Jewish women’s illustrated memoirs of the Holocaust cover matrilineal relationships

Written by Ruth Panofsky, Toronto Metropolitan University. Image credit: National Film Board/Drawn & Quarterly. Originally published in The Conversation. 

Images from Bernice Eisenstein’s ‘I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors’ and Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own.’

The Ontario government recently made a welcome announcement that as of September 2025, lessons on the Holocaust will be included in the mandatory history class for Grade 10 students. The announcement precedes Neuberger Holocaust Education Week at the Toronto Holocaust Museum, which runs Nov. 1–9.

As someone who teaches the Holocaust through literary works, I have found that illustrated graphic memoirs serve as an excellent entry point to this important but difficult subject.

Art Spiegelman is recognized for having launched a new genre of Holocaust memoir with Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1986; 1991), a two-volume graphic work that focused on a father-son relationship.

Lesser known are two groundbreaking graphic works published in 2006 that foreground matrilineal connections and women’s survival during the war years: Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own and Bernice Eisenstein’s I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors.

These memoirs emphasize women’s embodied, gendered experience and show their intelligence, agency and resolve.

In documenting women’s bravery in the face of Nazi persecution, they help balance the field of Holocaust writing, which still is dominated by the experiences and perspectives of men.

Miriam Katin’s We Are on Our Own

Drawing of a person bent over a letter with a sombre face.
‘We Are on Our Own’ by Miriam Katin. Image credit: Drawn & Quarterly.

We Are on Our Own recounts how Katin and her mother manage to survive in wartime Hungary. Katin was a small child during the war. She grew up with family stories and, as noted in the coda to her graphic memoir, “could somehow imagine the places and people my mother told me about.”

The memoir traces Katin and her mother’s departure from Budapest in 1944 for the Hungarian countryside, where they lived until the end of the war under the guise of a peasant woman with an illegitimate child.

Katin highlights her mother’s heroism. First, her mother procures false identity documents for herself and her daughter. She then burns all photographs, letters, books and other documentation that record her true family history. After a loyal housemaid helps fake her death by suicide, she adopts the facade that is essential to her life in open hiding.

Katin also records her mother’s experiences of harassment, rape, pregnancy and abortion. Her mother confronts jeering soldiers. She endures repeated rape by a Nazi commandant, knowing the aberrant relationship ensures her survival and her ability to protect her toddler. She offers herself to a Soviet soldier, saving her daughter from untold harm.

And when she becomes pregnant, she overcomes intense anxiety, even thoughts of suicide, to act pragmatically and seek an abortion.

Bernice Eisenstein’s I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors features Bernice Eisenstein’s mother’s story of survival, transcribed from a 1995 videotaped interview with Regina Eisenstein for the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.

Eisenstein describes her mother’s “unfaltering voice” and “the precision and directness of her words,” which extend over several pages to constitute a presence in her daughter’s graphic memoir and in the history she recalls.

In the very act of incorporating “my mother’s story as she told it,” Eisenstein is valuing Regina’s gendered wartime experience, the judgement she showed then and “the courage she has always possessed.”

In September 1939, when the Germans first enter her hometown of Bedzin, Poland, Regina grasps at any opportunity to survive amid the chaos. She understands that being assigned to work duty makes her useful and less of a target. As the only family member with a work permit — she sews uniforms for German soldiers — she is able to hide her relations when the SS stand outside her door.

Towards the end of the war, she herself hides to avoid the death march from Auschwitz. In mid-January 1945, she and a few friends decide to bury themselves under clothing stored in a warehouse. They wait until dark to emerge and race to an abandoned barrack, where they “hid for four more days without food or water. At night, we stepped out and ate snow.”

It is the presence and love of her mother and sister that most succour Regina. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, her mother helps Regina recover from dysentery by giving her a mixture of burned coal and water. When typhus sends Regina into a coma, she later learns her mother visited the hospital to be by her side.

Her mother and sister also prevent Regina from being sent to work on an officer’s farm somewhere in Germany. Later, when Regina is transferred from Birkenau to Auschwitz and the three women are forcibly parted, a sense of their abiding bond prevents a descent into hopelessness.

When Regina cannot find language to “describe what it was like when I am reunited with my mother and sister” after liberation, Eisenstein accepts her silence. She characterizes the experience of listening to and watching Regina on videotape as her own “silent journey,” which suggests the degree to which she connects with her mother’s experience of falling silent at the close of her 1995 interview.

Breaking silence

In their graphic memoirs, Katin and Eisenstein break the silence that once shrouded their mothers’ suffering.

Each daughter centres her mother’s wartime story, asserts her mother’s fortitude in the face of affliction and shows her mother’s capacity to live with deep wounds.

Each records a singular story in an effort to validate her mother’s particular experience under Nazism and to restore women’s lived experiences to Holocaust literature and history.

Teachers might consider bringing these memoirs into their classrooms. My own experience confirms that students are moved by these texts and learn a great deal from the stories they tell.

Reclaiming Dada women’s art history shouldn’t mean amplifying orientalism and sexism

Written by Irene Gammel, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Library of Congress. Originally published in The Conversation

1920s Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was known as ‘the Living Dada.’

Digital archives have become powerful platforms for women artists who were excluded from official art history, allowing them to claim their rightful place posthumously.

