Monday, February 28, 2011

Governing and the public

The section of the reading that stuck out to me this week was when Hart explained how critical discourse can be restricted by television consumption of politics. Hart said, "heavy television watchers know precious little about how they are governed" (p. 12). This claim illustrates a problem with consumer politics in that people do not critically evaluate the "how" of policy options, only their impacts. The implication of this is that television viewership actually constrains opportunities for critical discourse about governmental function. A talking point in the public sphere could be about how Congress spends money in specific instances, but instead seems to blend into a conversation about how spending in general is either good or bad. The nuance of the discussion is lost in the generalization. Knowing how you are governed and how that governance could be changed for your benefit would greatly alter the larger political conversation, so the question I have becomes: do networked publics offer a solution to this generalization brought about by televised media. While the internet may be too vast for any one person to know everything, doesn't the idea of a networked group at least open up the potential for the sort of "attention" to a specific political instance that could alter discourse? Whether small or large scale, I think the potential of networked publics may offer some solutions to the problems Hart identified.

Interesting additional reading!

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!

Response to Stephanie's Post

I don't know why I can't post a comment to Stephanie's blog, so the following is my comment:

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.

The North Platte Canteen

In Cohen's Rise of the Citizen Consumer, she speaks of the role of the citizen consumer that gained representation and a political voice through buying power and consumption. In doing so, traditionally marginalized voices (women and African Americans) could gain power and civic authority through their role as a consumer (p. 63).  Significantly, during WWII white American women gained the ability to wield not only their power as consumers, but also within traditionally male dominated active public roles (p. 81).  This transition worked due to media's ability to make connections outside the traditional neighborhood that many Americans had operated in during the 20's and the Great Depression (p. 38); and the fact that as consumption was moved into the civic real during the war giving women a larger stake within political participation (p. 84).  I have attached a (somewhat campy) video of the North Platte Canteen. An organization where women would exercise their dual role of active public agents as well as citizen consumers operating within the confines of war-time rationing.  Pay particular attention to the add that flashes at the 1:31 where Rae Wilson urges the women of Western Nebraska to "do something and do it in a hurry! We can help in this way when we can't help in any other." It is statements like this that illustrate the significance American's placed on the role citizen consumerism, while showing the women of the region growing into the now vacant public agent roles.

Revival of consumer consciousness

In the first chapter of a "Consumer's Republic," author Lizabeth Cohen discusses the wave of active consumerism that evolved during the Depression era. Following WWI, people began purchasing mass goods based on the fact they had increasing leisure time and better wages to support a newfound "American Standard of Living" (Cohen 22). As mass production and mass buying kicked into full swing, however, manufacturers and advertisers began deploying deceptive advertising techniques and jacking up prices to higher rates than consumers were willing to spend. So, consumers took action, and a strong percentage of activists were women.

I thought it was interesting how women's consumer clubs were not taken seriously, until the economy hit rock bottom. "The depression, however,...brought the consumer interest to the fore in the already organized women's organizations" (Cohen 33). This can be easily related to a revival of consumer consciousness since the Great Recession in the last few years. One of the sectors that stands out fairly prominently to me is the food industry. The economy of the 1990s and early 2000s led consumers to adopt more convenient practices with how they purchased food at grocery stores and dined out at fast food chains. People had the money, so why not go for a quick meal? Brands took advantage of consumers' negligence over what they were buying. They increased the amount of artificial, cheaper ingredients and marketed products as "healthier" options. I posted an article below about a recent McDonald's campaign that shows just one example of marketing tactics and consumers' tendency to trust brands in providing them healthy food. However, there has been growing criticism of major food brands and fast food chains that fail to divulge information that might make consumers think twice about buying their products. I've seen a lot of articles like this and many people are starting to question their entire diet, making more informed purchasing decisions. I think the Great Recession made people look a little more closely at what they were buying and journalists have seen viral success with articles highlighting corporate misdeeds. I think we're experiencing another revival of consumer consciousness and I expect to see more legislation in the food industry because of it.

Modern politics requires mastery of what?

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?

Media Event and Protesting

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

The Decline of Dubai: Modern Day Gold Rush & Doubious Cultural Values

After reading Harold Innis' article about industrialism and cultural values, I was reminded of the tremendous growth of Dubai in the Middle East. It is mind-boggling to see the rate at which Dubai has developed in terms of the amount of residents, tourists, real estate properties, and commercial endeavors in the last decade under the leadership of its ambitious ruler, Sheikh Mohammed.

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.

