In the past, people who held power kept it through the use of superior technology. It started when nomadic tribes came together under the control of a small few who owned farms. Then power was taken by those who had the best weapons, and kept by the people who controlled the flow of information. Unknowingly, innovation in the control and storage of information has ultimately led to a great destabilising in the hierarchy of power. With writing came the printing press. With electricity came telegrams and telephones, and later on radio and television. With the internet came citizen journalism.
The resurgence in right-wing politics in Western government and the ever increasing instability in the Middle East has created a sense of unease and insecurity throughout the world. This rising fear has forced two different reactions from society as a whole; an emotional and an intellectual. Emotionally, many have reacted to things seemingly innocuous, such as somebody having a different opinion to theirs, or immediately reacting to an article they read the headline of but weren’t bothered investigating further. But that’s a blog post for another time. The more internet savvy produsers engage in what is now known as citizen journalism. This form of independent research and reporting can throw things into the spotlight that otherwise would not have been seen by the greater outside world, such as drone footage of conflict in Syria or Turkey. There are more accurate battlefield maps of which forces are where and controlling what on Reddit than are published by any military organisation or news outlet in the world. All of this is the work of citizen journalists.
With the whole world sitting in our pocket, and all social media hell bent on getting their users to document and share their lives with the internet, the rise of citizen journalism was inevitable. The impact of this new phenomenon is more prevalent on Twitter than anywhere else. Live coverage of natural disasters, political events, Adele concerts and how many steps little baby Brian took today are all processed through the rapids of the Twitter feed, which is why professional journalists love promoting their Twitter handle every time they show up on the news. This newfound freedom has left many politicians afraid that they can no longer beguile and misdirect the same people who elected them into power, which has lead to many discussions on the regulations and segregations on who has the right to what online. But despite the realised fears of power hungry politicians the world over, no law they impose can truly restrict the flow of information. No looming threat of a publicised internet history or wiretapping by government intelligence operations can stop the onward march of the citizen journalist.
Don’t step outside the bar for some fresh air after lockout – they probably won’t let you back in.
Monopoly is perhaps the most infamous, if not the only, socialist board game corrupted by capitalism. As society has changed in the more than one hundred years since Monopoly’s inception, our favourite home-wrecker has evolved alongside it. One of the more recent editions is entitled Monopoly Empire, where instead of building up a portfolio of properties and driving up affordability costs – not unlike property investors today – you spend money creating an empire of brands, effectively monopolising modern media and pop culture. Now I wouldn’t say that the boardgame resembles anything like a Picasso, but perhaps it might be appropriate to insert an “art imitating life” quote somewhere here.
The media we consume every day of our lives, whether it be news or mermaid movies, has gradually become monopolised by a small handful of business moguls, which might be cause for more immediate concern given the rising popularity of nationalism and “fake news” if it weren’t offset by the ever increasing accessibility of the internet and all the perks that come with it.
While Murdoch and his magnate mates tighten their grip on the legacy media, produsers and their chosen software platforms open up the doors those monopolizers may try to close. In days gone by, a dominating ideology with its teeth sunk firmly into the neck of free speech saw the rise of dictatorships that still cast a shadow over our society today. But with the indomitable force of the internet, tyrannical tycoons and corrupt politicians are finding it more and more difficult to enforce broken systems on the backs of lower classes to keep them in their golden penthouses.
Never before has legacy media felt so threatened by the public. In an effort to survive the Titanic that is their method of operations, parent companies like Fairfax and TimeWarner have been forced to create a clear divide between honest journalism and sensationalist, “alternative facts”. Independent news organisations and diligent fact-checkers provide a direct line to the truth some powerful people wish to keep from us. One day, their time in the spotlight will end and a new generation of leaders will take its place. Hopefully, they can learn the tricks some old dogs could not.
Everybody enjoys a good paradox. They exercise our brains, provide challenging philosophical discussion, and serve as a backup weapon in the war against artificial intelligence. When Marshall McLuhan wrote “The medium is the message” he had the whole world of communications scratching its head. Surely the messenger cannot also be the message? Well, according to Leonidas, the medium through which we communicate our ideas is equally, if not more important, than the ideas themselves.
