelled as “clickbait.”

My observations echoed his statement. At an editorial meeting I attended, there was a lot of talk about what was trending, but there was also a lot of discussion about politics, including an investigative piece coming out of Ottawa.

Reader-focused content

Most news organizations collect demographics to help better understand who their audience is. HuffPost Canada went beyond this, using data to create profiles of imaginary readers like Adam, a middle-aged millennial who had a partner named Taylor, and Adela, a young millennial who was on Instagram at 10 p.m. Before starting a story, reporters were supposed to use these imaginary profiles to “put a face” to the specific segment of the audience they were writing for.

Its understanding of its audience allowed HuffPost Canada to recognize that topics considered “lighter” or less “important” by other news outlets — like parenting — were actually important to its readers. One editor said that they always asked two questions about their content: “How does this affect me and why should I care?”

The editor said HuffPost Canada focused on making content as accessible as possible for readers, noting that information shouldn’t only be for those who can afford subscriptions or have a certain reading comprehension level. Serving only the most educated and affluent news consumers, and the use of paywalls in journalism, have both been noted as growing concerns by the Reuters Institute of Journalism.

Building community was important at HuffPost Canada. On a Facebook page they hosted dedicated to housing, for example, information was shared no matter where it came from, including other news organizations. Additionally, they responded to corrections from readers to try and “show a human face.”

A lasting legacy

I’m sure there were downsides to working at HuffPost Canada. As a former journalist, I’ve seen a laundry list of serious issues play out in a newsroom. However, I didn’t get to spend enough time there to get the full picture —particularly for those who might have been doing contract or freelance work.

But they undoubtedly exemplified priorities and practices that should be reproduced in other newsrooms: amplifying diverse voices, connecting with the community and breaking from traditional formats to engage more deeply with their audience.

When asked to describe the impact of the closure of HuffPost Canada, one study participant emailed this response:

“We combined relevance with irreverence, having fun with the news when appropriate, and digging in with our considerable editorial talents on investigations whenever possible. We prioritized diverse communities’ perspectives and sought out — and featured — the voices not often heard from, and Canadians are seeing less of that without HuffPost Canada‘s contributions to the landscape. That feels like the greatest loss, and hopefully as our journalists and editors get snapped up by other outlets, is a change that’s soon seen elsewhere.”

I hope so, too.

Why toy shops — and Amazon — are tapping into paper catalogues

Written by Joanne E. McNeish, Ryerson University. Photo credit: Joanne E. McNeish/(/Quicksilver Agency/YouTube). Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

Paper is part of seasonal marketing for both bricks and mortar and online retailers.

Did you receive them? Found in many mailboxes in this second pandemic holiday season were paper catalogues from Toys “R” Us, Mastermind Toys and perhaps most surprisingly, the highly profitable digital retailer Amazon. Amazon first launched a toy catalogue in 2018 and mailed it to millions of customers.

While it might seem that paper catalogues would be relegated to history with the advent of e-commerce, it seems as if, at least for these retailers, they are still part of doing business.

To understand why catalogues formed part of these retailers’ promotional strategy, let’s explore some retail history.

Connection to the past

Almost 140 years agodepartment store retailer Eaton’s produced its first mail-order catalogue, with Simpson’s following suit 10 years later.

These catalogues are so important to the history of Canada that you can see them in the collections of the Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Museum of history. Some Christmas catalogues grew to hundreds of pages.

Black-and-white photo of a row of workers sitting at desks with packages.
Catalogue mailing room in Toronto, 1953. Photo credit: Sears Canada. Panda Photography. Library and Archives Canada, e011172127/Flickr, CC BY.

Nostalgia and childhood

The way we celebrate holidays is based in part on what we learned from our families as children. Consumer studies researchers have examined how holidays ideally involve the creation of special foods that take time and effort, the coming together of special people in our lives and making memories that we recall with pleasure long afterwards.

Thinking positively about people, events or places that happened in the past is called nostalgia. We can even feel nostalgia for something that occurred before we were born through seeing objects from the past, or hearing the memories of others.

