Extended Response Journal Reflection:
Choose one of your weekly response journal reflections (I attached a copy of what I had written for the week I chose to do this assignment on) to expand into a longer length paper/reflection. The revised Journal Reflections posts should be 1250 words (not including bibliography). Your extended refection will include a title page and bibliography. Give your extended reflection a title that conveys its main focus. Your extended reflection must include at least four scholarly references/citations from course material. This is the minimum.
What to pay attention to in the reading(s) for this week:
Dallas Smythe and Stuart Ewen are two significant figures in the study of communication and culture. In 1981, Smythe proposed the idea of the “Audience Commodity.” What this means is that the very act of viewing television, using social media, or even consuming ‘free’ media is not only a consumptive act, but a productive act. Smythe theorized (along Marxist lines) that the surplus value of any given commodity – that which makes a commodity profitable – is the result of human labour (be it culture or manufacturing). Audiences are offered a “free lunch” by media producers (‘free’ television shows, news, and cartoons, or ‘free’ access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Tik Tok) and in return audiences offer their attention to these outlets which is then sold to advertises. Smythe writes:
“As with the hors d’oeuvres or potato chips and peanuts given to the customers of the pub, bar, or cocktail lounge, the function of the free lunch is to whet the appetite. In this case, to whet the prospective audience members’ appetites and thus (1) attract and keep them attending to the program, newspaper, or magazine; (2) cultivate a mood conducive to favorable reaction to the advertisers’ explicit and implicit messages. In the policy of the mass media, the characteristics of the free lunch must always be subordinated to those of the formal advertisements, because the purpose of the mass media is to produce audiences to sell to the advertisers” (Smythe in Durham & Kellner, 2012, p. 242).
Meanwhile, Stuart Ewen offers a historical argument about how images work within consumer society as well as some speculations about what some of the political implications of the ever-increasing flow of images might be. Ewen’s work focusses on the ways in which images (photography in particular) have become a necessary component of capitalism and consumer culture, where meaning is paramount in the marketing of goods. He argues that in the postmodern context, meaning remains on the surface of things and that through images anything can mean anything; meaning is no longer fixed to objects or forms. Ewen’s chapter is called “Goods and Surfaces” precisely because, for him, the meaning of anything in the postmodern context is on the surface (be it a product in the mall or a political leader on the screen). Ewen writes: “Where images and things had once connoted one’s place within an immutable network of social relations, they were now emerging as a form of social currency in an increasingly mobile commercial world” (Ewen, 1988, p. 29).
How to approach the content of this week’s video clip:
This week’s video clip problematizes the current landscape of social media and popular culture, a terrain where, as the filmmakers argue, the once distinct lines between product, producer, and consumer are blurred. Some of the key questions to keep in mind as you watch and process the video are: How are audiences turned into a commodity in this culture of “like?” Why is this commodification of audiences described as problematic? What is the relationship between popular and commodification? How is this “culture of like” changing our media industries, specifically advertising and marketing industries? What role does convergence play in this emerging media landscape?
Key terms for this week’s class:
Meaning and surfaces
The Audience Commodity