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 her own career, she went on to sing a song by the artist Pink.
According to what was shown on television, the contestant made a bad choice and was ridiculed on stage for it. She was jeered at and this resulted in her swearing at the judges and throwing her microphone on the ground. The audience were left with feelings of embarrassment for her; from what was presented to them the audience could only see her outburst. The political division of the show was between this contestant and the X Factor, and the audience had clearly picked a side.
After the audition had been aired on television it soon came out that the contestant had been told to sing a Pink song by the X Factor production team prior to her audition. In interviews after the show Alexander stated “When the judges rejected me I realised I had been manipulated by the X Factor for the previous six weeks. They lured me in, coaxed me and even chose my song all with the intention of setting me up for a fall. ”(Daily Mirror). It was only after the audience had become aware of the back stage antics that they were able to switch their political viewpoint to that of the contestant.
The impact that media has on politics is shown through the way the media is able to influence the minds of audiences by only showing certain parts of the story. Parts of the show were edited out in order to create a political imbalance between the show and contestant. After the contestant told her side of the story, the audience realised that “There is now good reason to believe that there is a surprisingly vast range of ways the scene around you could have been visibly different from the way it actually is”(Noe, 2006, p. 191).
The noumena, which was not something the audience could understand, was what was edited out of the show, as we could not sense it, it was independent of our minds. According to Kant, as soon as we become aware of it, it becomes a part of our phenomena and is now an observable occurrence. By understanding phenomenology it’s clear that it is an important part of the political impact that media has. Kant’s thoughts on phenomenology relate much to Platonism. The allegory of the cave is a metaphor to describe that what we believe to be reality may not be complete, and that illumination is needed for us to see the truth.
Plato explains that the freed prisoner “wouldn’t be able to see a single one of the things he was now told were real” (Plato, 2006, p. 280). Plato gives us four levels of knowledge: shadows, objects, ideas, and forms, “in the first place, shadows, and in the second place, reflections” (Plato, 2006, p. 244) The first two levels are within with the realm of sense, shadows are things we have interaction with but no knowledge of, and objects are able to be perceived with knowledge but they still rely on senses to be seen.
The next two levels eradicate senses and rely on intelligence. Ideas and forms are reflections of the lower levels and are seen as the ‘intelligible world’. In a similar way, Kant theorises that reality exists on many levels, with the phenomena being what we can sense, and the noumena being what we cannot sense, independent of the mind. Both Plato and Kant agree that knowledge is primarily reliant on sense but does not have to rely on sense alone, and that reality exists on a series of levels.
The concept of realism has made huge advancements in technology over the last decade. With great progression in technology, media such as video games and cinema have transformed immensely in terms of how real they appear to their targeted audiences. New technology such as 3D cinema and D-Box enables audiences to be transported even further into the world of the film by creating a false sense of reality. By wearing 3D glasses and sitting in a stimulation chair, the cinema is able to allow the audience to be absorbed into the world of the film even further than ever before.
These technological advances exhibit the power phenomenology has to intensify the experiences of watching a film or playing a game. Certain media are created to illuminate our phenomena by their transmission and the form that certain media take, “What we know of the world (including cinematic representation) has to do with our experience of phenomena, that is, the way things appear to us. ”(Casebier, 2009, p. 4) According to Husserl, knowledge “remains within experience” (Husserl, 2012, p. ), so all we know of cinema and videos games is merely a recreation of what we already know from our experiences. However it isn’t just cinema that does this, advancements in technology have enabled other media to do the same; 3D televisions and mobile phones are created for the same reason, to create a fabricated reality, a place where people can have all of the fun without any of the responsibility. Video games are created with a goal to make an interactive world which can be perceived similar to real life but without the consequences that comes with reality.
Racing games are made with cars that look and sound more realistic to appeal to audiences, stimulation controllers to enable you to feel like you’re actually driving a car, but when you crash your car you’re able to start another race, when in reality there would be serious consequences. However, the question of truth and reality regarding technology can be argued against. Plato states that the representation of reality is not as clear as we may think it is. Plato states that “the quickest way is to take a mirror and turn it round in all directions, before long you will create suns and stars and earth” (Plato, 2006, p. 70). When he is told that this will only create reflections and not reality,
Plato states that an artist would do the same with a paintbrush. This allegory shows that what’s real and what’s true is hard to determine because everything is a representation of the ultimate reality. Therefore the images created in technology such as video games and cinema can be seen as a construction or representation of an ultimate reality, what we perceive as real life experiences. As Husserl states “Natural knowledge begins with experience” (Husserl, 2012, p. ), it is from our experiences of real life that we’re able to even comprehend the constructed reality that is shown in media such as video games and cinema. However, being too involved in these types of simulated realities can be dangerous, they can distort our minds by making us confused between the difference of what’s true and what’s real. What is acceptable in a simulated video game such as Grand Theft Auto, such as beating people up, shooting people, stealing cars, would not be acceptable in real life. A distinction is needed in the mind between what is real and what is true.