Some contemporary consumers or their grandparents in Canada today had the experience of receiving or reading the Eaton’s and Sears Christmas catalogues as children. Sears even called their Christmas catalogue the “wish book.”

Amazon, once focused on promoting products with a digital wish list, promoted its 2020 catalogue as a “Holiday Wish Book” and this year describes it as a holiday kids book.

While it is possible to remember without physical artifacts, the three dimensional and tactile information received from interacting with paper documents help to reinforce people’s memories and knowledge retrieval. People may have had the experience of going carefully through each catalogue page, marking it up and folding down the pages — whether or not they received what they wanted.

The front window of store on a street says 'Simpson's.'
Simpson’s mail order office, Sarnia, Ont., 1952. Photo credit: Sears Canada. Photo Engravers and Electrotypers Ltd. Library and Archives Canada, e011172139 / Flickr, CC BY.

As Archives Ontario notes, not only did the Eaton’s catalogue make an emotional impression, it even made its way into some Canadian literature. For example, in The Hockey Sweater, by Québec writer Roch Carrier, a devastating mail-order mixup means a most unwanted Toronto Maple Leafs sweater from Eaton’s arrives at his childhood home.

Emotion aside, how do catalogues influence sales?

While nostalgia can be a powerful motivator for consumers who consider shopping today at physical toy stores or online retailers, companies must consider catalogues’ effects on sales and return on the investment.

Catalogue cover showing child looking at a Christmas tree.
1966 Sears Christmas catalogue. Photo credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr, CC BY.

Toys “R” Us and Mastermind Toys (both physical stores) and Amazon have a short corporate histories compared to Eaton’s and Simpson’s (later Simpsons-Sears), and none had mail-order businesses. Mastermind Toys and Amazon grew up during the advent of e-commerce, so using this seemingly old-fashioned technology seems curious.

But let’s consider that while social media seems to attract consumers’ attention and quickly, digital clutter is a common consumer complaint.

Home-delivered paper catalogues can be part of leisure reading and are artifacts with esthetic, symbolic and instrumental value. Catalogues present images and text that are viewed as the retailer intended, without the mediation imposed by the consumer’s screen size and device capabilities.

Paper catalogues create a richer sensory experience compared to a digital catalogue or online store. Touch creates a sense of ownership and so consumers may be more likely to purchase.

For toy companies, the October to December period represents almost 50 per cent of their yearly sales. The critical job for toy retailers is to get the attention of consumers for their store. As Canada Post argues in a 2015 report promoting direct mail, research suggests direct mail paper catalogues can serve as an effective trigger for visiting an online store, and their physical presence in the home and in leisure spaces can act as an ongoing prompt or reminder to visit.

Connect in new way?

So in addition to selling toys, why is Amazon sending out paper catalogues? Amazon is likely concerned about its brand. The company has faced widespread condemnation of its labour practices. It has responded with commercials featuring happy employees with varied abilities and gender identities.

In the face of criticism of its impact on small and medium retailers, Amazon set up its Shop Local Campaign to promote products from small and medium Canadian companies. I believe sending paper catalogues helps them tap into the long tradition of Christmas catalogues and connect in an emotional and surprising way with their customers.

Adele’s ‘30’: A mathematician explores number patterns in album titles

Written by , Ryerson University. Photo credit: One Night Only/CBS. Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

Adele performs in Los Angeles at ‘One Night Only’ in October.

Adele, the 33-year-old British top-selling and award-winning recording artist, released her sensational new album, 30, in November. Reviewers are raving, with the New York Times calling it a “musical tour de force,” and Rolling Stone naming it her best album yet.

Besides how great the album is, everyone, it seems, is also talking about Adele’s numbers, as in: how many albums she has sold? But as a mathematician, I’m interested in how she has used numbers to sequence all of her albums. Her previous album was called 25. In fact, Adele’s album titles are always numbers, and they reflect the age that she wrote them. She wrote her debut album 19 at 19, followed by 21, then 25, and now, 30 Adele recently turned 33 but she started writing the album at 30.

