Author Archives: Mark Cabling

Mediating Social Control in Two Medias: A Chance for Mediology to Meet Critical Theory

by Mark L. Cabling

This essay explores the heuristic relationship between Mediologist Theory and Critical Theory. The former and the latter, as this essay will show, could compliment each other and further the amalgamation of Communications and Cultural Theory, especially, as this essay argues, through the bridging of the two theories by the Bourdieusian concept of symbolic power. In order to explore the potential of this theoretical foray, this essay will use the concept of social control as a cultural function that is mediated throughout time and throughout various media. Because of the limit of time and length, this essay limits its scope by using two different case studies that mediate the cultural function of social control: (1) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (BNW) as dystopian literature from the 1930s; and (2) A Public Service Announcement (PSA) from the American Forces Network (AFN) as mass, top-down televisual media from the present. Power relations, the subject of much Critical Theory, and cultural functions, the subject of Mediologist Theory, are arguably intertwined in such a way that researchers that study either can find themselves theoretically interdisciplinary. This predicament begs for there to be a discussion on the cumulative and complex evolution of how the dialectic of human symbolic faculty and cultural artifact can benefit from a plethora of rich, nuanced cross-theories. Most importantly, these very different case studies will show how pervasive and continuous cultural artifacts, in this case the function of social control, are mediated regardless of the superficial change in technology and media. In other words, by showing how much Critical Theory and Mediologist Theory benefit each other heuristically, this essay also aims to bring insight into how cultural functions are mediated.

Social Control as Cultural Function: Mediology meets Critical Theory

Social Control is a Social Function that is mediated and remediated over time and by various medias and technologies.

Social control is defined as the competence and capability of the authority system to engender and reinforce the belief that its leaders and institutions are interested in the public good- not in the reality of its politically motivated goals (Paletz et. al. 1977). Such a cultural function begs necessitates and presupposes an authority system that must be legitimate in order to garner acceptance, and one of the basic problems faced by authority is to harness such legitimacy (Paletz et. al. 1977).  Once the public is convinced that the authority has the public interest in mind, society then accepts this authority (Paletz et. al. 1977). In order to reap this acceptance, those in power must socialize the public into accepting the existing authority system (Paletz et. al. 1977). Socialization can be overt i.e. via church, home, and school or they can be covert i.e. through messages that lack explicit political content but actually are incredibly, politically relevant (Paletz et. al. 1977). This appeal to the public’s behavior is an effort to shape desirable behavior, attitudes, and values (Weiss and Tschirhart 1994).

This covert social control is found manifest in many media throughout time as such a function is mediated by various technologies. Latour’s assertion that ‘…“to have” (friends, relations, profiles…) is quickly becoming a stronger definition of oneself that “to be”’ (Latour 2011, 802) signals a paradigm shift that students of communications, culture, and technology must explore and expand on in order to do justice to their subject(s) of inquiry, especially the subjects of knowledge and power. This is useful because it asks the type of questions that should be asked about the mechanics of power, nature of organization, and the heterogeneity of network materials, and their implications on agency (Law 1992). Debray takes this paradigm shift further with the concept of Mediology (Maras 2008; Debray 1999). To Debray and other Mediologists, the subject of interest is not the technical innovation but what is in between technologies i.e. the cultural practices, social beliefs, and communicated messages (Debray 1999). The reason why the media itself is ancillary to these ‘in between’ aspects is because whilst media is the means by which synchrony (present communication) is achieved, it is vis-à-vis social beliefs and cultural artifacts that transmission (the more important transfer of communication over time via technologies and institutions) occurs (Debray 1996).

Debray and other Mediologists can be theoretically bridged with Critical Theory.

This is a critical development in communications heuristics because unlike in past communications theory, Mediology is anathema to technological determinism. As Irvine states: ‘technologies can’t be usefully described as having “effects” on cultures or societies, because technology is culture and only empowered by culture’ (Irvine 2005). This necessary paradigm shift deals with power and agency and according to Irvine, Mediology is a way to uncover these power relations. Some of the conceptual frameworks we have been learning throughout the semester thus far can be incredibly useful in helping synthesize Mediology’s concepts and take them further, especially on fundamental issues surrounding how authority systems are legitimized. What Mediologists do is provide a means of distinguishing what is rendered invisible by the black box of technology and media. What they do not do however is explain or give attribution to what/whom such a de facto power benefits and how.

The Frankfurt School are Neo-Marxists that conceived Critical Theory.

This is the significant instance wherein Critical Theory would be helpful to judge the power relations that are uncovered by Mediologists; Critical Theorists attribute agency to those in power. In the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, which was established in 1923, problems were being discussed by the likes of Adorno, Horkheimer, Pollock, Lowenthal, and Benjamin (Agger 1991). Attempting to explain why the socialist revolution prophesied by Marx in the mid-nineteenth century did not occur, the Frankfurt School developed Critical Theory by reconstructing Marxist method and logic in order to make it relevant to modern capitalism (Agger 1991). According to the Frankfurt School, Marx underestimated the proletariats’ false consciousness; thus, their critical theory emphasizes the individual as someone who could be so manipulated, socialized, and determined that he is incapable of resistance (Schoolman 1980). Thus, it is characteristic of such thinkers that agency is given to tools of power such as media and technology. Critical Theory as a means of rigorous academic discussion has ‘the potential to play a role in the liberation of humanity from oppression’ (Freedman 2000, xx). Oppression against what? The essential connection between Critical Theory and media studies is based on the idea of the destructive misuse of science and technology as domination over the individual. Its critique of technology helps us understand that technology is used for social control (Feenberg 1995).

Bourdieu…remediated!

The Critical Theories perspective would argue that since legitimacy involves garnering acceptance, socialization is a key way through which members of society can be led to embody appropriate attitudes that are conducive to accepting the authority system (Paletz e. al. 1977). According to Bourdieu, himself a theorist that bridges Mediology and Critical Theory, this socialization happens covertly, through what he calls symbolic power in the production of belief- a power that is effective precisely because it is unrecognized, or recognized as arbitrary (Bourdieu 1991). Bourdieu would thus ask questions that go beyond the Critical Theorist framework of assigning agency on technology and blame on governance and domination:

(1) How covert is the reification of [insert any technology or media] and is this clandestine effort successful in garnering acceptance of [insert said technology’s or media’s corporation, maker, regulator, user, etc.]?

(2) Which invisible institutions (cultural, legal, etc.) are linked to visible media technologies and how are they so?

(3) Are social networks powerful because of the technology itself or because of the networks, cultural artifacts, and social institutions that surround it?

(4) To what extent does [insert any technology or medium of communications]‘s ‘agency’ and arguments/claims about causality (via black-boxing) contribute to its legitimacy?

Hence and ultimately, the Mediologist question, (5) What cultural functions are being mediated by technology and why?

The way to explore such questions is to use the concept of symbolic power to scrutinize via de-blackboxing (Latour 2011) because in order to fully understand the legitimizing and socializing processes that are present, the hidden power relations must be uncovered by analyzing the thingified technology itself as an ideological producer. Because the ‘ideological products offered by the political field are instruments of perceiving and expressing the social world’ (Bourdieu 1991, 172), the forming of opinions, and thereby individual thought-process, depends on the scope of available instruments of perception and expression. In other words, it is imperative to uncover any hidden or embedded political agenda in the process of reification because the political field effectively censors via its limiting the scope of what is politically thinkable.

These questions and methodology address fundamental elements in the quest for finding and developing a sound and rigorous conceptual framework and paradigm for a richer view of mediation and communication: symbolic power and its role in the legitimization of those in power, and the socialization of those being overpowered. Using such concepts from Critical Theory via the Bourdieusian theoretical bridge, will thus essentially help add nuance and insight to the inquiries of Mediologists.

Social Control: Mediated by Dystopian Literature

Brave New World (as depicted by a BBC movie production in 1980)

Europe and America of the 1920s was witness to the threats to freedom from a dogmatic egalitarian, the intensification of the eternal youth cult, the implications of conspicuous consumption, the possibility of eugenics as a means to shape future man, the impact of Fordism on the psyche, and the rampant growth of positivism.

It is from this context that the British novelist, Aldous Huxley was compelled to write his famous novel, Brave New World (BNW), published in 1932. BNW was written in an unprecedented time of instability in British politics. He was not only worried by overpopulation of the masses, but also by the risks that the legions of the unemployed and the unregulated advance of technology posed for social stability (Bradshaw 1994, xvii). He was therefore faced by problems of controlling these masses. Consequently, Huxley used BNW as a satirical science fiction dystopia to caution his readers of the dismal future that could be as a result of technological agency and domination.

Critical Theory helps us understand what social control is as mediated in BNW, but it is helpful to deconstruct (read: de-blackbox) in a Mediologist manner, how such social control is mediated by the media of dystopian literature. Because of its genre, it is obvious that the end message is meant to be one of beware-of-totalitarian-domination. Debray and other Mediologists would argue that the problem with Critical Theory is that it would automatically agree with Huxley’s position that technology has the agency to negatively affect and be used solely for domination in society. Critical Theorists such as Marcuse on the other hand would argue that Mediology merely provides a method of critical analysis but without providing any significant identification of power relations. In order to reconcile these two frameworks in a way such that they compliment each other, BNW is de-blackboxed in order to find what is culturally transmitted.

The Frankfurt School, especially Marcuse’s critical theory, helps us understand that social control is mediated by BNW by arguing that (1) sex, (2) welfare, and (3) labor are agents of totalitarian domination.

Sex as a Form of Domination

Frankfurt thinkers argue that industry and technology has an impact on our lives. Marcuse takes this argument further and emphasizes its impact on our erotic lives. Although there is a perception that society has become more sexually permissive with its pornography, encouraged use of contraception, and a more laissez-faire attitude towards sex, Marcuse argues that industrialization is in fact inhospitable to our sexual impulses (Fremstad 1977). He compares lovemaking in a meadow and a lovers’ walk in the country to that of lovemaking in a car and a walk on an urban street. As he argues, ‘in the former cases, the environment partakes of and invites…[eroticness, and the] libido transcends beyond the immediate erotegenic zones.’ However, in the latter examples, their ‘mechanized environment seems to block such self-transcendence of libido,’ which leads to the intensification of purely localized sexuality (Fremstad 1977, 87). For example, the flowers, grass, and trees of a park should provoke a full erotic experience but industrialization has left us admiring instead the short skirts and shirtless torsos of park goers because the libido is contained to such localized sexuality (Fremstad 1977). Furthermore, the public display of sexuality is meant solely to be visual i.e. nobody is to touch the legs that those short skirts reveal or the abs on the naked torso. Sexual display, in other words, is for the well behaved and as Marcuse concludes: ‘pleasure, thus adjusted, generates submission’ and thus prevents us from challenging the dominating system (Fitzgerald 1985, 92).

