Monday, August 26, 2013

Media Ecology/Ecomedia -- What is it? And South Park. . .again.

Hello again, world. It's been awhile since I've used this blog. I want to mainly just outline quickly some things I've been finding out about our two key terms for the semester.

1.) 'Ecomedia' -- In class, we seemed to focus our discussion on ecomedia around the types of texts, images, and films that participate in 'environmental' and 'ecological' discourses. We pointed out that many of the arguments made by television shows on animal planet and even some professional documentaries such as The Cove and maybe Blackfish may be critically examined not only in terms of the work's argumentative content or its politics, but also the formal techniques used to gather, present, and re-present the information.

(Side note: Using TinEye , I tried to trace the above image back to its "original" site. Many of the links were  broken links,  particularly some of the very early sites that used this image. Eventually I just gave up trying to get the "oldest" site. I was hoping to find out who generated/made the image, but my admittedly hasty attempts bore no fruit) 

South Park. . .again

 I personally have never seen many of these shows or documentaries, but I kept thinking about an episode of South Park (a constant reference for me): Whale Whores (a parody of Whale Wars). The episode suggests that the people on those on the show who present themselves as "badasses" who are combatting the perpetrators by 'any means necessary', actually are motivated partially by self-promotion (Look at me being an 'activist' on tv). South Park has poked fun at activism before (for instance, PETA), but not always to discredit activist values. Rather, they are more interested in how their values are transformed into practical action. 

The activists on the South Park version of Whale Wars throw rancid butter at ships, but Stan decides that such action is bullshit. He starts to really blow up the ships. This is just one example of South Park indictment of mild activists presenting themselves as, for instance, 'pirates'  (and the commercialization/televisualization/visual rhetoric of these so-called 'activists'). 

I recommend watching the full episode of "Whale Whores" (for free) on At the end of the episode, we find out that the "real" reason the japanese hunt and kill dolphins and whales is because the united states gave them a doctored picture of the WWII bombings where Dolphin and Whale were in the cockpit -- not for food, not for sport, not because of cultural tradition. 

Instead of telling them the truth, they decide to make up another lie. It wasn't dolphin and whale, but Chicken and Cow (another doctored photograph is presented). 

We then see the Japanese raiding farms and killing all the cows and chickens. To which Randy says deadly serious as he watches the massacre: 

"Great Job, son. Now the Japanese are normal. Like us."

Thus, the viewer is left to ponder the contradiction in our society: Luke warm activism to save creatures because they are either endangered or aesthetically pleasing to human beings -- to the point of critiquing the country and culture that do not 'protect' these creatures -- but at the same time in our society condoning the "making killable" (Haraway) of millions of cows and chicken for mass food consumption. 

Furthermore, by giving the Japanese a picture of Whale and Dolphin at the cockpit (admittedly an absurdity that only South Park could pull off), the episode shows how indifferent we once were to their killing -- as long as it wasn't us! But then, we noticed that we could make a cool tv show and pretend to care -- so we just shift the sacrifice (but they aren't sacrifices -- just killable -- c.f. Haraway, Derrida, Wolfe) to "normal" things to kill. 

Why am I talking about South Park? Because I think that it usefully interrogates society's contradictions, usually ones that regard the division between theory and practice.

Though if I remember correctly, in the animal studies edition of JAC, one contributor discusses the "real" guy that stars in Whale Wars. I might want to reconsider that piece to show how South Park, as all satire does, simplifies the perception of this man as well. It's true: they are guilty of many an ad hominem attack. . .

But the more I watch this episode, the more I realize it needs a blogpost of its own for a full analysis of the show in terms of media, satire, critical animal studies, and environmental activism. 

Ok, just one more point. On "Whale Whores," we also see South Park calling attention to the formal techniques and rhetorical strategies shows like "Whale Wars" deploy in order to present a particular narrative. When Cartman realizes that the show is now successful, he pretends to care about the cause and becomes part of the crew. 

The first thing sign of this shift of concern is when narrator of the show begins to talk not about the conflict between the Japanese, the whales, and the activists, but rather narrates a battle between a show about Crab Fishing (Deadliest Catch or another similar show). (They shout back and forth: "Your show is fucking gay" "YOUR show is fucking gay" etc.).  Before this, the 'crew' is on Larry King Live (which actually happened and can be seen here: and South Park Larry is only interested in how they created a "hit TV show." They even bring on an expert who also their creation of a hit tv show rather than their political practice.. Thus, the show becomes centered around not only what they are purportedly doing to save the whales, but its construction as a tv show!

One particularly poignant moment is when Cartman has his first one-on-one camera interview. 

