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meyler.mass.media

Archive for October, 2008

Living in the House that Technology Built

I don’t consider myself a slave to technology, but this might simply be because I don’t want to think of myself as a slave to anything. However, when I put thought to the matter, I realize how much it’s a part of my life. The technology that I use defines me. My iTunes and my iPod hold collections of music personally chosen by me; it’s my music. The blog that I’m writing in displays my academic standing and thoughts. Every piece of media that I use tells something about me. Because, it’s not the specific songs that are on my iPod and it’s not specifically what I mention in this blog, but it’s the mere fact that I use these technologies that is the most telling.

Although it’s hard pointing to one medium that shapes my daily routine (because truly there are so many), a relatively new one is the Internet phenom that is Facebook. It was created in 2005, less than five years ago and since that time it has morphed to form its own interesting type of culture (Yadav). People are addicted (not literally, but they may as well be) to Facebook, and I will admit that I just may be part of this group, although probably not to the extent of some.

I first added my face to the Book (after some convincing by friends) just over a year ago and from that point, I’ve been on the site, a lot. I’ll check Facebook, usually at least once a day. If I’m on the computer and I have nothing to do, I’ll wander over. Every time I get a new e-mail from Facebook I check it right away. It offers distraction from homework and boring classes. It’s an odd sense of excitement when you log on and you see that you multiple new notifications, and it’s an odd sense of disappointment when there’s none. You get to be friends with people who you’ve never met before (which I still find a weird situation).

Facebook is a lot of things.

Its basic use is as a social network, which is the reason that most people will give when asked why they use it. They have a profile because they want to stay connected. I want to stay connected with friends. However, anyone who uses it knows that there’s another motive for its use. They like to creep, or Facebook stalk or whatever. Facebook has created the perfect place to be voyeuristic. It’s easy to do and no one will know if you do it. Wall-to-wall someone’s conversations, or look through the pictures that they’re tagged in or check out they’re relationship status. Humans’ desperate need to know about everything (including the lives of everyone else) has developed into Facebook.

This technology has become so popular that my use of it not only defines me, but it can pretty much define my generation. Every time I step into a lecture or a class it’s a good guess that at least half of those people will be on Facebook. With its help we don’t have to feel left out of the loop or feel as if the social world is passing us by. Facebook is comforting.

But this is only one technology of many that structure life. Every part of my day is mediated. As Ursula Franklin said, “technology has built the house that we all live in” (Franklin 1). Facebook is just one brick.

Sources:

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anasi Press, 1990.

Yadav, Sid. “Facebook – the Complete Biography.” 05 Aug. 2008. Mashable. 07 Oct. 2008 <http://mashable.com/2006/08/25/facebook-profile/&gt;

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The Leader of the Masses

The strict dictionary definition of hegemony is “leadership of dominance, esp. by one country or social group over other” (Oxford American Dictionaries). Typically the term has been used to describe the methods used by countries and political movements to obtain and maintain power over other states or groups of people. Antonio Gramsci inspired by Marxist thoughts toward capitalism during the early 20th century created an explanation of hegemony. He saw how the lower class was kept under control, not by violence or force, but by oppression. It was the continuous coercion that prevented any revolt (Gramsci’s Hegemony).

While this was true for Gramsci in Fascist Italy, when applied to the media, it is startlingly true today. It is the idea that the media can be used as a means of control over the masses.

It’s no surprise or astonishing revelation that the media has influence over actions. However, a debate can exist over exactly how much influence it has, such as the long-standing one of the effect of violence in television on children.

The theory that the media can act as a hegemony is founded on the idea that through constant coercion, a concept is able to become accepted belief of the public. Mass media becomes the perfect means of delivering a message since it is by definition a method of bringing information to large groups of people.

In my daily practice, the most prevalent example of hegemony with regards to the media would be advertisements. I am, as is everyone living in a Western culture, bombarded with ads every single day. While I would like to believe that I am immune to any power that they may have, I know that I’m not. 

The most obvious result of an advertisement is that makes me want to buy the product; that after I see an ad for Calvin Klein perfume, I want to go out and get some for myself. However, this is probably the least worrisome consequence. Rather, the advertisement may sell me a concept, and from this I begin to base my actions or thoughts. 

Now this doesn’t happen over-night, it’s not that I see a commercial for Budweiser and I buy their beer and their sexist views. It happens generally and slowly, so much so that most people aren’t aware of it. Once you have enough people believing something, it becomes public opinion and the standard.

In her book, The Real World of Technology, Ursula Franklin explores technology’s role in creating a society of compliance. “While we should not forget that these prescriptive technologies and exceedingly effective and efficient, they come with and enormous social mortgage. The mortgage means that we live in a culture of compliance, that we are ever more conditioned to except orthodoxy as normal, and to accept that there is only way of doing ‘it’” (Franklin 17). An advertiser’s goal is to insert their brand into this accepted orthodoxy.

A classic example, and used in a good percentage of ads, is the feminine role. Women have traditionally been portrayed in a submissive role. Ads show them with rolled shoulders, thin frames and doe-eyes; this is the picture femininity. Although this picture wasn’t necessarily created for the use of advertisements, they have exploited it. While displaying these images, they include their logo or their slogan, tying their name with the general notion of femininity.

In this way, the media has exerted its power, it has dominated the masses and directed them how to think, in the subtlest way.

Sources:

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anasi Press, 1990.

