The Medium Is the Message; the Message Is the Master
“We have no king but Caesar!” – Mobs throughout history.
Seers play an important role in society – they perceive possibility long before the slow and dull. For those of us who make up the slow and dull it can be painstakingly difficult to catch up.
Today I saw. Watching a news report on the encampment of “Twi-hards” awaiting the opening of the final installment of the Twilight saga, I got the impression this was a spontaneous gathering of fanatics (including folks from Europe who gushed about how nothing like this happens over there), easily passing the time doing frenetic zumba-style workouts, laughing at one another’s impersonations of the stars and just having a wonderful time at their week-long endurance test. However, as the report progresses, the curtain is pulled back to reveal that this was a carefully crafted promotion of the movie, complete with on-site large screen reviews of previous screenings and interviews with the stars.
Marshall McLuhan, in the 60’s, coined the phrase “the medium is the message” and tried to raise awareness that the content of media was not the thing to be concerned about, but rather the medium itself and how it impacts attitudes and actions. By manipulating the senses through instant awareness of the whole, informing factors such as sequence, values, priorities, perspective, and alternative outcomes are abandoned for the intended “psychic formation”; all done neatly at electrifying speeds.
I stopped to see a friend who owns a small-town car dealership. He purchased the business from his father-in-law who built the business many years ago. My friend is in the midst of a very stressful renovation of his antiquated building. “I want to retire in a few years,” he said soberly, “but now I’m guaranteed to work for the next ten just to pay for this.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked.
“GM. They said you are either out or you’re in. They want us to create an ‘experience’ for the customer by providing a modern look: clean bathrooms, child-play area, wireless connection and cable TV.”
Carefully crafted imagery. It’s no longer on your TV screen. But corporate America knows how the American mind has been lulled to sleep and craves experience over logic and reason. It’s why, I believe, today’s youth will not accept persuasive argument unless they “see” it on the internet, no matter how brazen the lie is behind the imagery. It is a top-down, corporate world devoid of individual freedom.
McLuhan explains that graphic technology is “the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture – that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas.”
Remember, he was issuing this warning in the 60’s!
“The electric technology is within the gates, and we are numb, deaf, blind, and mute about its encounter with the Gutenberg technology, on and through which the American way of life was formed. It is, however, no time to suggest strategies when the threat has not even been acknowledged to exist. I am in the position of Louis Pasteur telling doctors that their greatest enemy was quite invisible, and quite unrecognized by them. Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as ‘content.’ The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The ‘content’ of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech.”
Today, it is not merely “inside the gate,” it is the gatekeeper!
As we look for “reasons” why we got what we got in the elections, it may well be time for us to catch up with the “seers” of the 60’s and awaken to the fact that crafted imagery is now becoming the reality we must confront. Let truth be our banner!