Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Spectacular Evisceration of Lebron James


As Lebron James prepares to return to his former team for the first time following taking his talents to South Beach, he finds himself in uncharted territory, as one of the most hated figures in professional sports.

Lebron’s image has taken a decidedly steep descent since his hour-long television special announcing his free-agency decision.

While there are many theories as to the turn his image has taken, mine involves using Guy Debord’s notion of spectacle as a theoretical lens to deconstruct Lebron’s relationship with sports fans.

Debord describes spectacle as: “The illusory paradise that represented a total denial of earthly life is no longer projected into the heavens, it is embedded in earthly life itself.” (Thesis 20) and “The real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality.” (Thesis 36)

Lebron James was raised by spectacle, his High School games were featured on ESPN, and his market profile resulted in a $90 million contract from Nike before he began his NBA career. The spectacle crowned him King James, anointing him as the next great sporting icon, and proclaiming the rest of us as ‘witnesses’ to his ascent to the throne.

Lebron James was also raised on spectacle, he belongs to the portion of the population Debord referred to when he wrote: “The spectacle’s domination has succeeded in raising a whole generation moulded to its laws. The extraordinary new conditions in which the entire generation has effectively lived constitute a precise and comprehensive summary of all that, henceforth, the spectacle will forbid; and also what it will permit.” (Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 7). Having been surrounded by media for most of his life as most North Americans typically are, he is immersed in the “world view that has been materialized… view of the world that has become objective” (Thesis 5) constructed by the spectacle.

Lebron’s athletic gifts were highlighted within the spectacle, which also attempted to construct a narrative around his life that was similar to that of archetypal superstar athletes. The story of a humble boy from a humble background playing for his hometown team was a powerful interpellative force that aligned Lebron with many of the great athletes considered superstars before him. Debord wrote: “The spectacle presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned. It’s sole message is: ‘what appears is good, what is good appears.’” (Thesis 12). If Lebron is constructed within the spectacle as the next coming of Michael Jordan, then who is the audience to question the logic of the spectacle?

The spectacle built Lebron, and he was more than willing to use it to further his image. His televised free-agency decision, along with its two-hour pre and four-hour post analysis, attracted millions of viewers. And as he joined the two other top free agents to form a Gold-medal adorned triple-threat in Miami, dancing on stage and laying claim to the next 6-7 NBA championship trophies, the professional sporting spectacle seemed poised to rise to previously unforeseen heights.

Debord wrote: “The spectacle is the stage at which the commodity has succeeded in totally colonizing social life. Commodification is not only visible, we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of commodity.” As a free agent, Lebron was the most sought after commodity in the NBA, and the decision special was the ultimate spectacle, celebrating his commodification alongside millions of viewers with a seemingly vested interest.

And now things aren’t things aren’t working out as planned, and as he returns to play his hometown (kind of ) and original team, with his new team floundering around .500, Lebron finds himself fighting against the reverse tide of the spectacle, as it uses it’s logic to further and further distance itself from the disappointment it ultimately set up. Debord wrote: “Since no one may contradict it, it has the right to contradict itself, to correct its own past.” (Comments… 28)
Spectacle is the promise that is never delivered, a constructed worldview based in images that appears superior to reality, but which in reality is a worldview that can never be attained. The spectacle may consider Lebron king, but in sports the crown is earned, and that truth is undeniable, even within the parameters the spectacle creates.

While undeniably supremely gifted as a basketball player, Lebron’s career has not had the same trajectory as the peers the spectacle places him among. He simply has not achieved the levels of success requisite to be placed alongside the legends of sport. Yet the spectacle places him among them nonetheless, and this stature is one Lebron wholeheartedly endorses.

But Lebron’s lack of success, for whatever reason, failed to live up to his construction within the spectacle. This caused ambiguity within the spectacle that was quickly subverted through the free agency extravaganza of 2010. The free-agency decision was fascinating because the superstar was choosing where he was going to build his legend, deciding where he would finally affirm his position among the greats of sport. Debord wrote: The society of the spectacle (is) where the commodity contemplates itself in a world of its’ own making. “ (Thesis 53) The spectacle was using it’s own logic to propel itself forward…

But then Lebron forgot he is not the entire spectacle himself, merely a component of it. By choosing the Miami HEAT in free agency, he opposed the entire narrative the spectacle had constructed for him. He left his hometown team, who had contested the spectacle themselves within negotiation, attempting to use the constructed narrative to convince him to remain. When he did leave, he did so in a callous manor (on a TV special), spurning not only his home team and its’ narrative, but also teams in New York and Chicago where the media presence would have only increased his profile within the spectacle. Miami as an NBA destination offered little spectacular appeal outside of the notion of the ‘big three’ that had come through free agency. As well, the HEAT are a team with a firmly entrenched superstar in Dwayne Wade, one who has already achieved more success than Lebron by winning an NBA Championship. In joining another established star, on his team, Lebron ignored an essential component of the archetypal superstar, that they achieve their status as a result of individual achievement along with their team. By going to Miami Lebron abdicated his role as king of spectacle, choosing to share the throne.

Heavy is head that carries the crown, but the spectacle offers no space for understanding outside its' own priority . Debord wrote: “With the most scientific assurance, the spectacle can identify the only place where disinformation could be found, in anything which can be said that might displease it.” (Comments, 47) His desire to play with friends in a less competitive environment was another step in opposition to the archetypal alignment the spectacle provided him with.
As the losses mount, the worldview constructed by the spectacle around Lebron is dissolving. Lebron cannot live up to the unreasonable expectations set out for him by the spectacle as the archetypal superstar athlete, he cannot carry a team to multiple championships in the way the spectacle constructed Michael as having done (despite the talent of his Bulls teams), and as a result the logic of the spectacle has turned on him.

The spectacle used to be about building him up, but now he is a living, breathing metaphor for the death of the spectacle. Ultimately the world of images presented by the spectacle is false, and cannot live up to itself. Regardless of his teammates, Lebron would have had his work set out for him achieving the level of Michael, inside or outside the spectacle, his actions and claims surrounding his free-agency decision were done for the benefit of the spectacle, but now reality has set in and its not as easy as his role in the spectacular narrative as the King of basketball may have liked it to be.

Now that he is not working in favour of the spectacle, it is working to marginalize and deligitimize him. Coverage that was previously favourable or sympathetic is quickly becoming vitriolic. The audience of the spectacle is disappointed and angry that the spectacle has let them down yet again, but because they are captured within its logic the spectacle is allowed to scapegoat Lebron as though it his fault he cannot live up to the worldview it constructed. Debord wrote: “The spectacles instruction and the spectators’ ignorance are wrongly seen as antagonistic factors when in fact they gave birth to each other.” (Comments… 28)

The logic of the spectacle has reversed, and now his every move within it pushes him further away from his previous role as king, so when he asks in his newest commercial “Who do you want me to be?”, he continues to abdicate his throne. The spectacle tells the audience, it does not ask.

