Sunday, February 22, 2009

Marcus' questions

Q1) I like Marshall McLuhan. I’ve read his works before, and I agree with theorists that say his work applies well to the digital age – the best analogy I’ve heard is the difference between talking on the phone or talking in an AIM chat or Blog. The terminology, presentation and effects are all very different, and it works with conventional media as well. Watching a “perp walk” on television gives a very different impression than reading about it in the newspaper the next morning. But There are a few things I’d dispute – the first being that he almost sets the media up for competition, which I’m not sure is fair. Newspapers make television news more thorough, just as alternative papers like the Chronicle or the San Antonio Current help fill in the gaps left between the pages of the major metros. So why the emphasis on confrontation – why is it a bad thing that the media format is so important? Isn’t it more democratic to let each media format pursue its strengths?

Q2) I agree with David – I think that it’s difficult to determine how much credit media deserve for influencing popular action, and researchers can always find examples if they’re looking for them. McLuhan, I think, feels the scale is greater than it really is, but his point about format is more accurate – it’s not the size of the water pipe, really, but the kind of pipe. People don’t attach hoses to sinks, for example, and the water coming from each outlet is used differently. So my question is, how could you measure that – anecdotally it makes perfect sense, but have there been any efforts to cross reference media formats and news presentation?

Q3) I agree that Bauman has a pretty negative view of globalization, and I think there’s a real risk in pursuing utopian or dystopian notions of globalization and technology. And I think McLuhan’s “global village” took it a bit too far – it’s true information can travel the globe, but there’s no uniform standard of interpretation. So, following Teresa’s point, even if Disney is mass producing fairy tales, those films and stories don’t mean the same things to everyone. A quick example – The Mummy with Brendan Fraser was a bit hit in the Middle East, and that’s a pretty classic, orientalist horror genre. Arabs liked it because it was A) about their part of the world, and B) the Arabic in the film was either God awful or deliberately mistranslated. I’m not sure which, but the Bahrainis I saw it with kept laughing whenever the mummies spoke. So why is McLuhan being such a generalist, why did he insist on making his theory so universal?

Q4) Plus, there’s also the argument that globalization actually reduces crime in the long run. People with jobs are less likely to take to the streets, and bringing up the third world – particularly Mexico, from an American standpoint – will go a long way toward reducing the drug trade and lowering consumer costs here. Granted, the long run is a reaaaallly long run, and it can take years for the rubber to meet the road, but there is evidence that expansion of commerce and connectivity brings prosperity with it. So why are all these theorists fixated on the “cultural imperialism” angle? There’s certainly an element of that, there’s no question, but why not include the positives in the discussion as well?

And, if globalization were all bad, then there would only be two students in this class – David and myself, which I suspect would become very predictable very quickly. So there’s a bit of an irony that we’re studying theorists that criticize the very raison d’etre of the class, in a lot of ways.

Q5) Gabino’s dystopian tendencies are right on, I think – there is a big difference in how media are used. Television can, for example, beam out brain-numbing content 24/7, or it can provide absolutely essential information during severe weather or a crisis. It’s not at all “the numb stance of the technological idiot.” McLuhan is right that the media influences that presentation, but he’s again giving way to a universalist perspective. I think the real meat of his work is that media content is, to a degree, contingent upon format, and we need to be conscious of that … but beyond that, I think the work gets pretty fuzzy.

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