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How does art function as resistance to the manipulation of mass media? How do media images manipulate self image? 

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Daniel Canogar. “Enredos 1”. 2008.

In his book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” author Milan Kundera writes that without the ability to compare lives, men cannot find meaning, and as a consequence, we find an unbearable weightlessness of the being. This uncertain existence of meaning, the opposition of lightness and heaviness is a question that as humans, we haven’t been able to answer yet. Is art one of the many possible answers that can help us to resist the temptation of becoming standard trend followers in the century of the self? “Wired” magazine editor Kevin Kelly (as cited in Chapter “Playing the Infinite Game”), describes many mind paths we can transit and use to understand how art functions while resisting the manipulation we are suffering because of the way mass media influences our lives. One of these paths consists in exposing subtle realities such as, how the world functions in the communication era. That is why, decodifying how advertising is leading people to a dead-end (LANIER, Jaron), which starts at an early age of 3 when human develop a sense of personality, should be a path educators must prioritize since the social context and media have a high responsibility about this issue. Media manipulates self image putting layers over the years by offering us many options about things we do not need, and this creates standardized narcissist identities. An example of this problem and how art functions as a resistance can be found in the movie “The Zero Theorem”. In this film, which setting is a futuristic London covered of wallpapers and interactive street advertising, Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) a sort of genius programmer, exposes his sadness after realizing he is in love and his life full of content but empty of human feelings such as love. Ironically he lives in an abandoned church.

On the same way, one can argue that although networks connect people with ideas and opens new spaces for dialogues and cooperation (KELLY, Kevin), it can turn out these practical utopian spaces into a dark maze. In his book “What Technology Wants”, author Kevin Kelly admits that he was ignorant about what technology really was, and I must confess, so do I. Understanding the basic nature of technology, I believe, helps us to fight the erosion that advertising through mass media is doing to our humanity. Going back to the beginning of this response I ask myself again: Why can’t we see that characters created by advertising not only represent our alter ego but also standardize our individuality while biasing oppressive imagery? Why do most people agree that cloning is bad when there’s a similarity to standardization of identities? Self image manipulation brings distraction, and it’s a massive phenomena which I believe will make us unaware of the possibility of a new “Axial Age” (KELLY, K.). But we can empower others through art, to resist and use the technium as a wise tool which provides options to develop our creative ethical ideas. Shaping a new balanced identity where technology is perceived as nature (KELLY, K.) relaxes our interaction with the “technium” (how Kelly defines technology as a set of tools to shift humanity) and by doing so, we can be more conscious and overcome the “shiny hardware” to include cultural forms and intellectual creations of all types” (KELLY, K.). But, will humans achieve autonomy before the technium does? How is the technium used as a tool to confront the media manipulation today? How does the manipulation of the self relates to current social issues such as poverty? To answer these questions, author Kelly suggests that if the technium is understood as a tool where the summative parts of collaborative minds might potentially shift men to become a better being, we will enlarge our creativity (KELLY, K.) and help ourselves to bring back the humanity we are loosing. He also argues that there’s a difference while playing different games with the technium. Finite games such as, war have are quite opposite to infinite games such as, the power of our ethical creativity as made in image and likeness of GOD.

Finally, I would like to think more that we were in fact like that, made in image and likeness of GOD, as many sacred texts state, and stardust (SAGAN, C.) because this brings enthusiasm to grow a collective and a global collaborative mind while being aware we are not GOD (KELLY, K.), but beings whose goodness can be used to empower a more equal civilization. In Dutch historian Johan Huizinga words, human beings have the need to perform games because it helps us to break the routine so we can connect with ourselves, yet, are you playing an infinite or finite game? I have the impression this is the unbearable lightness of being, with gadgets.

Letizia Balzi

Sources:
KELLY, Kevin. “What Technology Wants”. Viking Press. 2010.

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A response to Walid Raad’s artwork “Let’s be honest, the weather helped”, 1998-2006. New Photography Galleries at the MoMA, New York, 2016. 

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Waalid Raad. “Let’s be honest, the weather helped”(1998-2006). MoMA, New York. 2016.

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Waalid Raad. “Let’s be honest, the weather helped”(1998-2006). MoMA, New York. 2016. (detail)

After reading Lebanese artist Walid Raad’s general statement, I felt as if artists are like little Red Riding Hood and the message is subjected to a context where the artwork is often times “wolfed down” by private companies and government policies. I feel most of Raad’s artworks express a Lebanese scenery that functions as Russian roulette because life and culture as a theme are threatened at all moments by war. This stage, I believe is the response that human sensitivity in its quest for truth, reaches art as a tool to expose many years of violent oppression in Lebanon. By doing so, other individuals attracted by the beauty of forms and color, open their minds to contemplate while bearing the burden of the cruel reality. After seeing this exhibition, I have the sensation that the reason why humans need art, lies on the fact that there’s an unconscious force pushing us to comprehend while we digest questions that artworks arise. In Raad’s works, beauty is a veil that uncovers a cruel world. And if his art could sing, it would be ironically whispering Morrison’s voice to me: “You know that it would be untrue. You know that I would be a liar . If I was to say to you. Girl, we couldn’t get much higher… Come on baby, light my fire.”(MORRISON, J.).