The spectacle will find another king, and Lebron will continue to be the scapegoat for its’ perpetual failure.

But there is hope for Lebron, after the spectacle has completely eviscerated him, he has the opportunity for resurection if he can recreate the magic that made him the subject of spectacle in the first place. Debord wrote: “The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion.” (Thesis 20)

The comeback archetype is also extremely powerful in both sports and spectacle, ask Mike Vick…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Infowars.com: Counter-hegemonic Exploitation through Consumption

American history since it’s birth as a nation has been rife with fodder for conspiracy theories. Having been birthed and grown under the scrutiny of news media, from newspapers, to television and now the Internet, events in American history have been disseminated and archived for the public. Newspapers covered the series of scandals and corruption that took place during the nations’ infancy, continuing into the 20th century where television and radio joined alongside. These media provided news and information to the citizenry in a one-way, top-down manner. The Internet has shifted this dynamic, giving voice to individuals, while providing vast new space for social identification. In the days before the Internet, as well as having little choice but to accept the news one was given, one would have to physically search to find those with similar interests and beliefs, and even then contact was constrained in individual circumstances by their spatial-temporal dynamics. Online small, marginalized, and niche groups have space to meet, gather, and share virtually at the time and with the frequency of their leisure. One group that has been largely traditionally marginalized is conspiracy theorists, those who believe in alternate, and often treacherous versions of and rationales behind events, and are typically dismissed as outlandish and overzealous. Despite this, the foundational requirements of conspiracy theory involve being politically aware, involved, and upset. While they may be on the absolute fringe of the political, conspiracy theorists are undeniably engaged as citizens. In the spirit of globalization, conspiracy theorists have not only developed visions of global domination, but have been connected online with innumerable people who share views that fit into their paradigm of reality. Infowars.com is a site which unifies a large range of the public, from the disaffected to the militant, claiming the source of their trepidation is an intricate web of conspiracy. Infowars.com, whose slogan is ‘Because there is a war on for your mind’, develops an ongoing metanarrative based on mostly alternate interpretations of policy decisions, events, and the way mass-media covers them. The goal is information for emancipation, that by informing their audience, Infowars.com is propelling them out from under the corrupt and oppressive thumb of the elite. The question is: does the website break down the constraining walls of political discourse provided by mainstream news media; inspiring emancipatory praxis by those who receive the message, or does the Infowars messaging reinforce dominant ideologies by submitting to the fate of most counter-hegemonic movements; becoming subsumed by the dominant culture it purports to deconstruct.

Infowars.com is the virtual home of the ‘infowarrior’ movement, the official leader of which is Alex Jones, a radio host based out of Austin, Texas. Along with the website and radio show, Jones is a documentary filmmaker and activist. Infowars.com, along with it’s sister-site, Prisonplanet.com, provide live audio as well as recordings and video of the daily radio programs, Jones’ video documentaries (including ‘The Obama Deception’, ‘Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement’, and the recently released ‘Fall of the Republic’), message boards, and a news section which primarily features stories involving the United States, but also Canada and the other parts of the planet, especially the West. Stories primarily come from traditional media sources, but they are placed alongside exclusive Infowars pieces. All of them feed into the Infowars metanarrative. Jones’ trans-media content provides a constitutionalist, populist unification of a series of conspiracy theories into a metanarrative of truth that often runs in opposition to the portrait of reality painted by the mainstream media. The infowarrior metanarrative involves control of the masses by the oligarchic and financial elite, who use governments and individual politicians and the structures under their power to bring their eugenically-driven policies of societal control through both latent means (media manipulation) and overt action (police/military force) in the name of the rise of a global ‘New World Order’ and the near-universal enslavement and exploitation of the human population. To infowarriors, current policies are rooted in logic of Orwellian ‘doublespeak’, where American anti-bullying legislation is designed for surveillance and oppression, the flu pandemic was staged to impose martial law, and the environmental movement is being used to enslave the poor and middle-class through carbon taxation. Rooted in a Jeffersonian patriotism, Jones and his followers feel the United States Constitution has been subverted and want an uprising similar to the original American Revolution to take place against what they consider to be similarly tyrannical forces. The left-right paradigm is under constant attack by infowarriors, who believe it is a sham which cloaks the reality of an oppressive class-based system perpetuated by hegemonic media practices and corrupt government, which has led to the middle and lower classes becoming virtual share-croppers, tethered by increasing expenses, declining prospects, and mounting debt to the same financial elite who they purport to be in control. Infowars.com provides voice and space for people ranging from those disenfranchised and frustrated with the government, to more populist members of the right and left, to militias and conspiracy theorists who believe in the imminent arrival of their worst fears.

Infowars.com is set up like a traditional news website. There are featured stories and archives, as well as links to multi-media content, the discussion forum, contact information and a merchandise shop. News is currently grouped under the following themes: Media, Police State, Big Brother, Science & Technology, Border Control & Illegal Immigration, War on Terror, Iraq, Iran, World at War, Economic Crisis, and 9/11 Activism, as well as a featured archive of pieces related to the flu pandemic. There are some stories that are attributed to Infowars.com, whose authors are presumably either Infowars staff, or volunteer/citizen journalists. A number of stories come from blogs as well as mainstream news sources. Stories featured on the site were predominantly American or involved U.S. interests under the aforementioned categories. Infowars.com often featured international reporting on events. The range of information and perspective in the international media about the U.S. is used by Infowars to oppose and contradict mainstream American news. Their examination of international reporting of American events often displays the differences in dissemination and interpretation of information that exists between American mainstream media and their counterparts around the world. This is used as partial evidence of the mainstream media’s collusion with the elite in producing coercive messaging as well as to reaffirm preexisting repressive theories or notions. Infowars.com has three other associated sites, Prisonplanet.com: which offers more global news, as well as the main online forum for infowarriors, and subscription-based access to superior-quality audio and video, as well as Truthnews.us: an alterative news site, and Jonesreport.com: a low-production news amalgamator. Alex Jones also has his own channel on YouTube that features most of his documentaries as well as video recordings of recent radio broadcasts. With an entire counter-hegemonic trans-media metanarrative behind them, Infowars takes an oppositional role against the establishment, with particular aim at the misrepresentation and manipulation done by the mainstream media.

