Tuesday, 4 December 2012

ways of seeing Ways Of Seeing

John Berger's Ways of Seeing is actually very difficult to see given it was first screened 40 years ago [but then that is exactly what capital is for]. Below are the embeds of the first episode on youtube & the whole can be found (in black and white) at ubu.

Friday, 30 November 2012

the realistic isn't real (but the monsters are)

Our sense of the realistic (cf Eastenders, Bicycle Thieves, the work of Posy Simmonds, etc) is the result of our training in the bourgeoise capitalist realism which is a part of the ideology of capitalism (whose purpose was to dismiss the monstrously - mystical - mythical - religiosity which was such a part of the ideology of agriculturalism/aristocracy: cf The Lutteral Psalter). 
The appearance of these tropes in the culture of capitalism is never a good sign as the hideous stumbling metaphor of the zombie shows us so clearly. That the modern zombie is the proletariat needs no explanation (the line from the consumers of Dawn of the Dead to the shop-workers and game show contestants of Shawn of the Dead is written in the brightest light) but what is interesting is that in a zombie horror it is the zombie that is real. 
The 'realistic' of these texts (with its ekphrastic detail of daily life turned upside-down and the world-around-us in-ruins and the now standardised [in the sense of the culture industry] tightly woven discourse of realism) is the reality of bourgeois capitalist realism that Flaubert (et al) and later the cinema wrought upon the world. The realistic is the ideological and the monster is (on the contrary) very real indeed. 

Just as the morlock (which is the true original of the modern zombie not the voodoo zombie of the first wave of Hollywood zombie films) was the proletariat as warning ('exterminate all the brutes' is the cry of Wells as much as of Kurtz) so is the zombie. The zombie is the working-class, the poor, the excluded (it almost isn't a metaphor at all) and as such is the most real thing in zombie horror texts. The zombie is not how the working-class are treated in fiction rather it is an accurate depiction of how the weakest factions of the working-class live in society right now and the methods (murder mainly) that must be used to 'deal' with 'them'. 

We must recognise that the figure of the sheriff which closes the narrative of  Night of The Living Dead is the same as the sheriff who opens the story of The Walking Dead: only now (neo-managerially) he no longer chews tobacco.

Thursday, 15 November 2012


As though terror-struck: who is speaking here? It cannot be Sarrasine, even indirectly, since he interprets La Zambinella's fear as timidity. Above all, it cannot be the narrator, because he knows that La Zambinella really is terrified. The modalization (as though) expresses the interests of only one character, who is neither Sarrasine nor the narrator, but the reader: it is the reader who is concerned that the truth be simultaneously named and evaded, an ambiguity which the discourse nicely creates by as though, which indicates the truth and yet reduces, it declaratively to a mere appearance. What we hear, therefore, is the displaced voice which the reader lends, by proxy, to the discourse: the discourse is speaking according to the reader's interests. Whereby we see that writing is not the communication of a message which starts from the author and proceeds to the reader; it is specifically the voice of reading itself: in the text, only the reader speaks. This inversion of our prejudices (which make reading a reception or, to put matters more clearly, a simple psychological participation in the adventure being related), this inversion can be illustrated by a linguistic image: in the Indo-European verb (for example, Greek), two diatheses (specifically: two voices) were set in opposition: the middle voice, according to which the agent performed the action for his own sake (I sacrifice for myself), and the active voice, according to which he performed this same action for another's benefit (as in the case of the priest who sacrificed on his client's behalf). In this accounting, writing is active, for it acts for the reader: it proceeds not from an author but from a public scribe, a notary institutionally responsible not for flattering his client's tastes but rather for registering at his dictation the summary of his interests, the operations by which, within an economy of disclosure, he manages this merchandise: the narrative.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Notes on McRobbie on Neo-Liberalism and the Family

Recently I have been trying to teach my (media & sociology) students this wonderful lecture by McRobbie on neo-liberalism and the family
and trying to use the following board notes to help explain it:

p.s. and this is an edited version of all three gifs.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Directions for Living: Self Help Books, Lifestyle Magazines & Role Models as 'technologies of the self'

