Let’s Talk About Text, Baby: Subject Position & Media Consumption

The one and only.

Not to be a traitor to my people, the denizens of the journalistic field, but no matter what Marshall McLuhan may dispute from beyond the grave, I staunchly believe that neither the medium nor the content are the most important or influential components of media. What is more important, or rather who, is the audience, i.e. the receiver. Granted, the medium is obviously a big part of the puzzle, and so is the content itself, but the audience is the component that interprets the information proffered according to its own understanding and background. That being said, my own media consumption is heavily impacted by my personal opinions and predispositions. In this post, we shall go on a journey of media discovery, mapping out the different factors that create a person’s (this particular loser’s) media consumption patterns.

We begin with the story of a generation greater than all those that came before it and all those to follow it, “The Children of the Nineties.” The nineties were a magical time, full of ring pops, Boy Meets World, and gender-ambiguous boy bands. Having been born into this resplendent era of awesomeness, my media consumption was heavily influenced by the popular culture that rose during the decade. I grew up watching DariaBoy Meets World, The Real World: Seattle (regrettably), Seinfeld, Frasier (a strict requirement in our Seattle-loving household), and the like. My tastes in music early on were scattered across different genres, as I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Soon enough however, I gravitated towards the grunge and ska genres, listening to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam (be still, my heart), Stone Temple Pilots, Eels, Bikini Kills, The Violent Femmes, and some ska and psychedelic bands like the beautifully named Butthole Surfers, Sublime, etc., before getting into an oldies and jazz phase that has lasted to this day.

My political beliefs also influenced the aforementioned media preferences, as I was always a very liberal person, a “tree-huggin’ hippie,” much to my Republican uncle’s chagrin. So, I liked shows, music, and books that carried at least some semblance of intellectual value. I loved bands that challenged society’s rules and conventions, like Pearl Jam, i.e. the greatest band ever (duh), and, well, no one else, really. Pearl Jam is the Nelson Mandela of bands. Perhaps the fact that I have always been either uninterested, repulsed, or loathe to anything related to the Middle East, despite being Lebanese (me and my luck) has made me adopt a more Western mentality, which I am totally cool with. I just can’t relate to any Middle Eastern value, concept, or custom, be it Lebanese or otherwise. It all just seems so utterly ridiculous to me and it has built up a large reservoir of resentment and disgust towards my own culture within me, making me adopt a different culture altogether. Perhaps that is unfair to my heritage, but I refuse to accept or conform to a society where I am considered an inferior citizen and where my rights are ignored simply because I have a vajayjay.

My religious beliefs have faltered and changed a lot over the course of my short and boring life. After falling in love with a new religion in my late teens, going so far as to learn its language (ugh), I realized that it was not faith or religion I was really seeking, but guidance, in a completely nonreligious sense. My lack of true religious interest made me veer towards science, literature, culture, and an intellectual realm beyond the confines of any one religion. My opinions may sometimes be blinded by this disposition, not to mention horrendously sacrilegious.

With regards to gender and sexuality, I never believed or subscribed to any norms. I was a tomboy for much of my young life, and still am, sometimes. I always thought that relating gender or sexuality to any preconceived notions or “rules” was a bit silly, because it’s really no one else’s business besides your own. I believe that people should be open when it comes to sexuality and not as rigid when it comes to gender, because the first is something completely natural, and the latter is something completely unnatural. I don’t limit my media preferences to anything “gender-specific.” I’ll watch a rugby match and then I’ll switch to Say Yes to the Dress. That’s the beauty of media, that whether or not it is directed towards a certain demographic or audience, you can still access it, whether you fit into that criteria or not. Not only that, but sexuality in media is constantly misconstrued and misrepresented, but it can also be represented in ways that make people think beyond the boobs and asses they’re drooling at. Except in Nymphomaniac (Part 1 & 2). Just no. I saw it with my boyfriend, and… no. Just, don’t. Trust me.

That all being said, my media consumption is heavily influenced by my subject position, i.e. my placement, my orientation, and my generational, political, religious, gender-related, sexual, and etc. affiliations. I realize that these influences can play a positive role as well as a negative one in my perception of different media. If I see one of those Turkish soap operas that vilify and degrade women by portraying them as weak, inferior pet-like objects in the eyes of men, I will immediately change the channel and chuck a slipper at the screen. However, if I see a show like Veronica Mars (another classic) or Daria, I will watch it and will admire the representation of women as strong, independent humans who don’t need a man to validate their existence or to be their sole purpose for it. SO, I’ll shut up now, and conclude with this:

Audiences’ reception and interpretation of media, in my honest and not-so-humble opinion, highly depends on the audience itself, its cultural, intellectual, social, political, economic, religious, generational, and sexual preconceptions.

