Why is phenomenology such an important branch of philosophical thought in terms of understanding media and its social, political, and technological impact?
Phenomenology is the philosophical thought that focuses on the structure of subjective human consciousness. This philosophical movement was founded by Edmund Husserl who “wants to describe our experiences as they are given from a first person perspective” (Zahavi, 2003, p.13). Husserl describes the conception of reality in 3 parts. Firstly there’s the world and its external beings, this being the world around us made up of other things and other people. Secondly we have ourselves, and thirdly we have our subjective consciousness, the way we perceive the world around us. Husserl divides phenomenology into two parts, the noesis and the noema, the noesis being the part of an experience which explains the activity, be it an emotion, perception, judgement, or imagination. The second part is the noema, which is the way we perceive the experience, our own meaning of it, the way we conceive it. This study can be differentiated from Kant’s method of analysis which focuses on reality consisting of objects and events as they are understood by subjective human consciousness. The two main divisions of Kantian phenomenology are the noumena and the phenomena. The noumena are things independent of the mind; an object or event that exists without the use of human senses, while the phenomena are any observable occurrences. Kant theorises that what we experience through our senses questions what roles we play in terms of truth and reality. Both Kant’s and Husserl’s interpretation of phenomenology are important branches of philosophical thought when understanding media and it’s social, political, and technological impact.
The political impact that media has is stretched further than the democracy of governments. The politics that media focuses on can vary from contestants on a television show to the Presidential debates of the United States. When we watch any form of politics on an edited television show, all we’re seeing is what’s presented to us; the phenomena, we experience what is given to us. It is only by our senses that we’re able to perceive what’s happening on the show. This relates to Kant’s method of analysis which states that what we experience through our senses allows us to question truth and reality. Only what we see on television enables us to question this. What is edited out or what happens back stage is the noumena, it’s not perceivable by our senses and therefore according to Kant we’re unable to comprehend it. The X Factor relies heavily on humiliation in its audition process to get viewers. Many of the advertisements for the X Factor auditions show hopeful contestants being booed or laughed at on stage by the audience. Spin off shows called “The X Factor: Best and Worst Auditions” are created purely for our entertainment. Although it may seem that the media is using a contestant’s pain for their own gain, it is argued that “by now, those appearing on reality TV should have acquired a basic understanding of its textual codes and mode of production, and should therefore be prepared for any possible outcomes”(Watts, 2011, p.36). When schadenfreude, “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others” (Merriam-Webster), is shown on television, the audience is faced with an ethical dilemma. They have to decide based on the phenomena around them what is right or wrong. It is up to the individual audience member to decide whether they feel the contestant is able to understand the codes of reality TV and whether the humiliation is acceptable or not. One contestant on the 2012 X Factor auditions, Zoe Alexander, was highlighted in the media due to her vulgar outburst on stage after the judges slammed her down for singing a song by an artist (Pink) for whom she had previously been a tribute act for. After saying she wanted to move away from being a tribute act and focus on...
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