Monday, February 28, 2011
I wanted to share this reading I found called "Women's Work" by Lynn Spiegel. The reading relates a lot to Cohen and I saw several common themes, especially when discussing the gender roles and class that Cohen went into great detail about. The very first paragraph talks about the "TV-stove" in 1952, a stove with a TV built in above the oven window. I thought this was interesting because of how much Cohen discussed appliances as benefiting the public good and such. The reading goes on to a more in-depth discussion about the development of television and women, but it is an interesting read and a nice addition to the Cohen reading for the week!
I think there is a fundamental difference between food practices in the 30s and today. People were protesting that food was too expensive to buy during the Great Depression, whereas today, some people are upset that food is unhealthy. Why we won't see protests on the scale of the 30s regarding food is that today's food is cheap, and especially during a recession, cheap is good. It is no surprise to the success of dollar menus in every fast food franchise. The food may be unhealthy, but I can afford it. On the other hand, if I want healthy food, I have to pay Whole Foods prices. The percentage of the population that can afford to pay high prices for food is small. Will people protest high prices on certain foods when others are incredibly cheap? There has been outrage about fast food since Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation, and Food Inc., yet we have seen no major changes. Maybe that is some evidence that the old ways of mobilizing people have changed, or evidence that the socialization power of mass media have so thoroughly convinced us that more consumption is better that we don't fight back.
In Political Feeling, Hart makes the argument that television has changed the way politics work; that “modern politics requires mastery of television.” This made me wonder, and I pose this question for the class;
If television changed politics for the 1992 election, what did Internet do to the 2008 election?
Then, if would so choose, another question is;
How will our networked media affect (or change) politics for the 2012 election?
One point Roderick Hart makes concerning the influence of television on American democracy is that the proliferation of coverage makes it so that television “now tells us how to feel about politics” (8). I have recently become intrigued by the ways American news media has shaped national conceptualizations of protest and protesters. In the last several months one emerging topoi in mediated constructions of politics has been the notion of the protest. Tea Party demonstrations, for instance, were quickly labeled as a 21st century social movement due to their large attendance and networked minded leadership. While those on the political right quickly proclaimed a rejuvenated sense of civic participation, others portrayed the Tea Party through frames of irrationality and racism. Conversely, those on the political left have recently been rather positive in their reception of the labor protests in Wisconsin, at the same time that pundits on the right have cried foul. I think it is useful for us to consider the framing of protests and protesters because Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumer Republic shows just have influential early feminist and African American protests were in establishing the notion of “citizen consumers” (8). Ironically, Cohen goes on to note that opponents of consumer focused economics resisted such efforts by labeling them as communist and anti-business (59). The political reforms enacted following the 2007 recession have been labeled along similar lines. I do think it is worth discussing however, that mass demonstrations in the forms of boycotts, marches, and sit-ins have become less utilized in comparison to the 30’s and 70’s. How can we account for this? Is it possible that television coverage has given us a poor perception of protest? Or, is our networked society bringing protest back? How would our news media cover the protests against food prices by 1930's women?
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Mohammed says that he loves American culture, aside from its foreign policy, but yet he seems to be racing to make Dubai BIGGER and BETTER than the U.S. Its massive growth in architecture is particularly impressive. He seems to equate prestige and success with over-the-top architecture and industrial growth – building the world’s tallest building, biggest shopping center, man-made islands, etc.
The frenetic pace of growth in the region has had some negative implications on the culture. To scratch the surface, human trafficking and exploitive labor practices have been two major social consequences. It also seems like Dubai’s culture is based solely on commercial activity and corporate interests, rather than more “enriching” things like art or philosophy.
Echoing Innis, Dubai’s intense period of culture activity seems to be reaching the inevitable fatigue stage. Since 2008, Dubai’s ability to expand seemed to have been tapped out with the decline of the real estate markets and the cost of infrastructure problems.
I use this example because, in a way, I feel that Dubai’s “new” culture is a sad reflection of our materialistic, consumer-driven culture in the U.S. It is fascinating how a place on the other side of the world could be striving to emulate and even “top” American commercialism. Surely, without the advent of mass communication, people in the Middle East would not be so heavily influenced by American culture. I remember not being aware of Dubai before 60 Minutes did a story on it in 2007. Through television, I was able to learn about the changes that were taking place in the region. I recall feeling disgusted at the amount of excess, greed, and waste behind Dubai’s growth…which is a direct product of the Western culture in which we are engrained.
Maybe I’m off-track here, but the type of civilization in Dubai seems to be on a path to self-destruction.
Are the people behind the growth of Dubai trying to strengthen Middle East culture by becoming more “Western” or are they attempting to weaken American culture in some way by becoming bigger and better? OR – is the main motivation just plain greed?
