Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Participation and Recognition

Posted by Sean Hull on April 4, 2017

The April 4th reading raised issues which I had not considered, namely, that of unequal participation. The book covered this extensively, with the most surprising aspect of this analysis being its mention of segregation between online social networks. Though the reading focused mainly on various groups’ inability to easily participate and represent themselves in popular culture, the problem of segregation arising between those already capable of readily interacting within online social networks deserves further exploration.

Facebook proves an excellent example of this phenomenon, within itself as well as between it and other sites. As mentioned in class, Facebook gathers an uncomfortable amount of data per user, and uses it to serve up material its news feed algorithms deem relevant to user interests. This environment, combined with the human tendency to avoid material that disagrees with preexisting beliefs, is conducive to the ideological segregation of user groups.

This ability to isolate one’s self via information technology, though perhaps harmless if used to interact with a few select fandoms or follow some specific products, is worthy of concern when brought into the realm of society-at-large. As cliché as such an example may be, the United States’ political polarization during last year’s election nicely illustrated the vast divide between social groups, with both parties being ideologically alien to the other. Social media sites like Facebook, rather than encouraging communication between these groups, instead served to more cleanly hew their divide.

Other examples of online ideological segregation include the various subreddit communities hosted on Reddit.com, which organize themselves around specific interests and attract a variety of impassioned user bases. Though mostly harmless if relegated to entertainment media, subreddits with political foci can be extremely polarized, with little room for civil discussion between communities.

In short, though Spreadable Media was concerned with a lack of equal participation, I fear that those given equal opportunity to participate via information technology will be limited to “participating” in the isolation of their own group. Though information technology is undeniably useful in uniting people with similar interests & concerns, it is unfortunately not always conducive to bridging the gaps between separate groups. This does not mean I am  against allowing people equal opportunity for participation; I only wish to state that I do not believe access to information technology is sufficient to confer legitimacy or visibility to one group in the eyes of others.


One Response to “Participation and Recognition”

  1. Drake Kizer said

    I think you made a lot of great points in this blog post, namely the ones that you brought up in our in-class discussion about how people’s media consumption habits can create “vast divide[s] between social groups”. As you mentioned, the 2016 presidential election was a great example of how our current media environment allows people to completely “avoid material that disagrees with [their] preexisting beliefs”, which only breeds disagreement and tension between groups that are increasingly separated in popular culture contexts. I think we as a society should be a lot more concerned about “bridging the gaps [we’ve established] between separate groups”.

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