- Writing in The Guardian, Slavoj Žižek considers the capitalist global order in a world without superpowers:
The “American century” is over, and we have entered a period in which multiple centres of global capitalism have been forming. In the US, Europe, China and maybe Latin America, too, capitalist systems have developed with specific twists: the US stands for neoliberal capitalism, Europe for what remains of the welfare state, China for authoritarian capitalism, Latin America for populist capitalism. After the attempt by the US to impose itself as the sole superpower – the universal policeman – failed, there is now the need to establish the rules of interaction between these local centres as regards their conflicting interests.
In politics, age-old fixations, and particular, substantial ethnic, religious and cultural identities, have returned with a vengeance. Our predicament today is defined by this tension: the global free circulation of commodities is accompanied by growing separations in the social sphere. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the global market, new walls have begun emerging everywhere, separating peoples and their cultures. Perhaps the very survival of humanity depends on resolving this tension.
- Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century has received widespread media attention, and enjoyed so much popular success that at times Amazon has been sold out of copies. It seems natural then that David Harvey, reigning champion of Marx’s Capital in the 21st century would comment on the work, which he has now done on his web site:
The book has often been presented as a twenty-first century substitute for Karl Marx’s nineteenth century work of the same title. Piketty actually denies this was his intention, which is just as well since his is not a book about capital at all. It does not tell us why the crash of 2008 occurred and why it is taking so long for so many people to get out from under the dual burdens of prolonged unemployment and millions of houses lost to foreclosure. It does not help us understand why growth is currently so sluggish in the US as opposed to China and why Europe is locked down in a politics of austerity and an economy of stagnation. What Piketty does show statistically (and we should be indebted to him and his colleagues for this) is that capital has tended throughout its history to produce ever-greater levels of inequality. This is, for many of us, hardly news. It was, moreover, exactly Marx’s theoretical conclusion in Volume One of his version of Capital. Piketty fails to note this, which is not surprising since he has since claimed, in the face of accusations in the right wing press that he is a Marxist in disguise, not to have read Marx’s Capital.
There is, however, a central difficulty with Piketty’s argument. It rests on a mistaken definition of capital. Capital is a process not a thing. It is a process of circulation in which money is used to make more money often, but not exclusively through the exploitation of labor power.
- At the 2012 Media Ecology conference in Manhattan I heard Douglas Rushkoff explain that he had stopped teaching classes at NYU because the department was not letting him teach a sufficient number of hours, all while using his likeness on program brochures. Well, Rushkoff has just been appointed to his first full-time academic post. Media Bistro reported CUNY’s announcement :
Beginning this fall at CUNY’s Queens College, students can work their way towards an MA in Media Studies. Set to mold the curriculum is an expert responsible for terms such as “viral media” and “social currency.”
- Lastly, this news made me realize that I completely missed Rushkoff’s new Frontline special that premiered in February: Generation Like, which is available on the Frontline web site.
- I posted a video from the PBS Idea Channel on Baudrilliard and hyperreality a while back, and hadn’t kept up with the channel since. I recently came across a couple of their other videos and enjoyed them enough to want to share. This video assesses the TV show Community as a postmodern masterpiece:
- And in this video the hyperactive host explains how glitch art shows that broken is beautiful:
- Caleb Smith at Avidly examines the ideological over-and-undertones of Al Pacino’s performances in The Godfather and Scarface:
In The Godfather, the blurring of the line between crime and the “legitimate” economy can still seem shocking. In Scarface, the distinction seems quaintly naïve. In The Godfather, Don Vito almost loses everything over his refusal to deal in heroin. In Scarface, Tony Montana knows that coke is just another commodity in a boom economy. Michael Corleone marries the wispy, drooping Kate Adams to give his enterprise some old-fashioned, WASP class. When Tony Montana takes possession of the coked-up bombshell called Elvira Hancock, he is filling his waterbed with cash, not class. Even more excruciatingly, Scarface tells us these truths without any self-righteousness, without the consoling promise that manly discipline can save America from its fate. In the moral economy of this movie, the terms of critique have become indistinguishable from the terms of affirmation. “You know what capitalism is?” Tony answers his own question: “Getting fucked.”
