Tag Archives: media

Prelim rationale v 1.1

I’m working on a v 2.0 of my rationale, but thought I’d post this second version for the sake of posterity/transparency.

I’ve opted with the 1.1, as though it dose contain some substantial changes, I don’t feel as though it is necessarily more than a small departure from the first draft. Mostly, I’ve added some explication and connections.

In the upcoming (in a few days) v 2.0, I’ll largely try to do the opposite: discretize these blended areas in order to more clearly define them. I’ll also be following up with a reorganization of my booklist, which is currently on Evernote. I’ve been reluctant to match the list to my areas, as I personally cannot not see many texts applying to more than a single area. Alas, it is time to try!

Rationale after the break… And, as always, comments welcome!

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What articles and reviews might tell us about media studies and culture

The four articles I read [Adrienne Shaw’s “What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies”; Patrick Crogan’s “Tracing the Logics of Contemporary Digital Media Culture”; Gigi Durham’s review of Douglas Kellner’s Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern”; Bo Reimer’s review of Jostein Gripsrud’s Understanding Media Culture”] were more convergent than I may have expected, given their divergent objects of study. These articles converged in their focus on cultural studies and the common academic ethos, likely as part of that wide-ranging discipline, that could be found in the various interrogations.

To begin, let me first elaborate on the individual articles and approaches. Shaw examines how the term “video game culture” has been used, adopted, and challenged through a discourse analysis of popular and academic articles using the aforementioned phrase. Through this analysis, she sees “culture” as a combination of actions, identities, and values—particularly how individual texts and genres of games are valued. Crogan explores the relationship between the simulation technology—screen mediated virtualization and visualization of the real that leads to a potential shift in the role of history as data for simauthors and as a way to check the accuracy of simulations (SIMNET)—and the political, economic, and power influences of and on society. Durham sees Kellner as being concerned with alternate, combinatory approaches to the cultural studies of US mass media. Reimer reads Gripsrud as writing an exemplar and useful text book for introduction to media culture for students and for serving as a common touchstone text for faculty in the traditionally various humanistic and social science approaches that might be valued in a typical media studies department.

Throughout these texts, a search for a reflexive and complex understanding of the relationship of culture and media is a common concern. Shaw challenges academics to reflexively ask why some favorable stereotypes of video game culture (VGC) are blindly accepted in the field while the more unflattering assumptions of VGC are destabilized. Rather, she argues that we interrogate all aspects of VGC, whether perceived as favorable or not, in order to reflect an inclusive and diverse understanding of VGC.
Crogan seeks to unearth the connections between the post-WW2 state of “pure war” (Paul Virilio’s term for the condition of military build-up and mobilization that made peace time indistinguishable from war) and Eisenhower’s notion of the military-industrial complex that fed “pure war.” This connection can be seen in the development of the screen-mediated virtualization of reality, reified first through the command and control defense system the Semi-automated Ground Environment (SAGE)—used to manage a potential nuclear strike response—and then through the networked military simulation system SIMNET. In both cases, Crogan focuses on how the simulation technology is both shaped by the cultural expectations of graphical and cartographic representation and is a shaping force for those expectations, specifically through the films and video games associated with the Military-Entertainment complex. Furthermore, and perhaps of higher stakes, contemporary military simulation techniques use data gathered from real battles, such as those in Desert Storm, to develop conditions and systems, which can then be used to simulate alternate outcomes. Crogan argues that this might be a shift in the perception of history, from “historical discourse as a hermeneutic, critical processing of the past” to a set of conditions used to predict probable futures—and secure national interests against perceived future threats.

Kellner and Gripsrud seem to approach their objects of study through more common understandings of media: mass media. These objects seem appropriate for their focus. Kellner is interested in a combinatory methodology of modernist and postmodernist theories of social science and cultural studies to excavate the connections between mass media and identity, ideology, race, gender, class, and politics, to name a few areas of concern. Through this “multicultural, multiperspective” (Kellner via Durham) approach, he seeks to open new opportunities for discussions of policy in the name of the grand project of the “democratization of society through media culture” (quoting Durham). Gripsrud, in composing a text book on media culture, offers a structured yet diverse approach to understanding media culture, through a audience-text-production context trichotomy. (neologism ftw…) The main critique of Reimer, the reviewer, however, is the lack of reflexivity in discussing why theories are included/excluded and what the historical influences on media culture theory might tell us about what theories have become privileged. Reimer’s critique, to me, seems very similar to Shaw’s critique of VGC: too little reflexivity, limited inclusiveness.

