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The (social) Networks and Mass-Media Heteroglossia

The (online-) texts produced  by diverse voices are given a conflictual nature, thus they are likely to feature a certain proportion of resistant messages or at least to make possible resistant readings.

Within a Bakhtinian perspective, the mass media can be conceptualized as a „complex network of ideological signs” situated within multiple environments—the generating mass-media environment, the broader generating ideological environment, and the generating socio-economic environment, each with its own specificities. The internet, in this sense, constitutes an electronic microcosm, a contemporary version of Bakhtin’s omnivorous “novel,“ which reflects and relays, distorts and amplifles, the ambient heteroglossia: The term heteroglossia describes the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single linguistic code. Internet’s heteroglossia is – in contrast to televesion – not severely compromised, truncated; the social web allows many social voices to be heard without being severely distorted. Within that matrix in which centripetal-dominant and centrifugal-oppositional discourses do battle, the social networks challenge and foster the antagonistic dialogue of class voices to what Frederic Jameson calls the “reassuring hum of bourgeois hegemony.” There are patterns of ownership, and clear ideological tendencies, but domination is completly out of rech, since it is also its creative participants, its workers, and its audience, which can resist, pressure, and decode. Within a Bakhtinian approach, there is no unitary text, no unitary producer, and no unitary spectator; rather, there is a conflictual heteroglossia pervading producer, text, context, and reader/viewer. Each category is traversed by the centripetal and the centrifugal, the hegemonic and the oppositional. The proportion might vary, of course, with category and situation. ln contemporary American television, for instance, the owner-producer category is likely to incline toward the hegemonic, yet even here a rif`t is possible between those who control the apparatus and those who produce for it.

The process is conflictual, involving an orchestration of the diverse “voices“ responsible for as-sembling the text, a process that leaves traces and discordances in the text itself The texts produced, given the conflictual nature of the creative process as well as the socially generated needs of the audience, are likely to feature a certain proportion of resistant messages or at least to make possible resistant readings.

Quality Resistance / the power of participating voices

The role of a radical hermeneutics of the mass media would be to heighten awareness of all the voices relayed by the mass media, to point both to the „offline“ voices of hegemony and to the contestatory voices that are muffled or suppressed. The goal would be to discern the often distorted undertones of utopia in mass media, while pointing to the real structural obstacles that make utopia less realizable and at times even less imaginable. A Bakhtinian approach would combat the selectivity of hearing promoted by mass culture. It would recuperate the critical and utopian potential of mass—mediated texts, even when this potential is half-denied or repressed within the text itself. The issue is not to impose an interpretation but rather to bring out the text’s muffled voices, much as the sound·studio mixer reelaborates a recording to tease out the bass, or clarify the treble, or amplify the instrumentation. A Bakhtinian approach would see „static media“, i.e. gate-kept-one-way information programming as “situated utterance.” As “utterance,” it is by definition fraught with the communicative possibilities of dialogism, but as “situated,“ it is contingent, historical, penetrated by both hegemony and resistance. Rather than careen schizophrenically between optimism and despair, then, the left should adopt a complex attitude toward the mass media, one involving a whole spectrum of moods and attitudes and strategies.

This Post is an adapted plagiarism / a Robert Stam excerpt altered and put into a new context (Stam, Robert Subersive PleasuresBakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film. 1989)

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