Friday, June 29, 2007

What the Bleep Do We Know? – On Lives Both Lived and Imagined

The film What the Bleep Do We Know? presents diverse and often contentious processes of meaning generation. The ‘fixing’ and ‘crystallization’ of meaning and its modes of conveyance are inextricably enmeshed with the reception of meaning – the process of consumption. Meanings, no matter how esoteric and isolated, are ultimately shared, and its consumption must be examined within the context of sharing. Theodore Schwartz offers a conceptual tool that places Appadurai’s global flows and landscapes within the real of the individual, through his concept of the “idioverse.” From his main objective of locating where “culture rests,” he defines the idioverse as follows: “… this view of process and performance, of which units are total human beings in full psychological concreteness, not abstract, general sociocultural entities, but each … an ‘idioverse’ with his/her individual cognitive, evaluative, and effective mappings of structure of events and classes of events in his/her sociocultural field.” (Schwartz, 1978: 410) Furthermore, he presents that “… the notion of idioverse is a valuable one, for it postulates that ‘a culture has its distributive existence as the set of personalities of the members of a population, thus allowing for negotiation and dispute over what should be authoritative or legitimate in that culture, in other words, for social dramatic action.” (Schwartz, 1978: 423-424) The concept of culture as distributive and ultimately negotiated, and its capacity to effect manifest action, echoes what Carolan presents above as the endowment of greater agency on individuals in formulating the components of their lived and imagined lives, and in ascribing positions of authority to determine quality and authenticity. (Carolan, 2003) But in looking at meaning as a social phenomenon, as ultimately shared, it is necessary to examine the organization of the “idioverse,” which elements constitute conventions that are inherently normative. Idioverses make use of ideological frames of reference that are determined by a given individual’s maneuvering strategies through global flows and landscapes. But these individual maneuverings, given that they are motivated by the establishment of frames, are automatically influenced by the prospect of sharing at the end of the journey. This idea can best be illustrated through the examination of film as an artistic cultural product.

Any cultural product such as a film, artistic or otherwise, must be conceptualized in relation to a perceiver. The mind is never at rest, always seeking order and significance, always combing the world for anomalous instances. For better or for worse, cultural products “rely on this dynamic, unifying quality of the human mind. They provide organized occations in which we exercise and develop our ability to pay attention, to anticipate upcoming events, to draw conclusions, and to construct a whole out of parts.” (Bordwell, et. al., 1997: 23) But cultural products are human artifacts, and because a given producer lives within a particular history and society, s/he cannot avoid to relate her/his product to other products and to aspects of the world in general. Conventions consist of tradition, prevalent syles, popular forms, etc. that can situate a given product within an overall scheme. Even cutting-edge or revolutionary works are situated within the context of convention. In this light, a film’s explicit or implicit meanings are contextualized within a particular set of socio-cultural, political, and economic values. This sort of meaning that Bordwell terms as symptomatic, contains values that get revealed, and ultimately determines the ideology of the film. (Bordwell, et. al., 1997: 33)

Shea looks at film as an agent of political socialization, and proposes that cumulative indoctrination through this medium is profound because the message is often veiled. In any given film, political messages are often incidental, but their value cannot be downplayed. Audiences view films to be entertained. “It is when people think they are just being entertained that political messages have their greatest impact – beliefs are less likely to be preached than assumed.” (Shea 2002) But the ideology of film is not a static construct that is inert within the duration of conveyance and consumption. It is a seed that presents itself to scrutiny and transformation. It makes demands from its consumers, but its transformation is not subject to any notion of accountability. Audiences are not “passive cultural dopes,” but neither are they responsible ones. The consumption of film, and its ideology rests heavily on individual agency in the generation of meanings.