In his Media Gender & Identity Gauntlett outlines Foucault's idea of ‘technologies of the self’:

Michel Foucault became interested in 'techniques of the self' and 'the care of the self' – questions of lifestyle which today are tackled by self-help books. In the introduction to The History of Sexuality Volume Two, The Use of Pleasure, Foucault helpfully proposes a methodology for this kind of study: 
“A history of the way individuals are urged to constitute themselves as subjects of moral conduct would be concerned with the models proposed for setting up and developing relationships with the self, for self-reflection, self-knowledge, self-examination, for the decipherment of the self by oneself, for the transformations that one seeks to accomplish with oneself as object. This last is what might be called a history of 'ethics' and 'ascetics,'understood as a history of the forms of moral subjectivation and of the practices of the self that are meant to ensure it.” 
Foucault, then, lends support to the idea that we can learn about our culture by looking at its self-help books; he was interested in the ways in which a society enabled or encouraged individuals to perceive or modify their self-identity.

As part of what Gauntlett describes as 'the knowing construction of identity':

Not only is there more room for a greater variety of identities to emerge; it is also the case that the construction of identity has become a known requirement. Modern Western societies do not leave individuals in any doubt that they need to make choices of identity and lifestyle – even if their preferred options are rather obvious and conventional ones, or are limited due to lack of financial (or cultural) resources. As the sociologist Ulrich Beck has noted, in late modern societies everyone wants to 'live their own life', but this is, at the same time, 'an experimental life' (2002:26). Since the social world is no longer confident in its traditions, every approach to life, whether seemingly radical or conventional, is somewhat risky and needs to be worked upon – nurtured, considered and maintained, or amended. Because 'inherited recipes for living and role stereotypes fail to function' (ibid.), we have to make our own new patterns of being, and – although this is not one of Beck's emphases – it seems clear that the media plays an important role here. Magazines, bought on one level for a quick fix of glossy entertainment, promote self-confidence (even if they partly undermine it, for some readers, at the same time) and provide information about sex, relationships and lifestyles which can be put to a variety of uses. Television programmes, pop songs, adverts, movies and the Internet all also provide numerous kinds of 'guidance' – not necessarily in the obvious form of advice-giving, but in the myriad suggestions of ways of living which they imply. We lap up this material because the social construction of identity today is the knowing social construction of identity. Your life is your project – there is no escape. The media provides some of the tools which can be used in this work. Like many toolkits, however, it contains some good utensils and some useless ones; some that might give beauty to the project, and some that might spoil it. (People find different uses for different materials, too, so one person's 'bad' tool might be a gift to another.).

We must realise that this knowing is yet another technology-of-the-self. We have arrived at a point in which society requires us to ironically and archly construct an understood presentation of ourselves in everyday life and our use of this ‘knowing’ is not  free flowing.  It is rather a matter of power and our relations-of-power to the different technologies of the self available to us in the society we inhabit.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


This is a french word that means 'do-it-yourself' or making things from what you have and what ever skills and tools you posses rather than with the correct and best skills and tools.

As an analytical concept it was developed by Levi-Strauss and taken up by Derrida & Hebdidge (in different directions).

For Levi-Strauss the idea was a sign of a certain approach to understanding the world around one in an ad-hoc fashion, which he contrasted to the planned approach to understanding the world of the engineer.

For Derrida it was the only way in which we could read a text.  There can be no planned rational reading of a text because of, one, the semiotic blizzard of possible connotations available to us in that reading, and, two, the social construction of both text & reader (a point to look at in re Barthes S/Z & 'narrative codes').

For Hebdidge Bricolage was a stylistic mechanism which allowed people to mark their sub-cultural position. So that a particular musical or social scene would be associated with a particular set of fashion codes, stylistic choices, and presentations.  Hebdidge is looking at the ways in which we display our place in society through our choices of styles and fashions and our appropriations of others styles and fashions.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Media Diversity as the Screen of Capital Uniformity (Barthes Soap-Powders & Detergents).

