This media diary assignment has certainly been an illuminating opportunity to critically engage with my media consumption tendencies and habits. Self-monitoring my media intake this week has certainly been an interesting task, and it has really forced me to take a closer look both at my media habits and also the relationship of my habits with some of the theories we frequently invoke as students of mass communications.
I was first of all struck by how difficult the demarcation of media consumption from other facets of daily life has become. I’m a product of the “rabbit-ears” pre-Nintendo generation, so I still have strong memories of growing up in a house where the TV had its own room you had to visit for your media consumption. Setting times for video media consumption (or limits, in the case of my parents) was facilitated by its distinct separation from the rest of daily life. Now, though… An individual can scarcely function today without access to a personal computer, and on the laptop, live, new, media feeds aren’t an issue of heading back to the TV room, but of sliding the cursor a few inches down and clicking on that shiny orange-and-blue Firefox icon. It makes it so hard to differentiate “media” time from “non-media” time. It’s all sort of become one amorphous blob of existence, the only dividing line is no longer physical space but simply self-control.
I also noticed a nuance of the “parasocial interaction” concept I’d never noticed before. Parasocial interaction is typically formalized as the use of pseudo-relationships with media characters to encourage behavior change, but I’d never really thought about just how the principle works. Traditionally, I feel like the parasocial relationship component has been characterized as kind of a long-term commitment by the audience to consume a certain media text. Strangely, though, this week, when I was sick and stuck at home, I was also very lonely (OK, maybe that part isn’t so strange). What was strange was my tendency to turn on the Netflix not so much for deliberate media consumption, but rather just for the sense of human voices in my daily life. I wasn’t experiencing deep connections with the characters of these programs, but at the same time, just the sound of their voices echoing in the living room while I wallowed in my disease was strangely comforting. It filled the void left by failure to attend class or engage in other social pursuits. I’m still struggling with what this means, exactly, but I can’t shake the thought that it must be significant.
Third, I also noticed the media’s obsession with itself. I’ve read about the phenomenon in the past, this kind of fundamentally narcissistic, yet simultaneously self-deprecating introspection in the mass-media (in case you’re wondering what I mean, just try an episode of NBC’s “30 Rock”). There were a few moments this week where it was really laid bare for me. I mentioned that I spent some time in the videogame world of Sony’s “Playstation Home.” What I neglected to discuss at the time is that in “Playstation Home” it is possible to visit movie theaters or to purchase a TV. Theaters and televisions that work. Theaters and televisions that actually deliver on-demand content. At one point this week, I realized that I was actually watching my avatar watching a real-life movie (“Resident Evil”) on a TV on my TV. (It was pretty Inceptiony.) Truthfully, it was reminiscent of the old idea of life imitating art. I also sort of complained about this dynamic in discussing news stories about Obama’s “Costanza” moment. The media commenting on real-life imitating media which itself was an attempt to imitate life. Some of the critical-cultural literature touches on this, this sort of cycle of cultural repetition in which media content tries to replicate what it sees in real-life, but in turn is imitated by its audience trying to replicate what they’ve seen on TV. While reading it in the literature is always tantalizing, suddenly observing myself in just such a cycle was unsettling, to say the least.
For that matter, I also think that this dovetails into the pressure on the modern media to “sell itself.” In the Fuchs piece we read for last week, Fuchs cited the classic Smythe observations on the economics of media “the audience commodity hypothesis” (2012, p 145). While Smythe’s analysis suggests a startling crassness in a media system willing to turn it’s audiences into commodities to be sold, the truth is that it does so (sometimes clumsily) with itself, as well. The obsession with “franchises” in Hollywood cinema today, for example, is dangerously dependent on the notion that it will be easier for the media to sell itself as a repackaged version of the same product over and over, rather than as something innovative or new. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is a great example. The first film in the series was fantastic. The second, though, was horrific. Literally a giant circuit of plot, despite the trials and tribulations of the characters involved, the film ended EXACTLY where it began, and it ended quite (and no, I’m not making this up) in the middle of a scene. There was no resolution, no end to the action, the entire film was just a giant, two-and-a-half hour commercial for the next installment in the series: completely without merit as a standalone text… Lame…
I should be careful, though. There were some pretty amazing moments in my media experience this week, as well, some of which I didn’t document as well as I ought to have.
Without doubt, my favorite media moment of this week was one that I didn’t even enter into my diary, as at the time I didn’t think too much of it, but looking back, was actually pretty special. Thursday of this week, my girlfriend excitedly called me from the dining room. “Jon, Jon! You’ve got to see this!” She began.
She began playing a clip on her Weibo account.
It was Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” the ridiculous viral hit from a Korean pseudo-pop star mocking life in Gangnam, an affluent neighborhood in Seoul. (I actually lived near Gangnam for over a year, and I can testify that although hyperbolic, the clip is actually a pretty good mockery of the lifestyles there.) If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, though, you’ve already heard “Gangnam Style” eleventy-billion times, and although it is certainly catchy, you don’t particularly care if you ever hear it again.
Because of my burnout with the song itself, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, and as it wasn’t media I’d self-selected (nor did I sit through the entire clip) I didn’t bother to enter it into my diary. Looking back, though, that was a mistake.
These days, hit pop songs are invariably treated to a million different revisions. I’ve seen a dozen different remixes of the “Gangnam Style” video. I’ve seen at least a dozen different reshoots of the video with individuals emulating Psy’s signature “galloping horse” style dance move (it’s even more ridiculous than it sounds). I’ve seen the song reproduced by the marching band of the Ohio University. I’ve even seen an “Angry-Hitler” (itself an internet meme) remix of the video. The clip my girlfriend had found was a reshoot of the original song made by students (cadets? ) at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. While the video was cute, there wasn’t anything particularly special about the video, and so I didn’t really think about it at the time.
Looking back, though… holy crap…
I was seeing a U.S. military cover of a Korean pop-song being hosted on a Chinese social media website. (Even thinking about it now sends a shiver down my spine. So I’m going to retype that sentence, as much for my own edification as for yours, dear reader.) I was seeing a video of U.S. military personnel covering a Korean pop-song on a Chinese social media site…
Despite the fact that my media journal has been pretty cynical over the last week (I’m a fairly jaded consumer), just thinking again about that little two-minute clip inspires in me a sense of awe and wonder about the modern state of media. Maybe I complain too often about the commodification of consumers, about the death of privacy in the emergence of social media, about the hegemonic implications of arguing for U.S.-centric media policies as a tenet of social media. Once you push past the mechanics of the media as an institution or the theories surrounding media as an object of study, digital clips of smiling U.S. sailors galloping around the docks of the USNA while singing songs in a language they don’t understand subtitled in a language that I’m pretty sure nobody understands become a pretty amazing summation of the contemporary social media experience.
What an amazing time to be alive.