This type of sexual domination helps us understand how sex in BNW is an agent of totalitarian domination. In BNW, legalized sexual freedom is also possible because of the various technological advances: contraception is prescribed by regulations, intensive years of hypnopaedia (sleep-teaching) condition promiscuity, Malthusian drills three times a week during adolescence prevents pregnancy (Bowering 1968). More importantly, the ideas of family, of mother, father, and love have become obsolete while monogamy has become obscene and promiscuity the only socially acceptable sexual behavior (May 1972). For example, the orgy-porgian Solidarity Services and the overtly sexual advancements of Lenina on the Savage paint a picture of completely released but empty sexuality (Firchow 1972). Because chastity means passion and passion means instability, and instability means a threat to happiness, sexual license along with the obliteration of love and family is a guarantee against creative emotional tension, and thus any negative thinking to challenge the status quo (Bowering 1968). The society of BNW thus is sexually permissive according to Marcuse, but it is through this permissiveness that we understand BNW’s sex as a tool for dominating its inhabitants.

Welfare as Domination.

Another agent of totalitarian domination is welfare. Marcuse argues that we no longer desire freedom because our welfare governments have given us happiness in the form of relative affluence. Critical Theorists argue that people’s reasons for political dissent are removed when their needs are satisfied (MacIntyre 1970). However, these needs are what Marcuse calls ‘false needs,’ or needs that are ‘superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests’ (Fitzgerald 1985, 88). Individuals are not free to understand what they truly need as the barrage of advertisements tells them what they must need (Munshi 1977). They thus become passive instruments of the dominating system.

In BNW, conditioning instead of advertisements tells individuals what they must need. Not only are disease, old age, illness, or even the fear of death completely obliterated in BNW, but every conditioned desire is fulfilled. Their ‘needs’ for mechanized amusements are fulfilled via playing Excalator Fives, Riemann-surface tennis, Obstacle Golf, and the Feelies (Huxley 1932). Their ‘needs,’ ingrained into them via hypnopaedia in mantras such as ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’ (Huxley 1932, 52), ‘orgy-porgy gives release,’ or ‘One cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments’ are fulfilled via promiscuity, organized orgies, and soma respectively (Huxley 1932, 66). Because these needs are fulfilled, the inhabitants of BNW as Marcuse would argue, have no reason for political dissent and therefore remain passive to the dominating system- a system that not only provided for the needs but defined them.

The Caste System in Brave New World.

Labor is another agent of totalitarian domination. According to the Frankfurt School, in order for the successful production of commodities to be precise, calculable, and efficient, regimentation, specialization, and standardization must be upheld (Schoolman 1980). Because regimentation tasks follow strictly binding and specific rules, removed are individual initiatives and personal discretion from the process of production. This removal enhances production’s predictability but subsequently limits human capacity to objective measurements; individual action and thought transforms into reaction, reflex, and habit (Schoolman 1980). In other words, this one-dimensional labor apparatus creates one-dimensional thought as the individual’s mind is identified only with the productive functions it performs and is dominated by it (Schoolman 1980).

This standardization of man via labor helps us understand BNW’s labor-dominated society. It is not surprising that Ford is the prophet and patron saint of BNW because Huxley believed that the factory of the industrialized world was antithetical to individualism (Bowering 1968). Therefore, in BNW, individuality is eradicated because on the Fordian assembly line, the laborer does the same task repeatedly. As Critical Theorists would argue, individual action thus must transform into reaction, reflex, and habit. In BNW this occurs via hypnopaedia (Huxley 1932). Pillow microphones condition Betas to believe their own caste the foremost, preferring themselves to those above and below them (Huxley 1932). After all, Epsilons cannot read or write and although Alphas are cleverer, they have to work harder. Being an Alpha, Beta, etc. is therefore the most pleasant thing in the world. For example, those who repair the undersides of space vehicles are conditioned to be happy when standing on their heads (Huxley 1932).

Sexual license in BNW along with welfare and labor are the tools of domination characterized by Critical Theory’s technological agency. But in order to realize the more profound reason why this is so, the cultural institutions must be identified and analyzed, which Mediologists would identify as social control through the Bourdieusian vocabulary of symbolic power. So how are the dominating tools of sex, labor, and welfare mediating the concept of social control as cultural function?

Freedom vs. Happiness

In BNW, happiness is social control and the ultimate goal of sex, labor, and welfare. The society of AF 632 makes its inhabitants happy rather than allowing them to choose to be so. Therefore, this orientates them to the status quo, and prevents instability. Huxley’s future world is controlled by a small group of World Controllers who rule five castes of subjects. Their castes are divided not just socially but biologically, since they were bred in bottles and have been conditioned to their future tasks. For happiness’s preservation, the World Controllers obliterate everything that can provoke passion or thought (Huxley 1932). Alphas, Betas, Deltas, and Epsilons are all prevented from experiencing unhappiness by being prevented from experiencing any kind of real emotion. For example, Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Europe, says that Epsilons, the lowest caste who do menial work remain happy in their conditions because conditioning ‘has laid down rails along which he’s got to run. He can’t help himself; he’s foredoomed. Even after decanting, he’s still inside the bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations. Each of us…goes through life inside a bottle’ (Huxley 1932, 245). Furthermore, the Director of Hatcheries explains that ‘the secret of happiness is…liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny’ (Huxley 1932, 16). In other words, happiness in BNW is at the necessary expense of freedom.

In order to understand how this happiness/freedom clash in BNW mediates social control, it is helpful to use Bourdieu’s (1991) symbolic power, which posits that social criticism can only be derived from individual thinking. Consequently, one of Bourdieu’s greatest subjects of inquiry was socialization of people and legitimization of power structures (Bourdieu 1991), something that successfully and systematically happens in BNW.

In the context of BNW, how can the Alphas or Epsilons, who are essentially happy slaves, find freedom? In order to remain happy, they cannot find freedom. In Chapter Seventeen of BNW, in which John, a savage from an uncivilized reservation, is left alone with Mond. This part of the novel is a straightforward debate between Mond and the Savage, through which there is an open case of alternatives: ignorant freedom or insufferable knowledge (Huxley 1032)? Mond explains that both science and art in their ‘purer’ forms belong to truth and therefore are incompatible with happiness (Huxley 1932). Through Mond, Huxley is opposing happiness to truth and beauty. Personal freedom and religion, both absent from BNW, can serve as agents of misery while social justice in the form of equality is virtually impossible; therefore, according to Mond, conditioning is desirable and needed so that no-one feels treated unfairly (Huxley 1932). On top of being bred and conditioned to live in slavery, people in BNW are vaporized with a ‘euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant’ drug called soma if they express any public discontent (Huxley 1932, 70). Alas, mental and physical unhappiness disappears- but so do art, religion, and poetry. And the power structures of society remains. Ergo, the symbolic power found in the happiness-vs.-freedom dichotomy exposes the cultural function of social control.

Social Control: Mediated by Public Service Announcements

Social control is a cultural function that is remediated by many medias and technologies throughout time. To exemplify this, a different media/technology from the genre of dystopian literature is analyzed to make visible this remediation.

Public Service Announcement: Kicking the Can

Televisual Public Service Announcements (PSAs) from modernity, according to the research on them thus far, do not often change behavior but canalize audience predispositions and already existing behavior, such as general beliefs about certain gender roles and racial stereotypes (Storey 2008; Dudley 1947; Yarwood 1982). In the case of PSAs, social value in human terms i.e. quality of life, is the paramount goal- not efficiency and financial return such as that of commercial advertising (Storey 2008). There is consensus by those who have studied PSAs that although PSAs are proclaimed to be apolitical and for the public good, they are actually tools for government to (1) promote social cohesion and consensus; (2) assure its power; and most importantly to (3) reinforce values and attitudes that bode well with and ensure the political system (Block 1948; Kehl 1983; Yarwood 1982). The issue is that these are all political in nature despite government assuring otherwise.

I choose to focus on one PSA from the American Forces Network (AFN) because it is targeted at a very specific yet important audience i.e. at the 2.6 million service members and their families whose de facto TV channels abroad are limited to those provided by AFN (AFRTS 2009). A chunk of the American population watching almost exclusively only nine channels on their TVs seems lacking in choice, especially when put in the context that the in-house production team consists of seven people (AFRTS 2009) i.e. only seven people basically control what 2.6 million people will view in terms of PSAs and topics of PSAs. I choose to focus on a PSA called Kicking the Can, which is one that discourages the consumption of smokeless/chewing tobacco also known as snuff. It is a 29-second clip that seems benign because its message is quite common to US PSAs in that it discourages tobacco consumption. The message seems to be in the public good in that it discourages a scientifically proven unhealthy behavior. The PSA involves a woman dressed as a can of snuff nagging a man who is about to play baseball.

Why is snuff represented as a stereotypically annoying ex-girlfriend? Critical Theorists would argue that this is because the male is the dominant one in gendered power relations and that the PSA is given the agency to propagate this message. There is the classic stereotype of women nagging men but more telling is the stereotype that women are temptresses and the weaknesses of men. Not only does this PSA use the seductress stereotype for the woman in the PSA, but the woman is also portraying an inanimate object that is purely consumed for pleasure and for a temporary high that leads to the downfall of men. When watching this PSA, everything about Nicki is personified and very human except of course for the outlandish and flamboyant mascot-like costume that is supposed to convey to the audience that she is a metaphor for snuff, which is scientifically founded to be unhealthful and highly addictive. The distinction between what is snuff and what is woman is blurred. This is because the seductress is a woman already known by the audience to be careful of, for although she is tempting with her abilities to make your ‘heart pump’, she is inevitably bad for you. Therefore, this feeling of wariness for the seductress is easily transferred to smokeless tobacco. Snuff too is attractive but is also unhealthy to consume. The baseball player is a male stereotype of athletic prowess as he is on his way to a sports event. He also fulfills the stereotype of male reservation and assuredness, as he is the calmer, quieter one in the relationship but also the tougher one as he plays sports and ignores the nagging with stride, dignity, and power of will. Because of the presence of these over-simplified gender stereotypes, this PSA, as Critical Theorists would argue, is a tool for reinforcing the gendered power relations in a male-dominated society.

