Main || Media Theory

July 12, 2008

Post Industry?

Let me take a minute to deconstruct deconstruction. I've heard the term post-industrial thrown around. This is where our problem lies in our postmodern society. There is no such thing as post industry because to say a society is "postindustrial" is to say that a society no longer relies on manufacturing, building, and other industrial pursuits. Engineers are still among the most employable and stable occupations. Public sector industrial work never goes out of style (particularly in PA with the way the weather works the infrastructure. Service industry requires a stable base of industrial development. If I want to open a restaurant, I have to have people come and build a place to host it. Then I need tables, chairs, ovens, kitchen tools, and of course, uniforms, tableware. And after that is done, I will need food products, wines, coffees, etc. Service directly depends on industry. It's just like the transition from agrarian life to mass industry. Believe it or not, there are still farmers in this world. Trees, plants and animals that aren't cats, dogs or ferrets exist. In order to make those crystal glasses, you need a carbon source. Raw materials are still being harvested. What is oil? Post industrial would suggest that we no longer rely on raw materials which would be a complete lie being as our recycling system is, I would argue, inadequate.

What marks the post-industrial age is not the reality, but the focus of society's gaze on reality. Cyber studies, media studies, media ecology, sensation and perception being psychology's next fad. We've merely directed the attention of the culture at large to a growing facet of our society. Industry has not shrunken, but with global capital is indeed, growing. So what seems like a diminishing demand of manufacturing jobs in America is actually a shift in the sectors where the jobs are placed (the outsourcing crisis ring a bell?). So, we should make clear that service depends on industry (every industry needs tools), that demand for industrial jobs has not diminished and that economic growth really does start with industry. What happens is a series of shifts in demand. Specialists are always hired because of the principles of competition that capitalism employs. We want the best candlestick maker, right? But let's say next year, there is an incident with fire that makes buying candles unfavorable and people see a new electric candle that the competitor is selling. Candlestick makers are now out of business and all the time invested in perfecting that trade is thrown out. What if a blight hits the beehives in that area and wax can no longer be collected for that plant? Those are all factors that affect people employed at that plant. Deregulation cannot address those crises and in fact, makes it easier for companies to shift around. The argument that taxes has so much to do with the state of the economy is such a fallacious argument. Yet many people buy this notion and I nearly vomit when I see how many NeoReaganists are out there. The economy is not driven by profits. It is driven by labor, and in particular, industrial labor. The goal of the economy is profit, but profit cannot be achieved without something to generate it.

So take the whole "greed is good" idea for example and let's be completely agnostic to moral, political, and philosophical convictions and ideology. If we loosen the grip on the stock market, banks, and corporate organizations, this creates a surge of money in the upper sectors of money holders and allows for these groups to invest in industry in order to generate more wealth for themselves. The trickle-down effect would be the kind and benevolent rich people bending down to the working class Americans and handing... or more accurately, that letting powerful capitalists off the leash for a while would resurrect industry and open a mass industrial job market to generate more wealth for the rich and rekindle the vague promise of the "American dream." It, even in my very cynical interpretation, sounds very glittering. Here's the catch: you only get half of the story: the macroeconomic perspective. What you get is glittering generalizations to which our culture has, in recent history, been built on. It sounds good. But more jobs does not mean better situation for working class families, does not mean more wealth for the ambiguous benefits of economic growth across the board.

This relies on the assumption that capital drives economic improvement. But, as any economist would know, bigger is not necessarily better. May we say "broken window fallacy?" The problem with these thoughts are they don't change anything really. Raising the standard of living across the board does not eliminate poverty. Poverty is a social condition marked by a disparity between one class of people and another. Being poor is not lacking the things necessary to live, but being of a social status so low one could not be lower. The trouble is the poverty line is very ambiguous and extremely subjective. Where do you draw the line of poverty? People were sent to labor camps in 18th century Europe for stealing food and stealing is socializing in the base classes. What stopped the people in the 18th century from going into the woods and killing animals with their bare hands and eating them? It was more possible then than now. Humans are social creatures and the presence of people is enough to keep people in a unfair situation. So food was not a need, but a desire in 18th century Europe. And a loaf of bread is no different than stealing a television set. Where did this come from? Greed. And from the lower classes to the upper, we are socialized to believe this wad of horse shit. And the greed trickles down. Poverty is the social frustration of desire. Poor people want to be able to have access to the things of rich people because the rich have it easy. And being part of society and all it's assumptions of wants and needs runs deep into the soul of every human being. We want to flaunt our talents and uniqueness and we want to feel special. Willy Loman was certainly special once. But when folks came back from the war and the GI bill put more college grads out there, a salesman became just a salesman. Bernards started replacing Willies and by Christ, look at what something as simple as an image does. Post industry is what happened to Willy Loman. How often do you see a show like Rosanne on TV? Working class people have been eliminated from our social awareness. They exist. It's funny how media, pop culture hype and marketing all play a role in shifting what we believe is reality. Postindustry, cyberculture, social networking are all glittery terms like greed is good, that call us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It's sad. And we all want to be the man, too. Which is more sad.

I have to repeat the words of my Mexican buddy who comes to America and is taken aback by how little we really stop and look at classism. "How much is enough? Is there ever a time when these people [wealthy Americans] say 'I'm satisfied'?" Luxury is disappointing. Just ask kids in the 1950s. Home life may be more tranquil in the suburbs, but building so-called solutions doesn't really solve the fundamental problem that has driven contemporary culture: the problem of society. We should learn from our Latino and Native brothers: how we mingle with others is a part of achieving happiness. And as business continues to grow and deregulation allows business to shift work around to suit the creation of profit and people are constantly competing and searching aimlessly for that "American Dream," we will still feel anxiety and unfulfillment. Free markets can't bring that fulfillment. We learned that in the 1950s as Jack Kerouac watched people wander around at night in their cars. Until we can start building small, stable, localized economies that only function to fill needs and not create them, until we can build actual communities where people help each other through real problems that are now reserved for disinterested professionals, until we can all view each other as a friend, we will all be lost travelers on these long and winding roads, whether in a car or on the roadside hitching for a ride. Please buy local produce, chat a while with people in your neighborhood deli, volunteer at a community arts festival or nursing home, take a look at all the hidden gems your community has to offer. You cannot change the world, or stop large corporations, or completely restructure the economy. But with 4 dollar gas, it might be wise to start the movement. Think locally, act locally. You might be surprised at just how many of the answers are hiding under your nose.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 15, 2008

Bigger Ain't Better - A Manifesto for American Liberals

So how can any good liberal person sit there and support globalization? The new wave of non-profit industry that appears to be sweeping the nation, encompassing anything from global water quality to poverty-stricken villages in Africa and Haiti to international ethnic conflicts, is doing a disservice to the world and to Americans in particular. George Orwell made clear his position about socialism: that bureaucratic socialism further alienated the worker from a sense of purpose and dignity and contributed even more to class antagonisms ("all pigs are created equal, but some pigs are created more equal than others"). This is a point in the venture of our culture where a huge divergence is met and liberals as a group, again can be thrown to the blame. It is the social and economic liberals who must face the harsh indictment of responsibility for times like these. The free market ideology of contemporary Western liberalism allowed for corruption due to the over-inflation of industry. Somewhere along the way, someone had the brilliant idea that larger, more centalized industry could drive down the cost of goods and allow for more employment opportunities (iow: inflation from and out-of-balance and unmanagable supply and demand and lower wages for workers with increased remedial factory work). Did it work? Yes and no. It did what it was designed to do and that is, increase the wealth of nations and elevate the GDP of each nation that adopts such a model. What it didn't do was alter the rates of unemployment. Conservatives who stand against increases in minimum wage are correct in their assumption that wage inceases cut jobs. However, this is a catch-22. Wages are increased based on the cost of living. Minimum wage, in theory, was put in place so that a worker could have the security of a job that allowed that person the base pay for supporting their life. The problem is not with the wage increase, the problem is with the system that will not yield to low-end worker's rights and cut profits to support its employees. Being that there is a lockbox on the profits set aside for investors, who gets shafted? The people that have the money? Or the people that need the money?

So with this heavily-guarded interest, the "risk-taking" investors (hardly a risk when the profits are made, whether legally and ethically or not) are the ones who have the first dibs on the booty 'cause they just put so much on the line for it. This is the context for the next transition in American culture circa 1980 when regionalism started to really die and globalization started kicking in. As Americans became displeased with the disproportion of remedial jobs to skilled labor jobs, large national corporations started making deals with other "developing nations" (note the use of language suggesting that if you don't have capitalism in your area, you are lacking something. areas of the world aren't bad because of war, genocide, pollution and diseases arising from death, decay, and pollution, these areas are bad because they don't have capitalism (you cannot refute that this is not cultural hegemony, because it is). Compare surveys of the state of pre-colonial Africa with similar types of documents highlighting post-colonial Africa and tell me what the great benefit of giving a western structure to Africa was. Jobs that had involved little to no skill were given off to people in other nations with less restrictions on human rights violations. Did this open up jobs here? No. It took away jobs and created a huge push to make a lucrative business out of the technologies that were developed originally for war and corporate communication. Now you have the machines that drove industry through the 70s and 80s sitting on your desk.

