Archive for September, 2013

Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman

September 23, 2013

Du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, and Negus’ Doing Cultural Studies is a text about examining the taken for granted knowledge and assumptions we have about the world and its’ objects and using that knowledge for methodology.  The authors examine the Sony Walkman as a case study to make their argument.  The authors wrestle with two definitions of culture, the first meaning “as a ‘whole way of life’” and the second as “’the production and circulation of meaning.’”  They go on to explain that these meanings are debates that have not been resolved.

The authors provide a basic explanation of representation and signification and how these in turn shape identity or how they try to shape identity.  An overview of the many ways that the Sony Walkman has been represented is provided by the authors.

Products are created by people and by companies.  The book provides excellent analysis of the people integral to the Walkman’s design and production as well as Sony, the company responsible for its production.

The book then provides the reader with a sense of the design of the Walkman as it becomes more personalized for the consumer.  This personalization of the Walkman allowed it to be marketed to wide varieties of targeted consumers.  The authors note the tension of an originally Japanese company becoming a global firm.

The authors then shift their focus to consumption of the Walkman.  A quick overview of culture industry is provided in respect to views promoted by Horkheimer and Adorno.  The Walkman provided the public easy ways to consume popular music.  This led some to worry about the pollution of culture and the more traditional or “higher” values of culture by “mass culture.”  Mass culture was seen as a standardized way of viewing the world that would turn individuals into mindless consumers.  Notions of power are introduced by the authors noting that advertisers are hidden persuaders and then offer a product to satisfy consumers’ desires.

The Walkman also created a problem by blurring the lines of public and private spheres.  The Walkman allowed individuals to “privately” consume music in “public.”  This led some to accuse the Walkman of being anti-social, a problem that Sony would try to remedy.

Finally, this book provides a different methodology paradigm and forces us to consider how objects become culturally embedded, their impact on culture, and the meaning that we give to these objects.

Patterns of Intentions

September 17, 2013


Baxandall’s Patterns of Intentions is an attempt to answer the question, what is the nature and basis for the historical explanation of paintings? Adding to Aristotle’s vocabulary, Baxandall provides the language to explain the social, cultural and economic circumstances facing an artist with terms like Brief, Charge and Troc. Understanding the environment and the specific problem an artist may be attempting to resolve help the audience comprehend the choices in style and form the artist made. In a way, Baxandall is proposing a method, a triangulation of description, explanation and socio-historical context as a means to arrive at the intention of the artist. While this method highlights some causal determinants, what is certain is the myriad ways an artist has to solve a problem. Using the construction of the Forth Bridge as a model to re-construct the builder’s account of cause and effect of his choices, Baxandall illustrates the utilitarian choices and the ancillary aesthetic choices Baker made when building the bridge. With an obvious problem such as spanning a chasm and limited options for medium, with the added constraints of durability, stability, and public safety, Baker’s purpose and audience are clear. Yet even with the narrowly defined purpose and static problem, the historical recreation of circumstances is still only suspect when trying to pinpoint intention.


Applying this same process of analysis to visual art yields even less certain results. With a painting, new problems emerge with each brushstroke, conveying the complexity of analysis. Thus the end product of a painting, its patterns of color, line and form an artist chose, do not reveal the problem the painter was trying to solve nor his intention. Problem solving becomes problem finding and the two interpenetrate one another. This process of analysis of a painter’s intention highlights the tendency for description to provide more insight about one’s thoughts of the picture, not the picture itself. This equates to viewers responding less to the object itself and more to the mental engagement and memory of it.


The second half of the book focuses on the systematic ideas of the time influencing the artist, namely the scientific and philosophical underpinnings. Understanding another culture and period is an added layer of analysis. Baxandall highlights the necessity of taking the context of the painting into consideration, the negative examples influencing the artist as well as the aesthetic choices when trying to arrive at the artist’s intention.

Poetics, Metaphysics, and Grundrisse

September 11, 2013

In our Aristotle selections, (Metaphysics Book 5 and Poetics) we see the ground work that provides a basis for media studies, literary criticism, and film theory. Aristotle has specific rules that must be applied effectively to create the ideal poetry or tragedy. Aristotle holds both of these forms in high regard over other “lower” forms of entertainment such as comedy. In Metaphysics, Aristotle is taking the elements of production and explaining them down to their barest postulates. All the while, he uses these axioms as building blocks for production. So, it would be appropriate to start at the “beginning” and discuss each component to the last. Media studies can also be viewed in this way. As media scholars we can look at a whole production or we may look at very distinct elements within a television show. Whichever approach or angle we choose, we must remember that there are certain elements within any medium that must exist in order to study said object.