With this type of discursive analysis of the PSA that Critical Theory allows, there is no discussion of the further socio-cultural function and dimension that the PSA, like the media of dystopian literature, mediates. In order to bridge the insight that Critical Theory brings about the PSA with what Mediologists are interested in, I would address a question Bourdieu would ask: What is not being said i.e. what is rendered invisible? The PSA’s overt message warns the audience that smokeless tobacco is harmful and discourages its consumption. However, there is no mention (1) of its harms to health and well-being; (2) of reasons why chewing tobacco is ‘pesky’ except for the broad assumptions of what it can do e.g. ‘make your heart pump’, ‘give you a boost’, and ‘slow you down’; and (3) how exactly ‘it’ll slow you down’. This PSA thus relies on the presupposition that the target audience already knows the addictive nature of smoke-less tobacco and the cons that accompany it to the extent that they would be compelled to believe in the hyperbole that once one starts to consume it, one would not be able to ‘not live without [snuff]!’. While smokeless tobacco is very addictive, the PSA seems to only focus on this aspect of tobacco and not the actual damage that snuff can have on one’s health i.e. loss of teeth, throat cancer, jaw surgery, etc. The gravity of using smokeless tobacco is thus reduced to that of only a ‘pesky addiction’ that will ‘only slow you down’, akin to an annoying ex-girlfriend.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no use of commands or strong language telling the audience what to do or how to deal with smokeless tobacco. Why the lack of gravity in the tone of the PSA? It could be to avoid sounding patronizing or too obtrusive to individual behavior as such a tone would more likely cause the audience to reject the message (Hall 1980; Corner 1996). Having a more light-hearted, less judgmental tone allows the PSA message to not only more likely be accepted by the audience, but also to give the audience a sense that they possess freedom and choice in the matter of smokeless tobacco. In other words, the agency of the audience is not threatened at all overtly by this PSA. For 29 seconds however, if one is a woman, she has no choice in this PSA but to refer to the drug as her own gender boxed into a one-dimensional, simple, crude, buffoon of a character that possesses the merits of a legal drug and only in reference to a man (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004; Eco 1984). If one is a straight male, he has no choice but to use his negative relationship experiences with women as a cultural reference to be enabled to read the message of the PSA (snuff=addiction=woman) regardless of whether he agrees with or accepts the messaging (Eco 1984). If one is an inexperienced straight male or gay/lesbian/transgendered, they would be forced to use their knowledge of social norms of male and female straight intimate relationships in order to understand the messaging of the PSA (Eco 1984).

This reliance of the PSA on male, hetero-normative norms used as a tool to conceptualize and understand the link between snuff and one’s health along with the use of broad generalizations and unsound arguments shows that this PSA has a covert message of normalizing certain gender/sexuality roles and identity reinforcement i.e. social control. This shows that the producers have a very male, hetero-normative worldview that is the only truth and must be part of the mechanism that educates those that watch AFN. This ‘mere’ education socializes Department of Defense (DoD) personnel into embodying appropriate attitudes and values that accept the authority of the DoD elite and legitimize their power (Paletz et. al. 1977). Such gender/sexuality reinforcement masked in what is perceived to be freedom of choice, is a way of allowing the DoD administration to legitimize its power. The DoD is a military-based, top-down bureaucracy, in which personal freedoms are sacrificed (despite US liberal democratic values) and following orders from those higher-ranked are top priority and vital to the mechanics and technocratic nature of the DoD (AFRTS 2009; AFN 2011). This is symbolic power in that by having the semblance of freedom in an American culture that honors democracy and in a military that supposedly protects and propagates ‘freedom’ is vital to the not-so-democratic way in which the DoD bureaucracy militarily operates so that it is not seen for what it lacks, i.e. freedom, and is accepted as the status quo (Bourdieu 1991; Paletz et. al. 1977). Social control is thus a cultural function that is mediated by this PSA.

Conclusion

This essay explored the relationship between Mediologist Theory and Critical Theory by bridging them with the Bourdieusian concept of symbolic power. In order to explore this heuristic potential, this essay aimed to de-blackbox Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and A Public Service Announcement from the American Forces Network. In the former, sex, welfare, and labor are the tools of domination characterized by Critical Theory’s technological agency. But in order to realize the more profound reason why this is so, the cultural institutions are identified and analyzed a la Mediology via symbolic power. In the latter case study, Critical Theorists would argue that the male dominance in the PSA is indicative of gendered power relations and that the PSA is given the agency to propagate this message. In order to go beyond just the discursive dimension and delve into the socio-cultural function, Mediology is used, via symbolic power, to view the PSA as a mediator. When symbolic power is used as a bridge between Critical Theory and Mediology, these case studies showed how this combinatorial theoretical framework could be utilized on vastly different medias to analyze and discuss how cultural functions are mediated. This has ramifications for both Critical Theorists and Mediologists that want to further develop their epistemology and conceptual frameworks, and evolve heuristically, so that they may do justice to their complex subjects of inquiry that involve the greater human symbolic faculty.

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Paletz, David L., Pearson, Roberta E., and Willis, Doland L. (1977) Politics in Public Service Advertising on Television New York, NY: Praeger Publishers

O’Shaughnessy, John and O’Shaughnessy, Nicholas Jackson (2004) Persuasion in Advertising London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge

Schoolman, Morton (1980) The Imaginary Witness: The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse London, UK and New York, NY: Collier Macmillan Publishers

Schudson, Michael (1993) Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society London, UK: Routledge

Storey, Richard (2008) ‘Initiating Positive Behavior’ (pp. 13-36) in Lannon, Judie (ed.) How Public Service Advertising Works Oxford, UK: World Advertising Research Center

Weiss, Janet A. and Tschirhart, Mary (1994) ‘Public Information Campaigns as Policy Instruments’ in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management Vol. 13, No. 1 (pp. 82-119)

Yarwood, Dean L. and Enis, Ben J. (1982) ‘Advertising and Publicity Programs in the Executive Branch of the National Government: Hustling or Helping the People?’ in Public Administration Review Vol. 42 No. 1 (pp. 37-46)

From iPhones to Digital Pills

IPhones adhere to Manovich’s five characteristics, but so do other “new media”. For my 506 project, I am currently doing research on Digital Pills, or Smart Pills. The device is composed by three subsystems: IEM, the personal monitor (patch), and the software. The IEM is a tiny microchip (size of a grain of sand) with a digestible antenna made of silver nanoparticles that can be attached to any pill. Once the patient ingests the pill, the fluids of the stomach activate the microchip that sends a signal to a personal monitor (patch) when the pill is ingested. The microchip can also send other data, including the type and dose of medication, date and time of ingestion, as well as other biological and behavioral information (e.g. heart rate, weight, activity). The personal monitor is a patch that is attached to the torso – in the future it may also be attached to a watch or a cellphone. The patch receives and stores the data and also sends it through wireless to a software such as the doctors’ computer or a mobile phone that organizes and displays the information. The person receiving the data does not have to be restricted to health care providers, as other persons such as relatives or friends can also be the recipients (Hoover & Howell, 2010; FDA, 2012; Gagnon et al., 2012; O’Reilly, 2012). In May 2012 the FDA approved the digital pills (FDA, 2012).

The Smart Pill thus (1) uses Numerical Representation as it is uses digital technology and works with numbers in one platform as indicators of health information; (2) has Modularity because we can change what vital statistics and health information we want to send and receive without changing the physical pill; (3) is Automated as its ability to send health information is automated at ingestion; (4) has Variability and Multiformity when the medias of all the various health informations converge to make the pill work and send/receive the information; and (5) is Transcoded as the data that is sent/received can be read in many different ways e.g. as an image, text, and even live.

Manovich states that the use of digital has become so banal and ubiquitous that it becomes “something which does not seem to require much reflection about”. Manovich thus is in line with mediologists in the assertion that despite and in spite of our symbolic faculties, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of blackboxing our objects. And just as mediologists would argue, Manovich posits that “all culture, past and present, is being filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface. Human-computer interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated.” In the case of the digital pill we can identify many cultural functions have already been embedded: the healthcare function, the doctor-patient relationship function, the drug adherence function, etc.

Bolter and Grusin discuss remediation by explaining the lack of recognition that iPhones are just an amalgamation of past technologies that have been packaged into one device well i.e. “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them…virtual reality should come as close as possible to our daily visual experience and transparent interface is one that erases itself.” Bolter and Grusin not only ring true with the iPhone with its clever interface that renders mediation almost invisible, but this invisibility can also be witnessed with the Digital Pill. The Pill is taken just like any other pill and once the stomach acids dissolve the outer shell and reach the antenna, the pill is activated and starts monitoring, recording, and sending information to doctors, healthcare providers, and eve family members. And this all happens as the user merely ingests.

Critical theory IN mediology

Latour’s assertion that ‘…”to have” (friends, relations, profiles…) is quickly becoming a stronger definition of oneself that “to be”‘ (Latour 2011, 802) signals a paradigm shift that students of communications, culture, and technology must explore and expand on in order to do justice to their subject(s) of inquiry, especially the subjects of knowledge and power. Law explains that Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is useful because it asks the type of questions that should be asked about the mechanics of power, nature of organization, and the heterogeneity of network materials, and their implications on agency (Law 1992). Debray takes this paradigm shift further with the concept of mediology (Maras 2008, Debray 1999). To Debray and other mediologists, the subject of interest is not the technical innovation but what is in between technologies i.e. the cultural practices, social beliefs, and communicated messages (Debray 1999). The reason why the technology itself is ancillary to these ‘in between’ aspects is because whilst technology is the means by which synchrony (present communication) is achieved, it is vis-a-vis social beliefs and cultural artifacts that transmission (the more important transfer of communication over time via technologies and institutions) occurs (Debray 1996).

