Sunday, March 25, 2012

The following sentence is false. The previous sentence is true.

Just to allay the professors' fears I would just like to first testify that the outline is well underway. Having put a good portion of it onto the page I can see a great deal that needs to be whittled away. Those moments when I'm having a hard time with the outline I defer to working on the annotated bibliography, and literature review. I'm posting a portion of that just to show that work is in progress.

Naturally, I've started with staples, big-picture texts, ones that I often turn to for insight into daily experiences, ones that I've read repeatedly and can summarize and cite more or less from memory most of the time. There is one quote that I looked up though. Just for the record, don't expect the rest of the annotations to be quite as long as these. I hope you don't expect that anyway.

Baudrillard , Jean. Passwords. London: Verso, 2003. Print.
            The best place to begin understanding Baudrillard’s sociological analyses of symbolic regimes is with his glossary of terms. Passwords is exactly that, published into a book. Each chapter defines his specific use of a single word or term, and indoctrinates readers into his language paradigm. Consequently, for each term defined in Passwords, there is a corresponding book. I doubt that the fact that many of the actual books were written decades before Passwords renders it any less relevant as a starting point. Marxism, Post-structuralism, Freudian psycholanaysis, Derridian and Lacanian theories of linguistics are some of Baudrillard’s more prominent themes, but his heavy overlay of tech language, his fondness for Calculus metaphors, and references to Gödelian feedback loops, lends his famously poetic syntax a very contemporary voice. Since I will be analyzing the psychological and sociological implications of industries that deal directly within prominent symbolic systems, along with my own participation in them, I plan to rely heavily on Baudrillard throughout the piece.

Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. Print
            Based on Baudrillard’s recurring analysis, which appears in more than one of his other works, the worlds of advertising, marketing, and any related mass communications media that have a persuasive objective, depend specifically on a game of seduction. While a more vulgar concept might place seduction somewhere between equivocation, and manipulation by means of flattery, Baudrillard’s definition apprehends a much deeper affect. Baudrillard’s seduction is a game involving what he calls the universal reversibility of signs, and symbols, which he argues advertising takes even further, not so much to a logical conclusion (because such a term radically contradicts the psychological impact of advertising), but to what he termed “The lowest form of energy of the sign. Degree zero of meaning. The triumph of entropy over all possible tropes.”
The world in which I found myself accidentally immersed was one in which advertising had shrugged off its role as a specific power. It no longer mediated any exchange between inter-social agencies. Indeed it was a world in which the entire social enterprise had collapsed into the simplified, yet agitated language of advertising, where marketing and advertising were proffered as goods and services, in and of themselves, while ordinary objects were sold as either marketing solutions or vectors for derivative social values. And there I was, seduced by it all, frantically trying to assimilate myself into it.

Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. London: Verso, 1996. Print
            The System of Objects is professor Baudrillard’s in-depth, analytical critique of the contemporary state of commodity fetishism.  In Passwords he explains his fascination with objects as originating from their apparent ability to break free of functional purposes and become signifiers capable of establishing syntax with each other and ultimately execute a form of revenge on the subject. The object’s revenge is a heady concept that involves objects coding the behavior of their human subjects with reductive signification, and symbolic values that they bear—as a form of highly simplified language. Once freed from their use value, Baudrillard explains, objects as derivatives or bearers of derivative value—sign value, historical value, ideological connotations, sexual identity themes, and so on, integrate into a discourse of their own, in which human subjects play by rules that arise more or less organically from the conditions. As he explains, these derivatives, when combined according the simplified language of advertising reduce the human experience to a sort of gaming. Integral-Reality he calls it. The final conclusion to this game isn't meaning, or enrichment, or fulfillment. It's status, nothing more.
                  While Baudrillard concedes that objects probably always signified subjects, at least in some way, he argues that prior to the pervasive circulation of advertising through media, objects signified in ways parallel to real human experience. Now however, He believed humanity to have fallen to a state in which advertising is our one and only moral code in this game of status. Even to escape it, he explains, “in a private sense, cannot prevent us from participating every day in its collective development. Not believing in it still means believing sufficiently in other people’s belief in it to develop a skeptical stance. Even actions intended as resistance to it must be defined in terms of a society that conforms to it (213).”
                  Now imagine being an outsider in the environment he describes, in which politics, economics, livelihood, religion, and any subordinate cultural discourses are moderated, on the personal level, by the language of advertising. "What are you doing after the orgy?" Baudrillards famous last words still ring true. But here’s the real kick in the gut. That last quote, and this last paragraph up to here, both reveal the same identity themes I’ve asserted in my earlier posts—artist type, DIY ethics, Billy the Kid, Odysseus lost at sea, penchant for subversive behavior and the like. Cinderella scrubbing the floors of the palace, the underdog, the rebel, these all show up as motifs in advertising at least as much as any others, and I have clearly bought into them. And I’m afraid I would be lying to myself if I said my central identity themes predate my exposure to advertising culture. So maybe when I get to my Jaques Lacan citations I’ll find some redemption for myself, some way to blame it on my mom perhaps. Until then, I’m stuck in this weird paradox. And here is my worst fear—what if characters and themes designed to appear resistant are exactly what give the system of objects, as such, its equilibrium. What if it is resistance and revolution that prevent corrupt social systems from reaching a tipping point. If that's true then I was never as much an outsider as I am a rube. And that makes me feel like Neo, whose role is to fight valiantly, miraculously even, and lose anyway. And I've just been punched in the junk by Mr. Smith. 

