Monday, November 22, 2010

Parks' "Planet Patrol"

In "Planet Patrol" Lisa Parks explores the use (and misuse) of satellite imaging and how practices such as anchoring can be used to manipulate interpretations of images.

A key point about the perception of satellite images lies in the knowledge of the person analyzing the image in comparison to the knowledge of onlookers. The history that surrounds the use of satellite images gives them some type of prestige and authority because they are something that only the government usually has access to, and they are typically used in contexts of national security. But as Parks points out, the satellite image is only an approximation of an event - not the real thing.

The ambiguity between what the images actually are and what they can be portrayed as is problematic. Because the public is less familiar with satellite imaging, the public can be easily deceived by anyone of authority who interprets the image for them. As the example with Powell showed - the less people know, and the less clear and precise the strategy or explanation, the easier it is to manipulate their perception successfully. This ambiguity allows for what`s referred to in the article as a "strategy of deception".

Rebecca's presentation did a great job of explaining how anchoring of images is done and also how it can manipulate perception. It's not just about the photo, and it's not just about the person's perception - a photo must be prescribed with something to be convincing or manipulative. Whether it's tabloids, advertisements, or even a photo caption in a magazine - when something is added to a photo that supposedly gives context, it totally changes a person's interpretation of what it is - whether the given context is true or not, it provokes certain thoughts.

While this article discusses anchoring specifically in relation to satellite images, the same types of techniques are applied to events and people in public relations to shape public opinion. A lot of public relations is about establishing lines of control so that the public gets their information from one "trusted" source. Making sure that people don't get the information from other sources is key to successful persuasion and key to maintain that ambiguity to allow for the strategy of deception. I think that lines of control were key to the anchoring of the satellite images as well. The public couldn't obtain those images for themselves, and nobody had seen them before - so everyone was relying on Powell's interpretation. Nobody at the time could contradict him, so most people trusted what he said.

Also, a lot of images - not just satellite images - are partial and selective, which is why they can't be taken as objective truth - even if they're not given some sort of prescription or anchored context. Even a simple camera shot is not objective - the photographer has an angle in mind and forces the viewer to look at something in a particular way, a particular light.

Parks is urging the reversal of the anchoring process... I think the trouble with this approach for increasing awareness is that a lot more plays into the public's perception than simply anchoring. Sometimes people want to believe what they are told. It needs to be taken into account that a person's politics and education affects whether or not the person accepts what an authority is saying about the image. It's not always about if the fact is true or not - it often comes down to the politics a person values. I'm sure a lot of people realized that Powell's explanations of the satellite images were total crap - but they liked hearing a reason to invade Iraq and go after Saddam. While the strategy of deception played a major role in manipulating the public's thoughts, the anchoring of those satellite images was not the only dangerous tool used to get the public's support.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Culture Industry

As Drew said in his presentation this week, "The Culture Industry" is a highly critical article and takes a very pessimistic perspective on American culture. The authors undoubtedly have reason to be concerned about the effects of US capitalist style production on culture and society. Taking such a strict view on American culture is narrow-minded and makes them out to be elitist. Furthermore, when they describe that High Culture is the only worthy form of culture, they seem even more elitist and I think they are wrong. Nevertheless, the article is thought provoking and encourages readers who are immersed in US capitalism to critically examine the media that surrounds them.

There are a couple of concepts that really stand out in the article. The first is the idea that mass culture is identical, and the second is pseudo-individualization. I see how both of these apply to American culture, but it is not as extreme as the article describes. To me, most of the blockbuster movies are all the same: all the love stories, comedies, and horror movies that are released to the big screen to make big bucks tend to follow a certain predictable formula. Also, I think advertising tends to spin every product as if it is new and unique, when 30 other products just like it are already on the market. Ads that are targeted to particular demographics speak to consumers in a way that makes them believe they will be unique if they purchase the product. It is true that products continuously make false promises, but I think it is only true to a certain degree that consumers do not have a choice in what they buy.

Although I might not have a choice about what stores are in a mall, or what clothes are in a store - I do make an active choice when I purchase something. When I want to buy something particularly unique, I will shop at a small boutique, or an online store. Some people even shop at thrift stores to find vintage items. For some people style is art, so careful thought goes into everything they buy. Consumers can choose a style, make their own style, or adapt a style. In this way, I don't believe people are as mindless and lost as they're portrayed to be in the article. To say that people are no longer unique individuals is a little ridiculous - especially when there are many students like us who study the media and who are very aware of the effects of capitalist society on everyday life. Even this awareness alone makes us capable of making careful, active choices in our tastes.

Also, there are constantly artists who push the boundaries of mainstream media. Whether it`s music, fashion, film, or art - all of these domains involve creativity and thinking outside the box. If an artist really wants to stand out, he/she must do something different. Creativity, in my opinion, is something our culture values and recognizes. In this way, we are not all victims of pre-chosen products and ideas because we understand when we are following the mainstream and when we are not; we make active choices depending on our personal style and values.

While "The Culture Industry" proposes that capitalist culture is making it hard to distinguish between real life and the movies, Baudrillard proposes that we are now living in a hyperreality, where the medium is completely blurred... In Baudrillard's article, we are presented with the death of the real, or hyperreality.

Considering how the TV guide is saturated with reality shows, it is interesting to explore the concept of hyperreality. I don't understand it that well, but I don't think we are all living in a hyperreality yet. I think some people are - those people who are in reality shows, and those people who live in the media. TV personalities and celebrities, are constantly being watched. I'm sure surveillance is engrained in them - every move they make, every relationship decision can be documented and may or may not destroy their career. For them, there is no boundary between real life and the media (surveillance). For regular folk, I think there still is a boundary - however, it is blurring increasingly everyday. The more information we share online, the more the boundary blurs between our private and public lives. But, the death of the real is not here yet.