Some definitions to get us motivated:
- simulacrum: the replication (upon replication) of a subject without being able to find the concrete beginning.
- hyperreality: the idea often associated with a viewer (an audience in general) believing the media-generated simulation is real or more real than an actual event, personality, condition, or, ultimately, an experience.
- Lev Manovich’s definition of new media:
- “All new media objects, whether they are created from scratch on computers or converted from analog media sources, are composed of digital code; they are numerical representations” (p. 27).
- Modularity: “a new media object consists from independent parts which, in their turn, consist from smaller independent parts, and so on, up to the level of smallest “atoms” such as pixels, 3D points or characters” (p. 31).
- Automation: the above two principles “allow for the automation of many operations involved in media creation, manipulation and access” (p. 32).
- Variability: “A new media object is not something fixed once and for all but can exist in different, potentially infinite, versions….Instead of identical copies a new media object typically gives rise to many different versions” (p. 36).
- Transcoding: “In new media lingo, to “transcode” something is to translate it into another format. The computerization of culture gradually accomplishes similar transcoding in relation to all cultural categories and concepts. That is, cultural categories and concepts are substituted, on the level of meaning and/or the language, by new ones which derive from computer’s ontology, epistemology and pragmatics” (p. 47).
Introduction to Video Games and American Culture
Over fifty years ago, Umberto Eco published a modern de Tocqueville-esque analysis of the American obsession with the fake. At that time, video games had not yet become ubiquitous household technologies, but they had already flooded arcades in shopping malls across the country. Umberto Eco—in a way similar to Jean Baudrillard’s work on simulation—claims that Americans desire not the real but the hyperreal, commodities more real than the actual product, service, or experience. (p. 1)I was quite happy with myself for “…a modern de Tocqueville-esque analysis…”
Eco’s “Travels in Hyperreality”
Lots of discussion of American entertainment. Our obsession for the fake is quite apparent to Eco. Let’s have a general discussion on this piece.
Some Key passages for further discussion:
- p. 3: “Holography…achieves a full-color photographic representation that is more than three-dimensional.”
- p. 4: “America, a country obsessed with realism, where, if a reconstruction is to be credible, it must be absolutely iconic, a perfect likeness, a ‘real’ copy of the reality being represented.”
- Commenting on wax museums:
- p. 7: “The Lyndon B. Johnson Library is a true Fortress of Solitude….suggest[ing] that there is a constant in the average American imagination and taste for which the past must be preserved and celebrated in full-scale authentic copy.”
- p. 7: “The aim of the reconstructed Oval Office is to supply a ‘sign’ that will then be forgotten as such. The sign aims to be the thing, to abolish the distinction of the reference, the mechanism of replacement.”
- LBJ’s Oval Office Recreation
- p. 7: “two typical slogans that pervade American advertising….’the real thing’…’more.'”
- p. 8: “leaving a surplus to throw away–that’s prosperity.”
- p. 8: “this journey into hyperreality…demands the real and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.”
- pp. 9-10: “the ravenous consumption of the present and about the constant “past-izing” process carried out by American civilization in its alternate process of futuristic planning an nostalgic remorse.”
- p. 11: “As in some story by Heinlein or Asimov, you have the impression of entering and leaving time in a spatial-temporal haze where centuries are confused.”
- Even animals are fake if artificially selected…but that chicken is real, right?
- p. 12: “The whole of the United States is spangled with wax museums, advertised in every hotel.”
- These attractions “are loud and aggressive, they assail you with big billboards on the freeway miles in advance.”
- pp. 13-14: “Another characteristic of the wax museum is that the notion of historical reality is absolutely democratized: Marie Antoinette’s boudoir is recreated with fastidious attention to detail, but Alice’s encounter with the Mad Hatter is done just as carefully.”
- p. 15: “The idea that the philosophy of hyperrealism guides the reconstructions is again prompted by the importance attached to the ‘most realistic statue in the world.'”
- Is there a parallel here to a person who always claims he has “the best, most beauty, greatest–better than Obama–wonderful” policies?
- p. 19: “the visitor is convinced that the Palace [of Living Arts in LA] itself replaces and improves on the National Gallery or the Prado” (emphasis added).
- p. 23: On the artifacts in Hearst Castle, “The striking aspect of the whole is not…the artificial tissue seamlessly connect[ing] fake and genuine, but rather the sense of fullness, the obsessive determination not to leave a single space that doesn’t suggest something.”
