Participating in Culture

October 9, 2009
With technological advancements emerging everyday, human beings can have a complete social life within the comfort of their own home. Online and social gaming is not part of my everyday life, but I witness the effects of such an invention on my friends and family members. Why do people enjoy entering a world that is based on fiction, and what is the result of such a transition?

To start off, the expertise of Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, must be considered. When Klosterman writes, “Real people are actively trying to live like fake people, so real people are no less fake” (Klosterman 4-5), one can see the correlation between participatory culture and this statement. When people take on characters in a fictional world, they are no longer themselves. Therefore, they may absorb the qualities of fictional characters or settings and apply them to real life. This theory is particularly evident in Klosterman’s experiment with “The Sims.” This is a video game in which a virtual character does everything the average human being does, while trying not to become depressed. Klosterman says, “The Sims is an escapist vehicle for people who want to escape to where they already are” (Klosterman 13). This means that the objective of “The Sims,” is to make a copy of one’s own life, which will be perfect and controllable. In this case, one is able to divert reality, while maintaining a manipulated version of it within the video game. This is the main reason for interacting with participatory culture.

This leads me to further question my own interaction with participatory culture. The perception and experience of a video game is a transaction between the medium and the player. Based on the assumption that perception is also a function of the nervous system, one can also compare the effect of a video game to McLuhan’s theory on extensions. In simply viewing a video game we are connected to it, but when we are physically playing as well, we are completely consumed. If we are participating this fully with media, are we likely to become more or less social creatures?

Another attraction of the video game is its ability to connect us with others. Within the safety of the home, we can meet new people and establish relationships without ever leaving. For some, this idea is very relieving, as entertainment can be had without having to confront one’s fears of reality. Online gaming does allow for human interaction, but when you can embody a character and leave yourself behind, is this interaction true? I think that because you are the one controlling the character, and because your nervous system is participating in the interaction, it is just as legitimate as face-to-face communication.

Additionally, the presence of violence in media and the participation in violence in real life can be compared. We have already established that when one plays a video game, they are engrossed entirely. Therefore, when one participates in violent games, would they be more likely to participate in violence in their everyday lives? The simple answer would be yes, but studies prove otherwise. A study conducted by Hagell and Newborn revealed that young adults who demonstrated violent behaviour watched less television and video than those who did not, which is presented in David Gauntlett’s “Ten Things Wrong with the ‘Media Effects” Model.” With this, one can determine that although it is possible to become obsessed with the entertainment aspect of the game, humans are capable of separating the realities of a video game from the reality of everyday life. Gauntlett also discusses the consequence of becoming antisocial due to participatory culture. He states that the media may not be to blame for antisocial behaviour, and I agree with this theory. Although real human communication becomes less frequent with online gaming, social interaction is still present. Access to the Internet has taken me away from time otherwise spent socializing and being active, but I believe that online gaming encourages individuals to lead a social life that is based around an online reality.

Human participation in culture is a very complex topic, which delves into the question of reality. The definition of reality varies from person to person, and so it is impossible to imagine the extent of participatory culture on the human race. The results of participatory culture are the ability to be entertained within the comfort of one’s own home, to interact anonymously with others, and to escape the real world in exchange for a controllable one.

Works Cited

Gauntlett, David. “Ten Things Wrong with the ‘Media Effects’ Model.”
     David Gauntlett Theory. 1998. Web. 9 Oct. 2009.      <http://theory.org.uk/david/effects.htm&gt;.

Klosterman, Chuck. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. New York: Scribner,      2003.

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Escape the Power of Advertising

October 9, 2009
When addressing the mass media, advertising is one of the primary modes of expressing information. Generally, companies use various means of advertising to appeal to a target market and sell a product. Specifically, companies use various advertising techniques to target a particular consumer, coercing them into purchasing a product.

This tactic can be seen within the advertisements of Calvin Klein. The advertisement for “Escape for Men” is one worth deconstructing. The black and white advertisement features a couple engaging in sexual activity, amongst the name of the product and brand. This advertisement was displayed in magazines and on billboards. The product being sold in this advertisement is cologne. However, an image of the product cannot be found within the image. This means that the concept the image symbolizes is what is being sold to consumers, not the actual product itself.

Primarily, this advertisement portrays role stereotypes. The male in this image is the dominant character, perpetuating the myth that men are the more powerful gender. Everything about the positions of both individuals shows the woman’s vulnerability and the man’s strength. Why do consumers accept this image as normal within the media? According to John Berger, images presented to the media have always been this way. Women are depicted as property, while men are depicted as authoritative and controlling. In his book Ways of Seeing, Berger concludes that, in the past, women were generally painted as nudes to be seen by men. In this case, Berger’s theory can be applied to modern advertising. The Calvin Klein advertisement shows a man in possession of a woman, who is present to show male consumers that they can have what this man owns if they purchase the product.

This advertisement serves to benefit both the Calvin Klein brand, and males in general. It seeks to emphasize the male and put down the female. This advertisement is targeted towards adult males, and is designed to appeal to them. Again, the positioning of the models and the inference one can make from their arrangement is what makes the advertisement alluring to male consumers. Consequently, this advertisement dehumanizes women by portraying them as sexual objects that can be obtained with the purchase of cologne. Children and adolescents who view this advertisement will obtain a distorted perception of the roles of men and women in society, which is harmful to either gender. What we perceive is culturally determined, which is proven true with with the purpose of advertising. Boys will learn to perceive themselves as domineering, and will make it their goal to become the image they see in the media. Girls will perceive themselves as inadequate, and will always compare themselves to men and other women without satisfaction with their bodies.

