President of the Media Ecology Club freshman James Sharpe explained, “This club isn’t for everyone. If you love your iPhone and can’t put it down, you’re not invited.” The Media Ecology Club, sponsored by associate professor of communication Read Schuchardt, had its first event on the evening of Feb. 12. A select handful of students were chosen to participate, as meetings are by invitation only.
Schuchardt gave the select 14 students something to remember. Schuchardt loves controversy, conspiracy and reality. His conception of the world is rooted in the idea that the world is always darker, scarier, more twisted and more contrived than we allow ourselves to believe. Endlessly compelled by a desire to see authenticity realized in our world, he uses the field of media ecology to root out those underlying paradigms that control and compel us without our knowledge. To this end, he wrote an exposition on the symbol of the Nike swoosh and its cultural significance: “Swoosh: the perfect icon for a post-literate world” It has been published in Christianity Today, the Utne Reader and others and won awards.
Just as the Christian fish was a text-less symbol of camaraderie in 54 AD, the Nike swoosh became same type of icon between the 1970s and ’90s. The idea is that if a person is in the know, he or she will know the code. Ironically, media ecology extends invitations to its attendees the same way.
Schuchardt argued that in our culture and the traditional classroom we are “taught the X is bad, dangerous, extreme or dead while a checkmark is good, approval and makes you feel good inside.” Therefore we have been conditioned to understand the swoosh as approval during our upbringing.
The kids who would have received the approval of the checkmark the least during school would have been the “dumb jock” trope and the inner city kid, the place with the highest dropout rate. Those without intellectual capital would subconsciously crave the checkmark of the Nike swoosh and be naturally drawn to buy Nike products with the logo.
Schuchardt began to study this concept after seeing the swoosh without any text on a billboard in Times Square. The swoosh, originally described as an “abstract symbol representing speed and motion,” stood alone on a billboard, paving its way into the post-literate world.
In the mid-1990s, numerous news stories were covering a string of puzzling murders in inner cities across the country. People were found dead, shoeless, with all their valuable possessions on them. Slowly, the police realized all the victims had been wearing Nikes. Schuchardt came to the realization that “these things seem to have a higher symbolic value than we’re recognizing.”
Schuchardt began to notice that Nike advertising mimicked that of the Third Reich: Red, white and black were highly used colors. Nike town in New York City was located in a pillared building with red banners hanging showing a black Nike swoosh within a white circle. Perhaps more recognizable Nazi-Nike symbol would be the design in which four swooshes are arranged to look like a swastika. Unfortunately, that is not some graphic designer’s joke — the design is on a real T-shirt.
Schuchardt encouraged his media ecology students to “bring it to the surface,” meaning they should notice the semantic environment around themselves and recognize patterns. “Media literacy is the new necessity because of the 12 out of your 16 waking hours a day you don’t interact with print anymore. We have to prepare our students for the present world, not the irrelevant past. Media literacy is the only way to understand, to read your world,” he said.
Schuchardt is not the only one to connect the swoosh to its power to bring about murder. Macklemore’s song and music video “Wings” describes the artist’s experience with Nike shoes, saying, “Look at me, look at me. I’m a cool kid, I’m an individual, yeah, but I’m part of a movement.”
After the event, freshman Jon Gross said, “I agree with his theory, but I wish he’d expounded more.”
For those interested in future Media Ecology Club meetings, Sharpe said, “Look for unexplained glyphs and signs throughout campus and ask someone who knows about them.”