- This article in Foriegn Affairs reviews the Frankfurt School’s contribution to the war effort; the full article is behind a paywall, but the book reviewed looks interesting:
Donovan put Neumann in charge of the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS, studying Nazi-ruled central Europe. Neumann was soon joined by the philosopher Herbert Marcuse and the legal scholar Otto Kirchheimer, his colleagues at the left-wing Institute for Social Research, which had been founded in Frankfurt in 1923 but had moved to Columbia University after the Nazis came to power.
- This essay by Siegfried Zielinski (and presumably excerpted from his book […After the Media]) argues that the media have become superfluous:
An update of the promise, that the media could create a different, even a better world, seems laughable from our perspective of experience with the technologically based democracies of markets. As a utopia-ersatz, this promise appears to be obsolete in the former hegemonial regions of North America and western and northern Europe. Now that it is possible to create a state with media, they are no longer any good for a revolution. The media are an indispensable component of functioning social hierarchies, both from the top down and the bottom up, of power and countervailing power. They have taken on systemic character. Without them, nothing works anymore in what the still surviving color supplements in a careless generalization continue to call a society. Media are an integral part of the the everyday coercive context, which is termed “practical constraints.” As cultural techniques, which need to be learned for social fitness, they are at the greatest possible remove from what whips us into a state of excitement, induces aesthetic exultation, or triggers irritated thoughts.
At the same time, many universities have established courses in media design, media studies, and media management. Something that operates as a complex, dynamic, and edgy complex between the discourses, that is, something which can only operate interdiscursively, has acquired a firm and fixed place in the academic landscape. This is reassuring and creates professorial chairs, upon which a once anarchic element can be sat out and developed into knowledge for domination and control. Colleges and academies founded specifically for the media proactively seek close relationships with the industries, manufacturers, and the professional trades associations of design, orientation, and communication.
- Rick Searle reviews Doug Rushkoff’s latest book Present Shock:
There are five ways Rushkoff thinks present shock is being experienced and responded to. To begin, we are in an era in which he thinks narrative has collapsed. For as long as we have had the power of speech we have corralled time into linear stories with a beginning, middle and ending. More often than not these stories contained some lesson. They were not merely forms of entertainment or launching points for reflection but contained some guidance as to how we should act in a given circumstance, which, of course, differed by culture, but almost all stories were in effect small oversimplified models of real life.
The medium Rushkoff thinks is best adapted to the decline of narrative are video games. Yes, they are more often than not violent, but they also seem tailor made for the kinds of autonomy and collaborative play that are the positive manifestations of our new presentism.
- The film Last Action Hero opened twenty years ago today. I saw the movie in theaters and loved it as a child. Having been a fan of Terminator 2 (which came out a few years earlier) Last Action Hero elaborated on the boyhood fantasy of having your own personal Ah-nuld, just like John Connor and his robot pal. Over the years I developed an all new appreciation for the film as an original and endearing work of metafiction. To mark the anniversary Calcum Marsh at Esquire posted this piece about why the movie is “better than you remember”:
And even better is the film’s conception of movie morality, which it twists into a biting satirical treatise: Rather than suggest, once the fictional characters break free into the real world, that reality has rules and consequences that the film world doesn’t, Last Action Hero does just the opposite, serving up hard truths about the uncaring streets of modern-day New York. “In this world,” observes a villain named Benedict (Charles Dance), “bad guys can win” — a point he summarily proves by shooting a local mechanic in cold blood, loudly announcing the murder and looking disappointed when he hears no screams or sirens. Last Action Hero suggests that while the movies may seem like heedless spectacles, it’s the moral chaos of our own world that’s really dire. That’s quite a thesis for a comedy made for kids.
- This fascinating LA Weekly article details one man’s “reality TV racket”:
What the host didn’t know is that K.T. was actually 31-year-old Ken Tarr, a budding mastermind of the reality TV hoax. Over the past five months, working out of his modest Los Angeles apartment, Tarr had talked his way onto eight different shows taped in five different cities — each time cloaked in a different persona. He’d become a dissonant saboteur in the machinery of sleaze that sprawls across our televisions.
