the second pitch

I have previously established that I am to conduct an ethnographic case study of the Sydney restaurant, the Grounds of Alexandria.

I will be looking at the symbiotic relationship between tangible, constructed spaces and the intangible mediascapes which they shape.

The ethnography

I am to be a participant-observer and experiencer both in the physical restaurant and in the online spaces where this phenomenon has etched its culture. These online spaces include but are not limited to: the official Grounds of Alexandria social media pages and website; the Grounds of Alexandria Instagram hashtag; third party content such as articles on Timeout; and customer reviews on websites such as Trip Advisor.

This project will involve a high degree of collaboration from a number of different sources; my approach will align with Erik Lassiter’s (2005) ideas about collaboration that avoids ‘othering’. To effectively be a participant experiencer I will need to be accompanied by at least one friend or family member when I visit the restaurant. Whilst here we will need to engage with the space as other patrons are, this may include: ordering and photographing food and drink as well as photographing each other in various places around the restaurant.

I will also need to record my observations of the other restaurant patrons, effectively turning them into my collaborators as well. Additionally, I plan on conducting unstructured interviews of some of the employees present at the restaurant, such as my waiter. Their comparatively high level of contact with the space may provide other insights that can not be not gained from participants alone.

Regarding the study of the online mediascape, I will again need to be a participant experiencer by sharing my own content in the same way that others have when engaging with this phenomenon online. I also will need to observe the media I find online and plumb it for information regarding the influence of the physical restaurant and how they work together.

Key details

Stakeholders for the project include the Grounds of Alexandria themselves, but also other restaurants and marketers. These groups would be looking to leverage their brand’s physical spaces to create publicity in paid, earned, shared and owned media forms.

It is important that I conduct myself in accordance with the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics. This highlights the importance of ‘honesty’, ‘fairness’, ‘independence’, and ‘respect for the rights of others’. I will commit myself to these values throughout my research to ensure I do not cause distress or harm to others. I will avoid naming specific participants, especially if they are employed by the restaurant; and I will ensure I have consent to take photographs and publish interviews.

I will communicate my final project on a dedicated website, likely produced through Wix. The primary inspiration for this comes from Sarah Pink’s study of Energy and Digital Living (2014) where her research was laid out in a digestible format across a single website. Additionally, I may take inspiration from Marsha Berry’s thick description conveyed through her use of vignettes. These were constructed based upon her participant’s interview responses and observations about their media use. 

From preliminary research, it is my understanding that the online mediascape surrounding the Grounds of Alexandria phenomenon is highly visual. I will therefore also need to include pictorial elements across the presentation of my findings.

Dear readers,

If you have not been to the Grounds of Alexandria, what have you heard about it? What have you seen about it online?

THANKS FOR READING! JOIN THE NERD HERD TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH NEW CONTENT.

References

Lassiter, E 2005, ‘Defining a Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter, E (eds.), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 15-24.

LEEDR 2014, Energy & Digital Living, viewed 27 September 2019, <http://energyanddigitalliving.com>.

Media Entertainment & Arts n.d., MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics, viewed 27 September 2019, <https://www.meaa.org/meaa-media/code-of-ethics/>.

the first pitch

The Grounds of Alexandria is popularly known for its design not as a restaurant, but as a social media backdrop. Word of mouth suggests that its atmosphere is abuzz with the chattering of lens shutters more so than the clanking of cutlery. 

As a food-lover, I find this situation to be highly intriguing.

My purpose

To perform an ethnographic case study on this phenomenon by examining the symbiotic relationship between the tangible, designed space and the intangible mediascape which has subsequently, and quite intentionally, arisen. 

Background research

A forerunner to my research is the work of Marsha Berry (2015). She explores Hjorth and Pink’s (2014) notion of the ‘digital wayfarer’ as an individual who engages with media perpetually as they move through their lives. This lifestyle gives rise to the entanglement of contemporary life with media production and digital spaces. As such, the conceptualisation of space is re-examined to encompass the notion of place and non-place in synonymous existence.

Ingold (2008) also provides valuable insight regarding emplaced visuality and sociality. He highlights that mobile technologies allow users to contribute to a ‘bigger picture’; that is, the user is pivotal in contributing to the foundations or sustention of a digital culture through their media production. Hjorth and Gu (2012) expand on the idea of emplaced visuality by noting the overlay between place, ambient images, and geographic locations.

The ideas explored in these texts provide an invaluable springboard from which I may begin to traverse my research. Berry’s (2015) study is particularly useful because it takes an ethnographic approach. 

Ethnography in action

Berry (2015) states that interviews were a significant part of her research process. She invited individuals who were heavily involved in her area of study, via social media, so that she could then probe them for their knowledge. She then went deeper by observing their public interactions with others on social media.

