Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Culture & Media

by Katherine Hom

Adorno's essay concerns the mass production of cultural goods, both media and products

Theodor Adorno & Maxhorkheimer, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund Adorno (1903 – 1969) was a German-born international sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist. He was a member of the Frankfurt School. School of neo Marxist social theory. Philosophers of this school tried to expand on the traditional Marxist theory, which they believed, did not explain the development of capitalism. Very critical of capitalism and soviet socialism. He collaborated with Max Horkheimer and Walter Benjamin. In the 1930s he moved to London and then to New York. He and Horkheimer moved to LA in the 1940s and began collaborating. What resulted was the Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1944, which was revised an republished 1947. He then returned to Germany after the war to work as a professor and director of philosophy and sociology.

Max Horkheimer (1895 – 1973) was a German philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. After university in Munich he moved to Frankfurt where he met Adorno. In 1930 he was elected director of the Institute for Social Research as well as the chair of social philosophy at Frankfurt University. He emigrated to Switzerland, and then to the US during WWII. In 1940 he moved to LA with Adorno an collaborated to create the Dialectic of Enlightenment. He returned to Frankfurt in 1949 where he taught until retirement in the mid 1960s.

I found this piece to be extremely thought provoking but almost off-putting at the same time. The style in which it is written is critical and accusatory of producers especially as well as capitalism as a whole. With this piece, Adorno and Hormeimer hoped to reveal the structure in which producers exert domination over the masses through media. The culture industry uses mass media to circulate cultural commodities to impress the public with ideas and in turn control them and maintain the current power structure.

The 1988 film by John Carpenter They Live showed a world with all media selling similar messages

Swiss Artist Sylvie Fleury, 2002

Those at the top create identical mass culture, feeding identical products with the guise of distinction and originality. They claim that the most powerful, are the company directors of industries, including steel, petroleum, electricity, and chemicals. The consumer is divided and labeled, with a mass produced product assigned to them with the semblance of competition and choice. Capitalism confines the consumers who are the workers, lower middle class. They are helpless victims to what is offered to them and are deceived by myths of success. The culture industry is also the entertainment business, which embeds its trends in the public. It creates a manufactured need. Under capitalism, amusement is manufactured after product of work. Boredom is pleasure because it does not require work or effort, and thus we must be presented with entertainment products we know and can predict. They go as far as to accuse laughter of being “a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into its worthless totality”, claiming that it exists when some fear passes, from physical danger or the grip of logic.

All these ideas reflect what is at the core, obedience to the social hierarchy. This is a point that Tomlinson seems to respond to. He questions the idea that the consumer is a helpless victim, while Adorno and Horkheimer assumes that it is so without going into further analysis.

The idea of having a book, film, soundtrack and media event all extending the same idea onto different products is the result of a culture industry that expands itself across normally distinct media

They claim that all art and entertainment conforms to standard structures, so that we are aware of how they will play out and can be satisfied on a shallow level. These are the products of the culture industry. To be successful in entertainment you must be pliable and fit in until your slight deviation from the norm is accepted and appropriated by the culture industry. Adorno and Horkheimer call this “realistic dissidence”. Those who refuse to conform are powerless, economically, and in turn spiritually. They cannot hope to become “successful”, simply “self employed”. When it comes to consumption, the untried is a risk. The private and independent creators are pushed into the field of the amateur and must accept restrictions from the power holders. The outside world is simply a continuation of the reality we experience on the screen. When it comes to art and style, great works always negate themselves since they do not fit into the preconceived ideas of art, they are irrelevant. However inferior work relies on similarities to others. Culture is classifiable and in turn can be administrated, industrialized. A cultural product is only as respected as the amount of money spent on it. Advertising plays into the culture industry as a gatekeeper to the pseudo-market, keeping small business out. The big companies are the ones who remain at the front, and those who are not supported by advertising are suspect. Goods also rely on advertising to inform consumers of the enjoyment and benefits of products, since these promises of enjoyment of the commodity are never actual.

