Navigating the Unknown Risks Within the Content We Create and Consume
Kate Edwards/Geogrify LLC

Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir

When a cartographer builds a new map, they employ standard processes of selection, generalization, and symbolization while they are ever-cognizant that there are facts, variables and aspects of the representation that remain relatively unknown. This geographic uncertainty is not at all unlike the age-old notion of terra incognita (unknown territory) found on antique maps during the Age of Exploration, visibly noting where geographic knowledge was limited and where much uncertainty existed off the map edges. Certainly, the romance of such a historical connection was one strong appeal for my own study of cartography (besides also an ongoing love affair with J.R.R. Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth). But in today’s world where the physical geography has all been thoroughly mapped, remapped and digitized to incredible detail, the notion of terra incognita becomes less relevant and replaced perhaps by a more appropriate, broader concept of periculum incognita, or rather, unknown risks.

In the modern context of global business, product creation and community interaction across boundaries, the idea of periculum incognita is directly relevant as there certainly exist many unseen challenges and complications to globalization and culturalization practices. Many large-scale business risks have been well-identified and explained ad infinitum – such as economic conditions, local regulatory policies, market research on consumer preferences, and so forth. But the risks of which I’m particularly concerned are those emerging from the deep-level geopolitical and cultural aspects of a local market: the qualities of a culture that are highly meaningful to local consumers yet typically very difficult for an outsider to discern. Such subtle business risks often escalate in a direct relationship to the depth at which a local culture is offended by an issue. In other words, the greater the local consumer’s devotion to their deep cultural values and practices, the greater the potential for content to cause an unintended reaction (i.e., usually a negative response).

How does a content creator begin to map out the unknown risks of a local culture? While this space is insufficient to go into all the required detail, I can at least offer these three basic steps:

1. Be aware: Comprehension of the reality of geopolitical and cultural risks in content is often 50% of the challenge in starting to address them. The majority of professionals with whom I work are mostly unaware of the implications of their creative choices. And that makes sense – they’re focused on creation of great games, etc. and not worrying about how their vision impacts any particular group. And yet, their decisions can and will have repercussions on a cultural level so at least being mindful of the possibility can be empowering.

2. Be proactive: Many businesses realize, and my own experience with cultural issues confirms, that it is far less expensive and disruptive to find and resolve a potentially problematic content issue as early as possible during production than to deal with it far downstream. So stepping back from the creative process once in a while and asking the hard questions about potential cultural compatibility can save a tremendous about of time and money.

3. Be committed: Ultimately, the key to long-term success in managing the geopolitical and cultural issues is to make the commitment to invest in resources, training and processes that are necessary to stay aware and proactive.

Over the years, one comment I’ve often heard in response to my admonitions and advice about such culturalization issues goes something like this: “This geopolitical and cultural stuff is all very fascinating but it’s not very applicable to my creative work.” Well, when we consider the wide range of businesses, there are some that are clearly more susceptible to unknown geopolitical and cultural content risks. Content-intensive products and information services (such as games, movies, television, web sites, reference works, educational/training materials, marketing/PR materials) are especially vulnerable by their very nature, which includes heavy use of text, icons, clip art, maps, flags, photos, videos, and so forth. By this broad definition, virtually any content that must communicate to local customers carries potential risk.

If you still harbor doubts about the pervasiveness of these issues, consider how a single, specific geopolitical issue can impact such a diverse group of content and products in the following example.

Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir

Known to cartographers for decades as a very problematic issue, the region of Jammu and Kashmir in Central Asia has proven very complex for businesses which produce and/or deploy maps of the region as part of or in association with their products. Unknown to many companies that do business in India, the local government has regulations against the use of an “unapproved” map; i.e., if the region of Jammu and Kashmir is not represented wholly as an Indian state (which is the assertion of the Indian government’s geopolitical imagination), then government and consumer backlash are certain outcomes, such as the following examples:

News Media: CNN was accused of doctoring a web-based map to remove Jammu and Kashmir as Indian territory, which yielded much backlash from Indian customers. Fox News made a similar error in January of 2001.

Food Products: The Cadbury company produced advertising for their Temptations chocolate bar in India which compared the confection to the Kashmir dispute, complete with a map of Kashmir in their marketing that stated: “I’m good. I’m tempting. I’m too good to share. What am I? — Cadbury’s Temptations or Kashmir?”

Cadbury Ad

Cadbury Ad

Software: Microsoft first discovered this issue when a time zone control panel feature in the Windows 95 operating system was incorrect from the Indian perspective, resulting in a costly recall, fix and reissue of the software.

© Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft Error

Educational Toys: An educational toy globe with electronic features, the Quantum Leap Explorer Globe, mistakenly showed Jammu and Kashmir as an independent country distinct from India and Pakistan and resulted in public backlash within India.

Controversial Educational Toy

Controversial Educational Toy

If one considers that Jammu and Kashmir is but one of many, many possible geopolitical and cultural issues and that maps are just one type of content that could potentially hinder the intent of creative content in a locale, it becomes clear that no particular type of enterprise is truly immune from the effects of an unforeseen, potentially damaging content issue.

Proactive measures can be taken to avert a loss of revenue and perhaps worse, a loss of public image, if the creative forces involved are committed to take proper steps and make minimal investments in being mindful of this dynamic. With even a modest amount of awareness around the potential risks, coupled with a desire to strive to deliver positive experiences for local consumers, it’s entirely possible to maintain one’s core creative vision while thinking more geostrategically. And in turn, you just might take some of the incognita out of the periculum.

Image Credits:
1. Jammu and Kashmir
2. Jammu and Kashmir
3. Cadbury Ad
4. Microsoft Error: (author’s screen grab)
5. Controversial Educational Toy

Please feel free to comment.




Mapping Media Retail in the Global Midwest: Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN
Dan Herbert / University of Michigan

figure 1

Figure 1: The Minneapolis metropolitan area.

I recently conducted research in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, as the last cases in my project to map “entertainment retail” stores in areas of the American Midwest with significant minority and/or diasporic populations. These retail locations include video stores (my primary interest, truthfully), record stores, bookshops, and movie theaters. I have made these maps to indicate different forms of social diversity, particularly along lines of income, race, ethnicity, and national origin, as defined by US Census data.

Throughout this project, I have been interested in simply making the maps and asking a basic question: what do I see? Of course, this leads to countless, more detailed questions, such as: Is there some geographic pattern that these stores exhibit? Is there a significant historical change in the number or location of these stores? Are there discernable alignments between the location of a social group and the retail sites? If not, how might this lack of correlation signify something important as well?

I chose Minneapolis and St. Paul because they have notable diasporic populations: Somalis in Minneapolis and Hmong people in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. I say these groups are “notable” because, despite how cosmopolitan these cities are, the state of Minnesota has been historically understood as “white” because of the large Norwegian and German populations there. But following the end of the Vietnam War, many Hmong people came to this area as refugees, [ ((Anonymous, “Hmong Timeline,” Minnesota Historical Society. Web. Accessed 2 Mar. 2016. http://www.mnhs.org/hmong/hmong-timeline.))] while many Somalis came to Minneapolis as voluntary migrants and yet others came as refugees following the beginning of the Somali Civil War in 1991.[ ((Abdi Roble and Doug Rutledge, The Somali Diaspora: A Journey Away (Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 3, 135. ProQuest ebrary. Web. Accessed 2 March 2016.))] At this point, the Minneapolis city website boasts, “Minneapolis prides itself on the diversity throughout the city.”[ ((Anonymous, “Diverse Minneapolis,” Minneapolis: City by Nature. Web. Accessed 2 Mar. 2016. http://www.minneapolis.org/visitor/visitor-diverse-minneapolis.))]

These communities are also notable, for the purposes of my project, because I know little about the Twin Cities and almost nothing about Somali-American or Hmong cultures. One of the basic questions for my project is, “What can maps and mapping offer to film and media studies?”[ ((I do not mean to suggest that I am unique in asking this question, as there have been a number of important works in film and media studies that have made use of maps and interrogated how maps might be interpreted by scholars in our field; we can look at least as far back as Ben Singer’s work about nickelodeons in New York, which appeared in Cinema Journal more that twenty years ago. Moreover, I recognize that an entire field of “Critical GIS” has developed over the last twenty years, in which scholars from a range of disciplines have made use of and self-consciously questioned digital mapping technologies and techniques. My three contributions to Flow simply mark my curiosity and small contributions to a much larger, ongoing discourse.))] So I took it as a challenge to map areas and groups that I was unfamiliar with. For me at least, these maps would have to “speak for themselves” to some degree, as I lack any real contextual understanding to help me interpret them.

Beginning in 1985, the maps of Minneapolis indicate no clear correlations between the retail stores and most social characteristics, including population density, income, percentage white, or “foreign born,” which is the best category I could use from the 1985 Census to try to locate the Somali population (figures 2, 3, 4, and 5). One map (figure 6) does indicate that most of the retail sites were not in African American neighborhoods. All the maps reveal an impressive number of bookstores and record stores, most of which are in or near to the downtown area. Alternatively, the video stores are much more dispersed and more remote from downtown. One can imagine that these were the typical “mom and pop” shops found so commonly during the 1980s.

figure 2

Figure 2: 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and population density.

figure 3

Figure 3: 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and median household income.

figure 4

Figure 4: 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents.

figure 5

Figure 5: 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of foreign-born residents.

figure 6

Figure 6: 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents.

