Thursday, April 3, 2008

Defining Media

What is media? Everything. The main lesson that I come away from this course with is the realization that media is anything that communicates a message. This concept contradicts my initial belief that media consists simply of mainstream radio, television and film. Messages are expressed through choice in tie pattern, lipstick shade and hair style. Thinking even more abstractly, when walking into a classroom a message is expressed in the way that the seats are arranged. In being made aware of such messages, I have grown to become a more active cultural participant. It is not the realization that these messages are being transmitted, but the meaning created by these messages that is most significant. I have grown to take notice of my surroundings and make connections to class concepts such as hegemony, cultural resistance and social change. I think that the term media is often misconstrued and in reality deserves a lot more credit than it is granted.

What is Social Change Anyway?

What is social change anyway? Throughout this semester, the class has centered on the possibility of social change. But what exactly is it that we have been referring to? I believe that the basis of social change is in making a positive difference. This difference can take place on various levels – personal, community, national or international. As each individual helps to form the society that we share, each positive difference initiated holds equal weight to that of a broader scale. For instance, I believe that an individual choosing to walk to work everyday in order to conserve oil and fossil fuels is creating social change equal to that of a nation spending an hour in which lights are turned off to conserve energy. In both instances, an entire people are being positively influenced. Emission of fossil fuels is no longer causing polluted air and the conserving of energy is taking place during an effective awareness strategy.

Social change is entirely possible; however, it is the movement to make a difference that can cause problems. If people are unable to find a way to channel their causes or are unwilling to change their set behaviour, then society remains at a constant. It is the responsibility of the media to not only capture the attention of the public when an individual is charged to make a change but to compel others to follow in those footsteps.

Communicating as One

The concept of reader-response theory discussed in class is emphasized in Jean Baudrillard’s Requim for the Media. Reader-response theory emphasizes the importance of an individual interpreting the text as a whole based on personal experiences, emotions and knowledge. As the life experience and cultural code varies between individuals, different meanings are derived from the text. In a sense, readers are completing the text by drawing from it one’s own significance. To reduce a work of art to one meaning is to kill it. Application of different interpretations is possible when viewing both mainstream and fake news.

In Requim for the Media, the communication theory process is formulated by Roman Jakobsen as transmitter (encoder), message, receiver (decoder). Baudrillard states, “Each communication process is thus vectorized into a single meaning, from the transmitter to the receiver: the latter can become transmitter in its turn, and the same schema is reproduced” (Baudrillard). Comparable is the theoretical approach of semiotics, the study of signs, in which some believe that a recipient of the sign is required, a chain-like reaction takes place. When a message or sign is communicated by the transmitter, then interpreted by the receiver, the recipient becomes the giver causing the process to remain constant. What happens if an individual fails to understand an intended message? When all individuals derive one’s own meaning from a message, is failing to understand an intended message possible?

Baudrillard, Jean. “Requiem for the Media.” 6 April 2008

Finding My Cause

Throughout the semester, I have been questioned, on more than one occasion, by “what is your cause?” And on more than one occasion, I have answered with a blank stare. To be honest, I am completely uncertain of my cause and that worries me. I expect an individual’s cause to answer the question I posed in my blog profile, what are we all doing here? An individual’s cause should bring a sense of meaning to one’s life. I am interested in many cultural aspects such as communication and ideology. It has been made more so as a result of taking this course, but I have not yet uncovered a passion. I expect that participating in my culture and responding to my community will help me find my cause or better yet allow my cause to find me.

My expectation was supported by a recent encounter with a friend. As I was watching CNN Politics with a group of friends, all of whom were males, we got into a heated discussion about who would be a more qualified President between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. As I defended Clinton, all others teamed up to support Obama. It was inevitable that the issue of gender came into play. During the debate, one of my girlfriends entered the room only to side with the boys. She suggested that since there has not yet been a female President, it was clear that no female had the skills to hold the position. I was shocked to find someone had such little faith in her own gender. Only if in the form of words, I was caused to react. I look to cause female empowerment on a wider scale.

Madonna's Hard Candy

Madonna’s latest cover album, entitled Hard Candy, raises a number of controversial issues centering on gender roles. Sporting a champion belt and fighting tape, the image portrays Madonna’s most recent reinvention as victor of the music industry. She reemerges onto the scene ready to defend her title as music’s greatest. Are her constant reinventions of image truly a sign of greatness or merely a spectacle used to keep the attention of a public that is constantly in need of something new?

Sexual connotations can be observed from the chosen title, her clothes – or lack thereof – and the way in which she is presented taping her wrists. Madonna is marketed as being desirable and successful, traits that consumers can achieve in listening to her music.

It is evident through the comparison of marketing approaches of different generations that the roots of advertising remain similar. Women continue to be presented in a way that places the needs of others before their own. Presently, women are marketed as commodities of beauty. It is important for a man to carry a ‘winner’ on his arm in public. Half a century ago, women were marketed as commodities of the domestic role. This can be seen in the Coca-Cola advertisement discussed in class during my group presentation. It was important for men to select a woman for marriage who fit the traditional gender role.

Similar is the participatory culture, brought about by Madonna’s Vogue, in which consumers could be part of the revolution by buying the record. Consumers can now be considered beautiful and successful by buying Hard Candy, so says Madonna. Do we conform or resist to the dominant culture?

Click here for "Hard Candy" image:

Click here for "Coca-Cola" image:

Conformity of Consumption. Fight it?

