Tweaking Enzenberger

September 10, 2008

In his “Constituents of a Theory of the Media,” in The Consciousness Industry (1974), Hans Magnus Enzenberger describes a new media (“satellites, color television, cable relay television, casettes, videotape, videotape recorders, video-phones, stereophony, laser techniques, electrostatic reproduction processes, electronic high-speed printing, composing and learning machines, microfiches with electronic access, printing by radio, time-sharing computers, data banks”), and proposes the necessary constituents for a revolution within and using these nifty new tools. What does he tell us that could be of use to our new media revolution (or lack thereof)? What are we missing? What didn’t we learn the last time around?

Enzenberger sees a political and corporate landscape bent on controlling communication through censorship, denial of education, and community.

The development from a mere distribution medium to a communication medium is technically not a problem. It is consciously prevented for understandable political reasons. (97)

Quarantine regulations for information, such as was promulgated by fascism and Stalinism, are only possible today at the cost of deliberate industrial regression. (99)

The question is not whether the media are manipulated, but who manipulates them. A revolutionary plan should not require the manipulators to disappear: on the contrary, it must make everyone a manipulator. (104)

The new media…make it possible for the first time to record historical material so that it can be reproduced at will. By making this material available for present-day purposes, they make it obvious to anyone using it that the writing of history is always manipulation. (106)

Any socialist strategy for the media must strive to end the isolation of the individual participants from the social learning and production processes…The question is why these means of production do not show up at factories, in schools, in the offices of the bureaucracy…(109)

The electronic media do not owe their irresistible power to any sleight-of-hand but to the elemental power of deep social needs which come through even in the present depraved from of these media. (111)

I just read Zigzagger‘s (check this out, he’s the guy who taught me how to make these very links to other web sites on my blog!) article on “ze frank and the poetics of web video” published on First Monday. It’s got me thinking. Here’s his conclusion:

“The interactive form of the The Show is a product of the Internet’s affordance, as a network of users, of bringing like–minded but geographically dispersed people together in an common, online creative space. Furthermore, with grassroots media production, producers and their audiences typically share the same basic creative idioms and the same technologies, all being do–it–yourselfers. It is crucial in the case of Ze Frank and his audience that there was a minimum of aesthetic and technological distance between producer and fan, so that all could feel like participants in the same creative community. Frank might be a singular figure, a gifted performer, a rare talent, but the sportsracers added immeasurable value to The Show.

DIY media are engendering a shift in popular taste. No longer is professionalism assumed to be the norm and standard of quality. The notion that do–it–yourself amateurism can stand on equal ground with media industry professionalism signals a democratic challenge to hierarchies of aesthetic value. And at the same time that amateur media are gaining ground, so is the communitarian alternative to traditional, top–down mass media distinctions between production and reception. Communities like the one that came together around The Show comprise artists working in a vernacular format of creative expression, using amateur tools and a primitive aesthetic. Art is always the product of what Howard S. Becker calls a “network of cooperation,” [16] but artists and their support personnel have traditionally been seen to occupy separate spheres [17]. Our contemporary mediascape threatens this notion of the autonomy of the solitary artist, revealing ways in which creative communities can function as increasingly egalitarian networks.” End of article

His findings go against several of mine, in particular those about community (which I find untenable on YouTube) and the elevation of a user or DIY-aesthetic to be on par with that of corporate media (which I understand to be separate but equal). But this, in turn, raises two significant thoughts:

1) I am certainly overstating my theory, writing manifesto-like, to allow some things to be clear (the limitations of the site and the forms it fosters), while obscuring others (like the shows and communities that are forming, like Ze Frank’s and that around my course, for instance). Can one imagine a theory of YouTube that accounts for the possibilities of resistance and re-purposing while also insisting upon the strong forces of consoidation, capital, and conformity which are already encrusting around this (new) form?

2) talent: I have been dancing around the role that talent plays in all this, as does Newman, above. What does it mean to create theories of an art form around the exemplary practices of those who are capable of pushing the form forward as opposed to thinking through the form in relation to its common vernacular (what most people do with it)? And can something by truly DIY and exceptional at once, or is this really an oxymoron?

