Friday, February 22, 2008

The Case for Markets

Chuck beat me to the punch, but it's still worth highlighting Henry Jenkin's 2-part interview (pt 1|pt 2) with Alexandra Juhasz on her YouTube pedagogy as well as her blog. I particularly found this bit from the interview interesting:
Furthermore, my students found that the system of user-ranking, or popularity, has the effect where normative or hegemonic ideas rise to the top of YouTube. The society's already accepted opinions about race, or politics, are most highly valued, receive the most hits, and thus are the easiest to see.
Since much of my work involves a) thinking about methodology and b) reflecting on the best way to adequately explain ideological formations/political legitimations, I'm particularly interested in the way that newer media not only challenge traditional market formations of media production and distribution, but how they may suggest that traditional left-theoretical accounts have overstated the distorting/coercive role of market structures. Traditionally, after all, left cultural criticism has offered a portrait of the market as the problem for a politically ideal representation. Either it distorts by subjugation of non-market concerns to the logic of commodification or it distrorts by not actually allowing a true competitive market (eclipsed as it is by oligopoly and lack of entry). Hence, the political economy critique which underscores that markets do not allow for audience demands and that media organizations prove problematic because they intercede with true demand. (Cultural studies sidesteps this question with a "yes, but" rhetorical stance: the market distortion is still a problem, only not a determining one.)

Well, to the extent that Juhasz's and her class's observation is correct - I suspect it is - at least one alternative to firm-market feedback also produces normatively undesirable representation. Markets and market structures, oligopolies especially, can serve as normatively useful intermediaries, just as they can sometimes exacerbate normatively undesirable representations. This is a key insight that economists of culture can add, even if some applications of mainstream economics still seem heterodox for a film and media studies used to political economy critique.

It's not the case that films and television shows participate in hegemonic ideologies (think the rabid proliferation of anti-gay jokes in Hollywood films in the 1980s) simply because the audience demands it, but we could take mainstream economists more as a departure point for understanding markets as translating mechanisms between audience-ideology and industry-ideology: this translation is not perfect, so that mismatches and irrationality themselves can be the basis of study.

Schematic, I know, and this all may go against the political and intellectual impulses of the field. For instance, I would not be surprised if Juhasz takes a different conclusion from her YouTube observations. And I should note that I hardly hold a Panglossian view of markets, firms, and either's impact on culture. But neither do I want to foreclose what economics can tell us about culture, even if ultimately we humanists are looking at culture differently than the economists do.

3 comments:

MP:me said...

Chris,
I hope you will check out a few of the students' research projects for the YouTube class (www.youtube.com/mediapraxisme). Their research shows (and thinks about how) YouTube celebrates, is supported by, and supports corporate media culture, and hegemonic ideas and values: (look at the playlist popularity projects, for instance). We found that there is a "NicheTube," which functions differently, but the effect of ranking on YouTube keeps the ideas, forms, and power of NicheTube from having much influence on anything (it's too hard to find, its communities too scattered).

Alex

Chris Cagle said...

Thanks Alex,
I will take a look at some of the research projects. At stake in my question is what qualifies as "corporate media culture" - it's not a meaningless term, of course, but an idea worth investigating. Unless we assume corporate media to be by definition hegemonic, there's the possibility of a mismatch between the "corporate" and the "hegemonic" - or at least the need to explain their convergence. How does corporate governance impact, say, films, in a manner different from private control more tightly held? I have more questions than answers at this point, so will need to think more about this. Perhaps your students' findings will be more fodder for reflection.

aljean said...

Chris:
I agree that the fit between corporate and hegemonic is loose, but perhaps less exact than we'd hope. A significant amount of the video on YouTube is made by for-profit professionals selling things cultural. Another significant strand refers to and re-uses this media (whether critically, and that is almost always through irony, or not). The rampant, unchecked, almost unobserved (and certainly unexcused) racism, sexism and homophobia in these forms (lightly glossed by humor), not to mention celebration of immature fixations (violence, technology, etc.) lives here in a way currently disallowed in other corporate venues. This does not even begin to point to the impossibly juvenile comments which make discussion on the site irrelevant. Alex
I'd love you to point out some examples (on YouTube) where the corporate and hegemoic are not aligned!