My group presentation centered on Joseph Heath’s and Andrew Potter’s The Rebel Sell article. As the article claims, “capitalism requires conformity to function correctly,” my presentation focused on conformity of consumption.

The theory that capitalism requires conformity to function properly centers on the idea of reducing costs by generating greater savings in the mass production of the product. This concept, known as economies of scale, is most successful when society is limited in its range of consumption, bringing the role of branding into play. With consumerism, driven by the force of advertising, companies that have greater access to the public can limit the alternatives of potential consumers. The brand name that consumers are most exposed to will determine the product that they will buy even if that product is not a necessity.

Heath and Potter describe how films such as Fight Club critique mass society. The character of Tyler Durden describes the influence of advertising on consumerism by stating, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate, so we can buy the shit we don’t need” (Heath and Potter). It is the power of advertising – the idea that your life is not complete without a certain product – that creates both conformity and status among buyers. For instance, the belief that through advertising this wrinkle cream or that perfume will produce a youthful image attracts consumers.

The idea of branding relates to the question do you control your media? Although society’s members are able to control the type of media that is favored in terms of television, radio and reading, society is limited in choice by the cultural defining shows, music and articles that are broadcast and published. Branding works similarly as consumers are given the opportunity to select the brand that they buy among the limited competition of each product. It is through such limitation that consumers are forced to conform.

Do brands have the ability to characterize consumers? What are the result of those who challenge the dominant culture and the workings of mass society?

Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. “The Rebel Sell.” 3 March 2008

Oprah: Empowering the People

Empowerment is a concept that I have never tried to define. It is like the idea of love – understandable, but not easily defined. As I have been given the opportunity to discover an academic side not previously explored, I have an interest in learning more about the concept. Although I was uncertain of what blogging was until this class, I find that aside from my initial hesitation it comes naturally. A parallel between blogging and journal writing, to which I am accustomed, is freedom in choice of topic. As a student, freedom in writing does not come often, and it gives me the ability to think on my own terms. I am also able to challenge classmates by the communication available through blogging.

In terms of mainstream media, I am rarely empowered. That is particularly true for television and all of the current reality-based series. However, I was recently channel surfing with my mom when we came across Oprah’s Big Give. Although I had never watched the show before, I was for some reason interested – possibly because of its name. During the episode, each contestant was given $100,000 and required to spend all of it within 24 hours by performing good deeds for people within the community. Easy enough, right? However, rules stipulated that contestants were limited to handing over a maximum of over of $500 per person and $10,000 per organization. Contestants resorted to filling people’s gasoline tanks, taking customers on shopping sprees, delivering household appliances and handing flowers out on the street. For those less fortunate, such experiences were beyond appreciation.

After watching the show, I sincerely felt empowered to help out around my own community. Aware that hard-work and a big heart are sometimes preferable to money, I will look to find my own cause.

Trusting the Government...

Throughout this semester, I have been given the opportunity to draw connections between course materials for different classes. Arguments made in Megan Boler’s article, The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11: “A New Form of Desperation”? are comparable to the recent films Why We Fight and Road to Guantanamo that were screened in my contemporary cinema class. These mediums center on the dishonest conduct of the American government regarding the coverage of news, the invasion of a country, and the treatment of prisoners of war, respectively. Both the article and the films go on to discuss the public’s reaction to those in command who have been labeled as untrustworthy. Boler writes,

What’s unique is that this insistence on the possibility of truthfulness is held in simultaneous contradiction with cynical distrust. The result is a paradoxical affective sentiment shared by many: the simultaneous belief that all truths are rhetorically constructed along with the shared certainty that we have been lied to, that this is wrong, and that there is a truthfulness that should be delivered. This demand is directed at the corrupted synergy created between media and politicians (Boler).

Those engaged in media must begin to question whether their longing for the truth is in relation to the behavior of the nation’s politicians or to the control of the media. Although I believe that both parties share some responsibility, it is the word of the nation’s politicians and not the way in which it is communicated that is most at fault. When evidence surfaces that George W. Bush’s reasons for attacking Iraq were primarily for economic purposes and that civilians were held at Guantanamo under inhumane circumstances, one must be wary of the people that shape the political system.

Boler, Megan. “ The Transmission of Political Critique after 9/11: ‘A New Form of Desperation’?” 10 Feb. 2008

Do You Control Your Identity?

As suggested in class, the ideological state apparatus is the reproduction of values of the dominant culture. As cultural norms form and the public is made aware of expected social behaviour, socialization occurs. The values of the dominant culture are enhanced and, more significantly, a sense of identity is created. Not until the point was raised in class was I aware of how prevalent the values of the dominant culture are. Socialization appears within the household, the workplace, the educational system and the church. Each domain maintains a set of practices that conveys society’s members as subjects and encourages them to strive for an unattainable image of perfection. For example, when applying for a job, a potential employee must follow a standard format of handing in a résumé, going for an interview and attending training. Potential employees are subject to those in authority. While encountering each stage, subjects must aim to achieve specific requirements such as the proper layout of a résumé, responses during an interview and dress code. In addition, qualities such as confidence and initiative are expected. The subject’s ability in getting the job depends on how closely he comes to the socialized image of perfection.

Authoritative roles such as parents, teachers and police officers constantly induce other members of society, commonly those of lesser influence, into subject positions. Such contact creates a separation of identity. Is it possible that you don’t control the basis of your identity?