Introduction: Media Subjects
Issue #37, March 1998
The "Media" issue began as what we on the staff at Bad Subjects call an "open" issue. Every year, we put together two issues without any preordained theme, soliciting articles on random topics and inviting our authors to explore ideas that don't fit neatly into one of our special topic issues. But, perhaps because we live in a culture which values classification over ambiguity, it's become an informal tradition for issue editors to figure out some kind of name for the issue — usually at the last minute.
This practice has resulted in some of the most bizarre and demented issue titles in Bad Subjects's history: "In Flux," "Alien Languages," and of course the venerable "Opening Issues." And yet some of our open issues have revealed deep structures (some might just say recurring obsessions) in badsubjectian thought. We see this in issues like "Pop/Tech/Art" and "Packaging Events," which both began as a bewildering diversity of articles and became extended meditations on relationships between artistic production and the public sphere, the encroachment of market values on our daily lives, and the importance of wedding social criticism to even the most seductive media spectacle.
With "Media," we continue the occasionally weird and always revealing process of putting a label on thoughts that were inspired by the idea of writing in an unnamed, open, public space. What emerged from this exercise in open writing was, once again, a major preoccupation of Bad Subjects' writers and readers: how the mainstream media constructs our lives, and how we can take responsibility for our communities by engaging in critical media analysis and practice. Just as we must fight against material inequalities, we must also fight against the kinds of media representations that persuade whole populations to accept injustice as natural and right.
Like the media, an open issue of Bad Subjects struggles to retain a plurality of voices; yet at the same time it must contain that plurality within some limits: a title, a set length, a language. All freedoms require some limitations. The point, in each of these essays, is to question who sets those limits on media spaces and why.
In their essays on the mass-mediated online community, John Ives and Ed Korthof consider computer users' relationships to Internet technology. Computer virus hoaxes, Ives suggests, are a new kind of urban folklore that reveal social anxieties about who can gain access to our private lives through online networks. Korthof examines the role of free software in the newly ultra-capitalist software industry, and considers how the communal production and consumption of free software provides an anti-capitalist model of labor. Tim Jackson's philosophical consideration of the ontology of new media follows these essays with several clear directions for where media might take us as a global society if used progressively and democratically.
We find creative and critical engagements with commercial media in Lisa Prothers' interview with culture jammer Pedro Carvajal, Chris Sharrett's chat with the gloomy German industrial band :Wumpscut:, and Joel Schalit's look at alienated labor in the punk and independent music business. Charlie Bertsch considers the ramifications of the California Education Technology Initiative (CETI) in his essay on the way new media suggest unprecedented partnerships between public education and private interests. And John Brady considers how the media depicts national policy as arising from the people (in "town hall" meetings), but balks at representing these people when they seem to be saying something unrecognizable to the institutions which actually run our society.
We continue with Cynthia Hoffman's consideration of how one physical skill (being a fast typist) has shaped the entire trajectory of her economic life. Here we see how the production of media is not simply ideological, but also material: using her hands — injured by repetitive stress syndrome — Hoffman calls our attention to one way that a media economy emulates an industrial economy. Both are marked by workers' physical injury and fatigue. Matt Wray offers a view of cultural work from the other side: reviewing a recent academic conference on "left conservatism," he dissects the way veteran leftist intellectuals, engrossed in personal attacks, neglect the education of future generations in the history of the left.