This is evident in dedicated digital projects for early-to-mid 20th century avant-gardists like artist, writer and entrepreneur Mina Loy, antiwar activist and cabaret artist Emmy Hennings or Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. The latter was better known as the Baroness or Baroness Elsa following her 1913 New York City Hall marriage to an impoverished German baron who was then residing in the United States. The Baroness has been the subject of my research.

However, amid the legitimate excitement of bringing overlooked female artists into the foreground through archival work, there are problems when digital copies of archives proliferate and aren’t critically contextualized.

‘The Living Dada’

Dada, an anti-bourgeois art movement that emerged during the First World War, challenged western institutions of art through its rabble-rousing manifestos, collages and performances.

Among Dada’s controversial, albeit less well-known practitioners, was Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927), a German emigree poet and performer. She was known as the “living Dada” in New York.

My research has documented Baroness Elsa’s value as an early feminist performance artist who made bold statements through her attire. She drew on the irrational to express the trauma of the era, as art historian Amelia Jones chronicles. Writer Caroline Knighton has examined how Baroness Elsa used waste products in art to subversively link art to thrift culture.

The University of Maryland’s online accessibility to Freytag-Loringhoven’s manuscripts and papers has played a pivotal role in restoring the artist’s rightful place in history.

Using digital methods, literature scholar Tanya Clement has explored Freytag-Loringhoven’s experimental poetry through the lens of “textual performance.”

Unverified images

As the Baronness’s profile has been raised through research, so have less authoritative depictions of her work. A photograph lacking proper attribution and sourcing is presented on various websites as Freytag-Loringhoven. A reverse image search reveals the photo to be from a Russian theatre performance of the play The Blue Bird (1884-1940). Other research confirms the photo actually shows Russian actress Maria Germanova.

This image also points to a deeper interplay between the Baroness and the West’s fin-de-siecle fascination with orientalism, a harmful cultural practice originating in the west in a context of imperial domination that conceptualizes the East in alluringly exotic and sensualist terms.

Seeing this image asks us to question how the Baroness was conceptualized and stereotyped within orientalist terms during her era, her relationship to this lens and how these issues manifest in current depictions of her.

Orientalist, sexist 1915 descriptors

In 1915, the New York Times’ Dec. 5 issue introduced the Baroness’s artmaking in orientalist terms. Her Polish descent, the article asserts, “accounts for a certain Oriental strain in her appearance and temperament.” The Baroness is described as being “lithe in figure, and as graceful as a leopard.”

An illustration of a woman in a red and white dress embellished with gold, and a white and gold hat, her arm extended.
Costume for a 19th century performance of ‘Semiramide.’ Image credit: Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Bibliothèque-musée de l’opéra, D216-19 (fol. 58).

The story said she was modelling for a painting depicting “Semiramide, the turbulent queen of the East of Yore.” This refers to Gioachino Rossini’s eponymous opera which the Metropolitan Opera in New York performed in 1892, 1894, and 1895, popularizing orientalism. I have not been able to locate this painting.

In the story, the Baroness explains she has worked until 3 a.m. that night to finish a new dress to wear to pose for a drawing class. She relays she has applied to the German consulate for support because her husband is a prisoner of war. The story is headlined: “Refugee baroness poses as a model.”

In amplifying an orientalist framing and sexually objectifying the Baroness, the news story suggests an eroticized narrative of her social downfall instead of amplifying her artistic vision and competence to earn a living as an artist.

The story also grapples with understanding her avant-gardism, saying “Perhaps some might call her bizarre in attire.” Her garments are seen in several December 1915 photographs. One depicts a see-through silk cape. Another shows her posing with a geometric pattern evocative of the “dazzle” camouflage on war ships.

Both images present her boundary-breaking avant-garde poses and design aesthetics. Her bold stare at the camera is unconventional for a woman of that era, though this is mainstream today. Avant-garde aesthetics have been routinely appropriated into the mainstream.

According to art historian Francis M. Naumann’s book New York Dada, the year 1915 marked the beginning of the Dada movement in New York.

As Amy Malek warns in her 2021 study “Clickbait Orientalism and Vintage Iranian Snapshots,” “latent orientalist ideologies continue to circulate,” even as their manifest forms change over time. Images that trade on “gendered orientalist tropes” attract attention and revenue.

Complicated relationship to orientalism

A photograph of a woman in profile view with hand lettering underneath.
Baroness Elsa seen in a photograph decorated by her with stylized lettering, which appeared in ‘The Little Review,’ vol. 7, no. 3, September-December 1920. Image credit: Modernist Journals Project.

The Baroness had a complicated relationship to orientalism. She was part of contemporary art movements that mobilized and were affected by this cultural lens, and she included references to the sphinx and Buddha in her poetry published in The Little Review which represent orientalist tropes.

Simultaneously, in her autobiographical writings, she ridiculed these same male artists for stereotyping women as hetaeras, ancient Greek prostitutes who were also intellectual companions. She was quick to point out appropriations as artistic fetishes.

In her poem “Arabesque,” a Dadaist stream of words breaks their conventional meanings, as in the lines “upon honeysuckle fists/ arabesque grotesque/ basks […]/ beetle.” Arabesque refers to floral or biomorphic decoration appropriated from Islamic ornamentation in western arts.

