Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How Simon Cowell Promotes Civil Discourse

I don't think anybody would argue that Snooki is improving the United States' image abroad. But reality TV could have some benefits for improving civil discourse around the world, according to this post, which caught my eye when a friend linked to it on Facebook.

It's a blog about reality television and what it reveals about the Arab world. In it, professor Henry Jenkins interviews Marwan Kraidy, author of Reality Television and Arab Politics. According to Jenkins, Kraidy's book argues that reality television, frequently depicted as a harbinger of western civilization's demise, has actually provided a medium for the Arab world to explore and pursue major social, cultural and political changes in recent years. The interview discusses some of these changes, and how they've been influenced by reality TV.

[Reality Television and Arab Politics] offers vivid case studies over how the international formats of reality television -- especially those around Big Brother and Pop Idol -- have become the vehicles through which the Arab public has worked through contradictions surrounding modernity. Kraidy sees these formats not simply as another symptom of western cultural imperialism, but through the localization process, as ways that the Arab world takes measure of its own cultural practices and political traditions. These formats, and localized responses to them, force certain issues into the forefront of the popular imagination, but they also suggest a much more diverse set of worldviews at place in Middle Eastern culture than typically emerge in western representations of this region.

Jenkins highlights some of the major themes of modern international communication: media globalization and cultural imperialism, "glocalization" of information products, communication as a tool of development, and the debate over what form that development takes.

I've blogged before about the globalization of media culture and the strength of subaltern narratives. And if we run that phrase through the dejargonator, it comes out as the struggle for smaller groups and individuals to influence a public sphere dominated by media giants. I go back and forth on this one, but I think the key may be participation. The more active a group is in receiving, interpreting and forming ideas, the more power they have to control the message. States and transnational corporations obviously have tons of power, but every so often a savvy group of subalterns manages to wrest control of the story away from them for a little while.

There is, of course, a massive disconnect between reality TV and reality, but if we really want to get all post-modern about it, isn't reality both relative and subjective anyway? Common realities arise when they are commonly constructed. So why not use reality TV as the medium?

No comments:

Post a Comment