 

Underground (A.K.A. the most confusing film I have ever seen)

In the 1995 Serbian film, ‘Underground’, the truth is a vague and relative concept. The story revolves around two friends, whose friendship and adventures together come to represent the Yugoslav history, spanning from World War II to the beginnings of the Yugoslav wars. Despite major jumps back and forth in history and confusing multiple plotlines, th
e story is mainly about Marco, a morally ambiguous political climber and eventual arms dealer, and his best friend, Blacky, a brave and morally inclined soldier. We watch as Marko and Blacky’s country is destroyed and occupied by Nazis (1939-1945), then reunited by Josip Broz Tito (1953-1980), and then ravaged again by the Yugoslav Wars (1991-1999).

The main plot is that Marko hides Blacky and other friends and relatives in his grandfather’s cellar to shelter them from the war, during which time, they begin manufacturing weapons, with Marko profiting from their labor. Marko keeps them in the cellar for 20 years, deceiving them into thinking that the war is still raging outside, by playing air-raid sirens, pretending to have been roughed up by the Gestapo, playing newsreels about the Nazis’ conquests, etc. When they finally realize the truth about their situation, Blacky makes Marko shoot himself in the kneecaps (*cringe*), and he escapes along with his son, Jovan, to fight the Nazis, who happen to be a film crew making a movie about Marko’s memoirs, where he kills the “lead Nazi,” who is actually just a part of the crew (the director or something). The films ends in 1992, at the height of the Yugoslav Wars, during which time, Blacky is a warlord and Marko and Nataliya, the opportunistic and equally immoral actress they both vied over, are still arms dealers. Blacky unintentionally orders that Marko and Nataliya be executed, but in a surreal ending, everyone, dead and alive, is reunited at Jovan’s wedding and Ivan (Marko’s stuttering, pet-loving brother) delivers the closing epilogue.

Despite having a very confusing and complex plot, or multiple plots, rather, the movie is a brilliant example of how easily people can be deceived by a controlling power, such as politicians or the media. In this analysis, we will opt to study the media’s influence on people during times of war or peril. The media has always been a powerful tool for propaganda and oppression, while also conversely being a tool of liberation and revolution. For example, German politician and Anti-Christ, Adolf Hitler, alongside his buddy, Joseph Goebbels (German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda), waged war on the world and used the German media to gain power and support for their cause, albeit deranged and evil beyond reason. They used German cinema to promote Nazi ideologies and to further the Reich’s antisemitic views, by commissioning a series of antisemitic films, such as The Eternal Jew and, perhaps the most antisemitic film ever created, Jud Süß (Jud Süss, i.e. Sweet Jew). They also used pamphlets, highlighting the supposed “evil” traits that all Jews presumably embodied, as well as posters, books, newspapers, radio broadcasts, comics, magazines, photography, speakers, and even paintings and fine art, to defile Jews. Their use of propaganda was so successful, to the extent that the German people who supported Hitler and his regime, believed the so-called “scientific facts” that they were spoon-fed by the Reich-controlled media, which denounced Jews, even from a biological and genetic aspect. Hitler’s goals could not have been achieved, at least not as successfully, were it not for his control and manipulation of the media. The media was the Reich’s true secret weapon, not any rumored “Holy Grail” or “Spear of Destiny.”

In “Underground,” we see Marko’s use of deceptive tricks, such as air-raid sirens and acting as if he’d been tortured, and attribute them to him, an amoral man, desperate to keep profiting from his friends’ labor. This movie reminded me of Robert De Niro’s character as a political spin-doctor in Wag the Dog, which sheds light on the dark side of PR, specifically with regards to politics. However, Marko plays a much bigger role; he represents the oppressor who utilizes the media in order to manipulate the (rather gullible) people into doing his bidding.

It is quite fascinating to see how easily people can be deceived into believing something by means of simple methods, such as images, sounds, and stories. What is fascinating about this film is that, although it is sometimes disjointed and confusing, the message is the same throughout, that people are vulnerable to influence, be it political, social, economic, media-related, or otherwise. Media is power, and power is very easily contorted.