In 1990 we see some important changes and relationships (figures 7, 8, and 9). We now see a great increase in the number of video stores and that they remain more dispersed than other kinds of entertainment retail. Even more remarkable, to my mind, is the fact all the video stores and the great majority of the other stores are not located in African American areas, nor in non-white areas generally, nor in areas with large “foreign born” populations. Entertainment retail, and video rental in particular, appears to be a white, non-diasporic enterprise.

figure 7

Figure 7: 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of foreign-born residents.

figure 8

Figure 8: 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of African American residents.

figure 9

Figure 9: 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of foreign-born residents.

As in 1985, the maps for 1999 do not present any clear alignments between the location of entertainment retail sites and the location of African Americans or white people, except for video stores, which still appear in mostly white neighborhoods (figures 10 and 11). By this year, the Census had a category for “Place of Birth: Eastern Africa” (figure 12). And indeed, the map indicates a concentration of Somalis in what is called the “Cedar Riverside” neighborhood, just to the east of downtown. Although there is not a sizeable cluster of retail sites in this area, there are three bookstores and a video store, making one wonder if they catered in material for the Somalis in that area.

figure 10

Figure 10: 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents.

figure 11

Figure 11: 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of African American residents.

figure 12

Figure 12: 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of Eastern African-born residents.

This map from 2015 shows that there are two video stores in this area (although one had closed by the time of my visit), and that one of them is called “Intercontinental Video” (figure 13). City directories and telephone books indicate that this store had been open since 1982.

figure 13

Figure 13: 2015 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of Eastern African-born residents.

This map and the name of this store would suggest a strong relationship between the store and the local community. But the truth is more complex. I visited Intercontinental Video and discovered that it is owned by a 78-year old man from India who came to the US to study genetics. He initially opened the store as a hobby and designed it from the start to attract immigrant patrons, because, as he stated, “anybody who comes from a foreign country, he feels homesick, so why don’t we start an international movie place?” According to the owner, the store has served multiple communities in the Twin Cities area for many years, offering Bollywood films, French films, Hong Kong action films, and so on. Yet the location of the store predates the influx of Somali people in the neighborhood and the owner says he has never had many Somali customers. “They don’t like to watch movies,” he said.

figure 14

Figure 14: The exterior of Intercontinental Video Sales and Rental, Minneapolis, MN.

Whether this statement is true or not, it is striking that there is a “diasporic video store” located in the heart of a diasporic community, and if we were only to look at the map, we would likely assume that these things are directly related. But it appears that the global flows of media and people have articulated themselves in a rather disjointed fashion in this local instance. Globalization is complex, to be sure, and so is the local. And, it turns out, “The Midwest” is global, local, and complex too.

Moving briefly to St. Paul, we can see the location of entertainment retail stores and people from “Asia” or “South Eastern Asia,” as indicated by the US Census, in a short series of maps. In 1985 (figure 15), we see a wide dispersal of video stores and other retail sites; other than a cluster of bookstores in the downtown area, there is no relationship among the stores or between the stores and the Asian population. Similarly, the map from 1999 (figure 16) indicates a large number of entertainment retail stores dispersed rather evenly across the area. But one can see a line of video stores dotted along University Ave. (in the middle of the map), an area with a large number of Hmong people and businesses, suggesting that these stores were part of a larger commercial corridor that served this group. The strip of video stores along University Ave. is even more pronounced in 2006 (figure 17) and the names of many of these stores suggest they were owned by and/or served Hmong and other “South Eastern Asian” people in the area (figure 18). By 2015, however, and like most places in the country, many video stores have disappeared from St. Paul; half of those that remain are in the “South Eastern Asian” parts of the city (figure 19). Interestingly, this map indicates a negative correlation between the South Eastern Asian population and the location of bookstores.

figure 15

Figure 15: 1985-86 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of Asian or Pacific Islander residents.

figure 16

Figure 16: 1999 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of Southeast Asian residents.

figure 17

Figure 17: 2006 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents.

figure 18

Figure 18: 2006 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents.

figure 19

Figure 19: 2015 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents.

