DJ Disney: Fairy Tale Remix 2.0 (circa 1937)

June 9, 2010

Introduction

Disney Money (http://www.flickr.com/photos/idogcow/244190746/) labelled for re-use

Remix culture has been around for some time, with the origins user content and creative integrity dating back to Ancient Roman times[1].  Yet it was not until the 20th Century where remix culture finally took hold in mainstream popular culture.

However, with the mass-distribution capabilities of the digital realm known as the internet, older media institutions and practices are taken aback at what could be a danger to their profit driven motifs. In numerous court and legal cases and examples of overzealous legal actions, these institutions have too often adopted a blanket approach to tackling the threat of the era of digital distribution.  Caught in the cross fire of these traditional media institutions and the copyright breaching internet pirates are the so called re-mixers.

Whist these re-mixers have existed since at least the first half of the 20th Century (in the form of art movements such as the Pop Art movement of the 1950’s and 60’s[2]), it is only now where the practices of these re-mixers are endangered courtesy of overeager enforcement of Copyright Protection.

There are numerous well documented case studies which illuminates the tensions between remix culture and older media institutions (such as the music, film and TV industries), yet there are also industries which have tolerated and even embraced the remix culture. However, the focus here will be on the foundation and the actions of Walt Disney Studios, in which numerous Disney Classics are in fact examples of the influence of remix culture.

Remix

Before we go into detail about the alleged creative and legal hypocrisy of Walt Disney Studios, we should take a step back and explain the cultural remix phenomenon.

Remix culture can be defined as the recreation or reimagining of existing user-created content in order to artificially manufacture new and unique content.  Whilst re-mixers may use other user-created materials, this does not mean these re-mixers are simply rehashing or knocking off the original creator’s work. Re-mixers are not only DJs or Vjs, but are included are artists, musicians and film makers. To ensure the intellectual creative rights of the original user are preserved, at the heart of remix culture, is an Ancient Roman concept known as the ‘enigma of rights’[3].

The past age of movie and animated production in which consumers and producers assume the roles of aggregators and distributors respectively is long past. Thanks to methods of digital distribution, the boundaries between consumers and producers are blurred into a phenomenon dubbed as ‘Read/Write’ culture.[4]

According to Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute, there are two differing takes on remix. “One remix is about individuals using our shared culture as a kind of language to communicate something to the audience. Stage two, social remix, is really about using it to mediate people’s relationships to each other.”[5] Disney’s take on remix culture is a materialisation of Sanchez’s former explanation of remix. On this foundation, Disney has now become the massive international media industry as we know it today.

Disney’s remix origins

Mainstream society mostly attributes the successful proliferation of remix culture to the rise of the internet, and they would hardly be incorrect.[6] However, remix culture can be traced back through the decades, proliferating through 20th Century art movements (such as Andy Warhol’s prints during the Pop art movement) and the term ‘appropriation’. Evidence of remix can also be found on the silver screen. In Hollywood, evidence of remix culture can be found in numerous movie adaptations and genre parodies. One of the giant media production industries of this day, Walt Disney Pictures, is a founding member of this Hollywood trend.

Many of Walt Disney’s early motion pictures were essentially rehashes and remixes of older stories and fairy tales that were available through the commons.[7] Take for example Cinderella (1950), Snow White (1937) and Sleeping Beauty (1959)[8]. They are all fairy tale compiled by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th Century[9]. Nowadays these movies are largely synonymous with the classic Disney adaptations of these traditional fairy tales, with many adults and children alike sharing memories of the Disney animated adaptations of these classics, and not the Brothers Grimm written versions. Even as recent as the 2010 Disney reimagining of Louis Carroll’s creation of Alice in Wonderland showcases the impact that remix culture still permeates its way through Disney’s creations.[10]

Going even further back in time, back to the vary origins of Disney itself; there is more evidence of remix culture. In Mickey Mouse’s third foray on the moving screen in the 1928 short animated feature Steam Boat Willie was based on the 1928 silent film Steam Boat Bill Jr.[11] Ironically, Steam Boat Willie has become the centre of attention in a US Congress debate over Copyright Laws and the Public Domain, which will be discussed later. It is justifiable to state that Disney’s very existence can be attributed to the successful adoption of remix culture. However as Disney had only remixed content from the public domain and the commons, Copyright protection laws have been used to

Copyright

The copyright laws of today were created with the intention of protecting the legitimacy of the creator’s content and the creator’s rights[12]. These laws also are instrumental in protecting company monopolies and profits over user created content. It would hardly be surprising if the latter statement has been a driving force behind Disney’s motifs; after all, most other traditional media industries are following this very same path.