There were pros and cons to this. Pros: business machines are cheaper, more opportunity to create local and regional business. Cons: the dot-com boom and bust and the revision of computer marketing strategies. Perhaps regionalism would have had an uprising and grassroots community development would have succeeded if it weren't for Wal-Mart and the rise of shopping malls. If you had the choice of going one place for everything with lower prices or several places for things with the prices of yesterday when a dollar meant something what would you pick? Don't even lie to me, you stupid, rebellious, Lasn-reading hipsters. Your dollar suddenly means less because there is more of it (see the context I established above), you will go and you will be drawn in to the sights, the smells and the sounds and you will have grown up only knowing shopping malls, image, competition, taste, cool, trendy. You will have become the consumer culture. People are cruel with this shit. It may look like a series of arbitrary images, but like money, it becomes a passionate and competitive game to outcool, out-trend and out-spend your opponent. And as companies like Apple computers started making graphical desktop options, the market shifted for computers and consumers want the computers for games and fun and novelty mostly. Again, we have a computer at our house and you don't. And even more, we have an Apple and you don't. Image + competition = brand loyalty.

And about the new wave of regionalism? Down town city spaces became ghost towns because of the dubbed "Wal-Mart effect." Small business is something virtually impossible to keep and would not last long without the intervention of town and state government grants. The very thing conservatives protest (socialism) is the very thing that supports "conservative" values (ie; home, family, community, etc). So as large business ventures go out of hand and the older generation, who had been under the foolish impression that capitalism is virtue because it creates opportunities, moves to make non-profit ventures (or repentent sinners such as Bill Gates move to prove that their wave of capitalism isn't all bad and there are good things it has... is... will do). This is our current crisis. Our culture is caught in the age of ideas, the age of solutions. Businesses start of the premise that they offer "solutions for... [insert clever-sounding piece of bullshit]." Corporations tout in the advertisements "we've created solutions for... [another clever-sounding piece of bullshit]." Global climate change has been an irrefutable problem... ask any PA resident about the weather. And now non-profit ventures see themselves as virtuous and valliant crusaders, giving [insert class, gender, race or nationality of people] [insert virtuous-sounding sollution]." Notice how all these ventures are pure abstractions. There is no specific pitch as to what exactly these entreprises do to what specific, measurable phenomenon of the world.

We are moving from an age of disciplinarianism to an age of interdisciplinarianism and innovation. We just now see how much the inflated economic entreprise affects us and we are trying to find something to work for to fix the problems that were caused by this vehicle which we are using to fix the problems. It's a chaotic viscious cycle. The world is pure abstraction. Poor people don't exist save the ones we see in print, on TV or on the internet. I have seen yuppies all but run over bums begging for a job in Shadyside, the same ones who feel like they are doing a service to society. What is society? Society is chaos. It is mass society. Mass society is people swarming around arbitrarily without the coherance of a movement looking for opportunity. Is there opportunity? Why is there the largest disparity between rich and poor with a quickly-vanishing middle class? Why? Because regionlism is dead. Because we have all lost a sense of place. Community does not exist in a geographical sense. Community is now ideological and ideologies clash. Call me anti-intellectual, I don't care. Intellect is dead. The American culture war is a product of this ideological grouping. More and more people have been forced into unemployment offices, on the phone, on job hunt web pages, onto online social networks. This has altered the social consious of people. Who does this hurt? The poor who are stuck in run-down communities, in the boondocks, in the ghettos. If the jobs go wherever they want, governed only by the arbitrary whims of a mass global society and the demands of the mass global economy, people are forced to constantly move. I will argue that always we are only responsible for what we see. That doesn't mean that we can help the people of Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, but what it does mean is that if we want to help them, we should move there and help them without mediation. Funneling money is counterproductive. Non-profit business is not virtuous. It is still business and must be met with every grain of distrust. Teach the people how to build homes, how to live from the land. How to defend the land that is rightfully theirs and form trade unions to secure just trading with buyers.

And for Godsakes, lets also work on America and her problems because the brooding, heartless conservative ideologies that are rising into dominance now are speaking to an oppressed people in America and promising many good things for lower-class Americans. LIBERALS: we know what we base our beliefs on and that is the liberation of humanity. We were opposed to slavery, we were there in the factories with the workers demanding fair treatment, we spoke up about the lynchings in Birmingham, the hate crimes against gays, lesbians and transgendered people, we demanded assylum inmates be treated with dignity and we saw that the death of the regimes of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini would be a reality. A liberal is always with the oppressed even in a physical sense, and the liberal must always guard the underdog from the teeth of his/her oppressor. America must not allow the shallow words of conservative power elites enter the possiblity of popularity.

While there are still communities standing, support your community. Volunteer. Clean up the place. Take pride in your town. Get to know the youth and the elderly and build up regional and community activity. Globalization is not a word in the liberal vocabulary. The chaos can only stop with you - stand firm, be active in local politics. Speak up at church about the real words of Christ and not some decontextualized interpretation. Help solve the problems at home, not with empty, glorious-sounding words but with real action. Bigger ain't better. It is only the small, base and wretched that can save the world.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 4:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 21, 2008

The Making of America

Read the news - the stock market is wobbling and of course, investors are crying to Uncle Sam for intervention. And being that the government is filled by the same power elites with the similar investments, the government will comply to the requests whole-heartedly. Anticipate tax breaks for large corporations and upper-middle class consumers that buy most of the useless status goods that make our economy go. Do small businesses ever get tax relief in times of economic crisis? Why is this? The majority of jobs (jobs, not occupations or careers) are filled by large corporations. Numbers speak without context in capitalism. Relief happens at the highest level because our paradigm is set to globalization. Regional economies will be extinct after this epoch.

Here's an assignment: research a way to build a co-op or local organic farm with your knowledge and a recent-college-grad budget.

Development happens with a large-scale privilege. Anyone can call paradigms like regionalism, syndicalism and anarchy idealistic. But is it? What is the great benefit of large-scale economic expansionism? Europe exceeded the US economic strength with high productivity and innovative technologies. And Europe is built on regionalized, socialist economies. If there are people that want the laissez-faire capitalism that Rand envisioned, here it is. Consumerism is the most permissive form of laissez-faire possible without chaos and collapse into dictatorship, oligarchy, and fascism.

There is no one in the ruling class that has the intelligence and drive to create a function that can govern international trade. And if such a person existed anywhere, that person would not put forth the effort to create such a system because reason would tell anyone that has even read news articles about scientific research into global climate, global society and global mass development, that globalization is something that cannot happen and should not be attempted. We can play God, but there is no human above another. Charity is not relief, relief is going to the oppressed and exploited people of the world and fixing the collapsing houses, cleaning the water, teaching the people culturally non-invasive practices of farming, house building, cooking, medicine, etc. And while fixing the structural problems of deteriorating areas, lock up the real criminals of the world, the ones that pretend to be the solutions to all the "problems" of the natural order.

The people that rule are not gods. They are not even more intelligent. They are simply powerful. In Greek mythology, gods were not divine and omnibenevolent beings. Gods were simply humans with exaggerated human abilities. What does competition produce? Refined skills. Period. You can produce a large set of great items and become adept at selling them (or simply the latter, in most cases). We got good at creating chemicals from the Earth. Good at building and refining chemicals that can kill with a drop. But wait... we suck at contextualizing. We look at things in a fragmented, blinder-eyed way. Sure, we can perfect killing someone, but...

We should spend more time in fixing our society - a society jaded with over-crowded cities, which are the only place to find a good job anymore. We see problems everywhere but here. Children are starving in Africa, of course. But you cannot help Africa without relocating. I suggest if you feel bad for African children, pay a visit to your local charity organization and demand to create programs for helping the children in Wilkinsburg or East Liberty. Me, I would love to be nostalgic and subscribe to the way it was in the 50s. You go to work and get paid enough to live. But you can't go back. People call me idealistic? We're all scrambling to "advance," to "climb the ladder." Where? Where are you all going? Y'all look like your going insane, to me. We all are. We look at this social organization and don't so much as bat an eyelash. It is more reminiscent of a bunch of people thrown into a tank and scrambling to get above the other one to prevent themselves from drowning.

This is not order with random acts of chaos (a society envisioned by Rousseau). This is chaos with random acts of order (what simply allowing people to do whatever they desire without governance by greater principle). The social contract is not something that cannot be achieved. If you can put all you energies in supporting a global economy, you certainly can make a change in "the way things are" (tm). Thomas Paine held the idea that America could exist without the governance of English nobility and that every generation would be a new opportunity to push for liberty and equality. After the failed Articles of Confederation, do you think the founders of our country were expecting a document that would last this long without extensive revision? (Whatever happened to the idea of reviewing the Constitution every decade?) Democracy cannot statically exist. Ask the ancient Greeks. Paine was right that it is something that should get deeper and richer. Did it?

