Media Ideologies: A Gallery

I study and teach about digital media, so I find these frequent artistic criticisms of technology usage useful and fascinating on a number of levels. In a social scientific vein, we might interpret these clever images as intentional media ideologies, that is, as discursive statements about how and when communicative technologies ought to be used. Such digital tools are relatively new, in terms of human social and historical development, so the rules on correct usage (or might we say, ritual correctness or cultural orthodoxy, as the discourses sometimes operate in religious registers) are not yet fixed or determined. Photographic statements such as these constitute proposals for those very rules.

Although I have yet to conduct a rigorous scholarly analysis of this corpus of images, one might delineate a few provisional observations. First, notice Kortaba, Geiger, and Reilly and Farias’s digitally manipulated photographs. Data phone usage, the artists wish to convey, distorts the rituals of daily life. Technology, the pictures suggest, have disembodying effects. Kortaba’s images speak especially on this point, while Geiger’s appear to theorize technology’s distortive, manipulative effects on human persons. The series by Reilly and Farias qualifies communicants as “ghostly” and not quite entirely present in real time. The Banksy image is the most straightforward in terms of content. Two lovers distracted by seductive white screens. Pickersgill’s “Removed” gallery thematically inverses the Banksy painting, to argue that technology, while an “addictive force,” is actually becoming, in an unsettling way, something of a “phantom limb.” Tech design perpetually sharpens and develops. Soon one won’t even be able to see the digital technologies that supplement, extend, and reinforce the tasks of the human body (see, for instance, this iPhone cover. Hoax uses ubiquitous pop culture icons (produced and disseminated by Disney, itself a veritable media empire) to add another level to this body of trenchant media ideologies.

All of this is so anthropologically fascinating. At the very least, it gives me a good deal of fodder for class discussions. What are the media ideologies present? I ask my students. What do the artists wish to convey about media use? What do the photographers find unsettling about contemporary communicative devices and burgeoning communications rituals? And the more controversial questions: Do you (dis)agree with the artists’ criticisms? Is it true that data phones will bring about the demise of society or at least the end of meaningful human interactions? Are the criticisms on to something, or are we living in simply the next stage of human media development? Do data phones make us any more antisocial than, say, newspapers

Lastly, a request for the reader. Have you ran across any other artistic and/or photographic work that constitutes a media ideology? If so, send me a link and I’ll add them to the gallery.

Image credit and/or source links: Kamil Kortaba via designyoutrust; Antoine Geiger’s Sur-Fake gallery (see also Colossal’s take); Eric Pickersgill’s Removed gallery; Saint Hoax’s Contemporary Fairy Tales series; Banksy’s “Mobile Lovers” via My Modern Met; Allison Reilly and Miguel Farias’s Gh0st L1fe series (via Colassal). The uses of the images on this page (i.e., for teaching, criticism, scholarship, and research purposes and not commercial ones) falls squarely under Fair Use parameters as outlined in 17 U.S.C. § 107 : US Code – Section 107.

MALINOWSKI’S ETHNOGRAPHIC MANIFESTO (“Lightly” Revised for Anthropologists of the Late-Modern, Industrialized West)


The anthropologist must relinquish his or her comfortable position in the coffee shop or the library, where, armed with laptop, digital recorder, and tablet and at times with a double shot espresso, s/he has been accustomed to collect statements from informants, write down stories, and fill out sheets of paper with informants’ texts. S/he must go out into the downtown districts and the suburbs, and see the natives at work in gardens, in the shopping malls, in office cubicles; s/he must commute with them to distant townships and to other states, and observe them in commerce, trading, and economically and religiously motivated transnational and overseas expeditions. Information must come full-flavored from one’s own observations of native life, and not be squeezed out of reluctant informants as a trickle of talk. Field work can be done first or secondhand even among informants, in the middle of apartment condominiums, not far from the practices of free market capitalism and bureaucratized industry. Open-air anthropology, as opposed to hearsay note-taking, is hard work, but it is also great fun. Only such anthropology can give us the all-around vision of the West and of Western culture.

I’ve edited Malinowski’s original quotation from Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984 [1948]), 147, but for comparative purposes here’s a full-text online version of the entire selection. Photo credit: Kramchang, “DSC07365” (Creative Commons).


Cultural Diversity as Cultural Dogma

We hear a lot about cultural diversity today, and those who espouse it like to say that respect for it in the West is a result of non-Western influences and is a recent phenomenon. This is a rather surprising claim, for two reason: first, because there is probably no society outside the West that is as interested in what other societies have to say, and second, because the value of diversity, far from being a fad of the past few decades, is a dogma of at least the past two centuries. Why and how to pursue diversity is a story that begins in the Enlightenment, and certain Enlightenment texts could serve quite literally as its Bible.

Samuel Fleischacker, The Ethics of Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 208.

Latour on the God of the Moderns

Reinterpretation of the ancient Christian theological themes made it possible to bring God’s transcendence and His immanence into play simultaneously. But this lengthy task of the sixteenth-century Reformation would have produced very different results had it not got mixed up with the task of the seventeenth century, the conjoined invention of scientific facts and citizens . . . Spirituality was reinvented: the all-powerful God could descend into men’s heart of hearts without intervening in any way in their external affairs. A wholly individual and wholly spiritual religion made it possible to criticize both the ascendancy of science and that of society, without needing to bring God into either. The modern could now be both secular and pious at the same time . . . This last constitutional guarantee was given not by a supreme God but by an absent God — yet His absence did not prevent people from calling on Him at will in the privacy of their own hearts. His position became literally idea, since He was bracketed twice over, once in metaphysics and again in spirituality. He would no longer interfere in any way with the development of the moderns, but He remained effective and helpful within the spirit of humans alone.

Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 35-36.