Bringing Things to Conclusion

So, we are approaching the end of the term; time for us to think in larger themes, talk in generalities, draw some conclusions.

Let’s begin where we ended. Tuesday we addressed narrative and genre. These are obviously linked, though distinct areas. As I indicated in the lecture, they exist at both the levels of form and content. As content, they are amenable to analysis vis-a-vis media (form). As such, we can begin to think about how content connects with/is facilitated by/activates form.

Thus, in this article that I mentioned in class, we see the recent rise of a particular narrative device in porn (incest). While a narrative device (an excuse for/way of packaging sex), it serves as a sub-genre within the porn genre–itself a certain genre of media content. The media touched by this genre include film, anime, comics, and fiction (at a minimum). Whether the narrative occurs identically or operates equally well in all (media forms) is an empirical question (i.e. a matter for investigation and demonstration).

Okay, now that we have the sex out of the way, let’s think a bit more about how narrative and genre fit where we’ve come from and where we are heading.

You know the basic parameters at this point: we began with the question of “reality” and how reality is represented. The mediations (i.e. the media through which reality is passed and the way that reality is presented by media) can be various, as can the angles by which we inspect and evaluate them; so, too, the interpretations of their activity and effect. The outer limit of this discursive thread is the fabrication of reality.

This theme was introduced in innocence, we could say, with the notion that flames created flickering shadow-images on a wall, reflecting unintentional distortions in our minds. We then discussed how the rise (particularly in this past election cycle) of intentional distortions (i.e. “fake news”) were fed through various media to conjure an “alternative set of facts” or an “alternative reality”. Some of this was simply a discussion of content, however, the way that media operate (i.e. its ontology) also had impacts on how knowledge was transmitted and received. Hence, media had a role in social outcome.

The final step in this fabrication of reality is fleshed out in the work of Baudrillard (one of our readings this week and a point of lecture/discussion in our coming class). The notion we are particularly interested in is “simulation”. His idea, in a nutshell, is that something is created from nothing–a fiction is brought to life as a real thing, upon which other real things (thoughts, rules, human action, etc.) occur. As evidence, we spoke briefly of Disneyland and the book/film/now TV show Westworld. The Matrix is a perfect example of Baudrillard’s concept of “simulacrum” (the thing conjured from whole cloth that takes on a reality all its own)–for those of you familiar with the movie).

While The Matrix is a film and Westworld is a TV show, these are not the only examples. Most common in our everyday lives is “Reality TV”–a perfect example of how a thing that once was nothing more than a logline on a piece of paper, pitched in a production company boardroom, came to take on a life of its own. Producers, directors, cameramen and sound engineers, scriptwriters, caterers, publicists (and more) all assume roles in bringing a story to life. Something actual, in short, is conjured from nothing. Ideas take shape in words and actions, conducted by actual people and communicated to others as if they were real.

There is one more point that should not be lost in our journey from the cave to Disneyland. It is the major role that narrative plays in giving shape to human activity. We have spoken a bit about this in the previous class and, without overstating its relevance, please think about how the tropes of communication and the rhetorical forms that we have developed over the centuries end up shaping the what and how of mediation. Within our communication shorthand (for each medium) are certain fixed, culturally-biased, socially significant “devices” that lead to social outcomes. Some of these are shaped by the medium itself; some are determined by genre; some take the form of narrative. All possess a certain structure and generate certain rules and expectations (depending on these elements of medium, genre and narrative).

So, where does this leave us, as we try to draw to a close?

Think, if you will, about this line from the cave to Disneyland, of representation of reality to actual embodiment of fiction. Think, if you will, of where, in your everyday lives, you see this evolution in representation and reality. Think, as well, of the role of media/mediation. Finally, think of what the consequences of this development have been; where it/they may lead us; by what process(es) and with what effect(s).

Remnant Considerations

Sorry to cut in on the McLuhan discussion (and thank you, Nicholas, for getting a conversation started so early), so take this as an optional diversion.

In sorting through the notes from our last class I came across a couple of questions that I thought worth pulling along with us as we move from MEDIUM FORM through ECOLOGY (and toward AUDIENCE).

The first relates to VISUALITY. It begins with Benjamin’s conception of “OPTICAL UNCONSCIOUS”. Recall that his claim was that photography exposed movements and dimensions of reality hitherto unknown (that is, not acknowledged by perception). This (purportedly) has the effect of overlooking aspects of reality (or perhaps restricting those aspects to the realm of the unconscious). If this is true, thinking about our image-saturated society of today, do you think this idea still holds? Are there aspects of “reality” that often go undetected; that are not retained or perhaps not processed by the person engaging with the medium?

A second point about VISUALITY is inspired by Ong. As you know, his writing focuses our attention on cultures that are predicated on and evolve consistent with ORALITY or LITERACY. The question is what about VISUALITY? Similar to the oral and written, does IMAGE have (any or the same sort of profound) influence on:

  • consciousness
  • communication
  • interaction
  • social organization
  • action

In this way, might we talk about a “CULTURE OF VISUALITY” the way that we discuss a CULTURE OF ORALITY and CULTURE OF WRITING?