- p. 25: “The Madonna Inn is the poor man’s Hearst Castle….It says to visitors: ‘You can have the incredible, just like a millionaire.”
- Think South of the Border on I-95
- Yes, Las Vegas also does this.
- pp. 36-37: “It is the ideology of preservation, in the New World, of the treasures that the folly and negligence of the Old World are causing to disappear into the void. Naturally this ideology conceals something…”
- p. 37: “once the fetishistic desire for the original is forgotten, these copies are perfect. And at this point isn’t the enemy of the rights of art the engraver who defaces the place to keep low the number of prints.”
- pp. 41-42: “the customer finds himself participating in the fantasy because of his own authenticity as a consumer; in other words, he is in the role of the cowboy or the gold-prospector who comes into town to be fleeced of all he has accumulated while out in the wilds.
Ch. 10 “Television, Texts, and Audiences”
Regardless of how much we (you…)claim you don’t watch television, I find it impossible that you don’t have an opinion on some program. We can start with some news-oriented discussions, but I’m curious about how you consume TV (or stream shows on one of your various screens). This reminds me of a story about my ‘fellow’ PhD cohort and their feigning a single-minded devotion to their studies.
- p. 402: “…watching TV is a passive experience…”
- p. 403 “Television needs to be understood in terms of…patterns of cultural meaning.”
- p. 403: “The production of news holds a strategic position in debates about television for its presumed, and often feared, influence on public life.”
- p. 404: “The selection of items for inclusion as news and the specific ways in which a story is constructed are never neutral or objective.”
- This doesn’t mean all news is inherently fake or lies.
- Even these different headlines don’t suggest the WSJ is lying…
- p. 405: “Facts, objectivity, and the public sphere belong to the men” in newsrooms.
- p. 406: The echo chamber–“Audiences…choose to buy or watch that which they already agree with.”
- p. 407: “Within a hegemonic model, ideological processes….are an outcome of the routine attitudes and working practices of staff.”
- “Primary definers are taken to be politicians, judges, industrialists, the police, and so forth; that is, official agencies involved in the making of news events.”
- p. 408: On The Gulf War(s)…both of them–“Televisions was deficient in providing an adequate explanation for the war”
- Those of you who remember the coverage of the First Gulf War, what were your impressions?
- How about the Invasion of Iraq (aka. The Second Gulf War)?
- p. 409: “Al Jazeera offers alternative coverage to the of major western channels…”
- Consider this report from Fox News on US-Iran tensions (9/25/2019)–after the intro, go to 2:55.
- Now, let’s watch coverage from Al Jazeera on (almost) US-Iran tensions (9/25/2019)
- Notice anything different?
- p. 413: “…the only unambiguous accomplishment of Iran’s so-called social media revolution was its revelation of an intense western longing for a world where information technology liberates rather than oppresses…”
- Connect this to Curran, Fenton, & Freedman’s Misunderstanding the Internet…what is the promise of technology?
- Now, consider the increased surveillance post-9/11.
- p. 416: “…when greenscreens are being used….broadcast conventions demand that we suspend our disbelief; that we see but pretend we do not.”
- pp. 417-428: Soap operas, streaming series (HBO, SHO, Netflix, Disney…etc.), and reality TV
- pp. 428-439: The Active Audience
- p. 429: “…texts do not embody one set of ambiguous meanings but are themselves polysemic…carriers of multiple meanings.”
- Can anyone convince me of the value of audience meaning making and prosumption?
- p. 447: “Television is pivotal to the production and reproduction of a promotional culture focused on the use of visual imagery to create value-added brands or commodity-signs.”
- p. 448: From Baudrillard–“…a hyperreality in which we are overloaded with images and information.”
- p. 449: “…televisions–or at least the screens…–have escaped the confines of the domestic and gone public….’Tv’ screens are appearing everywhere.”
- You must have a comment about this point. Let me hear it.
- p. 455: Elana Levine–“‘The medium need not speak in a single voice to be a factor in the exercise of dominant interests, nor do its audiences need to engage in a single experience of television…”
We’re going to dive into capitalism/neoliberalism next week and discuss Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and “What Is Hauntology?” Don’t forget that your Critical Analysis of Media Essay is due in two weeks (4/13).
Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2001.
Toscano, Aaron. Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2020.