Dumber or Adapting?

By Alec Smith

Habermas defined the 18th century bourgeoisie deliberations in London coffee houses the public sphere. A place where rational-minded, working class men set aside their self-interest and engaged in coercion free communication as means to reach consensus on political issues. This is an appealing, idealistic concept that came under scrutiny by many who cited the humanity aspect of decision making and difficulty in finding such informed and involved people.

Keeping this 20th century Marxist idealization in mind, is there a place for sentiments in the public sphere? Are we as a world capable of staying engaged enough in serious politics? Or has our post-modern mass media and technology seduced us toward something more entertaining and scandalous? Do the answers to these questions point to a doomed and distracted society or deeper cultural interests?

Take two headlines: Trump’s debate callout bolsters far-right Proud Boys and When Harry and Meghan met Oprah – and what the battle royal means

What do they elicit?

In order to spark discourse surrounding these questions, this project will take the form of an interactive video, designed to place users inside of a public sphere. The idea here is to suggest a deeper exploration of these topics and blur their lines.

Potential Formats

An interactive video that juxtaposes serious news with similar celebrity entertainment. Using the crossroads option, other “people” in this public sphere will appear with opinions. Clicking on them will lead to another video. The aim is to blur the line between these forms of news.

A video, similar to Handsworth Song, that acts in similar fashion to the interview but would be more of an interpretive exercise for the viewer.


Questions from Me to You

Do you have a preferance over one of the formats?

Do these ideas make you think of other relavent ideas?

Is there a way in H5P, or other software, that can make it more like a public sphere?

Am I being too limited/obvious in my format of the project?



  1. John Vu

    I find this idea very relevant. (adding to your examples: Prince Phillip’s funeral marred by the media-created drama between the Prince William and Prince Harry)

    I think the Interactive Video to show the underlying appeal towards the more entertaining and scandalous underneath the mainstream media is perfect for this.

  2. admin

    One thing I am thinking here is that the public sphere can probably not be thought of today without including social media in a prominent way. For better or worse. And so, I wonder if there’s a way to integrate social media in this project. Of course, a lot of social media are video-based, so that fits in with some of the ideas here.
    But maybe to capture the constant contestations that make up the contemporary public sphere, there should be more “windows” with videos, tweets, images, interactive videos, etc. in them. There are many potential options here, maybe too many, and I don’t want to make this too complicated.
    But maybe a way to think about this is to imagine that today, a montage film like Handsworth Songs would be spread among/across multiple windows/media, several of which could be interactive.

  3. M Salmassi

    For me, the two sides represent different approaches, and it becomes a matter of preference for a cultural solution or a possible political mandate. The idea of public sphere includes the environment, the social and political. Public sphere is an abstract, nebulous concept in constant flux. There is merit in pursuing this idea and to give it form. A lot depends on a good sampling of constituents to explore the topics that would be discussed in a virtual coffee house. It is an interesting project.

  4. Behrang Garakani

    Hi Alec, there are so many options to exploit, as RL points out. I’ll add some things that I hope stoke some conversation.

    >> Do these ideas make you think of other relevant ideas?

    You asked a question of “What do they elicit?” Perhaps a branch from here would be “Why do they elicit?”

    When looking at the public sphere as a “means to reach consensus on political issues,” social media seems to be doing the opposite (with a few exceptions*). This goes back to the question of why?

    A theorist that I’m researching on my own project is Jonathan Beller. He posits that scrolling through social media is a form of capitalistic exploitation. The “attention economy” equates to profits for the social media platforms and/or content creators, so gathering attention means topline revenue. In other words, news and advertising have merged.

    I don’t know if any of this helps.

    *The first exception that comes to mind is Reddit, as its voting mechanism bubbles up the most pertinent discourse to the top of the dialogue. I’m sure there are others, and I can post more if you find this appropriate for your project.

  5. A Robusti

    Hello Alec!
    Your project looks both interesting and relevant, especially in this moment. I believe that an interactive video may be the most effective approach for your project as you can play around with multiple videos, images, and news, and it also echoes the contemporary modalities of news spreading. As the Professor suggested, it could be helpful to explore social medias, as I know that in the USA Twitter has become a major platform for political information and discourse.
    Good job and good luck!

  6. B Hung

    Hi Alec,

    I liked the coffee houses metaphor: let’s sit down and talk to each other. Human interactions. I miss those moments 🙂 My two cents:

    You ask, “[a]re we as a world capable of staying engaged enough in serious politics?” I think we do. But the ways we interact with each other has changed (and continuously changing), as Randy notes on social media and/as public sphere. The interface of these social media has already blurred the boundaries, if there were any, of “serious politics” and celebrity entertainments.

    I got the juxtaposition idea via reading your text and I liked it. But, I wonder if you wanted the viewer to sense a conflict between these juxtaposed imageries? Or, perhaps it was by your intention that I did not sense a boundary. (Trump next to Harry, Meghen on Oprah. Clearly they are all iconic celebrities… performing in their own ways. I didn’t think of serious politics whatsoever, even though I probably should?…)

    If juxtaposed, more “categories” of news/videos might elicit this thought: “How is this (not) politics?”

    p.s. Thanks for sharing the jumpscare video. So interesting… I was glad to know you sensed an (implicit) connection between my project and horror game!


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