Public distrust of mainstream media among the public is at increasingly high levels and as the Internet provides new sources for news and perspective, the mainstream media’s prestige is weakened. With independent news sites, amalgamators, and blogs given similar priority online to the established news corporations’ sites, as well as the niche news available for individuals’ preferences, the mainstream media no longer possess the audience, nor the control over their audience, that they enjoyed in the days of newspapers, radio, and television. Established news organizations in the United States are seen as partisan, slanted, and largely a communicative appendage of political parties and industry. This aligns with the Infowars metanarrative, which engages its’ audience by providing an alternate accounting for almost all major and some relevant minor events that can be fit into its conspiracy of elite global control. This frames the media as subservient to elite interests and complicit in the oppression and domination of the middle and lower classes. In this way Infowars.com works as a media watchdog, as the community will leap all over stories and statements that seem to be supporting the ‘elite agenda’. The site also fights the mainstream media’s control of the knowledge economy online by providing access to news that was slanted, filtered, ignored, or otherwise marginalized. Conspiracy theorists have traditionally been marginalized because their work is largely speculative, and cannot be confirmed by established institutions of power and knowledge. Infowars.com attempts to subvert this marginalization by providing established news and perspective that exist outside established power structure, as well as through the production of their own news and perspective. In this way the information is made accessible to even the moderately disaffected citizen, from one who is sick of the lies coming from their elected representative, to those who believe in the Illuminati. This makes the potential Infowars community extensive. By encouraging any criticism or conspiracy that fits into their metanarrative, they create space for a large, and largely marginalized portion of the population. They then encourage their audience to engage themselves politically, but in a subversive way. An essential feature of the content throughout the Infowars universe is the promotion of agency in their audience. The audience is compelled and prodded by Jones and his associates into action, primarily through becoming informed and aware, but also through grassroots campaigns of awareness raising, boycotts, and vocal or written opposition to government policy. As well as instigating a variety of non-violent political action, Infowars encourages the audience to prepare themselves, including through armament, to defend themselves, their families, and their property from insurgent government oppression. As the site grows in popularity and awareness, the communities’ collective efforts to watch over the U.S. mainstream media, as well as their unified oppositional voice towards government and corporate culture, it holds the potential to shape coverage. With more people becoming disaffected with the established media, they may begin to move closer to Infowars’ perspectives in order to appeal to a wider audience while re-establishing their own projections of agency. In doing so though, Infowars would risk succumbing to the fate of many counter-hegemonic movements, as they are absorbed into the hegemonic domination they initially opposed.

As a counter-hegemonic movement, Infowars is walking perilously close to regressing into another facet of the hegemonic edifice it professes to be attempting to disassemble. One problem is the unabashed consumerism of the site. Infowars alleges to be out of the mainstream, but Infowars.com contains many characteristics similar to commercial-based websites. Running down each page, parallel to the news on the right side of the page, there is a great deal of peripheral advertising for commercial products primarily intended for self-sufficiency and preservation. These ads do not link to typical consumer goods, instead they are products like solar panels, commercial espionage equipment, health supplements, and discounted arms training. The rhetoric used in these advertisements is often populist and conspiratorial, targeting the same fears perpetuated by the sites’ content. The framing of the circumstances within the Infowars metanarrtive as immediate and dire prioritize the need for complete self-sufficiency for preservation in the face of elite oppression. And Jones is able to deliver to his advertisers an audience who potentially have a perceived need and see immediate value in their product as a result of the perpetuation of the sense of impending catastrophe by the sites’ content. These same products are judiciously advertised on Jones’ radio and online broadcasts with glowing, individual, and personal recommendations. Then there are Jones’ own Infowars branded products. There are similar numbers of advertisements for Infowars products on the site as there are for the other consumer goods. All the advertisements link to the Infowars shop, which does not offer a link back to the actual website. Jones has t-shirts, hats and posters with various images and slogans for sale, as well as books, music, and DVD’s. Jones also sells his own self-preservation gear directly through the site, including short-wave radios, antennae, and water purifying equipment. In a sense Jones has created an economy of conspiracy. Those who feel compelled by the Infowars metanarrative can seemingly increase their participation, take control of an increasingly unfathomable situation, and by take part in engagement by association; purchasing consumer goods that will ensure they are prepared as they wait with baited breath for their government to come and oppress them. Though no one can fault Jones for trying to earn a living from his work, the overt consumerist nature of the site encourages consumption more than action. By aligning consumer goods with his message, he is aligning audience with advertisers, a key tenant of the cultural industries that infowarriors are sworn enemies of. The sources of Infowars.com’s news content are also problematic. Though they do produce some of their own, original news content, the majority of their news is imported from blogs or mainstream sites. Positioning themselves against mainstream media, Infowars frames the press as an elite appendage of oppression. In linking to mainstream news, even handpicked stories, for their content, they are in fact contradicting their counter-hegemonic values. Linking stories to mainstream media sites also works against Infowars. The metanarrative is constructed in part by the same forces it opposes. The site claims there is a “war on for your mind,” and that the mainstream media is one of the battlegrounds for this war, yet it regularly uses the same media as a base source for their information. Not only does the foundation of their argument that the media as a whole is working in collusion with the elites to coerce and oppress society lose validity when they then use them as sources when the situation merits it, in linking back to news stories the site is not merely supporting, but reifying the media power structure. Though the news stories are placed alongside original Infowars stories as well as blog entries, this works to normalize and subsequently legitimize the established media within the counterhegemonic metanarrative of Infowars. Furthermore, the directly oppositional, alarmist, and hyperbolic rhetoric used throughout Infowars.com and the rest of the Infowars metanarrative makes it an echo chamber for the disaffected. The blatant subjectivities at work feed into the beliefs of the audience, but make it difficult to appeal to those with moderate views. The other effect of the Infowars echo chamber is that it is really perpetuating established hegemonic controls through the promotion of scare tactics. In constructing their metanarrative of eugenically driven, deeply ingrained corruption and increasing oppression and topping it up daily with more examples of the same thing, Infowars is reinforcing existing hegemonic discourse. Despite encouraging action, they are continually framing the world as unchanging and unchangeable, normalizing class distinctions and their associated notions of power while trying to fight them.

In this way Infowars.com is a confounding site for civic engagement. It proclaims to be empowering its’ audience, but in its use of cultural industry tropes makes the empowerment look like another wrinkle within the existing hegemonic cycle. If Infowars was indeed started as a counter-hegemonic movement then it appears to have lost it’s footing and positioned itself within the oppressive cycle it opposes. By unraveling layers of government and corporate collusion and corruption they are confirming their audiences existing beliefs while affirming their helplessness in the situation outside of a few grassroots efforts. Even the activism promoted on Infowars.com is rooted in the use of their material, purchasing and sharing their documentaries, printing and disseminating their posters, wearing their shirts, subscribing for their video, and purchasing the products advertised. In this way the activism is just consumption of niche products, and actual engagement is subverted by the same hegemonic powers Infowars stands in opposition to. If the audience is satisfied with merely consuming Infowars products and sharing them with people, they are not likely to increase their efforts as citizens, especially given the constant reminders of their oppression at the hands of the elite. The false activist movement in reality appears to be rooted in Jones’ own financial and personal benefit. This, along with the endless topping up of alarmist rhetoric on the immediacy and inevitability of impending doom increases the anxiety of its’ audience and has the potential to lull them into a civic stupor. Alex Jones may be the face and voice of the conspiracy movement, but his approach to engaging the public in what he asserts are issues of absolute importance and consequence is more alienating than inclusive with it’s alarmist and oppositional posture. As well, the commercial nature of Infowars.com and the whole Infowars movement appears to be little more than commercial exploitation of a niche market. Using the time honoured tradition of appealing almost solely to the emotions of his audience, Jones draws them into a world constructed on paranoia where consumption replaces engagement. Less hypocritical than misguided, in terms of political engagement, Infowars.com has its’ audience pointed in the wrong direction.

