media and mind

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

 

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

10.4 (Fall 2010)

 

THE POLIS VS. PROGRESS

prae-203

courtesy of artrenewal.org

The Emergence of Media: Humanity’s Endgame – A Précis

  Mark Wegierski

INTRODUCTION: The average person is sometimes not too reflective about the media that surround him, and even serious scholars often get hung up on tangential issues when looking at media. The undertaking here is seen as filling the breach between sometimes tangential, theoretical works and popular fluff about the media. It is presented in quick point format in tune with the ever-more abbreviated styles of communication prevalent today.  

 

INTELLECTUAL INFLUENCES / EARLIER DESCRIPTION AND CRITIQUES OF MEDIA:

Description:

– Harold Innis as a percursor and inspirer of McLuhan

– Marshall McLuhan is seen as being interested in media in a “forensic” way – he described the formal features of media without much passion about their content – he was “a cool formalist” who studied the “Medium Cool” – McLuhan’s theories need to be complemented by figures with passion about the content of media

Critique:

– Aldous Huxley – The World We Live In?

– George Orwell – Lessons on the General Maintenance of Social and Political Control – “theorizing about ideology” – “metaideology” – “sociology as a philosophy of how things work”

– Noam Chomsky (What America Really Wants, Manufacturing Consent)/Neil Postman (The Disappearance of Childhood, Amusing Ourselves to Death) – Mechanics of Media Control

– Patrick Brantlinger, Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay

– C. Wright Mills and the critique of the “power-elite”  

 

THE EXCLUSIVITY OF THE MEDIA:

UNTIL 1995 — A SMALL NUMBER OF GATEKEEPERS

Only an infinitesimal portion of all videotape filmed is ever given a true mass-audience. Problem of distribution. Almost everything in media which is widely available is produced by a relatively small number of different types of professionals. The final say on virtually all the sounds, speech, and images which will become available to a truly large mass-audience is further channeled through an extremely small number of effective decision-makers.

POST-1995 – INFRASTRUCTURAL WEIGHT AND AUTHORITY

Despite the fact that dissident ideas can theoretically be made available on the Internet, there is the institutional and infrastructural weight of the last thirty to forty years to be challenged.  

 

THE POWER OF THE MEDIA: REALITY-CONTROL

The real impact of media on human upbringing, conditioning, behavior, and perception of reality is probably underestimated – social totalitarianism – possible inadequacy of laws about “freedom of expression” (typically, US First Amendment) as proper safeguards  

 

THE SINGLE-MINDEDNESS OF THE MEDIA: WHO ARE THE GATEKEEPERS?

The value orientation of the vast majority of the effective decision-makers and most prominent celebrities – “Americanocentric corporate liberalism” – Right criticizes liberalism in a “hot” way; Left criticizes consumerism/advertising in a “cool” way – try to bring critiques together

THE MESSAGE OF THE MEDIA:

The Unification of Function:

Advertising (A), Information (I), Entertainment (E)

AI – “playing against type” – “dull”, earnest, “serious” adds;

AE – “fluff”, increasingly glossier and glossier ads;

IE – tabloid news programs

AIE – infotainment equals advertising – tendency to portray A as I (by ad companies)

Advertising as the Master-Genre

– homo economicus – I spend/buy therefore I am; shop till you drop; buy and die

– creation of “consumer tribes” – rise of pseudo-collectivities to replace genuine collectivities

The Unification of Fiction and Nonfiction – e.g. “docu-drama”; TV shows about “The Making of…”

S-E-X: Sex Sells (Sex on Primetime TV, in Mainstream Cinema, and in Advertising)

Violence (and Horror): Gore Galore (TV and Mainstream Cinema)

Flash: Cool World; Special FX

The Discourse of “Hot & Cool”

The Problem with Shallow Sentimentalism (e.g. Karla Homolka (a participant in gruesome murders) had apparently decorated her room/cell with Disney characters, and kept a number of cute plush figures on her bed – also, recent fascination with angels in the pop-culture: meaningful or meaningless?)

Some (Remaining) Generic Distinctions/Divisions:

– by medium – TV; VCR; Film; Cyberspace – Internet; BBS (now defunct); Radio – different radio programming formats; Print – newspapers; journals and magazines: scholarly/academic/technical; popular-political; fashion; etc.; books

– by format – documentary/educational; docudrama; shorts; animated art features;

children’s programming – Sesame Street type shows (on Sesame Street, “this program has been brought to you by the letter `A’ – children learn the principle of sponsorship/advertising before they learn what the letter is) – Saturday morning cartoons (encroachment of corporations funding such shows which explicitly sell products based on these shows);

advertisements – advertisement subgenres;

movies – movies represent an incredible commitment of resources – e.g. $100 million spent on Rambo 3 (Rambo in Afghanistan) could have ensured quick victory for Afghan resistance – it probably exceeded the amount of aid actually given by US to Afghan resistance;

TV sitcom – the sitcom as a way of life;

soap opera                                         

– by genre – e.g. sci-fi, horror, action-adventure, romance, etc.

