CCTP748: Week 12
Weekly Discussion

Reviewing Theory Models and Applications

Theory Map of Philosophies, Disciplines, Traditions:

Case Studies and Examples: Working with Media Theory and Mediology

Erin Coleman

Rather than a particular film or television show, I decided to take on one of the newest genres in the advertising and new media world: the phenomenon of group buying sites. I’ll use Living Social as the exemplar because of its Georgetown connection, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of these sites operating in just about every place you can imagine, with new iterations entering the market daily. For those of you unfamiliar with Living Social, here’s a quick run-down of how it works: you register on their website to receive daily deals, a new deal/group of deals is emailed to you each morning, you purchase the deals you’re interested in, and you share the purchases with your friends (if you want to really embrace the social aspect of the model) in an effort to get your deal for free (if three of your friends purchase it through your unique link).

A mediological analysis of Living Social yields some interesting observations about the company, some of which are fairly obvious, while others are less apparent. A reliable and constant connection to the internet and the societal dependence on this connection are fundamental to the operation of company. In fact, the two are so closely intertwined that the company’s existence, nevermind exponential growth, is inconceivable ten, maybe even five, years ago. The advent of wireless, mobile internet underlies the success of Living Social and its competitors. The pervasion of social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter, are likewise part of the social and technological structure enabling Living Social to thrive. Without the widespread use of these social networking technologies, the company’s business model would fail.

Yesterday’s featured deal--a 20-week subscription to the Sunday Washington Post--is the reason I chose to focus on this new advertising model for today’s discussion. Besides being highly ironic that a company utterly dependent on the internet would feature a deal for a print newspaper subscription, the co-existence of the two seemingly incompatible media platforms calls to mind Debray’s concept of media ecology. Rather than signalling the end of print, the new growth of internet-based companies can actually aid the ailing newspaper world and lead to a reconfiguration of the media system. Another interesting phenomenon is the common highlighting of cultural and historical venues on Living Social’s daily deals, exhibiting another fundamental feature of mediology: the co-existence of, rather than competition between, technology and culture. The company and its peers are also interesting examples of post-modernism in the advertising world with their simultaneous promotion of high and low culture--one day's deal may be for tickets to Mt. Vernon and the next for a spray tan.

Finally, while I have referred to the collection of group buying sites as a new genre of advertising, it seems fairly clear that these companies go beyond this realm. Living Social seem to be some sort of hybrid form: part marketing agency, social network, and consulting firm. Is there a better classification? Does the emergence of these companies signal a groundbreaking new era in marketing? Are they here to stay, or are they simply a passing trend?

Stephanie Stroud

I recently read a review of Sins Invalid, a performance project that celebrates artists with disabilities, who come from historically marginalized communities. The project, which claims to be "an unashamed claim to beauty in the face of invisibility", challenges viewers perceptions of ableism, culture and the human body. While Sins Invalid is unabashedly political, I think it's well worth exploring the visual implications of this stunning project. Amelia Jones writes:

"while the rights groups put their bodies on the activist lines and mobilized new modes of discourse to challenge their marginalization and oppression, philosophical and theoretical critiques of Cartesianism reconceived the subject as simultaneously decentered (never fully coherent within herself or himself) and embodied (rather than pure 'cognate')." (p.696-697 CR)

Traditionally, the human body has maintained a very well defined "self", and quite separately, a very well defined "other". Furthermore, temporal and spatial presence have been very clearly defined. Today, however, technology, such as the Internet, forces our human experience to change. Our concept of "self" and "other" begin to warp, and our ideas of temporal and spacial presence become ambiguous. Jones argues that the increasingly globalized world, shifting class system, and free-for-all sea of voices on the web gives way to the "posthuman" body. Our physical relationship with class, race, gender and culture are significantly effected by technology.

We live in a time when we no longer only have Maouri tribes performing the Haka before battle, no longer do we only have able-bodied people performing the Haka, no longer to we only have men performing the Haka.

Derrida's idea that "there is not and never has been a direct, live presentation" seems very applicable to our globalized, "posthuman" body world.

Suz S.