Strangely enough, despite its very own foundation being a feature of remix culture, Disney is one of the legal heavyweights behind the copyright backed legal actions against remixes. The reverse however cannot be applied to Disney, courtesy of US copyright laws which state that sole rights to a patent expire 70 years after the creator’s death.[13] When content ownership and distribution rights are owned by a corporation, this expiration date can be extended.[14] Moreover, US Congress acts which extend copyright have prevented Steam Boat Willie from being released to the public domain, which will be discussed shortly.

A prime example of Disney’s overzealous legal action to defend its profit-driven copyrighted content is through Disney’s lawsuit against a group of cartoonists known as the Air Pirates is one such incident. Using the defence of ‘fair use’ in copyrighted material, the defendants argued for their right to use Disney images for the purpose of ridicule and parody in the Air Pirates numerous comic strips which usually depict Disney characters performing adult-related activities that fall well outside of the characters’ established personas.[15] It was only after a lengthy court battle in which the case was finally adjourned.

Furthermore, Steam Boat Willie and the image of Mickey Mouse have also been at the centre of Copyright Extension Laws in the United States. These Extension Laws have prevented the animated mouse from becoming a part of the public domain on at least four occasions.[16] However, in all these occasions, US Congress have in favour of Disney retaining the rights of the animated short film, to the criticism of supporters for the commons and the public domain. There was even a problem with the original copyright of the film itself, which may have automatically made it apart of the commons.[17]

Disney’s high level of reluctance and its refusal to release Steam Boat Willie and the image of Mickey Mouse into the public domain represents the convoluted remix nature of Disney Studios.[18] Whilst it appears the mechanical film reproduction and adaptation of fairy tale classics is acceptable, the re-interpretations and parodies of Disney characters are not.  In the words of Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Creative Commons License, Disney’s intentions and actions were undertaken “so that no one could do to Disney what Disney did to the Brothers Grimm.”[19]

In relation to the monetization of copyrighted material, Sanchez argues that Disney’s take on remix culture may be justified. “Copyright policy isn’t just about how to incentivize the production of a certain kind of artistic commodity; it’s about what level of control we’re going to permit to be exercised over our social realities, social realities that are now inevitable, permeated by pop culture.”[20] It is this level of control, in other words, which Disney has however refused to release, which remains a core issue in remix culture in general.

Conclusion

So does this all mean that Disney a hypocrite of its own legal actions and very foundations? Is this traditional media industry fundamentally at odds with Remix culture?

Whilst there are different perspectives from Walt Disney Studios from active re-mixers of Disney icons, there is much common ground to be found. Disney’s very own foundation was based upon remix culture, and example of an active embracement which has shaped Disney into the media production powerhouse industry it is today. Yet despite all this, Disney’s remix practices are justifiable under law as the content Disney has remixed belongs to the public domain, free for anyone to access and use how they see appropriate.

However, with all that said, remix culture should be entitled to find a legal, unobstructed access of remixing Disney’s works as Disney had been entitled to use existing content as the basis for many classic Disney titles. This presents an interesting dilemma, which does not necessarily isolate Disney away and at odds with remix culture, but rather a two-fold relationship. Disney only adopts remix culture when it benefits them, and not when the reverse is applied. In order to preserve the notion of the commons and the public domain, amendments to Copyright fair use must be made in order to justify Disney’s vary own practices, and to help preserve the continuing phenomenon known as the remix culture.