THE DISCOURSE OF THE NEWS MEDIA:

– Personas

– Short Terms – the one word equals a world – the 30 second sound bite reduced to “one word” e.g. Tiananmen; Soweto; El Salvador; Nicaragua; Chiapas; Cannes

– Emotional Strategies

– The Feeding Frenzy

– The Wave Effect

– news is a commodity

 

Types of Personas:

News Anchors/TV Reporters – “Newsers”, i.e. “underclass” of writers, producers, etc. – “metatelevision” (TV programs about making TV programs) – cf. Murphy Brown – “the behind the scenes news-shapers” cf. Network, The Paper, The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Talk Show Hosts – Serious: e.g. David Frost, Charlie Rose, Larry King; More Populist: e.g. Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera; Late Night, e.g. David Letterman

 

Types of Personas:

Sports Figures

Movie/TV Stars

Rock Stars

Fashion Models

Media Intellectuals

Big Business Figures

Financial Analysts       }

Political Analysts         } “Spinners” – Spin Doctors – “the CNN experts”

Politicians

“Ordinary People” (Extras) (one extra called himself “an animated prop”)

Example of Political (or Magazine) Journalism: National Review – note how William F. Buckley, Jr., squeezed out and marginalized all those who disagreed with him on the Right – the ongoing attempt in all media is “to reduce a plurality of current social phenomena to a single person, journal, magazine, newspaper, movie, or TV show” – Buckley has carried out a right-wing version of “political correctness” – he excised all ideas critical of corporations/big business/laissez-faire and out-of-control technological growth

THREE MAJOR LIFESTYLE/LIFEWORLD REALMS OF MEDIA:

– ROCKWORLD/PLANET-TEEN/FASHIONLAND

– THE SPORTS-INDUSTRIES MEGAPLEX – all sports-franchises make their money on network-coverage, not on stadium ticket sales

– PORNOLAND/PORNUCOPIA/SEX-INDUSTRIES (so-called “mainstream hardcore” videos a huge business, some have estimated that the number of sex-related videos sold is almost the equivalent of non-porn videos sold)

THE MEDIA AND THE PUBLIC-POLITICAL SPHERE: ASSAULT ON THE PUBLIC SPHERE

– “Telescopic Philanthropy” – “love humanity and hate your neighbor”

– Fear-Mongering – Consumption Aspect: typically, ecological, environmental, product-safety, and new disease scares – people get into tizzies – lowers self-esteem – requires commodity purchases to raise self-esteem – “paranoid spending” – “consumption fed by fear” – keeping up with the Joneses raised to the nth degree – Political Aspect: fear about extreme right movements, “religious right”, budget cuts/welfare cuts

– Cynicism

– Triviality

– the coming triumph of “gangsterism”?

HOW MEDIA DISTORTS FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN WAYS OF EXPERIENCING, KNOWING, AND UNDERSTANDING THE LIFEWORLD

– living in a world of fictive personas and clichés

– the trend to trends – “metatrends”

– the fiction of the personas is greater than the fiction he/she participates in – it would be like knowing about Pope Leo X without knowing anything of the history of the Roman Catholic Church

– from archetype to cliché

– the cliché-ridden society

TECHNOSPHERE/AMERICANOSPHERE

– “virtual reality” – Jean Baudrillard – Der Spiegel (no. 6, 1991) interview

– 500-channel universe, cf. Bruce Springsteen song, “57 Channels and Nothing On”

– high definition TV (HDTV); “virtual sound”

– the Internet and Internet Two

– are there types of technological advance that are said to presage the breakup of the media monopoly (as discussed in  George Gilder’s book Telecosm)? – will small publishing become increasingly possible in the near-future, as technology makes costs of producing books cheaper? – but what about distribution??

THE MASS-MEDIA MODEL TRIUMPHS IN MORE TRADITIONAL MEDIA:

MASS MEDIA AND THE END OF LITERARY-HUMANISTIC CULTURE

– another treason of the clerks? – i.e., writers about the media who love the media too much (e.g. Teleliteracy, by David Bianculli; Metapop, by Michael Dunne; Media Virus, by Douglas Rushkoff; Macrocosm and Telecosm, by George Gilder)

– literary critic Northrop Frye and the theory of cycles of literature and social decline

– stigma of not having a television – if you don’t watch, you’re a social outcast – some case-studies of people without TV (as adults or preferably as children) – one person I know watched about 6 hours of TV in his first eighteen years of life in North America – nice guy; however, he also did his BA in Film at the University of Toronto (became a cinéaste?); in the 1990s, knew about successful Toronto businesswoman in her thirties (1.5 million p.a. gross revenue) who didn’t have cable, not because she couldn’t afford it, but because she felt all her time would be eaten up by it