Although figure 19 indicates that two video stores remain open on University Ave., neither was in business when I walked through this area in November 2015. However, I did stumble upon a shop with videos, clothing, and jewelry for sale in a small indoor shopping center on this stretch (figure 20); the female owner identified herself as “Cambodian” and said that she sold movies from Cambodia, China, and Thailand. More significantly, the map from 2015 includes the Hmong Village Shopping Center, a sizable indoor shopping area that features a variety of vendor kiosks, restaurants, and food stalls. Among these, one can find at least six places that sell DVDs from a wide range of Asian countries, many of which, as I understand it, are dubbed for Hmong viewers (figure 21).

figure 20

Figure 20: Interior of a University Ave. Cambodian-owned store.

figure 21

Figure 21: Interior of a store in the Hmong Village Shopping Center, St. Paul, MN.

On the one hand, we might look at the 2015 map as flawed, as it depicts video stores that are not there, like phantom islands, and does not represent the video retailers that are actually present. On the other hand, we could read this map as pointing the way for an on-the-ground experience of the city, which does in fact reveal some of the ways in which the Hmong diaspora is manifest within the local commercial landscape. The map serves as one point of engagement with a space, which may lead the way to a range of other questions, activities, and modes of experience and knowing.

In my previous contributions to Flow, I have concluded by pointing out some of the problems with the maps I had made and the process of mapping more generally. For this last piece, however, I want to make some positive claims about how the maps, and the entire project, have been useful and instructive to me. First, all the maps confirmed and provided visual “proof” of an argument I made in Videoland, that video rental stores dispersed and diffused movie culture into and throughout local communities; in this respect, the maps serve as an important addendum to my previous work. Second, the maps provided me with a much more detailed and nuanced sense of the complex ways that immigrant and diasporic groups articulate themselves within local retail environments in general and in relation to video stores in particular. To my eye, these maps have represented the “disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy” of the American Midwest.[ ((Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 37.))]

Finally, and abstracting from these last two points, the maps have proven useful in representing relationships – in space, over time, and among different people and places. Seeing such relationships can be extremely helpful in telling historical narratives or, even more so, in making space-based historical arguments. Of course no map can truly or fully “speak for itself,” and so the maps remain, to my mind, useful tools that can work in concert with other forms of argumentation and knowledge production. Maps are not only the products of knowledge, but should be taken as starting points for asking any number of new research questions to generate new understandings. Maps can point the way. And then the ethical and ideological questions also emerge. Not, where do you want to go, or, how do I get there? Instead, why do you want to go there and what will you do?

SPECIAL THANKS

This work was supported by MCubed, a funding program at the University of Michigan, awarded during the 2015-2017 cycle. I am grateful to my “cube” partners Phil Hallman and Johannes von Moltke for inspiration and support. I want to thank Dana Rider for invaluable research assistance in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and I also want to thank Debbie Miller and Jennifer Rian who provided excellent guidance at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. Thanks to Lori Lopez, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who provided great insights into Hmong movie culture and tipped me off to the Hmong Village Shopping Center. At the University of Michigan, Laura Caruso did an astounding amount of data entry and was a thoughtful sounding board as well. Ben Strassfeld made the maps, and I am grateful for his skill, timeliness, patience, and friendliness.

Image Credits:

1. The Minneapolis metropolitan area (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
2. 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and population density (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
3. 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and median household income (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
4. 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
5. 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of foreign-born residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
6. 1985 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
7. 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of foreign-born residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
8. 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of African American residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
9. 1990 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of foreign-born residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
10. 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of white residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
11. 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and percentage of African American residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
12. 1999 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of Eastern African-born residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
13. 2015 Minneapolis entertainment retail locations and number of Eastern African-born residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
14. The exterior of Intercontinental Video Sales and Rental, Minneapolis, MN (image taken and provided by the author)
15. 1985-86 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of Asian or Pacific Islander residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
16. 1999 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of Southeast Asian residents. (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
17. 2006 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
18. 2006 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
19. 2015 St. Paul entertainment retail locations and number of South Eastern Asian residents (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
20. Interior of a University Ave. Cambodian-owned store (image taken and provided by the author)
21. Interior of a store in the Hmong Village Shopping Center, St. Paul, MN (image taken by Dana Rider and provided by the author)

Please feel free to comment.




Mapping Media Retail in the Global Midwest: Elkhart, IN
Dan Herbert / University of Michigan

description of image

Contemporary street map of Elkhart, Indiana

When approaching Elkhart, Indiana, from the east on US Highway 120, you will pass modest ranch houses situated on large plots of land, a handful of auto service shops, and a good number of churches. After you pass through Bristol, the highway lines up with the St. Joseph River. The houses become increasingly bigger and nicer, with expansive and well-manicured lawns that back up right to the river; most of these properties have docks and boats. Although South Bend and Notre Dame University are located only fifteen miles to the west, Elkhart is remote from major cities and is surrounded by farmland. It has a population of about 50,000 and has a “small town” sensibility. The town is known for manufacturing mobile homes, recreational vehicles, and musical instruments.

