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Challenges posed by groups communication to the “isology”4 of mass communication

Mass communication developed in the society of modernity in the post-industrial era. The essential objective of mass communication is to establish order and authority, using professional and monopolized media organizations as communication agents to disseminate information toward a diverse and large audience. Those media organizations serve as watchdogs to ensure that connotative signification and metalanguage are employed to produce consensus in opinions, achieve the cementing between the signifier and the signified, promote unified social norms, and generate conceptual or intellectual standards.5 Mass communication primarily employs the linguistic symbols of standard language which carry social and cultural norms. To some extent, those norms tend to reduce human thinking to a prison-house and form a kind of collective unconscious, turning human beings into the creatures of language shaped by particular linguistic symbols. This is exactly a situation referred to by Foucault, in which “it is not me making the discourse but rather the discourse is speaking through me.”6 In language, it morphs into the phenomenon of “isology” which welds the unitary relationship between the signifier and the signified. “The signifier is seen as the direct representation of the signified. Both the subjective world and the objective world can be directly expressed by means of language and the relationship between those two different worlds has been formalized and fixed.”7 However, with the appearance of the field domain of group communication, the pattern of the mass communication dominating the discourse power has been subject to changes, as the audience are no longer satisfied with the conventional expressions of the language. “We have seen new ways of expression that resort to metaphor, metonymy, analogy, and symbolization. This explains why post-modernists have made such great efforts to emphasize and invent various symbols, signs, and icons with which to express what is otherwise considered inexpressible.”8 Group communication has posed significant challenges to the isology of the mass communication.

The emergence of the “APEC blue” as a symbol represents a perfect example of how group communication poses challenges to the power of isology in mass communication. The elements of isology encompass three different levels. The first is the level of the rules governing the linguistic signs. The two separate signi- fiers “APEC” and “blue” remain unchanged but, once they are combined, they acquire totally new and unexpected meanings. This is because, on the horizontal axle of language combination,9 those two terms possess no fundamental relationships of combination. We can talk about the “APEC Meeting” and express our commentaries about this “APEC Meeting.” But when we introduce the idea of “blue” and put it together with “APEC,” we break up the conventional rules of combining symbolic elements.

The second level is a breakthrough in form, which reflects the changes in the present-day natural environment. In recent years, Beijing has been suffering from constant and long-lasting smoggy weather, and the climate conditions in Beijing during the APEC meeting were predicted to be unsatisfactory. But eventually, what the public saw and experienced was the clear sky and clean atmosphere, which were primarily the results of artificial intervention. Hence, a sharp contrast arose, between the continuous and unmitigated smoggy weather during the ordinary times and the unusually ideal weather conditions during the APEC meeting.

The third level is the absence of meaning in the mass communication context. The coverage on the APEC meeting by the mainstream Chinese media was primarily focused on how the APEC meeting could generate positive economic outcomes and how the Chinese government made huge expenditures in order to make the meeting a great success. By failing to address those issues that were related to the pragmatic and immediate interests of the general public, the mainstream media created vacant spaces for the public to express their own opinions, a vacancy which was filled in by group communication. The picture as projected in group communication comprised a glaring contrast with the APEC image projected by the mainstream media. Out of this contrast were generated new meanings, or the new signifieds, that expressed feelings of irony, ridicule and discontent. This kind of linguistic symbols were unlikely to exist in mass media from the very outset, and it was precisely this situation that made it possible for the symbols in group communication to undergo transformation.

“Whereas modernism pursues elitist and mainstream culture and suppresses and disparages non-mainstream culture, post-modernism challenges the existing ideological framework, hierarchy and discourse system.”1 0 The emergence of group communication has made it possible to reconstruct the meaning of the symbols, either through the deconstruction and reconstruction of the signifi- ers or through the reinterpretation of the meanings that are signified. All those forms of meaning reconstruction exhibit the online language’s post-modernist characteristics - anti-orthodoxy, anti-tradition, the advocating of the diversity of thinking, emphasis on individualism, and the readiness to break up the existing stereotypes.11 Group communication achieves the carnival of language by playing the games of language. If we examine the development of the mode of communication, we can find that in the age we live in, language has been subjected to the control of the rules as part of our daily life and different modes of communication would make use of particular rules to determine how a particular discourse is to be delivered, the particular meanings of words are to be conveyed, and the way in which the communication is to be used.12 The language employed in groups communication is in a state of constant “drifting” or “floating.” From the perspective of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive theory, meanings are being infinitely “extended” by means of intertextuality and this creates an infinitely extending chain of signifiers, where meaning is cast in a state of constant delays.13 The signifier that “floats” and the signified which “drifts” have given the present-day online interpersonal communication its game features in the form of a language carnival.14 In group communication, the meanings which are otherwise absent in mass communication are re-structured, achieving a kind of the carnival of meanings by abolishing the established power center of the communication and shattering the accepted isology.

 
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