My personal experience as a researcher has not been so complete. I have been a participant observer and experiencer when inquiring into the cinema experience, media use on trains and the use of technology in a shoe store. I have also conducted a reflective form of auto-ethnography when looking at a critical TV memory from my life. However, I have not yet taken the opportunity to conduct collaborative ethnography through memory conversations and interviews.

I will conduct my case study on the Grounds of Alexandria by drawing on my own experiences whilst also considering Marsha Berry’s approaches to research. Participant observation and experience will be pivotal in learning about the tacit details of the relationship between the engineered place and non-place. Additionally, interviews will also enrich the findings by providing unstructured and spontaneous information that may be unattainable from overt and covert observation and participation.

Dear readers,

Have you been to the Grounds of Alexandria? If yes, what stood out to you most about media production whilst you were there?

THANKS FOR READING! JOIN THE NERD HERD TO KEEP UP TO DATE WITH NEW CONTENT.
FIND THE SECOND PITCH HERE.

References

Berry, M 2015, ‘Out in the open: locating new vernacular practices with smartphone cameras’, Studies in Australasian Cinema, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 53-64.

Hjorth, L & Gu, K 2012, ‘The place of emplaced visualities: A case study of smartphone visuality and location-based social media in Shanghai, China’, Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 699-713.

Hjorth, L & Pink, S 2014, ‘New visualities and the digital wayfarer: Reconceptualizing camera phone photography and locative media’, Mobile Media & Communication, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 40-57.

Ingold, T 2008, ‘Bindings against Boundaries: Entanglements of Life in an Open World’, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, vol. 40, no. 8, pp. 1796-1810.

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In 2017, this Ultra Tune advertisement was aired Australia-wide. It racked up no less than 357 complaints, one of which described it as a “disgusting portrayal of women pandering to a supposed male sexual fantasy about dumb sexy women having a water fight.”

The advertisement was found by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) not to contravene the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) code of ethics. This is in spite of its clear violation of section 2.4 of the code which prohibits images which are “highly sexually suggestive and inappropriate for the relevant audience… [and] not relevant to the product or service being advertised.”

The Ultra Tune ad particularly emphasises the women’s jiggling buttocks and wet shirts.

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These elements, amongst others, strip the women of humanising traits until their only defining feature is their sex appeal, conflating them with objects. An act which is both degrading and exploitive. It is the textbook definition of sexual objectification.

In response to backlash about the depictions, Ultra Tune CEO Sean Buckley commented that, “Women can jump up and down all they want but they’re not our target audience”. He notes that, “the ads work brilliantly” for their target market consisting of “95%” men who he claims “make the automotive decisions”.

What key issues need to be considered?

What Buckley fails to realise is that in being so successful with using sex to sell his company’s services, he is fortifying many social and psychological problems now ingrained in our society.

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Advertisements such as the one from Ultra Tune, relentlessly propagate and normalise the notion that women are in real life what these images portray—sexual and superficial objects which exist for the pleasure of being seen and not heard; that women’s prime and only purpose is as a tool for male arousal.

Women consequently feel pressured to find validation and respect by trying to fulfil these unrealistic sexual and bodily standards.

Women’s Health West remarks that failing in this pursuit often leads to women having a “negative body image” which “can have serious implications for women and girl’s physical and psychological health status, as it is associated with the development of eating disorders, depression, self-harm and suicide.”

It should be noted that in 2018, one year after the release of the Ultra Tune advertisement, the AANA code was updated to specifically restrict the objectification of people. In essence, the portrayal of “sexual appeal which is exploitive and degrading” in advertisements now comes with greater risk for advertisers.

What are the implications for practitioners?

Its a situation of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Advertisers need to weigh up their social responsibility with their responsibility to do their job effectively. They must ask themselves if there is a better, more empowering way in which they could sell their product. A way which would benefit both their work and society equally.

It is important for advertisers to consider that empowerment sells quite well. Adweek conducted a study in which it was found that, “Women ages 18 to 34 are twice as likely to think highly of a brand that made an empowering ad…” It is likely that these favourable thoughts were converted into a multitude of profitable purchases as Forbes asserts positive perception gives brands an edge in the market.

Who wouldn’t feel good about a brand after watching something like this? >>


In an ideal world, advertisers would empower as much as they objectify women in real life. Sadly, given the nature of business, the most universally important answer to the question, ‘If ‘sex sells’, why should advertisers avoid the sexual objectification of women?’ is: ‘because of the new risk—resultant from the updated AANA code—now involved in presenting objectified images in advertising… and perhaps because of a little guilt.’

If you’re an advertiser and you want to avoid the depiction of sexual objectification then you should consider this checklist written by Brian Niselin, and consider it carefully…

…because if you’re not a ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ type of person then hopefully you at least have a ‘try not to f*ck everything up’ kind of philosophy.