more on the ‘get a mac’ ads and stereotypes

In response to a bit of discussion going on about the ads reinforcing stereotypes, mainly started by Jill, who kindly linked to my last post on the topic:

The Mac is one sort of instantly recognisable, vaguely urban, effortlessly cool white American guy, the PC is another, deeply unattractive, old economy nerd sort of (much whiter) American guy. Yes, because they’re stock characters, they’re ‘stereotypes’, and so is the supermodel in the ‘better’ results’ ad.

My issue was more basic than that, but also more problematic, if that makes sense. It’s simply that at this level of communication, when a human body is made to represent a global brand community via the process of standing in for the whole computer system associated with that brand (including its design and its ‘thingness’, its GUI, its applications, its users and its cultural meanings), that body has to be white and male.

Jill says:

If you were in any doubt that men are the default and women the aberration (or, on occasion, the creation or possession of men as in this ad), you might want to note how men’s naked bodies are “human anatomy” while women’s naked bodies are “female anatomy”

But in the specific context of the ‘get a mac ads’ it’s not just ‘by default’, it’s not really possible any other way, except in first year communication studies ‘commutation test‘ posters. That’s the first thing. The second thing is what kind of female and ‘non-white’ bodies can appear at all, and what kinds of technologies they get to be* when they do appear.

It’s all so obvious and completely expected and even making comments about it makes me feel like I’m writing a first-year communication studies essay, but that’s why I wondered if, instead of being just crap, it’s ‘really’ super-clever and an invitation to parody? Otherwise I’m just depressed.

*In fact the supermodel only gets to be ‘content‘ anyway, whereas at least the cute young Japanese woman got to be a fun little digital camera. We could say the counselor (sic) is a particular construction of ‘mediation’ where communication is disarticulated from ‘technology’ altogether, but that’s going way too far, even for an eager undergraduate essay.

See also how to dress like a mac.

Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices: Out Now!

My friend and colleague Melissa Gregg’s book Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices is out now. Having already read it, I can tell you it’s a seriously significant contribution to cultural studies scholarship, and it’s got a beautiful cover to boot.


In a series of encounters with key figures in the field of cultural studies, this book draws attention to the significance of voice and address in enacting a political project from within ‘the Academy’. Combining a focus on theories of ‘affect’ lately dominant in the Humanities with a history of cultural studies as a discipline, Melissa Gregg highlights the diverse modes of performance that accompany and assist scholarly practice. Writing from the perspective of a new generation of cultural studies practitioners, she provides a missing link between the field’s earliest political concerns with those of the present. Throughout, the ongoing importance of engaged, public Intellectualism is emphasized.

Get your order in!

freedom and control in social media

From Deleuze via Glen Fuller:

“Control is not discipline. You do not confine people with a highway. But by making highways, you multiply the means of control. I am not saying this is the only aim of highways, but people can travel infinitely and ‘freely’ without being confined while being perfectly controlled. That is our future.” — Gilles Deleuze, Two Regimes of Madness, pg 322

(Yes, I have finally and for the first time in my life reproduced a Deleuzian quotation longer than the word ‘assemblage’)

From a longer post by ideant that is well worth your time:

This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an ’empowering’ media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses —more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline.

And a sneak peek from something much more prosaic that I said in a conversation with Georgina Born last month, which will be published soon in a new initiative of M/C called ‘M/C Dialogues’:

So there’s a sense that at the design end you’re creating an open, configurable system that the users will come along and do anything they like with, but on the other hand, that ‘anything’ seems to be taking quite a similar shape over and over again.

Kind of obvious, but worth unpacking in the light of ‘control after decentralization’, as Galloway puts it.

