Hallways of Mirror and Marble: Mining The Texts

In 21st Century Culture, FOR YOUR CONSIDERSTION, NEW!, NEWS AND COMMENTARY on November 2, 2010 at 6:14 PM



Mining The Texts, Reminding The Reader


Continuing our exploration of HOW New Media and Technological Platforms affect changes for the individual and our culture, there are different collectives who focus on specific areas of interest. For example, the #2amt (2 AM Theater) group shares observations about the theatre, focusing on how to produce theatrical productions, write new plays, market theatre companies and, of course, theories of theatre and practice both today and from Theater History.


Another collective, made up mostly of writers, poets and literary scholars, are also exploring the specific area of authorship. Among them is Remittance Girl, who has proposed a doctoral thesis focusing on the relationship between the writer and the reader. (You may visit her blog to learn more.)


However, I would like to direct your attention to a post today from Marousia. Proposing a new “Poetics,” she postulates a fascinating approach to observing how writing must change to adapt for the Social Media audience.


Musings Towards A Poetics of Social Media


Posted By Marousia
November 2, 2010


Social media and the internet have profoundly changed our notions of time and space in everyday life. Images (verbal, visual and social identity) can be published instantly to a wide audience. And it is all too easy to complain about the lack of quality content around and to be disgusted with social media and the saturation of content we encounter each day. Nonetheless, it is double-edged and a potential threat to quality.

Concluding her entry on a “Poetics” for Social Media, Marousia asks:

“Does the imperative for immediacy in a media-saturated landscape mean that visual cues and language need to be simplistic and reductive to grab attention? Will this affect our ability to read complex nuanced texts, let alone subtexts?”

My immediate answer is, “Yes.”

But then, to a certain degree, I correct myself and say, “No.”

Despite the variables which prevent us from drawing any concrete conclusions, we maintain a solid theory based on this hypothesis for the changing landscape of modern day communication. In my studies, a strong example to observe is the work and history of William Shakespeare. Without delving too deeply into the subject, I will point out a duality existing around this famous playwright today.

Yea, it's me with another iPad. Note, the expression of ______ .


The first and most obvious are the multifaceted elements of his texts and how they function differently  for the reader, for the actor, for the scholar, and finally, for the audience observing a production. Shakespeare’s work, composed during a time when both extensive vocabulary and literacy among the population was reserved for a small percent, was meant to be heard, performed and not read. However, since the 17th Century, reading the various editions of the canon has become common practice. Furthermore, many theatre practitioners understand the canon to be an essential element for education and production. They, like the scholars, delve deeper than the average reader/person, knowing the differences between a 1st Quarto, 1st Folio and 3rd Folio texts. In order for the audience to experience Shakespeare in performance, an actor must “scan” or “mine the text,” a technique essential for being able to stand up and actually begin rehearsals.

Scholars face a potent transition, shifting off on a different course, apropos of Shakespearean text and the study of history surrounding his work. Arriving now at my second point, scholars face a dilemma which augurs the possible misperceptions and false conclusions of our Information Age. As the Authorship Controversy becomes even more mainstream than it was in Mark Twain’s day, Elizabethan and Shakespearean Scholars see the direct affect of pop culture on an author, his work and the average person’s understanding of it. A major Hollywood film is underway, helmed by Rolland Emmerich, with a story that takes an extreme side of the Authorship debate and further fictionalizes it.  Do you think the truth about who William Shakespeare was in real life has been kept a secret because he was the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth? And Emmerich may even go so far as to depict an incestuous love affair….

If plays written by a man in the 16th and 17th Centuries can stand the test of time to be read and produced by people in the 21st Century, we ought not underestimate the use of complex language and subtext as an element that will remain viable, despite the landscape of social media. Furthermore, while immediacy may demand a reductive and simplistic approach by the writer, let us remember some of the oldest adages to help keep our perspective. Among them, “To thine own self be true.” (Shakespeare scholars, feel free to chuckle, because yes, satirical wit.) But know thine audience.

And some of the more recent adages are important too: “I write what the average person can read during the average crap,” says Jeff Goldblum’s character in THE BIG CHILL, referring to his job at People Magazine.