Is Dubai’s metamorphosis into a commercial capital of the world a reflection of a civilization that is improving (i.e. becoming more democratic) or declining (i.e. too much emphasis on money, material goods)?
60 Minutes: "Dubai, Inc. - Part 1"
Photo Slide Show: "Off the Deep End: The Decline of Dubai" (FastCompany.com)
Monday, February 14, 2011
“It is perhaps a unique characteristic of civilizations that each civilization believes in its uniqueness and its superiority to other civilizations. Indeed this may be the meaning of culture – i.e., something which we have that others have not. It is probably for this reason that writings on culture can be divided into those attempting to weaken other cultures and those attempting to strengthen their own.”
In response to Jessy's question.
In my estimation, I would say that media does a play a part in “normalizing” violence. But not through fictional TV shows, but through non-fiction showing the violence that happens around us. In a recent blog posted on UNL, some of our very owned sociologists surveyed hundreds of adults about how often they watched various kinds of crime TV – made-up dramas, documentary-style “real crime” programs, and local and national news. They found that how each type of program depicts crime was a factor in viewers’ opinions on everything from their fear of crime to their confidence in the justice system to their support of the death penalty.
You can read the whole article here.
Some of the key finding posted in the blog are:
- The more frequently people watched non-fiction crime documentaries like “The First 48” or “Dateline,” the more fearful they were of becoming a crime victim. They also were less supportive of and less confident in the criminal justice system and said they believed the national crime rate was climbing.
- Frequent viewers of fictional crime dramas were not affected by the programming to believe they would become crime victims, and their support of and confidence in the criminal justice system also was unaffected by their viewing habits. Interestingly, though, the more frequently they watched crime dramas, the more certain they were in their support of the death penalty.
- The more often people watched crime coverage on the local news, the more they believed that the local crime rate was increasing.
Based on these findings, yes TV is leading us to “normalize” violence, but not from CSI, but the News at 10.
Monday, February 7, 2011
I was really struck by Hokheimer and Adorno's (1969) views on success becoming viewed as chance as opposed to hard work. They state that it is blind chance on what song becomes a hit, or who becomes a movie star. The culture industry strives to show how we are all alike, and in this "sameness" we lose individuality. "[G]iven men's equality, individual success and failure-right up to the top-lose any economic meaning." (p. 146). I see this thought of chance or luck throughout all aspects of society. This person got this job or that promotion because of who they know as opposed to hard work. That person achieved fame because they were in the right place at the right time (the golden voice homeless guy). Success is based on "who draws the winning ticket (p. 145). That line summed up their whole argument for me, as it made me think of the short story, "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson, and it's modern day South Park remake. In the story, the tradition and importance of the ritual and all it's art has been diminished. The town goes through the motions of the ritual because they always have. The townsfolk go along with the ritual even forgetting the reason behind it, and happily stone a person for the sake of the town. South Park updates this story for today, and it eerily reflects the lottery of becoming successful that Adorno speaks. A higher power of someone in the pleasure industry, as Adorno puts it, chooses someone to represent the ideal of average. That person is then used up and tossed away for the next ideal representation of average. As in the original "Lottery," a person is sacrificed for the satiation of the townsfolk. You can watch the South Park episode here.
This is known as the Mere Exposure Effect (Zajonc). Just mere exposure to something increases affect. So the more the record label buys spins at the radio station, the more we will like a song.
I had to add this to the mix... just to poke a little fun at those who turn their noses up at anything with mainstream appeal, ha. Here is a video clip from the 90's HBO series "Mr. Show." (Skip to 1:05 to hear David Cross' snobby character comment on mass culture -- or not. I think it's a pretty funny sketch.)
After digesting this week's readings, I was inspired to share with you the work of artist Scott Blake. Blake lives in Omaha and has become well known in recent years as the "Barcode Artist." (And he just happens to be the fiancé of my friend Sara.) Blake has managed to take the ubiquitous black lines and digits that we see on everyday consumer goods and make them into interactive, multi-media works of art. For example, if one scans a single barcode in the portrait of Ozzy Osbourne, they will hear a specific song from the Ozzy/Black Sabbath catalogues. (Blake reproduces barcodes from real products using Photoshop.)
Blake’s work perfectly reflects our mass consumption/mass entertainment culture— while stretching our notions of what can be considered fine art. I wonder what Walter Benjamin would think of this form of artistic expression? The barcode is hardly considered “distant” from daily life. In fact, barcodes are so close to us we are practically trained to ignore them. They appear on the surface to be universal, mass-produced symbols, but Blake transforms them into “unique” works that take the shape of 8-foot tall pop-culture icons, dictate the Bible, and turn into flip-books, among other things.