I am libertarian-socialist in outlook, but I wish more people would stop relying on the large structures to create America. America is not up there, out there, over yonder... America is here. And we still don't have a unified society or a coherent culture. The oligarchies of Europe at least had a sense of collective identity. Now, I shall slip into an acid-dropping Lewis Carrol state and ask:

"WHO ARE YOU???"

I'm not out to rationalize a particular view of American identity. I disagree with both the idea of the "Melting Pot" and "Multiculturalism." "Brown" is a better idea and Richard Rodriguez should be crowned with sprigs of olive branches for that book. But we seriously need to consider what is America because we now have not only transgressed the natural order with pollution and genocide of Native peoples (yes, full genocide. There are only a handful of surviving Native tongues. Native Americans are a culture, not a race. That is the way Native people identify themselves and we killed them more when we forbid their language.), we have transgressed the foundation of American government (right, Mr. Bush?).

The question is not a trick question. We all know what America is, but we can't put it into words. But you don't have to. In fact, it cannot be put into words. It cannot be put into symbols. "These are the times..." right? Keep your eyes open for propaganda. It worked in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, 9/11. I think everyone that's lived in America for most of their life knows what it means to be American. The issue is not identity, the issue is organization and right now, I think we should pay more attention to our social order.

Just a thought...

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 1, 2007

New Horizons

Okay, so American society is mangled. That is an obvious thing. But I think I've found a yearning in everyone for the same thing people in America have been yearning for since Independence: identity. No one ever says "I am an American." Are we proud of our rich history? Our bright and vibrant cultures? Our helpful people who don't want to be better, have more, or oppress others, but just want to get by and hopefully be part of something? We've allowed these alien ideas of "spreading democracy," "free markets," and enterprise to taint our landscape to the point where America is all image and no feeling.

I am here to say America is a feeling. America is where every man and woman is free, well-fed, and belongs. We've allowed politicians and capitalists to tell us who we are. I say we should tell them who we are. Being black is not being absorbed in basketball, rap, bling. Being woman is not being a determined autonomous feminist. Being Native is not being a spiritual, complacent primitivist. Being an immigrant is not being weird or trendy. Being an Italian American is not being a mobster or Sinatra in "Little Italy." Being gay is not being out and proud, socialite, flaky, trendy, or fashionable. Being male is not being a rough, muscular, lady-pleaser, unemotional, pissed-off, competetive meathead. Being American is not waving a Goddamned flag over everything you own.

Being American means hating fascism of any form and being willing to stand up and fight it, whether with words, with guns, or with ideas.

What does it mean to be an American?

It means you don't have the right to tell us what is American. We are American. If you breath the air above this land, you are American and no one has the right to block you out or smuggle you in. We are not your cheap, crafty, innovative workforce. We are not your marketing demographic. We are no longer fooled by these "images of America" and now we are starting to get pissed. You don't want to piss with America.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 10:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 19, 2006

Media Literacy Theory Test

The answers will appear on a separate blog entry after Thanksgiving Break. If you are the first to post the all the correct answers in a comment and you are a student at SHU, I may just take you out for dinner.

Correct the following:

1. A medium can be defined as the conditions or environment in which the content or message is transmitted.
2. The Medium is the Massage (book, McLuhan).
3. Medium, genre, and style are all the vocabulary of postmodern art.
4. Contemporary American media are arguably dominated by a pervasive visual culture.
5. According to Noam Chomsky, the propaganda model relies on the following conditions: a. ownership of the medium, b. the methods of financially sustaining the medium, c. sources, d. flak of the medium, e. anti-communist sentiments (or any other alternative to representative consumer capitalism, such as the Islamic state).
6. From the perspective of media ecology within the field of media theory, each medium constructs or limits perception, sensation, comprehension, emotion, and values.
7. The "liberal agenda" in the mass media is a cultural myth. Gatekeepers of the mass media can enforce serious limitations on the broad scope of news events.
8. The mass media sell the audience more often than they sell the news.
9. America is just as guilty of blatant propaganda techniques as countries such as Iraq, Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, Germany and China.
10. In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman takes a similar, but contrary approach to McLuhan. Both would argue that the medium shapes the content. However, according to Postman, the culture the television ushered in should not be celebrated, but rather be approached with caution because the book illustrates Postman's value of rational discourse (in which the television's properties stifle) and concept of "the medium is the metaphor."

Posted by EvanReynolds at 11:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 1, 2006

Blogs: the Transient and Poetic

Note: this post is in an attempt to supplement my inquiry about the medium blogs in function to the acquisition of a philosophical outlook.

"Being in Time"
First, the distinction must be made so as not to confuse "being in time" (being as a noun) and "being in time" with being as a verb. This is not to copy Heidegger's language, but to illustrate how blogs exist in time. Think of the aural tradition... Language was, before the advent of writing, a system of sounds that moved through time alone. Writing was a system created not just to create an artifact from language, but to move language into a more privatized domain. (Hence the tradition of refusing to let people read over one's shoulder). Language could then be quantified through more objective observation. The downfall of print was that it further stratified the classes of people. Since print was labor-intensive and expensive, access to the resource of knowledge was limited to the nobility and the gentry. If the medium truly is the massage, what medium is most readily available to you affects your overall worldview.

How do media shape us? Who has access to what medium for information?

"The Poetic Evolution"
More than ever, people want to express themselves. We often ramble the words "punk is dead." For good reason, too. People like this poser and that sell-out make people believe punk is nothing more than a couple of hot-topic plaid skirts, eyeliner, and a $200 tie. The problem is simply that... punk was never alive! How the Hell can it be dead? There continue to be punk bands that defy the convention of image. I know. I've seen them. Corporate America may try to turn every cultural revolution into a huge money-making scheme, but even with the increasing futility of resisting, there are people who are still defiant.

What does this all have to do with blogs? Simple. Think of the concepts above in terms of the aural culture. Is the aural culture dead? How can it be? It was never alive! There are people that will try to convince you that true music is only for some people. Such people are power-mongering fascists who think they know what "true music" and "real music" is, but have no clue. The visual culture has increasingly privatized music. First, people started playing in small groups or by themselves, then they played indoors, then they made sheet music, then records, then mp3's, then iPods... what next, somebody implanting a microchip in the brain that simulates music and can be heard by no one but yourself?!

Over-individualism is a drug that has - and continues to have - decentralized and intoxicated media of communication. As the visual culture gains dominance, the aural culture disintegrates. You can sell artifacts as a commodity. Its much harder to sell the transient and poetic. If services can be sold, how is this possible? It is important to remember that since the aural meme was never alive, you will not be able to kill it. People crave interaction. We live on responses. It's the basic function of the cosmos... stimulus, response, stimulus, response. We are built on a temporal and changing framework. Our functions will serve the same end.

Privatizing service into the domain of the individual is harder to do. Since service often involves more than one person (Higher education, for example... I'd love to see a college try to have a 1:1 ratio!). Media are reflecting this trend. Although cell phones are a good example of how the aural has remained, they privatize the medium of speech and reduce it to the lowest common denominator: one person talking to one person.

Thus, the trend is edging toward a new paradigm - a paradigm of social networks. Strikingly, with each electronic medium revolution, there came a folk music revolution - (In the 1930's with the vacuum tube radios and in the 1960's with the mass television broadcasts) - except with the age of personal technology (cell phones, computers, iPods). McLuhan felt the trend of the TV connecting people in new ways. With the iPod revolution, we can start to see a trend toward a more aural culture; however, our society (both the producer and the consumer) is trying to contain the transient and move it further into the domain of the visual culture.

The age of the television could be seen as the transition period from the division of the visual culture and the aural counter-culture. On the surface, this seems like a reconcilliation, but in the age of networks, this phenomenon can be viewed as an attempt to contain the aural in the visual box.

Thus, we stand at a critical point as blogs enter the mainstream. Blogs have the ability to turn the tides of this cultural conflict. McLuhan notes in the Medium is the Massage that you simply can't apply the wrong set of expectations/conventions/paradigms to a medium. This also applies to the macrocosm of media. Trying to contain the aural in the domain of the visual takes away the true nature of the aural, and thus takes the richness and fecundity of life along with it.

"Balance"

The quantifiable and the poetic must exist in a yin and yang balance. We should not have knowledge without mystery, reason without passion, space without time. Both create a stable environment. Blogs can help to foster a movement into an age where knowledge is both absolute and relative. An age in which we don't enforce one ideology, but neither do we stand ambivalent to all ideology. When the next technological revolution happens, I pray that it seek to balance the aural with the visual without placing one in the context of another.