This work hopes to reveal to us, the masses that we are existing within this power structure, though Adorno does it in a very abrupt way. There is no real concrete solution offered here. Can we escape outside of this culture industry, outside of the power structure of capitalism? And is it better outside of it? If we brush this critique aside we can simply go on with our everyday lives as we knew them. Is it better to be comfortable? Because it is easy, but is it worth it to try to move beyond this?

Media Imperialism by John Tomlinson

John Tomlinson was a director of the Centre for Research in International Communication and Culture at Nottingham Trent University and authored numerous academic articles and contributed to books in addition to cultural imperialism and globalization and culture. He explores globalization through disciplines like sociology, geography, anthropology, history, and communications.

Disney's world wide distribution, here France's Alice au pays des merveilles

Tomlinson explores the idea of media imperialism as it has been studied in the past, with hopes to move toward a more comprehensive idea of what cultural imperialism is and how the two are linked. While media analysts discuss specific cases, his goal is to keep a certain distance to get a better look at the big picture by exploring, critiquing, and amending concepts reached by prior media theorists.

He first outlines three main problems:

    • Specifying what exactly the ‘cultural’ is within the political/economic sphere
    • The “hermeneutic naivety” of the discourse of cultural imperialism – the explanatory simplicity, lacking critical analysis, habit of falling into easy inferences about media effects
    • Cultural imperialism through media imperialism and the link between media and Western culture – what is imposed on other cultures?

Historian and professor, Fred Fejes in 1981 turned to media imperialism as cultural imperialism. He argued that empirical study up to that point lacked a coherent framework and unifying theory. He describes cultural imperialism as “the cultural impact of transnational media on Third World societies.” Two larger issues come into play here.

Political/economic – neo imperialism that structures relations between First and Third World countries, the ownership and control of media. Dependency theory states that former colonial countries are still dependent on the West (capitalism).

Media theorist Herbert Schiller states that multinational corporations have a hand in the economies of the Third world in attempts to exploit markets, natural resources and labor. Multinational media corporations thus act as marketing agents to promote, protect and extend the modern world system, manipulating the audience into good consumers of capitalism. Media then hopes to show the attraction of consumerism and typify a certain way of life in a cumulative way, though specific evidence cannot be gathered.

Distinct from economic imperialism, exists the idea of the ‘Cultural’. This involves the content of media texts, how it is received, and the impact it has on lives and relationships. However there is the problem of quantifying and defining the cultural meaning within media and how this specifically impacts lives of viewers. Many analysts only study the flow of communication and assume the manipulative effects. The general approach assumes that capitalism is culture. So how do we really understand the cultural implications of media imperialism and what is ‘the cultural’?

We look at “How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic” in which Dorfman and Armand try to reveal “the ideological assumptions that inform the stories and that can, arguable. Naturalize and normalize the social relations of Western Capitalism”. Themes discovered include the obsession with money and consumerism, ‘exotic lands as sources of wealth, racial, gender, and cultural stereotypes, and capitalist class relations as natural. However in analyzing stories it is easily possible to come up with multiple interpretations. The question remains, how do ordinary readers read the comics and how are they affected?

This image is from the British National Party on a site discussing the issue of exporting Disney.

It is assumed that imported goods like Coca-Cola and Disney embody some kind of cultural value, and by being present in third world societies they somehow transmit their values to the consumer. Exposure does not necessarily mean adoption.

Next we look at the American TV series Dallas, which was massively popular internationally during the 1980s. The show glorified monetary wealth and power. One explanation of its popularity was that it connected with melodramatic imagination. A study showed that viewers reacted to the show in complex ways, negotiating their enjoyment with their distaste toward the ideology and attitudes towards imports. These results show that the simple idea that simple exposure to a media text does not result in immediate ideological effects.

