Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Social Media as Panopticon: Breaking Frames

I recently read an article by Canadian writer and law professor Joel Bakan in the magazine Adbusters, entitled simply "Panipticon." In in, Bakan presents social media as a Panopticon of sorts, where, as Mark Zuckerberg says, "people influence people" (as opposed to, say, ideological state apparatuses like churches and schools influencing people). This seems obvious enough, but Bakan takes his argument further, focusing on the marketing aspect of social media like Facebook. He writes, "Users become 'fans' and 'friends' of brands, and get their friends to do the same," the result being that "Marketing as marketing disappears." Here is where I think Bakan's argument gets interesting: he writes, "Boundaries are broken down between marketers and kids (as kids market to each other); between content and advertising (as advertising now infuses, rather than interrupts, content); and between kids' lives and entertainment (as their lives now become the content of that entertainment)." So the Panopticon involves the breakdown of frames, including the frames of roles (here I'm thinking guard=author, prisoner=reader).

Though I don't think 'kids' are the only ones taking part in this marketing-less marketing, I think it's really interesting how, as Bakan points out, power relations are Panopticon-ized by Facebook and other social media (GooglePlus? No clue, I don't even have a Facebook...). "Kids, like the prisoners in the Panopticon, now bear the power marketing holds over them, and the marketers, like the Panopticon's guards, drop from view, their power now automatic and self-executing, all the greater for its invisibility."

Bakan's argument, and the notion of the Panopticon itself, complicate notions of author role and reader role. The Author can (and does) still hold power when invisible, and perhaps holds the most power when invisible. Think about stories without known authors; perhaps these unknown authors seem even more infallible than their known counterparts because we can't contextualize the work within their identity. They seem more objective. And I think an argument could be made paralleling hypertext and the Panopticon, where the readers can, to a certain extent, take on the author role as well.


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  2. What an interesting concept this Panoptican is. Yet, what I'm drawn to is your claim about how this complicates author and reader role. You mention the author having power even when they are invisible (unknown) and you are dead on. It is amazing how fast information gets circulated on Facebook without any fact checking (I'll admit, I am guilty of this sometimes). It is the chance for people to get their views across with as little effort as possible. This is almost taking the place of those tedious chain emails that serve more to incite a negative reaction than actually educate. These kinds of Facebook posts are especially popular when an election is fast approaching or, oddly enough, around the holidays. The author does not even have to take credit for writing the post as clicking 'share' negates the necessity but not the power of the message. This also underscores your point about readers assuming an author role in the process because it is not always clear who the author is thus assigning credit to the poster is not all that uncommon. An interesting example of this is when someone shares a post from someone else and starts the message with "stolen from (the person who posted this before me)" which indicates that the person who previously posted the statement is the author when it is more than likely that they took the post from someone else.


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