The Digital Public Sphere

The digital age has given Habermas’ classic idea of the ‘public sphere’ a face lift. No longer do we learn about and discuss the news, current events, and social/cultural/political issues of the moment solely from physical sources (legacy media) and face-to-face interactions. Digital and social media have heralded a new age of discourse, allowing us as audience members to actively engage (debate, deliberate and support) with these issues as we discover them in real-time.¹

Twitter is the most prolific micro-blogging platform around: a melting-pot of global, digital conversation and opinion. The public sphere of choice for instant connection with a diverse, mass audience. It has the ability to expose one to an array of thoughts and facts beyond an individual’s personal realm of understandings. A multiplicity arising from following and viewing any member’s tweets, and the ability to view tweets from people one has not subscribed to, through another’s use of the ‘retweet’ button.

Within the sphere of Twitter, exist sphericules of limited subject matter.

The bcm110 hashtag has created a sphericule in the form of a forum (which I am part of) facilitating the UOW Communications and Media student’s learning of their chosen craft, operating through a ‘thrown in the deep end’ approach. We learn about media through using it, and by making our own mistakes with it. We learn from the relevant articles we share with each other, and through the opportunity it affords us to share our own external media creations with a willing and understanding audience.

Our sphericule is not saturated with hot debate of current issues (such as the Twitter-popular gun control debate), but, these current issues may sometimes arise when related to an area of media study. This is because the #bcm110 forum is made up of a cozy family of students and ex-students who have taken the ‘Introduction to Communications and Media’ class, and the wonderful professors who make this class possible. Twitter users not a part of this like-minded collective aren’t strictly excluded from this sphericule, however when they do come across it, a lack of understanding of the subject matter may hinder their own involvement.

The media’s role in our little sphericule is quite different to its typical role within the broader sphere of Twitter. Usually the media would try to generate discussion and convert opinion by disseminating and selling their own ideologies. In the #bcm110 forum however, as a result of our use and applications of the ‘space’ as a learning tool, we turn the media to our own advantage, picking it apart and examining it in detail so we can understand its inner workings, allowing us to become better media creators.

If you have any more thoughts about the digital public sphere then join the ‘Young Dreamer’ sphericule by commenting down below.


¹ Thirroul, S 2018, The Media Theory Toolbox’, lecture, University of Wollongong, delivered 27 March

Puppets and Our Masters

Wk 4 We Own You

GIPHY made by me, images: Stokes , Murdoch , Singleton , Gordon

Bruce Gordon, Rupert Murdoch (and Lachlan Murdoch), John Singleton, Kerry Stokes and CBS.

They’re the purple circle of puppeteers who manipulate our legacy media. They’re Australia’s media industry owners, and by extension, they own our thoughts, our actions and our attitudes, all in alignment with their own philosophies… Or do they?

It is true that having such a small group of media owners should cause anxieties about limiting the diversity of ideologies reaching Australian responders. This matters because people believe that we will be manipulated easily, like all passive responders, being un-critical in our judgments and accepting all information at face-value. Thus allowing the media owners to manipulate the socio-political climate of Australia.¹

Robert Manne for the ABC proved this in part when he wrote:

Rupert Murdoch, “has… use(d) the 70 per cent of the national and statewide press he owns to ensure that the values drawn from his right-wing political philosophy remain dominant within the political mainstream.” ²

What this perspective does not consider is the prevalence of ‘citizen-journalism’—that is:
“The collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet.” ³

This other form of journalism, proliferated easily online to a large audience, may combat the closed-minded nature of legacy media by providing a refreshing assortment of ideologies. This is done by presenting various news and opinion stories, that may not have been told by mainstream media or may have been presented with particular bias by mainstream media. This type of journalism inherently facilitates its audience’s activity as the platforms used are often dialogic, which enables audience discussion and critical thinking to occur.

At the same time however, we can never fully trust citizen-journalism. It is difficult for responders to know where citizen-journalists acquired their sources—are they credible? Are they from the legacy media, and by extension the ‘puppeteers’, whose views we are trying to evade?

Regardless of which source we are seeking news from, trust must never be fully given. It is prudent to make sure that what we read:

  • has been written by someone with credibility on the issue,
  • is clear in its meaning,
  • is transparent about its biases,
  • and can be corroborated by other sources or explains reasonably why it cannot be corroborated by other sources.

Please use your powers of critical thinking and discuss in the comments what you think about this issue. Should we be concerned about media ownership? Do you think it matters?