Bibliography

Presentations/Visual

Legislation

Books/ Web Articles


[1] Mancini, A. Ancient Roman solution to modern legal issues: the example of patent law, Buenos Books America, 2004, p. 2

[2] Livingstone, M., Pop Art: A Continuing History, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990

[3] Mancini 2004, p. 2

[4] Lessig, L. Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity, TED, November 2009, viewed on June 7 2010

<http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html>

[5] Sanchez, J. Evolution of the Remix, Julian Sanchez.com, February 6 2010, viewed on 6 June 2010. <http://www.juliansanchez.com/2010/02/06/the-evolution-of-remix-culture/>

[6] Lessig, 2009

[7] Lessig, L. ‘Chapter One: Creators’, Free Culture, Authorama, 2004, viewed on 8 June 2010, <http://www.authorama.com/free-culture-27.html>

[8] Lessig, L. ‘Re-examining the remix’, TED, May 2010, viewed on 7 June 2010, <http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html>

[9] Grimm Brothers, ‘The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. New York: Pantheon Books, 1944. ISBN 0-394-49414-6. (in English, based on Margarate Hunt’s translation)

[10] Disney Pictures, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Disney Pictures, viewed on 8 June 2010, <http://adisney.go.com/disneypictures/aliceinwonderland/>

[11] Lessig, ‘Re-examining the remix’, 2010

[12] Mancini 2005, p.1

[13] ‘Chapter 3: Duration of Copyright,’ Copyright Law of the United States of America, 1998, viewed on 5 June 2010, <http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap3.html#303>

[14] ibid

[15] Levin, B. ‘The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney’s War Against the Counterculture’, Fantagraphics Books, 2003

[16] ‘Public Law 105-298’, United States Congress, 1998, viewed on 8 June 2010

<http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-105publ298/content-detail.html>

[17] Menn, J. ‘Whose mouse is it anyway?’ The Los Angeles Times, August 22 2008, viewed on 8 June 2010, <http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/22/business/fi-mickey22>

[18] ibid

[19] Lessig, ‘Re-examining the remix’, 2010

[20] Sanchez, 2010

MDIA1001 Presentation Powerpoint

August 17, 2009

https://yaralla.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/mdia1001-prese…ion-powerpoint/

Final Blog – Identity

May 29, 2009

Herring, Susan. “Questioning the Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Constructions of Online Youth Identity.” pgs. 288-308

 In the last blog of the course, we perhaps arrive at what constitutes one of the most fundamental aspects of modern day media studies: identity. What perhaps primarily propel ‘media studies 2.0’ (Gauntlett, 2007) are us, Generation Y. Although this might seem overly simplistic and maybe even borderline narcissistic, there has never been such a radical shift in our understanding of the media for so long. However, this is the approach that many academic scholars not of Generation Y would say. They provide the definitions of today’s youth.

 A concept that Herring explores is the adult classification and interpretation of today’s youth as the “Internet Generation”. She argues that it was not technology that primarily influences the “Internet generation”, but rather our ideas which are expressed for the first time threw this medium. We can go further to argue that the Baby Boomers and Generation X were not so different to Generation Y. In the wake of the horrors of the Vietnam War, amidst the political and moral blurring of the lies between good and evil, the Baby Boomer (BB) Generation rose against their conservative parents, embracing ‘uplifting’ narcotics and freedom of speech. Their identity was broadcast through television spectacles of mass BB protests voicing their condemnation of conservatives. Yet despite this, many continue to insist that Gen Y is far more rebellious than their parents. Strangely enough, these opinions come from BB themselves.

Herring also goes on to define the identity of today’s youth. Today’s so called “Net Generation” is in fact not the first purely digital generation. Recollecting my own youth, I still remember my childhood devotion to children’s TV programs and endless Disney VHS’s. I also remember the confusing Title Menus of the then brand new DVDs. I remember when we got our first computer, shortly followed by dial up internet connection and how I spend hours fascinated by Microsoft word and internet flash gaming sites. I embraced these new changes.

 Yet, I remember the days of traditional board game and television entertainment, the days of analogue technology. It is not until 2050, as estimated by Herring, that a first ‘true’ Internet Generation will be clearly established and identified, where reliable accounts of the pre-internet life would be found in archives and historical accounts. By this definition, the identity of Gen Y cannot specifically be defined as the “Net Generation” but rather as the analogue-to-digital transitional generation. Herring concludes by suggesting that the adult construction of the “digital youth” as a generational identity signals the call for new approaches and rethinking of youth identity and new media research.

