Monday, September 27, 2010

Language and responsibility

Victor Burgin, Eurozine:

My own sense of what is now fundamentally critical to the western societies in which I live and work is the progressive colonization of the terrain of languages, beliefs and values by mainstream media contents and forms – imposing an industrial uniformity upon what may be imagined and said, and engendering compliant synchronized subjects of a "democratic" political process in which the vote changes nothing. The art world is no exception to this process. Artists making "documentaries" usually encounter their subject matter not at first hand but from the media. The audience for the subsequent artworks will instantly recognize the issues addressed, and easily understand them in terms already established by the media. What is "documented" in such works therefore is not their ostensible contents but rather the mutating world view of the media, and they remain irrelevant as art if they succeed in doing no more than recycle facts, forms and opinions already familiar from these prior sources.

In interpreting the world we often encounter our subject matter not at first hand but from the media. We are good at examining what this means when the media contradict our worldview: We can say, "The media represent particular interests."

We aren't so good at remembering this when the media appeal to our worldview: We just think, "Yes, that's true," and leave aside any consideration of why the particular interests advanced by the media have taken this position.

If the media are making fun of conservatives, for example, that's because making fun of conservatives is justified. We tell ourselves, "Finally, the media has got it right!", as if the media were ever striving to "get things right," rather than advance particular interests. Rarely will we ask ourselves what the media gain by portraying conservatives in a particular way, if our own preference is to see conservatives in the same way.

Thanks to Beth for the interview.

1 comment:

Beth E. said...

Thanks for the thanks! (I had a suspicion that certain themes in the interview would hold some interest for you, of course.)

For my part, I am also weary of artists flogging some human-rights-atrocity-or-other, without meaningfully finding ways to transform the reality of their address as well (which I take to be Burgin's main point here).

The Balkanization engendered by the aspect of the phenomenon that you highlight here is, of course, most dangerous--if one only looks to media to find conformity of opinion, we get conservatives watching FoxNews all the time, and liberals watching MSNBC or whatever, and never the twain shall meet as they have their respective opinions 'verified'.

We need to find subversive ways of turning the media against its own grain (a dose of Situationist d├ętournement here), and of bringing the fact that the whole goddamned spectacle is ultimately the product of a specifically capitalist/corporate culture dedicated to the replication of its own image (diverted, of course, in to profit$).