This is  a critical development in communications heuristics because unlike in past communications theory, mediology is anathema to technological determinism. As Irvine states: ‘technologies can’t be usefully described as having “effects” on cultures or societies, because technology is culture and only empowered by culture’ (Irvine 2005). This necessary paradigm shift deals with power and agency and according to Irvine, ANT and mediology are ways to uncover these power relations. Some of the conceptual frameworks we have been learning throughout the semester thus far can be incredibly helpful in helping synthesize mediology’s concepts and take them further, especially on fundamental issues surrounding how authority systems are legitimized.

The Critical Theories perspective would argue that since legitimacy involves garnering acceptance, socialization is a key way through which members of society can be led to embody appropriate attitudes that are conducive to accepting the authority system (Paletz e. al. 1977). According to Bourdieu, this socialization happens covertly, through what he calls symbolic power in the production of belief, a power that is effective precisely because it is unrecognized, or recognized as abitrary (Bourdieu 1991). Bourdieu would thus ask:

(1) How covert is the reification of [insert any technology] and is this clandestine effort successful in garnering acceptance of [insert said technology’s corporation, maker, regulator, user, etc.]?

(2) Which invisible insitutions (cultura, legal, etcl.) are linked to visible media technologies and how are they so?

(3) Are social networks powerful because of the technology itself or because of the networks, cultural artifacts, and social institutions that surround it?

(4) To what extent does [insert any technology or medium of communications]’s ‘agency’ and arguments/claims about causality (via blackboxing) contribute it its legitimacy?

The way to explore such questions is to use the concept of symbolic value and power to scrutinize via de-blackboxing (Latour 2011) because in order to fully understand the legitimizing and socializing processes that are present, the hidden power relations must be uncovered by analyzing the thingified technology itself as an ideological producer. Because the ‘ideological products offered by the political field are instruments of perceiving and expressing the social world’ (Bourdieu 1991, 172), the forming of opinions, and thereby individual thought-process, depends on the scope of available instruments of perception and expression. In other words, it is imperative to uncover any hidden or embedded political agenda in the process of reification because the political field effectively censors via its limiting the scope of what is politically thinkable.

These questions and methodology address fundamental elements in the quest for finding and developing a sound and rigorous conceptual framework and paradigm for a richer view of mediation and communication: symbolic value and power and their roles in the legitimization of those in power, and the clandestine socialization of those being overpowered. Using such concepts from critical theory will help add nuance and insight to the inquiries of mediologists and practitioners of ANT.

Collective Misrecognition Indeed

A fundamental issue faced by society is the legitimization of its authority system. Since legitimacy involves garnering acceptance, socialization is a key way through which members of society can be led to embody appropriate attitudes that are conducive to accepting the authority system. Is this what the art world vis-a-vis museums does through the economics of culture work- to harness the acceptance of symbolic value and cultural capital? Indeed it does: the art world constantly reinforces its own conception of what is “art” and by doing so, this cultural category is authoritative and powerful precisely because it is accepted by society through discursive practices. According to Bourdieu, this socialization happens covertly, through what he calls symbolic power, a power that is effective precisely because it is unrecognized, or recognized as arbitrary. Museums are a mainstay source of “high art” and serve as keepers of cultural goods to be consumed by those who disavow. In other words, museums are places where those who  pretend to be practicing something noble and soulful actually consume a product within the wider clandestine context of class struggle, rampant commodification, and power economics. Could a museum be more than just providing an archive of “art” for an audience?

The way to explore such questions is to use the concept of Collective Misrecognition. According to Bourdieu, social order is reinforced through discourses of common sense, which are– albeit solely an illusion ridden with euphemisms– maintained by society. It is important to scrutinize this vision of Bourdieusian misrecognition, because in order to fully understand the discourses that are present, the hidden power relations must be uncovered by analyzing the so-called “art” and “pureveyors of art” (read: museums and the art world) as ideological producers. Because the ideological products offered by the art world are instruments for perceiving and expressing the social world, the forming of opinions, and thereby individual thought-process, depends on the scope of available instruments of perception and expression.

The Google Art project is an amalgamation of cultural values and reinforcement of existing structures of power. As a museum this project is an easy to access interface for users to experience what is art i.e. what is deemed high culture. This is a provider of high culture because of the legitimacy that the names of famous museums, e.g. The Philips Collection, MoMa, etc. brings it. What these image of explicitly classified “artworks” would be perceived as within the context of a conventional search engine to the average consumer of visual images one can assume would be a visual given less cultural value due to its lack of prominent museum backing. In short, these art works are given so much value not because of good taste but because of ideological promulgation. We know this, and we know everyone knows this- yet we still give it value and constantly reinforce this value by default as our desires to maintain our cultural capital far outweighs our ability to see the truth. The truth is that much art in these museums are not Bohemian, not avant garde, and not completely void of economic incentive. As an archive, this project shows who the purveyors of art are: Western elites. Except for one museum from China and a gallery from Istanbul, virtually all of the collections feature in this google project are from North America, Europe, and Australia. High art is thus limited by the visial vocabulary given to the user/consumer by Western galleries and what such galleries deem as visually noble and that warrant the attention and cultural consumption by the middle classes. Again however, we know this and yet we still consume it and work within the given framework of this defined high art. By doing so however, we propagate a discourse of Western superiority and notions of good taste. Critically, by doing so, we also propagate the status quo of power relations so easily and ubiquitously.

 

 

The Work vs. The Text: Applying Barthian long-windedness to popular culture

According to Barthes, the difference between a Text and a Work is significant. And it is within this difference that we truly can find the discursive elements of a cultural artifact- even a modern, popular cultural artifact. While a work (1) can be computed, (2) can be allocated into types of genres, (3) purely closes on the signified, (4) is caught up in filiation (read: attribution to an author/creator), (5) consumed with pleasure more or less like a product, and (6) is unreproducible; a text cannot be computed, is reactionary towards the sign, is not attributed to a creator, and most importantly is in its nature, intertextual. In other words, while we merely read a work, we play with texts with our symbolic faculties and combinatorial abilities to utilize our de facto modes of interpretation. A compelling case study of this difference between a work and a text can be found in the feminist reading of a popular TV series The West Wing.

Codified conventions in a seventeenth century Puritan marriage pamphlet included that a husband should ‘seek a living’ and ‘be skilful in talk’ while the wife should ‘keep the house’ and ‘boast of silence’. These overtly patriarchal maxims of conduct are of the past, thanks to progressive feminist movements. But does that mean that women are depicted as equal to men? Throughout history, men were almost always responsible for writing and filmmaking; consequently, expressed via a man’s point of view. At the dawn of the 20th century, women were starting to obtain legal rights to possessions and money. In 1915, DeMille produced The Cheat, a movie about a woman who, instead of using sex, tries to pay cash back to a man she owes $10,000. She is branded as his possession because she dared to use cash instead of sex as a female in the world of men. By the 1930s, there were suddenly women that found pleasure in sex. Mae West’s She Done Him Wrong (1933) showed this side of a woman and six months later, the Episcopal Committee on Motion Pictures was formed spearheading the era of censorship. The 1980s ushered in the women’s liberation movement which encouraged filmmakers to be mindful to the plight of women. But have they been?

American feminists have been exploring the representations of women in the arts. They shone a light on women’s stereotyped images in a patriarchal culture. This distinct focus made television, especially Hollywood, a forerunner for critique and evaluation. By studying Hollywood through a feminist view, not only does it conduce challenging the status quo but it can help explore how a film influences and/or reflects society; it also gives us insight into how true women’s representation on film are to life.

Ergo, how have women depicted in US political fiction? The depiction always has been and still is, relative to men (while he is not shown purely in relation to the female but in a plethora of roles). Any political position women occupy, no matter how high, can only be viewed through the prism of patriarchal concept of power and politics. The female characters of The West Wing (TWW) are the quintessential portrayals of women in a popular American political fiction.

TWW, produced by Warner Bros. Television, is an American television serial drama that aired throughout 1999-2006. It is set in the West Wing of the White House during the fictional democratic presidency of Josiah ‘Jed’ Bartlet. Although this administration places women in high positions of authority, they are still represented through stereotypes. Woman have been portrayed in US political fiction as: (1) the man’s moral guide; (2) incapable of politics; and (3) sexual, according to the ‘male gaze.’

 Man’s Moral Guide

Women of political fiction who engage in politics are cast into stereotypical roles. Because there was a common belief that women were spiritually superior to men, they often were portrayed as a man’s ‘moral guide’. Before the franchise was extended to them, women were politically limited and could thereby only engage in politics by influencing a politically active man. Although the ‘banal reality of a female electorate’ would deem this moral guide as obsolete by the 1930s, women were still continuously portrayed in this light.

Even in a modern political fiction such as TWW, women are depicted as man’s moral guide. The quintessential moral policeman is Delores Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), President Bartlet’s secretary.

As the president prepares for Mrs. Landingham’s funeral in the second season’s finale, he recalls their relationship throughout the years as flashbacks. Bartlet remembers how they first met thirty years earlier at his prep school where Mrs. Landingham was the secretary of his father, the school’s headmaster. Representing the women who also worked there, Mrs. Landingham asks the teenaged Bartlet to be their advocate in their plight for increased pay. Bartlet responds by saying: ‘I’m not a woman and I don’t work here,’ after which he gets schooling by Mrs. Landingham: ‘The women who do are afraid for their jobs…what is it you are afraid of?’. After they banter to and fro, she concludes: ‘You are a boy king…You’re blessed with inspiration…if you think we’re wrong…then I respect that. But if you think we’re right and you won’t speak up because you can’t be bothered, then, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know ya’.

This pivotal scene supports the impression that while men do the political activity, women work behind the scenes as their moral guides. Not only is this scene a crucial moment in Bartlet’s political education, it was inspired by Mrs. Landingham who encouraged him to represent the women, thus serving as a moral leader.

Even when Mrs. Landingham is dead, she is still Bartlet’s moral guide. As President Bartlet struggles over the decision of whether or not to run for reelection, Mrs. Landingham’s ghost appears to him and they have a familiar conversation:

President: ‘The party’s not going to want me to run.’

Mrs. Landingham: ‘The party will come back. You’ll get them back.’

President: ‘I got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham, I’ve never been the most popular guy in the Democratic Party.’

Mrs. Landingham: ‘I’ve got a secret for you Mr. President. Your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn’t as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Why? Because there are people way worst off than you’

Landingham concludes, ‘If you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run because you think it’s going to be too hard or you think you’re going to lose, well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know ya’. Inspired by this apparition and guided by Mrs. Landington, President Bartlet eventually decides to run.