Is there a pattern to Adele’s albums? The chronological list of Adele’s album titles 192125 and 30 was coined the “Adele sequence” by David Patrick, senior math and science curriculum director at the Art of Problem Solving.

Mathematicians love sequences, and they pop up all over the field. Sequences are simply numbers listed in a given order. The simplest sequence we learn about as children are the counting numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on.

Adele’s ‘30,’ album cover. Photo credit: Columbia Records

A vast, searchable catalogue of sequences is the On-line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, or OEIS, for short. The OEIS is your one-stop shop for everything on sequences, containing more than 340,000 entries.

As Patrick points out in his article on the Adele sequence, searching OEIS for 19, 21, 25, 30 uncovers the curious sequence with the catchy title A072666, whose first few numbers are: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 18, 19212530, 31, 36, 41, 43 and 44. The Adele sequence is there in the middle: 19212530 and suggests her next album will be 31.

Adele’s sequence

A sequence of significant mathematical and real-world importance is the one consisting of prime numbers. Prime numbers and their properties form an expansive topic in mathematics, with applications from blockchains to encryption. A major open mathematical problem is to determine if there are infinitely many pairs of prime numbers whose difference is two (as is the case for 3 and 5 or 17 and 19).

A number is prime if it is larger than 1, and not the product of two smaller numbers. For example, 2 and 3 are prime, but 4 is not prime, as 4 is the product of 2 with itself. The primes form the sequence A000040: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67 …. The ancient mathematician, Euclid of Alexandria proved in 300 BC that the sequence of primes never ends.

A colourful grid of the first 25 prime numbers. Photo credit: Chris/Flickr

To define the nth number in the A072666, we take the nth prime number (where “n” stands for a number), add it to the (n+1)th prime, and subtract 1. If the resulting number is prime, then we include n in the sequence. Otherwise, we skip it.

For example, the 19th prime is 67, and the 20th is 71. We then have 67 + 71 – 1 = 137, which is a prime number, and so 19 belongs to the sequence. In contrast, if we perform a similar check with the 20th and 21st prime, we have 71 + 73 – 1 = 143, which is the product of 11 and 13 and so is not prime. That tells us that 20 is skipped in the sequence.

OEIS lists a total of nine sequences containing 19, 21, 25, 30, such as A142958, whose next entry after 30 is 41. If, instead, Adele follows A142958, her next album will be 41. That would be sad news for her millions of devoted fans, as they’d have to wait almost a decade for more of those heartfelt ballads.

The inspiration of numbers

Adele may be unique in naming her albums only by numbers, but she is far from alone in using them in song and album titles. Musicians appear to often draw inspiration for their titles from numbers.

A tiny sample of popular songs with numbers in their title are “Eight Days a Week” and “When I’m Sixty Four” by the Beatles, “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks, “Fifteen” and “22” by Taylor Swift, “99 Luftballons” by Nena, “10,000 Hours” by Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber, “99 Problems” by JAY-Z, “2 Become 1” by the Spice Girls, “Whalien 52” by BTS, “7/11” by Beyoncé, “Five Years” by David Bowie, “Three Times a Lady” by the Commodores and “7” by Prince.

Avant-garde techno artist Aphex Twin, aka Richard David James, went a mathematical step further and named one of his songs after an equation.

The Aphex Twin track, often referred to as the ‘Equation,’ after the mathematical formula pictured here, is the B-side on the single ‘Windowlicker. Photo credit: Anthony Bonato

Besides using numbers in their titles, some recording artists also completed advanced degrees in mathematics. There is Dan Snaith of the Polaris-winning band Caribou, whose doctoral dissertation at Imperial College London was entitled Overconvergent Siegel Modular Symbols, and Art Garfunkel, who holds a master’s in mathematics education from Columbia University.

No one, not even possibly Adele, knows her next album title. Her love of literature, ignited early in school by an English teacher, may also point to an appreciation of math (or maths as she might say).


For whatever reasons, musical artists like Adele, Taylor Swift and the Beatles drew on inspiration from numbers for their song and album titles. Adele herself may be doodling with numbers and mathematical sequences as you read this, plotting her next sonic masterpiece.

