Friday, October 26, 2007

The Bionic Woman Meets James Joyce

I'm taking a brief respite (or am I giving my readers a brief respite?) from my reviews of past postings to ask an important mass cultural question. In considering this question, I don't mean to give the impression that I watch this particular television program, or any television other than public broadcasting for that matter.

On this week's Bionic Woman, Jaime Sommers attended "Stanwich College" in order to track down a dealer in "neuro control" chips. Jaime pretended to be a neuroscience major, because, after all, anyone can fake expertise in a complex field like neuroscience if they just read a book or two. But that’s not really what bothered me, after all, even Jaime pointed out the impossibility of this.

Jaime’s dorm roommate, a "science expert," is having a problem writing a paper about James Joyce's short story "The Dead." "Oh, that's easy," Jaime says. Then, explaining what's going on in the story, Jaime continues, "Joyce was saying that the dead are all around us and we can't escape them. Almost exactly the opposite of his book, Ulysses, which is all about life and sex and humor." Say what?

The girls agreed to swap homework assignments to play to their strengths. This is okay because Jaime works for a top secret government agency that has her do things a lot worse than cheat on college work. What I want to know though is if anyone besides me disturbed by the fact that the bionic woman wants to be a Joyce scholar? (Disclaimer: I majored in English Literature in college with a concentration in Herman Melville and a minor in Joyce. My senior paper, "Melville's Quarrel With God," still has them rolling in the aisles back at my alma mater.)

You don't have to channel surf very far to find dubious mass media takes on political science, physics, and biology on the one hand, and time travel, paranormal, and extraterrestrials on the other. It's not bad enough that television shows have co-opted all the real and imaginary sciences, now they have to assimilate English literature as well?

Let’s not have television characters portray scholarly aspirations unless they are hunting vampires, navigating through star gates, or enabling Lex Luther to kill Superboy. Let’s keep our clear demarcation between high and low cultures and between super heroics and scholars in residence.

By the way, Jaime Sommers got an "A" on her Joyce paper. James Joyce, who will always be with us, has decided to take a long sea voyage with Herman Melville.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My Bad: My Other Blogging Milestone (Part 2)

(Updated below)

Well, according to my blog host's count, I haven't posted 68 entries to this blog, I've posted 89 (including the last post celebrating my 68th posting milestone.) This is an opportunity I've let slip by. Not having properly celebrated my 68th post, I am now at a loss about how best to celebrate this, my 90th entry.

I had some thoughts about the new Beatles homage movie "Across the Universe" and how the incorporation of song lyrics into our stories and our lives is symptomatic of a culture entering secondary orality, but that's a topic for another day.

I was going to comment on the how the recent excesses of the Republican noise machine regarding a 12-year-old beneficiary of SCHIP coverage illustrates McLuhan's tetrad. In other words, what has been a highly effective propaganda machine has been pushed past its limits until it has reversed into its opposite, that is, anti-propaganda. That also doesn't seem appropriate.

I know. I'll continue my rerun summary of previous posts!

Some of my posts have constituted blatant efforts to circulate new thought memes into the blogosphere in the hopes of coining the next cultural catch phrase and thereby achieve my 15 minutes of fame.

Thus, in my December 13, 2006 post I celebrated the inclusion of a comment I phoned into Air America Radio:

Announcer: The following is an actual call to Air America Radio.

I think we liberals tend to celebrate and then say "OK. We're done. Let's go back to our own private lives." I think we need to be wary of conservatives, or radical conservatives, or fascists. The structures are still there for them to come back. And next time they come back they'll be smarter and they'll have taken into account the mistakes they made this time.

I didn't receive any callbacks after those commercials ran their course, nor did I receive any residuals.

On January 4, 2007 I reissued my 25-year-old claim that the content of television broadcasts conform to a classic structural dichotomy of culture vs. nature (or social vs. anti-social), and having settled that, implied that we move beyond content analysis and criticism to examine the medium itself:

Within this schema, news broadcasts fall somewhere in between shows and ads in terms of entertainment value vs. propaganda, while shows and ads may have little or nothing to do with the objective world, dividing their productions in terms of their intention to entertain or propagandize. (This is not to say that no show ever has propagandistic intentions, or that no advertising executive ever wishes to entertain. But in general, each is more concerned with the demands of his own domain. Program producers must attract an audience, and advertisers must sell their products.)

It could be stated that if the hidden structure of advertising has to do with an opposition between culture and nature on a personal level, then within the other legs of the triad there are other hidden structures that determine how the particular material is developed and conveyed. I would tentatively suggest that television programming is concerned chiefly with "social versus antisocial behavior on an interpersonal level," while the news deals with this same general opposition at the "public" level. Within this perspective, the various legs of the triad always favor the status quo, since the definition of what constitutes antisocial behavior depends on who is defining social or acceptable behavior.

