The emergence of media: Humanity's endgame – a précis (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
web posted February 11, 2013
Introduction: The more average person is sometimes not too reflective about the media that surround them, and even serious scholars often get diverted by 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:
- Harold A. Innis as a precursor 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 its 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
- Aldous Huxley - The World We Live In?
- George Orwell - Lessons on the General Maintenance of Social and Political Control - "theorizing about ideology" - "meta-ideology" - "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"
- James Burnham and The Managerial Revolution
- Philip Rieff and The Triumph of the Therapeutic
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. There is the 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 forty to fifty 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?
What is 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" ads;
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 ‘til 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 -
Cyberspace - Internet - virtually all other media now available here;
BBS (now defunct);
Radio - different radio programming formats;
Print - newspapers; journals and magazines: scholarly/academic/technical, popular-political, fashion, etc.; books
- by format -
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 probably 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;
- by genre -
e.g., sci-fi, horror, action-adventure, romance, etc.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.