‘Habib’ spoof trailer uses pita bread weaponry in comedy arsenal to combat Arab stereotypes

Written by , Ryerson University. Photo credit: Wishful Genies. Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

Toronto-based comedy duo ‘Wishful Genies’ is behind spoof superhero trailer ‘Habib,’ which has had over 80,000 YouTube views since its March upload. The Conversation

As a researcher of Muslim superheroes, I’ve learned about the many ways Islamophobia manifests. Because Islam is racialized in the west, Arab Christians, Hindus and Sikhs have been implicated in Islamophobic political discourses, making them victims of Islamophobia.

Many of these issues can be traced back to a strange convergence of stereotypes that became heightened after 9/11. Immediately following 9/11, but also in the years since, there has been a backlash that has negatively and urgently affected Muslim, Arab and brown communities.

This is especially concerning for many people in Canada amid recent hate crimes, such as the terror attack against a Muslim family in London, Ont.

The number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 47 per cent to 2,073 incidents in 2017, which included the attack on the Québec City mosque where six Muslim men were killed. While the number of incidents remained comparable in 2018, there was a 10 per cent increase in police reported hate crimes motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity from 2018 to 2019, most targeting Arab or West Asian and Black people.

There continues to be an urgent need to combat Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. In July 2021, the Canadian government convened a national summit on Islamophobia, and commissioned eight anti-racism projects. This included providing $184,000 in funding to the Canadian Arab Institute to combat anti-Arab racism with “myth-busting videos and shows.”

Popular culture and Arab talent

When we consider the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in popular culture, it should be no surprise that members of these groups in post-9/11 North America have turned to creative approaches to help change the narrative.

One recent example is a mock trailer for a fictional superhero film project called Habib, by Wishful Genies. The Toronto-based comedy duo consists of writer, actor and comedian Rob Michaels and comedian and actor Fady Ghali.

‘Habib’ spoof trailer.

The Habib trailer playfully contests long-held stereotypes of Arabs, which in turn makes a powerful statement on anti-Arab racism. The trailer has had over 80,000 views on YouTube since its upload in March and Wishful Genies also has a popular Tik Tok account.

Michaels and Ghali grew tired of “orientalistrepresentations of Arabs in popular culture.

Michaels, who is Iraqi-Canadian, admitted that when he wrote the script he based a lot of it on his life growing up, including random security checks he experienced.

Both Ghali and Michaels are Christian, and Michaels mentioned how people are often surprised by that fact. Non-Arabs in the west frequently assume that Arabs are Muslim and vice versa, when in fact fewer than 15 per cent of Muslims globally are Arabs and the Arab world is diverse with different dialects, religions, cultures and customs.

Unsettling villainous depictions

Arabs have long endured demeaning representations as Hollywood’s go-to villains as seen in films like Rules of Engagement (2000) and True Lies (1994). Such depictions became more commonplace in post-9/11 cinematic representations like the 2014-16 television show Tyrant and films like The Hurt Locker (2008) and American Sniper (2014).

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee documented “hundreds of violent messages targeting Arab and Muslim Americans” from people who had seen the film American Sniper on social media.

Ghali and Michaels may be seen alongside a wave of other Arab and Muslim creators in the west who use comedy and satire genres to engage stereotypes and expose social ills. In the tradition of stand-up comedy or satire, they use those apparently light-hearted genres to comment on, destabilize and challenge mainstream views.

Superhero needs back-up plan

What makes Habib work is its use of satire to contest racist views of Arabs. Habib appears to be a mash-up of Arab stereotypes: his costume, for instance, includes a keffiyeh and fez, which have different cultural and geographical connotations.

The trailer starts off with Habib fighting off a bad guy with pita bread and a sword. What proceeds are comic scenes with shisha, clueless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and overbearing immigrant parents.

When Habib reveals his superhero identity to his family, his father rebukes him by telling him that he still needs to get a real job, “in case this superhero thing doesn’t work out.”

