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)


Just back from the Console-ing Passions conference, where I attended a panel on blogging where people joked that people might blog on the conference and the panel. Well. Melissa Click spoke about the ways that blogging has and has not been beneficial for feminist media scholars. She described, as did Elizabeth Ellcessor, a silencing climate for many feminist (and anti-racist, queer) academic bloggers. While I have not felt this to date, or at least in any way that has slowed me down, it did make me become aware that I am most comfortable blogging about YouTube (imagining a techy/bloggy readership of those interested in technology and blogs), over my more political work (on the war or AIDS for example). But that, even so, as a female academic, I am strongly protected by my rank as Full Professor. I did worry that a culture of women theorizing women-as-victims, and women-as-there-to-be-scared-away (while always true) may not be the most effective place from which to mobilize our writerly empowerment (I’ve written on this in relation to the tradition of the victim documentary), but their statistics and qualitative findings were pretty chilling. (I recently read a smart blog on this “Prejudice in Internet Communities.” Given my later posting on censorship, it seems really complicated to balance out the fact of hating, the power of the disenfranchised through these technologies, and our abilities to be other than victim). While I’m still really figuring this whole blog thing out, it has been pretty great so far, mostly in the ways it allows my ideas to reach people and audiences far afield from my small(er) worlds of queer, feminist media studies and production. I recently blogged about YouTube for OpenCulture to some viral success, for instance, and I think that brings new readers here, although, who’s ever really to know (are you there?).

I wanted to mention some of the cool things I heard about YouTube there. It was nice to be engaged, live with a community of scholars about this topic. Sometimes I feel like I’m blogging to the wind. Yes, I see there are readers, but what are you thinking?

Caetlin Benson-Allot spoke about how the “minimal mediation” or “low-bandwidth aesthetic” (often now an affectation) of what I have called “bad” videos insures their claim to a liveness similar to that of the actualities of early cinema. She suggested that this using/liveness creates a new kind of spectator and critic—the self-as-user—and the sheer doing of user-generation trumps artistry, or even subjective expression (hence the ubiquitous YouTube cover of a cover of a cover). I like to think of my attempt to speak about YouTube using YouTube as an effort to be her user-generator-critic.

On my panel about New Media and Public and Educational Space, Chuck Tryone, of the Chutry Experiment, speaking on political mash-up videos, talked about their “critical-digital-intertextuality,” which is a useful nuance to my ongoing ruminations on self-reflexivity. He, among many others (including David Gurney and Ian Reilly) is thinking about the uses of parody, satire, and other effects-of-faking in contemporary political/video culture. Through my earlier work on the fake documentary, I’ve ruminated that these forms are neither progressive or regressive in their own right, although we must remember that parody and satire are always conservative in that they stay anchored to their target text (this is Linda Hutcheon). I am looking forward to these scholars trying to nuance how and when these tactics can be radical, as I’ve pretty much steam-rolled over humor in my writing about YouTube.

Finally, Rosalind Morris, talking about

in a great panel on images of militarization post 9/11, discussed how YouTube works best by communication through affect in a culture where you can be sure you will not be listened to . Even as we speak and speak, broadcasting ourselves on YouTube and blogs, we become less convinced that we are heard (note my paranoia about readership).