Transversal Media Event

Ok, so I am going to finish this blog post. Over the last week I have started a few all with titles and some with content all circulating around notions of transversality, media events, temporality of media and so on. All tried to cover far too much ground for a blog post and for the time I have available to write blog posts. So, I am going to write this right now and finish it. All this has come from trying to understand what is happening with car magazines…

What I have wanted to discuss is a notion of the media event that is not derived primarily from Daniel Boorstin’s distinction between ‘media events’ and ‘non-events’. Boorstin’s original 1963 (?) thesis regarding the media and non-events is a useful distinction for understanding the complicity of the media apparatus in the reproduction of common sense categories and the media-based dispositifs through which events are conditioned as they are represented. However, it does not say anything about the event of the ‘non-event’ or ‘media event’. To put it rather clumsily, it is the event of the media event that I am interested in. This event involves the arrangement of an audience as the viewing public of an ‘image’ (to use Boorstin’s terminology), or to use the more useful terminology of Deleuze’s Cinema 1, it is the event of the ‘affection image’ rather than the event of the ‘perception image’ (the ‘action image’ is ambiguous and another issue). It is not so much a media event, but a biopolitical event faciliatated through media-based technologies. I mean ‘biopolitical’ precisely in the sense that Foucault used the term in his lectures published as Society Must Be Defended (243-245).

A heavily reduced summary of Foucault’s position as I understand is that he is referring to mechanisms of power that act upon the ‘life’ of a collectivity of bodies through a statistically-based ‘scientific’ discourse. His examples are from the 18th and 19th century, some of this are still relevant, but most are not, or rather they have been obscured by the proliferation of avenues through which a biopolitics can be processed. A ‘biopolitical event’ has two dimensions: the corporeal dimension of the event is a population defined in part by the discursive relations (incorporeal sense) produced by the statistical ‘scientific’ discourse. The media becomes involved when the statistical ‘scientific’ discourse is translated into a mere avatar of scientificity as the ‘affection image’ (or composite ‘faciality’) of specific non-events. Here I am thinking of moral panics as non-events, blockbuster movie releases as non-events, the lead up period to grand final sporting contests, the death of celebrities (Irwin, Brock; although both are complex cases and not quite celebrities in Boorstin’s sense).

One might protest that these non-events have nothing at all to do with the ‘life’ of collectivities of bodies as a population. What has a blockbuster movie release got to do with the life of a population? The key word in the above is ‘translation’, and the reason why ‘scientific’ has appeared in inverted commas throughout. There is no transcendental Science to save the day here, rather there is a manifold of petite-discourses of legitmation the authority of which is determined by the affective relations already existing within the given population. In other words, the authority is performative (in the Butler sense), and is an artefact of the media apparatus and the transmission of the event. It can be and normally is as subtle as the sport’s commentator’s memory of statistical information or the smug invocation of a common sense appraisal. The statistics of a cricket player’s batting average is not the statistics of biopolitics. Viewers never get to see these statistics, or actually they do, but very rarely and even then only if they seek them out. This could not have been of Foucault’s historical radar in his discussion of biopolitics, they simply did not exist in the same way they exist now. The media non-event had to emerge first (see Boorstin) for the media to become a technology of biopolitics.

The statistics that are used to biopolitically govern a population with the media are the demographic statistics of audiences and readerships that media broadcasters and publishers provide to advertisers and broadcasting/governmental authorities. I am in no way saying that audiences are stupid, but they do mostly participate in ‘stupidity’ (in Foucault’s sense of the word), or that they do not have control over what they watch or do, only that their control exists unactualised, primarily as virtual ‘potential’ to organise the media in front of themselves, rather than allowing themselves to be organised in front of the media (e.g. ‘big night in’). The media apparatus (as a collective of all broadcasters and publishers) follows the audience/readership, it does not program it. However, in this act of following — akin to a hunter tracking an animal — that certain traits are extracted that are then developed into populations as statistical aggregates. ‘Following’ is a complex process of ‘scientific’ measuring and recording practices: audience research, the purely materialist ‘minor science’ of the 21st century. Yes, ‘minor science’ in the Deleuze and Guattari sense, forget the bloody masons; the audience/readership has certain singularities that materially exist and which are followed and worked into shape. These singularities are captured as the familiar demographic ‘figures’ (‘figure’ in both senses as number and aesthetic form). Above all audience research is an art of intuition based on the science of statistics. You only have to read a few accounts of the magazine industry and the role of editors to understand how confused previous researchers have been by this weird space of the minor science between ‘scientificity’ and ‘intuition’.