These flashbacks are telling of how women are portrayed in American political fiction because Delores Landingham is behind the scenes but the one who guided the president’s search for justice and morality. Not only does she help shape his political values, she does so dedicating the rest of her life to assisting public servants after her two sons were killed in Vietnam. Thus, by dedicating herself to preparing the adolescent-turned-governor-turned-president Bartlet for political life, Delores Landingham embodies the ideal, and stereotypically female, moral guide.

 Incapable of Politics

Another way women have been depicted in US political fiction is as incapable of politics.

In patriarchal cultures, images of women connote differences from patriarchal norms. Thus, they are seen as an outsider- especially to politics. However, because politicians are negatively characterized in political fictions as clowns, criminals, or cop-outs, this outsider status of women can also be viewed as the cure required to redeem politics precisely for their lack of ‘the usual requirements for the task’. Therefore, although women are imaged as intelligent and authoritative, they are still expected to allure and submit. This contradiction is especially found in postmodern discourses where women are represented as equal to men in a still patriarchal society which ideologically calls for men to be in control.

The women of TWW are main characters whose roles are essential to the Bartlet administration as follows: the First Lady, a member of the White House Counsel’s Office, the press secretary, a Secret Service agent, the national security advisor, a political advisor, a political pollster. Although these women are depicted consistently as gifted and competent, they are also contradictorily represented as encompassing the stereotype of the emotional woman. Because their emotions can supplant rationality, women in TWW are incapable of politics.

CJ, the press secretary played by Allison Janney, is an example of this contradictory portrayal. She is in a powerful position but she is also emotional; the latter is responsible for her incapability in politics.

In the beginning of TWW series, CJ already asserts her authority. After learning that Sam accidentally slept with a prostitute, CJ establishes her power when she tells him that ‘Before, now, in the future…anytime you’re into something and you don’t know what, you don’t keep it from me. I’m your first phone call…You have to let me protect you, and you have to let me protect the President’. When she takes on this kind of assertive role, CJ upsets conventional rules of patriarchal authority where men are supposed to be the protectors.

Furthermore, in Season Two, CJ is imaged as politically sharper than Toby. When Toby commands that a presidential-congressional press conference be set on Capitol Hill instead of in the White House, CJ refuses attendance because as she earlier predicted, a member of Congress condemns the president, utilizing the event to describe the president as two-faced and ‘ambushing [the opposition] with ultimatums and threats’. At the end of the episode, Josh praises CJ as ‘a class act’ because despite having ‘a lot of opportunities today to say I told you so’ to those who wanted the press conference at Capitol Hill, she remains stoic even though she was right to oppose the event setting.

Although these powerful images of CJ contradict traditional images of women, they signify a ‘romantic sentiment’ of ‘dependence and goodwill that gives the masculine principle its romantic validity and its admiring applause’. However, CJ’s aptitude and competence are constantly foiled in TWW because a powerful woman poses a threat to the male world of politics. For example, in the third season, CJ is the epitome of the overtly emotional woman of politics.

The US will negotiate with Qumar, a small middle-eastern country, on an arms package in order for the US Air Force to renew a military base lease there. CJ is enraged because of the apparent abuse that the women of Qumar endure; she informs Leo that recently, ‘a woman in Qumar was executed for adultery. She didn’t need a lawyer because there wasn’t a trial. It was her husband’s word against her’s…Later today I’m going to announce that we’re selling them tanks and guns?’ He responds with a simple ‘Yeah’ which prompts CJ to angrily walk away. She does not let the issue drop as she later tells Josh that ‘when a woman gets raped’ in Qumar, she ‘get beaten by her husband and sons as a punishment’. CJ’s determination becomes extreme to the point where her emotions get the better of her political rationality and she vents her anger out on World War II veterans protesting an exhibit of a ‘vengeful America’ at the Smithsonian. She ridicules the veterans: ‘You’re protesting because you think the Smithsonian isn’t paying proper respect to what you and the soldiers of the 10th Armored, Third Army risked and lost your lives for six decades ago. How would you feel…if I told you that…I was announcing that we were selling tanks, missiles, and fighter jets to the Nazis?’.

This outburst is a product of CJ’s emotions as a woman fighting for the rights of other women. Yet, Qumar’s women do not attract any attention from her colleagues because they are concerned by mad cow disease. Dr. McNally (a woman) confronts CJ declaring that in the real world, ‘we can’t isolate our enemies’ while CJ continually repeats, ‘they’re beating the women!’. By the ending, CJ demotes Women’s rights from human rights to the private sphere because another powerful woman asks her to do so. While suggesting that the military and disease are part of ‘real world’ politics and violence against women is not, this episode shows women as emotional when concerned with woman’s rights and thus portrays women as incapable of politics because of their emotions.

 The Male Gaze

Women are largely depicted through a male gaze, which establishes the male as dominant by utilizing subtle mechanisms such as manipulation of space and time by editing, point of view, framing, and other film codes to portray women not as real women but as the male’s version of women. The male gaze ‘projects its phantasy onto the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mayne 1985, 82). The male gaze is responsible for making the woman as the object to be sexually looked upon because in a patriarchal culture, to possess the image of a woman’s sexuality is also to maintain a degree of control over her.

By the very beginning of the series, TWW writers already set the male gaze. During a White House celebration in a first season episode, President Bartlet, Leo, and Josh are positioned perfectly in the scenes to gaze and comment on the female attendants:

Leo: ‘We can’t get over these women.’

Bartlet: ‘Look at CJ. She’s like a fifties movie star, so capable, so loving and energetic.’

Leo: ‘Look at Mandy over there. Going punch for punch with Toby in a world that tells women to sit down and shut up. Mandy’s already won her battle with the president. The game’s over, but she’s not done. She wants Toby.’

Bartlet: ‘Mrs. Landingham. Did you guys know she lost two sons in Vietnam? What would make her want to serve her country is beyond me, but in fourteen years, she’s not missed a day’s work, not one’ (Sorkin and Drazan, 1999).

Despite being admirable, these comments emphasize TWW’s masculine gaze by overlooking the women through a man’s point of view. Because the man fully and freely commands the scene, as Mulvey explains, the man is the one that represents power and exerts control over how the women are being depicted.

Furthermore, the male gaze sexualizes the women on TWW. To appease the president’s voracious lust, the First Lady Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing), or ‘hot pants’ and ‘sweet knees’ as the president calls her, is ordered to take her clothes off, ‘get them off!’ by him.However, Abbey is not just sexualized by her husband, but also by Lord Marbury, the British ambassador who unashamedly compliments Abbey on how ‘magnificent’ her breasts are as he dances with her at her own birthday celebrations. Although the president shows substantial irritation towards Marbury when he asks whether Abbey’s ‘magnificent breasts’ are what initially attracted Bartlet to her, the president’s aggression is not towards the sexualization of women but rather of his wife: ‘it might be considered rude to talk about the physical attributes of another man’s wife,’ the president exclaims to Marbury. Thus, this scene’s gaze is sharply focused on Abbey’s body. According to Grosz, the ‘coding of femininity with corporeality’ not only gratifies men’s necessity for physical contact with women’s bodies but consequently contains women as well. Abbey’s body served such a necessity for the president and the ambassador.

Likewise, the associate White House counsel Ainsley Hayes (Emily Procter), is represented through a male gaze and is thus sexualized. During the second season, Ainsley accidentally sits on wet paint and has to wear a bathrobe during certain White House appearances. In the same episode, Sam instructs the president to tell Ainsley that ‘A lot of people assumed you were hired because you’re a blond Republican sex kitten. They were obviously wrong and keep up the good work’.

This episode reinforces the argument that the bodies of women are sexualized in political fiction in order to comply with the male gaze and they are humorously played out in order to undercut the importance of women in politics. As Ainsley playfully dances in her bathrobe while enticing Sam to join her, the president unexpectedly stumbles upon them and she screams in surprise. While all the attention and therefore gaze is set toward Ainsley, the president says ‘I never knew we had a night club down here…a lot of people assumed you were hired because you were a blonde Republican sex kitten and well, they’re obviously wrong. Keep up the good work’. Although Ainsley’s ‘sex kitten’ status is peculiar to a serious workplace such as the White House, it becomes natural because it is reinforced by Ainsley’s appearance and antics that are amplified by the constant male gaze.

By analyzing the women of The West Wing, we see that in US political fiction, women have been depicted as (1) the man’s moral guide; (2) incapable of politics; and (3) sexual, according to the ‘male gaze.’ The women’s movement began to challenge long established presumptions about family life, sex roles, and marriage, while demand equality of pay and opportunity. But the world is still very much male. ‘Man’ embodies all of humanity and ‘woman’ is just a part of it. Imagine if it was the other way around: that the film industry uses its power to ridicule the men’s liberation movement by portraying them in films as ‘frustrated studs’ that burn their jockstraps because they are delusional enough to believe they can be women and at the end of the day, they end up with a condescending woman, giving up the struggle to be happily ever after subservient to her. In the real world, audiences would balk at this as a joke. Yet, that is how women are represented constantly, albeit more subtly in today’s Hollywood. What is more disturbing is how the public and especially its women can so passively embrace the industry’s interpretations of life.

A Brave New World in the Semiosphere

Peirce’s idea of the unlimited semiosis between the meaning-making between sign, signifier, and signified has been vitl for semiotics because it emphasizes the interconnectedness of signs and the importance of interpretation. This idea underpins all theory, that aims to characterize the dynamism of the most diverse signifying systems within a system, i.e. a sphere. Lotman further conceptualizes this idea by asserting that the interpretation of a sign “becomes in turn a sign, and so ad infinitum…”. He argues that if the two sides of a semiotic structure, e.g. between a listener and a song, were perfectly mutually translatable, e.g. the listener decodes the intended message of the musician’s encoding, then no new information would be created. In other words, there exists what he deems a “Bipolar Asymmetry” in meaning-making in which the lack of fit, between texts, languages, and cultures, is conducive to semantic enrichment i.e. the creation of new meaning.