As emotional music plays in the background, Cartman, identified as "deckhand since 3 hours ago" says, "It's really hard you know, really tough. It's like we dedicated all this time and all our lives to saving these majestic creatures. [Kenny mumbles and cries, Cartman comforts him] Shhhh, Kenny. Old ken's taking it especially hard. He's always loved dolphins so much that he. . . .Yeah, yeah, but keep it in a two shot though, keep in a, yeah, there you go"

Here Cartman calls attention to how he's being cut out of the shot. This is the kind of "behind the scenes" inserted into the scenes. Again and again throughout the episode it calls attention to its means of construction. 

Ok, I'm done with South Park now. 


"Ecomedia" as a term

So I googled Ecomedia and what did I find? That the term has been co-opted by an advertising agency. It's mission statement states: 
At CBS EcoMedia Inc., we have a vision: To harness the power of advertising and channel it into tangible social change.

And boasts that "an award winning company, founded by a team of environmentalists and social entrepreneurs" 

Now, on the one hand, we were talking a lot about marketing in class. However, it seems like this is not exactly the idea we have of ecomedia. But, given that we were supposed to poke around at how the term is being used, it seems useful to notice the way the term has been appropriated. Furthermore, the rather excessive amount of links google brings up to that company before getting to a more 'academic' encounter with Ecomedia. Cubitt's book by the same name doesn't show up till page 2 of the google search. 

Ecomedia also does not have a presence on Wikipedia. Media Ecology, however, does. 

Media Ecology as a Term

Partially due to the Media Ecology Association, the term media ecology seems to circulate more within an academic conversation. The Media Ecology Association offers definitions from Mcluhan, Strate and Postman, but really doesn't venture further than these canonical figures. 

The Wikipedia page for Media Ecology was a bit more elaborate. It recognizes the contributions of those mentioned on the Media Ecology Association website, but attempts to incorporate some of the more recent work, some of which we will be exploring in the course. 

However, there are some strange distinctions that, while grounded in truth, seem suspect. The wikipedia article makes a distinction between the "North American" media ecology and "European Media ecology" 

The European version of media ecology rejects the North American notion that ecology means environment. Ecology in this context is used 'because it is one of the most expressive language currently has to indicate the massive and dynamic interrelation of processes and objects, beings and things, patterns and matter' (Fuller 2005:2). Following theorists such as Felix Guattari, Gregory Bateson, and Manuel DeLanda the European version of media ecology as practiced by authors such as Matthew Fuller and Jussi Parikka presents a post-structuralist political perspective on media as complex dynamical systems. (Wikipedia) 

The writer(s) of this post seem to assume there are two totally different traditions opposed to one another -- which in some ways, goes against a kind of "media-ecological" explanation of the emergence of the very term 'media ecology', right? This reader at least is left wondering what the writer means by a "post-structuralist political perspective on media as complex dynamical systems." 

Granted, this is Wikipedia, but I'm casting my net wide here. I want to see what kind of stuff pops up when I google things. Furthermore, I'm not sure that The European version of media ecology "rejects the North American notion that ecology means environment" 

Particularly in Parrika's case, whose book is called Insect Media, it seems that Parrika is very interested in thinking ecology in terms of environment, but not just the human environment, however. Rather, "environment" in the sense of systems theory or within the paradigm of Jacob von Uexkull's biosemiotic environmental theory. The three definitions offered by the Media Ecology Association all imply that media ecology concerns media's impact on humans

But "media," as Robert Mitchell reminds us in his book Bioart and the Vitality of Media, also means "nutrient media." A "media" that is the kind of source of food and catalyst for growth of biological entities.So maybe its not just "systems" and "networks" and "communication technologies" but "media" can also be thought of in the way that Sid Dobrin characterizes writing as saturation. However, whereas Dobrin characterizes saturation as a kind of active and potentially violent act, the other side of saturation is a soaking in. In some ways, perhaps this concept of media (drawing on the biological terminology) is closer to Thomas Rickert's idea of "Ambient rhetoric" or "ambient environments." But Dobrin's emphasis on fluidity, especially considering the biological connotation, I think remains important. Whereas we might find it odd to think of "writing" in terms of fluids (in various viscous states) "media" (and for Dobrin I suspect these terms are all but equivalent) is easier for us to imagine. We already use fluid metaphors to talk about the "overflow" of information. It's a veritable ocean that we must navigate while being engulfed in it ourselves. 

In my next blog post, I hope to go into a summary, extension, and potentially critique of Mitchell's book on Bioart. This initial exploration will also help me to re-frame and re-compose pieces of my thesis for my upcoming presentation at Rice University's English symposium. 

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