Monday, October 18, 2010

Media Economies & Advertising

Reading Summaries by Sara Goodison

The Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 1: The Culmination of Separation

Guy Debord’s analytical work centers around the world of the spectacle. He believes that we are living in a world in which the spectacle has become superior to- and in essence, a replacement for- reality, creating a separation and alienation from a world that can no longer be directly grasped.

Throughout chapter 1, Debord offers many definitions for what the spectacle is. A few of the key components of what makes the spectacle include that it is “an autonomous movement of the nonliving”, “a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at”, “a visual reflection of the ruling economic order” and “a social relation between people that is mediated by images”. The spectacle is a representation of direct life, but for Debord, it does not end there. The spectacle does not just represent life in a visual manner, but also shapes, effects, and actually supersedes reality. He believes that the spectacle engenders passive acceptance of “an inaccessible reality in which what appears is good and what is good appears”, much like the commonly used advertising heuristic of “what’s beautiful is good”.

Debord goes on to analyze both the economic production and domination of social life by the spectacle. He believes that the spectacle is the leading production of present-day society and that the spectacle’s domination of social life has created a degradation from being into having, followed by a shift from having to appearing. Human fulfillment has gone from being about what one was to what one possessed and, through the spectacle, having must “derive it’s immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearance”. The spectacular society’s emphasis on the visual and on appearances, means that simply possessing something is no longer enough- instead you must have the appearance of possessing it.

Interestingly, this emphasis on appearances has led to the sense of sigh becoming the most important sense in modern culture. The sense of sigh has been elevated to the preeminence once occupied by touch. This is a problem for Debord, as he sees sight as “the most abstract and easily deceived sense” and yet it is the one that we have founded modern society upon.

Debord goes on to develop the idea of the spectacle as “whatever eludes peoples practical reconsideration and correction”. It is essentially societies collective subconscious awareness of the world. In tying his discourse into religion, he explains that the spectacle brings the “illusory paradise that represented a total denial of earthly life” down to earthly life itself. It would seem that the daily life projected by the spectacle as reality has in fact become the unreal, unattainable life much like heaven once was.

Vernacular Geopolitics and Media Economics in an Enlarged Europe

This article mainly deals with a situation involving the Italian media’s relationship with Saudi funders and distributers and extrapolates from that situation an analyze of the media in an enlarged Europe.

The articles centers its argument around a few key events. First, there was a meeting between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Saudi Prince Al Waleed who had agreed to purchase Berlusconi’s shares in Mediaset television in order to avoid a conflict of interest. The next story was that of the extensive ties between RIA, Italy’s public broadcaster, and Dalla Al Baraka Investment Bank as part of the distribution deal between RAI and Arab Digital Distribution. Finally, there was the story of Tarak Ben Ammar who was intimately involved in both the sale of Belusconi’s Mediaset shares to Saudi Prince Al Walled as well as the negotiation of the distribution agreement between RAI and Al Baraka Investment for the distribution of RAI international.

More important than just the events themselves, however, was the way these interactions were covered in the media. Presented against the backdrop of accusations that Prince Al Waleed and Dalla Al Baraka Investment Bank had been involved in funding the World Trade Center Attacks on September 11th, the question of “should the Italian government have an agreement with interests that are under suspicion of being involved in terrorists activities” could not help but be raised, especially given that RAI was a particularly important state institution.

Hayward explains that “the interest in Prince Al Waleed, Dall AL Baraka Investment Bank and Tarak Ben Ammar is intimately related to the vernacular geopolitical knowledge that has defined many aspects of everyday life in Europe in the wake of the events of September 11”. This vernacular geopolitical knowledge involves the “less legitimate popular understandings of international politics in the post-9/11 world”- essentially, it is the prejudices, stereotypes, and misconceptions that people often bring with them to the table when faced with a new situation that is subject to interpretation. These popular understands must be balanced with the version of the story that has had all emotions removed and attempts to stick to the facts of what is actually going on- the “‘official’ mappings of corporate relations and the functioning of state institutions”.

This article not only deals with vernacular geopolitics, but also with the idea of an “enlarged Europe”. Dalla Al Baraka Investments and its subsidiaries Arab Media Corporation and Arab Digital Distribution play a crucial role in the Italian broadcasting market. In fact, the Saudi based company is the primary distributor of Italian media content internationally. This begs the question of what exactly is an “enlarged Europe”. Hayward points out that, thanks to colonialism, imperialism, and globalization, “Europe more than many other places on the planet has always been enlarged”. However, as made apparent with the Arab world’s involvement in Italian media, enlargement can no longer be understood in a strictly geographical nature. Thus, Hayward concludes, “an ‘enlarged Europe’ is one that can no longer be said to be limited by the geographical boundaries of the continent itself”.

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