¹ Middlemost, R 2018, Media Industries and Ownership’, lecture, University of Wollongong, delivered 20 March

² Manne, R 2011, ‘Power without responsibility: Rupert Murdoch’s Australian,’ ABC, 5 September, viewed 25 March <http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/09/05/3309666.htm&gt;

³ ‘citizen journalism’ unknown, in Oxford Living Dictionary, Oxford University Press, viewed 25 March, <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/citizen_journalism&gt;

Of Masks and Men

Woman Reading
Artist: JooHee Yoon , first found here

Brace yourself for an eye-opening journey into the world of semiotics

A woman sits, holding up a book as she reads it (presumably). The cover of the book is dominated by the face of a man with an unnerving stare. The scene is dressed to look like a library of sorts, with messy shelves of books darkened in the background, and a vase of flowers acting as the woman’s only other company in the room.

One may simply see those denotational elements and assume that the connotations of this image are simplistic—that the image is just about a woman reading a book. However, when one looks closer, an entirely new signifier–the perfect alignment of the cover-man’s face with the rest of the woman’s head–reveals itself.

My first interpretation of this metaphor is that writing/publishing is a man’s world. That it is difficult for a woman to gain traction in this industry, as masculine bias has permeated it for hundreds of years.

It might seem strange that this is what comes to mind when I see these images. But the clever combination of signifiers—a woman, books, and the man’s face on the book cover acting as a sort of mask—instantly brings to my mind an experiment conducted by author Catherine Nichols. In a nutshell, Nichols’ experiment found that her manuscript reaped her over eight times the amount of responses from publishers when submitted under a male’s name (compared to when submitted using her own name). ¹

To me, the woman represented in the image could be Nichols, or the countless women in the publishing world who have masqueraded themselves in this way, to avoid the prejudice that comes with being a female author. I know I am not alone in having this interpretation, yet at the same time I also know that there are very few others who do, lets call ourselves ‘Type-A’.

Individuals with different experiences to myself may have a less loaded understanding of what is being signified. They may take the signifiers of a woman and the mask-like book to mean that she is simply immersing herself in the life of the male protagonist, experiencing his life by ‘wearing his skin’. Lets call these people ‘Type-B’.

The disparity between these two views arises from a difference in personal ideologies. Type-B individuals may hold a more utopian perception of the world when compared to Type-A. This may simply be because they have not been exposed to the sexism prevalent in the publishing industry, but it may also be because they choose to ignore or devalue the issues. Some might say that Type-A individuals have a more cynical ideology. But I believe that we are the realists and the critical thinkers, we see the world in clarity.

Feel free to comment if you had any different interpretations of this image to the ones I already mentioned, I’d love to hear them.


¹ Flood, A. (2015) Sexism in publishing: ‘My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine’. The Guardian

 

The Game of Thrones Experience

Seven seasons, totalling sixty-three and a half hours of screen time, across six days. The numeric summary of my Game of Thrones (GOT) experience. (At least the first time I watched it)

What these numbers do not show, is my emotional investment in the story: how I cheered for my favourite characters, cried when they died, and cheered again when vengeance delivered poison to the cup of those responsible (or a knife to the gut, sword through the neck, or dragon-fire… everywhere).

 

My experience was one of utter enthral-ment and addiction. And when it was over, I felt like something was missing; like my life was lacking the magic and wonder in which I had been enveloped for the past week.

Though this may sound negative, it is a symptom of a greater positive; being that I got to enjoy feeling a vast range of emotions (from joy to grief to anger, and beyond) unattached to real-world consequence; and that I got to enjoy living in a world where fantasy is reality and the impossible is tangible.

GOT 2 Dany Dragon

Source

As a consequence of watching every single episode by myself, I was liberated to experience all these enjoyable things without fear of being judged (for crying or mutely screaming), and without fear of disrupting others. In short, it permitted me an unadulterated cinematic experience.

This was especially useful as it let me better understand the nuances of the plot, thus enriching my overall experience as an audience member.

Though I was just one person, sitting in a bedroom, with a computer on her lap, navigating the pop-up ad minefield that is Putlocker, I was connecting myself to a larger media audience. A media audience that has totalled at least 16 million people. Thats 16 million people who have cheered on the same characters as me; 16 million people who have cried at the same deaths as me; and 16 million people who share one common experience with me; all as active members of the GOT audience.

It’s easy to feel connected to them. The saturation of social media fan writers makes it feel that though the episodes are over, GOT is everywhere. Some may see this as a good thing, but to me, (unpopular opinion alert) when stories are taken by those who aren’t the original creators, and made into something else (like a fanfic), the original character, event or message is distorted. Oftentimes I read them and feel as though I am witnessing imposters, poorly masquerading as a story which I love, leaving me with a bitter aftertaste.

GOT 3 You Know Nothing

Source

There are other aspects to this which I do enjoy. The sense of community which arises from having a passion in common with a newly met stranger is heartwarming. As is the sense of community I find when watching reaction videos on YouTube (my favourite being the Burlington Bar series.

One other great thing about social media is that you, the reader, are able to respond to this blog post. You can comment down below or on Twitter, and expand on both our experiences being an active part of the GOT media audience. Whether you share your favourite GOT moments, or your predictions for what happens next season, I’m keen to read it.