Sunday, February 22, 2009

DB's 5 questions, week 6

1) Dumb question dept: in quantitative studies, the 'theories' are often fairly well encapsulated by titles like 'framing', 'agenda setting', 'uses and gratifications', etc. In mapping out the introduction to D&K's Part II intro (pp 91-98) it occurred to me that these qualitative theories are better suited to snippet quotes (McLuhan's "the media is the message", etc.). Any reason the crit side doesn't seem to have theory 'titles' for lack of a better term? (Or maybe they do, and we just haven't read them yet...) Maybe that doesn't matter, but without easy conceptual handles, isn't it considerably more difficult/slippery to ground one's own research? Moreover, what, if anything, do conceptual 'titles' say about theory?

2) In D&K on p. 100, Barthes delivers his famous margarine-and-guns analogy, showing how admission of the 'flaw' becomes the means by which it may be exalted. I get the point, and how he suspects this principle operates. But is the leap from margarine ("what does it matter if, after all, margarine is just fat?") to brutal tactics to maintain social order (what does it matter if, after all, brutal social order in the end allows us to live cheaply") fair or logical? The tautology is, on its face, similar, obviously --but I can't tell whether Barthes believes that the rhetorical method is the evil (that is, admission of weakness to strengthen its attributes), or if he somehow truly thinks that the 'naturalization' (of margarine, like brutality) is a per se evil (and if so, then why?).

3) Anyone else wonder if Barthes has a little contempt for the middle class? On p. 101 in D&K, he alleges that the 'petit-bourgeois is a man unable to imagine the Other"; on p. 102-103 he writes of the "irritable dignity" of the bourgeois theatre, etc...I assume he thinks the bourgeois is a creation of manipulation of some sort, but he sure seems to leave little room for the simple taste of the masses or any discussion (much less contemplation) of any inherent values.

4) In D&K on p. 108, McLuhan summarizes his 'medium is the message' with the explanation that "the medium shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and interaction". Clearly written in a pre-'Wired' world, it got me thinking about 'Flash Mobs' (groups of people who get instructions from a web blog or Craigslist to go down to, say, Whole Foods and at the stroke of 10, freeze in place for 5 minutes, or something similar...surely you've heard about this...?) I can, on one level, see how McLuhan is right...but can't human association and interaction always be extrapolated to effects in the 'real world' beyond the medium itself? Or is McLuhan saying something smaller akin to "what you get out of the spigot is directly controlled by the size of the city's water pipes"? (That, too, is a way of saying 'the medium is the message', but philosophically much

5) In D&K on p. 121, DeBord explains that the spectacle he has in mind is a kind of world view in which the objectification of commodities (stuff to have) becomes dominant: "the total occupation of social life". In general, I agree with his critique, but I know its in that finger-wagging (almost Puritanical) way that DeBord really connects with me---which makes me suspicious. It makes me wonder what DeBord thinks we're missing. DeBord seems to think we'd all be better off if we were creating rather than consuming, non? It's very French, I suppose, to suggest that life is art and art is life, but I think its fair to wonder if DeBord's critique is grounded more in realistic v. romantic expectations.

David D. Brown

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