This will keep the conversation in balance. This environment will allow for philosophical communication to be more equally distributed among those who participate, without domininance. But, the environment would still be adventageous for progress. Many postmodern scholars feel the universe is fragmenting. It's only because our present media create the perception of fragmentation. Truth is still out there. It's still attainable. The over-emphasis of the visual compartmentalizes the truth. The reason you think you can't know the truth is because the visual is dominating the aural. When they exist in balance is when the truth fully manifests. (Note: do not try to interpret this on a physical level, this is more of a metaphor for your methodological approaches when engaging in discourse. Deaf and hard of hearing people can listen... Often better than hearing people. This paradox is imporatant to note because listening is not about the tools so much as it is about the process.) You wouldn't use a freezer to cook an egg. Why do you search for the truth with your eyes? Listen, and perhaps you will find something unexpected.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 22, 2006

The Economics of the Media

The Old World is Crumbling

In 1967, the prophetic words of Marshall McLuhan hit the bookstores like a stick of dynomite: "the medium is the massage." nearly forty years later, the words still linger in the air like a thick smoke over a pile of rubble. What McLuhan had not anticipated was the gravity of his words and the undefeated assertion that history does indeed repeat itself. We sit on the fringes of an age where CEOs and CTOs and chairmen of the boards of giant industries control our every function as human beings. The TV tells us to eat... we eat. The TV tells us to have sex... we virulently have sex. The TV tells us to kill and by God, without asking a question, we kill. We fall captive to the hands of politicians, businesspeople and other such demonic figures. While the few sit in luxury, we sit here below, exploited... without any armed guards to protect what little we have, let alone posessions to begin with.

The Currency of Meaning

The medium is the currency of meaning. As you sit here reading this, there is a process going on. Your mind is not reading a weblog, your mind is going to a bank... to a market. What is it doing there? It's exchanging currency. What is a dollar worth?

TRICK QUESTION! It ain't worth shit! We ascribe it meaning. Just like these words. But it you string up a couple million of those dollars (and likewise the words) the meaning we gave it is amplified. That's how economics is formed. If currency and in similar ways, language, had no meaning, we wouldn't need to study it through economics and scholarship. The problem comes whenever we simply study these phenomena and do nothing. The world is fragmenting with the onset of our creation of "progress" and postmodernism. We seek to destroy our world in an ideological suicide. We rely on the assumption that it is inevitable, but is it? If we know we have a chance at sustaining something, but we purposefully do not take it, the burden of responsibility falls directly on us for not sustaining that which we could have sustained.

Therefore, as you read this, your psyche is putting meaning into my string of words. Just like different currency carries different values, so do these words. But, that is a blatant oversimplification which eludes the true fecundity of media. What is a dollar worth to a person begging for money on the streets? It's worth a meal to that person! How about the President? A Hollywood actor? Bill Gates? Based on experience, faculties and especially resources, the dollar with a universal value means different things. Now apply that to this text. You are unique. You will "take out of this" something different than another person. Why do you think there are a million different versions of Christianity? It's the same text!

"Ideological Suicide"

As McLuhan echoed nearly 40 years ago, the medium is the massage. Each medium has specific qualities that make it unique and likewise give it unique powers. Think of fantasy novels. There are always certain limitations and faculties that each mythic character has. For each power there is also an "Achille's heel." The winner of the game is usually one that can exploit the weaknesses and manipulate the abilities. Think of the Lord of the Rings, for example. If you control the Ring, you control all of Middle-Earth. Who controls the majority of the media? Certainly not objective truth!

Further, where do people get their news?

What?! You don't often watch the news?!

The problem with my generation is that we have become blinded by the media that target us (specifically, TV, radio and internet). I am growing up in a culture of escapism. Look at the movies. Look at the popular TV shows. You know, it's sad when the most popular movies are also the most escapist. When I try to discuss politics with some people, they simply get turned off. It's as if they think ignoring it will make it go away. Every time I walk by the lounge, MTV or USA or some other such rubbish is on. Entertainment is my generation's drug. And the corporations are handing it out like candy... Why? If you can hide the evils of the world and even more, propogate in people a different culprit, you have succeeded in not only saving your hide, but also directing the mob to your enemy.

What about all the academics who want to destroy the logos (that is, the postmodernists)? This quasi-liberal ideology creates, in itself, a dichotomy: the presence of an intact logos... the absence of an intact logos. You could argue that it is simply "fragmenting the old paradigm," but it's either fragmented or it's not. This, as I said earlier, I consider ideological suicide. We constantly develop new and increasingly destructive technologies. Mobile phones, for example. While this might not seem like a WMD, on the contrary... it is. Text messaging propogates a culture of instant gratification. Again, like a drug. Think of the time whenever you bought a new hi-tech toy. It was great, wasn't it? You got to fiddle around and learn it in and out. But then, what happened? The novelty wore off and you were left with a piece of plastic and transistors.

That is the effect. Like a drug, you are drawn in to buy more gadgets with increasingly intricate features. Consumerism uses such media to sustain this mode of production. Like the drug dealer, who gets your currency for substances, so does the sales rep. get your currency for new technologies. Like the example of the dealer, the value of the currency at length outlasts the value of the product. Both draw you "deeper in" and require increasing sums of expenditure. The tantilizing promise of peace and equality draw the mind into postmodernity. But, as technology exploits the resources of the earth, postmodernism exploits the resources of the logos. The drug drags you in until you overdose. Postmodernism and the cultures of escapism and consumerism are paving the road to our demise with the body of our mother.

Music for the Masses

Exploiting the power of the media against the weak and feeble consuming masses, corporations, perhaps even without realizing it, are sustaining the greed of late capitalism and the threat of super-globalization. The currency of money and written language have become so privatized that we don't even carry money in our pockets anymore! Money is a network of exchange locked up for us by banks. Likewise, this exclusivism transcends money. In order to be heard, you must be published. Even having a weblog like this one is not free. You must be a tuition-paying student to own a Seton Hill weblog. Print is a privatization of language. It's much easier for one person to read a text at a time and the message is arbitrary. Imagine going to a Folk concert or jam session and trying to be the only one to hear the music.

Let's take a journey a couple thousand years back... The Greeks were evolving their philosophies. Out of the poetics came a tradition of music. Poetry wasn't what it is now. It was collective wisdom. You didn't write down poetry, that would be absurd. Then, in Plato's Republic, Socrates envisions a collective society ruled by a philosopher/philosophers. Plato, with all good intentions, sought to destroy the despotism of the state and replace it with the despotism of the philosopher. Thus, he privatized reason. Rather than elevate all people to the true nature of good, he would create a disparity in reason and have the reasonable govern the fools. Listen to the music. Wisdom is a tree that no one individual can embrace.

Today, we are trapped in a quasi-Platonic vision. Everything is becoming privatized. You don't watch TV outside, do you? Your computer doesn't project everything you see to as many people as you know, does it? Music is different. It is a collective phenomenon. The music is spread to a variety of ears from one source. But even music is becoming privatized. Portable mp3 players and iPods are quickly replacing boom boxes and, God forbid, live music. Music, like most any art is becoming a private commodity. How did people communicate in the very beginning? They talked. Now, what should be the most lasting form of instant gratification without the destructive qualities, is slowly diminishing. People sitting side-by-side on computers no longer talk, but send IMs. People pull out their cells before they go to visit someone's house. This is how the bourgeoisie can sustain their power. By extending privacy to just about everywhere except social issues, they can exercise control, perhaps even sub-consciously.

Copyrights let people claim ownership to whatever it is they discover. But, how can one own truth or discovery? Even if you could hold it in your hands, that does not give you any kind of entitlement to it. The drug of consumerism, the self-destructive ideology of postmodernism, and the pervasive privatization of goods and property all create the despotic economic rule of the few over the many. Every aspect of our lives is being controlled, whether we care to admit it or not. Pro-war propoganda, anti-socialist attitudes, greed, all these rise from every country because of this globalization of consumer capitalist ideologies. From Israel to Lebanon, from the US to Iraq, from India to Pakistan, from Japan to North Korea. Every aspect of our life is informed by the media. But, somewhere in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and yes, even in America, someone is playing some music as a prayer for peace and the restoration of community... They invite you to join them.

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July 8, 2006

Religion is a Verb

What is the point of religion? If it's just going to be a set of static dogmas that dictate one's life and restrict one's otherwise free thought, why bother?

Why bother?

Because politics and ethics have little or nothing to do with religion, and yet religion has everything to do with politics and ethics. Religion is not a noun, but a verb. Imagine going into mass sitting down, and then... Well, that's it. Just sit down and watch. The priest takes out the Holy Eucarist and sets it on the table and then... You watch.
If God was merely an aesthetic, this would be about all you could do. About as boring as going to an art museum, right?

Losing sight of the richness and fecundity of the transcendant is easy to do. I mean, we have it down to a science! It's the formula of religion: go to church, pray, seek repentance, etc, etc. I'm not saying those are bad things, but what I am saying is that when we lose sight of what they mean and what they are helping us to remember, they become fruitless objects. So, what are they helping us to remember? Religion is a verb.

Politics seeps into the religious infastructure and makes cracks in its rocky base. Politics was invented by man, but religion was merely discovered by man. Politics is a noun, but religion is a verb.

Faith is the largest part of what makes religion a verb. The concept that we have faith is, from my perspective, inaccurate. We can be faithful, put our faith in, or come to an understanding of faith. But can we have faith? How can one own faith? Faith is not some static object that we can wrap our arms around or contain within a Tupperware box. Faith is also a verb. But we use faith every day; how can it be a verb? We use our ability to walk everyday. Faith is not the ability to walk, but it is the walking itself. To be more specific, faith is the medium through which we come to know God. Buddha describes this phenomenon as a finger pointing to the moon. The real essence is not the finger, but the moon.

