Counterculture in New Media


The description of Mann’s collage centered around the quotation-“Whoever controls the media“- made me recall a new media project I saw by another student years ago, where they focused their work around a scene from Clockwork Orange with the thesis: rebellious youth culture has overturned the bourgeoisie ideology that predominantly existed in middle class suburbs of London in the 1960’s through standard forms of media (music, television, film.) The Clockwork Orange clip serves to illustrate how the counter-culture movement presents the negative impacts that people’s fascination with capitalism and consumerism, masked by religion and wealth, has had on society. In Mann’s college, the main concept of media and the impact that a person can have on society (depending on who is in charge of it) is expressed through primarily visual images on one piece of paper. This other project is illustrated through the movie clip and relies heavily on music and speech to present a message. The images that Mann chose are all recognizable to a mass audience (President Bush and Rush Limbaugh) and as a result of this, they have immediate associations for the viewer that can carry meaning. Other signifiers are used, such as the television, the puppet strings, and even the crucifix. All are easily recognizable symbols, and they serve to illustrate Mann’s thesis that President Bush uses various spokespeople to send a negative conservative ideology, which includes, but is not limited to, religion and war propaganda. The Clockwork Orange clip above similarly uses religious symbols through the images of porcelain Jesus figurines (martyrdom), the snake (evil), the poster of the naked woman (Eve) and media is represented through movie clips from One Million Years B.C.(decadence) and Beethoven (conservativeness). Both projects are successful because they don’t just randomly present images and clips to the viewer, but instead construct these pieces of media with a unified message. The message is then further elaborated upon through examples and explanation-the how and the why. All things one would expect to see in successful essay, and this information is just instead presented through visual or auditory means.


“It is at first a bit disconcerting to see the lyrics of one song plays in the background; adding to the oddness is the visual experiences of seeing a very famous paintings faded in and out on the screen with the words superimposed on them…new context with new associations.” This description of Starry Night is similar to how I would describe the Clockwork Orange clip, and the value that each project has seems to rest in this last line: “new context with new associations.” That is the importance in multimodal assignments. However, deciding how to determine whether a new media project has accomplished this is the challenge facing instructors now. How to best assess multimodal assignments is a valuable concern when addressing the transitional process that is occurring in classrooms now where new media is being more readily incorporated. New media being defined as “…texts that juxtapose semiotic modes in new and aesthetically pleasing ways, and in doing so, break away from print traditions so that written text is not the primary rhetorical means.” Cheryl Ball (2004) “Show, not tell.”


The primary tools for evaluating new media, as presented in the article “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition,” are: looking at how effectively a project addresses audience and its ability to achieve purpose, how clearly the message or meaning is conveyed through the use of multiple modes (that each one has a purpose and is not just applied flippantly), and how effectively the connections between these modes have been formed in order to effectively illustrate meaning. Sorapure’s flexible stance that these assessment tools should not be applied to all assignments in all contexts, lest the value of the project be neglected because it is important to take the context of the assignment, purpose of the course, and the teacher and students themselves into account.


Problems occur when the project simply includes an element because it looks good or because it is a cool effect. There exists no meaning and then instead creates a distraction. Addressing this concern helps the evaluator not feel that just because the work is aesthetically pleasing, they need to give the project a high grade. The idea here seems that new media should be judged close to the way that an essay is assessed. There needs to be a central thesis, main ideas and arguments that link together the author’s ideas, and that these need to be elaborated upon through some sort of commentary. Ultimately, there does need to be some coherence that links together the purpose of the work, and analysis also needs to exist, so that there isn’t just a surface-level message. The article presented several examples of evaluated works, and Gabe Mann’s collage with the image of Bush as a puppeteer to conservative media moguls was presented as the most highly valued because of it’s use of both metonymic and metaphoric components. The combination of images, sound, and text worked metonymically because it linked images by association like “lines from a poem combined with a melody from a song.” This collage, like the Clockwork Orange project was successful because as a “Digital composition [it] weave[ed] words and context and images” with a unified thesis. This is something to look for when evaluating multimodal works.


