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…

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