Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sun Ho's Questions - Week 6

Q1. On page 91, the authors introduce this week's readings as examples of a social-contextualizing approach. One example: Barthes sees myth as a distortion of history. “This miraculous evaporation of history is another form of a concept common to most bourgeois myths: the irresponsibility of man.” He also argues that at one stage, a meaning is emptied out so it could be used as a signifier of another meaning system. I am intrigued by the way these scholars see the bigger picture within the context of the society. But at the same time, their “reconciliation between reality and men, description and explanation, and object and knowledge” makes me wonder about the limitations of this approach. By looking at their “signifier” and the “meaning” of it too closely, aren’t they leaving no space left to our subjective reading of the world or its ingrained myths?

Q2. Barthes and McLuhan: I am trying to find similarities or dissimilarities between Barthes’ view of myth and McLuhan’s definition of the medium. According to Barthes, “the signifier is empty, the sign is full, it is a meaning”: form is empty, but meaning is full and that creates myth, a mode of signification. The electrical light escapes our attention because it appears to have no “content” like television news or newspaper stories, but McLuhan argues that activities like brain surgery or night baseball serves as the “content” of the electrical light and that makes it a “medium” that changes social life. If the medium is defined by its use, like myth is defined by its intention, why does McLuhan put so much emphasis on the medium itself than the content? Why does he think the medium is the message? Did I lose some of the important points while I tried to understand these readings?

Q3. This is a question from outside of our assigned readings. McLuhan’s book was misprinted as “The medium is the massage” but he found the term “massage” rather supportive of his point. He later punned on the word changing it to “mass age” or “mess age,” and many scholars who are against his arguments say those terms make more sense than his famous phrase “the medium is the message.” Anyone familiar with the discussions relating to this? I’d love to read more about it.

Q4. Debord and his colleagues promoted “an overcoming of all forms of separation against this passivity [observing the products of social life] in which individuals would directly produce their own life and modes self-activity and collective practice.” He defines the spectacle as “the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life (pg 121).” Then how is it relevant for analyzing contemporary society? Kellner has an article on the interactive spectacle and he points out how the distinctions between artificial and the real, and the abstract and the concrete are blurring. This is something I’d like to look into in relation to Debord’s work.

Q5. Bauman claims that “liquid life prompts journalists to behave in the way they do” and that “they heavily contribute to life’s liquidity by doing what they do.” Then what are the elements of a better journalism in a liquid society? Some of his answers can be found on pages 676 and 677, but they make me question whether today’s journalism is “the effect of the conscious motive of action” or an “unanticipated consequence.”

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