Monday, March 14, 2011

Tomlinson and Barthes! (JJR)

The Tomlinson article talks about the differences and intersections of Media Imperialism and Cultural Imperialism. The idea of media imperialism, the phenomenon of an American (or at least western) media voice overtaking the global market, is something that cannot be denied. The ubiquitous presence of American media is responsible for almost the entire globe’s ability to recognize such shows as Dallas, as the author cites in the text. The critical argument in this chapter is whether or not the subjects of this media imperialism has within it a fundamental appeal to all cultures, or if the proliferation of this media is dominating cultures to create a more western ideal. It discusses active versus passive models of audience behavior and talks about the viewing public’s ability to make their own meaning of a media text rather than accepting the hegemonic principals inherent within it. The act of decoding in this context is important because people use their own cultural experiences to unpack and make relevant the cultural tropes, and the content is not necessarily interpreted the same way across different societies. Are people necessarily laughing at the same thing? The second half of the article acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of analyzing these processes – one of which being that once somebody knows that they are being asked to think critically about media texts, they begin to think of it in a new light and studies do not capture what they instinctively think about it. It also raises the question of which is a more accurate assessment of television: does it mimic life, or has life begun to mimic the media?

The Barthes article is standard communication theory, but it is important to rehash the ideas posed by Semantics, the study of signs. Barthes, proposes that the interpretation of media is a process that depends on three things: the signifier, the signified, and the combination of those processes that results in the formation of meaning. The signifier is what a media consumer actually sees – the bare bones of media (videos, print, photographs). The signified is how culture and society informs those texts so they have significance within the context of that medium – without context, an image is just an image. Finally, when those elements combine, a greater understanding of the message is achieved, allowing the viewer to fully, or at least more comprehensively, make significant meaning of what he is seeing. In this example, the signifier is the black soldier saluting. The signified is the general French sentiment toward patriotism versus loyalism, and also how the black body is viewed in this culture. Finally, the combination of these two elements allows the viewer to deduce that loyalty to the French nation (comprising all of the colonies as well) is important, and that French subjects are united by nationalism and not by ethnicity. The classical example of Semantics is the Panzani Pasta advertisement (see Twitter for link).

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