Review of Media Dancer, Who Sets the Tune?

On: September 15, 2009
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About Yu-Fen Chen
A newbie in Amsterdam since summer 2009, Yu-Fen Chen is a current student at the New Media M.A. program. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration from National Chengchi University, and previously worked for Ogilvy Public Relations in Taiwan. Yu-Fen is interested in social media and environmental activism. Outside the classroom, she enjoys travelling in developing countries and loves Malaysian foods the most.

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BOOK TITLE: Media Dancer, Who Sets the Tune?

AUTHOR: Gaston Roberge (2008)

This is a book that claims itself a non-book at the very beginning. As confusing it could seem to first-time readers, Media Dancer, Who Sets the Tune? has a major flaw in the book’s overall organization and edit, which unfortunately hinders its readers to fully understand the author’s general ideas, albeit the content itself provides a clear picture of current discussions and topics in the current media environment.

The author, Gaston Roberge, is a film scholar in India. This book is written with a specific purpose for ‘media (self-) education,’ which is regarded as the first step to develop media awareness especially in today’s society. Roberge treats media users, the general public, as media dancers who follow the rhythm, and he expects them to set the tune of their dance.

This book refers to three main books: The New Media Book edited by Dan Harris (2002), Cyberbani: being a human in the new media environment by Gaston Roberge himself (2005), and The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti Capital Movement by Michael Strangelove (2005). Excerpts from these three books are frequently quoted to support Gaston’s viewpoints. The main content of Media Dance, Who Sets the Tune consists of an alphabetical list of vocabulary for beginner readers in the media and communication field, and level of difficulty is equivalent to an undergraduate Media Literacy course. Roberge explains these vocabulary in a theoretical but amicable approach for beginner readers: communication theories such as Marshall McLuhan, Hans Enzenberger, Raymond Williams and Benjamin Walter are mentioned in his literature reviews, with nowaday examples from one’s daily life with old/new media like TV, radio, computer, internet, iPod, Google, etc.

With the discussion of digital media, Roberge intends to provide some technical background of computer technology. This is to help demonstrate the distinction between the new and old media. With concise and precise description, Roberge offers his readers a clear picture to comprehend their media surroundings painlessly. For instance, based on Katherine Hayles’ article, “Traumas of Code“, Roberge points out that contemporary computer-mediated communication consists of two categories of dynamically interacting languages: natural human language and binary computer codes; by indicating their differences, Roberge provides an alternate way for readers to sense the power that controls our communication.

A large part of this book is written in a cultural perspective, Roberge refers to several critical articles to articulate social phenomenon associated with modern media—with a focus on globalization, copyright, ethics, and Murdochization. For young readers who were born after the 1980s, it is not difficult to grasp the ideas because Roberge includes a brief introduction of the historical development  in most of the topics. Take the topic of globalization for example, Roberge gives a brief review of internationalizaion, globalization, and transnationalization. Because media always transform/follow/lead the society, it is therefore these background information can be helpful for young readers who were missed in those times to understand the overall media environment better.

Despite all the good intentions, it is a pity that the book’s organization and editing are badly executed in a way that a reader can easily get confused in many ways:

1. Lack of overall coherence

1.1 The whole book mentions the terms ‘media dancer’ and ‘tune’ only once in its one-page preface, and then these two terms utterly disappear in the content

1.2 In the preface, two pictures of Nachu (the robot dancer) were shown to ask readers for a dance, however, Nachu is missing forever in the following content

2. Lack of clarification

2.1 None of the photos in the book has a caption and sometimes the text shown in the photo is another foreign language

2.2 Though the author categorizes the topics (which is called ‘modules’ in this book) in an alphabetical order, there are unexpected ‘fragments’ interspersed among the modules. Unfortunately the linkage between modules and fragments is weak and not explained. For example, the fragment of ‘McDeath’ comes up immediately after the module of ‘human,’ while McDonald is not even mentioned in the previous module.

3. Insufficient background provided for mutual understanding

3.1 The author refers to WWW as World Wide (Wild?) Web (Wait?) and that intecutal property right (IPR) = RIP (by repeating IPR three times: IP R IP R IP R). Both of these abbreviation look very confusing to a reader.

In conclusion, if the reader is a completely new self-learner to whom it intentionally targets, Roberge will fail to meet its original purpose as a self-education book due to the above flaws. Roberge is a logical writer who writes concisely and neatly, nevertheless, his book reveals a problem to link his visual ideas (as creativity) all together. This suspection seems self-explanatory after comparing to what he admitted in an interview in 2007, “although I am always involved in the field of audio-visual, my personal medium of expression is writing. If I can put an idea well in writing I feel that I understand it to an extant.” In the interview, Roberge also mentioned that he’s making a book which would look like a web. It is very possible that Media Dance, Who Sets the Tune? was the book in his mind. Unfortunately, the book itself does not carry any visual/text indication to relate to a web. At the end, Roberge’s creative idea of making a web book produces nothing more than complete confusion to a reader.

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