Topics in Emerging Media and Communications

Archive for September 2010

Miss Chleo Can’t Help Me

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When I think of media, my mind connects to medium and then to Miss Chleo. Yes, I realize my neural pathways are a bit strange, but let me explain:

I was ten years old and was staying at my cousin Molly’s for a week. She was one year older and wiser because her family had a TV with cable. I was naive because we only had three channels, not always in color. It was summer and instead of playing outside we spent all day parked in front of the television, our Barbies and My Little Ponies thrown in a reject pile. Molly was responsible for introducing me to the magical world of daytime television. We watched Family Feud, All My Children and Maury Povich and it was indeed magical. I didn’t want to go back to my drab world of reading books and playing outside. I wanted to watch TV forever!

And then Miss Chleo entered my life. We were waiting for The Price is Right to start when this commercial came on:

Miss Chleo was not just a medium, she was a social medium. For .99 cents a minute I could speak to her on the telephone and she would provide me information and guidance from another realm. It was communication on a level I could never imagine. She knew me, understood me, could predict my future without ever seeing me in person. Maybe we would talk often, about the life of a psychic and my cat who just had kittens. Once Miss Chleo got to know me, she could even be my friend!

Molly and I devised a plan. We would call Miss Chleo before her parents came home from work, but we had to act fast. I would go first and talked for 5 minutes, than Molly. We figured her parents wouldn’t notice $10 on their phone bill.

I dialed with shaking hand and waited for the sassy Jamaican accent on the other line. After the recorded greeting I heard a voice, but it was clearly not Miss Chleo. The voice asked questions, but even at ten years old I could tell they were scripted, recycled for every caller. I don’t even remember what the not-Chleo voice told me, I just remember setting down the receiver and telling Molly it was a scam. I would like to think that after our disappointment we went out back to jump on the trampoline, but I’m pretty sure we watched more TV or played Pong on Molly’s computer.


Written by HiuHiMedia

September 29, 2010 at 5:13 am

Posted in Entertainment

Tagged with , ,

The Art of War

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In reading Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, I found myself feeling angry and frustrated at the realization of how art is used to manipulate the masses, especially with regards to war.

I admit that I am one of the masses. I remember watching Schindler’s List and bawling my eyes out at the sight of those red shoes.  When I watched the invasion of Iraq on television I bawled as the bomb blasts melted into city lights. I watched Fahrenheit 911 and bawled at the evidence of greed and fear mongering presented. These moments captured on film helped shape my perception of war (they also betray my propensity to cry), but they weren’t just captured, they were created to move the viewer toward a specific viewpoint, toward outrage, toward action. And not just one viewer, modern film is constructed and produced to appeal to the largest market possible.

No other example better represents Benjamin’s argument “Fascism sees it’s salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves…the logical result of Fascism is the introduction for aesthetics into political life…All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war (Benjamin IV).” than Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will, a propaganda film documenting the 1934 Nazi Rally in Nuremberg, Germany.

Closing scene from Triumph of the Will (the entire film is also available on youtube.com)

In watching the film I found myself confused. I was at once entranced by the aesthetic and technical beauty and then horrified by the content.

“The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means o f this apparatus, man can represent his environment (Benjamin XIII).”

Triumph of the Will is specifically designed to transport you to Nuremberg square. It is a visually stunning piece of art, replete with imposing views of swastika adorned flags, 30,000 spectators chanting in unison, and part of a speech given by Adolf Hitler. The film is so effective that you can almost, for a second, understand the incredible hold the Nazi’s had over the crowds, swept away in love of country and love for the Furher. You see what the camera tells you to see. You hear what the film’s sound allows you to hear. It is not just a film, it is art. Art that inspires thought, feeling, action on a massive scale.

This is what Benjamin is talking about. This is dangerous. As an individual I would like to believe that I have a pretty good radar for propaganda, but the media machine is highly attune, using aesthetic arts, pleasing sounds and mass appeal to avoid detection. These techniques are even more effective now than they were in 1934, and will continue to influence the collective perception of reality.

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 22, 2010 at 5:11 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , ,

E-Democracy Now!

