McLuhan – The Medium is the Message

McLuhan brings up a lot of interesting ideas about “medium” and “content” that I believe broaden our pre-existing understanding of what falls into each category.

McLuhan speaks about the idea, that “characteristic of all media, means that the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” He then gives us the example of movies, which are a medium whose content could be a novel which is also a medium. I agree with this idea because content for most mediums in the sense of entertainment are other forms of medium. However, I don’t think that this idea can be extrapolated to all forms of medium which challenges McLuhan’s idea of medium, which is “any extension of ourselves.” Do you guys agree with McLuhan that a medium is any extension of ourselves or are there boundaries to what can be viewed as a medium? If there are boundaries can we agree that the content of the medium is another medium?

McLuhan also says that “the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” He then sites airplanes and railroads as being able to change the scale or pace of human affairs. What are your thoughts on this, does him bringing these technologies cloud our understanding of media and medium? Or do you think that the inclusion of these help strengthen his argument about mediums?


McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory

McQuail’s views on Mass Communication Theory was definitely an interesting read. Like any good novel excerpt his writings while informative created many questions for me.

One of the ideas that McQuail wrestles with is whether or not media actually has a substantial influence on the opinions of the people. He cites the effectiveness of using mass communication to broadcast propaganda during World War II as the mass media was essentially leveraged into broadcasting the opinions of the state. What do you think? Is Mass Media really as influential as McQuail makes it out to be? Personally I agree. Considering the way this current presidency is turning out it’s hard not to believe that Mass Media has at least some influence on people’s opinions.

Another key concept that McQuail touches on is the homogenization of culture. He believes that this is somehow correlated to the rise of Mass Media. Do you agree with him? I think it has much more to do with the increase in globalization. This allows people from far off regions easy communication and idea exchange which allows certain aspects of culture to spread.

Tying this in with what I ask in the wiki, what effects do you think that globalization and the internet have on Mass Media? Does it strengthen or weaken its influence? In my opinion the advent of the internet has largely democratized communication as it allows normal people to spread their messages just as far for much lower costs.

Odds and Ends: Theorizing “False News”, “Digital Aura”, Ong and Hypertext

Driving home from class last night I was replaying our conversations (as I generally do–I hope you all do, to some degree, too!).

One conversation centered on the Time-Out on “theory-testing” versus “theory-building”. I hope it was clear that the “levels of theorization” (macro, middle-range, micro) are (somehow) related to the selection of intellectual strategy: deductive versus inductive. While these are not fully linked/dependent elements, they are not mutually exclusive either.

Hence, if one is operating inductively–selecting evidence of “false news” (whatever that is) or (working perhaps more productively) collecting any news, then seeking to evaluate which bin (“false”, “truthful”) it belongs in–you may be able to work your way up to a middle range theorization (a “system”, say, or an “institution”, for example, or maybe a socio-cultural “milieu”); whether you can get to a macro (i.e. general, total, uniform) level of explanation is less clear/unlikely, but at least you’ve moved from evidence to some sort of “theorization”.

By the same token, I am skeptical that “fake news” can work top-down as a grand/macro theorization (since, it seems more likely evidence of a larger, but different phenomenon). Stated alternatively, while fake news may facilitate testing of some sort of theory regarding media, that theory would seem to be about something larger than fake news, itself. As such, fake news would be the phenomenon, but the architecture or structural dynamics generating that phenomena would likely be something different. In any case, in a theory-testing approach, fake news might be an aspect of this larger something that you would be focusing on as you sought to confirm or reject the hypothesis you had formulated about that larger thing.

So, bottom line, the study of “fake news” may belong in media theorization, but its actual place in/relationship to media theory is less clear.

One thing that I would encourage you all to do, though, is to keep the topic somewhere near the fore of consciousness as we enter the effects, political economy and audience sections of our reading. It ought to gain in both dimension and relevance, moving forward.

Continue reading

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.


Thoughts on Ong’s Orality and Literacy

Hi, sorry, if this up a little late. I’ve been reading Ong for the last two days, and I found it really dense to get through. He mentions things that I find very interesting, but I also feel that the book tries to cover way too much in a little amount of pages.

I found Ong’s look on orality refreshing because we usually hear about how people are always trying to achieve higher literacy, but we never hear about the orality aspect. Like Ong, I feel that Orality is very important to understand because, without it, there would be no literacy. I was really interested in reading about how pure Orality makes people hold more within their minds and have much larger capabilities within the realm of memory. I always feel that I understand something way better when I say it out loud, but this also had me thinking about when I read things in my head. I always say the words in my head as I read them. It’s the only way I can concentrate. It’s as if literacy is nothing without the power of orality? How do you guys read things? Do you say them out loud, in your head, not at all? I’ve always wondered about this.

Also, I’m curious about orality when it comes to talking to one’s self. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I constantly talk to myself. It’s something I’ve done since I was little, and my mom always called me out. Ong says that orality gets its meaning through communication and having someone there to hear, but I certainly don’t need anyone else around to talk to myself. Sometimes, I get over some personal obstacles better if I talk to myself. Anyone else feel like Ong is missing something by not including this? Also, do you guys ever talk to yourselves? Is it out loud or in your head?

Finally, I mentioned this a bit in the wiki, but I wonder how this new era in blogging and social media affects how Goody/Ong see backtracking in literature. In my wiki post I asked what happens when the literature is posted online, and therefore can never truly be deleted? I also wonder how screen shots figure into this. People constantly screen shot posts and share them with others. I think of celebs who post something controversial and take it down, but then, find screen shots of their posts on articles. Even if they did try to erase their message, they truly can’t. It’s out there forever.

