I write this today as a personal essay and an introduction of sorts. Upon completing my Master's Degree in Journalism, some might think what the hell is the point? These days, what even is a journalist? Well, let's make it even harder, how about immigrating to a country where I cannot speak the language and then completed a Master's in Journalism. One can say I do enjoy a challenge.
My Master's programme, while practical in a lot of ways, was focused on culture & entertainment journalism. I am scrapping out the entertainment part here and solely concentrating on culture, as was done during my time as a student in the this programme. My critically-sharp focus on learning is thanks to my mentor and my professor, Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith. In this programme, we focused mainly on cultural theories and their analyses. We did this, in my opinion, in the hopes to better understand cultures, the diversity that comes with them, and how to frame their narratives into the public space constructively. I can say, without a doubt, I am incredibly privileged to have completed this programme (with an overall grade of 1.4). I worked hard, and the amount of knowledge attained while communicating and learning in this class is unforgettable. With students from all over the world, it was then that my ideas of what culture exactly is started to develop.
As a Polish-born South Africa, who now resides in Berlin, I have shared some unique and, sometimes, even questionable perspectives on what it means to be culturally-aware. I write this piece today, not in a way to criticise, but I write it in such a way that we can, as people, activate our critical minds. Today, how we consume media and their narratives, can be detrimental to society and to culture itself. I mean, don't we 'do it for the culture' after all?
But then again, what is culture?
And what is its relation to journalism?
Folker Hanusch, Professor of Journalism at the University of Vienna stated that "the relationship between journalism, culture and society is a symbiotic one. Journalism influences culture, but it is also influenced by it. In fact, as some argue, journalism is culture..." Let's unpack this: On a personal level, demystifying what culture is can take on semiotic and constructivist concepts. I won't bore you with this jargon though, what I'm trying to say is that culture is the way you think, act, engage and interact with others. These processes affect each person on this earth on a social, emotional and cognitive level. But as it affects each person directly, it also affects media culture. Media culture, according to Douglas Kellner (1995), emerges through "images, sounds, and spectacles." This continuous, overly-active media exchange helps to "produce the fabric of everyday life, dominating leisure time, shaping political views and social behaviour, and providing the materials out of which people forge their identities." What I extrapolate from this is that media culture is not binary, nor is it a programmed system. In this space, there are constant tensions of power and counter-power, and many diverging and conflicting definitions of reality – which are influenced by the aforementioned power dynamics.
However, this doesn't mean that because there is no fixed schedule or direct focus, we should leave these culturally-complex topics untouched (as hard as they may be to initiate in conversation). It is our responsibility as players within the media realm to reject a functional approach to the media. What I mean by this is, is that cultural media and technology can act, and often do act as a counter-action to the 'Functionalist Theory of the Media' – a theory which focuses on how media and technology contribute to the very composed functioning of society. Law and order... But to what extent? If perspectives push forward a narrative of a unified, collective experience then it manipulates people into believing that there is one, centralised public opinion. This leads to the thinking that this public opinion becomes the default one (and let's be honest, that could lead to a fatal end to democracy as we know it).
As media personnel and as people who participate in this ever-changing media milieu – which includes anyone with an internet connection these days – we need to be mindful of these power dynamics. If we are to understand our media diets better, we can then become better at understanding different cultures. For as Culture Theorist, Stuart Hall says, "culture is experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined" (1983).
To understand culture is to not to look at it as a homogeneous, integrated and geographically-bound model. It is to start thinking complexly beyond localised, ethnically- & nationally-focused paradigms. I guess then we begin to understand better where these power dynamics are most at play, and then we can grow to better understand ourselves as a society. I wonder if this can be defined loosely as progress?
I'm hoping this space becomes a sort of entertaining, yet cathartic release.
For here is my virtual space where I hope to share thoughtfully-reflective dialogues. As an individual who is trying to dip my cup into the proverbial media stream, I hope to open my mouth and quench that thirst that exists in union with my interest for; media literacy, culture dynamics and lifestyle narratives.
All of this within this virtual echo-chamber. Thanks for joining & happy reading!