This rendering may be interpreted as disrupting or mocking popular orientalist fads in the west, in lieu of uncritically reproducing them.

Images shape identity, perception

Images have the power to shape our identity and perception. A diligent effort should be made to accurately source and responsibly contextualize images. It is also crucial to refrain from framing digital objects in manners that reinforce the allure of orientalism.

Custodians of archival websites must take responsibility in engaging in critical inquiry about the societal and ethical impact of images they post.

By doing so, we can ensure the ethics of digitization related to documenting feminist histories are robust. And, by critically challenging orientalist images and ideologies, we help ensure a renewed appreciation and understanding of the true significance of the Baroness.

The price of love: Why millennials and Gen Zs are running up major dating debt

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Seung Hwan (Mark) Lee, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation

Genuine love holds immeasurable value, yet discovering it can pose challenges — and come with a significant price tag. Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?

The average American invests US$120,000 throughout their lifetime in pursuit of love, spending significant money on romantic dinners, movie outings and thoughtful gifts, not to mention personal grooming and cosmetic products.

As a result, according to a survey by LendingTree, 22 per cent of millennials and 19 per cent of Gen Z have begun to incur “dating debt.”

Another study by Credit Karma found that 29 per cent of people aged 18–34 have accrued debt for a date, with 21 per cent exceeding $500 in dating debt in a year. Reasons include accidental overspending (29 per cent), an attempt to impress dates (28 per cent) and seeking intimacy (19 per cent).

But another survey by Finder also reveals that 44 per cent of Gen Zs consider debt a romantic deal-breaker when considering a partner.

This highlights potential ties between accumulating dating-related debt and barriers to the chances of success in forming meaningful romantic connections.

A man sits on a picnic blanket and opens a bottle of champagne.
Luxury dates are leading to debt for millennials and Gen Zs. Photo credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem/Unsplash.

This conundrum is a problem for younger generations, where the pursuit of love and connection is intricately tied to an appetite for luxury, ultimately leading to debt accumulation.

The trend has implications for financial stability, emotional well-being and the very essence of modern relationships.

There are a few issues fuelling it, including the desire to signal status and the persuasive retail marketing of luxury as being synonymous with love, creating that false sense of connection between luxury and love.

‘Costly signalling’

Accumulating debt for romantic engagements has its roots in an innate human desire — namely, the urge to signal status. In a digital age where social media and online dating platforms are the norm, standing out in a crowd has never been more challenging, yet it’s also crucial.

The “costly signalling” theory may explain why such habits develop. It argues that humans and animals use resource-intensive or risky behaviours as genuine, hard-to-fake signals indicating their desirable traits and availability.

This is related to conspicuous consumption, which is driven by a desire for status and the clear signalling of this status to onlookers.

Signalling status in relationships or social circles isn’t uncommon, but it’s found a financial expression in younger generations. Young adults are increasingly associating luxury experiences and goods with a unique form of personal expression.

Whether it’s a lavish dinner at a high-end restaurant or gifting a designer handbag, these actions become markers of distinction and status. While these acts add a layer of individuality to a relationship, they come with the risk of potential financial instability.

A car speeds past a Gucci store at night.
Luxury brands like Gucci and Tiffany try to entice millennials and Gen Zs to spend big bucks on their love interests. Photo credit: Dima Pechurin/Unsplash.

Retail marketing

Retailers often employ strategic marketing tactics to link luxury with love, capitalizing on the emotional connection between these two powerful concepts to entice consumers into purchasing high-end goods.

For instance, luxury brands often release limited-edition Valentine’s Day collections, adorned with romantic motifs and themes, ranging from heart-shaped jewellery to high-end designer fragrances.

Additionally, retailers leverage the allure of love in their advertisements. They often showcase couples exchanging luxury gifts in opulent settings, fostering an aspirational connection between luxury products and romantic ideals.

A diamond engagement ring on a Tiffany blue background.
The Tiffany ‘Believe in Love’ campaign featured links to engagement ring offerings. Photo credit: Unsplash.

For example, Tiffany & Co. released a “Believe in Love” campaign featuring stories of seven couples at different stages of their relationships, and how Tiffany has played a part in their love journey.

Retailers create an ambience of indulgence and luxury, presenting their offerings as tokens of affection and devotion.

Personalized engraving services on luxury items, such as monogrammed initials or special dates, further enhance the sentimentality and connection between the product and the act of gifting, convincing consumers to spend money on these high-end, emotionally charged offerings.

For example, Gucci’s “apple of my eye” limited-edition collection shows two interlocking red letter Gs that are meant to signify romantic love.

These strategic marketing tactics linking luxury with love contribute to more debt by enticing consumers to overspend on high-end goods with premium price tags. They promote impulse buying through limited-edition collections, foster unrealistic desires through aspirational advertising, encourage additional spending on personalized services and compel people to prioritize romantic gestures over financial responsibility.

This ultimately leads to the accumulation of debt as consumers strive to express their love through emotionally charged purchases.

A line of people stand outside a Louis Vuitton store.
Marketing campaigns by high-end retailers entice people to spend money they don’t have. Photo credit: Melanie Pongratz, Unsplash.

False sense of connection

But there seems to be an intriguing paradox when it comes to luxury goods and their ties to social relationships.