In this course, we’ve considered how technology affects our understanding of the world (McLuhan, Debray, etc.) and how institutions structure and validate/invalidate our language and communication (Foucault, Bourdieu, Debray, etc.). This week, Mitchell considered how visual studies is about what is seen and how visual culture allows us to see beyond the meaning of the object (“[Visual culture] is less concerned with the meaning of images than with their lives and loves” - Mitchell). The theories we’ve covered have examined issues of agency, context, medium, language, meaning-making, culture, power and identity. Propaganda posters provide a nice case study for nearly all of these issues.

Last year, the El Paso Museum of Art had a small exhibit room filled with WWII food propaganda posters. This year, the MoMA looked at the design of the modern kitchen in the U.S. with a few more war-time posters advocating for frugality, ingenuity, and gardening. Here is a sample of some of the posters in the exhibits:

The poster medium is used for public display and advertisements, and their visual and simplified messages make them a natural fit for propaganda. They are reproducible (not unique in theory), but by virtue of their age/condition, they are accepted into the art museum as “iconic” of the time and place, elevating the material trace over the content. What I found interesting is that their messages still do not seem that antiquated—nor does the design. Is the “inherited baggage” that comes through our accumulated understanding of history/culture and more so naturalizing that we can make these items new again with no sense of irony like this Etsy seller? Vintage styles allow us to play with time, history and meaning.

We receive these items as ‘artifacts’ through the transmission of the institution, but what of their effect? Nowhere did I see any data on the implementation of these recommendations. They are deprived of their implementation and rendered ornamental. But that’s what we do with most cultural artifacts when they are accepted into our curiosity collections. To extend the analysis, the theories we’ve covered can help us examine what is “unseen” about these objects, allowing us to examine the producer/audience relationship within propaganda posters, the medium of posters themselves, the “style” of war posters and how we “read” these items out of context and within ever-changing political/social/cultural realms. In addition, there are issues of gender, domesticity, rhetoric, nationalism and much more. The underlying message is that what is meaning and validation is fluid and is set into motion by the “structuring structures” (one of my favorite Bourdieu-isms) which themselves are fluid. Since we are so deeply entrenched in media systems and networks, how will we ever know that we’ve truly unearthed all that’s ‘unseen’? There’s a reason that saying goes “hindsight is 20/20,” because it’s “normal visual acuity.” It’s what becomes seen in retrospect.

Lily Hughes

Taste and TV

Television is a postmodern medium. Yet, as John Storey explains, “[television] does not have a period of modernism to which it can be ‘post’.” Had television existed in previous eras of popular culture theory, the term “quality television” would have likely been considered too paradoxical to be worth studying. Yet, in a review of The Sopranos in The New York Times, Stephen Holden argued; “The Sopranos sustains its hyper-realism with an eye and ear so perfectly attuned to geographic details and cultural and social nuances that it just may be the greatest work of American popular culture of the last quarter century.” These shifts in attitudes towards quality, not just in television but also across the spectrum of popular culture, are explained, in part, by the postmodern changes in “Standards”, an area closely linked to the work of Pierre Bourdieu.

Bourdieu argues that the mark of quality in a text depends on the external conditions in which the text is produced and consumed. The “cultural code” required to decipher a text is the cultural and social conditions surrounding the consumer and the text. This is namely the educational level and social origin of the consumer combined with the placement and purpose of the text. These factors apply to questions of quality as they address the origins of taste. Taste is, Bourdieu argues, a result of social conditioning. There is not a right or wrong assessment of a text, only the assessment made possible by the individual.

The drift of cultural populism (resulting from postmodernism) into a Standardless world, however, does not eliminate quality from culture. Rather, it places quality in flux. If popular culture is constantly re-produced and constantly re-consumed, the meaning and value of a text constantly shifts. This movement still allows for what Bourdieu labels “cultural nobilities”. This means that the distinctions between good or “quality” culture and bad culture are still drawn, and will continue to be drawn as long as social and cultural hierarchies exist.

In the hierarchies of American television channels, HBO has obtained cultural nobility. Its slogan, “It’s Not TV, It’s HBO”, indicates the channel’s status by removing itself from the norm of both network and cable television suggesting that it is, in fact, a different medium altogether. It has allowed viewers to foster an aesthetic disposition for its programmes that mean, when watching the channel, viewers have preconceived ideas of “quality” that require a certain education and mindset. Despite only one third of television households subscribing to HBO at any one time, HBO has still emerged as the dominant power in the culture of “quality television” as it exists today.

