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The Unleashed Scandal: The End of Control in the Digital Age

by Bernhard Poerksen and Hanne Detel
Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK, 2014
255 pp., illus. 22 b/w. Trade, $24.35
ISBN: 978-1845407193.

Reviewed by: Ana Peraica, Independent Scholar


The Unleashed Scandal: The End of Control in Digital Age deals with a new cultural paradigm shift. While Guy Debord and the Situationists once have defined the relationship of the mediation center and its public in terms of the 'civilization of the spectacle,' Poerksen and Detel re-define new age through a concept of the event of scandal, rather than a continuous spectacle. Scandal, contrary to a spectacle, is not distributed evenly from the center to periphery, in a single direction of streaming, but is mutating virally. Scandal destroys a rigid distinction between the event and public as it is absorbing anyone inside, anyone (a) being connected (b) via new mediation technologies (c) to any of social or media platforms. In such a context, anyone can release a piece of an information that can possibly destroy someone else, but can also become a victim of own actions. Furthermore, a person can also self-victimise, accidentally showing own privacy. By exposing, even for a second, a person allows a free entrance to own intimacy. Subject then becomes an object.

Still, what marks a scandal are not that much private qualities of stories as is the quality and quantity of public that cannot be predicted but also scaled properly. A new type of victim can thus be facing a public judgment but also voyeurism and sadism, and can even become an object of cold analysis if the scandal is forwarded to the news agencies. In such a context s/he can be re-victimized. Authors define differences among the (a) naked voyeurs, participating in viral scandals, from (b) critical - reflective ones also come to consume scandal but for more refined reasons, still also spreading it. While they analyze the scandal, they produce yet another "scandal of the second order," or a "scandalisation of a scandal"

The largest damage scandals produce are of the contextual one (of; protected databases, temporary order, distinction public-personal, cultural). Context damage is, authors claim, always of the modal nature. There are numerous elements of functionality of scandals analyzed, as for example; (a) pointing at discrepancies among different versions of reality, or (b) pointing at obvious contradiction between two versions of events, only one of which may be correct. Also, an aspect of revenge is elaborated in the last part of the manuscript, suggesting (c) discrepancies of cause and possible effects. Mobile phone technologies, authors also call 'indiscreet technologies' are allowing spying of anyone onto everyone else.

The manuscript is divided into four sections, after the introductory part, the first defining paradigm shift from the old media, the second defining victims and public lynching, the third speaking about new technologies and conclusions. Popularly written, with really well developed narratives, this book is ideal introduction to concepts of virality, especially in domain of journalism, specifically online journalism. Many examples of virality, such as for example classic Matt Drudge and the case of leaking story on Monika Levinsky indirectly as the case of media censorship, Bradley Manning's contributions to Wikileaks, Abu Ghraib photographs, Sarah Palin's e-mails are described and, in many cases, a narrative of self-promotion after the scandal elaborated as a post-effect. Many of details, still, push the reader into a parallel research online, asking for a list of internet links, this book somehow lacks. Although already known as being large media scandals, this compendium may be useful to readers just entering mediated society, being innocent of such an exposure. Usually these are the youngest members of the media society, who experience a new kind of aggression, such as anonymous blackmails, cyber-bulling, etc.

Although this book is not a theoretical one, it illustrates some existing concepts of digital humanism, such as "human being as a broadcaster" but also introduces couple of intersecting concepts in media studies, such as "ideology of the headline" in the Chapter 2. Still, its largest gain are well written and convincing narratives on recent scandals that would make anyone think twice before uploading content on social media. Simultaneously, they would also make think some of media politicians about the era that has, for the first time in civilization, managed to develop the uncensored information systems.

Last Updated 2nd Mar 2015

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