- Media Criticism
- Media Criticism Review Questions
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, in Dialectic of Enlightenment”
The culture industry mass produces culture (“mass culture”) that is an instrument of deception.
- culture industry
- mass culture/mass art
- autonomous art
- light art
- bourgeois art
- pseudo individuality
- l’art pour l’art
- How is the culture industry similar to the producers of automobiles and bombs (121)?
- How is mass art formulaic?
- According to Adorno and Horkheimer, how is the “whole world made to pass through the filter of culture industry” (126)? What are the consequences?
- What is the ideology of the culture industry (137)?
- How does a mass culture product reinforce that ideology (137–149)?
- How does mass culture reward conformity—and punish outcasts (150–154)?
- Why is mass culture “cheap” (156–161)?
- How does mass culture break from history (165)?
- According to Adorno and Horkheimer, “the triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled enough to buy and use its products even though they seem to see through them” (167). Are we living in such a coerced society that we are happily deceived by mass culture?
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
Mechanical reproduction destroys the dependence of art on ritual to politicize (democratize) art as never before possible.
- cult value
- memento mori
Questions by Professor Florence Boos.
- How have changes in reproduction altered the relationship of art to an “original” object, and how has this changed “the authority of the object”?
- What are the special features of film, according to Benjamin?
- What was once the relationship between art, tradition and ritual? Has this changed?
- How has the film enriched our modes of perception?
- What is the relationship of Fascism to art?
- What does it mean to say that “Fascism renders politics aesthetic,” and that Communism politicizes art?
Tania Modleski, “Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women”
Despite their derided cultural status, romance novels and soap operas provide powerful sites of identification and resistance against a patriarchy and domination.
- domestic novel
- soap opera
- the “rake”
- Gothic novel
- Harlequin romance
- According to Modleski, why has the romance form been ignored by scholars as opposed to other forms of the “grand tradition” (11–12)?
- What three (four?) fiction forms does Modleski consider (15)?
- Why do scholars of the nineteenth century domestic novel, according to Modleski, disagree with the ideal of domestic, marital life for women (22)?
- How do the “domestic” novels and soap operas portray men, according to Modleski (23)?
- Modleski argues that mass-produced fiction for women contains “elements of protest and resistance underneath highly ‘orthodox’ plots” (25). How does that challenge Adorno and Horkeihemer’s argument about mass culture reinforcing ideology of domination?
- How does Modleski challenge the Frankfurt School’s argument about mass culture being uncritical and subordinate to autonomous art?
Lev Manovich, “The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production”
The proliferation of user generated content on the web has challenged Michel deCertau’s concepts of strategies and tactics, whereby users still tactically outmaneuver the strategic data-mining of social media sites.
- new media
- mass media
- user-generated content
- According to Manovich, what is the difference between “media” and “social media”? What has made that possible?
- Why does Manovich question whether the “mass production of cultural objects by users in twenty-first century…represent a further stage of development of the ‘culture industry’”?
- What is the difference between strategies and tactics as defined by Michel deCerteau?
- Why according to Manovich are strategies and tactics “linked in an interactive relationship”?
- How does the emergence of Web 2.0 change our relationship to art?
John Berger, “Ways of Seeing”
In this excerpt of his well-known book, Berger frames classical oil painting and contemporary publicity (advertising) in the context of a patriarchal and consumerist cultures, respectively.
- What does Berger mean when he writes that “men act” but “women appear?” Who is inherently the subject and object of the artwork?
- What is the difference between nakedness and nudity, according to Berger’s reference of Kenneth Clark?
- Berger references the ideal nude as a woman as composite of various women. Accordingly, how does “glorify man?”
- How has publicity (advertising) assimilated these the techniques of oil painting?
- What is the relationship of representation to ownership and consumption in oil painting versus publicity (advertising)?
Lynn Spigel, “The Domestic Economy of Television Viewing in Postwar America”
Post World War-II discourses surrounding television’s place in the home struggled to contain the division between labor and leisure for women in the domestic space.
- What is the historical division between labor and leisure, according to Spigel?
- How did television challenge the traditional division between labor and leisure, especially for women?
- How did the television industry idealize the woman as a television viewer in the domestic space?
- How did magazines at the time attempt to contain the dual functions of women as television viewers and as domestic servants?
- What does surveying household magazines in the post–World War II years demonstrate us about notions of gender, domesticity, and modernity, vis–a–vis television?
