[iDC] Keen as amateur media theorist

Andrew Murphie andrew.murphie at gmail.com
Fri Aug 24 16:49:56 UTC 2007

Ok - an anti-Keen manifesto .... he'd love it of course!

As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, 'it is always possible to work oneself into
a state of complete contentment with an ultimate irrationality'. So it seems
with Andrew Keen.

Keen seems the true anti-Whiteheadian in "amateur capitalist" style (by
which I mean one who relies on quick fame to make a quick buck before being
exposed as pulling rather empty strings and levers as per the Wizard of Oz).
He deals in caricature rather than the complexity of media experience, and
seems to want to impose the restrictions of caricature on everyone else, if
only to validate his own importance and elitism.

Keen doesn't really seem worth reading because he ignores the basic objects
of his enquiry (having pre-decided what they are). So beyond several
interviews and some breathless media panics about social media pushed by
leading newspapers who quite rightly feel threatened, I haven't read much

However, in true Keen-style, I won't let that stop me making a few brief

In brief, Keen sounds like the kind of amateur in search of quick glory he
pretends to deplore. All the rhetoric is the usual. The communists (!!),
those who can't help themselves in their ignorance etc, the decline of
culture ... while failing himself to analyse the failings of the elites, in
a time when global warming, just to take one example, is still actively spun
away by many of the media and other elites, in series of PR "big thinks"
that would have done Edward Bernays proud. The echoes are those of ideas
that have, at least since Lippmann and Bernays, mobilised the fear of the
masses/the amateur/and ironically a fear of too much democracy itself, a
democracy escaping from, and often brutally returned to, the control of
"elites" since at least WW1. Such times - and such mobilisations of fear -
were of course the cradle of the modern media industries themselves, and
associated social sciences (from media and communication studies, to
sociology and, perhaps most importantly, psychology - see Curtis' Century of
the Self). Keen is therefore merely repeating the long history of media and
social controls pitched against basic democracy (I don't mean communism
here, I just mean democracy, as in voting even, as in the will of the
people, etc).

What does Keen want? Well he blogs and podcasts himself, so clearly he just
wants to position himself among the bloggers ... he wants to assemble the
basis for quick fame in the name of those who trade on media issues and
fears, and via the conduits of the media industries who are always going to
give this kind of thing a run ... while ignoring the ironic drop in basic
standards of journalism that we now see in many parts of the world (down to
the level of simple editing). And of course, all this is garnished with a
crie de coeur concerning IP (we assume the "property" of the elites).

What does he ignore? The fact that both traditional media and "web 2.0" are
a mix of the amateur and the professional, the good and the bad. That once
again, in this mix, the elites are starting to look like increasingly
redundant Wizards of Oz. That IP is a complex affair of interests. etc

It's not Keen, however, that we should be worried about. Despite the above,
it's best to ignore him. We should rather be worried about a
general,orchestrated "Keenism" one finds in the media these days as they 1.
drop their own standards somewhat appallingly and 2. usually find it very
difficult to deal with the kind of expertise a good blog/democratic media
experience gathers around it. 3. project this outwards into the blogosphere.

Of course, this is not how many journalists these days see it. Many are
completely au fait with the whole social media deal (in fact, now we are
getting a few younger journalists who have "grown up" with Web 2.0).
Ironically, one sometimes suspects it is the general Keenism of some of the
"elites" that stops the full "professional" expression that could (and
despite everything, will) transform professional media. This transformation
is currently happening and is increasingly fascinating.

In the meantime, however, the attack on professionalism in the media is
indeed to be lamented, but not along the lines, or  for the personal gain,
of Andrew Keen.

"Take me to the operator, I want to ask some questions" - Barbara

"Of course it is always possible to work oneself into a state of complete
contentment with an ultimate irrationality" - Alfred North Whitehead

"I thought I had reached port; but I seemed to be cast
back again into the open sea" (Deleuze and Guattari, after Leibniz)

Dr Andrew Murphie - Senior Lecturer
School of Media, Film and Theatre, University of New South Wales, Sydney,
Australia, 2052
fax:612 93856812 tlf:612 93855548 email: a.murphie at unsw.edu.au
room 311H, Webster Building
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