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Reading Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” was a revelation to me, a revelation for the new digital age written in 1961.  The significant idea in McLuhan’s argument is that society is crippled because  of the “attempt to do a job demanded by the new environment with the tools of the old (McLuhan 94)”. In essence, we must shift our systems, institutions, perception of life and relationships to fit the new Mass Age.  McLuhan admits that there will be tension and dissension-based fear during this transition process, but he sees a Techno-Utopia is possible.

When I consider the possibility of complete integration via mass connectivity, I think of the legal implications. This may be because my dad’s a judge, but there has to be a foundation of legislation and protections put in place in order for democracy to thrive. During the last election I got involved in the grass-roots movements and I believed in the power of social change through small efforts. I signed up for tweets, Facebook updates, I even took to the streets and caucused, all in an effort to have my voice heard and to hear the voices of others. This was a great debut into the political landscape, but I will admit that I got frustrated by peoples’ fear of us crazy generation Y-ers and our activist, hands-on spirit.

Despite the frustration and the verbal threat or two I received, I came away believing that democracy and the digital, mass age are a perfect match. McCluhan commented on this shift, “A new form of politics is emerging and in ways we haven’t yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything (McLuhan 22)”. Together they can facilitate full participation and real-time, meaningful exchanges of information and ideas, without the heavy hand of powerful wheelers and dealers.

Brazil is planting the seeds. In 2006 the Brazilian government implemented a social media component to their democratic process. The original system was participatory democracy with mandatory voting responsibility. Community based citizen committees were designated to meet and vote on legislation that best supported their community’s needs. By adding web-based interactions via email and wiki-type platforms,the face-to-face meetings shifted to online forums, giving the opportunity for better, faster, more accessible communication.

The results of the e-democracy efforts show an overwhelming increase in participation, “Overall online civic engagement dwarfed traditional offline participatory budgeting and accounted for a sevenfold increase in votes cast over the prior year when no online component was present (Ferenstein)” but the best advantage of their new system, in my opinion, has been that the poorest areas of Brazil are now some of the most represented. One would think the opposite would be true, due to the lack of computer literacy among poorer demographics, which gives hope that technology can extend beyond the lines that typically separate voting groups.

Of course there are disadvantages; primarily the mire of legal jargon that goes into bills, public hesitancy of anything new-fangled, and constant concern over the safety of technology but the possibility is there and it threatens those in power. To have the power to make real decisions about government funding and political office given to the people through web-based communication could mean major shifts in the U.S. political system. It would also mean a huge shift in those who are represented. It could even mean a shift in our perceptions of what it means to be an active citizen, a member of the global community.

“Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change (McLuhan 41)”.


Topics for discussion:

  • How do you think McLuhan would see this attempt at e-democracy?
  • Are there any other implications to consider when giving that much power to people?
  • Do you think it’s possible for the U.S. to adopt a similar system of democracy?

FYI: if you’d like to hear the audio version of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Massage” check it out here

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 15, 2010 at 4:09 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Let’s Go on a Walkabout

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Humans are natural storytellers. Our forefathers spent their nights huddled around a campfire, mapping out their past in the stars. Over the span of generations, oral traditions shifted to glyph paintings and eventually the written word: Beowulf and Iliad and The Odyssey being primary examples. Medieval monks toiled over handwritten copies of religious and secular documents, Gutenberg’s printing press, the first typewriter, the first computer, voice recognition software, and twitter. The future of information gathering and storage is unknown, but it all started with telling a story: recording history and preserving the present for the future generations.

I’ve chosen the promotional trailer and a brief clip of Walkabout, a movie about two English children stranded in the Australian Outback who are rescued by an Aboriginal boy.

Walkabouts are the foundation of Aboriginal culture. The spot of land where an aboriginal’s birth occurs is ceremonially marked. For the rest of their life, a person will know where they are relation to their birth spot. Every major event or experience is also marked by a location and at certain times during an Aboriginal’s life they go on a walkabout to revisit those locations as a rite of passage and reflection.

The topography of the Outback is also anthropomorphized; hills, springs, and trees become animals whose stories are told as moral principles, relatable to the Aboriginal experience. Aboriginals have a strong, primarily oral tradition, and from birth they are told the story of family’s collective Walkabout.