Occupy Wall Street anyone?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Relations with the public...

I think I’m getting a little more focused on this now. The point Professor Jeffreys makes in one of his responses with the reference to Billy the Kid has a certain resonance that I’m starting to grasp. If I’m not mistaken I believe he’s referencing the circulation of comic books that valorized the New Mexico Outlaw’s exploits. Those things got real popular. Sure, it was news, and it was entertaining. They were heavily laden with ads but it was the stories that kept readers captive. The ads then became incidental exposure in the marketplace of ideas rather than manifest content. How very Meiklejonian of them.

From that realization I’m reminded of Scott Carrier’s suggestion that I should give the Capstone project a narrative structure—the whole Odysseus epic I mentioned in the previous post—rather than an academic, argumentative one. To do that would make the academia incidental same as the ads, and it would give the piece a clever form of meta-commentary. I can never resist doing that. Academia and advertising placed on an equal plane? Déjà vu.

From there I gain insight into methods that marketing and advertising professionals in Internet and new-media-driven industries are trying to do. It is not that they really want to provide an up-front service as much as it is that they are developing ways to make their true motives appear incidental. It’s a bait and switch. It was always a bait and switch.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hyper-value: Apply directly to your forehead. Rinse and repeat.

A recent discussion with an emphasis advisor has returned to me the spark for this project I’ve been lacking these past few weeks. The meeting was more or less happenstance. My most pressing business with him that day concerned other matters, his impending application for tenure, and my recent application for graduation combined with all the interwoven personal dynamics for both of us that tend to accompany those processes. In retrospect the question certainly had at least some oblique relevance to the conversation at hand, since we were both speaking generally about our lives. Weeks previous he had volunteered to serve as my emphasis advisor without me asking, and I had gladly accepted the offer. I suspect it was that we both took the agreement for granted is why we carried on from the initial inception without further discussion. So it was only natural that eventually, he would want to know about the topic. So as he and I were running down our respective lists of life challenges, he asked me to tell him specifically what my capstone topic would be. He wanted to hear the story of how I arrived at my topic, the way it related to the list of challenges I had just itemized, and what events or changes brought me to a new perspective. Initially he didn’t want to know why I no longer wished to argue for the salvation of the fourth estate, or to condemn the radical liberation of value from any referents, which some semanticists fear has been accomplished with the advent of the Internet, and was at one point at least a major constituent of an earlier capstone project.

He just wanted to hear the story of me. I guessed that he wanted reassurance that preserving the sanctity of the fourth estate, and demonizing the radical liberation of value would be central themes. So I began with that. No doubt the one whom I meant to reassure however, was myself, just to keep my identity theme in tact. He’s a journalist, a magazine writer, and independent radio producer. In short, he’s a storyteller who, by my observation, is especially good at getting people to tell him their stories, and identifying the deep structures, and dissonances present in the stories he hears. He also tends to describe his understanding of people’s stories using rudimentary shape metaphors, which I have always found helpful. And it was in the course of my telling him the story of the origin of my topic, that he suggested I make that story—my overall, personal experience of arriving at the topic, the vague, broad, general questions and specific prejudices that set me on this current path, the failures and setbacks that delayed my arrival here—the basic premise of my capstone project. He wants the personal journey, and the narrative arc. He wants Odysseus lost at sea trying to figure out how to rebuild his ship. He wants to hear how adventure began when all plans went wrong. He wants the whole messy mythos, but he also wants it to be a well researched, and cited too. He wants it to be Gonzo, which it is and then some. And there are certain events on the horizon of possibility that may blow the keyhole I’m seeing my topic through, into a gaping doorway.

Right now the potential for overlapping and even merging planes of my personal livelihood, most of which I have always worked to keep separate, makes my head spin. So let me clarify while trying not to go too deep into detail. The projections I made for my graduate and post-graduate careers have turned out nothing like the original plan. Events of various sorts have created the need for me to radically re-tool, and redirect more than once. And I’m now facing what many like myself—artist types with liberal sensibilities, punk-rock ethics, and a special fondness for subversive behavior—consider to be the horror of all horrors. I’m actively pursuing the job market in the smarmy, corporatist world of marketing and advertising.

I know, necessity notwithstanding, if I have any forlorn future hope of being able to look at myself in the mirror, I’ll have to sacrifice a high-end desktop computer at the foot of Baudrillard’s grave on the eve of the next fiscal new-year just to cleanse what’s left of my bruised and battered soul. But for now I need to survive to see that day come. And for those of my ilk, survival means finding a way to identify with livelihood, and circumstance while working to morph them into what I really want. And that, dear readers, is the general story. Specifics to come after a message from my sponsor.