Note: This paper was writen for COMS 627 - Identity & Politics in New Media

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moving Past Entertainment and Developing Effective Civic Engagement

Civic culture is in decline. Public engagement in the political is at near-historic low levels in contemporary society, and though the breadth and depth of information and opportunity available has and continues to increase exponentially with new media technologies, interest in the political continues to wane. Media, politics, and people have become hopelessly intertwined, and Peter Dahlgren attempts to untangle the three strands to see how one can affect the other in Media and Political Engagement. While the complexity of Dahlgren’s argument and his scope of consideration leave little room for debate, his conclusion and proposed model for instigating civic engagement is flawed based partially on his own argument. If economism has resulted in the lowering of quality information from mass-media and has caused a subsequent disengagement by the public, attempting to develop increased civic accountability through the Internet, which Dahlgren admits is used primarily for entertainment, is likely to bring similar results. Instead, Dahlgren’s focus on igniting the passions of individuals offers a more effective means for developing civic engagement.

Dahlgren begins Media and Political Engagement by setting the premises on which he bases the remainder of his book, namely that “the character of democracy is changing because its basic preconditions are in evolution” (6). Mass media has helped negotiate the relationship between public and government since the seventeenth century, but new media is changing the dynamics of audience interaction with mass media, mostly to their detriment. Economism, which Dahlgren refers to as a “reductionist mode of rationality” (20), has caused collectivity throughout the layers of modern society, notably through the convergence of modern media, both in content and form. As a result, mass media has trivialized itself in the eyes of their audience by lowering the quality of their service, while at the same time their established (but weakening) power over their audience has been piggybacked by societies foundational institutions like politics, and religion. Citizen’s identity, their understanding of their role in contemporary society, has been bombarded to the point that it has been dulled so that many people don’t understand their role in modern democracy, or have been dissuaded from believing they have a role at all. Unfortunately the only way to truly understand ones’ civic role is to participate and: “develop the requisite virtues, skills, and identities for effective civic competence” (Dahlgren 72). The Internet by its very nature promotes engagement, but where it has increased the inundation of information exponentially, it has also allowed for what Dahlgren refers to as “thin” trust, a condition of loose relationship forming that is a feature of online networks. Participation necessitates engagement, but participation is dangerously low, so how does a citizenry become reengaged? Dahlgren suggests reigniting passions as the first step, as it will motivate action as well as a sense of community with others of a similar persuasion. The key then is to use casual forums and affiliations as foundations for political action. The “thin “ connections based on similar interests, along with the multiple opportunities to engage oneself online can foster the community, and a motivated citizenry can adjust existing online behaviors and skill-sets to benefit the democratic process. Before working towards Dahlgren’s vision of civic engagement, it is important to understand his premise for the foundation of its decline, primarily the economist influences on contemporary society.


The free market and its’ associated value system has built our world into its current state, for better and worse. Though the benefits are tangible and numerous, capitalism has been mostly detrimental to civic culture. In explaining economism, Dahlgren wrote its’: “Definitive characteristic is to assert the priority of economic criteria over all other values or mode of reasoning. Corporate values such as winning, efficiency, calculability, and profitability are supplanting democratic values in ways that erode civic vitality.” (20) Economist values have co-opted democratic ones, they are often considered one and the same despite the fact the two sides are often completely incongruent. Contemporary societies’ emphasis on the virtues of capitalism, propelled forward by a fourth estate that has also succumb to corporate culture, have narrowed the citizens vision of themselves to the extent that: “the notion of the citizen as a social role becomes marginalized by that of the consumer, where people understandably can find more freedom and pleasure” (21). As corporations half-heartedly align themselves with political movements (eg. Environmental responsibility), the notion of the political power of purchasing becomes more plausible. Unfortunately consumerism does quite the opposite: by satisfying one’s political urge through the purchasing of products, not only are they not engaging in an activity that is even remotely civically meaningful, the money spent is largely going directly to the same corporations and institutions who continue to support the decline of democratic principles. “Television and the rest of the media mellieu position us as consumers: … It is in the domain of consumption where we are to be empowered, where we make choices, where we create ourselves.” (Dahlgren 147) Mass media’s role in the decline has been that of facilitator, but now they too are succumbing to the same economist forces they built their legacies on. Mass media news content is extremely expensive to produce, and the audience fragmentation that has come from their desire for multiple revenue streams, along with the perpetual motion of new media, is forcing mass media to lie down in a bed of their making. It starts with the quality of programming; convergence of mass media companies brought the convergence of content and form, as newspapers, radio stations as well as local and national television stations shared ownership and an emphasis on efficiency brought a lower scope and depth of reporting. Corporate interests have consumed the fourth estate, causing a homogenization of content in order to appeal to the largest possible audience. Dahlgren wrote: “Media industries’ economic response to journalism’s difficulties has to a considerable extent taken the form of increased tabloidization… news values lead to a focus on scandals, entertainment, and sports, and little on traditionally important areas such as society, politics, and economics… news is given a reduced position within an overall media mix.” (45-46) Finding examples of this proposition is not difficult. Non-urgent political news falls at best along the same lines as sports, popular culture, traffic conditions, and the weather forecast. The positioning of the political on an even plane with the remaining milieu of media noise causes a condition Dahlgren describes as: “Indifference… an ‘alienation’ that can psychologically treat politics as irrelevant, at least in its representations in the media. It becomes a topic or an activity on par with, say, ‘sports,’ ‘music,’ or other forms of free-time pursuit… citizenship implicitly becomes reduced to one of many possible lifestyle choices.” (82) Referring to citizenship as a “lifestyle choice” is a scathing but accurate indictment of the current political malaise. Furthermore, while mass media marginalizes the news content that is essential for the public to negotiate its civic identity, it also expands the audience’s worldview. And while this can build affinity between individuals who feel more connected to a world they can only see, it also causes an expansion of what is considered political, and as the constitutive definition of the political expands, it encourages further stupor from an audience who feels more connected but less in control. Even within mass media content citizens are positioned separate from civic action. “Citizens are represented as responding to issues and situations, but are almost never portrayed as offering political suggestions or other constructive thoughts” (Dahlgren 131). This is a reflection the nature of mass media, which has always been one-way in nature. To oppose this downward cycle, Dahlgren hopes that the inclusive and participatory nature of new media is the best hope to change behaviors and encourage civic engagement.