By throwing well educated, upper class English children into this “primitive” world, Walkabout reveals a sharp tension between two cultures, language, and technology. The Aboriginal culture is only one example of cultures who do not see a Western, Cartesian dualism between the natural world and the world of man or the past, present and future. For the Aboriginal the goal of life is to make their way back to their birth spot where they can pass away, become part of the journey.

Topics for Discussion:

  • In what ways does the film show contrasts between the two cultures?
    • Language
    • Technology
    • Social norms
    • Other
  • How could these film clips relevant to the following articles?
    • Plato’s “Phaedrus”
      • The oral tradition beginnings
      • Memory as historical record, storage
  • Vilum Flusser’s  “On Memory”
    • Relationship to the physical world
    • Relationship to the spiritual
  • M.T. Clanchy’s “Introduction” to From Memory to Written Record: England 1066 – 1307
    • Literacy’s effect on prejudice
  • How does the marketing of the film effect the viewer’s perception?

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Techno Burgers

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I’m sitting on my couch watching TV, not feeling the least bit hungry when a commercial hawking the biggest, juiciest, most perfectly staged hamburger I’ve ever seen flashes across the screen. Suddenly my stomach grumbles, my mouth waters, and my eyes grow in proportion to the cheesy burger. Growing, grumbling, growing, grumbling until I just can’t take it anymore. My brain hears my gastromic orchestrations and says, “Hey stomach, that restaurant is just down the street. It would be so easy to get in your car and  buy a burger to ease your pain” and my stomach agrees: Must. Have. Burger.

Somehow, 5 minutes later, I find myself in the drive-thru, ordering a 2,000-calorie burger I didn’t know I wanted, But I feel in control. This burger was my decision and darn it I went out and got it. Victory is mine!

This scenario has happened to me (more than once) and I’m willing to bet it’s happened to you (unless you have self-control, which I lack). But how does an impulsive burger run have anything to do with technology?

My desire for a burger began with technology. I was watching TV and advertisers spend billions of dollars to make sure that their product gets into my psyche and stays put. TV happens to be the medium to best reach me during my hour of weakness. And they don’t just target me as an individual, they target the collective of people who watch my TV show, read my favorite magazine, or visit my preferred online shopping site.

But it’s not solely the advertiser. I, the individual, look for the fastest shopping experience, most streamlined method of communication, and the one product that will make my life easier. Why? Because I want to enjoy all the extra time technology promises. I can stream Netflix from my computer or text Grandma instead of enduring a 3-hour phone update. Look at all the extra time I have! Isn’t technology amazing?

Yes, it is amazing. It also threatens the idea of the autonomous individual. We all use technology all the time, and we all want the newest and greatest. The idea of “The American Dream” comes to mind, complete with ipads for the entire family. It sounds ridiculous to go against technology when it is so accessible and convenient, and yet my parents refuse to buy a cell phone on principle.

Herbert Marcuse discusses how the new, mechanized system of labor, fueled by technological advancements, supports a collective standardization and collective achievement, thereby replacing an individualist, predominantly agrarian labor structure.

Does this mean that Individuality is dead?

We are all cogs in the big machine, consuming, producing, with the same voice and the same desires, but then again, maybe not. Marcuse defends that individuality isn’t dead; it just becomes unnecessary in large-scale industry and mass culture structures. The individual within each of us fights against the idea of being one of the lemmings, part of a collective that is easily swayed by structures created for mass control. But when we allow technology to streamline our daily tasks, we allow more time for other pursuits.

“Moreover, mechanization an standardization may one day help to shift the center of gravity from the necessities of material production to the arena of free human realization. The less individuality is required to assert itself in standardized social performances, the more it could retreat to a free ‘natural’ ground.”

If technology made my crave the hamburger so much I had to buy it, you could say I was now free. I didn’t have to spend time thinking about what I wanted to eat, I didn’t have to grow the ingredients, butcher the cow, or prepare the meal. I have an instant hamburger, a burger that has been served over a billion times, but its homogeny has possibility. I could cut it in little bits and pass it out to all my friends so they could share my experience. I could add some guacamole and jalapenos for a new flavor combination, or I could use the hamburger a inspiration for my next work of art.  The hamburger potentials are endless, and dare I say transcendent, all because I am free to get creative.

Written by HiuHiMedia

September 1, 2010 at 3:12 am