Sunday, October 25, 2009

Marcus' Questions

Q1) I thought Ana’s “Brown Tide Rising” was an interesting read, and in a way, it made me think of those ‘chicken and the egg’ scenarios in media research – did the media begin referring to Hispanic immigration with storm metaphors, and then politicians picked it up, or were the media responding to language used in the public already? It reminded me of agenda setting theory, which struggles with the same question of timing.

Q2) It also made me wonder about terminology used in stories on actual severe weather. It’s been a really calm hurricane season – which is great, don’t get me wrong – and Austin is usually pretty temperate, so maybe we just don’t see those stories very often, but what words do the media use to describe actual floods and storms? Is it the same language used to describe immigration, or does it just seem like it should use those classic weather terms, and it really isn’t? It’s one of those questions that sounds like a no brainer at first, but it might not be after all.

Q3) I think using Sherlock Holmes as an example for semiotic analysis works perfectly – particularly since there’s a new Holmes movie coming out in December. The plot is, of course, preposterous, and Hollywood has taken a clear departure from the old Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but for at least a few years, when today’s kids hear “Sherlock Holmes” they’re going to think of Robert Downey Jr., not the hounds of the Baskervilles. Another example of different images meaning different things to different people, and the same iconic image being used for very different ends.

Q4) I liked Berger’s usage of Agatha Christie to explain semiotics, and I liked the idea of decoding a mystery as an example of decoding images and meanings. But there’s a critical assumption there that, I think, goes unsaid – it assumes that readers can “crack the case,” so to speak, and there are plenty of mysteries out there where it’s just impossible for the audience to do so. Viewers may be able to solve Murder on the Orient Express based on the clues the story gives out, but what about the Usual Suspects, or Reservoir Dogs? Or even the new Sherlock Holmes, which, once again, is preposterous? Stores aren’t always designed to be unraveled, so is there a sense that some images cannot be definitively decoded?

Q5) I thought Berger’s commentary on Marxism made some sense, particularly his comment that “each of us has to decide whether Marxism still makes sense.” And I think much of it has to do with the loaded baggage – much of it appropriate for semiotic analysis – that terms like Marxism and Communism carry; your average American is going to associate both with the Soviet Union and/or Russia, and possibly its cranky judo-master of a leader. Those words aren’t going to trigger concepts of power relationships or academic analysis; more often than not, it’ll be images of nuclear –nucular? - weapons. And for those few of us that have experience with company towns, like me, that bear some resemblance to classic socialist economic systems, the words have further different meanings.

To comment on Sebastian’s post, I don’t think it has to do with “American exceptionalism;” I’m not even really sure how exceptional most Americans think we are, since there’s a difference between loud patriotism and honest-to-God egocentrism. Our politicians, maybe not, but that’s another story. But I do think we have a unique perspective on Marxist ideologies, rooted largely in the Cold War, that gives us a different interpretation on Marxism than scholars from other nations – but that’s not exceptionalism, that’s classic semiotics.

That being said, I can fully understand the other perspective as well – American culture, and academic ideas, are very prolific, and we do mass produce both for wide export. So I can understand why we would be considered dominant, and why any ideas we don’t favor could feel repressed; I just don’t see it that way. I think yes, we tend to be a bit hegemonic, but I don’t think we’re actively trying to quash Marxist ideology in an academic sense; we have our own reasons for not embracing the ideology, and the two are incidental to me.

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