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.


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