Media Formatting Matters

“From Papyrus to Pixels” is a very positive assessment of the current hysteria that surrounds the future of the book. Treating the book as a historically technological medium, the Economist presents and dismantles some of the more persistent myths associated with the ever-evolving medium, addressing the cyclical nature of the book, including its production and reception, from the perception of financial failure to the concern over decline in quality. What has been said of digital printing has also been said of other media such as video games, virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), and even film: the popularity won’t last, the medium can’t be sustained technologically or financially, etc. Perhaps the worst assault to any media is the belief that if something becomes too much a part of popular culture then it couldn’t possibly hold up to intellectual scrutiny; the masses passively consume but only scholars can meaningfully interpret. People resist change, and sometimes academia is the most resistant.

Admirably, scholars like Sardar appear to embrace emerging media—even forms previously relegated to pop culture like the graphic novel, comic book, and telecast—and go so far as to incorporate these styles into academic works. Published in 2000, Introduction to Media Studies was somewhat ahead of its time in exploring and making use of various graphical media in an otherwise academic paper-print publication. Much as I appreciate the attempt, however, this particular work feels poorly executed, as if the author was not comfortable enough within the media used to apply it meaningfully or with any improved impact of the material over just using plain text.

The use of collage, newspaper print, and graphic novel/comic book media is a wonderful idea when discussing the historiography of media studies. But throughout the portion that I read, I was left wondering how these graphics serve the narrative. What purpose did the imagery serve? How did the cartoon of Ms. Blimp (“a Black, Lesbian, Isolated, Marginalized Person”[1]) enhance the discussion of media studies, as framed by the author? While certainly the representation of—or the lack of—underrepresented people are a major issue in media, her appearance throughout the passage is disconnected from the informative text of what media studies are and their academic history—her interjections appear random and without context. Hers is just one of countless examples of seemingly disconnected graphics placed among the informative text. Why the use of Henry Wallis’ Death of Chatterton? Is the image only meant as a graphic representation of the “five-hundred-year-old poetry” the study of which only a “snobbish and self-satisfied critic” would care to analyze[2]? That seems like an awfully superficial use of imagery for a book about media studies and the power of multimedia, especially considering the context of Chatterton. Was this a missed opportunity or did I miss the point?

The overall tone of this passage from Introducing Media Studies comes across as, at best, pessimistic about various industries involved in media production and, at worst, outright one-sided to the point of being misleading. The only reason I can imagine for the use of Watto from Star Wars: Phantom Menace in the discussion of film is to associate him and his slave trade to film studios—especially Disney (and how did the authors get permission for the use of this image from Lucasfilm or Disney?). Furthermore, the authors cite the cartoon He-Man as “little more than” an advertisement to sell toys[3], disregarding any other valid artistic or interpretive value of the show. While I understand the need for critical interpretation of media, the heavy-handed pessimism of this work is in stark contrast to the positive approach of The Economist.

Finally, the formatting of Introduction diminishes the clarity of the text and message. With seemingly random graphic interjections throughout the entire passage, and a constant shifting in style (I’m reading a newscast, now it’s a collage, now it’s a telecast script), it is unclear what parts are informational and what parts are merely opinions—or even just attempts at edginess or humor. I would ask the authors what function the graphics serve in the overall narrative. I would think that an academic publication on media studies would take into consideration the weight and implications of using various forms of visual media and would utilize them more meaningfully than as mere props. Unfortunately, although I had high hopes, I had a hard time finding anything truly revolutionary in the presentation. Maybe I missed the point, entirely?

-Laurel Wilson

[1] Sardar, Ziauddin and Borin Van Loon, Introduction to Media Studies (Cambridge: Icon Books, Ltd., 2000), 3

[2] Ibid, 11

[3] Ibid, 18-19

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