In these objects and methodologies I see at least two very specific echoes of what Mitchell and Hansen privilege in their introduction: interdisciplinary approaches and the concern with the “middle” position of media—its (at least) duality of being. Media is both influenced and influence; it occupies a complex role in the ecosystem of everyday (not ordinary, but ubiquitous) life.

Responding to Mitchell and Hansen’s Introduction

In their discussion of “media” and “media studies,” Mitchell and Hansen, perhaps in harmony with the “triangulation” approach of the text and its organization, attempt to avoid singular (or even binary) understandings of what is “media,” what “media studies” might include, and what me might do in performing “media studies.” Therefore, in distilling what they might mean by one of these terms, there seems to be significant cross-over into how we might understand the other(s). Similar to one understanding of media, we might view this in the same way that the authors view critical analysis of Schwarzenegger’s election as Governor of California in 2003 or the relationship of the printing press and the French Revolution: “rather than propose a language of cause and effect, we propose a language of necessary (but not sufficient) conditions, a vocabulary of catalytic effects and conflicted situations rather than determining forces” (xvi). This triangulation is also evident in their collective destabilization of Kittler’s concept of media as causal (in the sentence “Media determine our situation” [emphasis added]) and their focus on the middle/mediative interpretation of McLuhan’s media as the “extension of man” as being both prosthesis and amputation.

I first, then, turn to “media studies”–not necessarily because that is where I must begin, as this triangulation approach would seem to reject that notion, but it serves as one entrance into the ecology of the term. To Mitchell and Hansen, media studies is a multivalent effort. They take great pains to be inclusive in what is media studies, providing a list of objects of study and approaches that span disciplines and interdisciplines (vii-viii). After this lengthy enumeration, they concluded with “we are, it seems, all practitioners of media studies, whether we recogonize it or not” (viii). As meaningless as this statement might be in terms of concretely defining the term, it does seem in line with my interest in media studies (disciplinarily a creative writer who is interested in games and multimodality, and sometimes writes about books, films, television, said games, and combinations of those artifacts), as well as the varied interests of my fellow classmates.

This transdiscplinary makeup of media studies is again reflected in the authors’s structuring of the text: aesthetics, society, and technology–categories which might easily be seen as non-exclusive, porous, and overlapping. Can we/should we talk about technology without an understanding of its relationship to society and/or aesthetics?

One way the authors are particularly effective in discussing the multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinary and non-causal/-binary approach to media studies is through the notion of “understanding from the perspective of media” [emphasis original] (xi). While this bit of translation of perspective might be problematized by the imposition of ideology, identity, or anything else on media, it therefore also calls into question those very same notions: media are not sterile containers, but exist in a complex system of exchanges of ethics, ideas, power, genders, and exist non passively, but with perspectives that can shape and be shaped. In this light, I find the authors notion of mediarology, a simulatory metaphor, based on meteorology, for an approach to understanding the “dynamic interactive… pressure systems and storm fronts that crisscross the man-made world of symbols we have created” (xiv).

What, then, can we understand about “media” from their definitions of “media studies”?

The interrogation of the noun as singular and plural singular follows the “mediative” approach of between cause and effect, between prosthesis and amputation. This middle ground, wherein media can be considered as discrete or as part of a continuum of other media, reflects the complexity of the “mediarlogical” system described above. Media can be both, dynamic; media is/are both effected and affected, effective and affective. Media are objects, too, though, as we see from approaches such as media archaeology. They are mediative, in that they occupy middle ground and serve as exchange points.

Finally, media, for Mitchell and Hansen, seem to be both phenomenological and ontological. They write, “media form the infrastructural basis, the quasi-transcendental condition, for experience and understanding” and that “media broker the giving of space and time within which concrete experience becomes possible” (xvii). We experience and understand ourselves and the world through the media we create and experience and consume and value, at least when thinking of media studies through a humanistic lens.