Proliferating Subjectivities and the New Media

By Misson, Ray | Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Proliferating Subjectivities and the New Media


Misson, Ray, Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature


Being asked to be a respondent to an issue of a journal causes one to wonder about the editorial logic. It could mean that one is an expert in the field, or that the editors know one is likely to make all the contributors feel good by applauding the collection of articles mindlessly, or that they assume you will do your usual stuff and so provide an interesting complement to what the articles present. Since I am patently not an expert in the field. I hope in this case that it is the last of these options.

Without being mindless, it can safely be said that this is an interesting collection of articles and raises some important issues. It is refreshingly free of triumphalist new-age rhetoric that there is now a new universal order brought about by computers, and that the like of what we see on our computer screens has never been seen before. While not downplaying the radical newness, the authors generally acknowledge the textual forbears: Andrew Burn reminds us that texts as early as Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz triggered the merchandising of a broad formation of surrounding texts in different modes: Valerie Walkerdine relates video games to earlier masculinist narratives, particularly the western (although surely that is too narrowly proscribed a range of progenitor texts: what about adventure comic, dungeons and dragons, etc?): Margaret Mackey notes various ways in which digital and print texts have influenced each other; Ann McGuire interestingly looks at The Sims in relation to the long and honourable tradition of utopian texts: and John Stephens and Mio Bryce discover one of the oldest stories of all being told in manga cyborg narratives.

There are several themes that are worth drawing out of the articles that suggest what is genuinely new about literacy practices involving ICTs, and which the articles show raise significant questions. These can be grouped around the themes of convergence, subject positioning, and critical stances.

First of all, convergence. Convergence was a very popular term a few years ago, referring to the way in which digital electronic devices would all have multiple functions: every mobile phone an entertainment centre, every computer its own home office. This has happened to an extent, but it could also be argued that it hasn't happened as much as was expected. Rather, along with the convergence has gone a great degree of proliferation, the same material becoming available in different technologies, or, more often, different technologies (including print) being utilised to mediate different aspects of a single product. The convergence is in the content, or rather, the point of convergence is us, the users of the technology, not so much the technology itself. The striking thing is how easily not only young people but most of us now move between technologies to access information, entertainment and communication. Margaret Mackey looks at this phenomenon broadly. Of particular interest are the case studies of Seth and Drew, two young men in their twenties who move seamlessly between print (books, liner notes, magazines, etc), film, TV, DVD, CD, the internet and social interactions to follow through their interests. There is a fluid movement between the media that suggests whether a text is print or digital, visual/aural or linguistic really doesn't matter particularly. Much of the work on multiliteracies seems predicated on the notion that ICTs require a new kind of literacy to be learnt and taught. It may be that literacy is still just about decoding visual and verbal text, as it always has been, and the (multi) media do not make much difference at all. What is new is the sheer availability of different kinds of texts, and the opportunity to move so effortlessly between them.

Mackey goes on to look at the ways in which text producers are capitalising on this fluidity by creating multimedia texts, and how there has been a washback effect on print publishing from texts in other media, because of the ways in which images from TV and the movies influence our visualisation of verbal narratives, and also because of the expectations of texts that have been built up by other media. …

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