Some questions:

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" (

Monday, February 14, 2011

Part III Readings: The American Dream and Its Discontents (Part I)

From The bias of communication
Harold Innis
“Each civilizations has its own methods of suicide.”

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.”

·      The ways in which we think about ourselves, and our culture, are in fact a product of our culture.   We become engrained within our own culture.  This culture becomes a part of us, and thus we are not able to determine/recognize its true characteristics.

·      Cultures reflect influences in terms of space (how large of area?)  and duration (how long did they last?).  When art and science find perfection, they subsequently regress and do not return to that point of perfection. Innis believe that an intense period of culture activity (evident in architecture, art and sculpture) is almost certainly followed by a period of fatigue.

·      Architecture able to impact the masses over a large area (ancient Egyptian pyramids) and to develop prestige. Often it is used as an index of power, influence, and control – not just over space, but also over time. “All progress is based upon a universal innate desire on the part of every organism to live beyond its income.”

From Hollywood:  The dream Factory (1950)
Hortense Powdermaker

Deep layers of magical thinking still remain in the unconscious of modern men and sometimes on the conscious level too.  We may unconsciously or consciously long for a magical helper and for miracles; but we know that writing a book, getting a job, or making a garden depends on hard work, knowledge, ability and planning, rather than on coercing the supernatural; we usually act on this awareness.”

·      Over time, this idea of ‘magical thinking’ has retreated more and more into an unconscious awareness.  Modern civilization has progressed to a constant awareness of logic and rationale – we are aware of reality and our experiences within that reality.

“We may vaguely feel that disease can be the work of an evil spirit or a punishment for sin, but when we become ill we consult a doctor, who utilizes the latest scientific developments in medicine.”

·      In Hollywood, we find a greater awareness and consciousness of ‘magical thinking’. Within the film industry, we find that individuals attribute their success to luck and other forces existing beyond their control. Such individuals truly believe that this magical process is a necessary and integral part of film production. There are two main characteristics of thinking in Hollywood, this belief in luck or “catching breaks,” and confusion between animate and inanimate objects.

·      Primitive men sacrificed things they believed to be most valuable – food, animals and even human life, in order to satisfy this magical and supernatural phenomena. In contrast, Hollywood sacrifices talent and intellectual thinking. Human properties such as imagination and creativity are utilized in minimal ways  - people in Hollywood have more intellectual abilities than they use.  Powdermaker asserts that, “No salary can compensate for being dehumanized.” 

“The basic problem of Hollywood lies in man.”

From the Lonely Crowd (1950)
David Riesman, with Reuel Denney and Nathan Glazer

“The book captures the spirit of a moment when Americans were uneasy about the changes wrought by suburbanization, consumption, prosperity, and mass media.  It introduces the terms “inner directed” and “outer directed” – that is, those guided by internal mechanisms versus those who look toward other people and mass media for orientation – both of which quickly entered popular consciousness.”

·      In young peer groups, language is consumed as a product, much like that of popular music.  Not only is it used as a set of parameters by which individuals participate in self-socializing peer-groups, it also serves as a source of power and control. 

·      For insiders, language plays a primary role in identifying the ‘mood currents’ present in a peer group at any given time.  For outsiders, including the adult observers, language serves as a means to orally carry peer-group messages from generation to generation.

·      Storytellers play an intricate role in the socialization of children.  They not only provide the child with a vision of the world, they also shape the form and limits of the child’s thoughts, memory and imagination. 

From Look (1950)
David Sarnoff

“It is within the range of possibility now that events across the seas will one day be visible at the moment they happen to anyone within reach of a television set.”

·      Sarnoff maintainted that television would help to unify the world and would promote ‘brotherhood’ across oceans and continents.  It would allow people to experience the world from their own home front, and would provide first-hand experiences to audiences across the globe.

·      Television presented an opportunity to ‘sell democracy’ abroad.  It offered a way in which American life both seen and heard.

·      Sarnoff believed that international television would help to establish close ties of understanding amongst the peoples of the world  and would ultimately preserve peace across cultures

Normalizing Violence

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.

link that works...

apparently that link was unresponsive, hopefully this one will be successful!

"water cooler conversation" blur the insider outsider lines?