Susan Douglas, “The Turn Within: The Irony of Technology in a Globalized World”
Despite the rise of more connected communications technologies and the need for television to respond to an international conflict, TV programming and culture have taken a “turn within” towards forms such as reality TV, celebrity TV shows, and “news you can use.”
- technological determinism
- global village
- cultural narcissicism
- news you can use
- How does Douglas challenge Marshall McLuhan’s notions of the “global village” and media as “extensions of man”?
- Why was it important for media to look outside at the dawn of the 21st century for media?
- What has been the result of the inward turn of mass media in the twenty-first century?
- What kinds of programs have thrived because of this turn within?
- Why have young people turned their backs on broadcast news? Have broadcast news failed these young people?
- Has there been any resistance to the inward turn of mass media in the twenty-first century?
Herbert Schiller, “The Corporation and the Production of Culture.”
Most culture is produced, distributed and controlled by a decreasing number of corporations despite the increasing variety of cultural forms and genres.
- culture industries
- symbolic content
- Who is the main stakeholder of mass culture?
- In addition to technology, what other factors have led to the corporatization of culture?
- What has changed in terms of the concentration of ownership?
- What is the ideological effect of the “heavy public consumption of cultural products and services?”
- What are some factors in the market economy that have promoted the “upsurge in the culture industries?”
- Why are newspapers an exception to the “transnationalization” of the culture industries?
- Why do big cultural firms allow “small-scale and relatively independent activity to continue to exist in cultural work?”
- How does mass culture “deceive” its audience and hide the “means of production” of mass culture?
Michael Curtin, “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era.”
In order to maintain their relevance in the post-Fordist economy, television networks evolve into neo-networks that have what Curtin called “edge” to appeal to narrower and narrower audiences, instead of an undifferentiated mass audience.
- network era
- What is Fordism? and Neo-Fordism (or post-Fordism)?
- What are the five dimensions of post-Fordist flexibility?
- How did corporations form the mass, national audience in the twentieth century?
- How did the late–20th century fragment this audience?
- What is edge and how does it make a fragmented audience?
- How is “edge” distinct from mass culture? How does it share a common purpose?
Hector Amaya, “Citizenship, Diversity, Law and Ugly Betty”
A program like Ugly Betty reflects a tension within the media industries between racial ethics and profit in representing and marketing to Latinos.
- equal employment opportunity/affirmative action
- corporate liberalism
- What was the purpose of Latinos (and other minorities) advocating for equal employment opportunity/affirmative action programs in the 1960s?
- Why did US television networks look to the telenovela for reaching a new audience?
- What are some primary motivating forces for corporations to embrace diversity programs?
- How has the meaning of diversity changed from the 1960s advocacy to the post–1980s liberalist, consumerist idea?
- Why are Latinos an important audience for US television networks to attract?
- How did Ugly Betty allow for ABC to both do something racially ethical and profitable?
Mark Andrejevic, “The Work of Being Watched: Interactive Media and the Exploitation of Self-Disclosure
With the rise of digital technologies, surveillance has changed from being a top-down power structure where users are monitored to one where users voluntarily surrender their personal information to private corporations.
- How has surveillance been used in pre-digital work environments?
- Does Dot-Com’s experiment of broadcasting his life around the clock suggest a break from a top-down model of surveillance?
- How do interactive digital media depend on capturing and processing personal data?
- How does TiVo use personal data in a way that was impractical in the mass media age?
- How does digital media ultimately take personal information and put it in the custody of private companies?
Tom McCourt and Patrick Burkart, "When Creators, Corporations and Consumers Collide: Napster and the Development of Online Music Distribution”
With the emergence of Internet, corporations saw digital distribution as a way to cut the costs of physical distribution of music, but consumers saw music and digital networks as a disintermediating platform.
- How did the recording industry traffic in a scarce resources, such as records and compact disk recordings? How does the Internet and its abundance challenge this notion?
- What was “Internet Nirvana” for the recording industry?
- How did consumers subvert the plans of the recording industry via peer-to-peer sharing?
- What events have transpired since this article? How do iTunes and Spotify challenge the assumption that the recording industry lost the battle of online music distribution?
Lawrence Grossberg, “The Affective Sensibility of Fandom”
Instead of looking at fans of popular culture as dupes or passive consumers, Grossberg proposes examining why popular culture matters to its fans, how it affects them, and how fans can read, resist, and recuperate the meanings of the work for their own purposes.
- How does a critical view of popular culture, versus high culture, mirror the regard for women’s romances as described by Modleski?
- Why does Grossberg disagree with using the term “fan” of popular culture as a synonym for consumer of mass culture?