- Writing for CNN, Douglas Rushkoff declares NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a “hero”:
We all know the feeling of surrendering to the embedded biases of our devices. We let our cell phones ping us every time there’s an incoming message and check our e-mail even when we’d best pay attention to what’s going on around us in the real world. We text while driving. Likewise, without conscious restraint, government agencies can’t help but let the growing power of big data draw them into ever more invasive forms of surveillance on a population whose members simply must include those who intend harm on the rest. This is just how everything runs when it’s left on “default” settings.
- Lastly, Space.com has posted this fantastic infographic looking at 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The spaceships of 2001 were designed by Frederick I. Ordway III, chief science adviser; Harry Lange, illustrator and concept artist (who later would design spaceship interiors for “Star Wars”) and Tony Masters, production designer on “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dune” and other films. Real-life spacecraft contractors including IBM, Honeywell, RCA and General Electric were consulted for their predictions of the technology of 35 years in the future.
- “General Semantics and media theory“: video of a 20-minute presentation by Thom Gencarelli from this year’s IGS symposium.
“Those levels of interactivity, for me, recapitulated the levels of participation that we as a society have had since the invention of media,” Rushkoff said, referring to similar shifts that occurred when humans first transitioned from written language to the age of movable type.
Our conversation started with Rushkoff’s concept of “present-shock” and moved into a larger discussion of the relationship between market thinking, quantification, and what is ultimately measurable and knowable.
- So apparently there’s a YouTube channel called PBS Idea Channel. This video poses the question, “are cell phones replacing reality?” and briefly engages Baudrillard’s thoughts on hyperreality.
- This page on LearnStuff.com covers the life and work of Baudrillard and contains links to resources and further reading.
- WIRED’s Dead Media Beat considers Lev Manovich’s statement in a recent article that “there is no digital media, there is only software.”
- “Drop the mic“: an article about how the microphone changed Catholic mass.
In 1974, Marshall McLuhan argued that the microphone was the proximate cause both of the elimination of Latin from the Mass and of the turning around of the priest to face the congregation. Before microphones, a priest quietly said Mass in Latin, with his back to the congregation. From any distance, his voice was indistinct, although an instructed Catholic could follow what he was saying from a missal containing the Latin text of the Mass or a translation of it.
- “The humanism of Media Ecology“: this address was delivered by Neil Postman at the 2000 MEA convention, but I just came across it and wanted to share it here.
I think there is considerable merit in McLuhan’s point of view about avoiding questions of good and bad when thinking about media. But that view has never been mine. To be quite honest about it, I don’t see any point in studying media unless one does so within a moral or ethical context. I am not alone in believing this. Some of the most important media scholars—Lewis Mumford and Jacques Ellul, for example—could scarcely write a word about technology without conveying a sense of either its humanistic or anti-humanistic consequences.
Due to end-of-the-semester activities posting has been slow the last couple of weeks. But my exams are finished and I’ve submitted grades so here’s a celebratory news roundup:
- Wired reported on Sergey Brin of Google: China, SOPA, Facebook Threaten the ‘Open Web’
In an interview published Sunday, Google’s co-founder cited a wide range of attacks on “the open internet,” including government censorship and interception of data, overzealous attempts to protect intellectual property, and new communication portals that use web technologies and the internet, but under restrictive corporate control.
There are “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world,” says Brin. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”
- From Gigaom: 3 key lessons from Facebook & Zynga’s shopping spree. Among the educational insights:
The post-social world is an “attention economy.” If you don’t have engagement, you don’t have attention and if you don’t have attention – well you don’t have anything really.
- Gizmodo asks Douglas Rushkoff about his geek origins (VIDEO).
- And another Douglas Rushkoff video, this one from Motherboard TV.
- Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges are two of the plaintiffs is a lawsuit filed over the National Defense Authorization Act.
- Danah Boyd wrote a piece for the Guardian: Whether the digital era improves society is up to its users – that’s us
In the 1970s, the scholar Herbert Simon argued that “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”
His arguments give rise both to the notion of “information overload” but also to the “attention economy”. In the attention economy, people’s willingness to distribute their attention to various information stimuli create value for said stimuli. Indeed, the economic importance of advertisements is predicated on the notion that getting people to pay attention to something has value.