Finally, and part of this latter discussion, if PRIMARY ORALITY fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal, externalized and less introspective than those common among literates–in short, if oral communication unites people in groups–and if writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself–what does VISUALITY do? Is it simply a variation on SECONDARY ORALITY, or is it something else entirely? If the latter, does it pose (psychological, social, structural, behavioral, phenomenological, moral) issues that require a different sort of social theorization than Ong forwarded?

Just a few extra possibilities for you to reason through together.

photography + aura in this book I’m reading

I’m reading a book called White Noise for my Black Comedy class. It seems so far to be a commentary on the ideas of “post-modernism” Pretty early in the novel, this exchange takes place between Jack Gladney (a professor/department head of Hitler Studies who is obsessed with his fear of dying) and his friend: 

“What was the barn like before it was photographed?” asks the friend (who is the department head of popular culture). I thought this was interesting because of the use of “aura” and mentions of photography, like we got in Benjamin.

 

Photography and Border Crossings

Apropos of two discussion points tonight, this photo-essay centers on life along the U.S.-Mexican border 80 years ago.

Given our discussion about capturing and reproducing reality, what are your thoughts? Keeping the Hindenburg discussion in mind (where reality was both captured, but also partially obscured), what do you think might be missing in these images? is there any way to “know” or would it all be speculation? More, to what degree do you think selectivity or framing come into play (i.e. that which is “in-frame” and also that which has been omitted/left “out-of-frame”)? And how, after 80 years, would we be able to know (one way or the other)?

The essay’s accompanying text asserts:

Lange’s images, while uniquely of their time, capture both the recognizable signs of bureaucracy and the timelessness of life on the periphery.

This harks to Carolina’s question about author’s intent. Do you find this (above) interpretation of the photographs persuasive? Or, reflective of our discussion of the recipient’s interpretive power, do you see other messages/ideas present in the photograph’s content.

Finally, do the photographs work as a unity to convey a meaning that departs from any one, in isolation. In short, like a syntagm, do the (photograph-) signs operate collectively as a system of meaning, independent of the individual (photo-) unit present within the paradigm (set)?

Ideology and Utopia

Dear FMS 040ers,

I wanted to apologize (a bit) for (the disorder of) last night–the technical glitches not only interfered with our rhythm, it also influenced our ability to work through the video examples (i.e. the empirical data that was intended to facilitate our epistemological work–to use terms from last night’s lecture). Hopefully, in subsequent classes we won’t have as much environmental interference, so that we can just roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.

So, as you saw (and heard), last night involved a goodly amount of lecture. Just so that you know, that is not my preferred style; but in this course, some amount of lecture is unavoidable. I will try to find ways around it, but (just a head’s up): on certain opaque or else congested topics, it will be unavoidable.

Apologies there, as well.

Anyway, while we are on the subject of the empirical/epistemological interface, if I might make a suggestion . . . perhaps you might care to think though the evidence provided as a means of better mastering it. For instance:

  • how does the Abbott and Costello routine help us process elements like paradigm, syntagm, convention, code, and system?
  • how do the Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders’ political ads help us understand the 3 elements of semiotics: sign, code, culture?
  • what aspects of those political ads help facilitate understanding of concepts associated with semiotics: sign, signification, denotation, connotation, constraint, motivation?
  • are elements from Plato’s allegory–form, representation, reality–discernible?
  • at a more advanced level, how would the Barthes model of connotation be applied to the political ads?

We will do a bit more work on these aspects in class next week (especially Barthes’ model of first and second order connotation)–so, head’s up there. Please feel free to work through some of these points in this space and/or post questions about this on the Wiki to help facilitate our classroom discussion next Tuesday.

One final dimension before closing . . .

Yesterday we identified a few heuristics that we might carry forth in our theorization of media, including:

  1. Plato’s allegory;
  2. Kuhn’s model of scientific (r)evolution; and
  3. Mannheim’s ideology and utopia.

Removing the third heuristic from the realm of theory, can you see specific instances of this dualism play out in the “real world” of experience?

In effect, rather than focusing on the form (theory, itself) do you see evidence of “ideology” and “utopia” at play in content (actual real world thought and action)?

Extra plus bonus points if you can discern evidence of ideology and utopia in media form or content, itself.

If you have thoughts on any of this, we’d all benefit from hearing them!

About the ‘Dicta’ page

This category (page) is the “free” space; the one where students with initiative or simply time to kill hanker to post something related to Media/Theory that may or may not have been on our primary radar. Dicta is not quite dross, but it also may not be on the mainline. It can be a follow-up to a reading, something mentioned in class that (you believe) warrants greater airing, an application one sees between the reading/lecture material and the world outside.

This is basically one of the “organic” aspects mentioned in the syllabus: a tool that contributes to on-going knowledge generation, shaping and growth.

For students looking to improve their grades, here’s one outlet. Your opportunity outside of class time to offer opinions, analysis, post links, make connections, ask questions, provide assistance to those who are uncertain about the material, offer one another encouragement and, otherwise, keep our intellectual community energized and focused on the course themes. If you have ambition and energy, here is where you can make a major impact.

In a word: if you are up for it, go for it!