519/1030: the medium and the message

Once upon a time, there was a Canadian professor who had such a low opinion of literature studies students in the 1960s, or such a high opinion of advertisement and commercials, that he started teaching poetry analysis with media like newspapers. Then in 1964, this once literature professor, now media scholar, published the controversial Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man from which the famous saying comes: “the medium is the message.” With this, Marshall McLuhan started a trend that everyone seems to want to follow, including the French semiologist Roland Barthes. While not citing McLuhan directly, Barthes’ article “The Photographic Message” would not exist without some preconception of the argument that the “channel of transmission” affects the content of the transmission so much, that it becomes the transmission (15). That is, as McLuhan would say, “the personal and social consequences of any medium- that is, of any extension of ourselves- result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs […] by any new technology” (107). Or, said in my own words, the form of a medium has so much autonomy that it can affect the content and make it mean something it may not have in another medium. That is, the medium can control the message. In the end, the medium itself carries so many signs, and the message is so bound up within these signs, that the content of the medium does not seem to exist without the medium. It cannot conceivably exist.

That all sounds much more complicated than it has to be. Trying one last time to articulate it, there is a strain of media studies that believes in technological determinism and that one cannot study media without considering their form and their affect on the message. So there. It is with this understanding that I approach literary text, especially when it is put into contact with other media via intermedial references.

However, before assuming “the medium is the message” again, let us consider the two terms in isolation, since I must be able to have working definitions before I can begin manipulating them.

I will start with defining medium, which is often used in its plural form, “media.”  Historically, a medium is a tool, material or technique wielded by a user (an artist/designer, etc.) and used to communicate/accomplish something.  For example, cement, marble, paint, clay, and charcoal could be considered media and the term is often used this way in an art setting.
Now, medium is referred to the technology that allows something to be communicated: radio, television, print, digital coding, etc.
Media can be print or in-person: Text in books, on billboards, in newspapers, etc., sound waves
or electronic and broadcast: Recorded sound, recorded (moving) image. How it is broadcast can be distinguished between analog means or digital (via code). Hence, one can consider the physical qualities of the film, cassette, vinyl record, versus the “invisible” quality of the internet and mobile devices.

In his chapter “The Photographic Message,” Barthes considers the medium of the press photograph. He is concerned with its form as an “object endowed with a structural autonomy” (15). His definition of medium doesn’t stray beyond what I’ve explained above in that the medium is a physical object that transmits as message. However, McLuhan extends the definition of medium to include anything that changes the ways humans can interact. So to him, the light bulb is a medium, since it “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (108), and  it allows us to work and play at night and see in the dark corners of our brain during surgery. Because McLuhan’s definition allows for such a varied ascription of the term, medium is not as easy a term to pin-down as I would like. I may find myself stating that I will only define television and text as media and avoid getting too far into general definitions.

Before actually trying to define the two terms, I thought message would be the more difficult of the two, even if it is a term most readers have an intuitive understanding of message. However, it turns out both are difficult terms to define.

A message (not the thing left on the answering machine, but the one we come into contact with whenever we come into contact with media) is a meaning,  idea or sense of something. It is always conveyed by something, which is why some people say the message is inextricable from the medium, but there is something we talk about when we say “message of this is this.” In the old “form vs. content” debate, the message is the content. Despite these clear statements, defining a message is actually very difficult, since it is an abstract, variable concept. For example, Barthes considers media transmitting two messages, a denoted and connoted message. McLuhan considers that the message of a medium is not the one (or two) message(s) we consider we are being transmitted, but the way in which the medium has changed human interaction. Add to these messages the infinite possible messages an audience or recipient receives based on their/his/her subjective position and interpretation, and one has many possible messages given by one medium or subject of inquiry.

Really, if anything, this attempt at defining  message and media was nice, and may be useful as a general introduction, but I don’t know if I have a working definition yet. Talking about them in general terms is probably what makes it difficult to understand. Once I start using examples, I believe I will be able to work with the terms better.

Now I have to figure out how to integrate this into my dissertation later in a productive way. Sigh.

Works Cited:

Barthes, Roland, trans. Stephen Heath. “The Photographic Message.” Image Music Text. London: Fontana, 1977. 15-31. Print.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium Is The Message.” Media And Cultural Studies: Keyworks. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006. 107-116. Print.

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37/1030: “moving images” and migrant representation in television news

This may seem a bit ironic, but I am not going to include an image in this post. I’m a pretty logo-centric writer…

I wanted to make a post about this article for future reference. Terrance Wright makes some excellent points about visual media in general, and news media in particular, that I have explored before in preparing my PhD project… but I’m always looking for a better way to say things. This is one:

The images we see on our television screen play a crucial role in determining how we construct our reality. One of the consequences of our “digital era” is a considerable reduction in communication through language, in favour of relying on the visual image to tell the story. (Terreance Wright 53)

Wright’s reference to the digital error and our changed methods of telling stories are vital to the ultimate question I ask with my dissertation- how does literature changed? Maybe it’s not the migration literature that calls for intermedial references, but just new literature… and a lot of this new literature happens to be migration literature.

