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).

3 thoughts on “Bringing Things to Conclusion

  1. What I think about when I think of the evolution from representation to reality is the creation of ads. Like Reality TV loglines, adds start off as creative ideas, they are then transferred to paper by pen or through a keyboard, then they are filmed with cameras, and finally they are shared with the public through TV/Youtube/etc. Creating an ad is a highly mediated process (pen, keyboard, camera, TV, Youtube). Along the way, different execs give imput and make changes. Then producers and directors also make changes and the camera used will have an effect on the presentation of the final product. Finally, as we learned earlier in this class, the audience makes different meanings of the ads. Different people make different meanings. What originally started as a creative idea turns into something widely different in the end. Mediation changes the course of the message and sometimes even the meaning. Sometimes this is a good thing that helps people identify with the messages in the ads. Sometimes, it’s a bad thing, and the message is lost, and something new is percieved–such as the recent Pepsi ad. It’s hard to keep the message from changing in such a mediated process because the different media add to the meaning of the message. The form affects the content. The medium is the message. This is not necessariy good because the original idea or meaning is constantly loss, and it shows a shift from ads with one clear message to ads that have many different influences and hidden messages—something that can be harmful to the company’s marketing strategy (pepsi) and confusing to the target audience.

  2. When I think about the line from the cave to Disneyland, I think about the emphasis of media determining social outcome. In terms of form, the constant progression of media platforms, from pen and paper to virtual reality, not only allow individuals to create individual content, but also gives power to those who control media to deeply influence the way we think as humans and shape the societal norms. I think a great example of this is how gender is displayed in both content and form. The media shapes the way children identify gender norms within film and television, as well as toys and clothes. The representation of what it means to be a man or a woman becomes reality to parents who teach their children how to behave.

    Overall, I think the consequences of these developments may lead to the media industry being able to brainwash society with the content being produced, in the way that propaganda has been used for centuries or “fake news” is used to influence how we perceive government officials. I think there is a lot less transparency between information and entertainment in our society. Both channels interact with each other simultaneously. It is often hard to determine the true intent of the message. These progressions in media forms and content will continue to blur reality because they are only representations of the truth. The true reality can never be replicated because of the power of human influence.

  3. What I think about when I think about representation to reality, is the creation of novels. Like any creative entity, they start off as an idea that is then put into writing that then gets published. The impact of the stories themselves can range from only impacting a few people to being physically recreated, like Harry Potter World at Universal Studios. Similar to creating an ad, writing a novel is a process that brings together contributors on all sides; the story is told primarily by one person but along the process of publishing and putting together a film, producers and executives all have to weigh into the process. These stories then give power to the author and those who help in the process about the different messages about society, gender, class, and sexuality that then we as an audience pick in forming our identities. For instance, the message from novels like Lord of the Rings which reinforces Christian ideals, then becoming a source that audiences turn to and reflect similar ideals. I think that with the growing influential power of different media outlets will only increase and soon the executives that control the media industry will be able to a lesser degree control the way that people view the world. The things that people find important and the values that people want to uphold will be things that they are seeing in media or reading in books.

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