- How do fans exercise different “sensibilities” towards a popular text?
- How does a fan’s affect for a popular text determine how much it matters?
- How does contemporary consumer culture transform the consumer to the fan?
- How does fandom enable democratic political struggles?
Mizuko Ito, “Japanese Media Mixes and Amateur Cultural Exchange”
Japanese otaku culture encompasses a variety of media forms and active practices of remixing and remaking, suggesting ways that youth fan culture is always active.
- What is participatory culture? How is it ordinarily a marginal activity?
- How does otaku compare to Grossberg’s definition of a fan?
- How is participation central to yugioh and card-trading activities?
- How do girls participate in doujinshi that suggests an active remaking and remixing practice?
- How is amateur cultural production of otaku cultures at odds with elite and high-brow concepts of culture and education?
Peter Dahlgren, “Mediating Democracy.”
The public sphere—an essential component of democracy—is challenged by the commercial nature of media, its representations, the social structures that define it, and our own sociocultural interactions.
- public sphere
- How is democracy both and separately defined as a form of consumerism and as a utopian ideal?
- Why is the public sphere important for democracy?
- How was the public sphere constituted at the dawn of the enlightenment in the 18th century?
- How did industrialization and mass culture change the participants of the public sphere? How did it lead to a refedualization?
- Explain each of the four dimensions of the public sphere, according to Dahlgren?
Stuart Cunningham, “Popular Media as Public ‘Sphericules’ for Diasporic Communities”
The concept of the public sphere appears too monolithic when accounting for the pluralistic cultures of diasporic communities that constitute public spheres within and across a particular place.
- public sphere
- How do physical diasporas with a critical mass of a population differ from those that are connected by media?
- How did the Vietnamese communities in Australia use music videos to connect to their homeland?
- How does media allow for public sphere activities to occur for a displaced, diasporic populations, such as the Vietnamese and Fijian immigrants in Australia?
Lauren Berlant, “The Theory of Infantile Citizenship”
By using the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. as defining moment in making a citizen, television as a national hegemonic media both challenges the “infantile citizen” but also reinforces the ideal of the nation.
- infantile citizenship
- How does have past narratives about the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. reinforced and challenged the reverence for American democracy?
- How does Lisa Simpson win a contest to travel to Washington, D.C.?
- How does the discovery of Rep. Bob Arnold’s corruption shatter her illusions of the strength of “The Roots of Democracy?”
- Can we think about the metaphors that she uses in both her original essay and her critical one that caused a ruckus? Roots, trees, saplings? Swampland and stench?
- How does the sequence after “a little girl has lost faith in democracy” help restore her faith in “the system?” How does it not restore our own faith in the system?
Laurie Ouellette and James Hay, “Makeover Television, Governmentality and the Good Citizen
The makeover genre of reality television offers a glimpse into how television in general has adopted the role of making “good citizens” in a post-welfare, neoliberal state.
- welfare state
- makeover television
- What happened to the welfare state after the 1980s and the age of neoliberalism?
- How does makeover television, as a genre of reality television, function as an instrument of personal intervention and of “remaking government”?
- How does television replace the nation-state as the agent of making good citizens?
Sasha Torres, “Television and Race”
Torres outlines two different ways to think about race and television. The first is a survey of how television bundle “race” with persons of color along the backdrop of social problems associated with racial otherness: poverty, drug addiction, racial oppression. The second is a consideration of three conceptual models for thinking about race and representation, specifically related to television: the stereotype, race as a social construction, and racial representation in the service of capitalist ideology.
Available as an EPUB and a PDF.
- Rodney King video
- racial formation
- What were some major milestones in representing blackness as a social problem on network TV, according to Sasha Torres?
- Why did the Rodney King video bring together “desperate urban poverty or senseless urban menace” in the popular imagination?
- How is race depicted as a social problem and as a commodity in the “Harris Family” episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
- What is presented as a racially defined “urban poverty” when Ty Pennington proclaims, “Alright, guys, so welcome to Watts. It’s not exactly Pleasantville. And I think a lot of people are quite frightened of it, to be honest with you” in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
- Why is Torres critical of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’s representation of the problems in Watts and the “belief that poor people need consumer choice rather than political choice?”
- Torres suggests that recent television treats race in a different way than it had during the network era. She argues that television now deploys "race, racial identities, and racial styles not to signify social problems, and not to display minoritized others for a majoritarian audience, but rather to garner as many fragments of the post-cable audience as possible in order to sell them to advertisers.” How does her argument compare to Curtin’s argument about the neo-network era?