I could use this as a counter-argument to address in my dissertation. I also want to be able to return to the exchange created between Michael Ignatief and Richard Rorty. Both are presented as recognizing television as vehicles of moral change. Ignatief: “television has become the privileged medium through which moral relations between strangers are mediated in the modern world” and Rorty: “the novel, the movie and the TV program have, gradually but steadily, replaced the sermon and treatise as the principle vehicles of moral change and progress” (54).

Things to refer to in more detail should I need to. Enough for now.

Work Cited

Wright, Terrance. “Moving images: the media representation of refugees.” Visual Studies, 17:1 (2002). 53-66. Web.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.

30/1030: Migrants in Switzerland

This is it. I have less than 1000 days now. I’m in the three digits, but I’m feeling pretty okay with where I’m at. I have an important scholarship to apply for, but I now have something to prove that I won’t slack off on this project, even while on vacation. A part of me is looking forward to time in December without classes  to do some writing. I really need to do my literature review.

But this second day of classes has been useful, too. Visiting at least one class a day is successful in that I am being forced to consider new ideas and renew old ideas with new information. For example, today I started attending a “Representation of Migrants in Media” seminar. Since I’m working with intermedial references in migration literature, I figured I should get a better idea of how migration is treated in communication media, not just literature or film.

So far, I figured out that I have been making assumptions about media representation that I need to reexamine. For example, I took for granted that there will be deficits in the media when it comes to migration, because the migrants themselves would have little access. However, one article I found (British expats in Portugal) discusses how these expats make migration a “lifestyle” and their own media production allows them to perpetuate their expat existence without integrating into the Portuguese culture. Therefore, while lack of migrant Selbstbeteiligung is a deficit, producing media does not always break the “us/them” dichotomy.

I also learned that I have a bit to learn about how these kinds of studies are led, and how to talk about Aussagen by real participants, not the fictional characters of my lit. books. I learned even more, but will end this post with my contribution to the seminar’s discussion board. I suggested this article to the class and below is my explanation why:

In Joachim Trebbes und Philomen Schoenhagens Artikel wird die Rezension von Migranten über ihre Darstellung in den Medien diskutiert. „To avoid misunderstandings: this is not about self-perception of an (ethnic) social group“ (413). „[T]his analysis focuses on the perception and estimation of the representation of ethnic minorities on television by the people concerned“ (414). Trebbe und Schoenhagen besprechen die Ergebnisse von eine quantitative Studie, in der 6 Gruppen Migranten und Schweizer Staatsbürger mit Migranten Hintergrund Gespräche durchgeführt haben. Es sind Migranten in die Schweiz die vom Schweizer Medien reden, aber die deutsche Medien sind nicht sehr anders. Dieser Artikel ist einer der wenigen, der von Migranten in Schweizer Medien geredet wird. Ich fand die Einfuehrungsqualitaeten vom Artikel interessant und hilfreich.

Der Artikel fängt sofort mit dem Thema von “uns” und “sie,” also “us/other” an. Dann fährt es fort mit einer Beschreibung von die drei häufigste “deficits” von Media Repräsentation von Migranten: “underepresentation or marginalization,” “[e]thnic groups are divided into categories of good (useful) and bad (not useful) foreigners,” und “negative contextualization or framing” (413). Es gibt weitere Einblicke in wie man über Repräsentation in den Medien reden kann.

Aber mich interessierten auch die Aussagen, die Medien Repräsentation widersprechen.

Zum Beispiel, “The majority of the respondents expressed that they feel like they have a positive double identity and feel rooted in Switzerland as well as in their country of origin. ‚I feel at home in both worlds, I can be Swiss and Turkish ad the same time.’” (417). In unsere Medien werden Migranten oft als „voll integriert“ oder mit „integrations-Probleme“ gezeigt.

Jedoch würde ein Artikel von K. Hafez, (2002) “Türkisch Mediennutzung in Deutschland,” der paar Mal erwähnt wird, mehr Einblicke zur Deutschland geben

Als Extra, habe ich diesen Zeitungsartikel gefunden, was als interessante Beispiel für unsere Diskussion über „Repräsentation“ und „Produktion“ benutzt werden kann: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157917484/Warum-Fluechtlinge-Mecklenburg-Vorpommern-lieben.html.

Work Cited: Trebbe, Joachim and Philomen Schoenhagen. 2011. “Ethnic Minorities in the Mass Media: How Migrants Perceive their Representation in Swiss Public Television.” Journal of International Migration and Integration 12 (4): 411-428.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality.