Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of spectacles and an Imperialist Duck

The readings for this week were quite interesting. For starters, Barthes discussion of myths gave me a lot to think about. For example, in the discussion of the points he makes about he says “The petit-bourgeois is a man unable to imagine the Other” (p. 101). This forces me to think that, unfortunately, the petit-bourgeois have taken over the world. If the subaltern never gets an opportunity to speak, does the Other also create myths? How can the Other ever be recognized as equal? What's the effect of reducing everything to “sameness”? Could we consider that a beginning for equality?
I found the tautology point very eye opening. I feel like this concept could be married to Becks society of risk: the lack of explanations “creates a dead, a motionless world” (p. 102).
Next we read the more than famous “the medium is the message” by McLuhan. I guess this could be a painful read for researchers everywhere since most of us are concerned with the effects of the content itself. I found terribly interesting his discussion about the way we use media:
“Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the “content” of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind” (p. 114).
Very powerful words. Being an apocalyptic, I’m a bit torn between this powerful reply to Sarnoff’s idea that: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value” (p. 109). There are strong arguments that could be wielded in defense of both ideas, but I believe McLuhan would come out on top.
I agree with McLuhan… but there is a tiny rebellious morsel inside me that insists on the idea that the way we use media can have a very immediate and potent effect on its value. Am I alone in this one? If he was right, why keep on paying so much attention to content? But then again, if he was right, does that mean that if we drastically change the content of television programs it would not show up in Cultivation studies in a few generations?
The Debord reading was short and a tad confusing in the sense that it read like a shorter version of something bigger. In any case, I started thinking about something when I got to #6: “…the heart of unrealism of the real society.” (p.118). Then it grew stronger as I read on. Anybody want to take a guess? It made me think of that spectacle we call reality television. Isn’t society today as “spectaclist” (p. 120) as ever?
Next, I will confess that I’m terribly biased: I love Mattelart. How to read Donal Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (the book we are discussing here), The Information Society: An Introduction and many other great books by Mattelart helped me push on through when I was labeled as a die-hard pessimist. I was even introduced to Fukuyama through his work.
Also, in August 2008, I got to meet him and chat with him a while after attending a conference he gave in Puerto Rico (how I fought my boss for a week so that he would let me cover this is another story; “too dark” he said, “nobody will be interested in that”… now you know why I decided to pursue a PhD!). A funny thing is that he is now deliciously cynical about the way people have turned the Disney book into such a classic. He thinks it’s not that good. The presentation I went to was titled “Pluralism in Journalism: imperative or utopia?” For about two hours he torn journalism a new one and, in that perfect Spanish with a deep French accent that immediately reminds you of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, he stood and screamed: “So is pluralism an imperative or a utopia? It’s both!” In any case, for those of you that can read a bit of Spanish, here’s the link to the article so you can read about what he was up to in 2008: I trust that imperialism through media will be a heated debate tomorrow.
Last but not least, I think the introduction to the Bauman interview if a very smart critique of journalism that could be extremely difficult to debate. I also really liked the way Bauman deconstructs time. I agree that time is not cyclical but not linear either and that “nothing repeats” (p. 4). But what does this represent for our research? We can study this past election until we are blue in the face, but it will never happen again: there will never be a repeated moment in history, even if we insist that history repeats itself. What generalizing theory can we work with if we accept a “pointillist” view of time? How effective is reporting when it is immediate yet transitory? What would be the final purpose of our “pointillist-without-configuration” way of doing things?
Finally, I’m pretty sure the discussion on negative globalization is going to pop up in class… so I’ll leave my comments for later.

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