If we apply the principles of communication and media theory to religion, we find that there are some striking parallels. Just like people can "get something out of" a text that is different from other people's readings of a text; people look at the same transcendental experience and "take out of it" something different from other people. But really, if God is divine truth, then our religions are merely interpretations of that divine truth. Thus, how can one own divine truth? If God is perfection and we are imperfect when compared to God, then how can we say we "know God."

I have been asked on several occasions by different people who (how do I put it?) were "on fire for Jesus" whether I "knew God." My classic response is: "Well, I don't know God... but, I put faith in Jesus." (Note: if you ever want to confuse any extreme fundamentalists, this is a good way to do it! :P) In a classical Western sense, faith is like a horizon that we can get closer and closer to, but never touch (alluding to the example from LA150 in Cindy Boland's class). Keeping in mind that religion is a medium, religious experience is limited to what we are able to perceive and comprehend (after all, this body is a medium, too!). Since the divine reality or truth or whatever-you-want-to-call-it is--in theory--boundless and limitless, both our mediated selves and the mediated tools we use to bring an understanding of this truth give a limited picture of such truth.

We could weasel our way around this argument by denying that God is limitless and renouncing God's perfection. But, that puts us on the same plane as God. And if you were coming from an Eastern perspective (such as Buddhism or Hinduism) this thesis would be moot as well. But I am talking specifically in a Western understanding and even more specifically, a Christian understanding, with the fundamental premise that God is beyond us.

We seek God in many different ways. This is why there are so many different religions. Just like romance novel readers would think SF is nothing but dry and pointless information dumps and SF fans would find romance just icky, people find different religious expressions to be more fulfilling than others. Genres of religious expression, or religions, form. Just like litterature, they seek to fulfill different means, but in the end, they are really all made of the same 100% pre-consumer material as these paperbacks.

Just like the story of the Tower of Babel suggests, the world split into different factions. It happened to litterature, it happened to music, it happened to art. From one concept (media), you get get differing media. From one God, you get differing religions. How do we reconcile all these factions? How do we bring a sense of unity to all people without losing an identity? Religious synthesis seeks to answer these questions and more. The major concept of religious synthesis (I better get this right, or Dr. Leap is gonna shoot me! :D) is that there is one ultimate truth that all religions are aiming for and where the religions converge, there the truth lies.

If religion was simply us blindly seeking God, then there would be no need for revelation. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed would have sat back idly if that were true. But, since religion is a verb, there is a two-way communication. And thus, Moses spoke to his people the word of God and Judaism was formed, Jesus walked among us and showed us the way of God and Christianity was formed, and Mohammed revealed the word of God, and Islam was formed. So, the dynamic is that religion is like a transcendental communication system. God speaks to us through revelation and experience, and we speak to God through faith and commitment.

However, since we cannot forget our limitations as a medium, we cannot forget that our experience (that is, our perception of the experience) is limited. We see only a facet of the true fecundity of God. This is not to say that when God can only reveal His divine presence to us as a sliver of an almond in the tree of reality. Our perception (broadly defined) can only see so much. Thus, faith and experience take us the next leap forward, and the next, and the next...

Returning to the very first question (yeah, remember that one? hee, hee, hee!!!): why bother? I bother with religion because keeping on the journey you discover that, in the converse of the words of Pete Seeger: "Christianity is no more what the Churches make of it than Communism is what Russia made of it." The more you pursue God, the more blessed and cursed your life will be. Blessed in the sense that you find a joy beyond words... Cursed that you wish the whole world could be filled with the same joy. But this paradox is what moves you forward. It's what makes you act more and more justly. It makes you more aware of other's feelings because you want them to find joy whether it be with your religion or not.

There is a line from a song called "Sadeness" by Enigma which goes: "Si tu es contre Dieux, tu es contre l'homme!" (If you are against God, you are against man). I feel the converse is true as well. Perhaps if we look beyond the dogmas and cultuses, and really considered what they represent, we would find that there is a whole other world to explore that is beyond heaven/hell and good/evil. If we become motivated by the desire to share our joy, then we wouldn't need to be motivated by law and consequence, nor reward and incentive. This is not mere theocracy. This is not simply "being ruled by conscience." This is the movement of society as a whole and in solidarity toward the future. This is the premise of Christian Communism.

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May 11, 2006

A Critical Reading of "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"

Roy Peter Clark wrote a fantastic essay on the epistemology and ontology of journalism. But he missed a huge chunk of the iceberg, in my opinion...

"The post-modernist might think this all irrelevant, arguing that there are no facts, only points of view, only "takes" on reality, influenced by our personal histories, our cultures, our race and gender, our social class. The best journalists can do in such a world is to offer multiple frames through which events and issues can be seen. Report the truth, they ask. Whose truth?"
-Roy Clark, "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"

I am in no way a postmodernist. There is one reality. There is one truth. I'll even toss in that there is one universal virtue. But, the question remains, what is it? Humans are mediated entities. We can see only what's in front of us. No one individual can possess the truth. (YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!) Why? Because of the limitations of our mediated selves. I would argue that it is not that there is no universals, but that everything we see is subjective, so we will never attain full knowledge of the truth. It's not that it doesn't exist, it's just that it cannot be quantified within one single frame of reference.

Imagine there are three blind men on differing sides of an elephant. One can only touch the tail, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Another can only touch the trunk, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Yet another can only touch the ear, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Which one is correct? You see, truth is multi-faceted, like the elephant. There are many dimensions to truth. Because we carry a lens with a certain set of restrictions, we only see certain facets of the truth.

We are, as I said before, egocentric beings. We only see our side of the story. For example, is the person who treats you like total shit a bad person? If you say yes, I guarantee that you don't treat everyone so mighty fine yourself! Thus, if that statement is true, then we are all bad people. If it were only Adam and Eve and Eve bitchslaps Adam for leaving the toilet seat up, then, yes, maybe Eve was a bad person. We are nice to whom we delight in being nice to and we love to loathe our enemies (even though Jesus told us not to, damn hippie!).

Perhaps if we focused more on the ontology and epistemology of media studies and journalism the world would get closer to the truth. Instead, we focus on the unchallenged classical assumptions of journalistic values. I commend Roy Clark for writing such a thought-provoking piece. He raised some issues in my mind that have been silenced to acceptance by people who study the media. To answer the call that journalists should report the truth, YES! But the question still remains, "where do we begin?"

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The Id, the Ego and the Photo

Journalism is egocentric. Hell, I'd be willing to bet that all of life is egocentric. We only see what we choose to see. What makes journalists so different? Are they any less human than other workers? No. If you want someone who is not very human, talk to a lawyer. All jokes aside, anything mediated has certain sets of limitations. These limitations, therefore, create a frame of reference. I like to call this frame of reference its ego, simply because I am also a psychology major... You can call it something else if you like. Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum lies the id. The id is the reader, the viewer. He or she is embedded with unconscious desires and biases -- perhaps more so than the reader cares to admit. The problem is the id and the ego don't get along. At all. Their quarrels of ideologies and agendas create a certain amount of alienation. The id and the ego of media are the macrocosm of what goes on inside each and everyone's brain daily. And that is a blatant oversimplification...

To avoid a strict dichotomy, Freud observed that there was a third construct of the brain called the superego. Just like Freud's construct, the superego mediates the desires and biases of the id (reader) with the agendas and biases of the ego (reporter). The superego is my personal hero. What is the superego in terms of media studies? Simple: a critical reading of the news.

Let's take the example of a photograph. Simple, right? How can a photo be biased? Well, remember from earlier, the medium is the message! The limitations of the photo allow the reporter to only take one static image. This limitation may seem irrelevant, but think about it... How can you capture every side or faction of a story with one photograph? You'd have to make a collage of images to capture every side.

Take a look at this simple search for news photos on the immigration issue (via yahoo, what is the immigration issue?). Okay, now you may think this a stretch, but I don't. What is wrong with the results?

Of all the photos of the first five tiers of results, how many Americans do you see advocating immigrant rights? How many Mexican officials to you see protesting the emmigrations from Mexico? You either see poor Mexican workers advocating their rights or a group of blue-collar Americans holding up American flags in protest. Is that unbiased? Is that fair? Is that proportional? Probably proportional, but as you see, the proportionality is lost in the masses upon masses of blatantly dichotomized images. Who looks at every article and every image just to find all the sides and perspectives involved? As the news agencies see it, the fairness is in the fact that they try to portray two sides of an issue in their most positive light. I guess adding complexity and ambiguity would turn off viewers to the news.

You see, from my frame of reference, the news is not about truth. It never was. It's usually about persuasion and money. We are, as said by Susan Sontag, still in Plato's Cave. Capital is America's frame of reference. Because money talks, right? Obviously, the medium is the massage. People don't need to be challenged; they just need to consume the facts and everything will fall into place, right?

