Editorial

David Mitchell (Faculty of Communication and Culture, University of Calgary)

As I prepare these remarks, the world is witnessing the first few days of the American-led invasion into Iraq. In this context, the first two papers in this issue, by Paul Heyer and Marco Adria, may appear strikingly synchronistic with current events. This was unintentional. Both papers were composed many months before the current situation. This makes their resemblances all the more haunting, all the more prescient.

In "America Under Attack I: A Reassessment of Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast," Paul Heyer suggests that the public panic created by Welles' reporting of the fictional attack on America on October 30, 1938, bears similarities with those experienced in the wake of actual attacks on the United States: for one, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; for another, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and other American sites on September 11, 2001. In all three cases, the attacks were recounted by journalists (real and fictional) as sudden, without warning, and causing considerable damage and loss of life. All three journalistic accounts sent shock waves through the public consciousness. And all three "events" resulted in actual consequences. The real attacks on 12/7/41 and 9/11/2001 both resulted in military retaliation. The fictional attack on 10/30/1938 resulted in a series of inquiries to assess whether Welles or his network was legally liable for creating the public hysteria that resulted from the broadcast - or whether the event demonstrated the limited ability of mass media audiences to distinguish fact from fabrication. Heyer concludes that the so-called Panic Broadcast of 1938 is a case in which artistic farce prefigures the shape of actual tragic events to come.

Readers who had the opportunity to listen to James Carey's vivid plenary address at last year's annual conference of the Canadian Communication Association (May 30, University of Toronto) will recall his moment-by-moment account of how the events of 9/11 were disseminated by the major American networks at certain points on that day. In like fashion, Heyer provides a moment-by-moment recounting of how the War of the Worlds program was broadcasted by radio on October 30, 1938, and the effects it created on the listening public. But there is an important divergence in the way the stories were told. In the Panic Broadcast the fictive events were being reported on as if they were happening in a kind of real-time sequence; while on September 11, 2001, the news reporting regularly shifted between real-time commentary and surreal, repetitive footage from the early morning showing the jets plunging into the World Trade Center, the billowing smoke, and the eventual collapse of the twin towers.

At various points in his paper, Heyer refers to Welles' media sense - his competence as a media user. This is contrasted with McLuhan's later and more "academic" use of the term. Heyer here shows us Welles as not merely a competent user of media, but a master - where mastery entails pushing existing conventions to their limits or intentionally breaking them, even inventing new rules in their place. In all of his radio projects he ingeniously used special effects - dead air, concurrent dialogue, fictive news reporting - to increase the emotive response and to blur the line between fictive and non-fictive. Heyer notes that Welles was working with an innate grasp of the emotional power of the medium of radio upon its audience. It is something McLuhan would later describe in terms of a return to the aurality of tribal experience - an experience characterized by immediacy, high impact, and an all-encompassing convergence of the senses.

The paper indicates a new direction for our journal. By the time this issue comes out in print, our electronic editor, Richard Smith, will have posted the paper on our Web site (http://www.cjc-online.ca) in a format that will include both the text and the audio clips noted in the paper. Eventually, we are hoping to expand this kind of an experiment to include a variety of multimedia "knowledge objects."

In a similar vein, Marco Adria's essay "Arms to Communications: Idealist and Pragmatist Strains of Canadian Thought on Technology and Nationalism" has considerable resonance with the current situation. The essay is an historical reflection on the Canadian missile crisis of 1962, when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker refused to allow the American military to install and control nuclear warheads on Canadian soil. Adria draws no comparisons between the circumstances of the early 1960s and now. These kinds of comparisons simply stare us in the face.

Adria begins his essay by contrasting current discussions about the social effects of information and communications technologies (ICTs) against an older generation's concerns with technology and nationalism. He tells us that Diefenbaker's resistance to the proliferation of American Bomarc missiles in Canadian territory was paralleled by an academic discourse on the relationship between technology and the autonomy of the Canadian nation. Discounting debates on broadcasting policy, Adria suggests that this was the first instance in which technology itself became thematized as a matter of public-policy debate.