Question: Is Blake's "barcode art" simply a Warhol-esque gimmick that loosely comments on the 21st century, commodity-driven masses— or, dare I say, does this barcode art produce an “auratic experience” that didn’t exist before?
"Demons." It's a song about demons.
Do forgive the gentleman at the beginning. He has demons.
Jessy, Adam, and Kathy respectively inquire into whether any contemporary art can actually be original, the impact of authorship on/with widespread dissemination, and the effect of profit margins on media outlets on/with the maintenance of the status quo. Adam made a good point when he showed us the similarity between "Louie Louie" and the subsequent chart-topppers utilizing the exact same chord progression. Kelynne's post last week also clearly relates well. While it might be a stretch to suggest that Nirvana listened to "Louie Louie" and then thought it'd be a brilliant idea to put it into a grunge song might be a stretch, grunge itself came from another genre, which came from another genre, which might have been inspired by a particular band or artist, who had written a particular song also using the "Louie Louie" chord progression, who was inspired by it after it was popularized by rock n' roll cover artists, who obviously appreciated Richard Berry's original. In other words, the inspiration probably wasn't so much the original, but the canonization of the original through time, context, and market forces, suggesting that the style was so "effective" that it could be reproduced time and time again with success. No one did so deliberately, but the cumulative effect is the same.
In speaking of the music industry, however, I feel that we often casually glance askance at music which, by most measures, cannot be qualified by what have become industry standards or mainstays. The aforementioned chord progression is a good example, as is the incessant verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure of most radio play.
What better way to extend the conversation than everyone's favorite non-marketable subgenre of music, death metal?
It seems as though we're caught in a perpetual cycle whereby whatever predominates in the status quo might as well define the oppositional genres which emerge out of them. For example, Rigor Mortis became popular in the metal underground towards the mid- to late-1980s largely because they played way faster than a.) all the other underground bands, and b.) whatever single was on the radio. That level of proficiency was rare in the underground back then, and a popular myth is that Metallica once reached out to Rigor Mortis to co-headline a tour but canceled the entire thing after Kirk Hammett went to a Rigor Mortis show and realized that he couldn't play anywhere near as fast as Mike Scaccia. Metallica exploded, Rigor Mortis stayed in smoky clubs.
Slayer came next. Where most other metal bands worked within conventional structure, especially with the explosion of glam bands like Guns n' Roses, Poison, Cinderella and the like, Slayer took all of the speed and complexity of Rigor Mortis and did away with their structure entirely (watch "Demons," it's essentially verse-chorus-verse), packaging it into song progressions that were more reminiscent of classical music than the confines of pop. Notice the lack of this formula in one of their more famous songs, which was once on an episode of South Park:
This firmly characterized the development of death metal in 1987 when the band Death, from whom the entire genre took its name, released "Scream Bloody Gore," characterized by what we now know as "the death growl" and even more pronounced technical complexity. The genre has ebbed and flowed to various degrees since then, but it continues to take roots in an outright rejection of that which is marketable. A personal favorite is Nile, an ancient Egypt-themed death metal band formed by an actual Egyptologist.
That's not even the whole song; it's cut short by a minute. You'll never hear a 12-minute song on the radio, let alone one that sounds like a Nile song.
The genre is extremely broad as a result of its various underpinnings. Contrast Nile to Opeth, whom most consider to be a "progressive" band in the molding of Rush, Radiohead, and Dream Theatre but with death metal elements:
In the 2000s, in particular, newer bands are shifting even further away from conventional form and structure towards what most are calling "post-metal." The label is a source of contention.
In returning to my original premise, though, my argument is that, yes, art can be "original" within contemporary context, but it depends heavily on what happens to be popular at the time, and what is popular is strongly encouraged by that which is marketable and accessible. I believe this answers all three questions at once. Death metal and its various derivatives have maintained their following over the years because of its emphasis on artistic merits which differ from those in the mainstream, and its sheer breadth is indicative of this; if you think about it, popular music is remarkably narrow-minded. I agree with Horkheimer when he states, "The truth of ideas is demonstrated not when they are held fast but when they are driven further" (p. 164). This is not to suggest that there is no merit in the popular, but that most of what expands the boundaries of the art form has recently tended to occur and thrive outside the boundaries of a profit margin.
I love music. I have always been a fan; though my tastes have changed over the years, then reverted, then reverted again. Thus, I found MacDougald Jr.’s piece, “The Popular Music industry” very interesting.
“Now a song is introduced, exploited and ‘played to death’ all within a corresponding period of a few month.” Sound familiar to anyone? If I didn’t know any better, MacDougald Jr. couldn’t have written this yesterday not in 1942. I mean, if we think about it, who remembers what was at the top of the charts say 3 months ago? But’s that’s what radio does; they drum into our heads a song over and over again until we like it. It’s the same thing with broccoli, you eat it long enough; you forget that you didn’t like the taste to begin with.