Raad’s art is an invitation to decode who’s behind art and through his artwork “Let’s be honest, the weather helped” (RAAD, Walid), the artist confronts by collecting bullets and exposing where do they come from, the representations and limitations of news media as well as popular culture. These serie of photographies show ten different book pages where a black and white photo of a Beirut setting is intervened with many colored dots located in different forms. At a first sight, I thought about how news media might only inform us about street gunfires, yet, many ignore who makes a war gunfire possible by supplying the bullets. I believe, media representations are limited and Behind Raad’s conceptual choices there’s a thick thread exposing a shocking fact: How can european made bullets, among other countries, dig a hole in a wall in Beirut? Are these countries supporting conflict? Why? What’s more interesting is how our standardized view about Lebanon conflicts makes us blind about any possible connection to nations, whose reputation is hard to be questioned by its power. Up to what extent do we have to destroy the world in order to understand it? War is a finite game (KELLY, Kevin), yet, art is an infinite one worth playing because it keeps human sensitivity awake to bounce finite games. It took this artist ten years to understand and unveil the labyrinth of where these bullets were coming from, but the “aha” moment that this artworks produced, is instant.

“Let’s be honest, the weather helped” aesthetic choice works as a graphic mapping of his findings. At a first sight, the color codes that bullet manufacturers used to identify their cartridges, looks like a pop intervention public art project on some old house photo. However, when getting closer we understand that beauty is just a hook to decode a deeper message. Also, presenting the artwork as a photo of a book, enhances the significance of what is being told and its context. I really felt like a spy looking into files of “The Atlas Group” (RAAD, W.), or in the artist’s words (as cited in the exhibit front page flyer) “Scratching on things I could disavow: Walkthrough”. Everything in this exhibition is carefully selected, even the message he wants us to understand about the veracity of the information given in museums, since none of these facts that Raad presents are true.

Source: Walid Raad and New Photography Galleries at the MoMA. http://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1493

Setting the stage: How do we acquire a Critical Lens through which to examine Contemporary Art and Media Messages. How do we create a platform from where to share ideas / participate?

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Dina Goldstein. “Fallen Princesses: Snowy”.

Children cannot develop and reflect by their own about ethical norms and that is why as educators we need to provide meaningful media education. A sense of media literacy awakes ethical values and when using media as a tool to create content, society can be empowered because all individuals are media creators and meaningful content can makes us grow. Now, cyberspace ethical norms are shaping the physical world behavior since it articulates our practices. The problem here is that because everything is connected: How are we constructing these content through which the world is perceived? Is discovering the same as observing? Are we passive consumers? I believe that learning to decode, deconstruct, “find secrets” (QUIJADA, A.) is perhaps the most accurate definition I have found to describe what it means to be a media literate.

We are all citizens and that means we have civilian ethical duties, so we have to teach our students to learn to read between the lines of the consumption industry messages. For example, author Jaron Lanier (as cited in his book “Who Owns the Future?”) warns us that if we keep on moving as if this is the one-way direction, advertising can lead to a dead-end. Therefore, media literacy is in my opinion, an educational priority since our society is struggling against a massive standardization of our beautiful existence as individuals. Another example is the erosion of the meaning that words such as freedom, love, wisdom, art, fun, uniqueness suffered because of how advertising have altered them through media campaigns. So, teaching about what makes humans unique by encouraging the youngers to become critical consumers of media, will shift the society towards a positive social change. Enabling this learning without it seeming like counter manipulation is not an easy task, yet, it is the challenge that teachers ought to face when creating lesson plans and putting them into practice. For instance, teaching how to acquire a critical lens through which examine contemporary art and media messages, can set the stage in the classroom to dismantle the content of what media is really communicating. Questions such as: Who decides the message? How is advertising educating our behavior? I believe, have the potential to ignite the individual’s critical lens.

On the other hand, after seeing many art exhibitions, and educational art programs, I feel there’s still a tremendous confusion and misconception in education about art itself being used as a social communication tool. Art should shift people’s minds, help them to understand the world, not consume it by making nice empty objects. At the same time, the relation between technology and youth seems to be more open and millennials who are media creators are enabling participation through projects which many of them set the stage for participatory culture (JENKINS, H.). This is an example of how art is positively used to share low barriers and high support for artistic expression and civic engagement. Art functions as an effective resistance because it has the power to critique the mass media and trace a bridge between popular culture and philosophical questions. What’s more encouraging, according to author Henry Jenkins, when creating platforms, we create a sense of these participatory culture forms where ethnicity, class and gender seems not to affect the development of media projects. Another important fact is that more than one-half of all teens have created media content (Pew Internet & American Life Project). So, I feel hopeful because as educators, we can host a democratic classroom that can work as a lab for new identities by developing collaborative problem solving and producing many forms of art expressions. And, if we can be our students mediators by teaching the guidelines to create meaningful content, students will no longer be isolated at school. They will be heard, listened and seen, because we are teaching them to become active participants of contemporary culture. At the end, globalization made us feel that indeed when connected through media, “it is a small world after all”. Let’s take advantage in education of it.

Letizia Balzi

Sources:

JENKINS, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture; Media Education in the 21st. Century. (pp. 1-27)

LANIER, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? Motivation (Chapter 1)

QUIJADA, Andrea. Creating Critical Thinkers Through Media Literacy. TEDxABQED
as retrieved from internet: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Creating-Critical-Thinkers-Thro