Inside a story there are no mistakes, only the living through of mistakes: Berger on Grass

In response to the recent controversy around Günther Grass‘s membership of the Waffen SS as a young man, John Berger writes on ethics and experience in The Guardian:

The denial of true reflection


These thoughts come to my mind as I read the macabre denunciations being levelled today against Günter Grass. About him as a man and about his great work as a writer, they totally miss the point, and might be dismissed as laughable, but, as an index of a certain recent moral climate in Europe, they are troubling. They are an example of moral judgments made in a carefully constructed vacuum of experience. They are what is left after the emptying out of lived experience, and they are a strident denial of what we know in our bones to be real.

via Charlotte Street

readings in cultural citizenship and popular culture

A couple of things I’ve read this morning:

In a special issue of IJCS on ‘The New Economy, Creativity and Consumption’ William Uricchio compares the relationships between creativity (mainly viewed as work within or work that benefits the ‘creative industries’) and cultural citizenship in the US and Europe:

Creative activity – and, by implication, the meaning of creative industries – thus inhabits two very different cultural contexts. The project of using culture as a way of constructing and maintaining identity and as a space the enactment of an expanded notion of citizenship [Europe] contrasts sharply with the use of culture as commodity and the recasting of citizen into consumer [US, esp. since 9/11 which made consumption into civic duty]

Joke Hermes, along with many other cultural studies scholars, has moved 1980s British Cultural Studies arguments about the ‘uses of popular culture’ forward, from the polemical idealisation of ‘pleasure and resistance’, which was intended above all to do something about institutionalised elitism, to a more critical and balanced view:

…it makes sense, first of all, to give credit to Fiske and Hartley’s notion that popular culture may be understood as democracy at work. But it also means that we should review whether popular culture is truly democratic in its effects: What kind of citizenship is (cultural) citizenship? And how does it exclude as well as include? (p. 2)

Rather than being concerned with rights and representations, or even identity politics (cf. Rosaldo), Hermes is interested in how

cultural citizenship as a term can also be used in relation to less formal everyday practices of identity construction, representation, and ideology, and implicit moral obligations and rights

After a quite detailed critique of both Miller (who she finds a bit too pessimistic) and more recent work by Hartley (a bit too utopian, but only a bit), Hermes offers the following definition:

Cultural citizenship can be defined as the process of bonding and community building, and reflection on that bonding, that is implied in partaking of the text-related practices of reading, consuming, celebrating, and criticizing offered in the realm of (popular) culture

By her own admission, there is a lot left out here, and all the definitions I’ve found so far need something more built into them if they’re going to work in terms of the transformation in what we mean by ‘popular culture’ – the convergences between everyday life, creative production and consumption and social life that feature most prominentaly at the sites of vernacular creativity in digital culture. I love this metaphor though:

Popular cultural texts and practices are important because they provide much of the wool from which the social tapestry is knit.

Mica Nava on ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’

In the special issue of Theory, Culture & Society on Cosmopolitanism – (19.1-2):

Cosmopolitan Modernity : Everyday Imaginaries and the Register of Difference

Mica Nava

Debates about cosmopolitanism in the spheres of political philosophy, sociology and postcolonial criticism have on the whole ignored specific histories of the cosmopolitan imagination and its vernacular expressions in everyday life. This article draws on aspects of the urban and often feminized worlds of entertainment, commerce, the arts and the emotions in metropolitan England during the first decades of the 20th century, in which an interest in abroad and cultural ‘others’ increasingly signalled an engagement with the new, in order to argue for a notion of cosmopolitan modernity. This should be understood not just as a reflexive stance of openness, but also as a dialogic formation – a counterculture – part of a psychic and often gendered revolt against the conservatism and xenophobia of the parental culture.

Keywords; allure of difference, counterculture, English modernity, vernacular cosmopolitanism, women

Deuze in conversation with Bauman, plus Cosmopolitan Cultural Citizenship and Flickr

Mark Deuze has been thinking, writing, and exchanging ideas with Zygmunt Bauman about liquid modernity, ‘community’ and the Internet, and I’ve been following along with Mark as he works through his ideas. This is the latest Bauman quote, in context here:

The ‘community’ of internauts whose substitute recognition is sought does not require the chores of socializing and is thereby free from risk, that notorious and widely feared bane of the off-line battles of recognition.

