Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Travelling around Ireland is time demanding and therefore leaves little time for writing. As I move around while listening to U2's new cd I am thinking about my next few blogs.
The rental car company told me that I didn't need an antenne for the radio to operate on the car. Note: don't believe this ever again! I like to listen to the radio stations when I am here but without the antenne, U2's No Line on the Horizon is getting a lot of play.....
More later.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Time: The Aesthetic of Time

A friend brought me to a talk recently about the Piraha tribe of the Amazon Jungle. The talk was really about languages. It was delivered by Daniel Everett as a part of the Longnow series of talks. Everett has been studying the tribe and their language and customs for over thirty years. What struck me as really interesting about the tribe (according to Everett's report) was their lack of a linear concept of time. They have no past and future beyond yesterday and tomorrow or "closer to now" and "farther from now." Their language has no term for last year etc., just "far from now." Similarly they deal with directions relative to the river, not left or right, but up river or down river. They seem to be grounded in the real, the now. Their directions are relative to an absolute, the river, and their concept of time is guided by that which is real, the now.

In the media aesthetics concepts we discuss in class we deal with time. In the realm of time and in particular when dealing with Zettl's Sight Sound Motion textbook, three parts of time are identified. The three are objective, subjective and biological. Objective is the time we know in Western culture as clock time. Subjective time is what we can identify as "felt" time and biological time is time associated with the "body clock." The two most relevant are objective and subjective. Objective or clock time is the time we run our lives by and gives us some order.

Subjective time is the time we actually live in. The present is where we live. It is what we feel. Eckhart Tolle talks about the now. This is the same thing as subjective time. Subjective time is our living in the moment. It is the only time we have really. Yes, we talk about the past and future, we remember the past and we dream of the future but all of this is done in the present. Fundamentally, there is no other time than the present. It is all that exists. The past is in our heads and the future is too, but the present is all around us. It is.

This talk and these concepts of time made we wonder about a world without linear time. Would it be complete mayhem or would it be tranquility? Would we humans live together in harmony because there was nothing to argue or fight for? Or would we kill each other daily because there is no tomorrow, no real consequences? If we see no tomorrow after tomorrow then why worry about repercussions? On the other hand if there is no tomorrow why bother killing or fighting today?

If there was only today how would we live? How should we live?

There is only today/now.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Jon Stewart Shows the Way

Not so long ago we learned that the majority of American youths get their news from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. I'm happy to see good reason to appreciate this fact. Jon said to Jim Cramer of CNBC's Mad Money that his mother is now 75 and she had invested for the long term. This personalization of the grander topic, the financial melt-down, is clear indication to me that Jon Stewart is a caring individual. For our youth to be listening to this kind of sentiment is a good thing.

Before bringing his mother into the discussion he had told Cramer that CNBC itself and his show, Mad Money, had touted what the banks were doing as they took the people's money and used it to burn the "f*****g" house down. He did not let him off the hook. He engaged him and he challenged Cramer to the point where Cramer used in his defence the necessity to produce 17 hours of live TV per day. Cramer said that CNBC has to fill the time up. He stopped short of saying that when the pressure for footage is great the content becomes very shady/untruthful/incorrect/insincere. But Stewart was aggressive in his interview and also managed to broaden the criticism to the banks and the Wall Street financials in a very educated and direct way. Here was a man with no hidden agenda! He added that it was not about the pundits being wrong but more about them being all over the place.

As he brought the interview to a close and before he shook hands with Cramer he deliberately and coolly said that his mother had invested her savings all her life based on the conservative advise of financial people. And now.... he stopped! This man has his finger on the pulse of America. Any one could finish the sentence and we all know his pain. Who, after your child, is the most important person perhaps in your care? Your parent. So, like many mothers out there, Stewart's 75 year old mother is with a depleted retirement fund.

I am happy to report that the youth are watching Jon Stewart. I am going to start watching his show more often. This is what TV is/should be about. Keeping them honest, challenging them, questioning what is going on. Of course I have to wonder who would have the courage to be interviewed on his show going forward? But that is where he shone.

Jon Stewart did not think about the next show or getting Cramer on again. He was mad and he was mad in a very similar way to many Americans and he just went with it. He attacked with the questions and the style that America would love to attack the financials. He was not choreographing the questions to achieve respect at Comedy Central. He was not taking any cheap shots. He was not being disrespectful. He expressed his anger and in doing so expressed the anger of the American people at the banks and the supposed experts on CNBC.