Berger, on “The Art of Seeing”

Class ended last night before we could debrief regarding the film we watched: part I of the BBC documentary, The Art of Seeing. I wonder what some of your thoughts/takeaways might have been?

From a pedagogical perspective, my hope is that you could peer beyond the quaint 1970s patterned shirts, flared pants and shaggy hair styles and hear beneath the distracting pops, hisses and crackles of the crude video copy to truly “see”. What did I hope might have come into focus?

  • the idea of decomposing a larger tableaux, for one. Of being able to tell multiple (not necessarily consonant) stories by simply shifting the frame or isolating a particular aspect of content within any single “mediation”.
  • or how about recognizing that an image may speak to us in different ways if it is viewed in silence ; then, again, when viewed accompanied by varying sonorities (narration, a canned soundtrack, electronic compositions, a range of genres from opera to classical/chamber to jazz to pop).
  • how about the idea that the meaning of images (or moving visuals or other media products) can be influenced by the products that are sampled before or after our encounter with them; in short, that there is a “modifier effect” at work when media operate or when their content is processed as part of a larger, connected fabric.
  • consider also the idea that a medium (like a church or a museum) can contain content (like frescoesor, icons or relics), but those contents, themselves, can serve as media for transmitting other messages or abetting other human (social, communication, political, economic) acts. The same is surely true for a device, like the desktop or laptop or tablet or phone that you are currently reading this message on.
  • how about the notion (undoubtedly inspired by Benjamin and reprised in slightly different form by Sontag) that reproduction has stripped works of art of their particular (i.e. individual, unique) character, while investing them with a general (i.e. widely accessible, widely-disseminated) nature, thereby enabling greater consumption, more varied uses and, potentially, even more enormous cultural power?
  • what did you make of the argument (implicit though it was) that interpretation (in the form of the written “authoritative” word) was an impediment–even a block–on sense-making? Were you persuaded by the final segment where adolescents were asked to deconstruct the signs, to decipher denotation and work toward connotation (in ways that seemed to bespeak factors like gender)? Do you suppose, I might then ask, that factors like social class or race or geographical location or political ideology might also end up influencing how one encounters media (i.e. how they “see”, “hear”, “taste”, “smell”, “feel”)?

So, that is a partial list. A good (enough) place to start, I suppose. I am sure there are some points I’ve glossed over or neglected. And I would encourage you to add to the list, if you wish.

But after that, what other steps might you take? Well, perhaps you could critically assess Berger’s claims. For instance, forty years on, do they still hold value? Apply the ideas above to specific cases taken from the sense world surrounding you. How do Berger’s ideas fare? Widen the circle beyond painting . . . are these ideas applicable to other media? Could some of the ideas above be applied to other mediations–other media and their products? And, if so, which ones, in which ways, with what observed results?

You might give that a bit of a go as the week advances. I’d be interested to learn what you discover.

Perhaps we can take this up a bit at the beginning of next Tuesday’s class.

Mechanical Reproduction of Art in the Internet Age

Firstly, I want to apologize for how late this blog post is–earlier this week, I was very sick then went out of town for a comedy festival. Hopefully, people still have time to comment engage with this post before class tomorrow night! 


In XII, Benjamin asserts, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.” If it is true that artworks have gone from being cult experiences, where few people had access to things like cave paintings or holy statues, to being interpreted based on their ease of exhibition and of reproduction, then it’s pretty easy to see that the very idea of what constitutes as “art” has shifted tremendously since the invention of the photograph. Benjamin points out that even after photography was invented, film was introduced another reproduction that, though it’s arguably less “real” than stage performances, reaches a huge audience.


Around Part X, Benjamin points out that with the rise of film and with the ease of publishing in the last century, the distinction between “author” and “public” became blurry. This made me think about the Internet. Not only is there ease of exhibition unlike anything the world has ever seen, but there are also millions of channels through which people can express their ideas and create art.


What do you think Benjamin would have to say about Internet things like memes (easily reproducible, and difficult to trace back to a singular author) and Facebook Live videos? Are they art just because of the large audience? How has the Internet changed contemporary perceptions of art and in what ways is this change similar to/different from the changes that Benjamin points out stemming from the introduction of photography and film?

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!

Thinking through Signs

Welcome to the first (formal) blog thread.

Last night we discussed what is and is not a medium, as well as the relationship that content has to various media. We also spoke a bit about certain processes associated with media existence and activity, in addition to (potential) impacts arising (from media activity) out in the social world . . . I know, it was a lot to take in.

Now, in our first reading, by John Fiske, the focus seems to be less on media than on content. Specifically, the reading centers on “signs” and how this relates to: (1) human communication, and (2) how signs might be formalized into a coherent “system” of meaning.

Building on this reading, think a bit about any of the following:

  1. sign language
  2. body language/gesture
  3. written script
  4. spoken words
  5. sound
  6. music
  7. odor
  8. taste
  9. emoji

What place do any (or all) have in a theory of signs? How are they related to our understanding of communication. How do any of these operate (concretely) as signs and/or within a hermetic system of meaning?

Identify an example (or two) of one of these (above elements) and explain it/them using some of the ideas or concepts in the Fiske reading.

Finally, is media’s role in this exercise: negligible, pervasive, or case-by-case (situational)?

{I know–it sounds like an essay prompt. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Write about whatever strikes your fancy, and no more than 1 to 3 paragraphs is expected. [Some writers, of course, can’t help themselves and before they know it, have penned 7 or 12!]}