Click here to see a clip of Dallas

Another study by Katz and Liebes splits viewers into focus groups, stressing that TV watching is not an isolate practice, but involves social interaction to interpret and evaluate. After watching an episode they were allowed an hour to discuss, then asked questions individually. At this level there were examples of extremely divergent readings. Different ethnic groups brought their own values to judge an even reject the Western values established by the show. This reflects actual reinforcement of their own cultural values in opposition to the adoption of Western values. Audiences’ cultural values are more resistant to manipulation and they are more active and critical, thinking in more complex and reflective ways than theorists had assumed.

Quantifying the reception of media text is difficult, since it relies on the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of the viewer, which may be “insignificantly” changed. There is always a gap between how people will state their views on a text and how they will live their experience of the text in everyday life. The “artificial nature of any controlled viewing of a programme must always introduce an element of doubt about the validity of the findings”. These issues get in the way of empirical investigation along with the problem of interpreting the data.

“I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [Soviet] empire," Hagman told the Associated Press a decade ago. "They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, 'Hey, we don't have all this stuff.' I think it was good old-fashioned greed that got them to question their authority.”

Next we look at Chaplin and the idea that he inspires laughter in an isolated dead-end tropical town in Brazil as well as all over the West. Here the concept of universalism is introduced, the idea that there is something deeply inherent in all people that makes everyone find Chapin funny. However this idea denies essential cultural difference. It also denies the idea of cultural imperialism because it denies that there are fundamental cultural differences. This explanation in this context is only a superficial explanation of Chaplin’s popularity. There is an inference that the laughter of the man is the same laughter of a westerner, simply because it is appropriate at this occasion.

These works indicate that people actively view and respond to texts. Widespread easy cultural manipulation is not possible. Another facet is the centrality of media and in turn, the media message in everyday life. Mass media has been thought to unify fragmented capitalistic society, providing meaningful organization and pattern of experience. But actual lived experience involved a subtle “interplay of mediations” of interactions with friends and family and actual live experience. Real life remains distinct from the represented life of media. Media representations generalize in an attempt to illustrate subjective concepts such as love. These representations may add to our experiences but do not determine them.

In class we considered media and three faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, specifically in kay Adams, "Issues of Culture and Identity in Contemporary France: The Problem of Reconciling a Colonial Past with a Present Reality," and Yasmin Ibrahim, The Mediated ‘Ummah’ in Europe: The Islamic Influence in the Cultural Age.

“Religious Identities in the European Media: A Legal Perspective,” Russell Sandberg

Historically church courts policed the English law of blasphemy, enforce by ordinary criminal court from the 17th century on. Its purpose was to protect the faith established by the Church of England since faith was seen as the root of political and moral behavior. A crime against faith equaled a crime against society and social order. The Criminal Law Act 1967 deemed blasphemy a criminal offence at common law. There had to be two elements present, the external actus reus, and mental mens rea. Here the actus reus meant that blasphemous material was published, written or verbally. Blasphemous material was that which was in conflict with the beliefs of the church, expressed in offensive terms that would shock and cause outrage in church believers. Unorthodox views can only be considered blasphemous if they are published in an offensive way.

The European Convention on Human Rights protects both the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. It is recognized that they limit each other. The freedom of religion does not guarantee that the religion will not be criticized and freedom of expression carries responsibilities to avoid “expressions that are gratuitously offensive to others and profane”. So in the case of blasphemy it is difficult to determine what is appropriate and inappropriate in certain situations. This balance is highly controversial and delicate as seen the recent scandals involving the Danish newspapers critical cartoons involving Islam and Muhammad.

There were only four cases of blasphemy during the 20th century, and as a law, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act abolished it in 2008. General public order offenses were put into order to regulate offensive speech and actions as well as religious hate crime legislation. Public officials, protest groups, and the general public, prevent blasphemy by pressure, which could include book banning and picketing. However this could be problematic since representation by protest groups may not represent the public opinion as a whole. This has led to self-censorship.

No comments:

Post a Comment