McLuhan argued that anything we consider an extension of ourselves is both a medium through which we communicate as well as an idea we are communicating. A great example of this is the rising popularity of merchandise, such as coffee mugs and t-shirts, which bear a sarcastic phrase or a well-known text abbreviation, like “wtf.”
What McLuhan might have been trying to get across in his book that was supposed to be entitled “The Medium Is The Message” is that how we express ourselves is more important than what we want to say. Our sense of fashion, the colour we paint our house, how our cutlery is designed, can all send a stronger message about who we are as people than what we as individuals say. Alternatively, the messages in our media could be a preemption of a phenomenon known as the Ganzfeld effect, namely, our brain’s programming to find patterns within our surroundings, even when there is no information for our brains to process. Could it be that using a medium as a message is simply our base instinct to create and recognise patterns urging us to dig deeper and deeper into our constructed society?
People have been interpreting signs ever since the weekend sport was playing tag with a giant saber-toothed cat and the prize was survival. Since then, we have given a name to the practice of looking at things and thinking what they could mean and what they do mean. Semiotics can be invaluable when trying to get a certain message across to an audience of any size. Take this image:
What is represented in this image is a devil sitting in the tree growing out of the head of a boy who is buried underground. The connotations of this image aren’t quite as easy to ascertain. This image may have been designed to add credence to one side of the “nature versus nurture” debate. It might have been created to underline a point about the corruptibility of innocence, or that sinful thinking will yield no fruit. This image was actually created by artist David Gothard for an article in Utne Reader, entitled “Criminal Minds”, which spoke about predicting violent behaviour in people from an early age using brain scans. What this can tell us about interpreting art is that without context, you might struggle to understand what the artist is trying to convey.
But does it really matter what message an artist is trying to deliver to the wider world? If it isn’t obvious to an audience, then why bother making it in the first place? Why should we, the audience, bear the responsibility of interpretation?
Because art is personal.
Art belongs as much to the public as it does the artist. Street signs, graffiti, doodles on the back of a notepad can all be interpreted in different ways. All of them can be called art. Without context, a region specific hazard sign could mean one of many things depending on how you see it and in what circumstances. Semiotics, in theory, is as easy as a flow chart, but when applied practically, it can get to be quite semantic.
Ever since our society has had access to individual forms of media, from our own copy of the Bible to the smart phone in our pocket, we have treated it as the guiding light to which we look for answers. And from the very beginning, the establishments who mandated public access to the media foresaw a change in the balance of power that would inevitably put them at a disadvantage. So began the long standing conflict between the static establishments of power and the evolving body of the media.
Though individually we can identify our own measure of dependence on current media, often times the media itself, and the agendas behind it, will try to convince its audience that it is simultaneously passive and easily persuaded, and that it has a duty to monitor ‘at risk’ minorities, often children and adolescents, as they consume whatever flavour of dangerous content is targeted that month. In recognising that providing information alone is not enough to create a dependence or need for engagement with a media outlet, the people with agendas who control or seek to control the flow of information will provide its audience with a motive behind the information, often times creating an enemy where none exists. A recent example of this is the controversy between the Wall St Journal and Youtuber Felix Kjellburg.
This conflict between the old and new faces of the media has highlighted a prevalent issue embedded in our society; the manipulation of the media by the empowered to sway what they perceive as the weak mined crowd. The construction of monopolies, democratically elected politicians slandering honest journalism and the endless onslaught of advertising and guilt tripping has created a divide between the established systems of information delivery and its wide and varied audience. Never has this issue been so prevalent as it has today, and seems to be a regular feature of televised news and Twitter feeds alike.
Aside from what journalists already report on in these stories about how we are influenced by ‘fake news’ and pop culture, there is very little information looping back to media outlets about what their audience is responding and subscribing to. Audience studies can only convey information about who is watching or reading what and when. There is no empirical indication of political or religious belief, only the assumptions that can be drawn from that information. This in turn prompts responses from the media outlets to create content they feel will draw attention to them and subsequently their contracted advertisers.
Ultimately the choice to consume and what we consume is down to us, not the media.