For most of its history, Elkhart has largely been working class and what the U.S. Census has defined as “white” and “non-Latino.” But over the last several decades, a significant number of Hispanic and/or Latina/o people have moved into the area, as indicated by U.S. Census data. This made Elkhart an excellent site for my project to map “entertainment retail” sites in towns in the American Midwest that have significant populations of racial or ethnic minorities. Thus I have mapped all the video stores, record stores, bookstores, and movie theaters in Elkhart from 1980 to the present.[ ((Fortunately, the Elkhart Public Library has complete and up-to-date holdings of Polk Directories for the town, making it possible to gather the addresses for all the businesses in the area; additionally, the librarians there are exceptionally helpful.))] Although I have a range of different questions and goals related to this project, it is propelled most basically by my interest in seeing if there is any relationship between the changing demographic composition of this town and the location and number of these retail sites and, if so, to see if that relationship can be visualized with maps.

description of image

Figure 2: Elkhart, Indiana entertainment retail sites, 1980

This map (figure 2) displays all the entertainment retail sites in Elkhart in 1980. We see a clustering of locations in the downtown area, primarily made up of movie theaters and music shops. Despite the fact that the 1980 Directory had no “Video Rental” category, we see a site that likely sold and perhaps rented videotapes—an adult movie store that was listed as a bookstore. Outside this cluster, the map indicates something of a commercial corridor heading to the southeast, toward the town of Goshen, which lies just beyond the border of this map.

The map also shows that Elkhart is overwhelmingly made up of white people; there is a small African American community in the downtown neighborhood. The following maps display the absence of Latina/os in Elkhart during the 1980s.

description of image

Figure 3: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1980

description of image

Figure 4: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1985

The second map (figure 4), from 1985, shows a rather impressive number of video stores. As in many other places, the video stores in Elkhart are dispersed in a relatively decentralized manner, indicating that these places provided geographically convenient access to an array of movie choices and thereby helped to “localize” movie culture.

description of image

Figure 5: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1990

As seen in this map (figure 5), the number of video stores in 1990 is even more remarkable. The stores appear evenly dispersed across the entire town, almost equidistant from one another. Additionally, this map indicates a slight increase in the percentage of Latina/os in the area. It also shows that this group was primarily living in the center of the town, and that the video stores are distinctly not located in the downtown or Latina/o areas.

description of image

Figure 6: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1995

description of image

Figure 7: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2000

description of image8

Figure 8: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2005

Moving forward in time to 1995 (figure 6), we see a reduction in the number of entertainment retail sites, although a good number of video stores remain. And in both 2000 and 2005 (figures 7 and 8), there has been an even greater increase in the percentage of Latina/os in the area. Aside from the video stores, which continue to be located outside the downtown area, there has been a significant drop in the number of entertainment retail sites—only one movie theater remains. In fact, there seems to be a virtual elimination of entertainment retail from Elkhart’s downtown and, moreover, there appears to be a slight negative correlation between the location of Latina/os and entertainment retail sites. These maps also include a Wal-Mart that was open in the area at the time, which of course sold books, music, and DVDs. It is likely that, along with online retailers, this Wal-Mart lured customers away from the other stores.

description of image9

Figure 9: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2010

Perhaps predictably, by 2010 (figure 9) we see a reduction the number of video stores, while only two record shops, one movie theater, and one bookstore remain. Another Wal-Mart has been opened on the western edge of town. There is now a considerable Latina/o population in and around Elkhart, and this group no longer appears clustered in the center of town. Importantly for my project, the map does not indicate any relationship between the residence of Latina/os and entertainment retail.

However, it seemed likely to me that the Latina/o population must have affected the commercial environment in Elkhart in some way. In order to confirm this, and to reaffirm the lack of correlation between the Latina/o population and the location of entertainment retail stores, I also gathered the addresses for all restaurants and grocery stores that had Spanish names or otherwise indicated that they were owned by Latina/os.