Neil Postman poses a question in which he asks whether the new media enhances or diminishes our moral sense. Postman responds to this question by listing the ways in which human beings have tarnished the world through the technological advancements of the twenty-century. Can this same theory, (that new media corrupted humans in a time of new beginnings), be applied to the effect of advertising on the youth? I believe that the explicit images used in the media do have a profound influence on adolescents.

To support this, I will quote Chuck Klosterman, author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Klosterman writes, “The mass media causes sexual misdirection: It prompts us to need something deeper than what we want” (Klosterman 6). This means that the images and icons we are presented with through the media show us something that we want, not something we necessarily need. The media pressures us to be like the individuals we admire, and does so through the persuasion of advertising. This Calvin Klein advertisement shows us what we want, and tells us that the only way to get it is through the brand’s product.

It is apparent that this Calvin Klein advertisement is both controversial and provocative. This advertisement confirms the theories of Berger, Postman, and Klosterman, by selling an image to audiences that is not needed in society.

Works Cited

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation      and Penguin Books, 2008.

Klosterman, Chuck. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. New York: Scribner,      2003.

Postman, Neil. “The Humanism of Media Ecology.” Media Ecology      Association. 17 June 2000. Web. 9 Oct. 2009. <http://www.media-     ecology.org/publications/MEA_proceedings/v1/humanism_of_media_
     ecology.html>.

Richardson, Tim. “Kewl Commercials/ Weird Ads.” Witiger. 27 March 2009.      Web. 9 Oct. 2009.      <http://www.witiger.com/marketing/kewlcommercials-weirdads.htm&gt;.


The True Extension of Media

October 9, 2009
Is it possible for technology to become a component of the human body? When asked this question, you may imagine subjects like the Terminator or Iron Man, but the idea of humans and technology combining is much more plausible than one may think.

Marshall McLuhan, an expert on the implications of the media, developed a theory in which technology becomes an extension of the human body. In “The Playboy Interview:Marshall McLuhan” by Playboy Magazine, McLuhan states that, “all media, from the phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment.” This means that any technology we use in our everyday lives is expanding a particular part of our body, and throwing off the equilibrium of our senses. For example, clothing is an extension of the skin, the alphabet is an extension of the eye, and computer keyboards are an extension of the hands.

With this theory clearly articulated, it is obvious that such extensions take place in my everyday routines as well as yours. I agree with McLuhan’s theory on extensions, as it is apparent that media is capable of encompassing both our body parts and our senses. For instance, when we watch television, our sense of touch is altered. Basically, we are propelled out of the reality of sitting on the couch, to the reality that exists within the television screen. Furthermore, human beings are forced to actively participate in the watching of a television show. Viewers are required to use their minds to put the indistinct components of a television image together, thus involving the viewer entirely. This is described by McLuhan as a very cool medium, as it requires concentrated participation and low definition to be watched.

If watching the television requires so much participation from the viewer, how is it possible that humans can take on other activities while watching a television show? Some people are able to carry on a conversation while remembering the specific details of a show, while others need to have complete focus. Again, I still agree with McLuhan’s theory on extensions, in that a sense is broadened when interacting with the media. However, the act of extending our body may not be a negative concept. If one is able to watch television, wear clothes, and write at the same time, they are completely immersed in the world around them. This shows a human’s true association with their surroundings, and it displays a certain degree of intelligence. The media helps humans unite with their environment and become more immersed in the world. Through active participation with the media, our senses are expanded, which proves the brain’s ability to compute more than one piece of information at a time, making us more intelligent individuals. This may even help us to realize our environment without having to learn a new one, which McLuhan says is a downfall of the human lifestyle.

Scott McCloud’s expertise on comic books can also be considered with this theory. He believes that the human mind plays a significant role in understanding the content and format of a comic book. With a concept called “closure,” humans actively make sense of the world around them. When McCloud states, “In film, closure takes place continuously… In fact, as our minds, aided by the persistence of vision, transform a series of still pictures into a story of continuous motion” (McCloud 65), one can see the correlation between this theory and McLuhan’s, along with the idea that the mind and the senses are always involved and extended to comprehend the media. Viewing the media entails more than just a blank stare. It requires involvement of the mind and the senses in order to be understood.

When listening to music, I am extending my ears. When I watch television, I am altering my sense of touch. I am interacting with my two favourite mediums more than I realize, as I am inviting them into my mind and body. Such a partnership is invisible, but it is in fact there. Technology has the power to bring us into an entirely different world. Whether it is an extension of one part of the body, the engrossing of one of the senses, or a compilation of both, technology can invade our everyday lives with both positive and negative effects.

(This is Blog #5: Theory/Praxis)

Works Cited

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.

“The Playboy Interview: Marshall McLuhan.” Playboy Magazine. March      1960. Web. 2 Oct. 2009.      <http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/links/mcluhan/pb.html&gt;.