This SIS 640 class is mostly made up of graduate students in the International Communication program. Here is a confession: I am not a student in that program. I came to AU to get my masters in International Education and Training so many of the topics covered in class are seen by me through a cultural lens (previous education) or an educational lens.
This week we talked about Nation Building and how communication relates to it. Yet I could not stop thinking about how often the readings have already mentioned that education and schools are an important marker of a culture. Schooling is an important aspect of nation building and in building a common identity/philosophy. Education through schooling instills a certain system of beliefs, of values, of truths, a notion of friend and foe. I specifically mention schools because there is a lot of education going on in the private sphere (e.g. the home) that is difficult for a nation/government to grasp and manipulate.
Curricula are set by the government or by institutions acting on its behalf. In this regard it is the government that decides how it wants its national identity portrayed and taught in the classroom. Markers for national identity (such as flags, a certain type of vocabulary, iconic images, classroom behavior) are part of the classroom and the teachings. That is why the teaching of Western educators in Third World countries (starting in a more organized way as soon as colonialization sprung up) was often received by the indigenous communities as an attempt to impose Western values.
Thus, for the nation building process schools, as a mean for education, are essential.
As is argued through the lens of Critical Theory, culture is seen as a commodity. This results in the mass production of cultural artifacts that are a reflection of that culture’s communication style (Thussu pg 54). The creation process has the masses, the least common denominator, in mind. Culture is not perceived as the transmitter of heritage or the carrier of profound beliefs. Instead it is being consumed, mostly without second thought by the masses. It can be so easily consumed because these mass-products are easily accessible e.g. on tv and do not require a lot of thought process. The product is being being broken down in easy to digest pieces with a little cliffhanger here and there to tie you over the commercial break.
If you look at the current mass media output, especially in the area of tv and movie production, there is a clear bias towards (scripted) reality-tv (Jersey Shore, The Real Housewives of XYZ, Honey Boo Boo) and easy to digest movie plots (good vs. evil fighting it out in 90 minutes with a lot of action and guns or chick flicks that center around the apparently only issue concerning women in their 20s which is getting hitched) in the Western hemisphere.
Of course one can argue that this is what the masses want, easy access to easy to digest entertainment. And I do agree: after a day of working, running errands, taking care of screaming children, attempting to impress your boss so that you stay at the company while everyone else is being fired you DO want to settle in the evening to a world of entertainment that nice and easy to digest. A world that makes you laugh, albeit mostly at the expense of others or a world where you do know that in the end the good will prevail. But the fact that non-mass culture movie producers have a very hard time getting funding, finding themselves in the “independent movie” niche, should be alarming. Is what they have to say less important? Do their movies have less cultural value than Honey Boo Boo and hence they deserve a struggle to get their project up and running since they don’t cater to what the masses want?
What I am wondering is, in 100 or 200 years from now, what will society think about our consumer behavior today? What does the fact that (scripted) reality tv is so popular across the Western culture say about us now, and what does it say about us in 200 years when the need for a certain level of voyeurism has been replaced by something else. Will the society of the future look at who owns media today, who produces it and with what intentions? Or will they be even more one-dimensional in their entertainment needs resulting in the fact that a show such as Jersey Shore is suddenly difficult to grasp due to the nature of the characters, their actions and their cultural background?
This post refers to Thussu “Approaches to theorizing international communication” from International Communication: Continuity and Change.
International Communication is a wide field as it touches upon issues in international relations, culture, technology, politics and policy, conflict studies, diplomacy and many more. This week’s readings gave a broad overview of the history of technological advances and how these relate to the advancement of (international) communication.
What has struck me while reading about roughly 600 years of “modern” communication (starting with the printing press in 1440) is how many of the decisions made by lawmakers, kings and rulers hundreds of years ago are still shaping today’s world of (international) communication. France opted to have its telegraph lines built so that Paris would always be the center of communication. This power has lasted to this day as Paris being the powerhouse of France despite not being in the geographic center of the country.
Early on communication technology (starting with the printing press, and later moving on to the telegraph, sonar, radio, tv and now internet) meant political power and influence. Thus, the means were kept in the hands of the political elite to further their political cause. That is why despotic governments are restricting the access to communication for its citizens. If access is granted power and influence are being given away. Granted, maybe only in small amounts, but in the fast paced age of the internet and viral communication a small yielding of power can result in societal uproar. Just like little babies dancing to their dad’s guitar play or a wedding proposal taped out of the back of a car can go viral so can political ideas, strong images of oppression, war, and crime. The pressure that these images creates, both on governments and on societies, can lead to agenda setting which then can lead to policies that are threatening the despotic government. Access to communication was and still is highly contested.
Post by Franzi R.
Readings this post is refering to:
Daya Thussu “The Historical Context of International Communication” from International Communication: Continuity and Change (2006).
Elisabeth Hanson “The Origins of the Information Revolution” (Ch. 2) from The Information Revolution and World Politics (2008).