In 'Soap-Powders and Detergents' (from Mythologies) Barthes works through the, very different, semiotic mechanisms used in the advertising of three washing powders injected into French society in the 1950s (Lux, Persil, and Omo) and the fundamental unity of the three on "the plane of the Anglo-Dutch trust Unilever." We tend to forget that Barthes was a marxist and was deeply concerned with the ways in which capital found its expression in, and organised its control over, semiotic systems.  This forgetful reception of Barthes is remarkably similar to the ways in which Benjamin's works are drawn on for over optimistic and non-ethical readings of 'popular-culture' (especially 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction') when even the briefest perusal of 'The Author as Producer' or 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' would show this to be an error.

This forgetfulness of marxism is especially problematic for the study of current media forms because there is so much unity on the plane of capital behind the seeming diversity of our media.  It is of course obvious on the level of the mega institutions such as News Corporation but Barthes can help us think through this quality of being unified by the flows of capital 'behind' the media and its texts on a personal and/or individualised basis. For instance Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, and Cathy Dennis are all unified with Pop Idol (in its many versions) by the capital flows personified in Simon Fuller (who, of course, also unifies the Spice Girls and S Club 7 and The X Factor and to some extent Simon Cowell on that same plane of capital).

Perhaps the most useful working through of this 'unified by the flows of capital' approach concerns Endemol because of the great diversity of semiotic mechanisms it utilises and the plane of capital that it's diverse products are finally unified on.  Endemol (originally a Dutch based TV production company) is probably most famous for Big Brother and its off-shoots but in the UK is also behind Charlie Brooker and his Zeppotron Agent/Production Company.  The radical distinction between the semiotic mechanisms utilised by these two parts of the same capital flows cover the essential unity involved.  The semiotic contrast between Zeppotron's Dead Set, Screen Wipe, or A Touch of Cloth and Endemol's Deal or no Deal, Million Pound Drop, or Big Brother could not be more different but they are all the same on the plane of capital.

The nature of the plane of capital on which these media products are unified is most interesting.  Endemol was partially purchased by one of Silvio Berlusconi's media corporations in 2007 (along with one of its original founders &, seemingly, Goldman Sachs) before a 'debt restructuring deal' in 2012 saw ownership of Endemol dissipate into the ether of financial-capital (RBS seemingly taking a stake). So for five years Charlie Brooker was unified with Silvio Berlusconi on the same plane of capital but now is merely adrift on the miasmic plane of global financial capital.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Zap Gun of the Culture-Industry

Philip K Dick imagined many worlds in his bewildering and brilliant fiction and in his scathing satire of The Cold War The Zap Gun (which set out exactly the same argument on the confrontation as Chomsky in Deterring Democracy i.e. that it was a joint system of government and not a war) PKD presented something particularly pertinent to his own posthumous role in the culture-industry.  
The Zap Gun presents a world were the super-power confrontation is displayed to the people of the world as deadly serious and focused on an astounding arms race in which, in reality, all of the weapons dreamt up by the specialists in the field are never made (at least not so that they function). This subterfuge is a key mechanism in the joint system of control that the two super-powers use on their own people. The spectacle of the unimaginable arm-race is used to ensure that flows of capital and governmental measures are directed as the governing elites wish without bringing these weapons of annihilation actually into existence and thus threatening the continued existence of the system of control.  Eventually there is a crisis (a devastating alien invasion of course) in which it is discovered that the source of all of the unbelievable weapons of total devastation that the psuedo-arm-race had spectacularly projected into the political discourses of the world system came from the imagination of one man; Oral Giacomini who is an insane Italian artist who writes and draws a 'motion comic' titled The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan.
It is this role of the insane artist as source of imagination for an industrial system the PKD now holds. His character unwittingly, because his mind was plundered by telepaths without his knowledge,  provided a pseudo-military-industrial-complex with ideas, images, and projections of terror to be used in a non-existent but ideologically crucial arms-race. PKD unwittingly, because dead, provides a culture-industry with ideas, images, narrative forms, projections of terror and so forth to be used in the spectacle.  The non-existent super-weapon arms-race of The Zap Gun lives on in the spectacle.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Tory Discourse of 'grand conspiracy theory': a straw man of transnational capital

The Tory Party hates the BBC. They have as yet not found a way of disciplining it (the injection of Carlton into the ITV network as punishment for Thames Television's Death on the Rock had worked perfectly to discipline ITV) and continue to seek out ways of dismembering it and handing over the richest meat to its friends among the transnational corporations. This is not a polemical point just the bare facts.