How has it done this? Well, there have always been culturally constructed signifiers that allow critics to answer both questions of, “What is good?” and “Why is it good?” Generally speaking “quality” texts must encapsulate some contemporary value; this may be cultural, social, political, historical, intellectual, moral, economic, or aesthetic value, but texts must be understood as having worth. Although HBO makes claims to quality, it does not control the cultural signifiers that constitute “quality”—the channel is not, for example, society’s moral compass or political engine. Rather, HBO operates somewhat like an art gallery or museum for television. HBO becomes an institution where the viewer goes specifically to consume their preconceived and culturally constructed idea of “quality” television. Thus HBO is an institution where both The Wire and Sex and the City can co-exist despite their contrasting, even conflicting, functions. What is significant is their form as “quality” television programmes.

Zachary Allard

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The example that I chose this week as my case study is the website Hulu. Hulu (for the uninitiated) is a website owned and operated by three of the four television networks: ABC, NBC, and FOX. I chose Hulu because only a mediological perspective can fruitfully analyze such a complicated and emerging media delivery/media business model. One can not understand Hulu without examining it from multiple perspectives.

There are so many angles from which it is fruitful to understand Hulu. One of the most important (that can be all too easily ignored in media studies) is the institutional context of Hulu. Hulu is owned by three of the four television networks at the same time. These networks are not just rivals but direct competitors. Yet, in order to transition from the old “broadcast” model (that was dispersing to the internet, cable, etc), they banded together to create a space where their work could compete together in a collective internet space. This is not merely academic either. All too often, squabbles emerge between the networks and affect the content that is available. However, the institutions that offer content have traditionally offered it for free using an ad-based system, so they continue to do the same with Hulu’s current programming as well. In fact, the absence of the most successful network, CBS, is another interesting institutional decision that affects the availability of their programming in sharp contrast to that of the other networks. In fact, given the complications that naturally arise from the merging of several conglomerates and the fast growth of Hulu, the institutional context will continue to be extremely relevant to its study.

Hulu’s business model is particularly relevant for studying it since it exists as a hopeful future for the networks to continue as economically viable entities. Hulu is becoming tremendously successful in that it generates hundreds of millions of views a month. However, it still makes a fraction of the revenue of the conventional telecasts which receive only a fraction of the views. Just a cursory analysis of this reveals just how behind the times advertisers are and how ineffective the networks have thus far been at convincing said advertisers. It does bode well for continued quality content in the long run, however, once the advertising revenue catches up. The business model of Hulu will continue to remain crucial to understanding its content.

While Hulu might benefit from a visual culture studies perspective, the multiplicity of elements available within the website would best be served by a media studies perspective since even an audio-visual perspective would miss the interactive nature of using a webpage that would be ignored (most likely) by visual culture studies. Hulu demands a broad-based study.

The entirety of Hulu is dialogic. It can not be understood looking at the institutional models that went before it. It is built on a model of television (free, ad-based, available) created decades ago and (essentially) updated for the internet. Currently, it exists to (almost exclusively) air television shows that have already aired on conventional television even though its viewership has long outpaced its traditional parent. Not only that, Hulu carries many classic (and independent films) as well. Hulu is a new system for selling traditional products.

Lastly, the materiality of the medium is particularly compelling to analyze. Hulu is a website and it digitally streams many television shows and films. More interestingly, between it and Netflix, digital streaming is fast becoming the most popular way to experience “television” and “film.” Of course, both of these sites are looking into creating exclusive content for themselves: tv shows and films. But, what is television without a television or film without the celluoid. Its not dvd studies anymore; it’s streaming studies! The new digital materiality of these previously analog forms offers a host of questions. Is television tied to the technology or is it merely serialized audio-visual entertainment? How does moving all this content to the computer change it? What are the ramifications of such a shift? There are many questions and consequences to consider with the digitization of entertainment. Hulu is a great case study to explore them.

Siyang Wu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was directed by Ang Lee in 2000. This work gained a lot of rewards, especially Oscar best foreign movie in 2001. Encouraged by this, more and more directors try to mimic Ang Lee and compete for Oscar. Their works have different story, characters and contexts, but they all use same traditional factors to represent China, red color, Kong-fu, and Chinese history.

