Megan Hoetger, a graduate student from TDPS, revisits Fred Turner’s recent History and Theory of New Media Lecture.
Last Thursday, November 13th, Professor Fred Turner of Stanford University’s Department of Communication took us into media histories with his talk “The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from WWII to the Psychedelic Sixties.”
Professor Turner’s talk drew on a wealth of carefully researched archive materials, ranging from installation images of US propaganda expos like the 1959 American Exhibition in Moscow or the 1942 MoMA exhibition “Road to Victory,” to distribution and exhibition documents of art world experiments from figures like John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and others. In so doing, he compellingly charted the infrastructural, political, and aesthetic construction of an environmental surround in the mid-twentieth century, which was believed to be capable of promoting democratic choice. As the talk outlined, understanding and promoting a certain experience of environment became a key focus in the working out of a democratic (read: empathetic, collaborative, anti-racist) personality in the mid-twentieth century, in the face of fascism and the authoritarian framework. Turner’s talk made clear, as he put it, the “long history of new media” and its entanglements with the political sphere.
It also made clear that things were changing rapidly even then: consumer choice and political choice had begun to merge already by 1959. Tracing up from there in the Q+A, Turner suggested a model in which social media platforms operate as “careful attempts to market ourselves back to the surround.” The questions and anxieties around the limits of choice that emerged were rather powerful ones. As the best kinds of history-making projects can do, Turner’s talk reminded us of the potentiality of the past’s not yet realized hopes of a future. Accessing this potentiality—there remains our challenge.
If you couldn’t make it out last Thursday, make sure to join us for the final talk of the fall semester on Tuesday, December 2nd at 5:00pm in 370 Dwinelle Hall when Professor Chris Goto-Jones from Leiden University, the Netherlands will give a talk on “Gamic Orientalism.”
Check out the slideshow below for photos from the event, and stay tuned for video and audio podcasts!