- UW professor and author of Castells and the Media Philip N. Howard: How to Predict Political Crisis With Your News Feed:
If one wanted to track three trends likely to have the most impact on international relations over the next decade, what three trends could help us anticipate global political crises? At the top of my news feed are items about who is in jail and why, rigged elections, and social media.
- Critical media theorist Douglas Kellner on school shootings:
School shootings and domestic terrorism have proliferated on a global level. In recent months there have been school shootings in Finland, Germany, Greece, and other countries as well as the United States. Although there may be stylistic differences, in all cases young men act out their rage through the use of guns and violence to create media spectacles and become celebrities-of-the-moment.
Class dismissed, have a great summer!
- A couple of weeks back I linked to the Guardian’s discussion of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, and I just came across another article from their site that I had overlooked: “What Debord can teach us about protest”:
The danger with this reading – the spectacle as a retroactive name for the social alienation of modern media culture – is that it turns Debord into a prophet who simply confirms everything we already know and further cements its inevitability. In other words, it is to make The Society of the Spectacle into precisely the kind of spectacle that Debord warns us of in thesis five, where he insists that the spectacle is not a simple product of mass media, but “a weltanschauung that has been actualised, translated into the material realm – a world view transformed into an objective force”.
The author, Meghan Sutherland, comments on the diminishing funding for humanities departments in her discussion of resistance to the spectacle:
It will also require that we redouble our efforts to challenge the systematic elimination of philosophy departments and humanities funding from university programmes all over the world – a project of austerity economics that deems the study of ideas simultaneously elitist, irrelevant to the “real” world and without market value. For as Debord makes clear, when we allow the pleasures of living and acting to become severed from the pleasures of thinking and looking, The Society of the Spectacle can mean only one thing. And it will do so until we learn to reconnect them.
- An Atlantic article by Scott Meslow titled “Boys can love ‘Titanic,’ too” quotes an older interview with media effects researcher Mary Beth Oliver discussing sex differences in responses to sad film:
“There are certain arenas where male crying is deemed appropriate, like the loss of a favorite sporting team, the death of a parent, or war,” said Mary Beth Oliver, a media professor at Penn State, in 2010 interview with the BBC about the tear-jerking effects of a different film. “For many men, there is a great deal of pressure to avoid expression of ‘female’ emotions like sadness and fear. From a very young age, males are taught that it is inappropriate to cry, and these lessons are often accompanied by a great deal of ridicule when the lessons aren’t followed.”
- Sherry Turkle’s TED talk that I posted over the weekend has sparked a number of articles: io9: “Do you feel more lonely after using your smartphone?”; Christian Today: “Is our connected world just getting lonelier?”; and tangentially-related NYT: “Voice technology: A real conversation starter“.
- Variety ran a review of a new documentary (that apparently premiered at SXSW) called “Welcome to the Machine”:
Every generation uses the technology of its time as a metaphor to better understand itself, and in the zeitgeist-examining docu-essay “Welcome to the Machine,” director Avi Zev Weider ponders the degree to which man’s present and future are dominated by his inventions. Philosophically speaking, it’s fascinating stuff, though film hardly seems the most conducive way for Weider to present his arguments, with an overreliance on baby photos and the failure to deliver a key interview making the whole inquiry feel smaller than it is.
- Co. Create published an interview with Douglas Rushkoff in advance of an upcoming keynote address in NYC. His comments on the function of the artist echo McLuhan:
I think the artist, even more than government, has become the one who is doing long-term thinking about what’s happening, what are the implications, what are we doing to ourselves? And they’re some of the only ones, really. An artist’s job is to sit outside what’s happening and reflect back to us where the human is in this. I think it’s a very valuable exercise. It’s just the opposite exercise of what most people probably think it is. It’s not for technologists to realize the visions of artists. It feels much more like it’s for artists to contextualize the visions of technologists.
- One of my goals for summer 2012 is to learn a programming language. Multiple factors motivated this decision, one of them being Rushkoff’s articles on coding and his recent book “Program or be programmed”. Turns out I wasn’t the only one: I learned about web site Codeacademy from a post by Juliet Waters titled “My code year, so far“:
I was hooked by the headline of an article by Douglas Rushkoff on CNN.com. “Learn to Code, Get a Job!” Coding, he argued, was a skill that not enough people had, and companies were paying big money to find people who were “code literate.”