(I just got to read Chuck Kleinhans’ paper for Consoleing Passions, “Webisodic Mock Vlogs: HoShows as Commercial Entertainment New Media” which will is under revision for  JUMP CUT no. 50. Theorizing the mediocre is his stated project: “I don’t think the HoShows have decisive meaning or are a significant contribution to the aesthetic, cultural, or institutional nature of screen media.  This stuff is profoundly mediocre.  But then, why consider it?  I think it notable as precisely a moment, a passing fancy in screen technology.  This lets us have some insight into those things, which are similar in one way or another, and the very fact of living in a rapidly changing “new media” present.  You can step in the river, but it keeps flowing. Today technological change, institutional and regulatory change, industrial change, and audience adaptation flow together in new patterns, with changing currents and interesting eddies.  So, while the specific example is not very notable, the larger trend it is a part of is worth considering.” He goes on to speak about the sit-com narrative, sex appeal, and the short form. Make sure to check it out upon publication.

I have been thinking about the badness of this set of videos. About how when I make conventional vlogs, I never worry about form, and that’s liberating: YouTube as soapbox. About the fact that I do actually make “quality” documentaries (my most recent is SCALE, see much about it on these pages), and for that work (which I also characterize as DIY), I hire a cinematographer and an editor, it take several years of my life to complete, another year or more to distribute, and loads of money to do all this work (in comparison to the insignificant amount of time, capital, planning, or execution required for any of my YouTube videos).

What does this tell us about form, expression, and politics on YouTube?

1. Form mandates where you sit and how you move on YouTube. Bad form relegates you to the conventions of the vlog, “good” form is your passport out of  NicheTube.

2. Form effects how well and how much you are heard on YouTube. The bad form of a vlog propels its movement in that this marks its veracity and authenticity. Bad form on any other form of video limits the effectivity of your message, both in how well it can be understood and in how many people will be moved to watch and listen. Bad form marks the hand of an amateur, and the space of the mundane.

3. Bad form is intimately linked to the private, humble expression of the vlog; good form (aesthetics) is required for effective expression outside the personal.

4. Politics demands the building, feeding, and inter-relating of individuals to make committed communities. If you are using media as part of this program, the media must inspire conversation and connection: because the words, images, and sounds are compelling in combination. Need they be “good” to do so?

So where does the humble YouTuber fit into this? How trained need she be? How articulate? Does this need to be her job? Isn’t the point that she is an amateur? When we actually use our own material, and the skills we have, what and who can we effect?

Slogan Ten

October 1, 2007

“The boundaries between the subject, if not the body, and the ‘rest of the world’ are undergoing a radical refiguration, brought about in part through the mediation of technology. ”
Allucquere Rosanne Stone

On-line documentary presentation on YouTube disturbs the public/private binary, like that of the self/other, opening things up to produce combinations inconceivable without the technology. Yet YouTube forecloses the construction of coherent communities and returns production, consumption, and meaning-making to the individual, re-establishing the reign of the self.

Slogan Eight

September 24, 2007

“What is in question is not the expression of some lost origin or some uncontaminated essence in black film-language but the adoption of a critical voice that promotes consciousness of the collision of cultures and histories that constitute our very conditions of existence.”
Isaac Julien and Kobena Mercer

On-line media presentation should promote critical reading practices as well as liberated voices explicating the conditions, including media practices, that are necessary to engender this freedom. YouTube is defined by empty and endless collisions unlinked from culture, history, context, author, or intention. Collision without consciousness.

Slogan Seven

September 20, 2007

“By empowering ordinary people to speak as experts, they question a basic assumption of dominant ideology, that only those already in power, those who have a stake in defending the status quo, are entitled to speak as if they know something.”
Barbara Halpern Martineau

YouTube allows everyone and anyone (with access to the technologies) to speak about everything and anything they please. Alone in a room, caught at a lectern, the much-maligned (confessional) talking-head proves to be the entitlement devise of choice. I speak, you listen, but without context, so who cares, and more critically, then what?