The singularities of the audience/readership are pre-personal traits of the ‘body’ as a consumerist social event: age is reterritorialised into segments of buying power, income/class/job is reterritorialised into segments of buying power, ethnicity/race-buying power, gender/sex-buying power, etc. Beyond actual commercial relation is the political economy of belonging where, in the example of the nation, consumerism is the dominant mode of citizenship (cf. Bauman). Do you ‘buy into’ the notion of a nationalist identity? Treat days of rememberance as a spectacle in which your flag-draped anthem-singing role is predetermined, that is, anticipated, but experienced as a valorising appreciation of your presence and participation in the spectacle as part of the spectacle? It is in your existential poverty that you will find meaning in earnestness… Thank you SO MUCH for being a customer of our nation.

OK, so there is nothing that special about what I have said so far, all this is simple for anyone in marketing, I have just discussed it through a specific discourse. However the spin I want to put on things, and why I have framed the media event as a biopolitical event, is that there is not a single media event, nor is there merely a serial media event, the media event is properly transversal; that is, the media is not constant, rather what is differentially repeated are segments of the population. The big point is that these multiple segments of the population are used as commercial and political resources by various distinct ‘parties’; advertisers to sell to commercial business, political parties to use as voters, war-mongering nations to use as citizens, reactionary left-wingers to use as ‘protest’, etc. All these groups may be of the singular population segment; indeed they have to be to a certain extent.

I tried drawing a table but it was too hard. Here is a list instead:

1) Single media (non) events correlate with a homogenous population, (production of stratification, segmented populations, hence ‘mass-society’ critiques)
2) Serial media events correlate with a homologically related population, (escape from stratification, hence ‘subcultures’ as a population)
3) Transversal media events correlate with a differentially repeated population, (diagonal line of specific duration across the continuity-discontinuity of ‘legitimated’ stratifications)

Transversal media events occur across platforms, media channels, temporalities, and spaces. A multiplication of screens (ala Virilio), remediation (ala Bulter and Grusin), and so on. Virilio has sort of coming from the same place with his ‘landscape of events’. Wark has discussed what I am calling ‘transversal media events’ along a singular line of fracture determined by their nature as ‘global’ media events, but there are trans-local and local media events, too, and these may be assembled into transversal media events rather than overcoded as ‘global’.

My concentration is wavering. There is one final point I need to make and that involves the different relation that producers of the ‘image’ have to it compared to the consumers, and it is here that the properly transveral nature of the third kind of media event becomes apparent.

For producers the ‘image’ is a ‘figure’ of calculation, for consumers it is an element — a partial object — that exists only in relation with other images (partial objects) as elements in a ‘potential space’ of collective individuation. Secondly, there is a certain ‘co-efficient of transversality’ for consumers that determines the limits of the media event (in its tranversal state). Single and serial media events are abstractions from the transversal complexity of media consumption proper, and this may have always been the case, but I doubt it. ‘Potential space’ and ‘co-efficients of transversality’ were developed by Guattari to use as a weapon against psychoanalytic bourgeois ‘transference’ (i.e. a libidinal mapping/projection of the ego of the analyst by the analysand). Guattari places the group as central to the schizoanalytic enterprise of transversality instead of the one-to-one relation of transference. ‘Co-efficients of transversality’ describes the openess or capacity for communication in the circulation of information within the group. Guattari used the image of horses with blinkers.

As a cybernetic extension of the subject, the media apparatus plays a role by conditioning — through elaborate, distributed, materially-inculcated dispositifs (see Lazzarato) — the modulation of events through the technological and social restrictions of transversality. A one-eyed view literally suffers from a low coefficient of transversality. There is therefore a tension, and this is the light at the end of an oppressive tunnel, between the maintenance of enough stupidity in the world that populations are relatively docile (repetition), and allow themselves to be organised in front of the proliferation of media screens (YOU MUST WATCH THIS), while capturing the attention of populations through their excitation (difference) — the base unit of which Bogard calls a ‘distraction’ and can be conceived of as a political economy of ‘attention thresholds’ (cf. Cohen xxxiv) — so the population has the repeated expectation of something different. Too much repetition and the world becomes boring, too much difference and there is an uncanny overload and something breaks…

Hoons and Moral Panics

I am super busy finishing off a chapter on ‘The Hoon’ for a book on youth cultures and moral panics due by the end of next week. It shall serve as the basis for the final chapter of my dissertation.

The chapter is based on some media analysis work from 2003 of the Queensland hoon moral panic (which ran from 2001 to roughly 2004). A hoon is a classic folk devil and is basically represented as a loud and aggressive young man driving a loud and aggressive car in a loud and aggressive way often playing loud and aggressive music. There is some reality to this representation. What is useful about the Queensland moral panic is that it can be separated into two stages. First local stage of the moral panic organised around hoons cruising The Strand in Townsville. Sure, there was a problem here to do with the governance of public space and young men acting in intimidating ways. It also coincided with a local government election.

