Media & Participation: Culture

on 5 December 2007 at about 18:20


This lecture was first posted at CEMP's Interactive Portal on 5 Dec 2007

Today's session was the second in the Media & Participation unit, and the first of 5 sessions dealing with specific conceptual areas - in this case - 'Quality'.

Your online assignment was to identify a media artefact produced outside the traditional mainstream media and explain what 'qualities' it has / does not have.

(Incidentally, 'a media artefact' is a catch-all phrase which gives you as much freedom as you need to choose pretty much anything at all.)

Also incidentally: last year 25 students took the M&P unit, and 15 of them completed the first online assignment in time for the session, which 19 attended at 9am. This year there are 40 of you, 9 of you completed the first online assignment, and 18 of you attended at 9am today. Hey, I'm just stating statistical facts.

Music and Poetry

I played you about 8 minutes of part of Verdi's Requiem; I then read you Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach. These are two pieces of 19th century work which I consider to be amongst the finest examples of artistic expression.

I did this deliberately for a few reasons: they throw into sharp relief what we might consider to be the 'qualities' of the artefacts you suggested; and classical music and poetry are rather old-fashioned and unfashionable things to enjoy.

Matthew Arnold

Here are the slides on Matthew Arnold that we looked at:

One reading of Dover Beach is the mourning of the passing of uniting, shared values that Arnold foresaw. Indeed, the clashing of 'ignorant armies' might be a very good (albeit negative) description of post-modernity, and which Arnold might see as a vindication of his pessimism. He might also see the blankness at references to Sophocles as a manifestation of his worst fears.

We might argue with Arnold, and accuse him of elitism in the same way we accuse Marxists with their false consciousness and false needs, the stupefaction of the masses etc. But we start with Matthew Arnold because in some ways he is the father of cultural studies, and he forces us to wonder what culture is, what it does, what it stands for. Does it civilise us? Do we pursue perfection? Does culture reach out across the centuries and unite humankind? Does our contemporary culture do that? Does even our mainstream culture do that?

The Cult of the Amateur

And just as Arnold saw the rise of a mass, popular culture as catering to the lowest common denominator, rather than elevating the masses to the civilising force of the great poets that a good classical education should bring, so the same arguments play out today, albeit with a different context. Andrew Keen is the current proponent of the argument that participatory media will destroy all that is good about our current cultural life. He argues that file-sharing, blogging, wikis and UGC will damage the industries which provide 'professional' music, journalism, knowledge and content. Different context, same argument.

So: was Arnold right? Is consumer society culturally barren? And is Keen right? Is the grating roar of UGC the end of the professional industry?

Participatory media

The artefacts you identified were often things that you didn't think were very good, or that you hadn't personally experienced. Noisy experimental sound, ARG games which are just technologically advanced versions of Treasure Hunt, etc. So - what do you think? What does 'quality' mean? What is culture?

These are not easy questions to answer, but neither are they easy to avoid. And some of the questions that emerged in our sessions today were:

For a long time, as I have said, the strong feudal habits of subordination and deference continued to tell upon the working class. The modern spirit has now almost entirely dissolved those habits, and the anarchical tendency of our worship of freedom in and for itself, of our superstitious faith, as I say, in machinery, is becoming very manifest. More and more, because of this our blind faith in machinery, because of our want of light to enable us to look beyond machinery to the end for which machinery is valuable, this and that man, and this and that body of men, all over the country, are beginning to assert and put in practice an Englishman's right to do what he likes; his right to march where he likes, meet where he likes, enter where he likes, hoot as he likes, threaten as he likes, smash as he likes. All this, I say, tends to anarchy;

Matthew Arnold, Culture & Anarchy, 1882


Next week's session is on citizenship, and your online assignment is here

[Original] Comments

That’s better. For a minute then the formatting was all screwed up in Firefox. Another Joe masterpiece. I’m with jenkins BTW. Crud good; professionalism crap. Joe knows I’ve been banging on about process over product for years.

I should have added: read the Jenkins blog entry Joe links to. I think it’s a debate the IMS students have been having elsewhere on this blog too. And janice, Lizzie and I are currently writing a paper on Universities as elite keepers of knowledge, who in a bad way, are a lot like the music industry.

oh, and the other link I mentioned in the lecture is a debate between Charles Leadbeater (author of We Think) and Andrew Keen which you can find from here

rather than keepers of knowledge – perhaps creators of a certain discourse about knwoledge and an attempt to prioritise this kind of knowledge as some how special

but the mask is slipping – and sites like this help us outsiders to realise why!

Lecture archive

  • Media & The Body Readings
  • The Use of Theory
  • Play
  • Production - [Critical Media Concepts and Contexts]
  • Narratives: Endlessnesses and Existence
  • Narratives: Endings, Meaning and Morals
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Familiarity and Strangeness
  • Intro to Media and Participation 2008 - 2009
  • Narratives: Stories and Structures
  • Narratives: Opening and Introductions
  • The Writerly Text: Part 1
  • Media & Participation: Identity
  • Media & Participation: Truth
  • Media & Participation: Citizenship
  • Media & Participation: Culture
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 2: The History of Copyright
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 1: The Romantic Author
  • Bournemouth Soundseeing: collaborative authorship
  • Marx's Critique of Capital: 101
  • Key concepts: Ideologies ...a historical view
  • Narrative and Structuralism and the brothers Grimm
  • Intro to Digital Media at BU
  • Small Print

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