Meanwhile, the neon sign is flashing, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls….”

Do not go silent into that good night.

Silence, like a cancer, grows.

In a previous post, I echoed the question, “Is it the fault of the media for producing it, or the fault of the people for consuming it?” A number of my generous readers responded to this, just as I was struck by its tenor, when asked this question by an established news producer. Understand, the context of his reply was to my inquisitive insinuation about how he felt, working for the people he did. I caution you not to jump to any conclusion that it was, for him, a way of rationalizing his role in the organization. It was far from that.

Discussing the state of the MSM (Main Stream Media: eg., the major cable news networks, magazine and news publications, and television networks) during a drive from NYC to DC in 2004. During the four hour trip, while listening to Tierney Sutton sing her arrangement of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead,” among other songs from musical theater, I eagerly asked him a number of questions about the changing media landscape. Genuinely engaging the realities of the medium, he was helping me understand how people’s misconceptions are created about the news they watch. To my surprise, I began to see that many of the people out there who criticize media outlets, base their conclusions on false assumptions; or, even more interesting, out of consideration for only a fragment of the entire whole. That fragment comes from what they watch, the final product that is aired or printed for them to consume. Most do not consider, for example, how a 30 second news break for a radio broadcast is put together. Do you know how? My friend explained it to me. Until Marousia’s post today, I had not given it careful thought in a long time and I realize now, I had forgotten how important his explanation was and how even more important it is now. Better understanding of all of these changing platforms, for both myself and for you, the reader, may come from a reasonable and simple outline about the mechanics of a 30 second news segment on the radio.

Marousia asked, “Does the imperative for immediacy in a media-saturated landscape mean that visual cues and language need to be simplistic and reductive to grab attention?”  My friend explained to me that when you are putting together a news segment for broadcast, you have, for example, only 12 seconds to talk about one news story. Even though that story has coverage worthy of four hours, the reality is twofold. First, will an audience even watch the four hours dedicated to covering the complex angles of the apropos event? Second, the 12 second time frame is locked in. This is a “news break,” a quick overview of the top stories that are running in all news outlets. Therefore, the editorial has to select the most important and universal topics to summarize a story as concisely as possible. Factoring in what will be easy to understand in addition to what will prompt the listener to further investigate the story, remain among the deciding editorial that a reporter writes for the 12 second coverage.

Marousia’s second question, “Will this affect our ability to read complex nuanced texts, let alone subtexts?” How many people actually read about one news story from 8 different sources before drawing any conclusions? More and more, I see people responding to news with vehement passion and emotion, but their reaction comes from reading ONLY ONE source and usually, that source in question is not offering them News Coverage, but Opinion Editorial. Furthermore, instead of identifying the subtext enough to question whether or not the article has an Op/Ed base, they are taking what they read as absolute. What is even more disturbing is how an emotional reaction spreads to others, who then go to the article and read it, eagerly expecting a tantalizing report about a real life event or person. Meanwhile, the news producers and editors at the various outlets are only too aware of how this kind of psychology functions to improve their ratings and their website traffic. Does it then become a self-perpetuating, self-debilitating cycle? I leave you to answer that question.

In conclusion, I again emphasize how we must make our own choices about how we, as individuals, play a role in all this. Marousia touched on the notion of quality and maintaining a standard of quality, as opposed to quantity. I am in agreement. I choose and find hope in holding myself to a standard where quality is of the essence. If I sacrifice my personal values, morals and ethics for the sake of popularity, attention, provocation, or worse, the banality of evil, following direction I do not believe is right, then I contribute to the negative dynamics of new media and technology. Likewise, if I patronize the media sources that perpetuate misinformation or subvert journalism for informational entertainment, then I am just as guilty as they are. We are at fault for consuming the media who is at fault for producing what we hold in contempt and judge as “bad.” Yet, no one can tell you how to make these choices or why you should make them. That is up to the individual to discover for his/herself.

From our Hallways of Marble and Mirror, this is the Gidget Widget, blogging live from the depths of this mine of madness. Until next time, folks, keep digging and keep it real out there.

© 2010, Kimberly Cox

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