Most tellingly, when the Arab supervillain Wahish arrives on the scene, people start screaming, “He’ll blow himself up!” Wahish retorts in frustration: “I’m a supervillain! Not a terrorist!”

When I asked Michaels about that line, he stated, “I felt that was appropriate commentary to have him immediately labelled a terrorist just because he’s Arab, regardless of what he does. White people get the luxury of being supervillains, but in the media, Arab equals terrorist.”

Making fun of orientalist tropes

Arab creators are also relying on comedic effect in their depiction of superheroes. After seeing the Habib trailer, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Marvel’s new Arab-American superhero, Amulet, who was introduced last year in The Magnificent Ms. Marvel series. Comics produced in the west have historically generated Arab villains like Batman’s nemesis Ra’s Al-Ghul.

In the issue that introduced Amulet (No. 13), the Arab-American writer Saladin Ahmed chose to include a laugh-out-loud scene with an Arab fortune teller dressed like a bellydancer.

In the case of Habib and Amulet, the focus is on Arab identity and not on the character’s religion.

Michael hopes Habib will further challenge generalizations about the Arab world and stereotypes propagated in popular culture if it ever makes it to film. When we consider how widespread those stereotypes are, and the urgent need to interrupt Islamophobic and anti-Arab racism and its harms, it feels like our world is due for a superhero-sized film like this.

Fewer viewers, nervous sponsors: The Olympics must rethink efforts to stay relevant

Written by , Ryerson University; , Brock University. Photo credit: David Goldman/AP Photo. Originally published in The Conversation.

The Olympic flag is lowered during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics – the first Games to be held without spectators because of concerns of spreading COVID-19.

At the conclusion of every Olympics, there are reflections on the importance and relevance of the Games. There are always a wide range of opinions, from those who praise the movement as a global humanitarian platform to others who criticize the Games due to sustainability, environmental and human rights concerns.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach called the Tokyo Games the “most challenging Olympic journey” during his speech at the closing ceremonies. The Games were postponed a year, held during a pandemic emergency that barred fans from the stands and had reluctant support from the host country. And there are other challenges ahead for the Olympic movement.

Given all of the problems facing the Olympic movement, what is the relevance of the modern Olympic Games from a consumer, marketing, media and economic perspective?

Eyeballs matter

Olympic viewership dropped significantly this year, with some estimates noting close to a 50-per-cent decline from the 2016 Rio Games — including for the lead television partner NBC Universal, which paid over US$7 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032.

There was a similar slump in Canadian ratings. And, despite parallel streaming arrangements with all major Olympic network partners, viewers in North America and Europe were considerably fragmented, if not frustrated, with being many time zones away while major events were taking place live.

A women’s beach volleyball match in the empty Shiokaze Park at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo Credit: Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo.

More troubling for the International Olympic Committee is growing evidence of a general decline in interest in the Olympics from young people, including Generation Z.

Support from key sponsors is also declining. Toyota announced on the eve of the Games that it wouldn’t air any Olympic-themed TV ads in Japan, even though it signed a US$1 billion sponsorship in 2015. Other sponsors are minimizing their Olympic commitments, raising questions about the perceived value of the hefty partnership deals.

Olympic economics

The Olympic Games are a massive social and financial undertaking. It’s estimated the Tokyo Games will cost over US$20 billion.

While cities once competed fiercely for the right to host the Olympics, the steep costs, coupled with waning public sentiment, has resulted in less countries willing to take on the multi-billion-dollar commitment. Case in point: when Brisbane, Australia, was recently announced as the host of the 2032 Olympics, there were no other rival bids.

The economics and expenses of the Olympic Games has been generally well supported by a highly structured means of revenue, which is led by significant broadcast contracts, followed by the The Olympic Partners (TOP) program that was established following the highly successful 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. A small group of international partners in the TOP program each pay approximately US$200 million per four-year cycle to be an Olympic partner, including multinational companies like Coca-Cola, Dow and General Electric.

Australian politician Annastacia Palaszczuk celebrates after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the IOC Session at Hotel Okura in Tokyo on July 21. Photo Credit: Toru Hanai/Pool Photo via AP.

