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Archive for March 11th, 2009

The Age of Hybridity

An interesting piece I heard on NPR today by Andrei Codrescu, an author, poet, radio correspondent, and professor at LSU Baton Rouge:

 

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu

 

 

 

All Things Considered, March 11, 2009 · This is the age of hybrids. It isn’t just the cars — we the drivers are hybrids, too. Our bodies used to be all flesh, but now we are wired to iPods, GPS devices and the Internet.

The hybrids we drive are the hybrids we are, and it took the whole of the 20th century to mainstream the idea. The United States was always a nation of hybrids: Immigrants mixed here to make a new kind of people — a hybrid people called Americans. The 20th century, the “American century,” was the huge rush of euphoria that came from the mixing of so many differences.

This was the reality, but acknowledging it was something else: Not until the 1970s did we allow the possibility that we could accept our roots and also be Americans. The age of the hyphen was upon us: We became African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and so on.

Even Native Americans, while not hyphenated, were prefixed by “Native” to distinguish them from the Anglo-Saxons who insisted that they were just “Americans.” Hybrid reality preceded the hyphen in places like New Orleans, where mixed-race Creoles created jazz, that most American of all arts.

At the beginning of the 20th century, artists started making hybrids, and they haven’t stopped since. Collage mixed paint and newspapers, assemblage assembled diverse materials, sculptors combined steel and foam, soft and hard, rock and water. What artists did was to rid us of the pernicious notions of “purity” circulated for centuries by overanesthetized and frustrated ideologues. Artists made obvious what everyone knows: There isn’t a single human being or any living thing that isn’t a combination of things.

There are no pure races, there are no pure nations or tribes, and there are no clear lines of descent from the gods, who are themselves nothing but hybrids. Zeus even messed with animals, and the mono-God is composed of earlier gods like a psychedelic quilt.

The human urge to claim some kind of purity is a curious feature of our hybrid natures, but it’s a dead end. Ideas of race purity lead to genocide. Setting apart one’s tribe or nation ends inevitably in war. Monopolizing the engine of a moving vehicle to burn only petroleum leads to disaster. All monopolies of vision that claim to be unhybridized are doomed to a tragic end.

Happily, we’ve accepted first the hyphen, then the idea that we have more in common than what separates us. And now we have a hybrid, black and white leader, ready to drive the hybrid Americans of the 21st century to new sources of energy.

Say it out loud: I’m hybrid and I’m proud.

 

Andrei Codrescu’s website can be accessed here.

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“The Media”

I hear a lot of people talking about “the media” as if it is some conglomeration of people and companies, some sort of defined entity.  I hear this term thrown around as if we all understand exactly what it means, but I think that most of us don’t.  I hear people nursing left-wing ideologies call “the media” the fundamentally ultra-conservative tool of the upper class to propagate the state’s ideological controls.  I hear ultra-conservatives on their radio shows crying out that “the media” is liberal and that there’s a conspiracy that started in a dark cavern somewhere to rend the world as we know it and set up a godless socialist state.  Even if this trope didn’t sound like it was an excerpt from a flamboyant novel about the Illuminati, I would still ask in response to any reference to “the media,” “What do you mean when you say the media?” 

 

If I ever teach media studies, I plan to forbid the use of the mere term “the media” because it is not nearly specific enough to serve as a term that is useful, even in everyday speech, and it also has far too much elasticity: it is quite easy for the term to be abused by people taking it and fitting it into their own rhetorical devices to serve their own ends, instead of being a descriptive term that is helpful.  It is so elastic that it can be used and twisted to mean almost anything in almost any context.

 

So, I propose a ban on the term “the media.”  Not a Gestapo kind of ban, with thought police running around and reporting their names to the IRS for eventual bureaucratic torture and punishment.  No, I propose that whomever wishes to do so join me in a self-imposed ban of this term from their vocabulary.  In doing so we can make our language more precise while resisting the urge to fall into singularly and unhelpful oversimplifications about our society and how it communicates.  We can acknowledge that there are many different forms of communication, and they are all in a state of extreme flux right now.

 

There are myriad different industries and technologies that are used by people, and many of these get utilized for communication, and as people begin to use a technology (essentially a communication delivery system) not merely as an oddity, but actually as a method of communication, then a medium is born.  All sorts of things are media: smoke signals, text messaging, email, corporate television, radio, satellite radio, podcasts, vodcasts, books, billboards, magazines, blogs, discussion boards, independent television stations, the independent film industry, and on and on.  To lump all of these things together into one definition is to miss the fact that different media develop to meet different communication gaps, needs, or functions in a society, and one may have little to do with the other. 

 

Let’s criticize media if it is warranted, but let us be specific in exactly what we place in our sights.  Add other words to “the media” to specify what we say and mean, and if this is a challenge for us, then let us accept the challenge as a blessing that will force us to stop making bad arguments.  Criticize network television news or discuss the eccentricities of video gaming machinima; ask about the finer points of texting or blow your stack and vent about how you think radio journalism has lost its soul.  Even better, talk about specific programs or media sites.  Talk about the decline of the LA Times, or the political bent of a particular television network or program.  Talk specifically.  With specific words.  That mean specific things.  Then we can start to begin to know what we mean when we talk to one another about media, and we can all stop pretending that we know what “the media” means.

 

What does this mean?  Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...

What does this mean? Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...

 

 

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