Even the most basic online activity involves some awareness, familiarity, and a basic skill set, much like fundamental civic involvement. The participatory nature of online activity has worked to its benefit as the Internet has flattened the hierarchy of information dissemination that journalism has been perched upon for a couple of centuries. Now “professional communications mediators” and average citizens are competing on the same comparative level for audience attention, and the audience is less and less concerned about the source of their content. In fact, online participants relish their newfound roles in the news making process, to the extent that now, as Dahlgren wrote, news editors understand: “It is important to go beyond ‘birds-eye perspectives’, and get detailed information about fast-breaking stories, all news organizations today invite their audiences to send in materials” (175). Increased participation and production by those online encourages more of the same, and Dahlgren’s hope was that ultimately the political would find a place among people’s other online interests and activities. At the moment though he admits: “the use of the net in daily life for political purposes is far overshadowed by other uses, such as general social contacts, entertainment, chatting, shopping, gaming, nonpolitical information, not to mention pornography” (170). This is not exactly a revelation, but the majority of these “other uses” are primarily controlled by the same corporations and interests that are responsible for the economist reduction of mass media Dahlgren attributes earlier as contributing to the decline of civic engagement to begin with. The Internet’s current profit scheme is largely based on data commodification, which is the epitome of “corporate values such as winning, efficiency, calculability, and profitability” (20). It is during his exploration of television in Chapter 6 that Dahlgren begins to espouse the virtues of entertainment as the route to civic engagement, writing that: “popular culture can process and communicate collective experience, emotion, and even knowledge; it offers opportunities for negotiating views and opinions on contested values as well as explicit political issues” (138). The observation that popular culture allows one to navigate the social world, though absolutely correct, works to elevate celebrity news, music, and sports to the level of politics, a point of contention in Chapter 4. Dahlgren’s argument can be considered enthusiastically ambitious about the Internet’s potential for widespread civic engagement, but his belief in the old adage of the personal being political may have more resonance in effectively engaging public participation in civic life.


Individuals face a myriad of issues and challenges of varying degrees on a daily basis, drawing those issues and challenges into the realm of the political offers an opportunity for meaningful engagement by citizens. Dahlgren wrote: “While the media are very much entwined with their life experiences, most political experiences take place in the life zones beyond the media, and the civic self hovers largely at the margins of these people’s identities” (p.120). The personal is indeed political, especially when the chips are down, as in times of economic hardship. Global thinking has drawn the focus away from communities, whose ties have weakened as a result. Refocusing on one’s community, where many of the issues reside, and where the tangible effects of political action are visible can re-empower individuals civically. A return to the grassroots can build a foundation for engagement that can be fostered and developed. Education is key, developing an understanding of specifically how individuals’ “collective action frames” can be called upon as a component of remedial teaching, by drawing on their sense of injustice, identity, and illuminating avenues for agency as part of basic curriculum; much like environmentalism is now. Mass media can even get in on the action. By investing more resources into local, community-based reporting, they can reconnect with their fragmented audiences while rebuilding their reputation and re-establishing their position and prestige as the Fourth Estate. The Internet has an essential role in any contemporary grassroots movement, as it certainly possesses the attributes to assist in civic engagement. Cyberspace offers new links between people, new ways of linking and sharing with people, and different versions of communities. But bridging the gap between issues, problems, and crises takes an engaged citizenry, and becoming engaged does not happen merely by participating in online activities. Dahlgren’s vision in Media and Political Engagement is dependent on the political acclimatizing to current leisure-based web behaviors, which is less likely to achieve the level of engagement he desires. Instead, understanding real life implications to civic action (or inaction) elevates the political above the remaining media milieu while allowing media technologies to be used as tools instead of sources by a citizenry rather than an audience.


Works Cited:
Dahlgren, Peter. Media and Political Engagement: Citizens, Communication, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Note: This is a book review done for COMS 627 - Identity and Politics in the New Media age.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bridging Flames fans' online and offline worlds

...As I’ve mentioned, I’m a web content producer for calgaryflames.com, the official website of the Calgary Flames, our local hockey club. The Flames compete in the National Hockey League, which is made up of 30 teams from across North America.

Oral histories have provided evidence of an ancient hockey-like game played among the Mi'kmaq First Nation in Eastern Canada. The NHL was formed in 1917, and this year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Flames in Calgary (they originated in Atlanta). Going into the upcoming season the Flames are also considered one of the top contenders for the Stanley Cup, hockey’s championship trophy, which is largely considered the most beautiful, the most prestigious and hardest trophy to capture in all the major North American sports.

To show you a bit about what hockey is like, here’s a quick video, note the difference between professional hockey rinks with adverts on the boards, and recreational hockey without...

Though it is played across the globe, hockey is firmly ingrained into the Canadian identity; ‘The Hockey Sweater’ is a story that has been shared by families and in schools for decades. Boys and girls of all sizes and backgrounds are encouraged to embrace hockey at a young age. Unfortunately the cost of playing hockey for children can be very prohibitive, but understanding hockey as a key tenant of Canadian culture is encouraged in most circles. The Canadian National Men’s Hockey team, composed entirely of NHL players, is arguably the most unifying source of pride that exists in our nation today.

Calgary as a city is no different, the team has firmly entrenched itself into the very fabric of our community. Interestingly and uniquely, the Flames hockey operations are run by an Alberta farming family, the Sutters, of who all but one of is involved in professional hockey in some capacity. The team’s general manager Darryl Sutter has enforced a mandate of pursuing primarily, but not solely, Alberta-born, and western-Canadian players. He also hired his brother as head coach, has two other brothers who work underneath him, and drafted his son into the organization.

Hockey itself is just a game, but professional sports are an experience. What we try to do at calgaryflames.com is enhance the audience’s experience, both by providing extra content, and also by giving the perception of closed proximity to the players they revere. The more content thing is easy; you can access highlights, audio/video interviews, statistics, articles, features, contests through the website. Increased content also helps with the closing of proximity, but that also happens due to the nature of the web, where fans can interact and comment back to the site. Even though my boss and I are the only ones who end up reading them, it lends to the perception of closed proximity.

What makes the Flames unique is that we are testing a newly developed social media site that will eventually be used by every team in the league. It’s called the C of Red, which is also the nickname for the collection of fans at Flames home games, as everyone is expected to show up dressed in red. What I’ll go over with you today is the unique nature of social media sites, along with how I believe they benefit professional sports organizations like the Flames.