The Murdoch Organisation (News Corporation and its many aspects - in the UK most especially BSkyB) hates the BBC. They have found no mechanism for drawing away from the BBC the substantial audiences it generates for its programmes and channels and continue to seek out ways of dismembering that audience and handing it over to its advertisers. This is not a polemical point just the bare facts.

 James Murdoch's MacTaggart Lecture to the Edinburgh TV Festival in 2009 and Jeremy Hunt's response to that lecture and David Cameron's foreshadowing of some of its demands show the combination of this hatred.

Around the current Leveson Inquiry the myrmidons of this hatred have been building a discourse about the 'grand conspiracy' between the Tory Party and News Corporation to allow by any means the full takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation and how this has not been shown by any of the evidence as yet presented to the Inquiry. The main thrust of David Cameron's evidence was structured along these lines.

However, this is of course not the point. The point is that the restructuring of the capital flows in and around BSkyB is of very limited importance. This is an institution and set of audiences that are already fully integrated into transnational capital and the profits (or perhaps rather rents) from this nexus of consumption are already fully financialised.

No the point of this is that the BBC and the set of audiences around it are not fully integrated into transnational capital. The BBC's peculiar relationship with the people - paid for through taxation - means that the flows of capital in and around it are not perfectly available to transnational capital (they are by no means sealed off from transnational capital they are just more difficult - and thus expensive - to derive a profit/rent from). Annihilating the BBC in its present form would open those flows of profit/rent to transnational capital and allow a full financialization of those audiences and the rents they offer. There would in effect be a massive virgin territory for transnational capital to exploit. News Corporation, through its most significant UK aspect - BSkyB - intended to be the only institution leading the charge to open this territory and thus the only beneficiary from this opening of the new territory. This is the 'grand conspiracy' not the BSkyB takeover side show.

That the Tory Party and News Corporation have been able to construct a discourse about another 'grand conspiracy' theory, their preferred as a straw-man to be swatted away with such ease is down to the ideological apparatus at work inside the media institutions in this country, which have always operated on the basis of the 'propaganda model' described by Herman and Chomsky. An analysis along the lines set out above is unthinkable within the 'media' as typically understood. Not least because, of course, of the position in the relations of productions of media workers. Observing this 'takeover grand conspiracy' straw man being projected into the media is to see all of the ideological systems of capital in the UK at work.

Friday, 11 May 2012

MEST1: Institutions

One of the problems with the institutions question on the MEST1 paper is that often it is not about media institutions per se. Rather it is about what the institutions involved in the production and distribution of media texts are saying about themselves in or with the very texts you are being asked to comment on.

One way to think about this is to ask 'what is it that the institutions involved in the production and distribution of this text in this media (on this platform) saying about themselves with this very text'? 

Another way would be to think about this in terms how the text works as an advert for the media institutions that produced and distributed it? 

 What claims does the text make in terms of the brand of the institutions involved, what claims does it make about the values the institution purports to have as part of its marketing strategy. 

In terms of media theory consider the ways in which: 

  1. the Institution encodes a message about itself in the text, 
  2. the extent to which the message of the medium (McLuhan - The Medium is the Message) is about the institution,
  3. what is the text's discourse of representation about the institutions that produced and distributed it?
It might be worth considering the Institutional issues question as trying to uncover what rhetorics the Institution is mobilising within, through and by the text. If a product in an advert lays claim to green, ecological, credentials then so to does the institution that produced &/or distributed they text. Read this and think about the use of 'fun' that Cadburys & Fallon were engaged in and what they were saying about themselves with & in these texts.


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