Another revelation is the redundancy of the ‘Other’ in any role other than the token of endorsement and approval. In the internet game of identities, the ‘other’ (the addressee and sender of messages) is reduced to his/her hard core of the thoroughly manipulable instrument of self-confirmation, stripped of most or all unnecessary bits irrelevant to the task yet grudgingly and reluctantly tolerated in off-line interaction.

When you combine this with the theory of liquid modernity and the endless tyrannical amnesia of ‘the moment’, this seems to be an interesting restatement of the well-known problem of superficiality and benign indifference, both in ‘virtual’ communities and in the continuing fragmentation of the ‘public sphere’. These issues are highly relevant to my work on Flickr. Which reminds me (because everything I see or read comes back to my thesis at the moment) of Nick Stevenson’s more optimistic ideal of a cosmopolitan cultural citizenship, which I have begun to find very useful. And by the way, it is quite clear that there is very particular ideal of layered cosmopolitanism at work around sites of cultural participation like Flickr – just think about their newly minted mission statement, in which Ludicorp announced they want Flickr to be ‘The Eyes of the World’:

That can manifest itself as art, or using photos as a means of keeping in touch with friends and family, “personal publishing” or intimate, small group sharing. It includes “memory preservation” (the de facto understanding of what drives the photo industry), but it also includes the ephemera that keeps people related to each other: do you like my new haircut? should I buy these shoes? holy smokes – look what I saw on the way to work! It let’s you know who’s gone where with whom, what the vacation was like, how much the baby grew today, all as it’s happening.

And most dramatically, Flickr gives you a window into things that you might otherwise never see, from the perspective of people that you might otherwise never encounter.

grappling with cultural citizenship

I have hit the books again, and I’m alternately working out ideas and culling stuff from my draft, so no more word counts for a while. When they do return they’ll just show how many words I’ve written that day, too, no more of this mythical ‘total’ word count business.

Like much of my writing, this sentence needs to be turned into at least 6 sentences, but at least it’s neater than my notes pages on cultural citizenship:

I use the concept of ‘vernacular creativity’ to describe the everyday practices of material and digital creativity that serve cultural citizenship, where cultural citizenship is understood, not as the static possession (or dispossession) of rights or obligations, but as a variegated continuum of participation in the cultural public sphere.

I’m using or arguing with (in no particular order) Murdock, Rosaldo, Miller, McGuigan, Stevenson, Uricchio, Hartley, Couldry, Hermes – feel free to shout out “you should read…” if something closely connected to that list comes to mind.

And here’s another sentence I wrote today:

Questioning the widespread idea that the availability of tools and platforms for participatory media somehow in itself enables universal cultural enfranchisement, I go on to examine the often implicit constraints on participation in digital culture, paying especially close attention to the socio-technical construction of literacies and ‘user’ subjectivities in specific contexts.


Hurrah – the Counter-Heroics and Counter-Professionalism in Cultural Studies Special Issue of Continuum, which grew out of the ‘Fields of Uncool’ panel at the CSAA conference way back in 2004, is now out!

Thanks so much to Mel, Kris, Jane and Will for one of the most energising and productive collaborations I’ve been involved with so far. More at Mel’s blog.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. As I continue ‘writing up’, which for a good part of each day feels like dragging a pig through mud, while simultaneously herding cats and carrying a heavy basket into which I have put all the eggs, it’s good to see that ‘forthcoming’ things turn into real ones eventually.

unAustralia (Call for Papers)

unAustralia: Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Annual Conference, Canberra, 6-8 December, 2006.

If things are ‘un-Australian’ it must be because they come from UNAUSTRALIA.
Where is it?
Who lives there?
How does it come to be?
What is its past and what is its future?
While raising some very local questions of critique and desire, the theme is open to international perspectives and interpretations.
Do other places have their own unplaces? What goes on there?

The conference will feature both refereed and non-refereed papers, and a curated exhibition of creative visual works. The University of Canberra invites abstracts of up to 150 words for 20 minute papers. We welcome panel submissions, and we also welcome abstracts from scholars whose work who would not normally be considered within the ambit of Cultural Studies.

Closing date for submissions: 30th June, 2006