What is Social Media?
Social media is an all-encompassing term that refers to websites that enable and enable and encourage interaction and the sharing of information and content between people online.
The Biggies:
Facebook
MySpace
Twitter
Youtube

The C of Red combines elements of most of these (not Twitter) into one site, where Flames fans can meet and exchange.

Web Audience = Target Audience.

Why? Because they have the money to afford a computer and internet access, meaning they have money for tickets, jerseys, etc.

And the best part is, online, the audience comes to us. We don’t compete above the fold, or accommodate TV attention spans. In order to get to us people have to click or type in our name, and that’s why we know we have them.

Social Media users = Target Audience

Why? Social media harnesses the collectivity of users as they are all linked to each other. This also allows targeted messaging to reach marginal users unobtrusively. These sites link people, and have transformed individuals from consumers of content, into self-publishers of content. Individuals are able to create, share, and access content.

Benefits of Social Media to the Flames
Social media has a number of benefits to cultural industry organizations like the Flames:

More trusted- People simply do not trust mainstream media as a reliable information source. They trust what they hear from friends and family. Social media directly messages friends and family, who can pass information on painlessly online.

Direct, Immediate to Audience- With one mouse-click, friends, followers etc. on social media sites receive your message directly. Since they’ve chosen to follow us, be our friends etc., we already know they’re interested, so we’re avoiding people who have no interest.

Messaging under our control- Rather than have to battle the columnists and TV talking heads for audience opinion and mindshare, our message, word for word, is delivered directly and immediately to our audience.

Growing, and not stopping- Not only in number of participants and users, but in the available applications. Open source software design means that anyone with the knowhow can adjust, improve, or invent new ways to use the existing social media technology. The only limits now are individual’s imaginations.

Produsage: Content production through audience use/participation.
By engaging in online activities like creating videos, blogging, message boards… users are creating content that draws in more audience who in turn create more content themselves. Social media and Web 2.0 are both built on produsage.

To the Flames, produsage has immeasurable intrinsic value in developing ethos with our audience. Acknowledging their efforts brings them closer to us; it engages and entertains them on a whole other level by making them active participants. Acknowledgement of audience efforts allows us to appear closer to the audience, community, more authentic= more trusted.

My goal with the C of Red is to merge the offline and online communities. It should be where you can get psyched with fellow fans, find out a cool place to catch the game, share your opinions and express your creativity. I want Flames fans to feel as though they’ve missed out if they didn’t participate in the online community around the games. How do you propose I begin to do that?

Note: This is the text for a presentation I made for COMS 627 - Identity and Politics in the New Media Age

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back and better than ever...

In order to keep my blog from the vestages of the Internet ether, I've decided to use it as a forum to both support the open source movement, as well as for my own shameless self promotion.

If you ever wondered what graduate school was like, look no further, as all my brilliant work will find it's way right here. Everything will be published word for word as submitted, and only completely irrelevant work will be excluded.

The blog will represent a series of signposts that I'll set out as I figure out exactly what the hell it is that I'm doing. I'll try to add original entries as well, but given my track record to this point, this will mostly be used as my online graduate archive.


So with now further adieu, here is my very own intellectual introduction, my first assignment as a real deal graduate student...


If I had to attribute the spark that lit my academic universe to one person, as difficult as that may be, I would have to give it to one Irwin M. Fletcher. ‘Fletch’, as he was known to most, was an investigative reporter who wrote under the name Jane Doe. I watched Fletch work the drug-riddled beaches of Los Angeles, take on a variety of assumed identities, and eventually name Chief Karlin as the biggest heroin dealer in town. Despite being a fictional film character played by Chevy Chase, both the vigor and panache with which Fletch attacked his mystery inspired me from a young age. Fletch went to ridiculous depths to get to the bottom of his story, I appreciated his wit, and empathized with his lack of respect for imposed authority. I watched his movies, read his books, and was convinced I could recreate his spirit in reality.


Journalism seemed like an ideal place for my inquisitive nature, and I was accepted into Mount Royal College’s Applied Communications program as an immature 19-year-old. As I worked through the program I became dissatisfied; writing stories, taking and processing photos, shooting and editing tape, all under the strict faculty regime, simply wasn’t fulfilling. I still remember when the program chair ordered pages 7/8 torn out of each copy of ‘The Journal’, our weekly newspaper. I had written a story, which had been approved by our instructor from the start, on a classmates’ punk rock band who called themselves ‘The MotherFuckers’. And despite starring out all of the swearing, the faculty heads made the executive decision to give its’ students a lesson in old-time censorship. That story was on page 7; I had another one on the reverse, page 8, and at least four other students lost the opportunity to have their stories published. If this was the way the Fourth Estate was controlled while being trained and developed, what was the professional world like? Near the end of my degree I signed up for the dreaded communications theory course. “Don’t ever ask me for help, seriously, ever.” was the unanimous reply from students who had taken the course, which was a senior requisite at Mount Royal College. Ironically, the MRC Communications Faculty saved the only thought provoking, paradigm shifting course for the end of their program, when the majority of students were programmed. Despite the passion of the professors, the majority of students wanted nothing to do with the class, fighting the ideas with every bit of wisdom they had amassed and armed themselves with for the professional world. The truth was, the MRC Communications Faculty was almost solely focused on producing both Cogswell Cogs and Spacely Sprockets, representative of both sides of the aisle, eager young labour for the media machine, ready to perpetuate the same dominant ideologies without a great deal of thought as to why.


One of the few exceptions were the two theory professors, Dr.’s Avril Torrence and Lee Easton, who used these theories and thinkers I had never heard of to challenge the class’s worldview. The theories were difficult, but they began to explain the nature of the flawed power structure I had been brought up to question. While most of the students loathed the class, I embraced it, and worked tirelessly on my term project. ‘The Real Thing’ was a theoretical deconstruction of the American image Coca-Cola used to sell their beverage globally. My premise was that for its advertisements, Coca-Cola would create hyperreal drinking experiences, “sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary” (Baudrillard, 1983). This hypereality was uniquely and ephemerally American by design, done in order to appeal to non-Americans generalized other, or the “general class category or group of people that you use to assess your actions.” (Wadsworth et. al., 2001). The result was that Coca-Cola had become more symbol than substance, creating through its advertising a world of spectacle where “each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without extending to the crowning moment of a result.” (Barthes, 1972). The result was cultures around the world were lining Coca-Cola’s coffers, trying to get a taste of America by drinking ‘The Real Thing’. The work was narrated over a Coca-Cola video montage of commercials and other video footage (which was very cutting-edge at the time, as there was no youtube and everything had to be individually digitized). The medium for presentation was intended to speed up the overwhelming amount of images Coca-Cola spewed out individually to overwhelm the audience.