The core profits from both the media and marketing partnerships are ultimately dependent on the interest and consumption of the Olympics.

Corporate and media investments are based on the premise that consumers around the globe are tuned in to the Games (and are watching key corporate partner messages), that major corporate partners want to be affiliated with the Olympics and all they represent, and that hundreds of thousands of tickets will be sold to people who want to attend the competitions.

Given the recent free-fall of interest and global awareness of the Olympics, this traditional Games revenue model will be significantly challenged moving forward.

It was recently reported that Olympic advertisers are renegotiating with NBC given the less-than-promised viewing numbers. The U.S. broadcaster had expected to generate more than US$1 billion in ad sales during these Games. Likewise, sponsors have sought make-good provisions from broadcasters and Games stakeholders to safeguard their expenditures.

What now for the Olympics’ economic model?

Given changing consumer, corporate and geopolitical sentiments, the current model of the Olympic Games is outdated. As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Branch recently wrote in the New York Times: “In some ways — too many ways, critics argue — the Olympics are stuck in time, a 19th-century construct floating through a 21st-century world.”

The Olympic movement, which has been called “the most complicated sports event in the world,” will have to dramatically rethink its current strategy and economic model to stay relevant to its partners and fans.

Game on! The opportunities and risks of single-game sports betting in Canada

Written by , Ryerson University; , Mount Royal University; , Mount Royal University; ,  Brock University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Single-event sports betting was recently approved by the Senate of Canada via Bill C-218, which is big news for the Canadian sport industry.

The passage of this bill, almost 10 years in the making, will dramatically change the sports landscape in this country given that annual betting by Canadians is already estimated to surpass US$10 billion a year through offshore betting websites and illegal gambling operations.

The influence of this bill — and related activities that will include sport marketing and media partnerships and related activation — will be enormous for an industry that has been severely and negatively impacted by COVID-19.

Many industry insiders representing professional sport teams and leagues are already planning for what they describe as being one of, if not the most, transformational sport disruptions in the modern-day industry. Experts note that the potential for this market is large, given it could be a US$4 billion revenue opportunity.

A plethora of sport betting operators will now enter the Canadian market, including DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet. That will contribute significantly to the economy through a variety of means, including new revenue via individual consumer betting as well as realized revenue through sport marketing partnerships with professional teams and leagues.

These new revenue streams are going to be difficult to ignore, but are fraught with big and unknown impacts.

The Canadian sport industry:

Today, the global sport industry is estimated to be valued at approximately US$529 billion. It has been well acknowledged that it has been severely impacted by COVID-19, especially when it comes to loss of fan-related revenue, including venue attendance and ticketing.

In Canada, for example, the Raptors had to play in Florida due to international border restrictions due to COVID-19 and the costs have been detrimental.

In the United States and Canada, the sport industry is estimated to be valued at approximately US$80 billion, with Canada making up a tenth of this market size.

The Toronto Raptors usually play at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto but had to play in Florida this past season because of COVID-19. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.

Single-game betting offers a new means of engaging the fan-sport property entertainment experience, which is why so many sport teams, media partners and related sport sponsors are actively going “all in” with the opportunity for involvement around this highly engaged consumer segment.

This new market can be compared to Big Tobacco sponsorship money which was formally extinguished through previous federal legislation. It held a new and rather unwieldy power as one of most influential sport funding partners in Canada during the 1970s and 1980s.

And despite the single-betting bill taking 10 years to pass, stakeholders and the government are still trying to regulate the the effects of the new sport betting industry.

It means sorting out what will be best practice strategies that can draw comparisons to Wild West when unmoderated.

Social impacts

So what are the impacts of single-game betting to the industry and society, and how will it be regulated?

The government recently announced they are implementing a watchdog type agency and policy to monitor the industry for a number of concerns which, in the bill’s current form, include amendments to prohibit match-fixing and changes to the Criminal Code to allow First Nations lottery considerations.

