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BCM110

Let’s Have a Chat

The ‘Public Sphere’ and it’s technological development overtime

Imagine a coffee house. A place where you can go to debate, converse and chat about any social, cultural or political issues that the world is faced with. It could be the climate of global warming or the latest in COVID-19. Anything you want. This ‘coffeehouse’ is for you, a place to find out what is happening and why. Now even though this imaginary coffeehouse might not necessarily exist (i’m truly sorry if I’m making you pine for your local cafe in isolation) we all have spaces like this. We can thank a man called Jurgen Habermas and his ‘Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’ (1962) for this theory. Calhoun (1992, p1) states that the German text has been one of “Habermas’ most influential” and has been translated into many languages, reaching many cultures all over the globe. So what defines the perfect Public Sphere? Habermas stated that the ideal public sphere is “seperate from the state, economy and is egalitarian and open” (Middlemost, 2020).

A figure representing Jurgen Habermas’ Ideology of the Public Sphere

Be My Guest

It’s not a surprise that the Public Sphere most suitable to myself is university. It is mediated, provokes debate about current issues and the rise of the internet over the past twenty years has made this space ideal for communication and the delivering of information easily. With increasing knowledge available over time, university students like myself don’t have to imagine themselves in this idea of a coffeehouse, we are already in our own little microcosm of debate and conversation. Although university and the face to face interaction of discussion makes for an extremely valuable and interesting Public Sphere, its not without it’s issues. Take this current climate of COVID-19 and all of the adaptions you’ve made in your life.  Now let’s relate this back to our idea of a Public Sphere. Social isolation and quarantines would make getting together to chat impossible, right? Wrong. This is where we introduce the notion of the ‘Public Sphere Web 2.0 (Middlemost, 2020). It isn’t as simple as it once was. The Public Sphere doesn’t need to be a physical embodiment or space anymore. The rise of technology and online platforms have actually improved our communications and has given us the access to overcome barriers such as COVID-19. We’ve melded and transformed our public sphere’s alongside technology with platforms such as Moodle and Discord to communicate, debate and delve into current issues in a fresh and modern way. This basically shows us how Jurgen’s idea of the Public Sphere (1962), though outdated in some aspects, can translate through time and still uphold it’s core values of communication. 

Let’s Get Technical

So we’ve talked about me for a while, let’s go back to our friend Jurgen Habermas and think about how his ideologies have transformed to meet our technological climate. The original idea of the Public Sphere wasn’t perfect. It excluded ideologies regarding western feminism and rejected critiques (Middlemost, 2020). Over time, this idea has become mediated with the increase of online platforms, and the rise of the internet has made discussion and debate easier and cheaper. This isn’t to say this rise hasn’t been challenged. Some may say that the Public Sphere being introduced onto higher technical platforms has been degraded by consumerism and capitalism. However, it’s actually more common than you think and I can guarantee you’ve come across many Public Spheres today. A great example of a more technologically advanced Public Sphere would be the introduction and rise of podcasts on iPhones and the web, especially with people having to stay indoors lately, podcasts allow people to discuss issues on a media platform without actually seeing each other face-to-face, taking the view that the “enhancement by emergence of different spaces, e.g. the web, have a successful and innovative affect on the community today”. (Middlemost, 2020). 

So in this current climate, let’s utilise our own modern perspectives on Public Sphere’s, whether it is your local sporting team or a group discussing politics. We must continue to modernise and adapt in these times in order to keep the discussion and debates flowing!

References

Middlemost, R, 2020 ‘The Media Theory Toolbox’, Powerpoint slides, BCM110, University of Wollongong, Viewed 11.4.20

Calhoun, C, 1992 ‘Habermas and the Public Sphere’, London

Habermas, J, 1962, ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’, Germany

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BCM110

Shut Up and Believe It!

A critical search into media control and why we should challenge it

Be scared (if you know what’s good for you)

I never really thought deeply about the media I was consuming, who owned it or how they shaped what I was seeing and believing in my everyday world. I woke up in the morning, clicked on MSN (owned and founded by Microsoft) had a scroll until I reached the really juicy part (entertainment and TV, duh!), saw who had been booted from Survivor then dragged myself to the TV to watch channel 7’s ‘Sunrise’ to have the life scared out of me about all the horrible and terrifying things going on in our wonderful world. It was pretty exciting stuff. Then I started to question and challenge this ideology of taking in whatever our media is feeding us and just accepting it because it’s there. Frankfurt School had a point. In week four’s lecture it’s also shown how Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory that mass culture ideology revolved around believing and accepting what they were told, just because it was there (Middlemost, 2020). Let’s delve deeper into why we do this and why it should be challenged.

Why should we care?

