British Petroleum

media-writing a media-critical ethnography

June  2010


HOME          ARCHIVES         PREFACE        OAQ          BACKSTORY          BIBLIOGRAPHY           COMMENT


    Two days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded 80 miles off the wetlands of Louisiana.  Yet, it took several weeks for the disaster to “catch on” with the American public.  Why?  In part, it is because television news coverage, still the “fattest informational pipe” into most U.S. homes, had few sensational images to offer its viewers.  Few new pictures = little new news.  After one month, BP finally acquiesced to governmental pressure and provided the first mile-deep images of their gushing oil head.  These provocative images of oil being released into the environment set-off a barrage of 24/7, sensationally ill-informed, media praxis. 

    In this compilation of ethnographic surrealism we see representational TVmedia excerpts from but a brief two-week period (20 May – 6 June 2010) as these new images became public... that is to say, as I saw them myself on my own home TV.  A form of civic “mediaturgy”, critical appropriation and remix of common news coverage offers unique opportunities for not only describing our mediated world, but also to formulate, test and extend media theory.  One of hundreds of videos freely published throughout Cultural Farming, we are reminded yet again of our profound disinterest in corporate TVmedia praxis – or how citizens might purposefully “talk back” to media-makers by refunctioning their own language and technique.  


    I made the above video for screening to the Consumer Culture Theory Conference at University of Wisconsin School of Business (10-13 June 2010).  Of course, my notion of consumer culture theory differs significantly from this organization’s primary focus; theirs functioning as a “research arm” for sharpening industry’s strategies in seductive consumption (though few in attendance would admit as much).  But what exactly is Cultural Farming’s brand of critical media ethnography?

    For Cultural Farming, “media” means TVmedia, particularly North American 24/7 news networks.  “Critical” is a term firmly embedded in critical theory, for instance, those first surmised within the Institute of Social Research (Frankfurt School, 1930-60).  “Ethnography”, broadly conceived, is the qualitative craft of writing about or explicating culture.  Combined, these terms form Cultural Farming’s methodologies for examining North American’s mediated society.  The “method”, however, for enacting these methodologies is a refunctioning of particular tenets of “surreal montage” through “appropriation and remix” ... since (surreal) montage is exactly how our media-makers communicate to us. 

    At bottom, Cultural Farming projects do not attempt to proffer positivist “scientifically measurable” exactness.  After all, it is often nonsensical to attempt exact measurements of socio-cultural, human, (un)intentional, communicational action.  Qualitative ethnography admits this, and instead proffers “written” stories -- stories that capture a descriptive open-endedness, which is ethically necessary for “living” description.   Thus, what you see in the video above should not be viewed as some mathematically measured collection, or the “best” or “juiciest” excerpts of the BP oil spill.  Rather, each video clip was critically captured and constructed “methodologically” from what I personally witnessed longitudinally on TV, particularly during this brief two-week period.  I do this in attempt to tell an “accurate” story -- a “written account” which describes the illogical cacophony of practice U.S. TVmedia communicated to us. 


An American, living

in Canada, now spending his life experimenting with new forms of critical media ethnography.

HOME          ARCHIVES         PREFACE        OAQ          BACKSTORY          BIBLIOGRAPHY           COMMENT