While luxury items can enhance someone’s social image and boost self-perception, people also tend to view themselves more positively when they possess or experience luxury — even though they often hold a less favourable view of others who do the same.

This sheds light on a fascinating discrepancy in self-versus-other evaluations when it comes to luxury consumption.

In a dating context, a person boasting about the purchase of an expensive wine on a dinner date, for example, may over-estimate whether it will actually impress their date.

A glass of white wine sits in front of a woman at a table in a restaurant.
Ordering an expensive bottle of wine on a date isn’t necessarily impressive. Photo credit: JP Valery/Unsplash.

Gift-givers often believe that more expensive gifts are more appreciated, assuming they convey greater thoughtfulness. But gift recipients don’t necessarily share this belief because they don’t consistently link gift price to their level of appreciation.

This suggests that gift-givers may not accurately predict what gifts will be meaningful to others. And because they personally may connect expensive gifts with something meaningful, it may lead them to spend more, ultimately contributing to greater dating debt.

Interestingly, while it’s known that people use luxury items to signal their social status and earning capacity, the reactions to such gifts may be complex. Indeed, many people prioritize their independence and question the giver’s motives behind such gifts, fearing power imbalances and expectations.

Instead, they may value personal connections over materialistic displays and be cautious in the early stages of a relationship.

Ultimately, open and honest communication about expectations is crucial for navigating these complexities, ensuring that gift-giving aligns with the relationship’s goals and mutual desires.

The concept of luxury often gets mixed up with our quest for love, creating a captivating but misleading link between the two. In the realm of romantic relationships, luxury goods or indulging in extravagant experiences can sometimes make us feel closer to our partners than we really are.

But the ties between luxury and love can be deceiving. While luxury can certainly add to the romance, it’s important for younger generations to see the difference between flashy things and the deep, lasting connections that bring us closer to love.

The reaction to ‘X,’ Elon Musk’s rebrand of Twitter, reflects how we feel about brands

Written by Alexandra Mogyoros, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation

Elon Musk, owner of X Holdings Corp., changed Twitter, Inc. to X Corp. He announced the change on July 23, 2023.

Twitter has long been known for its iconic Blue Bird. On July 23, Elon Musk announced that this famed logo was going to be replaced with an “X.” After a series of Musk-driven blunders, the disappearance of the Blue Bird has been seen by some as the final straw in the erasure of Twitter as we know it.

It also serves as a reminder that, despite the meaningful role many logos play in our cultural life, there is someone behind the curtain, pulling the strings.

Among the speculation as to why Musk has decided to rebrand Twitter, one thing is certain: the Blue Bird is gone. As this iconic logo disappears from public life — along with “tweets” and the Twitter name itself — some are left mourning the loss of a brand that impacted the online social fabric for over a decade.

Evolving relationships

The ways in which consumers relate to brands is evolving. Brands not only advertise on Instagram and TikTok, but they also have their own profiles. Brands digitally appear alongside friends, colleagues and politicians. We can text brands for customer service help on WhatsApp alongside family chat groups.

We now interact with brands in an emotional and relational way. This is part of a larger trend of brands becoming anthropomorphized.

Consumers relate to brands in ways that exceed the bounds of an economic, transactional relationship. Brands arouse emotions in us. Nostalgia is now the driving force behind reviving former brands — as the recent revival of Canadian discount brand Zellers is proving.

storefront with the Zellers logo
The revival of the Canadian discount brand Zellers reflects consumers’ pull towards nostalgia. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Emotional connections

Our emotions are being leveraged by companies in deliberate and explicit ways. As consumers we understand the social capital and value of branding.

To mourn the loss of a logo and brand is noteworthy. Despite any feelings we have about Twitter’s former brand, this disappearance reminds us that a brand’s use — and existence — is ultimately outside our control.

This is not to say our collective thoughts and feelings about logos do not matter at all. In fact, public pressure has been the driver in some companies rebranding and evolving their logos, particularly racist ones.

Controlled trademarks

Logos are trademarks, and as such, they are objects of private property, controlled and owned by corporations as assets. Although trademarks are the perceptible form of a brand, logos only have value because we, as consumers, recognize them. We rely on trademarks in the market to decide what to buy, and what brands to trust.

In our reliance on brands, and in forming communities around them, we contribute to their value. Yet, in many ways, in the trademark law landscape, we are tourists.

Trademarks constitute an essential aspect of a brand, and the value of today’s leading brands is in the billions. For example, Canadian brands Bell and TD Bank are worth $11.05 billion and $27.54 billion respectively. These astronomical values pale in comparison to the value of global brands; Amazon’s brand in 2022 was worth US$705.65 billion.

Brands as properties

There is no doubt that trademarks, as the face of brands, are precious to their owners. They are also meaningful to members of the public in various ways, sometimes forming the face of social movements or reflecting our identities, but ways in which we can make use of trademarks is limited.

Using someone else’s trademark without their permission infringes their rights to their logo. While there are exceptions to this protection, they are narrow.

For instance, parody and satire are not defences to trademark infringement in Canadian law. Using a company’s logo for cultural criticism and political protest may violate the trademark owner’s rights.

This gives companies legal means to threaten those using their logo in the course of protest or critique — such as employees looking to organize a union or unhappy customers who create a “gripe site.”

