Blog 6 – Mobility and Audibility – Olivia Miller

18 May

Art M. Blake’s piece “Audible Citizenship” discusses the ways in which CB radio helped provide African Americans in the 1960s access to both mobility in terms of how many people and how far away they could communicate to, but also audibility in terms of being heard in their own communities and how this eventually turned into forms of radio still around today. Blake also discusses how CB radio allowed a more tangible kind of resistance, in which CBers could directly communicate about KKK attacks and threats. I’d like to return to my first blog of the quarter, in which I pondered how recording technologies gave freedom to resistant listeners and allowed them to ascribe their own meanings to audio texts because of the removal aspects of media. Now I would like to address the flip side of that original concept: resistant listening communities not just as receivers of cultural productions, but also as cultural producers themselves.

To backtrack a little, resistant listening is the process by which a listener of a minority community creates alternate readings of usually books or movies, but in this case, audio heard on the radio or from other recording devices, by consuming it through a queer context. For instance, an example of resistant listening would be changing the gender of the singer so that a love song becomes a same-sex love song. This is a survival technique to adapt to mainstream media that often does not accommodate minority communities.

Resistant listening is most necessary when minorities have no access to the means of cultural production (in this case recording or broadcasting equipment). Blake’s article demonstrates an example of an oppressed community finding a way to co-opt the means of production. Shortly after radio’s inception as a technology, monopolistic corporations finagled the government into restricting access to broadcasting. As Blake says, in the early days of radio (between 1906 and 1917) broadcasting showcased a wide variety of chatter from many civilian broadcasters. First World War I introduced a civilian broadcasting suspension, then big businesses induced the FCC into restricting civilian broadcasts to certain stations. However, those civilian broadcast (CB) stations were not accessible or easily usable until 1958, which is when African American CBers first started up. Blake maintains that Black CBers created a significant different in CB overall because they introduced the “sound” of blackness, or a “blaccent” into the airwaves. Blake relates an interview he had with a CBer who emphasized the importance of the first time he heard another recognizably African American voice on a CB channel. That recognition aspect helped create an airwave community between people desperate to reach out.

Blake mentions many concrete applications of Black CB communities- they were able to organize civil rights efforts and warn each other of KKK movements. Furthermore, this phenomenon of African American voices broadcast across America also created a specific lingo and form of cultural communication that translated into cultural productions still around today. The “superbowl” channel that Black CBers created for themselves showcased verbal competitions were participants practiced cleverly “dissing” each other with outrageous metaphors and rhyming lingo that eventually found its way into the inception of hip hop and rap that still exists today. Although resistant listening can still be performed, it is important to note how it can lead to active co-opting of cultural production – from Blacks listening for other Blacks on CB radio to Rap and Hip-Hop radio stations today.


One Response to “Blog 6 – Mobility and Audibility – Olivia Miller”

  1. sarahallene 25 May 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    I like Olivia’s point about “oppressed communit[ies] finding a way to co-opt the means of production,” to fit their own needs, and I think that this speaks to the way that technology works in practical application. The ambiguity of the original intended usage of CB radio for civilians left such an oddly composite technology that really begged to be adopted by minority cultures, even if they are more readily accepted as mainstream: “white guys, mostly southerners, racing their cars or trucks across the United States in defiance of boneheaded sheriffs and cops,” as Blake notes. He also claims that “CB radio service was designed for brief vocal exchanges, not for personal conversations like those conducted
    over the telephone or in person,” as military personnel might effectively use it.
    CB radio is, after all, a weird combination of regular radio and telephone – by this point, old technologies with fairly well-defined uses, albeit with the convenient addition of being mobile. So beyond being as “survival technique to adapt to mainstream media that often does not accommodate minority communities,” as Olivia says, and while this is certainly a valid point, it is also indicative of “African Americans us[ing] CB radio in a different manner and for different purposes than their white counterparts,” in Blake’s words. Racial or subcultural subversion of mainstream media aside, it bespeaks the slippery nature of newer media in general, and how the ingenious ways that people, black people, in this case, appropriate these media and by “misusing” them, actually change understanding of their purpose. In this way, media becomes mutable; CB radio begins as a method of mobile two-way communication, and is snatched up by an non-unified audience as a unifying tool – the modern equivalent of which might be a blog community? or, more prevalent ten or fifteen years ago, a chat room.
    CB is an abbreviation of “Citizen’s band” – a term rife with implications, not only as it was co-opted by a community, who had been denied citizenship for centuries, but furthermore as a medium with a near-acknowledged purpose of common ownership, and, as such, a medium meant to be played with, to use Blake’s term, to broader and more meaningful applications than its inventors might have envisioned.

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