The following map (figure 10) shows all entertainment retail sites in black and shows the restaurants in red. There were no Latina/o grocery stores and only two Mexican restaurants; one of them, Hacienda, is part of a regional chain. [ ((While I maintain the use of “Latina/o” for this community in Elkhart, I use the designation “Mexican” for the restaurants because that is how they are named or because it appears that this is the style of food they offer.))] There is nothing remarkable about their placement within the town, other than that they are closer to downtown whereas the entertainment retail sites are more dispersed.

description of image

Figure 10: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and various retail locations, 1995

By 2015, we see a very different landscape.

description of image

Figure 11: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and various retail locations, 2015

Now, we see eleven restaurants and five grocery stores. Unlike the entertainment locations, both the restaurants and the grocery stores are clustered in or near downtown. Although there is no clear or dramatic correlation between their placement and the Latina/o areas, these sites appear slightly more aligned with the Latina/o population than the entertainment sites. In any case, we see that the demographic changes in Elkhart’s population did, in fact, impact the commercial landscape, but not so much in the form of video stores, book stores, etc.

Of course, the Wal-Mart stores in the area likely carry Spanish-language movies. [ ((Orquidea Morales is conducting fascinating research about Wal-Marts and Spanish-language media, which has yet to be published. She presented some of this work as “Latina/o DVD: The Possibilities and Limitations of New Distribution Platforms” at the 2015 Conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal.))] And the cable service in the area carries a number of Spanish-language or Latina/o-oriented channels, including Telemundo, Univision, and the El Rey Network. Moreover, and as people like Evan Elkins and Juan Llamas-Rodriguez, among others, have discussed, Latina/o media often circulates through retail sites that may not exclusively deal in media and thus may be defined as grocery stores, convenience stores, etc. [ ((Evan Elkins, “Changing Scales: Diasporic Streaming and Local Video Stores,” presented at the 2015 Conference of the International Communication Association, May 23, 2015; Juan Llamas-Rodriguez, “What is (In) a Diasporic Video Store?” presented at the 2014 Conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, March 20, 2014.))]

Consequently, I phoned all these locations and asked if they rented or sold movies or if they ever had. I admit I was surprised when only one storeowner indicated having done so; she said they stopped selling movies about eight years earlier. I then asked a research assistant to call these locations and, speaking Spanish, ask where one could find Spanish-language media. Many storeowners answered “Wal-Mart” or “the internet” or “piracy.” We were surprised, however, to have a restaurant owner indicate that there was a video store that specialized in Mexican cinema. Using this restaurant owner’s somewhat inaccurate directions and Google Maps “street view,” I located Videos El Norteno in downtown Elkhart.

description of image

Figure 12: Storefront of Videos El Norteno, Elkhart, Indiana, 2015

description of image

Figure 13: Interior of Videos El Norteno, Elkhart, Indiana, 2015

I have been unable to speak with the owners of Videos El Norteno, but these pictures (figure 12 and 13) taken by a research assistant while the store was closed, indicate that, indeed, there is a video store in Elkhart that is dedicated to Spanish-language movies. And so the most accurate, current map of entertainment retail in Elkhart looks like this (figure 14).

description of image14

Figure 14: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2015

Instead of any conclusions, I want to offer a few observations about these maps and the research that generated them. First, although they may serve as essential resources, one cannot rely upon city directories for complete listings of a town’s businesses. Maps generated from these sources may be comprehensive and accurate, but they may not. For the researcher, this suggests that we need to draw from multiple sources for information, including fieldwork and interviews, in order to map the ways that people and commodities occupy, move through, and intersect within specific places.

Second, research conducted along these lines should anticipate that media commodities do not flow through conventionally defined venues. Although this may be readily known to some, the fact that videos can be found at bookstores, grocery stores, and restaurants should make researchers more creative in where we look for media.

Third and finally (for now), the town of Elkhart suggests that different immigrant populations can impact local areas and conditions in diverse ways. Although there are many Spanish-named grocery stores and Mexican restaurants in Elkhart, the local Latina/o population does not appear to have significantly affected the entertainment retail offerings. This differs, for instance, from Dearborn, where Arab Americans appear to have used video rental stores as a means of formulating a local and transnational media culture. My point is, and I do not mean to be offensively obvious here, that there is no uniform way in which diasporic communities manifest themselves, culturally and commercially, within a specific area.

We’ll see this again, and differently, next time in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

SPECIAL THANKS

This work was supported by a grant distributed through the Humanities Without Walls consortium “Global Midwest” initiative and administered through Purdue University; many thanks to Kathryn Brownell who was PI on the grant. HWW is a Mellon-funded initiative under the leadership of Dianne Harris of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I am grateful to Renee Gaarder at Purdue and Orquidea Morales at the University of Michigan for their excellent research assistance (and detective work). Thanks once again to Ben Strassfeld for making the maps. And finally, many thanks to Orquidea Morales, Yuki Nakayama, and Colin Gunckel for their feedback about this essay.