Is that where our world is at today? Is the music industry so busy to find what’s next that they forget about today? Or, are our attention spans so short, that the music industry is just trying to keep up with us? I guess it comes down to, what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Either way, I think MacDougand Jr, makes a very valid point that we as an audience are merely accepting music as standard without active resentment or interest. Because what’s the point, I wont remember it next week.
The part of the reading that really captured my attention was the nature of "art" in a mass mediated society. The articles, especially Adorno and Horkheimer really get to the point when they argue that the content of our entertainment itself is derived from cyclically recurrent and invariable types. "The details are interchangeable....one can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come" (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1969, p. 125). This reminded me of a bad high school informative speech I gave about the song "Louie Louie." (Interesting side-note...the song has 1,600 known variations and was played at KFJC in California for 63 hours straight without repeating the same song twice.)
Here's the link, I feel that the song "Louie Louie" is a very interesting case study for our readings, as the song itself has had many re-births and is the foundation for countless songs that followed. For example listen to the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie," then Boston's "More Than a Feeling," & Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" each is utilizing the very same chord progression! If feel that this is an example of Bejamin's contention that "reproduction is more independent of the original than manual reproduction" bringing-out aspects of the original not visible by the naked eye, while "putting a copy of the original in situations where it would not normally be" (p. 2).
So my question of the class is: "Have we yet been able to 'reinvent the wheel' in terms of art in the 21st century; or are we simply re-mixing the past into new, yet thoroughly unoriginal, forms?
I am going to try to not be too frenetic even though there's a lot of territory to cover. We can spillover into the coming weeks if need be. We'll start off with a discussion of last week's readings and then move into the Culture Industry readings later...and I anticipate beginning next week's class with a continuation of that discussion.
I will also circulate a sheet tomorrow asking people to write down the book they plan on reviewing; so if you haven't figured out one yet spend some time today doing so!
Saturday, February 5, 2011
But I wonder about today’s niched, networked society and what Adorno would say about that. In the media business, we focus on our generalized and niched audiences. On the one hand, the Lincoln Journal Star has to serve a very general audience. We are supposed to provide news and information that interests and is relevant to all the people of Lincoln, Neb., whether that reader is an 86-year-old lifelong Nebraskan or a 20-year-old UNL student who recently moved here from out of state, or anyone in between.
So in addition we provide products that serve niched audiences in hopes of reaching more specific audiences with news (and advertising) they want. So we offer sports and health magazines and other special sections. We used to produce a Spanish-language newspaper. However, one of the most important aspects of these niche products, at least to the Journal Star bottom line: keeping these products profitable. Some are; some aren’t.
Another challenge: In a networked world, if the major media companies don’t or can’t provide this news, someone else will. If you’re a 20-year-old Lincolnite with a huge interest in the most cutting-edge dance music now being played at the biggest clubs in New York City (for example), you can find blogs and information all over the web for that; you can find all the right people with all the right knowledge on Twitter and Facebook. You don’t need to find that news in the Lincoln Journal Star. And often these bloggers (or tweeters or Facebook friends) are (usually) blogging or writing for free, so they don’t have to worry about staying profitable.
(I use that example for a reason. When I spoke to a journalism class about my work in the Journal Star’s features sections, one person in the class urged me to include more news about New York City’s dance-club scene. That, he said, would make him buy the paper. Further proof that we can’t keep everyone happy all the time.)
So I guess the question is: Do niche news / information providers mean that the culture industry these days isn’t so much about toeing the line? Or does the ever-present need for most media providers to stay profitable perpetuate the status quo?
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The camera was no where near as intrusive as it is today, yet Mumford seems to have predicted what happens when a reproduction can be used to reflect reality. People put on different faces for the camera. How many people today and famous for being famous. Caught on camera, or willingly choosing to be on camera, to play a character. From reality tv, to youtube, to facebook, to the cellphone camera, we are always potentially being captured on camera, and those images are used to create reality. How many jobs are lost or people fired because of captured images? Homeless men with golden voices. The Paris Hiltons pretending to be dumb and slutty because that's what sells. Millions on Facebook and online dating services desparately attempting to create an artifical picture of themselves.
Mumford ends the essay stating that the camera has great potential to improve society. He writes, "they demand a nicer sensitivenss and a higher intelligence." But he concludes that "if these inventions have so far made monkeys of us, it is because we are still monkeys." Seventy years later, and these inventions are still making monkeys out of us.
Recent Protests in Egypt Challenge Assumptions About Social Media Influence