And so meaning-making not only itself becomes a sign, but in our attempts at interpretation, which is a constant endeavor, we create new meaning and thus add to the semiosphere. Therefore creation of signs is as ubiquitous as it is constant. I can use any mundane example but I chose to use a cultural artifact that I have recently been re-reading: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Not only has the title in and of itself become part of the English lexicon, but there are numerous interpretations of it in many different forms:

A movie:

A song:

A TV program:

And of course, even by the author himself:

These are just a few of the example artifacts that, in interpreting Brave New World have become cultural artifacts, i.e. signs to be interpreted in and of themselves, themselves. So in the name of this meaning making, I make my own sign: Because I have been reading another political utopian fiction at the same time as I have been reading Brave New World, I use this other artifact almost as a framework that I use to bridge Huxley’s work with wider utopian/dystopian literature, and of course with my own experiences and personality. The book in question is called One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse. In my reading of BNW, I therefore create my own signs, that here I will divide thematically:

Welfare:

Marcuse argues that we no longer desire freedom because our welfare governments have given us happiness in the form of relative affluence. On ODM, he argues that people’s reasons for political dissent are removed when their needs are satisfied. These needs however are “false needs,” or needs that society superimposes on the individual i.e. barrage of advertisements and facts tells us what we need. In BNW conditioning tells individuals what they need- not only are disease, old age, illness, or even the fear of death completely obliterated from BNW, but every conditioned desire is fulfilled. Hypnopaedia’s ingrained false needs with mantras such as “everyone belongs to everyone else,” “orgy-porgy gives release,” and “one cubic centimeter cures ten gloomy sentiments” are fulfilled via promiscuity, organized orgies, and soma. They therefore have all needs provided for them and therefore no need for dissent and remain passive to a system that not only provided for the needs but defined them

Labor:

Marcuse argues that in order for the successful production of commodities to be precise, calculable, and efficient, regimentation, specialization, and standardization must be held. Removed are individual initiatives and personal discretion from the process of production. This removal enhances production’s predictability but limits human capacity to objective measurements; individual thought transforms into reflex and habit. This one-dimensional labor apparatus creates one-dimensional thought as the mind is dominated by functions of production. In BNW individuality is eradicated because of the Fordian assembly line, the laborer does the task repeatedly. For example, this occurs via hypnopaedia- pillow microphones condition Betas to believe their own caste better than those above and below them and those who repair the undersides of space vehicles are conditioned to be happy only when standing on their heads.

Freedom vs. Happiness:

Happiness is a technique of power. The society of AF 632 makes its inhabitants happy rather than allowing them to choose to be so which orientates them towards the status quo and prevents instability. The World Controllers obliterate everything that can provoke passion or thought, in order to preserve happiness. Alphas, Betas, Deltas, and Epsilons, the different castes, are all prevented from experiencing unhappiness by being prevented from experiencing any kind of real emotion. Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Europe, says that Epsilons, the lowest caste who do menial work remain happy in their conditions because they are conditioned to. For example, the Director of Hatcheries says, “the secret of happiness is…liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny” and therefore, happiness is at the necessary expense of freedom. To me, this harks back to what the Frankfurt School was so preoccupied with. They had a Domination Theory which posits that external exploitation plus internal self-disciplining are tools of subordination and we find this in BNW as external conditioning and biological manipulation of Brave New Worldians. Marcuse even asks: ‘how can slaves who do not even know they are slaves free themselves?’ This is very evident in BNW through John the Savage’s debate in Chapter Seventeen, where Huxley presents an open case of alternatives: ignorant freedom or insufferable knowledge?

Utopia:

As Huxley witnessed the rapid advance of science and technology, the concept of Utopia became a less impossible abstraction for him: Utopia may not be realized with man as he is but science can change that. The Frankfurt School, which Marcuse was a part of, developed critical theory by reconstructing Marxist method and logic in order to make it relevant to modern capitalism. According to them, Modern capitalism has developed coping mechanisms that effectively allowed it to forestall the socialist revolution. Critical theory asserts that technology is one of these mechanisms because it is used as a tool for social control. In Huxley’s world, the future is scientific in every sense and works as a description of a society run by scientists, blind to any values that cannot be proved by laboratory experiment, would produce; satirizes the positivists who rejected religion, ethics, and aesthetics. For example is Bokanovsky’s Process, by which just one ovary can yield sixteen thousand people, constitutes a new society of man; Neo-Pavlovian infant-conditioning methods help condition khaki clad Delta babies to abhor flowers and books associating them with unpleasant shocks; a process of sleep-teaching ingrains infants with things like elementary class-consciousness or the encouragement of erotic play; each individual is conditioned to do and like the same task repeatedly thus, they are one-sided from birth; Religion is scientized: Solidarity Services, Christian Cross becomes T after the Model T Ford, the office of Archbishop of Canterbury dwindles to Arch-Community-Songster, and a conventional expression is “Our Ford,” an automobile manufacturer. Frankfurt School thinkers are afraid of this. Their critical theory argues that domination is the psychological subordination of the masses by science’s usurpation of everything. They are afraid of that positivism is capitalism’s new form of domination because it argues that only scientific, empirical knowledge reflects reality. This makes the individual uncritically experience the world as necessary and rational.

MY SIGN!:

In my point of view, and here is where I make the major sign, positivism’s obsession with facts is a symptom of a one-dimensional society as per my reading of Brave New World through my own schema and One Dimensional Man. To me, hegemony of the economy is reaffirmed by a mode of positivist common sense which teaches us that in order to be a good citizen and human being, we must first accept the facts. We are just like the fact-ridden citizens of BNW when we do not question these facts and in order to overcome this domination, one must first critique positivism.

Kicking the Can by Creating Meaning with Symbols

In week four, I found a public service announcement (PSA) that can serve as the quintessential example of our symbolic faculties being compelled in the way that reinforced Deacon’s concept of the we as symbolic species. This week however, I find the same PSA to be just as useful as an example to deconstruct a media artifact in such a way that would pinpoint de Saussure’s and Peirce’s concepts of semiotics. According to de Saussure, language as a product of society is a set of signs that find meaning because of a consensus on the connection between the signifier (what represents) and the the signified (what is being represented). This meaning-making through signs is further conceptualized by Peirce as he distinguishes three types of signs. The icon signifies through imitating and resembling the signified e.g. the photograph. The index signifies through indicating and in relation to the signified i.e. a map indicates a place in the world, and a clock indicates the time of day. Finally, the symbol signifies through denotation and is connected to the signified only through a mind that associates the signifier to the signified e.g. a wedding ring.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTIf8bg_QAE

The PSA in question is called Kicking the Can. Using the medium of television, this PSA is obviously iconic as it does resemble what it wants to resemble: A man being harassed by snuff. The PSA is also highly indexical in that it is a genre that indicates a didactic nature and public good. But it is only through this PSA’s symbolism that we really get to the insightful meaning-making and we discover that almost everything about the PSA is symbolic and contributes to the complete meaning of the PSA. The woman dressed in snuff is symbolic of snuff itself and the way she nags the man is symbolic of how snuff is bad for one’s health and livelihood. Without this denotation, the whole point and meaning of the PSA would not be taken or understood. And we see that all the symbols in this PSA work together to create this meaning.

The background music is an up-tempo, classical, symphony that is focused on a commanding trumpet beat. This is akin to the music usually used in blockbuster adventure movies in scenes where the protagonist/hero is in the middle of an epic battle or going through obstacles. The way the audio dialogue uses audio words is symbolic as well. ‘You’ by ‘Nicki’, the woman dressed as snuff, refers to the baseball player she is nagging. Her use of ‘me’ and ‘I’ though she is snuff establishes the metaphor. The most blatant symbol is the Nicki character who is a woman dressed as snuff and nagging the man dressed in baseball gear as if she were his annoying and persistent ex-lover or ex-girlfriend that he is trying to avoid and ignore with all his might.

Her name ‘Nicki’ is probably a personification of Nicotine, an addictive substance found in smokeless tobacco. Her merits that she uses to plead for him to come back to her are symptoms of snuff-use but conveyed in the language of an ex-lover’s platitudes: ‘We’d always be together’, ‘we have a commitment’ regarding the addictiveness of snuff; ‘You’ll never get through the game without your little Nicki’ regarding the reliance on snuff users have; ‘If you ignore me, I’ll play mind games with you’ regarding the withdrawal mental symptoms of quitting smokeless tobacco; and ‘Make your heart pump’ regarding the high from snuff. There are two characters, a male and a female, who seem to have had a history of an intimate relationship that has recently been severed. The man is dressed for playing baseball and seems intent in going to his game. He never utters a word or attempts to utter one, establishing the fact that he is trying to ignore the female and that she is not an ex-lover, but an ex-addiction: snuff, which is an inanimate object. However, the woman that seems to be his ex-girlfriend intercepts him alone on the baseball field as he parks there and she starts nagging him trying in vain to get his attention. This woman’s name is Nicki (see metaphors). She is also dressed up as a giant, green, snuff can labeled as ‘Snuff: Smokeless Tobacco’ akin to a mascot costume common to American sports events. Because she cannot be identified by a human face, she becomes snuff and it is thus understood that she is not an ex-lover but snuff itself, which is compared to a nagging ex-lover by the PSA. The word ‘nagging’ is a very apt word to use in order to describe Nicki’s voice- it is incredibly high-pitched, nasal, whiny, and she speaks very quickly and pleadingly. Never is there any real form of a woman or snuff at face value shown.

When we combine our symbolic resources i.e. language, audio, visual, etc., we end up with a media artifact that is laden with symbols, or signifiers, that are the sources of meaning-making as de Saussure and Peirce would posit- all that create the meaning in this PSA that snuff is bad.

Children’s Advertising: mediation through law

To Debray (1999) and other mediologists, the subject of interest is not the technical innovation or technology itself but what is in between technologies i.e. the cultural practices, social beliefs, and communicated messages. The reason why the technology itself is only ancillary to these ‘in between’ aspects is because whilst technology is the means by which synchrony (present communication) is achieved, it is vis-a-vis social beliefs and the like that transmission (the more important transfer of communication over time via technologies and institutions) occurs. This is a critical theoretical development in communications heuristics because unlike in past communications theory, mediology is anathema to technological determinism. As Irvine states: ‘technologies can’t be usefully described as having “effects” on cultures or societies, because technology is culture and only empowered by culture’ (Irvine 2005).

