Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 26, 2008

The Secret Life of Cinema….

Filed under: Discussion — dfratini @ 10:59 pm
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It’s very likely that my understanding of the implications of Fuller’s definition of the concept of “media ecology” is horribly flawed. I am but a humble cinema scholar, I admit. If I am understanding him, I believe our field has been struggling mightily toward a cinema ecology approach for a few decades now, but that approach is both empowering and daunting.

Fuller’s examples of pirate radio, Cctv, the Switch, etc. are all subversion and relatively localized or contained, albeit dynamic, materializations. How does one use this approach toward commercial cinema? Is this an approach that can look only to the subversions in order to glean the “norms” or “medial will to power” that is being subverted? Because when it comes to cinema, the “thickness” is so monumentally thick, it’s hard to even conceive.

For example, you have film stock, camera, lens (these are variable, so they should be separate) — but what about the lights? All the specialized practices of each position of each crew member? A shift in the production ecology — if I may call it that, and perhaps I can’t, I’m not sure — a shift such as that from silent to sound production could be deemed an instance of a medial will to power, clearly. Yet what about the shift from old-fashioned wooden clapboards to digital ones? Is this tool part of the ecology? I would say “yes” because it is part of the process, but that is where I’m unsure how to apply Fuller.

Wouldn’t we include in this ecology the myriad documents: memos, contract, blue-prints, scripts, permits, schedules, receipts, storyboards, schematics? I haven’t even touched distribution yet — again contracts, rating correspondence, legal documents, posters, ads, commercials, prints, cans, trucks, planes. Then there is the viewing, the ancillary markets — cable, dvd — merchandising….

Or do we just talk about the ecology of Juno? Many critics worried that the teen pregnancy meme would be contagious. Can we think of Fellini’s 8 1/2 as “A Movie-Director Recording Its Own Condition”? There is the ecology of Chinese bootlegged dvds. Currently I’m working on what my professor has deemed an archaeology of a cinematic technology: the sodium travelling matte system — whose ecology includes, if I understand Fuller correctly, the American cold war military technology — which technology precisely, I’m not sure because it’s classified — and Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Make of that what you will.

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Media Process

Filed under: Discussion — jjpulizzi @ 8:06 pm
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I found the Fuller reading useful in its process oriented ontology, as opposed to a subject and object oriented one. Just to take the shipping container in Chapter 3 as an example, the material components that comprise the container do not entirely define it in the sense that the container’s dimensions and other attributes were decided by an international standards commission. That commission in turn only bothered to set standards to increase trade volume, which required more efficient means of storing, loading, shipping, and unloading goods. As a guide for those standards, the commission had to take into account existing technology, including the dimensions of ships and ports, as well as the average weights and sizes of shipped goods. Improved trade demands more containers, and eventually refinements to the existing ones. So the system feeds back into itself while also changing itself.

That Fuller draws on Deleuze and Whitehead, among others, to sketch this version of process philosophy for media systems means he is abandoning a definition of Pirate Radio, for example, as a stable, definable thing. Instead something like Pirate Radio is the result of and part of an ongoing set of interactions between government, law enforcement, mass media corporations, and citizens. What Pirate Radio is, where it is, and how it works are constantly changing in reaction to moves by other parts of the system.

The only problem with this approach, perhaps as my post demonstrates, is writing about it in a coherent way; especially considering that nouns are popular parts of speech. Fuller tries to get around this by giving examples, that is by showing (a process) rather than explaining or defining. We might ask to what extent he actually succeeds in that project?

When memes appeared in chapter 4, I began to wonder whether Fuller had not taken a step away from his process oriented philosophy—showing rather than telling. If one were truly committed to a process oriented philosophy, what good would be gained by personifying the medium of the process as a meme? I would think much of what Fuller discusses could be just as easily addressed without recourse to memes or a similar concept. Indeed, that personification makes the process seem even more abstract and allows one to forget about the physical bodies through which and on which said processes function.

Google Earth or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the View of My Neighbor’s Pool

Filed under: Discussion — tjdanner @ 4:11 pm
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Considering the Cctv World Wide Watch and certain moments in the Fuller reading, I have been thinking about the unparalleled panoptic possibilities that have developed over the past decade.  The Cctv project, as Fuller points out, is more a suggestion of surveillance than a functional representation of Foucauldean panopticism: “the feeds wear the crappiness of their imaging as a part of their seaminess” (141).  The attenuated functionality doesn’t entirely negate the potential for, shall we say, “autopoliceis” (it’s late) of Bunting’s site–crime prevention is certainly possible.  Thus, if we are looking toward the internet as a reconceptualization of the Panopticon, we might say that the central column has room on every virtual floor for pairs of observing eyes.  But even if a group of global neighborhood watchdogs, taking turns, were to keep watch over Cctv‘s feeds in a continuous cycle, innumerable crimes would go unreported, and even reported ones would go unsolved: none of Minority Report’s pre-cogs here.  In Fuller’s terms, as he paraphrases Mirzoeff, “there is no all-seeing specter implied by the physical architecture” (146) of Cctv.  There are only nodes; perceived contiguity of observation is a prerequisite for preventive psychology.

That said, the controlling cultural paranoia–or Fuller’s “generalized chilling” (“the effect of knowing that surveillance is going on” (146))–endemic of a post-9/11 America in which government transparency seems to be diminishing has recently surfaced in several innovations by Google: Maps, Earth, and Street View, for example.  I’m sure most of you have both played around with the visualization mechanisms of these programs–googling images of one’s house, for example–and read about the controversies they have sparked.  Given Google’s increasing ubiquity and round-the-clock development of more comprehensive (/invasive, some say) satellite and digital image-based technologies, its programs have far eclipsed a site like Cctv as a potential surveillance machine.  I will try to relate some of these technologies–and some of the user-created hacks that augment their capabilities–to some of the theories about media ecologies that Fuller describes.  Considering the apparatus-as-plaything model that Flusser proposes, it’s easy to perceive the non-panoptic, more ludic, functions that Google Earth encompasses in addition to its well-documented potential for privacy invasion.  If you would like to play around with some of the functions I’ll be discussing in class, you can download Earth (most of you probably have, but here’s the link anyway: http://www.google.com/earth/; and here are some links to user-created downloads, or hacks, that you may find entertaining: http://www.gearthhacks.com/downloads/.  In a nod to Bunting’s project, I’ll also look at a couple webcam sites such as EarthCam (http://www.earthcam.com ).  If you navigate these links, you may want to think about a few of the issues I intend to explore:  Which “types of surveillance” that Fuller discusses in Chapter 4 do they represent?  What are the relationships between paranoia-inducing (or -resulting) surveillance functionality and entertainment/diversion-based plaything functionality?  As a concept, “media ecology” seems to carry with it, like “will to power,” a sense of non-exclusionary comprehensiveness, that the interaction of any two media constitutes a media ecology; what are the specific medial-ecological dynamics of Google Earth, webcam sites, etc.?

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