‘The Real Thing’ received my professors’ acclaim, but then class was over, and there was no structured opportunity to pursue these wonderful theories any further. I spent some time doing not-for-profit public relations, quickly deciding bartending would be more lucrative, much more interesting, and in some cases more ethical. Finding myself in Vancouver on the end of another drunk’s worldview, I decided to move back to Calgary and attempt to make something of myself. Initially I decided to return to school with the intent of going to the Haskayne Business School to make my millions. They informed me I needed one semester of open study with a reasonable average, along with a proper GMAT score, and I would be in. Fortunately I was permitted my choice in courses, and enrolled in a collection of senior communications classes due to my familiarity and fondness for the subject matter. Immediately the passion and depth of knowledge my professors possessed struck me. Finally I had the opportunity to continue studying in the area that made my world make sense. I diligently pursued a path into the Master of Arts program, and am both elated and overwhelmed at being here.

My graduate studies are not intended as a destination. As I continue forward I've found that despite my previous notions, I have barely scratched the surface of critical social theory. As I pursue graduate studies I am quickly finding out that what I believed is really only prologue. It involves only a partial understanding, a great deal of what I think I know now will undoubtedly be proven false, and what I thought was unbelievable will be shown to be quite plausible. But this is where, and how, I intend to begin to figure it all out. As I approach the next two years, I do so currently believing that we live in a state of hegemony which the media perpetuates. Ruling powers, with a vested interest in the maintenance of their dominance, exert influence at all points of the media machine to ensure the status quo is both perpetual and permanent. My starting point is Baudrillard’s concept of simulation, according to which contemporary media, primarily television and the Internet, create simulations of reality which are presented to their audience as true, accurate representations of actual reality. The symbolic exchange and hyperreality that are created by media content has engaged the audience into production through consumption. Audiences produce value for cultural industries in a number of ways, but most importantly they shift, mediate, and eventually construct their own reality through their consumption.


I'm concerned with the forces behind the production of identity, meaning, value, and to an increasing extent, reality, that occurs through the consumption of content. More and more of people's daily existence is spent engaging in virtual communication and information exchange, to the extent that absolute reliance on this communication and the media that provides has become an issue. Cultural industries, who at best influence, and at worst control, the majority of media content, are working hard to ensure that more media offers more content with less meaning under the guise of more information. As the audience consumes this mass of information, they become further detached from reality, and further interpellated into a world created and controlled by simulations. Lulled into passivity and blind acceptance, hegemonic domination continues for the audience, as the excess of content and increasingly perceived importance of the content blurs the line between simulated and tangible reality, and causes an uncertainty that encourages more media consumption in search of a solution. The search for the solution of this uncertainty is paradoxically seemingly solved within the provided content, which provides examples and archetypes that dictate in what Foucault referred to in his writings on discipline and punishment as what is normal and what isn't, what is acceptable and what isn't, etc... While one example alone may not sufficiently or necessarily impact an individual or audience, the manipulation and harmonization of the content by cultural industries is able to appeal to a majority of the population in one form or another. The myriad and affluence of media casts an immeasurably wide net, and once entrapped, the simulated reality provided by media does not end when the technology is turned off; it has lasting effects on their audience's construction of reality.





Works Cited:

Barthes, Roland (1972). Mythologies. (A. Lavers Trans.). New York: Hill and Wang. (Original work published 1957).

Baudrillard, Jean (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotexte

Wadsworth, Sherwyn P. Morreale, Brian H. Spitzberg, J. (2001). Human Communication: Motivation, Knowledge, and Skills. (Kevin Barge). Florence, Ky: Wadsworth Publishing

Note: Written for COMS601 - Interdisciplinary Approaches to Communications

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Brangelina & the Next Evolution of Celebrity



Ahhhh Brangelina, how do you do it?

They’ve got a hold of me, I’ll admit it. I love going to the grocery store, as I know when I get to the chekout, the tabloid covers will catch my attention and I can get an update on the state of Brangelina. Last time if I recall they were getting a trial separation or has that passed and now they’re adopting again?

There are plenty of reasons to love ‘em. They're hot, they're in a few quality flicks, they're saving the world... But the main reason I love em is that they’ve re-invented the concept of celebrity for the 21st century.

The archetypal celebrity has shifted a number of times since the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, when the studios were almost solely responsible for the construction and promotion of their stars. While there are still manufactured stars, as well as anti-stars like those of the new breed, for most contemporary stars the act of celebrity has become an essential labour for their career as performers.

The shift from the traditional celebrity to the contemporary version is often attributed to Madonna’s ascent to stardom. Her relationship with the media involved many concessions of her privacy, causing a shift all the relationship between celebrities and the media going forward.

The blurring of private and public creates the extratextual body of the stars, and the media are integral to this. As a result, most stars work with the media in both their public and ‘private’ lives, establishing and maintaining their celebrity as a full-time job.

It would seem that individually, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had reached the pinnacle of celebrity. They sold out theatres regardless of the film, their characters were never just the characters in the film, they were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie playing the characters in the film. They were big time, but it wasn’t until they ditched the dead weight and joined forces, that they realized their full potential.

Together, Brangelina have taken stardom to a whole new level, evolving their celebrity to the point that their craft has become supplementary. In order to begin the process they needed an introduction unlike anything ever done before, and they did just that with Mr. & Mrs. Smith

In terms of content, Mr. & Mrs. Smith is pure spectacle. The film provides virtually no opportunity for identification with the narrative or the characters. All major moments in the relationship of Jane and John Smith occur in the midst of extradiagetic distractions, the conversations where they explore the increasing complexity of their relationship occur as bullets whiz by, or in the midst of explosions. This works to prevent identification between the characters and the audience, but also works to build identification between the audience and the stars. Since we cannot identify with John and Jane Smith, we instead identify with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

During promotion of the film, stories began to leak about the burgeoning romance between the two stars. Mr. & Mrs. Smith took a traditional Hollywood promotional tool, the use of romantic rumour and innuendo, and developed it a step further by building the entire film around these rumours and innuendo. Pitt and Jolie invite the audience in through the spectacle of their characters and the spectacle of the film itself, and they frame the promotion of the film so that it appears as though they also invited the audience to watch their ‘real’ lives. The Smiths find out in the film’s narrative that their whole lives had been faked, this manufactures authenticity around their relationship as they fall in love all over again, and given the extratextual framing of the film, it also manufactures authenticity around the idea that the audience is actually seeing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie falling in love at the same time. In this sense the film is not text, it is an extratextual account of the Brangelina love story. And in using film text to further their extratextual personas, Pitt and Jolie changed the relationship between stars and their labour.

