Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Media and Politics

In examining new media and its ability to influence politics, both Lisa Parks and Vicente Rafael focus upon the agency of the individual. No longer is media a top-down phenomenon, originating from an elite group; instead, the "telecommunicative fantasies" of the technologically-enabled middle class play themselves out in the arenas of text messaging and internet publishing (Rafael 399). With these new technologies, "mass media" becomes not only for the masses but also by the masses. What does that mean for the way in which politics is played out? How does the individual then see itself as part of the whole?

As Rafael claims, the individual uses text messaging to "overcome the crowded conditions and congested surroundings brought about by the state's inability to order everyday life [...] while telecommunication allows one to escape the crowd, it also opens up the possibility of finding oneself moving in concert with it" (Rafael 403). Texting, for the technologically-enabled middle class of Manila, is thus a method of identifying oneself in relation to one's surroundings, of becoming part of a specific network, formed through the constant reproduction of messages through replies and forwarding. For de Certeau, the city walker constructs his/her city through the choices made in navigating the streets and landmarks. The route one chooses thus actualizes the city: "walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the trajectories it "speaks"" (de Certau 99). De Certeau thus ascribes a performativity to the action of walking. By walking a unique route, one thus separates oneself from the crowd, establishing a separate identity from all other walkers and inhabitants in the city. Similarly, the text message provides the same function, except enhanced: texting further allows users to communicate beyond the crowd while still immersed in it (Rafael 405). The "maniacs" unable to live without their cell phones come to view their phones as an extension of their bodies; without it, they feel lost and disconnected. Given the enormity and anonymity of the crowd, it seems that Rafael is proposing that texting is a method of cognitive mapping a la Jameson; in the post-modern world where nothing is certain, the individual turns to texting in order to establish ties to a network and thus to cognitively map oneself onto the crowd.

Unrelatedly, Lisa Parks subscribes to the CNN effect, whereby the media has the ability to influence policy, either in its ability to tell policymakers what to focus on, or by accelerating the process in which a particular issue is dealt with (Taraki 11). However, empirical research has shown weak support for the CNN effect in televisual news; often, it is the policymakers that influence the media. Media outlets often rely on official reports and press releases, as the film Control Room also shows. Furthermore, journalists covering foreign affairs often rely on official news reports or wire services because they lack resources to perform investigative work. However, the new media of texting, Google Earth and blogging are (largely) independent of state influence. The telecommunicative fantasties of the middle class are played out through anecdotal evidence gathered by bloggers and texters, that are then disseminated to the internet audience. As the recent coverage of the elections in Iran and media obsession with new phenomenon Twitter, news produced by the masses is beginning to gain legitimacy as the media begins to cite these outlets as sources. And as the Great Firewall of China demonstrates, the primary means of controlling this new media is through censorship and blocking; so far, the state has not yet developed means of using these new mass media to their own ends. Are these new forms of media finalizing actualizing the CNN effect? Is the individual's agency thus enhanced?

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