Week 10: Discourse

May 22, 2009

Macken-Horarik, M. “The Children Overboard Affair” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 26.2 (2003), 1-16

 Today, everyone ‘knows’ that media journalists lie to us. Everyone ‘knows’ that politicians lie to us. Yet the two social bodies are highly trusted and hence greatly affect our social values, beliefs and morals. But sometimes, that trust is manipulated to turn our society for political reasons. Alan Jones did this with his inflammatory remarks about the homogenised demographic of Muslim men. The Cronulla Riots shortly followed.

Using Kress & van Leeuwen’s works as a basis for her analysis of media discourse, Macken-Horarik (MK) aims to address the “analytical challenges of multimodal texts as they contribute to production of racial anxiety about asylum seekers.” Specifically, she is analysing the media actions surrounding the 2001 Children Overboard Affair.  

She primarily highlights the use of the concept, multimodal metalanguage, by politicians and journalists during the media blowout of the scandal. Multimodal grammar enables writes to “create meaning through interacting communicative resources such as the visual…and layout.”

Specifically, she refers to the use of visual-text articles in the media, where the visual image would be the foundation of the text. Using a Daily Telegraph front page extract as the highlighted example of this relationship, MK highlights the issues of its multimodal usage in the Children’s Overboard Affair. The by-line of the article indicates to the visual image as “proof” or visual ‘evidence’ of children being thrown overboard by asylum seekers.

Quoting van Leeuwen on the visual-text collaborative media usage, “words provide the facts…that ‘need to be said in so many words,” images provide interpretations…and do so…by suggestion…by appealing to barely conscious, half-forgotten knowledge.”

 In assessing the use of multimodal grammar in the manipulation of images, facts, events and text, the impact of such misuse is profound; the consequences of the actions of Governmental figures and the media coverage that followed had a significant negative impact on our society’s beliefs and values, with societal resentment against “illegal” immigrants still echoes to this today, as highlighted by the recent examples of the intense media focus on the more recent asylum seekers.

Week 9 : Meaning in War Reporting

May 15, 2009

Lukin, A. “Reporting War: Grammar as Covert Operation” Dissent (2003), pg.14-20

“Truth is the first casualty of war.”

During the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, a predominate memory which stands out in my head is the 24 hours coverage of the conflicts. Images of warplanes, tanks and coalition troops were broadcast over all major forms of media. What we see in the media has had a mass impact on public opinion relating to the Iraq War.

The author of the reading, Annabelle Lukin, aims to “explore the ways in which grammar can conceal and distort real meaning”. Specifically, she focuses on how the use of grammar in media reporting during the Iraq war and influence or sway public opinion. “Grammar is our most important resource for creating meaning…Grammar is a theory of reality.”

Lukin puts forward several concepts and ideas about the use of Grammar in war reporting. The use of language and words themselves are used to shape used and distort certain facts to take a certain angle or approach to reporting a story. As Lukin says, the ‘facts can’t speak for themselves. The ‘facts’ only emerge by being ‘out into words’”. In other words, it is through the carefully constructed sentences of media release statements and journalists that certain aspects of ‘facts’ are highlighted and emphasised.

Another concept is the use of active and passive effective clauses to highlight her aim. She uses two headlines as examples for analysis: “Coalition forces dropped bombs on Baghdad” and “Bombs fell on Baghdad”. The active voice of the first headline hold Coalition forces as specifically responsible for bombing Baghdad. The passive voice enables the choice laying responsibility on Coalition troops, but the latter headline chooses to competently omit the human agent of ‘Coalition forces’. Using this clause, it was as if the bombs somehow made their way to Baghdad, as if it just happened, revoking responsiblity from the coalition soldeirs. Using the words of former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld says, “Stuff happens.”

In assessing Lukin’s point, she raises interesting aspects and ideas about the use of meaning within the reading highlights the persuasive and distorted use of grammar and words  in war reporting. From my personal experiences, the grammer of war reporting and the impacting meaning they have upon the audience, greatly sways public opinion, both towards and against the war. This form of war reporting is bound to continue in furthur conflicts.

Week 8: The Diffused Audience

May 8, 2009

Couldry, Nick. “The Extended Audience: Scanning the Horizon.” In Gillespie, Marie. Ed. Media Audiences Berkshire: Open University Press, 2005, pp.184-196 & 210-220.

Over the past decade, the rapid integration of digital technology into everyday life and culture has developed a new kind of media and a new kind of receptive audience.  It is due to vast technological change that has led to a need to revaluate the ways in which media audiences are studied in modern society. The primary purpose or aim of Couldry’s text is to “consider the methodological issues involved in the research of the contemporary media audience.