I was particularly interested in the first reading we were assigned this week, "Storytellers as Tutors in Technique" by David Riesman, with Ruel Denney and Nathan Glazer. While doing some research for a presentation in another class I came across this video about a pop culture writer discussing why he loves his career. He states that it's somewhat "water cooler conversation" and its subject matter is something everyone can come together and agree on. This got me thinking about this reading and whether or not there truly is something that people can agree upon when it comes to communication and media. The passage that stuck out to me from the reading is found on page 294. "For the insiders language becomes a chief key to the taste socializations and mood currents that are prevalent in this group at any moment. For the outsiders, including adult observers, language becomes a mysterious opacity, constantly carrying peer-group messages which are full of precisions that remain untranslatable." So, is there some common ground where insiders and outsiders, children and adults can come together, agree, and understand each other's language and messages?
I noticed a substantial shift in the scholarly tone of the writings in part III from 1949-1968. Previous scholarship, including Dewey, Locke, DuBois, and Lippmann seemed to focus on the impact of mass media on the general health of the human soul. However, in the works by Harold Innis, Newton Minow, and Herbert Marcuse, the violence of WWII and the Vietnam War seemed to direct the attention of the authors to role of mass media in the survival of civilization. Innis's cynicism is apparent in his belief "[e]ach civilization has its own methods of suicide" (Peters & Simonson 280). Former FCC CommissionerNewton Minow echoed this sentiment by arguing the unnecessary violence and death on television was strongly against the public interest and sent a poor message of US culture abroad (Peters & Simonson 470). Marcuse is perhaps most pointed with his description of "technological aggression and satisfaction" in the media's misuse of language which embodies "a suicidal tendency on a truly social scale" (Peters & Simonson 493). In your estimation what relationship does mass media have in the "normalization" of violence and destruction? Do you believe that television can act as a form of violence itself through its desensitization of the viewer?

Media and Culture...not just a class title...

The readings for this week appear to be pointing to the fact that media operate effectively as tools within our society, and that when one views media as tools we are more likely to effectively evaluate both the positives and pitfalls. Innis spoke of the role of technology in destroying culture and society, while Riesman et. al spoke of the ability of the press to emancipate individuals from the criticisms of their neighbor. So it appears that media can work for both positive and negative gains in that "words not only affect us temporarily; they change us, the socialize us or unsocialize us…print can powerfully rationalize models which tell people what they ought to be like" (Riesman et. al, p. 297).

This simple fact proves significant due to Bell's and Lang & Lang's understandings that the evolution of our technologies and communication patterns have brought individuals closer together in powerful ways.  Due to the fact that technology allow us to "test" our interpretation of the world with those around us, "tremors in one part of society affect all others" (Bell, p. 365).  While media may be somewhat susceptible to manipulations, I would agree with Lang & Lang, McLuhan, and Bell in that the real problems of society lie not in our ability utilize new and more effective modes of communication, but rather in "social tensions that are an expression of unfulfilled expectations" (Bell, p. 369).

Below I have attached a video that was released in 1948 that spoke of the dangers of "-isms" (I think you will readily notice where the the emphasis lies), that illustrates Riesman et. al's claim that in the modern age we train our children to understand symbolic meanings, while also showing fears over the loss over our cherished particular attention (or fast-forward) to the clip around the 8:15 mark.

Visual Illustrations of Innis's Cultural History

For those like me that like a good visual aid when it comes to history, I thought this might be a useful addition to the blog.  This will give you an illustration of the rise and fall of the Egyptian dynasties, the Sumerian civilizations, the Hittites, the Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, and eventually Europeans.

Monday, February 7, 2011

General Musings

As mentioned in other blogs, how dead on was MacDougald (1942). If you look at the big pop music stars of today, almost all of them have zero talent. They are completely produced and manufactured. Katy Perry and Ke$sha quickly come to mind as two artists who cannot hold a note, but have been expertly packaged by the music industry.

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.

Comment on Mike's Post

So Blogger wouldn't let me post a comment to Mike's blog, so this is my comment.

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.

Mr. Show - The Last Donut

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.)

Bar Code Art: Gimmick or Auratic Experience?

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?

Click here to check out his site for images, videos, etc.

More music.

I've got music on the brain once again this week, convenient for the subject matter I suppose, but doubtlessly due to a much-anticipated show I'll be attending this weekend. Alas, I must once again be subservient to my "demons," if you will, which also happens to be the title of a crushing song I'll probably hear on Saturday.

"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.

Music: Here today; Gone tomorrow

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.

Adorno, Horkheimer, and "Louie Louie"

Pre-post shout-out to Kelynne for completely stealing my thunder...but in light of the readings I decided to become a bit "cyclically recurrent" and "interchangeable" and make my post anyway.

