Tag Archives: news stories

The Cloud: Harbinger of Potential Paradigm Shift

This relates to the previous post about technology and cultural change. In the news lately has been mention of Apple’s jumping onto the cloud bandwagon. As you probably know, this model of data purchase and storage keeps one’s files in the ether, so that they are accessible to you from any device with an internet connection. [cue inspirational music] No longer will our hard-drives be plagued with the tyranny of space-hogging music files! No longer must we contemplate whether or not to download that latest movie or television show! Now, we can just stream them, more or less, anytime we want, because these companies know that we own it.

This has curious implications for society’s concept of ownership. This type of technology uses an ownership-as-access model, rather than the more traditional ownership-as-possession model. Instead of physically having something (however broad the definition of “physically” has become recently because of all this technology), what we now have is access to that something any time we want. This change has been prepared for, I’d argue, because of previous technology like digital music (to replace physically tangible entities such as vinyl records and CDs). We have become accustomed to gradually separating the idea that we have something with the physical existence of that something. And we seem to be accepting it. Perhaps it’s not problematic at all, but I can see scenarios where this (new?) association of ownership with access, rather than possession, could become legally complicated. Or, it may become the case that because ownership is becoming dominantly associated with access, that access will come to stand for–or at least will become associated itself with–possession.

In any case, this seems to be an important, underlying paradigm shift that is not getting quite the attention or discussion that the miraculous new technology itself is getting. Maybe we’re heading toward a more communal model or ownership–where we all together own and help to store the things we consider ourselves to have. But I highly doubt people in America will think of it that way. These music files I’d essentially share with the large companies who store them for us, and the millions of other consumers who have access to them, are mine.

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Filed under Contemporary, Technology

Profitable Discourse: NBC’s “Education Nation”

There have been quite a few ads for this new segment/series on NBC stations. While conversation about the state of education is great, what struck me was that this feels like a corporation seizing upon a sexy topic–one of concern for many citizens–and capitalizing on it. After all, news conglomerates are businesses. For-profit businesses. To get advertisers to buy space, they have to ensure that people will consume the news they disseminate. Hey, people seem to be worried about education–let’s create a series, website, and blog that speaks to those concerns.  That’ll get them to watch! And how handy: a catchy, rhyming title. They’ll associate our name, our logo, our news brand, with what matters to them! 

Discourse (much of which has been created or at least fueled by the mass-media, let’s not forget) is yet another opportunity to build the brand. By associating NBC with what is perceived to be a social good–public education–capitalism wins again. These ongoing, mediated conversations promise to “make a difference” to viewers and participators…and to the corporation’s pocketbook. It’s profit masquerading as a practical response to national discourse and those topics that are latched onto in waves of hand-wringing and fist-clenching. Capitalism in the trappings of populism.

To piggy-back on the idea of public discourse, the fact that national news corporations now deal with broad topics of concern is symptomatic of how our society interacts. We think of ourselves as a nation. Locality is still there, but we pay overwhelming attention to things that are perceived to concern our state, our country as a whole. The village we belong to has grown. Our community has become televised, and our neighborhood is now online. These are gross over-generalizations, of course, and it would be worth exploring whether or not this move to exponentially larger circles of community and the ways in which they are mediated is mirrored by a refocusing on ever-smaller local identities, such as towns and neighborhoods. As we strengthen our national identity, do we simultaneously cling to the micro-concerns of our local identity?

Either way, news corporations have us covered. Oh boy, are we covered. They know what we care about, what will make us watch, and they know how to get us to care about things, as well. Perhaps this move shouldn’t be derided too much, as it probably will lead to productive conversations about how to improve the educational system, whether those conversations lead to actual positive changes or not. It’ll be interesting to monitor this series and its partner website to see what NBC decides to focus on. And it’s always worth looking critically at things from different perspectives, especially if they seem oddly benevolent.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media

Beef So Fresh It’s a Cash Cow

Turning life into food isn't free

First, a disclaimer–this is neither well-thought out nor well written. Also, here is the NPR article that goes with this picture. Photo credit is Greg Zabilski/ABC. Now to the somewhat predictable spin-off rant:

The host of this show (human pictured above) apparently wants people to think about what they are eating. And to think about it as a good American consumer would: in terms of how much it costs. This is veiled in the guise of encouraging more healthy eating (does cheaper automatically equal less healthy?). I’m not criticizing his project as a whole, just pointing to a few implications it has, or, more accurately, the delicious implications of the image above. (I’m also not criticizing the NPR story, which is focused on different issues and is worth reading for itself, especially if you want to know more about the TV show that this image is from.)

