Mechanical Reproduction of Art in the Internet Age

Firstly, I want to apologize for how late this blog post is–earlier this week, I was very sick then went out of town for a comedy festival. Hopefully, people still have time to comment engage with this post before class tomorrow night! 


In XII, Benjamin asserts, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art.” If it is true that artworks have gone from being cult experiences, where few people had access to things like cave paintings or holy statues, to being interpreted based on their ease of exhibition and of reproduction, then it’s pretty easy to see that the very idea of what constitutes as “art” has shifted tremendously since the invention of the photograph. Benjamin points out that even after photography was invented, film was introduced another reproduction that, though it’s arguably less “real” than stage performances, reaches a huge audience.


Around Part X, Benjamin points out that with the rise of film and with the ease of publishing in the last century, the distinction between “author” and “public” became blurry. This made me think about the Internet. Not only is there ease of exhibition unlike anything the world has ever seen, but there are also millions of channels through which people can express their ideas and create art.


What do you think Benjamin would have to say about Internet things like memes (easily reproducible, and difficult to trace back to a singular author) and Facebook Live videos? Are they art just because of the large audience? How has the Internet changed contemporary perceptions of art and in what ways is this change similar to/different from the changes that Benjamin points out stemming from the introduction of photography and film?

Photography and Border Crossings

Apropos of two discussion points tonight, this photo-essay centers on life along the U.S.-Mexican border 80 years ago.

Given our discussion about capturing and reproducing reality, what are your thoughts? Keeping the Hindenburg discussion in mind (where reality was both captured, but also partially obscured), what do you think might be missing in these images? is there any way to “know” or would it all be speculation? More, to what degree do you think selectivity or framing come into play (i.e. that which is “in-frame” and also that which has been omitted/left “out-of-frame”)? And how, after 80 years, would we be able to know (one way or the other)?

The essay’s accompanying text asserts:

Lange’s images, while uniquely of their time, capture both the recognizable signs of bureaucracy and the timelessness of life on the periphery.

This harks to Carolina’s question about author’s intent. Do you find this (above) interpretation of the photographs persuasive? Or, reflective of our discussion of the recipient’s interpretive power, do you see other messages/ideas present in the photograph’s content.

Finally, do the photographs work as a unity to convey a meaning that departs from any one, in isolation. In short, like a syntagm, do the (photograph-) signs operate collectively as a system of meaning, independent of the individual (photo-) unit present within the paradigm (set)?

Ideology and Utopia

Dear FMS 040ers,

I wanted to apologize (a bit) for (the disorder of) last night–the technical glitches not only interfered with our rhythm, it also influenced our ability to work through the video examples (i.e. the empirical data that was intended to facilitate our epistemological work–to use terms from last night’s lecture). Hopefully, in subsequent classes we won’t have as much environmental interference, so that we can just roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.

So, as you saw (and heard), last night involved a goodly amount of lecture. Just so that you know, that is not my preferred style; but in this course, some amount of lecture is unavoidable. I will try to find ways around it, but (just a head’s up): on certain opaque or else congested topics, it will be unavoidable.

Apologies there, as well.

Anyway, while we are on the subject of the empirical/epistemological interface, if I might make a suggestion . . . perhaps you might care to think though the evidence provided as a means of better mastering it. For instance:

  • how does the Abbott and Costello routine help us process elements like paradigm, syntagm, convention, code, and system?
  • how do the Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders’ political ads help us understand the 3 elements of semiotics: sign, code, culture?
  • what aspects of those political ads help facilitate understanding of concepts associated with semiotics: sign, signification, denotation, connotation, constraint, motivation?
  • are elements from Plato’s allegory–form, representation, reality–discernible?
  • at a more advanced level, how would the Barthes model of connotation be applied to the political ads?

We will do a bit more work on these aspects in class next week (especially Barthes’ model of first and second order connotation)–so, head’s up there. Please feel free to work through some of these points in this space and/or post questions about this on the Wiki to help facilitate our classroom discussion next Tuesday.

One final dimension before closing . . .

Yesterday we identified a few heuristics that we might carry forth in our theorization of media, including:

  1. Plato’s allegory;
  2. Kuhn’s model of scientific (r)evolution; and
  3. Mannheim’s ideology and utopia.

Removing the third heuristic from the realm of theory, can you see specific instances of this dualism play out in the “real world” of experience?

In effect, rather than focusing on the form (theory, itself) do you see evidence of “ideology” and “utopia” at play in content (actual real world thought and action)?

Extra plus bonus points if you can discern evidence of ideology and utopia in media form or content, itself.

If you have thoughts on any of this, we’d all benefit from hearing them!

Thinking through Signs

Welcome to the first (formal) blog thread.

Last night we discussed what is and is not a medium, as well as the relationship that content has to various media. We also spoke a bit about certain processes associated with media existence and activity, in addition to (potential) impacts arising (from media activity) out in the social world . . . I know, it was a lot to take in.

Now, in our first reading, by John Fiske, the focus seems to be less on media than on content. Specifically, the reading centers on “signs” and how this relates to: (1) human communication, and (2) how signs might be formalized into a coherent “system” of meaning.

Building on this reading, think a bit about any of the following:

  1. sign language
  2. body language/gesture
  3. written script
  4. spoken words
  5. sound
  6. music
  7. odor
  8. taste
  9. emoji

What place do any (or all) have in a theory of signs? How are they related to our understanding of communication. How do any of these operate (concretely) as signs and/or within a hermetic system of meaning?

Identify an example (or two) of one of these (above elements) and explain it/them using some of the ideas or concepts in the Fiske reading.