The primary concepts and ideas raised by Couldry revolve around these changing media audiences. Primarily, the role of digital technology has had a profound impact on contemporary audiences. Over time, media audiences have become spatially dispersed. Couldry identifies three phases in the development of the media audience, but focuses on the most encapsulating term to describe today’s contemporary audience is the ‘diffused audience’. It is the ‘diffused audience’ that is the subject of talk in this reading.

With the total immersion of our lives and the permanent intertwinement of media and everyday life, we are presented with realisations. Reinforced by Abercrombie and Longhurt’s argument where,”the media and everyday life have become so closely interwoven that they are almost inseparable.”

The emergence of digital technology has led to a more interactive, mobile and responsive audience to which media producers must not attempt to capture.  Media today has shifted away from the temporal broadcast system that once appealed to the ‘mass audience’. In this attempt, audiences are now bombarded and surrounde­­d constantly by media. This is again reinforced by Abercrombie and Longhurt’s argument where, ‘being a member of an audience is no longer an exceptional event…rather it is constitutive of everyday life.”

But is this really a negative aspect of the ‘diffused audiences’? Although there is the age old argument of the media being a monolithic entity whose sole purpose is to manipulate and brainwash its audiences.  The ‘diffused audience’ has dispelled this notion, with media becoming more spatially orientated, resulting the reduced power of traditional media organisations.

Today, members of the media audience have the power to become media performers as Couldry suggests. With the redistribution of media audience viewership being split between multimillion dollar media organisations and everyday people armed with a $20 webcam. This break in authority may become the defining feature of the ‘diffused audience’.  Media researchers say that the media audience is ‘central to the way we understand and organise how the media operates.’ Perhaps this is true in many different ways.

Week 7: Networks

May 1, 2009

Rizzo, Teresa. “Programming Your Own Channel: An Archaeology of the Playlist”. In Kenyon, Andrew, Ed. TV Futures: Digital Television Policy in Australia. Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Press, 2007, pg. 108-134

With the increasing significance and the perceived dominance of the new age of spatial viewing, traditional broadcast and temporal viewing are seen as dying. How this is so is highlighted in this reading, as outline in this reading, which aims to address issues related to the notion of the playlist and the personalisation of media.

The two main concepts and ideas raised by Rizzo were the creation of the personalized playlist and the notion of ‘flow’.

In the reading, Rizzo makes a connection with the personalized playlist to democracy, quoting Rob Cover who says “a desire for democratisation of the media process, by which I mean the desire or demand of audiences for co-participation in scheduling….and engaging with media and entertainment.” This ‘democratisation’ is the result of spatial viewing, which has given us the ability to create our own personal ‘playlist’. Here, we can see and view whatever we desire. As highlighted in Tivo’s (a Personal Digital Recorder) advertising slogan, “TV your way”. This choice that audiences possess can be seen as a ‘right’, in a context to that of democratic politics.

An interesting portrayal of this ‘democratisation of the media process’ is seen with the case of Youtube: Broadcast Yourself, where several countries around the globe (all non-democratic) have been known to block Youtube or at least certain videos related to sensitive national issues in those countries. It is perhaps this fear of Youtube, with its slogan “Broadcast Yourself” that non-democratic governments fear and attempt to quell, often with force. It has given power and information to almost anyone with a computer, and internet connection (sometimes even without a computer, as a mobile phone would be suffice). The singular power authority of Broadcast Media is being undermined by spatial media networks.

The broadcast propaganda of these regimes so very little difference in its content. It encourages unity amongst a nation’s populace; perhaps in a manner similar to William’s Flow, which ‘enables unity, (but) inhibits difference”. William’s flow characterised the dominant nature of temporal viewing. Although he intended this to be related to broadcast viewing, it can be applied to other networks as well, such as entire populaces as in the exampe above. Broadcast media have a certain agenda or attitude that it wants audiences to adopt. As suggested in Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 theory, it is about where you can create information and content, and not just passively view and absorb it. It is as Rizzo says, “what users do with the flow rather than how flow is created.”