I frequently (some might say obsessively) use bovines to explore a lot of cultural issues, and this image and its accompanying article smacks you in the face with a few of them: animals-as-food, commodification of life, and placing monetary value on the spoils of death, to name a few. This cow is being used as a powerful device to illustrate to people how much they are paying for which cuts of meat. It is powerful, for one reason, because the connection between the live animal and its edible products are normally not illustrated so graphically. Cash value has been physically inscribed on a live animal that will, ostensibly, be killed and eaten. This cow stands for the idea of nutritional value for one’s money, and stands for all the beef that Americans consume. (I do wonder if the show at all addresses how value is added to cattle and the various cuts of meat they become…and this reminds me that I should really re-read and do a book review of Shukin’s Animal Capital.)

Honestly, I just love how blatantly monetary value is inscribed on this animal–it becomes a thing, a commodity, right before our eyes, even as it continues to embody movements that might be construed as independent and life-like. But this animals isn’t given a subjectivity of its own. Rather, it is made an object of education; a symbol of itself as a heavily used commodity in the U.S., of American eating and spending habits, of many things, just in this one image. The human next to it uses the animal and makes it mean certain things for his audience; lays his hand on its shoulder as if its body were a blackboard–as, indeed, it has been visually manipulated to become. It is on a leash, and at any moment the man can pick up the other end and have this mobile blackboard tethered to him–the man is in control of this might-as-well-be-dinner educational tool. (Unrelated note: wtf is with the washing machine in the right-hand corner?) This animal is marked for consumption–both as a commodity and as an eventual collection of differentially priced food items.

I just find this all very interesting, is all, and when I come across images such as this one which so clearly capture America’s relationship with food animals and consumerism, I squeal a little inside and have to share it. Mmm…semiotics!

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Filed under Beginning of the Body, Bovinity Infinity, Commodification, Contemporary, Media, Television and Movies

A Fragment: Practice Makes Meaning(?)

I had this half-baked thought back in March, when I read the headline of a news story about the possible impending government shut-down in the U.S. It’s sort of still relevant, topically, and the argument I jump to from the topic is almost always relevant, so here we go:

In the news story, the possibility of the (then) current government shut-down was automatically compared to that of 1996. Maybe this is a valid parallel, but it might not be. The contexts of the shut-downs, the possible causes, will necessarily be very different. They are located in different socio-historical moments, after all. But in mass-mediated news, even publicly-funded news outlets, those contextual details get lost in favor of familiar narratives and neatly packaged parallels. And then future historical narrative–as presented by the media, at least, and perhaps high school text books, will remember the parallel and constructed similarities of the incidents, if it remembers these two incidents at all. (Maybe they won’t–maybe they’ll stress the differences. I can’t predict the future. But the two incidents will, in all likelihood, be compared and packaged together in some way. The will reference one another and thus imply similarity.)

The larger point is that, regardless of context, political discourse and the way in which it is structured, both internally and as a genre with all its connections and within the wider culture–and importantly, the ways in which it is mediated to various segments of society (pundits, the public, the politicians themselves, etc)–makes these instances meaningful. In this case, the mediated political discourse makes the parallel a talking point, maybe even an accepted truth, because of the way that political discourse and the media frame events–stripping them of context to make that neat parallel. (This argument just got dangerously circular, but hopefully it’ll pull out.)

Other types of narrative and rhetorical tricks and performatives exist as well, parallelism is just one of them. One easily understood and accepted by the masses, perhaps because it is so often relied upon to make the news familiar and digestible. To make the masses return to particular outlets for their updates, to make students remember things in history classes. Familiar narrative structures win over the unexpected and un-categorizable. The latter is just an unexplainable horror until it can be narratively stretched and twisted until it fits into a safely shaped box.

Anyway, one point I want to return to is that use makes meaning. Saying it and repeating it makes something true: political discourse and historical narratives like patterns. Patterns are safe. And the patterns become reality. The idea that meaning comes from use is a tired argument, itself, and the basis for a lot of anthropology, but it seems to hold up when confronted with fieldwork data. (But perhaps we anthros are just making that fit into our own familiar, underlying-premise box. Disciplinary existential crisis warning!) Back to the topic that started this whole fragmented musing, reporting things makes them relevant to the debate; to the voters; to the election. The media and the pundits do have power: they have the power to shape the debate. And on a larger scale, the historians have the power to shape the grand narrative. Not sure exactly the ways in which those two entities are related, but they are…maybe someone else has the energy to unpack that messy box.
Returning to the potentially obvious conclusion, meaning comes from use, and performativity. Practice proves it. Maybe.

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Filed under Contemporary, Media