Poetics describes the detailed elements of a specific genre, in this case poetry. This is a more detailed approach to a specific artifact. In Metaphysics, Aristotle looks at the elements that are required for existence, while Poetics looks at those characteristics that create an optimal poem. Another way to look at it is in terms of production values. In order for a Tragedy to be par excellence it must observe specific guidelines such as plot, characters, thought, and diction. If these elements are not implemented, the audience or critic will easily be able to dismiss the poem for falling short. Although Aristotle privileges Tragedy over other forms of poetry, his guidelines can apply to other genres and media.

Lastly, Marx’s Grundrisse discusses production in an economical sense, but can easily be interpreted into an analysis of fan or audience studies. The key point to take from the reading is that production and consumption are one and the same. When content is produced it is also consumed at the exact very same moment. Both consumption and production must coexist or not at all. They feed off of each other in order to continue the cycle. Producers create content while the consumers absorb it and utilize it to their own ends. This utilization also produces content that the media producers use to create new works or continue to produce similar material.

How to post to WordPress

September 4, 2013

Go to

Click on “log in” under the “Meta” menu on the bottom right.


Enter 509student and the password on the paper/PDF version of the syllabus.

To create a new post, scroll over “Communication 509” (top left corner), then “New” (in the pull-down menu), then “Post.”


This will bring up a page with two fields, one for the title, one for the blog entry. (A “field” is a box to fill in.) I recommend clicking on the “text” button and editing in HTML, following these instructions.


When you are done, you can click on “save draft,” “preview,” or “publish.” If you want to see how your post looks, choose “preview.” If you are done, choose “publish.”


To log out, scroll over “509student” in the top right corner. Scroll down and click “sign out.”


Gray and Lotz, Television Studies

September 3, 2013

In Television Studies (Polity, 2012), Jonathan Gray and Amanda Lotz argue that television studies is best understood not as a field but as an approach (p. 23). They dismiss a number of alternative formulations, especially those that rely on ideas of television as a specific technology. Instead, they propose that scholars are engaged with with television studies whenever they study “at least two of the program, the audience, and the industry” (p. 25).

In each of their four chapters (programs, audiences, institutions, and finally contexts) they provide a historical sketch describing how television studies came to be characterized by the “at least two” approach. For instance, with respect to programs, they describe aesthetic analysis, rhetorical analysis, Althusserian screen theory, and semiotics. They also produce a genealogy of scholars (starting with Horace Newcomb and his notion of “cultural forum,” ending with John Fiske and polysemy), before settling on critical analysis, which “pries under the surface for deeper meanings and connects these meanings to broader social analysis and commentary” (p. 46).

They provide similar histories and genealogies for audience and institutional research. They privilege the Birmingham School (so-called because it developed at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies), and its later incarnations, especially fan studies à la John Fiske and Henry Jenkins. Especially revealing is their discussion of the “The Battles of Vilas Hall” in the 1990s, which pitted political economy (whose standard-bearer, Bob McChesney, worked on the fifth floor of Vilas Hall at the University of Wisconsin) against cultural studies (whose standard-bearer, John Fiske, worked one floor up).

Beyond its broad conceptual scope, this book’s value is its demonstration of a side of academia that is often hidden from students, namely the role of personal relationships, especially between advisers and advisees. People’s friendships affect how they go about their work, which ideas they support, which they contest. Although Gray and Lotz do not say so explicitly, it’s striking how influence works — not in a petty sense where someone’s distaste for someone else causes them to dismiss their ideas, but in the conversations that develop between scholars who are also friends. Ideas develop in conversation, and the genealogies are insightful because they show not only who was talking to whom, but how that influenced the scholarship people produced.

Basic HTML tutorial

September 2, 2013

HTML stands for “hyper-text markup language.”

The idea of a markup comes from typesetting, where editors had to indicate to printers where to print text in italics or in bold. They would take a page and mark it up, underlining words that should be italicized, for instance, like this:

a marked up text, shamelessly lifted from

The WordPress text editor — which I strongly encourage you to use, instead of the visual editor — works much the same way. First, you enter your text without any formatting.

Then, you can highlight words that should be italicized or bolded. Click on the “i” button for italics or the “b” button for bold. You’ll notice that the text is not italicized or bolded. Instead, the editor will add markups, so




when you press “i” for italics.

When you click on “publish,” that text will then be rendered


Similarly, when you press “b” for bold, the editor will add markups like this


which renders like this


The first markup consists of a less-than sign, then instructions for rendering, then a greater-than sign. The second markup (which indicates where to stop altering the text) includes a forward slash after the less-than sign.

I encourage you to play around with this. Try a block quote, or try embedding a link by highlighting a word and clicking on “link.” Follow the instructions and see how it marks up your text.

If you’d like more tutorials, I highly recommend W3Schools.