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 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 found the Walter Benjamin’s piece on Art to be a little opaque, but really interesting. Namely, I was intrigued by his argument that mass reproduction has freed art from its relationship with ritual. Benjamin explains, “for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art form its parasitical dependence on ritual” (4). I normally associate rituals with artwork, but I do not typically consider the act of viewing art as a ritual. While he does an exemplary job demystifying the impact of mechanical reproduction on the viewing and interpretation of artwork, I wish that Benjamin would have focused more on the role of mechanical reproduction in shaping public views of authorship. I recently heard a news story which reported that historians think that they finally discovered the identity of the model for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (his male assistant and possible lover). The Mona Lisa is obviously a priceless triumph of art, but I think it is interesting how interconnected the value of art is with its creator. In many ways we are just as interested in the story behind the painting, and the author, as we are the piece itself. Thus, my question concerns the impact of mechanical reproduction (and social networks) on authorship. Do you believe that mass production enhanced the role of the author by allowing for specific works of art to receive broad appeal and following? Or, has the vast increase in dissemination made the author less relevant?

Tuesday's Class

Both Group 1 and Group 2 have their readings up in Blackboard--I would encourage folks to go over both documents before class.

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

Do niche media free us from the status quo?

Adorno writes in two writings this week of how the culture industry “impresses the same stamp on everything” and perpetuates the status quo. I can see how this is still true, at least in some people’s opinion. In many ways, our TV shows, movies, books, news stories, etc., offer a few variances on similar themes over and over and over again. (When you’ve got to make money on a movie and you've find a formula that sells, why vary?)

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

Adorno’s Social Critique of Radio Music

(Posted on behalf of Kelynne)

I thought that this clip fit well with the reading on “Adorno’s Social Critiques of Radio Music”. This youtube clip shows the comedy group Axis of Awesome singing 65 popular songs using four chords. This video could perhaps be an argument for Adorno’s belief that mass produced music promotes passive listening and social domination.  Adorno believed that popular music was consumed as a commodity and required little to no effort on the listeners’ part.  Almost as if our ears become "trained" to like specific chords and certain patterns in music. Adorno argued that over time, popular music would begin to repeat itself and would ultimately lead to music that lacks original content (standardization).  Patterns and chords (melodies) would be re-used, repeated and replicated leading to music that lacked artistic substance. Afterall, there are only so chords that exist within the realm of music and there are only so many ways to use those same chords in different patterns. 

Adorno  believed that classical music was the only true form of music that actively challenged and engaged the mind.  Unlike popular and mass produced forms of music, true classical music does not follow a repeated pattern of chords and rhythms (i.e. intro, chorus, bridge, climax, etc.).  Classical music incorporates individual vignettes of music that make up the piece as a whole. Adorno was a proponent of high art and felt that mass produced music was a product of low culture. He believed that in creating music that appealed to the masses, the quality of genuine art is compromised.  Adorno questions, "Does a symphony played on the air remain a symphony?," implying that the very essence and experience of music is altered (perhaps degraded) by means of mass communication. Adorno also argued that when listening to music, people should focus their minds entirely on the composition in order to truly appreciate it as an art form.  Radio has made it possible for people to be doing multiple things at once and thus, has lead to the passive listening I mentioned above.  The ability to mass communicate such music (via radio or other means) further perpetuated his fear of passive listening and the passive engagement in media culture that (Adorno believed) ultimately lead to social domination. 

In the least, this clip brings to light an underlying theme in the mass culture music industry. I found it both interesting and entertaining. 

1934 and the beginning of reality tv

Lewis Mumford (1934) in his essay, "Technics and Civilization," suggests that the camera has caused man to be more concerned about being watched. The camera allows for a reproduction to be entered into the historic record as opposed to the actual which deterioates over time. This causes people to act as if they are a public character, and improvise themselves with the way they wish to be portrayed.

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.

Role of Social Media in Protest

In reviewing the readings for this week, I caught a quotation that I had missed in my first reading.  In chapter 31 Myrdal (1944) argues that the Negro press in the south operated as "a sort of safety-valve for the boiling Negro protest" (p. 208).  I found this incredibly interesting in light of the protest occurring in Egypt and Tunisia, where the government has limited access to the internet and cell phones in an attempt to control and limit the protests.  Add this to the fact that the Chinese government has almost completely censored all news of the protests to their citizens, it appears that these governments would sincerely disagree with the claims of Myrdal.  Here's the kicker, the lack of social media appears to be having little to no effect within these countries as reports are showing that the protests are actually growing stronger.  Perhaps, Myrdal had it right back in the 1940's, social media such as newspapers and the internet can serve to moderate a public just as easy as it can be used to incite them.

Recent Protests in Egypt Challenge Assumptions About Social Media Influence