One comment on “Counterculture in New Media

  1. Katie, I really enjoyed your discussion of the clip from “A Clockwork Orange,” although I was disappointed that you were not able include a link to your student’s text! As a teacher who has had some success incorporating visual culture into a unit or two (using ye olde ad analysis project), I found myself supporting your conviction that successful new media texts recode “things one would expect to see in successful essay” so that the “information is . . . instead presented through visual or auditory means.”

    I wonder, though, if your clarity on this point leads you to be a bit too generous in your comments on Sorapure. I think, so far, that I’m more interested in your grading of visual/new media compositions than hers. I’m looking at your lines:

    “The primary tools for evaluating new media, as presented in the article “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Composition,” are: looking at how effectively a project addresses audience and its ability to achieve purpose, how clearly the message or meaning is conveyed through the use of multiple modes (that each one has a purpose and is not just applied flippantly), and how effectively the connections between these modes have been formed in order to effectively illustrate meaning.”

    While I did find that the slide-show format of her work slightly reduced the rigor of my reading — I still do best academic work using a recursive process annotating a print-out — I found the most accessible point to take away was that we can deploy metaphor and metonymy as criteria to judge the validity of formal connections evident within new media texts.

    While I do find this idea interesting, it is not really an emphasis on what you, quite reasonably, suggest above, that we should think about “how effectively a project addresses audience and its ability to achieve purpose.” I don’t think Sorapure evinces the kind of practical rhetoric you are drawing on here — she sidelines the consideration of audience and purpose in favor of a formalist critique (which may be no surprise, given her use of Russian Formalist Roman Jakobson’s place in the cannon… I’m relying here on Eagleton’s “What is Literature?” chapter in his Introduction to Literary Theory).

    It’s New Criticism for visual media, offered via an ornate PowerPoint!

    Sorapure’s medium is not apt for her message, for she directs us to evaluate links between elements, rather than the appropriateness of the overall image as a tool to communicate with its audience. Perhaps because the entire assignment falls back on our common yet artificial standby: classroom (or even teacher?) as audience, and presents a rather artificial composing task in lieu of a real-life purpose — I don’t know anyone who typically renders visual interpretations of isolated lines of poetry for their friends’ benefit, although who knows, the internet is wide.

    If, taking a cue from your kind view of Sorapure, we adopt a similarly generous view of Wysocki’s somewhat (and admittedly) dilettantish foray into theorizing visual culture, we are cautioned to beware of precisely the formalist emphasis Sorapure advances. The practical endgame of Wysocki’s essay is her suggestion that students see their visual compositions in terms as “reciprocal communications, shaping both composer and reader and establishing relationships among them” (173). That is, as her final paragraph notes, we can “come to see visual composition as rhetorical” (173).

    I wonder if we needed two movements of Kant to arrive at such a coda! But it sounds to me, in your description of Sorapure, that Wysocki’s conclusion is quite like what you, as an experienced teacher, are recommending. In your emphasis on audience and purpose, I hear implied rather reasonable suggestions, such as: Let us trace and evaluate, within the form of the work (whatever the medium, and whatever the modes therein!), the rhetor’s efforts to engage the intended audience such that her expository and/or persuasive purposes are communicated. (We could of course ad the standard corollaries: If the audience and purpose are obscure, let us investigate the context of the rhetorical situation in which the text was composed, etc.)

    I don’t think Sorapure is suggesting anything like this: At least in the text we have here, I find her myopically focused *within* the frame of her exempla, as if their multi-modal nature of it rendered them not compositions, but fetishes beyond the scope of commonplace rhetorical inquiry.

    Consider her valuations of the GW Bush slide and the MTV slide: She considers the former superior to the latter because of its more complete embodiment of the quotation using each of the metaphorical and metonymic criteria she espouses. I would like to point out, following Wysocki as well as a basic rhetorical view of composition, that such valuation *entirely elides the matter of audience.* For an audience of political aficionados, perhaps the readers of The Nation, yes — the image portraying Bush as puppet master is certainly going to be a hit, never mind the details. For a roomful of fairly apolitical community college students, I wonder if the MTW-hook image might be more accessible, appealing, and effective. Without a consideration of audience and rhetorical situation, we are left with only form; precisely the kind of fallacious reading Wysocki blitzes through Kantian philosophy of the aesthetic in the effort to warn us against!

    Anyway, I really appreciate that your post really got me thinking through these articles. Forgive me if I’ve misrepresented your position!

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