I read something today that got me thinking about what participatory communications can and can't do. I am wading my way (painfully at times) through Theodor Adorno's Aesthetic Theory. In his chapter on "Art Beauty: Apparition, Spiritualization, Intuitability" I ran across the following line: "...this transparentness gnaws away at [artworks'] possibility." Now, he is talking about the spirit of art, and it gets a little technical from there, but this phrase, and a following one that talked about "the encipherment of the artwork" sparked something for me I wanted to share with you.
I have written before about how I think transparency -- of process in particular -- is necessary for ethical communications. Others have written about transparency in terms of the truth of what you are writing/podcasting/etc. The dilemma that appears for public relations, marketing, and, especially, advertising, is that too much transparency might ruin what we are trying to achieve -- "an emotional connection with the brand" is one way of putting it. In other words, explaining the facts of a razor aren't nearly as powerful as showing a handsome man with his face being caressed by a beautiful woman. The second contains mystery, possibility. The first does not.
How, then, can participatory communications tools like blogging or podcasting, create that possibility (assuming this is still a needed item for persuading people to take action)? A transparent conversation about the facts doesn't seem to cut it. That's not to say that there isn't a place for that conversation, of course, but rather that we still need the production of possibility, which might -- might -- require more formalized, produced material (ads, commercials, etc.). I am not entirely sure about this, but I think a conversation about the value of possibility vs. transparency and how the former can be achieved through participatory means could be interesting.
In the Culture Industry Adorno writes about how we as consumers know we are being manipulated, yet even so go along with it (buying the products advertised and so on). He has a rather dystopian view of high capitalism, to say the least, but he is not really wrong, as far as I can see it. I tend to think that participatory communications could provide greater freedom for individuals; that is why I am studying it. As both consumers and organizations become more adept in using the tools, I think that the transparency-possibility conundrum needs to be thought through in more detail. I welcome your ideas, opinions and comments!