The argument of Deleuze & Guattari’s reinterpretation of William’s network ‘flow’ characterizes today’s new spatial rea­lm of television and media entertainment. Of course the theory is not perfect, as not everyone possesses a PDR or even access to digital television. Also, temporal & broadcast viewing still enjoys large popular in today’s networks and societies. Spatial media has not taken over temporal media, at least not just yet. Broadcast Media still enjoys a substantial amount of power. However, with the increasing popularity of personalised media, what would result in this new networked world of spatial viewing (and sharing) will perhaps permanently shape the course of human history.

Week 5: Mobility – The intertwinement of mobile technology and social communications

April 9, 2009

Ito, Mizuko. “Mobile Phones, Japanese Youth and the Replacement of Social Contact.”In Ling, Rich and Pedersen, Per, Eds. Mobile Communications: Re-negotiation of the Social Sphere. London: Springer – Verlag, 2005, 131-148

This reading has been one of the most interesting to me personally, mainly because the issues, reasons and logic behind mobile media (particularly texting) according to Mr Mizuko’s research is largely accurate by my own personal accounts.

The key aim being addressed by Mizuko is set to be analysing the apparent upheld belief (spread largely by popular media) that mobile media are destroying traditional household and authorities structures.

His research shows otherwise. By recording all forms of communication in-between the research subjects (largely mobile taechnology); he shows contrary evidence to suggest otherwise.

Instead of breaking down or destroying social hierarchy, Mizuko argues a key concept that mobile technology is rather a way of bypassing the hierarchy or social structure, in such a way that mobile technology is now accepted in its most frequently used forms.

By his research, Mizuko concludes how “the prevailing social norm is that no-voice mobile communication is permissible”, more precisely the use of mobile emails or text messages. Whilst voice communication over mobiles may be inappropriate at times (such as in uni lectures and tutorials) text based conversations are more permitable, being quite and discrete. If I recall correctly, the guest lecturer in the most recent ARTS1090 lecture (it may have been another lecture) said that text messaging was okay, but not voice conversations with each other.

Another concept raised in the reading is the creation of a rather new world of constant social communication through mobile media. With many people rarely ever turning off their mobiles, mobile technology has provided the means of constant social contact. Mizuko uses a text message conversation between a college couples as an example. Speaking from personal experience myself, I can clearly relate to this case. After spending a day with my plus 1, we usually send a series of text messages to each other, attempting to prolong our day which we spend with each other (albeit without physical contact).

Nowadays, there is little ‘alone’ in social communication, even when you may be physically alone at home. Whilst at home, mobile technology and the internet have strengthened social communication when physical contact is not possible. MSN Messenger, for example, represents a continuous text based conversation(s) with up to multiple people at once. If however, I have a desire to talk to one person or only a select few, then I personally use the ‘Appear Offline’ option, where you can see other contacts online, but they cannot register you as being online. Essentially, it can act as a one sided mirror (those used in police line up rooms). However, with mobile phones, it is common courtesy to reply to a text message of answer a phone call. We are technically never ‘alone’ thanks to mobile technology.

The live feed updates on Twitter and Facebook further enhance this notion of the “shared online space”. The option on some mobile phone carriers to have Facebook or Twitter applications on mobiles has further strengthens this notion of constant social communication.

Nowadays with mobile technology, we are now never really alone. There is always someone just a press of a button away. This is the social world in which we live in today.

Week 3: Time

March 27, 2009

Hartley J. (2004). “The Frequencies of Public Writing: Tomb, Tone and time” In Jenkins, H. And Thorburn, D. Democracy and the New Media. MIT Press, USA, pp 247-269

“…condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century…and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.” (http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/003POF03SpaceEffort09121962.htm )

These were the words of former US president John F Kennedy in 1962 at the Rice University in Houston, expressing a philosophical point of view for the need for the US to expand its space program. Whilst Kennedy referral and meaning of ‘space’ is different to that of John Hartley, there approach on time is the same.

In the most recent years of human history, technology, our way of thinking and living have changed rapidly. In just 100 years (a mere fraction of the time that humans have existed) we have come from the Wright Brothers flight craft to the space shuttle. As Kennedy above points out, it seems that it is in the most recent years of human existence, there has been a higher frequency of occurrence of almost everything: Inventions, intellects, ideals and more recently through the media, perhaps most predominately journalism. Hartley’s main aim is to inform the reader about the nature of the varying ‘frequencies’ of which journalism (as well as public writing and other media forms) act in the past and in postmodern times.