The beautiful addition of his mother's story put it all in perspective perfectly. This is personal and this is personal for all Americans.

This is good TV. This is analysis of TV on TV. This is what TV must be in order to facilitate change for the better in society. Pundits on all these stations including all the news stations must be seen to be what Cramer said. We must see them as TV people with the tough task of producing multiple hours of TV. They will do it within a budget, so while there is news worthy of reporting in Bangladesh or Zimbabwe or Ireland, it will only be covered if it is economically viable. This means that much news is not reported at all and we, the audience, accept as truth and expert opinion the ramblings of overworked pundits.

We got to see it for what it is. Bad TV and too much of it. Just because they are on TV does not mean that they know what they are talking about. Just because they repeat their headlines over and over and over again does not make that headline more important. Just because they repeat the news does not mean that there is no more news. In fact it means the opposite - they are ignoring lots of news for the cheap alternative or repetition.

And they are all at it. Let's wake up! Jon Stewart has shown us the way. Let us follow.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Media (theory) and the classroom

Students are technologically savvy and sometimes moreso than the professors who teach them.The technologies are the tools for the production. The theory and the background/history, economic, social and behavior context are areas that the professors can help inform the students of. Anything can be learned but the leaning of tool-use is simply time consuming. Many students will learn the tools one way or the other, now or later for the purpose of getting to an objective or completing a project. On the other hand many people might never learn a little theory or history or socio-economic contextualism if their teachers don't bring it to class. This is not to say that students will learn only the one op-ed version of a theory or the social economic context of an idea but that they will be exposed to the ideas that will instill in them a desire to learn more than just the technology. The adolescent question "why do we have to do this, it is not relevant?" would be killed off instantly by opening a students mind to a little philosophizing about the potentialities of an act.

Creating media projects does take a lot of time and patience whether at Final Cut Pro or Pro Tools etc., but a discussion of the possible implications of the framing of the message and how it is received can take as long as you wish to put into it. Instilling in students the desire for this discussion is the generous message of the professor. It is not a message of "this is how you should frame it", it is a message of "what if?" It is the message of how interesting and vital all these questions are and that all questions are equal. Students deserve to be challenged to be critical analysts of their own and others' work. This challenge indicates a level of equality which respects the students as creators and critics and analysts.

When I graduated in 1996, my thesis called for a humanistic approach to embracing the information age. Thirteen years later we are still talking about the information age. Frank Webster in his piece on the Information Society touches, in 2008, on what I alluded to in 1996. He asks if the quantitative increase in information increases qualitative social changes. My thesis basically said that in media analysis we were focussing on sociology and marxism etc. while neglecting the simplicity and complexity of a natural evaluation of the media. I said that we should allow for a grander evaluation of media related to whether or not it was good or bad for humanity. I know this sounds vague and maybe even naieve but isn't there room for simply thinking of media as a possible positive force in society for humanity? We can still do our semiotics, marxist, socio-economic, political-economic etc., analysis but for the purpose of teaching undergraduate introductory classes couldn't we just look at humans as the subject of receiving the media and have the students reflect on humanity as a collective audience?

While I could argue that there are universal truths of ethics, I won't because I believe there are none. This humanist approach to media analysis would merely introduce the student to every area of media theory and analysis. Some would shriek at covering Marx and Feminist analysis techniques in 3 hours flat, but the students would be getting their appetites wet. And even if they did not continue in the study they would be forever informed of material that they might not otherwise have been exposed to. I suppose I am arguing for the inclusion of theory in every facet of media study. What is media without the theory, the psychoanalysis? A bunch of jumble! If a student takes one class in a media program/study and they were never to take another media class, it would be a shame to have missed that opportunity to instill some intellectual capacity to understand the message, sender and receiver in that student.

Anyone can create media. Anyone can watch media. Everyone should be able to distill media. Everyone should be capable of intellectually layering messages into their production. Everyone should be able to critique Bill Maher and Michael Savage to understand what forces are being used to punch their ideologies home to the audience. Perhaps we should be teaching (media and) media theory aggressively in high schools?

This information age, as Frank Webster says, is just an extension of what we already have. Like TV after radio, the internet will not kill the TV. The world will change but in very small ways unlike how some "talking heads" would want us believe. The tools are just tools and they will change somewhat over the years. The theory is the theory and will probably change less because it doesn't need to, and it doesn't sell products.

Lievrouw, L. A. & Livingstone, S. (Ed.s) (2008). The Handbook of New Media. Sage: London

Webster, F. (2008). The information society revisited. Chapter 22.