Finally, is media’s role in this exercise: negligible, pervasive, or case-by-case (situational)?

{I know–it sounds like an essay prompt. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Write about whatever strikes your fancy, and no more than 1 to 3 paragraphs is expected. [Some writers, of course, can’t help themselves and before they know it, have penned 7 or 12!]}

About the (Dis)Course page

This category (page) is the “obligatory” space; the one where students will be expected to create/moderate/contribute to reading and lecture-related discourse each week.

Note that there are a few roles specified: blog creator/moderator and blog contributor. These roles differ, but one is no less important than the other.

“Blog creator/moderator” are those students (for the moment, given the current class size, usually two per week) who initiate a thread on a topic associated (primarily, in the first instance) with the readings. Past lecture material and/or previous readings may be broached, but the primary intent is to get us all thinking about the current readings. Discussion about lecture material or previous readings may best be diverted to/found in the “Post-Hoc” page.

In order to stay abreast of who is responsible for thread creation each week, students should refer to the “blog leader/creator thread rotation” posted in the “Resources: Course Administration” section of the course website. As intimated above, the rotation may have to be revised during the course of the semester, depending on adds/drops, so consult with the rotation schedule periodically, so as not to be caught off guard.

At a minimum, then, it is anticipated that there will be 2 unique threads per week (although moderators) may choose to create more. ALL students are expected to respond (by writing a reply) to at least one thread per week. Thus, students can anticipate penning between 13 and 26 blog entries during the semester. Obviously, the more threads one contributes to, the more (potential) impact on one’s participation evaluation (although, please note that quality trumps quantity). Students will be asked to keep a record of their posts and replies in one file inside their Dropbox folder on Trunk, in order to facilitate evaluation of their effort at term’s end.

Designated thread leaders are also asked to moderate discussion—which may mean asking for clarification of writers, or seeking to stimulate lagging discussion, or redirecting wayward discourse. How well a week’s conversation transpires is factored into the moderator’s evaluation.

What sort of content is being sought? What topic a moderator selects choose is up to her/him, but it ought to:

  • be reading-centered;
  • make a connection to prior readings and/or class lecture/discussion;
  • incorporate/reference phenomena from the social world (a media production, event, utterance, etc.)

Again, once a post is made, all students are expected to log a response, and the complete thread will likely be touched upon in class, so students should be ready to explain and defend what they have written.

Any questions? Use the comments section (below).

What is this (“Post-Hoc”) page for?

As the name implies, “Post-hoc” is where we turn for further discussion about lectures past.

Not clear about what was discussed?
Have a point that there wasn’t time to address?
Want to suggest further readings or make connections to media products that others may wish to sample (as they pertain to our in-class discourse)?

Here is where that can transpire. If we’re lucky, it won’t only be one student speaking in a vacuum; others will choose to weigh in . . . and from that, so much more may follow.

What happens in the Assignments section?

A major portion of the grade are four Mini-Projects. While it is not required, students may wish to share their work, for the edification of their peers. If so, this is the space where that should happen. And if you choose to share (GREAT!); it is hoped that your fellows-in-media-theorization will chime in with their observations, commentary, suggestions, evaluation, further recommendations (in the “Comments” section).

In addition, the syllabus mentions that, throughout the semester, there may be opportunities for extra credit. If so, it may be the case that certain of these assignments will be blog-based. And if they are, students will be asked to post their work product here. (And, in such cases, as with the Mini-Projects, fellow students are encouraged to offer their reactions in the “Comments” section).

What is “Updates” for?

Our community doesn’t only exist inside the classroom. We are not simply an artificial and illusory grouping formed each Tuesday evening for 3 hours (and then disbanded/destroyed), to be reconstructed once more 7 days later.

Because we are an on-going collective, we live in simulated space continuously. When the need comes for contact outside of the scheduled (co-terminus space-time) block (of class), this is one means for achieving union.

“Updates” is just as it sounds: a forum for messages associated with the administration and conduct of our community. Get in the habit of checking this space periodically so that we will all be on the same page.

About the ‘Dicta’ page

This category (page) is the “free” space; the one where students with initiative or simply time to kill hanker to post something related to Media/Theory that may or may not have been on our primary radar. Dicta is not quite dross, but it also may not be on the mainline. It can be a follow-up to a reading, something mentioned in class that (you believe) warrants greater airing, an application one sees between the reading/lecture material and the world outside.

This is basically one of the “organic” aspects mentioned in the syllabus: a tool that contributes to on-going knowledge generation, shaping and growth.

For students looking to improve their grades, here’s one outlet. Your opportunity outside of class time to offer opinions, analysis, post links, make connections, ask questions, provide assistance to those who are uncertain about the material, offer one another encouragement and, otherwise, keep our intellectual community energized and focused on the course themes. If you have ambition and energy, here is where you can make a major impact.

In a word: if you are up for it, go for it!

What are Medi(t)ations?

This page is intended to emulate one that I once maintained on my website. Feel free to use those entries as exemplars, if not templates.

Medi(t)ations are media-based, real-world centered, reflections on: communication, language, meaning, societal organization, cultural values, and social activity. They don’t have to be exhaustively researched, but they should be substantive.

Provocative is fine, too (but keep it PG, if possible, and by any and all means, PC).

Creative is good and speculative is fine, too.

What for?

If the enlightenment of humanity isn’t sufficient, rest assured that your medi(t)ations will almost surely help pump up your FMS 040 evaluation.

Commentary on fellow student’s productions, of course, is welcome.