Hero directed by Yimou Zhang, Wu Ji directed by Kaige Chen(2005), and, The Banquet directed by Xiaogang Feng(2006) are the most obvious example. They used Chinese history as context, added Kong-fu performance to attract audience, and filled the right color all of the screen. Moreover, they invested lots of money and utilized modern technology to construct a fictive world, attempted to gain audience praise and tickets revenues. But their movies were not popular in China, actually, they are blamed.


From the Chinese audience perspective, their movies are not artistic works but commodities. It means the movies are commercialized. The directors focus on the requirements of foreign companies who would be the potential buyer, and thus fails to fulfill the needs of their audience. Visual art, especially movies, since could be copied, revised and produced easily, are acts more and more like a merchandise, and the boundary between high art and popular art is getting blurry. The audiences’ interests, as the social factor, works with technological and obvious economical factors form a movie. However, those movies I mentioned above used the traditional factors to attract foreign market, since those factors, especially Kong-fu are more easy to gain attention in western than in China.

In our modern society, technology, economy, culture, and other factors work together to form what we see today. All of those Chinese directors declared that they tried to disseminate Chinese culture by their movie, but actually, Chinese culture is only the selling point of their movie, lost its spirits and its aura. It is used to attract western audience, raise their curiosity, but it does not work on Chinese audience since we are familiar with it. The function of movies turn from education to entertainment. Rather than a tool utilized by government, it works more like a machine that can make money from companies. To satisfy customer’s needs, some movies are made in one style, just like fast-food, under one style.

Ariel Leath

I stumbled upon a Gilles Barbier exhibit on a particularly confusing and hectic day of tourist-ing through southern France a few years back. The hours I spent meandering through the rooms of sculpture, drawing, installation, and mixed-media, I felt like I was in another world. This quick anecdote is just to say that this artist left a pretty significant mark on my trip to France and has hung with me for the 6 years since.
His use of the known and invented and combination of all medium of art make for an interesting study – using many of the theories with which we have become acquainted. His sculptures depict what we consider the realistic human form, but many contain an element of fantasy, fiction, or a moment of ultra-realism taken out of context.

His work, I would argue, is post-modern because it assumes certain knowledge of the world around us, historical elements that exist within a dialogue that can be then reappropraited as a unique work of art.


It seemed to me (young, traveling, within the confines and constructs of an art museum, etc) that Barbier was attempting to capture reality so realistically that the products became almost painfully, embarrassingly, disgustingly real.

Based on his status as an “artist” as determined by his placement in a museum of fine art, there are many theoretical jumps one could make in terms of the spectacle presupposed by this placement, in terms of the expectations one accumulates at the grand entryway. Learning about the idea of a spectacle has clouded my head with questions when considering the impact of modern art. (Who is the gatekeeper in this museum, and what were his or her motivations for allowing this artist to show his work in the museum? Does the fact that it is housed in a museum make it art, automatically? Do museum visitors assume that the artwork would have the same impact, visually, if it were outside the museum? Does the “art-ness” of the piece increase when the artist deems it worthy of placement in a museum?) These questions, and the millions more concerning this topic, beg answers based on the theories we have discussed this semester.
Barbier’s work touches on many issues that modern art, above other cultural media, expresses with confidence because we, the consumer, give it significant space to run the gauntlet of (risqué, graphic, depressing, sexualized) expression.


Joshua Weaver

"As imitations which effectively displace the meaning of the original, they imitate the myth of originality itself. In the place of an original identification which serves as a determining cause, gender identity might be reconceived as a personal/cultural history of received meanings subject to a set of imitative practices which refer laterally to other imitations and which, jointly, construct the illusion of a primary and interior gendered self or parody the mechanism of that construction."

In the above quote, gender theorist Judith Butler discusses the imitative properties of subversion. She proposes parody as a mechanism that utilizes the very object that it seeks to subvert as a medium. And, while she discusses this within the context of hegemonic gender ideologies, I believe that parody works similarly on numerable latitudes. Inasmuch, I seek to examine how street art works to subvert ideologies of government patriotism and societal construction by using ostensible symbols typically associated with said ideologies.