However, the second stage of the moral panic sees its intensification into a state-wide issue across Queensland with the involvement of the state government. The hoon problem was recast as belonging to road safety and relating to the goverance of automobility. This stage of the moral panic just happened to coincide with a state government election. I offer a very severe critique of the state government. My argument involves teasing out the implications of the fact that in the state of Queensland over the period of 1999-2004 so-called ‘hooning’ only accounted for 169 crashes out of about 60,000 involving injury and more than 100,000 crashes in total. The political efficacy of the ‘hoon issue’ does not derive from the problem solving capacity of a government addressing a road safety issue when statistically the ‘road safety issue’ accounts for less than one half of one percent of the complete problem of road accidents. The political efficacy of the ‘hoon issue’ stems from the capacity of the government to use the figure of the ‘hoon’ as a way to function with the media to affectively modulate a political constituency or a mass-media audience in a synergistic fashion. The tabloid media in particular are complicit in these governmental stupidities, and if I was in Queensland and had been directly affected by a road accident I would be asking why the government is wasting a massive amount of money on a problem that, in terms of road safety, is simply irrelevant.

I am not sure what to call this form of politics as yet. It is a little like Agamben’s scenario, but hoons are not sacrificical victims as such. I have raised the problem of incorporating moral panic theory into the notion of governmentality previously (here, and again massive hat tip to Craig). Last week I bought the third edition (2002) of Cohen’s classic text Folk Devils and Moral Panics. The new introduction for this edition is very useful because Cohen places moral panics in the context of a ‘cultural politics’. Cohen himself briefly mentions Foucault’s micro-politics of power, which in part I feel vindicates the questions I had been asking previously about governmentality (even if I got chastised on the main Foucault e-list for wanting to ‘combine’ separate ‘theories’, whatever!). Perhaps more interestingly and towards the end of the introduction he suggests a further direction in a politics of ‘attention thresholds’. I think I’ll play it safe and go along with Cohen’s lead here and try not to get too funky with my moral panic/governmentality theoretical assemblages.

Snakes on a Plane on a Line of Flight

Meaghan Morris had the launch of her book Identity Anecdotes in Sydney last night at Gleebooks. I was working and it was fun serving everyone from the CCR. I was happy to meet Ned Rossiter as I really like his paper on Processual Media Theory. Plus I met a new PhD student now at the CCR from Japan. I was trying to convince him he needed to look at drifting. Anyway…

In today’s lecture for the Technology and Culture seminar I am teaching this semester I discussed the notion of the media event. In writing the lecture over the last couple of days I realised why I never really understood Baudrillard and have not thought that Dayan and Katz’s conception of the media event is that useful. It is because they are neo-Durkeimians! I have been heavily influenced by people who have been heavily influenced by Gabriel Tarde…

For example, McKenzie Wark’s conception of the media event partially derived from the post-Foucaultian work of Virilio. As Alliez notes Foucault attempted to critique Durkheimian conceptions of the social through a microphysics of power.

The other critique of Durkheimian conceptions of the social comes from Deleuze and Guattari’s Tardean notions of the molecular flows of desire…

What I have been working towards is a Tardean conception of the media event! That hit me like a sledgehammer a couple of days ago when I started writing my lecture. My lovely super-bright third year students got Glen in full flight. I call it a transversal media event. I use the Snakes on a Plane pre-release hype as an example of such an event, and importantly as a counter to the sorts of post-9/11 affective politics around fear that Brian Massumi and Australian politician, Carmen Lawrence, have written about. (A more rigorous version of this argument.)

I want to turn into into a paper when I have some time. I have already knocked up 4,000 words of argument for the lecture notes so it shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe it should be for my post-doc…

Diss Writing

Just cracked 35,000 words for my section on Street Machining, good enough time as any for a break. I have written just under 11,000 words in a week after I edited the 24,000 of this section I already had. I suspect I have about another 5,000 words to go in this section. It is only about 30% too big, not bad for a first draft by my standards. Plus I don’t continually write at this rate, it is only after much preparation.

Currently discussing transversality and the event, and the different accents of the notion of the ‘transversal’ across D&G’s work. Setting up for disscussion of Summernats and Street Machine Nationals. As a license plate on a car in Street Machine magazine once proclaimed, this is probably ‘OVAKIL’. I am pointing out the transversality of ‘transversality’ to explicate and illustrate the concept for a cultural studies of the event!

rock n roll!

PS watched the 1st ep of new TV series Heroes this morning. Not bad! Synthesis of many already existing ideas in a new medium (TV), see what it can do!