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History of Media

Historical And Technological Media

A more subtle strand of media history than this blunt confrontation of integrated and apocalyptic critics arises in the work of the Frankfurt School, the most influential essay here being Walter Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1969). Benjamin's periodization does not concern the transition from oral to literate but from the unique object to serial production, and his concern is with the consequent loss of "aura," of sanctity and intrinsic value, which media artifacts undergo as a result. Confronting the rise of fascism and contesting the Stalinization of Popular Front cultural policy in the 1930s, Benjamin argues for both the utopian capacities of popular media and the necessity to engage with them as vanguard arenas of creative endeavor. Perhaps the most significant response appears in a letter responding to the draft manuscript written by Theodor Adorno, arguing that popular and avant-garde are "torn halves of an integral freedom to which, however, they do not add up" (1977, p. 123). In his joint work with Max Horkheimer and in other later writings, Adorno elaborates and develops this insight into media history, concluding in 1953 that under contemporary conditions, "people become welded to the unavoidable … television makes once again into what they already are, only more so" (1998, p. 50). This vision of industrial and technological media in the service of the status quo is more thoroughly historicized in Jürgen Habermas's influential account of the formation and deformation of the public sphere, created at the time of the European Enlightenment through the power of the printing press, and distorted into mere opinion polling in the age of mass circulation newsprint, radio, and television. A similar thesis, inspired more specifically by the analysis of reification in Georg Lukacs, is expressed by the French situationist Guy Debord, for whom the age of commodity production had, between the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the late 1960s, given way to an age of spectacle. Where earlier media formations had served to gather people into communities, to conserve traditions, and to propagandize new ways of living, spectacular media serve to promote an endless round of imaginary desires that in turn maintain endless overconsumption through which the overproduction required for the survival of capitalism can be regulated. Unlike Baudrillard, Debord—a convinced Hegelian—believed in the necessity of a dialectical resolution to this sham culture.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerHistory of Media - Periodization, Technology And The "general Accident", Historical And Technological Media, Ubiquitous Media, Current Studies In Media History