I was going to do an unpacking of children’s advertising as a media a la Carey (1989) but while doing my research I realized that despite all that mediate this medium, from advertising agency giants like Ogilvy and pro-market neo-liberal ideology, to the power relations between Congress and watchdog groups like the Parents Television Council, US law was what stuck out to me the most to warrant a discussion of the mediation of children’s advertising.

The US system of consumer law assumes that consumers buy products based on rational choice, or an assessment of the products’ objective attributes (Ramsay 1996). It presupposes that the legal subject is a freely choosing, coherent, and rational being that is accountable for any of his/her actions in normal circumstances and with clear intentions. This rational consumer’s preferences are revealed through the choices he/she makes in the marketplace- not through psychological processes or non-obvious influences on human behavior (Ramsay 1996). Consequently, although there is no social scientific justification for such a dispositionist view of human agency, this assumption is pervasive in US law.

For example, current US law legalizes the use of advertising ‘puff’. Puffery is a nebulous grouping of bluster and hyperbolic imagery and language used in virtually all advertising such as ‘Coke adds life’ or ‘America’s Favorite Pasta’ even though there is no evidence of such claims (Yosifon 2006). This advertising tactic is legal because according to US law, no rational consumer would take these claims or any similar claims literally and seriously, as puffs are too subjective and vague (Yosifon 2006). Therefore, the law says that ‘mere puff’ does not give rise to liability. According to the FTC and common law jurisprudence, advertising that exaggerates happiness, excitement, fun, health, and vitality, is considered puffery; therefore, these types of ads, which encompass virtually all ads, are irrelevant to consumer deception concerns (Yosifon 2006).

Furthermore, corporations themselves have ironically shown that their tactics influence consumer behavior through puffing. In its attempt to convince the FTC that General Mills, Inc. is responsibly responding to America’s childhood obesity issues (and therefore not in need of advertising regulation), the food company explains how it markets healthful foods to children: ‘In order to encourage yogurt consumption, General Mills introduced Go-Gort and Trix Yogurt, and supported these products with appealing advertising emphasizing an association between fun and yogurt’ (Yosifon 2006, 536). In fact, their marketing campaign is so effective that a 2005 survey finds that 76% of children that consume yogurt like Go-Gurt and 74% like Trix, which is not only impressive in terms of sheer numbers but also in relative terms to the liking scores of dominant, junk food products like Popsicles and Oreos, which are, respectively, 77% and 74% (Yosifon 2006). As a result, General Mills successfully creates a new product category that did not formerly exist for children whilst encouraging children to consume a more nutritious snack. However, in flaunting the ease in which the company is able to influence children’s consumption via marketing tactics that are, according to the puffery doctrine, benign, General Mills ironically reveals that puffery is powerful. Because this is so, the current legal framework, which does not regulate the use of puffery, is wholly inadequate and flawed in its assumption of a rational consumer.

The fact that all this legal debate is not happening publicly all whilst advertising keeps legally doing what it’s doing reflects what McLuhan (in Czitrom 1982) would say is the content cleverly distracting us from the the real message embedded in the medium through the medium’s mediation. US law and its mediation of children’s advertising begs so many questions: how can the law assume that adult consumers are rational and therefore able to decipher the difference between a puff and a false statement? Let alone, how can children be expected by the law to do so? The essence of labeling someone a ‘child’ is to proclaim that he/she needs a guardian so how does society provide that guardian? What is the capitalist culture behind such laws that assume a rational consumer? Is there an inherent neoliberal ideology that is present in the relationship between regulation and the market? Can the Freedom of Speech regime (negative vs. positive freedoms of speech debate) in the US be considered as a party to how children’s advertising is conceived? etc.

 

References:

James W. Carey, “Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph,” excerpt from Carey, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Revised edition. New York, NY and London, UK: Routledge, 1989.

Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. (Trans. Martin Irvine).

Martin Irvine, “Media Theory: An Introduction”

Daniel Czitrom, “Metahistory, Mythology, and the Media: The American Thought of Marshall McLuhan,” excerpt from Daniel J. Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982

Yosifon, David G. (2006) ‘Resisting Deep Capture: The Commercial Speech Doctrine and Junk-Food Advertising to Children’ in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review Vol. 39 (pp. 507-602)

Ramsay, Iain (1996) Advertising, Culture and the Law: Beyond Lies, Ignorance and Manipulation London, UK: Sweet and Maxwell

Reading this ad, as my species would

According to Deacon’s Symbolic Species “symbolic reference derives from combinatorial possibilities and impossibilities and therefore depend on combinations to…make use of it”. Thus, in order to do an analysis on a modern media artifact as full of meaning-making symbols, we must conduct a combinatorial analysis of said artifact.

I found a public service announcement (PSA) that can serve as the quintessential example of our symbolic faculties being compelled.

Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTIf8bg_QAE

Here is my combinatorial analysis of this PSA:

I first identify the cacophony of symbols that arrest the visual, audio, textual, and discursive intuitions of our “Symbolic Species”:

Genre: PSA, which is publicly funded, didactic in nature, short, televisual, and has the aim of changing behavior for the “public good”.

Audio: The background music is an up-tempo, classical, symphony that is focused on a commanding trumpet beat. This is akin to the music usually used in blockbuster adventure movies in scenes where the protagonist/hero is in the middle of an epic battle or going through obstacles.

Identity words: The constant use of ‘you’ by ‘Nicki’, the woman dressed as snuff, refers to the baseball player she is nagging. Her use of ‘me’ and ‘I’ though she is snuff establishes the metaphor. The use of ‘you’ by the voice-over refers to the spectator, establishing a personal message.

Metaphors: The Nicki character is a woman dressed as snuff and nagging the man dressed in baseball gear as if she were his annoying and persistent ex-lover or ex-girlfriend that he is trying to avoid and ignore with all his might. Her name ‘Nicki’ is probably a personification of Nicotine, an addictive substance found in smokeless tobacco. Her merits that she uses to plead for him to come back to her are symptoms of snuff-use but conveyed in the language of an ex-lover’s platitudes: ‘We’d always be together’, ‘we have a commitment’ regarding the addictiveness of snuff; ‘You’ll never get through the game without your little Nicki’ regarding the reliance on snuff users have; ‘If you ignore me, I’ll play mind games with you’ regarding the withdrawal mental symptoms of quitting smokeless tobacco; and ‘Make your heart pump’ regarding the high from snuff.

Characters: There are two characters, a male and a female, who seem to have had a history of an intimate relationship that has recently been severed. The man is dressed for playing baseball and seems intent in going to his game. He never utters a word or attempts to utter one, establishing the fact that he is trying to ignore the female and that she is not an ex-lover, but an ex-addiction: snuff, which is an inanimate object. However, the woman that seems to be his ex-girlfriend intercepts him alone on the baseball field as he parks there and she starts nagging him trying in vain to get his attention. This woman’s name is Nicki (see metaphors). She is also dressed up as a giant, green, snuff can labeled as ‘Snuff: Smokeless Tobacco’ akin to a mascot costume common to American sports events. Because she cannot be identified by a human face, she becomes snuff and it is thus understood that she is not an ex-lover but snuff itself, which is compared to a nagging ex-lover by the PSA. The word ‘nagging’ is a very apt word to use in order to describe Nicki’s voice- it is incredibly high-pitched, nasal, whiny, and she speaks very quickly and pleadingly.

Voiceover:  In contradiction to the only other voice heard in the PSA (Nicki’s), the voiceover is a male one with a very low, masculine, pitch and a confident, self-assured tone as he speaks with conviction and omnipresence in a slower, more rhythmic cadence compared to Nicki’s nagging. The voiceover even speaks above Nicki’s nagging at one point towards the latter half of the PSA in order so that the audience hears the message that the clear voiceover is saying (and to hear the point of the PSA) but with Nicki’s voice dimmed in the background as nagging gibberish that is rendered incoherent because of the voiceover, but present nonetheless as a slight annoyance.

Facial expressions: The only facial expressions we see is that of the character that never speaks: the baseball player. At first, when Nicki starts to pester him, his expression is one of a forced ambivalence- stone-faced and fixed. But as she is pestering him even more and he constantly attempts to dodge her, his brows furrow in frustration and his lips curl upward on one side in a grin of held-back aggravation as his face paints a picture of tension but resolution (to not give in to Nicki).

Image/text contradiction: Never is there any real form of a woman or snuff at face value shown.

When we combine our symbolic resources i.e. language, audio, visual, etc., we end up with a media artifact that is laden with referential meaning making that leads to more referential meaning making in such a way that Deacon would posit. What do these previously mentioned symbols refer to in the PSA?:

Woman/addiction/unhealthy vs. Man/will-power/health: Why is snuff represented as a stereotypically annoying ex-girlfriend? There is the classic stereotype of women nagging men but more telling is the stereotype that women are temptresses and the weaknesses of men. Not only does this PSA use the seductress stereotype for the woman in the PSA, but the woman is also portraying an inanimate object that is purely consumed for pleasure and for a temporary high that leads to the downfall of men. When watching this PSA, everything about Nicki is personified and very human except of course for the outlandish and flamboyant mascot-like costume that is supposed to convey to the audience that she is a metaphor for snuff, which is scientifically founded to be unhealthful and highly addictive. The distinction between what is snuff and what is woman is blurred. This is because the seductress is a woman already known by the audience to be careful of, for although she is tempting with her abilities to make your ‘heart pump’, she is inevitably bad for you. Therefore, this feeling of wariness for the seductress is easily transferred to smokeless tobacco. Snuff too is attractive but is also unhealthy to consume. The baseball player is a male stereotype of athletic prowess as he is on his way to a sports event. He also fulfills the stereotype of male reservation and assuredness, as he is the calmer, quieter one in the relationship but also the tougher one as he plays sports and ignores the nagging with stride, dignity, and power of will.

References:

Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

An Attempt at a Sociolinguistic Analysis: How Language is Used by Filipinos on Twitter with #Marcos

The relationship between the structure of society and language use are the focus of Sociolinguists, who incorporate into their analysis (1.) the backgrounds of the speaker and the addressee such as age, sex, class, race, religion, sexuality, etc., (2.) the relationship between the two such as mother-daughter, classmates, etc., and (3.) the context of the interaction such as Facebook message, face to face, while fighting, etc. (Radford et. al. 2009). This analysis is an attempt to use the sociolinguistic framework and use such concept from the field as diglossia, orthography, phonology, and morphology. The analysis will be done on Tweets from #Marcos.

