In my final project I would like to tackle the concept of “Democratainment” as applied to media systems. Specifically, I am interested in exploring the ways, in which it reflects participatory culture, and also the processes of its evolvement through technology. To reach my objectives, I will use: chapter “Reality and the Plebiscite” from Hartley’s book “Television Truths”; chapters “Photoshop for Democracy” and “Democratizing Television” from Jenkins’ book “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide”; and chapter “The Technology and Society” from Williams’ book “Television: Technology and Cultural Form.”
I would like to use The Daily Show as a source of “Democratainment” and a space for reflecting participatory culture existing online and on television. 1. Williams: “The Technology and Society” Williams reflects over the nature and use of technology as either a cause or an effect in the social context. The research makes several claims about television as a cultural and technological phenomenon. It delivers news and entertainment to various audiences.
Being an easily accessible form of social communication, TV re-shapes social institutions and processes and changes people’s perceptions of the self and environments. It provides communities with greater mobility, transforming social, cultural and political spaces in an unpredictable manner. Television centralizes opinion making and links private frameworks to consumer economy. It mesmerizes spectators with magnitude and power. Finally, it serves and exploits the needs of society. These statements demonstrate that television may serve as a cause and effect of changes in the human nature or social order.
In order to define the place of technology in history, Williams compares technological determinism, as a school of thought describing progress in terms of technological advancement, and the paradigm viewing technology as symptomatic of social changes and integrated into particular social processes. The researcher suggests re-assessing the established conceptual framework. He considers technology in general and television specifically to be developed for specific goals of directly affecting social institutions and activities.
The author reminds that television has emerged as “a specific technological objective” (Williams 9) in result of scientific and technological breakthroughs (1875 – 1890). Gradually it has evolved into “a specific technological enterprise” (ibid. ) (since the 1920s). Describing the first period of TV history, William stresses the scarcity of investments to this particular technology. The society had no clear ideas concerning the contexts and objectives of its application.
The refinement of radio broadcasting and construction of complex image-processing systems brought television to the next developmental stage where it became the socially meaningful medium. The author underlines that innovative television communication has been predicted long before actual development and deployment. Society guided the process in parallel with acquiring mobility and appropriate assets. Williams formulates the objectives of television on the earlier stages of development as “passing necessary specific information, or maintaining contact and control” (14).
In the past the use of television was restricted due to limited technologies but in a course of time messages became broadcasted to the wider public. Television has surpassed traditional print systems in the ability to reflect the fluidity of information that is being shared between mobile agents. Williams makes clear that TV technology is “a new and powerful form of social integration and control” (17) which allows manipulating the needs and aspirations of various audiences on the wide-scale basis.
Moreover, data processed through television reach people in their home environments and engage them into the shared social, economic and political activities. Williams concludes the chapter stating that television serves both a cause and effect of changes occurring in the modern society. The complexity of this technology and its relationships with various institutions should be taken into account when analyzing contemporary communication and decision making processes. 2. Hartley: “Reality and the Plebiscite”
Describing the phenomenon of voting or expressing one’s opinion on a specific issue, Hartley distinguishes between representation and direct participation which correspond to passive obedience and active engagement, respectively. The latter is encouraged in the so-called “plebiscitary industries. ” The researcher defines them as “those agencies, production companies, and technological service providers whose business it is to commercialize the popular vote by turning it into an entertainment format” (Hartley 126).
Putting it differently, these subjects make efforts to blend private and public life environments of people who act simultaneously as consumers and citizens when choosing between alternatives or expressing opinions. The abovementioned plebiscitary parties achieve their goals across wide audiences due to digital and interactive technologies. Hartley starts the chapter with defining the concept of plebiscitary industries to draw the borderline between traditional and innovative political science. The old-style approach distinguishes between an individual as a consumer and the individual as a citizen.
The former functions only in the buy-and-sell contexts and is manipulated by specific commercial or political authorities. The latter operates in the centralized political processes. The traditional political science assumes masculinization of the collective citizen with extended rights of decision making and feminization of the collective consumer portrayed as a typical housewife making choices in shopping malls. Contrastingly, the new-style framework dispels segregation of the voting audience by gender and rejects the consumer-citizen dichotomy.
It acknowledges “a widespread popular desire for participation in a direct open network rather than control by closed expert systems” (Hartley 127). Representatives of various groups are equally free to share voices in a collaborative effort on political or entertainment occasions. Technologies of the new era aim at linking politics and entertainment to elicit individual opinions on critical issues not only through delivery of the selected content but also through raising emotions. Audiences’ responses are quantified to provide a numerical account of people’s mindsets.
