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December 11, 2006

Media History in a Global Age

Tonight's discussion about globalization generally, and the question of the media in a global age specifically, raised some of the best questions of the semester. Thanks to everyone who spoke tonight. I hope to hear from more of you in the comments section.

To re-hash questions from class: Do we live in an era of globalization? If so, what defines it as such? (Canny folks will note here how this definition--of living in a certain historical "age"--goes very much against what I said last week about envisioning the present not as part of long and deep historical eras, but rather as a shifting field of questions and problems. Perhaps someone wants to engage with my own gaps in logic.) Is globalization good or bad (or more complicated than simple good or bad discussions)? Is "globalization" simply a cover for US imperialism, as one student suggested, or is it something else? (and, if so, what?)

In short, this question opens up a plethora of crucial topics...

December 5, 2006

Infotainment/News Parody

Last night was an interesting discussion, but I wish more of you would've added to our talk about the current media environment. The main questions I was getting at were these: why has comedy based on the news proliferated recently? Is this just a coincidence, or does it tell us something about how we think about the truth of the news itself? Also: is the rise of "infotainment" journalism something problematic, that raises troubling questions about the news media's role in providing information to citizens in a democracy, or is it something that's simply the collapsing of previous ways of doing things, which were themselves historically specific constructions. In other words, is infotainment something worth worrying about or not?

December 4, 2006

A Video for Tonight's Discussion

Tonight we'll be talking about news parodies, such as The Daily Show. Here's a video we'll watch in class.

November 28, 2006

The Media and the President

Well, we didn't get a full-scale debate going last night--thanks to everyone who played along, though--but I think we got at some really interesting questions and ideas surrounding how new media technologies have affected U.S. politics in the 20th century. Along with a continuation of our discussion from last night, I left class with some questions of my own that we could perhaps address in the comments section of the blog.

Were the effects of radio and television on Presidential politics different and, if so, how? We discussed radio being a better forum for conveying information, but there was also a question about whether it was as compelling as television. Are the effects of mass media on politics positive or negative? Last night I think the voices for negative won out, but I think there's a lot more that could be said about this topic. Other thoughts?

November 21, 2006

Magazines and the Middlebrow

Last night's discussion raised some interesting questions and, once again, this thread is a space to continue the conversation. I'll throw out some starters, but feel free to add your own questions in the comment section. First, what do people think about my (deliberately suggestive) comment that society is created _through_ these magazines rather than being something that somehow exists behind or underneath them? Are the "broader" magazines such as Time and Newsweek still relavent when compared to the more specialized or market niche products (and, if so, what does this tell us about who and what we imagine ourselves connect to when we read these things?)

November 13, 2006

Politics/Celebrity

Once again, I found our class discussion/workshop of celebrity politicians to be insightful and interesting. Each of the groups came up with good theses to explain the phenomenon of the celebrity politician (although I think my thesis was in fact the weakest of those put forward...)

Here's some questions to think about or respond to in the comments (or, as always, feel free to continue our in-class discussion topics): is the phenomenon of the celebrity politician something that is increasing, decreasing, or unchanging? How has the role of the popular culture celebrity in politics changed throughout the twentieth century? What, if anything, is the difference between a star's fans and a politicians supporters? How do popular culture celebrities claim to have the authority necessary to represent voters in politics?

October 24, 2006

Group Projects (Follow Up)

Once again, I was really impressed and excited by the presentations to class last night. It looks like every group took interesting photographs and found evocative images in the database to compare and contrast to them.

In addition to opening up a forum for any additional comments, I left class with my head full of questions after looking at all the images. Mostly, I'm wondering what larger arguments we can make after comparing student life now to that in the 1930s and 1940s. How do we explain the seeming move from formal dress to increasing informality? How do we interpret the seeming increased role of technology in everyday life on campus (and the uneasiness about it)? Do we have evidence, as several of you suggested, of a move from community to individualism? Several people mentioned the overwhelming preponderance of "choice" in contemporary photos, and I'm wondering if we might make a larger argument about how "choice" and its analog, "freedom" (thanks for the idea, Hussein), are essential to making sense out of our contemporary world. How do people feel about all this choice and freedom?

October 17, 2006

More Photography

I particularly enjoyed our class session last night. I think all the groups did a great job in finding, analyzing, and sharing an image from the FSA/OWI digital archive. Next week's presentations should be really interesting.