– mass-marketing of books – e.g. movie rights sold before book has been written

– megastar authors (e.g. Stephen King, Danielle Steele) – better books lost out in the wash – Alan Bloom once said that his Closing of the American Mind was knocked out of bestseller status by The Cat Who Came Home for Christmas

– celebrity authors – usually ghostwritten – `as told to’

– primary facet of a book is titillation – same as media – sex, violence (horror), and flash (e.g. technothrillers) – technothrillers often constitute justification for American imperial adventurism

– combination of literature/mass media, e.g. “culture” shows on CBC/TVO/CBC Radio

HAVE MEDIA SWALLOWED MEDIA-CRITICISM? – Critique of Media/Pop-culture as Part of Media/Pop-Culture – e.g. Noam Chomsky – is he an author, or the guy the film was about? – especially, McLuhan – Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In asking – “whatcha doin’, Mr. McLuhan?” – his appearance in a Woody Allen movie

THE REST OF THE WORLD (A Brief Cultural Atlas): – cf. Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations?, and subsequent debate, especially in Foreign Affairs and The National Interest; also William Pfaff’s The Wrath of Nations: Civilization and the Furies of Nationalism and Benjamin J. Barber’s Jihad vs. McWorld

Betrayal: Canadian Nationalism and Canada’s Cultural Industries

Québec – Québec aux Québécois

Turkey – Ataturk’s Legacy

Jihad – Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Kurds – Main Powers: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran

Gulf Mini-States

Jihad – Pakistan

Jihad – Afghanistan

North Africa – Main Powers: Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia

The Borderlands between North and Subsaharan Africa

East Africa – Main Power: Ethiopia

Israel – A Special Relationship Under Strain

Indonesia – A National Culturalist Policy

Eastasia – (China, “NipponTek”, ROK, KPDR, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Myanmar (ruled by SLRC), Singapore – Lee Kuan Yew) (four little dragons) – (note: True Lies the first American movie to be allowed back into Vietnam, December 1994; Vietnam is now also allowing big-name film-productions to work there)

Bharat – the World’s Largest Cinema

Bangladesh

The Asian and Pacific Peripheries (Philippines, Papua-New Guinea, Oceania)

Rossiya – Sybir

The Caucasus

The Center of Eurasia

Serbia – an example of the limits of media? – “How many divisions does CNN have?” – continuing importance of “men with guns” – establishing control over land despite opposition of electronic realm – but Serbia mostly lost in the end

Europa (Continental Europe) – Main Powers: France (Phillipe de Villiers, Struggle for Values movement – 15% of the vote in European Parliament elections – part of the Other Europe group – also Sir James (Jimmy) Goldsmith one of its leaders – note his 1995 anti-free-trade book, The Trap); Germany; Italy; Spain; Poland

The Balkans – Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slavic Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Greece – new statelets like Kosovo have emerged

The Baltics – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland

The Borderlands between Europe and Russia – Ukraine, Belarus

Noreuropa – Holland and Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland)

América (Latin America) – Main Powers: Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Cuba

The Republic of Ireland / Northern Ireland

The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland)

Australia and New Zealand

Media Colonization of Subsaharan Africa and the Caribbean – i.e., imposition of North American victimological imagery/imageries regardless of objective situation/s, leading to profound misunderstandings and misdirections of Western policy – Main Powers: Nigeria, “the New South Africa”, Ghana, Kenya

Arctica – Nunavut, Greenland

Antarctica

RESISTANCE TO MEDIA – WHITHER HUMANITY?

Alternative Thinkers:

– George Parkin Grant – “By Loving Our Own”

– Christopher Lasch – Old-Fashioned Social Democracy; The Public Sphere and the Common Good

– Camille Paglia (Nietzsche + C.G. Jung) – Masculine and Feminine; Re-eroticizing the Lifeworld

– Ivan Illich – “The Tools for Conviviality”

Alternative Traditions:

– Continental European, étatiste model

– Canadian model of public media

– national schools of cinema

– possible return of                 the state

                                                nationalism

                                                traditional religion

                                                literary-humanistic culture

– “alternative media”/ecology

– personal creation of small social spaces free of or inured to media influence

– creative subversion of media imageries, messages, and meanings

emergence of a conscious, critical theory of media: why it’s necessary, what shape it’s going to take

CONCLUSION: THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF MEDIA: THE NEAR OBLITERATION/ IMPOSSIBILITY OF MYTHOS, ETHNOS, AND TOPOS (effectively the onset of Huxley’s Brave New World)

 Mark Wegierski is a Canadian freelance journalist based in Toronto.  His special interests include political philosophy, popular culture, and creative works about the future.