Data are used by the owners or producers of media channels to measure the extent to which particular products become popular with users. Hartley argues that figures cannot stand for actual preferences. The author suggests that ratings should be used as a reference point to shape policies only when individuals agree to abide to the majority opinion. Public consensus over the validity and acceptability of phenomena is seriously undermined in broadcasting media, while Internet and alternative information systems provide customization of communication services and more accurate digital tracking of individual voices.
To illustrate the trend, the author refers to collecting votes through Web servers or mobile phones, cross-country charts or TV shows. Each way is actively used by the plebiscitary industries nowadays. Hartley mentions examples of the more or less plebiscitary TV shows such as Eurovision Song Contest, American Candidate, Big Brother to illustrate the phenomenon of “Democratainment” or providing a link between democratic decision making and entertainment. These cases vary from each other in terms of the absence or presence of experts who control public opinion and design criteria for excluding participating candidates.
However, in each case spectator contributes her or his vote as “a narrative voice” (Hartley 142) to control the content and processes in the live format. The next stage for the plebiscite industries is to attract passionate consumers who would be able to create media content on the basis of their preferences and distribute it interactively. 3. Jenkins: “Photoshop for Democracy” In this book chapter, Jenkins analyzes the 2004 presidential campaign from the perspective of employing the elements of popular entertainment culture to engage citizens in political processes through the “serious fun” approaches.
First, the author discusses the role of grassroots communities in shaping the media landscape and pulling together popular culture and citizenship. Second, he observes the characteristics of fan and consumer communities transforming themselves into the audiences of informed citizens and political decision makers. Third, the researcher defines how the informed person can become a monitorial citizen in alternative environments such as Weblogs or online networks. Finally, Jenkins reviews the properties of entertainment culture as different from the political framework in terms of trust, flexibility, intimacy, and vulnerability of individuals.
The chapter is concluded with some projections concerning establishment of the diversity culture as based on collaboration and trust among information agents. Re-assessing the 2004 election campaign, the author stresses the tendency of the new-style politics to mobilize narrowcast and grassroots media (e. g. , Weblogs, newscasts, e-mail alerts, Photoshop images, parody shows, etc. ) as alternatives to the broadcast and commercial systems (e. g. , TV and radio channels, newspapers, magazines, official newsletters, etc. ).
Jenkins mentions the parody video “Trump Fires Bush” placed online during the 2004 electoral campaign. It consisted of episodes from the famous Donald Trump’s show The Apprentice (2004) and a set of images reflecting some elements of George W. Bush’s presidency such as justification of war, economic crisis, and budget overspending on military tasks. The piece was used by True Majority, a grassroots education and advocacy non-government organisation, to raise voices and funds against the particular candidate. It became highly popular on the Web and encouraged Internet users to discuss the burning political problems.
Upon describing such creative tools of public opinion making, Jenkins refers to digital democracy or the democracy promoted through specific digital means and cultural forms. They allow people enjoying more active participation in political decisions, more independence from centerline expertise, and more efficient multi-agent problem solving. According to the author, Photoshopped images accompanied by appropriate text messages and distributed among members of social networks can encourage information recipients to question the officially shared viewpoints or uncover hidden messages.
The same goals are fulfilled through blogs which are innovative representations of “personal and subcultural grassroots expression involving summarizing and linking to other sites” (Jenkins 215). Bloggers expand information framework by providing multiple cross-references to alternative data so that recipients can critically reflect over dominant ideologies and develop independent voices.
Alternative hybrid spaces such as Weblogs and online communities, where non-commercially produced artefacts (Photoshopped images, posters, low-budget movies, texts, etc.) are exchanged, perfectly assist people in distinguishing between different regimes of truth. In other words, information consumers are shown that one and the same piece of data can be presented and interpreted in various ways depending on the political claims. In this regard, Jenkins introduces a very important concept of the monitorial citizen as “knowledgeable in some areas, somewhat aware of others, operating in a context of mutual trust and shared resources” (Jenkins 226).
In other words, this agent is more empowered and politically active than someone who gets informed through popular broadcasting channels. The researcher argues that data should not be obediently digested but carefully reflected upon and independently processed to link politics to one’s everyday worlds. When participating in political decision making, an individual should feel oneself free to choose between alternatives and develop a spontaneous, fresh voice.