There are many reasons for this, but a common thread that permeates Canadian law is understanding trademarks as a form of private property. Just as protesting on someone’s front lawn would be trespassing, protesting with a logo is infringement.

Protecting logos in this way fails to appreciate the social roles they have, and the roles consumers play in developing their meaning.

Collective meanings

Logos are not merely commercial assets. They have value that extends far beyond their owners. Logos are a collective site of meaning and protecting them as mere commercial assets may effectively shield trademark owners from public discourse.

As we say goodbye to one of the most iconic logos of the last decade, it is worth pausing to ask what exactly we have lost. As consumers, we sit on the sidelines of trademark protection. As Twitter — erm, X — changes, for better or worse, perhaps it is time our trademark laws change as well.

Here’s how the Hollywood actors’ strike will impact the Canadian film industry

Written by Ramona Pringle, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP. Originally published in The Conversation

Picketers carry signs outside Paramount in Times Square on July 17, 2023, in New York.

Hollywood actors went on strike on July 14, joining film and television writers who have been on the picket lines since May. It’s the first time actors and writers have picketed together since 1960, when Ronald Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Following failed talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced the strike at a press conference on July 13.

At the heart of the negotiations between the union and the guild are two key issues: residual payments in the streaming era and the ownership of an actor’s likeness if it’s reproduced by artificial intelligence. The union is calling for fairer pay splits and tighter AI regulations over these issues.

This strike is a watershed moment for the entertainment industry, marking a turning point for the future of labour in the arts. But it will also have widespread impacts on the film and television industry beyond the United States, and Canada is bracing for impact.

‘Cataclysmic’ issues at stake

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists released a statement last week in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA: “[U.S. actors’] issues are our issues and performers deserve respect and fair compensation for the value they bring to every production.”

These issues are “cataclysmic,” according to Canadian actor and producer Julian De Zotti. De Zotti and I discussed these issues as part of a greater conversation on the future of entertainment in the ongoing CTRL ALT DISRUPT series, organized by Artscape Daniels Launchpad and the City of Toronto’s Creative Technology Office.

He says the issues being negotiated are existential for creators the world over:

“We are at a seismic inflection point in the industry, as a massive technological shift is changing how working and middle class artists, actors, writers, craftspeople can make a sustainable living in the entertainment industry.”

A woman and a crowd of people wearing SAG-AFTRA shirts hold their fists up
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher attends a press conference announcing a strike by The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists on July, 13, 2023, in Los Angeles. Photo credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello.

To be clear, it’s not the technology itself creators are taking issue with. When it comes to AI, many film industry professionals are already using tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney to help flesh out the background for scripts or develop visual worlds and imagery for pitch decks.

De Zotti, who has won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Web Program or Series for the past two years, is already integrating AI tools into his practice. He is not afraid of new technology, but rather, how it might be misused.

An existential threat

AI poses a threat for actors in particular because their livelihoods depend on their identity. There need to be specific guardrails and parameters established that protect artists, their creations and their image. They must have a say in how their work and image are used and receive fair compensation for it.

Technology advances quickly, sometimes outpacing our ability to fully comprehend its repercussions before adopting it. The strike offers the opportunity to press pause on the otherwise unbridled adoption of disruptive AI technology.

“This can’t be like social media where the technology came too fast and there were no clear guidelines on its use, and now it’s completely out of control,” says De Zotti.

Instead of scrambling to play regulatory catch-up after damage has been done, considerations need to be made at the outset to avoid damaging consequences, intended or not.

What the strike means for Canada

During the strike, service production, which represents a majority of the $11.69 billion annual work done in Canada, will come to a halt. All American productions — from big budget blockbusters like Star Trek, which shoots in Toronto, to indie feature films using SAG actors — will be affected.

This will, in turn, have a direct effect on the 244,000 people who work in the film and television industry in this country. But it might also open up a different business model, that, as De Zotti points out, “doesn’t rely on you to package your show or movie with stars to get it made.”

While the streaming issue under negotiation is centred around residuals and compensation, Canadian content creators face additional struggles.

Streaming companies have set up shop in Canada for a few years now, promising to make shows led by Canadians. However, De Zotti says this has not been the case. “It’s been a mirage. Bill C-11 is supposed to change all that, but that is still yet to be seen.”

However, if the strike lingers, perhaps markets outside of Canada will look to acquire Canadian content, as is already the case with the CW, which turned to Canadian content to fill its fall schedule.

Is this Canada’s moment?

A protest sign that says 'SAG-AFTRA on Strike'
Striking writers and actors take part in a rally outside Netflix studio in Los Angeles on July 14. Photo credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello.

Perhaps this strike is a moment for Canada to rise to the occasion; while the Canadian entertainment industry can’t compete with the sheer scale or spending power of Hollywood, it is in this environment of massive change that we shine as scrappy, creative disruptors.

From Norman McLaren’s experimental work with the NFB, through the rise of interactive documentaries, to the explosion of game-based virtual concerts, Canada has always been seen as an innovator in entertainment.

As for the strike itself, its outcome will surely set a precedent. Whatever guidelines the WGA and SAG establish with the studios will be used as a template when it’s time for Canadian unions to negotiate.