What has not been considered, however, is how responsible betting will be moderated, managed and communicated. To date, there is no evidence of a national, independent or arms-length conversation on responsible betting. We know that related addictions could rise, especially with recent Canadian evidence showing that sport fans and bettors seem to be at a higher risk of problem gambling than non-sport fans.

Single-game sport betting is now legal in Canada. Photo credit: Shutterstock

What is the appropriate role and place of key stakeholders in this space, new and current, and how will this new category be defined as a sport marketing vehicle? The exchange of related sports data for betting purposes remains unclear.

One concern is the lack of a comparable mechanism to the U.S. National Council on Problem Gambling — of which theScore, a leading Canadian player in the global sport betting scene, is a member. Another concern is the lack of diversity in the sports betting industry. The industry is already loaded with traditional male profiles — a comprehensive diversity strategy could attract young, bright talent.

What does it mean for Canadian sport?

The jury is very much still out on the impact of the now legal, single-game sport betting industry in our country.

But this change will be monumental in size and value, with the potential to significantly impact the sport industry in a way we haven’t seen in decades.

The industry needs to take immediate steps to ensure it is open, transparent and considerate of responsible betting. It must also lead with a diverse culture, and have strong considerations for an authentic and sustained footprint in an industry desperately posed to return to sport after COVID-19.

Chinese American actresses Soo Yong and Anna May Wong: Contrasting struggles for recognition in Hollywood

Written by , Ryerson University. Photo credit: Paramount Pictures. Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

Soo Yong and William Boyd in a still from the film ‘The Secret of the Wastelands’ (1941).

The recent Netflix series Hollywood creates a make-believe 1948 ceremony in which the noted Chinese American actress Anna May Wong wins an Oscar. In reality, an Oscar eluded Wong during her four-decade film career.

Wong, who was born in Los Angeles in 1903, was famously passed over for the lead role of O-lan in the 1937 classic hit, The Good Earth. Instead, Austrian-born white actress Luise Rainer was cast — and for her work, won her second Oscar for best actress. Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production Code (known informally as “the Hays Code”) explicitly forbade depiction of screen intimacy between people of different races. Wong was reportedly heart-broken about the decison.

Anna May Wong, 1932 portrait by Carl Van Vechten. Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons.

The desire to posthumously grant Wong recognition as seen in the series Hollywood should also alert audiences to the significant contributions of the other actors of Asian descent who appeared in The Good Earth. One of those actors was Soo Yong. Yong had campaigned for the lead role but she was also passed over. Yong eventually accepted two supporting roles in the movie, one of the most influential Hollywood films on China.

Yong’s journey to Hollywood and the way her career contrasted Wong’s reveals much about Hollywood’s racist casting decisions and the racial barriers faced by Chinese American actresses. Yong’s career also reflects the dynamic and shifting development of 20th-century Chinese-American relationships: When contrasted with Wong, Yong’s calculated path towards a “respectable woman” reveals much about how both American Hollywood and Chinese popular culture wanted to depict Chinese women.

Alternative to familiar stereotypes

Yong’s profile aligned with the concept of the Chinese New Woman promoted by the Chinese Nationalist government that emphasized education, chastity and patriotism.

Yong strove to present a dignified and educated Chinese womanhood on screen and stage, an alternative to the familiar binary stereotypes of the subservient China doll and the vicious dragon lady. She showcased an aristocratic and intellectual style of sophistication and glamour, void of over-sexualization.

Hollywood filmmakers were entranced by her talents and assured by favourable Chinese attitudes toward her as China was a significant market.

Soo Yong, seen seated facing the bride, in a supporting role in the 1937 film ‘The Good Earth.’ Photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Circle of Chinese intellectuals

Born in Hawaii to Chinese immigrant parents in about 1903, Yong was orphaned as a child, and largely raised by her sister, Harriet, who was later a force in Hawaiian politics.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii, Yong ventured to mainland United States in 1926 to earn her master’s degree at Teachers College, at Columbia University. She was one of 50 women of Chinese descent in American colleges at that time, and one of the very few in graduate programs, who became recognizable figures in China’s intellectual life.

