Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

prophecy. The cylinder collections were systematized cultural fragments solicited and preserved by one set of institutions while another systematically destroyed the culture from which the fragments were taken. The work of anthropological cultural stewardship coincided with the decimation that necessitated the stewardship in the first place.

This conflicted status of sound recordings for anthropologists past and present mirrors the temporal consciousness accompanying the historical emergence of sound reproduction: a moment when the dual threads of industrialism and colonial expansion intertwined in the application of bourgeois modernity to sound's reproducibility. Sound reproduction could appear to take sound out of time because it was understood as applying the logic of fragmented, industrial time to a phenomenon -- sound -- that had been linked with the endlessly receding past of teleological, historical time through its ephemerality. Sound reproduction technologies mediated cultural difference for self-conceived moderns at moments of cultural contact through their articulation of time and technology.

Observers today might be tempted to shrug off these matters as characteristic of the distant past and as having no bearing on the present: In the current entertainment press it would be difficult to find examples of racist iconography quite so blatant as those peppering the media of 80 to 100 years ago. Yet we must ask ourselves whether the structural logic of media contact and development is all that different. Although first-contact narratives have largely been diverted to stories about life from other planets (where the roles are often inverted), the modern/nonmodern dichotomy persists as an implicit authorization for international capitalist investment and intervention in nations on the geopolitical periphery. Contemporary writers lament the disappearance of "indigenous" media companies in the unidirectional, immutable flow of transnational capital. This is a story we have heard before, set against a new background with new characters.


Notes

Many thanks to Carol Stabile, Carrie Rentschler, Larry Grossberg, James Hay, John Nerone, and Tom Turino for their helpful comments on this essay.

In citations of archival works, two acronyms have been used: NWA (the N. W. Ayer Advertising Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History) and WBA (the Warshaw Business Americana Collection, Archives Center, Smithsonian National Museum of American History).

1.
"Our Tattler" ( 1897).
2.
WBA 1; NWA 1; "All the World and His Wife".
3.
Kern 1983; Lowe 1982, 9, 111-117.
4.
Lefebvre 1995, 1-6.
5.
Often the word modernism is used to describe the ideology of the modern; at other times, it is used to denote a specific set of artistic and expressive movements. Since the period under consideration is the period of "high modernism" in expressive culture, and

-27-

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