Media Studies

Norbert Ruebsaat

These stories and conversations took place in a Media and Communications Studies class at a Canadian college. Students come to the college from many countries, in the hope of enrolling eventually in a North American university.

Photo courtesy of Ivan Zhao


When young men in Taiwan are inducted into the army, they are enrolled in “sit-down classes” and given psychological aggressiveness training, which is largely a matter of learning tone of voice and types of sentences. The rules are: never ask a question, always give an order; don’t say “Would you like to,” say “Do it”; always raise your voice when you speak—in fact, yell all the time; put emphasis on the beginnings of words and phrases when you speak.

The young man who explained all this to the Media and Communications Studies class said that aggressiveness training strongly contradicts the habits people learn in civilian life in Taiwan: to be respectful, co-operative and soft-spoken. It took him a while to get accustomed to the switch between the civilian and military ways of being and speaking, but when he got used to it, it was not hard. Once he was in uniform the transformation worked automatically, and out of uniform he was never tempted to yell at his friends or his family. He said that Taiwanese boys who graduate from high school are generally eligible for officer training, and only officers learn the psychological aggressiveness techniques. When student officers in the sit-down classes are spoken to aggressively by their teachers, they sit and listen and do not talk back. The students practise speaking aggressively only to students of lower rank, never to students of equal or higher rank. A few of the students are women. The young man said he had never been spoken to aggressively by a female officer.

As officers rise in the ranks of the Taiwanese army, things change with regard to who speaks aggressively to whom. A colonel might still speak aggressively to a captain, as a captain might speak aggressively to a lieutenant; but once you get to be a general you don’t have to speak aggressively to anyone. Generals, the young man said, never speak aggressively. They act more like politicians.


People in Korea use the text-messaging function on their cellphones more frequently than they use the voice-mail function, which is preferred by young people in China, Japan and Taiwan. The young man who reported this fact to the class said that Koreans find it easier to use the text function to communicate complex messages, such as those involved in ending relationships. It is easier for them to say “I don’t love you any more” in text mode than in voice mode, not to mention face-to-face mode. In Seoul people walk around punching messages to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, into their cellphones and often bump into each other because it’s not easy to spell out words while walking around.


A man told the class that his grandfather was a cranky man who, when he watched television, commented continuously about the clothes, jewellery and cosmetics worn by people on the screen. His grandfather could never be quiet while watching tv, he said, and so it was hard work to watch tv with him. But when his grandfather listened to the radio, he shut up completely. He paid close attention to what people said and never uttered a word in response to the voices that came from the radio.

The man said his cranky grandfather considered television to be a two-way communication, whereas radio was one-way. His grandfather heard radio voices as monologues and found it easy to be quiet in their presence, whereas when the television was on, there seemed to be other people in the room and he could not help speaking with them. When the television people failed to respond, the grandfather had no alternative but to speak to family members about the strangers in his living room. Look at those people, the way their lips are painted, how their hair is coloured, how they walk, the cranky grandfather would say.

The cranky grandfather’s habit of speaking whenever the television was on was painful to the man, who was a filmmaker and didn’t like it when his grandfather provided another soundtrack for a film he was trying to watch and learn from. He wanted to watch the films, not listen to his grandfather, and he had moved all the way from India to Canada so that he could watch movies on television without hearing his cranky grandfather’s voice.


Two young women from Thailand analyzed a cigarette ad for the class. The ad showed two Caucasian men in short pants and hiking boots standing on a rocky pinnacle, holding loops of rope. The young women said that in Thailand fishermen often held ropes like these, with nets attached, before throwing them into the water, so these Canadian men might be fishermen. The only problem was that the men in hiking boots and shorts were standing hundreds of metres above the ocean, an arm of which could be seen in the distance among many mountains. How, the young women asked, could these Canadian fishermen throw their nets into the sea when it was so far away and so far down?


When he joined the army, a young man from Singapore spent five days in solitary confinement in a Singaporean prison. All conscripts into the Singaporean army have to undergo this confinement, called “POW Treatment,” in order to learn how to resist revealing a password if they are

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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