These experiences show the importance that phenomenology has in terms of understanding the impact media has on technology. Husserl states that human experiences are subjective, and this is true especially when referring to photography and the social impacts that certain media have on the world. Photographs are a special type of image, one that holds a subjective experience personal to the people who are in them and the people who took them. “It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases – but the association and the sense of nearness involved in the thing. (Sontag, 2001, p. 183) Instagram is a social networking app which allows users to upload pictures onto a database which is viewable by ‘followers’. Similar to social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, users can follow each other and comment on pictures that are uploaded. With the invention of such social applications personal photographs no longer serve as just memories or subjective images, they also serve as a way to exhibit your experiences to your social circle: your friends and family. The way we communicate and share with each other has been changed.
No longer do photographs have to be developed and stuck in an album for everyone to see them, now you can upload a picture onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any similar social networking sites and it can be viewed by hundreds of people from your social circle at the same time. By sharing our experiences socially we’re able to project our experiences into the minds of others; “We behold the living experiences of others through the perception of their bodily behaviour” (Tymieniecka, 1983, p. 300). Even though pictures that are ploaded onto social networking sites are able to be sensed by others in terms of being able to see them, they will be not be aware of the meaning behind the pictures. The noumena of the pictures will be the meaning behind them; the memories and emotions that are attached with the image will not be visible to everyone who looks at it, only the people who have previous knowledge of the image will be able to have a deeper understanding of what it’s about. No matter how much you look at a photograph it will have different memories and connotations for each person who views it.
The way we communicate with each other has changed in many others way than just photography. The impact media has on society is seen through the change in our communication with each other with tools such as Whatsapp and Skype. With the use of just a mobile phone you’re able to communicate with other people in so many different ways; We’re no longer limited to just calling or texting each other, now we’re able to video call, send pictures, on Facebook people are able to send each other virtual animals to each other; media has impacted the way we communicate so much so that the levels of communication are unlimited.
Through doing so we’re expanding our experience of communicating with each other and therefore according to Husserl we’re expanding our knowledge of each other. The level of impact media has on communication is clear because through new methods of communication comes more information we have of each other. Phenomenology is important for understanding media and its impact on many aspects such as politics, society, and technology. Both Kant’s and Husserl’s analysis of phenomenology are vital branches of philosophical thought when thinking about the influence that media has.
Through politics, media is able to hide certain aspects of the truth in order to manipulate the minds of the public. Kant’s theory of the phenomena and noumena is shown here as what the audience perceive as the truth is merely a part of it; the parts that are kept out are the noumena. What’s not perceivable by our immediate senses becomes independent of the mind. When it comes to technology, the impact that media has refers mainly to realism. The question of what is true and what is real comes into place. Media such as video games and cinema are able to create other worlds of reality in which people are absorbed into.
Husserl states that it is through experience that knowledge is made, so media takes the experience that we have in the real world and build upon to create realities that are more idealistic to live in; Worlds in which people are free to do as they choose without any consequence. The only consequence of this is if people become so involved in these created worlds that they’re unable to distinguish between reality and constructed reality in the form of games or cinema. Through social issues it’s clear that phenomenology is an important issue in terms of how much of an impact media has.
Social network sites enable people to share their experiences with their friends and family. Photographs no longer have to be shown to others in a physical album, now they’re visible all over the world. Husserl tells us that it is through others being and their bodily behaviour that we’re able to understand them. Therefore it’s clear that the impact that media has on society is the change of how we communicate with each other. By having new ways of talking to other people, there’s also new ways of understanding each other.
Phenomenology shows that with a wider experience of communication, we’re gaining knowledge of whom and what we communicate with. Kant and Husserl both have different methods of analysis according to phenomenology, but ultimately they’re both concerned with the way the world appears to us and our subjective understanding of the world around us.