Fraim, John. Battle of Symbols: Global Dynamics of Advertising, Entertainment, and Media.
In Battle of Symbols, John Fraim analyzes a number of archetypical symbols and their expression in contemporary cultures. The framework for his exploration is provided by the author's visit to Disneyland which ended on September 11, 2001, and by two parallel Christmas 2001 celebrations in New York: one held on the ruins of Ground Zero, the other held at the newly opened exclusive Prada shopping center a few blocks away.
In the first part of the book, Fraim introduces the idea of a cyclical nature of symbols. He suggests that symbols are products of a cyclical interplay between two dominant forces: unification and differentiation. Applied to the 20th century America, he suggests that September 11, 2001 marked the end of the pluralism phase which also coincided with the end of post-modernism. At the beginning of the new millenium, the multiplicity of symbols, among whose expressions was the segmentation of the population for the purposes of marketing, is set to cluster again around a single, dominant symbol.
From a symbolic perspective, America can be viewed as the first nation to attempt reconciliation of the duality symbols of alignment and the differentiation under the common roof of one culture. Throughout American history, these two symbols have perpetually clashed in the constitutional ideals of equality (symbolized by the Democratic Party and mass culture) and freedom (symbolized by the Republican Party and a segmented culture). (pp. 82-83)
The second part explores the globalization of symbols, their dualities, clash, and commonalities. Traditional symbol dualities include: West and East, Masculine and Feminine, Future and Past, Place and Space, Above and Below. Contemporary dualities, on the other hand, are: Electricity and Fire, Spirituality and Religion, Physics and Biology, Pyramids and Networks, Production and Consumption, Old and Young Generations, and so on. At the end of Part Two, Fraim points to several alignments of symbols that can be observed today, ranging from hybrid symbols to technology and lifestyles, which pervade the entire globe and span diverse cultures.
Part Three is aptly headlined Battle of Symbols. After having described the forces of symbol production (Madison Avenue, Hollywood) and dissemination (media and communications), the author suggests that the U.S. faces the pressing challenge of understanding the symbols that are produced by its culture:
America had become the greatest creator, communicator, and manager of symbols. A final challenge was understanding its symbols. Understanding was essential in the global "battle of symbols." But understanding was the most difficult task of all ... especially for a nation that had made symbols so powerful and ubiquitous to the world yet so invisible to herself. (pp. 332-333)
Understanding is lacking both with respect on one's own (U.S.) culture and with respect to other cultures. Unfortunately, the often bemoaned introvert (ethnocentric, provincial) character of the American culture finds little corrective in the production and dissemination strategies of contemporary media organizations. Since the end of the Cold War, major mass media organizations have consistently tied their purses for quality international coverage.
To a scholar or practitioner of communication, the latter part of Battle of Symbols has perhaps the most immediate use value. Its focus on symbols provides a welcome complement to a predominantly rationalistic approach to the study of media content, effects, and dissemination.
--Peter Lah, S.J.
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|Publication:||Communication Research Trends|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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