The reality is, AI and streaming are not technologies of tomorrow; both are here to stay. As the dust settles south of the border, we have the chance to not just sit back and wait, but to lead by example.

We have the opportunity to not only create unimagined new forms of storytelling, but also experiment with fairer business models rooted in transparent data and more equitable ways of using the powerful tools that threaten to upend the industry of yesterday.

The deinfluencing trend reflects a growing desire for authenticity online

Written by Omar H. Fares, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Deinfluencing involves influencers discouraging their followers from buying overpriced or otherwise ineffective products. 

A new social media trend has recently emerged in response to the materialistic nature of influencer culture: deinfluencing. This trend involves influencers discouraging their followers from buying overpriced or ineffective products.

Influencing is a highly profitable form of marketing, reaching a market value of US$16.4 billion in 2022. But by its nature, influencing can also be disingenuous. Influencers often end up promoting products they don’t believe in or that don’t align with their follower base.

The deinfluencing trend is shaking up this model. The trend has quickly gained momentum, with nearly 730 million views on TikTok as of July 7. There are a few reasons for its growing popularity, including a desire for authenticity, social media burnout and a shift in values.

Desire for authenticity

The growing demand for authentic and unfiltered content online has given rise to both micro-influencers and the deinfluencing trend.

Micro-influencers typically have a follower base ranging between 10,000 to 100,000. They build a tight-knit community with their followers and can have a significant impact on their purchase decisions.

An NBC News report about the growing deinfluencing trend on TikTok.

In response to the desire for authenticity, deinfluencers prioritize genuine content and real engagement over the meticulously curated content and commercial partnerships that are common in traditional influencer culture.

Social media burnout

Social media burnout refers to the emotional exhaustion caused by the constant pressure to maintain an idealized image on digital platforms. This issue affects both influencers and their followers.

The journey from being an ordinary consumer to becoming a brand influencer involves a significant shift in mindset since influencers must maintain brand consistency to ensure a positive image. This pressure often leads to burnout over time.

On the flip side, a large number of consumers are exposed to idealized lifestyles through influencers. This often compels individuals to attempt to imitate or adapt to these lifestyles, leading to burnout and potential mental health challenges in the long run.

Deinfluencing addresses these challenges for both consumers and influencers by encouraging influencers to step away from the constant pressure of maintaining a perfect image and supporting better mental health.

For consumers, deinfluencing offers a more balanced and realistic perspective on life, resulting in individuals feeling less pressured to live up to unrealistic standards.

Shift in values

The evolution of societal values towards transparency, honesty and genuine connection aligns with a greater consciousness about sustainability.

In a recent paper, my colleagues and I examined over 440,000 YouTube comments from 2011 to 2021 and found an increase in conversations about sustainable fashion.

The deinfluencing movement is positioned at this intersection, contrasting sharply with the traditional influencer culture that often fuels rampant consumerism and wasteful habits.

Three people walk on a crosswalk carrying paper shopping bags.
Social media influencers have significant sway over consumers and the shopping choices they make. Photo credit: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Deinfluencers are in a unique position to foster a more sustainable approach to consumption. Rather than promoting the latest products or trends, they highlight mindful consumption, sustainability and the importance of making thoughtful choices.

This approach is a key response to the overconsumption often seen in traditional influencer culture, which can lead to unnecessary waste and contribute to environmental degradation over time.

Is it only positive?

While the deinfluencing trend may be positive, there are some side-effects that need to be examined carefully.

One concern is the emergence of pseudo-authenticity, where the pursuit of authenticity is exploited for commercial gain. Influencers may end up projecting an image of authenticity while still actually being motivated by financial interests.

Another challenge is the risk of misinformation, particularly in relation to sustainability. While many deinfluencers may advocate for sustainable practices, they may lack the expertise to provide accurate information. This could lead to them misleading followers who rely on them for information and guidance.

Additionally, the emphasis on authenticity and openness could lead to oversharing. Deinfluencers might feel compelled to share intimate details of their private lives in the pursuit of being real with their audience. However, this can cross boundaries of privacy, potentially causing more harm than good.

For the sake of mental health, it’s important for deinfluencers to strike a balance between being relatable and maintaining their own personal boundaries.

What does this mean for businesses?

The deinfluencing trend introduces new dynamics for businesses in the digital landscape. While it may disrupt traditional marketing approaches that rely on polished images and celebrity endorsements, it also offers an opportunity to connect with customers on a more genuine level.

By embracing deinfluencing practices, businesses can tap into the authentic relationships influencers build with their followers, potentially boosting trust and engagement.

The emphasis on sustainability among deinfluencers also aligns with the growing consumer demand for responsible practices, providing businesses with an avenue to showcase their commitment to these values.

However, businesses must ensure their collaborations genuinely reflect their values to avoid the trap of pseudo-authenticity, which could harm their reputation and result in accusations of greenwashing.

Mr. Associated Press: How 20th-century journalism titan Kent Cooper transformed the news industry

Written by Gene Allen, Toronto Metropolitan University. Originally published in The Conversation

Kent Cooper worked for the Associated Press for over four decades, changing the news media landscape in the process. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

On the day of Kent Cooper’s funeral in February 1965, the flow of news through the international Associated Press network — the institution he spent a 40-year career building — came to a complete stop.