News is very egocentric. In this Western world, we live in a bubble. News is never fair, never proportional, never objective. Why? Because of the sole fact that we view everything from a Eurocentric, capitalistic ideological lens. Does this mean I want to go into total anarchy? Perhaps. But, I feel the most quintessential element in journalism is transperancy. We cannot use words such as fair, proportional, objective, and balanced (yes, that goes for Fox news, too!).

How do we remedy this issue? Simple. Transperancy: we must admit the pervasive biases of the media. This doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for a fair, accurate, proportional, objective and yes, balanced news media, but we should be careful to place these labels on any reporting when they are not completely true. Critical reading: perhaps the most important element in this issue, a critical reading is how we process the biases of both the news reports and ourselves. We must strive to know the reporter's frame of reference, but also strive to know our's. Socrates posed the challenge to "know thyself." Within that short sentence, lies far-reaching implications for media studies. The more we know about our own frame of reference, and the more we know about where others are coming from, the closer we are to the truth.

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January 30, 2006

In Yo Face!

Next time some "high-brow" scholar makes fun of the Video Gaming course you took over J-Term, rub this in their nose:

Media studies students - sometimes stereotyped as studying "Mickey Mouse" degrees - are among the most employable of any graduates, says a major survey. (from the BBC)

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January 16, 2006

Presentation on Visualization and IF Part 1

Part 1.1 The Ugly>>

Before I get started with this entry, please play A Nightmare in Paris, a hypertext fiction game I created last year. I will refer to it and ask specific questions relating the game to the topic I'm researching.

Part 1.2 The Bad>>

Why would I have you play that game? What does it have to do with anything?

Before you answer that, let me ask this (Please answer in the form of comments, don't call me I WON'T ANSWER!):

  1. Can you draw some comparisons between the absurd elements in this game and IF? What does this game say about IF?
  2. What, according to this game, is a major weakness in IF?
  3. What, according to this game, is a mistake that IF designers too often make?
  4. Was this game frustrating? Why? What does this say about the issues raised in the previous question?

Am I mad? Possibly. But, at one level these are just a bunch of "high-flown" questions that really only matter to artists and cynical bastards like me :D. At another level, these issues are critical to advancing the art (that's right, art) of game design and making a game that Strongbad said were for "intellectual types" accessible to everyone.

Next set of questions (HA! You thought you were done, didn't you!):

  1. Why do you or don't you play IF games?
  2. Why do you think the latest Harry Potter book sold more than 2 million copies opening day, but IF titles could barely scrape 100,000 in 1985?

Now, on the surface, it may seem that the answer is simple: the graphics make the difference. But when Halo 2 outsold Harry Potter by a measely 380,000 units in their respective opening days, you have to question what exactly makes IF games less popular. But this doesn't mean there is no hope for IF. IF does many things wonderfully. Follow me to my next article that I have hidden from you (muhahaha!) and find out the good side of IF, the side of what it is doing right!

>enter the good

>You can't enter there.

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January 8, 2006

A (Mini) Postmodern Critique of Utopian Entrepreneur

Reading literally like The Medium is the Massage, Laurel's book, The Utopian Entrepreneur has great insight for this discourse of video games. Within the first page, she deconstructs common assumptions about feminism and what qualifies as female oppression. Being that I think in terms of Queer Theory and Third-Wave Feminism, this book really struck a chord with me. However, I had no idea how well this book would settle with me until she started to introduce Marxist and post-Marxist concepts.

"It [the entertainment industry] is just doing what prevailing business ethics perscribe: make money, period."
-Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur

I love that statement! I should display it again, but in the interest of time, I will move on. The problem, like in Koster's theory of games, is not on the surface, it is a much more deep-seated problem. According to Laurel, "the answer for our kids and our culture is not 'no' as a default response. Socially responsible people must take up the challenge of creating games and movies and stories that both engage and nurture young people."

Thus, we must change the "ludemes" of our society and re-evaluate what our value system. For all of you Rand fans out there, hate to burst your bubble, but there is little virtue in selfishness! Marxism is not diametrically opposed to Capitalism. It is, however, opposed to the oppression that Capitalism has the potential to create [1].

Laurel suggests, as I would suggest, instead of throwing out something completely, you have to find something to replace it with. This is a fundamental concept I learned in Motivation and Emotion. You can hate Freud's theory all you want, but unless you have something to replace it with, you have no grounds to complain.

Being that I'm very Postmodern in nature, I see issues being raised in this book that spark my interest. Take for example, the mention of popular culture. The fallacy of this dichotomization of "elite culture" and "popular culture" that pervades contemporary society is a worthy candidate for scrutiny. What I will call "belongingness" (in the legacy of Martin Heidegger's coinage (:) is a method of restriction and control.

It's sort of like two cliques of elementary school children who do not want the other to have the toys they have. If we stick to these assumptions of "high brow" and "low brow," we are not advancing. Rather, we are selfish children who do not want the "elite" to be hip and do not want the "popular kids" to know anything about art, philosophy, etc.

However, I believe that Laurel took a wrong turn somewhere in "traditional humanism." What do I suggest, then? A Postmodern reading of this concept of "Utopian Entrepreneur." I feel that the problem lies not in what message we are sending to society, but the construction of society itself.

The answer is not to propogate and tell people how they should/shouldn't behave. In this Postmodern condition[2], that is all very optimistic, but it won't work. Instead, we must challenge the assumptions that our society holds as true and work toward a dialogue of understanding.

Games, then, in this paradigm will not have a moral, per se. Games will be meant for people to derive their own moral from playing (which would be learning to learn). This may seem self-defeating, even relativistic, but that is only a superficial understanding of the case that I'm making.

Everyone sees the world through their own lens. Therefore, how can anyone know the truth for certain? This is not to say that truth doesn't exist. This is to say what even the Greek philosophers knew: even if the truth was biting us in the ass, we wouldn't know it's the truth. So, the object becomes not preaching the gospel (which really is only our gospel), but finding the gospel.

The object of games, then, is to help us in this process.

Links:
1. Maass Rejoins
2. Wiki article on Postmodernity
3. (What is he talking about?!)
-updated: 1/8/06 at 9:33pm-

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January 6, 2006

The Aesthetics of Video Games in a Postmodern World

Hayward noted that the end result of photorealism is the "sensation of a lucid dream." I feel some degree of photorealism is required to make the player more a part of the game. However, I feel that surrealistic qualities in a game can be just as effective. Further, I would like to put a lesser emphasis on "form" and a greater emphasis on "content," especially content that adds to one powerful effect. When--according to Allison Hetter--"everything's been done already," we need to push the envelope even further to explore new possibilities for game design and art in general.

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
-Marcel Duchamp
As game design progresses as a form of self-expression, we must re-evaluate the way in which we appoach art. Contemporary art is now not measured by form, but by content. Today, art is becoming about the process and not the product. The lines and barriers that had been so clearly drawn in aesthetics are now disintegrating. I feel the one artist who can give the greatest insight into these issues is Marcel Duchamp.

In the quote above, Duchamp makes a statement to greatly advance the conception of what is considered "art." He credits the audience as being part of the creative process. This has significant parallel to video games as art because the games make the player part of this creative process. With out an audience to view a piece, there would be no art--just like there would be no sound if no one was around the tree falling.

Duchamp challenged our notion of aesthetic in the artistic sense. I feel we must do the same for video games. That would be the major change that Wong desired: creating and constructing mindbending worlds. There is a finite amount of things to capture on Earth, but with the imagination, the possibilities are endless.
(What is he talking about?!)
-updated: 1/8/06 9:34pm-

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January 5, 2006

The Matrix and Video Games

We have all looked at how real a simulated game can be. The Matrix (1999, Warner Bros.) challenges this concept of reality by suggesting a mind over matter paradigm.

Neo: "I thought it wasn't real."
Morpheus: "Your mind makes it real."

The Matrix suggests that because we interpret information largely from our CNS, there is no way to tell if we are actually collecting our daily information or being fed our daily information.

Trinity: "He [Morpheus] made us free!"
Cypher: "You call this FREE?!"

This raises an interesting issue of security vs. freedom. With the War on Terror raging and the Bush administration trying to extend the Patriot Act, we are called to question what we value more: security or freedom.

I feel video games have a great deal of security in them. Because they are governed by rules and conventions and not a free-for-all, there is a great deal less freedom in today's video games. For example, in the game I am studying, Half-Life 2, I see that there is usually only one way out of a threatening situation. Thus today's games need more theoretical review so that they can evolve as a medium.

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January 4, 2006

Possessing Barbie: Games Are More Than Childsplay

This example of New Games Journalism elloquently raised the issue of children and avatar chats with a very human, down-to-earth narrative. Expounding upon the issue of ontology in games media, Shanahan learns first-hand that perhaps it's more than "just a game."

He found that experiences in online gaming can be just as real as real-life (RL) experiences. The issue becomes even more grave when you consider kids and teens taking part in these equally real experiences with strangers.

“Kids can’t do that. They have fewer warning systems, because they have been hurt less and they are more open. But they want to explore and there are people who will take advantage of that innocence and curiosity.”