Honestly, it’s a good question! Why does it matter who owns the media we consume and why should we care if it’s biased or controlled? I also want to touch on newspaper’s political bias. If we think about China and the media they consume, I think it would be fair to say that their media environment is highly controlled. The Chinese government owns most newspapers, therefore, they have a large say in what is printed, economy and business-wise. Although this obvious form of control in Chinese newspapers is easy enough to find, in contrast, media bias can be extremely hard to pinpoint and measure (Strömberg, 2018, pp 2442). Interest topics may vary across newspapers, language use can change over time (also relating back to the key theory of linear communication models and ‘noise’ or interruptions in the flow) and different media sources have different audiences. However, this theory does not apply to a highly suppressed environment like China or Russia because negative thoughts or comments are blocked and censored (Strömberg, 2018, pp 2442) . 

Let’s talk about this in terms of our own personal media usage, shall we?

Lidberg (2019, pp 15) relays that “media studies show that Australia has one of the most concentrated markets in the world”.  News Corp Australia, Fairfax Media, Seven West Media and APN News, and Media accounted for more than 90 percent of the revenue in the 2015-2016 financial year (Lidberg, 2019, pp14). This national dominance of news disparages the concept of all news being neutral and fair across the board. We just need to look at David Mcknight’s in-depth research on Rupert Murdoch to see this. Murdoch uses journalism to gain commercial advantages. This is done via hiring editors who think like him, meaning that there is no need for explicit instructions regarding content and editorial direction (Lidberg, 2019, pp14)  

We don’t need to be in a highly censored, restrictive country to be a victim of bias and control in the media.

Challenge Accepted

After some deep thinking and reflection (what else is there to do in isolation if not ponder our possible biased and controlled society?!?) I think it’s safe to say we can’t take what we read on our usual news or gossip column as gospel. We, as an intelligent and independent society, need to trust the power of research and questioning and work harder in our search for news, otherwise, what’s stopping us from becoming another website-blocked country or a person unknowingly affected by propaganda. We can and should do better. 

References

Lidberg, J., 2019. The distortion of the Australian public sphere: Media ownership concentration in Australia. AQ: Australian Quarterly, 90(1), pp.12-15.

Middlemost, R 2020 ‘Media Industries and Ownership’ Moodle Slides, BCM110, University of Wollongong, viewed 3rd April 2020

Qin, B., Strömberg, D. and Wu, Y., 2018. Media Bias in China. American Economic Review, 108(9), pp.2442-76.

Youtube, 2012 ‘Talking Point- Jonathan Holmes interviews David McKnight on Rupert Murdoch’ online video, 13th March, Viewed 6th April <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMbrDg3GNsQ&gt;

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BCM110

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Image reference: Chernov M, 2015, New York Times, USA 

Before reading all about my opinions (I know how much you want to), I want you to take five minutes and think about what you see in the above image. Think about how you interpret the situation. I can guarantee that your thoughts will be different to the person sitting next to you (if it’s your dog, show him the picture and get back to me).

At first glance, this image shows a bunch of kid’s standing around observing two soldiers relaxing on the ground. For many, this is where the understanding and meaning might end and that’s okay! But there are hundreds and thousands of interpretations and understandings of media, this image included. Just take a look at this picture here, believe it or not, there’s actually a young AND old woman in the picture.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into this theory and look at the history of experimental audience research and how this affects how we thus perceive media. Many experiments such as the Bobo doll experiment (1961) aimed to show us that media is the direct cause for the way people act. This is also called causality (Middlemost 2020). There was a tendency to blame media for the worst that occurs in society, which, following the Columbine High School massacre on April 20th,1999, we now know is definitely not the case. Following this clear-cut idea, one may also assume that audiences may look at an image and take one meaning from it. This somewhat outdated theory can be proven otherwise when we begin to look at linear models of communication and why things aren’t always black and white.

Looking at our main image it is possible to draw one conclusion. We might also see kid’s in a war-town country observing the men that are protecting them. We may see a bunch of aspiring young soldiers looking on to their heroes or we might see three children in a foreign country not knowing who these strange men in uniforms are. It is possible to read this image in plenty of ways and unlike Aristotle’s idea of a linear communication model (Middlemost, 2020) which states that there is a one-way, unproblematic flow of information from one receiver to another, we may take the opposite approach of Stuart Hall. While Aristotle’s work is classified as “the most influential during the last 2,300 years” (Bodhi, an interdisciplinary Journal, 2008, p 272), Hall’s-

Aristotle’s Line of Communication
Stuart Hall’s Model of Encoding/Decoding

-encoding/decoding model (Middlemost, 2020) supports the idea that there is never a clear-cut way of looking at things and there is always going to be ‘noise’ or a problem that interrupts this one-way flow. This noise may come in the form of a lack of knowledge regarding war or soldiers, a lack of understanding why the children are watching them or something as simple as a differing of opinion or interpretation. Therefore we must assume that when perceiving and interpreting images (encoding) there is always a creation process, a medium that is affected by noise before reaching the decoder.