Describing the old- and new-style information environments which serve political needs, Jenkins depicts broadcasting media as a “push” space “where messages go out to the public whether they seek them or not,” while grassroots narrowcasting media are the “pull” ones reaching “those with an active interest in seeking out information on a particular topic” (Jenkins 213). Given the difference in strategies, the author calls for following the principles of convergence which, in the context of the present chapter, mean consciously choosing between those information systems.
Agents should strive to participate in political decision making in personally comfortable environments which are not controlled by external authorities. 3. Jenkins: “Democratizing Television” In this concluding chapter of the book the author reflects over few important concepts such as “convergence culture” and “fan culture” as important environments to reform the contemporary mass-media scene.
Referring to the interactive news resources (e. g. , the Current cable news network, the Slashdot Web-site, the digitized BBC database, etc.), where consumers are encouraged to actively and critically participate in the development and distribution of information on ad hoc basis, Jenkins restates that convergence culture should be viewed as a transition “from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels” (243). In other words, the difference associated with convergence tackles expansion of media resources in terms of number, scope, and format, when several alternative media paths are used simultaneously by various groups of users.
Moreover, various information systems become dependent on each other. They provide alternative access modes to users, and host a range of relationships between stakeholders representing the worlds of corporate media and grassroots communities. Jenkins concludes that convergence culture is based on equal rights of media consumers to create, select, revise, comment, share and spread diverse content (participatory culture) using several formats at once.
Operations are conducted to create the promising framework of collective intelligence where each member is empowered to contribute personal knowledge to the shared media stream. As the author describes it, people use several information channels (e. g. , TV and Internet) in order to "consume – and produce – media together, when they pool their insights and information, mobilize to promote common interests, and function as grassroots intermediaries ensuring that important messages and interesting content circulate more broadly” (Jenkins 245).
Information turns into the communal resource which cannot be interpreted or manipulated only in the top-down direction but is appropriated and accommodated also along horizontal axes. Being regarded as such, convergence has three important political effects when performed consciously, creatively, and meaningfully. First, new ideas are produced and spread across the communities in the process of critical reading. Second, new social structures (knowledgeable collectives) emerge which enjoy access to multiple data channels.
Third, participatory culture is implemented to give birth to new models of cultural production. The author suggests borrowing best practices from fan culture (fandom) to negotiate customers’ interests in the challenging spaces between broadband media and alternative grassroots systems. Jenkins defines fandom as “born of a balance between fascination and frustration: if media content didn’t fascinate us, there would be no desire to engage with it; but if it didn’t frustrate us on some level, there would be no drive to rewrite or remake it” (247).
Putting it differently, collaboration between media users takes place only when content encourages people to initiate meaningful interpretation or distribution of it to change the status quo. The researcher sees no problem in linking media to entertainment since the latter industry provides many efficient strategies to build strong user communities with distinctive voices and attract younger audiences to social activities.
Discussing convergence, Jenkins admits that the alternative approach to media (demonstrated by the abovementioned cable and online news makers which grant amateur content producers the chance to display their products to the critically minded public) facilitates democratization of the media market which means the decreased control of corporations over content, the wider access of customers to the appropriate resources, the diversification of information, and the emergence of alternative knowledge cultures.
On the other hand, democratization of media poses several important questions such as the impact of market conditions, the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders, and the degree to which audiences are ready to change their conceptualizations of the phenomena under discussion and re-assess their own relations to the new environments. These challenges can be resolved in several ways. New collectives of media content users should negotiate with large companies about copyright modes, censorship, distribution strategies, and information management.
Online communities should share their experience with other stakeholders of the media market. Finally, media literacy programmes should be designed and deployed to change the outdated image of media as a means of manipulation. 5. The Daily Show The brief background of The Daily Show is provided on its home page (http://www. thedailyshow. com). Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg were originators of this alternative media resource in 1996. Jon Stewart became host in 1999.
Each program release is prepared by the journalist team consisting of Aasif Mandvi, Wyatt Cenac, John Oliver, Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. Access to content is provided on cable TV and online. Utilizing the ideas of Williams, this media product is a cause and effect of social changes. If the latter tackles freedom of speech with hybridity of topics and discourses or combined utilisation of several media resources (TV and Internet), then The Daily Show provides a suitable format to implement these features (i. e. , acts as a cause) and adjusts itself to (i. e. , is affected by) the changed social order.