Hainsworth, Stuart. “Gramsci’s Hegemony Theory and the Ideological Role of Mass Media.” 23 Sept. 2008. illvox. 6 Oct. 2008  HYPERLINK “http://illvox.org/2008/09/23/gramsci’s-hegemony-theory-and-ideological-role-of-mass-media/&#8221; http://illvox.org/2008/09/23/gramsci’s-hegemony-theory-and-ideological-role-of-mass-media/

Oxford American Dictionaries.

Beautiful Liars

Magritte said that this is not a pipe.

http://mytypes.com/thibault/files/2007/10/pipe.jpg

It’s really a painting of a pipe that signifies a pipe in the mind. It’s a play on the idea of semiotics, which is loosely the study of signs and symbols. When applied to the art of advertising, which is really nothing more than signs and symbols, it can help with decoding and dissecting its messages.

As Magritte’s painting was not a pipe, this is not a vehicle.

The print in the bottom left corner reads: Go stimulate something. Like the idea that a vehicle with three rows pf seats can also be a nimble-footed, refrigerator-equipped, 24 mpg head-turner. Discover the strikingly original Flex at fordvehicles.com

It’s not adventure or excitement. It’s not power or movement. And despite Ford’s attempts at convincing the viewer, it’s not “CPR for the dead of the night.”

All that these words and pictures are is an ad; it’s nothing more than persuasion wrapped up with a flashy photo and clever type. However, that’s all it needs to get the job done. Ford is completely aware that one double-page spread in a magazine isn’t going to be so compelling that it makes a person jump out of their seat and run to a Ford dealership. That’s not what they’re trying to do with an ad like this. They’re trying to deliver an idea.

In terms of semiotics, they display this idea with the use of the signifier and the signified. This ad’s signifier would be the flashy photo and clever type, what this signifies in the concept of a car. However, the connotation rather than denotation is more important. The connotation of the signifier and signified is that of adventure, excitement, power and movement. What the ad has created is a cultural model, one that is easily understood and accepted by the public: that of finding thrills in a seemingly boring city night. It just so happens that this is an enticing paradigm, one that many would like to be a part of. Ford has exploited this very fact with this ad. They take a popular, exciting pattern and they us it in their spread. While doing this, they add their name to the paradigm, hoping that any viewer will associate the brand with it. In this way, Ford hasn’t really made the viewer want to buy their car, but it has sold the idea of “CPR for the dead of the night”and tied it to their car.

In his study, Mythologies, Roland Barthes explores the suggestion of modern myths. Really this is all that advertising is. The Ford ad displays the myth of the big city night full of stimulation and possibilities just waiting to be discovered.

However, an ad will never (or at least very rarely) deliver on any of the promises it presents. If you buy a Ford, the chances of you having a night like the one pictured isn’t very likely. But it doesn’t really matter (not to Ford at least) because ads don’t present an image of reality, they’re just signs. And as Umberto Eco saw it, “a sign is anything that can be used to tell a lie” (Noth).

Sources:

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Noth, Winfred. “SRB Insights: Can Pictures Lie?” The Semiotic Review of Book. 07 Oct. 2008  <http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/epc/srb/srb/pictures.html&gt;

Ford. Advertisement. Vanity Fair Oct. 2008: 578

My, What Large Media You Have!

Putting the concept of mass media into a strict definition can be difficult simply because there seems to be a variety of different opinions.

However, I’ve come to notice a basic trend when related to the general public and their feelings on this particular topic. It seems to be the consensus that the “mass media” is something evil; it is what’s tearing apart good family values; it is what’s corrupting the innocent minds of youth. However, I’m sure that these opinions come from the fact that, for most, the term mass media is obscure and vague.

As Marshall McLuhan explained, mass media emerged with the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press, which made it possible to deliver phonic literature to the masses; in that “the printing press was the ultimate extension of phonic literacy” (McLuhan). For McLuhan, this was one of the largest, most influential events in man’s progression, and has been responsible for monumental shifts in human culture.

From this event, mass media has quickly and easily adapted for modern, electronic technology. In McLuhan’s era, it was the growth of the television that delivered to the masses. Now it is the Internet and the numerous outlets that stem from it. As McLuhan saw it, “the Gutenberg Galaxy is being eclipsed by the constellation of Marconi” (McLuhan), but one can comfortably say that today, the constellation of Marconi is being outshone by the comet of Berners-Lee and CERN.

With this steady rise of technology molding everyday life, mass media is only becoming more developed. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I certainly wouldn’t classify it as evil.

I understand mass media as a means of gathering information. I believe that it was born out of man’s natural and instinctive need to know more. The modern Internet, Gutenberg’s printing press in 1440 and all the other media that have been created in between, serve the same purpose: to facilitate the transfer of knowledge.

How one qualifies this process can differ.

One’s view might be like that of Neil Postman who fears that new media, especially that of television culture sends information without context or importance, leaving people with heads full of trivial details.

Or, one might think like Walter Benjamin and consider the negative and positive effects that mass media has on the arts with the rise and ease of reproduction.

Wherever one stands on the subject, this trend is not going to come to an end. The death of mass media can only come with the death of man’s desire to progress.

Sources:

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 11 Sept. 2008. <http://academic.evergreen.edu/a/arunc/compmusic/benjamin/benjamin.pdf

McLuhan, Marshall. The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan. University of OSLO. 5 Sept. 2008. <http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/links/mcluhan/pb.html

Postman, Neil. The Humanism of Media of Ecology. The Media Ecology Association. 5 Sept. 2008. <http://www.media-ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v1/humanism_of_media_ecology.html>