The emergence of media: Humanity's endgame (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
The motivations of the main decision-makers and prominent celebrities of the media can be looked at in light of the three main perceived functions of electronic mass media: advertising, entertainment, information (or news). There is an easy-to-see trend towards the ongoing unification of these functions, as well as of the blurring of fiction and non-fiction. The first two functions (advertising and entertainment) provide the source of three of the mainstays of media (ultimately derived from the ceaseless need to stimulate consumption in the hypermodern society, and to extend it to every part of the globe): illicit sex, violence, and "flash" (the ever-elusive "cool"; the glorification of speed, technology and technologically-derived special effects). Virtually all of what appeals to most people in television, films, and video today contains some aspect of these three elements, and there is a tendency to hyperintensify all three, across the media, for example, in movies which combine gruesome horror, gratuitous violence, and softcore sex. Because of the media's profound, continuous, and unrelenting social impact, these three elements become unnaturally accentuated in society at large. Nevertheless, the media also maintains elements of maudlin sentimentalism in order to convince the more putatively decent-minded part of the audience that it is not entirely given over to antinomianism. The predominant texture of this facile sentimentalism, however, is far from a truly reflective, ethical outlook.
What the media calls "information" is centered on the following elements: "telescopic philanthropy", an ongoing series of morality-plays, which vicariously elicit the sympathies of the viewer, often lacking connection with, or taken out of the context, of extant social relations and global realities; the constant excitation of different types of fears among the public, leaving the viewer in a tizzy of apprehension; and an unrelenting assault on politicians in general (with the exception of a few, often transient, sometimes permanent darlings), and on the public-political realm as a whole. It could be argued that much of the excitation of fear and insecurity among people is carried out for the sake of encouraging consumption as a vehicle for re-establishing one's sense of personal security. The news also often itself provides large doses of sex, violence, and flash. There is, furthermore, the current of stinging cynicism and crassness in media which reflects the broader philosophical principle that media generally attenuates and rejects any sense of natural limits, boundaries, and social horizons. For all of its posturings, media lacks seriousness. This is also seen in its elevation of the trivial at the expense of the germane, for example, in the three network television specials of the Amy Fisher story in the early 1990s (this teenage girl shot and wounded the wife of an older man -- Amy was having an affair with the man); or in the complaints about the cost of personal expenses of prominent politicians as solely defining the issue of waste in government -- as opposed to vast, faceless, bureaucratic excesses.
What is the model of media representation, semantics, and semiotics? As is the case in any structure, there is an embedded system of references in media (visual, auditory, and spoken), some of these going back to the cinematic age. Their near-universal recognition does not indicate increasing media savvy among the general populace, but rather points to the existence of media as a distinct ontological realm. The day-to-day functioning of the news media is defined by the presentation and elaboration of various "personas", whether enhanced or diminished; as well as by the expression of concepts in one-word or very short phrases, built up through constant media exposure (and often originated or quickly taken up and transformed in meaning by the media itself). The discourse of media tends in the direction of the ongoing evocation of powerful emotional stereotypes at dizzying speed, rather than of a more thoughtful discussion. Some of the types of single-minded media behaviour are "the feeding frenzy", or "the wave-effect". There are different roles played by news anchors (our Vergil-like guides to today's series of calamities); reporters; talk-show hosts; sportstars; rock-stars; fashion-models; prominent businesspeople; financial analysts; political analysts; politicians, etc. The sports-industries, which focus the new, emerging city-identities of North America, and which constitute virtually all-pervasive aspects of life today, have largely been created by the possibilities of widespread media-exposure. As has been frequently noted, the shrine-like position of the television in most households, as well as the increasing amounts of time spent in front of it, point to its enormous significance in most people's daily lives. That considerable numbers of persons are playing videogames rather than watching television, or surfing the Internet rather than watching television, is not too likely to constitute much of an improvement.
The emergence of the Internet does not necessarily appear to be a boon for true freedom and critical thinking. What is often happening is that Internet is becoming just another television for most people. How many persons are using the Internet mostly for serious purposes, as opposed to various graphical amusements? Ironically, the development of bigger broadband on the Internet, where ever clearer video-streaming becomes possible, is likely to dumb down the content -- away from text, where more intelligent ideas can sometimes be more readily expressed.
To be continued next week.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.