Semiotics also play a large role in the representation and interpretation of images. Semiotics is the science of signs and their meanings or what is evoked in the mind of the receiver (Middlemost, 2020). Charles Pierce is largely known as the ‘godfather’ of semiotics, a large part of his theory being our ability to perceive images. Take the uniforms of the soldiers. This is clearly a sign of war or order. This correlation was completely by chance but it is a known fact and can therefore affect how people see the image and what they take away from it. If the soldiers were dressed normally we would have completely different interpretations of this picture.  

When discussing the nation-wide audience, we must give credit to the fact that there is not a linear unproblematic flow of communication and there is always different interpretations and meanings to what we see! Now go and google some more image illusions, hint hint: they’ll keep you entertained during isolation!

All images and dates hyperlinked

Adhikary, N, 2008, ‘The Sadharanikaran Model and Aristotle’s Model of Communication: A Comparative Study’, Nepal Journals Online, vol.2 , no. 1, p./pp 272

Middlemost R, 2020, ‘Representations and Interpretations’, Lecture Slides, BCM110, University of Wollongong

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BCM110

Annoying Things Audience Members Do (that aren’t actually that annoying at all)

Stage One: Tearing Your Hair Out

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The grouchy look and huff at the girl sitting next to you in the cinema, obsessively typing on her phone and shining her light right into your retinas while you’re trying to concentrate on Ryan Gosling’s abs. The shoulder nudge at that concert towards that guy getting a bit too close? Even celebrities seem to have the same issues as us plebs! Shia LaBeauf’s breakdown at ‘Caberet‘ or Patti Lupone (bless her heart) snatching an audience member’s phone mid-show?

I’ve been a member of hundreds of audiences; operas, musicals, movies, concerts, tv shows but specifically I want to draw in on my experience of Groovin’ the Moo (an annual music festival held in Canberra). Being a festival, rules such as being quiet and calm, no eating or drinking and no phones don’t really apply (sorry Patti), actually, it’s quite the opposite. These ‘unspoken rules’ that we all believe to be gospel when being part of any audience are actually what makes festivals and concert experiences so much fun! Just take a look at this clip and imagine if everyone was silent and standing still? Not very fun right?

Stop dancing! Come back and read what I have to say!

One of the main things about audiences is that they have shifted from being passive to active throughout history (O’Neal, 2020). As John Fiske (1989) states “pop culture is made by the people, not by the industry”, so why are we as a group so focused on the rules and regulation of being an audience? We should be critical, responsive and active! (o’Neal, 2020)

Stage Two: Begrudging Acceptance

So how does this relate back to what we’ve been talking about all week? We’re supposed to be laughing with our mates and singing, enjoying amazing food and drinks and recording our favourite artists on our phones, even though at other experiences such as movies, this would be condemned. As stated in this week’s lecture, “having the same experience together in one place” is what makes a good audience (O’Neal, 2020). The anxieties surrounding audiences have faded over time. Gustave Le Bon’s theory that audiences couldn’t distinguish fact from fiction (the whole darting from the fictional train on the screen didn’t help matters) (O’Neal, 2020) has shifted over time as audiences have understood John Fiske’s way of thinking that “pop culture is made by the people, not by the industry” (O’Neal, 2020).

Think about the last concert you went to, think about the singing, laughing and dancing you witnessed and participated in. Being an audience member does have unspoken rules but once again, reiterating this week’s lecture, a good audience is “active, critical and actually uses the media as a part of their lives” (O’Neal, 2020). David Gauntlett also points out in his text ‘Ten Things Wrong with the Media Effect Model’ that for years many individuals were perceived to be easily influenced and extremely passive viewers of the media, however with the fluidity and ever-changing nature of media forms, we evolve, as do our standards for viewing it. An example of this idea of thinking would be shown in the quote “surveys show that the public feel that the media may cause other people to engage in antisocial behaviour, almost no-one ever says that they have been affected in that way themselves” (Gauntlett 2020, p.7.) In other words, even though past audience portrayals have been negative, this isn’t always the case! People should be given more credit for their viewing habits.

Stage Three: Bit of shhh at the movies, bit of boogie everywhere else

Heading back to my own personal experience as an active audience member, I believe that this version of media is actually enhanced in its own specialised way, as is with every other type of media. I try to believe that it’s okay for audiences to have a set of ‘unspoken rules’ such as only talking when invited to or remaining alert but I also think that we’re smart enough to adapt and view our media in more critical ways. 

Here, Here!

Gauntlett, D., 2005. Moving Experiences. Eastleigh, UK: John Libbey Pub

O’Neal, K 2020, ‘Media Audiences’ Moodle Slides, BCM110, University of Wollongong, Viewed 14 March 2020

Youtube, 2019 ‘Oliver Heldens @ Ultra Music Festival Miami 2019 #Ultra2019’ online video, 1st April, Viewed 6th April <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1257&v=cuc7YmGKWs0&feature=emb_title>