Dash or Slash?

Renewing the Link between Media and Culture

How to Cite

Bruns, A. (2000). Dash or Slash? Renewing the Link between Media and Culture. M/C Journal, 3(6). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1886
Vol. 3 No. 6 (2000): Renew
Published 2000-12-01

"On a list concerned with 'media-culture' one would expect the discussion to focus around the way 'media' function" -- Trevor Batten, in a posting to M/C's Media-Culture mailing-list (9 Sep. 2000)

If I may begin by speaking personally for a moment: this is my last issue as M/C's Production Editor, a position I've held for the first three volumes of this journal. It's been a wild, sometimes bumpy ride as we worked to establish a new publication on a still-new medium, but I think the results speak for themselves -- M/C is something my fellow contributors and I can be proud of. Overall, I believe we've stayed true to our central aim since preparations for the journal first began in early 1998, an aim expressed in the editorial of the first issue: to be "a crossover journal between the popular and the academic ... attempting to engage with the 'popular', and integrate the work of 'scholarship' in media and cultural studies into our critical work" (Marshall b. 4).

This divide between the popular and the academic -- two terms frequently posited as opposite poles of a binary system -- maps quite directly also onto the other set of terms that are so central to M/C: at least in popular perception, 'media' and 'culture' (or worse, capital-C 'Culture') similarly exclude one another almost entirely. 'The media', especially their electronic mass-audience forms, pander to the lowest common denominator, while 'Culture' takes place elsewhere, in more interactive personal settings. The discipline of media and cultural studies has long fought against this simplicistic view, of course, but such fundamental perceptions are slow to change.

No surprise, then, that the slash in 'M/C', and later the dash in 'Media-Culture' (the name of our public discussion list), have come to create some perceptional difficulties for contributors and audience alike. As the same first editorial noted about the name, "without grounding its meaning (the dance of meaning is important to us) the slash '/' is to highlight that this is a crossover journal" (Marshall, b. 4), but the meaning did indeed remain contested: "1998 is a bit early for the virgule to be designated as 'slash' in even a digital journal", said a response by reader Gordon Owen to the first issue, and in any way, did this '/' divide or connect M(edia) and C(ulture)?

Slashes (or virgules) are wonderful things. The virgule, as the Oxford Dictionary has it, is a "diagonal mark ... used to separate alternatives (as in and/or)", but does this mean, then, that 'media' and 'culture' are separate, clearly distinguished and distinguishable, or that they are alternatives, different in certain aspects, but similar enough to be able to stand in for one another? This ambiguity does indeed allow us to avoid 'grounding the meaning' of the name; the choice is yours -- 'Media and/or Culture' indeed.

Slashes are also dreadful things -- if you happen to work with computers. The slash, forward as much as backward, is a special character, of course; depending on the circumstance it may indicate a division, function as a mathematical operator, lead to another level in a hierarchical structure, or it may modify the behaviour of a computer command. Slashes won't occur in Web and email addresses, therefore, because they could be misunderstood, and so perhaps the name M/C wasn't the smartest choice for a Web-based journal: there can never be a www.m/c.org.au, for example, and just searching for 'M/C' on the Web might lead to some very unforeseen results (a list of all the sites containing either 'M' or 'C', possibly...).

There's more than simply a lesson for budding Web publishers in this, though. The ambiguity and confusion (intended or otherwise) surrounding this and other slashes demonstrates the fundamental tendency of the human mind to categorise, to invent hierarchies of information -- but also indicates the continuous conflict of that tendency with another equally fundamental drive: the drive to connect and associate pieces of knowledge to form the bigger picture. The slash is both dividing line and shared border, much in the same way that the squiggly edges of puzzle pieces are both the source of the problem (they show where the original image was cut up) and the key to its solution (they can be used to connect pieces and reconstruct the image).