This passage greatly affirms the dangers of such interactions. I would have to agree. Given that these interactions--although mediated--are real, that in RL parents would not give their children to strange adults, and that children and teens are more vulnerable, I think it couldn't hurt for parents to be extra wary of what their children do online.

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January 3, 2006

State of Play: Subjective vs Self-Indulgent

What is the point of game reviews? One would think that you should read game reviews to find the game that's right for you. But a review is defined by the critical statement it makes. Too often game reviewers, such as the one assigned in EL250: Videogaming will simply summerize the game and not critically evaluate the game.

One method emplored by Ian Shanahan is to give a subjective experience of the game. This can give great insight into both the quality of the game and the types of people that play it.

The most important thing to remember about being subjective, however, is not to be self-indulgent. You may think you are special, but you're not that special. The quality of the game needs to be known above anything. The trick is getting the right balance in your review.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 2:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

A Rape in CyberSpace and a Need to Redefine

I think the real issue here is not whether or not laws are being put in place to inform the conduct on the internet. The same rules for RL apply to VR freedom of speech on the internet is not without consequences.

The biggest issue I see here is we have failed to evolve our politics and philosophies at the same rate as our technologies. Society puts too big an emphasis on objective science that when science creates a non-physical problem, we are left in a philosophical bind.

The reason the government didn't step in is not because they didn't see it as wrong. It's because they didn't see it as illegal. The man did not break any current laws that I am aware of. The reason this happened is that American public policy did not redefine what constitutes "legal" and what constitutes "illegal."

Americans are too conservative in the sense that we don't re-evaluate and redefine what we hold true as the world progresses. Then add to the mix the rapid progression of technology and what we can do with it and you get a recipe for disaster.

This issue can explain why America does not recognize same-sex marriages, approve of stem-cell research and still feels global warming is a crock full of crap. We are still living in a 1950s, nuclear-family, traditional values image that doesn't exist and probably never did.

Current American public policy is: 1. not interpretable enough 2. not contextual enough 3. not fluid enough.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 2:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

January 2, 2006

Transcendance and Power in Tron

Tron (1982, Disney)--a film that makes visual representations of basic computer functions--makes a statement about power in computing. The film mentions several times the term "religious" as if there was some transcendental essence to the interaction between the "user" and the "program." Everyone, essentially, holds that there is something greater than the self (whether it be God, or world peace, or aliens). The film gives programs a consciousness and makes them a microcosm of our world, making the users gods.

For me, this is a fascinating allegory of our lives as humans. The language of programming exemplifies the relationship: we type a "command," the computer "processes it for us," etc. All this is very empowering to the user of a computer. The theology of this is more like that of Greek mythology, not just because there are multiple users, but also because of the hierarchy of the users and their interactions.

Just like the Greek gods would put curses on each other, the users put restrictions on each other with "permissions" and "access rights." This is another more subtle form of imposing control.

However, I would argue that the most pertinent issue to this course raised by the movie is the portrayal of something as simple and mundane as using a computer is--at some level--a game.

In the movie and in real life, computer users are doing more than solving problems; they are interacting with an environment with its own set of rules and restrictions to complete an objective. In other words, users are playing a sort of video game.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 10:27 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

November 20, 2005

A Merry Un-Birthday to Journalists

Which source would you trust for coverage of the Iraqi reaction to the military operations in Iraq: an American journalist or an Iraqi blogger.

Before you answer, let me remind you that this is about Iraqi reactions.

If you would trust an American journalist for this one, all I can say is: "you're as mad as a hatter!" Some coverage of journalism is subjective and calls for people who understand the context of the situation. An American wouldn't know the cultural contexts necessary for giving an accurate interpretation of another culture's response.

This can be seen in Zeyad's Healing Iraq, to which Zeyad said in We the Media: "...coming from an Iraqi, they [the readers] give it more credence than if it were coming from Western journalists."

Like the Mad Hatter declared a "merry un-birthday" in Alice in Wonderland, ordinary people with extraordinary knowledge of important events of our time are becoming journalists. And electronic media again are causing us again to redefine everything, including journalism.

I have alluded to postmodern theory regarding digital media before. This is yet another example of the decentralization of episteme (Greek: Knowledge): with the diversity of individual expertise, instead of people turning to one comprehensive source of knowledge, we can turn to compartmentalized sources of knowledge.

This is the core feature of the internet. Because it is so easy to publish, we get not just a range of trustworthy and untrustworthy sources--that is too simplistic and dualistic--but also a wide range of specializations by people who are passionate about their specialty. Thus, we can't know everything, but we can all know something.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 10:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 13, 2005

Redefining the Media: A Preface to We the Media

What is the media? Many people can give examples, but few can actually define and get to the root of this issue. Semantically, media is "middle," something in between two other objects. In art, a medium is a method or genre of artistic expression--in other words, the medium stands between the image the artist has in his/her head and the image on canvas. In terms of size, a medium is between a small and a large. But what does this have to do with news? That's what this is all about, right?

Well, yes and no. Media is often confused with mass media, which is the system of people and products which deliver the news. Keeping with our concept of media, the mass media stand between the news and the news consumers: us. The mass media delivers and we take in. It's just like the artists: the artists paint, sculpt, draw, and in the same laissez-faire way, the audience takes in.

Now, if you think about this in terms of Marxism, who has the power? The media! We as consumers are dependant upon the mass media for our information. Without making a value judgment, this was and, to some extent, is our society.

What is the problem with this construction? We are starting to learn in this Postmodern age that we--the people, the once passive consumers--have a lot to contribute to the framing of history. So, with the advent of technology, we are starting to learn that every voice counts. Information is becoming more important than who delivers it.

Technology has fueled this Postmodern revolution and the Postmodern revolution has fueled technology. For the scope of this discussion, we are more interested in how technology has fueled this revolution. Information technology gives instant access to information. Never has this been more true than with the internet.

But, on the converse and more critical to the understanding of new media, information technology gives instant access to the delivery of information. Now, the lecture of historia has become a conversation, where we are all able to take part in--all with access to a computer. Obviously, privilege comes into play here, considering not everyone has access to a computer. However, the privilege of the corporate mass media is being torn down with the global village.

Now, the mass media has become what was previously the consumer. We are now delivering the news--right from where it happens. From Manhattan to Baghdad, from London to Paris, we are the news--we are the media.

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October 28, 2005

A Postmodern Understanding of the Glass

Is the glass half empty or full?

Statistics often lend themselves to being interpreted in many different ways. People can form opposing arguments based on the same statistic. This seems confusing in a dualistic-minded society. The fact of the matter is, things can be in opposition to each other without being polar opposites. Donnie Darko made this point painfully clear to his health teacher.

For example, I can say that racism is a problem caused by a particular culture's misconceptions of another race...

-OR-

I can also say that it is a problem caused by a lack of positive cross-racial experience resulting in a negative evaluation of another race...

Both claims made consider racism a problem; so, they are not contradictory. But, they do oppose each other, just not directly. These are contrary statements. This gives us a sense of a multi-dimensional understanding of truth. Truth is not either this thing or that. Truth is a dynamic which can be interpreted depending on context. Maybe these two statements are both right. Hmmmmm... If they both are valid and accurate, why not?

Proportion and scale play into this understanding. These are two distinct ways of looking at facts. Proportion is the contextual side of fact. It's like a pie chart; it compares the part to the whole. Scale is the more linear understanding of fact; it evaluates the part individually. Both are very accurate and truthful ways of looking at something. However, neither one is the be-all-end-all for measuring fact. Both are equally good ways of measuring fact, but their strengths and weaknesses are different.

Let's say we wanted to measure--as in the book It Ain't Necessarily So--whether or not the state of traditional (nuclear) families is declining. Which method would be the most adventageous to use?

Since there is also the factor of population that can rise or fall, thus affecting the number of families, we should take the number of nuclear families in proportion to the whole and compare the data to the proportion of non-traditional families.

If we wanted to see whether or not AIDS has increased greater in men than women--also in the book--we would use scale. Why? Because AIDS declines year-by-year, proportions of cases would not have the same common denominator. In other words, the raw number of cases in women may have decreased more in number than men, but risen in proportion exceding the male proportion.

Is the glass half empty or full? It all depends on context.

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October 27, 2005

The Journalism of Science

It Ain't Necessarily So made a case for the uncanny ability of Journalists to be absolutists. That's fine, but when reporters try to report on scientific statistic--which is by no means absolute--they run into a problem: the facts become misleading. The irony of this situation is: the objectiveness of the news becomes compromised by being objective.

The conventions of research lend themselves to being convoluted and based tremendously in context. For example, if you've browsed journal databases, you may find the abstracts that come up read something like, "study on the effects of aspirin on pregnant women age 20-35 in Belgium (1980)." Although the example is made up, it shows the preciseness and context of a research study.

There are too many variables that can have a severe impact on the accuracy of the research. Therefore, researchers must limit the sample based on which variables they wish to consider. This limit puts the study in a certain context. The context of our example would be pregnant women age 20-35 in Belgium during the 1980s.