I left last night's class with a number of questions that we can hopefully continue thinking about here. Looking at the images from presentations, does Roeder's claim that WWII imagery led to viewing the war in simple dichotomies still hold up? After all, these were images that had their roots in the 1930s imagery we saw in class? I also wonder if anyone had more thoughts about how we could draw connections between the 10 images presented in class? We discussed some, such as the primacy of work, questions about segregation/integration and who counts as American. For example, what other ideas did people have in looking at the image from a Montana bar with a sign prohibiting Indians from buying beer? Was the photo supportive, ironic, hostile... In short, I think there were some great ideas mentioned in class and I'm hoping there will be more added here.

October 10, 2006

Media, Empire, Photography (Following Up)

Once again, I want to open a thread so that anyone with thoughts about last night's lecture, history lab, or reading has a forum to share their thoughts. I found this chapter from Wexler's book to be really thought-provoking, as it asks us to think about the connections between the domestic imagery common at the turn of the century and the simultaneous emergence of an American overseas empire. Did anyone else enjoy the reading? Did anyone find it difficult? Did anyone disagree with Wexler?

And Wexler's argument opens up this larger question about how we can "read" photographs for clues about how people imagined their world in the past. Our lab focused on war photos, but I'd like to suggest that this exercise could be repeated for almost any photograph. Are there other photographic styles or themes you can think of that might reveal clues about the past? Is it too much to describe photographs as "created" given that they do, in fact, simply record light on silver particles (or pixels, today)? How else might we think about photographs historically?

October 3, 2006

Race and Entertainment (follow-up)

We didn't get the chance to discuss the lecture, readings, or movie last night, so I wanted to post this thread and give everyone a chance to speak their mind. At the core of last night's work was the connection between race in U.S. history and forms of popular entertainment, such as blackface minstrelsy and wild west shows, that have turned racial tensions and stereotypes into entertainment. On the one hand, last night's movie painted a fairly bleak picture of how stereotypes of African-Americans have been created and perpetuated through media representations. Other scholars have suggested that the story is more complicated, arguing that the interracial hybridity underlying much popular entertainment means it is open to multiple interpretations, including those that work against rigid stereotypes. What do you think? How do representations of race and racial difference operate in popular entertainment today? Are certain forms of representations more pernicious than others and, if so, which ones?

September 26, 2006

Gender and the Media (follow-up)

Once again, I really enjoyed our discussion on gender and the media last night during class. If I had to summarize my main points from the lecture, I would say this: gender is a social construct, not a biological fact. And, once you begin thinking about gender as a “constitutive element in social relationships� and a key framework for organizing relationships of power, then you can use the lens of gender to analyze not only historical events and ideas, but the world around us as well.

So that’s my point, but I heard from several of you and hope to hear more of your ideas on this topic. I left last night with a ton of questions, hopefully we can discuss some of them here. If gender is something different than biology, how do we make sense of the correlation between the two that takes place in biology labs and psychological testing (e.g. showing that men are more aggressive than women because of increased adrenaline levels)? I hope someone will challenge my take on this issue. Perhaps people have more to add on our contemporary gender norms. And comments about the readings are welcome as well.

But there were other questions. How should we resolve the tension between media corporations existing as business entities, with an imperative to make money, and as servants of the “public interest� (although, as we discussed last night, that’s a loaded word)?

September 21, 2006

The History of Newspapers

I just wanted to follow up on our class last Monday (Sept. 18). First, I enjoyed the class and was glad to see everyone engage with some online historical documents. We'll continue to do the history "labs" throughout the semester. Additionally, I think we raised some really interesting questions about the relationship between journalism in the past and in the present. Hopefully, we can continue the discussion in the comments section. I'm sorry that we didn't get into the specifics of the readings this time, but we'll do that as we move forward.

Finally, to summarize my main points from lecture, I want to emphasize that the words and ideas we often take for granted in current discussions of media and politics, such as "bias," "objectivity," and even "news," have particular histories. And, if we trace any of these ideas backward through time, we can see how they are not static and unchanging definitions, but concepts that emerged in specific places and times for specific reasons. And, reflecting the most basic lesson of history, they have changed drastically over time.

Those are my thoughts. Would anyone else like to add their own?