Image Credits:

1. Figure 1: Contemporary street map of Elkhart, Indiana (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
2. Figure 2: Elkhart, Indiana entertainment retail sites, 1980 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
3. Figure 3: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1980 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
4. Figure 4: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1985 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
5. Figure 5: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1990 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
6. Figure 6: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 1995 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
7. Figure 7: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2000 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
8. Figure 8: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2005 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
9. Figure 9: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2010 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
10. Figure 10: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and various retail locations, 1995 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
11. Figure 11: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and various retail locations, 2015 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
12. Figure 12: Storefront of Videos El Norteno, Elkhart, Indiana, 2015 (image from Renee Gaarder, provided by the author)
13. Figure 13: Interior of Videos El Norteno, Elkhart, Indiana, 2015. (image from Renee Gaarder, provided by the author)
14. Figure 14: Elkhart, Indiana’s Spanish-origin population density and entertainment retail sites, 2015 (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)

Please feel free to comment.




Mapping Media Retail in the Global Midwest: Dearborn, MI
Dan Herbert / University of Michigan

Dearborn, Michigan

When I think of “flow,” I think materially and visually. I see masses in motion – cars on a freeway, groceries going past a register, rivers running, and the wind that suspends my kite. Given my research about video rental stores, I have thought a lot in particular about the ways in which both people and videos flowed into, through, and around these places. When I was composing Videoland, I often had the fantasy of making maps of all the video stores in the country at different historical moments, like snapshots of how these stores flowed across the landscape and then receded. Not surprisingly, I did not have time to produce such maps, and I doubt I could have found all the necessary information in any case.

But I have remained fascinated about how one might visualize the intersecting flows of people and video commodities, historically and geographically, and have begun making some maps that aim to accomplish this. Indeed, I am interested in exploring what mapping might afford scholars in film and media studies more generally, while also assuming that the problems and limitations of such an endeavor could be productive and lead to new research questions. Further, I have taken this opportunity to address two issues not fully covered in Videoland. First, I asserted that video stores “localized” video culture, meaning that they offered geographically convenient access to a relatively wide selection of movies and consequently allowed communities to shape their own place-based movie culture. However, much of the support for this argument derived from interviews conducted between 2009 and 2012, and I have been eager to provide some concrete historical support for this claim. Second, I have wanted to examine video store culture in relation to issues of race and ethnicity, which my book does not really do.

To address both these issues simultaneously, I have examined the number and location of video stores in some towns in the American Midwest that either have significant populations of ethnic minorities or where there has been a notable change in the ethnic composition. I chose these towns, at least in part, because the Midwest is not conventionally considered “global” and yet this region is global in many respects; in this instance, we see that the Midwest is characterized by a global flow of people and media commodities.

I gathered the addresses for the stores from city directories published by R.L. Polk & Co. I also collected data regarding the locations of bookstores, record shops, and movie theaters in order to gain some sense of how the video stores fit within larger entertainment retail environments. Additionally, I gathered census data for the areas in question in order to have these maps indicate demographic information. The final maps were produced with the assistance of Ben Strassfeld, a graduate student in my department of Screen Arts & Cultures at the University of Michigan who is particularly skilled with ArcGIS software.

The first town I examined is Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb on Detroit’s southwest border. It is famous for being the location of the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company and the company’s immense River Rouge Complex. Presently, Dearborn has a population of nearly 100,000 people, who are largely working class. The town is notable for having a relatively large Arab American population, a community that has been in the area for over one hundred years and which has grown significantly since the second half of the twentieth century.

Figure 1: 1982 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations

This first map (Figure 1) shows the location of video stores in 1982 and the shading indicates household income. Immediately, we see that although there is a commercial corridor (Michigan Avenue) where one can find the majority of bookstores, record shops, and movie theaters, the video stores are comparatively decentralized. This suggests that, in fact, video stores were more “localized” in this town than other retail sites, to the extent that the video stores were more embedded within neighborhoods.

Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations, 1988
Figure 2: 1988 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations

Moving forward to 1988 (Figure 2), we see an growth in the number of video stores, which is unsurprising given the way the larger home video industry developed during this period. We also see that these stores continue to be located in a dispersed fashion. Although we see that bookstores and record stores are similarly located some distance away from one another, these sites generally stick to the main commercial strips.

Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations, 1994
Figure 3: 1994 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations

When we move to 1994 (Figure 3), we see a slight reduction in the number of video stores as well as the persistence of a corridor of other entertainment retail sites. Generally, we see no correlation between income level and the location of any of these retail locations.

