MIT5: The Broadcast Politics Ellipsis and Political Remixing
In the first plenary session of the Media in Transition conference, Tom Pettitt’s presented the idea of the Gutenberg Parenthesis. With the advent of the printing press, we moved to a culture where text was fixed. The author of works became fixed. The content of the work became fixed. Prior to this, storytelling was collaborative, it was re-creative. The oral tradition didn’t have a fixed author, a fixed form of the story of a fixed canon of stories. As digital media becomes more prevalent and it becomes easier to sample and remix other content, in many ways, we are returning to a pre-parenthetical mode of storytelling.
As I thought about this, it struck me as if we are seeing a similar process with politics. Jock Gill, and others have spoken a lot about ‘post-broadcast’ politics, or sometimes, networked politics, or several other phrases for a similar idea. Staying with the focus on typographic conventions, it seems like the period of broadcast politics might well be referred to as an ellipsis. The three little dots, often found inside of parentheses, indicate a pause, or that something has been left out, and I think this is an apt way to think about U.S. national politics during the second half of the twentieth century.
During the phase of broadcast politics, dialog has been replaced with a monologue, where the candidate broadcasts ideas to voters, to the political consumers that are expected to buy the ideas, but not take them, remix them, recontextualize them, and so on. Sound bites replace discourse. The ellipsis is the leaving out of truly engaged participation.
Pettitt spoke about how the parentheses are placed at different points on a timeline, dependent on different literary traditions. It would seem as if the same applies to the use of broadcast political ellipsis. Different campaigns and different candidates fit into this spectrum in different ways.
This also illustrates another aspect of what has happened with the use of the Internet by political campaigns. Making content available in digital media, is a first step in moving out of the ellipsis and into a more participatory democracy. Yet simply putting content online is not enough. The major media companies tolerate their content being provided digitally online, as long as they can control it. Yet they use every maneuver possible to prevent reshaping, remixing or appropriating of the content.
To the same extent, it appears as if political campaigns are acting like their big media brothers and trying to take advantage of online distribution, without encouraging the remixing that can bring about greater collaboration and creativity.
Will we see a vibrant culture of political remixing emerge in the 2008 cycle? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.