April 29 2014 – Think Piece Paper 3

Wealth Inequality in America


            Often times our perceptions and intuitions are not as true as they seem. It’s very possible to look at anecdotal experiences and feel that certain misconceptions about the world simply have to be accurate and true. Media is a powerful tool in correcting common misconceptions and changing perceptions and intuitions about the world around us. An excellent example of this is the viral YouTube video entitled Wealth Inequality In America. In order to appropriately discuss the importance of this video I will be using critical frame works (tools or methodologies used to analyze media messages) and media theories (an idea or set of ideas intended to explain something in media) The first critical frame work that’s important to analyzing this video is genre. Genre is a type or classification associated with a piece of media and it’s unique because in addition to being a critical framework it’s also a theory. Genre allows a critic or consumer to compare and contrast different categories of media and examine similarities and differences within that genre. The genre of Wealth Inequality in America is a P.S.A. or Public service announcement. Public service announcements are pieces of media intended to inform or create awareness to the public about an issue. This video specifically is an informative viral video P.S.A. because it’s only being promoted and shared online and not through broadcast television. This video is primarily informative as it consists of different key data points about the average persons perception of wealth in America versus the reality of wealth in America. However it does have some persuasive elements as the tone and talking points of the narrator aim to persuade us that Americans should not be fearful of socialist values because we are so far from what most Americans determine as the ideal wealth distribution. The video also has some entertainment value because the video uses compelling visual imagery to make its case, however the visual imagery and tone of this P.S.A primarily make its purpose informative and persuasive.

Even though Wealth Inequality in America was posted in 2012, it did not receive viral traction until the following year in March when it was posted on Reddit. The Informative viral video uses information graphics and persuasive narration to explain research from a study by David A. Moss a Harvard business professor. The critical framework of content is also crucial to analysis as it is the message of video itself. In the video the content is broken up into three main objectives/findings: what Americans perceive wealth distribution to be, what ideal wealth distribution looks like according to the American people and what the wealth distribution actually is.


The graphs are accompanied by the special effects of the moving graphics and sad piano music. Both of these elements are a major part of the style/aesthetics of the video. Style/ Aesthetic is a critical framework that makes up the look and feel of the video. What’s interesting about this video’s success is that the style and aesthetics as well as content is very unusual for a viral video. Most viral videos consist of: cats, funny babies, brief comedy sketches or clumsy accidents.

            One answer to why this video may have been so popular can be found in Social Categories Theory. This theory is that media has a target/intended audience. If the data shown in the video is correct, the intended audience in this film is essentially the whole country, or at least anyone who cares about wealth distribution in America. Seeing as the video suggests that in America the average CEO makes 380 times more than the average employee; most Americans whether they are poor or middle class will find this message interesting.


Another reason this video did so well is because of Reinforcement theory. Reinforcement theory dictates that media doesn’t so much persuade us as it does reinforce our existing beliefs. It’s important to realize that there are studies that both support and challenge this data. Sample sizes and images can be misleading and exaggerated but in the context of economic turmoil many Americans will presumably be quick to believe that something unusual and corrupt is happening to their financial situation. The video shows that the wealthiest 1% of America takes home 24% of national wealth compared to in 1976 when the wealthiest 1% percent only took home 9% of the national wealth. Statistics like these aren’t going to take much additional rhetoric to persuade people when they already are experiencing worse economic turmoil than they did 20 years ago.


We can even think about uses and gratification theory playing a role in the success of the video. Uses and gratification theory is the theory that people are often gratified by the media. As most people wish they were more successful in the context of the economic recession many people may feel gratified in knowing it’s not their fault and they are not alone. These various theories in combination surly are more than motivating for individuals to share this shocking P.S.A.

            Clearly the viral success alone of this seemingly plain informational video, says something about the effectiveness of the message. What’s hard to tell for certain is how accurate the shocking data really is. An important first step in speculating its accuracy is looking at Two-Step Flow theory. This theory suggests that the media is observed by opinion-leaders who then tell the general public what they think about the original media. Several reporters and popular bloggers wrote articles about this video. Some supporting it, some analyzing it’s viral success, and others challenging how accurate the data actually was. Some of those opinion leaders were found on sites such as, Forbes, Policymic, The Blaze, and Market Place. Many of these bloggers and reporters raise important questions in regards to the critical framework of ethicality/ morality/ fairness. This critical framework looks at the credibility of the media piece, where it’s coming from and whom it’s coming from. The video provides references to all of the research it sites so we know it’s mentioning credible sources but many of the opinion leaders who wrote about this video question where the motive is coming from because much of the research cited seems biased. We also have to look at the ethicality/ morality/ fairness of the opinion leaders and the websites/blogs they are writing for because as reinforcement theory tells us, they may be coming from a perspective that make it difficult for them to accept the data that challenges their views.

            Regardless of where the truth falls, Wealth Inequality in America is very important piece of media. If nothing else it reminds people that the reality of the world is not always what it seems. Whether the data is spot on or needs larger sample sizes and additional explanations, its safe to say that wealth inequality is a huge issue in America. History in other nations has clearly shown us that this level of disparity in wealth can lead to revolutions and revolts. This video provides visual and verbal imagery of the issue and successfully promotes awareness. That awareness needs to be out there and visible so that policies can be made to adjust for the economic inequality. There often times is a perception in America that any sort of government aid is a socialist policy. The video makes the point that we need not be so afraid of socialism as a concept, “I’m sure many of these wealthy people have worked very hard for their money but…the average worker needs to work more than a month to earn what the CEO makes in one hour. We certainly don’t have to go all the way to socialism to find something that is fair for hardworking Americans.”


These clever analogies make hard to understand numbers very manageable and clear. The problem is knowing if the analogies are some how making the data less accurate in the process of making them relatable. Given the credibility of Harvard research as well as Pew research, it’s likely that even if some factors have been left out the dramatic difference between the middle class and wealthy class is off the charts. This video has made a seemingly invisible issue a real concern to the general public, which is essentially the core purpose of an effective public service announcement.



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