Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mattelart: Clearly on Team Huxley

Mattelart’s Foucaultian analysis of the semiotics of ‘globalization’ kept bringing me back to that Huxley v. Orwell comic, or rather, the “Huxley was right” part of it.

The connection is between Huxley’s idea of being lulled by non-stop entertainment and info-tainment and Mattelart’s discussion of “forgetting history” and replacing it with a “techno-mercantile determinism that has instituted endless, unlimited communication, the heir to the notion of ongoing, limitless progress.”

His article is indeed a pretty good wrap-up because it sort of summarizes the critical position of many of the scholars we have read in the last half of the semester. Dutta, Castells, Bennet, Fisher, Melkote: they are all coming from the same place, really, in that they question the rationality of the rhetorical connection between

‘modernity’ and capitalism or

‘globalization’ and global free markets,

or Western scientific knowledge and ‘universal knowledge.’

Dutta’s excerpts from USAID’s white papers, for example, support Matellart’s section on ‘the revolution in military affairs’, in which he asserts that the U.S. military began “promoting an offensive strategy of enlargement of the world market as a paradigm, in place of the defensive strategy of containment adopted…during the Cold War years” (Mattelart, 2008: p 321 of Thussu).

Reading Matellart was also a lot like reading Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who does a similar archeology of the World Social Forum (particularly as a viable form of resistance to the ideology of the WEF), and apparently ones on capitalism, knowledge, and many other topics that fall under the general ‘anti-globalization-as-those-with-power-define-it camp.

I’m not sure I can go along with Mattelart for the whole ride, though. Matellart asserts that “the ideology of corporate globalism is indissolubly linked to the idea of worldwide communication” and I respectfully, hopefully (and naively?) disagree. He is right about U.S. military, aka development policy, and he is right about the power and megalomania of the TNCs, but I'd like to think that Benkler and Bennet and others are right, too...that networked publics still hold some power to resist.

On the other hand, daily activities such as reading a newspaper or watching the "news" rob me of that hopefulness. Some of those think tanks Mattelart was talking about, for example, plus their friends at the energy TNCs that fund them, have continued to successfully hold back meaningful action on global warming by the power of the press (also, chuckle, funded by the same or related TNCs, I'm looking at you, GE I mean NBC) to frame it as an ongoing "debate." That's just one example, really. There is also the fact that Tiger and the Salahi party crashers are rivaling Afghanistan in the press. I'm sure I could list more and better examples, but as I said, I prefer to be hopeful. When corporate interests attempt to steer political debate through campaign $$, there is change congress calling out our reps for bowing to those interests over the desires of their constituents. And globally, orgs like CARE and ECPAT are taking up the 'empowerment' mantel outlined by Dutta and Melkote. So that's good, right? ...Right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

EE a type of PD?

It seems that the articles on Entertainment Education and Open Source Public Diplomacy had quite a bit in common. Both focused on the typical approach of the West to use these tactics (EE and traditional Public Diplomacy) to "impose" its values or beliefs on another country or region. With EE, Dutta says that the West is using the technique to tell the 3rd World countries what they think is best for them, be it population control, or safe sex, or any number of other issues. In PD, it could be any kind of value or idea, from democracy to pro-Americanism, to consumerism (which could also be thought of as the West saying it knows best too).
Dutta indicates that EE is done for the same reasons PD is, to encourage people to act or think in a way that will benefit you. He believes that The West engages in EE for selfish reasons under the guise of altruism. It encourages population control and other programs to create free-markets in those countries which would open them to foreign investment. While I'm sure there are people who do think this way, I doubt that is the overall aim of people in USAID and other similar organizations. Although not always implemented in the most effective way, I believe most of the people are doing this work because they believe it will help people.
However many of these programs have not worked as they were supposed to and therefore could benefit from Dutta's suggestions, which closely mirror Open Source Diplomacy; engaging the population you wish to influence, acting on a peer-to-peer level, and encouraging activism within the community. It seems as though acting like other countries are our peers and we want to work with them, rather than our inferiors whom we must teach how to live in the right way, would go a long way toward solving some of the world's problems.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Comcast and NBC

Interesting graphic for the Comcast NBC merger via boingboing and Free Press

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Value-Added, But For Whom?

In "A Theoretical Agenda for Entertainment Education," the authors observe that the role of the media as a societal influence gets a lot more play in communication theory than the role of entertainment, even though Western society is increasingly imcorporating entertainment into more and more activities in everyday life. (I can confirm that the Mall of American, by the way, is awesome.) I agree with the authors that underestimation of the influence of entertainment on individual and group behavior is a mistake. "Previous E-E research has mainly been conducted in developing countries and dealt with health topics," but I think there is definitely room for evaluation of the messages transmitted by entertainment content in America. I once read an account (I can't remember where) of an E-E project where a radio soap opera in an African country encouraged safe sex by having its characters make clear mention of their use of condoms every time they engaged in the behaviors that soap operas are apparently characterized by no matter where you live. This method of banging audiencs over the head with a message every time someone had sex allegedly made a big impression. In public education programs in Third World countries, that is called E-E, but in the U.S. it would be called preachiness. Would that sort of obvious messaging be tolerated on an American TV show like Gossip Girl or Sex and the City? I don't think so. This disparity highlights a double standard: outsiders can tell LDC populations what to do because it is for their own good, but in the U.S. we expect people to know how to behave responsibly and then inundate them with a world that is consequence free.

Moving on to another reading: According to Mohan Jyoti Dutta in "Theoretical Approaches to Entertainment Education Campaigns: A Subaltern Critique," developers of E-E programs for Third World countries get to "identify" the problems facing their target audience and choose the practices to encourage based on their knowledge of their target audience's culture and way of life, with limited feedback mechanisms in place to find out what the target audience thinks about the problems being addressed and the solutions being suggested. Populations bearing the brunt of structural violence-- a lack of access to proper health care, for example, or just plain poverty-- have only so much power to make the choices or obtain the resources that will benefit their quality of life. Encouraging activism through entertainment, says Dutta, is a possible way to influence change in the system that impacts people's choices. American and transnational organizations have thought that they can accurately judge the needs of Third World populations and dictate proper behavior, but I agree with Dutta that this paternalistic attitude does little to free people on the ground from their sense of powerlessness to improve their ability to make positive choices to improve their life.