Part of the reason Fox News is so disturbing is that they continually violate the supposed boundaries between news, entertainment and advertising propaganda.This is why the current concentration of media ownership is so pernicious. As part of a major media conglomerate, Fox News can frame their news reports according to their own views of social vs. antisocial public behavior and so they slip down the television triangle both toward propaganda and toward entertainment. Just as foods which are fit for consumption even though "rotten" (alcoholic beverages for example) constitute a special exception to general culinary rules, news which has become propagandized, or created largely to entertain, constitutes a violation of the traditional definition of news and requires adjustments in how we consume reality.

Whoops. There's that Republican noise machine again. For the complete discussion of this, see my paper, "The Savage Mind on Madision Avenue," posted here.

Finally, at least for Part 2 of this series of reruns, there is my attempt to interpret blogging itself in terms of McLuhan's Laws of the Media:

Blogging enhances “many to many” communication. As a medium, blogging allows me to get my message out to many without the need of access to television, radio, print or film production facilities. Blogging also allows me to receive messages from many sources.

Blogging obsolesces one to one or many to one communications. Telephone chats and television binges are replaced by blogging connections.

Blogging retrieves the habits of 18th letter correspondents or diarists. Though this varies widely, at the minimum blogging requires that we capture and express our thoughts via the keyboard. Some bloggers go much further than that.

When pushed to an extreme, blogging reverses into total narcissism. I write only to myself, for myself. I put myself into the blogosphere, and seeing my own image, become entranced.
I think this blogging tetrad holds up pretty well, especially the part about total narcissism.

Well, on to Part 3!

UPDATE: My Bad Again!

One of these days I'll figure this blogging stuff out. It seems that I have only published 68 (now 69) blogs, with 22 other drafts in the works. Many of these drafts may never seen the light of day. So in the immortal words of Emily Latella, "Never Mind!"

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Blogging Milestone (Part 1)

Well, according to the archive list below and to the left of this post, I've penned 68 entries to this blog since I started it in December, 2006, and so it is fitting to step back and review some of the topics I've covered. (For those of you who may object to this rerun of previous posts, I must remind you that this is a blog about the communications media and therefore is entitled to adopt some of their time-honored practices.)

In my first post, on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 I discussed Claude Lévi-Strauss's Contribution to Media Ecology , noting that Lévi-Strauss's methodology is completely compatible with McLuhan's Laws of the Media. This is one recurring theme of my blog, and is based, in part, on McLuhan's own admission. McLuhan acknowledged is debt to structural anthropology in a letter to the editor of The Journal of Technology and Culture, reprinted here, where he noted:

How did I arrive at these "Laws of the Media"? By a structural approach. The structuralists, beginning with Ferdinand de Saussure and now Lévi-Strauss, divide the approaches to the problem of form into two categories: diachrony and synchrony. Diachrony is simply the developmental, chronological study of any cultural matter; but synchrony works on the assumption that all aspects of any form are simultaneously present in any part of it. Although I have used the simultaneous approach in arriving at these Laws of the Media, any one of them is susceptible to the diachronic approach for filling in the historical background and details.
My second post concerned my creation in 1977 of the now famous theme song, "A Model Media Ecologist." I have since posted the original video on YouTube. The lyrics to this tome, which earned me the unofficial title of Media Ecology Poet Laureate were included in Casey Man Kong Lum's masterful survey of the origins of Media Ecology, Perspectives on Culture, Technology And Communication: The Media Ecology. I recommend purchasing several copies of this groundbreaking work.

In a Sunday, December 31, 2006 post, An Unspoken Assumption in Media Ecology, I discuss a hidden assumption of Media Ecology studies: Commentary on the differences in sensory balances, which may be determined by the particular technologies or media of communication available, imply that there are no differences in the basic structure and capacity of the human mind, regardless of culture, time or locality. McLuhan's survey of communication history, and his Laws of the Media only makes sense if people are the same everywhere and through all human history.

On January 20, 2007 I challenged my reader (hi Mom!) to come up with the best McLuhan joke ever, and I offered the following:

Several students of Media Ecology consult a famous psychic in order to contact Marshall McLuhan and finally get a clear explanation of his writings. The seer goes into a trance, but says nothing for several minutes.

Losing patience, one of the students cries out, "Dr. McLuhan, are you there? Why won't you speak to us?"

A deep voice replies, "The Medium is the Message!"

So far there have been no other entries, and so I am keeping the prize for myself.

A further review of my past postings will appear in Part 2.