The role of individual agency in film consumption offers the possibility of skillful actors with a “toolkit” containing a wide array of images that they can use to do different things in different situations – “the pieces necessary for constructing different strategies for action.” Given that all cultures consist of diverse, often conflicting elements that can serve as agents of political socialization and effective mobilization, individual consumers are modeled as active and skilled users of culture. (Swidler, 1998) Furthermore, global flows and landscapes are effectively made a part of this “toolkit,” allowing an individual a degree of agency to change the composition of their lives as shared, as lived, and as imagined. The exercise of agency in an individual’s political socialization through film consumption brings forth the importance of the processes of negotiation and integration. An overwhelming amount of images assaults any individual at a given time and situation. The generation of meaning is not confined within specific “packets” of messages; it is fluid, conflict-ridden, but integrative in the end. The liminal stage, as a state on a threshold (limen) “betwixt and between” more established elements of the social process, (Turner, 1988: 75) provides an effective space wherein individuals can negotiate and integrate the components of their identity amidst nascent and constantly reformulated rules – a formative space of liminality.


Appadurai, Arjun, 1991. “Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology” in Richard Fox, ed., Recapturing Anthropology. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, pp. 196-224.

Appadurai, Arjun, 1992. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” in Mike Featherstone, ed., Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity. London: Sage Publications, pp. 295-310.

Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin, 1997. Film Art: An Introduction/Fifth Edition. New York: McGraw Hill.

Carolan, Brian, 2003. “Technology, Schools and the Decentralization of Culture”. First Monday, Volume 8, Number 6, October 2003, at , accessed 15 September 2003.

Schwartz, Theodore, 1978. “Where is the Culture?” in George Spindler, ed., The Making of Psychological Anthropology. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 419-441.

Shea, Daniel, 2002. “Why PopPolitics? A political science professor examines the influence popular culture has on politics, politics has on popular culture, and why it all matters”., at , accessed 9 September 2003.

Swidler, A., 1998. “Culture and social action,” in P. Smith, ed., The New American Cultural Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 171-187.

Turner, Victor, 1988. The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Images Within Intervals Of Darkness

Political socialization is but a sub-component of the comprehensive project of identity. The lure of comfortable categorizations must be eschewed to make way for more dynamic models that can handle the demands of vigorous states of flux, wherein immersed both lived and imagined lives. This discourse aims to find significant correlates between the process of political socialization and the media – specifically, films – which intersection may provide a liminal stage where individuals formulate the elements that can motivate manifest political action. It is hoped that a greater understanding of the dynamic relationship between the accessed world and the conceptualization of the self can contribute to the positive utilization of media - by filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors and other stockholders - towards effective political socialization and mobilization. Furthermore, an understanding of the diverse political cues, activities, and messages can give film audiences better sets of “tools” with which to chart their political world and their place within it, helping them become more informed, more responsible, and hopefully, more discerning consumers of film and other media products.

Arjun Appadurai, in his article “Global Ethnoscapes,” stated that “the link between the imagination and social life … is increasingly a global and deterritorialized one … ethonography must redefine itself as the practice of representation which illuminates the power of large-scale, imagined life possibilities over specific life trajectories … a new alertness to the fact that ordinary lives today are increasingly powered not by the givenness of things but by the possibilities that the media suggest are available.” (Appadurai: 1991) The framework within which the self is conceptualized will be focused on the negotiation process that happens on the liminal stage, a threshold (limen) “betwixt and between” more established elements of the social process. This stage of constant flux provides an effective space wherein individuals can negotiate the components of their identity amidst nascent and constantly reformulated rules – a formative space of liminality.

The media plays an important role within the realm of identity formation because it provides a consistent source of input for both lived and imagined lives. Popular access films of all genres occupy a prominent position within these dynamic realms. It is proposed that the consumption of these films provide the liminal stage whereon individuals negotiate and align their values and ends. In turn, upon the inevitable involvement of others, this hierarchy of values and ends is further negotiated and aligned to form a system of shared or consensual meaning – the product of political socialization. This system can serve as a set of criteria for judgement, preference, and choice when it is fully conceptualized and explicitly formulated; hence, the motivation for manifest political action.

The discourse anticipates a significant relationship between films and the process of political socialization through analytical correlates that can be discerned within the state of liminality. It is hoped that this conversation can help provide the motivation for media producers to take greater responsibility in the manufacture and distribution of film products and for media consumers to become more discerning users of cultural products. Film, above all, is a cultural product that can be an important and effective means of education, socialization, and action within areas of governance, environment, labor, and other pertinent societal concerns.

Ref.: Appadurai, Arjun, “Global Ethnoscapes” in Fox, Richard G., Ed., Recapturing Anthropology, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM, USA: 1991, p. 200.