Adria reminds us that George Grant took up this issue in Lament for a Nation partly in response to the waning of Diefenbaker's stature in Canadian politics. In Lament and in other of his later works, Grant would develop a "radical conservative" critique of technology. In the narrower view, this critique would argue against the steady economic and political hegemony that the United States was developing in Canada. But in the larger view, Grant would interpret the march of American technology into Canada as emblematic of a greater technologically deterministic process - what Jacques Ellul would refer to as the logic of technique. Adria notes that Grant's small-c conservative views on these matters would galvanize a generation of left-leaning Canadian cultural and economic nationalists to resist U.S. technology and media. Needless to say, Grant's views had no influence in shaping the large-C Conservative economic and cultural policies preached and practised by Brian Mulroney.

Ramsay Cook's work, Adria tells us, stands in stark contrast to that of Grant's. For Cook, there was no question of idealizing technology as some kind of trans-historical, civilization-eroding force. Cook didn't need to quote chapter and verse from high theory to appreciate that technology cannot act as some kind of autonomous force in society. Rather, he understood that people - grouped within social groups, dominant classes, and alliances - shape history with reliance on whatever tools and instruments they command. If there is something trans-historical to be feared, in Cook's judgment, it is not technology but nationalist ideologies themselves. It is nationalism that sets groups against groups within the same society - and states against states in the larger view.

Can the perspectives of Grant and Cook help us today in understanding the social impacts of technology - specifically ICTs? I would suggest that firstly, in contrast to the views of Grant and Ellul, no one gets the option of standing in absolute judgment on the social impacts of a technology until the social process has actually run its historical course. Secondly, while we cannot interpret technology as an autonomous force or ideology per se, this is not to say that technologies cannot be wielded as ideological and practical instruments of control. Thirdly, national autonomy is a Janus-faced entity: it holds the promise of protecting cultural distinctiveness while running the risks of xenophobia.

Barbara Schneider's essay, "Narratives of Schizophrenia: Constructing a Positive Identity," is radically different from either of these two articles. And what is of importance for her in this work is not the biological nature of schizophrenia itself as a disease, but rather the manner in which individuals diagnosed with the disease struggle to construct a positive sense of self.

She begins her paper by taking up the problem of the self in contemporary society. Here she argues that individual identity is not something innately constant within individuals but rather an ongoing project of negotiation among individuals in a process that draws upon shared social categories. Social categories entail such things as group membership sets, boundary definitions, and attributes/definitions of what such membership involves. We use these kinds of social categories to classify individuals who fall within or outside certain boundaries into groups such as "normal," "mentally ill," and "schizophrenic."

Schneider's argument is oriented by the ethnomethodological tradition. She is guided on the one hand by Garfinkel's interest in trying "to understand how the social world is produced as an accomplishment of situated actors." Her approach is also informed by Goffman's studies of how normality and deviancy are constantly being mutually monitored by individuals in social interaction. She is further oriented by Giddens' examination of the self as an ongoing reflexive project within late modernity.

Schneider tells us that in their ongoing negotiation of self-identity, individuals constantly edit past references within their personal narratives in order to render their stories coherent with the views and perceptions of others. Here the focus is not whether the accounts provided are factual, but whether the individuals telling the stories appear to exemplify the workings of competent "theoretic actors," as McHugh calls them. Schneider stresses that a good number of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia display their competence as actors in the way they regularly insert categories from the expert medical discourse on schizophrenia into their accounts of their own behaviour.

Running through the paper is the idea that categorization - the assignation of positive and negative social identities - results in social injustice. Schneider argues that people do not choose schizophrenia willingly; their medical conditions and lifestyles are circumstances that are thrust upon them. And yet, when she converses with individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, they make it patently clear that the categorical diagnosis that has been assigned to them is something they want to resist - or somehow mitigate.

Based on evidence from her interviews, Schneider outlines three discursive strategies that individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia adopt in trying to construct a positive identity.

  1. Distancing. The individual recognizes that schizophrenia has negative attributes, but points out that he/she is different (a special case) for various reasons.

  2. Rejection. As above, the person understands the negative connotations, but points out that everyone is ill one way or another.

  3. Normalizing. As above, the individual understands the negative factors, but indicates that he/she is trying to cope with these challenges as best as s/he can in order be seen by others as normal.

Schneider argues that of these discursive strategies individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia use to construct a positive identity or sense of self, the first two, distancing and rejection, actually work to reinforce "schizophrenia" as a social category. Only the third strategy, normalization, in her view functions to positively reshape the social category - and the way it functions in the world.

David Mitchell
Calgary, AB



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