Friday, May 23, 2003

Like many others, I recently discovered 'The Star Wars Kid' (see One commentator stated that viewing the video clip was like watching a train wreck; it's horrible but impossible to look away. I was fascinated with the clip primarily because that could have been me! That's exactly the sort of thing I would have done.

Many people felt the same way. There was an outpouring of support for the Star Wars Kid resulting in a very successful electronic 'passing of the hat':

" Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the Star Wars Kid fund! In only seven days, 421 people donated an unbelievable $4,334.44." (, May 21 2003)

This phenomenon fascinates me for two reasons: 1) it's grass roots phenomenon i.e., no network execs to be found, and 2) a real community has emerged around the new cultural icon and it has all been driven by Internet technology.

Does this new community represent the rise of "species being." In an essay entitled 'Sim Capital: General Intellect, World Market, Species Being and the Video Game', Nick Dyer-Witheford reintroduces this Marxian concept:

"Species Being is the term Marx uses [to refer to] humanity's self-recognition as a natural species with the capacity to transform itself through conscious social activity."

Does $4,334.44 offer a glimmer of Species Being? Perhaps only for the uber-geek but it's a start.

To extend the Star Wars Kid phenomenon to other areas (labour activism? environmental issues?) we should look at what begat this phenomenon.

Using Malcolm Gladwell's analysis of epidemics (from his book 'The Tipping Point'), we can analyze the Star Wars Kid. First of all, the content is sticky. We can all relate to the poor kid on screen; The video has subjective value for all of us (see Luckman and Berger's 'Social Construction of Reality').

In addition, based on viewer responses on various blogs and user groups, the video represents different things to different people. For some it is just entertainment but for others it is nostalgia. In this capacity, the video appears to be conforming to Greisemer and Star's concept of a Boundary Object i.e., an object that serves to communicate concepts between various disparate groups. Although groups may have different interpretations of the Star Wars Kid, the response has been fairly uniform: sympathy and a donation of cash. Is this how 'Species Being' starts?

Gladwell maintains that epidemics require three actors: mavens, connectors, and salesmen. In Gladwell's descriptions of these characters, however, each has great deal of charisma. Charisma, however, was not an issue with the spread of the Star Wars Kid. The network managed to replace these actors and hasten the transfer. The required charisma was the kid's; he offered us something we can all relate to.

Where does this get us with respect to species being? It seems that we require subject meaning (stickiness), inter-group subjective communication (boundary objects), and a network --electronic or analog.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

I recently did some reading you may be interested in. In 'A Social History of Knowledge' (2000), Burke provides some pretty interesting observations regarding empire--of the early modern European kind--and knowledge:

"[T]he extension of knowledge [w]as a precondition as well as consequence of the expansion of empire..." p.117

"The desire for control was obviously a major stimulus to the collecting of information by early modern states and expecially empires, but curiosity also played its part, and information was collected not only because it was immediately useful but in the hope that one day it might be." p.128

While ruminating on these passages and their Autonomist parallels, I came across a very recent article (April 2003) in MIT's 'Technology Review' called 'Surveillance Nation' by Dan Farmer. While Farmer's tone is quite negative--he notes Coppola's movie 'The Conversation'-- there may be
some room for an upbeat Autonomist reading.

Ubiquitious surveillance may not be a bad thing. Therein may lie the sort of democratic information institution required to support a working market... provided the information isn't classified and hoarded by corporations and governments!
Analyst reports and news stories have a lot in common: they are expensive to produce, they are expensive to publish, and they are expensive to distribute. In short, analyst reports are commodities. As commodities the acceptance and popularity of analyst reports largely depends on prevalent market forces.

News stories only provide the illusion of participation to the viewers; the stories generally support the hegemonic world view. By watching news on television, for example, viewers are engaged in a process of actively engaging in the culture. Viewers are cognitively rehearsing their role in society. Analyst reports, however, offer the audience a greater scope of participation by following the recommendation of the analyst and heeding their recommendations. The recommendation is generally to get involved in the market and purchase equities.

In general, media is polysemic and contains multiple meanings depending on the background of the audience. It has been noted by several researchers that news reports generally suppress discursive readings through exnomination techniques. These techniques often fail and resistive readings occur depending on the referential and proairetic narrative codes utilized by the reader. These discursive readings are often actualized by the appearance of non-hegemonic voices within the text of the news reports.

Analyst reports are devoid of discursive readings. They are also devoid of non-hegemonic voices. Analyst reports are assumed to be factual non-biased representations. This appearance of impartiality is supported due to the complete exnomination of character roles within analyst reports. The only characters that appear are the narrator (the author) and the company itself. The credibility of the report is supported by secondary texts that support both the analyst and the company.

Occassionaly the policy of exnomination is ignored. During the Internet bubble of the late nineties for example, analyst reports for high technology companies were widely read by investors and authors incorporated common narrative techniques. An interesting example is the portrayal of the database provider Oracle in analyst reports of that era.

Oracle (ORCL) was established in the late 1970s and introduced a revolutionary technology. This technology essentially established a disruptive force to the hegemonic Todorovian equilibrium. By the late 1990s, ORCL's technology had become the dominant industry force. In the late 1990s, however, the presence of new start-up companies was threatening this dominance. Essentially, the new Todorovian equilibrium that had been established by ORCL was being threatened by a new villain. This story of equilibrium, domination, and villainy could not be told within the typical analyst report framework so a many analysts adopted a new report section: Company History.

