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Dr. Mookerjea - Cultural Studies 8
Dr. Mookerjea - Cultural Studies 8

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University of Alberta
Sourayan Mookerjea

SOCIOLOGY 345 MARSHALL MCLUHAN Literary scholar in the time that TV becomes ubiquitous over the fifties. major cultural conservative reaction to the world of spectacle, especially TV culture. most of mcluhan's colleagues in traditional studies are bemoaning and railing against TV as being the closing of the american mind, the decline of western civilization. ie people zoning out, couch potatoes, etc. this was a major cultural debate of the 60s, this new world of tv destroying people's minds. you have a demonization and dismissal of tv wihtout any critical analysis and consideration. quite unlike Debord's critique of spectacle, concerned with spectacle in general including tv and its relationship to commodities, he is concenred wtih its depoliticizing factor (and he is trying to repoliticize spectacle with detournement) but in NA nothing is happening with this kind of depth. but why would anyone take these positions in general? it involves class and status distinctions: - mass consumption really changes the way class distinction was mapped culturally. going back to the Middle Ages, a high culture is associated with the court and nobility. the emerging middle class living in the towns since then, proessionals, artisans, so on, take as their model of reference for imitation the nobility and court culture. growing urban working class emerges, and they at first invent their own kinds of cultural establishment like the tavern & pub that develops into a music hall. but in the 19c and especially after 1848 is a reform movement emerge among the urban middle class that seek to civiliz▯ and reform this unruly drunken mob reeking havoc in the cities of europe. so the cultural institutions of the pub and tavern and music hall become sites of policing, while new mass cultural institutions emerge to turn the working mob into respectable middle class. - William Morris spells it out in his book Culture and Anarchy saying that high culture must be disseminated on a larger scale or there will be anarchy, so we must build public museums and gardens etc. this is the birth of the YMCA/YWCA and the Salvation Army and such, to take working people from their drunken disorderly peasant background into good working city folk that know the cultural touchstones. as this debate is going on in the fordist keynsian paradigm of the 60s, consuming fridges and cars etc, it erodes the distinctions between the upper classes, middle classes, and lower classes, especially at the early stages of mass consumption. the differences in the early times were not huge between the different commodities. if anything, our world of consumption now makes much finer distinctions between different levels of consumption status. Pierre Bourdieu at this time develops a way of studying consumption patterns in different classes and how social distinction in status and class is mapped out with people in terms of what they consume, how they consume, and so on. difference in food taste etc. he is doing this in the 70s and 80s, mapping a world of consumption where these distinctions are much more apparent and stronger than these conservative critics are reacting too. the conservative critics are teaching a bunch of people who had never before been in university, and they see that their special position is disappearing, and this contextualizes their animus against tv. Innis discusses how oral culture locates us in time and enables us to have a relationship to the past where teh past is something we anticipate. his plea for time is not a plea to return to the past... but in terms of mass culture vs popular culture, his interest in a return to orality deals with a living situation people are actually in as opposed to the mainstream economics that abstracts away from the real situation of people, turning them into a demographic quantity. think of it in terms of people and their needs vs market demands. when everything is turned into information and assessed according to market demands, but Innis is saying it is not just market demands that society must respond to but people's real life needs in present space and time. McLuhan says Innis was completely right about space bias and the dominance of it in our present historical condition, but what TV presents us with is something different. it still has a space bias, being a broadcast technology with a common experience that Innis talked about in terms of newspapers and radios etc. but one of the things about TV is that the kind of space TV creates retrieves a certain dimension of oral culture. this is why he calls it acoustic spac▯, still space, but its acoustic space. acoustic space is different than linear space like gutenberg press forward. acoustic space is space without a center. with Euclidian space, whatever the shape is you can define it in terms of some center point. but all of these shapes are based on a center point from which you define what a shape is. the thing about acoustic space and the way our nervous systems have evolved to hear is to deal wiht an environment where there is always more than one sound happening, and you plot the sounds that come into yoru mind. thi sis what mcluhan is interested in. when we hear, our brain is thinking in terms of multiple locations. there is a kind of thinking this makes possible. his main image for this is MUSIC. a melody can only be heard insofar as one note follows another note. you still hear teh note that came before, but its only in relation to the note you heard before, and the new note changes what you heard before. without that resonating interval between the notes you would never hear a melody at all. this is
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