In scores of AP bureaus and thousands of newsrooms around the world, the printers that hammered out the news fell silent.

This tribute to a man who changed the kind of news millions of readers and listeners relied on, and opened the way for its global spread, lasted only a minute before the torrent of news resumed.

But it was AP’s highest honour, a vivid testimony to the institutional importance of the man widely known to journalists in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Africa as K.C.

Almost a century after Cooper became AP’s general manager, what can we learn from his career and the development of the institution he led? And what does it tell us about how journalism — including the international news system — evolved during the mid-20th century?

And what light might his career shed on today’s troubled news landscape, where organizations like Fox News systematically spread falsehoods that even its own employees do not believe?

Human-interest news

A book cover with a middle-aged white man in a suit on the cover and a black-and-white photograph of a newsroom in the background
Book cover for ‘Mr. Associated Press: Kent Cooper and the Twentieth-Century World of News.’ Photo credit: University of Illinois Press.

During Cooper’s long tenure as a senior executive, general manager and executive director — as documented in Mr. Associated Press, my newly published biography of him — he changed AP, and the news that its readers and listeners depended on, in three major ways.

First, driven by competition with the United Press, AP’s great rival, Cooper loosened the strictures that made AP news colourless and dull (even if widely recognized for its accuracy and impartiality).

Editors of AP member newspapers were turning to the livelier and breezier (and, according to some AP supporters, less accurate) stories provided by UP. That could not be allowed to continue.

Cooper responded by embracing human-interest stories, entertainment, sports and other less traditionally newsworthy subjects.

“If one man fails to file a story of a millionairess marrying a poor factory hand because that man understands such a story is not properly A.P. stuff,” Cooper wrote in 1922, “such an error of news judgment ought to be generally made known to other employees.”

A black-and-white photo of a baseball player finishing a swing after hitting a pitch
New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio hits a solo home run in Game 5 of the World Series at the Polo Grounds in New York in October 1937. Cooper embraced less traditionally newsworthy subjects, like sports, during his tenure. Photo credit: AP Photo.

Journalism had to succeed in the market by offering readers what they wanted to read, rather than what journalists thought they ought to read.

Moving beyond North America

The second major change — one that Cooper spent more than 15 years fighting for — was loosening restrictions that prevented AP from distributing news outside North America. These restrictions were a product of AP’s earlier reliance on the British agency Reuters and its allies for almost all its international news.

While many AP directors considered the Reuters connection an essential foundation of AP’s dominance of the U.S. newspaper market, Cooper insisted AP could succeed on its own. By doing so, AP could also change its relationships with European news agencies that were often controlled or heavily subsidized by their respective governments.

By 1945, his campaign had succeeded: AP was poised to sell North American-style news everywhere in the world with virtually no restrictions. This development gave readers in other countries access to a different kind of journalism than they were familiar with. It also raised questions about American influence beyond its borders that remain relevant today.

A black-and-white photo of journalists working in a newsroom
Staffers work on election night at the Washington bureau of the Associated Press on Nov. 3, 1964. Photo credit: AP Photo.

In his relentless pursuit of expansion, Cooper sometimes conveniently set aside his public opposition to government-subsidized or government-controlled news. For instance, he maintained close connections with the Nazi-controlled German news agency Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro after 1934, and consistently played down limits on the work of international correspondents in Germany.

Despite Cooper’s failure to denounce Nazi press restrictions, AP wasn’t actively involved in spreading German propaganda. Its alliance with Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro ended after Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941.

Cooper also established an alliance with the Japanese news agency Rengo, despite knowing it was heavily subsidized by Japan’s militaristic and imperialist government.

The trade-off between access and acceptance of limits by authoritarian regimes on what can be reported remains a major problem for journalists today, as is the case with Western news organizations in China.

Embracing technology

A black-and-white photo of a man operating a wire service machine
AP Wirephoto operator Harold King demonstrates transmission equipment at Associated Press headquarters in New York, circa 1950. Photo credit: AP Photo/Corporate Archives.

Cooper was a visionary when it came to adopting new technologies.

Although many AP members feared radio in the 1920s and 1930s as a dangerous competitor for advertising revenue, Cooper understood from the start that radio could not, and should not, be resisted — a conclusion that has clear resonance in the age of digital journalism.

He also pioneered the development of same-day news photography by wire, permanently changing daily journalism’s repertoire of storytelling methods.

Before the advent of AP’s Wirephoto, photographs were delivered by mail, train or airplane, often taking days to reach their destination. Wirephoto revolutionized the process by allowing images to be transmitted in minutes.

Commitment to facts and accuracy

One thing that Cooper did not change was AP’s commitment to factual accuracy and political neutrality — a rejection of the virulent partisanship that dominated U.S. journalism for most of the 19th century, and that is now returning.

On the factual side, few things caused him, and AP, more grief than high-profile errors. In one memorable case in 1935, AP falsely reported that the murderer of Charles Lindbergh’s baby had been sentenced to life in prison, rather than receiving the death penalty.

Such errors led to immediate investigations of what had gone wrong, embarrassed and apologetic corrections, and severe consequences including firing of those responsible.

In these cases, competition between AP and UP focused on which agency’s news was faster and more reliable, a marked contrast to the dissemination of ideologically driven falsehoods and social media misinformation that we see today.