The problem occurs when the relatively subjective work of researchers is published through the objective paradigms of reporters. There is nothing wrong with reporters being objective. Crime stories, articles on the campaign trail, and natural disasters need to be reported objectively without much consideration for issues of race, gender, class, age, etc.

However, in the research world, these can all be variables which affect the methods of research and the scope of research. That being said, when reporters remove these variables from the statistics in fear of being biased, they damn themselves in terms of accuracy and clarity. By removing the details of the sample the researcher selected, they have--as the book said--"made a journalistic mountain out of a research molehill."

If a reporter were to take a statistic from our example, say, 1 out of 3 women in the study experienced a miscarriage while taking aspirin (made up statistic), and removed the context, it would sound like every woman would be affected by this. We know better because the make-believe researcher only studied women age 20-35 in Belgium during the 1980s.

Although there is a possibility that this could affect every culture and age the same throughout time, we don't know because it hasn't been proven by research. Thus, we see a clash of conventions. The reporter wasn't overtly lying; however, the information that she gave was not put in context and has the potential to be misleading.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 7:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 23, 2005

When Newspapers are Unfair

Best Practices in Journalism

There is a broad feeling in the public that newspapers not only make too many mistakes, but that they also are unwilling to correct them fully and promptly.
-Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists
One of the biggest problems for newspaper credibility, it seems, is when newspapers don't want to admit their errors. It seems logical that if a newspaper were to publicize all its errors that the public would distrust the newspaper even more. But, according to Robert J. Haiman, the research in Best Practices, and the general public, that simply is not the case. Some statistics from Best Practices:


The reading also noted that four of ten people feel editors fail to report their errors because they want to hide their mistakes.

I personally feel as a consumer, I have a right to the correct information. I would feel better about the news if papers would offer corrections more readily; that way, I know the information I am getting is accurate. I feel that accuracy matters more than reputation. A paper that makes corrections to a host of inaccurate statements is better than a paper that hides a few errors in my book. Papers have a responsibility to their readers: providing the news in the most accurate form.

It's better to get the truth out there, even if it is from a correction. In the Setonian newspaper meeting tonight, we covered many of these same issues. I am proud to say that the Setonian has a commitment to excellence in these areas. Bias aside, the Setonian is writing a correction to one of its articles. This demonstrates to the audience that it cares about informing and reporting the truth.

I feel one of the major reasons people think the newspapers are untrustworthy is this fear of correcting errors.

A cause of this problem is the lack of open communication between reporter and editor and the reporter's fear of penalization for errors. When editors are more authoritarian than authoritative, reporters don't want to be honest for fear of penalization. I feel that editors should focus more on the positive side of things. For example, editors should be more apt to reward and reinforce practices such as correcting errors as soon as they are caught and offering more clarifications.

This will give way to a more open relationship of communication between the two functions. When this communication is present, there are less errors and the readers get a better article. I like the suggestion to let readers communicate errors. This gets the readers involved and lets them know that their voice matters. It also builds a relationship with the paper and lightens the error-catching load.

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October 20, 2005

Crime and Punishment

I will be completely honest. I did not enjoy the unit on crime reporting. But there is value to this form of news writing. First, the public needs to be informed of crime and needs to know if the justice system is working. Second, scandal sells. This may seem cynical, but in a capitalist society, even the papers are ruled by corporations. We're not out to discover the truth, we're out to sell papers. Sex and violence sells. Therefore, we must cover crime.

But the most important issue in crime reporting is the one I mentioned in class: people need that sense of closure.

When we bombard readers with the gory, juicy details of crimes, they need to know how the bloody fiasco ends. It seems the American media consumers are reminiscent of those in the play-turned-movie Chicago. Heaven knows the subject of the media changes as quickly in real life as in the movie.

This is what keeps people coming back for more papers (and what gives the CEOs of newspaper industries their wealth). Closure is what keeps us reading the novels we buy, the movies we watch, and the plays we see. People generally want justice to prevail or at least be informed when it doesn't.

The catchy headline and the excruciatingly juicy details of the story get the reader to pick up the paper, but the search for closure keeps the reader coming back.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 8:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

October 12, 2005

Diversity in Journalism


"If we think of journalism as social cartography, the map should include news of all our communities, not just those with attractive demographics or strong appeal to advertisers. To do otherwise is to create maps with whole areas missing."
-The Elements of Journalism
This metaphor is especially helpful because it shows how journalism builds community. When one area is excluded the picture is incomplete. As journalists, we need to be attentive to issues of diversity. A sense of comprehensiveness cannot be reached without including news that affects people of different demographics.

This is not to say that we must include every nationality, race, gender, class, etc. as news, but to cover news that affects every nationality, race, gender, class, etc. The Elements of Journalism talks about a strong desire in the 80's to cover news that only affects the people that the ads target. Tying it back to the previous chapters, journalistic values must not be sacrificed to the business gods. Making journalism a business primarily dilutes the qualities of good journalism, therefore creating this dilemma.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 9:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 10, 2005

Investigative Reporting or Advocacy?

Drawing the fine line between the two:

Investigative reporting raises some key problems or issues that challenge the conventions of the news. When reporters become more cynical than skeptical, more doubtful than inquirous, investigative reporting starts to walk on that fine line of advocacy. Offering a voice to the voiceless puts a value judgment on who has or lacks power. Thus, the reporter advocates the voiceless. The same is true with the converse, when a reporter is out to tear down and rip apart the person of authority, there is a conflict of interest.

Process vs. Product

We see this all the time--especially in broadcast journalism: reporters looking for the "story of the century." But in pursuit of this story, they get caught up in the product and not the process. The first example I can think of is the CBS scandal of Dan Rather. Perhaps he was too caught up in the product to focus on the process. Who knows? I am not out to make a value judgment on Rather, but I am trying to make a case that process is a focal point for investigative reporting.

Curiosity Saved the Cat's Ass

I think the watchdog metaphor is too often misunderstood, and--since I'm a cat fan--I say investigative reporting should be modeled after a cat. If you've ever seen a cat on the prowl, you'll notice that each move a cat takes is cautious, deliberate. A cat rarely goes into a barking frenzy and chase the bloody prey all across the yard.

A cat's moves are calculated and most of all, curious. Investigative reporting should have these same qualities: cautious and above anything, curious.

As with the cat, the strike is the last move. Striking a figure down should be the last resort of a reporter (that move is for the blog journalists ;c)). I would like to think that unless there is some overwhelming substantiated evidence that a reporter will not go out to "tear down the authority" or be an "administrative watchdog." A cat puts these preconceived notions to the side and focuses on the prey at hand.

The Balancing Act: Hearing all Sides, Feeling all Pains

Honestly, you do not have to avoid exposing damning (not necessarily of the criminal variety) evidence, when it is fair, accurate and balanced. When Bob Samuelson criticized America: Who Stole the Dream, I wouldn't think that he necessarily disagreed with the message, but I would think he disagreed with the bias of the story.

Balancing stories is not standing in the middle point of view, but it is like giving out consistent and fair portions to everyone. Simplified, it is like leveling a scale: both sides must be equally represented.

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September 24, 2005

The Elements (and Theory) of Journalism

The first few chapters of the book, The Elements of Journalism takes journalism into social and historical contexts. I think it was helpful to see how journalism evolved and to look for patterns to see where it is going. In the section marked, "A Free Press in the Electronic Age," the statement:

"The new journalist is no longer deciding what the public should know. She is helping audiences make order out of it."
-The Elements of Journalism

This has much philosophical value. Rather than become the "expert," the journalist becomes the medium through which the truth is passed. In communication theory, Reddy makes a case that information is interpreted and not simply received. The truth is not received in a coherent manner when a person reads the paper, but it must be interpreted by the reader.

I feel this ideal is empowering to the reader. By downplaying the role of the journalist (ie: excluding biases and involvment), the reader becomes the ultimate seeker of the truth. The reader can say whether a situation was right or wrong, good or bad, or just or injust.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 8:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 13, 2005

Evan Needs Your Help!

How many of you bloggers out there have a LiveJournal, Typepad, or other blogging community not directly related to academics? Or do you know of another non-academic community out there? The reason I ask is because I want to conduct a research article on community and networks in blogs.

I want to do a media analysis of non-academic weblog communities and apply and evaluate some of the theory, vocabulary, and conceptions of academic communities to non-academic communities. It is one of my goals to study media studies in grad. school. I hope sending my work for evaluation will get my feet wet and my name out there.

Some issues that I will seek to address:


  1. The social pragmatics and "netiquette" of these communities.

  2. The issues of power and privilege and the implications.

  3. The issues of communication and communication efficacy.

  4. The concepts of identity and "self".

  5. How the community works as a whole and the direction.

  6. Issues of gender.

  7. How the label of "non-academic" affects of transcends the community.

It is quite likely that I will be looking at these issues through the lens of Marxism or Queer theory. The only thing I ask is that this community be random. It must be diverse in gender, political affiliation, race (if possible), etc. (I am looking for a community parallel to the Seton Hill blogosphere, but non-academic). Please give me feedback or feel free to ask any questions about my research.

Posted by EvanReynolds at 9:46 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)