Yong was a student of noted educator John Dewey. She grew close to other students who also studied with him, including Zhang Pengchun, a distinguished dramatist and professor from Nankai University, and Chih Meng, the future director of the China Institute in New York City.

Yong became involved in the transpacific modern drama movement initiated by Pengchun and Meng. After starring in plays written by Zhang, she began an acting career with bit parts in Broadway productions.

Soo Yong’s name was prominently mentioned in the poster advertising Mei Lanfang’s performance on Broadway, 1930. Photo credit: Yunxiang Gao, Author provided.

Yong on Broadway and in Hollywood

Yong’s big break came in 1930 when she was hired to interpret the performances of Mei Lanfang, the famous Chinese theatrical personality, sponsored by the China Institute.

Yong enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Southern California between 1933 and 1936. She said her ambition was to be a great actress with a PhD. In the eyes of the public, her desire for advanced education helped to distinguish her from Chinese immigrants. It also positioned her as an equal to elite Chinese and American intellectuals.

Photo showing Soo Yong and Clark Gable in a still from the film ‘China Seas.’ Yong autographed it to ‘The Young Companion Pictorial,’ in November 1935, a popular magazine in the Republic of China. Photo credit: Yunxiang Gao.

Hollywood casting agents chose Soo Yong for visible roles in films produced by major studios, starring Hollywood icons like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Mae West, Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Marlon Brando.

Despite her generally limited screen time, Yong frequently occupied within the first 10 spots on billing — the list of names at the bottom of an official poster — which testified to her respectability, popularity and great negotiation skills. She worked up to the highest level of Hollywood stardom allowed for a non-white actress.

Chinese ‘New Woman’

The highly influential 1943 visit to the United States by Madam Chiang Kai-shek, the American-educated first lady of the Republic of China, dominated the contentious process of representing Chinese womanhood.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Madame Chiang Kai-shek in February 1943 in Washington. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

Yong embodied Madam Chiang’s brand of glamour, defined by jewellery, high fashion, perfect English, advanced education, sophistication and a happy marriage. In 1939, The Chinese Digest, the leading English-language Chinese publication in the United States, said Yong belonged to “Madame Chiang’s school” of women.

In 1941, Yong married C.K. Huang (黄春谷), a businessman who lived in Winter Park, Fla., after changes in immigration law enabled her to marry a Chinese citizen without losing her U.S. citizenship.

With Huang, Yong ran the Jade Lantern, a successful Chinese novelty shop. Customers shopped there for a lifestyle associated with her glamour and were served by the star they recognized.

White Hollywood smitten

White Hollywood was smitten by Yong. She developed an educated, middle-class persona that contrasted with how Hollywood cast Wong. Unlike Wong, who often had to display bare skin and perform sexualized roles, Yong was always fully clothed and displayed sophisticated glamour in her roles. And unlike Wong, Yong never played parts that involved physical abuse or death.

Wong’s film persona, created for her by racist Hollywood casting decisions, irritated China’s Nationalist government. Yong’s screen roles presented a softer orientalism that allowed ethnic dignity and did not offend her Chinese American audience or her nationalist friends in China.

The Huangs visited China in 1948, recording two rare Cantonese operas while there (released on Folkways Records in 1960 and 1962). The Huangs lived in Winter Park until 1961, when they returned to Hawaii. That year, they were awarded the Rollins College Decoration of Honor for their community contributions.

After a series of smaller roles in 1950s Hollywood classics including Sayonara, Yong made a cameo in the 1961 film Flower Drum Song, a Hollywood milestone with a largely Asian cast. Yong secured small parts in four episodes of Hawaii Five-O between 1971 and 1978, in which her husband also appeared. She also appeared in two episodes on Magnum P.I. in 1981 when she was 78.

Huang died in 1980; Yong passed away in 1984. The couple’s estate established scholarship funds at the University of Hawaii and at Rollins College.

Yong rejected western racist attitudes that associated being Chinese with ignorance and servitude and instead showed a cosmopolitan “Chinese woman at her best.”