Cooper was not perfect, and neither was AP during the years that he led it, but its basic journalistic values stand out sharply against the backdrop of our current fractured news landscape.


Indigenous women in Northern Canada creating sustainable livelihoods through tourism

Written by Sonya Graci, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Yvette Rasmussen, Northern WE in Tourism Study. Photo credit: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Author provided. Originally published in The Conversation

Sheila Flaherty, the Nunavut director of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada in Iqaluit, Nvt. Sustainable tourism connects people to the planet and their culture while providing them with livelihoods. 

In summer 2022, the Northern WE in Tourism study invited Indigenous women entrepreneurs from northern Newfoundland and Labrador, northern Québec, Nunavut, the Yukon and Northwest Territories to collaborate on an Indigenous-led and ally-supported research project.

In our conversations with Indigenous women entrepreneurs and the organizations that provide support to them, we learned that to create sustainable livelihoods, there should be “nothing about us without us.”

Using Two-Eyed Seeing to guide our journey, we focused one eye on Indigenous knowledge and the other on Western perspectives to find common ground and pathways to sustainable livelihoods.

Developed by Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall in 2004, Two-Eyed Seeing is a practice that provides a way of bringing Indigenous and Western worldviews together.

Indigenous women perform at a powwow.
Anything that sustainably connects people to the planet and their culture by providing sustenance through entrepreneurship is tourism. Photo credit: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Author provided.

Over shared stories of lived experiences and examples of best practices, participants discussed the barriers faced by Indigenous women entrepreneurs in the North and their colonial origins.

History of colonization

The Indian Act devastated the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. Government programs normalized public views of Indigenous people as inferior, advancing assimilation efforts to resolve Canada’s so-called “Indian Problem.”

With the government classifying Indigenous people as male persons with Indian blood, it further disenfranchised Indigenous women. If an Indigenous woman married outside her community, she lost her status. Her children were also denied their right to status, setting the foundation for intergenerational vulnerability and cultural alienation.

Today, Indigenous women are 3.5 times more likely to experience violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Almost 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls were identified by law enforcement between 1980 and 2012. The victim count grows to this day. Other compounding factors Indigenous women are faced with include racism, sexual identity, poverty and isolation.

The creation of Residential Schools attended by at least 150,000 Indigenous children, and the Sixties Scoop which saw tens of thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children separated from their families, decimated Indigenous communities.

What does this have to do with sustainable livelihoods or this study? Everything.

Indigenous tourism

Anything that sustainably connects people to the planet and their culture by providing sustenance through entrepreneurship is tourism. This includes more conventional things like tours and visitor accommodations. It also includes less conventional things like authentic crafts, music and dance, food and healing, ceremony and storytelling.

A woman sitting at a work desk doing beadwork.
An Indigenous woman doing traditional beadwork. Tourism provides a gateway to entrepreneurship for Indigenous women. Photo credit: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Author provided.

Inuvialuk fashion designer and social media influencer, Taalrumiq, explained:

“We lost so much of our culture, our language, and our identity due to colonization, so it’s important to create pieces that celebrate us, to remember where we come from, who we come from, and what we are capable of.”

Today, tourism training aligned with the Canadian education system and financial programs and the policies that govern them are predominantly developed by non-Indigenous people.

Non-Indigenous organizations determine who qualifies for training and financial support. These conventional systems are not designed to factor the lived realities of Indigenous women into their operations.

The complex challenges facing Indigenous women in Canada’s North cannot be resolved in isolation or at the discretion of the entities that created them.

Often lacking Western educational requirements, business experience or associated skill sets, Indigenous women experience significant bias in accessing support. Geographic location, infrastructure deficits and poverty compound barriers.

Taalrumiq was born in an Indian hospital and is part of the last generation of Residential School children from her community. The hardship of leaving home to attend a Western institution was too much for many of her peers who dropped out of school. Taalrumiq also said:

“The generations before us went through so much and worked so hard for us to have this space, make our voices heard, fight for justice — and we owe it to our children and future generations to continue this work. There is still much to be done.”

Effecting systemic change is the ultimate goal of reconciliation. And tourism provides a gateway to entrepreneurship for Indigenous women, serving as a catalyst capable of influencing societal behaviour on a broader scale.

Understanding success

It’s time to refocus our lens.

Success requires healing and understanding the impact of intergenerational trauma. Viewing success through this lens places value on equity, the concept of continuity of culture and Indigenous integration and stewardship of their lands.

Tents below the northern lights.
The northern lights seen above the Torngat Mountains in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo credit: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Author provided.

As Indigenous business owner Joella Hogan put it:

“I really try to lead my business with the values and teachings that I have been taught. Our Elders give us these teachings so we can be strong Northern Tutchone people and live our lives in a good way. I try to uphold these values in my daily life and in my relationships with people and with the land. For my business, everything comes back to this.”

Connecting women to sustainable livelihoods strengthens the probability of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that prioritize equity and inclusion. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a road map to advance the declaration and address injustices against Indigenous people.

As Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said: “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”

It is time for Indigenous-led and ally-supported solutions to create pathways to well-being by dismantling the barriers that exclude Indigenous women from building sustainable livelihoods through tourism.

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.