Getting back to the slash in question, then -- that between Media and Culture: capital-C 'Culture' itself similarly is a product of the hierarchy drive, of course, which values some types of Culture over other types of culture, while the associative drive might lead us to discard such hierarchies in favour of a view that regards all expressions of human thought and creativity as 'cultural' and interconnected. For the media (seen by the associative drive as interconnected, economically as well as communicatively), we could also single out a particular capital-M 'Media' subgroup: those institutions which stand at the top of the hierarchies of scale in their fields, as well as at the centre of attacks from cultural hierarchists for their perceived populism and un-Culturedness. Media and Culture, in their capital-letter forms, might therefore indeed be irreconcilably opposed to one another -- here, the slash clearly translates as 'or', then. In lower case, however, there can be hope for a renewal of the link between media and culture. If 'culture' does mean all expressions of human thought and creativity, and 'media' provide the means for the transmission of these expressions, the two are not only not mutually exclusive, but in fact crucially codependent; media and culture go -- must go -- hand in hand.

But which one is it for M/C, then? Well, perhaps there is no need to make a definite choice; perhaps part of the 'crossover' nature of the journal is also the ability to return to a true 'and/or' of Media/media and Culture/culture (enough slashes for you yet?). If this sounds like a cop-out, consider that either view -- media and culture, Media or Culture -- must itself use a medium to be expressed in the first place, and the nature of that medium will affect the message. It's no surprise that Media for which the physical scarcity of transmission bandwidth and similar economic factors dictate a highly hierarchised structure of programme content and publishing institutions (say, television or newspapers) are also common vehicles -- as well as, paradoxically, targets -- for protests about the lack of Culture in the Media, while less hierarchical media which allow the unedited expression of thoughts and ideas (say, the telephone or face-to-face chat) are the main vehicles for as well as participants in the continuation of human culture.

The Web, then, sits somewhere in the middle between these two extremes: being an electronic, or more to the point, a digital medium, it allows for the easy imposition of hierarchies, as its myriads of search engines and directory services demonstrate -- but these myriads also show that there is no one hierarchy; there are, rather, so many competing ones that individual users' value judgments fail to combine into one overarching Culture. As much as it can be hierarchical, therefore, the Web is also associative, rhizomatic, since these alternative individual Cultures are in constant negotiation and alteration as users accept or reject the hierarchies they come across online, and as they connect and compare the information they receive from various sources. The Web is neither lower-case medium nor upper-case Medium, therefore, or perhaps it is both at the same time: a combined 'middle-case', if there was such a thing.

And this is precisely the reason that the Web is so well suited to 'crossover' publications of all kinds, of course: it is in itself inherently a crossover medium. Crossing over between different types of audiences (from 'popular' to 'academic', once again, but also along other socioeconomic factors) in different geographic locations, as well as different types of publishers (from 'amateur' to 'professional') with different publication formats and philosophies, it allows for the expression of exclusive Cultural as well as inclusive cultural views in contexts which draw from the hierarchical Media as well as free-for-all media, to the point where upper and lower cases become irrelevant, and a new conceptualisation of the link between media and culture (in whatever spelling) emerges.

At that point (still only a speck on the horizon), perhaps we must also rethink the slash between the two terms, then. Should M/C find a different typographical symbol for its name -- 'M%C', 'M+C', 'M*C'? You might be aware that our public mailing-list is already called 'Media-Culture', of course (though, to be honest, simply because the mailing-list software didn't like slashes), but from Batten's statement at the beginning of this article it is already evident that the dash simply replaces one ambiguity with another; it joins the terms, but at what price? Rather than the and/or of the slash, the dash in 'media-culture' could allow 'media' to be seen simply as a modifier, as in 'the culture of the media', in which case indeed "one would expect the discussion to focus around the way 'media' function" (Batten). That's not our intention, much in the same way that the '/' was more than "just another graphic pirouette, or ... some awkward bow to the Internet aesthetic of cursors and schizophrenia" (Marshall b. 4). Slash or dash, media and/or culture -- with renewed spirits, M/C will continue to trace the divisions and connections between them.

Author Biography

Axel Bruns