Dances with Dial-Ups
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Tracing & Erasing in Meedia Res
In discussing deliberative oratory we have spoken about the relative greatness of various goods, and about the greater and lesser in general. Since therefore in each type of oratory the object under discussion is some kind of good – whether it is utility, nobleness, or justice – it is clear that every orator must obtain the materials of amplification through these channels (II, xix, 1393a 11-15).
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Jenkins' original claim that he is representing rather than critiquing Convergence Culture loses its effect in the concluding chapter. Jenkins identifies the most controversial claim of the book as resting upon "my operating assumption that increasing participation in popular culture is a good thing" (p. 259). He further states that "having a sense of what a more ideal society looks like gives one a yardstick for determining what we must do to achieve our goals" (p. 258). It becomes clear at the end of the work that he is very explicitly making a normative claim about the nature of the way we ought to relate to the phenomena of Convergence Culture. Granted he employs a critique that toes the threshold rather than casting an all encompassing epistemological net.
Despite the rhetoric about “democratizing television,” this shift is being driven by economic calculations and not by some broad mission to empower the public. Media industries are embracing convergence for a number of reasons: because convergence-based strategies exploit the advantages of media conglomeration; because convergence creates multiple ways of selling content to consumers; because convergence cements consumer loyalty at a time when the fragmentation of the marketplace and the rise of file sharing threaten old ways of doing business. (p. 254).Jenkins sees the threat however solely within the terms of economics and marketing. The missing link is two fold; first an analysis of what most of the cultural products of capitalism are for, are they merely for whimsical enjoyment or an ideological strategy and secondly, an analysis of the ways changes in convergence culture materially affect those that sustain the system as a whole. Neither of these turning points of analysis should necessitate dogmatic responses; one can see the benefits of becoming conscious of activity outside of the confined notion of the economic sphere or the ways that increased information sharing has made people more globally aware of international living standards etc.
This is the result not of a law of movement in technology as such but of its function in today’s economy. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness. The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters are denied any freedom. They are confined to the apocryphal field of the “amateur,” and also have to accept organisation from above.While the new advances in technology were limited to the more passive type and subject to political and ideological forces, the emergence of autonomous knowledge cultures and zones of collaboration challenge the original hierarchies that emerged. Youtube and Vimeo, Internet Radio and Wikipedia are potentially the “machinery of rejoinder.” These advances change the rules of the game because the divide between amateurs and professionals etc is no longer such an obsession. Rather the rise in organic forms of organizing and communicate seem to hold revolutionary potential. Jenkins reading of Benjamin makes this point as well. Yet the question of how relate to the culture industry cannot be limited to just forming rules ethical consumption or social contracts. Convergence Culture often acts as an opiate or mask. The question is not one of being resistant to pragmatic reforms and compromises, but ensuring that the frame by which we approach the problem as a whole does not drop out. Adorno and Horkheimer write;
All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralisation of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same. The way in which a girl accepts and keeps the obligatory date, the inflection on the telephone or in the most intimate situation, the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry.While we should not let the process of demystification blind us from the potentials in the present, it remains necessary to expose the ways that the culture industry exists is the medium through which the masses “insist on the very ideology which enslaves them.” The divide between life experienced for work and for pleasurable/cultural activities is a falsity that is sustained by commodified forms of pleasure. Convergence Culture however increasingly blurs the lines, as well as the distinction between the personal and the political. Jenkins occupies a delicate position between Adorno and Levy, yet in a brilliantly reflexive fashion. The question is for all the abstract theorizing about the nature of Convergence Culture the real question becomes how to deploy that knowledge from within to alter the structures above and about.