Hartley’s 2 key concepts and ideas seem to be the intertwining relationship between technology and the temporal realm (time). Here, people are rather connected through time, rather than space. As technology advanced, the information and news we receive gradually became quicker. With the invention of Gutenberg’s press, news became daily. With radio and television, they became hourly. With the advent of the internet, information can now be sent and received across the globe almost instantaneously. People in different parts of the world now can receive information simultaneously. Physical space and distance are no longer issues concerning the transfer of news and information. It is the domain of time that now constitutes most of our society.

“…people are identifying with “virtual” communities based on coexistence in time, not coextension in space.”

For example now, the high frequencies of social sites such as Twitter and Facebook (which have live feeds that update instantaneously) have perhaps strengthened Hartley’s assessment. These sites tell us what we, our friends, their friends, and their friends ( and so on) are doing, reading, writing, posting, talking and even thinking at almost any given moment in time. We no longer need to be physically in the same place as our friends or any other people. We bypass the spatial realm. Through a computer and an internet connection, we are all linked together (as Hartley suggests above) in “virtual communities”.

At first Hartley seems to be providing a warning of sorts about high frequency media, at the very end, he concedes that is just perhaps that the very foundations of society are shifting: “Democracy itself may be migrating from space-based technologies to faster, time-based ones.”

Week 2: The Remote Control and the Couch Potato

March 20, 2009

Disciplined and Disciplining co(a)gents: The Remote Control and the Couch Potato.

The remote control and the couch potato. Stereotypically, the 2 fuse together to produce one of the most recognisable images in recent times (take Homer from the Simpsons for example). However, the text puts forward a rather unique and interesting perspective to this age old stereotype.

The author’s key aim is to highlight our changing habits with new technology (as the title of the book, “In Reconnecting Culture, Technology and Nature” suggests). In this reading, the author uses the remote control as the technological device which has altered our human habits.

The main key concept behind the author’s argument is ‘disembodiment’. This is in relation to how the remote control is making the human body rather redundant as the author phrases it, “There is a sort of bypassing of the body…” where it is almost perceived to the extent that the human mind is directly controlling what it wants to do (in this case just simply switch channels). A form of existential control so to speak. Although we are technically still using our body (primarily our fingers) and hence are not completely disembodied, the author uses the term in more of a metaphorical sense. According to the definition of ‘disembodied ‘in the Collins English Dictionary,

1. Lacking a body or freed from the body; incorporeal.

2. Lacking substance, solidity, or any firm relation to reality.

Using the first definition, the author uses the physicist Stephen Hawking as an example; the author highlights his case for disembodiment. “Hawking himself is not a body…but a pure mind that is in unmediated contact with the cosmos.” Despite being physically crippled with motor neurone disease (http://www.bbc.co.uk/cambridgeshire/science/2003/10/stephen_hawking.shtml), the author has pointed out that he is a true genius, his physical disability doing nothing to damper his mind. Through technology (in this case his artificial voice box) he bypasses the human body the “medium of communication”, making it redundant. However, the author does acknowledge that Hawking and his technologies that have enabled him to communicate his thoughts and ideas are maintained through the help of Hawking’s assistants.

However, the second definition paints or more less idealic picture. In today’s domestic society, the introduction of the media of television along with its companion device, the remote control, have created a new generation of “unhealthy”, “unproductive”, “uncultured” and “uncivic” behaviour. There are stereotypically known as couch potatoes. Using Green’s (1995, p. 78) definition, a couch potato is “one who is addicted to watching television and does this while lying on the couch, as an inert and brain-dead as a potato.” In the introduction of the text, the author admits his guilt in practicing “couch-potato-ness” and it is rather embedded in our society, with nearly everyone participating in this lifestyle.

But really, assessing the author’s argument, we see how imbalanced his case of disembodiment is. Hawking is a rare case. On the contrary to the number of physically impaired, intellectual geniuses, how many people are there on the other end of the spectrum? How many completely able bodied people are there who refuse or reluctantly use any form of physical or intellectual activity, preferring the rather mundane routine of the coach potato? The scale tips vastly under the weight of the physically heavier of the two.