First, to look back at Debray's and mediology. Mediology necessitates belief and an underlying structure of transmission. Belief doesn't necessarily mean faith or allegiance, but merely a held certainty and reliance of an intangible system. Debray's also highlights the concept of a "mimetic immediacy", the property of an object sat being so close and ubiquitous that goes seemingly unnoticed. Parodic street art seeks to reengage the immediacy of these objects by using them as props for the transmission of subversive discourse -- this brings alive Derrida's concept of play and the masterminds at Trustocorp are definitely well versed in the art of bricolage.


Per its Web site, "TrustoCorp is a New York based artist (or artists) dedicated to highlighting the hypocrisy and hilarity of human behavior through sarcasm and satire." It's poppy, screen print-esque art utilizes among many things, the street sign. These street signs are anatomically congruous to parking signs or New York's popular "No Standing Signs" and utilize many of the same symbol-based imagery to convey messages. From afar, the signs blend in with the atmosphere, unnoticed in the sea of street signs; however, once the content of the sign is consumed, the real irony and absurdity of the art is exposed.


The art plays with the observers brain for, from afar, there's a certain legitimacy from its unnoticeable ubiquity -- there's little importance to its content and contextuality outside of the realm of street regulation or trash pickup. But, when the content is realized and consumed the strength of the street sign as a medium, its power as an authoritative piece of nailed sheet metal comes to the surface. Additionally, Trustocorp uses other mass-produced obscure objects to critique social, hegemonic issues and ideologies with subtlety.Trustocorp "bricolates" with a certain finesse and delicacy that draws attention to the everyday and mundane and the very social institutions that camouflage them through constant and immediate reiteration.



Counter Culture Mediologee
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A recurring problem that has surfaced with much of the readings is the issue of identification. A precondition for analyzing a culture is of course identifying it and distinguishing its activity from the activity of other cultures. We have found that this same problem surfaces when attempting to parse specific types of activity and texts within that culture like its visual productions, codes, and meanings. In one of my previous posts I mentioned something about prototype theory and Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblance shedding a light on how it is that we establish the blurry boundaries a culture and its gradations. One thing I thought about when applying this idea to the mediological analysis to sub/counter cultures is that the perception of intentionality is crucial in identifying the culture to counter.

Dominant cultures, i.e., those constructed by mass media producers (whether printers of bibles, or multimedia corporations like ABC, Miramax, Virgin, and so on), function primarily autonomously towards the advancement of systematic ideas so much that the perception of other cultures is not that important. Church cultures are not contingent on other cultures for defining themselves theologically. Anyone who is not a patron of church culture is of ‘the world’ or ‘secular’ – completely ‘other.’ Obviously the Church interacts with other cultures and thus these interactions shape church culture in new ways but this is not necessary to the preservation of say the Ravenna mosaics as part of church culture historiography.

However, counter cultures, as the moniker indicates, necessarily have to be counter to something and so parsing other cultures and texts is especially important. To get around the earlier problem of gradations of identity it seems to me that we focus on the parts of a culture that are imbedded with higher amounts of collective intentionality. Therefore, we don’t focus on peripheral characteristics like the amount of threads in a garment but rather the shape, tailoring and style. The more intentionality a text has the more noticeable and valuable it is according to what the codes of that culture will allow. Intentionality here does not only indicate the telos of activity but also the perceived consequences of that activity. Counter cultures then manipulate, distort, pervert, and remove from context the main texts and codes of intentionality of dominant cultures. Availability of resources also greatly determines counter cultural texts because of the usual lack of material means comparable to mass producers.

Zevs vandalizes Armani store
Zevs vandalizes Armani store
archaic egyptian graffiti
archaic egyptian graffiti

So when analyzing the above images we might point out that the choice of renderings reflect a counter intentionality of codes - not just what is there that is out of place but what should not be there. Dominant culture does not just omit inverted crosses and graphic irreverent portrayals of JFK from its texts but rather frowns upon them and in some branches forbids them. The inverted cross is therefore not an identification with a particular group but rather a counter-text. The misfits album cover promotes being 'for' being 'against' the dominant culture. It is not just a battle over territory but ultimately a battle of consciousness. Consciousness is always about something ('aboutness'), cultures are established as power entities that compete for that aboutness because that is how they are distinguished in the first place.