During the late 1990s the Company History section of most corporate reports included detailed descriptions of the CEO. Larry Ellison had founded the company and was elevated to the status of an epic hero by the reports. This status was widely supported by secondary texts such as the popular press. Authors claimed that ORCL embodied the attributes of Mr. Ellison and went on to describe him as an aggressive entrepreneurial hothead who had changed an entire industry and in the process had changed from a rapscallious young man who could upset the status quo to a paragon of capitalist ideals. His story is one of a bachanalian prodigal son. The inference made by the authors of the reports was that ORCL would do the same thing and make investors similarly wealthy. Analyst reports for companies that were not facing disruptive technologies generally contained no heroes, icons, defenders, or villains. They only contained brief industry descriptions and numbers.

ORCL is a slightly different story. Technology innovator that destabilized the existing forces. Story is retold as a narrative that recounts the entrepreneurily daring young men who started the company. Tale conforms to hegemonic expectations. New situation, threatened by young companies. “point providers” vs. integrated solutions. “pont providers” vs. “best of breed” Todorov stability

Ellison portrayed as a playboy with adversarial capabilities. Created as a hero who can defend. Personalized. Dissenting voice...

Among the more recent criticisms lobbed against 58-year-old Mr. Ellison is that he has neglected the company’s business with his yacht racing and that he has failed to groom a strong number two, concerns that Mr. Ellison dismisses.

ROK has a tradition as stable company, no characters are represented. Rather, the entire company is represented as the guardian of the economy. Analyst reports refrain from telling the company's history or talking about the CEO.

Reports are an open text. Retell the immediate past but also explore the near future.

Functions: functions largely absent. What does exist is the implicit recommendation... buy, sell, etc. Final outlook

Indices provide a certain stability and vertical intertextuality to other research reports. Boundary objects. Characters: recommendation. Current price. Target price. i.e., aspirations of the underlying character.

Bending of roles?

Mood: p/e (established due to activated audience)

nuclei (establish progress). Current price/ target price;
Catalyzers (fill in details [no consequences]): valuation parameters such as EV/EBITDA; P/Sales

indices poper (agents, mood). P/E. Revenue and revenue growth
Informants (locate in time and space). Market cap, avg. daily volume, market history

Analyst reports contain many common elements with traditional narrative forms. Borrowing from Barthes's S/Z, it is possible to deconstruct an analyst report.

Barthes (1975) defines two 'Functions' within narratives: nuclei catalyzers. The role of nuclei is to establish the progress of the narrative. In the case of analyst reports, two metrics represent the nuclei: current price and target price. The current price enables the reader to understand where the company has been positioned in the overall market and draw inferences as to the general health and stability of the company. The target price, however, represents the analysts vision for the company. In Proppian terms, the target price represents the companies quest. The rest of the analyst report will establish the potential conflicts and resolutions involved in this corporate quest.

Catalyzers are function that act to fill in additional details about the company. According to Fiske's interpretation of Barthes (1984), catalyzers never result in consequences. Analyst reports provide additional details to readers that enable cross industry comparisons. These indices include market capitalization, average daily volume, and trading volume history. These catalyzers have little function in the quest described by the analyst but allow the reader to develop a picture of the corporation.
LIS 603 :: Proposal for Research Paper Submitted by George Goodall

Research proposals are inherently introspective; I’ve had to think about what I’ve learned from the seminars, from the texts, and from the Texts. The theme that really appeals to me is the interaction of the audience with the structure of a text. Unfortunately, Fiske’s Active Audiences and Discursive Texts muddle some of the issues. Another muddling issue is the difficulty in assessing audience reaction in any meaningful way. We now have my main concern in investigating audience interaction: what texts provide limited opportunity for contrary interpretation yet may initiate significant and measurable behavior changes…?

Financial analyst reports.

Who reads analyst reports? –white rich old men (WROM) who are so invested in dominant ideologies that are not likely to engage in discursive interpretations of the text--

What influence do analyst reports provide? –WROM base investment decisions on analyst reports. The results of these decisions are immediately obvious in metrics like stock market valuations--

Aren’t analyst reports just legaleese techno-speak? –well… yes. But they are also much more. These reports often talk of magical totemic objects like “Return on Investment” and epic events like an executive’s quest to attain improved “share holder value”--

My intention is to pull contemporary analyst reports for technology companies and to determine if the reports conform to elements of mass-market consumer texts. To understand the evolution of these reports, I will also look at pre-diluvial reports (1999) for the same companies. The analysis will highlight differences in reporting elements and if there are associated differences in the financial metrics of each company.

Won’t this be a boring report to read? –unfortunately, yes. As this is an analytical paper rather than a critical paper I will need to conform to some fairly tight writing criteria in to logically explore these issues.

I realize that it may be difficult to keep the paper out of the Doldrums of communication theory, Marx, Frankfurt School, Hayek, Shannon, etc. but I promise to keep my bibliography limited to Fiske, Lipsitz, perhaps Fish, and Blackmore (class notes) ©2003.

Comments or ideas? Please let me know.