Unfortunately, I was only able to gather data through 2001. Nevertheless, the map for this year is very striking (Figure 4).

Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations, 2001
Figure 4: 2001 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations

First, we see a general reduction in income levels, especially when compared to 1988 levels. Second, we see the persistence of the commercial corridor along Michigan Avenue and that book stores, record stores and movie theaters remain on this line. We also see the appearance of two corporate video stores, both Blockbuster Videos, and unlike the independently owned stores these are located on the Michigan Avenue strip. But the third and most striking element of this map is the cluster of video stores in the northeast part of the town. This clustering defies the previously demonstrated distribution of video stores in the area.

If we switch the demographic information to represent race, looking specifically at the location of Caucasians in 1982 and 2001 (Figures 5 and 6), we see no correlation with the location of the video stores, just as there was no correlation with household income.

Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents' Locations in 1982
Figure 5: 1982 Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents’ Locations

Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents' Locations in 2001
Figure 6: 2001 Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents’ Locations

However, if we change the maps to represent Arab ancestry, and look at the maps for 1988, 1994, and 2001 [Figs. 7, 8, and 9], there appears to be an explanation for the clustering of the video stores; at the minimum, there appears to be a strong relationship between the location of people with Arab ancestry and a number of video stores in the area.

Dearborn, MI Arab Residents' Locations in 1988
Figure 7: 1988 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations

Dearborn, MI Arab Residents' Locations in 1994
Figure 8: 1994 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations

Dearborn, MI Arab Residents' Locations in 2001
Figure 9: 2001 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations

Indeed, these maps indicate the existence of a vibrant commercial district within the Arab American community and, further, suggest that this population was particularly supportive of independently owned video stores. Some of the stores’ names also suggest this relationship, such as with International Video Center and Video Nazeh; note that the Middle Eastern Bookstore is also located in this district.

Although these maps strongly suggest that these video stores, and some other retail sites, served as de facto cultural centers for Arab Americans in the area, they also have some significant limitations that merit consideration. First, the maps are unable to indicate these stores’ actual patterns of use; that is to say, they cannot indicate what videos these stores held, how often particular titles were rented, or to whom. Second, and extending from this, the maps are unable to indicate where the customers for these video stores actually came from. Although it is likely that these stores were primarily used by people living nearby, they could well have been serving people, Arab American or otherwise, that drove a greater distance to rent their tapes. For instance, I did not map the location of video stores in Detroit, just to the north, and it could well be that people in Dearborn rented tapes in Detroit and vice versa. In these two ways, we see that these maps indicate some sorts of “flow” but not others.

Third and finally (for the moment), these maps depend crucially on the ways in which the city directories define retail spaces and the ways in which the census defines human beings. Thus, video rental could have been happening in this area prior to 1982, at electronics shops, record stores, etc., but the directories had no specific category for “video rental” until that year. Simultaneously, the census’ racial, ethnic, and national categories are both essentializing and homogenizing, where in fact peoples’ individual and communal identities are much more fluid and hybrid. In this respect, the maps rely on information that is problematically fixed, somewhat analogously to the way in which they present dynamically changing social, cultural, and economic flows in a static form.

These problems aside, another major issue of this work is the extent to which the example of Dearborn, Michigan is representative or generalizable. It seems to me that the way in which this Arab American community made use of video rental stores could very well be a local phenomenon. Another social group in another town could indicate very different patterns of cultural and economic activity.

Next stop, Elkhart, Indiana.

Special Thanks: I am indebted to the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan for grant funds distributed through the Humanities Without Walls consortium “Global Midwest” initiative. HWW is a Mellon-funded initiative under the leadership of Dianne Harris of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many thanks to the larger research team of Richard Abel, Kathryn Brownell, Phil Hallman, Johannes von Moltke, and Greg Waller, whose comments and associated projects influenced my work significantly. Yuki Nakayama and Dimitri Pavlounis provided helpful feedback as well. Thanks again to Ben Strassfeld for making the maps.

Image Credits:

1. Dearborn, Michigan (author’s personal collection)
2. Figure 1: 1982 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
3. Figure 2: 1988 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
4. Figure 3: 1994 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
5. Figure 4: 2001 Dearborn, MI Video Store Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
6. Figure 5: 1982 Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents’ Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
7. Figure 6: 2001 Dearborn, MI Caucasian Residents’ Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
8. Figure 7: 1988 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
9. Figure 8: 1994 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)
10. Figure 9: 2001 Dearborn, MI Arab Residents’ Locations (image made by Ben Strassfeld, provided by the author)

Please feel free to comment.