On September 21 in 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos infamously signed Proclamation 1081 thus declaring a state of martial law in the Philippines. He did this in order to extend his presidency beyond just the two terms he is constitutionally allowed. During his 20 years as president of the Philippines, his administration was greatly marred by human rights violations, corruption, and political oppression that reached a climax when he was implicated in the murder of his primary political opponent, Benigno Aquino. His dictatorship ended in 1986 through the People Power Revolution, which ended his power and forced him into exile in Hawaii. Until today, there are billions of dollars of embezzled public funds that are in Swiss and American banks. Though Marcos has died whilst in exile in Hawaii, his wife Imelda (who holds the infamous title of woman with the world’s most pairs of shoes) still lives and is a governor while all his children are in the Senate. What is unique about the Twitter hashtag “Marcos” is not only that today marks the anniversary of the signing of the document that abolished the checks on Marcos’s power, but that the current President of the Philippines is the son of Benigno Aquino.

When reading the tweets with hash tag Marcos, the linguistic differences are based on location (urban vs. rural; capital city Manila elitism vs. provincialism; and Marcos political family ties in the province of Leyte), which is closely linked to class (English-speaking educated elites vs. Pure-Tagalog-speaking educated elites vs. “Tagalish”-speaking masses), and opinion of Marcos (nostalgia for Martial Law vs. bitterness).

There is a pattern in the way those tweeting from Manila, Cebu, and other metropolitan areas tweet about Marcos. The tweets are usually written fully in un-slanged English or un-slanged Tagalog, which are the two high, formal forms of Filipino diglossia. For example, one person from Manila (the Philippine capital) tweets: “Today in history: In 1972, President Marcos signed Proc. 1081, declaring a state of martial law in the Philippines” while another from Quezon City (another large metropolitan area) tweets, “Itinuring kong isang sinasapiang aso ang rehimeng Marcos na gusto kong wakasan.” Both of these statements are written very much like the news: formal, correct, and void of any odd orthography or use of phonology. This is because Filipinos from big cities are more likely to be exposed to a strict scholastic curriculum and business decorum that are conducted strictly in either completely fluent Tagalog or fluent English.

The tweets that were in these high languages almost exclusively profess anti-Marcos sentiments such as “Hindi garapal ang kayamana ng pamilyang Marcos” or “Martial Law is Marcos Larceny”. They even go a step further by tagging links to reference more information in order to back up their value and judgment statements: “FDC: The Marcos’ Legacy of Fraudulent and Illegitimate Debts http://t.co/qmmSgwHW”, or “In his own words: Marcos on martial law #RememberML40 http://t.co/xsZ0brMl”.

This utilization of the high languages is further reinforced and exacerbated by class. The tweets coming from parts of the city that are posh, such as the Makati district in Manila, are only conducted in fluent English sans abnormal morphology. This is because the Philippine intelligentsia and upper-class elites, who tend to be politically very liberal and who were greatly represented in the anti-Marcos People’s Revolution, speak English as their primary language and to each other. They go to English-speaking schools, conduct business in English, and go to elite private schools that only teach in English.

These elites actually have to learn the other form of high language in the Filipino diglossia: Tagalog. It is taught to all Filipino citizens and is used fluently in the contexts of formal occasions where the Lexicon should be pure i.e. there are no ad-hoc borrowed words from English. Pure Tagalog is solely used by those in public office, newscasters, and academics. Based on how the has tag Marcos sentiments are proclaimed via twitter, we can thus postulate that the upper-classes, the urban elites, and intelligentsia are generally anti-Marshall Law, with a proclivity for providing sources that back up their claims about Marcos.

Because there are 175 regional dialects in the Philippines, not everyone who tweeted tweeted in this high form of Tagalog or English. In fact, most of the tweets were conducted in “Tagalish”, or a colloquial combination of Tagalog and English. The tweets that are written in this manner have no real formal rules i.e. they differ greatly in terms of orthography. For example are the following tweets: (1) “Happy 40th Anniversary! Hindi ko inabutan yan. Pero medyo idol ko rin talaga si Marcos :)”, (2) “My Lola totally misses yung Martial Law because the Philippines was better with it- sobra!”, and “How I wish Marcos Era still exist, edi sana walang nag-hihirap na mga Pilipino ngayon, Idol parin kita #FerdinandMarcos :).”

A significant difference between these tweets and the high tweets is the discourse elements and punctuation. These tweets, unlike the high tweets, have iconic happy faces to emphasize the sentiment that they are either celebrating the anniversary of martial law, or that they look up to Marcos. These low tweets also tend to use more exclamation marks than the high tweets. This shows that while the low tweets tend to not have much depth of content (like the high tweets do with their references and links), they tend to however garner a lot more expression with their exciting syntax and punctuation. They have a lot more character with their use of happy faces as emphasis of their sentiment, and are a lot more conversational with their use of natural interjections.

Another difference between the high tweets and these low tweets is that Tagalog words here are mostly misspelled to make them shorter but this is the unofficial, colloquial way of shortening words when you write them as Tagalog words, especially certain verb tenses which are extremely long. A writing system has developed for Tagalish in which Tagalog words are purposely but consistently misspelled. In the lexicon of these two tweets, or of any of the Tagalish tweets, there is an obvious borrowing of words. If the tweeter is tweeting primarily in Tagalog (or any other dialect), he/she will borrow words from English, and likewise if the tweeter is tweeting primarily in English, he/she will borrow words from an abbreviated/shortened form of Tagalog to tweet in the low language of the Philippines.

The Tweets that are in Tagalish are overwhelmingly nostalgic for the days of martial law, or reveal that written Tagalish is a mode of language for those who are pro-Marcos. This is not surprising because Marcos marketed himself very well during his campaigning as a man of the people. He was after all, a “probinsyano”, or provincial man who made his way up in Philippine politics because of sheer hard work, intelligence, and gumption.  The Philippines under Martial Law also was very oppressive with curfews, strict punishments for criminals, and a strong presence of the military in people’s lives. Many probinsyanos view that era as safe, more prosperous, and more respectful. This is echoed in the way Tagalish is used in sentiments that are very protective of Marcos and of Martial Law.

 

References

Radford, Andrew, Atkinson, Martin, Britain, David, Clahsen, Harald, and Spencer, Andrew (2009) Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Ignoring the Decoders: Audience Agency

According to Stuart Hall (1980), there are three positions that people take when they decode a media message. The Dominant Hegemonic Position is when the audience interprets the message in such a way that bodes with exactly how the senders and producers of that message encode and intend it to mean. This ‘preferred meaning’ is a manifestation of the pervasiveness and strength of ‘the whole social order embedded in them as a set of meanings, practices and beliefs’ that legitimize the ubiquitous ideology of broadcasters and society (Hall 1980, 513). The Negotiated Position is when the audience decodes a media message by adapting to a situation and opposing certain codes i.e. this is when the audience accepts the dominant codes in the abstract and general but decides to oppose such codes within the context of the situational and specific. Finally, the Globally Contrary Position is when the audience decodes the message of knowledge producers using an ‘alternative framework of reference’, which leads to a totally oppositional decoding of the message (Hall 1980, 517).

Although Hall offers a model of communications that explores the relationship between sender, message, and receiver, he does not give enough agency to the receiver of the message. In the case of the audience of TV, Hall makes the assumption that those who watch television simply react to a message artifact through either fully accepting the intended message, partly accepting the intended message, or completely discarding the intended message. He totally ignores how the audience chooses to do any of these things and why. According to studies done by social scientists that study advertising, the process of negotiation and decoding of messages relies significantly on many features that Hall does not mention: the viewers’ culture, class, experience, worldview, and expectations, all of which comprise a mental schema (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004). Media’s constructs of meaning, are offered to audiences, who incorporate the media-offered constructs with their own ‘framed images of reality’ (McQuail 2005, 46). Consumers thus negotiate with the incoming messages through their schematic agency. In other words, what Hall does not mention is the agency of the audience through their mental schemata.

An example of the power of people’s schema can be found in their negotiations with advertising messages. Numerous survey studies suggest that teenagers’ and young adults’ alcohol consumption is significantly related to influences from peers and family, two groups that are vital in helping form an individual’s conceptual schema (Gunter et. al. 2010). In a California State University study, the frequency and quantity alcohol consumption among college students is assessed vis-à-vis their association with their parents’ drinking and finds that there is a significant correlation between male drinking scores and their fathers’ drinking behavior (Jung 1995 in Gunter et. al. 2010). Because an individual’s schema is based on social learning, when an individual grows up with a parent who has certain habits or worldviews, the individual’s own habits and worldviews will be influenced (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004); thus, schema is more powerful than ads in determining how an individual consumes alcohol. A central England study conducted on 17-21 year-olds finds that heavier alcohol consumption is related to the number of friends who drink and to the frequency of friend outings to pubs and bars (Gunter, Hansen, and Touri 2009 in Gunter et. al. 2010). Friends help shape an individual’s schema via their contribution to the individual’s cultural conditioning (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004)– in this case, friends appear to become the de facto influence behind the individual’s relationship with alcohol. Furthermore, a New Zealand study on under-age drinkers finds that the amount of alcohol consumed is closely related to whether friends approve of alcohol or not i.e. boys with girlfriends who disapprove of alcohol drink less and those with girlfriends who approve of alcohol drink more (Gunter et. al. 2010). This means that advertising cannot change tastes, create needs or wants, or even create demand (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004). That is up to one’s schema, which is formed by social conditioning aided, as shown in these studies, by friends and family. Studies such as these show how Hall’s different positions may occur and why, which consequently show how little agency Hall gives the audience.

References

Gunter, Barrie, Hansen, Anders, and Touri, Maria (2010) Alcohol Advertising
and Young People’s Drinking: Representation, Reception, and Regulation Basingstoke, UK and New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

Hall, Stuart (1980) ‘Encoding/Decoding’ (pp. 128-138) in Hall, Stuart et al. (eds.) Culture, Media, Language

McQuail, Denis (2005) McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory: Fifth Edition London, UK, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, IN: SAGE Publications

O’Shaughnessy, John and O’Shaughnessy, Nicholas Jackson (2004) Persuasion in Advertising London, UK and New York, NY: Routledge