The use of media for celebrity enhancement is commonplace, but the use of Mr. & Mrs. Smith to develop the textual, identity of Brangelina marks a new direction in the evolution of celebrity. If contemporary celebrities treat the development and maintenance of celebrity as an integral part of their work as actors, Brangelina are the exact opposite. They used Mr. & Mrs. Smith as a vehicle to promote their celebrity, instead of using their celebrity as a vehicle to promote the film. In this sense they are positioning celebrity as the priority, and acting in films as the requisite labour of their trade.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith began the process of a complete redefinition of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s extratextual personas. Since the film they have repositioned themselves as the fore bearers of the responsible, conscious and altruistic celebrity, one who uses their power to improve the world instead of their own careers. But in doing so they have redefined themselves almost solely as celebrities, at the expense of their reputations as fairly acclaimed actors. Mr. & Mrs. Smith assists in this redefinition by providing us a spectacular extratextual love story that doesn’t allow for any acknowledgement of their acting ability, instead focusing on the grandeur of their position as celebrities.



Note: This argument is mostly taken from an essay I wrote in November 2008 on Mr. & Mrs. Smith for a class on Celebrity Theory

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sports=Life, again...

Appologies are due, as the blog has been under a temporary delay. I somehow managed to score a job writing for CalgaryFlames.com during the Flames’ run to the playoffs and resulting first round departure (Click on the video link at the bottom of the entry to see video of Flames head coack Mike Keenan chew me out).

Feel free to go look me up on the site for other delightful insight on our underachieving group… Here, I don’t worry about the performance of multi-million dollar athletes, instead I worry about why the fans who make a slight fraction of the income of professional athletes and seem more invested in the team than the athletes themselves, and that’s not at all to slight the desire of the athletes, for the most part...

My job over the course of the last bit has consisted of joining the sports media in full force. As a huge sports fan and avid reader of sports writing, it was an absolutely phenomenal experience. I went to practice, attended press conferences (see below), scrummed it up in the locker rooms, sat in the pressbox next to two of Canada’s top sportswriters, and enjoyed the kind of privileges usually reserved for contest winners. The biggest perk is obviously the access and the sports conversations you can’t buy with money, and though all conversations basically do revolve around sports, during the final pre-game press conference of the season I enjoyed a conversation with Globe & Mail sports columnist Al Maki that transcends sports, and is a larger commentary on the current state of the battle for mindshare.

Our discussion was based on the fact that Flames’ players and coaches, despite the fact I love ‘em, would basically tow the company line, align the proper catchphrases with the proper situation/emotion, and literally expound on absolutely nothing until the media receives enough to take to a loyal, ravenous fan base. Maki believed that future sports journalists would be disappointed that past (current) sports journalist merely accepted what they were told, and didn’t dig deeper with their questions when a coach for example, sprays water on a fan during a critical playoff game, the same playoff game he happened to sit a player for unruly behaviour in the midst of the previous game. Why are people in positions of authority actually allowed to defy answering legitimate questions that the paying public want answers to. Not answering shit questions (see above) is fine, but ignoring legitimate queries is like selling fugazi jerseys or watering down the beer.

This phenomenon is related to a condition I think of as the prophetic nature of sports journalism, basically that sports are the coolest/most interesting/relevant element of the news, so good sports journalism is basically at the forefront of style, form, and content. In terms of media, this means that the kind of sports coverage you get from the news is eventually going to be the ‘Life’ & ‘News’ coverage you get from the news. I'm not going to criticize certain organizations or individuals, after all I now get paid to bang the flames' drum in a similar fashion to Harvey the Hound. A much better critic than I, the excellent Jason Whitlock, wrote an elloquent piece about the state of sports journalism. My position is that the problems with sports journalism have permeated into all forms of exchange between media and bureaucracy.

Let me lay the problem for you as a sports fan, when your team is playing well and you’re happy, then there are no worries. But as soon as your team starts shitting the bed, naturally you want answers. So you actually go to the team, the players, the coach, the GM, and you ask them, and they give you nothing. Oh there are words, sentences, claims, boasts, analysis, interpretation, but rarely do players go into a scrum or press conference and admit why, for example, they consistently take penalties at the beginning of games when their team is trying to build momentum.

Then, the coach, the leader, and the symbolically smartest dude in the room, uses his time and his podium to offer any combination of strange metaphors and comparisons, stories from past experiences, contradictory analysis, but little ‘newsworthy’ besides the daily affirmation of already known injury status.

Maki’s point was that journos should not merely be asking about what injuries a particular player has sustained, but they should dig into the troubles that face a team when they struggle; give the fans real, specific answers as to why those who they hold in such high esteem aren’t performing to their standards. Unfortunately, the cost of that kind of query may be the loss of access, the real currency for journos.

So these ongoing dramatics exist to serve the public, the fans, the commodity, where they are consuming more and more media: multiple 24-hour sports networks, websites, talk radio, newspapers and everyone else who garners audience through the Flames have created result unrealistic expectations for information that for a number of reasons simply isn't there. The commodity needs a topping up of info to keep the affinity strong, so we report and audiences read the same standard lines over and again. As a result, the fans get two performances: The game itself, and the extra-athletic (if you will) performances that the sports media construct.

If this sounds familiar, it's because your team probably does it too, but also because this is not a phenomenon that is limited to sports. Strict control of communication content occurs throughout the majority of contemporary institutions and journalists of all types are often held hostage to bureaucratic interests by threats of access restriction. But the public interest, the desire for constantly refilled information that has been constructed by cultural institutions and their technologies, has turned into the fourth estate into willing actors in a hegemonic pantomime.

From my experience the journos on the hockey beat, I've ever dealt with were almost all cool, and take their jobs pretty seriously. Unfortunately they have to march in formation, or risk falling out of favour with the team, who are the purpose for their existence. In a sense it feeds the drama. Fans get pseudo-information that they use as fuel for their fan bus, but the bus can only get to its destination in one direction. While the journos can dig up as many supposed controversies as they like, at the end of the day only a limited amount of specific information is actually getting out, it’s all simply surrounded by noise…

Life is a lot like that these days. Unhealthy food, unattractive singles, unproven drugs, benefits, bailouts, borrowing, buying, binging, purging, gauging, splurging, stressing, messing, second-guessing… We look for answers, and we want those giving it to us give us the raw deal, so we ask and try to get it, but keep hitting a wall of ivy, elusion, and bullshit. Eventually you just stop asking, eventually you just take the bullshit, what else can you do. You can’t ignore your cultural institution; it’s a part of your life. Eventually it wears on you, and you just buy in. But then it becomes your framework, then your arguments and criticisms fall into the parameters created around their bullshit. The real questions go unanswered, because the now convenient questions have as convenient answers.

In sports, this ongoing exercise in futility is frustrating, in day-to-day life, it's potentially catastrophic.


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