Thursday, April 05, 2007

People's Choice

At the first Popular Culture Association panel for the Electronic Communication & Culture Area, there were several presentations relevant to concerns about how digital media, participatory culture, and political institutions intersect. Christopher Ward of Carnegie Mellon University discussed how stock photos depend on a generic rhetoric that is fundamentally polysemic in character. For instance, he interrogated the image of interactivity associated with a youthful and eager interlocutor in photos used for "customer service" web pages. Ward also showed examples of how two credit card companies used the same models from stock image banks to brand their supposedly distinct corporate identities. Given that government websites are increasingly likely to use stock images in photo essays on official websites, Ward's research is relevant to those who look at political digital rhetoric as well. Lisa Falvey of Emmanuel College looked at how administrators of video file-sharing sites attempt to filter, rank and authenticate messages. She pointed the audience to "The Reagans on Drugs" as an example of subversive re-mix culture in action. Chair Mark Nunes revisited the much discussed "" strategy in Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, which has also been deconstructed by Dean game designer Ian Bogost. With the current presidential race underway, Nunes considers how the ideals of participatory democracy associated with distributed networks could be debased to the level of virtual "baby kissing" on YouTube. Nunes is a savvy critic, however, and he points to the complexities among the YouTube offerings from 2008 presidential candidates. These phenomena include the remix effect in the recent "Vote Different" unofficial Obama ad that uses Hillary Clinton's own YouTube footage in it's Apple 1984 send-up and the Dennis Kucinich channel's engagement with the responses of Georgetown student James Kotecki, who evolved into a media talking head himself.

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