18 May

            The CB radio might seem to many people something of an antique, and while it is still in use today and by hobbyists, it is probably something the average person has never encountered because other, more convenient forms of communication are available. However CB radio culture, as it is discussed in “Audio Citizenship” is actually similar to what happens on the internet today, something almost everyone should be familiar with. However it should be important to note that the specific aspects of the internet to be discussed are forums, chatrooms, and so forth, rather than the more popular social networking sites. It is important because of the anonymity provided by the former as opposed to the complete openness of the latter.

            Blake discusses “strangerhood,” a term used he applies the sense of community that is formed by being able to talk to other people through CB radio despite not knowing anything about them (547). A person is able to know that they are part of a group despite not knowing others personally. Where CB radio communication helped strengthen the African American community in the 1960s and 70s, the internet similarly allowed for the banding together of socially marginalized individuals. The internet served as a kind of refuge for “nerds” and “geeks” who may be bullied at school and became a means through which they could communicate with others like them in online message boards and chatrooms behind anonymous virtual identities. The “It Gets Better” project, which is actually a video rather than text, essentially a broadcast out into the wider world hoping to reach whoever may be tuning in, is a modern example of what was accomplished with CB radio broadcasts; despite a viewer knowing absolutely nothing about the people in the video, it helps to know that there are other people out there.

            Of course while there are similarities there are also differences. The main difference is the means of communication – sound vs. type. While message boards and forums on the internet offer complete anonymity, because of the nature of CB radio communication, an element of the user’s identity will always be revealed, the voice. Blake describes how race, the quality that marginalized African Americans in the first place, is discernible in the voice (546). Rather than hide it, the anonymity of the CB radio provided protection. Users of CB radio are allowed to “be black” without fear of repercussions, whether it be from whites or upper class black citizens who shun working class black dialect. Broadcasting served as a way for black linguistic culture to flourish, spread and evolve into other, presently visible forms like modern hip hop. Comparably the internet because it hides identity so completely does not enhance existing culture but creates a new one. Elements of modern internet culture like memes and emoticons develop because of the medium rather than through it.

            Now obviously this is not necessarily a discussion of sound culture specifically but by making this comparison with similar modern mediums, it becomes easier to understand the nature of an old one, especially when the uses are similar.


One Response to “       …”

  1. jayhealy 25 May 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    “Strangerhood,” as Blake terms it, holds some abstract importance to the field of communication. Not being able to access the visual cues of in-person communication, the audience must rely solely on the voice, leaving the identity of the speakers (and the listeners) anonymous. As we have discussed in class, sonic descriptors are rather simplistic in human language because only so much information about the sound can be analyzed without other sensory aids. For this reason, the space of radio communication levels the playing field of distinct identifiers. The popularity of Citizen’s Band radio in the African-American community seems to have embraced this intangible space as a safe forum in which no individual could be singled out. Because of the security from any direct persecution, African-Americans were able to comfortably develop a community of communication (as opposed to the problematic and suppressed African-American ‘real’ community of post-WWII America). The development of a “Black CB” vernacular was inevitable in a forum in which race could only act as an assumption, and without the threat of imminent physical violence, the African-American slang popular in Jazz had found a playground in which experimentation was encouraged.

    I call this all ‘play’ not only as a pun referencing the coveted ‘Superbowl’ of Citizen’s Band culture, but also because those individuals experimenting with this technology were competing through their shared hobby. In some cases, having knowledge of CB radios and the practices of skimming waves off the atmosphere may have led to practical outcomes, but the CB radio space itself was more generally an anonymous forum like those available to us now on the Internet. It would be an interesting conversation to discuss which groups now are benefiting most from the ease of Internet forums and the widespread anonymity that can spark validation or confidence in an audience of kindred minds. The difference, I would suggest, between the power of CB versus the influence of Internet forums is that CB radio requires technical knowledge for set-up and function. While this sets an elitist standard for use, it also challenges the public to embrace this technology and enjoy the competition of broadcasting your message, your thoughts, your identity. It is no surprise that a competition like the CB ‘Superbowl’ would arise out of a medium that begs for competitive usage. The fact that the African-American community was able to not only absorb this space as a safe place to voice a message, but to also develop and progress a rhythmic and alliterative vernacular for the medium itself, shows just how important “control” over a particular medium of communication can be.

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