Online language’s return to mainstream media promotes the interaction between group communication and mass communication
As we have discussed in the foregoing sections, there are primarily two modes for the transmutation of the online language. The first is the changing of the sig- nifier for the sake of capturing the public attention. This form of transmutation tends to afflict significant infringement on the standard usage of the language. For this reason, most of such changes are rejected on occasions of standard usages. Another form of transmutation involves the construction of a new meaning to compensate for the absence of meaning in the field domains of the mass communication. This form of change is the focus of our discussion. Although group communication tends to involve the netizens in waves and waves of seeking for such meanings, such communication acts are essentially no more than carnivals of language for amusement in a fragmentary manner.
However, the “APEC blue” failed to remain a mere online parody. The mainstream media of mass communication was quick to respond to it. In particular, President Xi Jinping had this to say in the address he delivered at the welcoming banquet of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, “It has been said that the blue sky which we are currently enjoying in Beijing is the ‘APEC blue,’ beautiful but short-lived. However, I believe that through our relentless efforts ‘APEC blue’ is here to stay.” This remark demonstrates that the top leadership of China is the one which is prepared to face problems, to address problems and to perform its responsibility with full self-confidence. With this, the “APEC blue” ceased to remain a mere online satire and was instead incorporated into the system of mass communication. Although the expression of the symbol’s signifier was preserved intact, the symbol itself underwent a reconstruction of meaning and the original effect of satire and ridicule inherent in the term “APEC blue” was immediately reversed.
In the wake of President Xi’s speech, a number of media of mass communication produced follow-up coverages on the issue. The leading official newspaper People’s Daily carried an article entitled “Let Our Sky Have the APEC Blue Forever.” Public opinion was thus directed toward rational and in-depth reflections regarding how this fleeting and precious “APEC blue” could be turned into routine and perpetual blue, like the cloisonne enamel in China’s traditional arts and crafts. The public began to focus on exploring how the effective anti-smog measures implemented during the APEC Summit could continue to be enforced on a long-term basis. In this process, the online language experienced a return to the mainstream media, which is not only a redress of the absence of its voice in the mainstream media but also a reconstruction of the symbolic meaning in the context of the mass communication. A new effect of communication came to be produced, and the message is that the Chinese government would confront the problem of environmental pollution with an attitude of full confidence, informed by knowledge, understanding and responsibility, and that the Chinese government has both the political will and the physical means to solve the problem. In this switching from a pejorative online lampoon to a popular term in the mass media, a positive new image came to be established. The “APEC blue” ceased to refer to something beautiful but ephemeral; instead, it represented the government’s determination to curb smog and the expectation on the part of the general public for a beautiful smog-free future. This indicates that the mass communication remains as powerful as ever in its ability to render the meaning definite and to stabilize this newly specified meaning.
Language is always in a state of constant development. In the case of the “APEC blue,” in which the meaning of an expression undergoes a fundamental change, the reason is that the field domain of the discourse has changed. That is, the change in the mode of communication determines the direction in which the meaning undergoes changes. As a representation symbol, language reflects the change in the mode of communication and this change in turn brings about the change in language. In the age of mass communication, the meaning of a symbol is relatively constant and stable, with specific references, and the discourse of the media enjoys an indisputable dominant position. However, in the age of groups communication, social media seek to break up the stability of the meaning and make use of the gaps of language in mass communication. Such media try to attract and retain their fans by means of bizarre or fanatic communication. Often, the result is the anarchy and the violence of language.
In the two different field domains represented by mass communication and group communication, there exist two different ways of constructing meaning. Those two different ways are at once competitive and complementary and it is a matter of great interest how we can discover and maintain a balance between groups communication and mass communication. In the case of the “APEC blue,” we can find a twofold transmutation of the symbol. The first transmutation happened when the positive image in the mass communication was thrusted into group communication whose main function was to deconstruct and to subvert. Amidst the ridicule and the parody by the netizens, the image became increasingly negative. But a second transmutation occurred when the “APEC blue” once again returned to the context of the mass communication, representing the Chinese government’s proper attitude to confront the problem and the readiness to address the problem with full self-confidence and courage. In this way, the negative image was reversed. This metamorphosis of the symbol, in a most encouraging manner, fulfilled a mutually beneficial process of complementation between two different modes of communication. On one hand, group communication succeeded in generating a meaning that was absent in the mass communication but, on the other hand, the mass communication succeeded in taking over the new meaning and adding to it an enduring power of stability. The result is that the “APEC blue” did not vanish as a fleeting fragment of the emotional ventilation on the part of the netizens. Rather, it drew an authoritative and positive response to the problem that it pointed to, thus paving the way for the future steps toward the solving of the problem.
Groups communication allows the netizens to release their emotions mostly by means of funny and satirical “jokes.” Mass communication would pick up some of their newly invented terms or expressions and would interpret and define their new meanings to enable the entire society to conduct rational and profound reflections. This is quite consistent with the role that mass communication is supposed to play in leading and directing the mainstream opinion. The discourse field of mass communication plays an indispensable role and any linguistic symbol that re-gains access to this domain would experience a kind of re-birth and acquire an enduring vitality. Of course, not all the terms or expressions of language in group communication can gain access to the domain of mass communication. Only those online expressions that safeguard the essential public authority can enter this domain. But once accepted into the mainstream media, they would significantly enhance their vitality.
As symbols shuttle to and fro between the two modes of communication - the mass communication and group communication - the meaning of the symbols would undergo changes, thus solidifying the essential characteristics of those two different modes of communication. The two transmutations of the symbols serve to strengthen the stability of each of the two modes of communication, but the symbols derived from group communication do not change the mode of circulation of the symbols in the context of mass communication. The transmutations of the symbols can allow us to observe the differences in the two modes of communication. When the “APEC blue” returned to the domain of mass communication, it reversed the previous meaning vacuum on one hand and on the other hand provided an authoritative response concerning how the problem of environmental pollution was to be addressed so that the entire issue got rid of a potentially disorderly disputation of meaning. For the linguistic symbols that keep shuttling between group communication and the mass communication, as they undergo changes in the way meaning is constructed, they promote benign interactions between two modes of communication and even between the new media and the mass media on which those two modes of communication depend.