Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Making Meaning with New Media

How have new media phenomena like YouTube changed the way people interact with so-called "old" media? I'm fascinated by the ways in which Internet- and software-savvy people make and re-make meaning out of "what's presented to them" in media such as radio, television, and film. If, for example, a longstanding assumption in television studies has been the originary "encoding" of meaning by the television production apparatus (studios, corporate sponsors, directors and producers), how does the Internet allow users to not just "decode" televisual meaning but alter the terms by which code as such plays out in multiple media? In other words, after the rise of YouTube, is it possible to even speak of an originary moment of encoding that elicits practices of (audience) decoding? Or is it that YouTubers practice modes of encoding themselves -- ones that might be even more potent, durable, "popular," etc., than their small-screen counterparts?

These questions extend the pathbreaking audience-reception work of scholars like Stuart Hall and Henry Jenkins (who, it should be said, is actively pursuing new media inquiries that relate to his earlier scholarship). But there's also a general cultural awareness that things like YouTube are fundamentally challenging the encoding/decoding model of networked communications. "You" (you users of Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, etc.), after all, was Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2006. Much has also been made of the fact that the best clips from Comedy Central's The Daily Show enjoy a "life" on YouTube that lasts well past the show's television broadcasts. And who could forget the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle Snakes on a Plane? It's been said that this movie's trailer, which was widely circulated on the Internet and which featured hilariously farcical dialogue about "motherfuckin'" snakes being on "motherfuckin'" planes, was the primary force behind its relative theatrical success.

Part of the mission of The Paperback Museum is to note the sundry social and cultural consequences that flow from unprecedented user "control" over old media "texts." For it cannot be taken for granted that such "control" is in fact "real," available to everyone, or properly "free" from the hierarchical constraints of old media consumption. Wary child of consumer culture that I am, I cannot fully give myself over to the rhetoric of consumer "choice" in certain realms of new media association. What are we "choosing" when we supposedly seize control over how we consume media? Why is making meaning for "ourselves," with the help of new media technology, such a seductive concept in our day and age? Are there ways in which even that act of personalist meaning-making is being commodified and put into the service of what might be called the "hidden hand" of new media regulation?


lex said...

Yes. I love this post and I love this whole project. (But that was to be expected.) I can only land here for a moment...but I want to talk more about this idea of consumer control...through Benjamin. With all of these ways of being a participatory consumer...what is a producer. One of my students, Rachel Weeks, coins the term "conducer" in her senior thesis on the ethical fashion movement. I wonder what exactly this moment is conducing? Inducing? Conducive to...

Kinohi Nishikawa said...

Thanks for the comment, lex! Oooh, I want to hear more about this notion of conducer. For me its related verb form implies a processional movement. From the web: "To lead or tend, esp. with reference to a favorable or desirable result; to contribute; -- usually followed by to or toward." It's this intransitive state -- of something always being conducive TO or TOWARD something else -- that strikes me as interesting. To "be" conducive is to be situated as a medium rather than a coherent point ("producer," "consumer") in a closed system of exchange. An act (of will, of imagination, of creation) flows outward from she who is in a state of being conducive. It's a position, we might say, of heightened receptivity and constant enabling. We can read Benjamin in a new light through such a lens. Clearly I'm willing to run with it. Thanks for sharing this with us!