A Public vs. The Public; is there a difference? On Tuesday, our class toyed with the concept inspired by Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” in order to unveil the aesthetics that make each their own. No matter which is being discussed, we discovered the importance of understanding (or not understanding) the ways in which publics can greatly effect how content is received and interpreted. Whether or not our seminar class would be considered a public was left in the air as students made solid cases for each side based on the seven elements of a public fleshed out by Warner, highlighting the fact that the distinction is often unanswerable.
Our discussion began with an environment that many of us know well: social media. Professor Duganne encouraged us to consider what, and why, we post certain things publicly or privately, and to what effect these posts can have on the site’s audience. This led to the concept of content “going viral” via hashtags, in which she used examples such as #BlackLivesMatter and #BarbieJeepGirl in order to illustrate how two very different types of subject matter circulate the digital world and made a lasting mark. This type of circulation is unique to our generation, but haven’t there always been publics in one way or another? Rewind a few hundred years, and we find that circulation was still occurring and making important changes to society. 1648, King Louis XIV establishes the Royal Academy and opens it up to the public, not knowing that he had created a public that would forever change the history of art through the attendees’ voiced inquiries and disagreements.
While the transformative power of a public sphere is inevitably unknown, it is most important to acknowledge the potential, longterm effect that discussions within these spaces can have on our world.