Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rationality of the Masses

I think the reason I was originally interested in studying something called "modern culture and media" was because I thought it might better explain to me the rationality of the masses. Though I'm now skeptical of all words and signs and signifiers and such, I think I've started to notice a pattern of theory that states that the masses are somehow irrational. I'm not sure if this is true.

On page 148 of Network Culture, Terranova talks first about a "fun-house effect" of social cues on self identity or re-presentation and then goes on to describe our relation to the masses: 
The masses are everywhere and in everybody in as much as they lie at the points where all mediations have collapsed and meaning no longer takes hold. The masses are the place where meanings and ideas lose their power of penetration the place of fascination and dis-mediation where all statements opinions and ideas flow through without leaving a mark. The masses disperse and defuse meaning and this is their political power.
On page 149 Terranova continues by relating her understanding of the masses to Baudrillards:
When seen from the perspective of government…the masses are always constituted as silent. If they communicate at all, it is by focus group and opinion polls in a language of forever fluctuating and often contradictory percentages. In this emergence of the masses as statistical source, Baudrillard would argue, is not just the masses manipulation, but also it's complicity.
Tonight on the Comedy Central News Hour also know as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, fun was poked at the peculiarities of popular polls. Jon Stewart lead his audience through a chain of seemingly ridiculous poll titles and specifications, and mocked the nerds that compile and present the many different polls. One interesting case is a recurring presidential election poll at 7 Eleven where customers choose between a red Romney cup or a blue Obama cup. From the general demeanor of the mockery from the comedy news shows, I got the impression that they felt the poll was silly or representative of the lack of real information. Colbert made a joke that the poll was unfair because mormons (potentially more likely to support fellow mormon Mit Romney) do not consume caffein and therefor are less likely to need the cups from 7 Eleven. Although I understand the humor, I think the poll and that flaw are both more credible information than people want to admit. I can agree that almost every poll taken during election time is going to have some sneaky twist hidden inside its own makings; chances are polls sponsored by conservatives might question more conservative groups and thus have a more consertaive result, or visa versa. I can also agree that the results of polls are hoped to effect public opinion, and they may have some convincing effect on the previously unconvinced voters exposed to polls as social norms. However, I dont agree that polls are useless infomation that should be laughed at, nor do I agree with Terranova that the masses are void of meaning. I believe that we just can't currently organize and understand the data the masses put out, and cultural theory makes us fear that if we learn how to best interpret and use the data, something will still be hidden from us and we'll just be a compliant mass ready to manipulate ourselves as always. I guess I'm just worried that it feels like Terranova was saying  that no matter how we try to shape ourselves as an individual cell of the greater mass, we have no control over the result of the mass nor the masses effect on ourself as an individual. Instead I feel like we can individually change the mass, and have an effect. The masses can be complexly affected if we simplify the message and just keep blasting a keyword to reduce noise, but eventually get good enough at blasting the keyword past the noise so that we can start sending the whole message (or at least be aware that all we're getting is a keyword). I think the silly polls, and their minute effect on the masses is a step to was massselfawareness (or awarenesss of the mass that our self is of) which could help society deal with cultural flow better.

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